Ben Solo yawned and rolled his shoulders forward, lifting his old red-and-black flannel shirt up and over his long johns.
He buttoned it while crossing the one-room cabin to peer out the window at the field out front. Everything was still and quiet, just as he liked it.
The weather report droned on from the radio in the kitchen. It was gonna be a cold one, four inches of powder predicted for tonight. The first gentle flurries were already pirouetting gracefully through the air, a white Christmas after all.
Ben frowned. He couldn’t wait for it all to be over. He was sick and tired of being a seasonal punchline.
Reindeer farming was not a joke.
Yeah, yeah, Rudolph and his fucking red nose, Olaf – or was it Sven? – whatever. For a wildlife rehabilitator like Ben Solo, nothing got his ire up more than having his hard work with the gentle animals reduced to jokes and snickers.
The general public knew nearly nothing about Rangifer tarandus, the majestic reindeer. How many people realized they were the same species as the caribou, who earned a heck of lot more respect and even their own coffee? Hardly any. Who knew that female reindeer had antlers just like the males, unique among deer species? Nobody. Nobody knew that, and it chafed Ben’s hide.
People cared about reindeer for approximately four weeks every year and that was it. He was happy that his narrow window of significance was about to snap closed and he could go back to tending his animals alone and in peace, same thing.
It was after dark when he heard disturbed barks and grunts from the herd.
An intruder. Maybe a bear, but more likely a teenager.
Every year there were a few. Ben sighed and reached into the coat closet by the front door for his old rifle. It hadn’t actually been fired in years, but the brats who snuck in to get selfies for instagram didn’t know that. He liked scaring them off, especially those Dameron twins, both assholes like their daddy.
Pulling on his coat and stepping into his snow boots, Ben steeled himself as he gripped the gun and walked out to the pens. It wasn’t even loaded, but was an effective deterrent to teenage tomfoolery, although less effective for a bear.
Ben shuffled through the two inches or more accumulated on the ground, wet clumps still drifting steadily down from the sky. He hefted the rifle up to his shoulder in what he hoped was an intimidating fashion as he approached the enclosure. The reindeer ran in a tight circle, wary and attuned to the scent of strangers, and Ben squinted over their backs to spot movement at the tree line and finally an uninvited guest.
A lone figure stood with arms crossed, a fur-lined hood drawn up and a huge hiker’s backpack. Ben followed the fenceline to approach slowly as the person came into focus.
First, he noticed the look of utter misery on her face.
Next, how uniquely beautiful that face was.
Round, like a pale moon, with a pert little nose. Wide sparkling eyes seemingly made to reflect wonder. A mouth both full and pale from the cold, lips drawn down slightly at the corners.
Ben noticed her lips were trembling, in fact all of her was, seemingly slight under mounds of heavy layers, yet still succumbing to the bitter cold.
“Hello?” she said in a British lilt.
Ben blinked and then came to his senses, lowering the gun to his side.
“Hello,” he answered, dumbfounded.
“I’m terribly afraid I’m lost.”
A look of annoyance flashed across that beautiful face. “I’m looking for the Black Mountain Lodge. Do you know it?”
Ben raised his eyebrows. “Where are you coming from?”
She pursed her lips. “I don’t see why that matters, since clearly I’m here now?”
He quirked a smile at her attitude. “You’ve gotten off track by a fair bit.”
“Yes, I think we’ve established that.”
She bit off her glove between a set of perfectly white teeth, then reached around to the outer pocket of her pack.
“So, Black Mountain Lodge, you know it?”
Unfolding a map in her hands she took a couple of steps closer to him, pointing at a path marked in red. “It should be nearby based on my route. If you wouldn’t mind directling me?” She looked up at him with her wide eyes, waiting.
She was younger than he thought. A snowflake fell on her lashes and they fluttered.
“Are you out here all alone?” he asked.
“Obviously,” she said, narrowing her eyes.
“On Christmas Eve?” He couldn’t hide the surprise.
She set her jaw. “Look, I’d rather not get into my life choices right now, if you don’t mind? Do you know where the lodge is or not?”
He took a step closer and she didn’t flinch. This close he could see the light sprinkling of freckles on her checks reflecting back in the full moon light.
“You see that mountain there?” He reached out a long arm and she followed his finger.
He waited. She tilted her head and huffed. “Yes, I see it.”
“On the other side is the Black Mountain Lodge.”
Some of the color drained from her face. He wasn’t a mind reader, but he could swear he could hear her unspoken, oh, shit, from where he stood.
Ben looked down at his watch. It was almost 8 pm. There was no way in hell she was making it over that mountain tonight.
“Well, then, come along.” He turned and started to walk back to his cabin. Several paces in, he turned. She hadn’t budged an inch.
“I’ll have to drive you.”
She folded up her map and put it back in her pocket. “No, thank you, I can make it.”
He jerked his head back like she threw a snowball at him, then stepped forward, propelled by incredulity.
“Are you kidding me? There’s no way you’ll get over that mountain tonight.”
“It’s more of a hill, isn’t it really? Not quite a mountain?” She put her glove back on.
He frowned. “It might as well be the Grand fucking Canyon! It’s eight pm and snowing, and you don’t know these woods.”
She closed her prim mouth stubbornly. “I have a flashlight.”
Ben was now cold, hungry and tired. He had no time for some city slicker bullshit, even if it came from the lips of a gorgeous girl.
“Look, woman,” he paused long enough to see her eyebrows rise. “You didn’t even know where Black Mountain was. You’re unfamiliar with these woods, it’s below freezing, and it’s Christmas Eve. You’re technically trespassing on my property and I’ve had enough of this, so you’re coming with me.”
“Are you arresting me?” She asked, scowling as she placed her hands on her hips.
“No, I’m gonna drive you to your hotel like a goddamn chauffeur! So why don’t you stop being a brat about it and get moving.”
He scowled right back as her jaw dropped open.
“Brat? Did you just call me a brat?! Why, you’re nothing but a . . .” He grinned as he waited for her insult to fly.
Her finely crafted jaw set like stone. He absorbed her words and then threw back his head and let loose a deep guffaw.
Shaking his head, he smiled at her mystified face.
“Well, actually that’s fairly accurate.” He turned back to the cabin and waved for her to follow.
They stomped the snow off on his covered porch and he helped her out of her pack, despite her protests she could manage it herself.
Ben put his boots on the tray by the door and hung his coat, motioning at the empty hook next to his.
“Coffee?” he asked as he walked into the kitchen.
She stood in her parka, hands clasped in front of her waist.
“I don’t want to inconvenience you any further.”
“It’s no trouble, the pot’s already made,” he said and poured out two mugs. “Though I don’t have any cream or anything like that. Just some eggnog.”
He walked to the fireplace and set down the steaming mugs on the coffee table in front of the sofa. He turned and bent down, stoking the fire with another log, kicking up the embers.
“May as well have a seat for a minute and dry out,” he glanced over his shoulder at her. Her eyes snapped up to his, but not before he caught her checking out his seat.
He held her gaze long enough to watch her cheeks pink. Turning back to the fire he grinned, “I should warm you up a bit before we head out.”
He heard her sigh. She hung up her coat and walked back to the fire in a green fleece and snowpants that swished as she walked. He wondered how many layers she had on exactly.
He added another log to the fire.
“Thank you for this,” she said quietly.
“Sure.” He took a seat at the far end of the sofa.
It was quiet save for the crackling of the fire as the room warmed.
She leaned back, graceful fingers curled around her mug. “I’m sorry for my petulance earlier. I, um – I was embarrassed. I hate making mistakes.”
“No problem, I’m no teddy bear either. Remember, grinch?”
She glanced over and their smiles met for the first time. Hers was as bright as the mid-day sun.
“I really wanted to do this trip all by myself. Not count on anyone, just complete independence.” She smiled wryly. “I’m very stubborn.”
“You don’t say?” he gently teased.
She shrugged. “Haven’t you ever wanted to test yourself? Just to prove that you can do it alone?”
Ben took a sip of his coffee. “You’re sitting in the middle of my test. Two hundred acres and 50-odd head of reindeer, a solo operation. Well, actually, a Ben Solo operation.”
He reached out his palm, warm from the mug, and she took it. Her hand was soft and small in his, but her handshake was firm.
“Ray Jacobsen. Pleased to meet you.”
“Not all that pleased, if I recall correctly,” he said.
She laughed. “No, not particularly.”
They sat and sipped by the fire as the snow drifts rose steadily outside. The cabin was warm, the coffee hot, and she was surprisingly easy to talk to.
Rey was originally from London, now a journalist living in New York City. She was writing a freelance article about her solo hike in Vermont, hoping it would get picked up by The New Yorker or some other publication. Her big break.
She asked him a lot of smart questions about reindeer and listened to his answers. Ben started to like the way Rey listened.
“So wait, you’re saying only the female reindeer have horns in December?” she asked.
“Antlers not horns, but yes. Males shed them in the fall. So any reindeer with antlers you see at Christmas are female, or on special drugs, or aren’t sexually mature.”
“Wow. I didn’t know that! That means Santa’s sleigh . . .”
“Was pulled either by girls or druggies, take your pick.”
Rey laughed. “And reindeer farming is a lucrative business?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that. I’m a certified wildlife rehabilitator, so I take on other small wildlife also and get some money from the state. I also open up the farm in December for tours and photos, and rent out for parties and community events. That one month pays for the whole year, pretty much.”
“Fascinating. They don’t mind being in photos?”
“Reindeer are actually really gentle and sensitive creatures, but most are too wild. I rent out my tame ones, Patricia and Latrice. Though they’re renamed Donner and Blitzen for the season.”
Rey leaned an elbow on the back of the sofa and turned to him. He rubbed his palms on his thighs. It was getting warm in the cabin now, either from the fire or her smile, he couldn’t tell which.
The weather radio in the kitchen turned on. A list of road and bridge closures was announced. Ben listened and then froze.
“Um, we have a problem. That’s the road we need.”
Rey gulped and put down her mug. “It’s closed? There’s no other route?”
“Not to where you’re going, no.”
She bit the corner of her lip. “Any other hotels close by?”
“I’m afraid not, mostly woods around here.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. His eyes met hers as a spark lit in his chest. He took a chance.
“You’re welcome to stay here tonight.”
She stared as he quickly added, “I’ll sleep on the sofa. You can have the bed.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly take your bed,” she said.
“I insist,” he replied.
“But I’m the one with a sleeping bag, I can sleep on the floor.”
“We can both have a sleepover on the floor then, because no way I’m going to sleep in a bed if you’re not in it.”
He froze and looked down, sheepishly shaking his head. She smiled back impishly.
“That came out wrong,” he mumbled.
“Did it, now?” She was positively twinkling.
“I think this calls for eggnog.” He escaped to the kitchen and set out two glasses. “Hungry?” he called out.
“Always,” she replied.
He turned just in time to see her peel off the fleece. It ruffled her brown hair, the strands lifting with static, and she took out her ponytail and shook it free. The black suspenders of her snow pants hit her hot pink long johns in just the perfect place to emphasize her assets. If the goal was warmth, they were highly effective.
She looked hot as hell.
“Mind if I get comfortable? It’s warm in here,” she called out over her shoulder as she walked to the bathroom.
“Not at all.”
He focused on the plates. Cheese, salami, olives and apple slices, plus some gingerbread his next door neighbor Maz gave him. Dark chocolate almonds and eggnog. It would have to do.H e carried them out to the coffee table.
He called out. “Sorry I don’t have a real table, I don’t get many visitors.”
The door clicked open and he peeked up as she approached.
She was wearing only her hot pink long Johns, hair down in loose waves. The air caught in his chest.
“Just the deer?” she smiled.
He inhaled a rattling breath and tried not to stare at the hot pink curves before him. “Yeah, pretty much.”
The fire crackled as they ate and drank the eggnog.
She told him all about growing up outside of London in foster care, her scholarship to study in America, her desire to stay here and make a fresh start. He shared how he turned his back on a family where he didn’t feel welcome, how wildlife management sparked a care for other creatures he didn’t know he had, how being alone was a solace, not a punishment.
When the eggnog ran out, he opened a bottle of red.
“So, why’d you choose Christmas for the trip?” he asked.
“I had nowhere else to go. I was tired of begging off to friends and their families. I’d rather be alone.”
He nodded and she looked around the cabin. “And you? No decorations, I noticed.”
“Christmas is really about family. I don’t speak to mine, so not much to celebrate.”
The fire started to burn down low. Rey put down her wine glass and turned to him.
“So, then.” Her wide eyes blinked. “We’re both alone.”
His lips parted as his eyes tracked over her face. So gorgeous, so close.
“It seems we’re stuck together for the night,” she said inching closer.
He lifted an arm to the back of the sofa as he turned to face her, his hand only an inch or so away from hers.
“Looks that way,” he said.
“On Christmas Eve.”
He glanced down at her lips. “Indeed.”
She made the first move. Her index finger reached out and stroked the back of his hand. His eyes didn’t leave hers, but it was like flint hitting steel.
“It seems like we should make the most of this opportunity,” she said softly.
He turned his hand, so she was stroking his palm, before weaving their fingers together.
Ben leaned forward, licking his lips, watching hers open with an exhale.
“It’s what Santa would want,” he murmured.
“Obviously,” she agreed, tilting her face up to him.
He kissed the smile from her lips. His other hand cradled her cheek, thumb gently rubbing her soft skin. She tasted sweet, like chocolate, rich and satisfying. Soft kisses at first, turning into small, tender bites, like eating soft-serve ice cream from a cone.
When had he ever liked kissing this much? Never. He had never liked kissing this much, because he had never kissed Rey.
Her tongue lapped at him and he let her in, sealing his mouth on hers.
They kissed like teenagers kissed, excited just for the contact. Except even better, because he could take it slow and savor it. Kissing Rey was like discovering uncharted territory. There was no rush, he was going to take his time exploring this whole new land.
At some point his right hand lowered to grip her hip and tug her in closer. Her arms somehow came to his shoulder and the nape of his neck, threading into his shaggy hair. He was immensely grateful he had forgotten to cut it.
Her weight shifted and she leaned into him, easing him back onto the sofa. They tilted and fell in gentle slow motion. He didn't mind, she could move him anywhere.
She crawled up his body until her chest pressed into his. He combed his fingers through her hair to push it back from her lovely face, gripping the strands and then lifting her head slightly to break the kiss.
Her eyes were half-lidded as she panted above him.
Ben just stared at her.
“What?” she breathed.
“You’re so goddamn beautiful,” he said.
Rey made a sound like a squeak and he used his grip on her hair to tilt her chin so he could kiss down her jaw.
“Oh, god,” she said breathlessly as he trailed kisses back to her ear.
He sucked on her neck and she rocked her hips into his. He groaned and kept on sucking on her salty-sweet skin.
Rey rocked against him again, and he felt her tight little tits push into his chest. She arched her back and he followed her up, still kissing on her neck.
“Ben, Ben,” she gasped, trying to get his attention, then her knees split on either side of his hips and she pushed against his chest to sit up. Rey tugged on his shirt. “Take this off.”
He lay back on the sofa as she frowned down at his buttons and started opening them one by one. Her lips were pink and ripe from the kissing. He watched her intently, then snaked his hands under her long johns to slide up and cup her tits. She moaned and her fingers stopped.
“So fucking gorgeous, it hurts,” he admitted.
Her hands grabbed his wrists to encourage him as he cupped and squeezed her, thumbs flicking at her tight nipples. She tossed her hair back and rocked in his lap with a moan.
Ben shifted his hips a little lower and – ah, now the head of his cock pressed against her sweet round ass as she rocked back. They both groaned.
He sat up suddenly and grabbed the hem of her long johns as she helped him strip off her top. Another tank underneath. Damn.
She helped him strip that off, too, and then it was just her bra.
“Goddamn, where are you?”
Rey laughed. She met his eyes and reached around and unhooked her bra with a naughty look in her eye, then dropped it delicately to the side.
He didn't move, too intent on taking in every last detail of her beauty. She was perfect, fucking perfect, a work of art. When he couldn't take it anymore, he just hand to touch her, he started to move closer but she grabbed his shoulders to stop him, tugging at his shirt.
Ben reached behind his back and fisted his shirt and long johns at once, stripping them both off in one swoop and throwing them aside.
She apprised him with a slack jaw. “Damn,” she whispered, hands polishing his shoulders.
He grinned and leaned forward to take her tit in his mouth.
Rey hissed, and a hand cupped the back of his head to hold him in place. He opened wider and sucked her in as she arched her back to give him even more.
When he started to flick his tongue on her nipple, she bucked in his lap.
“Oh, god, oh,” she muttered.
He let her go and blew, watching her nipple get harder as he kneaded her breast. Then gave it a gentle kiss goodbye before moving to her other tit.
Her rocking got more insistent and rhythmic as he sucked on her. He gently scraped his teeth on her buttery soft skin and she whined.
This time when he pulled away she pushed off of him and stood up quickly. He sat up in surprise.
“Rey, are you ok –”
“Do you have a condom?” she asked, reaching out her hand.
“Uh, yeah, I think.” He scrambled up and took it in his.
They walked to the bathroom and he rifled through the medicine cabinet, finally pulling out an old, crinkled tin foil packet.
She lifted an eyebrow and he shrugged. "Been awhile I guess." She giggled and looped her hands around his neck, pulling him down for a kiss. Her hot skin touched his chest and he growled, lifting her up as her legs wrapped around his waist.
He walked her to his bed. Fully-stripped and tucked into his flannel sheets, she stroked his hard cock in both palms as he lay on his back, head resting in a hand, and watched her, tracing fingertips down her back. She unrolled the condom down his firm length and smoothed it down, before rising to kneel above him.
Rey straddled him and Ben held her hips as she eased him in, bit by bit, slowly bobbing up and down on his cock, working him deeper on each down stroke. He wasn't small and she worked at taking him into her tight, wet heat, thighs trembling slightly as he helped guide her up and down his length.
She whined when she was fully seated in his lap. He resisted the urge to drive into her, just enjoying the feel of her, how gorgeous she looked. His hands moved to her cup her tits again, pinching the nipples lightly. She pushed her palms into his chest for leverage and started to move.
Rey rocked up and down, setting a steady rhythm, and he tilted his hips up to meet her. He stared down at where they joined, watching her take him in, mesmerized as he watched her fuck him. He dropped a hand to feel it for himself. His thumb started to circle at her clit, and she moaned and moved faster with his hand.
She worked herself up on his cock, and Ben was not entirely convinced this was real and not a dream. Rey was perfect, wishful thinking made manifest. Her eyes fluttered shut and mouth made a little “oh” shape and he thought that if this was the last image he ever saw, it would all be worth it.
She rocked herself up to her orgasm as his fingers brushed at her clit as he whispered, “that’s it, baby, come,” and told her how lovely she was. She fell apart on his cock with a long whine, her orgasm shaking right through her as she pulsed in his lap.
When it was through, she smiled down at him lazily and leaned over for a kiss. He cupped her cheeks and kissed her through her afterglow, twitching inside her with need, before rolling them both over.
She hugged him close to her chest as he panted into her shoulder, pumping his hips as her fingernails scratched at his back. She grabbed his ass as he lifted her thigh to hit at a deeper angle. When he came with a grunt, she kissed under his jaw as his eyes pressed close, whispering “yes, baby, yes,” until he collapsed next to her.
He snuggled in closer and nuzzled the side of her head. After he stripped off the condom, he tucked them into the deep flannel sheets, laying blanket up on blanket.
He leaned on a forearm and looked down at her. Her brown hair fanned out like a halo. He touched the pink on her cheeks with his fingertips. She brushed his hair back from his brow and smiled.
Rey curled into his chest with a happy sigh as he fit her in under his chin, stroking her hair, as they dozed off together.
It was long after midnight when the weather radio went on in the kitchen. A late breaking shift in the cold front, now it was expected to be eight to ten inches overnight. The roads would stay closed, it would take a few days to dig out.
He held Rey close, warm skin to skin, under the soft flannel sheets.
Ben smiled. He’d surprise her in the morning by cutting down a small pine to use as a Christmas tree. He’s sure he has some corn for popping somewhere, maybe they could string it or something.
He kissed her forehead and drifted back to sleep with dreams of sugar plums and eggnog, sweetness and spice, and of fresh snow and fresh beginnings.