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Chapter 1

Ada - 5 days until Christmas

Althoughmostpeoplewouldbe humming “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with the holiday just a few days away, Ada James sang “Miss Independent” quietly to herself.

She often thought of Kelly Clarkson as an older sister. Someone she looked up to for her strength, perseverance, and the ability to overcome obstacles. Kelly’s knack for writing a catchy empowering hook didn’t hurt either.

Ada paused her unpacking when the glistening white mountains of Big Bear, California caught her eye.I feel like I stepped into a snow globe. It’s so different from the palm trees of Los Angeles.

Maggie, her best friend, had invited her and a couple others to stay at a woodsy Airbnb for the holidays. Ada didn’t have much for family other than her grandmother, and it was their tradition to celebrate Christmas early in December. Most of the time, she filled the week of Christmas with work and Chinese take-out.

After hanging up her last outfit, Ada let herself fall onto the plush bed.This might be the coziest Christmas I’ve ever had.She closed her eyes, picturing herself sipping hot cocoa, shopping, and napping in front of a warm fire.

Commotion in the living room interrupted her tranquility.

Ada moved to the hallway to scope out what was happening.As far as I know, everyone who was invited has already arrived.

Her pulse quickened as she slinked down the corridor. A male voice she didn’t recognize piqued her curiosity.

“Guys, come meet Chase’s friend,” she heard Maggie say.

Ada peered around the corner, eyes landing on the new arrival.

Arlo Silva.

He was just as striking as she remembered, and she hated that. Her stomach tightened into a tangled knot.

“This is my sister, Liza and her boyfriend, Miller,” Maggie continued as the group exchanged handshakes.

“Hey, nice to meet you. I’m Arlo.”

His deep gravelly voice sent chills up Ada’s spine.

“Arlo’s a DJ and has been on tour in Europe for the last year or so. And this is his niece, Brooklyn.”

“Hi Brooklyn,” Liza said. “How old are you?”

“I’m ten,” a small brunette girl replied.

“Ah, excuse me.” Arlo cut in. “You’re still nine. Your birthday isn't for another month.”

“Ugh.” Brooklyn rolled her eyes and put a hand on her hip. “Uncle Arlo, you’re killing me. I’m basically ten, and I’m practicing my new age.”

Ada bit back a smile.

“Thanks for letting us come,” Arlo said, as he took off his coat. “I wasn’t planning to return to the states yet, but my sister is having twins and has to be in the hospital on bed rest. So Brooklyn gets to chill with her dope Uncle Arlo for a while.” He nudged Brooklyn, who again rolled her eyes.

“Who’s that?” Brooklyn pointed to the back of the room where Ada was standing in the doorway.

“Oh that’s Ada,” Maggie replied. “Ada, come meet Brooklyn. And you remember Arlo.”

Ada mustered all the I-don’t-give-a-crap she could and confidently walked toward them. She refused to acknowledge Arlo, but bent down to shake Brooklyn’s hand. “Love your shoes,” Ada told her, pointing to the sparkly platform kicks Brooklyn was wearing.

“Thanks! I love your nails. Can you show me how to do that?”

Ada chuckled. “These are couture.” She held up her fingernails that were painted white with rhinestone accents. “But I did bring along a few bottles of nail polish. I can give you a cute manicure.”

“Cool!” Brooklyn replied, dropping her coat on the floor. “Can we do it now?”

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