A Stepbrother for Christmas:The Hard and Dirty Holidays

By: Celia Aaron


Chapter One



Annalise





I stomped around on the porch of the chalet. Snow clung to my boots and lay thick and deep on the surrounding slopes. The wind was bitter, slicing through my clothes and stinging my skin. I wasn’t dressed for the weather quite yet.

I’d just driven in from the airport. Mom had decided this Christmas would be best spent on the slopes of Aspen instead of in Dallas. I didn’t intend to come, especially since I had a lot of schoolwork over the Christmas break. This year, though, Mom wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

Once satisfied I wouldn’t leave a cold, wet trail through the rental, I opened the front door and dragged in my suitcase. Mom had gone to the trouble of setting up a Christmas tree, presents scattered at its base and overdone ornaments and ribbons choking whatever green was on its branches.

The chalet was homey, wooden beams and glass mixing to give an earthy and airy feel. The front windows gave a great view of the mountain and the town.

“Mom!” I called.

My stepfather, Brent, came around the corner and greeted me. “Annalise, my darling, how good to see you.” He gave me a warm hug, going on and on in his posh British accent about how much he’d missed me.

I’d always liked Brent. He’d married my mother five years prior. He was a great stepdad, caring and warm. He’d helped me make it through some tough times in high school and then again in college. He was handsome for his age and well respected in his professional community. My mom had definitely picked a good one – especially when compared with my absentee biological dad.

For all the good things Brent was, he only had one fault. It wasn’t a fault, really. He couldn’t help it. His son being a total dick wasn’t even Brent’s doing as far as I could tell. But Niles Tremaine, my stepbrother, was a total asshole. He’d tormented me ever since our parents got married. It was as if he blamed me for his mother’s death. He was always nasty to me, humiliating me in front of friends, dates, or anyone standing within a ten-foot radius. I never understood how the kindly Brent spawned such a demon.

The moment I heard Niles was going away to college in Oxford, England, I couldn’t be happier. I was able to spend my senior year of high school in peace. Then, thanks to a fortuitous series of events, I hadn’t crossed paths with him for the next two years. I still heard all about him, thanks to my mother bragging every chance she got about how he was a scholar at Oxford, on the rowing team, and on and on. I didn’t care what his grades were. He was an unrepentant asshole.

“Your mother has really outdone herself this year.” Brent waved his hand at the Christmas tree.

“I can see that.” I pulled my cap off, letting my dark hair fall freely down my back.

“Anna!” Mom rushed into the room, her usual ball of frenetic energy. Howie, her sheltie, was hot on her heels and barking with excitement. I leaned down to pet him and gave him a few “good boys” as he jumped around excitedly, his nails clicking on the hardwoods. He was getting older, but he was fluffy, fun, and operated under the mistaken belief he was still a small puppy.

When I stood, Mom gave me a full once over. Her eyes were a darker brown than mine, though her black hair was streaked with gray. Even so, she was still a looker. Tall and willowy with a dancer’s body. I was a little curvier, but had the height. Despite her grace, she hugged like a bear, and wasted no time crushing me in her embrace.

“Mom. Can’t. Breathe.”

She loosened up her grip and put her hand on my face. “You’re frozen! This isn’t Dallas.”

“Thanks for the pro tip.” I changed the subject before she got stuck on the subject of how I didn’t understand thermometers. “Tree looks great.”

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