Anna Weston is happy with her life--she loves her job and lives in a lovely home with her wonderful boyfriend, Robert. Although, if there was one little thing that she could change, it would be for him to make the relationship official.
While Robert is engrossed in his work, a proposal doesn't appear to be on the cards so Anna busies herself with Christmas preparations. At least she can ensure that their first Christmas alone together will be a romantic one.
However, she doesn't expect the appearance of Harris in her life. If she's not careful, Robert's handsome and charming colleague could ruin everything.
15,800 words, 45 pages
Freezing temperatures sporadically gave way to falling snow but after spending much of the morning dashing about, laden with shopping bags, Anna felt uncomfortably warm. Her cream woolen hat and matching scarf remained resolutely in place as she narrowed her eyes against wind and snow. Her hazel irises occasionally glinted with the rapid fluttering of her thick, dark lashes in her attempt to remove clinging flakes of snow.
Disinclined to waste any effort awkwardly juggling her bags to make an adjustment or to reveal how her normally sleek brown bob was affected by compression and static, she endured the misting of sweat on her forehead. She was determined not to let minor irritations become a hindrance.
Her partner, Robert, was well aware that she was doing Christmas that year--their first spent alone--but still had no qualms about springing a dinner party on her only a few days prior to the main event. Waiting for the pedestrian crossing light, she wished he had given her more notice, so her day would be less hectic. She could only hope that Robert and his colleagues would be appreciative and focused on the expected words of gratitude, imagining the form they would take and the accompanying smiling faces.
Exhaling a frosted cloud, Anna stamped her foot, crunching snow beneath the thick tread of her ankle boot. Impatience simmered in the pit of her stomach, slowly growing like the pressure of the handles digging into her fingers with radiating heat.
Having been a couple for over three years, they had only lived together for six months – a natural progression to their relationship. Approximately eighteen hours after they met in a jazz bar, they had their first official date--a hearty meal at an Italian restaurant with an over-familiar matriarchal proprietor. They left with her declaration, 'Beautiful couple, you will have a long life together' ringing in their ears.
Despite this and her little black dress, carefully chosen to show off a figure that hovered between slim and athletic, Anna had been determined to stick to the plan she had formed from the outset--nothing more than a kiss on the doorstep before sending him on his way.
She still remembered that kiss. His lips appeared a deeper pink than usual, like a guiding beacon. What should have been a peck became a lingering kiss, leading to a soul-shuddering clinch, their bodies entwined on her doorstep.
Stumbling inside, the couple crashed through Anna's small flat, knocking a mirror askew and sweeping two coats to the floor from their hooks in their rush. Anna and Robert hurriedly brought each other to nakedness in a jumble of frenetic activity from eager hands.
The couple fell to the bed in a mutual exchange of body heat as they urgently sought to satisfy their passionate craving for each other. A lustful prelude came with exploratory fingers, lips and tongues, a final delicate act coming with him sweeping her hair from across her face, which had been longer then.
The pressure of his stiff cock thrilled her as he nestled between her thighs, sliding down to bring his face level with her quivering breasts. Robert took her brazen nipple between his lips, his hot mouth sparking a fire in her core, making his touch seem tame by comparison. Simultaneously pinching her other nipple, Robert skillfully sent two searing channels of heat directly to her clitoris, taking control of her entire body.
With his merciless tweaking, he gave a low hum and stroked his middle finger along the slit of her labia, brushing her strip of freshly shaved short brown hair and stimulating every inch of her skin. Her body tingled like an alarm, reminding her that she was doing something that she wasn't supposed to, but she found it easy to ignore.
Spreading her thighs further, a high-pitched whimper rattled free from her vibrating body.
Robert's gentle touch to her bursting clit made her moan his name and shattered any traces of his resolve. His face contorted in pained ecstasy, Robert plunged his length into her pulsating passage, thrusting his thick shaft to the hilt.
Robert surrendered to his animalistic desires and Anna went with him, relishing the thump of his heavy sac against her labia. Throughout the night, he demanded climax after climax, dragging her into sweet oblivion until she was spent. For the short periods of sleep they did get, they clung to each other. Hot and sweaty, they remained wrapped around one another like there was nothing in the world more important.
She had made him poached eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast.
Anna thought herself an independent woman, but Robert held her heart and she longed for a proposal. I can still be my own woman with a decent man at my side.
She was dutiful, made an effort to maintain her looks and physique, and was prone to occasional Stepford Wife style displays, hence responsibility for Christmas and the dinner falling to her, despite her own career in public relations.
A twinge to her right forearm coincided with the lights changing, finally allowing her to cross the road and return to the car park. Only after loading the boot did she see the florescent yellow of the strip thrust beneath the windscreen wiper. Muttering under her breath, she snatched up the parking ticket before doing the same with the receipt stuck to the inner surface of the windscreen after throwing herself into the driver's seat.
Cursing the unseen attendant who issued the ticket she planned to dispute, she made the crawl home through snow and traffic. Thoughts of the numerous tasks waiting for her made the slow pace a relief.
Before long, she was struggling to unlock the door with the bags, depositing them in the hallway on noticing the light flashing on the answer machine.
'Anna? Where are you? I forgot to say there's a vegetarian coming tonight.'
Dragging off her coat, Anna glared at the machine and listened to her boyfriend's voice.
'Hope that's all right. Call me back and let me know.'
Annoyed by the last-minute adjustment and its inefficient delivery, Anna scowled and stomped to the kitchen with the bags.
Making a mental note to criticize Robert for not calling her mobile, she sought to design a meat-free meal as she reached for her handbag. Anna found the handset had escaped its designated pocket, falling to the bottom where it had lain unnoticed.
Irritated at finding three missed calls when she hadn't heard the phone ring once, she pressed the keys to play the voicemail messages through the speaker while unloading bags. The first, from Robert, was almost identical to the answering machine message. His second was breathing and background noise. Anna rolled her eyes.
Finally, her friend, Carolyn, suggesting they go for a coffee.
"Later," she murmured, resolving to return the call as her thoughts turned to the unnamed vegetarian, considering how to accommodate them without significant addition to her workload.
Anna took a pack of pastry from the fridge, forming a rosy vision of the two of them going for coffee--catching up before Christmas took over. However, her brain clicked in and told her it was nonsense. Christmas had taken over and she would be lucky to see Carolyn before the New Year. A specialty coffee with a friend was a luxury she didn't have time for, not when there was a vegetable quiche to be made.
"Is everything okay? You didn't call me back."
Having not heard him come in, Anna was startled by Robert's entry. The discontent she wanted to display dissipated. The thrill she always felt on seeing him too strong.
His open trench coat displayed his dapper slim-line dark blue suit. Due a haircut, his rich brown hair was long enough to almost create a quiff. Though his piercing blue eyes were like ice, he still had a distinct look of warmth about him. The type of face people trusted.
Anna not only trusted him, but was aware that he was The One from the moment they met.
"I've been busy doing rather than talking, Robert," she complained, stung by his failure to greet her.
"I'm sorry," he apologized, forcing her to stop chopping mushrooms with a gentle calming kiss to her lips, stroking his hand across her stomach as he pressed against her side.
"I thought you were going to be home earlier," she observed, her tone lacking an accusatory element.
"Work is just manic right now. You know I'm trying to get a promotion."
She dragged her gaze from his, knowing she could easily become mesmerized. "I know."
"Anna? You got a parking ticket?" The offending ticket remained on the counter alongside various receipts, laid forgotten until Robert's eagle eye fell on it while overseeing her actions.
Bubbling anger rose in her chest, resentment replacing the delight of his arrival.
"Yes," she admitted, through gritted teeth, breathing deeply to prevent simmering resentment taking over. "I got it because I was running around like a crazy idiot for your bloody work mates."
"All right." Robert raised his palms in surrender before picking up the ticket. "Calm down. I'll deal with it for you."
Turning back to the chopping board, Anna muttered as he left the room, repeating his audacious words.
Carrying plates to the kitchen, Anna smiled to herself, pleased the evening was going well and her efforts were mostly appreciated.
The vegetarian meal was for the girlfriend of Robert's colleague, Harris. Besides dietary requirements, Jodie was fussy to the point of rudeness, barely eating the food through which she picked.
Speculating on how Harris and Jodie became a couple, Anna concluded Jodie's beauty played a major part. She was a stunning woman with a flawless caramel complexion. He was dark, broad and masculine. They made a handsome couple. However, he was polite, affable and interesting so their link remained inexplicable.
Thinking about loading the dishwasher before serving coffee, Anna was lost in thought until footsteps drew her attention. Carrying dishes she intended to go back for, Harris smiled warmly. "I thought I'd offer a helping hand."
A frisson caressed her back, mild excitement remaining after surprise dissipated. He filled his suit differently than Robert, his broad frame immediately dominating the room and silently demanding attention.
"Thank you." Taking the load, her fingers brushed his, feeling surprisingly warm. "That's kind of you."
"It's nothing. Can I help with anything else?"
Though grateful, Anna would never ask a guest for help. Yet, she was in no hurry to encourage his departure. They exchanged pleasantries for a while, and the room temperature seemed to rise though the oven was off.
His dark skin had a light sheen, prominent on his cheekbones, like burnished copper. Watching his full lips as he spoke, Anna smiled when he did, revealing his gleaming white teeth.
When Harris took his leave, Anna felt a strange quiver in the pit of her stomach.
The only black man amongst Rob's colleagues, Anna briefly considered whether she was focusing on him for this reason as she loaded the dishwasher with crockery, going overboard in ensuring he wasn't neglected. Quickly deciding it was far from the truth, she concentrated on her chore to finish quickly. A strong sensation made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, interrupting her musings and preventing a conclusion.
Looking up, she met Harris' gaze, watching her from where he stood outside the dining room. At an angle, his shoulder was slightly pulled back as if he posed intentionally. Watching her through lowered lashes, his smile turned his eyes into glistening half-moons.
Smiling shyly, Anna averted her gaze. He was gone when she looked up.
Her face flushed, she was unable to take her mind off the man who had complimented the aroma of the meal while they were still on aperitifs, who offered help when Robert failed to do so.
Retrieving the creamer jug from the fridge, Anna remained in front of the open door for longer than necessary, cooling her warm skin in the hope of regaining her mask of normality.
With a deep breath, Anna returned to the dining room with the coffee and cast her eye over the entire party, sitting around the large oval table. Her gaze soon fell on Harris like he was the prize amongst the tissue paper.
He caught her eye and smiled.
Her interaction with him had nothing to do with his skin color. It stemmed from the fact that--of all the guests--he was the most interesting, the most attentive, the one to whom she was drawn.
Her heart rate quickened, generating a rich flood of bliss as she tended to guests.
With brandy on offer alongside the wine remaining from dinner, the guests took advantage of their ability to be more mobile. Robert was free to schmooze and Jodie could offer a look of disdain to any flirtatious comment. As people gradually dispelled, Anna and Harris were left alone to converse.
There was something about him that made her feel a strange nervousness, watching her as if he could read her mind. When others sought to join their conversation, Harris had a way of politely dismissing them, giving Anna his full attention. He readily offered the praise she expected from Robert, satisfying her need.
Earlier that morning, Anna couldn't wait for the day to be over, but the winding down of the evening came as a disappointment. The warmth of his cheek from his goodbye kiss lingered after he left, as did his touch when he squeezed her hand.
She imagined him with Jodie, concluding they were completely wrong for each other.
"What do you think of Harris?" Sitting across the dining table after the guests left, Robert sipped coffee.
Her heart skipped, a powerful paranoia instantly taking hold. "Erm, Harris? Yes, he seems nice."
"They lured him from another firm. We'll be working together."
Looking at the dregs in a wine glass, Anna made a noise and nodded slightly, keeping her lips sealed.
Oblivious to her reticence, Robert asked, "You ready for bed?"