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It’s the season of giving, and some gifts keep on doing just that…

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents, and Seph Callaghan has zero idea what to buy his siblings. Throw in a wedding, a mother taking a romantic trip down memory lane and the arrival of the livelier side of the Green family, and Seph’s lack of gifts – or girlfriend – might go completely unnoticed.

Then there’s that small mystery of the positive pregnancy test which someone forgot to throw away…

Snow fights, mistletoe and steamy nights, this could be the most spectacular Callaghan Christmas ever.

This is part of the Callaghan Green series and is definitely not a standalone! It's highly recommended you read Compromising Agreements, Between Cases, Changing Spaces and Mythical Creatures first (just read them all; you won't regret it!)

Main tropes:

  • Family Christmas
  • Sibling banter
  • Who's pregnant?

Intro to Chapter One

A cockring, size small, from Claire to Maxwell.

Chapter One - Seph

“How about this?” My sister, Payton, held up some body moisturiser set that must’ve been made by specially trained elves and plated with platinum given how much it cost.  “I’m pretty sure Mum will love it.”  

Her tone did not make her sound sure.  In fact, she sounded completely the opposite of sure and her face look rather like she was trying not to have a replica tantrum that the small child that was a few metres away was having.  

“I’m pretty sure she won’t.”  I picked the set from her hands and placed it back on the display, praying that I didn’t knock the fucker over.  I wasn’t blessed with dexterity, unless it involved my fingers and female body parts.  “Look, let’s forget what I’m buying people, you just sort out what you need to get.  I’ll get something online for everyone.”

“Seph!”  My twin looked even more mad.

It didn’t compute.  Me getting Christmas presents for my family on the last minute, or even slightly later, would be nothing new and not a shock for anyone.  In fact, if I had a sack full of beautifully wrapped gifts ready on Christmas day, my family would choke on the Christmas turkey.

“You won’t get it delivered on time.  And I’m not wrapping everything for you on Christmas Eve.  Which is three days after tomorrow, by the way.  So nearly to-mor-row.  Please tell me you have got presents for the kids.”  Her hands were on her hips and her eyes were blazing.

“You look so much like our mother right now.”

They clearly weren’t the right words to say.  Payton shook her head and stormed off, leaving me trying my best not to laugh.

Tormenting my twin wasn’t something I was ever going to feel guilty about.  She would get revenge at some point and it would likely be far more painful than her frustration with me.  Payton could be creative and lethal in equal amounts, although I wasn’t entirely sure why she’d stormed off instead of just reaming off a mouthful of abuse at me.

I picked up the moisturiser set and stared at the contents.  Honestly, I wasn’t unfamiliar with those sorts of products.  I moisturised.  That was pretty much it despite what my brothers would say, and I knew for a fact that Max – my eldest sibling – had a better skin care regime than me and possibly his fiancée, Victoria.  I wasn’t exactly ugly, and thanks to my sister-in-law, I’d ended up being in front of the lens a few times.  Meeting people who dealt in the make-up industry had taught me a few things about looking after yourself, and I didn’t want to end up like my Great Uncle Harold, with leather skin and lines as deep as the Mariana Trench across his face, bless his soul.

This set was something that my mum, Marie - and the real pants-wearer in the family – would smile at and stick in a cupboard, possibly give to her Aunt Lucille for a birthday gift as she was definitely in to recycling presents.  I’d been on the receiving end of one once, a book about cathedrals in Britain.  I had no idea why she thought I’d like it, but she hadn’t even opened it once – if she had, she’d have seen that the aforementioned Uncle Harold had neatly written an inscription to her on the second page.

I was stumped.  I had no idea what to get my parents or siblings, and given that every single one of my brothers and sisters were now paired off, none were wanting to give joint presents anymore.  Or not with me.  They were giving joint gifts with their respective partners and if I mentioned contributing the responses ranged from being gently let down (Vanessa) to being told to sort my life out and get organised (Ava).  Maxwell had just ignored me.  

Which was probably for the best.

Payton still had to buy Owen a present, hence she’d dragged me out with her before we set off on the drive to our parents’ house in Oxford.  London, three days before Christmas Eve, was not for the faint hearted, just the certifiably insane.  I wasn’t sure which of us qualified as being insane enough to think that it was a good idea to head onto Oxford Street and mix with the rest of the last-minute shoppers, but somehow we’d decided to brave it and headed into the trenches.

Now I wished I’d just gone to the bar after work and bought a couple of rounds in.  It would’ve been far less sweaty, and I wouldn’t have witnessed Payton’s epic strop.   

I had managed to buy presents for Teddy – Jackson’s son – and Eliza – Claire’ s daughter, as well as Claire’s nieces who were joining us with their parents over the Christmas period, so I wasn’t going to be castrated.  There was no way I wouldn’t see my niece and nephew unwrap something from me, even if Teddy didn’t understand what was going on yet.  Everyone else could live without a gift, or maybe just consider my presence as being enough.

We’d all be together, thankfully in a big house with lots of alcohol, preparing for Maxwell’s wedding to Victoria.  The big house was necessary, given that the size of our family had exploded in recent years, and the alcohol was definitely an essential.  Luckily, Max and Vic had opted for a small low key affair, which meant that we wouldn’t be spending Christmas tending to a groomzilla.

I hadn’t even worked out what to buy them as a present for their wedding.

I was fucked.

My phone vibrated in my pocket once and then again before I could even pull it out.  Everyone had pretty much finished work for the Christmas holidays, apart from probably Killian, who ran his own security business with his brother, and Callum, who was a vet and currently in Marrakesh with the animal charity he and his fiancée volunteered for.  Everyone being off work meant they had more time for making last minute plans and sending group messages.

The small child who’d been having a tantrum ran straight into me as I brought my phone out, knocking it out of my hand and onto the floor, before his foot stepped straight on top.

The inevitable crunch was punctuated with the sound of jingling bells from the speakers and the supposed laugh of Santa Claus.

There was a worried look from the boy, and he stepped backwards, eyes open with what I hoped was fear.  I wasn’t into scaring small children, I actually quite liked kids, well-behaved ones who didn’t come with an inbuilt attitude anyway.

“Ralphie, come here, now!”  His mother – or whoever she was, I assumed mother – looked tired and harassed.  “This is what happens when you don’t do as you’re told!”

I bent down and picked up my phone. The screen had shattered although it was still managing to vibrate with yet another message.

“This is what happens when you don’t do as you’re told.”  I held my phone up to show what had happened.

“Could’ve been like that already.”  The boy spat the words out.

I looked down at my suit – going home to get changed hadn’t been part of the plan – and my tie only slightly loosened.  “Somehow, kid, I don’t think someone who wears a suit like this goes around with a broken phone.”  I looked at his mother.  “He,” I pointed to the kid, “owes me a new screen.  How do you suggest he pays his debt, because this isn’t your fault?”

The kid looked pale.  “You can’t make me do that.”

He was right.  I probably couldn’t.  But he really did need to learn not to be dick sooner rather than later.

“I’m a lawyer. Try me.”

“You don’t even know who I am.”

I looked at his mother who was starting to smile.  “His name’s Ralphie Bradfield.  We live in Greenwich.  And he absolutely will pay you back.”  She gave me the rest of his address while he stood there horrified.  “He’s my little brother and has no idea how to behave.”

“Justine!”  He dragged out every one of her vowels.  “What you saying that for?”

She smiled and pulled out a receipt and a pen from her handbag, scrawling down her number.  “I appreciate any lesson you want to give – either of us.”

I forced a smile and felt my skin crawl at the same time as wanting to hide under a rock.

Being hit on used to be a cause for celebration.  Now it was just a curse, one that was the first thing my siblings and other partners at our law firm mentioned.  Never that I did well on a case, or earned mention in a law journal, or that my figures were the highest out of everyone over the last three months.  No, it was always about what girl had said what to me or someone turning up at reception asking if I was free.  And that was just the tip of what was a very big, greasy, dirty iceberg.

Ninety minutes later I had a new phone – one of the perks of earning a decent salary – and I was sitting in a café bar with a bottle of beer with no idea where my twin actually was.  She hadn’t answered my call or sent a message, so I could only assume that she’d been kidnapped and dropped off somewhere as soon as she opened her mouth.

The family group message had been very active.  I braced myself as I opened it, knowing full well that there would be endless speculation as to why I wasn’t responding.

Marie: What time should I be expecting you all?  I need to make sure your father and I are decent before you get here.

Maxwell: And by decent, you mean dressed in jeans and jumpers and not sweatpants, don’t you?

Marie: I meant behaving in a way becoming of parents/grandparents.  We’re used to having the place to ourselves and don’t have to consider being… discreet.

Jackson: Bleach my brain.  I’m never sitting on any surface in that house again.

Ava: You just gotta hope that when you reach that grand old age, you’re still able to do it, Jacks.

Marie: What do you mean – grand old age?  We’re not over the hill yet.

Callum: Did you buy Dad a supply of little blue pills as an early Christmas present?

Maxwell: Aren’t you in Marrakesh, Cal?  And that is another image I don’t need.

Jackson: Bleach my brain, again.

Callum: They do have internet in Marrakesh, surprisingly.  Our flight has been put back by a few hours and we’re going to stop at Wren’s mum’s first, so we’ll be there late Christmas day.

Marie: Can’t you bring your flight forward?

Callum: No can do.  We’d have to fly today and we still haven’t finished inoculating.  It’s been a bigger project than we thought.  Now, back to the blue pills.

Marie: Your father doesn’t need any blue pills. *sniggers*

Ava: Mum, stop trying to be trendy with your messages.  Claire, what size clothes does Eliza take now?

Marie: Are you still shopping for presents, Ava Marie?  You’re cutting it fine!

Callum: Even my presents are bought and wrapped.  Tut tit.

Callum: I meant tut tut.  Not tit.

Ava: Wren did say you were obsessed with tits.  And your presents are only bought and wrapped because Wren did it before you went away.  Speaking of last-minute present buying, has anyone heard from Seph and Payton?  They were shopping.  

Maxwell: I tried phoning Seph but it was just going straight through to voicemail.

Claire: He’s probably opening his advent calendar.  Only it won’t contain chocolates or a nice picture…

Claire: It’ll be of the female variety instead.  Different one for each day.

I ran my fingers through my hair and closed my eyes.  Typical conclusion jumping.

Claire: Eliza will be fine in aged two to three, Aves.  Thank you.

Me: Actually, I’ve been getting my phone fixed.  Has anyone heard from Payton?  She stormed off when I told her she looked like Mum.

Marie: And why would she storm off at that.  What’s happened to your phone?

Maxwell: He probably dropped in it his coffee.  

Me: Actually, a kid ran into me when I was checking the messages from you lot and then stood on it when I dropped it.  It’s not been a good day.  Has anyone heard from Payton?

Claire: She rang me a few minutes ago.  I believe you’re present-less.

Me: I’m just going to buy bleach for you all.  And maybe some counselling sessions.

Marie: Why didn’t you do joint presents with Shay?  

Me: I tried.  But he’s done something with his sisters so they’ve all chipped in.  I have got the kids presents though.  

Shay was our cousin, one of Marie’s many nephews and nieces.  He’d just moved over to England from America after living there for three years.  Lainey, his sister, had been here for a few months already, and the other three Green daughters were in the process of joining them, all for various reasons, none of which I’d paid too much attention to.  

Me: I’ll get something sorted.  I have another day yet.

Maxwell: Don’t buy us all a cheese selection again.  Please. That was lame.

Claire: You’re just saying that because it gave you nightmares and you woke up screaming Jackson’s name.

Maxwell: Only time anyone’s screamed Jackson’s name.  

Marie: Don’t be mean else I’ll tell you about how I scream your father’s name.

Maxwell: I’ve heard you do that, M.  When he’s left the toilet seat up.  Plenty of times.

Marie: You know, one day, I’m going to show your dad how to use this and he can see what heathens he produced.

Me: Pretty sure you had something to do with that.  I don’t think Dad can take all the blame.

Marie: Hmmmm.  We’ll see how heathen you are Seph with the quality of your Christmas presents.

I grumbled and locked my phone.  It was seven in the evening and I needed to head back to the shops, maybe find where my sister had escaped to, or find her kidnapper and pay them to keep her a bit longer.

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