Let’s take a peek at my current work in progress, Alien Reindeer’s Bounty (that title may change). This is a holiday story featuring a single mom and second chances. The book will be published in November.
“Dessa, wake up.” Cool breath blew across her face, tickling her nose.
“Stop it,” she said, refusing to open her eyes.
“Wake up before I drag you out of this bed,” Mads said. He would. He’d done it before, grabbing her by an ankle and pulling until her butt hit the floor.
Odessa reluctantly opened her eyes, finding Mads grinning face inches from hers. “How the hell did you get in my room?”
“Through the window.” Mads hooked a thumb over his shoulder.
“I’m on the 4th floor.”
He snorted. “Like that was a challenge.”
“So many questions.” She rubbed her eyes and yawned. “One, some best friend you are. I was sleeping.”
“Not a question and you were sleeping the day away. Come on. We have things to do.” He jumped up, wearing worn jeans that hung low off his hips and a thin tee shirt. The shirt rode up, exposing his firm stomach and the dark trail of hair leading down–
Down girl. Mads was her best friend and he didn’t think of her that way. Unfortunately. When they were younger, he climbed through her bedroom window and crawled into bed with her– granted, that hadn’t happened since they were twelve– but it always remained strictly platonic. Clothes on, no touching other than fighting for mattress space and the blanket. They weren’t kids anymore.
Oh, and she was in college now and lived an hour away.
“Question two, what are you doing here? You should be at work.” She wore reindeer printed pajama pants and an oversized tee shirt. Super seductive, right?
Mads grinned at the pajamas. “Work is boring. Everything is boring without you, so I’m taking a field trip. Dress warm. We’re adventuring today.”
“Very funny,” she said. He never missed a day of school. “Mister Perfect Attendance is skipping work.” He had never missed a day of school. A thought struck her. “Did you run away from home? Does your dad know you’re here?”
He shrugged. “I told him I had some things to take care of today.”
“So he doesn’t know you drove an hour to break into a girls’ dorm before dawn.” No doubt Mr. Sommerfeldt would find a way to pin the blame on Odessa. He never liked her.
“Let’s go sledding.” He picked up a notebook from her desk and flipped through it.
“Who are you, what did you do with Mads?”
“Very funny.” He tossed himself on the bed, arms folded behind his back. “Why is your bed so much comfier than mine?”
“Girl magic.” Also, her mattress wasn’t filled with concrete and she piled on the fluffiest comforters and blankets.
Odessa grabbed her clothes and dressed in the bathroom. When she returned, Mads was full on snooping through her books. “Find anything interesting?”
He shrugged again. She went off to college that fall and Mads worked with his father and uncle. The state university was only an hour away from home, but Odessa and Mads couldn’t hang out the way they used to. They texted every morning and every night, but it wasn’t the same.
“Hey, I miss you.” She bumped him with her shoulder.
“I miss you, too,” he said, draping an arm over her shoulder. She shouldn’t read too much into this–driving in the middle of the night to see her, skipping work, defying his dad, breaking into her room–but she sighed and leaned into his familiar warmth.
“How are you so warm?” she asked.
“Dude magic. You should feed me now. I want to see if the cafeteria is really as bad as you claim.”
Odessa stuck her head out the door to make sure the hallway was empty. She wouldn’t be the first resident of the girls’ only dorm to sneak a guy out in the morning, but she’d rather avoid the knowing looks and smirks. They took the stairs to avoid the elevator and nearly made it out the door until, “Muller! Looks like you had a good morning. A very good morning.”
“Ha ha,” Odessa replied, dryly.
“I want to meet your friend,” Mads said, twisting around as she shoved him out the door.
With the cafeteria mostly empty at the early hour, Odessa grumbled into her latte and waited for the caffeine to wake her up. She knew she looked a mess with her barely-brushed hair and the shapeless fleece hoodie she wore. Super attractive. Mads, of course, looked like he stepped out of an advertisement for milk: wholesome, handsome and just a hint of a milk mustache.
He chugged the glass and grinned.
“You’re ridiculous,” she said, wiping off the milk mustache with a napkin.
“I’m trying really hard to impress you, college girl.”
She rolled her eyes. “How? You gonna burp the alphabet? We’re not ten anymore.”
The open, playful expression shuttered and his grin vanished. “I know.”
She poked at her bowl of oatmeal, finding it hard to rally enthusiasm for the lumpy mess or the super awkward tension between them. “You don’t have to impress me.”
“I know.” He opened his mouth, as if to confess why he really drove all the way out and not some baloney reason, but he said, “You should eat your banana. We’ll need the energy today.”
“What makes you so sure I’m going to skip class and play hooky with you?” She shoved a spoonful of oatmeal in her mouth, wishing she had added more brown sugar or blueberries. He hadn’t even asked if she wanted to tag along with his adventure–she would, duh, but a girl wanted to be asked.
“Odessa–” He turned his pale blue eyes on her, the dark lashes making them seem all the more striking.
“Not the puppy eyes.”
“Please? Will you play with me?” He batted his lashes, blinking slowly and sweetly.
“Stop that. Your flagrant manipulation is disgusting.” It really wasn’t and her heart beat a bit faster.
Fifteen minutes later, she pulled herself into Mads’ truck. He leaned over the bench and double checked the fastener. It was… sweet? A little insulting, like she didn’t know how seatbelts worked, but sweet that he wanted to make sure she was safe. He tugged on the shoulder strap, his hand nearly brushing her boob.
“What’s going on,” she breathed.
“This isn’t nothing.” The air hummed between them. This felt big. Important.
He shrugged and turned over the ignition. “Let’s go to Devil’s Knob. We can get back before the roads are too bad.”
“Oh, Devil’s Knob.” The steep hill had the perfect slope for sledding. Devil’s Knob was not, in fact, the hill’s proper name, that would be the Devil’s Knee, but a century’s long dick joke couldn’t be denied.
Twenty minutes later, they parked at the bottom of the hill and trudged upwards, each carrying a snow tube.
Odessa huffed and grew too warm from the climb. She unzipped her jacket. “This sucks. You suck. We could be fighting crime in Hero City.”
“Fresh air is good for you,” he said, not sweating or panting.
“My fire blaster is almost level 50. That’s pretty important to me.” She and Mads spent hours in the online game, blasting their way through street crime in a fictional city and taking down alien invaders. They used to play side by side on laptops in her bedroom, shouting out orders for a fight and cursing when their tactics went wrong. It was the best. Now they played online via voice chat, if she didn’t have to study and if he didn’t have to work late.
“Your blaster will be there tomorrow,” he said.
At the top of the hill, bright cloth caught her attention. It looked like they weren’t the only ones playing hooky. “How many people do you think have the same idea?”
“No one.” He chewed his bottom lip with an annoyed scowl on his face.
“Could be the local hooligans.”
“I thought we were the local hooligans.”
“Then we must defend our street cred from these interlopers,” she said with forced bravado.
He snorted and Odessa puffed up with pride, knowing she could make him laugh. Handsome and popular, many kids at school had wondered why they were friends. And they were right to wonder. Back when she was the girl who loved to explore the woods and he was the kid wearing antler headbands, proximity made them friends. They were neighbors. Of course they were friends.
Their friendship shifted somehow when they reached high school. Odessa grew awkward in crowds and Mads flourished. His smile still made her feel like the most important person in the universe, but jealousy gnawed at her when he shared that smile with others.
College brought another shift to their friendship shifted with him still back in their hometown. The distance wasn’t easy. She missed him desperately for the first few weeks.
It’s not like they were boyfriend and girlfriend. They weren’t dating. She had no reason to be jealous or to miss him so much it made her chest ache with emptiness. They were just friends, and wasn’t that the bitterest pill to swallow? Her crush intensified and he remained as oblivious as ever.
Or he knew and feigned ignorance to spare her feelings.
Yeah, there was no good way of looking at the situation.
Her arms and calves ached by the time she reached the empty summit of the hill. The bright color she saw was an empty chip bag caught in bramble. The snow tube landed on the ground and she tossed herself down, ass bouncing in the tube. “I’m not doing this again. One and done.”
“Ready?” Mads loomed over her, grinning, then placed his hands on the tube.
“No. I’m not ready!”
“You look ready.” He pushed, sending her down the slope, facing the wrong way.
His laughter rang through the cold air as she watched him grow smaller and smaller as she rushed down backwards, clutching the snow tube. Throwing one hand over the side, her gloved fingers plowed through the snow and twisted her around to face the correct direction.
Surprise drifted into laughter when her snow tube slowed and hit a snowbank. Mads launched his own snow tube down the hill, whooping all the way down. He came to a stop not far from her.
“That was a mean trick,” she said, and tossed a handful of snow at Mads.
“I’m not walking up there again.” She flopped back down in the snow tube and crossed her arms. Lazy? Absolutely.
“Come on.” He grabbed her hand and pulled Odessa to her feet.
Nose to nose, their mingle breathe hung in the cold air. The scent of pine needles and smoke clouded her senses. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and leaned in, breath hot on the shell of her ear and she shivered. He whispered, “I’ll make it worth your while.”
Ten minutes later, Odessa stood at the top of the hill. Taking the knit hat off her head, she wiped the sweat from her brow like a sweaty snow bunny. Super sexy, right?
“Hey,” Mads said, stepping close. Now he was a sexy snow bunny. Hat lost in the last run down the hill, his dark hair stuck up in every direction. Instead of making him look like a disheveled vagrant, he looked like he tumbled out of bed after a fun romp. His cheeks were pink from the cold and his lips were an inviting raspberry.
“Hey,” she replied.
He wore a thin jacket, which hung open over a faded black tee-shirt, no scarf, no gloves, well-worn jeans that hung on his hips, and hiking boots.
“How are you not freezing?” Odessa tugged the jacket closed and zipped it up. The act felt intimate and familiar, like they routinely dressed–and hopefully undressed–each other.
“You keep me warm,” he said. His arms wrapped around her, pulling her forward until their chests touched.
She looked up at him, blushing furiously and desperately trying to remember how to breathe.
His head dipped down, his lips pressing against hers in the softest, sweetest suggestion of a kiss. Her first kiss–their first kiss. She gasped and their breaths mingled, breathing as one. His forehead rested against hers.
That was it? Soft and sweet was all right but in no way did it satisfy the fire burning in her.
“I want a do over.” Odessa grabbed the lapel of the jacket and pulled him down, slamming her mouth onto his. Her tongue licked the seam of his lips and he opened to her. She poured every ounce of longing, every restless night spent dreaming about him, and every bit of frustration when they sat side-by-side watching a movie but not touching.
Stretching up onto her tiptoes, she gave him everything in her heart because it belonged to him. It always had, since the first day the girl in the forest found the boy with antlers. He was her best friend and she wouldn’t go through this life without him. He had to know. It was obvious.
He growled, low and rumbling, like thunder, and her electricity zipped through her. His arms tightened and they took a step backwards. She didn’t care, as long as he never let go and never stopped kissing her.
His step faltered, slipped, and they tumbled backwards. A sharp tooth nicked her lip and the taste of copper flooded her mouth.
“Are you okay?” He arranged her on his lap, sparing her from sitting in the snow.
“You bit me.” She pressed the back of her gloved hand to her busted lip.
“Let me see.” He ran his thumb over her lip. “Should I kiss it and make it better?”
“Yes. Yes you really should.”
Another kiss–their third but who was keeping track?–and his tongue swept across her lips. Odessa wasn’t sure what to do with her hands. Her fingers flexed, fluttered at her side before settling on the back of his neck. The brushed nylon created am unacceptable barrier. She needed skin on skin. With a shake, the gloves tumbled to the snowy ground and her fingers dug into his dark hair.
He growled, nipping at her bottom lip, and pulled away. “You’re dangerous, Odessa Muller.” Another kiss. His teeth caught her bottom lip as he pulled away. “I have to head back before my dad comes home.”
Just like that, Mads sent her back to campus. During the drive, she kept touching her lips and replaying the kiss. Multiple kisses. Were they dating now? She needed to put on her big girl panties and just ask, especially if it led to more kissing.
The truck idled outside her dorm. “You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m great. Thanks for today.”
“Listen, I’m going out of town.”
“I have mandatory military service in my home… country,” he said.
“Norway? I guess I knew that.” Maybe? She couldn’t say if the national service requirement applied to people with dual citizenship.
“I won’t be able to communicate but I want you to know that you’re my favorite human on Earth.”
He was always saying weird stuff like that but Odessa replied, “You’re my favorite human, too.”
A tired smile spread across his face and holy hell if it wasn’t sexier than his usual up-to-no-good smile.
They held each other’s gaze, the moment stretching out between them like caramel, warm and sweet. What was he waiting for? Should she invite in up? She should invite him up. She cleared her throat and he said, hurriedly, “I should go.”
“Yeah, sure. Drive safely.” If she had known she wouldn’t see him again for twelve years, she wouldn’t have let him get away so easily.