Oh, Holy Night: A Holiday Romantic Suspense by Bethany Maines – Chapter 1

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[Note from Frolic: Looking to get into the holiday spirit? We’ve got the perfect romantic suspense novella for you! Come back every day this week for a new chapter!]

CW: Violence

Chapter One

-Right Now-

“Oh, holy shit.”

Violet Harper just shot someone.

“Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.” Melissa Lee repeats the words until they blur together in one long string that echoes around the bank vault. Currently, Melissa has a bank teller in a head lock.

Violet and Melissa have been best friends since grade school. Melissa works at Starbucks as a barista and makes way more money than Violet. Violet used to work at Starbucks as a graphic designer and make way more than Melissa, but then she developed a habit of drawing dicks into the Christmas cup designs. Eventually she and management mutually decided that her heart wasn’t in the work anymore.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Violet! What did you do?”

“I shot him.”

“I can fucking see that!” Melissa drops the bank teller, who flops to the floor with a little squeak.

Violet eyes Melissa with concern—that was a lot of swearing for Melissa. Her usual swears are of the oh cheese and crackers variety because she used to work at a daycare. Melissa is about five-five and cute as a button, with big brown eyes and a mop of curly hair. She’s the kind of person that people naturally entrust their children to. Sometimes that makes people think they can take advantage of her.

“You’re freaking out, Mel.”

“I am not freaking out! You’re freaking out! This is not OK! Not OK! So not OK!”

“I don’t know. I thought it was cool.”

Everyone in the room looks toward the doorway of the bank vault where Mystery Guy is standing with a gun in his hand. No one is quite sure how long he’s been standing there.

Violet looks from Mystery Guy to the jerkwad on the floor. There’s a lot of blood leaking out of Jerkwad and Mystery Guy thinks that’s cool. Violet recognizes that this should probably tell her a lot about Mystery Guy. Violet also recognizes that she still thinks Mystery Guy is totally hot.

Twenty-four hours ago Violet was not thinking about shooting anyone. She was thinking about Mystery Guy’s hot ass, paying her rent, and possibly giving in to societal pressure and buying a cat. She doesn’t like cats, but she’s single and over thirty, so there’s definite pressure to have one. And also drink a lot of wine. She’s more or less cool with the wine, but the cat is a sticking point.

Twenty-Four hours ago, she was also definitely not thinking about robbing a bank.

Currently? Violet Harper is in a bank vault with a gun.

“This is not what it looks like,” says Violet.

-Twenty-Four Hours Ago-

Roman

Roman Knox walked into the Starbucks and inhaled the roasted smell of warmth that always felt like home to him. As usual, the teacher and the barista were arguing. They were the reason this was his favorite coffee shop. Last week’s argument had been over alpaca farming. The winning statement—getting the alpaca’s to stay planted would be very difficult—had kept him chuckling for days. Tonight, however, the teacher had her shoulders hunched, and her head dipped as she frowned at the pile of papers in front of her.

“You don’t understand,” said the barista. “Leo just never recovered from losing his mom.”

“She’s not lost. She’s in Vegas with his step-dad,” said the teacher sourly.

“The divorce screwed with his head,” said the barista. “He was a really good to me all the way through high school, even when we weren’t dating. And I know, he kind of didn’t advance post-high school, but lately I really think he’s taken a giant step forward.”

The barista went back into the storage area, and as Roman watched, the teacher shoved half a student’s quiz in her face and bit down on the paper with an expression of pure fury.

A James Taylor version of a Christmas classic was playing over the sound system and the laid back sound seemed to mock her anger.

The barista stepped out to take his order and the quiz came back out and was smoothed down as if it had never been within inches of being eaten.

“Hey!” The barista was happy to see him. “Your usual?”

“Yes, please.”

“I could put some candy cane sprinkles on it,” she offered.

“No, thanks,” he said shaking his head. He didn’t add that Santa wasn’t stopping at his house this year and if he did the fucking elves could take a flying leap off the sleigh. This was Roman’s happy place. He didn’t need to bring his anti-Christmas spirit in here.

As the barista made his latte, Roman angled his back to the wall at the corner of the bar so that he could keep an eye on both women. The teacher made some more marks on the quizzes and seemed to ignore both of them. There was a tension in the clench of her jaw that suggested whatever conversation he’d interrupted was not over.

The barista slipped the latte across the bar to him. “Can you two keep thieves from walking off with everything if I run the trash out to the dumpster?”

“Go for it, Mel,” said the teacher looking up with a smile. The smile felt like an apology for something he hadn’t witnessed.

“I’ll be right back,” said the barista.

“She doesn’t like to go out to the alley when no one’s here,” said the teacher as the door swung shut behind her friend.

“It’s fine,” he said. Then he cleared his throat, not sure if he should step into the middle of things. “So, we don’t think that Leo’s taken a giant step forward?”

The teacher practically growled. “It’s hard to take a giant step forward when your ass is firmly planted on the couch. I swear to God, if they start dating him again, I’m going to shoot him.”

Roman paused with the latte half-way to his mouth. The teacher was tall and athletic, and the idea of her taking vengeful target practice on someone was somehow not as far-fetched as when other people made off-hand threats. It didn’t help that he’d had far more far-fetched fantasies about what she could do with her hands, not to mention those long legs of hers. In his head, such valkyrie-esque actions weren’t entirely unexpected. There was a reason Hot for Teacher was currently at the top of his most frequently played list. He knew it was a crush, but that didn’t really make a difference.

“I mean, I don’t want to shoot him dead. I just want to give him something that makes him limp for the rest of his life.”

“That’s harder than it looks in the movies,” said Roman.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, but I’d still like the opportunity to try. I don’t know what it is about that dipshit Leo that hits her I need to take care of him button, but if someone stole your car for a month and then only brought it back after he got in an accident, would you date him again?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head.

“Melissa is a catch. She should be with someone great and yet every time he turns up on her front porch she thinks that maybe this time she can fix him. She’s so on track with everything else. I don’t understand how she’s so blind about him.”

“It happens,” said Roman with a shrug, thinking of his ex-wife.

“Hey,” said Melissa returning from outside with a shiver and rubbing the December cold off her arms. “What are we talking about?”

“Robbing banks,” said Roman, which was his usual go-to for switching topics. It made people laugh.

“Violet! Stop trying to convince people to rob banks!”

“I wasn’t!”

“Violet wants to rob banks?” Roman savored her name and took another look at the teacher. He had her pegged as in her twenties—regrettably outside of his dating age bracket, as he insisted his girlfriends be born within a decade of him—with short, punk rock hair that included a shock of green in front. He liked it, but the look didn’t scream teacher. It didn’t say bank robber either.

“Just because you develop a theory on bank robbing, does not mean that you should try to convince people to rob banks. It was bad enough when it was just Leo and me.” She turned to Roman. “Don’t listen to her,” said Melissa, touching him lightly on the arm. “She’s loveable, but she’s crazy.”

“My theory is sound,” objected Violet. “Can I have some water?”

“Well, now I want to know,” said Roman. “What’s your theory?”

“No, Violet!” protested Melissa.

“He wants to know!” Violet was grinning.

“I’m not responsible for this!” Melissa threw her hands up and Violet chuckled.

“Tell me about banks,” said Roman. He liked Violet’s weird theories and playful nature. Just because he wasn’t going to date her, didn’t mean he couldn’t talk to her. Besides, how good of a plan could she have?

“Robbing banks is stupid. It’s like robbing a classier convenience store. And sure, you’re less likely to run into a clerk with a .45 or a baseball bat under the counter, but if you get caught it’s Federal time.”

He nodded. “At least five years.”

“Right. And for what? Maybe five grand? Banks don’t keep cash like they used to. This isn’t the 1920’s. And most bank robbers just run in and clear out whatever one teller has and run out again. It’s ridiculous.”

“So far all you’re doing is convincing me not to rob banks,” said Roman.

“Well, if you want something that would actually be worthwhile, you have to be able to clear out what they have in the vault, which these days is hardly more than a count out room with bars. So, what you do, is, you wait until the Friday before a weekend with a Monday holiday.”

“Like next Monday?”

Violet looked at him skeptically. “You mean Christmas?”

“Whatever,” he said with a grumpy shrug.

“Yeah, it doesn’t matter,” she said. Her eyes were twinkling, but her expression was sympathetic. “As long as it’s a bank holiday. Then you go into an adjoining business to the bank.”

“Like this one,” said Roman.

“Right,” said Violet. “Then you bust through the wall, shut off the security system and clean out the cash.”

“Why not just cut the power on the building?”

“No, you need the power because while you’re there, you use the bank computers to transfer some money to the multiple accounts that you’ve already set up. Then you’re back out of the bank, cover up the hole in the wall, and spend all of Saturday pulling cash out of the accounts you transferred to. Then on Sunday, you take a plane down to South America and on Monday, the bank holiday in the US, you transfer the funds into an off-shore bank account. On Tuesday the bank employees arrive and think they’ve only lost the cash. By the time they figure out the computer crime, you’re living like a King in Patagonia.”

“There are problems with the plan,” said Melissa, plunking a paper cup of water down on the counter next to him. Then she turned back to begin ferrying new product from the storage area to the counter.

“You’d need a partner who would have access to bank computers, for one thing,” said Roman.

“Or a hacker,” said Violet, coming to collect her water.

She was closer to him than she had ever been previously, and as she reached for the water, he found himself leaning in to see the color of her eyes: a striking pale blue. The sound system was playing Pretty Paper, sung by someone with a deep voice and a slide guitar, and for a long moment he liked Christmas, paper snowflakes, candy canes, and mistletoe. Definitely mistletoe.

Violet

Violet reached out for her glass and looked up into Mystery Guy’s eyes and felt like someone had dropped her into a well. The song on the radio seemed to muffle and drift off. Mystery Guy had beautiful hazel eyes fringed with dark lashes and she felt like she couldn’t look away. The moment lingered as if time itself had stretched out. She had a visceral urge to just lean in and kiss him.

“Your cup’s on the counter,” yelled Mel from the back room, and Chris Isaak on the radio seemed to pop back into existence. “Stop talking nonsense and go draw dicks on it!”

Violet blinked and tried not to blush. How long had she been staring at him?

“Thanks,” she yelled, at Melissa. “I will.”

She took the cup back to her table and tried to pretend she didn’t want turn back around, grab Mystery Guy by the lapels and drag him home with her. Mystery Guy had been coming into Melissa’s Starbucks at least once a week for the last two months. Outside of a few sardonic comments, he mostly just came in, drank his coffee, and looked amused at the Mel and Vi floor show while he checked his phone. This was the longest conversation she’d had with him. That hadn’t stopped her from fantasizing about running her hands over his well-shaped ass, or through his dark hair with the few sprinkles of gray, or nibbling kisses along his square jaw. And now she could add staring into his gorgeous hazel eyes to the fantasy options list.

Mel had her doubts about Mystery Guy. He always paid in cash and she thought that maybe he carried a, gulp, gun.

Violet knew for a fact he carried a gun. She’d gotten a glimpse of the shoulder holster under his coat and there was sometimes a tell-tale bulge on his ankle that suggested a back-up piece. She’d said as much to Melissa, which had freaked Mel out even more, but guns didn’t really bother Violet. She’d spent most of her life around people with guns and owning and carrying guns was not a crime and didn’t mean someone was crazy. Necessarily.

A gaggle of high-school kids came in. Violet checked her phone. It was almost eight. She came in most afternoons to work at the Starbucks, get some human interaction, and chit-chat with Mel before heading home for the evening. Lately she’d been lingering a little longer than normal to see if Mystery Guy would pop in, and at this time of night it was usually just the three of them. The impending holidays and pop-up ice skating rink in the plaza down the block were causing strange influxes of people. She resented the children who were ruining her moments with Mystery Guy.

Mystery Guy vacated the bar area and dropped down into the chair across from her. “God, I feel old. I swear skirts were not that short when I was in high-school. And when did guys start wearing spray on pants? Who sanctioned that look?”

Violet laughed. “They all look like such babies. Do you remember when we were their age and how everyone our age looked old?”

Our age?” He looked amused. “What are you, like twenty-six?”

“Thanks, but no, thirty-one.”

“Closer,” he said, looking surprised. She wasn’t sure what that meant.

She eyed him speculatively. “Let me guess. You’re… thirty-eight?” He blinked and she knew she’d nailed it. “And you’re six-foot-two and two-twenty?”

“Two-ten,” he said, sucking in his stomach, looking pained, then he relaxed and smiled. “I didn’t realize you were a side-show carnie in your spare time.”

“No, it’s just a game,” said Violet, suddenly feeling embarrassed. She rubbed her shoulder, crossing her arm across her chest, and watched him notice the defensive posture. “I don’t play it much it anymore.” She didn’t want to talk about her dad. Christmas always scraped at the wound of his death. She didn’t need to think about it more.

“What are you teaching?” he asked, picking up one of the quizzes.

“Graphic Design and Art History. I’m an adjunct professor at the local community college.”

“What does adjunct mean?”

“Means I get paid crap.” He chuckled. “And also, that I’m not a full-time employee.”

“So you get paid crap and don’t get benefits?” He skipped ahead to the full ramifications of her statement. Most people didn’t make that leap.

“Right. I freelance, teach and you know… hustle.”

“Sounds hard,” he said.

“Depends,” said Violet. “I did the corporate rounds and in some ways this is easier. Harder on the bank account, but easier emotionally.”

“I hear that,” he said, nodding.

“I suppose if I had other people counting on me I’d probably go back to the corporate grind, but since it’s just me I’d rather do the work I like and eat Top Ramen occasionally. Or you know, do what I usually do: sponge off Mel and my mom.” Violet crossed her fingers that this was a strong enough statement of singlehood, without crossing the line into billboard territory or sounding pathetic.

“I’ve never…” He paused and his mouth quirked up in a smile. “I’ve never had anything I wanted to pursue like that. I think maybe I’m boring.”

“Maybe you just like stability. Stability isn’t necessarily boring.”

“Maybe I like creative, I just don’t have anyone to be creative with.”

Violet wanted to raise her hand and volunteer for that job. She felt certain she could definitely be creative with him. She was about to take the plunge and ask Mystery Guy for his name when his phone beeped. He frowned at the message and stood up.

“I’ve got to go.” He hesitated and smiled at her in a way that made her heart go flippity-flop. “See you around, Violet.”

“See you tomorrow,” she said, following him with her eyes.

Click Here For Chapter Two!
About the Author:

Bethany Maines is a native of Tacoma WA, who is actually very much like her fictional heroines: she travels to exotic lands and has the ability to kick some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate. And while her travels may not necessarily include fighting super agents of evil so much as eating spicy foods and hiking to the tops of mountains (okay, really big hills), her black belt skills are mainly employed in teaching karate to a classroom full of kids (although there was that one time in Paris), and her day job is something she actually enjoys (graphic design is fun!), she’s pretty much a secret agent in her own right. Find her here: https://bethanymaines.com/

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