Thursday, November 26, 2015

Random Tales of Christmastime Part 1


What Happens at Christmas by Jay Northcote
Summary:
When two friends pose as boyfriends, could what happens at Christmas turn into something more?

Justin is recently and unhappily single. Christmas is coming, and he doesn’t want to face his ex alone at their office party. So Sean—Justin’s best mate and long-time secret crush—volunteers to go with him and pretend to be his new flame.

Sean has always lusted after Justin from afar, but there’s never been a good opportunity to ask him for more than friendship. Posing as Justin’s boyfriend isn’t a chore, and if Justin wants to rebound onto him, Sean’s more than willing. At the party pretence and reality blur, and a kiss on the dance floor leads to a night of passion.

In the aftermath, they both assume it was a one-time thing until fate intervenes. Stuck together in London over the holidays, they give in to temptation again. But what happens at Christmas stays at Christmas... right?


Talk about a great introduction to a new author! I've never read Jay Northcote before and I can honestly say it won't be the last time either.  Sean and Justin are such great BFFs but watching them become something more is heartwarming.  Course, had they spoke up and been honest with each other than this journey would have happened a while ago and caused a lot less inner questioning, but then where is the fun in that? A great addition to my holiday library.

RATING: 

The Christmas Wager by Jamie Fessenden
Summary:
To discharge a debt to his friend, Andrew Nash, Lord Thomas Barrington returns to the family estate he fled six years earlier after refusing to marry the woman his father had chosen. To Thomas's dismay, Barrington Hall is no longer the joyful home he remembers from his childhood, and his young niece has no idea what Christmas is.

Determined to bring Christmas back to the gloomy estate, Thomas must confront his tyrannical father, salvage a brother lost in his own misery, and attempt to fight off his father’s machinations. As the holidays near, Thomas and Andrew begin to realize they are more than merely close friends... and those feelings are not only a threat to their social positions but, in Victorian England, to their lives as well.

Simon and the Christmas Spirit by Summer Devon & Bonnie Dee
Summary:
The holiday spirit has forsaken Simon Harris. A recent reminder of the man who used then left him sends lonely Simon on a glum visit to his club to while away a few hours. A breath of fresh air in the form of Christopher Andrews is about to enter his stale life.

Performer of many talents and faces, Christopher gained entrรฉe into the club to win money at cards. Unfortunately, he’s losing. But the evening needn’t be a complete disappointment as he strikes up a friendship with a gentleman which ends in a bedroom.

Simon and Christopher enjoy a few hours of pleasure together, never expecting to see each other again, but Simon’s newfound resolution to change might just transform both their holidays.


If you follow my reviews you already know how much I LOVE Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon's historicals so when I saw they were having a Christmas tale this year I was on cloud 9.  I was not disappointed.  Christopher may have conned his way into the club to make some easy money but what he found in Simon was so much more.  Simon may be alone and not looking for anything meaningful but what he finds in Christopher is everything he didn't realize he was missing.  Together they are powerful and heartwarming and add in the holiday and it's a must read.

RATING: 

Grumble Monkey and the Department Store Elf by BG Thomas
Summary:
Kit Jefferies, a part-time department store Christmas elf, is an artist who loves life and his family. Unfortunately, his car dies at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere as he is heading home for Christmas. Enter Nick St. George.

Nick is a very unhappy man—he's achieved his professional goals only to find the rest of his life bleak and empty. Deciding there was only one way to make everything right, he is on his way to San Francisco on a dark mission, and even the horrible sleet storm that blocked his path won't deter him. That's when he found Kit.

At first, Nick is pretty sure rescuing Kit was a big mistake. Kit's personality is just too, well, effervescent. But as the miles go by, Kit begins to bring light to his dark heart. It might even be bright enough to illuminate a Christmas miracle.

The Long Way Home by Catt Ford
Summary:
Andy’s Mom sends him to his childhood home to check on the house for Christmas -- and he can’t avoid memories of the past, especially when Jake shows up on his doorstep to spark a fire in the unheated house.




What Happens at Christmas
Justin’s phone chimed with a text, interrupting Sean’s train of thought.

Justin picked up his phone to read the message. “Ugh.” He put the phone back down without typing a reply and ran his hands through his hair.

“What’s up?”

Justin sighed. “It’s our work Christmas party next weekend. I’ve already got a ticket, and nearly everyone in the office goes, but it’s for partners as well. One of my co-workers, Jess, is bugging me to come, but I can’t face it. I bet Andy’s going to bring his new boyfriend. I know he’s a shit and I shouldn’t let him get to me, but the thought of him parading around with my replacement, and me being there on my own, isn’t very appealing.”

“Is it too late to find someone to take?”

“No, they don’t need final numbers till Monday.”

“Well, then. Take someone else and flirt like crazy in front of him. Show him you can do better and that you’ve already moved on.”

“But I’m not ready to date. It’s only been two weeks, and I’m still at the feeling-sorry-for-myself stage.”

“I’ll go with you,” Sean offered. “I could be your date. We could pretend we’ve got together and are a couple now.”

“Yeah?” Justin looked thoughtful. “Are you sure?”

Duh. It would hardly be much of a sacrifice to flirt with Justin all night. It would actually be a relief not to have to hide the way he felt for a change.

“Sure,” Sean replied. “I think I can manage to fake that I’m arse-over-tit infatuated with you. As long as it’s only for a few hours.”

“Gee, thanks.” Justin rolled his eyes. “You really know how to make an already-wounded ego feel better. But if you’re up for it, we should totally do it. Andy was always jealous of you before you went away. He saw you as competition because we lived together and were so close. I’d love to see his face when I walk in with you on my arm. I think he’ll hate it even if he’s moved on.”

“Okay.” Sean rubbed his hands together, excited at the prospect of getting to piss off Andy. “Let’s do it! Text your friend Jess back and tell her you’re in—with a hot date.”

The Christmas Wager
LORD THOMAS BARRINGTON rolled over, shielding his face from the harsh sunlight coming through the window of his room at the University Club.

“It’s no good, Thomas,” came a man’s voice, “I’ve already summoned a carriage. You’d better get up.”

Thomas opened one eye and saw his friend, Andrew Nash, sitting near the bed, dressed in his finest riding clothes and looking far too cheerful.

“I feel wretched.”

“No doubt,” Andrew replied unsympathetically. “You finished off that entire bottle of Scotch last night.”

Both men were in their mid twenties, recently having graduated from Oxford. It was here, at the club, that they’d first made each other’s acquaintance three years earlier. Nash wasn’t nobility, but he’d managed to turn his late father’s import business into an exceedingly profitable enterprise, and Thomas was shamed to see that Andrew’s traveling clothes were of a far finer make than he himself could afford. 

He sat up and tentatively placed his feet over the edge of the bed.

“What kind of friend lets me drink a fifth of Scotch by myself?” he asked irritably, running his hand through his thick chestnut hair, as if that might somehow soothe the dull ache that gripped his head. The floor was cold against his bare feet, but he lacked the motivation to find his slippers. 

Andrew found them for him and slid them across the floor with his walking stick until they were within Thomas’s reach. “I could hardly have stopped you,” the handsome blond commented. “Besides, being drunk made you more susceptible.”

“Susceptible?” Thomas asked. “Susceptible to what?”

Then it all came back to him, and the significance of Andrew’s outfit finally filtered through his alcohol-muddled brain. “Oh no. Andrew, you couldn’t possibly hold me to a promise made while I was in my cups.”

“Couldn’t I?”

The young man’s blond curls and mischievous smile always made Thomas think of an angelic Michelangelo sculpture turned bad. Long-lashed blue eyes watched him as he dragged himself over to the nightstand to splash some water on his face. 

“Unless you’d care to settle your gambling debts yourself….”

“Andrew,” Thomas said, raising his face to regard him in the mirror. “It’s crude to talk of money matters so blatantly.”

Andrew shrugged, unconcerned. Normally, a man of his station would be more respectful of the son of a duke. Indeed, a man of his station would normally never wake a nobleman up in the morning and watch him stagger around before he’d made himself presentable. But their friendship had long ago grown to the point where such formalities were dispensed with—at least in private.

“I’m afraid I lack your breeding. So forgive me. But you were the one foolish enough to bet Stratford money you knew you didn’t have.”

Thomas reached for his shaving brush, wet it, and began swirling it around on a bar of soap. “I thought I could win.”

“But you didn’t.”

Slathering the soap on his chin was easy enough, but Thomas’s hands were shaking a bit, making the idea of running his straight razor along his neck somewhat frightening. “I do appreciate you saving me from humiliation, Andrew, but you must understand. I am no longer welcome at Barrington Hall, at Christmastime or any other. I simply can’t take you there.”

“Nonsense,” Andrew replied, setting his cane aside to come close and take the potentially deadly weapon out of his friend’s unsteady hand. “It’s been years since you left. I’m sure your father would love to see you.”

“You don’t know him.”

“Well, neither do you. Not after six years. He may have changed his mind about a great many things. And you promised last night to take me to the country, in exchange for forgiving your debt.”

“I was tricked.”

“Absolutely.”

Thomas allowed Andrew to take his chin in hand and begin shaving him. It was mildly embarrassing, but Andrew was so much better at it than he was. And Thomas had been forced to dismiss his valet years ago, when his allowance proved too paltry to afford such a luxury. 

He would be lost without Andrew, truly. The man was the dearest friend one could ask for, always there when he needed companionship, always willing to cover his debts, even nursing Thomas when he was ill. 

And what was he asking for in return? To spend the holidays in the country, just this once. At Barrington Hall. Andrew had never been there, of course, so he no doubt had an overly idyllic image in his head about life in a country manor. But he had no family, after the passing of his mother four years ago, and the holidays seemed to weigh upon him. And Thomas certainly did not have enough money to repay him for last night. Nor would he for a very long time.

Thomas sighed. “Very well. But I warn you, we may be turned away at the door.”

Andrew simply gave him that mischievous smile again.


THOMAS had insisted on tea before leaving the club, which delayed them further and made the driver of their carriage irritable. But Andrew simply gave the man a large tip for waiting and helped Thomas climb into the carriage. Then they were off for Barrington. 

Thomas, of course, fell back to sleep immediately. Andrew sat across from him, watching his friend sleep, the tousled hair and sensuous mouth so beautiful and sweet in repose. The blond sighed and forced himself to look away, at the dirty London streets slipping past the window, at the novel he was pretending to read, at anything else. 

What would happen, he wondered, if Thomas ever opened those soft jade-colored eyes and saw Andrew watching him with eyes full of not only affection, but desire? It was too horrible to contemplate. 

Someday, Andrew knew, Thomas would drift away from him. Their intense, close friendship would fade; Thomas would find comfort in the arms of a woman. It was inevitable. But until that day, Thomas was his. Not in the way Andrew desperately longed for, but in the only way it could ever be. So, for now, he would revel in it, and fight to keep the truth from ever slipping out—that he loved Lord Thomas Barrington with all of his heart. 

My God, Andrew thought, if he ever were to discover it! Thomas would be horrified. Repelled. As any respectable English gentleman would be. At best, he would turn Andrew away and never see him again. At worst, he might press charges as well. This sort of thing was against the law, as Andrew well knew.

He forced these dire thoughts out of his head, and turned back to the carriage window as they left London behind. 

The village of Barrington was several hours away from London, and somehow Thomas managed to sleep through the entire journey, except for brief stops in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, where he managed to rouse himself for relief and something small to eat. Andrew let him sleep, though he found the journey dull without a companion to talk to. His novel quickly bored him, so he contented himself with watching the scenery out the carriage window.

He’d never been to the country as a boy, as his family had lived in London and had no living relations outside the city. Andrew’s mother had spoken often of how she missed the small country cottage she’d lived in as a young girl, painting a charming picture of the English countryside that made Andrew yearn to see it. But his father had been born in London and, to the best of Andrew’s knowledge, never set foot outside the city until the day he died. 

Perhaps he was being foolish. Most likely, he would find that Barrington Hall was drafty and unpleasant, and he would quickly find himself longing for the modern amenities London had to offer. But his best friend was a lord, the second son of the Duke of Barrington! How often did one get an invitation to spend the holidays with a noble family—even if the invitation was forced? Thomas had described the great hall full of candles and gay Christmas balls, and feasts of goose and pheasant and Christmas puddings. It sounded so wonderful. 

Too, Andrew desperately wanted to see where Thomas had spent his childhood. Perhaps some part of him thought it would strengthen the bond they shared.

He was concerned, of course, that the holiday would prove an unhappy time for Thomas. The young man described his father as a tyrant who had tried to force Thomas into a marriage to a woman he hadn’t loved. Just as he’d forced Thomas’s older brother, Edward, into an arranged marriage. Thomas had fled to London, and it was only through the intervention of his mother that he did not find himself cut off entirely, but at the receiving end of a small allowance.

Andrew prayed that his foolishness wouldn’t make matters worse for Thomas, but his friend had spoken fondly of the mother he feared he might never see again, and the niece he’d read about in her letters, but never met. After losing the last member of his own family, it seemed tragic to Andrew that Thomas should remain cut off from those he loved because of an argument six years in the past. Surely there was a possibility of reconciliation.

If worse comes to worse, Andrew told himself, I’ll support the bastard. For as long as he’ll let me.

The sun was beginning to set when the carriage rounded a small hill. And suddenly there it was—Barrington Hall, lit orange by the setting sun against a darkening sky, with the glass of hundreds of windows reflecting red-gold fire. Andrew’s breath caught at the sight of it. He’d never imagined it being this spectacular. The hall was enormous, rivaling any of the buildings Andrew had seen in London, and surrounded by immaculately manicured lawn—though that was withered and brown at this time of year—and evergreen hedges. A vast forest lay beyond that, and some distance to the south, Andrew could see the small village named for the hall.

As the carriage drove up to the wrought-iron gate, and the coachman conversed with the gatekeeper, Andrew roused his friend.

“Welcome home, Lord Barrington,” he said cheerfully.

Thomas rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and peered bleary-eyed through the carriage window. “Let’s hope Mother doesn’t allow Father to keep his hunting rifles in the house.”

Simon and the Christmas Spirit
“I apologize,” Simon said, “if I have misread the situation. But your brother said that you require money, and the cards didn’t yield any. And then this…” He waved a hand. “Upstairs. In a bedroom.” He felt his face redden, but he refused to remain silent. If Christopher could be outrageous, he could at least attempt to meet him partway. “I wanted to be honest, but if you’re insulted, I am sincerely sorry.”

“It isn’t my intention to charge you for anything.” Christopher’s smile didn’t seem real. “Oh, I’ve been called worse. I have a thick skin. But it does feel odd to be offered money for that. No one has in the past, you see, and we have had dire times.” Now his smile seemed real, as if recalling marvelous occasions instead of a time he would have sold his body to stay alive.

He cocked his head to the side and examined Simon. “It’s odd that this situation should be an insult to me but not to you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You assume that I wouldn’t spend time with you without charging you. Seems rather as if you expect it would only be worth my while to gain profit and not to simply enjoy your company.”

Simon hardly supposed a creature this bright needed company. “I suppose the insult comes from using a person like a money box, for one, and a place to deposit, um, pleasure.”

Christopher whooped with laughter. Really, it was the strangest situation Simon had ever encountered. “Depositing pleasure,” he said and began to laugh again. “Such a bank,” he explained.

Simon smiled. “Sticky,” he said, and that sent Christopher off again.
When he could speak, he said, “It’s a pity this will never work in any kind of routine. I can imagine the master of ceremonies would call for a player’s removal the moment he discussed that kind of bank…” He went off into a wheezing fit. The man was a party, a celebration of life unto himself, and Simon couldn’t help but be buoyed along on such a wild current. He too began to chuckle, then laugh until he was whooping breathlessly along with his unexpected companion.

When was the last time he’d laughed loudly and freely without concern? Never with Thomas Millard, who’d cared very much about appearing sophisticated and, now that Simon thought of it, had been quite vain about his appearance. Millard would never have let go and laughed like a child about something entirely silly. But still, Simon had cared for him, and the thought of the lover who had badly used him sobered him from his laughter.

Christopher’s laughter also slowed, though his ever-present smile remained. “What is it? This is a night for confidences. You know all about me already. I’m a performer and a man who is perhaps too much entangled with his family. Tell me about the dark thing that haunts you during this joyous holiday season.”

“Haunts?” Simon snorted. “I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge. I have no ghosts that haunt me.”

“But something has happened to you, and fairly recently, I’ll wager.” Christopher set the wax fruits and nuts on the marble table, so close to Simon, he held his breath.

Christopher walked to the bed and perched on it. He patted the counterpane. “Sit, please, and tell me.”

Simon rose from the chair but was afraid to take a step. If he sat on that bed beside this man, it was tantamount to admitting what they were both here for and that he trusted Christopher. And despite Christopher’s talk about “just talk,” Simon knew better.

But the man was too damned appealing with those sparkling eyes and that too-wide mouth stretched even farther by a smile. Simon uncrossed his arms and took a seat on the bed. He still didn’t speak and, what a wonder, neither did Christopher for a few moments.

“Tell me,” he murmured again. “Was your heart broken?”

“A bit pummeled, but I shall be fine.” Simon didn’t intend to say more. His affair with Millard was his—at first to treasure and now to grieve over. But then words began tumbling out. “I had a lover for a time. I thought what we did…what we had was more than physical, but I was wrong. He lived off my largesse, and I foolishly offered whatever he wanted to take.”

“Ah.” Christopher nodded. “Giving you good reason to fear every man might desire you for the same reason.” He rested a hand on Simon’s knee, and the heat of it burned straight through his woolen trousers. “Trust me. I am not that sort. I may swindle or fudge the facts on occasion, but never in matters of the heart. That is the worst sort of confidence scheme.”

Simon gazed into eyes sharp as razors, and even though he’d only recently been deceived by a fine actor, he believed Christopher Andrews spoke the truth.

“Tonight,” Christopher continued in a hypnotic purr that soothed Simon even as it aroused him, “we will enjoy ourselves and each other. This is a season for celebration. We shall drink deeply of one of the great joys of life.”

Simon gazed at the sensually moving lips, then back at the devilish eyes. Mouth. Eyes. His gaze went back and forth while his body inclined forward almost of its own accord.

This is not happening. This is some sort of dream. I am not a man who tumbles so easily into… The warm pressure of a stranger’s mouth against his own stopped Simon’s thoughts dead.

Christopher smelled of cigar smoke from the cardroom and of something crisp and tangy. Gin, perhaps, with its infusion of pine. He tasted piney too as his tongue insinuated itself between Simon’s lips and stroked his. Delicious. Warm. One kiss made him crave more. And now Christopher’s hands had gone around his back, pulling him closer. The man gave a rumbling contented noise that made Simon’s rising cock swell harder.

A stranger’s body in his arms. A stranger’s tongue twisting around his. Clever kisses and capable hands. Was he actually sharing an illicit interlude right above the stolid, masculine rooms of his club? Below, Jenks continued to slide into his stupor with his newspaper spread over him and the card games went on with no one the wiser. That thought made their groping hands and devouring kisses all the more exciting.

Simon tugged at Christopher’s jacket until he shrugged it off. Then he scrabbled at shirt studs with clumsy fingers until Christopher gently removed his hands and took off the shirt himself. For a moment, Simon merely stared at the performer in an undershirt that bared sinewy arms and molded a muscular chest. With his braces off and his ill-fitting trousers sagging at the waist, the bulge in his drawers was visible.

Simon had to see what lay beneath. He reached out with both hands to open this unexpected Christmas gift.

Grumble Monkey and the Department Store Elf
“BABY, IT’S cold outside,” declared the famous old song from the speakers of the car radio.

No kidding, thought Nick. It was cold. It was colder than a well-digger’s butt in the Klondike, is what it was. Colder than a nun’s buns in a steel chastity belt.

In other words, it was damned cold.

The windshield wipers were icing up bad again, and Nick knew he was going to have to try to pull over and clean them—a prospect he didn’t relish, with its very real possibility of being struck by a passing motorist. The shoulder of the road was piled high with snow, and in most places there was nowhere to stop the car. In front of him was nothing but snow and ice and a gray and ugly sky. And sleet. It was the scariest driving he’d ever done in his life.

And that’s when he saw the sign. “Rest Area One Mile,” it read, along with the information that it was twenty miles to the next stop. A distance that would take another hour at the speed he was being forced to drive. Nick hadn’t dared go over thirty-five miles an hour since he’d left the motel.

At this speed, I won’t get there on time.

When Nick woke up that morning in the tiny, crappy motel room and turned on the TV with its strangely yellow-tinted screen, the first thing he’d seen was the weather advisory. Sleet, sleet, and more sleet, and cautions to drive only if it was absolutely necessary. But wasn’t it? Hadn’t he made up his mind (finally) that it was completely necessary?

Despite that, Nick thought about staying another night. But for what? Certainly not the scenic locale. Not the luxurious accommodations. Undoubtedly, not the cuisine. Dinner last night had been a bag of Lay’s potato chips, some trail mix, and an ancient Snickers bar for dessert (via the vending machine in the motel office). The little hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street had been closed—as in permanently—and the local pizza place, several miles away and the only option for hot food, was closing as he called. The bastards had refused to deliver even when he offered them an extra twenty bucks. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford it.

That’s what you get for driving so late last night.

BUT HE wanted to get to San Francisco. He wanted to get there by Christmas Day, and that certainly wasn’t going to happen now, was it? Not if this ice storm didn’t clear up soon, or unless he drove far enough to move out of it. He’d already driven for sixteen hours straight.

Why does it have to be Christmas Day?

It was that internal question again, and he squashed it down and made the split-second decision to pull off the road. But even driving at only thirty-five miles an hour, it was too fast, and for one brief alarming instant (which seemed to last about a week), he thought he was going to go into a ditch as the car swerved first one way and then another. Somehow, through the grace of Who-knew-what (if there was any “What,” and Nick had stopped believing in fairy tales long ago), he got the car under control, just barely missing a red-and-brown Jeep at the bottom of the off-ramp. A moment later he sat—panting, heart racing, knuckles white from his grip on the steering wheel—in a parking space in front of the nondescript building in the middle of nowhere.

This is ridiculous, he told himself.

He should have stayed at that motel, hellacious as it had been, with its musty, moldy smell (except for the office, which had reeked of curry so strongly he’d hardly been able to breathe,) and its nasty-smelling towels and the dripping faucet and the dead pill bug by the drain (and where had it come from, he’d wondered). Not to mention the pair of panties he’d found behind the bed when he’d tossed his glasses next to the lamp, and they’d skidded across the surface of the end table and onto the floor.

That morning, as he sat on the edge of that uncomfortable bed, watching the crappy television, he had known, ice storm or not, there was no way he was staying at that motel another day. So despite the weatherman’s frantic misgivings, Nick had hit the road—only to discover how bad it really was. Now he was sitting in a rest-area parking lot, hundreds of miles from his goal, his only shelter either his Bentley or a small building that most probably reeked of piss.

Why should any of this be a surprise? Whatever could go wrong, would go wrong, were the words of the famous prophet and sage. Those words, and the equally well-known “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” were his themes. It had always been that way. Why should things change?

Well, Nick thought as he sat there, his wipers still slapping noisily across the windshield. Might as well make do. Take advantage of the situation. He turned off the engine, along with the duetting voices of Barry Manilow and K.T. Oslin, pulled on his knit cap, turned up the collar on his Eddie Bauer coat, and got out of the car. He glanced at those ice-encrusted windshield wipers, shrugged and decided they would wait, and without another look, headed into the brick building.

Nick was surprised when he walked into the lobby. For what it was, the word “nice” might almost have applied. The room was well lit, with nary a burnt-out bulb, and there was a pleasant smell, manufactured though it may have been, of lavender and disinfectant. The walls were clean, if not the floor (but that was due to the wet feet of travelers escaping sleety weather, not neglect). Nice photographs had been hung—a few nature scenes, as well as neighboring cityscapes—and there was a kiosk of maps and pamphlets for local attractions in one corner. Two nearly comfortable-looking couches were along one side of the room, as well as (of course) the ever-present soda and snack vending machines. At least these had packaging that looked new, and not from a previous century (he shuddered at the thought of last night’s petrified candy bar).

Not too bad.

Color me surprised.

Of course, he hadn’t gone into the actual bathroom itself, had he?

Nick braced himself.

Once more into the breach.

And surprise, surprise. Clean! Spick-and-span. The bathroom was all tile and stainless steel and mirrors that might have been cleaned in the last few hours, although the weather surely would have prevented that. The smell of the room deodorizer that was being used wasn’t so strong that it made him want to gag, nor was there the heavy piss smell he’d imagined. The dividing walls separating the toilets went all the way to the floor—no hanky-panky underneath the partitions here!

Or was there?

Just as Nick stepped up to one of the urinals to relieve himself, he heard a noise. A crying out. A gasp. It sounded like sex. Were two men actually doing it in here? His stomach clenched in distaste. Could anything be so clichรฉ? Don’t we have a bad enough reputation without proving our base nature?

Nick finished his business quickly, washed, and then fled from the building and into the waiting car.

Only to remember he hadn’t cleaned his wipers. Already, in the short time he’d been gone, the windows had glazed over and the wipers were worse—they looked glued to the windshield.

“I hate this,” he said aloud.

Then he geared himself up and stepped back into the cold. It was still sleeting, and he had to stand in the miserable stuff to clean things up.

There’ll be no sleet in California. There’ll be no sleet in California. There’ll be no sleet in California.

To Nick’s relief, scraping the glass wasn’t too bad since the car was still quite warm from the blasting heater—thank Who-knew-what for that because Nick was never warm enough—and he did away with the ice in no time. The wipers though took some whacking and smacking before the chunks broke off. But he wanted—needed—to be careful, because he had no replacements on hand. What a bitch that would be if he had to drive without one. It would be… well, impossible. He would have to stay in this miserable place, and that was the last thing he wanted to do.

“Let me help” came a voice that so startled Nick, he jerked and then began to pinwheel his arms as he started to slip on the ice.

When he fell, it was right into the long arms of a man who was almost a head taller than him. He looked up into a smiling face that would have looked happy, had not his large-framed glasses magnified eyes that had obviously been crying. Nick jumped back and might have fallen again if the stranger hadn’t reached out and given him a steadying hand. He looked again and saw his rescuer was probably about ten years younger than Nick’s own thirty-two. That, and the fact that he was so obviously gay that Nick’s naรฏve and senile old grandmother would have spotted the kid as a big old fag. Why, just his hat was ridiculous. It was a red-and-green striped pointed hat that was so long it was being used as the dual purpose of a scarf, wrapped several times around his throat. It was embarrassing. Who would be caught dead in such a getup? Did the kid have no sense of decorum?

“Sorry,” said the stranger in a slightly lilting voice that further confirmed Nick’s suspicion that he was gay. This guy could not have passed for heterosexual if he went down on a woman. He probably had a gay pride sticker on his car, maybe even one shaped like a dog or Mickey Mouse. As if being gay was something to toot your horn about.

This is exactly the kind of gay who feeds the hatred against us, Nick thought. Nick had never been to a pride event in his life—although he’d had a boyfriend for a little over a year, once upon a time, who’d tried to drag him to one or two. Nick didn’t see the point. Straight people didn’t have “pride” events. Why did so many gay people feel a need to make a spectacle of themselves? One’s sexuality was no one’s business but one’s own.

“So do you go back to being ashamed the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year?” he’d asked his then boyfriend (although he hated the word “boyfriend”—it was so high school!). Their relationship had been framed by two such “gay pride” celebrations, and it was Nick’s refusal to go to the second one (and the sarcastic comment he had made) that sent Spencer packing. Nick had come home to an empty apartment and a note.

Dear Nick, it had said, and his stomach had dropped as it had so many times in his life, through so many disappointments. He had known before noticing anything was missing that this was a break-up letter. I’m proud of us. I’m sorry that you’re not. I can’t live with that, Baby. I wish you all the luck and love and pride in the world. Love, Spin.

Baby. Imagine a man calling another man “Baby.” And Spencer’s preferred nickname for himself was just as silly. Spin. It put Nick in mind of someone whirling and spinning about. What was wrong with Spencer? It was a grand name. Or Spence, if he had really needed a nickname.

Ridiculous.

And all this reminiscing was going on as Nick was standing in the cold sleet, the ice beginning to melt down the back of his neck, staring at a tall, slim young man in a ridiculous elf hat.

Said “elf” bit his lip, chewed, then apologized again. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Butcha did,” Nick snapped, then shook his head. No need to be rude. And certainly no reason to do an imitation of Miss Baby Jane Hudson. That’s something Spencer would have done in a heartbeat.

The stranger grinned a dazzling smile. “That’s from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane!”

Nick barely stifled a groan. Of course the kid had caught the reference. What card-carrying, proud-to-be-gay boy wouldn’t?

You did, his inner self reminded him.

That’s only because of Spencer. He infected me with his gay trivia.

“I really am sorry,” Elf said for a third time.

Nick held up his hands. “Apology accepted. Have a nice day.” He turned and began to climb into his car.

“Mister! Wait!”

Nick stopped.

“A-are you going west by any chance?” Elf bit his lip again.

It was harder to fight the groan this time, but ten years dealing with indecisive and wishy-washy clients and collectors had taught Nick to control his emotions. At least outwardly.

Hell. What did this fairy want from him? Please not a ride. Please, please. “Yes,” he answered stiffly, and managed not to say, “What the hell do you think? You can only go west from here.” He wanted to say it. He’d been asked a stupid question. The exit from the rest area only went west. And oh, how Nick abhorred stupid questions.

“Oh!” Elf rolled his eyes. At least it looked that way. It was hard to tell since his cheap-looking glasses were getting wet from the sleet. “That was a really dumb question, huh?” Elf shuddered. “It has been a baaaaad day, what can I say? First this crap-o weather and then my car.”

“Your car?” Nick asked, and damned himself for it. Now the kid had reason to continue their conversation.

Elf nodded. “Broke down. I don’t know how I managed to limp it along this far. I don’t know what to do. I could call a tow truck, but then what? Home’s a few hours aways. Besides, I think Bette’s done for.” He sighed dramatically. “It’s been a long time a-comin’.”

“Bette?” Who the hell was Bette?

Stop! You’re doing it again! Stop talking! Let him get to the point.

Although Nick pretty much saw what was coming….

“Bette’s my car. Well, she’s a Jeep. Was a Jeep?” Elf gave a huge shrug. “She’s about a thousand years old. Anyways, I’ve tried to call home on the pay phone inside, but no one’s answering. I’m getting….” He hesitated¸ his cheerful tone gone. “I’m getting worried….” He stopped again. Looked away.

It was right then that Nick realized this was who had been in the bathroom. And he hadn’t been having sex. He’d been crying. Hell.

Nick felt more cold wetness running down his neck and found he was growing impatient. He wanted to get out of here.

“Look, mister,” said the stranger in the Christmas hat. “Are you going as far as Terra’s Gate?”

“I don’t know what that is,” said Nick honestly.

“It’s home,” Elf explained. “Where I grew up.” For some reason, he was smiling. “I’m on break. From school.”

Break? From school?

“I was hoping you’d be willing to drop me off. I can give you gas money. Keep you company. Help you watch the road….”

Elf’s face had taken on an expression of hope, and Nick felt a certain dread. He was on a mission and already behind schedule. It was San Francisco by Christmas, even if it was five minutes till midnight.

“I don’t know,” Nick said. “I don’t have time for any detours.”

“It’s not a detour. As long as you’re taking this road for a while. I’m about two hours from here.”

And of course Nick was taking the same road for many hours yet, and into tomorrow. Almost all the way to SFO.

Elf’s eyes were growing more and more obscured. Droplets of sleet were covering his big (cheap-looking) glasses, and Nick realized the kid—twenty-one, maybe—was getting just as soaked as he was. The whole front of his jeans was dark with wet, and oh God! Were those rhinestones along the front pockets? Could the elf be any gayer? Hell!

“Get in,” Nick said before he could change his mind.

The grin that spread across Elf’s face made the kid surprisingly cute. Nick crushed the thought like a cigarette under a shoe—not that he had smoked in years. He just didn’t want to find anything attractive about someone so gay. Rhinestones! What man with any self-pride wore jeans with rhinestones on them?

Why someone with gay pride!

“Thank you,” Elf squealed. He actually jumped for joy. “Just let me get my stuff out of my car.”

He started to walk away, and Nick saw the back of the kid’s coat was soaked.

“Where’s your car?” Nick asked.

“Over there.” Elf pointed, and Nick saw the very Jeep he had barely missed hitting when he first pulled off the highway. “That’s as far as I got. At least no one should hit it.”

Except I almost did!

Nick sighed. “Get in.”

“But—”

“Get in! I’ll drive you.” He quickly moved the few things in the front seat to the back so that Elf could get in. The red-and-brown vehicle was at least 150 feet away. No sense in the little elf (well, he wasn’t really “little”) getting any wetter than he already was.

“Gee! Thanks!” And before Nick could even open the driver’s side door, Elf had dashed around to the other side of the car (Nick cringed, sure the kid would slip and fall on the icy pavement) and climbed in.

Nick joined him and only then realized how wet and nasty he was himself. Crap! I should change. I could catch my death. But damn! That would mean another delay. And just what the hell did the possibility of a cold mean to him now anyway?

“Thank you so much, Mister. I’m Kit, by the way.”

“Kit?” Nick asked. What the hell kind of name is Kit?

“It’s a nickname,” the kid replied as if reading Nick’s mind. “My family called me ‘Kitten’ when I was growing up.”

“Kitten?” Nick asked, incredulous. I don’t believe it! Kitten? Is there a more faggy name on Earth? Well, at least “Kit” is better than “Kitten.”

“My sister Valentine couldn’t say my real name, which is Keaton. So she called me Kitten and, well, it stuck. What’s your name?” asked “Kit.”

“Nick St. George,” he answered automatically and held out his hand without even thinking about it. It was mechanical. He was forever the businessman. And he was a successful one as well. Very successful.

Yippee.

“You’re kidding, right?” Kit grinned comically.

“What do you mean?” Nick yanked off his Gucci glasses and, pulling a tissue from the dispenser between the front seats, began to wipe the wet lenses. “Why would I kid about my name?”

“Nick? St. George? Like Saint Nicholas?”

Nick thrust his glasses back on his face and saw Kit’s look of utter joy. He gritted his teeth.

“And it’s Christmas Eve!” Kit giggled. He actually giggled. Was there anything more annoying than a full-grown man who giggled? This was getting worse by the minute. And Nick was going to have “Kit” in his car for two hours?

For one brief minute, he considered taking back his offer. This was going to be hell. It wasn’t the first time someone had made the hated Saint Nicholas joke, especially at this time of year. At least it would probably be the last. For about a tenth of a second, he’d almost bitten the kid’s head off. Snapped at him as surely as he did some of his more lazy, good-for-nothing employees. But how did you yell at someone who was looking at you like that? It would be like slapping a… well, a kitten.

“And people don’t believe in Christmas miracles!”

Nick drove Kit over to his Jeep—it was a Tracker, and this one was a piece of crap, if Nick had ever seen one. He was horrified. How could anyone drive in such a piece of shit? What had looked like red and brown from a distance and through icy rain turned out to be red and rust. Lots of rust. Tons of rust. In fact, Nick didn’t know how the thing hadn’t fallen apart.

And sure enough! Right there on the back bumper. It wasn’t shaped like Mickey Mouse but it was a gay pride flag. Nick wasn’t surprised in the least.

Kit scrambled out of Nick’s car, leaned into his own, and ran back with a duffle bag. He threw it in the backseat and returned to his Jeep. This time he came back with a huge green trash bag filled to the bursting point.

“You’re taking garbage home?” Nick asked as Kit climbed back in the car.

Kit blushed through cheeks already red from the cold. “Laundry.” He shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a college kid. Don’t we always take our laundry home to mom?”

I wouldn’t have, thought Nick. His mother would have given him quiet hell for something like that, despite the fact that Charlotte—their maid—would happily have done it for him. Charlotte would have done anything for him. She’d certainly been more of a mother than his own had ever been.

“You have a great heater in this thing,” Kit said enthusiastically and rubbed his hands together in front of the vent. “What kinda car is this?”

“Bentley Flying Spur,” Nick said. “What did you think it was?”

Kit shrugged. “I didn’t know. That’s why I asked.”

“You couldn’t tell it was a Bentley by looking at it?” Certainly, the kid knew what a Bentley looked like. Half the reason Nick drove one was because people always knew what a Bentley looked like! Look like money, and you make money. The Law of Attraction and all that shit.

Kit rolled his eyes. “I know cars have five wheels. Four are rubber and the last one is the thing you steer with. I don’t know a Bentley from… ah….”

“A Tracker?” Nick offered.

Kit giggled again. “Well, heck. I know that much!” He rubbed his arms hard. Shivered.

Hell. He needs to change his clothes. We can’t leave yet. I’m never going to get to San Francisco.

Nick sighed inwardly and drove his car back to the brick building.

“What are we doing?”

“You need to change. You’re going to catch pneumonia.”

“But you’re in a hurry. Your heater will dry me off.”

“Change. It’s not like we’re going to get anywhere in a hurry in this stuff!”

“My mom says you can’t catch a cold that way anyways—”

“Bull!” Nick parked the car. “Get something to wear out of that trash bag of yours.” It was a command, using his most “boss” tone of voice. The one that said “Do not argue with me!” Nick pointed at the building and snapped, “Get your ass in there and get changed. Now.”

“Yes, sir!” Kit saluted, jumped from the car, and, taking his duffle bag with him, disappeared into the building. Apparently, he had something clean. He was fast too. Kit was in and out before Nick had time to get impatient. And that was saying something.

Nick elected not to comment. He simply started the car back up—having already thrown his wet coat in the back and grabbed the Irish wool sweater he had ready for just such a possibility—and slowly and carefully headed back to the on-ramp. What color jeans was Kit wearing? Maroon? Hell.

Just as he reached the highway, a semi roared past as if it were a summer day, throwing slush all over the car. He cursed the man. Serve you right if you jackknife that thing.

“Holy cow!” cried Kit. “Did you see that?”

Holy cow? Really? Holy cow?

It was with that thought that Nick steeled himself for two hours of chitchat with Kit the elf-kitten. He pulled onto the highway, safely, while Michael Bublรฉ sang “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow….” Nick spared a finger from the wheel to stab at a button on the radio and change the station. This time it was Lady Gaga singing about how she lived for the applause. Hell! Why not?

And it was only then it occurred to Nick to wonder what kind of “two hours” Kit meant. Did he mean two-hours-in-this-weather two hours? Or a regular two-hours-on-a-nice-day two hours? Which meant it could be a hell of a lot more than that. Four, at least.

What the “heck” had he let himself in for?


Author Bios:
Jay Northcote
Jay Northcote lives just outside Bristol in the West of England, with her amazing, occasionally ridiculous husband, two noisy-but-awesome children, and two cats.

Jay comes from a family of writers, but she always used to believe the gene for fiction writing had passed her by. She spent years only ever writing e-mails, articles, or website content.

One day, she decided to try and write a short story—just to see if she could—and found it rather addictive. She hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jamie Fessenden
Jamie Fessenden set out to be a writer in junior high school. He published a couple short pieces in his high school's literary magazine and had another story place in the top 100 in a national contest, but it wasn't until he met his partner, Erich, almost twenty years later, that he began writing again in earnest. With Erich alternately inspiring and goading him, Jamie wrote several screenplays and directed a few of them as micro-budget independent films. He then began writing novels and published his first novella in 2010. 

After nine years together, Jamie and Erich have married and purchased a house together in the wilds of Raymond, New Hampshire, where there are no street lights, turkeys and deer wander through their yard, and coyotes serenade them on a nightly basis. Jamie recently left his "day job" as a tech support analyst to be a full-time writer.

Bonnie Dee
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.

I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.

Summer Devon
Summer Devon is the pen name writer Kate Rothwell often uses. Whether the characters are male or female, human or dragon, her books are always romance.

You can visit her facebook page, where there's a sign up form for a newsletter (she'll only send out newsletters when there's a new Summer Devon or Kate Rothwell release and she will never ever sell your name to anyone).

BG Thomas
B.G. Thomas lives in Kansas City with his husband for nearly fifteen years and was legally married in 2014. Ehey have a fabulous little dog, Sarah Jane. He sees his wonderful daughter just often enough to miss her when she isn't there! He has a romantic soul and is extraordinarily lucky to have many friends.

He loves science fiction & fantasy, horror, romance and more, has gone to SF&F conventions his entire adult life, and been lucky enough to meet many of his favorite writers. He is a “Star Trek” and Joss Whedon fan from way back!

He has written all his life, it is where he finds his joy. In the 90’s, he wrote for gay magazines, but stopped because they wanted him to cut out story and romance, and write only sex.

Then through a few friends, he discovered the growing market of M/M Romance and was thrilled beyond words. FINALLY, a way to write the stories he always wanted to write. Adventure, romantic comedy, science fiction, and more, but with gay characters. And he wouldn't have to fade to black! People wanted to read the erotic as well. Plot and sex! HURRAY!

B.G. Thomas very much believes in The Law of Attraction and that "thoughts become things." A lot of things all started happening at once. He heard the words, "Leap, and the net will appear," and something re-kindled inside. He sent out a story and was thrilled when it was almost immediately accepted.

He believes that we are divine expressions of the Universe, each and everyone. "It is never too late!,” he states. “Pursue your dreams! They will come true!"

Catt Ford
Catt Ford lives in front of the computer monitor, in another world where her imaginary gay friends obey her every command.

She likes cats, chocolate, swing dancing, sleeping, Monty Python, Aussie friends, being silly, spinning other realities with words, and sea glass. She dislikes caterpillars, cigarette smoke, and rude people who think the F-word (as in faggot, or bundle of sticks) is acceptable.

A frustrated perfectionist, she comforts herself with the legend about the weavers of Persian rugs always including one mistake so as not to anger the gods, although she has no need to include a mistake on purpose. One always slips through. Writing fiction has filled a need for clever conversations, only possible when one is in control of both sides, and erotic romances, where everything for the most part turns out happily ever after.


Jay Northcote
WEBSITE  /  NEWSLETTER  /  KOBO  /  ARe
 SMASHWORDS  /  AMAZON  /  GOODREADS
EMAIL: jaynorthcote@gmail.com

Jamie Fessenden
FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  BLOG
GOOGLE PLAY  /  ARe  /  SMASHWORDS

Bonnie Dee
FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  WEBSITE
SAMHAIM  /  AMAZON  /  GOODREADS
EMAIL: bondav40@yahoo.com

Summer Devon
FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  FB FRIEND
WEBSITE  /  BLOG  /  WEBSITE2  /  ARe
SAMHAIM  /  AMAZON  /  GOODREADS
EMAILS: summerdevon@comcast.net
katerothwell@gmail.com

BG Thomas
TWITTER  /  BLOG  /  iTUNES
AUDIBLE  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  AMAZON
ARe  /  DREAMSPINNER  /  GOODREADS
EMAIL: bg_thomas@livejournal.com

Catt Ford
iTUNES  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  ARe
EMAIL: catt_ford@livejournal.com



What Happens at Christmas

The Christmas Wager
AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  B&N
KOBO  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  ARe

Simon and the Christmas Spirit
AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  B&N
KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe  /  GOODREADS TBR

Grumble Monkey and the Department Store Elf
AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK
B&N  /  KOBO  /  AUDIBLE  /  iTUNES
iTUNES AUDIO  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  ARe
DREAMSPINNER  /  GOODREADS TBR

The Long Way Home

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