This time of year is so hectic and I’m in edit on one book and writing the last ten thousands words of another. I was honored to be included in a Christmas Anthology published by RWA LARA last year entitled Holiday Ever After. I’ve omitted the sex scene, sorry about that. If you wish to read it head on over to Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Ever-After-Nora-Flite-ebook/dp/B01M8KZIRK
Wishing you all a very Happy Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!
The Christmas Encounter
By Belle Ami
Mandy had never hated Christmas, but now she did. The holiday time was like a big exclamation point, an emphasis on the failure of her life. Only the truly lost were alone at Christmas, and here she was Christmas Eve without family, friends, or someone to love and be loved by.
She stared out at the sea that danced chaotically before her. Each breaking wave flailed drops of spume that lashed out, basting her face in a fine coat of salt. The angry water seemed to scream and howl as if in protest of being returned to the churning sea from which it came.
Hypnotized by the rhythm of the breathing sea, she wondered what it would be like to walk straight into the churning cauldron. She shuddered. The first icy impact would be terrible, but probably in a few minutes you’d go numb. Kind of like getting a Novocain shot in a dentist’s chair. I bet once anesthetized, it’d be easy to surmount the tide and wade into the slumbering arms of nothingness. What a romantic end of life. Didn’t I see that in a movie once? She searched her memory. Yes, of course, Frederick March and Janet Gaynor, A Star is Born, and that wonderful remake with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Why don’t they make movies like that anymore?
Movies had been one of the great joys of her life. What had happened to all those hours spent in the darkened chambers of theaters watching other people’s lives unfold in reels of silvery light? When was the last time she’d been to a movie theater? She couldn’t remember. She’d cast away that attachment, like so many others, that no longer fed her soul. The magic was gone. Thank God for Netflix. The beauty of anonymously surfing through cyberspace, virtually thumbing through the archives of hundreds of films.
The thought of sitting in a theater with strangers, listening to the sounds of candy wrappers being greedily fingered and kernels of popcorn ground to pulp between greasy, buttered lips, enraged her senses and felt about as appetizing as the hysterectomy she’d endured last year.
Whatever you do, don’t think about the children you’ll never have.
What had driven her to the shore, especially on a day like today? She didn’t know. It was almost as if something or someone other than herself was exerting a power over her. This wasn’t the Mandy who meticulously ordered the hours and minutes of her life. She had meetings in the city, an office Christmas party, her time accounted for. Yet here she sat, staring at an endless expanse of ocean, contemplating…what?
She tried to clear her head and think rationally, but all she could think was how tired she was of living. She wanted to care about something, but life and its endless battles had worn her down. The daily routines of existence, just putting one foot in front of the other, could not hide the maelstrom of her life. It was like threading the eye of a needle blindfolded. She stabbed blindly in the dark, hoping for an answer, but with each miss the opportunity of understanding slipped through her fingers like the grains of sand that she now dug her hands into. Every day it became harder to convince herself that there was anything meaningful to live for.
It was true that her failed marriage—or rather the marriage that had failed her—had proven to be a study in diminishing returns. She and Serge had parted amicably, their marriage easily dissolved. Seven years had yielded little: no children, no pets, and no attachments. It had been easy to divide the accumulation of things, the outward signs of a successful marriage. With a mutual sigh of relief, they had parted ambivalent as to the causes, grateful to be free and unencumbered. He’d found someone else, someone he’d told her he couldn’t live without. With those words he had completely eviscerated her world. Without his saying it, she knew that he’d never felt that way about her, but more importantly, she’d never felt that way about him.
It wasn’t until some months later that the reality of an empty bed had made an impact on her. She’d reached for him out of habit in her sleep and had been stunned awake. The physical emptiness of the bed had revealed the emotional vacuity of her world, and with this realization all of her sense of purpose had vanished. She had rushed into therapy hoping for a cure, but all the pundits and their steady stream of well paid for analysis had done little to restore her broken spirit. She might as well be drowning in the arms of the turbulent sea, then continue to pretend that tomorrow held a key to her happiness.
What an overrated word, “happiness”, tantalizing with its equal promises of reward and redemption. She recalled her mother’s words, prior to the divorce, that had set the end in motion. “Are you happy, honey?” Four little words had revealed the failure of her marriage and with it went the idealistic propensity of youth when one believes all things are possible.
She had built a successful career through hard work and determination, something solid and fulfilling that she could depend on. The truth was that even her work, that last bastion of pride and accomplishment, no longer fulfilled her. She thought about praying, but that would be like believing in the intervention of angels or God himself. It was all pointless, bringing her to this precipice of emptiness that held her immobile, staring out at the gloomy sea.
Lately, self-deprecation had become her armor. It precluded any disapproval from the outside world, but unwittingly encouraged her self-created demons to thrive. She had become reclusive but thought herself in splendid isolation, alienating friends and colleagues. She had told herself that her work demanded no distractions and that eventually she would find the time to mend her frayed relationships. Her self-denial was one more nail in the coffin, and in her heart she knew it.
She shivered as a blast of cold, wet spray pummeled her, raising goosebumps on her arms and legs. Her natural inclination should have been self-preservation, but instead of protecting herself from the bombardment of salt and spray she welcomed the chilly embrace, her physical discomfort proving that she was still alive.
Somewhere down the beach, faint in comparison to the thunderous pounding of the surf, she heard a dog barking. Turning her head, she focused her eyes along the gray path of shoreline to a distant intruder. A dog ran in and out of the effervescent foam of dying waves, barking with bravado at the walls of water that threatened to engulf him. Then, with carefree aplomb, he trotted back to his master, barking his daredevil exploits as he danced with leaps and bounds around him, shaking from head to toe, freeing the beads of salty water that clung to his shiny black coat. Once satisfied with his owner’s approval, the dog turned and ran barking towards the surging tide daring it to envelop him again. The diversion arrested her attention, allowing a momentary respite from the unrelenting despair of her thoughts.
It occurred to her that the approaching stranger introduced a new impediment to the drama she contemplated. It was irritatingly apparent that if she tried to swim out through the crashing surf, he might intervene. After all, only a mad person, or someone contemplating suicide, would willingly ignore the dangers of frigid water and undertow.
Staring out over her shoulder, her eyes blurred by the damp tendrils of hair that clung to her face, she watched as the man and his dog continued to approach. With growing apprehension, she wondered, could she, even without the intrusion, find the determination to truly end her life? As she contemplated her unease, the air thickened and darkened with an impending threat of rain as the stranger and his pet approached.
Damn it, she thought, there’s no question I’ll have to wait until the guy and his dog are gone. I can’t just walk fully dressed into the icy waves and not expect that he won’t play hero.
The whole scenario was beginning to feel like a soap opera. She glared out at the grayness of sea and sky where a seagull struggled against the wind, his screeching barely audible above the roar of rushing air and pounding waves. Maybe he’ll pass me by, or better yet, turn around and disappear.
She stole one more look at the man and dog before turning her attention once more to the black rain-gorged clouds that moved slowly across the sky. Taking a deep breath, she shrank into herself, hoping to project a desire for privacy. She closed her eyes so she wouldn’t see them or encourage any curiosity from the man or his dog. She wanted no contact, accidental or otherwise, with the intruders. She wondered if he’d even notice. It didn’t seem too unusual for someone to sit on the beach meditating, connecting with the spiritual and the natural world. Frozen, her posture rigid like a statue, she sat barely breathing, her senses tuned to the deafening struggle of wind and surf.
Then the unthinkable occurred. A warm, moist tongue licking the salt from her face, startling her with its persistence. Reacting instinctively, she opened her eyes as her hands rushed to protect her face from the onslaught of animal affection.
A man’s voice broke the spell as he ran up grabbing the dog by the collar and gently reprimanded, “Anaia, no. Bad girl. Not everyone wants a dog licking them all over their face.” Reluctantly the dog allowed herself to be pulled away as the man quickly clipped a leash to her collar. “I’m sorry. I hope she didn’t frighten you. She loves people and you were a temptation she couldn’t resist.” His pale gray eyes changed color when they met hers, deepening to the color of sky and sea.
“No harm done.” She forced herself to return the smile. “I just didn’t expect it.”
Anaia tugged on the leash, determined to return to Mandy. “She certainly likes you. Anaia, sit!” The dog obediently sat as her eyes shifted back and forth from her master to Mandy. Whining, she pleaded to be set free, her tail fervently fanning the air.
“Yes…well…no problem.” Hoping that the fewer words exchanged between them, the more likely he would be to continue on his way, she turned back toward the sea, ignoring them both.
“It looks like a pretty big storm is coming.” She could sense his eyes searching her as she stared intently toward the seascape. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he continued, not waiting for her to reply. “I love when there’s no one on the beach. It’s like opening a window and seeing the world anew. It really puts things in perspective…”
His words hung in the air, an uncompleted thought. She could feel him turn toward the sea, following her gaze.
She hugged her legs as a chill swept through her. Unbidden, he sat beside her. Anaia laid down in the sand, her head resting on his leg, her eyes fixed on Mandy. She and the stranger stared silently out over the whitecaps to the darkening horizon.
“Listen, I know you might think I’m crazy, but I just live about a half mile from here on the beach.” He nodded back toward the direction in which he’d come, his eyes never leaving her face. “Would you like a cup of coffee? I could really use one, and you look pretty chilled. Besides, it’s Christmas Eve and you’d be doing me a favor. It seems I find myself alone this year, which is pretty depressing.”
Mandy turned and met his eyes, “Tell me something—is there a meaning to your dog’s name? I’ve never heard it before. Does Anaia mean something?”
For a moment he seemed taken aback and hesitated. A smile shaped his lips and then faded as his face settled into seriousness matching hers. “It’s a biblical name, it means…God has answered.”
He watched as she inhaled, her chest rising with her decision. “I think I’d like that cup of coffee.” It was daring of her, perhaps desperate of her, but she felt unable to say no. The pleading whine of the dog called to her. It was as if Anaia had seen deep into her soul and knew her intentions.
“I think that’s the best news I’ve had all day.” He smiled, his full lips lifting at the corners. “I’ve had a tough week.”
She thought of asking him what had happened, but hesitated, not wanting to be intrusive. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, it’s a bitch. I’m divorced and my ex decided last minute to take my girls away for Christmas. So, here I am, Christmas Eve and alone. What about you? Do you have plans for the holidays?” He rose, extending his hand. She took it, allowing him to help her up.
They walked side-by-side across the dunes with Anaia running, chasing seagulls into flight. Mandy stared ahead, keeping her eyes on Anaia. “No, I lost my mother this year. I’m also divorced, he left me for someone else.” She steeled herself against the cold feeling that usually engulfed her when she acknowledged her failed marriage and the grim fact that she’d never see her mother again.
He grabbed her elbow, gently turning her so she would have to see his face. The color of his eyes changed again with his emotion, filling with compassion. “I’m sorry, that makes my problems pale in comparison. It’s funny about life, how it sometimes knocks the wind out of your sails, and then just as suddenly something happens that renews your belief that there’s a greater purpose. I think it might be nice to know each other’s name. Mine’s Jake.”
He held her gaze, forcing her to look into the kindest eyes she’d ever seen. It occurred to her, she’d been willing to follow a stranger, a man whose name she didn’t even know, wherever he might lead her. It was so unlike her.
“Mandy, I’m Mandy.” The unexpected warmth of his hand still holding hers traveled through her body like a shot of whiskey.
He turned, never letting go of her hand, and they continued to walk toward a group of houses that seemed to appear out of nowhere. She should have pulled her hand away, but the strength that emanated from him made her feel safe and cared for. Holding his hand felt natural, friendly, not intimidating. He’s probably a serial killer and I’m making the mistake of my life, she mused. On the other hand, he just might be an angel sent from heaven to save me. You’re an idiot, Mandy, —God has bigger things on his plate than you.
They arrived at what looked to be an old English cottage. Climbing roses, which in summer would be full and in bloom, were trellised against the house between the diamond-shaped pane windows. The house, painted white, was crowned with a thatched roof that hung low over the white plastered walls. The house was incongruous set among the modern structures that surrounded it, making it seem a figment of one’s imagination.
She entered his home thinking she’d entered a fairytale. It was quaint and charming, with distressed wood floors and nooks and crannies where antique cabinets displayed delicate porcelain teacups and plates. The living room held an overstuffed blue chintz sofa with antique side tables, cozily arranged before a large river rock hearth. She couldn’t imagine how this masculine man would come to own such a romantic cottage. She looked around curiously until Jake interrupted.
“If you’re wondering about the Disneyland digs, chalk it up to my mother. She’s a writer of fantasy romance books. When I was young, I used to complain to her that this place was embarrassing. She’d laugh, ignoring my complaints. C’était comme dans un rêve, this is my dream come true. I suggest you get used it. She’s quite the eccentric. It was like growing up with Auntie Mame. I was always the laughing stock of all my friends and the envy of all the girls,” he chuckled. “I guess it was my rebellion to her feminine sensibilities that made me into a super jock, outdoorsy type. I spent most of my youth trying to prove my manhood to myself.” He grinned, scratching the dark stubble that shadowed his face. “Finally figured out that I don’t have to.”
Mandy couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the teasing he must have withstood. “All I can say is I’m jealous. Your mother was right; this is a dream come true.”
He beamed. “To tell you the truth, for some reason, that’s all that matters to me—for you to feel comfortable.”
She could feel her cheeks redden as she reluctantly drew her eyes from him. She brushed her damp, dark curls out of her face. “I must look like a drowned rat.”
He studied her with an intensity that scared her. “I think you look beautiful.”
She nodded. “That’s very sweet. You certainly know how to make a girl feel appreciated.” Why the hell am I feeling so shy and timid? Maybe it’s because he’s so damn nice and so good-looking.
In fact, the more she looked at him, the better looking he got. When he’d taken off his coat, she’d nearly gasped. His shoulders were wide and his torso tapered into a trim waistline. The gray eyes, which never seemed to leave her face, were so confident and honest that they seemed to see right into her heart. The cold wind had made his cheeks ruddy with color and blown his dark hair into a crown of waves. When he smiled deep dimples sank into his cheeks. It occurred to her he must have been an adorable child. His was a face that took every opportunity to smile and found humor wherever he looked. Instinctively, she knew that this man did not dwell on the morbid, but reveled in the challenges life provided.
Guilt assailed her. What would a man who radiated such confidence and control over his world think of a woman who’d sat on the beach contemplating suicide? She shuddered to think of how close she’d come to giving up on herself and on life.
“Would you mind if I use your bathroom? I’d like to clean up a bit, and maybe drag a brush through these curls.”
“I love your curls; you look like an angel.” As if he’d revealed too much, he quickly continued, “The bathroom’s down the hall—there should be everything you need. My mother’s well equipped for receiving her women friends. If you want to take a hot shower, there are towels in the corner cabinet. In the meantime, I’ll get a fire going and brew a pot of coffee. Then I’ll take you on a tour of the Rose Queen’s cottage.” He laughed. ‘That’s what I call my mom, the Rose Queen.”
Disconcerted by his compliment, the best she could muster to say was, “Thanks, Jake.” She picked up her purse and started toward the hallway.
“Mandy?” She turned, expecting him to disclose something else about the hidden secrets of the bathroom. “You’re safe, now.” His voice was deep and reassuring.
She hurried from the room before he could see the tears that welled in her eyes.
The hot shower cleared her head, allowing her to think about Jake. Just as he’d indicated, everything a woman could need was provided in the feminine bathroom. The shower and backsplash tiles were all hand painted with roses. She giggled to herself. I think there’s a definite theme happening here. Roses figured prominently in Jake’s mother’s house. His mother must be a real character.
She looked in the mirror for the first time in a long time, trying to see who she really was. Jake, a total stranger, had done that. With only a few words, a handful, he’d managed to make her want to live, to believe there might be possibilities to explore.
No makeup, ugh. Well, there’s not much I can do about it. Maybe he’s farsighted and won’t be able to find his eyeglasses. Hell, with my luck, he probably has 20/20 vision and could pluck my eyebrows for me without even squinting. I’m so out of my comfort zone. I’ve never done anything like this before. How far do I go with this, with him?
She could almost see the haloed angel and the red devil sitting on each of her shoulders. The angel said, “Behave yourself, be careful. You don’t want your heart broken,” but the devil, that was another matter. That devil grinned at her and smirked. “No guts, no glory. What do you have to lose? Absolutely nothing. You have no life. It’s Christmas, treat yourself to a present.” She brushed the two opposing advisors off her shoulders. She’d trust her heart, something she’d failed to do since her divorce.
When she walked into the living room, Jake stood before the hearth, his back to her. It was a brooding stance, his legs squarely set apart. He stood still, and she wondered what he was thinking. She cleared her throat, not wanting to startle him. Slowly he turned, his eyes seeking hers. She couldn’t fail to miss, the slight intake of breath when he looked at her. Her own heart was beating thunderously in her chest. Did he just get better looking?
“It looks like you took me up on the shower invitation. You look . . . happier.”
She blushed. “Yes, I feel much better. As if I washed away more than just the cold and salt.”
He nodded. “Let me get you the cup of coffee I promised. You sit. How do you take it?”
“Cream or milk, two sugars, please.” She sat on the couch and tucked her legs beneath her. “Jake, you’ll never know what a difference you made in my life today. I can’t thank you enough.”
His head tilted with curiosity. “Save that thought, we need to explore it.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“Trust me, you will.” He walked to the kitchen. She wondered whether she could trust him or anyone. It scared her.
In a minute he was back sitting on the sofa next to her, handing her a steaming cup. The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans scented the air. “You know, I’m thinking we should decorate a tree.”
She looked around, perplexed. “I don’t see a tree to decorate.”
“It’s in my bedroom, bare, unadorned, just like you right now.”
She huffed. “Is that a disparagement of my fresh, clean, scrubbed look?”
“On the contrary, it’s a compliment. You’re beautiful. You must know it.”
She ignored his comment, refusing to believe it was more than a gratuitous remark. “Why the bedroom?”
“Well, if you’re going to be alone for the holidays, there doesn’t seem much point in wasting the effort of decorating and scenting the air with fresh pine if you’re not going to spend time enjoying it. I figured in the bedroom, at least, it would keep me company while I sleep. These days a few dreams about sugar plum fairies would be welcome. But now, if you decide to stay, we can move the tree in the living room and decorate it.”
With his emphasis on the word “stay”, her pulse quickened. She looked into her cup, hoping for an answer. Maybe, like tea leaves, the cream in her cup would magically show her a sign of what she should do. Seeing nothing but foam, she made her own decision. “I’m staying, Jake. I don’t want to be alone. I want to be here with you.”
“You won’t be sorry, I promise you.” He took her hand, brushing his thumb over her palm.
Anaia rushed into the room, her tail wagging, and jumped on the sofa between them. Mandy nearly spilled her coffee. “Anaia, you’re just a big bundle of love, aren’t you?”
“Anaia, you’re wrecking my moves,” he laughed. “You’re supposed to help me with the girl, not come between us.”
Anaia licked first Jake and then Mandy all over her face, throwing them both into a fit of laughter.
With a Herculean effort they managed to get the tree into the living room and set it in a corner. Jake carried in a box of ornaments and placed it on the ground at Mandy’s feet. “Why don’t you get started emptying this box and laying out all the ornaments and then we can decorate together? I’m going to whip us up a little dinner.”
“Don’t you want me to help you with the cooking?”
“Nah, I’m a pretty good cook. Actually, cooking’s a passion, something I got into during law school. I made extra cash by making gourmet meals for students. You might as well know, I’m really into food.” He patted his gut. “As you obviously can see.”
“If that’s what eating does for you, keep eating.” She blushed. “I mean, you don’t look overweight to me. Shit, I better stop while I’m ahead.”
“Hell, don’t take back the compliment.”
“Besides,” she confessed. “Cooking is probably a skill set you’ll be happy you have with me around since I’m a disaster in the kitchen. Maybe you can teach me, and I can be your sous-chef?”
He laughed. “I think I’ll take a rain check on that. No sharp knives for you tonight, missy. I don’t want to spend my Christmas Eve at the emergency room.”
She bent to the box, opening it. An eruption of laughter stopped him in his tracks. “What’s so funny?” That laugh is so damn cute, I’m tempted to tickle her just so I can make her laugh all night. He turned, folding his arms over his chest, his eyebrows raised quizzically.
Mandy held up four ornaments. “They’re all roses, every single last one of them. The Christmas tree is going to look like a rose bush. I feel like Alice in Wonderland in the queen’s garden. Where’s the Christmas?”
He couldn’t help but join in her amusement. “I told you the Rose Queen was eccentric, didn’t I? I’m lucky she didn’t make me sleep in a room wallpapered with roses. Believe me, she tried.”
It took Mandy a minute to subdue her laughter. “By the way, you forgot to give me my tour of the Rose Queen’s palace.”
He grinned. “Oh, I didn’t forget. I just wanted to keep a few carrots dangling, something to keep you here.”
He watched a smile fill her luscious lips. He wondered how long it’d been since her lips were properly kissed?.
“Go on.” She waved him away. “I’m getting hungry.”
He shot her a parting grin and headed to the kitchen. A half hour later he returned carrying a tray filled with steaming plates. He looked at the tree that she’d nearly finished decorating. “Hey, you were supposed to wait for me to decorate.”
“Sorry, but I had to get the roses up. I was afraid the queen would come running in and shout, ‘Off with her head!’ Speaking of the queen, how come you’re not spending Christmas with your mother?”
“She’s at Sandringham in Norfolk visiting the Queen.”
“Are you serious?”
He shrugged. “The Rose Queen has friends in high places.”
“Wow! That’s impressive.”
“Trust me, the Rose Queen is impressive. My mother’s a one of a kind. She’ll love you, I can tell.”
“Why would she love me?”
“She loves a woman who’s not afraid to laugh. Pretentious people get her goat. I can already picture the two of you in a fit of laughter, probably at my expense.”
“Isn’t the Queen a little pretentious?”
“Not with the Rose Queen. Together they’re a couple of cackling old dames. I’ve seen them in action together, it’s scary.”
“How the heck did she become friends with the Queen?”
“I know it’s hard to believe, but Her Royal Highness is an avid reader of my mother’s books. Jeez, I think if it were allowed the Queen would knight her. Instead, she had to settle for being made a Dame.”
“Your mother sounds like quite a character.”
“You don’t know the half of it. Now, I want the truth—has anyone ever told you that you have a killer laugh? It puts Julia Robert’s laugh to shame.”
“No. I don’t think I usually laugh as much as I have today, with you.”
His brows wriggled. “I promise you, you’re going to do a lot of laughing from now on.” When she dropped her eyes, it was obvious to him that every time he got up close and personal, her guard came up. I don’t care how long it takes, Mandy, but you’re going to trust me.
“That smells fantastic. What did you whip up?”
Jake placed the large silver tray on the coffee table. A dishtowel was wrapped over his arm. “Well, signorina, we have an arugula salad with shaved parmesan and risotto al tartufo.”
Her eyebrows lifted; she was obviously impressed. “Risotto with white truffles? On the spur of the moment you’re serving truffles?”
“A confession: if I was going to spend Christmas alone, I intended to do it well. Wait until you see the wine. I’ll be right back.”
He left her with her mouth hanging open. That look on her face was priceless. You’re not getting away from me, Mandy. Now that I’ve finally found something I want, I’m not letting go.
Smiling, he returned with two crystal glasses and a bottle under his arm. “Now, m’lady, you’re in for a treat.” He poured a couple inches of red wine into the wine glasses. “Taste this and tell me life isn’t good.”
She took a sip, allowing herself to savor the flavor. “It’s delicious. What is it?”
Inhaling a deep sniff of the bouquet, he sipped. “One of the best Barolos on the planet.” He leaned back, against the sofa. “Man, life is good. To you, Mandy, and our chance meeting. To you too, Anaia, for finding me this woman.” Anaia lifted her head from the carpet in front of the hearth and looked at Mandy, her tail wagging in a happy dance.
“Now, my darling girl, let’s eat.”
“Come on, you have to finish that risotto or I’m going to have to do it for you,” Jake eyed her plate.
Mandy leaned back against the sofa. “It was so good. You weren’t kidding about your cooking—you’re like a master chef—but I can’t eat another bite or I’ll burst.”
“Then it’s mine.” Jake heartily ate her last few bites and took a deep drink of wine, smacking his lips. “You and that food have made my day.” She could see by his face that he was considering what to do next. “Mandy…”
“Jake—” She smiled. “You first.”
The look in his eyes disconcerted her. “You know what I’d like for dessert?”
Timidly, she asked, “What?”
“I’d like a kiss.”
She leaned in and gave him a peck on the lips. “How’s that?” she teased, giggling.
“Very nice, but not quite what I had in mind. Why don’t I lead this time?”
He took her in his strong arms and kissed her so passionately that her legs began to shake. His tongue prodded until she opened, and then all she felt was swept away by the tide of his kiss.
When they finally broke, his lips were on her ear, husky with yearning. “I know this is going fast, baby, but I’ve wanted to kiss you from the first moment I saw you today. I’ve been alone since the divorce two years ago. I’ve dated, but no one, and I mean no one, has affected me the way you have.” He kissed her lobe, nibbling, his breath steamy with desire.
Her breath came unevenly, his words and hot breath on her ear reached deep into her soul and kindled her body. Her emotions were like the tumultuous sea outside, tossing her in every direction. She wanted him to make love to her more than she’d ever wanted anything in her life before. But she was afraid. Afraid that somehow it would all be over in an instant, some kind of a dream, and she’d wake up alone without him. Afraid that it was happening so fast and they were beginning this romance at such a great height, there would be nowhere to go but down.
I may be a lot of things, but I can’t be a one-night stand. A war was raging within her. Her rational mind said no, but her body and heart said yes. Jake’s arms around her felt so right, his kiss made her body come alive. She knew she had to make a choice. This man came into her life for a reason.
She pulled from him, needing to see his eyes. He stilled as if hanging on to her every word. “I don’t know where this is going, Jake. But if I don’t take a chance and trust my heart, then I’m lost.”
The smile that lit his face told her she’d made the right decision. But when his lips once more enfolded hers, it felt life-changing. Was it possible that she was falling in love with a stranger?
They kissed until she was wet with desire. He leaned his forehead against hers, his breath uneven. “Mandy, kissing you is like heaven, but I can’t take much more. I want all of you. Come with me to my bedroom. I want to make love to you the way you deserve to be loved. I want to hold you all night in my arms, and I want to do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and for as long as you’ll let me.”
“Are you sure this isn’t a dream?”
“It isn’t a dream, it’s a prayer answered.” He stood and held out his hand to her. His gaze hot and filled with desire.
She took his hand and he pulled her through the house until they came to a set of double doors. He opened them, and her eyes widened. The room was fit for a king, decorated like a huntsman’s lodge. It shouted M-A-L-E. Everything was oversized and masculine and exquisitely tasteful. Her own humble home paled in comparison.
As she looked around, she wondered about Jake. Who was he? But before she could ask him anything, he swooped her up in his arms, his lips once more sealed over hers in a kiss that set her heart pounding against her chest.
He murmured, “I don’t know why this is happening, Mandy, but I feel like we were meant to find each other. You feel it, don’t you? Our connection?”
She rained kisses over his chin, his lips. “I can’t deny it. I don’t know whether Anaia is my guardian angel or God intervened before I did something stupid. I only know I don’t want to lose this feeling and I don’t want to ever feel that lost again.”
“I told you I’m never letting you go.”
Jake didn’t know what he’d done to deserve Mandy, but he was damn sure he wasn’t going to ever let her go.
(Omitted sex scene for the SMP blog. Sorry!)
They lay spent in each other’s arms, nestled together in a perfect fit.
As their heartbeats returned to normal Jake murmured in her ear. “God, Mandy, that was amazing. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to be crazy about someone, to care.”
She placed her fingertips on his face and gazed into his eyes. “Jake, I’ve never felt anything like this before. Even with my husband . . . I . . . it was never like this.”
Good. Whatever’s happening here is happening to both of us. “Mandy, today on the beach—you seemed—I don’t know? Lost.”
She took a deep breath. Tears filled her eyes. “I have to tell you the truth. Please forgive me?”
“Forgive you for what, baby?” He pulled her closer, protectively.
“I…I think I was going to give up on myself. I was going to walk into the pounding surf and leave the world behind. I just felt so alone.”
“Oh, baby, thank God Anaia and I found you. You’re never going to feel that alone again. I promise you.” His arms drew her closer, his lips kissing away her tears. “Jesus, baby, don’t you ever think about doing anything like that again.”
“Don’t let go of me, Jake.” Her pleading eyes made his heart melt. She nestled deeper into his embrace.
“I’m not letting go. You’re my Christmas miracle. We’ll take it one day at a time. Let what we’re feeling grow.”
“I want that Jake.”
“Yeah, me too.” He smiled. “How soon can you move in?”
Her surprise brought a burst of laughter. “I’m just kidding baby. Everything’s up to you, we’ll move at your pace. But you’ll stay the week?”
“The week? I . . . I . . . yes.”
“When my girls get home, I want you to meet them. Are you okay with that?”
He watched her face as she thought about what that would mean. “Yes, of course. That’s important to both of us. I need to meet them.”
“Don’t worry, they’re going to love you and you’re going to love them.”
The sincerity of her smile warmed him. “I’m sure anything that’s a part of you I’ll love.”
He beamed. “Anaia lived up to her name, didn’t she? How that dog knew to bring us together?” He shook his head in amazement.
Anaia who’d been asleep in her dog bed on the floor woke when she heard her name. She jumped on the bed, wedging herself between them. Their laughter erupted as she smothered them in doggy affection.
The day that had started out with two lost, lonely people ended with two people who’d found something to look forward to, something that felt like love. They held each other thinking about what a wonderful Christmas they’d have.