The Mistletoe Connection sneak peek

Enjoy the first chapter from this cozy Christmas romance!

Photo by Nick Fewings via Unsplash

The Mistletoe Connection is my debut novel that came out on Nov. 10! It’s been so fun to work on, and I hope you enjoy it too. Below you can find a sneak peek from the first chapter.

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On Christmas Eve, ten strangers at the Denver airport are trying to make it home in time for Christmas when a snowstorm sweeps through, grounding all flights. Stuck in the airport together, they’ll help each other discover the magic of in-between places.

Six intertwined stories explore what happens in the airport as the clock ticks closer to midnight: Landry runs into her ex-girlfriend Resa, and the two women hit it off like nothing ever happened — until things start to get serious. Unaccompanied minor June convinces Adrian to pretend to be her boyfriend for social media that evening, but what happens if she wants to stop pretending? Charles is struggling during the first holiday season since his wife’s death, and the resulting tension with his daughter only makes the night more difficult. Wes and Keely had hoped to sweep their fight about Keely’s career under the rug during the holidays, but being stranded at the airport will bring emotions to a boiling point. Airport employees Trevor and Kat have been best friends since middle school, but can Trevor work up the courage to tell Kat he wants to be more than that? Through it all, heartbroken Mariel is determined to end the worst year of her life on a good note, and ropes everyone into her scheme to make it happen.

4:12pm, Christmas Eve

Landry’s foot bounced as she sat in the hard plastic seat, connected on either side to identical seats like conjoined twins. Of all the benches scattered across the airport gate, of course Landry would choose the one with the broken plugs. She tapped the screen of her phone again and looked at the battery icon in the top right corner — no lightning bolt signifying it was charging. And she was down to four percent.

Still, she couldn’t stop unlocking her phone, lighting up the screen to see if she had any messages. From Mom, she told herself, but Landry knew she was hoping to see a text or even an email from Shelby. It was habit, from a relationship that had almost lasted a year, even as her brain told her heart to get over it. But her heart was stubborn like that.

Landry scanned the seats for an open spot next to an outlet. No luck. Though there weren’t many people flying out on Christmas Eve, those who were at the airport had already claimed the chargers. She was debating how far she could go from the gate when an announcement crackled through the speakers.

“All flights out of Denver International Airport have been delayed — ” people on all sides of Landry groaned “ — due to the current snowstorm. We will keep you informed as we have more information. Thank you for flying out of DIA.”

Landry blew out a breath, and a strand of blonde hair fluttered off her face. Screw it. She was getting coffee.

She unplugged her phone, gathered everything into her brown canvas backpack, and shoved off the seat. Landry saw other people eyeing her now-empty spot next to a plug and considered warning them that it was no use, but decided they’d figure it out soon enough.

Despite the airport being emptier than Landry had ever seen, the line at the Starbucks still wrapped around the kiosk. But apparently Landry had nothing better to do with her time, so she stepped up behind a middle-aged man in a suit. Landry understood that some people traveled for business or whatever, but she always relished the opportunity to dress in basically pajamas with almost no chance of seeing anyone she knew. Especially in the Denver airport, it was big enough that she felt comfortable wearing her saggy leggings and a shirt that was two sizes too big with her unwashed hair thrown into a bun. If she had to deal with large amounts of people on their worst behavior while crammed into a metal tube hurtling thousands of feet above the earth, you’d better believe she was going to be comfortable while doing it.

“Landry? Landry Rindall?”

No. No no no no no. Who was here who recognized her?

Plastering a smile onto her face, Landry turned toward the voice.

Directly behind her in line was a white woman in her thirties with shoulder-length brown hair, but she wasn’t the speaker. The voice belonged to someone two people behind Landry: a Latina woman with with deep brown skin and curly dark hair falling down her back, impeccably dressed in black skinny jeans and a sleek white blouse. She looked familiar, but it couldn’t be, surely —

“Landry!” A wide smile lit up the woman’s face, and Landry recognized her. It had been ten years, but she would know that smile anywhere.

“Resa?” Landry stepped toward her, but Resa was already lunging forward and scooping her into a hug. Her body was soft and warm and familiar. “It is you!”

Resa laughed. “I got in line and felt like it was you, but then I thought ‘what if it’s not her and I’m just yelling like some weirdo’ but I decided if you were here and I didn’t say something to you, I’d kick myself later.” They had separated and were standing close, still smiling at each other, a few steps away from the kiosk.

“Are you still in line?” The woman who had been in between them, wearing an Arizona Diamondbacks sweatshirt, raised her eyebrows in impatience.

“Oh — you go ahead, I’ll hop in behind you with my, uh, friend.” It felt weird to call Resa her ex-girlfriend to a random stranger at the airport. Even though that was how they knew each other — girlfriends throughout senior year of high school, before breaking up to avoid a long distance relationship in college. Landry had always wondered what would have happened if they’d decided to go for it.

She offered the woman a smile, but the woman turned away and stepped forward into what had been Landry’s spot.

With raised eyebrows, Landry faced Resa again, and they exchanged a What’s-her-problem look. A thrill danced through her at the fact that they could still communicate without speaking, edging out any uneasiness she felt.

Resa’s smile was dazzling. “Are you flying out tonight? Heading home for Christmas?”

Landry nodded. “You on the flight to Atlanta too?”

“Yep.” They shuffled forward as the line moved up. “I was in town for a couple days, but this was the only flight to get home before tomorrow. If it keeps going this way, though, it won’t matter anyways.” Resa shrugged. “What about you? Why are you flying on Christmas Eve?”

Landry swallowed, images of Shelby’s packed bags and Landry’s tears and shouted insults from both of them flashing through her mind. She pushed the memory away and simply said, “I had to get a last-minute ticket, and this was the only thing available. But of course Denver would have a blizzard on Christmas Eve.” She glanced at Resa. “Why are you in Denver, anyways?”

“Oh, um…” Resa stumbled, but then the barista called, “Next!”

Landry turned forward and ordered an Americano. Then she stepped aside and nodded Resa forward. “Also, whatever she’s having.”

“Oh, Landry, come on,” Resa protested, but Landry was shaking her head.

“Nope. My treat. Without this Starbucks line, we might not have met again, so I’m celebrating.” Landry grinned at her, and with a small shake of her head and a smile, Resa stepped forward and placed her order.

Landry swiped her card, and they both walked a few feet away to wait for their drinks. The smell of coffee hung in the air, even away from the kiosk, and and the moving walkway behind them hummed along, underscoring their conversation with its mechanical whirring.

“Are you looking forward to going back to Atlanta?” Resa asked.

Landry zipped up her wallet and shoved it in her bag. “Mostly, yeah. Like I said, it was a last minute decision, but it’ll be good to see my family.”

Resa nodded, but the question was plain in her eyes. Landry prayed she didn’t ask it out loud, and her shoulders sagged with relief when Resa just said, “And the bakery? How’s that going?” She grinned. “I have to tell you that I’m obsessed with your Instagram page and all the decorating videos you post.”

Landry knew she was blushing, even as her mixed feelings about the bakery she had owned for two years now swirled inside her. “It’s going pretty well. Closed it down for today and tomorrow, and then my assistant manager will run it for a couple days until I get back.” She tucked some stray hairs behind her ear. “I like it, but it’s not like I’m saving lives or anything.”

Resa’s eyebrows knitted together. “But if you love it, that’s what matters, right? And besides,” she winked, “I bet there are plenty of people who would say that your cupcakes are lifesaving. I know I felt that way in high school more than once.”

Landry smiled, but inside she squirmed at the compliment. No one actually felt that way, she knew that. Eager to change the subject, Landry planted a hand on her hip. “Can I just say that it is completely unfair that you’re flying and you’re dressed like that?”

Resa frowned, looking down at her outfit. “Like what? I came to the airport straight from a meeting.”

“Exactly!” Landry threw up a hand in exasperation. “You look killer, and I’m dressed like a schlub. If I’d known I was going to run into you, I would’ve worn something decent.”

Resa’s laugh was exactly as Landry remembered it, full of warmth with a little hiccuping trill that made it impossible not to join in. “Stop it, you look great.” She paused, then, and held Landry’s gaze. “Really great.”

Landry knew her cheeks were bright pink, but she was saved from figuring out a response when a barista shouted her name, followed by Resa’s. Well, technically the barista said it like Ray-suh, when it was actually just the end of Theresa — her full name. Landry made eye contact with Resa, who shook her head with a small, resigned smile. People had been mispronouncing her name since high school.

They grabbed their drinks and then stood in a stilted silence as people rushed by them, the wheels of their suitcases clicking on the tiled floor. Landry wondered where they could be hurrying to — all the flights were delayed, after all.

Resa cleared her throat. “Well, do you want to go sit somewhere? Or do you prefer to drink your coffee while dodging crazed travelers?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s my favorite way to pass time in an airport,” Landry said lightly. Resa laughed again, and Landry felt a familiar tug in her chest, one that made her want to keep Resa laughing forever.

“Well, I’m not as skilled as you are, so I think we should sit,” Resa said, readjusting the shoulder strap of her bag. “Come on, I’ve got the perfect spot.”

Landry raised her eyebrows as she followed Resa. “The perfect spot in an airport?”

Resa’s curls bounced as she nodded. “Yep. I do a lot of traveling for conferences and to meet with partner labs and stuff like that, so one way I stay sane is to find a nice nook or chair or something at each airport that feels sort of like…my place. Like finding a home no matter where I am.” Now she glanced at Landry, uncertainty flickering in her eyes. “That probably sounds super weird or cheesy.”

Landry shook her head urgently. “No, not at all. I don’t fly that much, but it totally makes sense that you have a routine if you do it a lot.”

Resa brightened. “Okay. Thanks. So, yeah, it’s just up on the second floor. Since flights are delayed, we’ll actually be able to sit and chat. Sometimes I only have ten minutes to sit here, but I’ll still do it. It’s a chance to breathe. But it’s nice when I have a longer gap.”

They rode the escalator, Resa one step up from Landry, her body turned so that they could still look at each other as they talked. When they reached the top, Resa strode down a corridor to the right, Landry close at her heels.

After a couple minutes, Resa stopped. “Here it is.”

Landry wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but it wasn’t this. The second floor was bright with the gleaming light reflected off snow in the windows above and shaped like a circle around an opening that looked down to the first floor. Not just the first floor — but an airplane suspended from the rafters, and what appeared to be a garden planted atop the roofs of restaurants and the tram along the lower level. Landry couldn’t tell if the plants were real, but it was still a beautiful scene, and the chaos of below disappeared up here, a quiet respite from the bustling travelers. Chairs dotted the second floor, in lines and against the wall.

“Look, I know it’s sort of dumb, but they’re more comfortable than the normal chairs at the gate.” Resa plopped down into one of them and pointed at the ground next to her. “And, there’s an outlet.”

Landry nodded, still looking around. “I think it’s great. And I seriously need to charge my phone.”

Resa grinned. “All yours.”

As Landry yanked her charging cord out of her backpack and settled into the chair next to Resa’s, nerves buzzed through her. She hadn’t seen Resa since Christmas break of their freshman year of college, and even that had only been across the room at Jen from high school’s party. It had been one of those awkward functions that happens on breaks during the first year of college, when everybody is back in their hometown and feels the obligation to try and reconnect, even though hardly anybody wants to be there. They had broken up a month before leaving for college — Landry to University of Colorado Boulder, and Resa to University of Georgia. Even though Landry had spent the semester getting over Resa, when they made eye contact across the room at Jen’s party, Landry’s body had lurched, as if it would walk to Resa without permission from her brain. But then Resa had given her the same smile she’d given to all the other high school acquaintances at the party. It seemed like a request for a mutual agreement to let it go. So Landry had.

But now, when she looked up from plugging in her phone, Resa was watching her over the rim of her coffee cup.

“What?” Landry reached a hand up to her high bun. “Is my hair crazy? I told you that it’s not fair you look good and I — ”

“Stop,” Resa said with a laugh. “I.…It’s nice. Being here with you. I’ve kept up with you on Instagram and stuff, but I never thought I’d get to just…be with you. Talking, like this. I’ve missed it.”

Landry’s cheeks heated again. “Oh. Well, me too.” Then her grin slipped into something more mischievous. “Although, it’s not like we did all that much talking when we were in high school. I seem to remember us being busy with…other things.”

Resa’s jaw dropped, but her eyes danced, and Landry’s chest swelled at the fact that she could render Resa speechless like that. She couldn’t help it — she laughed. “Your face! You look so scandalized.”

Resa swatted at her shoulder. “Shut up. I don’t remember you being so…”

“Witty?”

“Annoying,” she settled on, but the smirk on her face told a different story. Landry wasn’t sure what to do with the fluttering feeling that the look produced in her stomach.

Resa sipped her coffee. “So…are you seeing anyone? I’ve seen pictures of you with that one girl for a while.”

Landry sucked in a breath, the flutters in her stomach doused. “Oh, yeah, um, Shelby. We’re not…I mean, we broke up. So, no I’m not seeing anyone.” She focused on her phone, avoiding Resa’s piercing gaze.

Resa was quiet for a moment, then said, “Well, it’s her loss.”

Landry rolled her lips inward to bite them. She wasn’t sure about that. And she definitely knew Shelby didn’t feel that way.

But she didn’t want to think about that anymore. So Landry cleared her throat and asked, “What about you? Seeing anyone?” She drank from her coffee cup, savoring the bright bitterness on her tongue, trying to look casual, like Resa’s answer didn’t really matter to her.

Resa shook her head, crossing one leg so that her right foot rested on her left knee as she spoke. “Nope.” She lifted her shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “My job keeps me super busy, and relationships just haven’t worked out with my crazy schedule.” She tucked a curl behind her ear. “Most people want to spend their weekend going to the farmer’s market or something, not in a lab studying moss.”

Landry laughed. “I have to say, I’d choose the farmer’s market between the two. But you’ve always been the nerdy one.” Resa chuckled. Landry smiled at her, but it felt tight. For a moment, she had forgotten that Resa was kind of a big deal in the environmental biology world, a distinguished professor at Mercer University, and traveling all over to do research and speaking engagements. She swallowed, suddenly feeling like a sweater that shrunk several sizes in the wash.

“Landry?”

Her head snapped up at Resa’s voice.

“You okay?” Concern filtered into Resa’s face, and Landry once again forced a smile.

“Yep! Sorry, just tired. I’m fine though.” Landry pushed aside thoughts of Resa’s job, and Shelby, and her anxieties about her own future, hoping all those small doubts would go quiet if she could only ignore them long enough.

If you enjoyed chapter one, be sure to check out the rest of The Mistletoe Connection, available wherever books are sold!

Independent bookstores | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Amazon | Apple | All ebook options

I help readers and writers discover and create life-changing stories. Connect with me at ChelseaPenningtonAuthor.com