In the Winter Woods Epilogue

The floorboards creaked under someone else’s feet, and my eyes flew open.

Confused panic lanced through my sleep-addled mind but dissipated in the next instant. The fireplace had gone cold sometime during the night, but I was cozy and warm under the thick blankets and the quilted duvet I had found in the linen closet. Pale winter sun peeked into the bedroom through a gap in the curtains, promising the start of a lovely Christmas Day.

I rolled onto the side, wincing at the pang in my bandaged shoulder, and propped myself up on the pillows, watching Curtis cross the room with a breakfast tray.

“Morning, sleepy head,” Curtis said. He set the tray on the nightstand and reached across the bed to plant a quick kiss on my mouth.

“Ugh, morning breath,” I said when he withdrew.

“Mine or yours?”

“Mine. You actually smell delicious.”

Curtis must have risen much earlier, because despite him wearing only t-shirt and sweatpants, he smelled of freshly-brewed coffee and toast. His golden hair was tousled, and stubble roughened his cheeks.

He looked so perfectly homely that my heart swelled at the sight.

A stupid grin must have pulled at my lips, because he smiled back at me.

“Coffee?”

“Oh, God, yes, please.”

He handed me the mug he’d brought and watched me luxuriate in the first sip of my morning pick-up. It could have been my imagination, but for some reason the instant coffee tasted so much better today.

“Breakfast in bed? I must have done something right to deserve it,” I remarked, setting the half-empty mug on the tray.

Curtis chuckled, and the soft low sound seemed to reverberate through me, sending pleasant shivers down my spine.

“Oh, you’ve done plenty. But I don’t believe in earning affection. You either inspire it by being the way you are, or you don’t.”

“That’s way too deep for a Christmas morning.” I snatched a tiny pumpkin quiche—the leftovers from last night’s dinner—and barely suppressed a groan as the sharp movement sent zings of pain down my bandaged arm.

“How’s your shoulder?” Curtis asked. His brow furrowed. “I hope I didn’t jostle it too much last night.”

My cheeks warmed as I recalled everything that “jostling” had actually entailed. Granted, on account of my injury, we took things way slower than I would’ve liked, but even so, the night had been…magical. Not in that “fireworks going off, trumpets blaring, sparks of electricity flying, lust building into a frenzied crescendo” kind of way, but in a much quieter, simpler sense. It had been the magic of shared breath, of tentative touches, of secrets learned in the dark. A magic as new as a spring blossom and as old as the hills.

“I’m okay,” I said, swallowing the last bite of quiche and a sudden lump in my throat. “Actually, I’m better than okay.”

The mattress dipped as Curtis sat down on the bed. His fingers entwined with mine above the duvet, and I met his gaze, blue and serious.

“I’m better than okay, too.” His tone matched his expression, solemn and earnest, with a hint of passion simmering underneath.

“Then let’s have a better than okay Christmas,” I murmured, and pulled him into a kiss that tasted of coffee and promise.