An Act of Charity
by

Noel Larkin’s hyper-holiday spirit is a mystery to both her boyfriend, Roland and her dour accountant, Benjamin. So when charming Hank, a non-profit organizer, re-appears in her life, Noel was delighted. At last she’d found romantic harmony, or so she thought. Then comes Christmas Eve and revelations that shake her faith in all three men. Can anyone restore her Christmas spirit to her before her birthday arrives the next morning? It would take an act of selfless charity to do so. (F/M)

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Chapter 4: All Through the Night


Noel stood in the dark, staring at the Christmas tree. Once she’d gotten home she’d stripped off everything and gotten into her red-and-white striped, footed pajamas, a one piece with a zipper up the front. The pj’s were totally absurd, but very soft and cozy. Her plushest robe had gone on over that.

Feeling well armored, she’d taken Roland’s stocking down from the mantle and scoured the house for anything belonging to him; clothes, electric razor, coffee cup, the presents under the tree that were from him to her, still in their wrapping paper and ribbons. Everything had gone into a box in the hall closet, even his toothpaste. As for the Christmas presents she’d gotten him, those she tossed into a different box, one she’d drop off at Goodwill day after tomorrow.

She did keep one thing: the wine. The plan had been for Roland to pick up a pre-ordered crown-roast supper for two. No doubt he and electric-guitar girl were feasting on it now. Roland wasn’t the sort to let that kind of thing go to waste. Which left Noel with a bottle of merlot. She poured a second glass and wandered over to the tree.

The ornaments glinted and glowed on their branches, asking to be admired. Almost all of them were musical in theme, ones she’d picked up herself or been given by family, friends and students: Miniature pianos, violins, saxophones, lutes, French horns, even an accordion. There was a little drummer boy and a fiddling Santa, varnished scrolls of sheet music, silver and gold notes, and a dozen different harps and bells.

Usually, she had only to glance at an ornament and a snippet of music would come to mind: the xylophone of The Nutcracker’s sugarplum fairies or the trumpet of Handel’s Messiah. Not tonight.

“Noel?”

She sipped her wine. There was no music tonight, only deafening silence. That’s all there’d been in her head since the bridge. She didn’t even notice the sounds around her: the crackle of the fire, the wind blowing down the chimney. Footsteps.

“Noel?”

No music, and no desire to give. She’d always believed that giving was its own reward. Yet now she wondered about that. It seemed like she’d spent her time on earth meandering in and out of people’s lives, offering them music, money, time, everything she had. They’d drunk their fill of her and then? Students stopped with their lessons and never contacted her again. Friends moved away, relatives passed on. Lovers sought greener pastures.

Maybe that was why she’d been so eager to throw money at charities? Because she’d known that they would keep coming back. But likely they’d just drink her dry and head off to another well. How the hell had she ended up so lonely?

“You left the keys in the front door,” Benjamin said. Not Roland, nor Hank for that matter, come to rescue her from solitude. Benjamin. She could feel him there, waiting for her to face him.

“I put your key ring on the hook. There were some documents I didn’t think I’d need,” he added, “and it turns out I do. I— I wouldn’t have come here otherwise.”

Tomorrow morning, Noel reflected, still staring at the tree, she’d sit here opening gifts that meant nothing to her. Things she didn’t want and couldn’t use, poor substitutes for love and companionship. She would open the presents alone, just like last year and the year before. And just like last year and the year before, she’d spend the rest of Christmas day, her birthday, alone.

“Noel?”

“I found Roland with his new girlfriend.”

“Oh, Jesus, Noel, I’m sorry—”

“We broke up,” she cut him off. Then, “When did you find out about them?”

She didn’t hear him shift, but she felt the movement, his discomfort.

“A few weeks ago. I wasn’t spying on him. I was on my way to a meeting with a client, and I passed by the music store and saw him and—and her. Kissing. Fooling around. Noel, you have to believe, I didn’t mean to tell you that way, to hurt you—”

“No, no,” she sighed and sipped her wine. “It was a good thing you did. I went looking for him rather than going to the bank and withdrawing a large amount of cash to hand over to Hank Bole.”

She heard Benjamin suck in his breath.

“That would have been bad, right?” she added. “Because he’s a crook.”

Silence.

“Come on, Benjamin. Right now I’m feeling my whole life’s a lie. You’re the only honest thing in it. So give it to me straight.”

“Hank Bole is… ” A pause. “…still doing what I overheard you say he used to do in high school. Only he’s not using his acting talents to get girls into bed. He’s using them to bilk women out of their money. He and Mona are con artists.”

No different from when they were teenagers, Noel mused, not Hank or her. He’d flirted with her to get what he wanted, and she, dazzled by the attention, had been ready to give it to him. What was especially galling was how easily he’d lured her in: all those depreciating regrets about his selfish youth, as if he were sorry for his wrongs and now wanted to do right. Oh, yes. The girl who loved holiday movies about redemption and discovering the Christmas spirit had swallowed that hook, line and sinker.

“You wouldn’t have believed me,” Benjamin’s gruff voice cut through, apologizing. “If I’d told you flat out about Roland or Hank. You… like to give people the benefit of the doubt.”

“I’m a nice person. Yes,” she finished, setting down her empty wine glass. Maybe she ought to refill it again? “You’re right. I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Like you said, I’m too charitable, a gullible Pollyanna. No wonder you’re always looking down your nose at me. You must think I’m a real idiot.”

“No,” he said roughly, and she finally turned around. He looked terrible, pale and lost, as if he’d been walking the streets for hours. “I think you’re the most generous, most wonderful person I’ve ever met. And I can’t stand that people use and hurt you.”

Noel didn’t know how to respond to that.

Benjamin started pacing, restlessly crossing and crisscrossing the room. “The people I meet always want to cheat the system. They don’t care if someone ends up starving on the streets; having what they want is all that matters. It’s like life is one big game, and the aim is to screw everyone else while hoarding all the prize money for yourself. I was convinced everyone was like this. Then I met you.” He flapped his arms about like an outraged bird. “An impossibility. A character out of a Christmas story. You really and truly think only of what you can do for others. You’ll lie down and let people step on you if it’ll help them get to the other side. I’ve seen it.

“You’re cheerful, charitable, forgiving,” he went on. “You even think the best of me!” He tapped his chest. “I can tell. No matter how awful I am, you think I’m worth…” he caught a breath. “Worth something. And yet your students never thank you, and their parents always want you to perform for this event or that without pay. Assholes like Hank Bole want to fleece you. And Roland,” he growled the name. “You’d think a guy who sells instruments would understand your music, but he doesn’t get it. Doesn’t get you. When I’m at the desk, and I hear you play, it’s like— like—”

“Like?”

He stopped in front of her. “Like you’re gifting yourself to me.”

She was amazed to see that he was trembling. She’d never imagined her accountant could be like this, so ardent and stormy. Nor had she ever imagined she’d find him so strangely attractive: that wavy, black hair, the dark eyes, even the aquiline nose. Why hadn’t she ever noticed how sexy he was? Like some negative angel come down to Earth in search of redemption. He smelled good, too, all Christmas spice.

She found herself leaning towards him, and before she could reconsider, her hands were behind his head. Her fingers combed through that wavy, black hair and drew his head down. His spicy fragrance filled her nostrils, and she heard his shallow and rapid breathing. Was his heart thumping loudly in his ears?

Their lips touched. She expected him to seize the opportunity and kiss her roughly, but he was surprisingly tentative about it, brushing his lips over hers, as if exploring their softness. His mouth opened and so did hers. He tasted of nutmeg and brown sugar. The kiss deepened, making her tingle, making her hunger for more. She forced herself to break off and step back. She didn’t want to make another mistake.

He didn’t come after her. He just waited, Adam’s apple bobbing. She’d always thought him cold, but she could see now that he’d been wearing a visor all this time, one that disguised his feelings. It’d been lifted at last and his emotions were plain to see: He wanted her. Badly. But he was sure she was going to change her mind, renege on that kiss and throw him out. He was right to be worried; she wasn’t feeling charitable or nice; what she was feeling was that it was time to reclaim her Christmas Eve.

She grabbed hold of his sweater and pulled it up. He was startled, but hurried to help her snatch it off him. Underneath was a thermal shirt. He quickly crossed his arms and pulled that off too, tossing it aside. His body wasn’t as skinny as she’d feared it’d be; the ribs were showing, but his shoulders had breath, his chest definition. She raked her eyes over him, saliva pooling under her tongue as she followed a line of hair down from breastbone, to navel and below. All mine, she thought, nabbing him by the belt and dragging him into the bedroom.

A push landed him flat on his back, and she busied herself with getting his boots unlaced. They hit the carpet. Socks next. He had long, boney feet. She climbed up next to him and reached for the buckle.

“You’ve got ballerinas and nutcrackers on your bed,” he said. He was blinking at the quilt in disbelief.

“Yes I do.” She leaned in, nose to nose. “This is my Nutcracker Suite duvet and you will not disrespect it.”

“That’s a tall order,” he responded, cupping her face in his long hands and giving her a lingering kiss. The desire in her rose quickly, strongly. His tongue was caressing hers now, teasing the roof of her mouth, making her feel flush and dizzy.

“But anything you want, I’ll do,” he said in a thick, husky voice. “Anything.”

She swallowed hard and stroked a hand down his belly, liking the way it fluttered under her touch. Back up and across his chest which rose and fell with excited breaths. “Take off your pants,” she told him.

He unbuckled and unzipped, lifting his butt to push off the trousers. A few kicks and he was free of them. He wore a charmingly simple and cheap pair of white briefs, under which his erection was evident. Noel tossed off her robe. Benjamin’s eyes widened as he got a good look at the striped, footed pj’s. He bit his lip.

“You can laugh at my elf suit later,” she grumbled, lying down beside him. Roland had always wanted to rip off the clothes and get down to business, rarely giving Noel time to explore. She was determined to indulge herself now. In no rush, she fondled Benjamin through the cotton briefs, toying with his thick tool, even scratching it with her short nails till he squirmed and moaned.

“Let’s take them off,” she whispered in his ear. He couldn’t wiggle out of them fast enough. His shaft popped up from a nest of black hair, pearl drops welling at the tip. Scooting down, Noel took it in hand, and gave it a taste. Benjamin gasped and bucked and Noel licked her lips. He tasted like honey and nutmeg.

She ran her tongue down the side of his rod, between his hairy thighs to his balls. His spice fragrance was potent down here, and she lapped at that furry, crinkly sac very leisurely, enjoying his intoxicating scent. By the time she glided back up he was rocking, his dick swaying like a metronome. She took him into her mouth.

This was one of those things she savored, when the velvety soft skin of a man’s member grew slippery with her saliva and she could just swallow him down. She let the crown hit the roof of her mouth, sucking on that satiny candy cane. Then she let it glide back out so she could tongue his slit, sip at that spiced punch flavor, then back again to bobbing and sucking.

Benjamin groaned and clutched at the duvet. It was clear that he was fighting against his urge to buck up into her throat, which impressed her. Roland had always lost control and ended up gagging her.

“Oh, Jesus, Noel,” Benjamin suddenly cried, and before she knew what was happening, his cock had left her mouth. He grabbed her and rolled them over so that he was kneeling above her. He caught her mouth, biting her lips, fingers searching for the zipper. His skin had a sheen sweat and he was trembling with desire, but he held off. His gaze meeting hers, asking permission to open his Christmas present.

She nodded and he slowly drew down the zipper. The pajamas parted from neck to crotch. It was his turn to rake his eyes over her, and she watched him carefully for signs of disappointment. His Adam’s apple bobbed with a hard swallow as he drank her in, eyes traveling from the exposed breasts with their dusky rose nipples, to that soft bit of belly she couldn’t seem to exercise away, down to the cinnamon-red triangle of her pubic hair. Then his gaze came back up and he used that beak of a nose to slowly caress her neck.

Down he went from there, his lips pressing at the base of her throat, shoulder, and finally her breasts. He rubbed his hair over her nipples, an exquisite sensation, and they stiffened. Then his cheek went up against them, the faint, sandpapery hint of stubble sending a burn down to her groin.

“I know you’re doing this as an act of charity,” he whispered, “and I don’t care, I don’t care—”

“Fuck that.” Noel impatiently pulled him toward her nipple. “I’m not being charitable. I want something and I’m using you to get it. Without reservations, without hesitation. This is all for me.”

“Good for you!” he breathed on her breast, and then he was tonguing her areolas and pulling gently at her nipples with his teeth. Each light tug sent a jolt to her pussy, wetting her thighs. She groaned and struggled out of the pajamas.

With impatient tugs, Benjamin helped to get her naked, and then he was down between her legs, his hands, those long, hot piano hands, at her waist, following her curves. His kisses feathered over her belly making her hips grind.

Her breath was coming short now as he left that soft spot right below the navel to nip and suck at her tender, inner thighs. She writhed and moaned, and spread her legs wider. When his tongue hit her swollen inner-lips it came as such a shock that she cried out. It was as if he’d rung a bell. She’d barely had time to catch her breath when he licked her again and again. Long, slow strokes, his tongue flat and trying to lap up every taste of her.

She had her hands tangled in his hair, and her ass was rocking up to meet him. Sweat broke out across her body. That’s when the music came back. No set tune, just a full orchestration of licks and rocks and jolts and waves. The steady caress of his tongue over her sensitive clit, the beat of her ass against the bed, the ripples of sensation, spreading up and out to her limbs—

The tempo sped up, until, like the climax of a cadenza, she was swept up. Her body jerked and spasmed and she cried out, eyes shutting tight. When she opened them again, Benjamin was over her, his cock ready to enter.

She grabbed hold of his lanky body, drawing him inside. His cock rubbed those tight, still-squeezing walls within her. Another orgasm, the intense beat of it a counter point to his strokes. Faster and faster—

Benjamin shouted, coming hard, and Noel thought she screamed. The music crescendoed and a sensation sweeter than any music carried her up. She kept hold of Benjamin throughout, as she might hold onto an angel flying her into the dark Christmas sky. Finally, she became aware of their ragged breaths, their sweaty bodies, and the matching hammer of hearts.

Releasing him, she collapsed onto the bed, wrung out, exhausted, and marveling at the fact that for once, and without a single, recognizable melody in her head, she’d enjoyed a perfect improvisation with a man.

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