Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Random Tales of Christmastime Part 11

Making His List by Devon Rhodes
When his young niece Bailey moves in, Cory knows he needs to end his casual fling with Ken. Bailey’s had enough upheaval in her short life, and Cory doesn't want her to get attached to a “friend” who won't be sticking around. Even so, Cory finds himself continuing to let Ken into his life, but a one-night-stand gone serial isn’t what Cory wants, and so he makes The List: his requirements for the perfect partner.

Helping out during a difficult time, Ken finds himself being pulled into the family unit despite Cory’s previous emotional distance. He hopes he's finally breaking through, on the verge of convincing Cory to make their relationship more than a casual one. Then, while helping Bailey write to Santa, he finds Cory's list and takes it as his cue to bow out—just when Cory needs him the most.

Waiting for Winter by LB Gregg
Some mistakes are worth repeating.

Luke always thought he and Winter were the perfect couple—until the day Winter announced he was taking a new job and they were uprooting and headed for Germany. No discussion. No debate. For the first time in his life, Winter miscalculated. Badly. Now Luke is trying his best to move on with his life, but Winter is back in town and he’s set on digging their relationship out of the deep freeze.

Also available in the Comfort and Joy Anthology with Josh Lanyon, Harper Fox, and Joanna Chambers.

What a great holiday read!  Sometimes what we think is a good decision at the time turns out to be a very low point of the year, and that's exactly what both Winter and Luke lived.  But now they have a second chance to correct it.  Such a beautiful little story at any time of year but the holiday element makes it that much more sweeter.


A Christmas Kindness by Anna Lee
David Winters only has one wish this Christmas: to find the man he met and ran away from last Christmas at a masquerade party.

David Winters fell for a man at a Christmas masquerade party last year. The only problem? His sister and his niece needed him so instead of pursuing anything, David ran away and didn't find out who he was. Now, his niece, Jenna wants to organize a toy charity drive at a children's hospital which leads David to reunite with Officer Stephen Lauer. The sparks fly again and with a little Christmas kindness maybe the two of them can make a few wishes come true...including their own.

What a great little Christmas novella with a wonderful life lesson.  By saying "life lesson" I don't mean to imply the author has set out teach the reader anything but you can't help but walk away feeling better and wanting to help.  A great addition to my holiday library.


Something More for Santa by AKM Miles
While on a break at Martin's Department Store, Derek Campbell, aka Santa, wishes aloud for a little something for Santa and he gets it, and more.

Derek Campbell loves his job as Santa at Martin's, but finds himself wishing for a little something for himself. He's surprised when an elf hears his request and answers him. Derek gets more than he bargained for when he meets young Michael and then Max, who just happens to own Martin's. He falls in love with both of them and they him, then something happens, something bad. They overcome because they're strong together, and they have a good Christmas. But then, even worse things happen. What now? What follows is a wonderful holiday story filled with love, adventure, fear, hope, and kittens. This is a re-release but has been greatly expanded and re-edited.

This book has been previously published under the title "Something for Santa". It has been expanded and re-edited.

Waiting for Snow by JC Wallace
Dain is at the end of his proverbial rope. He lost his job, his boyfriend, and his church after one horrifying accident a few months ago. Now it's Christmas Eve, and he's reminded of each of those loses in a heart-breaking confrontation with his abusive father. As Dain is driving aimlessly, he meets Jake, the local sheriff. Despite the circumstances of their meeting, Jake is very interested in Dain, but can Dain let go of the past and learn to believe in love again?

Sometimes we meet that one person that will change our lives in ways we never expected to find.  Some might think that this little tale is about Dain, a man who needs rescuing, but it's so much more than that.  I couldn't believe how much hope and love was packed into so few pages.  Yes, Jake comes into Dain's life and changes it but Dain is the one who steps up and stands up for him.  Jake is there to let him know that not everything and everyone is against him and gives him the support he needs but Dain isn't the helpless victim that some might think.  A great addition to my holiday library that I will be re-reading.


Making His List
“I threw up.”

The quavering voice brought Corbin jackknifing up out of a sound sleep, struggling to get his bearings.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” This in a disgruntled, groaning whisper from Ken on the other side of the bed.

Well, that helped settle who the participants were. And apparently something was going to have to be done about Ken—soon—but first things first. He pulled Bailey into a sour-smelling and unfortunately damp hug, resting his cheek against her extremely hot temple. Oh man.

“Where’s your mom?”

“Don’t know. I threw up on my bed.” The tears were starting, and God knew that wouldn’t help matters any.

“Do you want to sleep with the throw up or should I change your sheets?”

A watery giggle. “Change them.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes! Uncle Corrrry….”

“Okay, okay.” He stood, glad that he’d had the foresight to put on his pajama pants after he’d fielded the booty call-turned-sleepover Ken probably now wished he hadn’t insisted on. Picking Bailey up—man she was scorching all over—he walked her into the hall bathroom, trying to remember what his mom had done for them when they were sick.

He flipped on the light, and then turned it back off again when Bailey winced and cried out. Turning the hall light on instead, he saw that there would definitely need to be a wardrobe change. He grimaced at the damp spot on his shirt. For both of us. He carefully pulled the nightie over her head backwards, taking care not to get any throw-up from the nightie into her hair or anything and tossed it in the sink for lack of a better plan.

“Do you think you could take a bath?”

“Don’t know. I’m cold.”

She was anything but cold, but she was shivering, so he wrapped a towel around her. “You sit here on the rug.” He sat her on the floor in front of the toilet. “I’m going to change your bed and get another nightie, okay? I’ll be right back.”

Becky was nowhere to be seen. Must’ve gotten a phone call of her own, he thought, and then cringed. He so did not want to think of his little sister in drunk dial terms. He hustled to strip the bed and remade it with the last sheet. Looking at it dubiously, he added a few beach towels for layers. At least if she continued to throw up, she wouldn’t get to the sheet until—he counted—the fourth time.

Arms bundled full of the abused bedding, a clean nightie dangling from his one clean finger, he almost ran into Ken coming down the hall. Fully dressed and apparently fleeing the scene.

Cory felt a swell of anger, even as he recognized it was unrealistic—after all, why would Ken stick around? Sex was obviously out for the rest of the night, and that was the sum total of their relationship to date. He ruthlessly suppressed the vulnerable twinge at being abandoned and kept walking. Good riddance. Guess now that Bailey was living here, he was going to have to add “Likes Kids” to The List.

Ken reared back to avoid the collision. “Whoa.”

Cory didn’t even stop, just veered around him. “See ya.”

“Hey! What’s your problem?” Ken actually sounded like he believed he was the injured party. Amazing.

“Just a puking kid in my bathroom, and an asshole in my hallway.”

He caught snippets of the defensive response but tuned it out, dumping his armload in the laundry room sink. A thought occurred to him, and he went back out to the hallway.

“Hey, can you go to the all-night drugstore for me?”

Ken’s jaw dropped. “Are you joking? You just called me an asshole.”

Cory ignored the hint of hurt in the other man’s eyes, defiantly covering his guilt with bravado and purpose. “What can I say? You’re acting like one. I need ginger ale and some kinda sports drink. And crackers, the soup kind. And, uh, kids’ Ibuprofen, fever reducer—whatever kind they have for a five-year old.”

Ken was just staring at him and Cory stared back for the count of three before throwing his hands up in disgust. “Fine. Would you rather stay here with her while I go?”

That jolted his guest out of his trance. “What? No. I’ll go.” He looked a bit surprised at his own response, and Cory helpfully steered him toward the front door.

“Keep your cell phone on in case I think of anything else I need. Oh, and popsicles. Hurry back.” He turned on his heel and headed back to the ominously quiet bathroom.

Poor Bailey was curled up in a ball on the bathmat, shivering under the towel. Wetting a washcloth, he gently bathed her, trying to simultaneously clean her up and cool her down. An unmistakable rumble preceded a violent heaving, and he neatly turned and supported her, holding her hair back while she emptied the contents of her stomach into the toilet.

Once she quieted, tears streaking down her face, eyes glassy with fever, he sponge-bathed her once again and helped her into the sleep shirt. His phone rang in the other room. He propped a quiescent Bailey against the tub and hurried to grab it. Ken.

“I’m about at the checkout. Did you think of anything else?” At this point, the concern in his voice, while a little late in coming, was much appreciated.

“No, but thanks. Just come in when you get back, I’ll be up in Bailey’s room.”

“Okay.” There was a pause as if Ken wanted to say more, but then he said goodbye and hung up.

While he had the phone in his hand, he dialed Becky’s cell. The Black Eyed Peas started singing about tonight being a good night down the hall. Shit, why did he even pay for her cell phone? She never took it with her when it counted.

A few minutes later, he had his niece tucked back in, a big bowl by her bed—although he wasn’t sure she was of an age yet where she could reliably use it. The front door opened and closed in a hurry, followed by steps thumping quickly up the stairs.

“Hey there, sorry it took so long.” Ken was slightly out of breath and carrying two paper grocery sacks. He put them down and started rummaging. “Here’s the Tylenol. There’s some weight chart on it. Very important. Do you know how much she weighs?”

“Crap. No.” He turned to Bailey. “Honey, how much do you weigh?”

“Don’t know.” Popular response tonight.

“Okay, babe, we’re going for a short ride to my bathroom. Upsy-daisy.” Cory picked her up and amused himself trying to mentally guess her weight—how much did a bag of concrete weigh?—while he walked into his bathroom, kicking the button to turn on his digital scale with his foot.

When it zeroed itself, he stepped on, holding her and waited for it to beep.

“Two hundred and thirty two,” Ken read helpfully.

“Ack! Oh well. At least I get to lose the baby weight instantly. Here you go.” He placed Bailey into Ken’s arms, disregarding his look of alarm, and reset the scale. A bit of mental math later, and Bailey was proclaimed to be “about fifty.” Which of course was what he’d thought she’d be. Really.

Cory led the way back to Bailey’s room, leaving the tall, well-muscled Ken to carry her back in while he smoothed out the towels. Division of labor. “Hold her up for a sec while I read this.”

“See, there on the side.”

He frowned, squinting at the box in an effort to read the tiny instructions. “What if the age and weight don’t match?”

“The guy said to go by weight. Well, first he said call her doctor. But I wasn’t sure if you knew who it was, so I made him tell me the secret.” Ken sounded very proud of himself, and Cory felt himself thawing a bit toward him. He was redeeming himself nicely so far tonight, and really, who likes getting woken up by a sick kid? Ken’s reaction hadn’t been that bad.

Cory shifted uncomfortably. Truth be told, it was Cory who had overreacted. He had Ken mentally classified as an occasional, casual fuck-buddy. Yeah, a smoking hot one, and nicer about it than most, but he wasn’t really partner material—which is what Cory really wanted. It was probably past time to cut this fling off, something he’d been telling himself ever since the girls had moved in, but it was hard to walk away from the amazing sexual chemistry they shared.

Cory squared his shoulders resolutely. Sure, right now Ken was looking less like a fuck and more like a… boyfriend? But in the light of day, well, he’d be like Scarlett and think about that tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, he was going to chew his sister a new one for leaving for God-knows-where without a word and putting them all through this.

Bailey swallowed the grape medicine without complaint and then just sat there, sagging.

“Alright, Bails, tuck-a-muck time.”

“Okay,” came the dispirited response, so unlike her usual begging for a game or a story or a drink. Cory’s heart flopped over, and he gave her a light hug and kissed her heated forehead, laying the damp washcloth across it as a last measure. Standing to go, he was surprised to see Ken moving to kiss her cheek.


In the hallway, Ken gave him an uncertain look. Cory shrugged in response to the unvoiced question and led the way back to his bedroom, trying not to care whether Ken stayed or went. The door closed and Ken hovered by the bed.

“Do you have some extra pajama bottoms I could borrow? In case we have to get up with her again.”

Cory’s heart did that floppy thing again at the “we.” Ugh. Just when he’d gone and crossed Ken off the roster, he had to go and get all chivalrous. There were no easy decisions in life. Especially when people were inconsistent.

A thought hit him, and he perked up as he tossed Ken his largest sweats. None of Cory’s pajamas would have fit his athletic ass and legs, never mind without looking like high waters.

Consistent. Another thing to add to the list. Cory smiled to himself. He’d get the qualifiers honed in on sooner or later, and then the man who met all the criteria? Viola. His perfect match.

Waiting for Winter
The first words my ex said to me in six months were delivered sotto voce as I was minding my own business at Leunig’s crowded bar. The night was young, the restaurant was bright, and Winter Kendrick filled the entry with his massive shoulders and his giant presence and his unbelievably appealing two-day shadow. He didn’t speak to the hostess. He barged in like he owned the place—which he could have—and swept the room with his icy gaze. He was in a suit and tie, as if he remembered how much his corporate dick persona turned me on and had dressed accordingly. His sharp, pale eyes locked on target, and he brushed through the meat-market singles, practically swatting the riffraff out of his path in his single-minded pursuit of a sure thing.


“Let’s get out of here.”

Not exactly the heartwarming declaration of love or the long-awaited, well-deserved apology I needed. I almost laughed, because he was an overbearing prick, until I realized he expected me to jump up and follow him.

His approach had worked before, sure, but I kept my ass on the stool, elbows on the frigid Carrara marble, and lifted my drink. In a bistro like Leunig’s, playing it cool was as much a part of the scenery as the amber light and expansive wine list. I could be cool. “I see you left your manners in Berlin. That whole Me Tarzan act—”

“Is exactly what you like, don’t pretend otherwise.” Winter’s glittering gaze found mine in the mirror over the bar. Silver light threaded his recently shorn hair, and he was all hard jaw, crisp cotton, smooth silk tie, and knowing smile. He looked fucking hot, like moving on from our relationship had been kinder to him than it had to me. My mouth dried and I took another sip of scotch. A frown line pinched his perfect brow. “Since when do you like scotch?”

“Since my twenty-fifth birthday when I broke my collarbone on the chairlift and you opened that bottle of Glenmorangie to ease my pain. Thanks for remembering.” I wouldn’t admit that the bite of whiskey reminded me of him. Or that I’d taken to drinking scotch to ease the memory of him packing his suitcases and taking a job in Berlin. No. If he wanted something from me, and he obviously did, he could work for it.

Or, he could plaster himself against my back, pressing his chest close enough that the haunting smell of peppery cologne did the work for him. One whiff and my pheromones battered down all resistance. He braced a hand close to my elbow and rough words flirted against my ear. “Finish your drink, Lu. It’s so good to see you. Let’s go home.”

Lu. No one called me Lu. No one. Not ever. Hearing that name from his lips annihilated me. My heart flipped inside my chest, even as hurt swamped me. He made that pain sharper by calling my house home. As if the life we’d built together was still within his reach.

I swallowed a fortifying mouthful of scotch and let the fire of alcohol restore me. “Ritchie said you were back for the week, taking care of business. I wondered if I’d run into you. You should have just called if you wanted to say hello.”

“If I just wanted to say hello, I would have. I had a feeling you wouldn’t take that call. You know why I’m here.”

“If that gun in your pocket is any indicator, I can guess why you’re here. You’re pretty sure of yourself.”

“I am.”

“I don’t know whether to be turned on or pissed off. Anyone else would tell you to fuck off, after throwing his drink in your face.” I should have faced him, but I took the home court advantage and kept my back to him. It drove Winter nuts to be ignored and his confidence could use a little leveling. Plus, he dug the hard-to-get vibe as much as I got off on his caveman bullshit. “We’re not together, Win.” He smiled because I’d used his nickname automatically. I took a breath. “Where’s what’s-his-name? The German.”

Not a flicker of recognition. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m here to see you.”

“So…are you saying there’s no what’s-his-name, or you don’t want to discuss it? Or both?”

“Neither. There’s nothing to say because there’s no one.” Winter squeezed my shoulder, and what he’d done, if he’d done it, and with whom and why, slipped away. After all, I’d broken things off with him, not the other way around, and I didn’t really want to have that conversation. Not here. Not ever. We weren’t getting back together. He’d come here for one thing. To hook up for old times’ sake because he was in town, and he knew I was willing.

Sex with the ex. People made this mistake all the time.

He squeezed my shoulder again, and I remembered exactly what his hand could do to me, and how those thick fingers would fit inside my body, and the handsome smile creasing his cheek cut through the noise yammering inside my skull.

I threw down the last few drops of courage. “You know this doesn’t change anything, right?”

Winter’s nod was brief. “We’re just reconnecting.”

“If that’ll help you sleep at night. Sure.”

He tossed a twenty on the bar, and I was on my feet, his palm burning a hole through my T-shirt as he ushered me through the crowd and into the balmy night air.

Music poured from the bars and restaurants on Church Street. Happy pedestrians strolled the cobblestone with leashed pets, or handheld children, or both. We passed festive street performers, and fragrant cafés where diners filled tables under the starry Burlington sky. We didn’t stop walking until he steered me to a blue cab idling at the crosswalk. “Right here.” He yanked open the door and the vinyl seat squeaked under my jeans as I slid inside the air-conditioned car, a willing victim. I had a second to change my mind, but I powered off my phone instead. Before I could give the cabbie my address, Winter was at my side, dragging me into his arms.

“Wait.” I wormed out of his grasp, only to meet the bored stare of a middle-aged guy in a Boston Red Sox cap. “The cabbie.”

“He knows the address.”

My God, I was such a sure thing, he’d left a car standing at the curb. Winter smiled evilly and years disappeared from him. “Hundred bucks says, if you let me kiss you, you’ll forget every bullshit thought you’re having right now.”

“I don’t have a hundred bucks—”

“But you have plenty of bullshit.” He hauled me against his chest, and his mouth touched mine for the first time in six months. He laid a deep, soul-sucking kiss on me, rekindling every torch I’d ever carried for him. He knew how I liked him, and I couldn’t stop myself, I kissed him back the way he’d loved me, with both hands cradling his jaw, guiding him deep into my mouth. Our first kiss had been exactly like this. Forbidden and decadent and delicious. Perfect. Addicting.

Winter pulled back. We were breathless, and he looked unforgivably pleased with himself. His teeth gleamed. “Easiest hundred bucks I’ve made all week.”

“You better be worth this.” I licked his Adam’s apple and cologne assaulted my tongue.

The driver upped the volume on the radio and almost prophetically, “Wrecking Ball” reverberated through the cab. We left Burlington’s car-choked downtown and climbed the hill toward UVM, following a long line of raw, red taillights. Student apartments faded, and Miley Cyrus shattered any illusions I had of getting through this night with my heart still intact.

Winter nibbled my jaw, and I wriggled to find a more comfortable position until his palm swept over my fly, caressing my crotch. “Wait. Not here. Win. The driver—”

“He doesn’t care. He’s seen it all before. Let me…” He rubbed my hard-on until my balls tightened into knots. His broad hand curled around my thick length, and my eyes rolled back. I fell languidly against the vinyl seat.

“I could make you come right here in the cab, couldn’t I, Lu?” Oh, he could. He had before. I nodded and slid inside his jacket to find the span of his shoulders. He murmured against my mouth. “I’m going to fuck you so hard when I get you home. I haven’t thought of anything else in weeks.”

Weeks, he said, as if he’d planned this. I’d missed him so much. The sound of his voice. The feel of his skin. The smell of his coffee brewing in the kitchen in the mornings. His shoes by the door.

Every thought blurred into the same fog that coated the windows until we were a chorus of ragged breath.

Light flickered through the cab’s back window, and the arrival to my house couldn’t come fast enough. I couldn’t come fast enough. I prayed I wouldn’t go off in the car, and the shame of wanting to come right there, with a stranger only a foot away, turned me on even more. I white-knuckled Winter’s suit jacket like I could slow him down. Who was I kidding? I wanted him to speed things up. “I don’t want to,” I lied. “Not here.”

“Yes, you do.” He bit me gently on the neck, and stars danced behind my eyelids. His tongue circled inside my mouth, and his hand scraped over my crotch. I was seconds from oblivion when a cough filled the sultry interior of the cab.

The driver coughed again, gaze straight ahead. “Uh. We’re here.” We were parked in front of a small Victorian house, overlooking Champlain College and the lake below.

Our house.

No. My house.

Winter shoved a fifty at the driver—which was a little Daddy Warbucks of him, but yeah, that worked for me too—and we fell from the car. His hand laced with mine, and we were somehow on the porch, his mouth on my neck, my shoulder, and then he was reaching inside my jeans, and I didn’t care whose house it was. I could barely unlock the door.

A Christmas Kindness
Chapter One
Debating whether or not he would go to the Christmas masquerade party again this year, David stared at the message on his phone from his friend, Chad. Last year's party had been amazing, for one reason. A gorgeous man who'd gone by the name of Steve. They'd hooked up, spent the night together, and then parted ways. A regret that surfaced once again. There'd been something about the other man, though it'd only been sex and a brief conversation, it was a lingering feeling that he should've taken a chance and found out who the other man really was. If only he hadn't been a coward, if his life hadn't been so complicated, maybe he'd actually have someone to share Christmas with this year. He texted Chad back that he'd go, maybe he'd find Steve again. He wouldn't make the same mistake and run away this time.

"Uncle David," Jenna said, sitting next to him on the sofa squeezed into the tiny living room of his sister's apartment, "can you help me?"

David turned toward his eleven-year-old niece. Her hazel eyes were expectant and she gave him that look which pretty much guaranteed he'd do whatever she planned on asking. He saw that she had a journal in her hands with the Harry Potter Gryffindor crest on it. Ah, he remembered getting that for her. Money was tight for his sister--she was barely making ends meet--so David had been indulging Jenna as of late so she wouldn't know. "Of course, with what?"

"It's almost Christmas. And I want to do something to help. I heard about Toys for Tots on TV and I wanted to do something like that. You remember how my friend, Meredith, got sick, right?"

"Of course I do." Meredith had spent the last few Christmases in the hospital fighting leukemia. After two years, she was finally in remission, thank God. She and Jenna were good friends and inseparable. Jenna had even cut all her long locks and donated them so Meredith could have a wig made. She hadn't wanted her friend to feel bad about herself and she'd said that way they could be like twins. His niece truly had a heart of gold and David loved her more than anything.

"Well, at school today she said it's really hard for parents to get gifts because they're so busy taking care of their sick kids in the hospital. And sometimes they can't afford new toys. I thought we could organize a toy drive this year. Meredith wants to help too. We could take all the toys to the hospital and give them out on Christmas Eve next week. I know Mom can arrange stuff. I want to tell her as soon as she gets home." She showed him the plans she had written. Then gave him a bright smile. "What do you think?"

David hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head, smoothing down her curly brown hair. "I think we'd better get started."

She let out a cry of excitement and hugged him back. "Thank you, Uncle David!"
* * *
David took Jenna to Target and they bought all the supplies they'd need to make flyers for the toy drive. Jenna picked out Christmas stickers, green and red markers, and a few other odds and ends. They went back home and while David started dinner, Jenna set up their workstation at the old oak kitchen table. While the chicken was cooking, he helped Jenna design the flyers.

Awhile later a key clicked in the lock and Jenna jumped up as soon as Caitlyn walked through the door. She hugged her mom. "Hi, Mom!"

"How was work, Caty?" David asked her as she seemed tired.

Caitlyn ran a hand through her messy ponytail. "Long. I swear I ran back and forth at least twenty times for a new patient."

David's sister, Caitlyn, was a nurse at the hospital. She worked the day shift and David watched Jenna after school until she got home. He walked over and gave his sister a kiss on the forehead. For a second, the happy mask she always wore in front of Jenna slipped. Right then, David really hated her ex-husband, Bruce. Even after a year, his sister was still suffering, still lost. Her bastard of an ex had cheated and then left Caitlyn and Jenna just before Christmas last year. No matter how much he helped Jenna with her homework, made her dinner, took her to dance class, and softball, Caitlyn still seemed depressed and was struggling. He knew she appreciated everything he did. He just wished he could do more. He was so worried about her. They only lived about ten minutes from his apartment but he didn't see much of it, between work and spending time here, keeping an eye on his family and making sure they got through this.

Before he could say anything, Jenna told Caitlyn, "Mom, I've got a great idea."

"What's that, honey?" Caitlyn asked as Jenna went with her to the kitchen. She toed off her shoes with a heavy sigh and smiled at David as he popped her dinner in the microwave. "Thanks, Davy." David shook his head. He disliked his nickname as much as Caitlyn did hers, yet they both fondly used them. No one else was allowed to though.

Jenna excitedly told her mom about the toy drive. "And look!" She dashed to the table and grabbed a flyer that they had made to hand out. David figured he could leave some at work, maybe drop by the police and fire stations, and a little social media wouldn't hurt either. He could probably even run something in the paper if he got the okay from his executive editor. He was certain she would be willing. It would be a feel-good piece; those always did well. Plus, it was nice to have stories that showed the goodness still in the world, despite how depressing it sometimes seemed.

"Me and Uncle David made these."

Caitlyn took the flyer. "Wow, this is incredible, Jen." She seemed as proud of her daughter for thinking of it as David was. "I'll talk with some of the doctors and the head of pediatrics tomorrow, see what we need to do to make this happen, okay?"

"You're the best, Mom!" Jenna hugged her again.

Caitlyn gave David a fond look, her hazel eyes so much like his own, except faded, making her appear older than she was. Only three years older than him at thirty-five, she really was too young to be so worn out. "I think that goes to Uncle David for helping you with this."

"Nah." David shook his head. "Jenna did all the planning. I'm just the assistant."

Caitlyn laughed. "Well now you have two of us, Jen. What's the next step?"

"Gathering up the toys. We're gonna pass out flyers tomorrow."

"Right after school," David added.

"Mom, do you want to watch a movie?" Jenna asked.

"Yeah, let's continue our Harry Potter marathon," Caitlyn told her, grabbing a fork and her plate.

"Uncle David?"

"I've got work to do, sweetie." He hugged her. "I'm going to head home and let you and Mom have some fun together, okay?"

"Okay. I love you, Uncle David."

"Love you too." David smiled as Jenna ran off to start the movie then he embraced his sister. "And you. Have a good night. Call if you need anything, Caty."

"I will, Davy." Caitlyn gently pushed him away then said quietly, "Go on, we'll be fine. I know you worry but it's okay. Jenna just reminded me of something."

"What's that?"

Caitlyn's face lit up. "That I may still be hurting, but I've got a good life. I've got a beautiful little girl and you. And it's almost Christmas. I'm done being sad. You want to help me decorate and have some fun this weekend? We could go out, maybe drinks."

"Count me in." David found his keys and left the apartment after more good-byes. It was chilly outside, a light snow falling. He was glad he'd brought his car. Sometimes he stayed late and while the neighborhood was decent, David had seen one too many crime shows to walk alone in the dark. No, he'd much rather crank up the heat in his car and listen to loud classic rock as he made the short trip home.

He realized that the party Chad had invited him to was this weekend and cursed. Caitlyn hadn't asked him to do anything in a long time--he couldn't cancel on her now. Then he had an idea. Maybe she'd go with him. She wanted to do something fun and it would be a good time. A way to forget everything for a while. And Jenna could sleepover at Meredith's. It could all be worked out if he just got his sister to agree to it. He went into his apartment, showered, slipped on sleep pants, and then tumbled into bed with a hopeful smile. Maybe he'd get a second chance with Steve, that's all he really wanted this Christmas.

Something More for Santa
Chapter One
"And what do you want for Christmas, young man? Have you been a good boy this year?" Derek muttered, leaning back against the wall in the dark hallway, the padding in his Santa suit making each movement awkward. This section of Martin's Department Store was used only by staff. Right now, he was alone.

He answered his own question. "I've been an exemplary boy, Santa. All I want is someone to love me. Is that too much to ask? A little something for Santa for a change. No more losers and no more rough stuff. I just want someone nice, someone who'll see me." Derek was tired of self-centered guys who expected things from him that he wasn't into—like pain. All right, so he was cute. He'd heard it all his life. Big f'ing deal. Cute didn't pay the bills. Hard work and several odd jobs barely allowed him to break even.

"I see you," said a small voice to his right, about knee level.

Derek jumped and nearly said a word Santa would never utter, especially in front of a young... his eyes widened... elf?

"Okay, I'm the only Santa working today and I know you're not one of my helpers. So who are you?" Derek looked down at the little tow-headed elf with big sky-blue eyes by his side. Holding his little pointed hat in his hand, the youngster gazed up at him in quiet contemplation, and then nodded his head as if having decided something.

"I'm Michael, not Mike, but Michael. Do you know anything about main headaches?" Michael asked, seriously.

Derek peered down at the elf in puzzlement, and then realized what Michael-not-Mike probably meant. With forty-five minutes before he had to go back out to the store for another three-hour shift, Derek could spare a few minutes now.

"I think you mean migraines. My mom used to have them." His mother had suffered greatly, and over the years Derek had gradually learned which remedies best eased her pain. Then there had been the heart surgery, which hadn't come in time. Derek missed her terribly. The bills were a constant reminder, and the reason he was so strapped for cash. It would be years before those bills were paid off, but he sent what he could each month, thankful for the hospital's patience.

"If you come with me, I'll take you to someone who isn't a loser and who's never rough with anybody. But he's got a really bad main headache again." With that, Michael took Derek's hand and tugged. Intrigued, Derek let the funny little elf lead him to an elevator he'd never noticed before.

"Where are we going?" Derek asked.

"To see my dad, but we have to be quiet 'cause he's really sick right now."

Ah, so this elf was really a child whose father must work for the store.

When the elevator doors opened, they were facing an office door in a hallway Derek was unfamiliar with. A luxurious carpet covered the floor, and the high-end decor led him to guess that the store's mucketymucks, as his mom would have called them, worked here. Michael again took his hand and led him to the door. Opening it slowly, he raised his other hand to touch a tiny finger to his lips.

Derek nodded his understanding and followed the boy into the darkened room. Michael closed the door and they stood a few seconds, letting their eyes adjust to the low light. A huge desk stood across the room in front of wide curtained windows. At a sound to his right, Derek turned and spied a bulky figure whose long limbs filled the generous proportions of a leather couch. One arm draped over his face. Derek recognized that position, remembering how his mother could never make the room dark enough to banish the pain.

Michael stepped over to the man and touched his arm, leaning down to whisper into his ear.

"Hmm?" The man's voice spoke of pain.

Derek could barely hear the word, the faint question. He had never seen such a large couch. The man, well over six feet tall, lay stretched out to his full length, but still room remained for the overstuffed pillows plumped at either end. Shaking off the distraction caused by the unusual furniture, he looked back to the man. His experience kicking in, Derek walked over and sat with his back against the arm of the couch by the man's head. He leaned over and said, "Shh, relax. Let me help you."

"Can't. Hurts. Michael, honey, what's... oh..." His question ended with a groan. Grasping the man's shoulders, Derek stretched one leg along the back of the couch. The other he set on the man's other side, making a warm cocoon for the man's head and shoulders.

"Hey..." His patient tried to sit up, but pain forced him down again. Derek needed to reassure him before he could relieve his pain.

"Michael brought me up here. I've got about half an hour left on my break. I can help you if you'll let me. Shh, relax. My fat Santa suit makes a nice soft pillow, huh? I'm going to try what used to work on my mom's migraines, okay?"

There was no answer, but the man relaxed back into the V of Derek's legs. Softly, Derek put his long fingers to work, starting at the forehead and slowly, gently, stroking the temples. Interpreting the man's quiet acceptance as permission, Derek eased his fingertips further back into the thick, dark blond hair. In the scant light glowing from a partially open door, lines of stress and pain stood out on the man's face.

Meanwhile, Michael sat on the floor beside the couch, his small hand resting on his father's clenched fist. Care and love for his parent radiated from the little boy's face and in his posture.

"Relax your muscles if you can. Unclench your fist and let peace take you. Hold Michael's hand." Derek knew that physical contact helped release tension and pain. Clearly these two shared a strong bond. In response to his son's light touch the man slowly opened his fingers. Michael slipped his hand into the man's much bigger one. The man sighed and Michael's lips curved up in a smile.

Derek began to hum quietly, but not the Christmas carols one might expect from someone dressed as Santa. No, he hummed "Soaked" by Adam Lambert, his latest musical obsession. His mother would have loved the singer, with his flamboyance and gorgeous voice. They used to watch American Idol together and rate the singers, most often agreeing on choices. His mom had been pretty cool, Derek thought with a smile. Her response to his being gay had been one of acceptance. She had supported him in every way possible.

Derek kept his tone low and soft. His fingers never stopped their gentle motions. He moved them back to the man's forehead and now drew upwards toward the top of his skull and into his hair. Long minutes passed as he kept up the soft movements and moved on to "Broken Open," keeping to the ballads. He followed that up with a soothing version of "Mad World."

The man relaxed more and more; his body settling and his breathing slowing, and Derek felt happy for the first time in a long while. His life wasn't horrible. It just wasn't filled with joy and good things lately. Well, not for a long time. He leaned further over the man to look more closely at the chiseled features, gauging the degree of pain by the lessening of the tension around his mouth and the tightness bracketing his eyes. Derek knew he'd helped, but a quick glance at his watch told him he would have to hurry and get back into his headgear and become Santa again.

"I'm sorry, but I have to get back to work now. Lots of little kids are waiting to tell me their wishes for a holly jolly Christmas. I hope this helped you." Derek scooted back a few inches.

"No, don't go. I... you... that helped, really. That was nice of you. Who are you?"

"Santa. A little elf brought me to you. I've really got to go now." Derek regretted having to leave, but he'd have to beat feet if he was going to make it back to his big chair in time.

"Michael, can you sit up here with a pillow on your lap and do what I was doing for a little while more? Just be very soft and gentle." Derek stood and helped Michael up from the floor and onto the couch, putting a big pillow on his lap. He helped the man lean up and then back onto the cushion.

"Santa?" The little boy looked up, a worried expression pinching his features.


"I can't sing those songs. I don't know them." Michael sounded like he might cry if he couldn't do it right.

"It doesn't matter what you sing as long as your voice is quiet and soothing. Hum some Christmas carols or anything. I've got to go. Good luck, buddy."

"Thanks, Santa."

"Yeah, thanks Santa." The man gazed up at him for the first time and Derek almost gasped. The beautiful dark blue-green eyes made him think of jewelry or paint chips. What color were they? Teal. That was it. His mother had loved teal and fuchsia. But no one had teal eyes. They must be contacts.

"Merry Christmas." Derek let himself out the door, closing it gently and heading back to the second floor where the Santa scene was set up.

Whew, that was a trip. Wonder who the man was? It was clear he had the pure love of his son going for him. Well, that and a killer bod with gorgeous eyes, soft hair, and wide shoulders. Okay, enough, Santa, back into the toys, Barbies, and video games mode.

Author Bios:
Devon Rhodes
Devon started reading and writing at a young age and never looked back. After a creatively sapping career in the business world, she gratefully took some time off to be at home.

At 39 and holding, Devon finally figured out the best way to channel her midlife crisis was to morph from mild-mannered stay-at-home mom into erotic romance writer.

She lives in Oregon with her husband and two children, who are (mostly) understanding of all the time she spends on her laptop, aka the black hole.

LB Gregg
LB Gregg (Lisabea) writes fun, fast-paced contemporary male/male romances for a variety of publishers including Riptide, Samhain, and Carina Press. Her wildly successful Men of Smithfield books feature hot, hunky men looking for love in small town New England. 

Anna Lee
Anna Lee graduated from the University of California Riverside with a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing. Living with a disability, she has overcome many challenges and puts her passion for life and love into her writing. She lives with her family and dogs and enjoys writing late into the night. When she isn't writing Anna enjoys chasing her nieces and nephew or chatting with her friends about her favorite books and tv shows.

Anna has four stories published with MLR Press: As Time Goes By, Family is Forever, The Prince of Galerir and Christmas Hopes. She also has one story published with Silver Publishing: The Broken Road.

AKM Miles
AKM Miles loves reading the M/M genre and decided to write what she loves. Early authors, read years ago in this area, were not as much interested in love, storyline, and character development, as those that she has found recently. Thrilled with the new works, AKM set out to make a career in this field. You can expect there to be a happy ending every time. You can expect for the two to find each other and choose to be together fairly early on, and then face conflicts, trials, and experiences as a couple. AKM prefers that over going back and forth over whether the love is returned or not. She loves to throw children in the mix, along with pets and wacky and wonderful friends. Hopefully, readers will love the emotional love stories that fill her head and spill onto her computer.

JC Wallace
Jake "JC" Wallace started writing from a young age, but took a break for marriage, kids, and college (in that order). He recently rediscovered his passion and ventured out into the brave new world of publishing with his short, Waiting for Snow, and his first novel, Curiosity Killed Shaney. At night and on the weekends, JC writes about all things men, believing there is nothing hotter than two men finding and loving one another, whether for a night or forever. An avid reader of M/M romance, JC loves a good twist of a plot, HEA, HFN, or tragic ending. He also writes what his bestie calls HUNK (Happy Until the Next Kidnapping). In his daytime hours, JC works with individuals with autism and behavior problems. He is owned by a beautiful partner, three kids, two grandchildren, two dogs and one cat. He lives in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains in Northern NY.

Devon Rhodes

LB Gregg

Anna Lee

AKM Miles

JC Wallace

Making His List

Waiting for Winter

A Christmas Kindness

Something More for Santa

Waiting for Snow

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