Christmas: it’s the most wonderful time of the year … to fall in love
The temperature is dropping, snow is on its way and Hayley Walker is heading for New York with one wish … to start over.
With her daughter Angel, Hayley is ready for adventure. But there’s more to New York than twinkly lights and breathtaking skyscrapers. Angel has her own Christmas wish – to find her real dad.
While Hayley tries to fulfil her daughter’s wish, she crosses paths with billionaire Oliver Drummond. Restless and bored with fast living, there’s something intriguing about him that has Hayley hooked.
Can Hayley dare to think her own dreams might come true – could A New York Christmas turn into a New York Forever?
Travel to the Big Apple this Christmas and join Hayley and Oliver as they realise life isn’t just about filling the minutes … it’s about making every moment count.
McDonald’s, Winchester Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK
Hayley Walker had quit her job. She had quit her job. What had she been thinking? Escape was the answer to that one. Finally ridding herself of sweaty Greg and his desperate attempts to fold and press her at the dry-cleaning firm. But now, an hour after the deed had been done, she was starting to realise she should have thought a lot less about escape and a lot more about money. Or rather, her lack of it. And exactly what she was going to do after Christmas. Throwing in the towel had been a kneejerk reaction. A desperate leap. Was she going to live to regret it? Part-time party planning wasn’t going to bring home the bacon or the expensive cereal with the free books.
‘Do they have Yorkshire puddings?’
Hayley looked up from her phone-tapping and faced her nine-year-old daughter, the eater of the expensive cereal with the free books. Angel had half a cheeseburger hanging out of her mouth and she was trying to ram in the straw of her Diet Coke too. Hayley hadn’t heard exactly what she’d said, something about pudding. She was too busy wondering if she had time to search the job section of the local paper before they left the country whilst also running through the whole travel itinerary in her head. Bang went her hopes of new clothes for them both for this trip. What was going to be on-trend this winter?She’d never really believed in the tweed phase. Maybe, if she didn’t sleep, she would have time to make alterations on what they did have in their wardrobes. She put the lid on her thought box and focussed on Angel.
‘Angel, manners in a restaurant please.’ Hayley pulled the cardboard cup away.
She watched Angel’s eyes spiral upwards, then around, taking in every inch of the McDonald’s. No matter what her daughter’s look was saying, it was a restaurant. Serviettes made it so and it was the only restaurant Hayley could afford right now. Even more so after today. She sighed. This McDonald’s was their place, mum and daughter bonding over burgers. It was a constant,
familiar, and familiar was comforting when she was about to throw them both halfway across the world.
‘Well? You haven’t answered my question.’ Angel exaggerated the words for all she was worth. ‘Are. They. Going. To. Have. Yorkshire. Puddings. In. New. York?’
Hayley put her phone on the table. She didn’t know the answer. But it was obviously important to Angel. More important to her daughter than the fact she had never been on an aeroplane before and she had to sit still for eight hours and she was about to discover a whole new country. Who would have thought Yorkshire puddings could be so critical?
‘I don’t know,’ Hayley said. ‘But I can find out.’ She smiled at her daughter.
‘Google it,’ Angel came back.
‘Free Wi-Fi in McDonald’s. You always say that.’
Angel sucked at her drink, eyes bulbous like marbles.
At the moment there was nothing better than free. A bubble of pride bounced off Hayley’s insides. She watched Angel biting down on the straw with her perfect teeth, her cheeks a little reddened, her mousey brown hair set in two pigtails with tinsel woven into the bobbles. Angel was the best thing she’d ever done. The only real, satisfying thing she’d achieved and she’d done it, for the most part, on her own. She swallowed down a knot of emotion and sucked at her own drink.
‘I can’t wait to meet Uncle Dean’s new boyfriend,’ Angel said.
Hayley started to choke on the liquid in her mouth and dragged the straw out. Her phone fell out of her hand and into the cardboard tray of chips she hadn’t touched yet. ‘What?’
‘We Skyped last week when you were staring at those forms on the internet for hours.’
Angel was right, all Hayley had done the past few weeks was fill in forms. She thought she needed a visitor’s visa. From what she’d read it would have been easier to send them the blood of a unicorn and spoilers for the next season of Game of Thrones. If only someone had mentioned ESTA to her before her head had got so close to exploding. New York – a Christmas holiday to Angel and an important mission to Hayley. She had spent the past two months straining her eyes to burning point on late night internet searches. Now it was time for the hunt to get up close and personal.
Hayley swung her attention back to Angel.
‘He’s called Vernon. Vern for short and they met at some really cool party Uncle Dean got invited to.’ Angel flicked one of her pigtails. ‘Will we get to go to really cool parties?’
Hayley’s mind was working overtime. Her brother had a new boyfriend he hadn’t mentioned. Did they do Yorkshire puddings in America? Could she get hold of a unicorn? Luggage scales –
she definitely needed to get some luggage scales. SHE HAD NO FULL-TIME JOB!
‘I don’t know, Angel. We’re going to have a lot to do when we get there and …’
‘That’s pretty close to a yes.’
‘Are you going to finish that burger?’
‘Are you going to eat your chips?’ Angel put her tongue into the bottom of her mouth and poked it forward, tilting her chin.
‘You know making that face is like swearing in America,’ Hayley warned.
Angel changed her expression and looked at her mother with only slight scepticism.
Hayley pointed a finger and grinned. ‘Gotcha!’
‘That’s not fair!’ Angel screeched. She reached across the table and stole a chip from Hayley’s tray, popping it into her mouth.
Hayley smiled, picking up a chip herself and dunking it in ketchup. Fries were about as uncomplicated as you could get.
Hayley looked out of the window onto the street. It was already dark, the sky blue/black with menacing grey clouds converging above the city skyline. People were wrapped up in wool coats, passing by, rushing home from work or to late night shopping, their breath visible in the freezing air. In just a few days, she and Angel would be leaving it all behind and travelling thousands of miles across the ocean for Christmas in the Big Apple. Minus temperatures in double figures and streets full of Santas, Michael Bublé music and candy canes.
Hayley watched a woman pushing open the door of the restaurant and she reached forward across the table to tap Angel on the arm.
‘Fashion alert at three o’clock.’ Hayley made the tapping more insistent. ‘Angel Walker, tell me what you would do for this woman with nothing but a scarf and a hair clip.’
‘Oh, Mum, really?’ Angel looked at the woman heading for the counter. ‘I think she looks fine.’
‘Purlease! Cream boots with that grey coat?’
Angel sighed. ‘What colour is the imaginary scarf?’
Hayley grinned. ‘What colour do you think the imaginary scarf should be?’
Hayley shook her head, screwing up her face in disapproval.
‘Uh-uh. One last go?’ She watched her daughter look the woman up and down, assessing.
‘Spots!’ Angel exclaimed.
Hayley clapped her hands together. ‘Yes! I’m thinking a bit of Dalmatian print, clipped onto that coat like a drape. She would go from faux-pas to fashionista in a second.’
‘Are we going to tell her?’ Angel asked.
Hayley laughed and shook her head. ‘No.’
It was just a game now. Something to occupy the designer side of her brain. It was all she’d ever wanted. Making creations to grace the catwalks, seeing the clothes come to life, delivering the finished products to high-end stores all over the world. She swallowed as she
looked back at Angel. It seemed like a lifetime ago. And it was. Her life had changed beyond recognition. She’d gone from spending her nights cutting up fabric and laughing with friends over bottles of Lambrini, to night feeds and nappy changing. The only fashion she’d ended up dictating was her baby girl’s, despite attempts to pass off puke stains as en vogue. She’d chosen to become a mother and mothers made sacrifices. What else was there to say?
‘Vernon has a dog called Randy,’ Angel blurted out, interrupting her thoughts.
A chip lodged in her throat and Hayley had to cough. ‘What?’
‘I think he named him after that judge on American Idol.’
Hayley sighed. ‘Let’s hope so.’
Balmoral Road, Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK
Angel had sung the Michael Bolton version of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ on repeat since they’d left town. Now they were parked up and the song was just reaching its final crescendo. Usually Hayley would have joined in – she had almost perfected the hair flick and the high gruff voice – but she was still panicking about the amount she had to do before they left. It helped that she didn’t have a job to maintain any more. How wrong did that sound?
Giving in to the first drink with manager Greg had been her biggest mistake. Him not taking no for an answer the second, third and twelfth time of asking couldn’t be put on her, but the getting too close beside the dry-cleaning steam machine had been the last straw. Fondling business suits and stain-covered cocktail dresses for six months was definitely enough. Her options were now open, which would have scared her more had she not been squirrelling away money from a second job as a party planner. Things had been busy on the run up to Christmas, she’d even scored some extra cash giving some of her richer clients fashion advice. With a clear diary for next year and just enough funds to cover this trip, she could now concentrate on what was important. The search.
Hayley screwed her eyes tight shut and gripped on to the steering wheel. Despite her bravado with Angel, she was excited and terrified in equal measure about this trip. In the far corners
of her mind, heightened by the fact she was now unemployed, this trip to New York had all the makings of an escape plan. It could be a chance to see how the land lay over there, how Angel
took to the US life. Her throat tightened just thinking about it. She and Angel, starting afresh, new horizons, doughnuts the size of dinner plates and cruising every floor of Barneys.
Hayley opened her eyes. It would only be window shopping for now, with her finances as they were. She looked to Angel. Her daughter had pulled down the visor and was pouting to
herself in the vanity mirror like she was about to pose for a selfie.
Unfortunately, Hayley wasn’t like her ridiculously clever brother, Dean, who had been headhunted for his position with Drummond Global. She had no extraordinary skills to offer the
US. Just a hard work ethic and … well, just that. She and millions of others were all looking for the same sort of change. New York, paved with gold, a concrete jungle where dreams could
‘Shall I put it on again?’
Angel had turned in her seat and was now looking at Hayley, her finger poised on the button of the in-car CD player.
‘No! Not again.’
Angel let out a laugh that made Hayley’s skin prickle. Right now her daughter seemed innocent and unburdened but Hayley knew better. She knew what Angel was thinking and hoping
for before she went to sleep each night and she was going to do whatever it took to solve it. New York could hold answers for them both.
‘Come on, let’s go and show Nanny your new coat,’ Hayley said, opening the car door.
She stepped out of the car and shut the door, putting her hands into the pockets of her coat. The trees on the street cast dark shadows against the orange glow of the streetlights. Frost was starting to coat the windscreens of the parked cars and half a dozen houses had flashing and blinking Christmas lights on their brickwork or hanging from their eaves. Outlines of decorated Christmas trees were just visible behind net curtains and Hayley sucked in the quiet of the English suburb, turning her attention to a cat jumping up onto a neighbouring fence. Her whole landscape was about to change for a couple of weeks. Was she ready for all that could bring?
She watched Angel run up the path, the bag containing thenew bright red duffle coat clutched in her hand.
Hayley took another moment, leaning back against the car and surveying the house she’d grown up in. It hadn’t changed in twenty-eight years. The small, black, iron gate was still half off its hinges, the grass trimmed neat but the rose bushes overgrown. It was a hotchpotch, some things working, other bits uncared for. It had been a little like that with the people inside. Dean had been thoroughly nurtured, was still cared about; she had been left to garner weeds. For someone relatively self-sufficient it hadn’t been a problem, until she got pregnant and her dad died.
The cold wound itself around her and she internally shook. She didn’t resent her brother. She loved him with every fibre of her being. But as soon as Angel had come along things had
deteriorated. Her mother just didn’t look at her the same way. There were awkward silences, guarded help, emotional detachment. Rita had been there for her in every practical way possible,
but that was where it ended. Money and advice had been handed out rather than love and support. Even now it still felt a bit hollow.
‘Mum!’ Angel called. ‘Nanny says if you don’t come in now I’ll have to shut the door. It’s letting all the heat out!’
Hayley rolled her eyes and braced herself. She had to be positive, smile and, most important of all, not mention that she’d lost her job.
Mandy Baggot is an award-winning author of romantic women’s fiction and a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. A contributor to writing blogs and short story anthologies, she is also a regular speaker at literary festivals, events and women’s networking groups.
Mandy loves mashed potato, white wine, country music, Corfu and handbags. She has appeared on ITV1’s Who Dares Sings and auditioned for The X-Factor and lives in Wiltshire, UK with her husband, two children and cats Kravitz and Springsteen.