Katniss Everdeen did her best to ignore the pitiful looks she was receiving from her fellow patrons as she readjusted her dress for the umpteenth time that night and reached for another piece of bread, only to remember that she finished the last piece fifteen minutes ago. This wasn't her kind of scene and the looks she received when she first wobbled in made it clear that they didn't think she belonged here, either. It didn't matter how many parties she was forced to attend for her job at Ernst & Young; fancy and formal, she was not. She didn't like people paying attention to her in general, but it was especially true when she was embarrassingly alone in a fancy restaurant, surrounded by couples ringing in the New Year together.
"Excuse me, Miss?" The old waiter, who served her the two glasses of wine she had practically inhaled as the reality of the situation began to sink in, smiled sadly at her. "I'm sorry to have to do this, but I've been sent here to ask if you'd rather have a seat at the bar. This section is typically reserved for couples and since it is one of our busiest nights..." he trailed off, his intention clear.
Katniss' face paled as any patron who hadn't been whispering about the 'poor girl' now had their eyes unabashedly glued on her. "I'm sure my date will be here any moment. He's probably just running late, what with Times Square the way it is."
"Miss, you've been sitting here, alone, for forty-five minutes. I don't think he's coming." She could tell that he was trying to be as comforting about it as possible, but no kind words could soothe the lump rising in her throat. A few of the women watching let out 'tsk' sounds and attempted to hide their smirks behind overpriced glasses of champagne.
She looked down at herself; a red dress that was too revealing for her personal preference lay over a corset and garter set. The boning dug into her ribs and she couldn't get a full breath while sitting down, but it pushed her breasts up to places they had never been. Her hair was styled and she was wearing makeup for the first time in who knows how long. And then her secret weapon, the fanciest, most uncomfortable pair of shoes she owned - black 5" heels with a peep toe and flashes of red underneath.
All of which were ultimately because of her sister, Prim, who told her that New Year's Eve was the time to "replace that stick up your ass with some D." The girls spent all day at the spa getting waxed and primped in preparation much to Katniss' chagrin, as she was fully intent on spending the night curled up on her couch eating take-out and watching old black and white movies like she had done every year since moving to New York. But as soon as Prim found out it had been almost nine months since Katniss had had sex, she set to work on finding her older sister a date to relieve that itch. Katniss didn't like the lengths the younger Everdeen would go to break her dry spell, so she agreed. And just her luck, her blind date and 'sure thing,' stood her up.
"If you'd like to take a seat at the bar-"
Katniss shook her head. "No, that's alright. I'll just pay my tab and go."
The waiter laid a gentle hand over hers as she reached for her clutch. "No, Miss," he winked. "It's on the house. Pretty little thing like you should be out having fun tonight. Maybe the odds will be in your favor elsewhere. Fortune does favor the bold."
She thanked him, holding her resolve until she retrieved her coat and hailed a taxi, with no intention of being bold unless that boldness led her to comfort food. "Where to?"
"Um, anywhere I can get good, cheap food at this hour and away from the mess," she said, her stomach grumbling loudly.
The cabbie looked her over and nodded. "I know just the place." He pulled up in front of 'Greasy Sae's Place,' a small diner that looked deserted, save for the old woman wiping down the counter. "Here you are, Miss. Best burgers in the city, I swear. Make sure to get one on the cheese bun, it's their specialty."
Peeta Mellark slipped into the kitchen of the diner unnoticed. He was supposed to have this shift off work and he knew he'd never hear the end of it if Sae caught him at 8:45. It wasn't exactly his fault his date didn't bother to show up and he got hungry. He wasn't going to pay over $100 for a meal when he could get something far more satisfying here. The diner was Peeta's first job- a busboy when he was sixteen. Even now, nearly fifteen years and multiple promotions later, it was still the only place where he felt at home.
The kitchen staff, mostly made up of first-generation Portuguese, took the boy under their wing, teaching him about spices and techniques they learned from their mothers, telling him stories and teaching him phrases he could say without anyone knowing what he was actually saying. They never questioned him when he would stay late or pick up extra shifts over the holidays, but the fading bruises on his arms when he'd roll up his sleeves or on his back when his shirt would accidentally ride up told them that the Mellark household was not a suitable place for the sweet and gentle boy. The cooks even let him experiment in the kitchen once he proved he could handle anything on the line. It was during these times of "experimentation" that Peeta created, and eventually perfected, the infamous cheese buns now used on their burgers.
"Ah, Peeta!" Alfonso, the long-standing head line cook called once he spotted the blond man. "Feliz ano novo!"
"Você também," he answered back, slipping his suit jacket off and hanging it on the already full coat rack near the back door. He greeted the other chefs who looked at him in surprise. "Mind if I whip something up, para mim?"
The cook laughed and stepped aside. "Of course! We are slow tonight. Closing early."
"Your esposa will be happy to have you home at a decent hour."
"Order up!" The crackled voice of Sae, the owner and head waitress who initially trained Peeta, barreled into the kitchen. "Aussie on Cheese with Fries. Peeta Mellark, if that's you, you'd better march yourself out of this kitchen and back to that fancy schmancy restaurant, you hear me?"
Peeta clamored up to the pass to greet his old friend. "Why, Sae, you say that like you don't want me here!"
"Aren't you supposed to be on your date, meu filho?" she asked with a pointed look. Sae was always the mother Peeta wished he had. She at least cared about what was going on with his life, congratulated him on his grades, and listened to him whenever some girl stomped on his all-too generous heart.
He smiled sadly. "She must have had a better offer."
"Nonsense, Boy, there's no better offer in this city than you."
"I'm sure she was nothing special. Not compared to my best gal." He winked at her and she laughed as she whipped the dish towel at him. "Got anything I can help with?"
"No, meu filho, we're closing up early tonight and I'm almost done cleaning down all the tables. If you're going to eat, you'd better put your order in now. I'm sending the cooks home as soon as they clean up." She pulled the plate off the window to deliver it to the only patron left in the diner – a petite woman in the back corner booth, who was alternating between sipping her iced tea and checking her cell phone. He tried not to stare at her as Sae attempted her typical small-talk, but he couldn't keep his eyes off the few tendrils of her raven-dark hair that fell out of the intricate up-do. Or the way her lips pouted slightly as they remained fixed in a scowl.
"Peeta," Alfonso's voice broke him of his spell. The cook handed him his own burger on a plate with a knowing wink. "A sorte favorece os audazes." Alfonso nodded his head toward the back corner, where the woman was now picking at her food.
Peeta let out a slow breath and made his way to the empty booth next to her and caught Sae's arm on the way. "If you want to go home, I can close up tonight when I'm done."
Sae glanced over her shoulder to where Katniss was sitting and smiled. "You close up tonight and I'll give you tomorrow off." She handed him the keys from her apron pocket and meandered back up to the counter, shaking her head and chuckling about "young kids" and "New Year's Eve."
He slid into the empty booth and watched her, cutting into his burger so he didn't come off as as some creep who just stared at beautiful women in diners.
Katniss could feel his eyes on her, even though he was trying to play it cool. It only added to her annoyance, however, that she couldn't avoid the awkward stares even in a place like this, where she should feel infinitely more comfortable than 'Chez Manual'. Yet again, she couldn't help feeling like she didn't belong which only increased her desire to go home and put on her sweats. At least they'd never stand her up or look at her like a freak.
She was prepared to tell the guy off for being a creep who just stares at women, but when she turned to him, she was caught by a pair of deep blue eyes unlike any she had seen before. She forced herself to turn away before he could see the excited flush that overtook her neck and cheeks. Nine months was a long time to go without sex. Too long, if only a look could make her stomach twist in that familiar, yet missed way. To be fair, she told herself, He's not completely hideous to look at. She convinced herself that it was just his sun-kissed blond curls, deep sapphire eyes and that chiseled jaw line with just a hint of blond scruff that elicited the reaction. It wasn't pathetic or an indication of how much time she spent in the office rather than being social, which her sister often accused her of doing.
"Do you want some more tea?" Those were the first six words he spoke to the woman. He had run through plenty of others in his head that he hadn't dared saidaloud. Not yet, anyway.
"No, thank you." Those were the first three she said to him. They were the only two left in the diner, a fact she missed until she looked around.
"Are you sure? I'm going up for a refill so it wouldn't be a problem." He offered her a reassuring smile when she peered over at him.
She eyed him, much like an animal of prey watches their catch. He thanked his lucky stars he had ample experience in appearing confident when nervous. Peeta slid out of his booth and reached for her cup. "My treat."
"Aren't refills complimentary?" she smirked when he flushed and began stuttering an apology.
She wasn't going to deny how attractive he was, or the effect a few quick glances had on her. Maybe Prim was right and New Year's Eve was the right time to break her dry spell. Go out with a bang, so to speak. And what a bang she imagined him to be. She reprimanded herself for such thoughts. There was no way this man could be single, let alone interested in her, even if she was gussied up at the moment.
"Here you go. I didn't know if you wanted anything extra with it so I brought a little of everything." He placed the glass down along with a small plate of lemon slices, sugar packets, and a couple of lime slices.
"Don't knock it 'til you try it," he answered, swiping one off the table and squeezing it into his iced tea. "How was your food?"
Katniss glanced down at her nearly empty plate. "It was really good." She blushed as she looked back at him, well aware that he saw how she devoured everything on her plate. "Turns out wine and bread aren't that filling when you haven't eaten all day."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it." Peeta turned back to his plate. All that remained were the fries that he always saved for last. He began stacking them up in size order, a game he played with his food since childhood to force himself to eat more slowly.
She chewed her bottom lip and watched his meticulous, yet odd behavior. His curls fell haphazardly over his eyes and he'd shake them out, only to have them fall back. She noticed that he lightly bit his tongue between his teeth as he lined up his food.
His head snapped in her direction. "Yes? Did you need something else?"
"Um, no. I just wondered if..." she paused. It's now or never, Katniss. Fortune favors the bold. "I just wondered if you'd like to join me."
He smiled, his blue eyes shining brightly. "I would love to." He scooted into the seat across the table from her. "It took you long enough."
She scowled until he broke out into a hearty laugh. Okay, maybe this won't be so bad. He seems nice enough. And he hasn't rejected me yet.
"So what brings you to this fine establishment on New Year's Eve looking like that?" he asked.
Peeta held up his glass for a toast. "To being stood up on New Year's Eve."
Katniss laughed and shook her head when he tried to clink their glasses together. "That's a terrible toast! Why would you toast that?"
"I don't know," he shrugged, "It brought us together, didn't it?" He looked down and flushed, realizing that it was probably a bit over the line to say such a thing to a woman he only just met a couple of hours ago. A woman who was clearly not looking for anything. They had been having a great time, just talking, and he had to go and ruin it by saying the cheesiest fucking thing he could. He was such an idiot sometimes.
"Well in that case," she answered softly. She had a small smile playing on her lips when he finally raised his head. She held her glass up, mimicking his motion from a few seconds ago. "Let's do this toast correctly - to original plans falling through and not being alone on this stupid non-holiday."
"I'm glad your New Year's Eve sucked."
"I'm glad yours did, too," she echoed, bringing the glass of iced tea to her lips. "Although I must say, this is beginning to feel like a cheesy romantic comedy of sorts. Especially since it's happening today," she laughed a little and took another sip.
Peeta nodded his head thoughtfully and set his glass down. "Why don't we do that, then? We'll ring in the New Year like all those crappy couples do in movies that everyone hates but continue to watch anyway. That way, if anyone ever makes a story about either of our lives, we'll have this moment to share with them." He winked at her which just made her laugh harder. "So we've done dinner and talking and drinks, which, if I remember correctly are all staples, yeah?"
"They most certainly are," she agreed. "So I believe that dancing normally follows." She looked around the diner with apprehension. "Though, I'm not sure how possible it would be to do much dancing here. There's no space and there's no music."
"Ah, we can take care of that, my friend," he responded with a conspiratorial wink. "Slip those shoes off and help me move the tables off to the side." She glared at his suggestion. "What? They have to get moved anyway for closing duties so you're just helping me out. Unless this work is beneath you," he challenged.
Ever since she admitted to having attended Harvard for her MBA, he had been giving her a hard time about her comfy bourgeois existence while he, the poor community college drop-out, toiled and labored. It was ironic, given that her family background was considered blue collar at best and she actually worked all through high school to help pay for college; his family was more than disappointed when he told them he had no intention of carrying on the prestigious occupations of his brothers and would rather cook all day than study law or medicine. She was offended at first until that ridiculous smile that looked like it belonged on a model, not a line cook at a dumpy diner, convinced her otherwise. "It may violate my delicate nature, Sir," she answered in a haughty accent.
"You'll have to forgive this lowly peasant, M'lady," he said, starting to do the work himself. "You feel free to just sit and look pretty then and just enjoy the view."
She knew he was kidding but a part of her really considered taking him up on his offer. The dress shirt he wore stretched ever-so-lovingly across his back and anytime he bent over to pick up a chair, she had to admit that his dress slacks accented the perfect curvature of his ass. She really could enjoy that view for as long as he was willing to show it off. Yes, nine months was definitely too long without sex.
After all the tables that could be moved were, Peeta went searching for the battery operated radio that he knew Sae kept somewhere behind the counter. It was supposed to only be used if the power went out or if there was a storm of some kind, but he assumed she'd forgive him if he used it for this. Wooing a girl could be an emergency in and of itself, after all. He thumbed the dial, praying the radio could pick up a signal beyond the weather station one it had been stuck on for years. He finally landed on what he assumed to be an oldies station, if he was properly making out the music through the crackle and pops of the station. "Good enough," he muttered under his breath.
Peeta set the radio on the counter and turned the volume up so it played throughout the diner. He made his way back to where Katniss was putting the last chair atop a table. "It's nothing fancy, but care to dance, Miss Everdeen?" She laughed and accepted the hand he held out toher, allowing him to lead her to the middle of the now empty floor. The music was upbeat and cheerful, so they showed off their best terrible dance skills. He was willing to drop to the floor to do The Worm; even though it looked like he was just humping the floor, itsent a surge of heat through her body.
They danced and laughed their way through a handful of additional songs, both breathless by the time the DJ took a break from the music for a short commercial. "You have quite the moves, Peeta," she joked, pushing a strand of hair behind her ears. She could feel her makeup starting to drip from the sweat she broke into while dancing, but something about the way he looked at her made her forget all about it.
"And now, here's a special one just for you lovebirds out there getting ready to ring in the New Year. You've got an hour to go, so use this time wisely." The DJ returned from commercial break and the soft piano intro of I'll be There, by the Jackson Five, floated through the air.
The pair stared at each other, faces flushed and breathing deeply. Again, Peeta held out his hand and without saying a word, Katniss tentatively placed hers in his. He pulled her close, resting his hands on her hips and she wrapped hers around his neck. Thanks to her shoes, her head rested comfortably on his shoulder. She twisted a few strands of his curls through her fingers as they danced and breathed his scent in. He smelled of cinnamon and herbs, like a warm spring day, and she closed her eyes. They swayed together through the end of the song and were both reluctant to pull away when another fast song began playing. The magic of the moment, as cheesy as it may have been, was too good to break for reality.
So they didn't. Instead, Peeta pulled her closer and rested his hands on the small of her back. She nuzzled her head further into his shoulder and let out a content sigh. He couldn't stop the electric shock that shot straight to his groin when she pressed her chest closer against him or when she ran her fingers along his scalp. He attempted to keep his breathing calm and reminded himself that it was just an act; they were just playing out the old clichéd movie scenes to help them both forget the embarrassment they felt at being stood up on such a night.
Katniss wondered how bad it would be to just let herself live for a night. That's what this night was about, right? Letting yourself go and having fun; being bold. So when he slightly pulled away and looked down at her withdarkenedeyes, she didn't back down. And when he dipped his head and lightly grazed his lips over hers, she jolted forward, accepting his kiss. Who pulled who flush against one another, they weren't sure, but with each kiss, they became more and more intertwined;his hand against her back, the other cupping her ass. Her leg wrapped around his, pushing them until he was backed up against a wall.
Their kisses weren't sweet or cautious. The dam had been broken and all the sexual frustration that had been building, not just tonight but throughout the past year, rushed out. She moaned when his lips suckled the sensitive skin of her collarbone. He growled when she bit his bottom lip and sucked it into her mouth. He turned them so her back was against the wall and she hooked both legs around his waist. Peeta ran his hands up her legs, bunching the skirt of her dress up around her hips. When he reached the top of her stockings, he sucked in a sharp breath.
"Jesus, Katniss," he moaned into her ear, sending shivers down her spine. His fingers played at the garter clasp along her left thigh, snapping it easily and making quick work of the other. His arm muscles flexed as he helped hold her weight and pushed her lace panties to the side. "How are you feeling?"
She pushed her hips forward. "Bold."
They both moaned as he thrust a finger into her, building to a rapid pace that had her panting and squirming against him. A second finger. A thumb at her clit. She dropped her head to his shoulder, biting the skin at his neck as he made her come with a shudder.
Katniss shakily released her legs from their embrace around him and slid them to the floor. More of her hair had come loose from the up-do and stuck to her flushed face. He pressed his forehead to hers while her heartbeat slowed back down to an acceptable rate. She chuckled slightly when he planted a chaste kiss on the tip of her nose.
"You felt so good," he murmured.
"You made me feel so good," she admitted. She cringed when she noticed the bite marks below his earlobe. She grazed the bruise with her fingers. "Did I hurt you?" Her voice was soft but curious, as if she had never done such a thing as bite a man before. Which, admittedly, she hadn't. Katniss was no stranger to sex, but had never felt such a passion to leave a mark on a man quite like she had with him.
"Battle scar," he joked. "I'd rather hear you screaming my name next time."
She cocked an eyebrow at his smirk. "You think you're that good?"
His eyes darkened again and he licked his lips. "You want to find out?"
Katniss laughed as he picked her up and carried her to the nearby counter, setting her down on it. She leaned back on her elbows and felt herself become wetter under his predatory gaze. He ran his hands up and down her thighs again. She felt her chest rise and fall through the constricting corset and wantedit off more than ever. Only this time, rather than for comfort, she wanted him to touch every inch of her skin with his hands and his mouth. She squirmed on the counter against his hands.
"Take off your dress," Peeta whispered. He turned away from her, walking over to lock the front door they so carelessly forgot about.
"People can see me."
He turned his head over his shoulder. "Not quite so bold anymore, Miss Everdeen?" he chuckled as he turned the lock and began flipping lights off until only the ones above the counter were illuminated. "Better? It's the closest to 'mood lighting' I can get without setting off the smoke alarms."
Peeta heard the unmistakable sound of her zipper and the muffled drop of her dress on the barstool. "Keep your shoes on," he instructed, turning around. She was propped up on her elbow with a shy smile that made his stomach twist. "Somebody was hoping to get lucky tonight."
She made a show of eyeing herself up and down before sitting up, dangling her legs over the counter. "What? This old thing?"
Peeta felt his jaw clench as he took in the understated garment. A simple black corset, garter straps still carelessly unsnapped from the thigh high black stockings. She wasn't particularly big in the chest or feminine in the curves, but he knew, of all the girls he had bedded, she was by far the sexiest.
She sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and absentmindedly played with her garter strap. He was in front of her in a flash, her face between his hands as he kissed her. Their tongues fought for dominance as his fingers effectively ruined her hairstyle, not that she noticed. She was too busy trying to unbutton his Oxford dress shirt. "Fuck it," she muttered and ripped it open, the buttons flying across the diner.
"Hope that wasn't your favorite shirt," she said when he pulled away to investigate.
"I'll have Sae fix it," he muttered, kissing the exposed skin above her corset. She arched her back into him, exposing more skin around her breast. He palmed one, squeezing and kneading it as one would handle bread dough. Through the delicate fabric, her nipples hardened and she moaned with every touch.
Katniss grabbed the bottom of his undershirt and forced him to pause so she could remove it. She ran her hand down his chest; he wasn't overly muscular but toned in a way that showed he worked hard every day without actually working out. He kissed her again, pushing her onto her back and made quick work of his belt and trousers, pushing them down over his feet and remembering to remove his shoes in the process. He fished a condom from his pocket before letting them drop to the floor.
Peeta climbed atop of her on the counter and hungrily pulled her corset down to fully expose her petite breasts. He took one in his mouth, swirling his tongue around her dusky nipple, and again covered the other with his hand. She was thrusting her hips up to meet the hardness in his boxer briefs.
"How are you feeling?" Her question was dripping with lust and need.
He ripped open the foil packet with his teeth while pulling her panties down over her heels. Then he pushed his underwear all the way off and rolled the condom onto his already hard length. He positioned himself at the edge of her center. In a voice so low that only she could hear, he answered, "Bold," and pushed into her.
Nine months was definitely too long, she thought, wincing at the almost-forgotten feeling of being completely filled. It didn't help that Peeta was bigger than any guy she had everbeen with. He picked up on that and was pulling out when her hand grabbed his wrist. "Don't," she whimpered. "Just...need to...adjust."
He bent down to kiss her as he pushed in more slowly this time, opening her legs wider around his hips. She sighed in relief as the pressure gave way to the intense pleasure she had been hoping for. "Better?"
"Yes," she moaned.
He dropped his mouth from hers to revisit her breasts, increasing the speed of his thrusts to match her labored breathing. She lowered her hand to where they met and began rubbing tight circles around her clit. She could feel her second orgasm building quickly, warmth spreading from her center through her limbs. When he bit down on one of her nipples, she broke and moaned his name in a guttural voice that should have embarrassed her, but only seemed to intensify the feeling.
He slowed his thrusting down and released her breast with a smile. She reached up to his face, dripping with sweat, to brush away a strand of hair that stuck to his forehead. Peeta kissed her again, more gently this time. He carefully rolled them over so he was on his back and she hovered above him. She was thankful, given that her nerves were still buzzing, that she had control of them for the moment. She rode him slowly at first, swiveling her hips back and forth until she regained enough feeling in her legs to give him what she knew he really wanted. He let out a low groan with every rise and fall of her body, never fully releasing him as she came up, and then sank down hard and fast. He held his hands out and she interlocked their fingers, providing her with extra leverage and balance. Shifting the angle of her body slightly backward elicited a gasp and an enthusiastic hip thrust from him. He released one of her hands to finger her clit, with awarning that he wasn't going to last much longer. She smirked and used her free hand to reach behind her and massage his balls.
"Fucking Christ, Katniss!" he cried, thumbing her with increased pressure, as if his own release was dependent on hers. She didn't relent, knowing full well just how close he was when she felt his sack tighten in her hand. An extra squeeze and he shuddered, spilling himself into the condom. His thumb paused for only a moment before making her come for the third time that night. She collapsed on top of him, her insides contracting around him. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the side of her temple.
"Happy New Year's Eve," he joked.
She laughed and buried her head into his chest. "Well, it certainly has been memorable."
"And here it is, ladies and gentlemen," the forgotten radio announced, "It's almost that time. Sixty seconds until the New Year. And as the song says, 'If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with,' as long as it'll get you a smooch at midnight."
Katniss looked up at Peeta as the countdown began.
"May your next year be better than the last," he said with a smile.
"It'll be tough to top," she answered.
And as the announcer got to one and Auld Lang Syne began playing, Peeta lifted his head to capture her lips in a sweet kiss. "Happy New Year, Katniss Everdeen."
"Happy New Year, Peeta Mellark."
Three months later, Katniss left work early to enjoy the first warm day of the season. She always thought New York was the best during the fall, but the scent of a spring rainfall seemed to wash away the usual foul stench of the inner city. She found herself in a familiar part of town, where a cabbie dropped her off with the promise of the best burger she could ever have. Sure enough, a block ahead of her sat 'Greasy Sae's Place.' She hadn't been back since New Year's Eve; she hadn't even had a hamburger since then, as the memory of that night still caused a slight blush to appear on her cheeks. She peered in the window as she walked up to the diner and smiled. The pass, located between the dining room and the kitchen, allowed her access to the cooks. Well, one cook in particular, with blond curls and a laugh so vivacious she could swear she heard it outside. He turned his head and blue eyes caught her grey ones.
He cocked an eyebrow and smirked.
Feeling very bold, she figured it was about time she had another burger.