Here’s the continuation of Holiday Spirits. Enjoy the free read!
“I’m Jenna.” I returned his smile and held out my hand. When he took it and brought it to his lips, placing a gentleman’s kiss on my knuckles, my nerves pranced not with pre-race jitters, but with deep, long forgotten desire. I gazed into the depths of his stunning eyes and sighed like a lovesick school girl. No man, with just a look, had ever ignited my passion so quickly, so strongly. The throbbing want to taste and touch the texture of his skin, brush the tips of my fingers along the contours of his muscles and follow with my tongue overwhelmed me. The moist area between my legs, which hadn’t been touched in months, pulsated in need.
My head whipped toward the new voice which had yanked me out of my sexual reverie. My hand jerked from Artim. A blond-haired, blue-eyed man with striking Germanic features and a build similar to Artim’s stood a little too close to my new attraction. The blond’s hand possessively gripped Artim’s shoulder.
“Ned, be nice to my new friend Jenna.” Artim jabbed the man in his side with an elbow.
Before I could question what the new guy meant by his exclamation, a thunderous boom exploded over our heads and lit the pre-dawn sky with sparkling and sizzling color. The hulking crowd pressed toward the start line. There was no way I’d be able to shout my inquiries above the roar of applause, the cheering from the sidelines and the slapping of soles on the pavement. So as not to get tripped up, I turned from the two men, faced the race course and joined the crowd in the slow walk. I tried not to panic, reminding myself that once the mass dispersed and we all found our groove, the snail’s pace start wouldn’t matter and wouldn’t affect my running time. At least that’s what all the training books had said.
As I focused on my breathing and quelled the urge to break out of the gate like an excited thoroughbred, I discerned Artim and Ned each taking a side. Artim grazed my right arm and a comforting sereneness filled me. All the anxiety about the race and agitation over my lazy friend broke apart and floated away.
“Thanks for keeping me company.” I glanced at him with a smile.
The bright blues, greens, reds and silvers of the flashing fireworks in the sky lit our way through the starting gate. City officials had closed off the southbound side of Las Vegas Boulevard for the Las Vegas Marathon. With a giddiness I hadn’t experienced in years, I couldn’t wait to see the colorful neon lights of The Strip for the first four miles. The crowd thinned and I picked up my pace to a jog.
Ned nudged my left arm with his elbow. “What do you plan to run this course in?”
“I’d be happy breaking five hours.”
“What made you decide to pound your body for twenty some miles?” Artim’s deep, rich accented voice rolled on my right. He pointed at the light shooting from the top of the pyramid and rattled off words in Italian to Ned.
I sighed, remembering Don’s last confession that had led to our recent and final breakup. He had admitted to sleeping with his assistant, a cute little red-headed grad student, and I had realized he was slime. I didn’t want to be with him anymore, but I still felt like a worthless clod, who needed to validate myself in some fashion, to remind myself I was a strong woman who could do anything. But a marathon? Even I questioned my sanity.
“A momentary lapse of reason after breaking up with a co-worker,” I replied.
I turned my head toward him. “What did you mean when you saw me and said ‘you’?”
His sharp crystal blue-eyed glare cut into me. Artim barked a few curt Italian phrases. Ned shrugged and ran ahead several yards.
Artim’s and my pace picked up to an easy thirteen minutes per mile.
“What about you two?” I decided to change the subject. I couldn’t worry about what Ned thought, and it wouldn’t do to let the guy’s negativity get to me. I needed to stay positive.
“For this grand parade.” Artim swept an arm out indicating all the runners. “For the festive atmosphere and merry-making.” He waved an arm at the tall casinos and their advertising screens flashing colorful displays of shows, restaurants and games. “It’s a place to celebrate the holiday season with great enthusiasm and not be chastised for it.”
“Oh, like Saturnalia.”
He turned toward me with a surprised expression. “You know about that?”
“Yes. That and other ancient holidays were part of my studies for history. I teach ancient religions and mythologies at the university back home.”
“Interesting.” Ned had slowed his pace and let us catch up. His flat statement was barely audible.
I gave him a quick glare of my own, not appreciating the disapproval emanating from him, nor his interruption of my conversation with Artim. If they were a package deal, I didn’t know if I wanted any part of it. For now, I just needed to run.
“Well, fellas, it’s been nice chatting with you but if I want to hit my goal I need to concentrate.”
“No problem. We will see you at the end.”
As the two men pulled away, I could have sworn I heard Artim say I wasn’t alone anymore, and I fought the impulse to join them in their faster pace to find out. The speed I had to race at needed to be slower if I wanted to make sure I was going to finish the marathon.
Then again, if I could keep close to them and hang back a few lengths, I’d have a nice view of Artim’s tight ass to keep me entertained.
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