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Affinity and Friends put the X Back in X-Mas

(She came) Upon a Christmas Eve

Del Robertson


Lacey shivered. Despite having closed off the rest of the house and regulating her activities to the front room and adjoining kitchen only, she still felt chilled. She tucked her hands beneath the armpits of her shirt and cast a sidelong glance at the furnace. 

That’s going to be the first thing to go. Nothing good can ever come from turning on gas and then lighting a match. 

Lacey had gone through no fewer than nine matches in her attempt to light the furnace. I’m positive I singed my eyelashes off, she thought as she reached a hand to her face, fingers stroking across a blonde eyebrow as if to reassure herself that it was still there. 

She’d immediately retreated across the room and hadn’t gone near the thing since. She glared at the heater, as if daring it to go out. Blue and red flames dancing behind the ceramic tiles and the occasional hiss and pop confirmed that it was still working. The small black and white cat curled up, contentedly dozing on the floor in front of it was proof that the furnace was throwing off some heat. 

Lacey cautiously approached the furnace; still not entirely certain she trusted it. As she drew nearer, she began to feel warmer. She held out her fingers, holding them a safe distance from the metal slats. Heat suffused her digits. Warmth crept into her cheeks. 

Sniff. 

Is that gas? 

Sniff. 

Stop that. It’s all in your mind. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that heater.

Lacey paced a few more steps before stopping and sniffing again. Mr. Darby said he did a preventative maintenance on it. It’s perfectly safe. 

A sudden hiss and pop caused Lacey to jump and place a hand over her heart. She glared at the heater again. After a moment of glaring, she crossed the room to the closet by the front door and dragged one of the quilts down from the top shelf. Lacey adjusted the quilt about her shoulders, determined not to give the furnace another thought. Or sniff. 

She no sooner sat in her recliner than she heard the sound of heavy footsteps on the porch, followed by a forceful knock at the door. By the second knock, she was on her feet, tossing the quilt onto the chair. 

As soon as she opened the door, a battering ram in the form of a blue spruce pushed past her into the house. Two men stormed her living room, easily carrying the tree between them. They didn’t stop until they reached the center of the room. 

Speechless, Lacey stared at them from the open doorway.  

“Here okay?” one of them asked, peering out from between the branches. 

“Um—”

“Right there, guys,” said a deep voice from over Lacey’s shoulder.

Lacey turned to see another man standing behind her on the porch. Snow sprinkled his hair and covered the shoulders of his coveralls. Lou was embroidered on the nametag on his chest. He carried several cardboard boxes, the words ‘lights/decorations’ scrawled across the top one. 

“Hey, Lacey.” Lou squeezed past Lacey and into the house. “Hold on a sec.”

“Excuse me? Do I know you?” she asked, following him inside. 

Lou carried the boxes to the center of the room, placing them on the floor beside the spot where the other two men stood, balancing the tree between them. He worked quickly, dragging a plastic drop cloth out of the top box and spreading it out on the hardwood floor. Next, he pulled out a stand and set it up. The two men easily hefted the tree, turned it and maneuvered it into the stand. One of them held the blue spruce firmly in position while the other knelt down and helped Lou secure the tree in the stand. 

“What are you doing? You can’t just come in here and put up a tree.”  

Lou climbed out from beneath the tree. As he walked toward Lacey, he undid the zipper on the front of his coveralls and pulled out a clipboard with what appeared to be a thick stack of invoices attached. Lou pulled a pair of glasses from the inside pocket of his coveralls. Perching them on the edge of his nose, he read off the top sheet. 

“This 17 CR 281?” he asked. 

“Um, yes?” 

“Then, this says I can.” He tapped a thick finger against the invoice. He produced a pen, clicked it, and made an X on the paper. “Sign here.”

Lacey automatically took the pen. She stood staring at the invoice, with her name and address neatly scrawled in the Ship To: box. She firmly shook her head. 

“I didn’t order this.”

“Didn’t say you did.” Lou jerked his head. The other two men quickly scurried toward the door. “Just said I had authorization to deliver it. Sign here.” 

Lacey looked from the deliveryman to the tree and back again. 

“There’s been some mistake. I didn’t purchase a tree.”

“It’s already been paid for.” 

“But I don’t want it.” 

 “For crying out loud, lady.” Lou released a heated breath. “It’s Christmas Eve. I just wanna get done so I can get home to my kids.” 

“You’ve got children?” Lacey asked. “How about I give you twenty dollars and you can take the tree home to your family?”

Lou’s face scrunched up and he looked like she’d slapped him. 

“What do I want a tree for, lady? It’s Christmas Eve; you think I ain’t already got one?” He made a showing of looking all around the room. “You on the other hand…I don’t see any other trees here.”

“Because I don’t want a Christmas tree.”  

“Look, it was ordered. I delivered it.” Lou gripped Lacey’s hand, the one that was holding the pen and gave it a quick slash across the page. “You signed for it. It’s yours.” 

“I didn’t sign for anything. You jerked my hand, you…you jerk.”

Lou held the clipboard at an angle and looked at the invoice. 

“Looks like a signature to me. Believe me, I’ve seen worse.”

Before Lacey could utter another word, Lou had tucked the clipboard back inside his coveralls and pushed past her on his way to the door. Halfway there, he stopped and came back. He reached out, deftly plucked the pen from Lacey’s grasp before turning on his heel and leaving.  


†††


Leather and Lace

Syd Parker


Willow punched end on her phone and tossed it onto the bed with an exasperated sigh. That was the final call. The big bachelorette/New Year’s Eve party she had planned for her sister was quickly turning into just another fiasco like everything in her life. The Davis sisters had been blessed with gorgeous looks, including deep, crystal-blue eyes and good bone structure, but only one of them had been born lucky, and it wasn’t Willow. 

She jumped at the sound of the sliding glass door. She watched Skye stride toward her with long, fluid steps. 

“Hey, you look like you just lost your best friend.” Skye’s brow furrowed with concern. 

“Oh, only the same bad luck that has plagued me my entire life.” Willow pushed an errant strand of light brown hair behind her ear and flopped down on the bed, defeated. “All that planning and one fucking snow storm ruins the entire weekend.” 

“You couldn’t have guessed this was going to happen. No one predicted a giant snowstorm in Aspen. Honestly, snow in the mountains? Ridiculous! What were they thinking?” Skye’s teasing tone and the twinkle in her brown eyes was no match for Willow’s sour mood. In response to her smile, Skye joined her on the bed. “So that’s it? No one’s flight is leaving?” 

Willow shook her head. “Not tonight, anyway. Summer said that the airport might be doing limited flights tomorrow, but for now, everything is grounded.” 

†††

“What about everyone else?” Skye asked quietly, already knowing the answer. She could see the disappointment in Willow’s eyes, and her heart went out to her. Skye Martin had grown up with the Davis sisters and while she and Summer had always been inseparable, the last few months spent planning the bachelorette party and helping with wedding details had brought her closer to Willow. She could see the frustration and figured she needed to let Willow just vent. There was no fix for this situation, at least not until tomorrow morning. 

“Yes.” Willow’s dejected tone matched the full-on pout that had overtaken her face. “Emmy and Susan decided to wait until tomorrow to come down. They didn’t want to get caught on the road if the blizzard really hits. Summer and Ash’s flight got canceled. She’s not sure that they can even catch a flight out tomorrow. I guess it depends on the weather. I should have known better than to plan a party on New Year’s.” 

Skye clasped Willow’s hand in hers and squeezed it gently. “Fuck it! There’s no sense crying about it now. We’ve got the cabin. It hasn’t started storming yet. We might as well take advantage of the situation for now. Come on, let’s go skiing.” 

Willow looked askance at Skye, stopping short of rolling her eyes. “I don’t have anything with me to ski. Remember? This was supposed to be a party weekend.” 

Skye cocked her head and regarded Willow with a wry smile. “Are you always this much of a Debbie Downer?” 

†††

 “Shut up!” Willow hit Skye’s arm playfully. A smile was starting to form. She had never been able to stay mad at Skye. Her easy-going personality and subtle charm made anyone feel better. She met her friend’s brown eyes and groaned. “All right. However, I warn you; I am not a good skier like Summer.” 

“As long as you stay in front of me, we won’t have to worry about you falling and taking me out with you.” Skye jumped off the bed and pulled Willow up on her feet. She eyed her from head to toe. “Get ready. Your luck is about to change.” 

An unfamiliar shiver went down Willow’s spine. There was something in the lilt of Skye’s voice and the mischievous twinkle in her eye that sent chills through Willow’s body. “Why does that not sound promising?” 

Skye’s sexy chuckle filled the room. “Let go for once, Willow. Just put yourself in my hands and trust me, okay?” 

The okay hung in the air between them and Willow was forced to admit that she did just want to let go for once. She didn’t want to be the anal one. The planner. The one in the group who put everything together. No, today all she wanted was to let go and just be in the moment for once. “I trust you completely,” she said.


†††


White Christmas

Ruth Gogoll



“Damned crap!”

Why did this have to happen to me of all people: here, in this god-forsaken area—on Christmas Eve—in frost and snow? Did my car have to stop here of all places? 

I looked around; it was really an isolated spot. That something like this even still existed in Germany, was surprising. Normally, one drove through here and didn't even notice how secluded the area was.

Oh well. I sighed deeply and reached for my jacket in the back seat. Inside, the heater protected me from the cold, but outside the cold would jump on me like a wild beast. Better to be prepared. I threw another longing look at the warm interior, but it was useless. I had to go out into wild nature and find someone who could help me. I was no star as a car mechanic. I would have loved to curse without stopping, but that wouldn’t help me here in Neverland. Today of all days, I had forgotten to recharge my cell phone. The battery was dead, and the cell hung uselessly from my belt. Where in this wilderness would I find a telephone, or even a house? Once again, I let my gaze wander over the area. It didn't look as if the next house was right around the corner. Not even a light could be seen in the distance. The fairy tales were probably wrong when they claimed a flicker of light between the trees hinted at the presence of people.

I felt for the large flashlight that I kept under the seat for emergencies. The long metal tube in my fist gave me an additional secure feeling. It could be used as a weapon, as heavy as it was, in case that should be necessary.

Thus equipped, I left the car, locked it and looked back once again. There were hardly any location points in the street. I hoped I would be able to find the car again once I had moved away from it.

At first, I would stay on the street. The snow did indeed let the heavens glow, but nonetheless, the asphalt gleamed pitch black. I followed the dark snake that wound through the lightly powdered meadows. It took quite a while until a little green town sign turned up. With the car, it would have only taken a couple of minutes, warm minutes. Walking, the cold had eaten through my quilted jacket, and I was glad that there was finally a sign of settlement. A green sign, however, did not mean a village. Usually only single houses were marked like this. That's how it seemed here, too. Some distance from the street, I noticed what looked to be a glimmer of light. When I looked more closely, I discovered that a path went off from the street that would hopefully lead me to this house. However, nobody had used it since the snow had fallen; the surface of the white layer appeared unbroken. Only the unevenness distinguished it from the flat surroundings.

Perhaps there was nobody in the house at all. Should I try it? Well, it couldn't hurt. Another house was not in sight. Who knew how far I would have to walk to find the next one.

I destroyed the innocence of the virgin snow with every step. My feet didn't sink in very deep; however, they left a clear trail of pressed-down snow in my shoe size. I hoped that someone was at home, everything looked so deserted.

The glimmer of light that I thought I had seen could also come from a reflection of the half-moon on the light snow surface, or on a windowpane. From inside, in any case, nothing seemed to come out, no light, no sound. 

I wanted to turn around, but I decided to ring after all. It couldn't hurt anything, but I didn’t expect anything from it either. The house was very small, maybe there was a large building behind it where the people could have taken shelter.

As expected, nobody answered the doorbell. When I started to go back along the path that I had come, for some reason I turned around for one last look. I saw a movement at the window, like a curtain sliding back into place. So there was someone at home, but whom? Who would allow a person to stand freezing in front of the door in this weather without answering.

I went back toward the house. Maybe I would be lucky a second time. This time, I didn't ring, but rather knocked. 

“I need a telephone,” I said loudly enough that anyone could hear me inside. “I got stuck on my way on the country road. My cell phone isn’t working, could I telephone from your house?” No answer. “Or could you telephone for me and call a tow truck or something?” I could imagine that the darkness and the situation were not exactly conducive for trust. At least not trustworthy enough to let a perfect stranger into the house. 

My harmless question brought no success. I shrugged. As unpleasant as it was, I would have to try somewhere else. “Is it far to the next house?” I asked once more through the door. Again, I received no answer. Well, it really was not surprising out here on the pampas. I hoped the next inhabitants would be friendlier.

As my crunching steps took me away from the house, I heard a different sound behind me. The door opened and light fell on the path. 

“Can I call you a tow truck?” said a woman's voice. 

She could not be clearly identified in the light of the lamp that illuminated her hallway, medium length hair, a slim silhouette, and an unbelievable voice. As I turned around, I was thinking that I had never heard such a voice. Such an exotic voice. 

“Thanks,” I said and nodded. “That’s very nice of you.”

I remained standing where I was and waited, thinking that she would close the door again. It looked as if she was studying me, but I couldn’t see her eyes in the glare of the light. She stepped back and the thin strip of light on the path became even thinner, until it resembled the image of a blade of wheat. The yellow strip remained for a moment, then grew wider again. A finger, a strip, a rising sun...in the middle of the night.

“Come in,” she said with a seductive voice that at the same time sounded detached. “It is too cold to wait outside.”

“Thanks,” I repeated, and wondered at the same time why she had waited so long to open up. Were attacks so common out here that she felt threatened by every visit?  An image from the Wild West appeared before me. She, the owner of this house, as a fierce farmer's wife with a Winchester at the ready, as soon as she opened the door. I had to smile and shake my head. How did I get an idea like that? 

She had already turned around and left the door standing open. I followed her into the house and closed the door behind me. I saw her disappearing through a door, maybe the living room, where the telephone was. I waited.


†††


A Conditional Christmas Kiss

Kiki Archer



Chapter One

Dee leaned backward in her office chair and peeped into the neighboring work booth. “Come on Angie! It’s gone six. We’re the last ones here. It’s only us and old Dragon Face left in!” She nodded toward their boss’s closed office door.

Angie halted her typing, pleased for a break from the monotonous HTML formatting. “Don’t call her that!”

“Does she breathe fire when you’re shagging her?”

Angie grinned and pushed herself backward, looking at her friend with suspicion. “You’re just jealous.”

Dee smiled, “I must admit, she’s pretty lucky.”

“Not of her! Of me! I’m going to shag my way to the top of this company and be CEO in no time.”

Dee stood up and started to pack her work bag. “Does this company even have a CEO? I’m being serious now, Angie. That’s the last thing you need to do. You’re brilliant as you are. It takes me three times as long as you to design a webpage.”She shoved the last of her files under her arm. “Dragon Face always sends my stuff back with heaps of changes needed. Look at everything I have to take home with me!”

“Maybe you should just flash her your tits.” Angie grinned and pulled herself back into the workstation. “It seems to be working for me.”

“Come on, let’s grab some dinner and plot her downfall.”

Angie waved her off dismissively. “I can’t tonight. Sorry.”

“Oh come on. We could go to that new pub down the road. The food is said to be amazing.”

Angie shook her head, “You’re on your own.” She pointed to her boss’s door. “She is my ticket to the top.”

Dee paused. “Angie, we work on level five of a twelve story building. All of the levels above us are different companies. We’re hardly in the FTSE 100.” She paused as she zipped up her bag. “And anyway, you could do so much better than her.”

Angie stopped her typing once again. “Oh yeah, like who?”

“Me?”

Angie laughed and immediately returned her fingers to the keyboard. “Yeah, in my dreams! We’d be like beauty and the butch! Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dee, but there’s really no need to humor me.” 

She stopped for a second and scrutinized the piece of code on her computer screen. “Anyway, I thought Curvy Carla from pod four was after you? You should totally date her. She’s gorgeous!”

Dee tapped the carpeted wall that separated their two workstations. “I might just have to do that, Angie.”

“Let me know how it goes then.”

Dee smiled as she walked through the open office toward the foyer. “As long as you promise to keep your exploits to yourself!”

“You know you love the juicy details,” shouted Angie.

“Trust me, I don’t,” whispered Dee to herself.


†††


Elevate the Spirit

JM Dragon and Irish Eyes


“I’m only going to say this once. Get out of my office, now, while you still have a job.”  

Kaitlyn cringed, “I was only...”

“Out or you’re getting your last paycheck this month.”

“I quit. I’ll be back for my severance in the New Year.” 

Kaitlyn moved to the door.

“Good.”

Kaitlyn left her boss, Melinda Arrowroot’s office and headed for her desk a few yards away. She waved at Pauly Briton as he waved vigorously in her direction.

“Merry Christmas, Kait,” Pauly shouted.

“Merry Christmas to you too, Pauly.” She said, smiling. “Don’t drink too many eggnogs at your gram’s house.” She watched as he giggled then shuffled toward the elevator. She hadn’t expected to smile again so soon after her last conversation. Yet Pauly, as always, managed the impossible. He was what the authorities called mentally deficient. She preferred to call him lucky. He didn’t have to listen to the bullshit she had listened to for the past ten minutes. 

The distinct ping of the elevator doors sliding open distracted her for a second as Pauly shrilled out a farewell. Before she could reply, the doors shut and took him on his way home. 

†††

Kaitlyn glanced at the clock. “Almost six-thirty on Christmas Eve. Who the hell works at this hour on a magical night like this?” She rolled her eyes, “Yeah right. I do, or did.” With a heavy sigh, she meticulously cleared her desk and shutdown her computer. She didn’t want that bitch to stop any dues owed to her.  

Narrowing her gaze, she shifted to the light coming through the frosted glass door that she’d firmly shut earlier. She tried to think of something more positive. Like the two offers she’d had for drinks tonight.  

“If I’m lucky, I’ll still have time to party at the apartment complex’s Christmas Eve party.” She said as she smiled, thinking about the last time she’d spent time with the other tenants of the building—Halloween. 

She glanced around feeling foolish for talking to herself. There was no one in the main office—not even the night cleaning crew was working tonight.  

In addition, the girls from the office had invited her to join them at the Yellow Rooster pub across the street for a wine or two. She’d thought about it, but by now, she suspected they were either drunk, moved onto another venue, or gone home. 

I’m tempted though, she thought. Maybe Ginny Rogers was still there and I might get to cop a feel of her magnificent boobs. A shiver ran down her spine as she wondered what the weight of those glorious globes would be like in her hands. And the perky nipples she’d seen through the skimpy t-shirts that Ginny wore on dress down Friday once a month. The thought made her salivate. 

Kaitlyn shook her head, attempting to restrain her thoughts. However, they didn’t climb very far out of the gutter as she contemplated another of the girls in the office, Chris Latimer. Chris was drop dead gorgeous, with attributes that made anyone who looked at her melt. Model figure, Monroe hair, and a pert ass that Kaitlyn had been tempted to slap playfully on more than one occasion. Kaitlyn crossed her legs as the images caused her libido to salivate in more than one place. 

Kaitlyn picked up her purse and scowled at the closed door, mouthing, Scrooge. 

She headed for the elevator and pressed the green button marked parking lot. Waiting, she watched the lights flicker through the numbers as it raced toward the top office level. 

Her mind wandered to last year at this time. Daffy was still in her life then and she had been a great reason to go home early, whenever Arrowroot allowed her to. 

Her body pulsed as she recalled opening the apartment door twelve months ago, to find Daffy dressed in...well, she wasn’t. Fresh from a shower, Daffy had welcomed her home with a hug that rapidly had her in ecstasy in minutes. She closed her eyes as the images of pink flesh and the erotic musky aroma of Daffy’s flesh overtook her. 

God, even now all I can think of is how good she was to fuck. I swear she had more arms than an octopus, she certainly could play my body like a fiddle, she thought. 

There wasn’t as big a draw at home now, the place cold and empty, and she hated being alone at Christmas. Any other time of the year was okay but not Christmas—it was too magical. Sometimes she wished her life back the way it had been, except she wasn’t anyone’s sucker. Not even if Daffy had been the best fuck she’d ever experienced. 

Her thoughts traveled to two months ago when she’d arrived home early, unexpectedly, and found Daffy in their bed with the next-door neighbor. A college graduate named Suki. Who the hell named a child Suki for god’s sake? 

Why was I so gullible? She wasn’t only screwing me but everyone in the neighborhood that was under thirty. Her personal life was now in the toilet after that betrayal. She threw Daffy out that night, but life sometimes tossed a curve ball and Daffy moved in with good old Suki. 

Of course, it meant moving, because Daffy sure wouldn’t move away. The move had been a good call, the new apartment building held no one under sixty, except for her. If she decided to try a relationship again, there might be a chance it wouldn’t end in the same kind of disaster. 

She was glad when a new thought intruded, changing a subject that she didn’t need to dwell on. Maybe she had overreacted with Arrowroot…by quitting. Nope I made the right decision, she told herself. Arrowroot didn’t have a life outside of work; Kaitlyn swore she lived and breathed the statistics she raved about all the time.

A bleep caught her attention as the door to the elevator opened. She stepped inside and pressed the button for parking lot. Work was done and now she had not just a week of freedom, but potentially months hunting for a new job. 

“Hold that door.”

Kaitlyn automatically pushed the hold button. Then mentally berated herself when Arrowroot entered the steel box. 

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” 

Kaitlyn moved as far away as she could from the woman. The steel against her back became a welcoming relief from the emotions she felt at this intrusion. What did I ever do to deserve this super bitch in my life? Thank God it’s almost over.


†††


The Promise

Stein Willard 


Outside the fury of the blizzard tore the night asunder. The windows creaked softly under the relentless force of heavy snow. 

The room was warm, and smelled faintly of wood smoke. Sprawled in a chair before the fireplace, Countess Phillipa Croft swung a half empty goblet of wine in her hand. Who would’ve thought that she’d be alone on Christmas Eve?  She was never alone unless she wanted it that way. Bored, she looked around the luxurious hall. The servants had done a great job trying to make her self-imposed house detention as pleasant as possible. The fire, although a necessity, was a nice touch. It added to the spirit of the season. The plate with an assortment of dusted cakes was another sign that the staff wanted to make the next three days as pleasurable as possible for her.

Downing the remainder of the wine, the tall Countess pushed to her feet and made the short walk over to where the brandy decanter stood on small table. Pouring three fingers of the amber liquid in a snifter, she rolled the liquid, admiring the colour.  Phil, as her close friends called her, loved the finer things in life. The more expensive it was, the more alluring she found it. This hundred-year old brandy, brewed in a century old French monastery and stored deep in the earth beneath it, was the finest of its kind. She lifted the glass to her nose and sniffed. There was only one other aroma that could rival that of this fine brandy. She quickly shook her head. She was not going to go there. A wager lost, was not what she hoped to achieve. As the only remaining member and heir to the Croft fortune, it was her duty to uphold and protect the Croft legacy. Besides, she was not keen on losing a barrel of her exquisite brandy to her friends. 

There was a soft knock, and after her curt invitation, the door opened. The petite maid looked uncomfortable, her eyes averted. Phil almost smiled at the woman’s bearing. Sweet, little Salome was terrified of her. The servants knew not to gossip about her and the happenings in the Croft mansion, but she had no control whatsoever over them gossiping about her amongst themselves. Salome’s fear of her stemmed from just such gossip. The young girl undoubtedly knew about the lady of the house’s unnatural lust. 

Amused, Phil grinned. 

How could she fault the young virgin’s fear if it was justified? The whole country knew about her proclivities. She’d even heard rumours about her eyes. No woman who wanted to protect her sanity and or her maidenhood should dare make eye contact with her. Apparently, one look into Lady Phillipa Croft’s midnight black eyes was enough to bewitch a woman. Phil’s eyes lazily trailed over the petite form of the girl. She was old enough and her body ripe for pleasure. To be honest, Phil had been keeping her eyes on the young servant for a while, but had never made a move. Firstly, loyal servants were hard to come by nowadays and secondly, Salome was the cook’s daughter and good cooks were even harder to find. 

Phil took a sip from her glass. She noticed that her continued silence unnerved the girl, if the slight tremor in her small hands were anything to go by. She took pity on the girl. 

“Can I help you, Salome?” She kept her tone soft and non-threatening.

“Y…Yes, milady,” Salome mumbled and lifted her head slightly. She kept her eyes chest level, avoiding Phil’s eyes. “She’s back again, milady.”

A soft sigh escaped Phil’s lips as her face pulled into a frown. What was wrong with the woman? No being with common sense would venture out in this storm. Was she trying to catch her death? Phil drained her glass and set it down.

“Where?”

“She’s outside, milady. When the coachman invited her in, she refused.” 

Phil pushed her hands through her short dark hair. “She’s outside?! In this weather? Stubborn woman!”  Phil threw her hands in the air. “Tell Simon I want him to bring her in. He should use force if need be.” This was a big mistake and Phil knew it. But she couldn’t let the woman catch pneumonia and die on her doorstep.

Salome curtsied quickly and left. With long purposeful strides, Phil walked back to the table and grabbed the brandy decanter by the neck. After a long swig of the burning liquid, she walked over to the window. She recognized the slender form of Lady Justine Duncan. Even as Phil looked on, a gust of wind almost lifted the smaller woman off her feet, pushing her back a few steps. Phil uttered a curse. She hated when this happened. Having had many, many paramours over the years, she rarely had been with any of them twice. They all understood the rules of their liaison. It was mutually beneficial and only lasted until Phil was too drained to move anymore. 

Afterwards, the chambermaid discreetly led them from the bedroom, put them in the coach, and Simon took them wherever they wanted to go.

Her face hardened as she watched Simon try to gently coax the resisting woman into the house. Justine wasn’t the first one who tried to extend a liaison. The others, she had rudely shown away. She’d considered doing the same with Justine, but for some reason, couldn’t bring herself to do it. The woman always came back only to stand in the very spot she was in, looking up at the windows, hoping for a glimpse of Phil.

Phil wished she could regret the day two months ago when she’d first laid eyes on the young widow. But she couldn’t. With Justine, she’d probably had the best sex ever. Marriage to an old, impotent Earl could starve a woman and the shy widow wasn’t afraid to try new things. The attraction was mutual when they’d met at Her Ladyship, the Duchess of Compton’s Annual Picnic.  

The petite blonde with the vibrant blue eyes was new to the social scene. The city was an ideal place for a young widow like Justine to find a new husband. Titled, young, beautiful and rich, Justine could have her pick of willing candidates. As expected at gatherings such as this picnic, the city’s most eligible bachelors quickly found and surrounded the young woman. However, the blonde’s eyes had followed Phil everywhere that day. 

By the time the picnic crowd began to thin, Phil was near crazy with lust for the beautiful blonde. She had kept her eyes on the blonde as a young, handsome lord monopolized her attention. Sizing up the young man, she’d noticed that his tight britches showed no impression of his masculinity. She, on the other hand, had proudly shown off her newest toy from India. Dressed in tight male britches, she’d been aware of the many female eyes eagerly caressing her crotch throughout the day. The matronly partakers had scowled at her scandalised outfit, as well as the tell-tale bulge, but she ignored them all. The esteemed Duchess was her aunt. If anyone had dared to make a fuss over her, Phil knew that her mother’s sister wouldn’t have hesitated to throw them out and ban them from future social gatherings.


†††



I’m Maggie Gale, these days I’m a private detective, but this story is about a case I investigated when I was on the Fenchester Police Force, several years ago, around Christmas time.

The Limelight

Liz Bradbury


As I worked my way down a rabbit warren of halls to find the Technical Services Department of Irwin College, I was distracted by a picture of a beautiful woman. 

“Wow,” I whispered to the poster. Below the image I read, Poetry Reading, December  21st. Today was the 21st. 

I mentally filed it under: You really should get out more. Which is where most of my good intentions go to die. I walked on. After all, I was on duty. 

In a windowless workroom crammed with electronic gadgets, I explained to Cam Lawrence, Irwin College’s geeky Director of Tech Services, that I was there to investigate the equipment thefts. 

“We just found the discrepancies yesterday,” drawled Lawrence, lifting a stack of spreadsheets from his desk. “Here’s a list of what was, uh, stolen over the past two years. We put this together yesterday.” 

I scanned it noting the bottom line. The replacement value could have put ten new cops on the streets of Fenchester for a year. 

“I have some work study students you should talk to, they’re really the ones who, uh, uncovered the losses,” he added.

This was surprisingly frank. A circus parade of inventory had marched out of town right under Lawrence’s nose and he hadn’t even caught a whiff of the peanuts. It was the students who had blown the whistle. 

†††

“We come in at eight and each grab a handful of these green or pink slips. Then we go around all day setting up equipment or bringing it back here,” said Oren Baylor, a college version of Beaver Cleaver. 

“And when we started the inventory yesterday afternoon, like, half the list was gone,” continued Tim MacGonigal, a tall, lanky kid with sandy hair. 

“Somebody must have been grabbing some of the slips. They’d go pick up the stuff and just carry it off. The thieves must have had keys.” Tim had emphasized thieves like a Hardy boy, hot on the trail of a shifty suspect. 

“The only record was the pink slip? What about the green set-up slips, what happened to those?” I asked as I took notes. 

“The green slips are missing too,” said MacGonigal. 

“And...there was a theft the day before yesterday?” I asked, flipping back over some briefing notes. They both nodded. “Who reported it?” 

“Some English teacher,” said Baylor. “That’s when Mr. Lawrence decided to do inventory. He’s telling everyone that it’s the end of the year inventory, like we do it every year, but it’s been like, I don’t know...decades since anybody’s done it.” 

Baylor started describing pieces of missing equipment. I stopped him with, “Any ideas who’s doing this?” 

He hesitated, then shook his head, “I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t want to get anybody in trouble. It’s not like I know anything,” He even had the Beaver whine down. 

I didn't have time to wheedle the information out of him so I said sharply, “Withholding information from the police is breaking the law, we could continue talking about this down at the station...” That’s me, good cop/bad cop, the economy version. 

Oren Baylor stared at me open mouthed, then said after some thought, “I really don’t know anything, it’s just...I can’t see how anybody could do this unless they’d worked here. I don’t mean Tim or anything like that. Um...I have a final...I gotta go soon.” 

Baylor was right, the thief had to know the department’s routine. “Who else has worked here in the last few years?” I asked them. 

Baylor piped up, “Just one guy I know, Gary Argon. He quit a few months before he graduated, last year.” 

“I don’t want to get anybody into trouble, either...” balked MacGonigal when I turned to him. 

I sighed, “Look Tim, don’t you think a person stealing a bus load of equipment should get into trouble? Your tuition dollars paid for that loot.” 

He nodded, then shrugged, “Um, like Oren said, Gary was here last year, and since then we’ve heard that people have seen a ton of AV equipment at his parent’s house.” He nodded at Oren for confirmation. 

Oren nodded back, saying, “And Gary had a big argument with Mr. Lawrence.” 

I made a note to track down Argon after I spoke to the professor who’d reported the recent theft. 

†††

“Professor Pearson?” I asked the woman erasing the chalkboard. 

“Oh!” she said turning, “I didn’t hear you come in.” 

She paused. Her eyes darted over me for an instant then rested on the badge I held up. She nodded. “Campus Security told me you were coming over. I’m so sorry. I can’t speak with you for very long. I have a student conference in about five minutes. Grades. Always stressful for students at the end of the semester, and so near the holidays.” 

Yipe! This was the poetry poster woman! Geez, what a hottie. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a pretty face. And her body was magnificent. Not skinny like snap-in-two straight girls, she was full and womanly. Zoftig, like a Reubens painting. The type to turn heads. Certainly lesbian heads, mine for example. I nearly tripped over a box of books reaching for her extended hand. 

“I’m Lieutenant Maggie Gale, Fenchester Police," I said, shifting from fluster to business. I covered by looking at my notes. “You called in the theft? What happened?” 

Her hazel eyes flashed with amusement as she brushed a strand of shoulder length blond hair behind her ear. “You’re a Lieutenant? And you’re investigating a theft?”

I exhaled, “Just a favor I’m doing. So many of the other investigators are already off for the holidays.” 

“And you like the investigations? You do, don’t you?” she smiled. 

When I smiled back, she went on, “Well, I’m not sure I have that much to tell. Two days ago, I did a final using a power point projector and then I realized I needed it for my next class. So I locked the classroom door and went to the office down the hall to call the tech department to arrange it, but he said there was no record of my having a projector. I didn’t know how to respond to that. He seemed adamant about it.” She paused recalling it with a wry smile, then went on, “I wasn’t sure whether to insist he was wrong or just shrug and use it during the next class. I finally suggested he send someone to pick it up at 3pm, adding that it had the words Irwin Tech Department painted plainly in white on its side. I even remembered the painted inventory number, 105. He seemed to believe me after that.” 

“You remembered the inventory number?” 

“I’m not Sherlock Holmes,” she laughed. “It happens to be the same number as this room.” 

“And you were talking on the phone to a student or...” 

“Oh, it was Cam Lawrence, the head of the department. I recognized his voice.” She was looking at me closely, her head tilted just a bit to the side. She said in a very different voice, “What beautiful eyes you have, I don’t know many women with green eyes.” 

I could feel my face flush. “Thank you, that’s a nice thing to say...um...then what happened...with the projector?” 

“I came back here, unlocked the door to the classroom and the projector was gone. I called the tech department back but they’d all gone to lunch, so I phoned campus security. Did I open a can of worms?” she asked curiously. 

“More like a bucket of snakes on speed...is there anything else?” I asked meeting her eyes. 

She shook her head then smiled. “Anything else would be guessing...I’d rather leave something out than give you the wrong impression. But...on a completely different subject...” 

She invited me to her poetry reading that night then glanced at her watch and apologized again for needing to leave. 

The space was far less interesting without her in it. 


†††


Elvish

Nat Burns


His voice wrapped around her like a cozy fleece blanket. Krista slid her bottom to the edge of the recliner so she could feel the weight of the midday sunlight on her bare thighs. The final, plaintive strains of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” washed across her then ended on a smooth, lingering note. She sighed. She so loved Elvis. Memorabilia from the high points of his career surrounded her, cluttering the living room of her small house trailer.

Now, if only she could find a living female version of him. Her life would be perfect.

She closed her eyes and allowed the memory of his voice to reverberate though her mind. The intense Florida sunlight scorched the tender flesh of her legs so she wiggled her toes in defiance. For a brief moment she imagined strong, hot hands on those thighs. But only for a moment. She was sworn off lovers, her broken heart still on the mend. The body had a mind of its own, however; and her body wanted what it wanted.

Traffic sounds from Highway 1, just a few blocks away, penetrated into the void left by Elvis’s departure. Krista sighed again. Time to go to work.

Rising, she strode purposefully into the bathroom, shaking her arms to cool them. December in Miami…not so good. Who ever heard of a ninety-degree Christmas? She longed for the frosty, crisp air of her native Massachusetts. Following that bitch, Molly, to Florida had been a bad, bad idea. But here she was and here she would stay until she came up with enough money to live on while she job-hunted up north.

Loose tendrils of bleached blonde hair tickled her neck as they moved in the slight breeze generated by the ceiling fan. She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Pale blue eyes looked back at her sleepily. The past few nights had been hot ones and her sleep had been restless. One could always add more clothing—a benefit of true winter—but in the deep southern humidity and heat of Florida, you could only get so naked.

She smiled ruefully at her reflection then stuck out her tongue. She hurriedly brushed her teeth and rolled on another layer of deodorant. She had donned a short-sleeved white blouse and a pair of bikini panties earlier but they were already damp, or maybe they had absorbed the moisture from her shower-damp skin and just hadn’t been able to dry out.

Back in the bedroom, Krista lifted the small forest green miniskirt with the furred hem and slipped it over her head. She buttoned the blouse and stepped into the green faux leather boots required by old man Craig. A short, green suede vest topped the shirt. After admiring herself in the bureau mirror, she loosened her hair, allowing it to billow around her shoulders. She would wait until she got to Craig’s department store before adding the green felt hat to her ensemble.

Grabbing up her keys, she locked the trailer and backed her battered Honda out of the concrete drive. The drive to work was pleasant with swaying palm trees bordering the highway on both sides and crystal blue ocean off to her right. Faded Christmas decorations framed many of the small storefronts and even the streetlights bore red and green flags that danced gaily in the ocean breezes and the heated thermals from the road below. After about twenty minutes of driving, she parked in the back lot and entered the coolness of the department store via the employee entrance.

Craig’s was an awesome store, like a Macy’s, but with a family feel. Old man Craig and his two sons had been running the business since forever and they worked hard to keep it friendly and personal. With three stories of merchandise, the store offered just about everything a person could need. Krista, who worked full-time in the basement billing office, seldom got to see the main parts of the store. And this even with a twelve percent employee discount. She just didn’t seem to need much and besides, she was saving any extra money she had so she could move back north. She did know the first floor Santa Village well though; she had been an elf for the past two Christmases.

The oldest Craig son, Paul, was rushing through the staff hallway, a man on a mission, when Krista stepped from the locker room. She greeted him. “Hey, Paul. Man, it’s hot out there! Merry Christmas, anyway, huh?”

Paul eyed her quizzically, his usual expression. “Krista. Glad you’re here. Josh cancelled on us.”

“So we have no Santa?” Krista was horrified. There would be a lot of disappointed kids. Not to mention that she wouldn’t get the overtime pay for the day. Which totally sucked.

“No, no. The agency sent a substitute.”

“Hmm.” Krista was skeptical. “I liked working with Josh. He was good with the little ones.”

A short Santa approached them along the hallway. “I like kids,” he said as he came close. His dark brown eyes lit on Krista briefly, then moved to view Paul. 

“I like kids,” he repeated to Paul.

“Yeah, I guess you’d better, Ken. Krista, this is Kennedy, Kennedy, Krista.” 

Krista took the proffered hand in hers and felt a warm flush spread across her body. Odd. She looked at the hand, the smooth skin a pale cocoa against the white fur of the Santa suit. She let his hand go, disturbed by the warmth she’d felt.

“Nice to meet you, Kennedy.”

“Okay, places guys,” Paul said as he took Krista’s hat from her hand and slapped it onto her head. “There’s a big sale on toys today so it’ll be busy.”

“Good,” Kennedy said, adjusting his beard. “Better busy than bored.”

“I agree," Krista said as she led the way into the store.

The sights and sounds of Christmas inundated her. The scents of cinnamon and nutmeg and peppermint wafted on the refrigerated air. Silver icicles highlighted green trees adorned with a rainbow prism of ornaments. South Florida, and especially Craig’s, tried very hard to celebrate Christmas properly.

Krista moved into Santa’s Village while Kennedy hung back. He knew the business, obviously. The photographers, Ralph and his assistant, Emmy, nodded in a brief acknowledgement. They were set up and ready.

Krista looked at the line of excited children and pseudo-excited parents and grinned widely. “Hello, boys and girls!”

She postured as she’d seen Peter Pan do in the movies, arms akimbo and feet spread wide. “I’m your favorite Christmas elf, Krista, and I am here to make your day a special, memorable one. Do you know who is here today?”

After a moment of silence, for shyness’ sake, they chorused, “Santa!”

“Yes,” Krista said, nodding wisely. “And he just arrived in that big old sleigh pulled by his eight special reindeer. Can anyone name them?”

One boy, probably a third-grader, raised his hand. He carefully recited the names, touching his fingers as markers. “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.”

Krista clapped her hands together. “Yes! And because you did such a good job, you get to go first today.”

The young boy and his beaming mother stepped forward. Krista reached into the bowl next to Santa’s chair and drew out a large candy cane. She presented it to the boy.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Alex,” he said, adding, “Alexander.”

“Well, Alexander, come right here and say hello to Santa.” She pulled him close, then stepped behind him and rested a palm on each shoulder. His mother, a plump, middle-aged woman with gray, curly hair, squirmed with what appeared to be real excitement.

“Oh Santa,” Krista called. “There’s someone here to see you!”

Kennedy moved from behind the false wall and stepped into the cozy but fake living room environment.

“Ho, ho, ho,” he said, holding his belly as the children in line gasped with delight and murmured together, eyes fixed on Kennedy.

Krista found her own eyes focusing on those strong, sinewy hands again. She could see little else of him but those hands spoke to her somehow. Which was odd, very odd. She just didn’t do guys, hadn’t since high school.


†††


Santa’s Little Helper

Susan X Meagher


“Bullshit.”

Lenora blinked, then immediately blinked again, probably trying to hide the fact that Chelsea had made her react. It was such a game. Paying a person to listen to you for fifty minutes was strange enough, but having her do cartwheels to act like nothing you said ever caused the slightest reaction was downright perverse. 

Chelsea had always prided herself on being the only lesbian she knew who’d never been to therapy. Happy childhood, few phobias. All was well. Until women came into the picture. Now even that inconsequential distinction was lying in the dust. Along with her patience.

Lenora adopted the corpselike countenance she favored, then said, “Okay. You obviously didn’t like the way I said that. Let me put it another way. You say that Melanie’s almost the perfect woman. It’s time for you to decide how big a place almost has in the scheme of things.”

When she let out a frustrated sigh, Chelsea felt like she would sink right into the drab green sofa where it seemed she’d spent months...no, years, whining. “No, you were right the first time. I have to decide if I’d rather have Melanie or a good sex life.”

Allowing a Mona Lisa smile to reveal itself, Lenora shook her head. “I don’t think I said that.”

“Not specifically,” Chelsea agreed. “You just reminded me that there’s only one small thing Melanie won’t do, then you subtly tried to convince me that I should count my blessings.” 

She knew she was being cranky at best, but Lenora could easily and often drive her mad. Of course, a lot of people were getting on her nerves these days. Trying to figure out how to sync up with an almost perfect lover was harder than she ever would have guessed. What had Andy Warhol said? Something about sex being better to watch or read about than actually have. Before this year, Chelsea would have never believed that could be true. Now...he might have been onto something.

“Let me make myself clear.” Lenora leaned forward, her pale eyes locked onto Chelsea’s. “I’m not trying to convince you to count your blessings. I’m simply, and only trying to help you to make up your mind about whether you want to keep working on this or...” She trailed off, not stating the obvious.

“I know. I know.” A heavy world-weariness seemed to settle in Chelsea’s bones. “I’ve got three options.” She raised three fingers and plinked at each in turn. “I can keep trying to make Melanie like what I like in bed; I can stop banging my head against the wall and accept what she’s comfortable giving; or I can cut my loses and jump back into the toxic, fetid, pool known as dating.”

“Fetid?” Lenora let a genuine smile show. Must be time to stop. She always started to act more human-like near the end of a session.

“I’m feeling poetic.” Chelsea knew the smile she returned probably looked more like a scowl, but she’d been talking about this for four months, getting nowhere, and she was officially sick of it. 

“Do you think Melanie might be amenable to couples therapy?”

Chelsea held a hand up vertically. “That’s not up for discussion. Once was enough.”

Frowning, Lenora said, “Things were very different with Francine. You had major, major issues as a couple. Just because therapy didn’t help you two stay together doesn’t mean it was a failure.”

“I know,” she said, not having any interest in discussing either Francine’s cheating ass or their wasted six months of therapy. She could still get her dander up over spending thousands of dollars trying to fix that car wreck. “Melanie’s not a cheater, she’s not a user, she’s not trying to make me into something I’m not...etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I know she has a zillion good traits. She just can’t fuck me!”

There it was again. That tiny flinch Lenora couldn’t control. It was time to move on. If worse came to worse and they decided to go to therapy they’d have to find a new, sex-positive therapist. Maybe a straight man. A guy would understand how important fucking was. Lenora looked like she’d be happy with a good cuddle, a little incense and a patchouli candle burning in the background--along with some earnest folk singer droning on, of course.

“Are you sure you’ve been clear?” Lenora asked, ripping Chelsea from her musings.

“Crystal. I told her I love being topped, I love being fucked, I love strap-ons, and I love being dominated. She nodded, her big, brown eyes going wide, then she said she’d never done anything like that. That was five months ago, and she hasn’t brought it up again. I guess she thinks I’ll forget about it if we ignore it.”

“Both of you have ignored it, Chelsea. If this is important enough to break up over--you might want to make it clear that this is something you can’t do without.”

“Yeah, I know.” She did know. You didn’t have to pay someone to tell you to have a talk before you pulled the plug. But it was a waste of time to tell a lover how to dominate you. If you had to tell them--they couldn’t do it. It was like telling someone to be witty or cerebral or funny. You either were or you weren’t, and pouting about it wasn’t going to make it happen.

Chelsea pulled out her checkbook and depleted her bank account of enough money for a nice pair of jeans. Jeans that would have done her a hell of a lot more good than the past fifty minutes of yapping.


†††


Around nine, Melanie texted, saying, “Wanna come over?”

Thank god they’d decided to take it slow and not move in together. No more calling friends in the middle of a vicious fight--pleading for them to come fill their cars with everything they could stuff inside. Never again. She wouldn’t move in with a woman if they weren’t rock solid.

She stared at the phone for a long time, trying to decide whether to answer. Despite grousing futilely for almost an hour, she still wanted to talk--to tell someone who’d understand how this was grinding away at her.  Mentally sorting through friends and family, she realized Melanie was the person she’d come to rely on--to trust--to confide in. They’d been together for seven? No. Eight months now. They’d started slowly, cautiously. Both had been burned by their last lovers and neither wanted to jump in without a safety net.

But within a few weeks Chelsea knew Melanie was the real deal. Kind, generous, moral, playful, reliable. Not to mention cute as hell. She was everything Chelsea had been looking for in a lover. She just hadn’t realized how important it had been to find someone who could also fuck her lights out.

That lying waste of oxygen Francine could yank orgasms from her like nobody’s business. It was so easy with her! The bitch. Chelsea had never been with a woman who could fuck like that. But once you’d had someone who could make you get wet just with a lingering glance... She sighed. Maybe sociopaths were just better lovers. 

Another sigh. This one even more filled with longing. 

God knew a good orgasm was a wonderful thing, but it wasn’t the only, or even the most important thing in the world. It was time to grow up and get practical. Giving up someone like Melanie was just stupid. They had very nice, frequent, vanilla sex. As good, if not better than she’d had with anyone other than Francine The Sociopath. Vanilla was delightful. One of her favorite flavors. Maybe...over time…  Chelsea slapped her hands onto her thighs and picked up the phone, quickly texting, “Be right there.” 

Melanie wasn’t going to change. She didn’t have to. She was damned near perfect, and Chelsea was going to spend less time whining about wild sex and a lot more appreciating the fact that she had a damned good girlfriend.

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