After Party (Christmas Magic)
They worked well together, their efforts as coordinated as if they’d done this sort of thing before. He almost wished it had been more of a challenge, something that would have required he spend a few more minutes with the woman. With Eddie.
He wasn’t foolish enough to think she’d want him around once the fetching was done, but it was kind of nice to help out with such a simple project. Something where no one’s life hung in the balance.
“What do you think?”
He glanced down, doing a quick mental scramble to sift together the gist of the words he hadn’t actually been listening to. Sodas. Yes. The big Coleman cooler was looking pretty well stocked. “That should be enough. And if not, give me a shout and I’ll haul out a few more six-packs.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “That will work fine.” Dimples formed at the little creases in her cheeks and he knew she was trying not to laugh at him. “But that has nothing to do with dancing.”
“You do dance, Glenn?”
He put the scoop back in the ice machine and closed the door. “Pretty sure I remember how.”
“What I said was, it sounds like the band’s getting set up. Do you want to dance? After we get this all back where it belongs. Of course it’ll likely be all Christmas tunes.”
“I… I haven’t danced in years.” Not since… She didn’t need to hear about that. Not now. Not here. It was a party, for fuck sake. Happy civilians didn’t need to know about the ugliness that happened half the world away.
“I won’t fault you on style.”
He almost shook his head, trying to make her words make sense. “Are you asking me to dance, Eddie? With you, I mean?”
“I am, yes. You did say you were here alone?”
Why didn’t seem to be at all the correct response when a woman — especially a beautiful woman like her — asked a man like him to dance. Neither did Could we just skip straight to the sex? But he knew better. Women like that didn’t fall for guys like him. Especially didn’t pick up guys like him at Christmas parties.
Fortunately his well-ingrained Southern manners took over. “I’d love to dance with you, Eddie.” And that was the truth. Dancing was the next best thing to wrapping his arms around her naked body and holding her until the world made sense again. Dancing sounded pretty damn good. Hell, anything she wanted sounded pretty damn good. Nothing he could think of sounded better right at that moment.
* * *
This is sooo not a good idea, Eddie told herself again. The man was handsome enough. He was also huge. But Karen was right about one thing. He wouldn’t have spoken to her at all if she hadn’t introduced herself. Not that she’d meant to. He was just so… big. There really hadn’t been any way to get around him. Oddly, that thought — immovable male object — didn’t frighten her.
Eddie sensed he was barely keeping it together. He might be fine in a combat situation, but he was clearly uncomfortable in a civilian social setting. And she had a feeling Glenn wasn’t the type to see a counselor. He’d hold it all in till it broke. Till he broke.
She really needed to tell him who she was — what she did for a living. But he hadn’t asked, and her day job was the last thing she wanted to talk about tonight. He might be a bit beat up around the edges, but Glenn was also everything else Karen had promised — tall, dark, and handsome didn’t hold a candle to Sergeant Glenn Trawick. He might have been 6′ 2″ at fifteen, but he hadn’t stopped there. He was better than good looking, in a rugged, masculine, way. Dark hair, cut military close. Eyes the color of Kentucky bourbon — shades swirling somewhere between amber and brown. Lips a hard, straight line that turned sensual whenever he actually smiled. And he towered over her. The man was huge — all thick, hard muscle everywhere. Not a muscle bound jock, either. More lean, mean fighting machine.
“Do you fight, Glenn?” she asked as an afterthought as she finished up the last of the orange garnishes.
“Fight. MMA. Mixed martial arts.”
“No, ma’am. Wrestled some in high school, but that was a long time ago.” He seemed to consider that for a moment. “Do I look like I’ve taken one too many punches?”
“Haha. No. Maybe I should. Though we make it a rule not to aim for the face. If you’re going to be around a while, I’d love to work out with you.” He looked so stunned, she almost laughed. “What? You don’t think I could take you down?”
“I’m sure you could. I’m just surprised you’d want to try. Aren’t you… you don’t… most women are afraid of me.”
“I’ve been fighting MMA for ten years, and I teach self-defense classes for women. It takes a lot more than a big handsome teddy bear to frighten me.”
“I’m not sure whether I should say thank you, or back away slowly with my hands up.”
“Probably a little bit of both, because I’m thinking of asking you to volunteer for my next class.”
“Women’s self-defense? I don’t do drag very well.”
Her laugh came out a little too loud to be really ladylike, but fortunately the room was beginning to fill up with partiers. “I was thinking more as the target. We call ’em Crash Test Dummies. You know. A dozen women with their hands all over you for a few hours a night?”
He mulled it over, answering after a moment or two. “I think I could help out with that. I can’t say it sounds like fun, exactly, but it does sound like a good cause.” He fished a card out of his wallet. “Just let me know when you need me.” His smile looked a bit bemused, as if everything about her caught him off guard.
Good. Master Sergeant Glenn Trawick, you are about to discover the world does not always revolve around blowing things up. Or whatever it is you guys are doing halfway around the world these days. She tucked his card in her bag. “I think the rest of this can take care of itself for a while. And if not, Karen can figure out who’s supposed to be manning the station. My job here is done. Let’s go act like we’re at a party, and not part of the staff.”
Christmas Party (Yule Tied)
I don’t hate Christmas — who could hate Christmas? — but I really do hate social events. Especially Christmas parties. Have since I was a kid. I don’t like meeting people, or acting like I like meeting people, or pretending I don’t want to dance, when everyone else is out on the floor, and no one asks me, because surely Cherie doesn’t want to dance, or she wouldn’t be here alone.
I’m only alone because Zack can’t be here. Where is he? Oh, Zack’s in Afghanistan. He’s in the military. He can’t tell me a lot about where he is, or what he’s doing, but he should be home next summer.
Unless he re-ups.
Which he might have to, because Zack can’t come home. That’s because I invented Zack, so people would quit asking me why I didn’t want to go to parties. He’s currently deployed in Afghanistan, because I know nothing about Afghanistan, and neither does anyone I work with.
Which is why my concerned, caring coworkers, especially Nancy, the matchmaker from hell with a dozen cousins-in-law, badgered me into joining our Military Support group, Friends and Family. But of course that means I get time off to volunteer for every event Friends and Family sponsors, and let me tell you, Friends and Family is an active organization. So now instead of ignoring everyone and getting to stay home playing online games I end up working things like this Christmas party for returning GIs.
Which, in truth, is why I was currently chipping a gallon of vanilla ice cream into a huge bowl more than half full of ginger ale, watching the rising tide of escaping sugar-based lava implode, and generally wishing I could just go hide in the ladies room and cry.
“Need a hand?” The voice was deep, male, and incredibly sexy.
I blinked, startled I’d let a guy get that close to me without hearing him coming. But of course that wasn’t really a surprise. He was, after all, military. It was a military party. Or at least lots of vets were invited.
I turned to face Mr. Sexy Voice and stopped, mentally forcing my mouth not to hang open mid comment, because perhaps for the first time in recorded history I was truly speechless. All I could do was stare in awe at that bundle of camo clad muscle. Who had just spoken to me, Cherie-the-gamer-geek. The woman men never even noticed.
Pull it together, Cherie. Say something. “Ahh…” Yeah, I know. Pretty unimpressive. “Need something,” I managed to add. “Time travel would be good. Needed to get here ten minutes earlier, before someone decided to help.”
“Einstein had some interesting theories on time travel, but even if we put our heads together I don’t think we can get that done before the ice cream melts. What if we dump the ice into the cooler, pour the ginger ale into the ice bucket, and start over?”
I was still back on the part where he knew about Einstein’s theories on time travel. Muscles like that and a geek? No way.
I forced myself to look at the mess in front of me and rally my wits a bit. “Better idea than anything I’ve come up with.” And perfectly logical — except I couldn’t have picked up that punch bowl and poured its contents into anything.
Not that I’m a tiny, wimpy little thing. I’m kinda average height and a bit over average weight, though the red velvet dress was all about making that work for me, flaunting the curves. What I had of them. I’m not real busty, but I’ve got hips. And I do make a living picking up computers and printers and monitors and whatnot. So I have some muscle myself. Not like that, though.
What I did not have was height. That punch bowl… I’d end up wearing more of the punch than ever made it back into that bowl.
My savior dumped the loose ice into the oversized Coleman drink cooler and handed me the now empty blue plastic bucket. “Get a good grip on this so it doesn’t make us chase it across the table.”
I clamped the bucket down tight and watched my designated hero’s biceps bulge as he picked up the punch bowl. I’m no featherweight, but the bowl itself must weigh close to thirty pounds. My rescuer poured the ginger ale in slow and steady, not losing a drop. He made the whole thing look easy.
And no wonder. He was tall and meaty, not a steroid junkie, but the kind of guy who’d earned his muscles, and doesn’t see the need to show off. Handsome enough, too, in that charming farm-boy in uniform sort of way.
I’d always liked guys in uniform. That’s why my imaginary lover was in Afghanistan. Not that I’d wish Afghanistan on anyone. But I needed a reason for him to be far, far away — and not escorting me to parties and events and whatnot.
I smiled a little as my rescuer reset the whole project with an economy of movement, squeezing the gallon ice cream bucket to make the big lump land neatly in the middle of the now empty punch bowl and pouring the ginger ale back in slowly, letting it do its thing. And just like that, my world was back to rights.
And all from a guy who talked about Einstein and time travel. I could fall in love.
Or at least some serious lust.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
I laughed at that, happy enough not to tell him I was wondering if he could bench press me. Instead I back pedaled just a little, picking up the train of thought I’d been headed down before he showed up. “I’m kind of embarrassed to say. Totally geeky.”
His face lit up with a smile that was both a boyish grin and, at that same time, all man. “Yeah? Tell me anyway.”
“Err, well, this concoction looks like something my warlock would cook up. Except my warlock’s been getting his ass handed to him, and I was thinking he needs better gear, which means I’m going to have to go farm a metric crap ton load of cloth, and that means I’ve got to start him over as a tailor.”
There. If that didn’t put him off, I’d marry the man.
He frowned a little, as if actually considering the merit of the argument I’d been having with myself. “Well, tailors are great money makers. Everyone always needs bigger bags. What’s he specked in now, though?”
I felt myself blushing. I never blush. “Engineering. All my ‘toons are engineers. I like to blow things up.” Oh, shit. So what you did not say to a guy who’d likely just come back from places where real people blew real things up… If I could have duct taped my mouth shut, I would have, but words kept pouring out. “Not in real life or anything. I just like — I’m making this worse, aren’t I? Shutting up now.”
He laughed at that. A warm, happy sound. “Don’t re-spec. You just need a partner. Someone with a skill for keeping feisty little Warlocks alive.”
I had died, and gone to gamer-geek heaven.