Today's Reading

'Not all redheads can be Ariel,' Lily had said with a sigh—no doubt because both of them had been subjected to more than enough Ariel comments while growing up. 'And anyway, Ariel brushes her hair. She's literally always brushing it with a fork or whatever.'

'Well, like you said, not all redheads can be Ariel.'

But it wasn't only the hair. They had the same cheekbones, same pointy jaw, same arched eyebrows (even without plucking them obsessively like Lily did). Only their eyes were different—Lily's were brown, whereas Holly's were a bold green.

Holly pushed through the café door without really concentrating on what she was doing because she was distracted by an absolutely gorgeous painting hanging inside the doorway, the kind of art that demanded your instant attention. It was a rainforest, depicted in a way she'd never seen before— bold and abstract, with vibrant colors that shouted life. She wanted it. That was her first thought. She wanted to hang it opposite her bed so she could wake up to it every morning and take in some of its vibrant energy. Her second thought was that she'd been right about the café—not just an arty name but real art inside and that was—

Her second thought was cut off as she slammed straight into an alarmingly solid chest. She noticed the crisp smell of a freshly washed and ironed shirt, along with a darker, woody scent, before heat seared down her arm. She yelped and yanked her arm back.

She swore, loudly, at the same time as a deep voice said, "Jesus Christ!" Something heavy thumped to the ground, along with two takeaway coffees.

Holly shoved back from the stranger, which caused her to slip on the liquid that was now coating the wooden floor, flailing her arms in the air but then catching herself, just managing to stay upright. She swept her hair back in one angry motion before looking up into the man's face. And Jesus, that 'face.' She wanted to sculpt that face. Bring it to life with clay, capture the impressive contours of it, the sharp jawline, the dark eyes, the nose that was slightly off-center in a way that made it all the more perfect.

But hot embarrassment was curling in her veins. "What the hell!" she shouted, causing a few people to look over at her, including the woman behind the counter, who was peering over the metal jug of milk she was frothing. "You could have burned me!" It was only her sweater—a Christmas one, black with sequined writing on the front saying let Christmas BeGin— that had protected her skin from the scalding coffee.

"Are you kidding?" the man exclaimed. "You're the one that walked into me! Try looking where you're going, why don't you?" That impressive face tightened as he sucked in a breath, looking down at the mess on the floor, where two coffees—one milky, one black—were definitely beyond rescue. His briefcase was also there, one of the clasps sprung open. A briefcase, really? Who carried a briefcase around on Christmas Eve? He was wearing a suit, too—a suit that fitted him perfectly, she couldn't help but notice.

Holly scowled and opened her mouth to snap back, an automatic response, but felt a light hand on her arm. She glanced at Lily, who was giving her a 'look.' A look she'd seen many times before.

Holly forced herself to take a calming breath. Lily was right. "I'm sorry," she said gruffly. "I wasn't looking where I was going." Her words were stiff and awkward.

"Clearly," he muttered.

Though her temper flared and the words 'Well, I' said 'I was sorry!' were trying to fight their way out, she could still feel Lily watching her. So she made herself look up to meet the man's gaze instead. Which was a mistake, because his brown eyes—like black coffee, she thought, though maybe that comparison was because of where they were—were impossible to look away from. They had a slightly unreadable quality, unlike hers, which she'd been told time and time again always gave all her emotions away.

Right now, his jaw was held tightly, as if he, too, was biting back words he wanted to snap at her. And as he reached up to run a hand through his hair—dark brown curls that set off the rest of his features—she noticed that his white shirt was stained with coffee. Oops.

She wrinkled her nose. "I really am sorry. I got distracted." She waved a hand to the painting she'd been looking at and his expression softened.

"I like that one too. It makes me think" He made a face, like he thought that sounded stupid, and opened his mouth as if to say something else, but Holly cut him off.

"That's exactly right. It's so vibrant." She gave a helpless little shrug, feeling Lily's stare burning into her back. "I couldn't look away and..." She gestured to encompass both him and the coffee now spilled on the floor.

"They're for sale, you know. The paintings." He waved a hand around the café—which was buzzing, she realized belatedly—and noticed more paintings hanging on the walls. She doubted she could ever afford any of them. But still, a coffee shop that doubled as a gallery—that was pretty cool.


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