Second Chance Christmas

by Patricia Hopper

Second Chance Christmas by Patrica Hopper
Fraternal twins Seline and Owen Harrington were separated at ten years old after their parents divorced. Seline went to live with their mom in Virginia, and Owen went to live in London with their dad. In their senior year of high school, the twins secretly conspire to apply to Oxford University without letting the estranged parent know. They are both accepted.

At the end of their first semester at Oxford, Owen admits to his dad, Reece, that he and Seline are attending the same university. With Reece in Canada on business until Christmas, Owen insists on spending Christmas with Seline and their mom at the farm in Virginia. At first Reece agrees to this arrangement, but it doesn’t take long before he has second thoughts. He invites himself to the farm to set matters straight. His decision propels the family on a course nobody expects.

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Release Date: October 24, 2023
Genre: Second Chance | Christmas Romance



Chapter One 

Seline gazed at the imposing two-story gray stone building that stood out like something from a Harry Potter movie. Long narrow windows and thick ragstone walls gave it a castle-like appearance. The key in her hand looked inadequate to open the imposing arched door with its large brass knocker: The entrance to her residence hall.

“Are you lost?” a voice whispered in her ear from behind.

Seline swallowed before turning and coming face to face with the stranger. Tears of joy sprang to her eyes at the sight of her brother. Throwing her arms around his neck, she rasped, “Owen, is it really you? I’m not dreaming, am I?”

Owen squeezed her so tight that she could hardly breathe. “Seline, I can’t believe you’re here.”

He stood at arm’s length and took a good look at her. “In some ways, you still look the same as when we were kids, and yet you’ve completely changed. I’ve seen your photos on Instagram and on FaceTime, but it’s a bit of a shock to see you in person—all grown up. Your hair is lighter, and your skin has that healthy Virginia outdoor glow. You’re taller than I expected.”

“But not as tall as you. You’re a good eight inches taller than me.”

“Less if you’re wearing heels. You were always pretty. But you’re more attractive now than the skinny kid that wore braces.”

“Flatterer,” Seline said, punching his arm. “You favor Dad more now. You have his winning smile. The smile that helps him negotiate success in the business world.”

“Dad’s a workaholic,” Owen said. “He only has time for his business and little else.”

“He made an effort to pay attention to me on our usual summer month swap when I came to visit him in London, and when you stayed with Mom.”

“How long did that last?” Owen asked with a tinge of sarcasm.

“He was distracted and interrupted sometimes.”

“Sounds about right.”

“I felt stifled in London, and it drove him mad that I kept leaving your penthouse and went roaming around the city on my own. He finally gave in and took me to Bath for a few days. He’s actually fun if you keep him off his phone and away from work.”

“You’re kidding, right? Dad and fun don’t mix.”

“I mean it. We went on a river cruise, and a bus tour around Bath. We went for walks and even took a trip to Stonehenge.”

“That’s more than he does with me in a year—if you don’t count the football matches.”

Owen took the handle of her suitcase and said, “Let’s get you inside to your dorm room.”

She held up the key and pointed at the heavy door. “There’s no way this key will work in that door.”

Owen grinned, took the instruction sheet from her hand, and thrust the large paper bag he was carrying toward her. She peered inside the bag.

“A few things to help you get set up,” he said. “Besides, I’m dying for a cup of tea.”

He looked at the sheet of paper and pointed to a set of numbers. “No enormous key required for the front door,” he said. “There’s a code on here for the keypad lock.”

She gave him a disappointed look. “An electronic lock seems like a mockery of such an ancient building.”

“It’s more secure—and practical. It beats carrying around a large key.”

“You’re mocking me,” she said.

“I’d never do that.” He gave her a mischievous grin that was reminiscent of their childhood.

The inside of the building had a wide tiled hallway, but no elevator. They struggled to the second floor with Seline’s suitcase, her overnight bag, and the paper bag of groceries.

“You can use your key in the lock now,” Owen said, stopping at her dorm room door.

Once inside, Seline placed the paper bag on a small table and Owen set her suitcase and overnight bag close to a closet. The room had high ceilings and a wide window that looked onto a grassy courtyard inside a quad-building complex set in a square. It gave a feeling of openness. The lawn had been neatly cut and trimmed. Flowerbeds filled a circle in the center of the courtyard and benches edged the area on all four sides with a few trees scattered about for shade.

She turned back to her room, that consisted of a single bed with bedside tables on each side, accompanied by closets and a dresser with a mirror. A desk and chair sat snugly in a corner against the wall. Toward the front of the room, a divider wall separated a loveseat and small coffee table from the bedroom area. Opposite the loveseat, a small kitchen table and two chairs stood close to a cabinet with a cutlery drawer, shelves for cups, plates, and supplies. A microwave oven and an electric teakettle sat between the top and bottom cabinets, with a small fridge enclosed inside the bottom cabinet. To her delight, an adjoining door led to a private bathroom.

“It’s nothing fancy,” Owen said. “There’s a large dining hall downstairs where you can take your meals. There’s also a student lounge if you’re tired of your room or want to meet with friends and chat. The outside door off the lounge will take you to the private courtyard.”

“It’s more than I expected,” Seline said.

“After you’ve rested and are over your jet lag, we can explore the campus,” Owen offered. “There are tours of the campus for us freshers, so we can take advantage of that, too.”

He walked over to the electric tea kettle and filled it with water. When he handed her a cup of tea and a croissant, Seline realized how hungry she was. Now that she was here, adrenalin left her that had kept her awake during the nighttime flight. She began to crumble.

Owen had remained on the phone with her continuously from the time she had picked up her suitcase and overnight bag in baggage claim and exited Heathrow Airport. He directed her to the train terminals and to the platform where she would catch a train to Oxford. Once on the train, she relaxed and napped through part of the journey. After she checked in at the university orientation office, her phone battery died, and she had lost phone contact with Owen. But he had still managed to find her.

“We pulled it off,” she said, feeling a renewed sense of joy at the sight of her brother sitting across from her. “Mom and Dad don’t know we’re here—together. Maybe things will change now that we’ve rediscovered each other. It’ll be harder for them to fight us both.”

“When we first connected on Instagram, I never thought we’d pull this off,” Owen said. “But look at us. Here we are—starting college together.”

“Thank goodness for Instagram and our parents’ lack of interest in social media. If we’d used our cellphones, they’d have gotten suspicious and questioned the international calls.”

Owen grinned. “It was hard to keep the secret from Mum this summer that we were both going to Oxford. I almost let it slip a time or two. What about you?”

“Dad acted really proud that you got into Oxford. When he asked if I had any plans to go to college, I dodged the subject. I think he assumed I hadn’t applied to any colleges or was going somewhere local. Fortunately, Mom and Dad don’t talk to each other, so they didn’t suspect our plans.” She paused for a long moment before asking, “Do you hate Mom and Dad for what they did to us?”

He gave her a pained look before saying, “It was court-ordered. Our situation wasn’t black and white. Dad returned to London after the divorce and Mum stayed in Virginia. They weren’t much older than we are now when they first met and got married. Then we came along—twins. I guess that kind of responsibility brought out Mum and Dad’s differences. Being young and an ocean apart, not just literally but in life expectations too, was a recipe for disaster.”

Seline sighed sadly. “We’re twins, yet we grew up apart.”

“Not entirely,” Owen said, squeezing her hand. “We spent our formative years together.”

“My eleventh birthday was the worst one ever. You and Dad had just gone to live in London.”

“Same here. Dad left to pursue his dream business, and Mum stayed on the farm in America. Even if Grandpa hadn’t gotten Parkinson’s disease, I can’t see Mum settling in London. It took me a long time to adjust to London and not having you and Mum in my life. A month every summer when we switched was never enough for me. I only got to see Mum when you came to London to be with Dad.”

Seline faced the window and stared at the lawn outside. “London was a novelty for me at first, and I liked being with Dad and getting to visit our paternal grandparents in Kent. They’re the sweetest, kindest people. But as I got older, I grew tired of London almost the moment I arrived there. I couldn’t wait for the month to be over so I could get back to the farm. I missed my friends, the open countryside, and, of course, our horses. I’d go into your room after Dad left for work and spend time thinking about you. Sometimes, I’d listen to your music, and play your video games, wishing you could play them with me. I’d stare at the photos of you in your soccer outfit. Holding your martial arts trophies, I’d try to imagine the moment you received them.”

Owen nodded. “I saw photos of your dance recitals and cheerleading. You’re pretty good at soccer for a girl.”

“That’s a real compliment coming from someone who was captain of his soccer team.”

“I appreciated the notes you stuck inside my video game covers. I looked forward to them after my visits to the farm. But more than anything, I wanted to talk to you. Then, once we got old enough and became adept at social media, it didn’t take long to find each other on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. That was a game changer. We could talk and see each other on-line.”

“I got your notes too,” Seline said. “And I felt closer to you after we discovered each other on social media.”

“Owen gave her a sideways look. So, who was the geeky looking bloke in the photo with you at the school prom?”

“That was Artie,” Seline said, a rush of blood turning her face red. “We’d been friends since Middle School. He got accepted into Virginia Tech.”

Owen continued to stare at her, and heat bloomed her face even redder. “What? We were just friends. So, what do we do now?” she asked quietly.

“I know one thing we won’t do. We won’t tell Mum and Dad we’re both here at Oxford.”

“Deal,” she said.

They grinned conspiratorially that was reminiscent of their childhood.


* * *


Seline set her pen down, heaved a relieved sigh, then handed her test paper to the examiner. She quietly left the dull examining room, her eyes squinting at the bright sunlit hallway. She walked down the time-worn steps outside the historic college building and looked around at the familiar landscape. It had been intimidating just fourteen weeks ago when she first arrived at Oxford full of hope, anticipation, and anxiety.

Stepping onto the thoroughfare, she mixed with students crisscrossing the campus in all directions, their voices, laughter, and cheers muffled behind wool scarves. With her last class behind her, she could put rules and textbooks aside for an entire month. For the next four weeks, she would bask in the comfort of home and join in the Christmas spirit.

She came to an abrupt halt outside the student-centered cafe. Engrossed in her thoughts, she had arrived here on autopilot. She gazed round the packed room and spotted Owen. He was sitting at a table in deep conversation with Josef, a student who had become his friend and eventually her friend, too. In the three and a half months they’d been on campus, they had discovered what college life was all about. She and Owen attended some of the same general study lectures, and they studied together. Through these study sessions, Seline’s twin opened her eyes to the person he was becoming as she tried to merge that image with the twin she knew as a child. She looked across the cafeteria at him now. Life with her family as she knew it before she arrived at Oxford would never be the same again.

Owen looked away from Josef and saw her. He smiled and waved her over to their table. She grabbed a bottle of water from a vending machine and joined them.

“All done with classes?” Owen asked.

“Yes,” she said, grinning. “Halleluiah.”

Owen rose. “I’m getting a coffee refill. Anyone want tea, coffee, Coke?”

“I’m good,” Seline said, holding up her bottled water.

“I think I’ve had my coffee quota for today,” Josef said.

Seline watched Owen walk over to the coffee counter. She still marveled at his height, six feet. He oozed the confidence of someone who was inwardly content with himself. His easy-going manner had put her at ease that first day they reunited. His casual offer to discover their way around campus together calmed her tense nerves as she tried to get comfortable with her new surroundings. They had embraced the challenges of what college life was about together, and that discovery brought them closer.

“So, are you looking forward to Christmas?” Josef asked.

“Yes, what about you?” Seline said. Deep down, she was going to miss Owen, but it was only for a short time; she could deal with that.

“I’m relieved I made it through the first term,” Josef said. “My parents will be happy.”

“Were they worried you wouldn’t stick it out?”

“They kept telling me I had what it takes to make it. I just wasn’t sure if college was for me.”

“How do you feel now?”

“I’m coming round to the idea of eventually getting a degree.”

What Seline came to know about Josef was that he was unpredictable. Just when she thought she had him figured out, he’d surprise her by looking at things through a different lens. He loved architecture and could describe buildings in ways she never dreamed. Standing in awe at the designs of Oxford’s ancient buildings, he explained meanings behind intricate images carved into the edifices, and how they were forged into thick walls. He was especially interested in the Saxon Tower, built in the eleventh century, a formidable building that stood the test of time. She had trouble wrapping her head around that. He revealed it was built from ragstone, a substance that was difficult to work with, especially in earlier centuries. But it was extremely durable, which is why the tower had lasted so long.

He also admired newer, more modern buildings and talked about how architecture had evolved over time. How the discovery of more efficient building materials allowed for thermal windows, thus bringing outdoor light indoors. His intense gaze, heightened by deep brown eyes, could be offsetting. At times, his eyes could take on a softer hue, especially when he went into lengthy details about buildings and the architects who designed them. Besides being intense, he had a pragmatic side to his nature and often offered realistic approaches to problems.

Like shortly after they first met. They had taken a walk along the Cherwell River. He pointed to punt boats that were a popular recreational pastime at Oxford. He said they had a more practical use before more modern modes of transportation were invented. People used the river for conveyance to transport goods to communities. It hadn’t crossed Seline or Owen’s minds to consider transportation needs in earlier days. Not until Josef clarified the difficulties people faced, and their ingenuity for improving their lives for the better.

Owen and Josef were dorm mates. They bonded over sports and shared an enthusiasm for soccer and rugby. Owen had introduced Josef to Seline at lunch one day. She was impressed, yet slightly uneasy, by his presence. His candid gaze seemed to assess her without apology, causing blood to rush to her face, and to shy away from his appraising brown eyes.

Their group of friends had grown over the semester as she made friends with other girls in her dorm, and Owen and Josef became friends with other male students. This strengthened the bond between Seline and Owen as their group of friends grew.

“What are you two talking about?” Owen asked, returning to the table carrying a cup of coffee.

“Christmas,” Seline said. “I’m ready to pack up and get out of here.”

“I remember Christmases in Virginia as a child,” Owen said. “Lots of cooking and baking. Neighbors stopping by for warm cider or a taste of Mum’s specialty tea.”

His reminiscence reminded Seline that he visited the farm for only one month in summer. “I’m sure Christmas in London is spectacular by comparison,” she said.

“Spectacular, yes,” Owen said. “But only if you have someone to share it with. Otherwise, it’s all glitter and no substance.”

The naked longing in Owen’s voice brought tears to Seline’s eyes.

“Is Christmas at the farm still the way I remember it? Mum, Grandma, and Granddad decorating the house with lights, and the smell of biscuits and cakes baking in the kitchen. Grandma always loved making a gingerbread house and Granddad used to take us to the Christmas Tree patch to pick out the perfect Christmas Tree. We would dig it up and replant it again after Christmas. Does he still pick out the perfect Christmas Tree?”

“His Parkinson’s disease has gradually gotten worse over the years,” Seline said. “But, yes, we still get our Christmas Tree from the Christmas Tree patch.”

Owen shook his head. “Despite his disability, Granddad is as strong as an ox.”

“He tries not to show it, but he has his limitations.”

“Digging up a Christmas Tree or cutting one down sounds like a lot of work,” Josef said.

“Your family doesn’t do that sort of thing?” Seline asked.

“No. They hire professional decorators to decorate our house. And their assistants do their Christmas shopping.”

“That doesn’t sound—Christmassy.”

“Christmas is about commerce.”

“Do they still light a Christmas Tree on the town square in Comforton?” Owen asked. “And do carolers still go up and down Main Street as shoppers bustle about buying Christmas presents?”

Seline smiled. “We have a small mall on the outskirts of town now. But Christmas traditions are kept alive in Comforton.”

“What about the Christmas parade?”

“That still happens every year. And vendors even sell bags of roasted chestnuts at the Christmas Fair. What’s your family doing for Christmas?” Seline asked Josef.

“Nothing traditional. My parents—and I—are going on a cruise to Zanzibar and Madagascar.”

“You don’t seem very happy about it.”

“I’m not. I don’t like cruises.”

“Christmas won’t be much fun for me either,” Owen said. “Dad is working on some consulting project in Canada. He won’t be back till a day or two before Christmas.”

“Dad always sends me a Christmas present,” Seline said. “I know he tries to put thought into it, but he doesn’t really know me.”

“If there’s something you’d like for Christmas, I can put a bug in his ear,” Owen said.

“Don’t bother. I’ll be happy with whatever he gets me.”

Owen pulled his brows together. “You may be sure it’ll be expensive if Olivia picks it out. She has expensive taste.” The crease between his brow deepened. “I’m afraid Dad’s going to ask her to marry him.”

Seline looked sadly at her brother. “I met Olivia when Dad leaned on her last summer to take me shopping.”

“What did you think of her?”

“She’s not a warm person. She’s completely absorbed with her appearance and spends a lot of time making sure she looks perfect. After taking one look at me, she decided I needed a makeover. We went to a spa and after she turned me over to an attendant, I slipped out the back door. When I returned, she was in the sauna and thought I’d been there all along. I told her I didn’t like saunas and was ready to leave. She said I was spoiling her leisure time and could wait in the lounge until she completed her regiment, which meant I had to stay there until she finished. When Dad asked at dinner how we got on, Olivia gave me a look that dared me to contradict her and gushed at how well we had bonded. Dad beamed, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him what a miserable time I had with his girlfriend.”

Owen grimaced. “Sounds like Olivia. She complains about how sloppy I dress most of the time. It’s funny to watch Dad explain to her that I play sports. One time at dinner, he asked if she even knew what kind of clothes men wore when they played sports. She gave Dad one of her superior looks and said, ‘of course I know.’ She announced I should wear white wool trousers with a double-pleated front, a cotton shirt with a knitted collar, a cashmere sweater, and white loafers when I played soccer. I think Dad was too shocked to laugh. I did laugh, and she looked absolutely furious. She demanded that Dad banish me from the dining table. I didn’t wait for Dad to tell me to leave. I excused myself and left.”

“That seriously happened?” Seline said, through tears of laughter.

“Scout’s honor,” Owen said. “I envy you living on the farm. Living in Virginia with Mum is so much better than living in London.”

Seline looked from Owen to Josef. “You both look really gloomy. I feel bad that I’m looking forward to Christmas when you’re both so miserable.”

Owen and Josif shared a look, and grins spread across their faces.

“What?” Seline asked.

“Maybe you should invite us to your house for Christmas?” Josef suggested.

“Why would you even consider spending Christmas with my family and me?” Seline said. “You said my Christmas plans were too ‘industrious’.”

“They are. It’ll be interesting to watch people get caught up in all the commerce.”

“You’re making fun of me.”

“I’m not. Well, yes, maybe I am.”

“You can’t just watch people do all the traditional things that go along with Christmas and then criticize them. That’s rude.”

“I would expect to be fully involved and I would promise to keep my opinions to myself.”

“You’d still have to be fed and entertained.”

“Surprise. I can cook—a bit. My parents are caught up in their business, which gives me leisure time.”

“You have a maid?”

“A chef. I’ve watched him prepare food, so how hard can it be?”

“A lot harder than you think.”

“Invite me to your home and I’ll prove you wrong.”

“I think Christmas at the farm would be a real eye opener,” Owen interjected. I’m fairly handy. I could put up Christmas lights.”

“I’ll bet you never hit a nail,” Seline said.

I have. Granddad taught me how.”

“What about the horses? Did you muck stalls when you were at the farm?”

“Every day. I went riding a lot. I know your favorite horse is Zaire. And your other three horses are Paris, Vienna, and Juno. Why did you call them after cities, anyway?”

“Those are places I’ve read about and would like to visit one day.” Seline looked from her brother to Josef. “You know, staying at the farm is no free ride. That would go for you too, Josef.”

“Anything would be better than a cruise,” Josef said.

“Most people would jump at the chance of a cruise to exotic places,” Seline disagreed.

“Not if they get seasick and they hate lounging around and stare at the ocean all day.”

“They provide lots of entertainment.”

“Most of their entertainment doesn’t interest me.”

Seline turned to her brother. “Maybe now is as good a time as any to break the news to Mom that we’re both studying at Oxford. I’m sure she’d love for you to spend Christmas at the farm, but what about Dad?”

“If you handle Mum, I’ll handle Dad,” Owen said. “I really want to spend Christmas with my American family.”

Two pairs of eyes followed Seline as she stepped outside to privately break the news to Mom that she and Owen had met. As she dialed the number, she thought about how Mom never talked about the things she and Owen did during their month together. And Seline never shared what she and Dad did in London. It was obvious Mom couldn’t bear to talk about Dad and was too distraught to discuss her treasured moments with Owen. Each time he left to go back to London brought renewed grief and reminders of the heart-wrenching arrangement she and Dad had agreed to. Not only did her parents carry the burden of their decision, Seline and Owen felt the weight of that burden, too. It was time to break the ridiculous cycle.

Seeing Owen after so long reminded Seline how much she missed her brother and how much she loved having him back in her life. No matter what happened with their parents, they were never going back to the way things were before.

“Hi honey,” her mom said cheerfully after she picked up the phone. “Are you finished with classes and ready to come home?”

“Yes, I just have to pack and tie up a few loose ends. Are you sitting down, Mom?”


“I’ve something to tell you, and you need to be sitting down.”

“You’re scaring me, honey.”

Seline licked her lips, then said, “Please, sit down.”

“I’m sitting. Tell me what’s so awful.”

“I’ll just come right out and say it. Owen is enrolled here at Oxford. We’ve met, and he would like to come home with me for Christmas. He’d like to bring a friend with him, too.”

There was a pause, then the sound of a crash on the floor and a scramble to pick up pieces of what might have been a dish or a plate.

“Mom?” Seline said frantically. “Are you alright?”

More scrambling. “Mom, speak to me!” Selinesaid.

Heavy breathing sounded over the phone, then her mom said shakily, “I had a soapy dish in my hand, and it slipped through my fingers. Owen never said anything this summer about studying at Oxford.”

“I know. He kept it a secret,” Seline said.


“We’ve been communicating through social media for over three years now.”

“You never told me.”

“No, Mom, I didn’t. You and Dad would have stopped us.”

“We are bound by the court-ordered agreement.”

“Well, we’ve just turned nineteen. So, the court has no jurisdiction over us anymore. Even if it did, we get to choose which college we want to attend.”

“Does your dad know?”

“Not yet. He will soon. Owen’s going to tell Dad that he wants to spend Christmas break at the farm.”

Mom drew in a sharp breath. “You’re sure that’s what Owen wants?”

“Yes. I can put him on the phone to tell you himself.”

“Your dad won’t agree to it...”

“He’ll have to. Owen’s mind is made up.”

“Your dad could refuse to pay his tuition if Owen ignores the court order.”

“Then he’ll never see Owen, or me, again. Does he hate you so much to do that?”

“Your dad doesn’t hate me.”

“Then he won’t object to Owen coming to the farm for Christmas.”

“It’s more complicated than that, honey.”

“Only because you and Dad make it that way.”

“This is too important to talk about over the phone. Look, if your dad agrees to let Owen come to the farm, then he and his friend are welcome to spend Christmas break with us. We’ll discuss the situation more when you get home.”

“I’ll let you know when everything is arranged.”

“Okay honey. I’ll pick you up at the Charlottesville airport.”

Seline stood very still for several moments after her mom hung up. She needed to compose herself before she returned to Owen and Josef. It was hard to judge how her mom really felt about Owen and Josef coming to the farm for Christmas. She hadn’t meant to sound harsh with Mom, but it was time she and Owen stood up for themselves. Judge or no judge, the decision to keep them apart had been made without considering their feelings. They were old enough now to demand a change. This would be her and Owen’s first Christmas together in eight years, and she wanted it to be special.

She returned to the table and smiled at her brother and Josef. “It’s all arranged. All we have to do is get packed and book your flights to match mine.”

Owen stood up, and there was a shiver in his voice when he said, “It’s my turn to deal with Dad.”

He went to stand outside the café. Judging from his body language, Seline could tell his wanting to go to the farm for Christmas wasn’t going over well with Dad. Ten minutes later, Owen came back with a worried look planted between his brows.

“How’d it go?” Seline asked, half afraid to hear his answer.

“He said all right, but grudgingly,” Owen said.

“He was still getting over the shock that we’re both here at Oxford when I told him I wanted to spend Christmas at the farm. He tried to insist that I should hang out in London with Olivia until he gets back from Canada. I told him that was never going to happen; that I wanted to be with you and Mum, and to have a proper Christmas. He then argued that Olivia could help me decorate the penthouse and we could spend a nice quiet Christmas together when he got home.

He tried to sweeten the deal with a skiing trip in the Alps after Christmas—just him and me. The only reason he didn’t include Olivia is because she doesn’t like snow and wouldn’t know the difference between skis and a skateboard. I explained I wasn’t interested. He changed tactics and said that I hadn’t seen our grandparents in a while, and we could spend Christmas in Kent. I told him I’d visit them after I got back from America. That left just one option open; to cut his business trip short in Canada. I knew he wouldn’t do that, so he grudgingly gave in. He sounded disappointed and said we’d have a long talk when I got back to Oxford.”

Josef clapped his hands. “Good for you, standing up to your old man like that.”

Seline scoffed. “Dad gave in under duress, not with a beneficial blessing.”

Josef shrugged. “All that matters is that Owen can go to America.”

“Your turn to call your parents and see how they react,” Seline said.

Josef left for a quiet corner and Seline tried to convince Owen that Dad would come round after he thought things through. She had barely gotten out a few words of comfort when Josef bounced back, giving a thumbs up. “I’m good to go,” he said.

“How did you get off so easy?” Owen asked.

“I just reminded my parents how seasick I get, and how I’d be a drag on their fun. They said, okay.” He looked from Owen to Seline. “What’re we waiting for? We’re off to Virginia.” He put an arm around each of Owen and Seline’s shoulders. “How cold does it get in Virginia this time of year?”

“Cold enough to snow,” they answered in unison.


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