Shelter Ch. 13byrandom_librarian©
Ginger had a regular group of friends who went caroling every Christmas Eve, and they were all glad to be two voices stronger and happier this year. Since Sammi hadn't met any of them before today, they couldn't tell that her hair was a little more tousled or that her makeup a bit less put-together than she would have preferred. Only Ginger knew what her regular look was, and the gleam in her eyes made it clear that she knew exactly how it had gotten that way.
On the way to the next block of houses, she took Archie's hand and strolled along slowly, letting the others get far enough ahead that she could whisper into his ear. "Ginger knows what we've been doing this afternoon."
"Yeah, I figured that out when she winked at me. Well good. It's kind of exciting to have a gorgeous girlfriend to show off!"
"I just wonder why she hasn't told everyone here yet."
He pulled her into an embrace. "I would say it's a Christmas miracle, but I have mine right here." She nuzzled close into him. "Sammi, anyone ever tell you you're beautiful when you blush?"
She blushed even more. "Been a while since I had reason to blush."
"Well, I have my New Year's resolution now!" She slapped his shoulder, then took his hand again. They hurried to catch up with the group, earning another knowing leer from Ginger. "Okay, two resolutions: make you blush more often, and find a way to embarrass Ginger."
Sammi laughed loud enough to draw happy looks from the other carolers. "Good luck with that one!"
"Sammi, I have to admit, you're right. This cider is amazing!"
"I know, incredible, isn't it? Aunt Ginger, thank you for making this. I think it tastes better than I remember, and that's hard to imagine."
Ginger brought refills to them both on the couch, then sat opposite them in the easy chair and smiled. "What can I tell you? It's just a matter of bringing the right ingredients together under the right conditions. Kinda like you two." They giggled. "And it sounds like I did a better job on y'all than I did on the cider, since there are now two of us who can call you Sammi..."
Sammi and Archie shared a smile. "Well, just to keep you from saying 'I told you so', thank you for introducing me to my new girlfriend."
"You're quite welcome, Archie." She craned her neck to look into the bedroom. "And thank you for taking the time to make the bed before I got here..."
Sammi shot her a dirty look. "Aunt Ginger! Honestly, nothing like that happened. What kind of girl do you think I am?"
"I'm sorry, Sammi. I am."
Archie's eyes sparkled. "But if you'll hurry up and get the hell out of here..."
Sammi shot him an even dirtier look, if that was possible. "Archimedes!"
He fired the dirtiest look of all at his boss. "You told her?"
"Somehow you expected me to keep that secret?" Everyone laughed. "But kids, all teasing aside, it is time for me to be getting home. Walking the carol route gets a little bit harder for me every year, and whether y'all are going to be using that bed soon or not, I'm going to be in mine as quick as I can."
They all said their goodbyes and Merry Christmases, promising to see each other again tomorrow for turkey at Ginger's. When they were alone, Sammi got a mischievous look in her eyes. She sashayed towards him, exaggerating the sway of her hips. Standing inches in front of him, she slid her hands around to the front of his jeans. "Mmmmm... Do you have something for me, boyfriend?"
His eyes rolled back as he moaned, "Do I ever!"
Her look changed instantly; she started bounding around the apartment like a seven-year-old. "Goody! Present time!"
Archie laughed. "You play dirty, Sammi. I think I like it!"
She came back up to him and kissed him just below his left ear, then pulled back to give him her most seductive look. "Mr. Grantham, I'm gonna make you love it." He threw his head back to moan again, leaving his neck exposed. The impulse to kiss him there was irresistible. She gave in to that desire, which caused his moan to turn into a growl. "But first things first." Archie looked disappointed when she pulled away. "Presents! Me first! Me first!"
"How you can go from temptress to giddy that fast, I'll never know." He laughed. "But yes, you first. Close your eyes..."
She sat down on the couch with a grin and theatrically put both hands over her eyes. She heard him set something fairly heavy down; it crackled lightly. Then she felt him sit down beside her. "Before you open your eyes, I want to explain what's here. Sammi, I know how I feel about you, and how I feel about us. And this... this is just my way of saying to you that... that what's mine is yours. Okay, you can look now. Merry Christmas!"
In front of her was a big wicker basket, overflowing with plastic bottles. She looked with curiosity at Archie, then dove in. There was her brand of shampoo, conditioner. Body lotions and perfumes of a dozen scents, some of which she'd been dying to try. Nail polishes, polish remover, cotton balls. It was like he'd raided her bathroom counter.
"Archie! Oh my gosh! This is so thoughtful! How... how did you know what I use?"
"Um... Man's intuition?" He laughed. "No, Santa had a helper this year, who made some suggestions and some educated guesses."
She laughed with him. "That was awfully sweet of the helper. And of Santa, too." She leaned in to kiss him. "Wait, what's this?"
On the basket handle, there was a big red bow, with something shiny hanging down from it. Looking closer, she saw a key. One curious look got Archie flustered.
"I'm ... I mean ... I'm not asking you to move in with me. But what's mine is yours, and that includes this place. Uh ... I guess what I'm trying to say is..." He paused for a second, obviously trying to get his thoughts in order. "Sammi, you already have the key to my heart. Seemed silly for you not to have the key to my home too."
She hoped that the look she gave him expressed emotions that lay deep within her, because she was still scared to give voice to them. If she looked at him for even one more second, she'd say it, but it was too soon. Her last romance had taught her to be triply careful before using the words that rebounded inside her mind, the ones that could express her true feelings. So instead she hugged him tightly around his waist resting her head on his chest. "Archie, this is the sweetest thing anyone's ever done for me. Thank you... so much. I ..."
His hand reached down to tilt her face up to him. He looked deeply into her eyes and smiled. "I ... yeah, me too, Sammi. That thing you can't say? Me too." With a relief she didn't realize she needed, she leaned her lips up to kiss him, and gave herself over to the current of emotions. To him.
What seemed like minutes later, her eyes flew open. "Wait! I have a gift for you too!"
They laughed. "Oh yeah! You're such a good kisser, that I'd almost forgot... Yay, my turn to open yours!"
Okay. Deep breath. Now or never.
"Archie, I need to explain yours too. What I really want to give you this year is tidings of comfort and joy." He looked confused. "For unto me is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, and he shall be called Emmanuel?"
They laughed together. "Well, yes, but... A minute ago, you said that what's yours is mine. For mpe, that includes the wonderful stuff... and the somewhat less than wonderful stuff." She closed her eyes, took two deep breaths. "Archie. Ginger told me ... about Valerie."
A dark look crossed his face before he hung his head. "Figures she couldn't keep her goddamn mouth shut."
She hurried to lean down and catch his eyes. "No, Archie... sweetheart... it's okay. Really. It's okay." She took his hands in hers. "Everyone has a past. Everyone has a history. Okay, so yours is a little more dramatic than most, but that's all it is: the past. What I care about is being a big part of your future."
He looked up, fighting back tears. "You mean it?"
"With everything I have, and with everything I am. What's yours is mine, and that includes your burdens. You don't have to carry them alone anymore. I'm right here, and ... if you let me, I always will be right here." He gave her a weak smile. "Now that I can let myself in, I may be right here more than you want me to be!"
He laughed lightly, and she hugged him to her chest. A few moments later, she pushed him to arm's length, looked in his eyes, and reached behind her. "So, here's my Christmas gift to you."
Her arm came forward, and dangling from her index finger was her keyring. The look of surprise and confusion was unmistakable on his face. "The 4X4 was my dad's. I've taken care of it since he passed; it was such a part of him that keeping it running was one way I kept his memory alive. He took great care of it, like you could tell. In fact, when I took it by my mechanic this morning, he said it was running better today than when it came off the lot.
"For years, it belonged to the most important man in my life. And now... I still want it to belong to the most important man in my life."
"Sammi, I ... I can't accept this. It's too much."
"Nonsense. You deserve this and a million times more."
"But... It's just ..."
"I know -- Ginger told me that it's been a while since you last drove. But you can get through this. We can get through this. I promise, I'll be right beside you. Always." Her eyes twinkled. "Besides, eventually, I'll need a ride home."
"What if I don't want you to go back home? What if I just keep you here?"
"Then I'll be helpless against you, you savage rogue."
"'Savage rogue'? Just how many Harlequin novels have you read?" He gave her that impish smile that melted her heart.
"Enough to know what savage rogues like you do when a helpless damsel like me falls into your clutches... and enough to be looking forward to it!" They laughed and kissed, and kissed and laughed.
Soon, the laughter faded and the kisses became more intense. Her hands roamed over his body, her movements matching his. Excitement surged through her when she felt his hands pulling her shirt free from her jeans; equal parts arousal at where the night was taking them, and joy because the confident Archie she'd hoped for was the one tugging at her clothes. But she had one more surprise in store for him. She slid out of his arms, disappointing them both.
"Keep that thought, sweetheart. I'll be right back."
While Sammi was freshening up, whatever it was women actually did when they said they were "freshening up", Archie was left alone with his thoughts. For the first time in ... forever, those thoughts didn't revolve around The Accident. They revolved around the woman in his bathroom, a woman who he'd already decided he'd propose to someday. A woman whose heart and mind (and yes, body) he craved.
It was crazy. Absurdly, wonderfully crazy. Just over a month ago, they'd never even heard of each other. And now, he was planning to propose to her? Amazing... He remembered a line from a favorite movie: "Good things take time. Great things happen all at once." And there was no denying it: meeting Dr. Samantha O'Donnell was unequivocally a great thing in his life.
As he let his mind drift to thoughts like "Would she stay with 'O'Donnell'?" and "Yeah, 'Dr. Samantha Grantham' sounds just terrible!", he heard a rustling coming from the doorway to his bedroom. He turned, and all his higher brain functions stopped instantly.
Reading the emotions flying across Archie's face didn't require that guy on The Mentalist. There was dreamy happiness, then shock. Then happiness came back, tinged with lust. Finally, lust took over completely.
It was the exact series of feelings she'd hoped he'd have.
She'd chosen the knee-length black chemise with gold detailing woven throughout for effect. Judging from Archie's face, that effect was powerful. Satin and lace, it hugged her curves invitingly, curves she now saw through his eyes to be delicious and desirable. It wasn't designed to be worn for long, but the look in his eyes made it worth every penny.
She spun slowly through 360 degrees. "Like what you see?" All he could do was nod, slack-jawed and wide-eyed. Then she turned her back and coyly looked over her shoulder to him. "Mr. Grantham, you, sir, are overdressed." With that, she sashayed into his bedroom.
Instantly, she heard his footsteps, closing in on her fast. For a moment, she felt weightless when he scooped her into his arms and carried her to bed. "Dr. O'Donnell, you should absolutely do something about that..."
If he'd had the time to think, he would have been terrified. "Performance anxiety" wouldn't have even begun to describe it. He would have seized up, like an actor who's forgotten his lines on stage in front of a crowded audience of theatregoers. Later, the flagellation would have begun. He would have kicked himself for being a failure when it mattered the most, then for good measure he would have kicked himself for kicking himself. Years of therapy might have helped him move past the humiliation, but past events suggested that fortune would not be ever in his favor.
Luckily (for him and for Sammi), he didn't have the chance to think. In the moment of truth, he acted without conscious thought, responding quickly and decisively. At one point in his life, that would have been his nature, but the Accident (and all that led up to it) sapped his confidence.
And now? Now, while all of his attention was being lavished on this astonishing woman in his arms, somewhere in his brain, the Accident lost its power to destroy him. He wrenched control of his happiness, of his entire life away from those memories, and in the process, the Accident even lost its capitalization.
If she'd had time to think, the house of cards would have collapsed. The mask of confidence she'd been wearing would have revealed itself to be paper-thin. The Jackass would have forced his way back to the forefront of her mind. Her last relationship, the guy 2 years and 2 million tears ago, who'd told her how sexy she was. Who'd told her she was the only woman in the world. Who she'd given her heart to when he told her he loved her. Who'd taken her back to his sleazy apartment and used her for his satisfaction alone. Who'd cum inside her, gotten out of bed, and said "Wow, for a stuck-up cunt, you were pretty good. Maybe I'll let you do me again some time...", thrown $20 of cab fare at her, and never spoken to her again.
But when Archie quite literally swept her off her feet and pressed his lips to hers, her confidence blossomed almost instantly. The mask indeed did fall away, only now it revealed a strong, self-possessed woman with every reason to be sure of herself and her choices. A woman with a revitalized belief in her self-worth. And all of that centered on the woman she now could see herself to be, looking through the eyes of this remarkable man.
If you'd asked her at that instant, she wouldn't even have tried to remember The Jackass' name. C'mon, why think about stuff like that, when your true love is kissing you and giving you a night you'd dreamed about?
He carried her to the bed, gently laid her on her back and crawled on top of her. It had the effect of bringing their faces only inches apart. "Sammi, I've had this dream a million times. The one where the dorky guy gets the enchantingly perfect woman. But she wasn't anywhere near as beautiful as you are. Or as smart, or as funny, or as caring. I guess she wasn't as perfect as I made her out to be after all, because ... because she wasn't you. Is this real? Are you really real?"
Sammi chuckled. "It's funny. I've had the same dream my whole life too. Only in mine, it's the guy who's enchantingly perfect, and the dorky one is me. And, here I am, looking into the eyes of a man far more incredible than the one I dreamed up. So, either we're in each other's dreams, which as in sync as we are, isn't completely out of the realm of possibility... Or we've both found the one we were dreaming about. And either way..." She arched an eyebrow at him saucily.
"Yes, as I recall, you had pointed out that I was over-dressed, and I was suggesting you do something about that..." The smirk might have been glued onto his face.
"Anything to please my boyfriend," Sammi breathed out. She reached to Archie's waist and pulled his shirt over his head. Running her hands over his chest, she sighed contentedly. "Oh my. Archie, why did you think you needed to get wine when you've got a six-pack right here?"
He laughed. "Hardly, darling, but I'll admit it took some work to get back to the point where I was comfortable walking around without a shirt on."
"I don't think I want you walking around without a shirt on in public. I don't want the competition from other women! Besides, it's not safe; you'd cause traffic accidents!"
"Samantha O'Donnell, you know perfectly well that the only one of us who's turning heads is you. I mean, look at this beautiful hair..." He gently brushed the hair away from the side of her face, kissing her neck until she moaned. "And this perfect bone structure..." His kisses followed her jawline. "And these full, kissable lips..." His lips met hers, but only for a moment, leaving her aching for more. "This glowing complexion along your neck and shoulders..." He traced her right collarbone with tender kisses and gentle flicks of his tongue. Sammi was so lost in the moment, in the passion and joy she felt that she didn't notice the strap of her chemise sliding down to her upper arm.
"And, I hope you'll forgive me for living down to the male stereotype, but these are head-turners under any circumstances..." It wasn't until his lips closed around her right nipple that she realized he was undressing her and where this trail of kisses was headed. The feeling was so intense that she grabbed his head with both hands and pulled him closer.
She'd never felt this rush of sensations before. She knew now what other women meant when they talked about having a physical and emotional connection with someone. Her heart overflowed, and judging from the reaction she felt between her thighs, she knew where some of that overflow was going.
Her left nipple ached for his lips; she gently pulled his head across her chest. He didn't need any encouragement. The deep valley between her breasts tingled when he paused there, breathing deeply to inhale her scent. "This," she felt as much as thought, "is what it's supposed to feel like."
Archie lifted her butt ever-so-slightly off the bed, just enough to allow the chemise to slip over her hips. And with the realization that she was now completely undressed, a wave of fear crashed over her. She was naked beneath Archie, perhaps more emotionally than physically. Memories of feelings pushed their way to the fore, reminding her of past shame.
But then, there was Archie. Gentle, compassionate Archie, with the goofy first name and the tender eyes. The man who would fight tooth and nail to make sure she didn't get hurt. The man who, in just over a month, had somehow turned her into a believer. "Fine," she finally admitted to herself, "The man I'm in love with, who's just as deeply in love with me."
"Don't think. Just feel."
If he had a dime for every time someone told him he was over-thinking a situation... Well, he sure wouldn't still be working. But as "The Accident" became "the accident" (and indeed was well on its way to becoming nothing more than "this thing that happened a few years ago"), Archie began to live in the moment. To appreciate tastes, like the sweetness of Sammi's lips. Textures, like the smoothness of her skin. Sounds, like the tender moans she gifted him with. And aromas, like the unmistakable scent of arousal that drove him onward... and downward.
He wanted to kiss her ... there. No, he craved the chance to kiss her there. She was undoubtedly ready for him, and he was more than ready for her. Only ... The thought that he hadn't bought condoms in about a decade brought him up short.