[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!]
In the ten years since she graduated in high school, Cara Taylor had only made the three-hour drive back home three times. The first was when her mom died of cancer just six months after Cara moved. The second was when her dad had his heart attack.
And, today, because Dad was finally remarrying.
She gripped the steering wheel as if that small contact could keep her from floating away entirely. She wanted her dad to be happy. Of course she did. After nearly a decade of being a widower, he deserved to be happy. Yes, the woman he’d settled down with was like fifteen years younger than him. And, sure, Cara couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe she loved the fat bank account Dad came with and the beautiful mansion just as much as she loved him…
That’s not fair.
She’d only met Cindy twice when the woman accompanied her dad to New York to visit Cara. She’d even liked her a little during those trips.
But liking her a little was a far cry from wanting to woman to marry her dad.
She tightened her grip on the steering wheel until her knuckles whitened. She didn’t do this. She was Cara, party girl and general good time. The person people went to when they needed a pick-me-up. The woman who always had a happy smile and good vibes, no matter the situation.
In desperation, she did the one thing she promised herself she wouldn’t.
She called Meg.
It was only when Meg’s sleepy “Hello” came down the line that Cara realized what she’d done.
“Crap, it’s like one AM there, isn’t it?”
“Cara?” Rustling sounded and two low male voices. “Is everything okay?”
She didn’t call Meg. Oh, they had their monthly chats now where they updated each other on their lives now that Meg was marred to two sexier than sexy royals in Thalania. But Cara had promised herself that she wouldn’t do anything to make the separation harder. It took a long time for Meg to settle into being what equated to a princess, and Cara didn’t want to give her any reason to bolt.
She injected a smile into her voice. “Sure thing, honey! Just totally spaced the time difference. Go back to Galen and Theo. We can talk later.”
“Yeah, no, that’s not going to work on me, Cara.” More rustling. When Meg spoke again, her voice was clear of the last tendrils of sleep. “What’s going on?”
She should beg off. Should make some sunny excuse that would get Meg laughing and then end the conversation.
But when she opened her mouth, that wasn’t what came out. “My dad is getting remarried. This weekend. Right in time for Christmas.”
“Oh… Oh, shit. Seriously? I knew he was seeing that girl, but I didn’t realize it was serious.”
“No one did.” Except he’d called Cara six months ago and told her it was serious. She pressed her lips together. “I’m happy for him.”
Meg was silent for a beat. Two. “You know, you can be happy for him and miss your mom at the same time, and it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person.”
Damn it, Meg always saw right through her. “I’m being selfish.”
“Are you driving there to kick down the doors and ruin their wedding?”
She snorted. “The thought had crossed my mind, but no. I’m not going to pull any stunts. I’m just going to break out the good scotch and maybe only totally embarrass myself on the dance floor.”
“There you go.” Meg hesitated, and lowered her voice. “Do you need me to fly in? I could be there in a little less than twenty-four hours.”
Cara gave herself a full thirty seconds to imagine it. Meg wouldn’t come alone. She was as close to a queen as she could get in Thalania, one third of the Royal Triad, and that meant when she traveled, she traveled. She would need security and probably come in on a private jet, and she’d definitely bring Galen and Theo with her.
Which would steal the thunder from the wedding.
It was so tempting.
She finally sighed. “No, though I appreciate the offer. I think that would fall firmly under the ‘dramatics’ column in this situation.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Seriously, though. Is there anything I can do? I hate to see you hurting.”
Cara’s mouth curved into her first real smile in what felt like months. “Go back to bed and ravish those two sex gods you’ve married.”
“You ask too much of me.” Meg laughed. “I’ll keep my phone on me this weekend, okay? If you need anything, call. And the offer to fly in stands.”
“I appreciate you.”
“Trust me, the feeling is totally mutual.” Meg seemed to perk up. “In fact, when’s your next vacation time? Why don’t you come out here and we’ll go full decadent for a week?”
A week spent being pampered within an inch of her life and hanging out in a literal palace. “Let me check when I get back to the city, but it’ll be spring sometime.”
“Perfect. That gives the guys plenty of time to figure out security if we decide to do a little traveling.”
Halfway around the world, and Cara wouldn’t miss the smile in her friend’s voice for anything in the world. “You sound happy.”
“I am happy. Though this call isn’t supposed to be about me. You sure you’re okay?”
Not even a little bit. “Definitely.” She took the exit that would spit her out into the little community where she’d spent the first eighteen years of her life. “I’ve got to go, though. I’m almost there.”
“Good luck. I’m here if you need me.”
“I appreciate you.” Cara hung up and tossed her phone onto the passenger seat. She felt better. Sort of. The problem was that Meg’s living in domestic bliss with her two lovers kind of drove home the fact that Cara was…not. It wasn’t even that she wanted to settle down. She was apprenticing to one of the greatest designers in the country, and that required considerable time and energy. She didn’t party nearly as much as she had in college, and she sure as hell didn’t bring home company nearly as often.
If Cara had one rule, it was that she didn’t muddy the professional waters with sex. It was hard enough to be taken seriously without her sleeping with one of her coworkers. Or, worse, another designer.
It all added up to a whole lot of unintentional celibacy, and that didn’t look like it was changing anytime soon.
Ridley was a truly strange suburb. Cara didn’t think there was a house worth under a million in the town limits, but it still played at small town charm. The main road had exactly one stop light and all the little shops were carefully curated for aesthetic appeal. It wasn’t a bad thing, exactly, but after living in NYC for nearly half her life, it felt… One note.
Or maybe she was just wearing her cranky pants this evening.
Cara turned right at the light and quickly left the clustered houses behind. Just as the darkness began closing in, helped along by the tall trees lining the road, red and blue lights flashed in my rearview mirror.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
She spent all of two seconds considering gunning it. Even all these years later, Cara knew these streets like the back of her hand, and there had been more than a few times in high school where she flipped off the lights and took off to escape getting caught out after her parents’ curfew.
I am twenty-eight years old, and I have a job that means I can afford a speeding ticket. Running from the cops is not what a successful twenty-eight-year-old woman does.
It still took more effort than she would ever admit to ease her foot off the gas pedal and inch over onto the shoulder. She could do this. She could be calm and rational and not act like a crazy person.
Since when did Ridley even have cops? Last she knew, they were under the county jurisdiction and mostly those guys just set up speed traps on the outskirts to catch idiots who should really know better.
The cop left his lights on, bright enough that the only thing she could see of him was a silhouette as he climbed out of his car and stalked toward her. Cara got the impression of broad shoulders, and the dude definitely didn’t have the customary pot belly most of the deputies carried around here. He was tall, too. Easily over six foot.
“You should really know better than to speed through here, ma’am.” Something like amusement bled into his tone. “Or have you been gone so long that you forgot how things work around here?”
She knew that voice.
Cara squinted into the bright light. “Sam? Is that you?”
“I’m hurt, Cara. Really hurt.” He leaned down and she finally got a good look at his face.
Holy good lord, Sam got hot. They’d been just about attached at the hip in high school, but NYC called Cara, and Sam had gone to school at Stanford. Their promise to keep in touch hadn’t lasted the first semester, and if she missed him… Well, Cara had always been good about focusing on the half-full part of the glass.
He’d filled out, his body finally catching up to his height, and he wore a pair of jeans and a T-shirt that were both faded and clung to his body in a well-loved sort of way.
Wait a minute.
She leaned out her window and frowned at the car he’d been driving. The blue and red lights still flashed from the front windshield, but she’d never seen a cop driving an Audi. “What the hell, Samwise? Tell me you didn’t take over for Deputy Donuts.”
He laughed, the low sound seeming to curl through the distance between them. “I don’t think Deputy Douglass ever found that nickname as amusing as we did.”
“Nice dodge. Try again.”
His straight white teeth flashed in the light of his headlights. “Just call me Detective Samwise.”
“Detective.” What had happened to his wanting to be an art major? She gave him another once-over. She’d changed a lot since she was eighteen. It stood to reason that Sam had, too.
She still didn’t see it. No way was he a cop.
Cara shook her head. “Wait a minute. Since when do detectives make routine traffic stops?”
“Ah. That.” His easy grin widened. “You’re still driving the same car you did when we were kids. I recognized it.”
As if it was as easy as that. “Sounds like an abuse of power to me.”
“I would have just called…but you changed your number.”
Guilt flared. She’d forgotten about that. Cara made the mistake of dating a guy who decided stalking was the way to her heart, and the inevitable phone number change. She’d updated the people she kept in regular contact with, but that was it. Sam hadn’t made the list. “Are you giving me a ticket, Detective?”
He ran his hand through his long-ish dark hair. “Actually, I’d rather take you out for a drink.”
Cara raised her eyebrows. “A drink.”
“Coffee. Whiskey. One of those sugary things you used to like. Lady’s choice.”
Sam was…asking her out?
On a date? To catch up for old time’s sake?
She opened her mouth to ask, but reconsidered. Did it really matter why he wanted to take her out for a drink? Saying yes meant she didn’t have to keep driving to her dad’s house. Didn’t have to walk in to find how unfamiliar it’d become now that Mom was gone and being replaced.
Damn it, she’s not being replaced. He’s mourned long enough. He deserves to be happy.
One of these days, she’d actually believe that when she berated herself with it.
Cara managed a smile, though it wasn’t her usual brilliant one. “I’d love to get a drink with you, Samwise.”
[Check back tomorrow for chapter two!]