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Flowers & Tattoos

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Gwen was on a mission. She’d been walking to work when an idea struck her. It was December first and she and Morgana needed to decorate the shop for Christmas. It so happened that there was a flower shop two doors down from their place. So stopped and stepped inside Camelot Flowers in search of poinsettias.

She was greeted by a temperature not much different from outside, probably to maintain the freshness of the plants, she reasoned. There were a couple glass-doored refrigerators with pre-made bouquets in them. And all around the front of the shop were displays of plants and other things for sale, including poinsettias. She smiled and headed to the counter near the rear of the shop.

A gorgeous blonde man stood there, watching as she approached. “Hello, I’m Arthur. Welcome to Camelot Flowers. Can I help you?”

Gwen walked straight to him. “As a matter of fact, you can. I’d love a couple of poinsettia plants to dress up my shop for the season.”

He looked interested. “You have a shop? Close by?”

She chuckled briefly. “Yes, actually. We’re two doors down.”

“The tattoo parlor?”

“’Girls Can Tat.’ That’s us.”

“Ohhh. Clever name.”

“Thank you. Um, the poinsettias?”

He smiled. “Of course. Any particular color?”

“They come in something other than red?”

He chuckled and pointed behind her. She saw a display filled with poinsettias in red, pink, white and various combinations of the three. “Wow.”

“I know, right?” Arthur replied and she turned back to him.

Just then a tall, skinny man with dark hair emerged from the door behind Arthur. “Arthur, we’ve got . . .” He paused when he saw Gwen. “Hi,” he stuck out his hand, “I’m Merlin, co-owner of the shop.”

Gwen wanted to laugh at this goofy guy, but restrained herself. “Gwen,” she replied, holding out her hand.

He took it. “Oh, you run the tattoo parlor down the street.”

“Yep, that’s me.”

Merlin,” Arthur cut in, frowning.

Merlin looked at Arthur, who made a couple of gestures with his hands. “Ah, got it. Well, Gwen, nice to meet you but I’ve got a thing to do in the back. Yep. See you later!” He waved as he went back through the door he’d emerged from.

“He’s a little odd,” Gwen stated.

“You have no idea.”

“Well, um, okay. So, the flowers. How about two red ones?”

Arthur smiled. “No problem.” He walked from behind the counter to the display next to Gwen. He pulled off two plants and held them toward Gwen. “How are these two?”

She looked over the gorgeous blooms. “They’re perfect. I’ll take them.”

“Great!” He carried them around the counter with him and sat them down there. He tapped a few buttons on the register. “Forty pounds.”

She handed over a few notes and he rang it up. “Thank you.” She picked the pots up.

“No problem. And if you need more, we’ll have them throughout the month.” He looked at her quizzically for a moment. “Do you want some help?”

“Ah, no thanks.” She turned, looked at the door and sighed. “Okay, maybe with the door.”

Arthur dashed around the counter again and ran ahead to open the door. “Here you go. Need help with your shop door?”

“No. My partner will rescue me.”

“Partner. Okay.”

“Thanks again. Bye, Arthur,” she said as she walked out the door.

He watched her for a moment before sighing and going back around the counter. Merlin came through the door again. “She got something?”

Arthur jumped. “Yes, Merlin. And quit sneaking up on me like that.”

“So, she was pretty.”

Arthur sighed. “Yeah. And probably taken. She’s too beautiful not to be.”

“You never know until you ask.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Obviously. Did you finish that bouquet for the wedding?”

“Yes.”

And the bridesmaids’?”

“Um . . . Mithian and Elena are on it.”

“That’s your baby though. Get back there.”

“But . . .”

“Merlin, if I could do your job, I would. But you’re the floral wizard, so get back there and supervise the girls.”

“. . .”

“Now.”

“Okay. But if any more gorgeous girls come through the door . . .”

“I’ll handle it.” He smiled as Merlin retreated behind the door again then turned back to surveying his domain.

oo0Ô0oo

Morgana rushed to open the door for Gwen. “You got poinsettias! They’re gorgeous!”

Gwen put them down on the counter. “Not as gorgeous as the guy behind the counter.”

“Mm, tell me about him.”

“Tall, blonde, crystal blue eyes, and fit as anything.”

“Wait. Did you go to the shop two doors down?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Oh, the blonde is my stepbrother. He co-owns that place.”

“Arthur is your brother?”

Stepbrother. And we don’t actually talk much.”

“So he doesn’t know you co-own this place.”

“Nope. After I quit at his dad’s company I told him I was joining a new venture. He didn’t ask.”

“So Arthur works two doors down from us and you’ve never popped down to say ‘hi’?”

“Like I said, we don’t talk much.”

“Morgana!” The other woman just shook her head. “Okay then. Are we ready to open?”

“Just as soon as we place these beauties.” Morgana picked one up and stuck it in the already-decorated window. “There, perfect.”

“Gorgeous as usual, Morgana.”

“I know.”

Just then, a noise from the back of the shop made the two women turn round. “Hello, ladies,” a male voice said.

“And now we’re good to go,” Morgana commented.

As the man came into the front, Gwen said, “Hello, Percival.”

“Gwen, I told you to call me Percy.”

Morgana chuckled. “You big teddy bear.”

“Yeah, I know. Are we ready to open then?”

“For our first day? You bet.”

“You flip the sign, Gwen,” Morgana prodded.

“Okay, here we go.” She cautiously approached the door, reached for the sign and flipped it over to “open.”

“Yay!” Morgana cheered.

And they sat back to await their first customer.

oo0Ô0oo

Three days later, Percival was working on a beefy-looking guy while Morgana and Gwen watched. Gwen was depressed that there hadn’t been more customers so far, but Morgana had cheered her up with “don’t worry, once we become known business will take off.” Gwen thought Morgana must be right, because she had a degree in business.

Morgana blew out a sigh and said, “I’m bored. Let’s go visit my brother.”

Gwen was surprised. “But just yesterday you didn’t care whether you talked to him or not.”

“That was yesterday. Besides, I think we need more flowers. Maybe something other than poinsettias.”

“Oh, okay. Percy, are you going to be all right if we pop out for a few minutes?”

“Yup. I know where to find you.”

“C’mon, Gwen.” She tugged Gwen over to their coat rack where they put on their jackets. “And we’re off,” she tossed off to Percival as Gwen pushed the door open.

They giggled the few steps to the flower shop, but sobered before they opened the door. Inside, Arthur and Merlin were talking behind the counter. But both stopped to look as the door’s bell dinged. “Hello again,” Gwen said.

“Hi, Gwen,” Merlin said at the same time Arthur said, “Morgana?”

“Surprise, Arthur,” the woman in question answered. She and Gwen walked up to the counter.

“You know Gwen?” Arthur asked her.

“Of course I do. We’re business partners.”

“Gwen?”

“Absolutely. But we first met at uni.” She noticed Merlin checking out Morgana as she did the same. Both smiled slowly at the other.

Morgana’s focus snapped back to her brother. “Remember the art courses I took?”

“The ones Father scoffed at?”

“Yeah. Gwen was in them. She got her degree in art.”

Arthur looked at Gwen. “Impressive. And now you own—”

“Co-own . . .”

“A tattoo parlor with Morgana. That’s what you quit your job to do?” He looked back at Morgana.

“Yeah. Don’t tell your dad, please.”

Arthur’s eyes lit up. “Oh, this could be so good.”

Gwen saw the fearful look on Morgana’s face and spoke up. “Arthur, I’m sure you don’t want to do that to your sister. You seem too nice for that.” She batted her eyes at him for good measure.

“Huh?” Arthur looked lost. Merlin chuckled. “Oh, yeah. All right, he won’t hear it from me. But you have to do me a favor.”

Morgana rolled her eyes. “What is it?”

“Not you. Gwen.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. Go out with me.”

“Me?” She couldn’t believe this was happening to her.

While she stood there gaping at Arthur, Merlin introduced himself to Morgana, who began twirling her hair around her finger. She only did that when she was really interested in something, and apparently the quirky shop owner interested her.

“So?” Arthur asked.

Something about the way he said that charmed her. “Sure, why not? When?”

Yes,” Arthur replied. “Dinner, tomorrow night. We can meet at your shop after we close here. At six?”

Gwen turned to Morgana. “Will you and Percy be okay if I leave early?”

Morgana pulled herself back to the conversation. “Yeah, we’ll be fine. I may not enjoy my stepbrother’s company, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t.”

“Hey!” Arthur said. Merlin was chuckling again. Arthur silenced him with a glare, but when Arthur turned back to Gwen, he laughed silently.

Gwen reached out her hand to touch Arthur’s. “So I’ll see you tomorrow night then.”

He smiled back at her. “I can’t wait.”

The women turned, and with a farewell wave at the men, left the shop. Arthur turned back to Merlin. “Don’t think I didn’t see you making eyes at my sister.”

Stepsister. That’s only a step away from not being related at all.”

Arthur raised a finger. “You—our parents married when we were really young. So I’ve actually known her quite a while.”

Merlin put up his hands in surrender. “Don’t worry, Arthur. A girl as hot as that couldn’t really be interested in me.”

“Are you kidding? You’re exactly her type. Sadly.”

“Sadly?”

“Look, Merlin. If you wanna go out with her, go for it. You’d probably be good for her anyway. She needs to settle down, chill out. You could help her with that.”

Merlin’s eyes lit up. “Really?”

Arthur smirked. “Really.”

“How about you and Gwen, huh? Pretty smooth.”

Arthur’s smirk faded. “I hope so. There’s just something about her . . . I think we could really get along.”

Merlin put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. If it’s meant to be it’ll all work out.”

“And if it isn’t meant to be?”

“Then go out in a blaze of glory, my friend.”

Arthur frowned. “Thanks.” He still wasn’t quite sure what made him ask out the beautiful woman, but he knew he wanted to see her socially. He’d better make this dinner impressive.

oo0Ô0oo

Arthur took Gwen to a little hole-in-the-wall Italian place he knew of. He claimed the food was exquisite and Gwen did enjoy it immensely. While they ate, Gwen shared more of her history with Morgana. How they met and got along right away. She also told how she’d become interested in body art at about the same time she finished uni. And of course she had to work a lame office job to support her art, which is what she really wanted to do. She told him how she’d finally had enough at about the same time Morgana had quit her job. And, of course, their disaffection led to the shop. Morgana handled the business side of things and could also draw tats. Gwen was the main artist and Percival also drew but was there in case they needed muscle. They hadn’t needed him that way yet, fortunately.

Arthur was impressed. It took a lot of courage to open a business in this economy, and for two women to do so in an occupation dominated by men . . . well, that was something special. He asked her more than a few questions about it and she replied easily.

Then she asked him questions about how he’d ended up in an occupation that was generally associated with women. He laughed and told her it was all Merlin’s fault. He’d met Merlin at uni—they were roommates, actually, and it took them a while to get along. But once they did, they were thick as thieves. Merlin had been in design then and Arthur in business. After graduating, Merlin went to help his mum in her failing floral shop.

From there his story sounded much like Morgana’s. He’d been working in his father’s company and had woken up one day to wonder what am I really doing with my life? It wasn’t that the company was soulless, he just didn’t find any meaning in it. So he quit and kicked about for a couple of months before Merlin called him up to reconnect. And the rest was history.

When they left, Arthur drove her to her flat. They exchanged numbers while still in the car and she thanked him for the lovely dinner. Both went home smiling and thinking fondly of the other, wondering what if?

oo0Ô0oo

Monday afternoon, the door of Girls Can Tat opened to reveal Arthur and Merlin. “Hello, neighbors!” Merlin called out, and everyone laughed.

The shop had no customers, but then again they’d just opened for the day. Everything looked clean, organized and ready to go for the day. Again, Arthur was impressed. “Hi ladies, and . . .” he broke off after spotting Percival.

“Percy,” said the big, fit man.

“Good to meet you,” Merlin chimed in. He held out his hand and Percy came forward to shake his and Arthur’s.

Morgana stepped forward. “Percy, this is my stepbrother Arthur and his friend Merlin.” She paused to smile at the brunette.

“Oh, you guys own Camelot Flowers.”

“That’s us,” Arthur agreed.

“We,” said Merlin with a glance at Arthur, wanted to come see your premises and give you a welcome gift.” He brandished the hand he’d been hiding behind his back—a plate of biscuits.

Morgana snatched it from his hand, peeled back the covering and took one out. “Looks good.” She bit into it. “Mm, tastes good too. Did you bake these yourself?”

Merlin grinned. “I did.”

Arthur rolled his eyes the same time Gwen did. “So, can you give me a tour or are things off limits?” he asked her.

“Um?” Gwen was surprised.

“I’ve never been inside a place like this before. Not for Morgana’s lack of trying though.”

“Well, there’s not much to tour, really. This is where we work and everything and the storage-slash-breakroom is back there. Oh, and the loo.” She pointed down the hallway behind her.

They were interrupted by an indignant gasp from Merlin. He was looking at the poinsettia plant on the counter next to Morgana. She was in his personal space but it was clear the plant had concerned him somehow. “Your poinsettia! Didn’t you tell them how to take care of them, Arthur?” he finally said.

Arthur looked over at the plant and felt like smacking himself. “No, I didn’t. Argh.”

“Well, they’re dying. We’ll just have to bring you two new ones.”

“But—” Gwen started.

Merlin smiled at her. “Nope, no protesting. We’ll bring them over tomorrow. We’re getting a fresh shipment in the morning. And remember to give them indirect sunlight and water every two days or so. Rotate them in and out of the window.”

Morgana smiled at him. “Thank you, Merlin. Can I talk to you for a moment in the back?”

Merlin threw a questioning look at Gwen and Arthur, but they just shrugged. So he let her pull him down the hallway into the breakroom.

“What’s that all about?” Arthur wondered.

“I think she wants to ask him out. He hasn’t asked her yet, and you know how she is.”

“Yes I do.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of going out, um, I need to go shopping for Christmas presents and I could use a woman’s touch. Would you come with me?”

“When?”

“Wednesday night?”

Gwen looked at Percy. He grinned and waved his hand. “Go. We’ll be okay here, you know.”

She smiled at him for a moment before turning it on Arthur. “I’d love to. After you close again?”

“Yeah. Meet you here?”

“Perfect.”

Just then, Merlin and Morgana came back out to the front of the shop. He was blushing and Morgana had a triumphant smirk on her face. “Let’s go,” he said to Arthur as he passed by him on the way to the door.

Arthur rolled his eyes again. “Okay. See you later, Gwen, Morgana, Percy . . .”

They all waved goodbye as Arthur and Merlin stepped back into the cold. The two men paused in front of their shop door. “Arthur—” Merlin started, gripping his friend’s arm.

“What’s wrong, Merlin?”

“She asked me out!”

“So . . ? Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Yes! But a girl like her and a guy like me . . .”

Arthur put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “Relax. She doesn’t bite. Well, not on the first date anyway.” Merlin’s eyes widened, but whether in fear or interest, Arthur couldn’t tell. “She’s obviously interested, so just go with it. You’ll be fine.”

Merlin blew out a breath. “Okay.” He smiled. “I can do this.” He opened the shop door and let Arthur inside.

“Out of curiosity, when’s your date?”

“Tonight.”

“Ooh. Good luck, mate.”

“Thanks.” Merlin seemed to thaw. He smiled and went through to the back of the shop where he was presumably dishing to Elena, who was working there. Mithian, behind the counter, gave Arthur a strange look.

“Girls.”

“Ahh,” she said and nodded. She then turned and walked through the door to the back.

Arthur sighed and went behind the counter. He mused over how amazing it was they managed to keep the shop afloat when its workers acted like love-struck fools.

oo0Ô0oo

Wednesday evening arrived rather quickly. Arthur met Gwen outside her shop and they bundled into his car and drove a short ways to the shopping district. There, she helped him buy gifts for his family, friends and co-workers. He bought her dinner at a Chinese place and they sat down there to enjoy it.

This time they discussed all about their families. Arthur told her several fun stories about Morgana that she hadn’t heard. She laughed quite a bit then sobered when he mentioned his mother’s death. He asked about her family afterward and discovered they had missing mothers in common—Gwen’s mother had died just a few years ago. But she still had her father and brother.

When they were done, Arthur drove her home again, but this time he walked her to her door. He thanked her for coming with him and offered to do the same for her, if she wanted. Her answering smile nearly blinded him. Her beautiful chocolate eyes drew him in and he was stunned speechless for a moment.

Gwen became concerned. “Arthur?”

“I—I really want to kiss you now.”

Her heart fluttered in her chest. “Well, what are you waiting for?”

He took that for the invitation it was and moved quickly to press their lips together. His arms slid down to her waist and hers wrapped lightly around the back of his neck. The moment seemed to last forever as a rush of sensation rushed through him. She felt so perfect, so right.

She was surprised by Arthur’s intensity. His lips were surprisingly soft and the pressure tender. She’d thought him to be the type to go for and take what he wanted, but that’s not what he was doing now. Warmth bloomed in her chest and radiated south, filling her body. She held on, not wanting the moment to end, ever.

Eventually they had to come up for air. He pulled away slowly, a look of wonder on his face. “Thank you,” he whispered.

“Anytime,” she replied.

One of his hands drifted up to her face. “Good night, fair Gwen.”

“Good night, Arthur.” She stared at him for a moment as he walked away slowly. Once he got to his car, he turned to wave at her. She waved back and watched him drive away then went inside.

That night she had a very hard time falling asleep.

oo0Ô0oo

Arthur and Gwen attempted to keep their budding relationship away from their nosy co-workers, but it proved impossible. And neither of them really minded because they both felt too good about it. It felt too right to them. And if they ever got tired of the prodding, they turned the same questions back on Merlin and Morgana.

Gwen and Arthur found excuses to see each other during the day. Sometimes they brought lunch to the other. Sometimes Arthur came by to “check on the plants.” And sometimes they snuck out behind their shops to make out, only to leave because Merlin and Morgana were already there doing that. They just laughed, shook their heads and went back to the tattoo shop’s breakroom. Neither minded if Percy walked in on them. He was just happy to see his friends happy.

Eventually Gwen did take him up on his offer to shop with her. He carried all her bags and invited her to come back to his place for dinner and wrapping. She was surprised at the offer, but took it gladly. Besides, if he really could cook that made him even more special.

His flat was typically male, but clean and homey at the same time. He got out his wrapping supplies and put them on the table for her then invited her to sit there so she could wrap while he cooked. And he did cook—a kind of curry that smelled incredibly delicious. She didn’t finish before dinner was ready, but that was all right. He offered to help her after dinner.

She found it hard to concentrate on dinner with him right there next to her. He seemed equally distracted by her. Conversation paused when he put his hand on hers or they looked into each other’s eyes. She felt that the wrapping might not get done after all.

When they finished, he pulled her into the kitchen and backed her up to the counter. He proceeded to press their lips together hungrily and she gave as good as she got. She held his face between her hands and nipped at his bottom lip. He opened his mouth in surprise so she sneaked her tongue inside. He sighed, his hands on her hips grasping more firmly. Soon they were lost in a battle for dominance that neither won, each caring too much about the other.

After they finally broke apart, they gazed at each other with desire. He lowered his head to her neck and began nuzzling there. Gwen moaned at the sensation. Arthur kept kissing, but said, “If you don’t want to continue, you’d better stop me. Too much longer and I won’t be able to stop myself  . . .”

She moaned again as his hands began rubbing up and down her sides. She let him continue to kiss up and down her neck while she thought. They’d only been dating for two weeks—was she ready for this? And the more she thought, the more she doubted. “Arthur—” she tried.

He didn’t seem to pay any attention, so she had to say again, “Arthur.”

That time he heard her and pulled away a little. “Gwen?” he asked, confused.

“I—I think I’d better go.”

He looked deep into her eyes; she swallowed painfully. “All right. I won’t pressure you.”

She smiled. “Thank you.”

As she put her clothes to rights, he fetched all her presents and bagged them for her. He walked her to the door and opened it for her. “Thank you for a lovely night,” she told him.

“My pleasure,” he replied, giving her a quick kiss. “See you later.”

“Definitely. Good night.”

She walked away, feeling a little disappointed in herself. He obviously cared for her a great deal and wanted to take things further, as did she. But the last time she’d fallen for a man quickly, he’d run away just as quickly. She didn’t want to hurt Arthur or herself like that again.

oo0Ô0oo

Arthur was a bit confused by Gwen’s actions. He respected her decision to leave before things got too intense, but things had been going so well. He’d really wanted to pull her into the bedroom and make sure she was satisfied, but didn’t want to push her.

They’d talked a few times since, texted and seen each other during the day. She seemed fine but he was unsure what to do next. He was almost to the point of asking Merlin what he should do, because he sure wasn’t going to talk to the girls about it. But Merlin looked so happy he didn’t want to burden him.

About a week later, a handful of days from Christmas, Merlin caught Arthur looking glum. The usual cheering up routine wasn’t working, so he decided to try something else. “Is it Gwen?” he asked his friend.

Arthur looked at him funny. “How—?”

Merlin grinned. “Just a guess.”

“I don’t want to bother you.”

“You won’t. What is it?”

“Well, everything seems fine on the surface, but . . .”

“Ohh. I get it. You’re ready to move forward and she’s not.”

“That’s what I’m guessing. One night . . . well, she pulled away unexpectedly. She seems fine about everything, but something’s not quite right.”

“Hmm, have you tried asking her?”

“What? No.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Arthur, you’ve got to talk to her.”

Merlin . . .”

“Want me to ask Morgana?”

Arthur’s eyes widened in panic. “No! Just . . . no. I’ll talk to Gwen.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow.”

Merlin’s eyebrow rose. “But you’re miserable.”

“Yeah, so?”

“You need to fix this now.”

“Really.”

“Fine, be that way. I dare you to go over there and get a tattoo.”

What?!

“You heard me. Go over there and get a tattoo. That way you’ll have an excuse to talk to her.”

“I can talk to her without—”

“Sure you can. But you weren’t going to. And I happen to know you can’t refuse a dare. So now you have a reason to go over there and talk to her.”

Arthur looked furious but also relieved. It was a strange combination on his face. “Fine. I suppose you want to come over and see if I actually do it.”

“Nah, someone’s got to run this place. I trust you—besides, there’ll be evidence.” He smiled teasingly.

Arthur grumbled but walked to get his coat from the back. He emerged with it on and went to the door. With one last glare, he was out the door. Merlin wanted to laugh, but decided against it. The people in the shop might think he was deranged. And who wanted to buy flowers from a deranged florist? So he smiled and leaned on the counter, ready for whatever came up next.

oo0Ô0oo

As the shop’s door opened, Gwen, Morgana and Percy paused to look up from their positions. Morgana and Percy were working on customers while Gwen looked busy behind the counter. She smiled at him and said, “Hello, Arthur.”

He smiled back and walked over to her. He looked down at what was on the counter between them—giant books with pictures. “Hey, Gwen, um, I’dliketogetatattoo.”

A confused look came over her face. “What was that?”

He cleared his throat. “I’d like to get a tattoo.”

Gwen examined his face carefully. “Arthur, not that I’m not glad for the business, but are you sure? Because you don’t look sure.”

“Um yes?”

“You’re not inspiring confidence, love. Did someone put you up to this?”

He looked down at the book again. “Yeah, it was Merlin. He dared me.”

“And do you always take dares?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“Arthur, how much do you know about getting a tattoo?”

He hesitated. “Um, nothing?”

Gwen sighed. “That’s what I thought. Come here.” She indicated that he should come around the counter. Once he did so, she took his hand and pulled him back to the breakroom. She pushed him onto the small sofa there and sat beside him. “Okay, I’m going to tell you all about the process and when I’m done, you’ll tell me if you still want to go through it.”

Arthur felt a bit intimidated but agreed. “All right.”

Gwen began explaining. “First off, we want you to come in for a consult where you decide what you want done and where. That usually involves looking through our portfolios out front. Once you decide, we need time to draw it up.”

“Oh. So it’s not like on the telly where you walk in then walk out thirty minutes later.”

“Heck no! After we call you to come back in, we want you to come in clean and loosely clothed in clothes that aren’t super important. Once we get started on drawing, it will hurt for about ten minutes.” Arthur paled a little. “After that it mostly goes away but you have to stay very still. And screaming definitely won’t help.”

“Why would I—?”

“Believe me, when Morgana and I were doing our research, we heard a bit of screaming.”

“O—okay.”

“Now, do you still want to get a tattoo?”

Arthur looked relieved. “Not today.”

Gwen smiled. “Good. Because you would have done it for the wrong reason.” She made to stand up but he reached out a hand to stop her.

“Actually, Gwen, the dare was a reason to get me over here. I wanted to talk to you about something.”

She looked a little fearful. “What is it?”

“You’ve been so good to me, so wonderful . . . I just want you to know you’re cared for. And ever since that night at my place, you’ve seemed a little distant.”

She blushed and sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

“What is it? Is it me?”

She took his hand in hers. “No, it’s me.” She saw him about to protest and put a hand over his mouth. “No, hear me out. My last year in uni, I started dating a man. I fell for him hard and very quickly. When I told him how he felt, he got scared and cut off all contact with me.

“And you, you’re incredible. I—I’ve started falling for you, Arthur, and it scared me. I didn’t want to scare you away like I did Lancelot. What I’m feeling for you—well, it feels deeper than that. I want to be with you for a long time.” She blushed.

Arthur looked at her in amazement. That’s what she was worried about? He took her other hand. “Gwen, I’m not him. I think I’ve fallen for you too. And while I’m ready to take our relationship to the next level, I’m also willing to wait until you’re ready.” He looked into her eyes. “I’m not going to leave you anytime soon. This thing with you . . . it’s amazing and I’ve loved every minute of it.” He squeezed her hands. “But if you’re ready now, I won’t hold you back either.”

Tears brimmed in her eyes. “Thank you, Arthur. You’re the best thing to happen to me since . . . well, ever.” She withdrew her hands from his and threw them around his shoulders.

He rubbed her back a bit, saying, “Hey, hey,” until she relaxed.

She eventually calmed down and pulled back, an excited look coming over her face. “Come over to mine on Christmas Eve.”

“What?”

“Come to my flat Christmas Eve. I can’t think of anyone better to celebrate with.” Her face fell. “Unless you have plans with Morgana and your father . . .”

He laughed and took her hand again. “No, we have our big family celebration on Christmas Day. I’m free on Christmas Eve.”

“Eee!” she squealed and threw her arms around him again. When she pulled away, he chased her to press their lips together again. It lasted for a few minutes and grew passionate, so when he pulled away she sighed. “Mm, that was perfect.”

“Just wait. When we finally—”

She cut him off with a quick kiss. “I’ll be glad. Now, I’ve got to get back to work and I’m sure you do too.”

He frowned. “Yeah.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll have some uninterrupted time in four days.” They both got up and headed to the rear of the shop. “See you later.”

He kissed her quickly before saying, “Until later then.” And he was off, out the door.

Gwen floated back to the front of the shop. Morgana paused to shoot her a questioning look, but Gwen ignored her. She’d find out soon enough anyway. She went back to tidying and organizing behind the counter, humming “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the entire time.

oo0Ô0oo

Arthur whistled as he walked up to Gwen’s flat four nights later. He had some roses from the shop and a bottle of good wine. When she opened the door, she smiled and beckoned him inside. She took his coat to the closet and accepted the flowers and wine, gushing over both.

She led him back to her dining room, adjacent to her kitchen. Then she put the flowers in water and opened the bottle. Arthur looked over at the perfectly set table and took the opportunity to examine Gwen. She wore a sleeveless black knee-length dress with heels to match. It was simple but perfect for her. And she looked so happy as she stirred this and that, in her element like she was at the tattoo parlor.

“You look wonderful,” he told her.

“Thank you,” she replied with a light blush. “Dinner’s just about—” A timer dinged then and she pulled a small turkey or maybe a chicken from the oven.

“Mm, it smells heavenly in here.”

She blushed again and told him to take a seat while she brought out the food. The bird did turn out to be turkey. She served them and they began eating.

During dinner they talked about their family’s various traditions. She told him her family usually got together on Christmas Eve, but that they were both out of town on business. He went into detail, explaining about their awkward family dinners that had gotten easier the older he and Morgana got. They laughed a lot and smiled even more.

After dessert, Gwen got up and pulled Arthur to the sofa. “I have a present for you,” she explained. She went to her Christmas tree and picked up a small, rectangular package. “Open it,” she said, handing it to him.

He took it and unwrapped it to find a book of Arthurian lore. “I thought since your name was Arthur, your sister is Morgana and your best friend is Merlin . . .”

“That I’d like this?” She smiled and nodded. “Of course I do! I was much more into it as a child, reading everything I could get my hands on, but this one must be new.”

She blushed again. “It is. I saw it and immediately thought of you.”

“Thank you.” He leaned over to give her a sweet, lingering kiss. “I have something for you too.” He pulled a small, thin box from his jacket pocket. “I hope you like it.”

She took it from his hand and tore the wrapping off. It was a box from a well-known jewelry store. “Arthur—” she started, a little shocked.

“Just open it.”

She lifted off the lid carefully. Inside was an intricately-woven gold bracelet. It was woven so finely that stones sat here and there in the pattern. “Are those diamonds?”

“Yes.”

“Arthur, how can you afford this?”

“Two words—trust fund.” He smiled brightly. “Do you like it?”

“I love it!” she put the box on her lap and threw her arms around him. “Thank you,” she whispered in his ear. She felt him shudder and pulled back a little to look at his face. “Are you—?” she started.

But he cut her off with an energetic kiss. His hands had seized her face to bring their mouths together. She sighed as she melted into it, enjoying the warmth that spread throughout her body. Her hands wrapped around her waist to pull herself closer. “I’m fine,” he panted as they broke for air.

“Good.” She put a hand behind his head and pulled him back to her. She felt their gifts tumble to the floor as his tongue entered her mouth, but by then she didn’t care. Her body shifted until she was straddling his lap, pressing them even closer together. He moaned and slid his hands to her derriere, holding her there for a long moment until the broke for air.

“Bedroom?” he said as he shifted his attention to her neck and she moaned.

“Yesssss,” she replied, holding on for dear life. He picked her up with him and she wrapped her legs around his waist. He carried her all the way to the bed, gently laying her upon it.

Clothing was quickly shed and bodies pressed together. Hands and mouths explored the new territory, each finding what the other liked best. Pure bliss washed through both of them as they became one.

Later, while they lay tangled together, Gwen rubbed his bare back. “You know, a tat right here,” she tapped his left shoulder blade, “would look incredibly sexy.”

“Yeah? And what would my personal tattooist recommend?”

“Something to go along with your name or your personality . . . like a dragon!”

“A dragon?”

“Ohh yes. I’ve got the perfect idea for it. And I’ll give you the drawing after. It’ll be only for you.”

“Mm, I could maybe go for that.”

“I’ll be really gentle.”

“I know.” He pressed their lips together and that ended all conversation for a time. Maybe sometime he’d get that tattoo, but right now he had much better things to focus on.