Welcome to Fiction Fridays! Every Friday we’re posting a short bite of fiction–something you can enjoy during your lunch hour–but with a twist: We want you to give us the idea for our next installment. Today we have the final segment of our contemporary Christmas romance. Last week’s installment was written by the talented Tamra Baumann, and you chose option 1: Julianne gets sick on Heath’s shoes. (Talk about a black moment.) Read on to see how Heath and Julianne get their HEA!
Christmas Magic – Part 4 by A. J. Larrieu
…another belch came up from her gut. She staggered back and put her hand over her mouth as a wave of nausea rolled up through her throat. No. Not now. Not this. No no no–
She lost the vile green concoction all over the shiny black toes of Heath’s perfectly polished boots.
# # #
Julianne didn’t have a clear memory of how she got from Heath’s place to hers. There’d been apologies. Practically the only things she’d said were “Oh my God” and “I’m so sorry.” When she woke up on Christmas Day, for a split second, she thought it had all been a bad dream. Then she finished waking up and wished she could go right back to bed for the rest of her life.
Now she just had to plan her move to Maine. Scratch that—maybe this was the perfect time to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders.
She put on her scrubs and pushed her hair back with a sensible headband. Her snow angel outfit was bundled in the corner of her bedroom where she’d left it the night before. She couldn’t even bear to look at it. The stupid tree was still on the landing, and she had to wrangle her way around it and tiptoe down the stairs, praying Heath had already left for his shift.
It was him. Oh, God, why was he talking to her? Couldn’t he let her die of mortification in peace? Maybe she’d pretend she hadn’t heard. She kept right on trotting down the steps in her sneakers.
His feet came thumping solidly down after her.
She half turned and looked at his broad chest. He was in uniform. Of course.
“Oh, hi, Heath, I’m sorry, I have to go. I’m already late and we’re short-staffed today anyway, you know, because it’s Christmas, so I really should get going.” She said all of this to the second button from the top of his shirt.
“Oh. Of course. I just—”
“You’re working today, too, right? Oh, gosh, I hope it’s not too crazy. Wacko relatives, you know? Last year we had seven people come in thinking they were having heart attacks—well, some of them actually were having heart attacks, but most of them were just having fights with their brothers.” She laughed, and it came out manic. Idiot. Moron. Shut. Up.
“I just wanted to make sure you’re feeling all right,” said Heath.
“Oh.” She chanced a look at his face. He was smiling. “Yeah.”
“So you’re okay.”
“Sure, uh, I guess.” She was not okay. Definitely not okay. Three months of inventing reasons to talk to him, getting him to carry furniture into her place and fix her smoke detectors, and when she was finally on the verge of finding out how he felt…. Oh, she couldn’t even think about it.
“All right, then. I’ll let you get to work.” He gave her one of his crisp, masculine nods, turned and went back into his apartment. She waited until the door shut behind him before she banged her head three times on the stucco wall. Forget Doctors Without Borders. Surely they needed nurses on the International Space Station.
# # #
Heath spent the whole day thinking about how Julianne looked on the way out the door. No more giddy snow angel. She’d been practical and businesslike in her scrubs and headband. No make-up. All day long, he thought about what it would be like to see her like that every morning. To swing by the hospital in his patrol car just to say hello. To come home to her at night and share stories over dinner.
She’d called George Heath. The fact kept surfacing in his brain like an apple in a barrel of water.
It had to mean something. That moment by the door, he’d sworn he saw welcome in her eyes. And he’d been about to find out for sure when she’d lost her breakfast all over his boots.
Well, it wasn’t the worst thing that happened to Heath after fifteen years on the force. Hell, he’d once had a drunken disorderly puke all over his shoes, his trousers, AND his patrol car. Christ that had been a terrible night. A night spent with Julianne—even with her sleeping on the couch—didn’t bear comparison. If only he’d been able to finish what he’d started, he’d know if that flare of heat in her eyes was attraction, or just panic.
Too bad she was too embarrassed to even look at him now.
Well, he couldn’t blame her. But he would find a way to fix it. There was a twenty-four hour drugstore on his way home from work. He’d just have to hope they’d have what he needed.
# # #
Julianne came home from the hospital and found Heath’s spot in the garage occupied.
“Get a grip, Julianne. You can’t avoid him for the rest of your life.”
She took a deep breath as she parked her little Jetta. If she saw him, she’d just be polite. Like he’d been. And then she’d go into her little apartment, make herself Christmas dinner for one and watch A Miracle on 34th Street. Tears caught in her eyes. Usually she didn’t mind being on her own, but tonight, it was more than she could bear. As she climbed the stairs to her apartment, the tears spilled down her cheeks, blurring her vision. She dashed them away with the back of her hand and almost tripped over something on the landing.
The stupid tree. She opened her eyes to kick it out of the way and froze.
It was lit up like Vegas.
Somehow he’d found ornaments. Silver and red blown-glass balls, a little train with a fat, happy Santa acting as engineer, cheesy green and red metallic tinsel. It was wrapped in blue and pink lights—all they’d had left at the store?—and the extension cord ran right under Heath’s apartment door. Julianne circled the tree and bit her knuckle against a giggle. There was a purple snowman with a psychedelic top hat and a plastic trout with a red nose and a jingle bell on its tail. Heath’s door clicked open and shut again, and then there he was, leaning against the bannister with his hands behind his back.
“It’s my tree,” was all she could think to say.
“I thought it needed a little…love.”
She drummed up the courage to meet his eyes and saw that they were smiling.
“How was your shift?” he asked her.
“Oh, it was fine.” She flapped her hand. He came closer, and before she could remember to retreat, he caught her hand between both of his.
“Did George apologize?”
Heath’s mouth split into a broad grin as he tugged her closer. “Do you like it?”
“I love it,” said Julianne. “It’s perfect.”
“I think so, too,” said Heath, and he tipped her chin up. He stroked a stray hair behind her ear and let the tips of his fingers linger on her cheek. Her heart pounded wildly. “If you want,” said Heath, “I thought we could have Christmas dinner together.”
“I’d like that,” said Julianne. Maybe I won’t have to move after all, she thought, and then his warm, clever mouth came down to claim hers.
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