Home for Christmas (AU,M/L,Mature) (Complete)

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Applebylicious
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Home for Christmas (AU,M/L,Mature) (Complete)

Post by Applebylicious » Sun Nov 07, 2004 11:02 am

Winner - Round 7

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Winner - Round 6

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Home for Christmas
Author: Lindsay
Category: AU, no aliens. Max/Liz
Rating: Mature – just to be safe.
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell belong to The WB, Melinda Metz, and UPN. No infringement intended.
Summary: A little holiday fluff. I know…it’s been awhile, lol.
Author’s note: PLEASE READ!! >>> Hey guys! This one is coming a little early in the season! I've written this as a challenge on another board, and sort of wanted to give it a test drive, so to speak, before it's time to post it there. :) It's already completed and is only three parts, so don't worry about waiting long periods of time before updates. As I post this, I'm working on finishing my other three AU fics, so no worries on that front either. In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy and feedback would be much appreciated, as always!


<center>Home for Christmas</center>



From Home to home,
And heart to heart,
From one place to another.
The warmth and joy of Christmas,
Brings us closer to each other.

-A Christmas proverb



<center>Part One</center>


“Ho, Ho, Ho!”

Elizabeth Parker bit back a wince, forced a smile and nodded towards the boisterous man in a red suit. Her tenth Santa sighting of the hour. Automatically, she pulled out a fistful of bills from her purse and dropped them into the bag marked Toys that hung from the man’s beefy arm.

“Merry Christmas to you, ma’am!” She caught a glimpse of a smile through the snowy beard that covered him from nostrils to neck. Brown eyes crinkled at the corners and he winked before lifting a hand and ringing the bell in his hand, turning to address another passerby. “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

Liz shook her head, but her previously gloomy mood had lessened by the time she reached the storefront windows that glittered with frost and holiday decorations. She paused for a minute, studying the cheerful faces and laughing voices that swept past her as strangers carried on with their last minute Christmas shopping.

The smile faded from her lips as a beautiful woman squealed in excitement, throwing her arms around the broad shoulders of a handsome chestnut-haired man who caught her mouth in a passionate kiss. They made quite the picture, wrapped completely in one another as flakes of snow framed them against the backdrop of the town’s Christmas tree.

Tears stung her eyes and she quickly brushed them away with the back of a mittened hand, forcing her gaze away before envy could take hold. It wasn’t this couple’s fault that she wasn’t capable of finding love. Or keeping it. It was the damn holiday season, making everyone yearn for things they didn’t normally want or need the rest of the year.

She closed her eyes wearily, trying unsuccessfully to block the memory of Blair’s parting words as he’d collected his belongings from their…her apartment only hours earlier. They echoed through her mind, along with the familiar pain and frustration.

“You never let anyone in, Liz. I need intimacy, not this sham that we’re living. How can you expect me not to go looking for it?”

How, indeed. She supposed he’d found it all right, and shared it in their bed with the perky blonde woman he’d picked up only God knew where. She didn’t let anyone in?? Well, she had her damn reasons, as Blair had consequently proven.

Forcing thoughts of her ex out of her mind, she pushed open the door that led to a small bar where she could smell the tempting scents of hot cocoa and other holiday goodies. A bell attached to the door tinkled, announcing her entry as she was greeted by a blast of comfortable warmth. Rubbing her hands together, her gaze traveled over the semi-crowded room until she found an empty chair near the window.

Making her way over, she began unraveling the thick scarf from around her neck and pulling off her coat and gloves. She heaped them all in the empty chair opposite from where she sat, gifting herself with a wonderful view of the park across the way where people spent the winter months ice-skating. She was mentally applauding a young girl’s attempt at a double axle when a shadow fell across the table. She looked up and was met with a pair of warm eyes that twinkled back at her.

She did a double take, blinking as she ran her gaze down the attached body. And oh, what a body it was. Broad, muscled shoulders that couldn’t be hidden beneath a cream-colored fisherman’s sweater. The sleeves were pushed past tanned elbows, revealing a set of powerful forearms. Lower her gaze went, noting the utilitarian white apron that hung just below his abdomen. It covered him from fly to mid-thigh and should have looked ridiculous, but it couldn’t take away from his sheer masculinity.

“Hi there,” a husky voice rumbled, and she flicked her gaze back up to his in mortification. His lips were curved in a faintly amused grin that sent her heart skipping even as she chastised herself for even reacting. God, had she not just broken up with Blair that morning? She really did not need to be sitting here, drooling over a complete stranger.

When she made no reply, his brow shot up and he shifted his weight to one foot, propping a hip against the table as he regarded her. “Cat got your tongue, sweetheart?” he teased innocently, but she stiffened.

“No,” she snapped, completely flustered as she brushed a hand through the bangs that hung across her brow. God, he was too gorgeous. Too everything. And completely unlike any of the men she was usually attracted to. She’d always preferred softer, gentler men. Artists. Teachers. This man looked like he ate bricks for breakfast.

She snuck another wary glance from beneath her hair. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t as tall as she’d first imagined, but what he lacked in height he more than made up for in sheer being. He was what her best friend Maria referred to as “pumped out the fucking kazoo”, whatever the hell that meant. With Maria, anything was possible, but somehow she knew this man fit the bill. His hair was thick and black, curling slightly at the nape of his neck and around his ears. His eyes were the color of aged brandy and had the same effect on her. And his mouth…

She suddenly realized he’d spoken and was waiting for a reply. Blinking rapidly and feeling more than a little put out considering the circumstances, she answered as eloquently as she could manage. “Huh?”

He let out a chuckle that sent shivers rippling through her body. Leaning forward, he brought their faces close together as her eyes widened in shock. And anticipation? She caught the faint scent of spice emanating from his flesh as he parted his lips to breathe, “I asked if there was anything special I could get for you?”

She resisted the urge to sigh. Not breaking their gaze, she replied in a voice far more pert than her usual tone, “A cup of hot chocolate.” Realizing just how rude she’d sounded, she added, “Please.”

He didn’t move for a moment or two, then smiled. “Hot chocolate, coming up.” He winked – God did his lashes have to be so thick?? – then offered her a salute before turning and heading back towards the front counter. She tried not to watch him go, but it was hard to drag her eyes away from the tight fit of his woolen pants.

When he looked over his shoulder and caught her staring, a flirtatious smile curved his lips and he inclined his head in acknowledgement. She blushed furiously and turned quickly to stare out of the window, hearing his soft laughter inside her mind.


<center>***</center>


Faith Hill’s throaty twang drifted through the room, singing of roasting chestnuts over an open fire. Behind the bar Max Evans grinned, thinking that sounded pretty damn good to him. He hummed along under his breath while spraying a thick layer of whipped cream on top of the rich chocolate he’d just poured. A bit of the sweet confection fell onto his hand and he glanced around innocently before bringing his finger to his mouth. The cool foam melted immediately on his tongue and he sighed in appreciation as only a true sugar lover could.

He was shaking chocolate sprinkles and cinnamon into the mug when a hand slapped his back. “You’re late,” he spoke cheerfully, not bothering to glance over as the other person rounded the bar and reached for an apron. “Let me guess, hot date?”

The only answer he received was a long whistle. He looked up and saw Kyle Valenti making the gesture of running his hands down a shapely female body, wiggling his brows devilishly. Max could only laugh. “It would serve you right if she stuck around, buddy,” he tossed out the familiar warning to his playboy pal. “One of these days…”

“No way, no how, Evans,” Kyle denied impishly. “I’m not looking to burn the home fires, I’m looking to burn up the sheets.” He tied the apron around his waist, making eyes at a table full of local women who giggled and preened beneath the notice of his friend’s playful gaze.

Max shook his head, deciding it was time for a subject change. “Why don’t you have them sign up for the contest?” he suggested, putting the final touches on a perfect cup of hot chocolate. He was aware that most people wouldn’t realize there was a such thing as a perfect cup of hot chocolate, but then Max took pride in everything he did. Including spraying cream and shaking sprinkles.

The art of making and mixing drinks was more than just a job for him. He loved it, pure and simple. He’d bartended through college, gaining much needed onhand experience before he’d managed to do the unthinkable and open his own bar at the age of twenty-five. He’d chosen the small-town of Telluride, Colorado to set up shop after having fallen in love with it on sight during a cross-country vacation his graduation year.

He’d made friends with the locals easily, using all the charm and good humor he’d been blessed with to make his dream happen. And he’d succeeded, two years later. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t completely his bar…in fact, it belonged to him and two of the friends he’d made since coming to town. But they all knew it was Max’s baby, Max who loved every single brick and every single tile nearly as much as he loved his own family.

“You know what, I might just do that,” Kyle drawled in answer, rolling his shoulders and plastering a wide grin on his face as he strolled towards the group of women. Max couldn’t hold back the chuckle as he watched his friend flirt with the females, motioning towards the sign that announced the first annual Secret Santa contest at To-Hell-You-Ride Bar and Café. As always, the little play on words for the town he adored made him smile. The locals loved the name, too, a common catch phrase that spoke of the boisterousness of the 1880's mining town.

His gaze traveled past Kyle and his admiring women and landed on the lone figure seated by the window. As it had before, everything inside of him perked up with interest. And he meant everything. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so attracted to a woman he’d barely even spoken to. All it had taken was a single stroke of the woman’s pretty brown eyes and he’d nearly gone up in flames. It had been a miracle he’d managed to find his voice.

As if feeling his burning gaze, she glanced up and their eyes met. Her cheeks flushed a pretty shade of pink as she glanced down at her hands and pretended to study her nails. Oh yeah, he was definitely interested. He grabbed a napkin and balanced the chocolate on a tray along with a few gourmet cinnamon sticks tied in holiday colors of red and green ribbon.

The closer he came, the more agitated she appeared. It was painfully obvious she was trying not to look at him and he momentarily wondered if he’d only imagined the reciprocating awareness in her eyes. He stopped beside her table and waited. When she finally glanced back up at him, he could see the rigid control she used to keep her expression blank. Even as he wondered at the reason why, he offered her a friendly smile.

“Hope this warms you up some, weather’s pretty rough today.” He slid the drink in front of her, watched as she took a deep inhalation of the sweet aroma. Her face lit up and she immediately dipped a finger into the mug, scooping out some cream and sucking it into her mouth. He fought not to groan as her tongue came out to lick her ripe lips clean.

“Thank you,” she answered sincerely, completely unaware of the havoc she was wreaking on his self-control. Thank God he was wearing an apron. And if Kyle had been privy to that thought, he’d never hear the end of it.

He smiled again and nudged the cinnamon sticks closer, glancing over to see Kyle working the bar in his absence. His friend shot him a raised-browed expression, his eyes flicking to where the woman sat, sipping at the hot chocolate, then he looked back at Max and wiggled his brows and gave him a wide grin. He all but yelled, “Go for it, dude!”

Max flushed darkly and ignored the thumbs up sign his friend gave him, waiting for the brunette to once again lift her gaze to his. When it happened, he was struck by just how lovely she really was. Her beauty wasn’t classic like the women he normally sought. She was more…natural. Earthy. Gorgeous without the trimmings. Her face was devoid of makeup, treating him to a view of her tawny complexion, and she wore only the barest hint of gloss on her full lips. Her eyes were wide and almond shaped, the same color as the chocolate that slid down her throat. Perfectly shaped brows winged over her lids, partially hidden by a fringe of that dark, gorgeous wealth of hair that shone in the dim lighting of the café. It fell to her shoulders and was wind-tousled as if she’d forgotten to wear a hat. He found himself experiencing the urge to run his fingers through it, yearning to tuck the wayward strands behind her ears and steal a touch of that soft looking flesh.

“I didn’t order this.” Her voice penetrated his lust-filled daze and he met her unblinking stare. She nodded towards the cinnamon sticks and repeated, “I didn’t order those.”

It took him a moment to get the words to come out, and when they did his voice sounded thick and husky to his own ears. “They’re on the house.” He cleared his throat discreetly, glanced at the clock hanging above the bar, and decided to take a chance.

He began untying his apron and shot her his most amiable grin, pretending not to notice the way her eyes widened. “Do you mind if I join you? I’m up for a break and well, it’s always nice to have company.” Especially someone as gorgeous as you, he added silently, wondering if she’d bite the lure.

She nodded slowly, and he didn’t know which one of them was more surprised by her acceptance. Before she could open her mouth and take back her first reaction, he dragged a nearby chair away from an empty table and smoothly slid in next to her. Their thighs brushed and he felt a burst of heat before she quickly pulled away.

“Are you new in town?” he began with standard conversation, keeping his voice friendly and his smile open.

“Why?” she questioned so suspiciously his lips twitched. She’d stopped drinking her chocolate, was fiddling with the ribbon on a set of cinnamon sticks and watching him like a rabbit would a fox.

He shrugged easily, leaning back and stretching out his legs beneath the table. “No reason, I’ve just never seen you around.”

She seemed pacified by this response and hitched her shoulders. “I’ve only been here a short time. In fact, this is the first I’ve ever left home and I’m just now starting to get used to it…” She trailed off and became silent as if she’d revealed too much.

“Where’s home?” he asked softly, noting the lonely glint in her eye. “And I’m Max, by the way. Max Evans. I promise I’m not a weird stalker-psychopath or anything like that…just a bartender who likes hearing stories.”

That seemed to get a hesitant smile out of her. “So bartenders are exempt from being psychopaths?”

“Well now, I don’t really know.” He pretended to ponder it over and was disrupted by the sound of glasses breaking and Kyle’s loudly uttered, “Oh, hell! Christ on a crutch on Palm Sunday! Die, you sonofabitch!” His friend began beating the defenseless cappuccino maker with a wooden spoon.

The nearby women began to giggle over his aggravated antics and Max glanced over to see his female companion reluctantly smiling and giving him a pointed look. He grinned weakly. “Okay…so maybe one or two of us is.”

This got a laugh out of her and she licked her lips before admitting, “I’m Liz Parker.”

“Liz.” He tested it out, decided it fit. And told her so. When she blushed, he grinned, thinking just how much he liked being the one to make her do so. And how he’d like to see that flush appear for different reasons…and thinking like that was definitely going to give him a boner, so he needed a subject change and fast.

“So let me guess where you’re from,” he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table as he studied her closely. “No discernible accent, no apparent style—”

“Thanks a lot!” she laughed in affront, running a hand down her red fleece sweater with a pouty expression.

“No, no,” he was quick to correct himself until he caught the twinkling mischief in her eyes. He laughed sheepishly and inclined his head to her. “Score one for the out-of-towner.”

“Score two,” she returned. “Or have you forgotten the psychopath?”

“Quick wit,” he noted with a raised brow. “All in all, Ms. Parker, I’d say you’re a genuine mystery.” And one he couldn’t wait to solve.

She giggled and bit her lip shyly, picking up the steaming cocoa and sipping lightly. Foam clung to her upper lip and she dabbed it away with the napkin, her cheeks flushed. He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t stop himself. He searched for something to say, but the only words that escaped his lips were, “You’re beautiful.”

Her head snapped up, her gaze wary. “Excuse me?”

Feeling a blush of his own, he quickly played it off. “Against the window, with the light shining just that way…” He made a gesture with his hands, as if framing her face. “Makes you look like an angel. A Christmas angel,” he added with a wink, hoping it covered up his uncharacteristic bashfulness.

Luckily, she laughed again and shook her head wryly. “Well…I’ve definitely never heard that before,” she admitted with an edge to her voice that perked his ears. She tapped her nails against the tabletop, releasing a small sigh as she glanced back out the window. Snow fell in a glittering blanket outside the café.

He watched the snow fall with her, caught up in the wintry beauty. The peaks of the southern Rockies rose in the distance, capped with untouched snow and majestic in their wildness. As always he felt that deep-rooted serenity settle in, that knowledge that he’d found just what he’d been searching for, nestled in a small mountain village in Colorado.

Caught up in the peace and tranquility, he murmured, “You’d never see anything like this back home. I don’t think you see anything like this anywhere else.”

She glanced over at him, a hint of surprise lighting her features. “Back home? You mean, you aren’t a local?”

He quirked his lips. “Not technically.”

“But you seem so…so…immersed.” She wrinkled her nose. “You aren’t kidding me, are you?” Her lips pursed and she narrowed her eyes, studying him closely.

He laughed. “I swear, I’ve only been here about four years. I guess I just adjust really well,” he grinned.

“You love it here,” she added softly, reading between his playful words before turning back to the window. “And no, I’ve never seen anything like this before, either. Back in New Mexico, it snowed but it was desert and the scenery sucked so—”

“Wait, you’re from New Mexico?” he interrupted in surprise. When she nodded, he sat back and shook his head. “If you tell me you’re from Roswell, I’ll eat my apron.”

Her gaze grew shuttered and suspicious. “How did you know that?”

He let out a delighted bark of laughter, surprising her as he yelled over his shoulder. “Hey Kyle, bring me some salt and a shot of Cuervo! This fabric won’t go down easy.” When she only blinked in bewilderment, he added with amusement, “I’m from Roswell, too. Talk about small worlds.”

Her mouth fell open. “Okay, now I know you’re teasing me.”

Max held up two fingers. “Scout’s honor. Wow, so how old are you? Don’t give me that look, we’re neighbors of a sort,” he teased when the wariness crept back into her eyes. He couldn’t begin to explain the pleasure bubbling up inside of him.

“I’m twenty-three,” she admitted, the barest hint of a smile curving her lips. “I just finished my grad work and needed a change of scenery, I guess.”

“So that’s why I don’t remember you,” he mused thoughtfully. “We weren’t in school together. I turned twenty-seven in October. Is this crazy or what?” He rubbed his hands together, feeling a strange connection to the petite woman seated next to him.

“Sorry to break this up,” an amused drawl broke into their dazed bubble and they both glanced up to see Kyle standing there with a pair of raised brows. “Max, one of the keg lines is tapped out and since I know how completely anal you are, I figured I’d let you handle it. It has nothing to do with the fact that I really just don’t want to lift those heavy sons of bitches.” He grinned unrepentantly as his monologue drew to a close.

Max groaned inwardly, pressing his lips together before glancing at Liz. She was staring at Kyle and blinking, as if she couldn’t quite figure out how he’d managed to say all of that in one breath. Max knew the feeling. “Just a sec, Kyle, I’ll be right there,” he answered, shooting him a meaningful glance.

He pretended not to catch on, whistling to the tune of Jingle Bells that played over the stereo. Finally Max heaved a disgusted breath and leaned forward to whisper, “I have to go, enjoy your chocolate, okay? I hope you’ll come back again.” He flashed her a quick grin before standing up to head back to the bar. He felt her gaze piercing his back as he left.


<center>***</center>


“You know, I couldn’t help overhearing that you’re new in town.”

Liz glanced up and saw that Max’s attractive friend had yet to depart from her table. Feeling her cheeks reheat as he quirked his lips at her, she took a lingering sip of her hot chocolate and strove to appear unaffected as he slid into the empty seat across from her.

“So, I think you should sign up for our contest,” Kyle continued. “You’d be perfect.” He leaned forward, a lock of sandy hair curling across his forehead as he grinned at her. He had an easy air about him that immediately put her at ease, despite the fact that he was a complete stranger. She found herself smiling back.

“What kind of contest?” she asked gamely, having no intention of joining anything. But she couldn’t blow him off when he seemed so eager to pitch his cause to her. She played with the rim of her mug, trying unsuccessfully to keep her gaze from drifting towards the back of the bar where Max had disappeared moments earlier.

“Well, we call it Secret Santa, but it’s not what you’re thinking. There’s a twist,” Kyle explained, resting his chin in his hands and angling his head towards her. The movement only made him that much more adorable, and she fought the urge to move across the table and smack a kiss to his dimpled cheek. There was nothing sexual about the feelings he invoked in her, although she assumed that she might be a rare exception there. He was warm and cozy, mischievious and endearing.

When she didn’t respond, he pushed on brightly. “Every Christmas Eve, there’s always a huge celebration in the square where Santa comes and makes an appearance. It’s for the children, but the town really gets into it…most of the adults even come and sit on Santa’s lap,” he laughed. “Several of the establishments around town get involved and donate gifts or just time to the different charity programs. This year, we got saddled with the Santa deal.”

The twinkling in his eyes belied the suffering in his words and she knew instantly that he loved being involved. His next words proved as much. “I can’t wait. We decided to jazz things up a bit this year, thus the contest.”

“We?” Liz heard herself echo curiously.

“Yeah, Max, Michael, and me. You haven’t met Mike yet, have you? Of course you haven’t, you just met me and Max,” Kyle concluded good-naturedly. He sat back and folded his arms across his chest as the radio segued into the next set of Christmas tunes. “He’s the other owner of this place. Max is the majority holder, which is why he’s going to do the honors of dressing up as the fat man himself come Friday night.”

“Max will be Santa?” Liz blinked, trying to picture the hunky café owner dressed in a red and white fur-trimmed suit. Strangely enough, the image was uncomfortably arousing and she felt a slight pang of guilt at the thought of lusting after a childhood icon. God, help her.

“Yeah, but you know…I shouldn’t have even told you that. It’s supposed to be a surprise.” Kyle leaned forward conspiratorially. “Here’s the deal. You enter, then on Christmas Eve you come down to the square. After the parades and the general festivities are over and the kids are safely tucked into their beds dreaming of sugarplums and the latest video game system, the party moves back to To-Hell-You-Ride, and that’s when things get fun.” His lips spread in a devilish grin. “All the ladies who’ve signed up for the Secret Santa will be here, and Michael and I get to dress up as Santa, too. Then we each pick a name out of our hat. She has to guess our identity, and if she’s right…” He trailed off suggestively and Liz blushed again. “She gets a date with her Santa.”

“Well, that’s very…charitable,” she managed.

Kyle hooted in delight. “Damn straight. We’ve got the Christmas spirit around here, babe.” With a quick wink, he added on, “It’s all in good fun, you know. Good, healthy, single fun. You are single, right?” His forehead creased in sudden concern.

She knew it was the perfect way out, the best way to not find herself involved. She’d planned on turning him down anyway, this would clench her non-participation and keep her from appearing ungrateful or prudish. Which is exactly why she could have died when some devil inside of her announced, “Yes, I’m single.”

“Great! Max would have been disappointed.” Apparently not noticing the widening of her eyes or the quickening of her breath, he walked away and pulled a clipboard from the wall and sauntered back over, pen in hand. “Just sign here, sugar, and let the good times roll. Christmas only comes once a year, right?”

In the end, she conceded to his solicitous smile and added her name to the already long list of eager participants. She consoled herself with the reality that there was no way in the world she’d ever be chosen anyway, so what did it truly matter? But the image of Max’s smoldering eyes and Kyle’s knowing grin stayed with her, even when she left the bar ten minutes later.

She walked briskly back to her apartment, pulling her scarf tight around her neck to thwart off the seeping chill as she absently studied a group of children having a snowball fight across the street. A smile touched her lips as one of them was hit, falling to the ground in a dramatic death sequence that had the others whooping in victory or groaning in defeat.

Her good mood lasted until she entered her apartment and saw the blinking light on her answering machine. With growing anxiety, she pulled off her coat and hung it up, taking the time to pull off her gloves and shoes before walking over and pressing the button to play her messages.

“Hi! You’ve reached Blair and Liz, leave us a message and we’ll get back to you!”

She winced, trying not to let it sting as she caught the pleasure emanating from her voice. She vowed to change the greeting as soon as she’d finished listening to the new messages, but when the next voice drifted through the air, her brain froze.

“Liz? Are you there? Listen, it’s me…we really need to talk, baby. I know I said some things before…I was just so upset. I’m so sorry, baby. I…I miss you. I want you back. It hasn’t even been a day, and I’m miserable.”

A miserable liar, she seethed inwardly. She felt the bite of her nails inside her palm as she continued listening to Blair’s pleading voice, her teeth grinding and heart thumping wildly.

“Call me whenever you get back, Liz. I’m at the Victorian Inn until I hear back from you…where are you, anyway?” A faint thread of impatience was weaved in his tone. “I know you didn’t have any plans today. Listen, are you there and just not answering?”

“Smug bastard,” she hissed. “What do you know about my plans? You’ve never bothered with them before.”

“If this is about Cindy, that was a mistake, baby. I’m over it,” he continued. “Just…just call me back, okay? I love you, Liz. I want to come home. We can work this out, I know we can.” He rambled off a number, which she completely disregarded as she stood in the living room, shaking.

She didn’t even hear the subsequent messages, too full of pain and anger as she paced the floor and bit at her nails. How dare he? Had she truly been so weak that he thought there was even a slight chance she’d ever allow him back into her life? Cindy aside, he’d said things that morning that had caused her to realize that he’d never truly loved her. Never respected her.

A mistake? He was over it?? Well, she damned well wasn’t. She was halfway across the room, ready to pick up the receiver and let him know that when the phone rang. She snatched it up and barked, “What?”

“Glad to see the Christmas spirit has you in its clutches,” a dry female voice drawled across the line. “Jeez, take my head off, why don’t you?”

She wilted, the fight draining from her as she fell blindly into a nearby chair. “Maria…um, yeah, sorry about that. I was…expecting someone else.”

“Who, Satan?” Maria wondered with a snort. “What gives, girl?”

“I was out and Blair called…” She trailed off in wry amusement as a string of curses fell from her friend’s lips. “Yeah, I had pretty much the same reaction.”

“What did that rat bastard want?” her best friend snapped. “Doesn’t he have Cindy Lou Who to worry about now? I swear Liz, if I wasn’t five-hundred miles away in the freaking desert—”

“How is everyone?” Liz quickly interjected before Maria could get going on the forms of retribution she’d like to wreak from Blair’s hide. “Everything still the same old?”

She heard Maria sigh over the line and prepared herself for the usual guilt trip and list of grievances from her parents. Instead, her friend surprised her by saying, “Alex is seeing someone new. A bimbo, Liz. A complete bimbo.”

“Maria DeLuca, jealousy does not become you,” Liz giggled in response.

“Jealous? Jealous? Me?” Maria guffawed. “Please, sweetie…that chapter of my life is locked and filed away under Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda Looked the Other Way. But just because Alex and me aren’t bouncing the mattress anymore doesn’t mean I approve of his mattress bouncing with some ditzy blonde drama queen. I can’t believe he’s marrying her.”

“Wait, what?” Liz perked up. “Alex is getting married?

“Hello? Keep up, will you?” She could practically see her friend roll her eyes over the line. Maria had never been a patient sort. “Why else do you think I’m so irritated? Like I’d care who he dated otherwise. But this is crazy, Liz. Completely wacked.”

Biting her lip to keep from laughing, Liz settled more comfortably in the chair and hooked her legs over the side as she twirled the phone cord. Troubles momentarily forgotten, she replied, “I’m sure she isn’t that bad, Mar. Alex is a smart guy, he wouldn’t date someone who didn’t interest him.”

“Oh, I know exactly what interests him, Liz, and it’s not her stimulating intellect. It’s the size of her very big hooters.”

“God, Maria! Hooters?” Liz rolled her eyes. “What’s her name, anyway?”

“Isabel,” Maria sneered. “Isabel Evans. I personally think she’s lying and her name is really Candy or Bambi…I’ll make it my life’s mission to find out the truth, so help me God.”

“Evans?” Liz blinked in surprise. “How old is she? What does she look like? Does she have a brother?”

“Whoa, slow down! Why all the questions?”

“You brought it up,” Liz managed through her teeth. “Maria!

“Fine!” Maria answered in a suspicious tone. “She’s in her early twenties, I’d guess maybe twenty-two or so. Younger than us, but old enough to mattress bounce.”

“Maria, for God’s sake.”

“She’s pretty enough, for a bimbo. Blonde, statuesque, big brown eyes, built like a brick shithouse…what was the other question?”

“Does she have a brother? Does her family sound familiar at all?” Liz wondered with baited breath. Was it possible that Max’s sister was marrying one of her best friends? Would they share that strange connection?

“You know, I don’t really know about her family. I know they’re rich…lawyers or something. Seems like she has an older brother, but he left years ago to start up his own business. Hey, you know, I think he moved out near you, actually. How’s that for weird?”

“Yeah, weird,” Liz mumbled. “Maria, I think I met the bimbo’s brother.”

“What? You met him? Where? When? How?”

“Now who’s asking the questions?”

“Spill, girlfriend!”

Liz immediately divulged the day’s events, carefully explaining every detail to her curious friend. She didn’t stop to wonder why she could remember practically every word that had been exchanged between her and Max, and she wasn’t aware of the way her voice softened when she spoke of him.

Maria, however, made interested noises when she finished. “Liz, you little vixen! Shame, shame, you know your name…oh who the hell am I kidding? Good for you, girl! A sexy flirtation is exactly what you needed after the horror that is Blair McNab. Even if he is the bimbo’s brother.”

“We weren’t flirting!” she denied quickly, flushing hotly as she recalled Max’s sexy grin and husky voice. “I just met him today, Maria. It takes time to…to…develop a flirtation.”

“Not if your hormones are involved,” Maria answered impishly. “And it sounds like yours took a punch in the gut. So, when are you seeing him again?”

“I don’t know….I’m probably not.” She nibbled her lips. “I definitely won’t. I mean, I might run into him at the café now and again, but it’s not like we’ll be…”

“Mattress bouncing?”

“Shut up,” Liz grumbled. “It’s not like that.”

“Uh huh, sure. And what about this contest thing you mentioned?”

“Contest?” she faltered. “Oh…yeah, that was just for fun, you know? I haven’t had enough of that lately.”

Immediately, Maria went from provoking to sympathetic. “Oh sweetie, I’m sorry. You’re absolutely right, you do whatever it is that makes you feel good, okay? You deserve it. Just remember, anything can happen.”

“Yeah well, I know my luck,” Liz laughed without humor. “So forgive me if I’m not dizzy with excitement, Maria. I know I have a problem with men, one that inevitably ends with me getting or giving the boot on some nationally celebrated holiday. ”

“Liz, did you ever think that it’s not you that has a problem, but the men you choose?” Maria asked softly.

Liz didn’t answer, but the question stayed with her even after she’d hung up with her friend and gotten into bed. It haunted her dreams, along with a handsome man with golden eyes and a sensuous smile.


<center>End Part One. To Be Continued...</center>
Last edited by Applebylicious on Wed Dec 08, 2004 5:55 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Applebylicious
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Post by Applebylicious » Tue Nov 09, 2004 8:52 am

Thanks for ALL your tremendous feedback! I'm glad this is helping put you all in a Christmas-y spirit. :wink: My favorite time of the year...enjoy...


<center>Part Two</center>



“Santa honey, I wanna yacht and really that's…not a lot. I've been an angel all year…”

Madonna’s pouty voice was cut off as a hand slithered out and slapped at the offending alarm radio. Seconds later, a head appeared from beneath a moss-green cotton duvet cover, one eye half-closed and heavy with sleep. Black hair was rumpled and stubble shadowed a strong jaw as Max let out a yawn and rolled to his back.

A quick glance out the window revealed another gloriously cold and snowy day. Warm and cozy beneath the blankets, he contemplated simply ignoring his morning plans and sleeping in. But his body betrayed him, stomach growling and bladder full.

Not without considerable grumbling, he pulled himself out of the comfortable haven of his bed and headed towards the bathroom. He was thankful he’d remembered to turn the heat up last night, or else he’d have gotten a nice surprise when he’d stepped out in nothing but his boxers.

He showered, shaved and got dressed for the day while listening to Katie Couric and company discuss a conflict against the rising costs of Christmas trees in urban areas. He was in the middle of a bowl of cold cereal when the phone rang. Without taking his eyes away from the television, he reached over and answered absently. “’Lo?”

“Have you had your coffee yet?”

He made a face, freezing in the action of bringing a steaming cup of gourmet blend to his mouth. “Very funny. What do you want?”

“Just to let you know that Mike and I will be at your place in ten, so to avoid any unnecessary trauma on our part, how about having yourself dressed and ready to go before we get there?”

“You know, if you losers hadn’t walked in unannounced that time, you would’ve been spared the trauma of seeing my bare ass,” Max pointed out unsympathetically, pouring more Cinnamon Toast Crunch into a plain white bowl.

“Yeah, but then we’d have nothing to rag you about,” Kyle joked. “See ya soon, buddy.”

Max grunted, drinking deeply from the strong coffee as he battled against his morning sluggishness. It was a common joke with his friends and family that the real reason why he’d become a bartender was because he couldn’t make himself get up before late afternoon. But he’d been doing better since he’d moved to Colorado. Having your own business tended to make one more eager to get started in the morning. Not that he was lazy by any means. He just was definitely not a morning person.

He’d finished loading his bowl and the dishes from yesterday in the dishwasher and was just about to brew more coffee when he heard heavy footsteps in the hallway. “I’m in here,” he called, not bothering to turn around as Kyle and Michael entered the room. “You guys want coffee?”

“Not the way you make it,” Michael Guerin’s lazy drawl answered. “Really, Evans…why don’t you just grab a handful of beans and chew them up? It would be just as strong.”

“It takes a real man to drink it black.” Max flashed his teeth as he turned, leaning against the sink and crossing his ankles. He took a deep gulp of the invigorating liquid and mock-shivered in delight. “Coffee: The gasoline of life.”

“A morning without coffee is like sleep,” Michael volleyed.

“Go ahead...make my coffee,” Kyle added in an exaggerated Clint Eastwood tone.

Max and Michael both groaned. “That was uncalled for,” Michael tutted, unable to keep from grinning as Max made a face and sipped his coffee with a wounded expression. “Aw, look Kyle…you hurt him with your idiocy.”

Max added a sniffle for good measure. “Yeah, now you must pay.” He walked over and held his cup threateningly over Kyle’s head. “Throw yourself on my mercy, Valenti.”

“Pour that on me, and I’ll wipe the mess up with your face.”

“Children, children,” Michael clapped his hands together primly, although his lips stretched wide in an amused grin. He shoved his overlong hair away from his forehead, revealing twinkling brown eyes. “’Tis the season, and all of that. How about you two stand underneath the mistletoe and make up?”

Max and Kyle exchanged glances and Max calmly set down his mug before they both pounced, knocking Michael down to the ground. There was a lot of scuffling, ribbing, and good-natured cursing before they all stood back up, tousled and sweaty. “I think I made my point,” Max snickered as he glimpsed the elbow print darkening Michael’s lower cheek. But as he touched his tongue to his lip, he caught the faint taste of blood and grimaced.

“Nothing like kicking the shit out of the people you love first thing in the morning,” Kyle sighed pleasurably, rubbing at his shoulder. “Now that that’s out of the way, I have news.”

“This better not be one of those ‘You won’t believe the sex I had last night’ things, Valenti,” Michael warned. “Because I might just have to kick the shit out of you again.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault women think I’m sexy,” Kyle pouted. Max and Michael rolled their eyes and he glared. “But that wasn’t my news.”

“Well hurry up and get on with it, man,” Max answered in amusement. “We have places to go, people to see…”

“Women for Kyle to sleep with,” Michael added impishly. “Because he’s soo sexy.”

“Har fucking har. As a matter of fact, this isn’t about me at all. It’s about Max, all right?”

“Me?” Max blinked, studying his friend warily. “Oh jeez, what did you do?”

“You remember the pretty little brunette you were openly drooling over yesterday?” Kyle rubbed his nails against his shirt and blew on them casually.

Max blinked. Did he remember her? He’d spent half the night wrapped up in restless, erotic dreams about the woman. He definitely remembered her, too well if truth be known. Liz Parker had occupied his mind much more than was comfortable, and he’d found himself wondering if he’d have the chance to see her again soon. But all he said to Kyle was, “What about her?”

“What brunette?” Michael wondered, catching Max’s dazed expression with raised-browed interest.

“Tasty little morsel, and I do mean little. She couldn’t have been over five-four.” Kyle held a hand up somewhere below his chin. “Sleek brown hair, big dark eyes, lush lips made for suc—” He trailed off when a low growling sound came from Max’s throat. “Well, she was hot,” he ammended with a small smile.

“What. About. Her?” Max separated each word through his teeth, uncaring of how desperate he sounded.

“I got her to sign up for the contest,” Kyle answered with a smile. “Start bowing at my feet, my friend. You didn’t really want to do this thing, but I bet you’ll change your mind now.”

Max blinked, feeling as though he’d been slammed in the chest with a two-by-four. Liz was going to join in the Secret Santa contest? He hadn’t even thought of asking her, probably because she’d seemed so shy. Too shy to participate in the outrageous idea Michael and Kyle had come up with. He’d thought it sounded fun and had even agreed to be a part of it, but he hadn’t really been looking forward to spending the evening catering to just any woman he happened to pick out of a hat. But now…the possiblity was mouth-watering.

“Looks like he’s gonna start drooling again,” Michael remarked blithely, reaching across the table and popping a piece of Christmas candy in his mouth. “Deep breaths, Maxwell.”

“When? Where? How?” Max managed hoarsely. “What did she say?”

“I didn’t give her much of a chance to say anything,” Kyle admitted, sprawling in a chair as he fought Michael for a handful of red and green M&M’s. “I could tell she was going to say no, so I used my abundant charm and talked her in circles until she admitted she was single, and then I dropped your name and well, the rest is history.”

“Wait, you told her I was involved?” Max stepped forward, heart beating quickly as he slapped his hands down on the table. “She knows I’m involved, and she’s still willing to do it?”

“What it are you talking about, Max?” Kyle smiled broadly. “If you mean, does she know you want to tie her up and do unmentionable sexual things to her body, then no. But she knows you’re going to dress up as Santa and take a lucky lady out on a date.”

It took him a moment to get past the image of Liz, tied to his king-sized four-poster bed; naked and gleaming as he worked his way down her body to… “Jesus Christ, Kyle.” He swallowed thickly, hoping his voice wouldn’t break. “And she’s interested?”

“Seems to be. Then again, maybe she’s interested in being my date,” Kyle winked, egging Max on. When Max growled again, he held up his hands and laughed. “Or maybe not. Wow, if looks could kill…”

“You’d have been dead a long time ago,” Michael drawled. “So, Max. I haven’t heard you mention this mystery lady before. Care to share?”

“I just met her yesterday,” Max admitted in a low voice. “She came into the café and ordered a hot chocolate.”

Michael waited. When it became clear Max wasn’t going to say anything else, had in fact become wrapped up in his own fantasies, he cocked a brow and whistled. “Damn, one hot chocolate and our pal falls ass over elbows.”

“I didn’t fall, I jumped,” Max answered glibly, ignoring Kyle’s snickering as he turned to empty the rest of his coffee into the sink.

“Oh, it’s like that, huh?” Michael wondered in amusement.

“Yeah, it’s like that.”

Max ignored the glance that passed between his friends and stared out the window, a faint smile curving his lips as his fingers gripped the edge of the counter. So she’d signed up, had she? Well, Liz Parker didn’t know it, but when she’d added her name to the list of participants, she’d sealed her own fate.


<center>***</center>


It was nearly noon by the time Liz finally gave up. She stared at the blank computer screen in front of her and released a frustrated sigh before reaching down and pressing the blinking OFF button on her laptop. She obviously wasn’t going to get any work done on her manuscript today.

It was just too quiet, which was the problem. She was used to noise when she was trying to work, the sounds of Blair watching television or talking loudly on the phone with one of his million friends. At the time she’d complained, but now the quiet was disheartening and just another painful reminder of the fact that she was all alone. She slid back in her chair, briefly laying her head on the cool surface of the desk as she stared sideways at the wall.

The sight of the colorful stocking hanging from the fireplace made her grimace. Why hadn’t she taken it down? What was the point? It looked stupid hanging there all by itself, the space next to it bare from where Blair had removed his the day before when he’d moved out.

She’d resisted calling him after she’d gotten off the phone with Maria and had a good night’s sleep. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to anymore, even to settle things between them for good. The idea of hearing his voice when she was feeling so vulnerable…

“Bah humbug,” she mumbled, but no one was there to answer her. She sat up again, biting her lip as she blinked back tears. Feeling utterly ridiculous, she stood up and stretched her arms over her head. The sight of her apartment did nothing to cheer her, and her gaze was inexorably drawn towards the frosted window. She stared at the white beyond for a few minutes, and found herself striding towards the closet to throw on clothes and outerwear.

She just needed to get out of there, get her mind off of everything. Maybe she’d find a quiet spot in the park and watch the children skate, or maybe she’d stop by the library and pick up a few books. She could research her novel in a pleasant atmosphere that wouldn’t make her feel like she was the only person on the planet. Then afterwards, maybe she’d drop in To-Hell-You-Ride for another cup of chocolate.

At that stray thought, she smiled wryly. You might as well admit it, she reflected as she pulled on a pair of thick socks over her feet. She’d been looking for an excuse to head over to the café all day. The temptation of possibly seeing Max again probably had more to do with distracting her from her work than the solitude ever had.

Of course, she didn’t expect to garner his attention as she had the day before. No, seeing him from afar would be plenty enough for her attention-starved soul. Though there was always the chance he wouldn’t be working, after all he owned the place didn’t he? Surely he didn’t need to come in every day and night. She was working herself into a frenzy over nothing.

Unable to do anything more than laugh at her silly crush on a near stranger, she grabbed her purse and stepped out the door. The chilly Colorado air bit at her cheeks and nose, turning them pink as she clomped along the newly salted sidewalks. Hardly anyone bothered driving in main town, seeing as how everything was within walking distance. Besides, she could use the invigorating exercise. She recalled Max’s comments on the scenery and she smiled faintly, glancing around at the place she now called home.

Telluride had touched something inside of her that she’d never known existed. She missed Roswell, but it was the people she remembered. The town had done nothing for her; it hadn’t necessarily ever felt like home. She’d never felt such a connection to a place as she did this small Colorado town.

It had been a gamble, choosing where she’d go after making the decision to leave New Mexico. She hadn’t had any interest in settling in a big city, she knew deep down she was simply a small-town girl at heart. Luckily, America was full of small-towns, it was simply the matter of picking one. She’d ended up blindly sticking a pin in a map, and her fate had been decided with Telluride. It had been harder than she’d thought to leave everything she knew to be familiar, but she’d taken one look at the small mountain town and simply…known. She was home.

She’d kept to herself, unable to come out of the shy shell that was her life despite the welcoming atmosphere around her. It had been merely by chance that she’d met Blair. His attractive, poetic features and charming personality had captivated her to the young school teacher, and he’d moved in with her the next week.

Maybe she’d been blinded by his charisma, or maybe it was the appeal of the town. Or perhaps she’d just so desperately needed to be wanted. Loved. And she’d truly thought she’d finally found it with Blair, despite her track record of bad relationships.

Maria’s words echoed in her mind. Did you ever think that it’s not you that has a problem, but the men you choose? Was her friend right? Had she been burned so many times that she’d simply come to expect it? Was she drawn to the type of man who would continue pulling her down the unhappy path she’d begun? She hadn’t thought so, but after the mess with Blair…she was no longer sure.

Blair’s words had ringed true, as well. She had held herself back from their relationship, but why? At the time she’d merely assumed she was doing him a favor, keeping herself slightly aloof. What guy wanted to be saddled with a woman’s problems? Maybe she’d made a mistake, maybe she should have tried harder…

No. Despite her flaws, he hadn’t tried to discuss them with her. Instead, he’d gone and betrayed her and only when caught had he spoken of his discontent. That she couldn’t forgive, or forget. It was the way she was. But it made for a hell of a lot of loneliness, especially during a time of year when having someone made all the difference in the world.

She was so caught up in self-pity and memories of the past that she didn’t keep a careful enough eye on where she was going. When she collided with a brick wall, she let out a muffled oof and fell to the ground, bruising her bottom. She heard a few curses and glanced up, blinking the snow away from her lashes. Her cheeks immediately heated as she studied the brick wall. She parted her numb lips and managed, “Ouch.”

“Liz, are you all right?” Max’s concerned voice sounded as he stared at her. “Sorry to have run over you like that. I should have been paying more attention, I should have—”

“Why don’t you help the woman up before she freezes, Maxwell?” an amused male voice added to the mix. “That snow has to be melting through her pants by now.”

Through the fog of her brain, she noted that the seat of her pants was, indeed, wet. Wonderful. She grimaced uncomfortably.

“Of course.” Max hurriedly bent and offered her a hand, a blush staining his cheeks as he flashed his teeth weakly. “I’m really sorry.”

Liz swallowed dazedly, unable to tear her gaze away from him as she put her gloved hand in his. Impossibly, she felt something spark through the leather and she blinked in surprise. Max appeared slightly bewildered as well, his lids falling half-closed as he slowly helped her to her feet. At the last moment, her foot slipped on a patch of ice and he caught her against his broad chest, their faces inches apart.

Her breath hitched, heat slamming through her with all the subtlety of a mack truck. His eyes flashed liquid gold, nostrils flaring as they stared at each other. She could feel her heart beating a rapid pulse through her clothes and imagined she could feel his, as well through the thick down parka he wore. A black Gore-Tex hat was snug over his head, shielding his gaze from far away. But this close…

A throat cleared and she pulled back to stare over his shoulder at the two men watching with barely concealed interest. She recognized the shorter of the pair and nearly died when Kyle grinned and lifted a hand in a wave.

“Hello again.”

“Hi,” she whispered in mortification. She released the tight grip she hadn’t been aware she’d had on Max’s shoulders and stepped away. He reluctantly let her, his gaze still piercing her as he stood silently by.

“Seems like everyone’s acquainted but me,” the same unfamiliar voice from earlier spoke, and she glanced at the other male to see a rakishly handsome stranger with laughing brown eyes. “Then again, you wouldn’t have remembered me anyway.”

Liz frowned, not understanding his cryptic words. “Excuse me?” She was proud of the fact that she’d gotten her voice back under control and worked on keeping the trembling arousal still as she tossed a sidelong glance at Max and found him still watching her heatedly.

“Michael, what the hell are you talking about?” Kyle wondered and she relaxed slightly. So this was Michael, the other owner of To-Hell-You-Ride. She studied the three men, all different looking yet all completely gorgeous in their own right. No wonder the bar was so popular with the female clientele.

“Most people look the other way by this time of year, sick of the whole shebang,” Michael continued as if Kyle had never spoken. His eyes were solely trained on Liz. “But you didn’t, you stopped and donated. So…thanks.”

“What do you…” Liz trailed off in sudden understanding. He winked and she gasped. “That was you? Yesterday, on the street?”

Michael laughed, raking a hand through his hair in slight embarrassment. His teeth flashed. “Ho, ho, ho.”

“Mind filling me in here?” Max spoke up, a smile in his voice. “You two know each other?”

“He was Santa,” Liz laughed lightly. “And you’re right...I saw at least ten of you out there, and I donated to all of you. My friends always say I’m such a sucker…”

“I think you’re amazing,” Michael spoke honestly and humbly. “That charity goes towards helping raise money for the Deaf Church over on 4th. My sister is hearing impaired”

“Oh…wow.” Liz felt a lump in her throat and swallowed against it. “That’s so sweet.”

“Hey, I donated, too,” Kyle pointed out. “And I’m taking Tess out for lunch tomorrow."

Michael’s eyes narrowed and he half-turned towards his friend. “Stay away from my sister,” he replied in a casually dangerous tone.

“Well, that’s a hell of a thing to say!” Kyle pouted. “Your sister is only seventeen.”

“I don’t trust you, Valenti.”

They started arguing and Liz wrapped a hand around her throat, a laugh bubbling as she watched the obvious camaraderie between the two, despite the silly quarrel. She tensed as she felt more than heard Max move closer and closed her eyes against the surge of desire.

“Sorry again, for knocking you down,” he spoke quietly into her ear. “Did I hurt you?”

Nothing but my pride, she thought wryly as her bottom throbbed. She turned and met his gaze, sucking in a breath at the smile flirting with the edges of his sensual mouth. She shook her head in response and a gust of wind caught her hair and sent it flying. She brushed it back from her face, struggling to see through the thick mass.

She heard him laugh, then his hands were there helping. She froze at the first brush of his fingers against her cheek. “You really should wear a hat out here,” he murmured, tucking several strands behind her ear. “Wouldn’t do to tangle this.” His hand lingered, rubbing a lock between his fingers as he stared at her.

“T-Thank you,” she managed, her voice sounding husky and thick. “I don’t have a hat, though. I usually just wear one of Blair’s. He…” She trailed off, shutting her eyes in disgust at the unconscious reminder of her ex. She didn’t notice Max’s fingers tighten on her hair as he went still.

“Blair?” he asked softly.

She opened her eyes and found him watching her intently. She tried for a smile that fell flat. “My ex,” she mumbled. “We broke up yesterday morning, so I guess I’m still getting used to it.” She heard the faintly apologetic hint in her tone and could have cursed. Why was she rambling on? It wasn’t like the guy cared about her screwy lovelife.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Max answered, then chuckled self-deprecatingly. “Actually, I’m not.”

Liz blinked. “You’re…?” Her heart began to thud more quickly as he stepped closer and opened his mouth.

“Hey you two, I’m starved. Let’s drop this stuff off and get something to eat. How about it?” Kyle interrupted.

For the first time she noticed the brightly wrapped presents and bags at their feet. A few were strewn near where she and Max had collided, and she assumed he must not have seen her over the top of them. Her face heated again at the reminder of her klutziness. She should have been paying attention.

“Sounds good to me,” she heard Max say. “Liz? Would you like to join us?”

“Yeah, I’d love to buy you a drink or something,” Michael tagged on, wrapping a friendly arm around Kyle’s throat. When Max growled, he cocked a brow and sent him a look. “As a thanks for the donation,” he drawled pointedly.

“He’s gonna kick your ass,” Kyle predicted smugly. “You’re meat.”

“Shut up, or I’ll kick your ass and then what will all the single women think?”

“Suck my—”

“Guys!” Max laughed in exasperation. “Scare her off, why don’t you? Liz, I swear they’re completely harmless. I only let them out of their cages once a week.” He added something under his breath that had his friends snickering before he smiled genuinely at her. “I’d really love for you to come.”

“Sure,” she answered, slightly dizzy by the entire conversation. “Just let me…” Her eyes were drawn to a figure across the street and her face drained of color. Blair watched her with an unreadable expression and she felt like she’d been slapped in the face. The sight of him reminded her of the last time she’d seen him, when she’d walked in on him and the buxom divorcee Cindy rolling around on brand new silk sheets she’d ordered for their bed. “Oh, God…”

“What is it?” Max immediately stepped forward. “Are you okay? Gonna be sick? Hey…”

“I’m fine,” she managed, turning her back on Blair and mustering up a smile. “Let’s just…go. Anywhere but here,” she pleaded. Max’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he nodded.

“Okay. Let’s go.”


<center>***</center>


Max didn’t mention her strange reaction as they walked to the high school gymnasium and dropped off the presents for the various youth programs. But he wondered. What could have caused her to become so agitated so quickly? He’d thought they’d been enjoying a pleasant conversation, albeit strange due to his friends. One minute she’d been smiling, the next…

She’d mentioned a breakup. He didn’t want to examine too closely the turmoil that had knotted in his stomach when he’d thought, even for a moment, that another man had laid claim to her already. It simply wasn’t acceptable. Whoever Blair was, he must be the biggest moron in the world to have let a woman like Liz get away. He wouldn’t make the same mistake.

Running into her again had been a blessing, although he’d have liked to have arranged a more dignified meeting. Still…it had had its merits. Just remembering the way she’d felt pressed up against him, so close he could glimpse the flakes of snow melting on her thick lashes, he’d wanted nothing more than to capture her mouth with his. Find out if her lips really were as sweet as they appeared. Christ, she tempted him.

Michael and Kyle were eating it up. He hadn’t missed the knowing glances that had passed between his friends as he’d stood there, stunned and aroused. They weren’t used to seeing him make an ass out of himself for any woman. He was more selective than Kyle, less brazen than Michael, but he’d never lacked for female companionship. But a single look at Liz Parker and he found himself stammering like a young boy who’d just outgrown the cootie curse.

She was excellent company. Max was nearly blown away by how well they seemed to connect, unable to keep from eyeing her with stark longing as they all dined on a satisfying meal of hamburgers and french fries from the nearby McDonald’s. More than once he’d glimpsed a faint blush on her cheeks when she’d glanced up to find him staring at her, but he couldn’t make himself stop.

It took him a minute to realize she’d spoken to him. He blinked, coming out of a strange daze he’d fallen into while gazing at the tiny mole that kissed the corner of her eye. “Huh?” he grunted. Kyle coughed into his napkin, trying to hide his grin as Michael sat back and openly smirked at his plight.

“I asked if you have a sister?” Liz tried again, sending him a shy smile. “A friend of mine, I just found out he’s engaged to an Evans from Roswell, and well, I wondered…”

Max sat up straighter. “I do have a sister, and she just got engaged. Alex Whitman?”

“Isabel,” she added and they both stared for a second before laughing.

“I can’t believe this,” Max shook his head, leaning forward and inclining his head towards her. “I wonder what else ties us together?”

“God, help us all,” Michael muttered beneath his breath before making a sound of surprise. “Oh, look at the time. Kyle and I really have to get back to the bar.” He made a show of checking his watch and standing up, stretching his arms over his head.

Kyle caught his gaze and his eyes widened. “Oh. Right. Yeah, we better go…see you guys later!”

Max bit back a snort at their obvious departure and smiled at the befuddled expression on Liz’s face as they practically raced away. “Alone at last,” he teased, picking up a fry and popping it into his mouth.

“Was it something I said?” she laughed in mild embarrassment, dark eyes filled with question.

“Nah, they just have to get to work,” he lied. He didn’t think she needed to know that neither Kyle nor Michael were on the schedule for the day. He felt pretty damn grateful to them for the chance to spend time with Liz alone, and didn’t plan to waste it. He noted her empty tray and took a final sip of his Coke before smiling. “Wanna go somewhere with me?”

Her eyes grew large, her mouth working like a fish. He mentally retraced his words and could have cursed. For God’s sake, she was messing with his mind! He’d never felt this unhinged around a female. He was on the verge of apologizing when she blurted out, “Okay.”

He swallowed back an explanation and nodded as nerves of anticipation and desire tangled deep in his belly. “All right. Um…where do you want to go?”

“You didn’t have a place in mind?”

His cheeks burned again as he laughed. “I hadn’t gotten that far yet.” He chewed his lip, debated playing his hand to early. Then figured, what the hell? Reaching across the table, he laid his hand on top of hers and squeezed. “I just want to spend time with you. Get to know you. What do you say to that?”

She took a deep breath, glancing down to where their fingers were loosely tangled before meeting his gaze again. “Okay,” she repeated, much more softly than before. Then she smiled and he felt a sharp pang of arousal in his loins.

Swallowing hard, he answered in husky anticipation, “Okay.”

They were silent as they left the restaurant, walking side by side as the mid-afternoon sun shone briefly through the winter sky. He made a comment about the weather, feeling foolish but desperate to alleviate the tension that had grown apparent between them. She responded in kind, and soon they were relaxed and involved in a laughing conversation.

“Hey Max, heads up!”

He glanced over and got pelted in the face with a snowball. He muffled a curse as icy wetness slid down his neck and caught the sound of delighted laughter in the distance. Wiping his hand across his face, he blinked and saw Liz trying not to giggle. He gave her a mock frown before turning and staring down the culprit. “You’re gonna get it, brat.”

“Gotta catch me first!” The young boy flashed his teeth and whooped as he turned and ran through the snow, shouting to his friends as they raced away from Max. They all hooted and shot Max looks of anticipation while gathering up ammo from the ground.

“You’re not really mad, are you?” Liz asked, nibbling her lip anxiously as she caught the stoic expression on his face.

“Who, me?” he blinked innocently. “I don’t get mad, baby. I get even.” Before she could reply, he shot her a cocky grin and took off across the park after the kids. They all shrieked as he gained on them and began lobbing half-formed balls of snow at his head. He ducked and dodged, coming up and grabbing one after another, tackling them to the ground and dumping handfuls of snow on their heads.

He laughed when he caught sight of his assailant, abandoning his present victim and stalking threateningly towards the young boy. “Don’t make me hurt you, Shon. Wanna beg?”

“I’m not scared of you,” the boy answered, but his eyes were filled with excitement. “C’mon.” His bright blue eyes flicked over Max’s shoulder and he sneered, “You don’t have the balls.”

“I’ll show you balls,” Max muttered, packing snow in his fist. He raised his hand, aimed, and received a snowball to the back of his head. “What the…”

He spun around and found Liz grinning at him, calmly brushing the snow from her gloves as Shon howled in laughter behind him. He touched the back of his head and glared. “Traitor.”

“You lose!” Shon hopped up and down, pumping his fists over his head. “You got taken, dude! By a girl! Wait’ll I tell Kyle!”

“Unnecessary roughing,” Max mumbled, but he couldn’t quite keep the smile off his face as he grabbed the kid around the neck and pulled him into a headlock. “Liz, meet the bane of my existance, otherwise known as Kyle’s little brother. Shon, this is Liz Parker. Be nice or I’ll feed you a knuckle sandwich.”

Shon slapped at his hands and stuck out his tongue before glancing over to size Liz up. “She’s prettier than your other broads,” was his decision seconds later. Max felt himself flush as Liz cocked a brow.

“Thanks…I think,” she laughed.

“That’s enough outta you.” Max shoved Shon forward gently. “Better get back home, it’s getting dark.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Shon grumbled, but he sent Max one last admiring glance before he took off, rounding up his friends and heading for a row of houses beyond the park. “See ya, Max!”

“He’s a handful,” Max chuckled, watching Liz watch the boys leave. “God help us all if he turns out like Kyle.”

“Yeah, I noticed he was slightly into the…broads,” Liz joked dryly.

“Ha, right,” Max grinned cheekily. “Can’t really blame him, though I tend to be more picky about my broads.”

“Is that right?” she answered softly, and the moment took on a different tone as he realized the park had grown quiet with the kids’ departure. Faint sounds from the ice skating rink across the way reached their ears, but for all intents and purposes, they were alone. He took a step forward, reaching out and brushing her hair back behind her ear.

“Tell me something,” he spoke quietly. “Are you really as perfect as you seem?”

She appeared taken aback by his question and blinked. A flake of snow landed on her lip and she nervously licked it away. “Perfect?”

His fingers slid to her neck, gripping the thick scarf and pulling her closer as his breath grew heavy. “Yeah. Liz, I…” He stopped, staring into her upturned face as their breath mingled. “I know we just met and all, but…”

“But?” she whispered, her eyes intent on his.

“I really want to kiss you right now,” Max admitted huskily. He waited for a denial to spill from her lips, but she simply parted her lips as her eyes went dark. He released a rough sigh and tightened his grasp on her scarf. “I think I’m gonna have to do it.”

“Well, if you have to…” she answered shakily, rising on her tiptoes to meet him as he bent his head.

The kiss was soft and tender, testing as their lips slid over one anothers. She tasted sweet and innocent, her lips warm despite the chilly temperature. He pulled back, met her glassy eyes and groaned. She barely had time to make a sound before he sank his mouth back down to hers, hands sliding down to her back and pressing her closer as he deepened the kiss. It grew hotter, more passionate as the seconds passed. Fingers caressed, throats moaned.

The distant sound of a bell ringing burst the bubble and Max pulled back with a harsh gasp. “Jesus,” he managed thickly, blinking at her as his breath came shallowly. His hands were wrapped in her hair and her lips were swollen from his tender abuse. Her eyes opened slowly, glazed and full of desire as she stared at him.

“Max?” She breathed in a sort of dreamy wonder. “I’ve never felt…” She broke off as the bell tolled again, announcing the hour to anyone out and about.

“I want you,” he stated simply, softly. “I don’t understand it, but I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anyone.”

At his words she inhaled sharply. “I…” She swallowed, and pulled slightly away. “I don’t know if I can.” Her voice seemed sad and shaky as she blinked rapidly. “We just met and—”

“I know,” he interrupted anxiously. “It doesn’t seem to matter.”

She turned and met his gaze again, lips trembling. “Max, I just broke up with someone, someone I thought was special…” Her voice hitched and his heart nearly broke at the pain etched in her expression.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” he offered gently, running his hand down her arm and clasping her hand. “Remember, I’m a good listener.”

As he’d hoped, she smiled. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear about it, but thank you.”

“Actually, I want to hear everything about you. I think I’m obsessed,” he laughed unsteadily. “Help put me out of my misery, sugar. Tell me about your ex boyfriend. I can’t stand seeing you hurt this way.”

For a moment he thought he’d pushed too hard, as her lips trembled and she closed her eyes. Then she was speaking, and he was listening with a rising sense of anger as she told the tale of her relationship with Blair McNab, the high school history teacher. His jaw grew tight and his fists clenched, and the same thought kept running through his mind. Asshole.

“Asshole,” he spoke aloud with quiet anger when she revealed Blair’s betrayal, and her part in finding out. He hurt for her, wanted to wrap his hands around the cocky bastard’s throat. He didn’t know Blair very well, the man had come into To-Hell-You-Ride a few times when he’d been on duty, but he’d never paid much attention. Now he felt like tracking him down and putting his fist in his eye.

“It wasn’t all his fault,” Liz defended. When his eyes flashed, she hurried on with, “Well, of course he shouldn’t have…done what he did, but I know I wasn’t fair to him either.”

“Fair? He cheated on you, Liz,” Max pointed out softly, not bothering to conceal his rage. “There’s never a justification for that.”

“But I never really bothered to understand him,” she pressed on, eyes wide with some emotion he couldn’t identify. “I have a problem, Max. I just…I can’t…I try…”

“Sugar, we all have problems,” Max soothed, rubbing the top of her palm with a finger.

“No, you don’t understand,” she sighed. “I have…intimacy issues.” As soon as the words left her lips, she flushed and looked down.

“Intimacy issues,” Max echoed softly. “Do you mean you can’t…?”

“No, no I can,” she laughed quickly, covering her face with her hands. “Oh, God, I’m making this sound so terrible.”

“Hey, look at me.” He reached up and framed her face, forcing her to meet his gentle gaze. His thumb stroked her lower lip. “Talk to me, sugar.”

She inhaled and the words poured out in a rush. “I have problems getting close to people, letting people get close to me. I don’t know why. I’ve tried counseling, but they always say that it’s something I just have to grow out of, that the only person holding me back is, well, me. I just can’t seem to commit, Max. All my relationships end like this, if the guy doesn’t cheat on me then he walks out for another reason. And it always seems to be on a holiday, so I just feel that much more shitty when it’s over and I…I just…can’t let people in…”

“All right now,” Max broke in, wiping the tears that glistened on her lashes. “All right. Shh…baby, I want you to listen to me, okay? Are you listening?”

She nodded, biting her lip as she sniffled. The naked longing in her eyes was enough to make him howl with protectiveness. He wanted to crush her to his chest and never let anything hurt her again, which was ridiculous seeing as how they’d only known each other two days. But it felt like a lifetime.

“I’ve heard everything you’ve said,” he started slowly, making sure she kept her eyes on him. “And I don’t buy it.” When her eyes widened he flashed her a comforting smile and sighed, lowering his forehead to hers. “Liz, you just opened up more to me than half the women I’ve ever known. If you have intimacy issues, it’s because you’re trying to be intimate with the wrong men.”

She blinked. “That’s exactly what Maria said. And you’re right, I’ve never been able to tell anyone what I just told you…Max…” Her eyes brightened and her fingers clenched in his.

“Maria who? Wait, never mind. The point is, I want a chance to prove that I could be the right man, Liz. Will you give me that chance?” He watched her carefully, studying every nuance of her expression as he held his breath.

She nibbled her lips, looked everywhere but at him before she finally whispered, “Okay.” He crushed her to him and she added, “Would you mind if we…took it slow?”

“Slow?” he teased shakily, unable to resist touching his mouth to hers for a quick kiss. “Slow. God help us both. Yes, we’ll take it slow.” He kissed her again, harder as she melted against him.

“Max…”

“Christ, one more,” he pleaded, his hands curving around her bottom as he lifted her against him. When they broke apart long minutes later, they were both panting and flushed. “You entered the Santa contest, right?” he managed to ask her through uneven breath.

She was beyond words, simply stared at him and nodded slowly.

He closed his eyes and hugged her close as he chuckled lowly. “This thing is going to be so rigged.”


<center>End Part Two. To Be Continued...</center>
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Applebylicious
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Post by Applebylicious » Wed Nov 10, 2004 9:47 am

Okay, first thanks to EVERYONE who read and left feedback for this fic. I'm beyond happy you all enjoyed it. :) To those who lurked, I hope I brightened your day, even a little. Christmastime is approaching, and here's to keeping it in your hearts...

hugs, Lindsay



<center>Part Three</center>



The next few days were a whirlwind of activity for Liz. She spent more time away from her apartment than she had in in the entire year she’d lived in Telluride. Max took her anywhere and everywhere, and they used the time to learn everything they could about one another. He wouldn’t allow her to hold anything back, drugging her with kisses and laughter until she blurted out whatever was on her mind.

But he never pushed it any farther. He was indeed taking it slow with her, and as grateful as she was that he was respecting her wishes, she had begun to grow frustrated. Edgy. She almost wished he would simply be overcome with passion and take the choice away from her. But she’d been the one to draw the line, so she knew she’d have to be the one to erase it. And she planned to.

It was Christmas Eve and only an hour remained before Michael and Kyle would arrive to escort her to the Town Square for the festivities. She could have easily gone by herself, but they’d jumped at the idea of hanging out with her, and truth be told she loved their company. She’d never really had male friends aside from Alex, who didn’t really count because they’d grown up together. Plus, he was Alex.

She’d gotten the chance to talk with him about his upcoming nuptials and even over the phone she could sense his deep-rooted happiness. She was glad for it, and promised him she’d make it home in time for the wedding in March. When she’d mentioned the fact that she knew Isabel’s brother, was in fact dating him, they’d shared a laugh over the coincidence and then work had called him away.

Maria was slowly coming around to face the fact that Isabel Evans wasn’t the evil bimbo she’d assumed, although she was still hard-pressed to say anything good about the other woman. Liz knew it was merely her friend’s overprotectiveness of Alex shining through, not any true dislike on Maria’s part. She hoped Maria could work out her issues with Alex’s marriage sooner rather than later, but until then she intended to stay out of the line of fire.

The doorbell rang and dragged her from her dreamy daze. Michael and Kyle were early. She took a deep breath, reaching over and pulling on a beige toggle coat over a seasonal lambswool sweater and comfy jeans. She was reaching for the doorknob, purse in hand when the singing began. She pulled the door open and stared in delight at the carolers gathered on the front porch of her apartment complex.

Young and old, the group carried lit candles and sang an enchanting version of The First Noel as other occupants of the building came out of their apartments and cheered them on. Liz wrapped a hand around her throat, oddly touched as she caught sight of Shon Valenti in the front, grinning toothily at her as he sang in a loud, impish voice. A laugh bubbled inside her as he winked, looking every bit as mischievious as his older brother. A pretty young blonde stood nearby, not singing but watching Shon’s antics with laughing eyes. When the two exchanged discreet hand signals, she recognized the woman as Michael’s younger sister, Tess.

She was distracted as someone called her name and she glanced past the carolers to the street to see Michael and Kyle leaning against a car and waving at her, wide smiles on their faces. The carolers moved on to the next floor and she waited as the two men approached with lazy strides.

“Lookin’ good, Parker.” Kyle wiggled his brows, running his gaze down her form with heavy exaggeration. She was used to his playfulness, but still felt her face heat as he released a low whistle.

“Merry Christmas.” Michael thrust a brightly colored box towards her and she took it with surprise. “It’s actually from Max, he’s tied up already at the Square and asked us to give it to you.”

“Asked?” Kyle snorted.

Liz stared down at the silvery paper and bow and swallowed hard before carefully unwrapping the gift. They’d never said whether or not they were exchanging gifts and she’d finally decided she didn’t want to appear too eager, so she hadn’t bothered finding anything for Max. Now she felt flustered. When she lifted the top of the box, an unexpected laugh escaped her throat.

“What is it?” Kyle leaned forward eagerly, only to be shoved back by Michael. “Ow, watch it man!”

“You’re so damn nosy, Kyle.”

“I just wanted to—”

“Look,” Liz broke, knowing if she didn’t distract them they’d simply continue to bicker like five-year olds. “Look what he gave me.”

Michael blinked and Kyle squinted, leaning forward to study the item in her hands more closely. “It’s a hat,” he stated in confusion. “Who gives someone a hat?”

Liz sniffed and ran a finger across the soft cashmere merino hat, her lips curving. “He doesn’t want my hair to tangle,” she replied in a breathy voice. She stroked the material, unaware of the look passing between the two men. She pulled it on over her head and struck a pose. “Well?”

“It’s a very nice hat,” Kyle offered uncertainly. He made a face at Michael that said, do chicks really get off on getting a hat for Christmas?? Michael shrugged in response, appearing just as lost.

The sound of ringing gained all of their attention and Liz began to curse as she walked inside, looking around for her cell phone. “Where is it?” she mumbled, checking inside her purse to no avail.

“I got it,” Michael answered, standing by the sofa and holding up the small silver device and waving it. Before Liz could speak, he pressed the ON button and drawled, “Deck them halls, baby.”

“Who the hell is this? This isn’t Max,” Liz heard Maria’s tinny reply and mentally cringed. She pressed a hand to her mouth as Michael plopped onto the couch and crossed his legs.

“Depends. Who the hell is this?

“Listen pal, I don’t know who you are, but put Liz on the phone before I call the cops and report your ass for…for…I’ll think of something!”

Michael lifted a brow as she struggled for a response and Liz valiantly refrained from snickering as she imagined her outrageous friend on the other line. “You’re a firecracker, aren’t ya?” Michael smirked seconds later and Liz groaned, slapping a hand to her forehead as Maria’s shriek pierced the air. Even Kyle blinked.

Michael shifted on the couch and his brows disappeared beneath his hairline as he listened to Maria’s following words. A black scowl began to descend upon his features and he snapped, “Someone needs to wash your mouth out with soap, sugar.”

“Don’t call me sugar!”

“I’ll take that,” Liz laughed awkwardly, coming up behind Michael and snatching the phone away. “Maria? God, what’s the matter?” She stepped away and plugged a finger in her opposite ear to better hear her friend.

“Who was that?” Maria snapped indignantly. “Argh! I’ve had it with men, Liz, I swear to God!”

“What happened?” Liz sighed, glancing over at Michael and Kyle and seeing them tap their watches. She nodded, grabbed her purse and followed them out the door. As they started down the sidewalk, Maria was still rambling.

“Billy’s such a piece of shit. I don’t know what I ever saw in him,” her best friend’s disgusted voice rang out. “Can you believe him, wanting me to pay for my own Christmas gift? Well, I gave him a present he’ll never forget – the imprint of my foot on his balls!

Michael snorted and Liz realized he could still hear everything that was being said. She flashed him a weak smile before saying, “I’m sorry, sweetie. I know breakups suck. Are you okay?”

“Are you kidding? I’ve never felt better!” Maria giggled. “I’m free, Liz. No men, no worries. Now that I’ve purged the rest of my anger at Billy to you, I feel absolutely carefree. So how are you?”

Liz rolled her eyes and giggled. “I’m good. I’m on my way to town for the Christmas parade and then…”

“The contest,” Maria squealed in remembrance. “Oh God, that’s tonight isn’t it? Did you pack condoms, sweetie?”

“Maria!” Liz cried, glancing at the two men beside her. They both remained impassive, but she could have sworn she caught a trace of amusement in Kyle’s eyes as they approached into the Square. A crowd had already formed and people mingled on the open lawn, laughing and talking as a stereo system played Chrismas songs through the night.

“What? You know you’re going to win, and you’ve been hinting that you want to seduce Max. So, are you going to? I just want you to be prepared.”

“That’s none of your business,” she hissed. “I have to go, I’ll call you later, okay? Love you.”

“All right, all right. Just remember – not all guys are like Blair, okay? This Max sounds like he could be really good for you, sweetie.”

“Didn’t you just get through telling me how useless men are?” Liz laughed in confusion.

“Well…yeah. For me. But you, you need a man, Liz. You’re a homemaker, and that’s not a bad thing. So…good luck. Drink some egg nog and screw your brains out. Love you back.”

Liz couldn’t hang up quick enough. She held the phone to her forehead and closed her eyes, struggling to breathe as she recalled Maria’s words. Yes, she’d decided tonight was the night she wanted Max to know how she felt about him. She wanted to be with him but…oh lord, but what if he didn’t?

“I’ve always been a fan of egg nog,” Kyle stated casually as he wrapped a friendly arm around her neck and led her towards the platform just in front of the town Christmas tree where a large throne was set up. He threw her a devilish wink and she blushed fiercely as she caught sight of Santa, a young child in his lap as a long line of kids waited impatiently behind.

“Got anything you wanna ask Santa for?” Michael wondered, a teasing lilt in his tone as they both grabbed her arm and hustled her into the line. “Go ahead, we’ll be right over here.” Without another word, they headed towards a table where refreshments stood, shooting her encouraging grins as they exchanged words she couldn’t hear.

Liz stayed rooted in place, staring at the head of the child in front of her. In her position, she was hidden from view as the line stretched back behind the platform, but she could see Max’s profile and strong thigh encased in red as he bounced a curly-haired girl and hugged her lightly.

She melted watching him, studying the grin on his face as he leaned down to listen to the demands of a tow-headed young boy who made no secret that he expected a Jake Plummer jersey and the entire Broncos team trading cards. She hid a smile as Max rubbed a hand over his head and made the boy laugh before he hopped down and the next child took his place. She was so intent on watching him that she didn’t hear Blair approach.

“Hello, Elizabeth,” his deep voice intoned and she spun around in surprise. He offered her a semblance of a smile and she frowned in response.

“What are you doing here, Blair?” she inquired dumbly. Her heart was pounding and she felt sick inside. Not from any residual feelings she had for him, she’d succeeded in laying any of those to rest the day she’d found him and Cindy together. It was more that he reminded her of yet another mistake she’d made, and dragged forth all the lingering doubts she had about her and Max.

His smile faded at her cold tone and he dropped the hand he’d begun to raise. “You look…well,” he stated, his green eyes traveling appreciatively over her. “Are you here alone?”

“Are you?” she shot back, then cursed herself for allowing the resentment to shine through. She tried for an indifferent expression and added, “Where’s Cindy?”

Blair winced and his face grew tight with remorse. “I don’t know where she is. Liz, I told you that was a mistake…”

Indifference dissolved instantly as a cloud of humiliating rage descended across her vision. “A mistake?” she choked out incredulously. “It was a mistake that you ended up in bed…in our bed together? Tell me something, Blair, was it a mistake that she had her lips wrapped around your—”

“Is there a problem here?” Michael drawled, walking up behind them as Liz glared daggers into Blair from the few feet between them. Michael’s voice was polite, even pleasant, but Liz caught the dangerous gleam in his eye as he stood behind her in a supportive pose.

“This is a private conversation,” Blair stated stiffly, noting the place where Michael’s hands rested on her shoulders.

“Is it?” Michael blinked, glancing pointedly at the children who stood close by. “Doesn’t seem too private to me.” He squeezed her shoulder comfortingly before he added, “I’d suggest backing off now.”

“Excuse me—” Blair began indignantly, but Liz simply turned and walked away as the two men began arguing. She couldn’t bear to look at Blair another minute without throwing her fist into his face. She seethed inwardly at his gall, even as she laughed at herself for even responding. But he’d damaged her pride and she was still raw inside from it.

“You’re next, miss,” a pleasant-faced middle-aged man said, flashing her a smile as she turned around. She was surprised to find she’d unconciously ended up at the front of the line and she glanced up to find Max staring at her from beneath the snowy white beard.

There was no denying it was him. Even from the yards that separated them she could see his gleaming amber eyes, watching her silently. Expectantly. She allowed the man to help her up the platform, unable to look away from Max as she stepped onto the thick red carpet that was spread across the ground. She forgot about Blair, forgot about everything but how this incredible man made her feel as his lips curved slightly at her approach.

She stopped next to his chair, shyly bending a knee as he appraised her silently. “Hi,” she breathed, curling her fingers together.

“Hi,” he murmured in his husky voice that sent pleasurable chills down her spine. Neither spoke for a moment, then he cleared his throat and gestured playfully to his thigh. “Saved you a spot.”

She released a nervous breath and laughed, stepping forward to sit in his lap as his arms discreetly came around to help anchor her there. She caught the scent of fresh soap and spice and her heart began beating as desire surged. She was about to speak when the lights went out over their heads, sending the platform into darkness as people began cheering out on the lawn.

“What happened?” she jerked nervously, but he simply tightened his grasp around her and pulled her back to rest against his chest, his chin nestled against her shoulder.

“Shh,” he whispered, his beard tickling her ear. “It’s all right, the parade’s about to begin.” His voice was soft, sensuous as they both breathed raggedly in the privacy of the darkness. They were high and far enough in the shadows that no one could see them unless they climbed onto the platform.

She fought the urge to squirm as her body grew taut with anxious anticipation. When he shifted her to rest squarely on his lap she inhaled sharply, her bottom brushing against a hardness that wasn’t hard to distinguish. “Max…”

“You smell good,” he answered thickly, and she felt his fingers at her hat. “You like the gift?” His voice was deeper than normal, his fingers stroking as they began to tangle in her hair.

“Y-Yes, thank you,” she managed. “I didn’t get anything for you, I didn’t know…”

“That’s all right,” he replied quickly. “All I want for Christmas is you.”

The bluntness of the words should have shocked her, but she found herself responding wildly, her heart raced and she shifted again, dragging a light groan from his lips as he nuzzled her ear. When his tongue traced the outer shell she sighed raggedly. “Max…”

“Tell Santa something,” he purred in an aroused tone that made her wet. “Have you been a good little girl?” His hands came around to slide inside her coat and she gasped as he cupped her breasts through her sweater.

Oh, God. Her teeth pulled at her lower lip as she grasped his thighs. “Are…are you asking if I’ve been naughty…or nice?” She almost couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth, or the fact that she was flirting with a man in such a way out in public when there was a chance they could be caught. But it only increased her excitement, made her need him more.

“Baby, you’re killing me,” he panted as his fingers played with her nipples. “I can’t stand this anymore…I need…”

“What, Max?” she pleaded desperately. Oh, yes, tell me. “What do you need?”

Before he could answer, music exploded in a loud crescendo and light streaked across the sky. Children screamed in delight as the fireworks trickled down and applause rang out as floats depicting various Christmas scenes and advertising local establishments sailed by. The high school cheerleaders, dressed in red and green uniforms with mistletoe tied in their hair did an elaborate routine to Toy Soldiers as the fireworks continued.

When a large gingerbread house rolled by on the bed of a red truck, Liz couldn’t help but laugh as Shon jumped out of the lifesize door and threw candy at the crowd. “I bet he’s loving that,” she whispered, charmed by the wide grin on the young boy’s face.

“That’s our float,” Max answered with a smile. “Kyle lets him do it every year. And every year he ends up overdosing on candy and yacking it up all night.”

“How pleasant.” She wrinkled her nose while laughing. Passion momentarily abated, she leaned back with a sigh as his arms crossed around her stomach. “This place…” She trailed off, not sure how to explain what she was feeling.

“It’s perfect,” he answered, unconciously echoing her inner thoughts. “It’s…home.”

“Yes,” she whispered, turning her head and meeting his golden gaze in the dark. They stared at each other for a moment before he reached up and buried a fist in her hair, dragging her down to his mouth.

“Give me more,” he whispered against her lips, driving his tongue inside and demanding response from her. “I can’t get enough of you.”

She moaned, sinking against him as he claimed her mouth again. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him she wanted to give him all of her, but the words were lost as he clutched her to him and took her under tender assault.


<center>***</center>


“Are you sure you have it set up?” Max yanked at the beard hanging from his chin as he studied his friends. Michael sat in a chair, patting his now fattened belly and grinning like a fool as he poked a finger into the soft mass.

“Yeah, yeah, we set it up. No worries who you’ll be spending the evening with tonight,” Kyle griped from across the room. But Max knew his friend was looking forward to the surprises in store for him that night. Kyle wouldn’t like to be spoiled when it came to who his date would be, he’d just take his chances. He was tugging a red suit over his boxers and Max tossed a matching hat to him, grinning as Kyle set it crookedly on his head.

“Michael, quit playing with your bowl full of jelly and let’s get out there,” Max declared, suddenly filled with anxiety as he imagined Liz waiting in the main café with the rest of the contest participants and other adults.

As he’d held her that night in his throne at the Square, he’d been hit with the stark realization that what he felt for her wasn’t merely affection or desire. He was serious about her, more serious than he’d ever been in his life. He wanted her, yes, but it was more of a need to be around her than a need for sex. He’d had sex before, he’d desired before. It had never been like this. The reason why played at the edge of his mind, but there was still enough healthy fear to make him not want to examine it too closely.

“You and Liz sure looked cute tonight,” Michael teased, standing up and tugging on his own white beard. “I haven’t seen lovey-doviness like that since the last Kate Hudson movie Tess rented.”

Max stopped dead in his tracks, the blood rushing from his head and leaving him lightheaded as he turned slowly to stare at his friend. “Oh God,” he croaked, stumbling as he held a hand to his head. “Oh God.”

“Shit, he’s gonna pass out,” Kyle exclaimed, rushing forward to help him before he fell to the floor. He guided him into a nearby chair and stared in bewilderment as Max’s jaw worked.

“Max? Dude, it was just a joke,” Michael snapped worriedly.

“No, it wasn’t,” Max managed, looking up to meet the gazes of the two best friends he’d ever known. “It’s…not. Shit, I’m in love with her.”

“With who?” Kyle cried, still focusing on the pale features of his friend and not his words. Michael reached over and slapped him and he scowled. “Dammit, ow!

“You’re in love with Liz,” Michael stated slowly. “Max. You just—”

“I know, I just met her,” Max steamrolled over him, jumping up and pacing the length of the floor. His fingers tugged at his already tousled hair. “God, I can’t believe I didn’t see this before. I’m freaking in love with her! Christ!”

“Is that such a bad thing?” Kyle wondered. Max and Michael turned to stare at him as if he were an alien. He colored and straightened his shoulders before replying defensively, “Liz is a nice girl. She’s exactly the kind of girl you fall in love with. And you two make each other happy, we’ve all seen it. So…what’s the problem?”

Michael let out a strangled laugh. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this…from you! From Mr. I-Change-Girlfriends-More-Than-Underwear.”

“Hey, for your information—”

“Shut up!” Max yelled. “For God’s sake, don’t start that shit right now. I’m having a crisis here! I’m fucking in love! What the hell do I do now?”

They all three fell silent, staring at one another with lost expressions.

“Um…tell her how you feel?” Kyle offered with a raised hand. “That always seems to work.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were all standing on the long bar as a crowd of women surrounded them, hooting and hollering in the hopes they would be picked to entertain one of the sexy Santa’s of To-Hell-You-Ride.

Max easily picked Liz out of the mob, as she was standing towards the back with a reluctantly amused expression on her face. His heart swelled and he longed to simply jump down and rush through the clamoring women and claim her. Forever. Soon enough, he thought. Soon enough.

“Ladies!” Kyle raised his hand in the air, inciting a round of cheering as the women began jumping up and down in excitement. “The moment you’ve all been waiting for, hell the moment we’ve been waiting for,” he teased flirtatiously, causing another round of shrieks and giggles. “Me and my two Santa pals here, we’re gonna take turns drawing outta this hat.”

He held up an extra Santa hat, filled to the brim with papers that were scribbled with various female names. The crowd grew hushed in anticipation as he spoke. “The lucky lady has a chance to guess her Santa’s identity, and if she’s right, then she’s gonna get more than a lump of coal for Christmas.”

His suggestive words and playful tone was enough to create chaos among the women. Max rolled his eyes good-naturedly and kept a trained eye on Liz as she watched the proceedings with a vaguely nervous air. What was she thinking? She had to know he’d pick her, no matter what the name on his slip of paper read.

Michael went first, delving his hand in the bag and swishing the papers around as he drew one up from the bottom. He cleared his throat and read out with a crisp voice the name of his potential date. The woman in question inhaled sharply and turned beet red as her friends congratulated her.

Kyle drew next, and his choice was a voluptous brunette who eyed him with a cocky smile as she moved to follow the other woman into the back room where the chosen women would wait until time to make their guesses. He caught his friend watching her leave with one brow raised, and he smiled beneath his beard at the interest gleaming in Kyle’s eye.

He was up, and he reached in the bag, making sure to take his time and draw out the suspense for pretense. He kept his eyes on Liz as he drew, and only then did he drop his gaze to study the name written across the paper. He nearly laughed at loud as he did. What were the odds? When he read the name aloud, his voice was a sensual rumble that had more than one woman in the crowd shivering. “Liz Parker.”

All eyes glanced around and fell on Liz as she stood shakily to her feet. She met his gaze and offered a half-smile before moving to join the other women. He blew out a breath, the hard part being over. Not that it had been a trial, but he’d still been battling a pang of guilt at having been prepared to lie his ass off to get Liz as his date. For whatever reason, he’d been lucky enough to have actually drawn her name. A chuckle escaped his throat and he shook his head as his friends glanced at him questioningly.

The first woman was brought back out, and she swallowed convulsively as she eyed the three of them, trying to figure out the identity of her Santa. She was cute, but definitely not the type of woman Michael would be truly enamored of. Max couldn’t help but feel sorry for her as she got a slightly panicked expression in her eyes and blurted out, “M-Max?”

Michael shook his head faintly and her face fell before she offered a tenuous smile. “Well, damn.” Sparse clapping began as she gracefully bowed out and took a seat at her table and received consolation from her friends.

The buxom brunette named Tracie came out and Kyle perked up as she took her spot in front of the three. She didn’t bother to deliberate before she purred in a provocative voice, “Kyle Valenti.”

The crowd waited for Kyle to confirm or deny, and he paused a second before pulling his beard down past his chin to reveal his grinning face. “Damn straight, baby,” he answered, and she simply smiled knowingly before she moved into the crowd. Max noted that his friend had a hard time pulling his eyes away and reattaching his beard before Liz appeared.

Max sucked in a breath, feeling ridicuously giddy as he waited for her to say his name so they could get the hell out of there. His fingers pressed into his palms as she glanced at Michael, then Kyle, then finally her eyes came to rest on him. He raised a brow that she couldn’t see and silently urged, Get on with it, sugar!

As if she’d heard him, she opened her mouth and shyly whispered, “I really hope it’s Max Evans.”

Faint laughter sounded from the crowd and Michael and Kyle snickered as well as a grin spread across his face. He didn’t waste time, simply pulled the hat off his head and yanked off his beard. “Damn straight, baby,” he echoed Kyle’s words in a husky voice and everyone burst into loud applause and laughter as Liz flushed.

He jumped down, threw a wave to his friends and half-dragged her out the door as they began running towards her apartment while laughing deliriously. The first annual Secret Santa contest was a rousing success, at least in his opinion.

They made it to her place in record time, only slipping and falling on a patch of black ice once. Liz had giggled as she’d landed on top of him, the thick curtain of her hair framing his face as he’d laughed along with her. “Let’s get inside,” he whispered. “There’s so much I want to do to you.”

“All right, Santa,” she tweaked his nose and stood up, taking off running again as Max stared after her. He grew hard watching her bottom sway in tight jeans and with a growl, he jumped up and followed her.

Once inside the door, he slammed it shut and shoved her against the wall where their lips immediately crashed together. His Santa suit fell to a heap on the floor, revealing a simple ribbed tank and his boxers as he hopped on one foot to remove his boots and still keep his hands all over her. He ripped off his tank and she shoved his boxers down as his erection sprang forth. He heard her gasp and his ego swelled in masculine pride.

He wanted to sink his teeth in her, but was held back by the buttons on her coat. “Jesus, what sadistic bastard makes these?” he demanded hoarsely, tugging at the buttons to no avail.

“The Gap,” she answered on a shaky laugh. “Here, let me.” She pushed his hands away and nimbly had the front of her coat open within seconds. Her sweater soon joined his suit as she yanked it over her head.

He stood back, admiring the unhindered view of her breasts, encased in a lacy green bra. “Nice trick.” He reached out to trail a finger across her bra. “Mmm…,” he purred, hooking his finger in a strap and tugging it down her shoulder as his other hand slid up her back. “Let’s get this off, shall we?”

“Oh yeah,” she managed.

They kissed again and again as he made quick work of her bra and went to work on her jeans. The feel of her breasts bouncing against his chest nearly made his eyes cross but he held back enough to pull her jeans down. Then he goggled. “Christ, look at you sugar.”

She glanced down and flushed at the sight of the tiny red thong. “I…well, you know…Christmas and all,” she lifted her hands lamely in explanation, then squealed when he caught her in a passionate kiss.

“You’re so sexy,” he growled, his hands tenderly molding her bare breasts. “I want to just…take you. Hard, rough, gentle, soft, I don’t care, sugar. I just want you.”

“Then take me,” she begged thickly. “Max, please…I want you, too.”

He didn’t ask twice, simply lifted her legs so she wrapped them around his waist. He stumbled in the general direction of the bedroom, listening to her gasping directions. When she bit down on a cord in his neck and he ran into a bookshelf, he let out a groan. “I don’t think we’re gonna make it sugar. Here. Now.”

“Yes,” she hissed, and they collapsed to the floor, rolling across the thick carpet in desperation. He wished he’d thought to light a fire, add a bit of romance to the moment. But it was simply impossible, as he was so hard and she was so soft and welcoming. He raised above her and drove himself inside her as her eyes went soft and she raised up to meet him.

He rode her gently, despite the burning passion overwhelming them, and his feelings poured out in a ragged rush. “I love you,” he whispered the second she climaxed beneath him, his lips trailing soothingly across her collarbone. He took a nipple into his mouth and sighed again. “I love you so much.”

She gasped, tightening around him again as he looked up into her eyes. “Max,” she moaned in wonder. “What…”

He lost the battle of control and fell against her, thrusting one last time as he spilled himself inside her. “You’re incredible,” he whispered, shaking from the strength of his feelings and the orgasm that rushed through him.

Later as they lay tangled together in her bed, he ran his fingers up and down her hip as he shifted to stare into her eyes. “Sugar, what I said earlier…”

Her expression turned wary and she nibbled her lip. “It’s all right, Max. I…I know it was a pretty powerful moment.” He snorted at the understatement and she misunderstood, hurrying on. “I don’t really expect anything…we want each other and that’s enough. It is.”

He stared at her silently, heart beating as he studied her false smile and brave eyes. He resisted the urge to laugh, knowing she’d simply take it the wrong way. Instead he shook his head and simply said, “No.”

Her smile faded and her eyes shattered. “N-No…you mean, you don’t want…” Her voice broke and she started to turn away. He grabbed her hips, pressing her against the bed before she could move away from him.

“What I said before,” he licked his lips, waiting for her to meet his gaze before he went any further. “I’ve never said that to another woman, Liz. I’ve never…felt the way I feel when I’m with you. I know this is sudden and I know you might not be ready. I know Blair and all those other assholes in your life hurt you, but…sugar, you promised me a chance, remember?”

She stared at him, eyes large and wet. And slowly growing hopeful. She nodded, sniffled and closed her eyes. “I remember,” she managed shakily.

“You don’t have to say it back,” he whispered, pulling her close. “Just know it’s how I feel. And who knows, maybe one day…” He trailed off, not wanting to pressure her just because he was suddenly overcome with emotions he’d never before known. “We can still take it slow.”

“Not too slow,” she answered playfully, and nudged his growing hardness with her side. “But Max, about me being ready, I—”

“Liz, you don’t have to—”

“I love you, too.”

“—say…anything…” he trailed off, staring at her in shock. “What? What did you say?”

She took a deep breath, then smiled. “I said I love you, too. And believe me, Evans, I’ve never said it before either. And if you screw up on me, I just might have to take you down. You won’t like it, and I won’t be happy and I’ll drive you crazy for the rest of your living—”

He cut her off with a rough kiss, palming her cheeks as tears slid from her eyes. When he finally pulled back, they were laughing. He ran his hands down her body, then kissed her again. And again.

The clock struck twelve and she sank her hands in his hair as she whispered, “Merry Christmas, Max.”

“Merry Christmas, Liz.”

And welcome home.


<center>***</center>


Kyle Valenti turned to his lady of the hour, and someone who had him seriously reconsidering his playboy ways. He lifted her in his arms, their naked skin gleaming in the firelight as he whispered, “Tracie, let’s go to bed.”

Somewhere, a clock chimed midnight and Kyle grinned in the darkness, somehow knowing that wherever they were, his friends’ were enjoying the approach of the holiday in a way that was special to them. Just as he was.

“And to all a good night,” he chuckled, softly closing the door to the bedroom.


THE END.


<center>This story is dedicated to Tracie, aka majiklmoon, for her wonderful Christmas challenge that gave me the chance to explore this Roswell Christmas world I’ve come to love. . </center>
Last edited by Applebylicious on Wed Nov 10, 2004 11:26 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Applebylicious
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Post by Applebylicious » Wed Dec 08, 2004 5:53 pm

Ho ho ho! Look what Santa's dropping off... (no, not YOU Angel. :roll: )

Image

Best Holiday Fanfiction

Also, I'll stick a little plug in here for the sequel, which is currently up and running on the AU board. Go here for the continuing To-Hell-You-Ride saga.

hugs, Linds
Last edited by Applebylicious on Wed Dec 08, 2004 7:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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