All posts by vtwombly

Ranger’s Reprieve, episode 3

By Luanna Stewart

 

Lindsey Marshall rolled over on her bed, again, and punched her pillow, again. What the hell was wrong with the guy? It wasn’t her fault Shelby had taken a liking to him. God knows why. Sure, he was gorgeous, but he wasn’t exactly putting out friendly signals. And she doubted dogs were swayed by chiseled features and killer bods.

Except for that arm.

Shit, she’d been staring again. Her curiosity would be her downfall. She just wanted to know the story. And what it felt like, or didn’t, as the case may be. Asking deeply personal questions in the middle of the night when they were both half-dressed, and not in bed together, was, as her daddy always said, ill advised.

She flopped onto her back and knew it was hopeless. She couldn’t get the image out of her head. Not the whole missing arm business. The other, toned muscle, smooth skin, damn near perfect, business.

She flicked on her bedside light and stared at her phone. Four o’clock. Her coffee maker was programmed to switch on in two and a half hours. There was no way in Hades she could wait that long for caffeine. She climbed out of bed, pulled on a pair of running shorts, and shuffled into the kitchen. Shelby thumped her tail from her bed in the corner.

“Yeah, good morning to you, troublemaker.” Luckily for the mutt, she was the cutest thing ever, and so it was easy to overlook her bad manners. Volunteering at the shelter came with the risk of wanting to bring home a pet. Shelby had caught her eye on a day when she was feeling particularly lonely. And just last week she’d been mightily tempted to adopt the cutest calico kitten.

She switched on the coffee maker and headed for the bathroom. Finished with her shower, a cup of java in hand, she stood in front of her closet and considered what to wear. She had to fill in for someone at Paws for Veterans, so her usual working attire might not be appropriate. She’d take her gym clothes and change before heading to her first class. She pulled on skinny jeans and a cotton tunic then examined the effect in the mirror. Put together but casual. Stylish but approachable. Heck, who was she kidding, they were clean.

After taking Shelby for a walk, on the leash so there’d be no more forced interactions with the grumpy guy next door, she sat at the table and reviewed the info she’d been given from Paws for Vets. Only one meeting scheduled for the morning, an amputee who’d recently moved to the area. She gazed in the direction of her cute neighbor. He might benefit from a companion dog. Maybe she should mention something the next time they ran into each other.

Or maybe not.

Ranger’s Reprieve, episode 2

By Valerie Twombly

 

Jess slammed the front door much harder than he’d meant. He knew he came off as a complete jerk but seriously didn’t give a rat’s ass. He was tired, he was cranky, and now thanks to his neighbor he was horny.

He made his way to the kitchen and whipped open the fridge, reaching for the quart of organic milk. Not bothering with a glass, he twisted the little plastic cap off and brought the container to his lips. The cold liquid flowed down his throat and helped ease the burning dryness that always accompanied his nightmares. After several large gulps, he wiped his mouth and placed the milk back on the shelf.

Now that he was wide-awake, he sat at the table and stared at the clock on the stove. The power had gone out a few days ago, and the damn digital numbers blinked like a neon light in the darkness. He shoved his fingers through his hair and realized he was shaking, and his heart was in overdrive. A slow, deep breath in just like his therapist had told him.

I am at peace. I am at peace.

Exhale.

Slowly, his heartbeat came back to normal, and the vision of her nipples came into view. He wondered how they would taste. How her body would feel beneath his, but then he remembered how she’d looked at the empty space where his arm should have been. No sane woman would want a guy like him.

Half a man, that’s all he was, and what did he have to offer? Nights filled with thrashing and screaming in bed and not the fun kind either. He would do well to hire himself a hooker, get a little pussy, and ease the ache between his legs. His dreams of having a wife and kids had died on that battlefield along with part of his soul. There was no getting that back. Normal would never be part of his vocabulary again.

Pushing himself to his feet, he stretched. “Might as well get that shower now.” In a few more hours, he would head out for the thirty-minute drive to the Paws for Veterans facility. He’d received a call a couple of days ago, letting him know they had a dog they thought would be a perfect match for him. The coordinator emailed him a photo of a chocolate lab named Java. Part of him wondered if this female would shun him as well, but dogs weren’t known for judging people. He prayed this worked. He’d heard a lot of good things about the program, and lord knew he really needed to get his shit together. There were days he couldn’t leave the house due to his panic attacks. If this dog gave him even a small sense of normalcy, he’d take it.

 

Ranger’s Reprieve, episode 1

By C.A. Szarek

 

 

A bullet whizzed by his head and he ducked. “Son of a bitch!”

“Jesus, Jess, are you hit?” Chuck breathed.

“No, but it’d be nice if you covered my six, dammit.”

The guy had the nerve to laugh, but he patted the side of his rifle, an MK-16. “Bertha got it.”

Too bad the laugh was obliterated by utter shock, and the red starburst on his friend’s forehead demanded all Jess’ attention.

His fellow Ranger gaped and keeled over. Blood spatter hit Jess’ face, and he hadn’t realized it. Then the yelling from the rest of their team started, and returning fire and—

“Dammit!” He popped up, panting. His bare torso was covered in sweat. Jess’ brow was too, if the dripping in his eyes was any indication.

Eyes…dammit. The instant vacancy in Chuck’s brown ones would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Freaking dreams. Well, his stupid therapist called them night terrors—like he was five years old. Scratch that, no kid should have to see what Jess had.

Problem was—where he’d come from, three tours of duty later—it’d happened. Seeing dead kids. Dead women. Innocents in a country ravaged by war. Been there. Done that. Add fodder for the nightmares. That’d just f’d him up even more.

Discharge after his own injury had made it worse. He was home. Too bad the desert felt more like it than the bungalow his great aunt had left him in podunkville west Texas. Damn good thing he had it, though. He hadn’t wanted to go home to Tallahassee. Just couldn’t. Pity in his family and friends’ eyes would’ve bothered him more than the supposed PTSD.

Jess opened and closed his prosthetic hand. He’d fallen asleep with it on again. What was left of his upper left arm —a few inches past his biceps—ached.

He threw his legs over the side of the bed and groaned. Unhooking his new arm only took a few seconds. After being kicked loose from physical therapy for almost six months, he was an old pro. He rolled his shoulder and winced.

Damn, that hurts. Tingles shot upward, but it felt good, too. Jess sighed and glanced at his cell. He pushed the button to light the thing up, and the time glared—03:26 hours.

Shit. Again.

Would he ever get a good night’s sleep?

Might as well shower, he was covered in sweat anyway.

Noise at the front of the small house made him tense and want to reach for a gun. Then there was thumping and a tumble that could be someone rooting around. Jess had a feeling he knew what it was, and sighed instead of getting his Glock.

Not. Again.

Cursing under his breath with enough variety to make his whole team of Rangers proud—not to mention a trucker or two—he padded out to the front door and whipped it open. Ran his gaze along as much of the wrap-around porch he could see in the dim light the lamp over the door threw out.

A whine snatched his attention to the three front steps.

Jess’ eyes darted to the blondish ball of fur at his feet. “You!”

The dog wagged her tail.

He ignored the big brown eyes and the adorable few pieces of fur that overhung one, partially obscuring it.

“You don’t live here,” Jess growled at the dog.

“Shelby!” The female voice startled him, but he did his best not to show it.

Show was the right word because when he glanced at the owner of said blonde mutt, he saw that his neighbor. Lindy, or Lindsey or something with an L, was barely dressed.

Her oversized tee had Princess Leia printed on it, and stopped mid-thigh. What a nice pair they were, muscular, as if she exercised by running after her stupid canine. The other pair—her breasts—was fantastic, too. They had a good bounce going on as she ascended the stairs to his porch. No bra, because he could see the outline of her nipples.

His neighbor’s long red hair was loose and messy, and dancing with her movements.

Jess had never noticed how hot she was before.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Monroe,” she breathed and grabbed the small dog. “Bad, Shelby!”

The little furball wagged her tail.

She hiked Shelby to one hip, which made that shirt ride up.

He had to swallow and avert his gaze. Her underwear would be showing at any moment. Unless she wasn’t wearing any. Which would be better and worse.

“She cried and had to go out. Woke me up from a dead sleep. I let her out then she ran over—” His pretty neighbor’s eyes rose from her dog, but instead of landing on his face, they darted to where his left arm used to be. Stayed locked there, too.

“Just get your damn dog, and keep her away from my place,” Jess growled.

 

 

 

 

Days Of Auld Lang Syne, Episode 13

By C.A. Szarek 

Joanne stared for a second, then looked down at her dress. “I don’t ice skate,” she blurted, then averted her gaze from his beautiful dark eyes when awkwardness hit her smack in the chest, making her bob in her silver Louboutins.

Then she cursed at herself. Where was the comfort, the normal ease of the way he’d made her feel the other night? Get over yourself and get it together. You’re fine…with him.

Shawn laughed and the warmth of it washed over her, helped her to breathe. And relax.

“There’s more there than ice skating.” He extended a hand.

“Who’s at the door?” Someone called. Either Yana or Novia, from the young tone, but Joanne’s brain was too fried to distinguish it.

Crap. She hadn’t even invited him in, but didn’t want to either. Like a hundred of her meddling family was holed up at her place. Okay, so she was exaggerating, but still. They always poked their noses where it didn’t belong, and this…thing…with Shawn was too new.

“Umm, lemme grab my coat,” Joanne muttered, ignoring her little cousin. As if they didn’t know, anyway. Both girls had spent the previous several hours lounging on her bed as she’d gotten ready, yammering on about hot guys and basically planning their weddings—amongst the occasional dressing or dating tip. And, oh, her wedding, too. With Shawn, who’d been dubbed, “the hot guy from ice skating.”

To Shawn’s credit, he only nodded. Didn’t bat an eye at her lack of manners. He helped her into her puffy jacket that didn’t really go with her outfit, and was therefore against her fashion sense, but it was warm, and if he wanted to go to Rockefeller Center, she’d need to be warm first.

Joanne pulled the apartment door closed. “Sorry.” She winced. “My family is…overbearing.”

His smile made her heart beat faster. “It’s okay. I get it. It’s only our second date. Third if you count Starbucks.” Shawn winked.

She stilled. Date? It is, isn’t it?

Glancing up at him resulted in their gazes colliding and locking.

Shawn hadn’t told her he loved her again, but it was there, in those lovely maple eyes, every time he looked at her.

Am I okay with that?

Joanne had been thinking about those words—okay, obsessing—since he’d told her that day in the park. She’d examined the feelings she’d had for him five years ago. Were they still there? Was her crush just a crush or more?

More, of course. She’d always been a glutton for punishment. But in this case, did it have to go that way? The guy had said he loved her. If she didn’t actually love him—attaching the actual word made her want to fidget in her Louies—it was damn close to that.

Always had been.

She gulped. Sucked in a breath when he released her gaze only to entwine their fingers and lean down.

Shawn brushed his mouth against hers. He’d pulled away before she could process the much-too-short kiss.

“I’ve been wanting to do that since you opened the door.”

Joanne swallowed. “I’m okay with that.” And she was. But, she wanted more than just the surface lip-lock. Like he’d kissed her in the park.

She’d been obsessing about that, too.

He flashed those dimples. “I’m glad.”

“Do you want to do it again?”

Shawn paused, cocking his head to one side. Like he didn’t believe he’d heard her right. “Well, yes. Jojo, I thought I made it clear, I want you. I love you.”

There it was again. Those words that made her whole form flush hot.

She gathered all the courage she could and held it tight.

Joanne grinned and grabbed the collar of his tailored coat. At least her old friend-turned-new man had impeccable taste. “Then kiss me.” She didn’t care that she was in the hallway right outside her apartment. She should, because she did have a peephole, but if her family was that nosy, they’d just get a show.

He didn’t hesitate to pull her to him, and she went, wrapping her arms around him and meeting his mouth when Shawn dipped down to her again.

She opened for him, and desire—not fear at his closeness—spread slowly downward, warming her belly, her sex, her whole body. Shawn delved deeper and she met his seeking tongue with her own.

The kiss went on forever, their tongues dancing, dueling, fighting for the lead, but Joanne wasn’t bothered when Shawn won the battle.

Their bodies were melded, hips to hips, breasts to chest, but their stupid coats were in the way. They panted against each other, and she was overheated. Overdressed, too.

Joanne hadn’t been with a man since before the attack, but she wasn’t scared to take the next step—as long as Shawn was on board. As long as it was with him. Only him.

He broke the seal of mouths and rested his forehead against hers. “I don’t want to go to Rockefeller Center.”

“Oh?” Joanne whispered, but a thrill raced over her body. Through his dress pants, she could feel his erection; it was tucked neatly against her. A tremor shot down her spine, but it wasn’t dread—it was desire.

“I want to take you to my place. We can grab some champagne and watch the ball drop. On TV, instead of out in the cold. Would you be up for that?” The look in his brown eyes was a mix of hope and desire.

And love. So much love.

Her pulse pounded in her temples, but anticipation dominated her body.

Joanne would have to tell him what had happened last year before they went to bed. She didn’t think she’d freeze in his arms, but maybe the heads up would help them both.

“I mean, I don’t expect…I just want you. I mean, to spend the evening with you.” His cheeks went pink and for a second he was that hot, but geeky, guy from high school again. Shawn shifted in his shoes, staring her down.

Adorable.

“I do. Expect more of what we just started. A lot more. As long as we go slow.” She’d tell him why when they got to his place.

His gorgeous eyes went wide, but he nodded. Shawn got down on one knee and grabbed her hand.

Joanne gasped.

He grinned, his composure obviously back. Shawn was still adorable though. “Relax, I’m not proposing.” His dimples made her return his grin.

“What then?”

“Jojo, would you do me the honor of ringing in the New Year with me at my home? And maybe, we can make plans for the year. Significant plans. For us. Together.”

She beamed and squeezed his fingers. “I think I’d like that.”

Shawn shot to his feet and tugged her to him again. He kissed her as if the ball had already dropped.

 

The End!

 

 

 

Days Of Auld Lang Syne, Episode 12

By Anne Lange

Shawn rolled his shoulders, checked the time, and did a few neck rolls. Cold was beginning to seep beneath his coat.

He’d been standing outside Joanne’s door for ten minutes. He’d contemplated giving her a call more than once since he’d stammered out that invitation the other night. But every time he dialed her number and was about to hit send, a sixth sense warned him that if given the opportunity, she’d bail on him like her best friend and bailed on her that night.

And he wasn’t taking any chances. Not this time.

After he’d asked her out, and she’d actually said yes, he’d been racking his brain trying to come up with the perfect way to spend the evening. He’d searched out a few of the big parties in town, considering this was the night he’d wine and dine her in style. But tickets were, of course, sold out at all of the popular spots.

He’d considered taking her down to Times Square where they could watch the ball drop with the rest of the world. But the thought of spending a private, intimate moment with the woman he loved most and thousands upon thousands of other people, didn’t ring his bell.

He needed something better. Something meaningful. A place where she’d hear him when he repeated the words that mattered most. And hoped she’d be willing to say them back to him this time.

Shawn raised his hand and pressed the buzzer. And then he waited. When she didn’t answer, he tried again.

“Coming!”

It was muffled, but it was her. He smiled as his excitement built. There was a hum in the air. A current of electricity that if you were brave enough you could harness it and take advantage of it. Shawn planned to use every special trick in the book tonight. He’d walked away from her once, never telling her how he really felt about her. He’d tried a second time, but she hadn’t believed him.

Third time was a charm.

The door opened and there she stood, looking a little flustered as she smoothed her dress over her hips and juggled her coat in one arm.

“Wow, you do dress to impress,” he said. She looked beautiful. And amazing. And he loved this woman.

Shawn completed a very slow tour of her body, starting at the top of her sexy mass of curls that she’d thankfully left loose tonight, gliding over the same blue dress she’d had on the other night at the bar, and ending at a stunning pair of silver shoes that complemented the dress perfectly. They gave her a few extra inches of height that if he leaned in just so, she’d be at the right spot to meet, and match, his kiss.

Then he backtracked because the view was worth a second look.

A current worked its way through his body, but he saw her shiver.

“You look absolutely stunning, Jojo.” He cleared his throat, dislodging the frog that suddenly roosted there.

Joanne blinked back at him. She gave him a scorching look and he imagined steam rising off her naked her body as he drizzled Champaign down the column of her throat and watched it flow over her breasts to roll harmlessly into the hot bathwater they soaked in.

Fuck. He needed a cold dip in the snow or a nice big California King. The King sounded really good right now.

“Um. Thank you. You look nice, too.” She cocked her head. “Though I’m feeling a little overdressed.”

He could fix that problem. He shook his head to get his bearings and to escape the mental soak he currently engaged in. “Ah, maybe. You might be cold in that.”

“Where are we going?”

This was one of the most important nights of the year. A night to put the past behind and start over. Which was exactly what Shawn had in mind. And what better place to do that than to spend the evening at the same place they’d started this new journey.

“I thought we’d go to Rockefeller Center.”

 

 

 

Days Of Auld Lang Syne, Episode 11

By Caroline Lee

She’d been stood up a few times on dates over the last couple of years, but this one hurt the most. Joanne had been counting on this… but here she was, sitting in their usual back corner booth at BLVD, and her phone had just vibrated.

Sorry hon. Not going to make it. YOU GOT THIS!

She was really, really tempted to text something rude back to her best friend. How dare Lara bail when she so desperately needed her support? Only the knowledge that she’d pushed her friend into tonight stayed her hand.

Lara must’ve been waiting for a response, because when she didn’t get one, Joanne’s phone vibrated again. Jo? It’s going to be OK. I know UR freakin out, but you look hawt, and Shawn is going to love you.

He already did love her, according to that super-awkward conversation from this afternoon. How in the heck was she supposed to know what to believe anymore? Not least of all about her bestie. How do you know how I look? Her fingers shook so hard—in anger, or sheer terror of facing Shawn alone?—that it took three tries to spell “know” correctly.

I knew you were there! Joanne could hear Lara’s triumphant smirk in the words. You always look hawt, esp when you do that messy bun. You wearin the little blue dress? They’d gone shopping for New Year’s Eve together, but Lara knew Joanne well enough to know that she’d wear it early.

Yes.

Good. Order a drink and think sexily.

Think sexily? That was her only advice? Joanne groaned, and dropped the phone screen-down on the sticky table, hoping she didn’t have to deal with any more well-intentioned suggestions from Lara. She was gathering up her purse and scarf to escape when she saw him, pushing his way through the crowds with two drinks in hand.

Shawn stopped by the booth, and dios mio, did he look fine. The same thick coat from earlier, unbuttoned inside, and he must’ve stashed a hat someplace, because his hair was wonderfully tousled. More than anything, Joanne wanted to run her fingers through it… and judging from the wicked sparkle in his eye, he knew it.

“Your friend isn’t here yet?”

“No.” Joanne scowled. “She bailed.”

“Good.” His smile was wicked too, but she couldn’t help smiling back at his good humor. Shawn slid into the booth across from her, and passed her one of the drinks, which she grabbed, grateful for some way to occupy her hands. “Just us then.”

“How was your Christmas?” Joanne almost winced at the way she blurted out the question, knowing that it sounded desperate and awkward. But she was awkward, and desperate for any conversation that wasn’t about his earlier confession.

“It was nice, thanks. Low-key. I hung out with my Mom and sister and her boyfriend. How about yours?”

The genuine warmth in his maple eyes told her that he wasn’t just making small talk, and Joanne felt herself relaxing. “Good.” She chuckled a bit. “Loud. The opposite of ‘low-key’, I guess.”

“Your family visited?”

“Yeah, and you know Puerto Ricans. Get a houseful of us together, and everyone has to talk louder to be heard over anyone else. It was hectic.”

“It sounds wonderful.”

“It was.”

They smiled at each other, and it seemed to open the gates to all the discussions they’d missed. Questions about what they’d been doing over the last years mixed with updates on old classmates and mutual friends. Shawn told her all about his new business and the traveling he’d done during college, and Joanne explained how she’d been able to earn money from her fashion blogging.

It was just like old times. She was perfectly at ease with him, loving the fact that he didn’t intimidate her the way other men sometimes did. In fact, two hours and another drink went by before she realized it.

But all good things must end, and when he checked his watch around eleven, he abruptly straightened. “I’m sorry, Jojo, but I have to cut this short. I have a project due in the morning.”

She smiled, refusing to be awkward again. “That’s okay. I’ve gotta get home too.”

“Can I…” His gaze flitted to the bar, and then the ceiling, and then the table, and that’s when Joanne realized he was hesitating. Mr. Sexy himself was awkward? Around her? “Do you have plans for New Year’s Eve?”

“Yes.” She was watching movies with Novia and Yana and eating popcorn. But when his face fell, she hurried to assure him, reveling in this new role as the not-awkward one. “But nothing that can’t be changed.”

“Would you… would you like to spend the night with me? I mean—” Those gorgeous maple eyes went wide. “I mean, spend the evening. New Years. The evening of New Year’s Eve… with me?”

Joanne smiled. “Yeah. I think I’d like that.”

 


 

Days Of Auld Lang Syne, Episode 10

By Aubrey Wynne

 

Jojo shook her head. “I have too much work today. I need to get an article finished by tomorrow. And… And I’m meeting Lara tonight for dinner.”

She gazed down at her boots as the excuse came to her.

“Lara? The redhead from high school?” He rubbed his chin. “I vaguely remember a Lara O’Brien—tall, lean, on the track team. Pretty but no filter.”

She laughed and dared a glance up. Big mistake, his penetrating gaze locked onto her. It was hard to lie when he stared through her like that. “Yep, that would be her.”

“Where are you going? I’ll meet you both.” His hands rubbed up and down her arms and she could feel his heat through the thick leather.

“We were, uh… We were having a girl’s night out.” Really?

He tipped her chin up and she thought he might kiss her again. “I’ll stop in, buy you both a drink, and when you want me to go just say so.”

“Say what? It’s time for you to leave?” Please god, let Lara be available tonight.

“No arguments, no persuading you to change your mind.”

She bit her lip and dug her fists deeper into her pockets. “Okay. Seven o’clock at BLVD. It’s the old Boulevard Bistro on Lennox at 122nd. Look for us in a back booth.” What will she do if her bestie skips out on her? Or has plans? The tangled webs we weave…

Shawn tried to walk her back to the train; it had taken some quick thinking to get rid of him. She sat next to an old woman holding a shiny black vinyl purse and a crinkled, paper shopping bag. Her lips moved as she mumbled to herself and rocked slightly with the rhythm of the train as it hummed along the tracks. Jojo wondered if that would be her someday if she didn’t get over the past.

Her therapist said she’d made excellent progress. It was typical for victims of an attack to be leery of a relationship. Joanne had been lucky. A cop had scared the guy away just before the actual deed had ben committed. The officer had found her half naked, beaten, and hysterical. The cuts and bruised healed in a few weeks. But she still struggled emotionally.

Shawn had been the first man to touch her without her soul going cold. His kiss had swathed her with a warmth that had been missing for over a year. Move at your own speed. You’ll know when you are ready. Don’t be afraid of intimacy and it will happen. Great advice but not so easy to follow.

She knew from Shawn’s kiss that he would want more. What if she broke down? Would he look at her as if she were a freak? Most guys didn’t want to deal with baggage and she certainly carried a big suitcase.

Fumbling for her cell, she tapped her foot and waited for the reassuring sound of Lara’s voice.

“You almost blew off Shawn Davis for me? Are you crazy?” Yep, that’s what she needed to hear. “Of course I’ll be there. Tell me he’s just as gorgeous.”

“He’s just as gorgeous.” Better. The years had added a sensual maturity to him. A man with confidence who knew what he wanted.

“Ask him to bring a friend. Guys like that don’t have ugly friends.” Lara had many qualities but chastity was not one of them. “I’m in the middle of a dry spell.”

“Um, no, and did I tell you we are exchanging Christmas presents?” Jojo held the phone away from her ear.

“And I’m supposed to buy you something? You owe me,” she ranted. “I’ll come by around 6:00 and make sure you look presentable. No turtlenecks or I go home. It’s time, my friend, it’s time.”

 

 

Days Of Auld Lang Syne, Episode 9

By J.A. Coffey

 

Shawn tamped down his smoldering irritation as he watched Jojo’s curls bounce angrily through the trees, up the pathway, and onto the gray, wintery city street. No way in hell he was going to let the spicy siren of his dreams get away again, not even for Brittany’s melodramatic tricks.

“Look, Brittany. I’m sorry for your loss. But there’s someplace else I need to be.” He didn’t wait for his ex-wife’s response, just ignored Brittany’s squawk of surprise and hurtled past the low concrete walls and barren trees. He caught up to the woman to whom he had a lifetime of words to speak. The one woman he’d wanted. The woman he’d left alone for far too long.

“Jo…Jojo…” He called out. She didn’t stop. “Joanne, wait!”

His grip on her upper arm was firm enough to stop her in her tracks when his pleas wouldn’t. She whirled to face him, her cheeks reddened, and her eyes snapping angrily.

“An old friend?” She splayed her hands on her hips, just grazing the waistband over skin he desperately wanted to touch. “So much for loving me. Seems like you have more designs in your portfolio than you know what to do with, Mr. Architect.”

“No plans, Jojo. And no games.” Either it was the worst case of coincidental timing, or his ex-wife was following him for some scheme of her own. “If I’ve got any designs, it’s to build something with you. Why else would I track you down after all these years?”

He saw a light kindle in her eyes and closed the space between them. His heart skipped a beat when she didn’t move away. Yeah, there was definitely hope there.

Still her eyes were skeptical. The set of her pert chin jutted in a way that told him she was ready to take another insult to her pride, if not her person. He’d be damned if he’d do either.

“C’mon, Jojo. I know you want me. You want this.” He reached up, brushing her hair back from her pretty pinked cheeks. That scarf she was wearing made her outfit, but it made him think of all kinds of things he could do with it, if she were willing. His king-sized bed had long tapered posts and an iron scrollwork headboard for that very purpose, but he’d rarely found a woman that could match his passions.

“I might.” She glanced at his hand manacled over her puffy jacket sleeve and bit her bottom lip in a way that made his cock surge to full throttle. Something told him she just might be willing. But he’d have to convince her that he was sincere. Joanne Vega wasn’t the one night stand kind of woman. She was the kind you held on to, cherished… “Then again, I might not.”

Damn. She’d need some serious convincing. But from the breathless parting of her lips, he knew he was more than man enough for that job. He cursed his tailored gloves as his hands stole up the length of her elegant neck to cup her chin. More than anything, he’d love the heat and feel of her silken skin beneath his fingertips. He’d save that for another day. In this moment, she was his to claim.

He shifted position, her body following his naturally as the wind gusted. She shivered as his lips captured hers but not, he suspected, from the cold. The connection between them was real and alive, as electric as the strung holiday lights flashing overhead.

Joanne sighed and he deepened the kiss. He willed every lost word and phrase into his actions, letting her sweet, coconut scent fill his nostrils.

“Joanne,” he whispered against her lips. “Don’t go.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Days Of Auld Lang Syne, Episode 8

By Mina Khan

 

 

Joanne sat stunned, her heart racing. Had she heard that right? Could he really have said those words? She clasped her hands together and stared straight ahead at a tree that had lost all its leaves. Not daring to believe. “Uh, can you repeat that?”

“I said,” his deep, sexy voice pronounced each word slow and deliberate. “I have always loved you.”

Oh wow. Okay. So she’d heard right. Her lips spread into a slow smile as she turned around and looked into his warm, caramel eyes. She’d dreamt of this moment, these words, forever. “I —

The loud, hi-pitched yapping of a dog filled the air, followed by a “Shawn? Shawnie-poo!”

Joanne blinked and closed her mouth as a short, but buxom blonde wrapped Shawn in a hug. Her fluffy, white poodle danced around them barking its tiny head off. After a moment—a long—Shawn extricated himself.

“Brittany. When did you get back?”

The woman shook her head, her riot of curls bouncing around. “I had to cut my theater tour short because my Meemaw got sick.” Her baby blues filled with tears and her full lips trembled. “Of course, I rushed back as fast as I could, but it was too late.”

“Oh, Brittany,” Shawn stood and pulled the woman into another hug. “I’m so sorry.”

The cold from the bench leaked into Joanne’s bones, freezing her inside and out. She leapt to her feet. Time to make her excuses and get the hell out of this awkward threesome. “I need to be going.”

Two heads swiveled towards her and then the couple parted. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I interrupt something?” The blonde blinked and held out her hand. “I’m Brittany. Brittany Davis.”

“Sorry.” Shawn stuffed his hands in his pockets as a red flush spread across his sharp cheekbones. “Joanne meet Brittany, my ex-wife. Brittany, this is a friend from high school.”

Joanne shook Brittany’s hand on autopilot. A friend from high school. What happened to he’d always loved her? Didn’t that make them more than friends? Her head spun. She should have kept her distance, listened when her instincts shouted Shawn was too good to be true.

She studied Brittany, who looked like the stereotypical fantasy of a European milkmaid, with her rosy cheeks, big blue eyes, pert little nose and, of course, the golden curls. They couldn’t be more different. And the woman still held onto Shawn’s last name. All signs that said one thing: Run. “Nice to meet you, Brittany,” she said. “I have to go. Adios!”

Shawn eyes widened. “Wait. Give me a second and I’ll take you back to the coffee shop.”

“No, don’t worry.” Joanne shook her head. “Looks like you both have a lot to catch up on.”

His face darkened as he crossed his arms.

As she flounced off, she heard Brittany say, “Oops! Did I cause trouble in paradise?”

 

 

Days Of Auld Lang Syne, Episode 7

By Kris Calvert

 

Shawn could feel her warm body shudder in his arms, and he knew it wasn’t because she was chilly. Snow began to fall right on cue as if he’d ordered the white stuff from the heavens himself, and he stared into her eyes and thought of nothing but kissing her.

“Well, this is what awkward looks like,” she said looking everywhere but his face.

“No.” Shawn pulled on her hands begging her to catch his gaze. “Awkward would be having you in an embrace like this,” he said, pulling her so close their hips collided. “And your ex-boyfriend, grandmother, or priest happened to catch me.”

Her breath quickened, the clouds of warm air giving away her excitement. “Catch you…what?”

“C’mon,” he said, pulling her along the pathway and quelling his urge to engulf her red lips. “I want to show you something.”

They walked in the gentle quiet the blanket of snow provided, as he weaved the two of them hand in hand through the lower part of the park. Content in their silence, Shawn lived on the intermittent squeezes she gave his fingers each time he ran his thumb across her knuckles.

When they made the turn into the Shakespeare Garden, Shawn turned to take both of her hands as he walked backwards. “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,” he said. “Quite over-canopied with lush woodbine, with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”

“Why are you quoting A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream?” Joanne narrowed her eyes and gave him the kind of suspicious smile that said she didn’t know where he was headed with his reference, but she was willing to play along.

“Don’t you like Bill?”

“Bill?”

“Shakespeare. I might be an architect, but I believe in art—art in structure, art in performance, and most certainly art in words.”

“Words?”

Shawn let go of one hand to beckon Joanne into him. Looking to her feet, she reluctantly agreed to follow and rolled her eyes, nervous as to where he was taking her and the conversation.

“Well, just like you choose your words carefully in your video blog, which by the way I loved the post about scarves. I think you’re absolutely correct. They are fashion statements and not just something to throw around your neck in the winter.”

She dropped his hands, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Now you’re just mocking me.”

“I’m not,” he exclaimed. “I think you’re right. Form and function.”

Unmoving in her stance, Shawn knew he had only a moment to put the magic back in the moment.

Moving into Joanne, he refrained from touching her but matched her posture, crisscrossing his arms over his chest. “This is my point exactly. Words matter. It’s why one needs to choose them carefully. If you don’t,” he said, leaning his forehead into hers. “Someone might get the wrong impression.”

She broke into a smile. Shawn knew he’d finally tapped into the unspoken feelings he always believed were hidden just the below the surface of their friendship.

“Come here,” he said, pulling her farther into the garden. “I’ll prove it.”

“Prove what? she asked, taking his hand once more while he pulled her along begrudgingly by the arm.

He stopped them both in front of a twenty-foot granite bench that curled inward at each side. Placing his hand in the small of her back, he ushered her to the right hand side of the bench, setting her snuggly against the curve.

“It’s cold,” she said as he walked away.

“It’s worth it,” he replied. “Something remarkable is about to happen.”

Walking to the opposite end, Shawn sat and winced. She was correct. The granite was freezing.

“So?” she asked.

Shawn gave her a sly smile, turned his back, and began to whisper as softly as he could into the frigid granite. “Welcome to the whispering bench, Jojo.”

She didn’t have to say a word. The look on Joanne’s face told him everything he needed to know.

“What is this?” she whispered, turning into the bench herself.

“This is the whispering bench. Here, you can only tell the truest truths ever known.”

“What kind of truths?” she whispered into the bench.

Her words were loud and clear in Shawn’s ears.

“The kind of truths you keep to yourself deep in your heart. And remember, words matter.”

Shawn and Joanne sat in silence for only a moment.

She wasn’t sure if it was the buzz in her head or the butterflies in her stomach that spurred her bravery, but she opened her mouth and exactly what she was thinking came out. “I’ve always thought you were handsome.”

At first, she was stunned at her words but then she took a deep breath, deciding to buy into the only truths rule of the whispering bench. That and the fact that she didn’t have to look him in the face when she said it.

“I’ve always thought you were beautiful.”

“What?” Joanne said at full volume.

Shawn laughed soft and low as he turned around to gaze upon her flushed face. Circling his finger, he silently asking her to turn around again. Shawn leaned into the cold granite and whispered what he’d longed to say for years. “Jojo, I’ve always loved you.”