The Santa Clause

The Santa Clause banner

A Christmas trope. Boy meets girl. Girl despises boy. Throw in some sugar free gummy bears and things are bound to explode. Now grab a bottle of wine and some crusty bread. It’s about to get cheesy up in here.

Rated M; AH/AU; Dual POV’s

Written for The Queen of All That is Delicious

 

SPOV

Taking the now full carafe from the coffee maker, I carefully tipped it towards the mug, all the while wondering why in the hell I busted my ass for four years to get my degree when I was right back to schlepping coffee.

I could’ve saved years and thousands of dollars if I’d just skipped the middle.

“Sookie!”

Shit!

“Shit!”

Bitching internally about my job was one thing, but being overheard by my boss’s secretary was another.

So was cursing in front of her.

Especially when using your outside voice.

Holly had a little boy – at home – which for whatever reason meant we all had to watch our shits and fucks around her.

Because he must have hearing capabilities that rivaled the NSA and might repeat what we said?

I didn’t know. And quite frankly, I didn’t give a shit.

Or a fuck.

But being an intern, I didn’t have the clout to tell her to go fuck herself and stick her rules straight up her shit hole yet.

So for now I minded my shits and fucks whenever I was around her.

Trying to wipe the spilled coffee from my shirt sleeve – maybe that’s what my degree would be good for – I only managed to set the stain deeper into the fabric.

And did I mention it was hot?

Like a thousand suns on the summer solstice at high noon hot?

So I was sure my expression was full of ‘You bitch!’ – unless her son was a satellite telepathic too, I was in the clear there – when I turned to face a glaring Holly standing in the doorway, who added a sneer to her expression as she said, “Mr. Madden is looking for you.”

“Of course he is,” I snapped.

But he was shit out of luck if he’d thought to bathe in my blood, unlike the other virgins he must sacrifice every morning to keep the crow’s feet from appearing around his eyes.

JB DuRone took care of that my senior year of high school.

But it wasn’t my fault the coffee pot was bone dry when he’d demanded his latest cup, so I had to brew an entire new pot.

Like me, His Majesty had no choice but to wait for it to finish.

Being an intern sucked to the Nth degree, as did my boss, Victor Madden. But I only had another week or so until my six month internship was done and then I would be a real full-fledged junior reporter.

I was going to consider it one of my Christmas presents to me this year.

My other one would be because then it would be some other schmuck’s job to fetch His Holiness a cup of coffee.

For their sake, I hoped they weren’t a virgin.

But for now, I was still the less than virtuous schmuck, so I carefully wiped up the rest of the spilled coffee from the cup and dutifully carried it my boss’s office.

And then channeled a bit of Holly’s shit fucking attitude, when I glared at the man seated in the chair opposite his desk.

Eric Northman.

On the surface he was gorgeous – unfairly so – but something about him rubbed me the wrong way from day one.

Probably because the first conversation ‘we’ ever had was – in all actuality – between him and my tits.

But seeing him sitting there with a smug expression on his face and a fresh cup of coffee in his hand, I had a sneaking suspicion it was the last of the pot, which meant he was responsible for why I’d had to make a new one.

Like me, Eric was an intern at The Shreveport Times too. We’d started working there at the same time, but I had a feeling it was more than just my lack of a Y chromosome that meant I was the coffee gopher out of the two of us.

Rumor had it Eric’s father was the famed news broadcaster, Andre Paul.

Rumor also had it that he’d fucked half of the women in the building.

I suspected both rumors to be true.

Admittedly, it chafed my ass that everything came easily to him – both women and job opportunities – when I had to work for everything I had.

And while being a junior reporter wasn’t my dream job, at least it paid my bills.

What I really wanted to do was write books. Actual books, printed on actual paper, and had the name of an actual publishing house printed on the binding. I’d even sent out a manuscript to more than a few of them, both big and small, but the book gods hadn’t seen fit to even send me a rejection letter.

Printed on actual paper or otherwise.

And I knew all too well that dreams weren’t going to pay my bills. The bright side was at least I had the money to pay for the dry cleaning bill to get the coffee stain out of my blouse.

But I’d earned everything I had. I drove a piece of shit Chevy Malibu – whose days were numbered, but had been bought and paid for with babysitting jobs and waitressing tips – while Mr. Silver Spoon walked around with a corvette keychain dangling from his fingertips.

So I guessed the son of Andre Paul was too good to fetch the boss coffee.

And I also guessed he had a standing appointment at the clinic to get tested for STD’s every Monday morning.

So I guessed that more than likely made me an über bitch.

But it was never the time to show my tits to my boss and now certainly wasn’t the time for me to show him my ass either.

Like shits and fucks, I minded mine whenever I was around him.

So I put the cup of lava java on his desk and was about to leave the office, when Madden said, “Sookie, have a seat.”

Eric was leaned back in his signature slouch, but I didn’t miss the way his eyes darted to his lap and back to mine again in silent invitation.

It made me wish I had my own cup of lava java to dump in that lap.

It was the only lap dance I would ever admit to wanting to see him perform.

Because while he was unfairly good looking – like one of the guys from the Axe body spray commercials that had sexy angels falling at his feet – Eric knew it.

What he didn’t seem to know was that it was his attitude that was an absolute turnoff.

I didn’t care how great his ass was. His assface personality canceled it out.

So I gave him my silent stare that all but called him an assface to his assface before turning around to plant mine in the chair next to his.

My ass.

Not my face.

There would’ve been no way to keep my shits and fucks to myself had I face-planted into the chair in front of assface himself.

But I started to second guess my assessment as to how many assfaces were actually in the room – bathed in the blood of sacrificial virgins or not – when Madden went on to say, “As you both know, your internships will be over at the end of the year. I also know you were both promised positions as junior reporters following the completion of your current assignments, but unfortunately sales are down over the last quarter and we only have enough money left in the budget to keep one of you.”

The fuck?

I’d been working my fingers to the bone over the last six months – I had the paper cuts and coffee scalded skin to prove it – and now, when I was a mere week away from the promised land, he was taking it all away?

Assface!

Whipping my head towards the other assface in the room, I’d expected to see a smug expression on his face.

The son of Andre Paul clearly had nothing to worry about.

The daughter of Corbett Stackhouse obviously couldn’t say the same.

However, it wasn’t smugness Eric was radiating. It was surprise, with a mixture of concern.

It was…well, surprising.

But before I could figure out what was making him tick and before the shits and fucks managed to escape my lips, Madden went on to explain, “You have both shown me you each have what it takes to become good reporters, so during the final week of your internships, I’m giving you a new assignment. Whoever manages to write the best article will be given the single junior reporter slot we have available.”

Leaning forward in my seat, I could see in my peripheral that Eric had done the same. But that asshat also pulled his phone from his pocket to take notes on whatever Madden was going to say next.

I couldn’t do the same.

Because I’d been too worried about making a new pot of coffee to worry about grabbing my phone, thanks to the assface asshat draining the last pot.

I hoped – like me – it was bitter to the last drop.

Pulling me from my mental bitch fest, I forced myself to pay attention when Madden explained, “Over the last few years, select Shreveport citizens have been the recipients of kindness from the same stranger. Our very own Santa Claus, if you will. But his identity has remained unknown thus far. What I want both of you to do is to try and track him down. Find out his story. What motivates him and how he chooses those he ultimately helps. Your deadline is noon on Christmas Eve. I want it in time to go to print for the Christmas day edition.”

Then looking at each of us in turn, he smiled like he hadn’t just given us an impossible task now that it was already December 20th.

I could’ve built a pyramid in Egypt in less time.

Stupid Eric – with his stupidly long legs – shot out of his seat and flew out of the room, like Madden had just fired off a starting pistol.

So my much shorter legs took a little more time to get my ass up and out of Madden’s office, which gave me the time to hear Madden yell out in pain, “Aahh! That’s hot!”

But with my eyes still staring after Eric’s retreating ass, I hated myself for agreeing with him.

Assface or not, he did have a mighty fine ass.

EPOV

It was bullshit.

Plain and simple.

I’d been told – no, I’d been all but guaranteed – that I would have a job at the paper at the conclusion of my internship.

But now I had to perform a fucking Christmas miracle if I wanted to get what had already been promised to me?

That was total bullshit!

Especially, since I was now pitted against Sookie Stackhouse to get the coveted slot.

I would admit when I’d first met her I’d been sure it had been her spectacular tits that had gotten her the internship.

Blond hair. Big blue eyes. Lips meant for sucking my dick.

She was the epitome of a wet dream.

However, after being in her orbit over those last few months, I couldn’t deny the fact that she knew what she was doing.

She was smart. A quick learner. She took everything that was thrown at her with ease, without ever breaking a sweat.

All of it obviously came easy to her, but I had to work hard to get as far as I’d gotten. Journalism was still a predominantly male field and, while one would think that would tend to work in my favor, I seemed to intimidate a lot of them.

And it wasn’t just my size or looks that made them uneasy.

Being the son of Andre Paul was intimidating all on its own.

I always felt like I had to prove myself because it, but what they didn’t know was that I had nothing to do with the man, nor did he have anything to do with me.

Andre Paul Northman had left his family behind a long time ago, in favor of becoming Andre Paul, famed news broadcaster.

While he’d been reporting to the world from the middle of an oil field in the Gulf War, my mom had been worrying at my bedside, hovering over me as I fought off a fever of a hundred and three.

When he’d been bleating into a microphone about the bombing of the USS Cole on the shores of Yemen, my mom had been stitching together my jack-o-lantern costume for a school play.

Pamela Northman was my only parent.

As far as I was concerned, Andre Paul had been nothing more than a sperm donor that donated to the cause of raising me by sending a child support check once a month.

But I could no longer hide the fact he was my father, no matter how much I didn’t want to be associated with the man, when he’d unexpectedly turned up at my college campus for one of the many job fairs during my senior year.

I’d never told anyone who he was to me – had never wanted anything from him – and it had been an easy omission to make, since he’d never used his given surname professionally. But I hadn’t known what to make of his unexpected arrival on campus that day or why he’d put on a show of ‘supporting his son’. I hadn’t seen it for what it was until I’d seen him on TV a couple of nights later, doing a human interest story on soon to be college graduates about to enter the workforce in a failing economy, to include his own son.

What he hadn’t reported on was the fact he’d had no right to act like he was one of the worrying parents in the crowd because up until that point, I’d only ever seen him four times in person.

Four times.

What he also hadn’t reported on was the fact his son had sold the graduation gift he’d given him – a brand new red corvette – to help pay down his student loans.

But I’d kept the keychain that had come with it as a reminder of who I would never want to be.

However, his arrival on campus – and the subsequent news story that aired across the nation on the evening news – had outed me in a way, that I had no way of putting the genie back in the bottle.

I’d been a business major with dreams of opening my own bar one day, but – as much as I hated to admit it – my father’s news report had been right. The economy was stagnant and I found myself competing with other college graduates for barista jobs.

I loved coffee, but it wasn’t going to pay my bills.

I’d done what I could to live below my means, so I could pay off the rest of my student loans and save up for the bar. I’d courted investors and applied for small business loans to no avail. So until the economy rebounded I knew I would have to put my dreams on the backburner and swallow my pride, doing what I needed to do in order to survive.

In spite of my hatred for the man, I had a knack for journalism. It obviously wasn’t my first career choice, but be it from my DNA or my calling as a future bar owner, I liked talking to people and learning their stories.

There wasn’t a single person in this world that didn’t have a good story in them, just waiting to be told.

And any good journalist worth their salt didn’t forget a good story. So it was a bitter pill to swallow that the fact I was the son of a world renowned news broadcaster wasn’t going to leave the minds of any potential employer in the field any time soon, which Victor Madden reminded me of when I interviewed for the internship.

Of course I hadn’t told him I was just there to pay the bills. That as soon as I had enough saved up to do what I really wanted, I would be out of there before the door could hit me in the ass.

But if I wanted to stay around long enough for that to happen, I knew I had to be better than Sookie, which felt like an impossible feat all on its own.

Even though I could recall hearing about this supposed Santa Claus over the previous years, I couldn’t remember any one thing in particular about any of his good deeds. So I went to my desk and pulled up everything I could on the people he’d helped over the previous years, hoping I would be able to find a breadcrumb that would lead me to another, that would ultimately unmask the bearded Christmas crusader.

The first family on record he seemed to have helped happened a decade earlier. Arlene Fowler, a single mother of two, had come home on Christmas Eve, from working a double shift at the bar and grill she was employed at, to find her home had been broken into.

Only instead of anything being taken, a fully decorated Christmas tree had been left behind, along with presents for her and her two kids filling every conceivable space in the trailer they called home.

The bare cupboards and refrigerator had been filled with food.

At the time she’d claimed to have no idea of who had done it all, but she had been grateful nonetheless. It was why she’d contacted the local media to tell her story.

So she could say thank you.

It wasn’t until the next year that his signature became known. When Fowler had come home on Christmas Eve the previous year, her first indication that something was amiss had been a hand carved wooden angel ornament holding a small bell that had been left dangling on the doorknob of her front door.

The second year an identical angel holding a small bell had been left behind, this time attached to the collar of a service dog tied to the front porch of a former service member who had returned from Iraq with a severe case of PTSD.

That story hadn’t made the news until six months later when the former soldier felt well enough to come forward and tell his story, so he too could thank the mysterious individual who had unknowingly saved his life.

Terry Bellefleur had planned to eat a bullet that night.

Instead he’d gone on to have dinner with his new best friend, a collie mix named Dean.

If he remained true to form, this would be the tenth year someone would be getting a visit from Shreveport’s very own Santa Claus. But none of the previous nine recipients appeared to have anything in common that could tie them together. They weren’t even all located within the city limits, with their lives and livelihoods spread out amongst the surrounding parishes.

But knowing they must have something in common, I decided to start at the beginning and hoped with time, Arlene Fowler had been able to figure out who her mysterious benefactor was.

Hopping into my car, it took me a little over thirty minutes to reach her home. But finding no one there, I headed to the bar and grill I hoped she still worked at and I wasn’t all that surprised to find my blond nemesis already seated in one of the vinyl booths lining the walls.

But given her expression, she was surprised when I slid into the seat opposite her.

“What’s cookin’, good lookin’?”

An obvious come on, I obviously hadn’t put any thought into it because I’d been hitting on her for months with no luck yet.

Her staunch refusals only made me want her more.

“I’m guessing a raging case of herpes in your boxers, but this enquiring mind doesn’t want to know,” she smirked.

I really didn’t know what it was about her – blond hair, big blue eyes, and lips meant for sucking my dick aside – but there was undoubtedly something about Sookie Stackhouse that I was drawn to.

I’d spent many a night trying to figure out what it was about her. I’d even tried to relieve that ache with other women now and again, but it never worked. She was never far from my thoughts whenever it came to thoughts of the opposite sex.

Sookie was like a rash that I couldn’t get rid of when it came to the perpetual itch I just couldn’t seem to scratch.

Much like that raging case of herpes she’d just accused me of having.

But she had made it perfectly clear that she wanted nothing to do with me – personally or professionally – so I wasn’t surprised by her immediate rebuff.

However, knowing my charms tended to work wonders on most other women, when I spotted the same unnaturally redheaded woman I recognized from the news story a decade earlier now heading towards us, I amped up my smile as she came to a stop at our table and purred out, “Arlene Fowler.”

SPOV

Son. Of. A. Bitch!

She didn’t need to utter a single word for me to know Arlene Fowler was officially under Eric Northman’s spell.

Her eyes grew round and then immediately glazed over, like he’d hypnotized her for fuck’s sake.

It was disgusting.

Mostly because there was nothing I could do or say that would ever have that same kind of effect on her.

I was good at reading people – like really good – so I knew any shot I had at getting any information out of her was out the proverbial window.

She only wanted in Eric’s pants.

Little did she know it was full of raging STD fires.

So I had no choice but to be a spectator, watching her hands as they fluttered around her Ronald McDonald colored hair, while she batted her over-mascaraed lashes at him and asked, “Do we know each other?”

Reaching out, you would’ve thought her clit sat in the palm of her right hand because her whole body shuddered when Eric took it in his own and flirted, “Not yet, but I’m hoping to right that wrong.”

Wrong.

My thoughts exactly.

This entire assignment was already going wrong and I was only an hour into it.

But Sookie Stackhouse was no quitter.

Even if she was somewhat odd for thinking of herself in the third person.

I mean I was.

About myself.

Whatever.

Hoping to break the spell she was under, I tried to get her attention by speaking up and saying, “Ms. Fowler? I’m a reporter with The Shreveport Times and I was hoping to ask you a few…”

“How is it you’re able to work here?” Eric interrupted, sounding as smooth as shit through a Christmas goose. Then dipping his chin slightly, he looked up at her through his unfairly long mascara-free lashes and purred out, “I thought you had to be at least eighteen to serve alcohol.”

Eighteen?

She was at least eighteen.

Times two.

Plus seven or eight.

But she ate it up, like a fat kid with a candy cane sitting on Santa’s lap, and giggled, “I just look young for my age.”

So then, was she really sixty-two?

This enquiring mind did want to know.

She looked young for being sixty-two.

“Can I get an order of sweet tea to start?” I asked, hoping that by asking for something familiar and that related to her everyday work life, it would break up the one-sided love fest going on across from me.

But it didn’t.

And Arlene Fowler must have been dual-clitted – or was it ambidextrously clitted and, if so, was that the real story I should be working on – because she had another small orgasm when Eric took her left hand in his right one and stroked over her ring finger with his thumb, asking, “How is it you’re still single?”

“How is it I’m in a bar and I can’t get anything to drink?” I huffed out to no one in particular.

Water water everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.

Well, more like Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon everywhere, but I figured I was allowed to take a little poetic license.

I had nothing better to do.

Other than dehydrate.

Eric’s smiling eyes darted my way for a second, telling me I hadn’t – in fact – activated some latent invisibility power. So I didn’t know if he was just being nice or if Eric was parched too, when he said, “Arlene, would it be too much trouble for my friend and I to get a couple of sweet teas?”

I would’ve called bullshit on him calling us friends, but I was thirsty.

I hadn’t the time to empty a pot of coffee at work, like some people.

Her eyes barely cut my way, but boy had she been cutting me up into tiny pieces when they did.

Maybe she had a part-time gig at a Benihana’s?

That bitch’s eyes were that of a Ginsu master.

When she finally walked away, I looked to see if she’d left a trail in her wake, leading from the puddle I was sure she’d left behind on the floor. But finding none, I looked back up at Eric and shook my head in disgust, saying, “You have more moves than U-Haul.”

“If that’s your way of asking if I have room to fit in your box, then the answer is yes,” he smirked.

Christ.

I hated it when he did that.

Hated it.

Because, while I might despise the man and everything about him, I had eyes.

Two of them.

Four if I wore my glasses instead of contacts.

And he was undoubtedly the best piece of eye candy I’d seen in a great long while.

So maybe I was that fat kid sitting on Santa’s lap.

Because sometimes I found myself thinking about gobbling up his candy cane.

Not that I would ever admit to that.

But being yet another notch on his bedpost wasn’t one of my aspirations, so it wasn’t too difficult to turn him down.

Repeatedly.

Instead I rolled my eyes and sighed out, “For heaven’s sake…”

But the rest of my ‘You’d think you would know better by now’ was cut off by his wicked grin and even wickeder innuendo, when he said, “Heaven has nothing on what I would do to you.”

“You’re right,” I grinned back. “A night with you would probably be more like descending into the pits of Hell.”

Surely having your crotch feel like it was on fire was a hellish experience.

I was just about to ask him about it, when I noticed Arlene headed our way again. And knowing there was nothing I could do to get her to want to talk to me over Eric, I did the only thing I could do.

I gave her a reason to not want to talk to Eric either.

As soon as she was within earshot, I reached across the table and grabbed onto Eric’s hands, while working up a few tears in the process, and said loud enough for her to hear, “The reason I asked to meet with you is to tell you the test results came back.”

Letting my lower lip wobble, I faked a hitched breath and said, “It was positive and I’m so so sorry. But you need to know and you really should get yourself tested.”

Seeing his dumbfounded expression, I stifled the overwhelming urge to laugh and harshly spit out instead, “Don’t look at me like that. If I had known, we could have used protection. But don’t forget, it was your idea to go bareback.”

He looked lost – and uncomfortable – which really played into my clit-free hands, so I softened my voice and ended my bullshittery with, “The good news though is that’s it’s not a death sentence. Not anymore, at least…”

Eric appeared to be frozen – and I would be sure to tell him to ‘Let it go’ when he regained his wits and got pissed at me – but it took everything in me to not laugh out loud when Arlene stood as far away from us as she possibly could, all but tossing our glasses onto the tabletop.

After mumbling that she would give us a few minutes to look over the menus, she scurried away from us and our deadly diseased selves, as fast as her sensible shoed feet could carry her.

Letting myself chuckle then, Eric’s eyes narrowed into slits now realizing what I’d done, while I took a sip of my tea and sounded out, “Mmm…refreshing.”

Getting one over on him was refreshing for a change.

But then it took a bullshitter to recognize one of their own.

And I was too smart to be outsmarted by the likes of Eric Northman.

EPOV

That bitch!

No amount of telling Arlene ‘my friend’ had just been joking around was enough for her give me the time of day.

Much less, any information on her mysterious Santa Claus.

Instead she’d insisted on comping us our drinks – the only things we ended up ordering – and I only figured out why when I reached the door and turned back, seeing she had gone so far as to wear thick rubber gloves when she’d cleared our table, tossing the glassware into the trash bag she’d schlepped over there with her.

Apparently, she’d assumed she could catch our nonexistent deadly sexually transmitted disease by touching anything we’d touched.

Losing out on a three dollar tab had been worth it to her.

It had been a little humiliating.

And – I had to admit – funny.

But I obviously hadn’t given Sookie enough credit. Knowing there was no way she could’ve gotten past me to Arlene, she’d taken her out of play.

It only made me want Sookie even more.

But that didn’t mean I would roll over and let her win. If she wanted to play, then I would play.

And I would be more than willing to play with her in my bed when we were through.

Holding my hands and hearing her talk about bareback encounters that hadn’t ever happened – much less with her – I could help but imagine doing those very things.

With her.

Even her lacing her lies with a deadly virus neither one of us had, hadn’t stopped me from growing hard under the table.

I had it bad.

And I would give it to her good.

It would be very good.

I flirted a lot. And I probably followed through more times than I should have, but not nearly as often as some people thought.

If I’d bedded as many women as the rumors floating around the building had given me credit for, not only would my dick have fallen off by now, but I wouldn’t have the time to get out of bed, much less show up to work.

Sookie was different though and not just because she didn’t flirt back with me. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Maybe I would be able to figure it out when I got to put the rest of me on her.

Yes, when.

Not if.

The thought of ‘if’ was too horrible to contemplate.

Seeing her sit down at her desk not long after I arrived the following morning, I could tell from her side-eyed glances my way that she was waiting on me to blow up at her. But I wasn’t dumb enough to give her what she wanted.

Unless she’d changed her mind and decided she wanted me.

I would definitely give her that.

But until then, I would play her silly games and she only had herself to blame for starting it.

So I used some of those U-Haul moves she’d accused me of having by painting my face with a contrite expression and casually strolled over to her desk.

Perching on the corner of one side, I put the small bag I’d been carrying down right in front of her and answered her arched brow with, “A peace offering.”

“For what?” she asked, sounding more suspicious than curious.

Her natural instincts were strong.

But my competitive nature was stronger, so I kept up the sorrowful act by answering, “For yesterday. You got to Arlene Fowler first. I should have respected that and let you have the first crack at her.”

Narrowing her eyes at me in a way like she was trying to x-ray my thoughts, she then turned her scrutiny onto the bag I’d put on her desk and carefully inspected the seal.

Knowing casual was the way to go over sounding affronted, I stood up and looked down at her, apologetically adding, “I didn’t do anything to them. I was just trying to be nice, but if you don’t want them, then just throw them out.”

It wasn’t even a lie. At least not the first half of my statement.

I didn’t do anything to the sugar free gummy bears I’d just given her, but my motives for giving them to her were far from nice.

Haribo, however, did do something to them, with whatever fucked up formula they used to make them sugar free.

It was something I discovered back in college because it was one of the hazing rituals used by the fraternities on campus. But the Amazon reviews had been accurate.

And hilarious.

Who would have ever guessed those artificially sweetened little gummy bears would make your ass explode like Mount Vesuvius?

Returning to my desk, I tried to not be obvious about keeping an eye on Sookie and what she was doing with the gummy bears. But having kept an eye on her over the last six months, I knew her rituals like the back of my hand.

At eight every morning she would have a cup of coffee on her desk.

She would refill that mug again at nine.

By ten o’clock she would stare at the clock and quirk her lips to one side, I assumed, counting down the hours until lunch.

At ten thirty, she would dig around inside of the small carry-on luggage she called a purse, sometimes happily discovering a long forgotten stick of gum. But more often than not, she would stare down into its depths with a look of pure hatred, as though the bag had eaten whatever she’d thought she would find inside.

If her scavenger hunt had come up empty, by ten forty-five she would literally be growling at her desk.

The growling coming from both her stomach and her attitude.

So it wasn’t until eleven o’clock that I really paid attention to what she was doing, but I had to keep my glee to myself seeing her rip open the little bag of sweet tasting revenge.

SPOV

It had taken me hours to try and track down another one of the Santa fuckers.

Terry Bellefleur – given everything he’d gone through, I couldn’t think of him as a Santa fucker because I wasn’t always an über bitch – lived completely off the grid.

Hell, he could have died off the grid by now.

But alive or dead, I hadn’t been able to find him the new-fashioned way.

Google.

So I knew I would have to do it the old-fashioned way, by interviewing the locals to see if they could point me in the right direction.

Or at least tell me what grid I should be searching.

But knowing that would take a lot of legwork on my part – and regretting I’d worn heels to work that day – I stuck Bellefleur into my Scarlett O’Hara file (I would think about that tomorrow) and went to work on tracking down Santa fucker number three.

I’d been at it for a couple of hours when that pesky tapeworm that lived in my gut reared its ugly head. I didn’t know what it was, but no matter how much I’d eaten for breakfast I would always be starving by ten thirty.

Staaarrrvviiinnng…

Granted, most morning I didn’t have time to eat breakfast. I was always afraid of pissing off the Chevy Malibu gods by taking it for granted that my car would start on the first try, so I didn’t linger in the mornings.

I hightailed it to whatever parking spot I managed to find the night before and threw wishes and prayers at General Motors.

But my problem was my tapeworm – whom I had named Oliver, for Oliver Twist because of the way he would twist my stomach in his attempts to ring out the last bit of food to be found – had an ongoing case of amnesia that – like Eric’s raging case of herpes – was contagious.

As soon as he was fed, we would both forget all about each other.

So I never remembered to throw any snacks into my purse – which told me perhaps my Scarlett O’Hara file was full to bursting – and I was inevitably a hungry hungry hippo when I still had an hour to go before lunch.

Spying the bag of gummy bears Eric had left on my desk, my eyes darted his way again wondering what he was up to.

Eric didn’t do nice or sweet.

He did all of the single women on the fifth floor.

But sharing a body meant that Oliver could see everything I saw. So when a thorough search of my purse had yielded nothing but a couple of tampons, a tube of Chapstick, and a pen cap at the bottom, he spotted the rainbow colored bears in front of us and took control, ripping the bag open and ignoring my internal alarms blaring out that Eric shouldn’t be trusted.

I couldn’t be mad at him though.

Oliver. Not Eric.

Eric, I could always be mad at.

But Oliver and I were happier than a pig in shit when the sweet little round bellied bears tasted like heaven on our tongue.

And seeing they were sugar free meant we could eat the whole bag.

Double sweet!

Or so I thought.

Because I would’ve sworn gravity was still taking the empty plastic bag down into my trash can when I felt something.

Something off.

I couldn’t be sure what exactly was wrong, but it wasn’t long before I realized something else.

Oliver wasn’t happy.

In fact, if I had to guess, he was raving mad.

It was the only explanation for why it felt like a stack of C4 was about to explode out of my asshole.

Oliver must have been trying to make a run for it by escaping with what was undeniably about to run out of me.

I couldn’t really blame him. I supposed he was tired of constantly being confronted with a purse empty of anything edible, so as I tried to subtly run towards the bathroom, I threw out a few more wishes and prayers to the ass gods that I would make it to the toilet in time.

But feeling the telltale knocking on my backdoor, alerting me to the fact that some heavenly tasting bears were about to come barreling through, I knew who I could blame.

Eric.

EPOV

Talk about a mad dash.

Sookie would’ve given Usain Bolt a run for his money in the Olympics hundred meter event.

It was impressive, given how high her heels were.

Now that it was a little after eleven o’clock most of the office had emptied out for the eleven thirty lunch hour – Sookie was the only one that adhered to the actual lunch hour – so I didn’t have to hide my amusement as I strolled towards the bathroom door.

There was a single bathroom for both sexes within our office area, with gender specific bathrooms out in the hall. But since she had darted into the closest one, I could stand just outside of it and torment her some more.

Hearing a low moan, followed by a very distinct explosion of sorts, I chuckled and knocked, asking, “Is everything okay in there?”

“I hate you,” she growled and then moaned again.

“Me?” I asked with all of the innocence of a newborn baby Jesus. “What did I do?”

“You drugged me!” she accused.

“I think you’re confused,” I laughed. “Your symptoms are probably due to whatever pharmaceutical cocktail you’re taking for that disease you told me you tested positive for yesterday.”

“You’re an asshole!” she shouted through the door.

“What was that?” I asked, lacing my tone with faked confusion. “Did you say you’re in the market for a replacement? I think that’s a good idea. The seal sounds worn out on yours.”

“I hate you!” she repeated.

Chuckling again, I replied, “You already said that.”

“I can’t say that enough. It deserves repeating.”

“Come on,” I laughed. “Be a good sport. You’re the one who threw down the gauntlet yesterday. I merely accepted your challenge.”

“I didn’t make your asshole spit out the strained carrots you ate twenty-one years ago!”

“Colorful,” I chuckled.

Moaning again, it almost sounded like she might be trying to hold in a laugh, when I heard her say, “You have no idea.”

But she didn’t sound amused when she added warningly, “And you have no idea what you just started.”

I wasn’t afraid though, so I teasingly argued, “Oh, I have an idea. The sounds and scents wafting through the door are giving me plenty of ideas. One of them being, I think you need more fiber in your diet.”

“I hate you.”

“So you’ve said.”

“You haven’t heard the last from me.”

Another explosion followed her threat and made me laugh out, “So it would seem.”

I waited for whatever else she wanted to threaten me with, but when she said nothing else, I sighed out, “Alright. It’s been fun, but I have work to do. Not all of us can laze about all day long on our asses.”

And I was still laughing as I walked away to the faint sounds of her yelling out, “I really hate you!”

While I’d been waiting for Sookie to take the bait, in the meantime I’d managed to find Santa recipient number five, so I headed out hoping to catch him at his afternoon rehearsal.

Bubba was an Elvis Presley impersonator and his Santa given gift had been an authentic Elvis Presley stage costume.

I secretly questioned Santa’s thought processes by validating his oddball lifestyle choice.

But pulling up to the nightclub where he performed three nights a week, my first clue that I was in for a bumpy ride was seeing the amount of cats hanging around in the back alley next to the employee entrance.

The smell alone was a thousand times worse than what I’d been treated to standing outside of the bathroom, while Sookie was being reintroduced to the strained carrots that had been lingering in her digestive tract for the last twenty-one years.

But if there was a smell-o-vision, I imagined the aroma surrounding me now was exactly what those cat hoarder houses smelled like I’d seen on TV. The ones where a person died in their home and their cats ate them when they ran out of food.

My future dog would never do that.

Carefully picking my way through the horde, I knocked on the propped open backdoor and called out, “Hello?”

It was only a few seconds later when my greeting was returned with a, “Well, hello.”

Over-processed blond hair sat on top of her head, which was perched on her rail thin body that was clothed in a way that left nothing to the imagination. Besides her skull, the only other curves she possessed were her obvious implants.

She looked like a Blow-Pop that was in danger of losing its gumballs.

But she wasn’t making her interest in me a secret and I was desperate enough to get the lead over Sookie that I easily faked my interest in return.

Which was what had led to the longest two hours of my life – being more of a captive audience, than actually captivated by Ginger – once she had invited me to wait for Bubba inside of the bar with her.

Over those two hours – and after I’d figured out Ginger had no knowledge of who had been Bubba’s secret Santa – I’d amassed an impressive list of all of the ways I could kill myself with any number of items in the bar.

They all ended with me getting eaten by cats and my digested remains eventually being buried out back.

My savior eventually came in through the backdoor in the form of a man of Asian descent, wearing black leather pants and a vest that showed off the full sleeves of tattoos covering every available inch on his arms. If it wasn’t for Ginger’s presence, his Village People outfit could have made me believe I’d unknowingly walked into a gay bar.

Not that there was anything wrong with that.

But I could admit I wasn’t desperate enough to get the lead over Sookie that I could have flirted my way into his good graces.

Finding out his name was Chow only reminded me that I’d skipped lunch and now I was starving.

And made me briefly wonder how Sookie was doing post-gummy bear attack of the intestines.

Shaking his head, Chow quirked an eyebrow at me in response to my Bubba inquiry and said, “He sure is popular today.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, with my own gut doing a little pitching and roiling.

Either from my hunger or Sookie sympathy cramps.

“Well, you know what time of the year it is, don’t you?” he asked. And before I could spit out the obvious answer – Christmas – he answered his own question by saying, “The annual convention in Las Vegas is held every year on the weekend before Christmas. Thousands of Elvis Presley impersonators are making their way to Sin City as we speak. I just left Bubba at the airport.”

I was already on my feet and on my way out the backdoor, when I stopped in my tracks hearing him add, “I just told that other chick the same thing before I came in here.”

“Other chick?” I asked, turning to face him and verbal vomiting, “Blond hair, blue eyes, and more curves than a raised-relief map of the Appalachian Trail?”

“That’s her,” he nodded.

But it was the way he’d said it – and the leer in his eyes – that made me want to walk back over and hit him.

Sookie was easy on the eyes, but it never occurred to me that my eyes weren’t the only ones that easily noticed. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that our office mostly consisted of women.

Women who were jealous bitches when it came to her beauty and I’d heard them making scathing remarks about her more than once.

But Madden and Bobby Burnham were the only other males in our office. The former was more concerned about his career than a hot intern and the latter had an obvious crush on me.

Not that there was anything wrong with that.

Hell, Bobby wasn’t the only one in the office to stare longingly at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. But seeing the interest of another red-blooded male – with tattoo covered arms – made my caveman tendencies come to the forefront.

It was ridiculous.

She wasn’t mine. She never had been and likely never would be.

But that didn’t make my inner caveman any less appeased.

So I would think on that later.

For now, I had a plane to catch.

But running back to my car, my plans changed on the fly because not only did I have a plane to catch, I had to catch a cab first.

Because someone – who I suspected had blond hair, blue eyes, and an iffy digestive tract – had put a boot over the rear passenger side tire of my legally parked car.

I couldn’t even be mad at her for doing it.

The fact she was still playing the game she’d started, even after her bout against the sugar free gummy bears, only impressed me more.

SPOV

Pushing my car as fast as it could go, I wondered over the unexpected theme of my day.

The Mad Dash.

First to the bathroom and now to the airport.

While Eric had been smart enough to log off of his computer, he’d still left clues behind on his desk as to where he had been headed.

Of course, it had taken me lightly rubbing a pencil over the top blank page of his stack of Post-It notes to make out the address he’d scribbled on the page before it, but I’d spent many a day binge watching old episodes of Law & Order.

He wouldn’t get one over on me as easily as him and his ne’er do well gummy devils.

I’d been lucky to still be sitting in my car when he’d gotten to work that morning. The fact he too drove a Chevy Malibu – granted, his was about fifteen years newer than mine – stumped me.

The fact he had a Corvette key chain only reiterated how much of a douchebag he was.

But it had kept me from looking for the sports car when I arrived at the bar and after learning where Bubba was, my brother’s gift had come in handy for more than just looks.

Being a cop back home, Jason didn’t look too kindly on all of the parking tickets I managed to pile up around my new home.

Being a Stackhouse, he’d given me one of the boots from his department’s traffic division and told me if I had to illegally park, to put the boot over one of my tires. It would make any other officer of the law pass right on by my car, thinking someone else had already gotten to it first.

I used it all the time, but using it on Eric’s car had been especially sweet.

Like those shitty little gummy grenades.

My stomach was still a hotbed of activity, with the gory evidence leading from the scene of the crime and trailing through my intestines in a way that was worthy of any primetime CSI: Proctology show.

I couldn’t tell if Oliver had made his escape, but if I had to guess, he’d gone out in a blaze of glory, with a flamethrower in each of his metaphorical hands.

Something I suspected to be true because my glory hole still felt like it was on fire.

Surprisingly though, I wasn’t all that mad at Eric. Sure, I despised all six plus feet of him, but in a weird way, I respected him a little more – very little, mind you – for playing dirty.

And I despised myself even more for wondering how else he could play dirty.

Like in between the sheets or up against a shower wall dirty.

But speaking of showers – to myself at least – I needed one.

Desperately.

There was just no feeling clean after shitting an alphabet soup, cataloging everything you’d eaten from birth until present day.

No amount of wiping would leave me feeling as fresh as a summer’s eve.

Unless it was a summer’s eve locked in a porta-john that had spent the day tending to the digested offerings of the local Teamster’s union on jambalaya Friday.

But there hadn’t been time to run home and wash away the shitty run-off smell from my ass. Even now I wasn’t sure how much of a lead time I would have on beating Eric to the airport.

Because I had no doubt he was coming.

Any my thighs involuntarily clenched when I inadvertently wondered what Eric sounded like when he did.

Came, that is.

So, I noted, everything south of my waist was dirty.

Positively filthy, actually.

Just like my thoughts.

But at least he wasn’t in the car – or a telepath – and seeing his car wasn’t anywhere in view behind me, I increased my speed knowing I shouldn’t count my eggs, no matter how many of them popped free at the thought of Eric’s ‘O’ face.

I was never all that good at math anyway.

Pulling up to the airport, I briefly lamented over not having my trusty boot on-hand, so I could park willy nilly at the first available stretch of curb. Instead I was forced into a parking garage labyrinth worthy of a Goblin King.

And a brief glance at the ticket that had been spit out at me at the entrance, I saw it would take me forking over a king’s ransom in order to leave.

Highway robbery.

Maybe after I’d finished the Santa Claus piece, I could do an article on the parking monopoly at the airport.

It wasn’t even Park Place, much less Boardwalk, and there wasn’t a hotel in sight for it to cost that much.

But knowing I would have to haul my stinky ass a long way, I swapped out my high heels for the pair of sneakers I had tucked away in the back of my car. Not because I was in any way athletic or because I went to the gym on a regular basis, but because I was lazy.

They’d been sitting on the floorboard since July, when I’d traded them out for a cute pair of sandals I’d picked up at Walmart.

The only gym I visited regularly was the guy who made my once in a while foo-foo coffee at the Starbucks near my apartment.

He spelled his name the regular way, though.

Jim. Not gym.

And I could use one of Jim’s creamy concoctions for the energy boost. Spending an hour or so reliving your life through everything you’d eaten from Gerber’s to gumbo exploding out of your ass all at once was exhausting.

But even booting Eric’s car wouldn’t be enough to slow him down.

Him and his freakishly long legs would probably only need to take three giant leaps and he would be standing on the curb outside of Southwest’s departures terminal.

So, with that thought in mind, I took off on my much shorter legs, all the while cursing mad dash themed days, tapeworms named Oliver, and long legged giants named Eric.

EPOV

Throwing a bunch of cash at the cab driver, I hauled ass into the terminal hoping I hadn’t missed Bubba.

And at the same time, hoping I found him before Sookie did.

Being tall gave me the advantage of being able to see over most people’s heads, which was a boon considering the terminal was packed with holiday travelers.

Men. Women. Screaming kids.

They were everywhere.

Every. Where.

Christmas wasn’t for a few more days, but it seemed like the entire population of the northern half of the state was getting a head start on going to wherever it was they were spending the holidays.

Black Friday at every Walmart in a hundred mile radius likely had less people in line.

But not having the first clue as to when Bubba’s flight to Vegas would be leaving, I could only hope he was stuck in one of the long lines at the ticket counters or the security checkpoints, knowing I wouldn’t be able to make it passed the TSA without a boarding pass.

And I wasn’t about to dip into my savings to fork over money for a plane ticket I wouldn’t be using.

But not knowing if Sookie would be willing to go that far, first I searched the crowd, hoping I would be able to spot a telltale black pompadour in the sea of people surrounding me. When no one stood out, I shuffled my way towards the nearest airport screen to at least be able to figure out which lines I should be searching, when I heard it.

Or rather, her.

Whipping my head towards the sound of Sookie’s voice, yelling out Bubba’s name, I spotted the top of her blond head first.

She was shorter than I remembered which was weird.

And irrelevant.

But still…

Logically, I knew there was no way she could have shit out enough to lose a few inches in height, but those thoughts stopped on a dime seeing a bald brick wall catch her around the waist. I was still too far away to be able to hear what they were saying, but seeing her trying – and failing – to remove herself from his hold, I only saw red.

I didn’t even think.

About anything really.

The fact she would be waylaid by the bald prick holding onto her, which would give me the advantage in finding Bubba first, never even crossed my mind.

Instead I reacted on autopilot, forcefully shoving my way towards them, until I was finally close enough to hear him say, “Come on, babe. I’m telling you I’ve been a good boy this year, which must be why Santa brought you to me. But I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. For you, I can be naughty.”

Seriously?

That was his pickup line?

I might have lingered longer, wondering what kind of asshole thought that shtick would work in a crowded airport where nearly everyone there was leaving for another destination. But seeing Sookie trying to worm her way out of his handhold got my feet moving again.

“Listen here, Bubba,” she gritted out through her teeth.Unless you have a toupee stowed away in your carryon, you’re not the Bubba I’m looking for. You don’t look like Elvis at all.”

“You don’t look like Priscilla either, but I’m not complaining,” he leered. “Now what do you say? I can get you a ticket to go to Cleveland with me and then I can love you tender when we get there.”

No.

He didn’t.

But he did, which was my only excuse for why I ripped her out of his hold and stared him down, snarling out, “Is that your way of softening the blow for what the Beetlejuicing steroids did to your dick? Telling women that you’re loving them tender because the shrunken head in your pants can’t give them the long hard fuck they want? You might be a pussy, but I can guarantee you, hers only wants what I can do to it.”

A part of my brain knew what I’d said.

The caveman part.

But the rest of me didn’t really comprehend much more than the instinctual need I had to mark my territory that wasn’t really my territory.

And after what I’d done to her with the gummy bears, pissing on her right then probably wouldn’t have gone over very well.

But all of me stilled and my head whipped her way, hearing Sookie squeak out beside me, “Christ on a crapper…is it written on my forehead?”

Did that mean she agreed with me?

And if so, which part?

The long hard fuck part or the part where her parts only wanted what my parts could do to them?

While I was still mulling over the possibility of our parts coming together, I watched her turn an even brighter shade of red when an older woman standing off to one side patted her arm and leaned in, smiling knowingly as she winked, “Good for you, hon. You don’t lovingly tenderize a plank steak. You pound it. Hard.”

“And not like a jackrabbit either,” another woman that looked to be her sister standing next to her added.

Then turning towards each other, they nodded in unison and announced, “You want the go for broke stroke.”

Dear diary.

Today I went to the airport and ended up on The Golden Girls.

Send help.

SPOV

Wondering how in the hell I’d ended up on HBO’s Taxi Cab Confessions – The Bingo Edition, I’d been too engrossed in the two women to notice what was going on with the two men still in our circle.

Eric must have forgotten about him too.

Maybe too engrossed in his own web of lies about long hard fucks he wasn’t giving me.

But I would admit to being interested.

To myself.

I wouldn’t admit that to him.

Not yet, anyway.

But with the two blonds too busy staring at the two silvers, the long forgotten bald jackrabbit saw an opportunity and took it.

By sucker punching Eric.

Time seemed to slow down, with Eric’s face twisting in pain as his head snapped to the side and I was sprayed with the droplets of blood and saliva flying out of his mouth, while he slowly fell to the floor.

Eric.

The same Eric who drank the last of the coffee, drove me batshit crazy with his come-ons, and gave me a gummy bear enema.

The same Eric who’d come to rescue me from a bald jackrabbit, when he could have just as easily ignored me and my troubles and gone off in search of an Elvis named Bubba instead.

I didn’t think.

I just reacted.

By acting like a stark raving mad lunatic worthy of any episode of COPS.

Throwing myself at the jabbing jackrabbit, I bemoaned my change in shoes because it was my sneakered foot instead of my heels that dug into his inner thigh, as I scaled his body and got him into a choke hold from behind. Using every ounce of strength I possessed, I held on like he was the last X-Box in Best Buy on Christmas Eve.

But by not thinking and just reacting, I hadn’t given any thought to the fact he was so big that he had no neck to speak of. Instead his bald head just sat on top of his shoulders, with the girth and shape giving him the overall appearance of a circumcised penis.

He was a very literal interpretation of a dickhead.

So I tried not to think about the fact I was choking a strange dick.

Literally or figuratively.

And with no neck and a sweat-beaded bald head, he was able to slide out of my ineffective choke hold pretty easily. But as I slid down his back and onto my ass, two others unexpectedly came to our rescue.

Hi-ho silvers!

Wielding her tapestry carryon bag with a strength that belied her diminutive size, the silver-haired woman on the left swung hard and made contact with the right side of his face, the force of the blow causing him to stumble and the silver sister on the right to say, “Finally! You found something useful to do with those fruitcakes.”

Nodding her head in approval, she then used his dazed state to her advantage by taking the opportunity to put her walking cane to other uses.

Let’s just say that I doubted he would be jackrabbitting anyone any time soon.

From the way he curled in on himself, I suspected it would be a gift that kept on giving, to any and all unsuspecting women, at least until the New Year.

The whole episode of Jerry Springer lasted less than one commercial break, so Eric was just pushing himself to his feet when the airport security showed up.

Needless to say, we both missed out on getting to Bubba before his flight left for Vegas.

The spoonful of sugar-free gummy bears was that a dickhead missed his flight to Cleveland.

So it was hours later by the time we were able to leave the airport – something Goblin Kings charged a hefty sum for, mind you – and since we’d reached some weird sort of long hard fucked truce, I offered to give Eric a lift back to his car.

Weird because before our Santa Claus assignment, Eric had just been background filler in the office we shared. One that was filled with unspoken shits and fucks because the boss’s secretary was a crazy bitch. But now we were both spewing shits and fucks.

Me, literally on the former. And him, verbally on the latter.

And I really should not have been thinking about wanting to make the latter literal.

I really shouldn’t.

And yet it was all I’d been able to think about all the way back to where Eric’s booted car sat.

A metaphorical stocking filled with coal.

But it had been easy to wonder over the what-if’s of long hard fucks in the silence that filled the car. Unlike his pants – I’d taken a peek or twelve during the drive back – it was strained.

And uncomfortable.

I’d had an easier time talking to him through the bathroom door, calling him an asshole all while mine was busy shitting out the ghosts of Christmas dinners past, than I had on the ride back to the bar.

As well as I could read people, my people reading skills were epically failing me when it came to Eric.

So when we finally reached his car, I pulled up behind it and parked, with my mouth having a mind of its own when I heard it ask, “Why do you drive a Malibu with a Corvette keychain?”

I hadn’t sounded accusatory.

I don’t think.

But at least I hadn’t asked about that long hard fuck he was supposedly giving me, so I considered that a win.

EPOV

“It’s a reminder,” I softly answered and got out of the car before I ended up giving her any other answers I wasn’t prepared for.

I purposely hadn’t said a word as she’d driven me back to my car. I didn’t know what to say or do now that I’d already said and done too much.

There was no way she couldn’t know that she meant something more to me.

I’d never been able to trust anyone easily. Daddy issues or something just as fucked up like it, I was sure. But now with all that I’d said and done because of – and in front of – her, I felt exposed.

Vulnerable.

I didn’t like it.

So I may have glared at her, watching her get out and slip the steel boot off my car like an old pro, only realizing then that it hadn’t been locked into place.

I wondered why she had the boot to begin with.

It wasn’t the only thing I wondered about her.

But that was the problem. I thought about her too much. And I could no longer deny that Sookie had gotten under my skin in a way that transcended me just wanting to get under her skin in a literal sense.

Through no real fault of her own, she was fucking with me in a way that I had no defense for.

So I knew I sounded like an asshole when I opened my mouth and bit out, “Today doesn’t change anything. I’m still going to get that story in before you.”

At first she’d looked confused.

And then hurt.

I could already feel the backtracking apology working its way up my throat, but I forcefully swallowed it down when she settled on appearing indifferent and thrust her hand out, saying, “May the best woman win.”

Later on that night, lying in bed with sleep evading me, I berated myself.

For being an asshole.

For holding her hand a little too long.

For being ensnared by her at all.

I’d been with my fair share of women, but I’d never been in a relationship. I’d never come across anyone who held my attention for any amount of time.

Until now.

But for all intents and purposes Sookie was the enemy. She was the only thing standing between me and the job I didn’t really want but needed all the same.

It was maddening.

Like her.

Even more maddening was the fact she’d attacked the roid raging asshole before I ever hit the ground. I’d seen the video evidence myself when we had to talk our way out of criminal charges in the airport security office.

Gone was the woman struggling to free herself from his filthy paws and in her place was a seething blond ball of fury.

My ego liked to believe that had I seen him coming, he never would’ve been able to lay a hand on me.

But both logic and physics told me that he was the size of a small T-Rex, so my ego was just churning out shit like it’d eaten a bag of sugar free gummy bears.

I just didn’t know how to feel about the fact she’d come to my defense so quickly.

I hated the fact she’d put herself in harm’s way.

I liked the fact she’d thought enough of me to do it at all.

Like I said, it was maddening.

Just like her.

So by the time morning rolled around I still hadn’t been able to solve a goddamn thing. The only thing I could do was go back to solving the riddle posed to us by another maddening person.

Victor Madden.

Driving straight out to the small coffee shop where Bellefleur had given his interview to the reporter way back when, I was relieved to find out he was still an irregular regular there.

Pro – he wasn’t dead and hadn’t moved away that anyone knew of.

Con – there was no predictability as to when he would show up there.

But finding out the general area where he lived from the cook was a bonus.

Finding out from the cook that a blond woman had been there about an hour earlier asking the same questions was frustrating.

I wasn’t ready to see her yet. I hadn’t been able to figure out anything where she was concerned, so I could only hope that – like at the coffee shop – she would’ve been to Bellefleur’s and gone again by the time I arrived.

Our assignment wasn’t based on who got their story in first. It was who got the better story in by the Christmas Eve deadline.

So I hung my hat on that little tidbit as I made my way through the sticks to where Bellefleur supposedly lived, trying to find a shack in the woods that Garmin told me didn’t exist.

The fact he lived out in the middle of nowhere and that the man otherwise known as Santa Claus had been able to find him was a clue itself. Bellefleur must have some idea on who could have left him the service dog because I highly doubted he’d been in contact with very many people back then.

So seeing a beat up Chevy Malibu I recognized to be Sookie’s parked off to one side of the dirt road, I knew I was close.

Or that Sookie and I were both lost.

Only a day earlier and I would have thought – if that was the case – we could always find our way into each other’s pants in the backseat of my car.

We would’ve had options.

And I would’ve been open to exploring all of them.

Now I was almost frightened of the thought. I was already in too deep with her without ever having actually been in her.

Following through now, I suspected I would never be able to get her out of my head.

My perpetual itch would eternally be insufficiently scratched.

Maybe she’d been right about being infected with a deadly disease, only the real virus she carried couldn’t be found in any blood test.

God knows I was suffering from a full-blown case of Sookie Syndrome that – at the moment at least – felt like I was dying from.

Wondering if somehow the airport pussy had rubbed off on me when I wasn’t looking, I tried to shake it off and parked my car behind hers. Getting out, I left my jacket behind in the hopes the cool air would help to keep all of me cool, while I tried to find the trail she must have gone down. But the closest thing to a trail I could see was just a less dense patch of forest, so I worked my way through it, cursing tiny blond women who could probably maneuver through the thick vegetation a lot easier than a man could.

It felt like it had taken me forever to finally find the wooden shack nestled deep within the woods, but I knew it was the right one when I spotted Sookie sitting on the front porch, with Bellefleur and his dog.

Her eyes turned my way and briefly hinted at something I couldn’t really name. So I told myself it probably had to do with whatever Bellefleur had told her about his story.

Even my ego was silent, believing whatever it was she was feeling had nothing to do with seeing me.

A belief she furthered along when that look disappeared and a smirk took over her face as I walked closer, before she turned back to Bellefleur and I heard her say, “Thank you for your time, Terry. I really appreciate you speaking to me about everything.”

Everything?

He’d told her everything?

As he began to get to his feet, I held my hand up and called out, “Uh, Mr. Bellefleur? I was hoping to speak with you about how you came to get your dog.”

Pulling out a shotgun from seemingly thin air, he pointed it right at me, while warning me with, “Dean ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

What?

But before I could say that – and thankfully, before I could quite literally (and ironically, I knew) shit my pants – Sookie reached over and put her hand on his arm, softly saying, “Now Terry, we don’t want the police to have to come out here, do we? Why don’t y’all go on inside and put that shotgun up, while I speak with the man.”

I wondered for a second if maybe he was having some sort of PTSD induced spell. But I didn’t figure out until he lowered the gun and turned to go inside that I’d moved several steps closer to him instead of away.

It took my eyes meeting the back of Sookie’s turned head, watching him go into the house, to realize I’d taken those steps forwards because I’d been more worried about what he might do to her than I had been for my own safety.

And after everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours, I didn’t know if it was rational or not for me to be completely and utterly pissed off, when she turned to me and slyly grinned, with her southern accent at the forefront as she said, “You need to be able to speak redneck in these here parts, where conspiracies abound and the government is out to get you. I may have insinuated you work for the government and were coming to check on the validity of Terry’s ownership of his dog Dean.”

I could admit – had I been feeling rational about anything in that moment – that it had been a brilliant move on her part. Taking me out of play before I’d ever stepped onto the field.

But I couldn’t admit – not even to myself – the cause for just how angry I was.

I also couldn’t figure out who I was angrier with.

Me or Sookie.

Going from terrified that she was in – what I had believed to be – a very real danger to finding out it had all been a part of some ploy, so she could get Bellefleur’s story all on her own left me feeling nothing but rage.

Never mind the fact she had intentionally provoked a dangerous man with very real demons when she’d been standing right at his side.

That he could have just as easily and just as quickly turned the shotgun barrel onto her and pulled the trigger before I could have done anything more than watch.

That he could have just as easily pulled the trigger on me.

She’d done it all for some stupid fucking story on a stupid fucking Santa Claus.

I couldn’t even look at her, much less speak to her, so I did the only thing I could do.

I turned around and went back the same way I came.

SPOV

Watching him stalk off, I knew he was mad. But something told me maybe there was something more to it, so I hurried after him and his freakishly long legged strides, calling out, “Eric?”

Meeting the thick vegetation lining the forest floor, I watched him push into it, with the thorny barbs tearing into his skin, but he barely seemed to notice.

He seemed more hell bent on just getting away from me.

A fact I didn’t want to admit to.

But the fact remained he was acting pretty much like he’d said the night before.

That nothing had changed between us.

I hated that he’d been able to see it. To read me like an open fucking book, when I hadn’t been able to read him at all.

He’d figured out that I’d started having feelings for him that went beyond wanting to strangle him and he’d shot me down before I could even admit to myself that I’d had them.

So when I finally caught up with him, I put my hand on his arm, trying to turn him around to face me and huffed, “You don’t have to be such a sore loser! You used your charms on Arlene and I used mine on Terry. What’s the big deal?”

If nothing had changed, then it was the only reason I could think of for him to be so pissed.

Whipping his body around in the next second, I nearly tumbled over, but caught myself on a small tree trunk and the heat of the moment got the better of me when I shouted out, “And why in the hell are we walking through the woods when there’s a dirt road right over there?”

He didn’t bother to look at the dirt road.

He didn’t seem to be able to see anything beyond the rage still flowing through his eyes, when he took a step closer and seethed, “What were you thinking? Terry Bellefleur obviously has issues and you stood right next to him, provoking him into feeling like a wild animal backed into a corner, when he had a fucking gun right there next to him. You could’ve been killed!”

“I…” I stammered, with wide eyes staring into his narrowed ones.

His chest was heaving, trying to fill his lungs with air, but the adrenaline pulsing through him seemed to be blocking it out.

I could almost believe that he wanted to kiss me.

I could definitely believe he wanted to kill me.

He just didn’t seem to know which one he wanted to do more.

“It wasn’t loaded,” I eventually admitted.

Seeing the Benelli shotgun propped up by the front door, it was the first thing I checked before I’d ever knocked.

I was blond.

I wasn’t stupid.

And, while blond, Eric wasn’t stupid either. It hadn’t occurred to me that He Who Could Read Me Like An Open Fucking Book wouldn’t be able to tell that he was never in any real danger.

So maybe I was stupid.

So stupid that not once did I consider Eric could have a very different concern until he spat back, “So, he could’ve just bashed the back of your head in with the butt of the gun instead while I watched?”

Then giving me one last glare, he snarled out, “Lovely.”

I felt my lips part, even if I had no idea what I was going to say, but he didn’t wait around to hear whatever it would have been.

He was back to being hell bent on getting away from me.

Eric hadn’t been in the office by the time I’d made my way back to Shreveport, but even without him there, I still couldn’t stop thinking about him.

I couldn’t get the image of his furious face out of my mind.

I couldn’t get the sound of his accusing voice out of my thoughts.

And I couldn’t even be mad at him for it because – instead of being angry I’d bested him in getting to Terry Bellefleur first – he’d only been worried about me.

He’d been concerned with my safety, when he had been the one on the other end of a shotgun.

I didn’t know what to do with that. He’d been the one to say nothing had changed between us.

And yet everything undoubtedly had.

Figures.

The minute he goes on the offensive – instead of just being offensive – and all of my defenses crumble.

He had to go and be sweet – in a barky sort of way – but it was turning me into mush.

And my squishy insides were totally to blame for why I found myself standing on the other side of his front door later on that night.

Knowing I owed him an olive branch, I’d come prepared.

With a pepperoni pizza in one hand and a six pack of beer in the other.

Granted, there weren’t any actual olives on the pizza, but they were nasty anyway. Besides, I had something else tucked into my bra that I planned on sharing with him, but first I had to get him to open the door. And since both of my clit free hands were full, I’d had no choice but to kick the door a couple of times in lieu of knocking.

But it wasn’t until my toe made contact with the wooden door that it occurred to me Eric could very well be inside knocking someone else’s boots with his own kind of wood.

He had a reputation, after all.

One I wanted no part of seeing the evidence of, so I had already turned on my heel – my squishy turned churning insides having chosen flight over fight – when I heard the door open behind me.

EPOV

Seeing the unmistakable back of Sookie’s blond head, I heard myself sigh out, “What are you doing here?”

She was the last person I wanted to see.

She was the only person I wanted to see.

So I was completely fucked.

Everything was.

Slowly turning around, her eyes were squeezed shut, with one barely opening into a slit before they both popped open and she breathed out in relief, “You’re dressed.”

She waits until I’m completely thrown off my game and a certifiable pussy in her presence to say something like that to me?

It only reiterated how fucked I was, which was why I bypassed the ten different responses I would’ve had to her statement only a week earlier and repeated, “What are you doing here?”

“What happened to your arms?” she asked, ignoring my question and moving closer, with her eyes trailing up and down my forearms, looking at the undeniable evidence I’d been infected.

But poison ivy was to blame for the rash.

Sookie was just the cause for all of my other ails.

“What are you doing here?” I asked for the third time, annoyed by her mere presence.

Annoyed that she was out in the hallway instead of in my apartment with me.

Annoyed by my conflicting annoyances and annoyed that I was annoyed at all.

It was annoying.

Her eyes briefly met mine before dropping to the floor, when she eventually said, “I came over to apologize.”

Needing more clarification than that, I asked, “For what?”

After all, she had a lot to be sorry for.

First and foremost for knocking me on my metaphorical ass when I wasn’t looking.

“You know what for,” she hedged before her eyes met mine and she grudgingly huffed, “I should’ve realized that you wouldn’t know the shotgun wasn’t loaded.”

That’s what she came over to apologize for?

I was already shutting the door in her face, when she shoved the left side of her body against it and heatedly said, “Don’t be an asshole. I’m sorry for upsetting you, but if it’s not about the gun, then I don’t know why you’re pissed to begin with. Why would you care if he bashed my head in? You’re the one who said that nothing’s changed.”

I did say that.

But, as smart as she was, she really was an idiot.

She’d also just confirmed that she wasn’t a mind reader or else she would’ve known what I’d said was an epic lie.

So maybe it was the heat of the moment.

Or maybe it was just inevitable.

But I didn’t give it or anything else much thought when in the next second, I swung the door open again. With the way she’d been pressing her body against it, she tipped into the apartment with it, so I caught her around the waist and pulled her up against my chest.

Slapping the door closed behind her with my free hand, both of hers dropped the pizza box and six pack of beer to the floor, when my lips crashed down onto hers. Her gasp of surprise let my tongue sweep inside, but instead of pushing me away, she used her hands on my chest to snake up around my neck and pull me in closer.

Hugging her to me and hunched over, when I straightened up, she came with me and her legs wrapped around my waist. Neither one of us seemed willing to break our kiss, so I blindly stumbled back to my bedroom and laid us down on the mattress, covering every inch of her body with mine.

Every inch of her body against mine felt right.

A part of me knew right then and there that I really was screwed.

But I ignored it for now in favor of waging another battle with Sookie.

One that involved seeing which one of us could strip the other bare first.

Clothes went flying in every direction as we won our small victories against the buttons and zippers keeping us apart, until finally there was nothing.

Skin against skin, I would’ve sworn I’d died and gone to heaven.

I wanted to worship every part of her. Bathe every inch of her with my tongue. Map out every freckle on her body with my fingertips and commit them to memory for all of eternity.

But all of it would have to wait because I learned something else about Sookie, other than what she looked like naked, which was a hell of a lot better than what I’d imagined.

A. Lot. Better.

She was also impatient.

SPOV

Gripping onto his ass, I pulled the lower half of his body down against mine, mentally whining on one hand that he wasn’t inside of me yet and glorying on the other over how glorious his ass really was.

It. Really. Was.

So I made a mental note to study it with my eyes later on and took a brief second to braille my way across it before moving on to take the length of him in my hand.

“No wonder you’re so cocky,” I breathed out, paying no mind to the fact I was stroking his ego because I was too busy stroking his shaft from base to tip.

And Eric was either too focused on my stroking hand to have heard me or he saw no point in agreeing with the obviousness of my unintentional ego stroke. But now that I could actually feel the weight and girth of him in the palm of my hand, all I wanted to do was find out just what he could do with it.

He was way too big to be a jackrabbit fucker.

Eric had to be a natural born go for broke stroker.

He had to be because he was big enough that if he didn’t take his time, he would break me in half.

So it was a good thing I considered that a perfectly good way to die. In fact, they could put it into my obituary that I’d died from a stroke.

It wouldn’t even be a lie.

Maybe they could even rustle up a 1980’s Billy Squier and have him sing ‘The Stroke’ at my funeral.

But feeling the moisture leaking from the tip that wasn’t yet connected to my iBod, I hit the pause on my mental playlist and whined out, “Tell me you have condoms here.”

I was perfectly willing to stroke out in his bed.

I was not willing to chance conceiving baby Northmans.

But he had horns a plenty, so I would happily blow him for the rest of the night if that was the only way I could get him inside of me.

Time only stopped for a moment before Eric was blindly reaching into the nightstand and all of me cheered hearing the unmistakable sound of a foil wrapper being ripped open.

Something other than ticker tape shot out of the parade route in between my thighs and I didn’t know if I should cheer or jeer the increased security measures due to the times we lived in when I was unexpectedly cavity searched.

Sliding one finger inside of me, my back arched upwards, with his mouth taking my open invitation by wrapping his lips around my nipple. Already on sensation overload, I cried out when he added a second finger and nearly lost it when I heard him say in a low dark voice against my skin, “So wet for me.”

I was.

Shamefully so, really.

I’d only shown up on his doorstep with the intention of apologizing with pizza and beer. I certainly hadn’t expected to end up in his bed, naked as a jaybird and staining his mattress with my cum.

Would I owe him another ‘I’m sorry’ for that too?

Figuring I was already in for a penny, I might as well get a pounding out of the deal, so I reached down and grabbed onto his latex covered hammer.

Christ, he was huge.

But he promised there’d be room for him to fit in my box and wanting to find out the truth of his words, I pushed him onto his back and straddled his waist.

Placing the tip of him at my entrance, I slowly began easing my way down his shaft and sighed out, “Waste not, want not.”

EPOV

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

If being pressed against every inch of Sookie’s skin was heaven, then I didn’t know what to call being connected to her by mere inches, even if those inches were covered in latex.

But oh, what a glorious few inches they were.

I was so screwed.

Literally.

Figuratively.

Staring up at her, I couldn’t even begin to fathom what look I had on my face, so I was grateful she wasn’t looking at me. Her eyes were closed in concentration, with her hands pressed against my chest, as she slowly – carefully – worked her body down on top of mine.

She was a tight fit, so it was a good thing she was already prepared. But given everything I’d been feeling of late where she was concerned, I hoped she was also prepared for me to not last that long.

Already I could feel the telltale tightening in my balls telling me that I was close to losing the fight.

Looking at her only exacerbated my problem.

Sookie. Naked. On top of me.

I didn’t dare to touch her, knowing feeling any more of her skin would do me in that much quicker. So I closed my eyes instead, trying to think of anything else that would keep me from blowing my load too soon.

And it was working.

All the way up until I was all the up inside of her and she bottomed out, with her ass sitting on the tops of my thighs and she pitched her hips from side to side. I could feel every pulse of her heart, throbbing against my shaft, but my eyes snapped open hearing her say, “They’re wrong…the best gifts don’t come in small packages.”

Meeting her eyes with my own, she smirked and challenged, “You’ve lived up to your promises of both long and hard, but I think I’m still owed an actual fucking.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear to get my head back into the game, instead of focusing on the way her inner walls were pulsating against the length of my dick.

Competitive Me and Caveman Me fist bumped now that they were in sync hearing her challenge.

“Oh, you sweet sexy stupid girl,” I smirked in return, enjoying the way her eyes lit up at my taunt. Then picking up her metaphorical gauntlet, I grabbed onto her hips with both hands and stared up at her warning, “Just remember…you asked for it.”

Lifting her up, I pulled her down again, with my hips thrusting up and meeting hers somewhere in the middle. Her hair flew in every direction and her tits bounced, like she was riding a mechanical bull. But there was nothing mechanical about what we were doing.

Finally having her where I’d wanted her for so long was freeing, in a terrifying sort of way. But not knowing if this would be a onetime thing, I decided to just live in the moment and enjoy it.

Her nails bit into the skin on my chest, with her holding on for dear life, but when my eyes trailed down her body, watching myself disappearing inside of her over and over again nearly did me in.

So I did what I had to, to make it last.

Her eyes grew wide when I pulled her off of me and the protest was already leaving her lips, when I flipped her over and pulled her ass up, before slamming back into her.

Fuck.

The new view wasn’t doing me any favors either.

Hearing her muffled moans and chants of my name into the mattress weren’t helping matters either and knowing a losing battle when I saw one, I kept a firm grip on her hip with one hand, while the other slid around to her front.

Finding her clit, I rubbed my fingertips over it furiously, with my body tensing up with my inevitable climax, and I heard myself all but begging her in a hoarse sounding growl through gritted teeth, “Come for me. Now.”

SPOV

How in the hell he’d become the master to my thoroughly whipped pussy, I’ll never know. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t come on his command.

Inhaling a combination of the laundry detergent he’d washed his sheets in and the mouthful of my hair pinned under my panting lips, all of it expelled out of me when I came screaming his name.

If it hadn’t been the most mind blowing orgasm I’d ever had, I might have been more put out over how he’d so easily leashed my kitty.

But I shoved that into my overflowing Scarlett O’Hara file, feeling him shoving into me twice more before he came with a strangled cry of his own.

So I soothed my pussywhipped ego with the knowledge that at least I wasn’t the only one.

Another gust of air was forced out of my lungs when his body landed on top of mine, but having already decided being fucked to death by Eric was acceptable, I didn’t offer any protest. Instead I merely floated in that space in between reality and orgasmic bliss, letting my eyes close and my heart work out whether or not we were going to live or die.

Perfectly happy in my sandwiched place in between Eric and his mattress, I didn’t really care either way.

When he eventually rolled off to one side of me, both sets of lips protested when he slid out of my body, but I was oddly pleased when he pulled my back against his front and curled around me.

With my faculties slowly returning, I realized I was too pleased.

It was a concern.

Eric had a reputation for being a player. Whether or not it was deserved, I didn’t really know. Because the fact of the matter was that I didn’t really know Eric.

But I wanted to.

It was yet another concern.

“What are we doing?”

Hearing him give voice to the question he may as well have plucked from my thoughts, I tensed in his arms and took the easy way out.

After all, I seemed to be all too easy where he was concerned.

My whipped pussy was a testament to that.

“Cuddling?”

“Sookie,” he sighed against my hair before climbing over my body so that he was facing me.

But the possibility of being faced with the asshole I knew, instead of the man who’d made my insides squishy and newly crowned master of my mommy bits, I narrowed my eyes at him and bit out a truth I hadn’t been willing to admit even to myself until I heard the words come out through my lips.

“I swear to god Eric, if you say nothing’s changed, I’m gonna hurt you.”

And I would too.

One trip to Home Depot was all it would take and they would never find his body.

But ticking off my mental shopping list of an axe, tarp, a chest freezer, and wood chipper, it all stopped on a dime, hearing him softly admit, “Everything’s changed.

Grinning like one of those besotted bitches on the Hallmark channel’s movie of the week, I hated myself even more when I squeaked out, “Really?”

Really?

I was nearly as surprised I could manage a squeak, considering how lubed up I was.

But I was more surprised, wondering where in the hell my balls had disappeared to when it came to talking to him. I wasn’t so sure I liked being so vulnerable around him.

My nakedness notwithstanding.

But I didn’t like him holding all of the cards, not knowing if he would fold or play the hand I’d just unwillingly dealt him.

I hated not being able to read him like I could anyone else, so I was completely caught off-guard when he shook his head and slid back on top of me, with the surrender in his eyes and his voice, before he put his lips on mine and breathed out my one word response back at me.

“Really.”

Feeling him waving his white flag of sorts, I decided I would be gracious and accept him at his word.

I also accepted another offering of his gracious plenty.

Blond. But not stupid.

That was me.

EPOV

After another round in my bed, we eventually made it into the shower where I slowly and methodically washed every inch of her body.

That led to another round, with the water turning ice cold by the time we were through.

Now sitting on my couch, she was swimming in one of my hooded sweatshirts she’d thrown on and had her legs tucked up inside of it trying to get warm, as we ate cold pizza and drank warm beer.

It was undoubtedly the best night of my life.

But all of it was unexpected too, which is why I asked, “Did you have any idea this would happen when you decided to come over here?”

“No,” she snickered with a mouth full of pizza. Swallowing the bite, she smiled and admitted, “If I had, I would’ve worn sexier underwear.”

“Were you wearing underwear?” I playfully leered.

I’d been so focused on getting her naked I hadn’t taken the time to appreciate whatever she’d had on.

And knowing for a fact she wasn’t wearing anything under that sweatshirt, I wasn’t focused on much more than that when I heard her say, “I was. They were sexy lacy bits in red, blue, black or whatever color floats your boat. That white cotton pair, signaling it’s time for me to do laundry and lost in your sheets somewhere, aren’t mine.”

I was about to call bullshit and inform her that any panties in my bed were undoubtedly hers because I never brought anyone home with me, but stopped short when she shot up off of the couch and ran back towards the bedroom calling out behind her, “Speaking of lost in your sheets…”

Already on my feet, thinking it was her way of getting me to chase her – which I was more than happy to do – she came running back into the room with a business card in her hand and held it out to me, saying, “The other reason I came over here tonight.”

“The Law Offices of Desmond Cata…Catali…” I stammered, reading the card out loud.

Wondering if she was informing me of her intentions to sue me for something, I didn’t have to wonder for long hearing her say, “Uh huh. Terry Bellefleur gave it to me. He said the card was included in a note left with the dog. If he didn’t want him or couldn’t take care of him, he was asked to contact Desmond Cata-fuck-if-I-can-say-his-name-right and he would see to Dean’s retrieval and welfare.”

“Why are you showing me this?” I eventually asked, stunned really that she would share the best lead either one of us had in finding Shreveport’s Santa Claus.

Shrugging her shoulders, my eyes were focused on the way the hem of my sweatshirt slid up and down her bare thighs, so I had to force myself to pay attention to her words hearing her say, “I felt bad for what I did to you out there. I thought it was only fair to make us even again.”

When I was finally able to tear my eyes away from her legs and looked up at her again, I watched her lips twist to one side as she said, “And honestly? Working for the paper isn’t my dream job. What I really want to do is write books and there are other jobs out there I could get in the meantime. So if you really want it, then you should have it.”

“It’s not my dream job either,” I admitted and heard the disgust in my voice when I added, “In fact, it’s my last resort job. What I really want to do is open my own bar.”

I hated being in the same field as my father.

Hated.

But hearing Sookie admit that she was willing to find another job made me think maybe I’d given up on finding something else too soon. I hadn’t even looked for another job after landing the internship at the paper, even though that had been my plan all along.

It was supposed to be a stopgap in my career.

It was never supposed to be my career.

But it had been all too easy to get comfortable in my new routine. The work itself was easy enough and it paid well enough that I could have just as easily lost years there instead of the few months already gone by.

It wasn’t what I wanted.

And still staring at something – or rather someone – else I really wanted, I watched as she took a step forward and pressed her body against mine. Smiling up at me, she asked, “So what you’re saying is that we were both killing ourselves to get a story for a job that neither one of us really wants?”

“I guess so,” I smiled in return, letting the card slip from my fingers and fall to the floor.

My hands had somewhere better to be.

SPOV

Naked and sweaty yet again, I laid on top of Eric’s prone body on the couch, trying to catch my breath.

Being fucked to death by him really would be a great way to go.

But through the slight window in the curtain of my hair covering my face, my eyes fell to the business card still lying on the floor and I heard myself say, “Aren’t you curious, though?”

Yes, curiosity killed the cat, but my pussy was already comatose.

What difference would it make now?

“About what?” he mumbled sleepily beneath me.

“Santa Claus.”

Tightening his arms around me, they loosened again and I heard the smile in his voice, as he said, “He’s not real. I waited up for him when I was six and saw my mother putting the gifts under the tree in the middle of the night.”

Picturing a six year old Eric hiding behind a couch or underneath a table had my lips smiling against his chest, so I kissed the skin under my lips and said, “Not that one. The other one.”

My whole body moved when he shrugged and replied, “A little, I guess. But he obviously doesn’t want any recognition for what he’s doing or else he wouldn’t have been doing it all in secret for all of these years.”

“I guess…”

It was eating at me though. I hated unanswered questions. I liked solving puzzles.

The thought of giving up without solving the puzzle of Shreveport’s Santa Claus was chafing my ass.

And I was already plenty chaffed down there to begin with, thanks to Eric’s Christmas cracker going for broke all over my mistletoe.

Repeatedly.

“I can hear the cogs turning, Miss Stackhouse.” Then pressing his lips against the top of my head, he added, “What are you thinking?”

Sitting up on top of him, his eyes went straight to my tits and I felt his boy bits stirring underneath me again.

It was distracting.

To both of us.

So I wrapped one arm around my chest and pointed at my face with my free hand, saying, “Eyes are up here, Northman.”

“I know where they’re at,” he smirked and trailed a single finger down the front of my body. Using his fingertip to tap on my clit once, he grinned wider when my body convulsed on top of his and still not looking up, he added, “They’re blue.”

Unlike his balls.

We’d had more sex than a college frat on Homecoming night. There was no way he could go another round.

And yet his Homecoming King scepter was tapping out Morse code against my ass.

The lyrics to ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, if I wasn’t mistaken.

Figuring I would remove temptation from his reach, I scooted up his body because – a gracious plenty or not – he wasn’t sideshow freak huge.

But what I hadn’t figured on was him grabbing onto my hips and pulling me further up his body, with his eye lighting up and his voice dripping with sex as he said, “Don’t mind if I do.”

I didn’t have to ask what.

I figured it out pretty quickly when his mouth was dripping with sex.

Mine.

Because he’d pulled me all the way up until I was sitting on his face, so he could go down on me.

What had I been talking about again?

EPOV

If I wasn’t so thoroughly spent – and content – I probably would’ve been more disgusted with myself over how I was completely unable to resist her.

One bat of her eyelashes and I was her puppet.

But curled around her in my bed again, I couldn’t work up the appropriate outrage at my own lack of self-control.

Outrage that was put even further out of my reach when she flipped over, so that we were facing one another.

Looking at her, looking thoroughly fucked, and knowing I was the one who’d made her that way, my chest swelled.

So that must’ve been where my ego resided.

I refused to believe it could possibly be anything else.

Too soon for that.

As much as we’d been enjoying ourselves together, the only thing putting a damper on it all was not knowing what it was we were doing.

Other than fucking each other’s brains out.

We had mutually agreed that everything had changed.

But what did that mean?

I knew what it meant to me, but not knowing what it meant to her, I was still in limbo, with my own insecurities rearing their ugly heads every now and again. It probably had a lot to do with why I’d fucked her six ways from Sunday.

That I knew how to do.

Being in a relationship – much less starting one – was completely out of my wheelhouse.

So watching her lips part, I was equal parts hopeful and terrified at what she was about to say.

“Now, before I was so rudely interrupted…”

Interrupting her had been the least rude thing I’d done to her in the last few hours. But unable to ignore the fastball she’d so willingly thrown down the center of the plate, I felt myself grin and swung at it, by interrupting her yet again and saying, “I didn’t hear you complaining.”

“How could you with my thighs pressed against your ears?” she giggled in return.

Yep.

I had it bad.

But before I could even twitch at the thought of going into extra innings, she said something completely unexpected.

“How do you feel about crashing a Christmas party with me tomorrow night?”

“Huh?”

Eloquent.

That was me.

I rolled my eyes at myself, knowing Sookie was way too smart to want to be with a dumbass.

Lifting her head, her eyes found my alarm clock, and she flopped back down with her hair falling in her face. Before she could do anything about it, I automatically reached out, not liking being blocked from my favorite view, and tucked the errant strands behind her ear.

It was nauseating how completely whipped I’d become.

But she kept me from thinking on it too long by saying, “Today, actually. The Law Offices of Desmond Catacombs is having their holiday party at one of the fancy hotels downtown. I was thinking of crashing it. Want to come with me?”

Her eyes were dancing with mischief.

It did things to me.

Things I wasn’t willing to admit, so I fell back on what I knew and flirtingly teased, “I have been coming with you. Repeatedly.”

Truer words.

I felt like I was fourteen years old again, only this time I actually had something better than my own hand to wrap around my dick.

“I’m surprised you’re not passed out,” she snickered. “Surely losing that much fluid in one night should leave you dehydrated.”

Hearing Sookie ringing the bell to sound the start of the next round, I knew somewhere out there an angel had just gotten their wings.

But I’d barely made a move towards her, when she slapped her hand on my chest and snorted out, “Nuh uh. Stow your sail, captain. This booty can’t take another pillaging tonight.”

Too late.

After all, you can’t un-ring a bell.

And this, I knew how to do. It was everything else that I was uncertain about. And since I couldn’t seem to find the balls or the words to tell her what I was thinking, I hoped I could show her instead.

SPOV

Lying with my head on Eric’s chest and once more trying to catch my breath, I ticked off the things I now knew about him.

He could fuck like the world was about to end.

He could make love to me like I was the only woman in the world.

I didn’t know what to do with that. What it meant or what he was thinking.

But afraid of what the answer might be, I tucked that puzzle away for now and went back to the other one.

“So, do you want to crash the Christmas party with me later on?”

Except for his heart beating underneath my ear, every part of him stilled with my question before he finally sighed out, “I thought you didn’t care about getting the story.”

Lifting my head up to look at him, I found his eyes and answered, “I don’t. Our coffee swilling boss is an evil asshole for pitting us against each other to begin with. In fact, I’m pretty sure he arrived to work the other morning in a plume of black smoke.”

Eric’s lips turned upwards and his chuckle did something to me.

Something I didn’t want to admit to feeling.

It was too soon for that.

So I did what I was best at. I ignored it and said, “But I’m still curious about whoever this Santa Claus guy is. Aren’t you?”

After a long moment, his eyebrow pitched upwards as he hedged, “So, you just want to find out who he is? It has nothing to do with getting the story in?”

“Not just who he is, but how he chooses who he helps,” I answered more animatedly. “How he knows them or their situations at all, when they all claim ignorance.”

This person was obviously of some means. They didn’t have to be crazy rich to have filled Arlene Fowler’s trailer with toys and food or to pay a couple of thousand dollars for a trained service dog for Terry Bellfleur. Even the Elvis Presley costume given to Bubba had been auctioned off to a silent buyer for a less than twenty thousand dollars.

But Arlene Fowler, Terry Bellefleur, and Bubba had zero in common with one another.

Other than Shreveport’s Santa Claus, that is.

“Right now, there could be some unsuspecting person walking around in his sights,” I added. “Aren’t you curious how he came across them or why he wants to help them at all?”

“I guess,” he eventually agreed. But there was something about his tone that made me suspect there was more to his answer that he wasn’t saying out loud.

But unable to read him like I could anyone else, I had no choice but to take him at his word.

“So you’ll go with me?”

I could crash the party alone. I’d even booked a room in the hotel for the night, so I would look like I belonged there. But since Eric had been there every step of the way – even if he’d been my adversary at the time – it wouldn’t feel right not having him there with me when I finally found out the truth.

Hell, we might even do better working together instead of against one another.

Our naked tour around his apartment proved we could work well together when we put our minds to it.

Staring hard into my eyes, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he was thinking, when he eventually answered, “Sure.”

See?

Given his expression and the tone of his voice, I would’ve bet the house he was anything but sure.

EPOV

Standing in the lobby of the hotel in my last-minute rented tux, I tried to keep myself from fidgeting and act like I actually belonged there, while I waited for Sookie to show up. We’d agreed to meet up at the hotel, since we both had to come up with something to wear to the formal event – neither one of us were actually invited to – in the eleventh-hour. But it wasn’t crashing the holiday party that had me feeling like a jumpy jackass.

It was my jacked up feelings where Sookie was concerned.

I was out of my element.

Flirting, I could do.

Fucking her until she blacked out was a simple – if not mind-blowing – endeavor.

But fuck if I knew how to get us beyond that and into something more…

More…

Yeah.

I couldn’t even figure out what in the hell I wanted, so how in the hell could I get her to agree to it?

Most of my anxiety stemmed from the fact the countdown had already begun. Our deadline to get the story in was less than twenty-four hours away.

Ever since she’d left my apartment earlier that morning, the more I thought about it all, the more certain I was that I didn’t care about getting the job anymore. She could have it.

But I was still screwed either way.

If she went ahead and submitted the article or neither one of us did, the fact remained that we would no longer be co-workers.

So would we go our separate ways too?

Before last night, I’d only known her as a co-worker. An acquaintance.

Now I knew what her ‘O’ face looked like and I wanted to know so much more about her than that. But it was how much I wanted to know everything about her that had me all tied up in knots.

What if what happened between us was just a casual thing for her?

Could I be okay with us only having a friends-with-benefits kind of relationship?

Just the thought of her being with anyone else made me nauseated, so that was a big fat fucking no.

But it was not knowing what she wanted that kept me on edge. There was something about her insistence on pursuing the lead on the story that made me uneasy.

Maybe because I was worried if we found the answers we’d both been tasked with getting, that things would go back to the way they were.

So I don’t know what in the fuck I was so worried about.

It was already too late for that.

Speaking of late, Sookie should’ve been there by now. The party was already in full swing, with cocktails served at six-thirty, followed by a dinner at seven.

She’d thought we would have a better chance of not getting caught if we inserted ourselves into the party after dinner had been served, which was why she’d wanted to meet up at eight.

It was five after, so where in the hell was she?

No sooner did I have the thought when I vaguely registered the ding sound of the elevator arriving. It had been sounding every few minutes or so for the last twenty minutes I’d been standing there, so I don’t know what made my head turn towards it that time in particular.

And then I knew.

That an angel had just gotten their wings.

And that I was totally – irrevocably – fucked.

SPOV

Eric was the first thing I saw when the elevator doors opened.

Sex on a stick was a hard thing to miss.

And remembering him hard had my eyes trailing down his tuxedo clad body and settling on his crotch.

God, why was it so hot in here?

It was December for Christ’s sake!

Not to mention I was dressed like a Beverly Hills hooker, so it wasn’t like I was all bundled up.

But my small bundle of nerves down below was up and reaching for its master, now sensing his close proximity.

Finding out who the Santa Claus was didn’t seem all that important anymore.

Not when I had a room key tucked away in my clutch and Eric in my sights.

And thought of his sleigh tucked away in my lady bits, so I could ride him well into the New Year, was only greasing my skids.

So to speak.

Giddy up.

I had to question if he really could read my mind because a second later his foot lifted in the first of several giant strides that carried him towards me.

Only for the elevator doors to slide shut right before he reached me.

I hoped it wasn’t an omen of things to come.

Pressing on the button to open the doors again and muttering out a single, “Fuck” with each push, Eric was waiting on me with a smirk when they slid open again.

“Here?” he asked, with an arched brow. “I’m game if you are.”

I didn’t know if he was serious.

Not seriously asking if I wanted to fuck in the elevator – we were both probably more than willing to do that – but serious about us.

Was there an ‘us’?

He’d agreed that everything had changed, but we could have two very different definitions of what that actually meant.

In my mind, it meant that we had started something that had the potential to amazing.

And – more importantly – exclusive.

But we hadn’t actually nit-picked the particulars, so I didn’t know what his thoughts were on the subject.

And the fact he had fallen back to the tried and true Flirty Eric I’d known for the last few months didn’t give me any clarity on the subject either.

But I was a voracious reader in all ways, so it was easy for me to read into his actions and words.

In two very different ways, with each one having a vastly different ending.

So rather than dwell on the unknown, I pushed my own insecurities away and stepped out of the elevator, getting down to business that wasn’t my lady business by asking, “Have you taken a look into the ballroom yet?”

Taking a step back, his expression went from flirty to guarded, but I attributed it to our clandestine Christmas mission when he said, “Dinner was just being wrapped up a few minutes ago and people were starting to mingle.”

“Perfect timing,” I smiled and looped my arm through his, hoping at least Flirty Eric would show his face again.

Him, I knew well, but I didn’t know what to do with Brooding Eric.

EPOV

“Something wrong?” she asked, staring up at me like she was trying to solve a puzzle.

Where to begin?

Should I start with my jacked up feelings whenever I even thought about her?

Or how about the silver blue dress she was wearing that just the sight of her in it made me lightheaded?

Or what about how worried I was that everything was about to crash and burn, when we’d barely even begun?

We’d barely stepped into the ballroom and already I knew there was no way I could continue on with the charade, either pretending we were actually invited guests or that I wasn’t two seconds away from losing my mind.

Watching everyone around us, laughing and dancing and seemingly without a care in the world, when my world had been turned upside down, was too much for me to handle.

Which was probably why my mouth chose then to act without my brain’s consent, when I heard myself ask, “What are we doing here?”

If she really wanted the job, she could have it. I just really wanted her.

I just didn’t know if she would agree to it.

Pursing her lips, I somehow knew she was going to answer with the obvious – looking for a lead on Santa Claus – so I cut her off by turning to face her and clarified, “Us. What are we doing here?”

Studying my face for a long moment, she seemed to understand what I was really asking before she shyly asked, “What do you want us to be doing here?”

Sookie didn’t do shy.

She was a force of nature to be reckoned with, so seeing her show any amount of vulnerability made me feel relieved.

And hopeful.

Pulling her body flush against mine, her cheeks flushed when I admitted, “I want us to be an ‘us’. I don’t want to turn back into a pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight and I don’t want to lose whatever we started when one or both of us are out of a job the day after tomorrow.”

There.

I said it.

Now it was up to her to do something with it.

SPOV

Courage is grace under pressure.

Or so says Ernest Hemingway.

But I was no Ernest Hemingway, as my never received rejection letters from the Publishing Gods would attest to.

Hell, I wasn’t even Mario Lopez on Extra, which was why I was in no way graceful when I practically jumped on him and quickly agreed, “Okay.”

He seemed just as surprised as I felt hearing my response, but honestly I was more relieved that he’d laid it all out there.

Now I wanted nothing more than to lay him.

Repeatedly.

And feeling my stocking pulse at the thought of what I knew he could fill it with, I grabbed onto his hand and decided to put my hotel room to better uses than trying to fit in to a party I no longer cared about attending.

Fuck Santa Claus.

I had better ways to get my jollies.

But I found out pretty quickly that Eric was a lot sturdier than I’d given him credit for because instead of pulling him along behind me, I rebounded against his chest when he pulled me back to him.

Opening my mouth to ask him what in the hell was his problem – we’d just reached an agreement and now it was time for him to John Hancock his way across my Beverly Hills hooker – I forgot all about happy endings when his lips descended onto mine.

So I took it as our happy beginning.

And I tried to give as good as I got. But in a crowded ballroom, it wasn’t going to get as good as I knew I could get, so I eventually tore myself away from him and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

“I thought you wanted to find Santa Claus,” he smiled back at me.

Still standing at the entrance of the ballroom, I heard a slight commotion coming from the lobby and I felt myself smile seeing the cause.

Pulling Eric along with me, I grinned and said, “Found him.”

But this Santa Claus had seen better days. His long white hair was tangled, with a scraggly beard covering his face and a dirty threadbare coat hanging off of his thin frame.

The poor guy was probably just looking for some place to get warm, but the hotel staff didn’t appear to be feeling all that giving, unless giving him a hard time counted.

What kind of Grinch would throw Santa Claus out onto the street when Christmas was…?

Was….

Well, I didn’t know what time it was, but I knew Christmas was only a day and a few hours away.

But the stooges who worked at Hotel Hoity Toity would surely end up on his naughty list.

Walking right up to them, I let my inner bitch shine through and snapped out, “Is there a problem?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the flustered bell boy breathed out when he turned to look at me and widened his eyes seeing I was dressed to the nines.

Or sixty-nines, considering the Beverly Hills hooker thing I had going on.

“We’ll have him gone in a jiffy.”

In a jiffy?

Frankly, he just reminded me I needed to get an oil change and add peanut butter to my shopping list. But seeing the downtrodden look in Santa’s eyes, I slipped the key card out of my clutch and pressed it into his dirty hands, saying, “He’s a guest.”

And then winking at Santa, I added, “In room 1208. Be sure to order room service and put it on the tab.”

They had my credit card on file and even though I didn’t have a lot, I could spare a few dollars to help out someone who was down on their luck. After all, it was only money and I had enough in my savings to get by for a little while until I could find another job.

Maybe schlepping coffee with Arlene.

My apartment was only a few miles away, so Eric and I could wait to seal the deal. And with my trusty boot, we wouldn’t even need to waste any time looking for a good – legal – place to park.

But I didn’t want to lose out on even more time by grabbing the outfit I’d worn to the hotel from the room, so I mentally wrote it off.

Santa smiled gratefully at me when the bell boy backed off and then turned his smile on Eric when he pressed a few twenties into his hand.

So I turned and smiled at Eric too, asking, “Are you ready, Mr. Northman?”

“More than you know, Miss Stackhouse,” he smirked in return, but his eyes…

They said a lot more than that.

EPOV

Staring across the kitchen table, I watched Sookie having a heated discussion with who I had since come to learn was her imaginary tapeworm named Oliver, before shoving a piece of bacon into her mouth and tearing it in half with her teeth, while snarling out, “Are you happy now?”

I didn’t know about him, but I was.

Happy.

Now.

It had been a year since she’d agreed to be mine. A year since we’d given up on chasing the ghost of Christmases past in lieu of chasing our dreams.

And each other.

But chasing dreams took time, which was why by day I’d been working in the sales department for a telecom corporation for the last ten months, while Sookie worked her way up to being the executive assistant for a big wig in one of the larger banks downtown.

By night she would work on her new manuscript – which was really good in my not so humble opinion – and on weekends we would check out the local clubs and vacant commercial properties, brainstorming ideas on what kind of bar I eventually wanted to own.

But the best part was that we did it all together.

We hadn’t spent a night apart since that first night when she’d shown up on my doorstep with a pizza and beer in hand, but she officially moved in two months later when the lease was up on her apartment.

Now I loved her more than I’d known was possible. I knew her better than I knew myself now, but she was still a mystery to me in some ways. Like I never knew what she was going to say, with every quirky, vulgar, sweet thing that fell out of her lips a veritable surprise.

Which was why – even though I had a pretty good inkling of what her response would be – I was still a nervous wreck at what I was about to ask her.

I’d bought the ring a couple of weeks earlier, with the intention of asking her to marry me on Christmas morning. But seeing her sitting there with tangled hair and no makeup on, wearing a scowl aimed at her nonexistent tapeworm, my hoodie, and nothing else, I didn’t want to wait another twenty-four hours.

Like everything to do with Sookie, I wanted it all and I wanted it now.

“So what do we have left to do today?” she asked, looking up at me now that Oliver was appeased with her bacon tribute.

Celebrate?

Hopefully?

But I knew her question revolved around the umpteen items on her list of things to do before we left for her Gran’s house in a few hours, which was where we were spending Christmas.

So I tried to act nonchalant, even though my heart felt like it was about to beat out of my chest, and got up to start clearing the table, while I said, “Pack our clothes. Pack the car. Pick up the pies at the bakery you’re going to pass off as home baked.”

Feeling the piece of bacon she’d thrown at me hit my back and hearing it hit the floor, I turned around to smirk at her, adding, “Clean the kitchen floor.” But seeing my opening, I kicked it closer to where she was still sitting with my foot before going down on one knee to act like I was going to pick it up. Instead I reached into my pocket to take the ring out.

SPOV

I wanted to tell Eric to leave the bacon there because in less than twenty-four hours he’d have his little buddy to pick it up for him.

The puppy he’d always wanted was probably tearing up my brother’s place at that very moment.

But I forgot all about puppies and pee pads and future chewed shoes, with my eyes going wide seeing him pull a small box out of his pocket.

A ring box.

Opening it up, he didn’t say a word, but seeing what was inside I wanted to laugh and cry.

But in the silence I found a few words to say myself, when I snort-sobbed out, “Are you shitting me?”

Because sitting inside of the box was a diamond engagement ring.

Being worn like a belt around what I suspected was a sugar free gummy bear.

The asshole.

God, I loved him.

“Not this time,” he smiled and took the ring off of the bear, promising, “This one’s made from real sugar, just like you. But if you want the bear you’re going to have to agree to marry me.”

“Ah,” I nodded with a smile and used the sleeves of my stolen sweatshirt to wipe the tears from my eyes. “So what you’re saying is it’s all or nothing?”

“That’s what I’m saying,” he agreed, looking like he was about to jump out of his skin.

He was adorable.

And stupid if he thought I would say no.

But we were a matching pair of assholes, which was one of the reasons why I loved him. And why I strung him along for a little while longer by saying, “You know I can’t say no to gummy bears.”

Leaning towards me, he held the red bear in front of my lips and said, “I’m counting on it. But I still haven’t heard you say yes.”

A year ago I never would’ve imagined being here.

I never would’ve imagined blowing off that asinine assignment would’ve led me to discovering something so much better.

And it had nothing to do with my change in employment.

So not only did Eric hear me say yes, I was sure our neighbors heard me say it too, when I shouted it out several times in the ensuing celebratory sex-a-thon that had us running late to get on the road.

Our clothes were thrown willy nilly into a suitcase.

The car was haphazardly packed, like the apocalypse was nigh and we were getting out of dodge.

Tripping over a package left on the doorstep, I just took it with us thinking it was yet another Amazon delivered Christmas gift one of us had ordered. So we didn’t discover until later on what was inside, when a rambunctious puppy Eric named Oliver – so I wouldn’t look like I was talking to imaginary tapeworms – chewed it open.

Tucked away in the box was an acceptance letter from one of the publishing houses I’d submitted one of my earlier manuscripts to, the deed to a commercial property Eric had had his eye on for the bar he wanted to open, and an ornament.

A hand carved wooden angel, holding a bell.

But it was what they were all resting on that clued us in to who the man behind the beard actually was.

Like my first impression of Eric, looks could be deceiving because seeing the outfit I’d left behind in Hotel Hoity Toity a year earlier, I knew there was only one person who could have sent it.

A dirty and disheveled Santa Claus.

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2 comments on “The Santa Clause

  1. lilydragonsblood says:

    Absolutely loved this story! x

  2. kleannhouse says:

    oh my that was awesome, i was trying to figure it out and it was a great twist….. that’s how he found them they did something nice for him so he in turn did something for them, that is how he picked his candidates. loved this one. KY .

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