New Year’s Eve – Blane
Blane Kirk glanced at his watch as he slipped on his coat. Nearly six. Damn. He’d hoped to get out of the office early tonight. Grabbing his briefcase, he closed and locked his office door before heading for the elevator.
Tonight was New Year’s Eve and he’d planned a special evening for himself and Kathleen. After the tumultuous Christmas holiday, he hoped to regain some of the ground he’d lost with her.
It was a difficult game, but he played it well. Knowing when to advance, when to retreat, and when to stand his ground, but the stakes had never been higher.
Once in his Jaguar, Blane punched a button on his cell. In a moment, he heard the ringing of the call over the speakers as the Bluetooth connected.
“Kat, it’s me,” he said. “I’m running a little late.”
“That’s fine. No worries.” Her easy reply made him smile to himself. It was nice to not be harangued for doing his job.
“Is Mona still there?” he asked.
“No. She and Gerard left a short while ago. She didn’t make dinner, though. You want me to start something?”
Blane grimaced. Kat was beautiful, sweet tempered, smart and kind. But she could not cook. A face she was a bit oblivious to. “No, don’t do that,” he replied quickly. “I’m making dinner for you tonight, we’ll just be eating a little later than I’d planned.”
“You’re going to cook?”
Blane smiled outright this time at the surprise in her voice.
“I’m a man of many talents,” he teased.
“I believe I can attest to that.” Her suggestive reply, said in a husky tone, made Blane unconsciously speed up the car.
A half hour later, he was juggling his briefcase, keys and grocery bags as he entered his kitchen. Setting it all down on the counter, a forlorn meow had him glancing down. Tigger, Kathleen’s cat, was winding his way around and through Blane’s legs.
“Hey, buddy,” Blane said, bending to give the cat a scratch behind the ears. “Don’t worry. I got something for you, too.”
As if he understood, the cat began to purr, the husky vibration loud in the room.
“Hey! Welcome home!”
Blane looked up to see Kathleen standing in the doorway to the dining room. The tiny knot of anxiety in his stomach eased at the sight of her. Each day he wondered if he’d arrive home to find she’d left, moved back into her apartment. He knew she would at some point, but he hoped to put it off for as long as possible.
Kat was beautiful, but not in the flashy way Blane was accustomed to. Naturally pretty, she didn’t pile on the makeup, though when she did decide to go all out, she was stunning. Women had used every means at their disposal to get Blane’s attention for as long as he could remember, until he’d grown immune and disillusioned.
He’d even suspected Kathleen of deliberately making a scene to get his attention when she fell into his lap so many months ago. He’d looked for her immediately afterwards, intent on unleashing a scathing reprimand before firing her. And if she hadn’t been cowering underneath her desk hiding from him, he would have.
A woman who didn’t want his attention was certainly new. He’d observed her a few times over the ensuing months, noticing she was always quick to disappear from his sight once she spotted him, her fair cheeks flaming.
She intrigued him. But she was an employee and he’d purposely dismissed her from his thoughts, though he couldn’t help admiring the curves she kept hidden under her sweaters or the long, thick sweep of hair the color of the sunrise. Every time he’d managed to pass by her, most often on his way to his office while she stood at Clarice’s desk and unable to make a quick getaway, his fingers had itched to touch a long, wavy strand. He wondered if it was as silky soft as it looked.
Blane rarely heard her speak, so he was taken by surprise at the slightly southern lilt to her high, delicate voice as she talked with Clarice. It seemed fitting, he thought, smiling slightly as he walked by. She glanced at him and their eyes met for a fleeting moment. Kathleen’s cheeks paled before blooming with color and she quickly averted eyes as pure blue as the ocean on a cloudless, summer day.
Beautiful and innocent. It was a potent combination. And in the end, one he hadn’t been able to resist.
“Hey yourself.” He pulled Kathleen into his arms for a kiss. “You should stay off the leg, you know,” he said once they’d parted. She’d left her hair loose and he wrapped a thick, wavy lock around his finger. The scent of her perfume drifted up to him and Blane inhaled deeply.
“My leg is much better,” she said. “You should let me go back to work.”
“A gunshot wound takes time,” he hedged, reluctantly releasing her. He turned and began unpacking the grocery sacks. “Don’t rush it.” The clock was ticking on her living with him, he could feel it. He hated to see it come to an end. Having Kathleen to come home to at night made all the difference.
“What did you buy?” she asked, peering into a sack.
“I am going to make you one of my favorite meals,” Blane answered. “Coq au Vin.”
“Sounds fancy.” Kathleen’s eyes danced as she grinned at him. “You know I’m just a country girl, right?”
“I beg to differ,” Blane said seriously. “You’re not just anything.”
Kathleen blushed, as he’d known she would. She was too humble by far, in Blane’s opinion.
“What can I do to help?” she asked, changing the subject.
Blane uncorked a bottle of red wine, poured two glasses and handed her one. “You can drink a glass of wine and keep me company,” he said, clinking his glass against hers.
“That doesn’t seem like much help.”
Blane shrugged out of his suit coat and unknotted his tie while he answered. “I’m here to serve you tonight. Just sit back and enjoy it.”
He didn’t miss the way her eyes followed his hands as he loosened his clothing, her tongue darting out to wet her lips. Blane loved the way she looked at him when her mind turned to more carnal thoughts. She probably wasn’t even aware that she did it, but he always knew when desire sparked in her. He slowly slid his silk tie from underneath his collar and undid the top two buttons of his shirt, watching her watch him. He continued talking, the art of speaking while his concentration was elsewhere now second nature to him, given his profession.
“It’ll take a little while to cook, but I can promise it’ll be worth the wait. The meat just melts in your mouth.”
Blane could tell she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. He casually turned back his cuffs a few times. Her gaze was fixed on his hands now, the wine glass she held forgotten.
Blane’s gaze flicked over Kat. She was wearing jeans that clung to her in all the right places. In what he assumed was a concession to the holiday, she had chosen a black blouse shot through with silver threads that sparkled when she moved. The deep V neckline showed off the plump curves of her breasts while the color made her skin appear like cream.
His groin tightened and Blane mentally cursed his self-imposed celibacy. He’d made the decision impulsively Christmas night, wanting more from Kat than the promise of sex. He wanted the “I love you” that would tie her inexorably to him.
But keeping that resolution had been hard as hell, no pun intended.
“Why don’t you tell me what you did today?” Blane asked, grabbing the ingredients for dinner. Keeping his eyes on the food rather than Kathleen seemed like a good idea.
“I read a book,” she answered, coming to lean back against the counter beside him. She took another sip of wine, watching him as he diced the pancetta. “And helped Mona put away the ornaments from the tree in the library.” She smiled somewhat ruefully at him. “I’m not used to being idle.”
Yes, Blane agreed. Kathleen had been responsible for too much in her young life, had been on her own with no one to look out for her for too long. She deserved to be pampered and protected, for the most she had to worry about to be what she chose to wear.
It occurred to Blane that he’d never heard Kat talk about a vacation, whether going on one previously or planning one. He wondered when the last time was she’d even had a vacation. Valentine’s Day was fast approaching. Maybe if his schedule allowed…“So, if you could go anywhere to visit, where would you go?” he asked.
“Anywhere,” he confirmed.
“Hmm…well…I’ve always wanted to visit Las Vegas.”
“Vegas?” Blane concealed his surprise. That hadn’t been the answer he expected. “Why Vegas? Do you have a gambling addiction I don’t know about?”
Kat laughed. “No, it’s just that Vegas always seemed so…exotic and exciting. The lights, the hotels, the shows.” She gave a small shrug. “It sounds dumb and hick, I guess, to want to go there.”
“Of course not.”
“Have you ever been?”
Blane nodded. “It’s been a little while, but Kade and I went a couple years back. I thought it would be a good bonding trip for us.”
Memories he’d tried to forget assailed him. “You could say that,” was his noncommittal reply. Blane slid the pot full of chicken and wine into the oven.
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?” she teased.
Blane’s smile was forced. “Let’s get in the hot tub,” he said, quickly changing the subject from his and Kade’s one and only trip to Vegas together. He didn’t want to discuss Kade. Not with Kathleen. And not tonight.
The distraction worked.
“You didn’t know I had one?” Blane grabbed a bottle of champagne and two flutes before taking her by the hand and leading her to the back door. “I thought for sure I’d told you.”
“I would have remembered that,” she said, peering through the sliding glass window to the hot tub sitting on the concrete patio. “But it’s freezing outside.”
“Which makes it even better.” Blane unbuttoned his shirt, discarding it before pulling his T-shirt over his head.
“Wait, don’t we need swimsuits?”
Blane’s grin was wicked as he leaned close to whisper in her ear. “I promise I won’t look. Much.”
He heard her breath catch and couldn’t resist brushing his lips down her jaw. Her perfume was more potent there on her neck and he paused to nuzzle lightly at her skin. Blane was rewarded with her tentative touch to his bare chest, the scrape of her nails sending fire through his veins. He hastily took a step back.
“Fifteen degrees sounds pretty good about now,” he said roughly, his hungry gaze raking her from head to foot.
In moments, he’d removed his shoes and socks, taken the cover off the hot tub and flipped the switch to turn on both the bubbles and the towel warmer standing nearby. Without glancing back at where Kat stood in the doorway, he stripped of his pants and briefs and stepped into the steaming water. Relaxing back against the tub with a sigh, he moved until he was facing the house.
Kathleen stood watching him, still fully dressed.
“You coming in?” Blane asked.
Her smile was pure female temptation. Her fingers went to the buttons on her blouse and Blane’s mouth ran dry. Was he about to be treated to another striptease?
“Yeah, it’s too cold for a show,” Kat said, hurriedly removing her clothes down to her matching black bra and panties. Blane laughed as she climbed into the water, shivering.
She sat beside him in companionable silence. God, it felt good to have her there. Finding her hand under the water, Blane threaded their fingers together. He’d thought he might have lost her for good after the Kandi incident. Luckily for him, Kat’s nature wasn’t vindictive bitch, like Kandi.
“Is this how you always spend New Year’s Eve?” Kathleen asked.
Blane’s laugh was devoid of humor. “Hardly. I’m usually at some god-awful party I’ve been coerced into attending, with a few hundred people I don’t give a shit about, forced to play politician for the evening.”
“Why do you do that if you don’t want to?”
Good question. Blane shrugged. “It’s what’s expected. You take the good with the bad. If I want to get in a position to help people, there’s a lot of hands to shake and asses to kiss on the way there.”
“Sounds awful,” she murmured.
“I’ve had worse New Year’s,” Blane muttered, lying back with a sigh. His eyes slid shut.
Normally, Blane would have brushed off the quiet request, and the words to do so sprang quickly to his lips. But he bit them back. If he was going to get anywhere with Kat, he had to let her in, open up to her. So as much as it went against his nature, he started talking.
“The worst New Year’s I spent was in Fallujah. Supposedly, the battle was over by Christmas Eve, but the insurgents pinning me and some buddies down in a rundown shack in the middle of the city must not have gotten the memo. We were outnumbered and outgunned, just trying to hold our position until reinforcements arrived. We couldn’t retreat. They were everywhere.”
Memories of that night assaulted Blane. The thick smell of gunpowder and smoke. The way his eyes watered from the concrete dust in the air. The hard press of stone against his belly as he fired his rifle through a hole in the wall. Sweat and blood rolled down the sides of his face.
“Don’t know if we’re going to make it out of this one.”
Blane turned as Sanchez plopped down beside him, his rifle cradled in his grip. Blane sat up, grimacing at the pain in his side. Something had gotten him, but it wasn’t incapacitating, so he ignored it.
“Smoke?” Sanchez offered, handing over a lit cigarette.
Blane accepted. “These’ll kill ya, you know.”
Sanchez gave an appreciative chuckle. They smoked for few minutes, the occasional bomb blast nearby barely phased either of them any longer.
“Any word on backup?” Sanchez asked.
Blane shook his head. “Communications knocked out a little while ago. This was our last reported position, so thought we’d better hang tight.”
“It might be our grave if we don’t move.”
Still they sat, a brief lull in the bullets crashing into the building giving way to blessed silence.
“You know what today is,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez glanced at his watch. “Happy fucking New Year’s.”
Blane shook his head. “Fuck, Sanchez. I can think of about a hundred other places I’d rather be right now.”
“You and me both.”
“Then let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Blane crawled across the room to where the three marines were crouched. A bullet whizzed by as he passed the open doorway.
“It’s now or never, I’m thinking,” he said to the marine corporal.
“Let’s head due east, by as straight a route as we can,” Blane said. “We’ll take point. You guys bring up the rear.”
The gunfire became a hail of bullets as they fought their way out of the building, the insurgents seeming to follow them. The pain in Blane’s side burned like fire, but he kept moving. He’d be damned if he died on New Year’s Eve in some hellhole like this.
A movement ahead made him bring his sights up, squeezing off a shot. The enemy fell to the ground. To the right, more of them. He ducked, concrete splintering above his head before he returned fire. A groan behind him made him turn.
Sanchez had been shot.
Blood stained his abdomen, oozing from the torn flesh.
Panic hit before Blane tamped it down.
“Fuck, Sanchez,” he muttered, slinging his rifle across his back. “Didn’t they teach you how to duck?”
“Must’ve missed that lesson, sir,” Sanchez said through teeth gritted in pain.
Blane reached down to grab Eric, who halfheartedly pushed his hands away. “Just go,” Eric said. “You won’t make it carrying me.”
“Fuck that bullshit,” Blane growled. “This is gonna hurt, so save your breath.”
Blane hauled Sanchez up and over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Sanchez gave another grunt of pain, then thankfully passed out.
The marines didn’t need an explanation, they wouldn’t have left one of their own behind either, and the corporal took point.
Their scramble through the dark city was a night Blane would never forget, no matter how hard he tried. He could only use a pistol, his other arm carrying Sanchez who was bleeding to death. If he could just go faster. Darkness and danger surrounded them, each corner holding the possibility of ambush and death. How they made it out alive, he never knew.
It was touch and go for Sanchez, but he was a tough sonofabitch and he pulled through. A bullet had gotten lodged under Blane’s arm and the surgeon had been shocked that Blane had managed to not only get out, but to carry Sanchez as well.
Sometimes you just have to do what needs to be done.
Blane was pulled out of his memory by the feel of Kat sliding her arm across his chest, her head resting on his shoulder. He became aware of him gripping her hand way too tight. That had to hurt. He immediately eased his hold on her.
“Sorry,” he said roughly. “I shouldn’t have told you all that, I suppose.”
“I’m glad you did,” she said. Her voice was thick.
Blane tipped her chin up so he could see her face. Tears slid slowly from her eyes.
“Aw, Kat, don’t cry,” he said softly, his thumbs brushing her wet cheeks. “Tonight was supposed to be fun, not sad.”
But she was shaking her head, giving him a soft smile through her tears. “It’s okay. I’m glad you shared that with me.”
“Let’s throw off the bad memories,” Blane said, changing the subject, “and make some new ones.” He brushed a kiss to her forehead, then reached beyond her for the champagne. A few moments later, the cork popped out and he filled the two flutes with the bubbling liquid.
“To a new year,” he said, clinking his glass against Kat’s.
They drank, the bubbles tickling his nose. As if preordained, snowflakes began to fall. Big, fat ones that settled on Kat’s skin and hair before melting.
For a moment, he was caught. The picture of her, snow falling around her while her shoulders peeked out of the steaming water, her eyes sparkling as she looked at him, all of it took his breath away.
Blane set his flute aside before taking Kat’s as well. She watched him, a question in her eyes, as he moved closer and wrapped his arms around her waist.
He didn’t ask permission before kissing her, but he didn’t think she minded. Her arms twined around his neck as he deepened their kiss. She tasted of the champagne and her tears, tears she’d shed for him.
“Try this,” Blane said, forking a bit of chicken from the laden plate and lifting it to her mouth.
Kat chewed, her eyes sliding closed appreciatively. “Mmm,” she said, opening her eyes. “You were right. A man of many talents.” Her eyes twinkled at him.
Blane took turns feeding her and himself, stopping every now and then to make her take a drink of the wine.
“It matches perfectly, don’t you think?” he asked.
“It never occurred to me that it wouldn’t,” she teased.
He laughed. She definitely got him. Perfectionist? Check.
They’d finished the plate of food when the grandfather clock tolled the hour. Midnight.
Blane leaned forward, his eyes smiling into hers as he kissed her slowly, sweetly.
“Happy New Year, Kat,” he said once he’d lifted his head.
“Happy New Year,” she replied.
Blane leaned his back against the sofa, pulling Kat into his arms as they gazed into the fire. Her hair was slightly damp from the snow and he gently combed his fingers through it, content to just be with her.
She fell asleep lying against him and he carried her upstairs to what he considered her room. He desperately wanted to put her in his bed, but didn’t want to ruin any of the trust they’d built back up, so he covered her with a blanket and brushed a kiss to her forehead. Regardless of the sleeping arrangements now, he felt tonight had gone very well, putting them back on the right path, despite his morbid war stories.
Kat always liked to have her cell nearby so Blane made sure it was on the table next to the bed before he quietly eased the door shut behind him.
Happy New Year, indeed.
Blane mentioned a few other things that happened that night. I’m not really sure I believe him, but his version is here. Please note – this outtake is for adults 18 and over only. If sexual situations bother you, please do NOT read the outtake.