[Note From Frolic: We are so excited to announce our Festive Four Stories! Every week in December we will have a new short holiday story from 4 of your favorite authors. This week we have the incredibly talented Katee Robert!]
[Click Here for Chapter One]
[Click Here for Chapter Two]
[Click Here for Chapter Three]
[Click Here for Chapter Four]
Several hours later, Cara sat snuggled up in front of the grand fireplace with a hot toddy warming her hands and a blanket wrapped around her and Sam’s shoulders. The snowball fight and turned into snow angles, which had turned into needing to change out of clothing that was definitely not snow-proof. Sadly, Sam had borrowed some of the spare clothes they kept stocked for guests for reason unknown to Cara. Maybe her dad and Cindy entertained more often than Dad and Mom had.
She wilted, her good mood from earlier sliding through her fingers.
She’d been doing so good, letting Sam distract her from her stupidly selfish conflicted feelings. Cara looked around the den. This was the one room in the house unchanged from before Mom died. It still had the overstuffed couches and the bright paintings and the fully-stocked liquor cabinet. The highlight, though, was the giant fireplace. When she was a kid, she could stand in it without having to duck. Now, with the fire going, it warmed the entire room.
“You’re thinking too hard again.”
She leaned closer, and Sam obliged her by wrapping his arm around her shoulders. It felt good to sit like this. Kind of like a grownup version of the blanket forts they’d constructed as kids. Cara rested her head against his chest. “I’m being selfish.
“No, you’re not.”
“Actually I am.” She sighed. “He’s happy, Sam. Stupid, goofy happy like he’s a teenager in love even though they’ve been together like three years or something now. And she looks at him and her whole face goes soft. It’s a good thing. Why can’t I just be happy for them? Why does it have to feel like a barb stuck in my chest that twists and twists and twists?” Nothing helped.
Nothing but spending time with Sam.
The hours with him lessened the panic surging inside her, the desire to sprint to her car and drive back to the city as fast as she possibly could. Right here, right now, she could take a step back and appreciate that her dad wouldn’t wither away in misery for the rest of his fifties and beyond. “What if I’m jealous?”
“Why do you say that?”
“He’s got someone. Someone who looks at him like the sun rises and sets with him. That’s potent stuff, Samwise.”
He took her mug and set it on the side table and then drew her closer until she was half sprawled on his chest. Sam rested his chin on her head. “I’m going to say something crazy. Don’t freak out.”
Don’t freak out.
She tensed. “Saying that is a good way to ensure freaking out is exactly what I do.”
“Cara.” His lips brushed her temple as he said her name. “Come out with me. I want to take you on a real date.”
“What?” She lifted her head so fast, she almost clipped his chin. “What did you say?”
Sam laughed, but not like anything was funny. “Why are you okay with screwing me, but the idea of a date freaks you out?”
She glared. “Why are you springing this on me right now? I thought…” She didn’t know what she’d thought. It was just so freaking easy to pick up where they left off. He was still Samwise to her idiot Frodo, still her safe space, but in addition to that, she wanted to jump his bones.
So why did the thought of going on an official date with him scare the hell out of her?
Sam just watched her, waiting for her to finish the sentence.
“It will never work,” she finished lamely. “You’re going to be across town from me, and working all sorts of crazy hours and I work crazy hours and… Don’t you think if I could figure out how to date, I would have found someone by now?”
Sam tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. “No one else was worth your time to find a way to make it work.”
She blinked. “Wow, ego much?”
“I’m serious, Cara. Either here or back in New York. I don’t care, but let me take you out. What have we got to lose in trying to see if this would actually work?”
He said it like it was the most logical thing in the world, as if she hadn’t just found her best friend again and, only a few days later, here she was in danger of losing him for good. Cara swallowed hard. “If it didn’t work out, that would be it. We’d never see or talk to each other again.”
“I don’t think—”
“Don’t play like that, Sam. You know I’m right. If we go out, we’ll bullshit and have a great time, and then we’ll go back to my place or go to yours, and… We’ll totally have sex. Probably really, really good sex. Because that kiss? That was an outstanding kiss. So, yeah, we’d be amazing in bed together, too.”
A smile pulled at the edges of his lips. “You’re making one hell of a case for us not trying this out.”
She need to make him understand, but Cara felt like she was fumbling around in the dark. “Okay, sure, it’ll be good. For a little bit. But the honeymoon stage ends eventually. Look at your parents.” She realized what she’d just said and covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh my God, forget I said that. I don’t think you’ll be like your dad. I’m sorry, that came out wrong.”
“I’m not my dad.”
“I know that.”
She pressed her lips together. “Okay, a better example. Look at my parents. Before my mom died, they were like… Living as roommates. They treated each other with respect, but half the time I felt like they barely tolerated each other.” Maybe that was why Cindy bothered her so much. Dad was so blatantly more in love with this woman than he’d ever seemed to be with Cara’s mom. She sat back and pulled her legs up, her knees to her chest. “I would hate if something like that happened to us.”
“Cara…” Sam sighed. “Ending up like my dad is a nightmare I’ve always had. I understand what you’re worried about.”
Guilt flared, harsh enough that she winced. “I’m really sorry I said that. I didn’t mean it like that. You could never be like him.”
Sam leaned forward and dropped his head so he could meet her gaze. “Did you notice that in both your worst case scenarios—ending up like my parents or like your parents—you’re looking at something long term with us together?”
She opened her mouth, realized he was right, and bit back a whimper. “That doesn’t prove anything.”
“I listened to your fears, and I respect them, but let me paint a different picture.” He shifted the blanket off his shoulders and tucked it around her. “I take you out. We have a great time. Maybe we end up in bed after that date, maybe we hold off until we’ve gone on a couple more. The sex is, as you said, fantastic.” A ghost of a smile on his lips, there and gone between one blink and the next. “And things just get…better.”
“I’m not finished,” he said firmly. “Life is complicated. It won’t always be rainbows and hot sex and the honeymoon phase. There will probably be times you want to throw something at my head. Just like there will be times when I’m in danger of grinding my teeth down to nothing in frustration over some fight we’ve had. But those times will be in the minority.”
“You can’t know that,” she whispered.
“You’re right. I can’t know that. No one can know the future.” He dipped his hands beneath the blanket and unerringly found hers. “But I do know that we have what most couples wouldn’t in our situation. A history. Yeah, we’re missing on the last ten years or so, but I already know that you’d rather step up to the line than retreat in any given situation. Just like you already know that I’ve got your back no matter what trouble you drag us into.”
Just like he had countless times when they were growing up.
Something like hope blossomed in her chest, and it scared the hell out of her. “I don’t know.”
“I’m not asking for you to marry me.” Before she could relax, he grinned. “Not today, at least.”
“I’m mostly joking.” He gave her hands a squeeze. “Even if we’re both looking ten years down the road for different reasons, there’s nobody saying we have to rush this. Let me take you to dinner. Leave me with a kiss on your doorstep, or invite me up. Whatever you want. Just give this a chance, Cara. You know it could be good.”
Good wouldn’t begin to cover it.
All she had to do was take her hands from his and shut him down and that would be it. Even now, when their current conversation was dancing right on every fear she had for the future, Sam was being so freaking careful not to push her too hard. If she drew the line in the sand, he’d back off.
She didn’t want to.
Cara had lost Sam, if temporarily, before. She didn’t want to do it again. She licked her lips. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“I compared every single guy I dated in New York to you.” She tried for a smile. “Maybe that’s the real reason none of them stuck—they didn’t live up to the legend that is Samwise.”
His smile warmed her better than any fire ever could. “Want to know a secret of mine?”
“As if you have to ask.”
He leaned forward until his breath ghosted across her ear, making her shiver. “I’ve been in love with you since we were fourteen.”
Cara jerked back a little. “If that’s true, then why didn’t you say something before now?”
“You weren’t ready.” He shrugged. “And neither was I. The timing wasn’t right. We were too young, and maybe one of those outcomes you’re scared of would have happened if I confessed after graduation. Or maybe you would have told me I didn’t have a chance in hell and that would have been the end of everything.” His blue eyes saw too much.
Cara tried to picture herself at eighteen, to play through having her most trusted friend confess feelings and… “Damn, you’re right. I would have bolted and never looked back.” Except in her dreams.
“There’s a right time and place for everything, Cara.” He reclaimed her hands. “This could be our time, our place. If you are willing to take a leap with me.”
“Our time. Our place,” she repeated, testing out the words. They felt…right.
Suddenly she grinned, feeling downright giddy. “I’ll go on a date with you, Samwise. On one condition.”
He sat back as she moved to straddle his hips. “What’s that condition?”
“Well, Sam, I’m going to take you upstairs and do a whole lot more than kiss you.” She rolled her hips against him, shivering as his body responded and his grip tightened on her hips. Cara grinned. “But only if you want me to.”
Sam climbed to his feet without dislodging her. “It’s a tough condition, but I really want that date with you, Cara Taylor.”
“Mmm. Then I guess you’d better just let me have my way with you, huh?”
He took the stairs two at a time and then stalked down the hallway to her bedroom. Only when he’d shut and locked her door behind them—and pinned Cara between his body and the cool wood—did he grin against her mouth. “More like I’m going to have my way with you.”