[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!]
“I’m surprised you aren’t over there at Cara Taylor’s house.”
Sam looked up from his scrolling through his email. “Christmas is tomorrow, Mom.” When she just laughed, he sighed. “I’m giving her space.” It wasn’t entirely voluntary, though. After he’d kissed her senseless the other night, putting her in her car and watching her drive away was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do.
He still wasn’t sure he’d made the right call.
No, damn it, he was sure.
For the first time since he’d met her, life had finally lined up in a way that they had a chance. The only question he’d had coming back to New York was whether they had any chemistry beneath the easy trust and friendship. Now Sam had his answer.
He wasn’t going to let them lose contact again. Not without a fight.
“You’ve got that look on your face.” His mom pulled her curly dark hair into a bun and poured herself a giant cup of coffee. “Your dad used to get the same expression right before… Well, before.”
Before things went bad. Before alcohol got the best of him and turned him into a dangerous stranger.
Sam watched his mom closely. “You’d tell me if he’d come back around.”
“I haven’t seen him since you marched him out of town ten years ago.”
It was one of the last things he’d done before he left for California. Getting on the plane that next week had been hard for so many different reasons. He hadn’t been sure if he was leaving his mom defenseless, in addition to all his conflicted feelings about flying away from Cara.
Sam nodded and took a long drink of coffee. It was significantly better than what he’d drank in the precinct back in California. He didn’t imagine NYPD coffee was any better than the sludge he’d consumed more times than he could count as he worked his way up from beat cop to detective.
He gave himself a shake. “Sorry, I missed what you said.”
“I said it’s snowing.” She moved to the window and smiled, the pale winter morning lighting up her face. Mom always maintained there was something magic about the holidays, and the one consistent in his childhood had been this time of year when she pulled out all the stops. He hadn’t been getting thousands of dollars’ worth of presents like some of the kids he knew, but his memories were more treasured because his mom was the one curating them and ensuring he had nothing but good Christmases.
Sam joined her at the window. “It’s been a long time since I saw snow.”
“If you came home more often it wouldn’t have been so long.” She bumped her shoulder against his. “Go see her, Sam. It’s been even longer since Cara was back in town, and she didn’t avoid this place without a good reason.”
A good reason like her mom dying.
A good reason like not wanting to see her dad move on.
It had to be hurting her to be back in that house, and she was too good to ever admit it to her dad. Not when it might damper his good mood leading up to his wedding. Sam eyed his mom. “You have any of those gingersnap cookies stashed around here? The good ones?”
“As if I’d make anything but the good ones.” She disappeared into the pantry and came back with a Christmas tin, complete with a bright red bow.
Sam narrowed his eyes in mock suspicion. “It’s almost like you planned this.”
“Did I?” She handed him the tin. “Go get her, Sam. You might not get another chance after this holiday.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” But he wasted no time pulling on his boots and jacket. “Love you.”
“Love you, too. Now go take that first step to getting me some grandbabies.”
“Mom.” But he laughed as he headed out the door. His mom’s house was on the edge of the town limits, right before the über-rich houses and properties turned into something more achievable. She’d made sacrifices to ensure he got into the same private school as the other kids, that he never had anything that set him apart from them, despite disparate financial backgrounds.
He turned his face up and inhaled deeply. It might be more prudent to drive, but he couldn’t resist the walk. Not when the snow felt just as much like coming home as sleeping in his old room had.
His long stride ate up the distance between his house and Cara’s dad’s. How many times had he made this exact trip when they were younger? He couldn’t begin to count.
By the time he walked up the impressive front steps, a flicker of doubt flared to life. Though he and Cara had texted a few times since their kiss, she’d been busy with holiday stuff and they hadn’t had a chance to really talk.
It was entirely possible that conversation wouldn’t go the way he wanted.
No use theorizing.
There’s one way to find out for sure.
He knocked on the door. A few minutes passed without anyone answering, so Sam rang the doorbell. Its bell tones pealed out loudly enough to wake the dead, and he winced. Maybe stopping by unannounced in the morning wasn’t the best plan…
Footsteps on the other side of the door, and then there she was, blinking at him as if she’d never seen him before. Cara gave herself a shake. “Hey, Samwise. You’re here early.” She must have just woken up, judging from her tank top and shorts pajama set in matching teddy bear print. And, yeah, she definitely wasn’t wearing a bra, which had him taking a nosedive into the gutter and wondering if she had any panties on beneath those tiny little shorts.
What had she said? He was there early? Sam cleared his throat. “Uh. Yeah. I guess I am.” Gone was anything resembling smoothness. He all but thrust the tin of cookies at her. “My mom made gingersnaps.”
Just like that, all sleepiness was gone from Cara’s face. She snatched the tin out of his hand and looked around the foyer as if expecting an attack at any moment. “Come on. Hurry, before someone realizes we’re sneaking in contraband.”
Dazed, Sam followed her to the steps. But as she started up ahead of him, he had to say something. “Cara.”
“Do you have a robe or something?”
She stopped short and raised a single eyebrow. “I’m sorry, Samwise. Are you uncomfortable with my clothing? Maybe you should have thought of that before you stopped by unannounced.”
Considering he’d been worrying about exactly that before he knocked, he didn’t have a leg to stand on. “Maybe I should go up the stairs first, then.”
If anything, Cara’s amusement grew. “You’re peeking up my shorts.”
“I’m trying to be a gentleman.”
“Mmhmm.” She backed up one step, and then another. The shorts fluttered a little at her upper thighs and, damn it, he watched her retreat slowly. Teasing him. Cara slowed down, each step a tantalizing dance he couldn’t help but shadow as he followed her up the curving staircase.
She wasn’t wearing panties.
Damn it, he really shouldn’t have looked, because now the sight of her was imprinted on his very soul. He licked his lips, and dragged his gaze up over her narrow waist to her where her nipples pressed against the thin fabric of her tank top. “Maybe it’s not a good idea for me to come up to your room.”
“Suit yourself. But Dad has half a million things planned between tomorrow and the wedding, so if you wanted to talk, now’s your only chance.”
He narrowed his eyes. “That’s blackmail.”
“Is it?” Cara reached the top of the stairs. She turned on her heel and strode down the hall, leaving him to either leave or follow her. Only the rigidness of her spine let him know she cared one way or another.
This might be your only chance.
He trailed her down the hallway. As Sam walked, he noted the differences between now and the last time he’d been here. Gone was the deep gray carpet, replaced by dark wood floors, and the brilliantly colored paintings had disappeared in favor of black and white photographs. It was still classy and timeless, but it felt completely different.
Cara stopped in her doorway and looked back down the hall. “They erased her.”
He didn’t have to ask who she meant. Her mother. “Where did the paintings go?”
“Cindy had them stored in the attic—she had someone come in and do it professionally so they wouldn’t be damaged.” She motioned him into her room and shut the door. “They’re letting me pick the ones I want to take back to the city with me.”
Sam studied her face. He didn’t know much about the woman her dad was marrying, other than the gossipy tidbits his mom had dropped from time to time. The woman was younger, used to be a model, and at least on the surface level, it seemed like a full on mid-life crisis. He didn’t blame Cara for seeming to dislike her.
But that was still a thoughtful thing to do—preserving the pieces of Cara’s mother for her.
She shook her head. “Yes, I know. I’m being totally irrational in hating her. She’s, like, super nice and stuff and seems to genuinely want to get to know me without taking on the mother role.” She flopped onto her bed and hugged the tin of cookies to her chest.
Sam slipped his hands into his pockets. “And yet…”
“And yet I’m being a cranky bitch about the entire thing. I know.” She pried open the lid of the tin and fished a cookie out. Cara held it in front of her face and inhaled deeply. “Oh God. Your mom is a cookie wizard.”
“Just call her Gandalf.”
She grinned. “You think I don’t already?” Cara nibbled on the edge of the cookie and moaned. “I swear to all that’s holy, these cookies are better than sex.”
Her obvious pleasure drew him forward despite himself. Sam tried to remember all the reasons he was supposed to keep his hands to himself, but with Cara laying on her bed, moaning over a cookie, and looking like the best kind of Christmas present…
He was lost.
Cara sat up. “Stop that. You can’t look at me like you want to eat me up and call me Frodo. It’s just wrong.” She worried her bottom lip, her gaze dropping to his mouth. “But I might be willing to forgive it. Just this once. If you come down here and kiss me.”
He wanted to. Good God, he wanted to more than anything.
But the same suspicion from the other night stopped him cold.
If he took her up on this offer, it would never come again. Sam didn’t want sex. Or, at least, he didn’t want only sex from Cara.
He wanted everything.
So instead of joining her on the bed and playing out every one of his fantasies. He held out his hand. “Cara.”
“There’s that tone of voice again.” She flung her arm over her eyes. “You’re killing me.”
“Cara,” he said again, coaxing her arm off her face and taking her hand. “It’s snowing.”
“Maybe you lived in California too long, but it does do that in New York on a regular basis in the winter.”
He tugged her up and then to her feet. “It’s snowing, Cara.” Sam grinned. “Put some clothes on and come play with me.”
“You know, in my head when you say something like that to me, it has an entirely different meaning.” Her gaze dropped to the front of his jeans.
“My eyes are up here, woman.” He motioned to his face with one hand and swatted her ass with the other. “Now get moving. This snowball fight won’t start itself. We’re going to have our own little Christmas celebration today—just you and me.”
[Come Back Tomorrow For The Last Chapter!]