A Many-Colored LanternAuthor(s): Julian Keys
(Available in epub, mobi, and pdf)
Publication Date: December 23, 2014
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Genres: Contemporary, Erotica, Romance
Tags: Christmas, f/m, holiday, Novella, Yule
“What do you do when you’re not rescuing damsels in distress?” Sophie had asked, and Ethan’s stomach had gone sick again. Search through garbage cans, he’d thought. Steal packs of cigarettes and liquor and cold medicine to sell for pocket money. Jesus, what was he doing still escorting her? It wasn’t like there could be anything between them.
And yet he couldn’t pull away. She was too… comfortable. From her thick hair to the oversized coat she wore, everything about her was as soft and welcoming as a warm bed. Even her name exuded a kind of coziness: Sophie. He wondered what it would be like to snuggle with her under the covers, to have her naked body next to his, skin to skin.
She was waiting for a response. He said the first thing that popped into his head, something about saving the junkie’s life, and she laughed—which only made him want to lean in closer.
“I’ve got a crazy temper,” she admitted, “but I mean, can you believe it? That asshole broke into a thrift shop run by a children’s charity! That’s like stealing from kids. Who would do something like that?”
The warmth stirring in his crotch went cold, and he looked away.
“I dunno. Someone desperate, I guess.”
Sophie turned them at a corner, past a café that smelled of mochas and sugar cookies. Behind the glass doors, Ethan saw couples intimately sharing tables. There were carolers performing, singing songs of wassailing and decking halls.
God, wouldn’t that be paradise? Sitting in there with Sophie, listening to the carols, indulging in an eggnog latte. He let out a snort. How pathetic was it that he hadn’t the resources to do even that? To buy a girl a cup of coffee.
He glanced away and almost stopped. A block down from the café was a street of beautifully renovated Victorian homes. God. Porticos and mansard roofs, turrets, oriel windows…. For a moment the carpenter in Ethan took over, heart swelling at the sight of all those expertly refurbished gables and cornices. And then regular Ethan was back absorbing the expensive decorations, and the way the windows glowed behind their frost, rather than being dark and ominous. The plowed snow, piled up on either side of the tree-lined lane, was white, not muddy black and gray as in Ethan’s part of town and the air smelled of firewood and dinners cooking.
Ethan’s mouth watered helplessly and he found it hard to swallow. He couldn’t walk down this street. He didn’t belong here, not for years now. They’d take him for a vagrant and a thief and they’d be right.
“I work with kids,” Sophie was still moving, walking backward and nearly falling over a fire hydrant. Much as his instincts told him to hold back, Ethan couldn’t help but follow her.
“At the Natural Science Museum,” she elaborated. “Programming, tours, teaching, it’s the greatest thrill to see that ‘wow’ expression on kids’ faces when you show them how the human body works or explain the connection between electricity and magnets. I love my work. I’m annoying you aren’t I?”
Shit. His misgivings were showing. “Um no, it’s not that.”
“I bet you like girls who are quiet and supportive.” Her expression fell, as if she’d just ruined a job interview. “The kind who wouldn’t dream of disturbing you while you paint.”
It was his turn to laugh. Was she kidding? Not just about the painting, but about the kind of girl he wanted. He’d been seven years on his own, and during the first few he’d kept the television on for the illusion of company. Forced to sell the set, he’d replaced it with an old clock radio he’d found in a dumpster. He never switched the damn thing off. Silence was deafening, terrifying. Sophie could babble all night long and he wouldn’t tire of it.
“I like your voice,” he said, which was an understatement. She had charming intonations; they flowed and hummed like a harp.
“I have a mother and sister and we’re pretty close,” she was still apologizing. “We chatter incessantly. You’ll see when I introduce you. Here we are.”
“Introduce me?” he said with alarm, even as he trailed her down a path and up the steps of a restored gingerbread. It had been lovingly repainted in mistletoe-green, and gold. Violet-blue holiday lights outlined the bay windows and hung like droplets from the eves.
On the door was a pine wreath accented with small apples, pomegranates and shiny stars.
“Mother!” The door wasn’t locked and Sophie was already in before Ethan could stop her. For a single heartbeat, he thought about running off with her packages. Then he guiltily stepped in, shutting the door behind him.
Love Stories for the Holidays
Holidays mark the passage of time in a way that synchronizes the calendar kept by the heart with the one kept by the head. More than just dates, holidays are intersections of memory and emotion, annual snapshots of who we are as we travel through life—and who we’re traveling with. Holidays remind us of who we want to share special moments with, and of those without whom the moments aren’t quite as special.
Julian Keys shows us how the quest to discover a secret love restores a cynic’s hope, how a moment of compassion turns a thief into a hero, how sympathy for the Devil can lead to a happy ending, and how a multicultural celebration opens the way for even the most unlikely unions.
Cold Days, Hot Nights shares four tales of holidays that become turning points in life and love for people who have lost faith in themselves, in each other, and in romance. From Halloween to Christmas to Valentine’s Day, Keys’ stories show how not simply the feeling of love, but the willingness to risk pain to be open to the possibilities love offers, can change a person’s life in wonderful ways.