Days of Auld Lang Syne
By Lena Hart
“Ay dios mio. Novia, be careful!” Joanne Vega watched as her twelve-year old cousin attempted to do a twirl on the crowded ice rink, the blade of her rented skates coming too close to the back of her own sister’s legs. “Yana, will you watch her?”
Both of her young cousins continued around the ice rink, giggling, laughing, and ignoring her shouted warning. Joanne frowned and kept a vigilant eye on them through the crowd of skaters. Though she was born and raised in New York City, she had never spent her holiday in a tourist trap like the Rink at Rockefeller Center. But it was Christmas, and her mom’s side of the family was visiting from Puerto Rico. Joanne didn’t want to steal her cousins’ fun, but this was their first time skating on ice, and as the oldest, it was her responsibility to make sure they returned home in one piece. Since she couldn’t ice skate, she was reduced to worrying and scolding from the sidelines.
Their parents had decided to stay up in Harlem, not willing to make the trip downtown or take their chances with the weather. So far, despite reports for heavy snow, they had only gotten a few flurries. Because of that, the Rink was packed with people. Joanne looked past the throng of skaters and trained her camera phone on her cousins’ bright purple and pink coats. Her aunt and uncle would love to see their daughters’ first ice skating experience. With the large Rockefeller tree glowing in the background, it was a pretty magnificent sight.
Joanne tilted her camera lower and followed her cousins around the large rink. Though she had a pile of clips to edit for her fashion and beauty video blog, Joanne was happy for the distraction and to be showing her cousins a good time around her city. Lately, her life was consumed by either her day job or her vlog, which left little room for anything else. Her social life had seen better days, and though she had managed to spend some time with her bestie, they were both too busy for much else besides church and brunch. With her family in town, Joanne could use an excuse to go out and “play”—even if it meant chaperoning her tween cousins who were trying to give her premature grays at twenty-three.
Joanne was so focused on getting clear video of her cousins, she completely missed the tall male figure that came up beside her.
Joanne froze then turned to the familiar deep voice and her mouth almost gaped open. OMG. It couldn’t be…
She didn’t have to ask. Only one man had ever called her by that very old nickname, and she would have recognized those sexy, maple brown eyes anywhere.
Her old classmate—her old high school crush. He was the one guy no others had ever lived up to. The one she had tried but failed to forget these past five years. The one she had yearned for more than just friendship with…
Longing fluttered in her stomach as she stared at him—wishing she had done more with her long, curly hair then pile it on top of her head in a messy bun. She suddenly felt like the shy, awkward girl back in high school again.
When Joanne didn’t move or say anything quick enough, Shawn held out his arms. His dark, handsome face broke into a crooked smile. “We can continue this staring match, Jojo… Or you can give me a hug.”
by Valerie Twombly
Shawn pulled his old schoolmate into an embrace. Though her body was stiff at first, it only took a second for her to relax and melt into him. He buried his nose in her piled-up locks and took in the scent of coconut shampoo. He remembered it had always been her favorite. When he finally released her, he took a step back and held her at arm’s length.
“You look stunning, Jojo.” She gave a bashful smile, just like he remembered.
“Thanks. It’s been a long time.” She wiggled free. “I heard you got married and moved away. Do you have any children yet?”
He cast his gaze to the skaters on the rink and watched a couple of children tumble to the ice. “We divorced after six months.”
“Oh…” She touched his arm. “I’m so sorry.”
He looked back in time to watch her push a stray curl out of her eyes and tuck it behind her ear. God, he’d always loved her hair and had spent many nights imagining running his fingers through the silky mass. “It’s okay. We were young and the entire thing was a mistake. We both agreed it was time to end it before we ended up hating each other.” It had been a brief fling and in the heat of passion, he and Brittany had flown to Vegas and eloped. He’d never regretted anything more. Well…except for never telling Jojo how he really felt about her.
“What about you? Married? Kids?” Please say no. He’d come back home several months ago and had meant to look her up. Had even gone so far as to stalk her vlog, but nowhere could he find out if there was a mister in her life.
“Me? Nope. I’m still single. No man in my life, I’m sorry to say.”
“I can’t believe no one has scooped you up and taken you away.”
She let out a familiar soft laugh. Nothing had changed with his Jojo except maybe she’d grown more beautiful. “Well, I’m back in the city on business. Plan to be here awhile and I’d love to get together. Can I take you to dinner?”
“Oh… umm, I’m not sure. You know it’s the holidays, and I have family visiting from back home.” She took a step back and he could sense she wanted to put some distance between them. Why? He wasn’t sure. They’d always been good friends in high school. He’d wanted more, but she seemed untouchable to him. Now though… Now they were adults and he wasn’t backing down.
“I refuse to take no for an answer. If not dinner then how about coffee?” He put on the biggest grin he could muster. “Certainly you can find even thirty minutes for an old friend.”
She touched her hair and pushed it around then shoved her hands into her coat pockets. “Well… Okay. How about tomorrow, say ten? I can meet you at the Starbucks here at the Plaza.”
“Perfect.” He may not be able to wine and dine her but this was a start, and he intended to do everything in his power to make it perfect for her.
By Chanta Rand
Joanne stared at the hunk who’d brought back a flood of memories. Though she’d last seen him five years ago, she’d never forgotten her high school crush. He was a young man then, hovering on the precipice of adulthood. Now, he stood before her even more handsome, if that was possible. Dark, brown eyes. Sable hair. Dimples she could swim in. Hell, he could be a model if he really wanted. An errant breeze swept flurries of snow through the air. A lone snowflake landed on his feathery eyelashes, instantly melting into a diamond-like bead, glistening on the tips. The tiny drop melted into a pool of warm liquid—just liked she’d wanted to when she first saw him.
Get it together, girl!
“Okay,” she said, regaining her composure. “See you tomorrow.”
“Looking forward to it.” His frosted breath was in direct contrast to his heated gaze.
Shivers salsa-danced down her spine. The sensation had nothing to do with the cold temperatures. She was bundled up tighter than Ralphie’s brother on A Christmas Story.
As Shawn walked away, her eyes feasted on his impressive physique, following the heels of his tobacco-colored boots all the way to the dusting of shearling that ringed the back of his coat collar. The leather jacket stopped at his waist, showcasing his muscular backside through the corduroy pants he wore. His Burberry scarf flapped in the wind as he disappeared into the crowd.
The nervous churning of her stomach competed with the rapid-fire staccato of her heart. On her vlog she was fearless, outgoing, independent, and full of spirited advice. She talked about the latest fashion styles and the best ways to dress and impress a guy. Shawn was the very embodiment of the man she had in mind when she wrote each article. Every must-have dress she mentioned, every pair of designer shoes she drooled over, every hairstyle she recommended were all to catch the eye of a man like Shawn Davis.
He was high class personified. On top of that, the guy was super smart. She remembered throughout school that he was a brainiac. Math club. Chess club. Debate team. Back then she’d been quiet and shy, years away from breaking out of her shell. She’d stayed in the background watching the events of high school unfold as though everyone else were on stage and she was a spectator in the audience.
Now, Shawn Davis wanted to take her to dinner. She’d talked him into coffee instead. The thought of sitting through an entire meal, drowning in those dark pools he called eyes, was intimidating. What if she wasn’t smart enough? Good enough? Pretty enough?
“Ay, papi. Who was that?”
Joanne turned to find her fourteen-year-old cousin, Yana, at her elbow, gawking in the direction Shawn was retreating. The girl’s eyes shone with appreciation.
“An old friend of mine.”
“Humph. With friends like that who needs lovers?”
Joanne gasped as Yana’s bubbly laughter floated up over the crowd of skaters. Joanne tweaked her on the nose. “Girl, he is too old for you.”
Even as she playfully scolded her cousin, Joanne recalled her first day of ninth grade—the day Shawn had walked into science class and sat in front of her. Her life had never been the same.
Yana adjusted her Betty Boop earmuffs over her thick mane of dark curls. “I heard the lyrics to a song once—age ain’t nothing but a number.”
“Yeah? Well the state of New York does not agree with you. There are laws against that sort of thing. And even if there weren’t, Tío Bernard would dispense his own justice. I can’t have your daddy mad at me.”
Yana grinned. “I’m just pulling your leg, cuz. I’m a sweet teenage girl attending a catholic, girls-only school. I steer far away from trouble.”
“For now, I will live vicariously through you.”
Joanne laughed. “Trust me, I am not living vicariously. I barely have time to do anything but write, eat, and sleep. That’s why I’m glad to be hanging out with you and Novia today—my two favorite cousins.”
“We’re glad to be hanging out with you, too, Jojo. This is going to be the best Christmas ever.”
At that moment, Novia glided by, arms wide open, face joyfully lifted up to the winter sky. “I’m the Queen of the World!” she announced.
Yana raced after her sister. Joanne cracked up at the girls’ antics. For the first time in months, she felt light-hearted. Maybe it was this place with its happy skaters. Maybe it was the holiday spirit. Or maybe it was the fact that she had a date with a hot guy.
Panic stabbed the center of her heart.
Dear God. It is a date. What am I doing?
She dug her cell phone from her coat pocket, and then used her teeth to pull off one of her gloves. She punched in a number she knew by heart. She needed reinforcements.
By Angie Daniels
Shawn was already in the lot waiting when he spotted Joanne come around corner. He drew a deep breath. Ever since he saw her at the Rockefeller Center, he couldn’t get her off his mind.
That beautiful butterscotch complexion, dark sultry eyes, and kilowatt smile sent his libido into overdrive. He never thought he’d ever see Joanne again, so it had definitely been a pleasant surprise. One he planned to use to his advantage, especially since he’d spent years imagining running into her, how he would approach her, and what he would say. While in high school he never could get his brain to function in her presence, but he was no longer an inexperienced teenager when it came to women. Nope. This time, there was no way he was letting Joanne go without making his feelings known…amongst other things. Explicit thoughts caused him to groan inwardly.
Last night Shawn had allowed his imagination to run wild. He wanted to hear her screaming out in climax, to feel her French-tip nails clawing at his back, and her vivacious body riding… Shawn stopped and laughed as he commanded himself to get a goddamn grip. They hadn’t even had coffee, and he had already allowed his lust to get out of hand.
Get it together, Davis, he scolded then pulled himself off the bench. He watched Joanne sauntering toward the entrance. “So much for getting my libido under control,” he muttered under his breath. Instantly, his cock leaped forward in greeting. Damn! Her luscious hips swayed in a pair of denim jeans that possessively hugged her thighs. A bomber length coat hung open over a pink sweater that exposed creamy flesh, descending down to the swell of breasts that had Shawn clamping down on his lips so he wouldn’t groan out loud. Today, her long, curly hair hung wild and free, bouncing around her face and shoulders. Joanne wasn’t wearing any makeup and didn’t need to with those wide brown eyes and high cheekbones. A smirk started and spread across Shawn’s lips. By the time Joanne reached him, he was grinning like a damn fool.
“Hey,” Joanne greeted and licked her bottom lip.
“Good morning gorgeous.”
Shawn hugged her close, filling his nostrils with her scent. With his hands at her back, he could feel the nervousness she tried so hard to hide. Drawing back, he met her wide-eyed stare.
“Come on let’s get you out of this cold,” he said, hoping to make her feel at ease.
He draped an arm loosely across her shoulders and ushered her into the coffeehouse and over to a barista behind the counter, ready to serve. While Joanne studied the menu on the wall, she stiffened and stepped away from his touch, putting a little distance between them. Frowning, Shawn again wondered why she was drawing away but decided to let it go—for now.
“What’s your poison?” he asked.
Joanne tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, but it immediately bounced back out. “Triple grande caramel macchiato. What about you?” She turned and looked over her right shoulder at him. The gesture was so sexy it practically stole his breath away.
“An umm…expresso macchiato.”
Their gazes locked for the briefest moment before Joanne turned away, but not before Shawn saw the combination of desire and uncertainty burning in the depths of her eyes.
While they ordered, anticipation hummed through his veins.
By Kishan Paul
Joanne’s heart thudded against her chest so loud she worried everyone in Starbucks could hear it. Then there was her brain and ability to speak, both of which appeared to have powered off in the past few minutes. She prided herself in not being shy anymore. Yet here she was five years later, behaving the same as that insecure eighteen-year-old girl, and it was all because of the man standing beside her. Torn between wanting to kiss the heck out of him and running away from him, she opted to just stand there like an idiot, frozen and awkward.
She stared at Shawn’s profile while he gave the woman behind the counter their order. From the way the barista’s cheeks reddened, it was clear she wasn’t the only woman in the room currently Shawn-struck. The crazy thing was he seemed clueless about the panty-melting powers he obviously possessed.
Why was someone like him here…with me? She shook the question from her head and replaced it with one of the empowering ones she’d practiced in counseling. Why wouldn’t he want to be here with me? For some reason it didn’t sound nearly as convincing as it did in the therapist’s office. Maybe it was because he was standing right next to her, smelling amazing, and flashing that dimpled smile at her every other second.
Whatever the reason, the little voice of insecurity inside her was getting louder. While Shawn paid for their drinks, Joanne walked off to the corner and scanned the room for an empty table. She shouldn’t have come and was stupid to think she could handle this. The wounds of her past obviously hadn’t healed as well as she thought they had.
A whiff of cold air hit her when the door opened. Thick strands of her hair came loose from the gust and slapped her across the face. She blew at it and watched it float up, only to smack her cheek on the way down. Her curls probably looked crazy by now. Before she got a chance to move the hair out of her face, Shawn was in front of her running his fingers through the strands.
“I’ve always wondered if your curls were as soft as they looked.”
Joanne’s face heated and when she saw the way his gaze lingered on her mouth, she sucked in a breath. “And?”
His knuckles brushed against her skin. “Amazingly soft.”
Her feet were rooted to the floor, all sounds and people drifted away to nothingness as she savored the feel of his touch.
“Almost as soft as your skin,” he whispered before brushing his thumb across her cheek. “Which was something else I always wondered about, by the way.”
She blinked a couple of times, processing it all. He wondered about touching me?
Joanne cleared her throat and stared at his full lips, one of the many parts of him she’d dreamed about touching. “The tables are all full.”
He smiled and leaned in so close that his breath warmed her skin when he spoke. “Once we get the coffee, we could always go somewhere else. Take the train over to Central Park.”
This was the perfect opportunity for her to tell him she needed to leave. Run, like her fears screamed for her to do.
She nodded and smiled, “Sounds like a great idea.”
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Episode 3 by Mina Khan
Good thing Abby had plenty of experience with challenges. She didn’t like them necessarily, but she never backed off from one. Squaring her shoulders, she met his glare and smiled. “We’ll see about that.”
A glint of interest sparked in his eyes as his lips twitched into a shadow of a smile. A smile that did nothing to cut the dark broodiness of his features or the thick tension in the room. Just made him look more…big, bad, and dangerous. She swallowed as her heart sprinted. Were those fangs peeking out over his full sensuous lips? Oh, yes. Good, so he really was a vampire.
“Not that you don’t have a smokin’ hot bod, but why does it need guarding?”
Heat rushed across her skin at his blunt words and roaming gaze, but she kept her chin up. “Perhaps I should have introduced myself by my professional name, Sitara the Seer at your service.”
He guffawed at that. “You don’t look much like your pictures.”
Yeah, well. Uncle Dave, her manager, guardian, and only-living relative, insisted on stage presence. He thought exotic and mysterious sold better so the fancy name, the heavy makeup, the gaudy jewelry, and dressing in silk, and gauze outfits straight out of somebody’s harem fantasy. Everything about Sitara the Seer was a sham except for the ability to see the future.
Still smirking, Reed crossed beefy arms across his impressive chest. “So tell me what am I going to do next?”
“You’re going to offer me coffee and a seat.”
“Because that’s what the Universe is showing you?”
“No,” she said. “Because that’s the polite thing to do.”
“I like you.” He grinned and waved at a pair of straight back chairs sitting in front of his desk. “Make yourself comfortable. How do you take your coffee?”
“Black,” Abby said, lowering herself into a seat. Her skirt slid up as she crossed her legs. His eyes widened and followed every move. A very female sense of satisfaction filled her and she turned away to hide her smile.
Within moments, he’d placed her coffee by her and claimed the big leather chair on the other side of the desk. He leaned forward, hands clasped. “So what’s the story?”
She sipped her drink, letting the bitter taste, and rich, smoky aroma fortify her. “I have a regular client, let’s call him Mr. X.”
Reed raised a raven brow. “Mr. X?”
Abby flashed him a pointed look and continued. “He usually wants me to pick lottery numbers or race horses, favorable dates for business and such things. I knew he was involved in some shady deals, but this time…” She choked up on the rest of words and had to take another swallow of coffee.
“This time?” Reed picked up a pen and tapped on the desk top like a demented woodpecker.
She swallowed and met his cool green gaze. “He asked me if he should go into a new international venture. This time, I saw death. Not his, but that of other people at his hands.”
Reed made the time out sign. “Wait, you expect me to believe you actually saw a vision.”
“Yes, and because of that vision I’m now in danger.” Was that breathy voice coming from her? She cleared her throat.
“You told Mr. X you saw him murdering people?”
“Of course not.” She bit her lip. “I may have shouted out “Murderer!”Read More