Her New Year’s Knight

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The holidays are a time for family. So what if Darla doesn’t have one. She’s a trained psychologist and well-versed in all the dangers of inflating the importance of one week of the year. Besides, she has her clients who need her. Unfortunately, one of them seems to have a dangerous obsession for her. She doesn’t need Santa to bring her a family. What she really needs to find under the tree is a strong protector.

This novella runs 110 pages. It contains explicit descriptions of sex. Recommended for mature (17+) readers only.

Her New Year’s Knight

 

Christmas Eve

“Darla, darling! You made it!”

Darla adjusted her sensibilities to take in the exuberant atmosphere of her new neighbor’s apartment. Familiar carols boomed out from the living room. The sound of fine crystal clinking and laugher floated out to the hallway from various rooms. She bent, submitted to her petite neighbor’s air kisses and handed the woman a bottle of her favorite Sauvignon Blanc, already chilled.

The elderly woman, Maureen, tittered, a long necklace of tiny, multi-colored holiday bells jingling around her neck. Her equally festive, beribboned miniature poodle danced and yapped excitedly about her feet. Maureen latched possessively onto Darla’s arm.

“You didn’t need to bring anything but yourself, dear. But thank you. You know it’s my favorite.”

She paused, looked Darla up and down critically before nodding in satisfaction. Darla wore a red knit dress that snuggly hugged her curves, a dress she braved wearing only because Maureen had insisted on it the day before when she’d popped by to invite her to tonight’s party. When she’d tried to decline the invitation on the grounds that she had nothing to wear to a Christmas party, Maureen had sailed into her bedroom, quickly sorted through her closet and had pulled out the brightly-colored knit dress triumphantly.

Darla found it impossible to say no to the kind-hearted busybody, even though she knew the dress currently fit a little too tightly across her chest and hips. At twenty-six, her long-awaited womanly curves had delayed their arrival until last year. Four years ago, when she’d worn the dress last, it had hung modestly over her slender body, like a deflated balloon. Throughout high school and college, she’d still been plagued with a body most unflatteringly called scrawny, scarecrow, anorexic, stick-thin, and skin and bones.

Tonight though, she feared the clingy dress made her look like she’d suited up for the evening escort business. The only thing saving the dress from being completely slutty was the mock turtleneck covering her to her throat, the three quarter length sleeves, and the hemline modestly skirting the tops of her knee-high boots. Fortunately, most of Maureen’s old Hollywood movie friends would be over seventy so, at most, she’d give the elderly men a little thrill or two. No risk in that, right?

“Now,” her new friend said, tucking the wine bottle carelessly under one arm and gesturing to two baskets on the entry table, “What’s it going to be? Jingle bell necklace or Santa hat?

Darla considered her options. The flannel hat would be too much for the warm, crowded apartment and would eventually flatten her dark hair into helmet head.

“Bells, I guess.”

To please the elderly lady, she plopped a strand over her head, doubling it when it proved to be longer than she expected. Maureen fussed over her hair, tucking one side behind her ear. The sleek, dark locks against her pale skin highlighted Darla’s widow’s peak, framing her heart-shaped face.

“I’m glad you aren’t looking so tired tonight. You’re awfully wan-looking though. Do you want to borrow some lipstick? I’ve got a red that would match your dress perfectly.”

She would look washed-out against Maureen’s brightly rouged cheeks. She suspected the woman wore stage make-up for everyday life. It was immaculately applied though. And for a senior citizen, the woman was still remarkably beautiful.

“I don’t really wear lipstick much, but thank you. And I actually slept eight hours last night. No clients today.”

“Good. It’s the holiday. People shouldn’t be working. And tonight could go late for you.”

She winked meaningfully at Darla. Uh oh.

“The holidays are why I’ve been working long hours. I’m a psychologist and depression is rampant this time of the year.”

“How can you sit and listen to people’s problems all day? It amazes me. So depressing! All the more reason to have someone wonderful to come home to afterwards, dear.”

You don’t come home to anyone except Princess,” Darla teased her new friend.

“Pshaw. I’m old. I’ve had my share of handsome men, honey. I was a Hollywood actress, you know. And believe me, Princess is great company for an old gal. But you—you’re too young to substitute a dog for a healthy young man.”

“I didn’t realize there was much difference between guys and dogs,” Darla muttered under her breath. She’d signed off men more than a year ago when the last one turned out to need alcohol even more than her father had. She was resigned to only attracting narcissistic alcoholics. It must be tattooed on her forehead. Codependent. All addicts welcome. She didn’t anticipate that ever changing. She turned to follow Maureen and warily noted once again the determined look on her neighbor’s face as she marched Darla into the kitchen.

“We’ll just put this wine in to chill some more and then I have someone for you to meet.”

“Maureen,” she chided, holding back. “Not another one. We’ve discussed this.”

In the past month, ever since she’d moved into the apartment across the walkway, Maureen had tried to set her up on dates, including with three with men who lived in the complex. A big no-no in Darla’s book, since that kind of proximity would make for awkward run-ins later, after she determine the man was unsuitable, or he found her to be too cold, too reserved, too…frigid. A previous boyfriend had told her that her reserved nature was the equivalent to her being an ice queen in bed. She’d managed to dodge all of Maureen’s efforts.

“This one is special.”

Darla groaned. “That’s what you’ve said every time.”

“I mean it this time. In fact, I can’t believe I didn’t think of Jake when I first met you. He’s here tonight with his father instead at his mother’s in San Diego. I’m losing my touch. Jake Knight is my second cousin’s nephew. Good-looking young man. Hunky.”

“I should have guessed,” Darla groaned. She glanced down at her outfit. The dress was clingy in all the ways to catch a man’s attention. She looked like a woman on the make for a man. She should return to her apartment and change immediately but Maureen was already dragging her towards the main room.

With a resigned sigh and suppressing an overwhelming desire to turn tail and run back across the hall to put on a less revealing dress, Darla let herself be led into the living room. She decided that the universe had definitely sent Maureen into her life to teach her to learn to say no and mean it. She’d been constantly tested by the determined woman. Darla smiled. Too bad for Maureen that she was such an excellent test-taker.

At well over six feet, Jake Knight was impossible to miss. Standing near a brightly twinkling tree, he towered over the geriatric, arthritic senior citizens clustered around him, his Santa hat set at a cocky angle on his curly, pale blond head. He was smiling, laughing at something a blue-haired woman told him and his happy chuckle vibrated across the room and played itself down Darla’s spine. Then he turned to look her way, and his dark espresso brown eyes sparked with interest. Her nipples instantly hardened. And predictably, for a guy anyway, his gaze zeroed right in on them.

Well, that felt dangerously unsettling. She’d always suffered anxiety during pop quizzes.

***

Jake sensed her before he saw her. The woman oozed sensuality. To actually look at her? Well, hot damn. She was stunning. Her pale skin was like alabaster. Her long hair, dark as midnight. She had pretty blue eyes and soft, pale, naked pink lips. No lipstick. Ready to be kissed. And that red dress. Hell! He had to shift to accommodate his body’s immediate reaction. Revealing curves in all the right places. He boldly looked her over, letting his appreciation for her appearance show on his face. He almost wolf-whistled before catching himself, remembering their audience. And she was not indifferent to him either; he noted her response to him since he was staring right at her breasts.

His father’s sobering hand on his wrist forced his attention down.

“Now, Jake, I know that look. This isn’t some broad you play for a night. She’s classy and she’s Maureen’s friend, educated, proper. You treat the girl right.”

Jake schooled his face to hide his annoyance. He’d only come to this holiday party because his father, who was getting old, claimed to need a ride, and he hadn’t seen their cousin Maureen, a favorite relative, in years, and because Mom had asked him to do it. Usually, he spent Christmas Eve celebrating with his mother and sisters down in San Diego. He certainly didn’t care enough about the old man anymore to invest some new hope that his father might have changed. He snorted. In the past, it would have been him warning his father to keep his trousers zipped.

“Dad, please. I’m not sixteen, nor is she. Besides, you’re no one to talk about how to treat women.”

His father’s face flushed and Jake felt guilty. He needed to rein in his sharp tongue. It was the holiday, and he didn’t mean to hurt his father. Not really. The old man was looking awfully frail these days. Despite their rocky family history, he felt bad for the guy, who he knew was lonely.

“Sorry, Dad. It’s just, well, it’s been awhile.”

“I know I don’t have the right. Not after what I’ve done over the years and how I treated your mother. It’s just that I think, in my old age, I finally understand the damage I’ve done.”

“Great,” Jake muttered, “Save it for your therapist.”

Suddenly, his father grinned. “Funny you should mention therapists.”

Jake looked back to the woman in red as Maureen bustled up, her still strong hand wrapped around the woman’s wrist, dragging her along.

“Jake, darling, I want to introduce you to my beautiful new neighbor, Darla Hanson.”

He turned his attention away from his father to the women, burying his issues with the man deep where they belonged. He felt his body relax and conversely rev up at the proximity of the young woman.

Gesturing to Jake, Maureen launched into her pitch. “This is Jake Knight.” She stressed his last name emphatically and he cringed inside.

“Jake is an FBI agent here in LA. Isn’t that exciting? He kindly brought his father up to Santa Monica tonight for my party since Henry can’t drive anymore, even though it means spending the evening with a bunch of old biddies. Jake is single. Never been married. Right, Jake? Thirty-two, if I remember correctly, a Capricorn, so thirty-three in a few weeks. His sun-streaked blond curls speak of his love of the ocean. He’s an original California beach bum. Started surfing when he was just a boy. Went to university, double-majored in history and sociology before joining the government.”

She turned to look at Darla and promptly launched the second part of her pitch.

“Darla has her masters in psychology and is a therapist here in LA. She’s pretty enough to be an actress though, isn’t she? Check out that body. If I’d had those curves way back when, I’d have given Raquel Welch and Ann Margaret a run for their money. Anyway,” she chattered on at Darla’s frown, “Darla’s originally from the Valley. She’s only twenty-six. Most importantly, she’s also single.”

Maureen and Henry beamed at them both expectantly.

“Have I left anything pertinent out, Henry?”

“Just that Jake’s a hell of a guy, and we should leave these two alone to get to know each other.”

Then, Maureen, Henry, and every other person in the party, conveniently moved several feet away. Jake chuckled self-consciously, his annoyance with his father now stirred mildly toward Maureen. He took the silly hat off, ran hand through his hair, and put on his professional face.

“That was just unavoidably embarrassing. I want to say that I had nothing to do with that presentation. Don’t know where it came from, except that Maureen fancies herself a family matchmaker, must have decided I’m next on her list, and arranged for this meeting…all of which you probably already figured out.”

The woman, Darla, held herself stiffly, smiled back overly brightly at him. He narrowed his eyes at her. She was faking that smile. He was very good at picking up on people’s disingenuousness after eight years of working at the FBI. People lied all the time, usually badly, making it easy to identify the guilty. Whoa. He caught the direction of his thinking. He needed to stop seeing everyone’s dark side, especially on Christmas Eve. The job was wearing his view of humanity downwards.

She could just be shy, uncomfortable in a crowd, meeting someone new. But women like that generally didn’t pour their bodies into skin-tight dresses the color of a fire engine truck. Also, her aloof demeanor burned slightly. Jake hadn’t had a woman react hot, then cold towards him in recent memory. He knew his height, his unusually pale hair and his dark eyes attracted women. He used that advantage out in the field every day. In his experience, women opened up because of their reaction to his looks; they didn’t close down.

For some reason, she didn’t trust him or, maybe, she thought she was better than he was. She didn’t even know him, so that was a load of bullshit. His hopes for the evening dimmed. Thank you, Maureen. The woman was gorgeous but cold as ice.

He shifted his beer to his left hand and reached out his calloused right hand to shake hers. Though the others in the room had stepped away, Maureen and his father were still watching them from across the room. Darla paused, seemed to realize the scrutiny they were under, then reluctantly extended her elegant fingers. As soon as he clasped her slim hand into his, he felt zapped by electricity. He’d expected her grasp to be limp, disengaged, but in fact, it was warm and firm. He found himself holding on, not wanting to let go, enjoying the texture of her smooth skin. Their eyes locked in recognition as heat arced between them. She looked down and tugged her hand free. Okay, not so cold.

“Nice to meet you.”

Her voice was inviting, warm and firm, like her hand. It made him feel at home, comfortable, despite the guarded expression that had settled stubbornly over her face. She’d sensed their instant sexual connection, had even let herself respond to it momentarily, but now she was shuttering up like a coastal home facing an incoming typhoon. He was a big storm, and she was already packing to run for high ground. Under that cool surface, he definitely picked up on panic.

“Jake,” she continued in that velvety voice, interrupting his thoughts. He loved hearing his name on her tongue. “I just remembered that I left my cell phone at my place and I need to have it with me in case a client in crisis calls. I better run get it.”

A flash of red, a jingle of bells, and poof, she disappeared, like Santa up the chimney.

Damn if she hadn’t forgotten to leave him a present.

Ring in the romance with the rest of the story, available on AMAZON.

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