Authors: Lara Hunter,Holly Rayner
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Holidays, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
I WANT YOU FOR CHRISTMAS
The Prince’s Lost Princess
By Lara Hunter
Copyright 2016 by Holly Rayner, Lara Hunter
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part by any means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the explicit written permission of the author.
All characters depicted in this fictional work are consenting adults, of at least eighteen years of age. Any resemblance to persons living or deceased, particular businesses, events, or exact locations are entirely coincidental.
Table Of Contents:
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Gabriella Galtieri was in serious trouble.
Between molding the meatballs, shaping the pasta, and searing the sausages, she had completely forgotten about dessert. Now her mother was staring at her with that expression—the one that meant she was in for a real tongue lashing. The woman even had her meaty fists pressed against her wide, Italian hips.
“Gaby, we only have four hours until the Thanksgiving feast! Now I have to whip together three fantastic desserts, all on my own! What is the matter with you?”
Gaby sighed. “I’m sorry, Mama. I lost track of time.”
Gaby had been doing that a lot recently. Having worked day after day in her parents’ restaurant, Il Lupo, for her entire life, she was just now starting to feel the crushing sensation of being trapped. She’d started out bussing tables and entertaining the customers, checking on their meals and ensuring they always had a wonderful experience. It had never occurred to her that growing up inside a restaurant was in any way unusual. Italian food was her whole world, and it was something she loved. Cooking and family were a big part of her every day, and she knew not everyone had something like that. Reminding herself of this, she repressed another sigh as her mother went on with her tirade.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Gaby. You need to pay attention! What is it that’s distracting you so, hmm? A boy?”
Gaby tried not to look annoyed at the hopeful look in her mother’s eyes. Gaby was only twenty-three, but she knew her mother, Gina, was already looking forward to the day when she would marry and have babies. That’s what big, Catholic Italian families did, right? Make babies and cook food? Was that really all Gaby had to look forward to?
“No, Mama. I just lost track of time. That’s all,” she said, trying not to sound as exasperated as she felt. “I can help you with the desserts. We have time.”
Gina shook her head. “No. You keep working on the turkey and stuffing. I’ll shift over to the pies and puddings.”
“Okay,” Gaby said, not wanting to disagree with her fiery-tempered mother.
Italians were definitely big into love and family, but they had tempers that could match a tornado’s strength, and Gaby did not like being on the receiving end of those storms.
Wiping her floury hands on her apron, she walked over to the large series of ovens in the back, checking on the enormous turkey. It was cooking wonderfully, the smell permeating the kitchen. Gaby would work on the stuffing once the bird was done; her mother had already chopped up all the bread and vegetables that would steam inside the turkey.
Not knowing what else to do since her mother had clearly declined all offers of help with the dessert, Gaby pulled a bright red coat from a wooden hanger by the kitchen door, and headed up a set of back stairs toward the rooftop. When she opened the door, a welcoming stream of cool air caressed her face, and she closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of late autumn.
Il Lupo only closed for two days of the year—Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a time for Gaby’s very large, very loud family to come together and laugh and tease one another all in one place, rather than through the vast labyrinth of family gossip.
Gaby loved being part of a large family. She had two sisters and a brother, all of whom were older than her. Each of her siblings had two children, and her sister Luisa had another one on the way, due around Christmas time. Her sisters’ husbands were stable, reliable men who were adored by Gaby’s mother and father.
And then there was Gabriella. The baby. The lone wolf.
It wasn’t as though Gaby hadn’t tried her hand at dating—she’d had her heart broken enough times to prove that. It was simply that there was never the right guy. She’d forced herself to see past huge flaws, trying to fall in love and make her family happy, but that had done nothing but destroy her confidence and any relationship she’d tried to have. In order to keep up with the demands of her parents’ restaurant, she had opted to get her business degree entirely online, so there had been no college campus to meet guys on either. When she’d tried dating online, it only made her more jaded.
Gaby took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Before her, all of Queens stretched out along the horizon. She’d spent her whole life in New York City, and had never once stepped foot outside of the state lines. Gaby’s world was so small, and it had never really bothered her until her birthday had passed the month before, when she’d started to feel she had nothing to show for it.
Her breath steaming out in front of her, Gaby crossed her arms to keep warm. All the thinking in the world wouldn’t change her life, so she opened the metal rooftop doorway and headed back into the kitchen, removing her jacket and hanging it neatly back on the rack.
“Mama, I can help, really,” she said.
Gaby’s mother was rolling out pie dough on the wooden countertop. She glanced up at her daughter before focusing back on her pastry. “I need you to mix up the chocolate filling and then peel and slice the apples for the pie.”
“You got it,” Gaby said, squaring her shoulders.
Thanksgiving was not a time to think about one’s problems; it was a time to celebrate and enjoy family time. Gaby focused on that as she mixed the chocolate and peeled apple after apple until her fingers cramped. In what seemed like no time, she and her mother heard the jingle of bells as the front door opened, announcing the arrival of Gaby’s extended family.
“Gabriella!” her Uncle Tony called as he reached the doorway to the back kitchens of Il Lupo.
Gaby smiled. Her Uncle Tony was one of her favorites.
“Hi Uncle Tony,” she said.
He grinned. “Your mother has you hard at work as usual, I see,” he said, winking at Gaby’s mother.
Gina wiped a drop of sweat from her brow as she looked up at her brother. “Don’t coddle the girl, Tony. She needs to learn the value of hard work.”
“Well I’m sure she already has, Gigi. You’ve been working her since birth. Why don’t you let the child come out and socialize? I can send in fresh recruits to help you back here.”
“Do whatever you want, Tony. You always do anyway,” Gina replied.
Tony winked at Gaby and motioned for her to make her escape.
Gaby grinned, walking to the large basin sink and washing her hands before removing her apron and straightening her burgundy dress. When she reached her uncle, she threw her arms around him in a great big hug.
“Thanks, Uncle Tony,” she said, and he laughed.
“For what, rescuing you from your drill sergeant?”
“For always looking out for me,” Gaby said, laughing along with him.
He gave her cheek a gentle pat before stepping back and heading back toward the dining area. “I got your back, kid. Don’t you worry about that.”
Tony headed over to his wife, Vera, and said something to her in a quiet voice. Vera nodded and waved to Gaby before heading back towards the kitchens to help Gaby’s mother get the meal together.
Looking out at the dining room, Gaby noticed that it was just as bustling as always. Her father was directing her other uncles to move several tables together, creating one long table in the center of the room. Booths outlined the rest of the space, as well as an old wooden bar stocked with liquor—most of which would likely be imbibed that evening.
“Gabriella,” her father said, noticing her presence and casting a rueful glance at Tony. “Your uncle may be able to save you from the kitchens, but we need help setting this table. Go get the Thanksgiving tablecloths, please.”
“Yes, Papa,” she said sweetly.
Tony’s smile was apologetic as he headed back to the tables and helped the other men place them side by side. Gaby headed behind the bar and pulled out a series of deep crimson tablecloths, which she grasped and flung across the tables, now completely assembled. Her sister Luisa had been seated across from her, and she helped straighten the tablecloth.
“Oof,” Luisa said suddenly, placing a hand on her swollen belly.
“You’ve got a little soccer player in there,” Gaby joked.
Her sister laughed, though her eyes were tired. Much like Gaby, Luisa had dark brown hair and eyes, and when she wasn’t pregnant, had a lean frame. Both girls were tall. Gaby had always wondered how her sisters had managed to marry tall men as well. It was nearly impossible for Gaby to find men like that, and she had certainly tried.
“Tell me about it. I can’t wait until Christmas, so this little present can do his kicking outside.”
“He will be here before you know it,” Gaby said, trying to be reassuring.
There were really no words one could say to a woman who was nine months pregnant, so Gaby did the best she could to navigate that minefield and moved on, grabbing fistfuls of silverware and setting them on napkins that had been folded by one of her aunts. When she reached the end of the table, she looked up to find a glass of red wine hovering in front of her face.
“Here,” her brother Michael said, his hand attached to the filled glass. “You get to take a break now.”
Gaby smiled, wiping a bead of perspiration from her brow and taking the glass. “Thanks, Michael.”
Her brother held up his own filled glass and clinked it against hers. “To
la bella vita
!” he said, faking an Italian accent.
Gaby laughed. “
La vita è bella
!” she replied, taking a healthy gulp of the wine and relishing in the gentle burn as it flowed toward her belly.
She looked on with Michael as her nieces and nephews ran around the restaurant, playing tag.
“How’s family life?” Gaby asked, glancing up at her brother, who was also inordinately tall. He met her gaze before looking back at his children, his expression warm and fatherly.
“It’s good. It’s bad. It’s everything in between. Maria is getting another tooth, hopefully her last, but it hasn’t’ exactly helped make the toddler years any easier for us.”
“I can imagine,” Gaby said.
She had watched her brother and his wife struggle with their rambunctious little crew, Alba and Maria. The two were four and two years old respectively, and they were wild little things. Gaby enjoyed riling them up and then sending them off with their parents, enjoying only the fun part.
When Michael looked back at his sister, his expression was searching. “And what about you, little sister? How are you getting on?”
“Oh, you know,” Gaby said, waving a hand dismissively. “Another day, another dollar.”
Michael frowned. “That’s no way to live a life, Gaby. You should be out doing things, seeing the world, meeting people…”
“Yes, yes, and falling in love and having a family, blah, blah, blah. You know it’s not as easy as the rest of you keep making it out to be,” Gaby grumped.
Her brother’s smile was gentle. “Just give it time. The right person will show up when you least expect it. That’s how it happened for me, anyway.”
The two siblings watched as Alba pushed Maria on the floor. The young toddler cried as Michael’s wife, Jennifer, swooped in to handle the situation.
“Looks heavenly,” Gaby said wryly.
Michael grinned. “Parenting is heaven and hell all at once. And I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world,” he said, setting his glass down and walking over to his crying little girls.
Kneeling down next to his wife, the two of them talked gently with their children until the girls were forced to hug it out, and started running around playing again, the tears already forgotten. Gaby found herself wishing that adults could be more like children sometimes. They were so quick to forget and get back to fun.