Days of Auld Lang Syne, Episode 11
By Caroline Lee
She’d been stood up a few times on dates over the last couple of years, but this one hurt the most. Joanne had been counting on this… but here she was, sitting in their usual back corner booth at BLVD, and her phone had just vibrated.
Sorry hon. Not going to make it. YOU GOT THIS!
She was really, really tempted to text something rude back to her best friend. How dareLara bail when she so desperately needed her support? Only the knowledge that she’d pushed her friend into tonight stayed her hand.
Lara must’ve been waiting for a response, because when she didn’t get one, Joanne’s phone vibrated again. Jo? It’s going to be OK. I know UR freakin out, but you look hawt, and Shawn is going to love you.
He already did love her, according to that super-awkward conversation from this afternoon. How in the heck was she supposed to know what to believe anymore? Not least of all about her bestie. How do you know how I look? Her fingers shook so hard—in anger, or sheer terror of facing Shawn alone?—that it took three tries to spell “know” correctly.
I knew you were there! Joanne could hear Lara’s triumphant smirk in the words. You always look hawt, esp when you do that messy bun. You wearin the little blue dress?They’d gone shopping for New Year’s Eve together, but Lara knew Joanne well enough to know that she’d wear it early.
Good. Order a drink and think sexily.
Think sexily? That was her only advice? Joanne groaned, and dropped the phone screen-down on the sticky table, hoping she didn’t have to deal with any more well-intentioned suggestions from Lara. She was gathering up her purse and scarf to escape when she saw him, pushing his way through the crowds with two drinks in hand.
Shawn stopped by the booth, and dios mio, did he look fine. The same thick coat from earlier, unbuttoned inside, and he must’ve stashed a hat someplace, because his hair was wonderfully tousled. More than anything, Joanne wanted to run her fingers through it… and judging from the wicked sparkle in his eye, he knew it.
“Your friend isn’t here yet?”
“No.” Joanne scowled. “She bailed.”
“Good.” His smile was wicked too, but she couldn’t help smiling back at his good humor. Shawn slid into the booth across from her, and passed her one of the drinks, which she grabbed, grateful for some way to occupy her hands. “Just us then.”
“How was your Christmas?” Joanne almost winced at the way she blurted out the question, knowing that it sounded desperate and awkward. But she was awkward, and desperate for any conversation that wasn’t about his earlier confession.
“It was nice, thanks. Low-key. I hung out with my Mom and sister and her boyfriend. How about yours?”
The genuine warmth in his maple eyes told her that he wasn’t just making small talk, and Joanne felt herself relaxing. “Good.” She chuckled a bit. “Loud. The opposite of ‘low-key’, I guess.”
“Your family visited?”
“Yeah, and you know Puerto Ricans. Get a houseful of us together, and everyone has to talk louder to be heard over anyone else. It was hectic.”
“It sounds wonderful.”
They smiled at each other, and it seemed to open the gates to all the discussions they’d missed. Questions about what they’d been doing over the last years mixed with updates on old classmates and mutual friends. Shawn told her all about his new business and the traveling he’d done during college, and Joanne explained how she’d been able to earn money from her fashion blogging.
It was just like old times. She was perfectly at ease with him, loving the fact that he didn’t intimidate her the way other men sometimes did. In fact, two hours and another drink went by before she realized it.
But all good things must end, and when he checked his watch around eleven, he abruptly straightened. “I’m sorry, Jojo, but I have to cut this short. I have a project due in the morning.”
She smiled, refusing to be awkward again. “That’s okay. I’ve gotta get home too.”
“Can I…” His gaze flitted to the bar, and then the ceiling, and then the table, and that’s when Joanne realized he was hesitating. Mr. Sexy himself was awkward? Around her? “Do you have plans for New Year’s Eve?”
“Yes.” She was watching movies with Novia and Yana and eating popcorn. But when his face fell, she hurried to assure him, reveling in this new role as the not-awkward one. “But nothing that can’t be changed.”
“Would you… would you like to spend the night with me? I mean—” Those gorgeous maple eyes went wide. “I mean, spend the evening. New Years. The evening of New Year’s Eve… with me?”
Joanne smiled. “Yeah. I think I’d like that.”
By Anne Lange
Shawn rolled his shoulders, checked the time, and did a few neck rolls. Cold was beginning to seep beneath his coat.
He’d been standing outside Joanne’s door for ten minutes. He’d contemplated giving her a call more than once since he’d stammered out that invitation the other night. But every time he dialed her number and was about to hit send, a sixth sense warned him that if given the opportunity, she’d bail on him like her best friend and bailed on her that night.
And he wasn’t taking any chances. Not this time.
After he’d asked her out, and she’d actually said yes, he’d been racking his brain trying to come up with the perfect way to spend the evening. He’d searched out a few of the big parties in town, considering this was the night he’d wine and dine her in style. But tickets were, of course, sold out at all of the popular spots.
He’d considered taking her down to Times Square where they could watch the ball drop with the rest of the world. But the thought of spending a private, intimate moment with the woman he loved most and thousands upon thousands of other people, didn’t ring his bell.
He needed something better. Something meaningful. A place where she’d hear him when he repeated the words that mattered most. And hoped she’d be willing to say them back to him this time.
Shawn raised his hand and pressed the buzzer. And then he waited. When she didn’t answer, he tried again.
It was muffled, but it was her. He smiled as his excitement built. There was a hum in the air. A current of electricity that if you were brave enough you could harness it and take advantage of it. Shawn planned to use every special trick in the book tonight. He’d walked away from her once, never telling her how he really felt about her. He’d tried a second time, but she hadn’t believed him.
Third time was a charm.
The door opened and there she stood, looking a little flustered as she smoothed her dress over her hips and juggled her coat in one arm.
“Wow, you do dress to impress,” he said. She looked beautiful. And amazing. And he loved this woman.
Shawn completed a very slow tour of her body, starting at the top of her sexy mass of curls that she’d thankfully left loose tonight, gliding over the same blue dress she’d had on the other night at the bar, and ending at a stunning pair of silver shoes that complemented the dress perfectly. They gave her a few extra inches of height that if he leaned in just so, she’d be at the right spot to meet, and match, his kiss.
Then he backtracked because the view was worth a second look.
A current worked its way through his body, but he saw her shiver.
“You look absolutely stunning, Jojo.” He cleared his throat, dislodging the frog that suddenly roosted there.
Joanne blinked back at him. She gave him a scorching look and he imagined steam rising off her naked her body as he drizzled Champaign down the column of her throat and watched it flow over her breasts to roll harmlessly into the hot bathwater they soaked in.
Fuck. He needed a cold dip in the snow or a nice big California King. The King sounded really good right now.
“Um. Thank you. You look nice, too.” She cocked her head. “Though I’m feeling a little overdressed.”
He could fix that problem. He shook his head to get his bearings and to escape the mental soak he currently engaged in. “Ah, maybe. You might be cold in that.”
“Where are we going?”
This was one of the most important nights of the year. A night to put the past behind and start over. Which was exactly what Shawn had in mind. And what better place to do that than to spend the evening at the same place they’d started this new journey.
“I thought we’d go to Rockefeller Center.”
By C.A. Szarek
Joanne stared for a second, then looked down at her dress. “I don’t ice skate,” she blurted, then averted her gaze from his beautiful dark eyes when awkwardness hit her smack in the chest, making her bob in her silver Louboutins.
Then she cursed at herself. Where was the comfort, the normal ease of the way he’d made her feel the other night? Get over yourself and get it together. You’re fine…with him.
Shawn laughed and the warmth of it washed over her, helped her to breathe. And relax.
“There’s more there than ice skating.” He extended a hand.
“Who’s at the door?” Someone called. Either Yana or Novia, from the young tone, but Joanne’s brain was too fried to distinguish it.
Crap. She hadn’t even invited him in, but didn’t want to either. Like a hundred of her meddling family was holed up at her place. Okay, so she was exaggerating, but still. They always poked their noses where it didn’t belong, and this…thing…with Shawn was too new.
“Umm, lemme grab my coat,” Joanne muttered, ignoring her little cousin. As if they didn’t know, anyway. Both girls had spent the previous several hours lounging on her bed as she’d gotten ready, yammering on about hot guys and basically planning their weddings—amongst the occasional dressing or dating tip. And, oh, her wedding, too. With Shawn, who’d been dubbed, “the hot guy from ice skating.”
To Shawn’s credit, he only nodded. Didn’t bat an eye at her lack of manners. He helped her into her puffy jacket that didn’t really go with her outfit, and was therefore against her fashion sense, but it was warm, and if he wanted to go to Rockefeller Center, she’d need to be warm first.
Joanne pulled the apartment door closed. “Sorry.” She winced. “My family is…overbearing.”
His smile made her heart beat faster. “It’s okay. I get it. It’s only our second date. Third if you count Starbucks.” Shawn winked.
She stilled. Date? It is, isn’t it?
Glancing up at him resulted in their gazes colliding and locking.
Shawn hadn’t told her he loved her again, but it was there, in those lovely maple eyes, every time he looked at her.
Am I okay with that?
Joanne had been thinking about those words—okay, obsessing—since he’d told her that day in the park. She’d examined the feelings she’d had for him five years ago. Were they still there? Was her crush just a crush or more?
More, of course. She’d always been a glutton for punishment. But in this case, did it have to go that way? The guy had said he loved her. If she didn’t actually love him—attaching the actual word made her want to fidget in her Louies—it was damn close to that.
Always had been.
She gulped. Sucked in a breath when he released her gaze only to entwine their fingers and lean down.
Shawn brushed his mouth against hers. He’d pulled away before she could process the much-too-short kiss.
“I’ve been wanting to do that since you opened the door.”
Joanne swallowed. “I’m okay with that.” And she was. But, she wanted more than just the surface lip-lock. Like he’d kissed her in the park.
She’d been obsessing about that, too.
He flashed those dimples. “I’m glad.”
“Do you want to do it again?”
Shawn paused, cocking his head to one side. Like he didn’t believe he’d heard her right. “Well, yes. Jojo, I thought I made it clear, I want you. I love you.”
There it was again. Those words that made her whole form flush hot.
She gathered all the courage she could and held it tight.
Joanne grinned and grabbed the collar of his tailored coat. At least her old friend-turned-new man had impeccable taste. “Then kiss me.” She didn’t care that she was in the hallway right outside her apartment. She should, because she did have a peephole, but if her family was that nosy, they’d just get a show.
He didn’t hesitate to pull her to him, and she went, wrapping her arms around him and meeting his mouth when Shawn dipped down to her again.
She opened for him, and desire—not fear at his closeness—spread slowly downward, warming her belly, her sex, her whole body. Shawn delved deeper and she met his seeking tongue with her own.
The kiss went on forever, their tongues dancing, dueling, fighting for the lead, but Joanne wasn’t bothered when Shawn won the battle.
Their bodies were melded, hips to hips, breasts to chest, but their stupid coats were in the way. They panted against each other, and she was overheated. Overdressed, too.
Joanne hadn’t been with a man since before the attack, but she wasn’t scared to take the next step—as long as Shawn was on board. As long as it was with him. Only him.
He broke the seal of mouths and rested his forehead against hers. “I don’t want to go to Rockefeller Center.”
“Oh?” Joanne whispered, but a thrill raced over her body. Through his dress pants, she could feel his erection; it was tucked neatly against her. A tremor shot down her spine, but it wasn’t dread—it was desire.
“I want to take you to my place. We can grab some champagne and watch the ball drop. On TV, instead of out in the cold. Would you be up for that?” The look in his brown eyes was a mix of hope and desire.
And love. So much love.
Her pulse pounded in her temples, but anticipation dominated her body.
Joanne would have to tell him what had happened last year before they went to bed. She didn’t think she’d freeze in his arms, but maybe the heads up would help them both.
“I mean, I don’t expect…I just want you. I mean, to spend the evening with you.” His cheeks went pink and for a second he was that hot, but geeky, guy from high school again. Shawn shifted in his shoes, staring her down.
“I do. Expect more of what we just started. A lot more. As long as we go slow.” She’d tell him why when they got to his place.
His gorgeous eyes went wide, but he nodded. Shawn got down on one knee and grabbed her hand.
He grinned, his composure obviously back. Shawn was still adorable though. “Relax, I’m not proposing.” His dimples made her return his grin.
“Jojo, would you do me the honor of ringing in the New Year with me at my home? And maybe, we can make plans for the year. Significant plans. For us. Together.”
She beamed and squeezed his fingers. “I think I’d like that.”
Shawn shot to his feet and tugged her to him again. He kissed her as if the ball had already dropped.