Frolic Presents: ‘That Festive Feeling’ Chapter Two By Talia Hibbert
By Talia Hibbert
[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 amazing Talia Hibbert. Take it away Talia!]
[CW: Story Contains Explicit Sexual Content]
Dan stared in mild astonishment at the man he’d just felled like a tree. Then he shook out his throbbing hand and muttered, “Well, I’m glad that worked.”
He turned and discovered that Reagan, like their attempted mugger, was on the ground. Her eyes were wide, that damned laptop cradled protectively to her chest. Her brown skin looked kind of… grey. Which didn’t seem good.
Scowling, Dan crouched beside her. “What the bloody hell are you doing down here?”
“You pushed me,” she managed. He could barely hear her words, more like gasps, over the wind.
“I—?” Oh. He had, to get her out of the way. But for Christ’s sake, he hadn’t meant to knock her over. “Jesus, I’m so sorry, Reagan. Are you okay?”
She didn’t say a word. Just stared at him with wide, black eyes. She could’ve been a hypnotist in another life.
He slid an arm behind her back and eased her into a sitting position. With his free hand, he pulled off her adorable little hat and checked her head. The texture of her shorn hair tickled his palm, but he didn’t find any bumps. He traced her temple, cheekbone, jaw. Yes, he could see her face was fine, but he did it anyway. A moment ago, worry for her had cracked open his chest. Now the threat had been dealt with, but he remained on edge. He felt a bone-deep urgency to confirm that she was there, relatively safe, and okay. But she hadn’t answered his question.
“Sweetheart. Talk to me.”
More of that aching silence.
He wondered if she was in shock. His ex-wife, Lily, had gotten like this after hitting a dog with her car. He tried again, making his voice harsh this time—the way her father used to call her into the house. “Reagan.”
Depressingly, that worked like a charm. She jolted back to life and said, “Did we just get mugged?”
“Not quite.” He couldn’t decide if he was furious she’d endangered herself or proud that she’d resisted, so he decided not to mention it at all. He probed her ankles gently through thick, woolen tights, her shins, her knees. “Does this hurt?”
“No. Did you kill him?”
Dan blinked. “Christ, Reags. Of course not.” But a bloodthirsty, Reagan-obsessed part of his mind demanded, Well why the hell not? He was going to hit your woman.
“It’s possible to kill someone with a punch,” she insisted.
“Maybe if you’re a heavyweight champ, or the unluckiest man on earth. I knocked him out. He deserved it. It’s you I’m worried about. Are you hurt?”
She licked her lower lip, then bit, which meant that she was thinking. He’d watched her do that a million times while she worked, and it always killed him. His blood turned molten and burned him alive from the inside out. That lick-bite move was to blame for countless fantasies involving him, her, the counter of his café, and public indecency.
“My hip kind of aches,” she said, which effectively murdered his arousal.
He cradled her against his chest, hooked an arm under her knees, and picked her up, laptop and all.
She was more than a little surprised. “You’re… strong.”
“You’re not that heavy.”
“Yes I am. But don’t worry; I’m cool with it.”
Well. Fair enough.
Suddenly, the man on the ground stirred. He mumbled something unintelligible and patently miserable, raising a gloved hand to his head.
Dan looked at Reagan. “Should I kick him?”
“You’re awful. Should we call the police?”
“Probably. Will you let me drive you home after?”
“Possibly. Depending on how long this takes, I might make the last bus.”
“You will not.”
Her only reply was an impressive eye roll.
“You’re grievously injured,” he went on.
“It’s just my hip. And my shoulder.”
She tutted. “Forget I said anything.”
“Too late now.” He stepped over the still-prone man and back towards the café. “Keys are in my pocket. Unlock the door for me, Trouble.”
“Yes, Sir.” Her hand slid into his jacket. He imagined her touch burning through his clothes, his skin, his body, all the way down to his bones. But that didn’t happen, obviously. She found the keys and fumbled with the door.
“When I take you home,” he said, “I’ll to see to these mysterious, multiplying injuries.”
“It’s only my hip and my shoulder, I swear.”
“Clearly, I should confirm that for myself.” He’d been teasing, but as the words left his mouth he was hit with the image of his hands running over her. Everywhere.
Her response was quiet, hoarse, unexpectedly compliant. “Alright.”
Reagan lived in a high-rise apartment with underground parking, spotless glass furniture, and real wood floors. There were no Christmas decorations.
Dan made himself comfortable on her velvet, indigo sofa and waited for her to return from the kitchen. Calling the police had turned into two hours of waiting, explaining, and answering questions. She was now in a horrible mood and refused to be carried around. He eyed the stack of paperwork on her shiny coffee table. He wasn’t surprised that wasting time irritated her. She had so little of it to spare.
“Coffee,” she said from the doorway. “Black, no sugar, because you’re a cyborg.” He laughed and watched her approach because he wanted to see if she limped—not because he liked the sway of her hips.
God, he was such a liar. He wished he were a gentleman, but he’d only ever managed to play at it.
“This could be awkward,” she said, passing him a steaming mug. “What if you hate it?”
“Doesn’t matter. I make great coffee, so you don’t need to.” He’d accidentally spoken as if they were a unit, a couple who complemented each other.
Maybe she caught it too, because she did that lick-bite thing with her lips. Every muscle in his body clenched like a fist. He gritted his teeth and focused on the green plastic box tucked under her arm. “What’s that?”
“Give you three guesses.” She popped it open and pulled out antibacterial wipes and plasters.
“You cut yourself?”
She looked at him like, You’re being so dense right now. “These are for you.”
Dan put down his coffee and stared at his busted knuckles. “I ran ‘em under the cold tap.”
“Oh, then we’re golden.” She rolled her eyes. “You donkey. Come here.” When he held out his hand, she winced at the sight of his cuts and bruises. He wondered if he should tell her it looked worse than it felt. Then she held his wrist and dabbed at him with disinfectant, and he decided to keep his mouth shut. After a moment, she murmured, “I’m sorry.”
“I should’ve just given him my laptop.”
“Hey.” He used his free hand to push up her chin. “It’s okay. I mean, don’t get me wrong—never do that again. Ever.”
She grimaced. “I won’t. It was ridiculous. I know.”
“Good. But Reagan, I can’t blame you for your reaction to something that should never have happened.”
She pressed her lips together and shook her head, turning away to mess about with the plasters. The silence stretched as she stuck them carefully over his swollen fist. He searched for something else to say—something besides, You’re gorgeous and brilliant and funny and I want to kiss your nose. How would you feel about dating a divorcé who’s 0.13% as smart and successful as you are? This didn’t seem like the time to broach the subject.
Finally, he settled on the utterly thrilling, “No Christmas lights?”
He’d noticed, as she’d led him through the flat towards the kitchen, that there were zero festive decorations in the house. But he had memories of her taking part in Secret Santa at school and all that shit, so he knew she celebrated.
Or he thought she did. But now, she gave a noncommittal shrug and said, “We never really did the Christmas thing, at home.”
“Oh. So, are you…?”
She looked up as he trailed off. “Am I…?”
He shrugged. “Muslim? Jewish? Hindu?”
“No, Daniel. I am a baptised but disinterested Catholic.” After a pause, she added, “It was my mother who had me baptised.”
The mother who’d died while they were still at primary school, Dan remembered. “Ah.”
“Dad didn’t bother with religion. Or celebrations. Or happiness.” She flashed an impish smile, dissolving the tension in the air. “He didn’t bother with much of anything. But you knew that.”
True. Everyone in their town had known Ed Thompson, the man who was only ever excited by the prospect of making people miserable—especially his daughter. It wasn’t an amusing topic, yet the wry curl of Reagan’s lips dragged an answering chuckle from Dan. “Yeah, well. Didn’t seem polite to bring it up.”
“Since when are you polite? Coming in here, moaning about my lack of decorations.”
“Moaning? I don’t moan.”
Her voice dipped low. “I bet you do sometimes.” Then she bit her lip and looked away, her lashes casting shadows over her cheeks like butterfly wings.
He stared at her profile and tried to process the fact that she’d just made a dirty joke.
Clearly she couldn’t believe it either, because when she faced him again, she looked awkward as hell. She huffed out a breath and curled her legs up on the sofa, avoiding his gaze for long, electric moments. It occurred to him that they hadn’t been this close in years, not since they were children. These days, except for when he walked her to the bus-stop in the dark, they rarely spoke without a counter between them. Now nothing separated them but a few inches of possibility. He could shift his knee slightly to the right and bump hers. He could rest an arm over the back of the sofa and brush her shoulder.
He didn’t, though. Wouldn’t. Not under these circumstances.
“You haven’t tried your coffee,” she said finally, her voice a little too cheerful. “Are you avoiding it?”
He grabbed the mug and took a sip. It was drinkable. Kind of. “This’ll do.”
“I told you. You don’t need to be good at it.”
“Because that’s your job?”
“So you do listen. Good to know.” He put down the mug and rubbed his palms against his thighs. “Alright. Now I’ll do you.”
She froze, her eyes flying to his. “Do… me?”
Well, damn. Reagan’s mind was in the gutter tonight. Why might that be? A slow grin sliding over his face, Dan murmured, “Your shoulder, sweetheart.”
“Oh.” The word came out on a gust of air. “Right.”
“What did you think I meant?”
“I had no idea,” she said calmly. “Hence the question.”
“I mean it.”
“Sure you do.”
She huffed, but her gaze sparkled. Sometimes he wished she wouldn’t look at him like that. When she gave him these hot, flashing looks, this thing between them felt inevitable. Like he was just waiting for her to make the first move.
It had been almost a year since Reagan stumbled upon his café and into his life again. Months since he’d realised that his old fondness for her had… changed. He wanted to do more than dance on the edge of flirtation, but most of all, he wanted Reagan. So he pushed gently or not at all, followed innuendos with a good-natured laugh, and tried to keep his baser urges under control. He generally succeeded.
Something felt different tonight.
Adrenaline, maybe. Ignore it.
“My shoulder seems fine now,” she said in that crisp, lawyer-voice she used sometimes. The one that made his heart-rate rise and the caliber of his thoughts sink.
“But you said I could look. No take-backs.”
She smirked. “What are you, five?”
“I’m worried about you.” Which was true. “Humour me.”
“Fine,” she murmured. “Check my shoulder, then, Doctor Daniel.”
Daniel. She was the only one who still called him that. “And your hip, right?”
“My hip feels fine. It’s bruised. That’s all.”
“Daniel. You’re not looking at my hip.”
She was shy, or modest, or something. To him, bodies were just bodies. Meat-sacks. But then he thought about her body, and saw where she was coming from. He’d seen so little of it, but he already considered it divine.
“Okay. Your shoulder, then.” He dragged in a Reagan-scented breath, soothing and arousing all at once.
He was about to put his hands on her. Bloody hell.