Copyright R. Ann Siracusa
"Well, that was a life-altering experience," Woodie announced as we stumbled our way back to the meeting room.
Behind him, Mavis dragged Basil along with a firm grip on his earlobe. "I've never been so embarrassed."
I didn't see Will but felt his presence the instant I walked through the door. The zing, snap, crackle of our incredible emotional connection hit me like a bolt of lightning.
When I spotted him standing near the entrance to our meeting lounge, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, my temperature soared and perspiration beaded on my skin. My breath caught, and it was all I could do to keep from ripping off my clothes and jumping his bones. Well, we hadn't seen each other for more than three weeks.
I smiled at him and did a finger wave.
Woodie chortled. "That your hunk, Inspector Harriet?"
"He's not my..." Well, actually, he did fit the description, along with a number of others like gorgeous and horny. When I made a feeble attempt to look indignant, Mavis whacked me on the butt.
"Don't even bother. Both of you are drooling."
Yeah, well. What could I say? I'd already explained the situation.
Will pulled away from the wall and closed the distance. "Hi, Harriet. How'd the morning tour go?" He ran a finger around the inside of his collar.
I wanted to throw myself into his arms and slobber kisses all over him, but being on the job, I restrained myself and smiled chastely. "Hello, Will. It wasn't exactly an auspicious beginning."
"I can't wait." He rolled his eyes at me and extended his hand to Woodie. "Will Talbot."
The men shook, although Will had to bend a little, and Woodie stood on tip toes.
"I'm Elwood. Woodie for short. The master carver."
"Elwood ELF," I murmured, watching for some sign of amazement or incredulity from Will. No dice!
Mavis let go of Basil's ear and, batting her eyelashes, sidled up to Will, brushing against him like a cat rubbing the master's legs. Sort of a physical mismatch.
"Hi, handsome, you must be Will. Harriet's told us al-ll about you. I'm Mavis, public relations."
"Mavis ELF." And I hadn't told her al-ll about him. Mostly, I don't share with anyone, at least intentionally. Like I said, sometimes I speak without my brain in gear.
"Nice to meet you both." Will glanced at me and raised one eyebrow languidly, a sign of amusement. "So, what happened?"
"It was absolutely humiliating," Mavis answered for me. "We were in St. Peter's Square looking at the beautiful crèche, when Basil, who paints nativity scenes on candles and decorator soaps, climbed inside and ended up in the baby Jesus' cradle."
"I only wanted to find the baby figure so I could study the face," Basil, the youngest and smallest of the elves, cut in defensively. "When it wasn't there, I thought maybe it had slipped to the bottom."
"You be quiet!" Mavis snapped. "You shouldn't have popped up in the cradle in front of a group of tourists."
"How was I supposed to know they were there? I couldn't see. It wasn't my fault that fat lady fainted and broke her arm."
As the group gathered around us and gawked at Will―he looked gigantic next to the elves―I put my hand on Woodie's shoulder and murmured, "I really don't think he could be related to Won't."
Spitting his ubiquitous cigar onto the carpet, Woodie nodded. "Nah, as much as it hurts, I've got to agree with you, sweet cakes."
My eye twitched.
As Mavis introduced Will to everyone, I watched him smile at each upturned face, shake hands, and make appropriate small talk. He never blinked an eye, looked a look, or spoke a word to imply these folks might be different than any anyone else. He is good!
Finally, he eased away from the others and stepped close to me. Grinning, he murmured, "This tour group isn't what you expected, is it?"
Frustrated, I fisted my hands. "In case you haven't noticed, they are elves, not children."
My sarcasm fell on deaf ears. Of course, he'd noticed, and he seemed content to accept the situation for what it appeared to be. Could I be the only person on earth with reality conflicts?
The two chaperone elves exchanged glances, then Woodie rounded up the others. "Okay, it's time for lunch. Everyone go to the café. It's buffet style."
Mavis cornered Happy. "Don't let Basil sneak back into the bar again. That Dragon Blood is too strong for the kid. We don't want a repeat of this morning."
Happy nodded and looked, well, happy. "Don't worry. We'll be back in an hour."
Mavis planted herself in front of Will and me. "Do you two have a few minutes? We have something to discuss."
Discuss? Reluctantly, I wrenched my thoughts away from all the things I wanted to do as soon as Will and I were alone. Right! Find the baker. I ground my teeth, unsure how he might take the request to play detective for Mr. Claus...Saint Nicholas...the big fella. Whomever.
Will shot me a puzzled frown, and I nodded. "Sure, we can stay for a while."
I led the way to the sofas, hoping Will would follow and not stomp out the front door heading for the nearest cold shower. We could fight later. It always made for good makeup sex.
We sat. My superspy extraordinaire draped his arm over my shoulder, pulling me close. As I leaned into his warmth, all my girly parts sizzled. Oh, man. I hoped this wouldn't take long. The heat between us flared so fast we might have to book a room, if we could even make it upstairs.
Once we settled, Woodie busied himself by stuffing cookies in his face in place of the putrid cigar, and Mavis quickly laid out the problem of finding Geppetto with only an e-mail address.
"Harriet said since you're both...ah...stuck with us for the week, you might be willing to help us find him. What's your take?"
Will's forehead crinkled into a frown. From the lecherous grin flickering at the corners of his mouth, I surmised his only desire to play detective related to me under the sheets. But being the master of self-control, he focused on the problem to please me...well, actually to get us out of there so we could get naked.
"Hmm." He hums when he's thinking or doesn't want to answer. "If you have the e-mail address, it shouldn't be too hard for me to locate him."
He had all kinds of incredible spy―and, well, personal―equipment.
Woodie stopped munching and pushed Will's hand away to tap me on the shoulder. "Oh, let me guess? He's a hacker, maybe?"
My eye twitched again. Woodie had a real attitude problem.
I reach up and plopped Will's hand back where it had been, although maybe not quite as close to the boob as before, and gave the elf a squinty-eyed glare. "Law enforcement."
Will put on his most ferocious frown and assumed command. "Settle down, you two."
Mavis giggled. Woodie looked chagrined. "You have another tour this afternoon, don't you?" He didn't look entirely pleased about that.
Mavis, Woodie, and I nodded.
"Okay," he continued. "Mavis, if you'll write down the information, I'll see what I can find out before you get back. We can investigate all kinds of venues under the auspices of sightseeing, depending on what I can find out about Geppetto while you're out."
"Ciao, Harriet. I've located an address for the baker. Write this down."
I scrambled for my pad and pencil. "That was fast."
"I'm highly motivated to get you here as quickly as possible."
"Right. I'll give it to them. Thanks." I scribbled the name and address on my itinerary, then on a piece of empty paper, and told him I'd be at the apartment no later than five.
"Here's the address you're looking for." I handed the note it to Woodie. "It's not that far from here."
"Thanks, Inspector Sweet Cakes. Mavis, shake your booty. Let's blow this Roman Gladiator show and find the cook. We'll skip the rest of the tour."
Oh, man. If my boss found out I'd cancelled part of a tour, I would be so-o in trouble.
Mavis nodded sympathetically. "It's okay, Harriet. It's our tour, and we want to take the afternoon off. Go meet your...ahem...friend, and we'll take a taxi to Geppetto's. Give me your phone number, and we'll let you know what happens."
On my pad, I scribbled down my cell phone number and the address of the place Will and I share when he's in Rome, shoved it into her hands, and raced out of there.
When I entered the apartment, Will rose from the couch where he'd been watching television.
"Hi. I'm home." Before he could answer, I threw down my backpack and launched a full frontal attack that landed us both on the sofa, knocking pillows and newspapers onto the floor. After a few minutes of hot and sweaty foreplay, I murmured, "Not here."
By the time we rolled onto the floor, the sofa upholstery was damp with perspiration. Leaving a pile of pillows and magazines on the floor along with my shirt and bra, we stumbled, laughing and touching, down the hall. A trail of discarded clothing followed us into the bedroom. With my head start, I undressed first. As Will kicked off his shorts, I tackled him around the legs and knocked him backward onto the bed.
The surprise attack gave me a chance to scramble astride his perfect body and plant my rear on his abdomen. With arms rigid, I pressed his shoulders into the mattress.
"What?" A broad grin spread across his handsome face.
"Okay, pal. Before you touch anything else, you have to explain what's going on with these...ah...little people."
All bravado. My strategic advantage would only last as long as his tolerance, and that wasn't likely to endure more than a sentence or two. We were both anxious to make up for lost time.
"Why are you asking me? They're your group, not mine."
He leered at me and my pulse rate skyrocketed. My blood burned with desire, sending tingles from the roots of my hair to my toes.
"C'mon Will, they insist they're elves...Santa's elves, no less...and you're acting like this is no big surprise. Ho hum."
He shrugged, his muscles rippling against the pressure of my hands. "A lot of things in this life are unexplainable."
"I'm losing it, aren't I? I've been run over by the Popemobile in St. Peter's Square, right?" I shook his shoulders. "Tell me that at this very moment I'm really lying half dead in San Camillo hospital, hallucinating, while a normal husband and wife with eleven children stand around my bed crying."
"It's Christmas time, Harriet. Miracles happen. Who am I to question?"
Okay. This is getting nowhere.
Putting aside my state of dazed bafflement—I wanted to get on to other things―I redirected the conversation. "Speaking of that, what do you want for Christmas?"
"Hmm." He rolled me underneath him and straddled me. "You―as much time with you as possible."
Oh, man. The one thing he wants, and I can't deliver. Frustrated, I sucked in oxygen then blew out a long disappointed breath. I wanted the same thing he did.
Sitting back on his heels, his hands rested on the thick ropes of muscles along his thighs as they pinned my arms loosely to my sides. His favorite position.
My tight nipples ached for his touch. My temperature rose in anticipation.
Ohmigod, what a package! I really didn't mind being underneath. The view, already hard and hot, inspired me.
Leaning over me, his lips brushed mine, then he buried his face against my heaving chest and took one taut nipple into his mouth, his teeth nibbling lightly, his tongue flicking over the hardened peak and drawing it deeper.
With a cry of delight, I arched my back, pressing closer to his hot mouth, my fingernails biting into his biceps.
His hands spanned my waist and ran up and down the length of my torso, thumbs skimming my rib cage, my abdomen and--gulp—my thighs. My pulse pounded in my ears.
Molten heat spread out from every place he touched, melting my insides. The texture of his hands brought every nerve ending to the surface in waves of tension. The scent of aftershave and Will Talbot maleness made my mouth water for the slightly salty taste of his skin.
He spread my legs and positioned one over his shoulder. His tongue raked along the inside of my thigh. My belly contracted, and I arched my body to meet his mouth. He nibbled, sucked, and licked until I writhed and begged for release.
Well, maybe I screamed a little, too.
He rolled us over again. On top, I sank down on him. My flesh welcomed his full length inside, tightening around him. He groaned with pleasure. "Jesus, Harriet."
At first, I moved my hips slowly, but our need drove us harder, faster, deeper. His strong fingers pressed into my buttocks, guiding me, setting the pace. His body rippled with tremors.
He exploded in me. Reality shattered into a million tiny lights around us and together we shot off into space riding wave after wave of ecstasy, a long, long trip.
Hot and sweaty, I collapsed on top of him as we drifted back to earth.
When I could breathe again, I rose on arms so weak they trembled. I looked into his hypnotic blue eyes, quaking with emotions I couldn't even put words to. Connected. Filled. Powerful. Joyful and yet fearful. Whole. Drained and limp. Contented and wanted.
Too much to begin to comprehend.
And already the tension built inside me again.
"Wow!" I managed finally. "When the paramedics leave, let's do that again."
"If you're going to fibrillate every time, we'd better set them up in the extra bedroom." He hooked a strand of sweaty hair behind my ear. "You have no idea what you do to me."
Warmth spread through me, touching me in a way I'd never experienced before. "Show me."
That's when my cell phone rang.
Our gazes locked, and we both uttered desperate sighs.
No! No! No! Not now. My girly parts were still smoking and demanding more of his attention. This is not a good time!
The phone chirped again.
He rolled me off him. "You're supposed to be working, remember? You'd better answer it."
I threw myself off the bed, scrambled around to find my pants and retrieved my phone. "Hello, this is Harriet."
"Hello, Inspector Clouseau," Woodie's voice grated on my ear. "We just wanted to let you two love birds know we found Geppetto. He couldn't make the delivery 'cause his oven blew up and replacement parts aren't available till after the New Year. Without the bakery, he couldn't pay his bills, so his Internet service was disconnected."
"Let me talk to her." I heard Mavis in the background, then, "Harriet, I've made arrangements for Geppetto to use the kitchen at the Hotel Foletto for the baking. If the staff and the rest of us help, we should be able to make three or four deliveries before the deadline. And to thank you for your help, our Christmas present to Will is your undivided attention for the rest of the week. We'll take care of ourselves."
I sucked in a surprised breath. "Do you mean that?"
Woodie must have snatched the phone. "Don't you speak English? I'm against this, but Mavis insists. This is gonna be a long week. More fun than being offed on Christmas day."
"I might arrange that event myself. Give me that phone." Mavis came back on the line. "Harriet, you can get back to your hunk and give him his present."
"I...don't know what to say..." I murmured, overwhelmed.
"Try thank you, and Merry Christmas. We'll be in touch in a few days."
"Thank you, and Merry Christmas."
I clicked off, explained the plan to Will, and by eleven o'clock we were well into the fourth installment of his Christmas present when the doorbell rang.
"Now what?" I moaned. "Let's pretend we're not here."
Grunting his displeasure, he untangled his limbs from mine and slipped into his jeans. "I'll get it." He headed bare-chested to the door. After a few seconds, he yelled, "Jesus, Harriet! Get in here!"
I threw myself off the bed, grabbed a throw from the chair, and scampered down the hall wrapping the blanket around me just as Will opened the front door.
Woodie pushed his way into the room, cigar hanging from his lips. "Nice rags, Inspector Sweet Cakes. Okay, Happy, let's get them in here and settled." The elf waved Happy into the room with the rest of the excited and chattering elves behind him."
"But...but..." I sputtered, half raising one arm. "What about your promise?"
Oblivious to our state of shock and bewilderment, Woodie directed elves to all corners of the apartment. "You two, move the furniture against the wall, then put the tables in here. Happy and Basil, you can bring in the baked goodies. I'll―"
I grabbed his arm. "What do you think you're doing? You can't―"
"Better hold on to that blanket." Woodie sprinkled cigar ashes on the tile floor. "We got a little problem working here."
"What problem?" I cried, waving my hands. Oops!
Eyes bugged and major gasps erupted as the blanket dropped to my waist. As I struggled to pull the corner out from under my foot and cover my heaving bosom, Will pushed my semi-nakedness behind him.
"Hi, guys." Mavis entered, one arm around the hunched shoulders of a short man in white wearing a burned chef's hat above black stubs of eyebrows. Tendrils of smoke rose from his singed gray beard. Tears streaked the soot-covered face.
Geppetto Elf, I presume.
"Sorry about this, but we have to renege on your Christmas present," Mavis hurried on. "We were almost finished with the baking until Geppetto here had a smidgen of an accident in the hotel kitchen."
Both my eyes twitched.
"Reindeer poop!" Woodie clapped the man on the back hard enough to send him stumbling forward. "The asshole burned down the whole freakin' hotel. We're going to have to finish the job packaging the goodies here."
Will and I gaped at him with our mouths in fly-catcher mode as Happy, Basil, and another elf began to carry arms loads of Christmas breads into our apartment.
"Why here?" I murmured, more for something to say than anything. My brain was on overload again.
Woodie shot us a mischievous smile. "Geppetto's place is too small, plus he hasn't been able to pay his light bill. It'd be perfect for you two, though—in the dark and all—but the bed is a little short."
"I have a better idea," Mavis piped up, grinning at us. "You need to lighten up. What you two need is a Christmas tree."
"A what?" Will almost shouted, the first indication I'd seen that he wasn't, after all, taking the situation in stride. He jerked forward as though he intended to whop her upside the head...or maybe it was downside, under the circumstances.
I grabbed his arm and held him back, whispering, "What happened to 'Miracles happen' and 'Who am I to question?'?" At the time, I'd had a sneaking suspicion he was pulling my chain.
Santa's public relations elf extraordinaire put her arms around us...our legs, anyway. "You know. A tall pointy tree with pine needles. Green. You hang shiny gadgets and ornaments on it."
"Mavis, that is not funny." My usually good humor had begun to fade, and I was getting angry as well as cold. Maybe I shouldn't have restrained him. "Besides, there isn't a Christmas tree lot anywhere near here."
She shrugged. "Sure there is. Right around the corner from here. The guy who runs it has a cozy little house at the back of the lot with a big fire place and a bear skin rug. He'll be over here helping, so I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you stay all week. Whatever it takes."
Will smirked. "Who knew packaging baked goods could take so long?" With a twinkle in his eye, he winked at me. "Maybe miracles do happen. Are you coming, Harriet?"
Hmm. Well, I wasn't exactly sure what Will had in mind, but one place we'd never done it was a Christmas tree lot. Titillated with the idea, I winked back and smiled. "Sure. Should I get dressed first, or just wear the blanket?"
He raised one eyebrow. "You'd better put something on...but not too much. But bring the blanket and a bottle of Bailey's with you. I'm not sure I believe the part about the bear skin rug."
All the elves tittered and wished us a merry Christmas when we headed for the door. Just outside, Woodie stopped us and sprinkled ashes on the mat.
"You're not so bad after all, Inspector Sweet Cakes. I'll put in a good word for you with the Big Guy. We should be gone by the time you get back with your tree." He raised his voice for that last part. Laughter came from inside. "Thanks. Merry Christmas, and enjoy your Christmas present."
We fully intended to do just that.
JUST SAYIN! MERRY CHRISTMAS!