Welcome to Fiction Fridays! We’ll give you a short bite of fiction every week – something to enjoy during your lunch hour – but with a twist: We want you to give us the idea for the next installment! Come join in the fun with our holiday short story, a contemporary romance. And don’t forget to vote to help us decide which way the story will turn! Click here to read last week’s opener, written by the fabulous Laurie Sanchez. Fiction Fridays Christmas Magic Part 1
By Karen Fleming
Heath’s growl as he stormed out of his apartment and smack into her Christmas tree had Julianne grabbing at branches trying to steady the scraggly thing that would make Charlie Brown’s needleless stick look proud. Oh, her head hurt and the lights were getting fuzzy. George had toted her drinks all night in the hopes that he would get to “bring her home”.
Poor George. He had no idea she’d agreed to that sixth chocolate martini so she could fool her heart and her eyes into pretending he was someone else. The someone currently entangled in her tree and mumbling things it was probably better she didn’t hear. But two blocks before they’d reached her apartment, George had swerved to miss a huge lump in the road that turned out to be what was left of a tree that must have escaped the ropes that had lashed it to the roof of a car. She believed every tree deserved a home for the holidays. Even this one.
Julianne took a deep breath and forced her vision to focus. If she’d known dragging a ratty looking Douglas fir up the stairs in the middle of the night would pry her handsome neighbor out of his lair, she’d have done it weeks ago. Now, she needed to get rid of George.
But first, she reached toward Heath. “Heath, are you okay?”
George, not the brightest bulb on the tree, must not have realized he had company. “Julianne darlin’, I told you my name is George. You’ve been calling me Heath all night long.”
Heath wrestled his way free of the tree and gave her a questioning look that ended as a frown. Then swiped at the needles clinging to his face while he towered over her. “Julianne, what are you doing out here in the middle of the night? And dressed like that?”
“I, um. I. Well, George and I, we were…”
He looked angry. Very angry. And there were two of him and they both turned more wavy-looking every time she blinked. So she did what any red-blooded girl that was too chicken to say what she wanted to the man she wanted would do. All while wearing a snow angel costume complete with faux fur cape, an almost transparent sweater and a very short, tulle skirt with white fishnet stockings and ankle-breaker heels. She teetered in his direction and fell into his arms. It was that or break out in a pouty version of Madonna’s “Santa Baby”. Her pulse quickened at the thought of sitting on Heath’s knee and reminding him of just how good she’d been this year.
He caught her against the solid wall of muscle that served as his chest. Mmm, he smelled yummy. Better than chocolate. His voice rumbled low, sparking tingles along her skin. “How many drinks did she have?”
Julianne kept her eyes closed, remaining loose and relaxed in his arms. No need to tip him off that she was awake by doing something like wrapping herself around him and never letting go.
“I, uh, I only got her a refill when she asked me to. It was the company Christmas party. She kept smiling at me.”
Heath snarled and hauled her higher against his chest. Then caught her behind the knees with his other arm, lifting her until she was cradled by his body. Good thing he was holding her. The rise and fall of his chest so close to her cheek was making her lightheaded again.
“I was bringing her home when I almost ran over this tree. She made me stop. She said we had to rescue it. That we couldn’t abandon it. Santa would put me on the naughty list and not the ‘good’ naughty list.”
Apparently, even George knew he was no comedian. Heath’s single step toward him was enough to silence him and his justification. Heath hoisted her higher and she rested her head on his shoulder. Heaven. She was in heaven.
“I’m sorry to inform you, George, but your evening with Julianne is officially over.”
“What about the tree?”
“Forget the tree and I’ll forget you plied a woman with alcohol in the hopes of taking advantage of her.”
“It isn’t like that. I brought her home to make sure she was safe. She was a bit woozy at the party and I didn’t want her getting into a cab and trying to come home alone. Something could have happened to her and it would have been my fault.”
“Well, nothing is going to happen to her because she’s with me. Leave. Leave now.”
“Don’t you want me to help you get her inside and settled?”
She sneaked a peek at Heath’s profile. His jaw was set in granite.
“No, I do NOT need your help. Julianne and I are, friends—“
She whimpered. She couldn’t help it. Friends, really? That’s all he thought they were?
Heath juggled her again and backed toward his apartment. “I’ll take it from here.”
George didn’t offer any further protest and headed for the stairs.
With George on his way, Heath turned and shouldered his apartment door open. Once they were over the threshold, he kicked it closed and strode toward the sofa. It was a little lumpy, but it would have to do. He wasn’t about to head toward his bedroom. He was only human and images of Julianne in that room would be permanently etched in his brain. He’d never be able to sleep in his bed again. At least not without her. But she was vulnerable, more fragile than usual. He couldn’t take advantage of her. Only a bottom-feeding scumbag would do that.
He laid her on the sofa and positioned a pillow under her head. Sitting beside her, he brushed an errant curl off her forehead. Her eyelashes fluttered open. The warmth of her smile combined with the invitation in her blue eyes hit him like a sucker punch. Did she have any idea what could have happened to her if he hadn’t come outside when he did? Or what might still happen to her—here—alone with him and his raging libido?
Just as he inhaled a calming breath…
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