Under the Kissing Tree

HSI_WebFor the first time in ten years, wallpaper designer Eliza Westwood accepts her grandmother’s invitation to go home to Paris for Christmas.

Big mistake.

It seemed ideal to Eliza: go to a city she loves, and hide from the heartbreaks of the past year. But her grandmother is determined to teach her that the holidays hold the magic they once held, and that life is about love.

Eliza knows better though, and nothing can make her believe in stardust again. Not Paris’s lights, not her grandmother’s fruitcake, and certainly not Xavier, the boy next door who’s, now, very much a man.

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Under the Kissing Tree – Chapter One

Huddling under the covers, Eliza gripped her cell phone and tried to decide which excuse to give for taking the day off:

  • her dog was sick;
  • she had no clean underwear;
  • or she was in the middle of a passionate affair and couldn’t get out of bed.

Only her boss, Beau James, knew she didn’t have a dog, and he wouldn’t care if she wore underwear or not. And the passionate affair was so ridiculous that even she knew better than to use it.

Not being able to get out of bed? Totally true.

She should just go to work. If she stayed busy, she wouldn’t have time to think. If she kept moving, the sad feelings, and the disappointments would fade away. They had to eventually, right?

Besides, she liked designing wallpaper, and it gratified her to see her designs in magazines that featured the posh homes of the rich and famous.

And this time of year was particularly crucial, since they were ramping up for the big design show at the end of January that’d set the interior decorating trends for the next year. Beau had told her that revenue was down and that he was counting on her to produce designs to set them back into orbit.

Normally, she’d have been up for the challenge. She’d have been on pace, too.

But then last night happened.

Eliza pulled the covers up a little bit more. She wasn’t going to go to her laptop and look at her ex’s Facebook page again.

That post was like a slap to the face.

The asswipe was getting married, and he sounded happy about it. Thrilled, even.

Just thinking about it made her so angry her heart pounded in her ears. She pulled a pillow over her head to try to drown it out.

It was crazy—they’d broken up months ago—and she really didn’t care about Kevin at all. In fact, she counted herself lucky that she hadn’t married him.

What a disaster that’d have been. Being with Kevin had been a whirlwind of fun, but when it had come down to it, she couldn’t depend on him. That fact had been starkly evident when she’d shockingly discovered she was pregnant.

She wasn’t sure why she’d expected a different response from him than, “What are you going to do about it? You aren’t planning on keeping it, are you?”

So his fiancée was welcome to him. She even wished them a good life; she didn’t begrudge him happiness.

What made her furious was he was getting married on Christmas: the day her baby was supposed to have been born.

Clutching the phone to her chest, she closed her eyes and tried to breathe, but the fury caught in her throat and choked her. Her brain knew he hadn’t been aware of the significance of the day—Kevin was always clueless and blind to anything other than what affected him. He hadn’t been interested in the pregnancy whatsoever.

He’d been just as uninterested when she’d miscarried. He hadn’t even offered her an “I’m sorry.” It’d been a no-brainer to leave him.

Truthfully, she’d felt relieved when the cramps had ramped up. How awful was that? But being tied to Kevin forever through a child would have been the worst kind of prison sentence, and raising a child alone had terrified her.

Taking the pillow from her head, she hugged it to her chest. She should just buck up and go in to work so she’d have something to do other than think.

Except the picture of Kevin and his fiancée flashed behind her eyelids, and she knew she couldn’t buck up. Kevin actually had moved on and was happy. She was just in stasis.

She was miserable, and she couldn’t deny it any longer. The problem: she had no idea what to do about it.

Honestly, throwing herself into her work wasn’t working. The more she worked, the less she accomplished. She could barely motivate herself to shower or eat. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone or reading email. She didn’t even feel like drawing.

That had never happened before.

Lately, the only thing she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry.

Although she always resisted. She hated crying. If she started to cry, she was afraid she’d never stop.

“Wuss,” she muttered to herself. Women had miscarriages every day. It wasn’t the biggest deal ever.

Only it was, and she couldn’t make herself believe otherwise—not deep down, not the part of her that had felt the little being nesting in her belly. Something had changed inside her, and she couldn’t go back to how she was before.

She didn’t know how to move forward either. At one time, she had known what she wanted so clearly. Now her vision of the future was myopic and cloudy.

The ring-vibrate combination of her phone startled her upright. It was probably her sister Eleanor again. She glanced at the screen, wincing when she saw it was her grandmother Martha.

Martha had never liked Kevin. That should have been a clue. She was an incurable romantic, always trying to match people up. Her favorite movie was Emma. Martha swore in a previous life she was the person Jane Austen had based that character on.

Eliza winced, remembering the messages Martha had left for her the past couple months—messages Eliza hadn’t returned, because she couldn’t face the woman who’d been the mother figure in her life after her own mom had died so young of cancer.

Another thing to feel guilty about.

With another insistent ring-vibrate, the phone demanded to be answered. Eliza shook her head, declining the call.

Her finger must have touched the wrong spot, because suddenly her grandmother was on the line, her voice loud and clear all the way from Paris. “Eliza? Darling, are you there?”

What did she do? She gaped at the phone. Maybe she should just hang up.

But she couldn’t, because then Martha would worry. So she lifted the phone to her ear. “I’m here.”

“Oh good! Finally.” Her rich voice hadn’t changed, except for a lilt of French from having lived in Paris for over thirty years. “I was beginning to worry about you. How are you, darling? How’s your heart?”

Tears flooded Eliza’s eyes, and she pressed her hand over them to stop their tide. Her heart fucking hurt. If she could, she’d take it out and set it aside so she wouldn’t have to feel it. “I’m good.”

“You don’t sound it,” her grandmother said. “Are you sick?”


“You sound terrible.” Martha paused and then cautiously asked, “Do you miss Kevin?”

“Not at all.” She missed the idea of Kevin and the life they might had had, though. She missed seeing her baby grow up. She was only thirty-six—she knew another baby was possible….

How could she risk it, though? She wasn’t keeping it together so well now; if anything happened again, she’d be completely lost.

“Then you should definitely come home for the holidays,” Martha declared. “So I can reassure myself that you’re doing okay.”

Home had been Los Angeles for the past ten years. Eliza had left New York when she got a job working as Beau’s assistant’s assistant. She’d worked her way up to one of his top designers.

But for Martha, home was Paris, where she’d moved after Jill, her daughter and Eliza’s mother, had died.

Eliza imagined returning to Paris for the holidays. From the time she was six, when her mother had died, she’d spent every school break in Paris. Her sister Eleanor had stayed in Bedford Falls with their dad and his sister—Eleanor had been seriously focused on dancing at that point, having been accepted into the Joffrey Ballet, and couldn’t leave since she had to commute into Manhattan each day.

Christmas was the best time in Paris. In Los Angeles and New York, the holidays were pretty, but they were about shopping. In Paris, the holidays were about family.

Truthfully, Eliza didn’t think she could hold herself together around her grandmother. She hadn’t told anyone about the baby, or why she’d broken up with Kevin, or how she didn’t love her job anymore. Her current emotional state? Not good.

So she made the most logical excuse she could think of. “I can’t. I have a deadline.”

Pish. You’ll work from here. I may be old, but I’m not completely unknowing about these things. You’ll bring your laptop and work from the atelier or the café down the street. Paris is the best place to create. Paris is magic.”

She bit her lip. She hadn’t felt magic in so long. She was afraid it’d died inside her, alongside the baby. “My boss won’t go for it. He likes us all in the office, particularly before a tradeshow as big as the one we have coming up.”

“You haven’t been home in ten years, Eliza. Your boss will understand that. It’s the holidays, and something is obviously wrong. We’ll make you feel better.”


“All the inhabitants of 3 Rue de Bretonvilliers! You remember them. Robert and Louise, on the first floor, are away until Christmas, but Sacha is here. There’s a new girl from London on the second, you’ll meet her. And of course, Xavier.”

“Xavier?” Everything in her stilled.

“Of course, Xavier Durand,” Martha said. “He bought his parents’ apartment and moved back in.”

Xavier was there, living next door to her grandmother?

With a wife? But if he’d gotten married, Martha would have mentioned it, wouldn’t she?

Eliza bit her lip, not sure how that made her feel. Xavier had been her best friend growing up. They’d walked all over Paris and had learned to navigate the metro together as kids. Xavier had been her first crush and her first kiss.

He hadn’t been her first time, but she’d always wished he had been.

The last time she’d been there, he’d been home visiting his parents for the holidays, too. After Martha’s Christmas festivities, the two of them gone out and found an intimate bar where they’d shared a bottle of red. Conversation had turned into kisses, and kisses turned into heated caresses that had made her head spin more than the wine.

In the stairwell of the apartment building, as he’d unbuttoned her blouse, he’d asked her to stay in Paris. To see, he’d said, if best friends made best lovers.

The next day she’d returned to New York to interview for the job at James Living. She’d left without saying goodbye—she hadn’t been able to face seeing him after the night before. What she’d felt the night before had been so potent, she’d been afraid she’d stay and give up her dream, the way Eleanor had given up dancing when she’d met Charles, her husband.

For the first months, she’d wondered if she’d made the right decision, thinking about Xavier all the time. She thought about emailing him, but she couldn’t, and then she got engrossed in her job more and more, until too much time had passed to contact him.

He wouldn’t want to see her.

“That’s it, I’m buying you a ticket,” Martha said with her characteristic decisiveness. “You’ll come here. We’ll bake fruitcake, and we’ll have Christmas the way we used to.”


“What if this is the last Christmas you have? Would you want to be alone in LA or with me in Paris?”

She shook her head. “It’s not my last Christmas.”

“You can’t know that. None of us can predict what’ll happen.” Martha sighed, and then her voice softened. “I miss you, Eliza. Come home. It’s been too long, and you’ve always been at peace here.”

Martha was right about that. Eliza squeezed her eyes against the need to be enclosed safely in her grandmother’s arms. Maybe in Paris it’d be clear what she needed to do to feel magic again, or at the very least a little spark of something.


“Okay,” she whispered. She nodded, because she didn’t know what else to do. “I’ll come to Paris.”

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