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A sweet and magical holiday tale you can enjoy all year round!

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Ellie hates Christmas.

Well, maybe hate is the wrong word. While others are excited for the holiday season, she’d rather just skip it altogether.

Then Milo moves in across the hall. He’s quirky and cute, despite his questionable fashion sense and unusual, semi-fanatical passion for the holiday. He makes her a bet-let him try to change her mind about Christmas, and if he fails, he’ll give Ellie the recipe for the most amazing hot chocolate she’s ever tasted.

Cue the jingle bells, as Milo drags Ellie into a whirlwind of baking, decorating, and tree-trimming that has her rediscovering the magic of the season . . .  and fa-la-la-la-la-ing for her new neighbor.

It’s not all tinsel and mistletoe, though. Turns out, Milo’s got a secret up his festive sleeve that could change everything. When the clock strikes twelve on Christmas Eve, it’ll take a holiday miracle for their love story to have a happy ending.

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A thud woke Ellie bright and early the next morning. Well, not so bright actually, as the overcast sky and the fact that it was—she checked the clock—5:23am, for heaven’s sake, lit her room with gray shadows. She rolled over in irritation and was almost asleep again when she heard another thud, a crash, and a cry of surprise coming from the hall. Ellie hesitated for a brief moment, tempted to ignore the noise, but the worry that someone might have actually been hurt had her throwing back the covers and tugging her favorite sweatshirt over her head as she hurried toward her front door. She pressed her ear to the wood, listening carefully—you had to be careful in the city, after all. Maybe it was a crazed burglar who tripped while trying to break in? Or someone equally nefarious doing something . . . nefarious?

It was early. Ellie was never known for thinking clearly before her first cup of coffee.

She tiptoed to the door and squinted through the peephole, holding her breath so as not to tip off the possibly nefarious burglar. To her surprise, she saw a red and green shaped mound of . . . something . . . moving at the door across the hall. Ellie inhaled sharply as the mound rose, revealing itself to actually be a man wearing a rather hideous red and green striped sweater. He whirled about and Ellie saw he had a matching stocking cap atop a wild mound of reddish hair—like some kind of Christmas version of Where’s Waldo. His eyes—so green she could even see their color through the peephole—sparkled with glee as he grinned at her.

No, he couldn’t be grinning at her, only in her direction, right? Still, she stumbled back from the door, hand pressed to her chest over her rapidly beating heart. She should call the cops, right? Who did whatever he was doing at five-thirty in the morning if they weren’t up to something?

Still, he didn’t really look like a burglar, did he? He was hardly dressed to avoid attention.

Ellie took a deep breath—two—before curiosity had her tiptoeing back to peek at him again.

And she saw . . . nothing. Only darkness.

Ellie pulled back and blinked rapidly, then looked again. This time, a wide green eye stared back at her.

“Hi!” the eye said. Or rather, the guy said, as he stepped back to wave happily at her. His smile dropping, he leaned in to look through the peephole again. “Hello?”

At this point, Ellie was of two minds. One said she should turn around, march straight to her bedroom and climb back in bed until a reasonable hour. The other was dying to know what exactly Waldo was doing out there. That was the mind that often got her into trouble—sticking her nose in when she should mind her own business. The one that peeked into windows while she was out walking late at night, wondering what they were having for dinner or watching on TV. The one that couldn’t help thinking that what was on the other side of that door might be a lot more interesting than what was on her side.

So, with yet another long breath, she whipped the door open . . . 

And had absolutely no idea what to do next. Ellie stood, shifting awkwardly in her too-short pajama pants and oversized sweatshirt, her dark hair undoubtedly a rat’s nest and her face a pale, pillow-creased mess. She stared at the man watching her with what could only be described as an expression of joyful delight.

“Hi!” He stepped forward, then back quickly when she flinched. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, “You must be Noelle.”

“Ellie,” she corrected, yawning.

“I’m just so happy to see you!” he exclaimed.
Ellie crossed her arms, hands tucked into the sleeves of her shirt. “You are?”

“Well, sure!” he replied, his voice way too loud for five-thirty in the morning. “We’re neighbors!”

“We are?”

“We are now!”

Why did he say everything with an exclamation mark? Ellie thought she might be getting a headache.

“I just moved in,” he said, waving a hand toward the apartment across the hall with a flourish. For the first time, she got a good look at it. The door to 5D now had twinkling garland draped over the frame, a wreath with red and green striped ribbons swaying merrily, and giant candy canes flanking it on either side. A pile of more decorations lay scattered in front of the door, and Ellie wondered where it was all going to go. It wasn’t that big a door.

“You did?” she murmured, rubbing her forehead.

The man’s brow creased, and he tipped his head slightly. “You sure ask a lot of questions.”

“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head as she focused on him again. “It’s a little early for me. Most people don’t do their holiday decorating before dawn.”

Ellie grimaced internally. Was that rude?

He didn’t seem to take offense. Instead, his eyes twinkled. “Well, like the boss always says, the early partridge catches the pear!”


“Huh?” Ellie was having a hard time keeping up. “Can’t say I’ve heard that one before.”

“Really? We say it all the time where I come from.”

“Oh yeah? Where’s that?” She ignored his smirk at yet another question.

“Oh, here and there,” he replied loftily, then he stood back and eyed her own bare door frame. “Would you like some decorations? I have plenty.”

Ellie blinked at him. “Uh, no thanks.”

“You sure? I have garland and lights . . . and little climbing elves.”

“Elves are creepy.” Ellie winced. She usually had more tact and didn’t intend to insult her new neighbor’s holiday decor.

“Oh, they’re just misunderstood,” he replied. “It is a busy time of year, after all. You have to excuse them.”

And Ellie wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, so she tried to find a subtle way to exit the conversation. “Okay, well . . . good luck with everything.”

The guy evidently didn’t speak subtle, however. He stuck out his hand. “I’m Milo.”

“Um.” She hesitated, but eventually took his offered hand. “Ellie. But I guess I already told you that.”

“Milo and Ellie,” he said. “Ellie and Milo. Mellie. Ello. Milollie. That’s it!” He snapped his fingers and pointed at her. His grin, which she didn’t think could have gotten any wider, did. “That settles it. We have to be friends.”
It was overwhelming. And more than a little weird. But for some strange reason, this odd guy with the infectious smile and apparent passion for portmanteaus made her feel comfortable in the way she rarely did in the presence of people she knew well, let alone complete strangers.

Still, Ellie wasn’t one to give in too easily. “So, you’ve decided, then?” she asked. “I have no say?”

His smile fell. “You don’t want to be friends?”

“That depends,” she said, tapping a finger on her lips and showing no mercy. “What do you bring to the table?”

Milo caught on quickly. His lips tilted up at the corners and his eyes sparkled with mischief. It made her stomach swoop, for some strange reason.

“I make a mean hot chocolate,” he replied, ticking off one of his fingers. “You definitely want me on your team for a snowball fight because my aim is dead-on. I have excellent holiday decorating skills, as you can see from my apartment.” He waved toward the garland-fest proudly. “And if you’re not sure what to get someone for Christmas, I guarantee I can help you find the perfect gift.”

Ellie wrinkled her nose. “I’m not really into Christmas.”

His mouth dropped open, but before he could express outrage or shock or whatever emotion her statement inspired, she added, “But it’s fine if you are.”

“Oh, I definitely am,” he said, nodding. “It’s my favorite time of year!”

“Well, you’d get along great with my friend, Lana,” she said, unsure why the thought made her feel weird. “She lives next door, and she loves Christmas.”

“She obviously has good taste,” Milo said.

“She is my best friend.” Ellie’s mouth twitched, and Milo let out a loud, bellowing laugh that filled the hallway.
Her neighbors were going to hate them.

“I should head in,” she said, jerking a thumb over her shoulder, feeling suddenly awkward. “Nice to meet you, and, uh, welcome to the building.”

He smiled and gave her a little salute. “See you around, Ellie.”

“See you.”

She went back into her apartment and stared at the closed door. She wasn’t going to watch him through the peephole because that would be totally weird. And borderline stalkery.

Ellie eyed the door, her lips pursed. She could hear him rummaging around in the hallway, the quiet jingle of bells, and a song hummed under his breath.

Nope. She wasn’t going to look. She was going to go back to bed. Wake up at a reasonable hour and get on with her life. With an annoyed grunt, Ellie stomped into her bedroom, threw back the blankets . . . 

And turned right around to stomp back into the living room to look through the peephole.

So . . . she was weird.

Ellie had never really claimed otherwise.


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