Mistletoe & Mochas
The paint is still wet when Devan discovers the ominous threat on her coffee shop window. But she doesn’t scare easily. Artists’ Grind is her home, and she’ll defend it—even if she ends up getting hurt in the process.
“Quad shot Americano.”
Mac hasn’t voluntarily spoken to another soul in months. Not since an IED left him scarred and in constant pain. But when he runs out of coffee, Devan’s irreverent attitude and the best espresso in Boston draw him in.
Finding out she’s being threatened? That makes the former army lieutenant’s protective instincts kick in.
Will Devan break through Mac’s walls? Or his pride keep them both alone on Christmas?
What had he been thinking?
You wanted to see if those lips were as soft as they looked. It had to be the Vicodin. The pills dulled his senses along with the pain. That was the only reason he’d gone into Devan’s shop. The only reason he’d flirted with her. The realization hit him square in the chest. He’d flirted with her. All five-foot-five of luscious curves that even the loose apron couldn’t hide. Her silky voice tumbled out of her heart-shaped mouth and flowed as smooth as the coffee that slid down his throat. Her deep brown eyes had beckoned him into her shop where he’d been hard-pressed to want to leave. The brown curls of her hair were long enough for him to grab and tug her head back so he could dip his lips—he growled out an oath. No more.
Mac took another long sip of his coffee. She brewed a damn good cup. Few shops in this neighborhood had any inkling how to make a quality cup of coffee. Hell, most of them had those push-button automatic cappuccino machines that offered a dozen different drinks without lifting a finger. He loved this town—as much as he loved anything these days—but its coffee left a lot to be desired.
She’d had some trouble. That much had been clear from his apartment. He couldn’t read what had been scrawled in red paint on her shop window, but it likely wasn’t good.
“Don’t get involved,” he muttered as he coded himself back into his building. He nodded to the security guard at the visitor’s desk.
It didn’t occur to him until he’d collapsed into his armchair and flipped on the morning news that he hadn’t made it far enough to buy beans. Dammit. He was going to go back to that little shop and talk to her again. The throbbing pain in his hip flared up and he cursed. No. He was damaged goods. He’d go out later and buy beans at the Co-op three blocks away.
The pain woke him sometime after dark. It always did. He looked at his watch. Seven p.m. He’d fallen asleep after a solitary dinner of cold pizza. It was too late to head to the Co-op now. Every time he steeled himself for another trip out into society, he found another reason to stay indoors. He’d done more physical therapy than was probably smart, worked in his sketchbook for a while, and booked time at the metal shop for the next day. Mac limped into his bathroom and reached for the Vicodin bottle. His hands shook while twisting the lid and he spilled ten of the pills onto the bathroom tiles. “Shit.”
Frustration rose with each pill he retrieved. He’d been about to make it a two-pill day. That was unacceptable. He’d meant to be off of them by now. Never mind that his doctors told him he’d probably have pain for the rest of his life. That didn’t mean he had to let his body win. He was strict where the pills were concerned. Becoming addicted to painkillers was not something he was prepared to live with. He refused to take the pills more than two days in a row and never more than one pill a day. He shoved the pills back into the medicine cabinet and opted for a glass of Scotch instead. It didn’t take the pain away, but the fuzzing of his mind wouldn’t last as long. His head would be clear in the morning.
The phone rang as he took his first swallow.
“Terry. What’s up, man?” His former CO called him at least once a week. At first, it’d been clear the man had only called out of obligation, but sometime over the past year, they’d become friends. Terry had lost the lower half of his right leg in the same attack that had nearly taken Mac’s life. Despite this, Terry had been released from the hospital after a scant three months. He’d gone on an army recruitment trip to finish out his enlistment and was now looking for work. Mac felt like a failure next to the man, despite how much he’d come to rely on Terry’s friendship when things got low.
“I got a job.” The gruff voice on the other end of the line was thick with pride.
“Yeah? Where at?” Mac took another sip. He wasn’t looking forward to the rest of this conversation, even though he was fucking proud of Terry for how quickly he’d recovered and gotten back into society.
“I’m workin’ for OneFund. Volunteer Coordinator. I start on Monday.”
“That’s great, man. How’re you doing with the new leg? Giving you any trouble?”
“Nah. I got a retrofit yesterday. It gets a little sweaty when I’m on the treadmill, but that’s the only issue. I’m training for the marathon. OneFund said they’d give me one of their charity spots.”
Silence descended. Mac didn’t know what else to say, and Terry was probably trying to figure out how broach his favorite subject. He sighed. “Mac, has anything changed with you?”
“Goddammit. Listen, man. You’ve got to snap out of this. Do something with the rest of your life! When was the last time you left your apartment?”
“Really?” The surprise roughened Terry’s voice.
“I needed coffee.”
Terry snorted. “A trip to the grocery store barely counts. Did you talk to anyone? Have any sort of meaningful conversation?”
“I went to a coffee shop,” Mac said defensively.
“Talked to the owner some. I might go back tomorrow.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“No.” He didn’t feel like explaining. Or admitting that he’d flirted with Devan. Or that he knew her name. He’d never hear the end of it.
“What about your metal work? Call any galleries?”
“I’m not any good. It’s something to blow off steam. That’s all. I’m looking for a job. Haven’t found anything I’m interested in yet. I’ve got enough saved up for another year. So get off my back. You might be Captain America, back from war, but I’m not. I’ll do it in my own time and in my own way. I’m proud of you, man. Seriously. You came back from some serious shit and you did it in record time. But I can’t.”
“Goddammit, Mac. You’re a f**king genius with the blowtorch. I’ve seen your pieces. You could make a living selling that s**t.”
“Can we change the subject, please?” Mac was about to hang up on the man.
“Fine. What are you doing for Christmas? My sister’s cooking a huge spread. Goose. Some epic bread pudding, pecan pie. Come up to Vermont with me for the weekend.”
Mac ran a hand through his wavy black hair. It had gotten a little long in the eleven months that he’d been off active duty. He needed a haircut. “We had this same discussion at Thanksgiving. I’m not good company. I’d ruin everyone else’s Christmas. I’ll get Chinese food.”
“Be that way. I’ve got to get up early for PT in the morning. Next time you want to talk, you call me. Make a f**king effort and stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’re alive. Start acting like it.”
The line went dead and Mac fought the urge the throw the phone across the room. The only reason he didn’t was that he’d have to go to the store the next day and get a new one.
He wandered over to the window and gazed down the street. Snow fell lightly, glistening in the glow of the street lamps. Down at Devan’s shop, the door opened. A parka-clad form emerged, turned, and locked the door behind her. Even bundled up, he recognized her. Devan tucked a fat leather pouch under her arm and looked both ways before crossing the street.
Dammit, woman. Don’t you know that it’s stupid to not hide your bank pouch? There was a small local bank two blocks over, and he’d bet money that was where she was heading to make her night drop. She’d have to walk right by his apartment.
Mac grabbed his coat. He didn’t know if he could make it down to the street in time to catch her, but he was going to try.
The street was deserted tonight. The temperature dipped into the low teens and snow fell, bathing the entire city in white. Devan loved winter. Everything was fresh and clean. The street lamps boasted holiday garland and twinkling lights. Once she deposited the night’s bankroll, she could tuck herself in on the couch with a blanket and watch Love Actually—one of her favorite holiday movies. Monday, she’d rent a car and go out and get herself a stocky Christmas tree for her apartment and a small one for the shop.
“Four days,” she told herself. She closed the shop early on Mondays because business was never good that day, and she needed the break. When you owned your own store, you didn’t get vacations.
Footsteps slapped on the pavement down the street and Devan tensed. Those weren’t running shoes. Whoever belonged to those steps was headed straight for her. She dug into her pocket for her pepper spray and whirled around. “Stop there!” she yelled, brandishing the bottle.
The man skidded to a halt and lost his balance on a patch of ice. He went down with an audible oof.
“Who the hell—Mac?” The man crumpled in a heap a few feet away was Mr. Tall, Dark, and Sexy from this morning. “Are you insane?” She kept the pepper spray held aloft. Regardless of how sexy he was, he’d still chased her down on a dark, deserted street.
“S**t,” he grunted. His arm wrapped protectively around his waist and pain deepened lines around his eyes and lips. “Admittedly, that was not my smartest plan.”
“Running after a woman in the dark? No. Give me a good reason why I shouldn’t call the cops on you right now. I’ve never seen you before today and now you’re chasing me? Stalker much?”
Devan backed up a few steps as Mac got to his feet. “I’m not going to hurt you, sweetheart. I live in the apartment building there.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Looked out my window to see you walking alone with a bank pouch. Are you asking for trouble? This isn’t Peoria. It’s Boston, for f**k’s sake. You’re a walking target carrying that thing.” He gestured towards her leather pouch and winced.
“I’ve been making this walk every night for three years. Never had a lick of trouble. Also,” she said, wagging the bottle of pepper spray in front of his face, “I’m not exactly helpless.”
Mac shoved his hands in his pockets. “Never said you were. But you’ve got to admit you’re asking for it. At least put the pouch inside a bag. Or get someone to go with you after dark.”
“The bank’s two blocks away. It’s not even nine.” Anger sharpened her tone. “Go home, Mac.”
“No. I’m walking you to the bank. Once you drop off that bullseye you’re holding, you’re on your own.”
A frustrated groan escaped her lips as Devan took off at a quick clip down the icy street. Mac strode after her, the hitch in his step more pronounced than it had been this morning. She cast furtive glances at him as they went. He wasn’t staying too close, possibly not wanting her to feel threatened. Or perhaps he’d hurt himself when he fell. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Fine,” he said, and quickened his steps.
Hardly. He was hurting. She knew the signs. Her father had dealt with a chronic hip injury for the last ten years of his life. Mac exhibited some of the same behaviors. Even this morning his gait had been uneven. She snorted in disbelief.
They turned down Tremont and made another quick left onto Worcester. Devan rushed over to the bank drop, yanked down the door and slid the pouch inside. “There. It’s done. Your white knight duties are officially over for the evening.” She set off back towards Artist’s Grind. Mac watched her for a moment, then followed in his loping manner.
When they reached Tremont, he caught up with her and touched her arm. “Where are you headed?” He hunched his shoulders against the cold and the snow. His black hair was dusted with white. A couple of flakes were buried in his eyebrows. She wanted to brush them away.
“I live above the shop.”
They walked in silence the rest of the way to Artist’s Grind. Devan pulled out her keys. “Thank you for your sweet but totally unnecessary chivalrous behavior. I open at six. Tomorrow’s coffee is on me. For nearly blinding you with pepper spray. Even though you did probably deserve it.”
Mac’s shocked look put a smile on Devan’s face as she slipped into the warmth of her shop.
A short and sexy read, just in time for the holidays. The author gives us flawed, but heroic characters with Mac and Devan – and even sneaks in a bit of danger in this holiday love story. The author did a great job with the characters, not often found in short stories. Mac, severely injured in Afghanistan from a mortar attack, has only been out of the hospital for three months, and against doctor’s recommendations. Devan, owns a hip artisan coffee shop across the street. When some thugs start vandalizing her property, Mac steps in to help, but even when he’s starting to have feelings for Devan, he still thinks he’s damaged goods and no one would care for him.
A nice storyline that is a bit rushed, but still quite enjoyable. Reviewed by Cyrene