There’s a Christmas novella coming out next week from Scarlett Cole—featuring a Hollywood A-lister and his hippie, childhood best friend—and we not only have the cover, but I also get to share with you the whole first chapter.
Multi-millionaire Hollywood A-lister, Presley James, muttered as he watched the limo drive away, leaving him in the dark and deserted lane with his hastily packed suitcase and backpack.
He was over the fake frivolity, tinsel, and eye-watering light shows. Had been for decades. First, there was the year he broke his leg Christmas morning playing on his new BMX. He’d attempted a stunt drop off the wall outside St. Mary’s Church in Totnes, Devon, and had laid there for ten minutes crying until his friend had called his dad to come and get him. They’d both missed Christmas dinner while waiting for an x-ray and had survived on chocolate bars from a vending machine.
Then there was the year his parents had a huge fight that had started with there being no Brussels sprouts in Tesco on Christmas Eve and had ended with his dad leaving his plate of turkey and trimmings to go to his mate’s house on Christmas Day. He’d never come home.
Oh, and there was the Christmas his girlfriend had dumped him on the same day his best friend had gone to Thailand for two weeks, leaving him alone for the holidays with just his mum for company.
And this Christmas was shaping up to be a doozy. With only three days until the big event, he would certainly still be the star of the news headlines come Christmas morning. The fact the headlines were salacious was the least of his worries. Of all the emotions, embarrassment he could handle. Detonating everything he’d been working towards, however, was devastating.
Yeah. Christmas sucked. He’d asked the driver to turn off the Christmas music piped through the speakers, but the crap songs played on repeat, with puke-fest levels of nostalgia and shit lyrics about a mystic big guy in a red suit.
Frost crunched beneath his feet as he walked down the footpath, and he wished he could see the treacherous ground he was walking on. But beneath a pitch black, new moon sky, the banks of the Llangollen Canal in Wales were invisible.
Presley’s breath emerged in white puffs, and it was cold enough to freeze the balls off a bull, but all he could do was stride on, dragging his extra-large suitcase behind him and tugging his backpack further over his shoulder until he found what he was looking for.
The only place he could hide out in the whole world without a hope of being found, even if it didn’t have a postcode.
A private jet from the States listed under a shell company name and a discrete limo service, with a driver paid well enough to not reveal his location, helped quell some of the rising panic. How could he have been so stupid?
Los Angeles had pulled him in and sucked him dry. Literally and proverbially. And the whole world was about to find just how badly he’d fucked up.
The fact there were photos?
What a spiral.
“In one smooth move, you’ve obliterated how your fans see you,” his agent, Narmin, had said as he’d messily rolled his jeans and shoved them into his luggage. But she’d also assured him that actors had survived worse in the past, and there was little she wouldn’t do in the name of damage limitation for her biggest client.
His fingers and nose ached with the sting of cold. If only the person he hoped to find lived in an actual house, he’d be there by now. Instead, his phone had said—before it died—he needed to make his way to the old Bryn Howel hotel, hit the canal bank, find Bridge 38, and keep walking.
A bitter wind whipped at his cheeks, adding the decision to travel in a hoodie and his leather jacket to his list of regrettable life choices. It had been balmy in LA when he’d left his fourteen thousand square foot home in the flats of Beverly Hills, just north of the famous Santa Monica Boulevard.
His only thought had been to get out of LA. Out of America. And back to the safety of home. Except he couldn’t face his mum. Not yet. He could imagine the lecture he was going to get from her. And Totnes, Devon, wasn’t where his best friend lived anymore. Midflight, he’d changed his plans from going to see his mum to seeing the one person supportive enough to care about him, the one person who would support him despite the upcoming news.
As he rounded the corner, he found what he was looking for. And solitary green-and-gold canal boat, trimmed in fairy lights, glowing like a beacon in a storm.
There was a small Christmas tree wrapped in red tinsel that fluttered furiously on the bow, and he wanted to punch the thing off into the frigid depths of the murky canal.
He stepped on board and hammered on the door. “Open up, Nova. It’s me.”
While he waited for her to open the curtains that blocked his view through narrow glass doors, he muscled his case over the bow, where he placed it on his frozen trainer-covered toe. “Motherfucker,” he muttered before banging on the door. “Nov. Come on. It’s Pres.”
A light flicked on inside, its brightness seeping around the edge of the curtains until they were ripped open by a furious-looking sea witch. Fiery red curls framed bright blue eyes. Muffled angry words fell from full lips as she unlocked the doors to her boat, named Majestic, and glared.
“What the hell, Presley? First, you scared the shit out of me. Second, it’s two in the morning. Third, it’s—”
“Fucking freezing. Back up, Nov, and let me in.”
She thankfully did as he said as she tugged a thick fleece dressing gown around her before pushing the masses of red curls over her shoulders. And as much as he hated to admit it, just seeing her—furious with him, wrapped in an ugly brown robe—made some of his panic and anxiety ease.
He ducked his head to step inside, then dragged his case down the two narrow steps into the boat, and almost fell face-first onto her bed as he navigated the small space. A cheery warmth greeted him as she closed the door behind him and whipped the curtains closed. After placing his case and backpack on the floor, he was relieved to find he could stand up inside.
When he turned to face her, she flung her arms around his neck and hugged him close. “Stop staying away so long.”
He grinned, wrapping his arms around her tiny frame. “I’ve offered to pay for flights to come see me a thousand times.”
Like he’d always done, given their foot-and-a-half height difference, he lifted her off the ground and stood up straight, her feet dangling around his shins. She was lighter than he remembered. Or maybe he was stronger. He’d recently finished filming the third gruelling instalment in an action series that had required some severe bulking up. “You were the only place I wanted to come to.”
She smelled like sandalwood and fresh air. A third-generation hippie, she came by the vibe naturally. Her nomadic parents had been nineteen when they’d had her. She’d celebrated her first Full Moon Party in Ko Pha-Ngan at fourteen weeks old. Learned to meditate in Goa, India, aged three. Finally, in a bid to give their daughter a traditional English education, they’d settled in Totnes, Devon. She’d become his next-door neighbour, classmate, and best friend ever since. Her parents had left her to her own devices once she’d gone to university to study creative writing. She and Presley had a good relationship and talked all the time, just rarely in the same country, let alone room.
“How did you know where I was?”
Now he had to admit a secret he’d kept for years. “You shared your location with me.”
“Two years ago, when you were in LA. You were worried you’d get lost and I might need to find you.” He didn’t add that it gave him comfort, sometimes, to see her on his maps app. He’d worried earlier in the year when she’d moved onto her canal boat, and it had reassured him to see her moving along the canal network.
“I’m always happy to see you but why are you here?”
Now he was here, the last bit of energy that had fuelled him the past twenty-four hours expired, and he put her down. “Can we chat in the morning? It’s a long conversation, I’m knackered, and I could really do with some sleep.” Plus, he didn’t feel like baring his soul when he was so tired and already felt disembodied.
“Of course.” She turned and led him down the exceptionally narrow corridor. “I’ll give you the full tour in the morning.”
He smirked as they walked through the middle of the bathroom. “That should take all of five minutes.”
“Don’t be mean. Majestic has hidden depths, like all women.”
And didn’t he know a thing or two about hidden depths.
The living area was lit by the glow of a slowly dying fire. Not enough light to see the rest of the boat, but the warmth and darkness made him yawn. “We’ll set up a proper bed tomorrow if you are staying then. But for tonight, just use this.”
She tossed a spare pillow and three thick blankets on the armless sofa, then tugged a strap beneath it to pull it out into a sofa bed. He’d probably fit diagonally, but right now, he didn’t give a shit. It was a flat surface with more support than the floor.
“It’s perfect, Nov.”
He sat down on the sofa and began to unlace his trainers when he noticed they were covered in mud. “Shit, I think I might have made a mess of the floor.”
Nova shrugged. “In that case, you can mop the floor in the morning. Assuming you’ve remembered how.” Her grin told him she was teasing.
A cleaner had been one of the very first things he’d hired after his breakout role at nineteen, ten years ago. He’d planned to go to uni and study drama, but Narmin, his agent, had seen an amateur dramatic play he’d been in. Three weeks later, he’d been cast in his first big-budget movie. “I’m pretty certain it’s like riding a bike.”
“I seem to recall you broke your leg riding one of those. It’s not a high bar.” Laughter followed her into what looked like a kitchen area. He heard a cupboard door close and a tap. She returned with a glass of water that she perched on a small side table. “I let the fire die down over night, but it should be enough warmth while you fall asleep. You need anything else?”
Presley looked at Nova, studied her carefully, the girl who’d always been there, and rather worryingly felt . . . something more. Her asking him if he needed anything shouldn’t make his heart drop, should it?
He shook his head. To her and to the question rattling about in his brain.
“I’m good,” he lied, praying the feelings would be gone by morning.