Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Random Tales of Christmastime Part 6

Cold Feet by Jay Northcote
Best friends snowed in together. When the heat rises, will they get cold feet?

Getting snowed in at a remote cottage in Wales with someone he’d fancied for ages isn’t exactly how Sam expected to spend Christmas. His feelings for Ryan are pointless. Ryan’s straight—or so he thought.

Until now, Ryan’s kept his feelings for Sam buried. Why ruin a friendship over what might only be gay experimentation? Playing it cool seems safer, until a cold snap makes sharing body heat vital. In their Welsh safe haven, anything seems possible.

As Ryan’s reserve melts away, Sam wants more than stolen kisses under the mistletoe. But a sudden thaw means making decisions. They could face the New Year together—unless one of them gets cold feet.

How I Met Your Father by LB Gregg
The man of your dreams could be sitting right next to you. 

Former boy band member Justin Hayes isn’t looking for a man. He just wants a quiet, scandal-free Christmas at home in Chicago, out of the public eye. But his best friend and bandmate is subjecting everyone to his destination wedding, and Justin can’t dodge the “best man” bullet. All he has to do is get to the island on time, survive the reunion, and get Chuck to the altar with as little drama as possible. What could possibly go wrong?

Jack Bassinger’s own plans for a quiet Christmas have been dashed by the summons to his daughter’s hasty wedding with a man Jack has hardly met. On the bumpy flight to the island, he finds himself comforting a nervous—and extremely attractive—young man. One hasty sexual encounter in an airport bathroom later, they both feel much better. No one ever has to know, after all.

Now Justin and Jack must find a way to explore their attraction, despite the distractions of disapproving family members, unexpected announcements, an impromptu concert, and an island paradise that proves there’s no place like home.

20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” 

A great holiday read full of fun, sun, beach, wedding ups and downs, and most importantly romance.  LB Gregg had me smiling from beginning to end.


Where the Love Light Gleams by Keira Andrews
This Christmas, actor Ryan Drake is pining. He may get to kiss gorgeous Cary Holloway on the set of their hit TV show, Space Academy, but he knows it'll never happen in real life. Charming Cary--the son of Hollywood royalty--is straight, as evidenced by his starlet girlfriend. But Christmas is a time for unexpected gifts, and Cary accepts Ryan's invitation to leave the palm trees behind and spend the holiday with his family at their cabin in the Great White North.

Amid the snow and mistletoe, Ryan struggles to keep his longing under wraps. Little does he know, Cary wrestles with his own unspoken desires, and his very identity. Surrounded by family and holiday joy, their warm friendship deepens. Will these two co-stars have the courage to brave Hollywood pressures and take their romance offscreen--or will it be only in their dreams?

Sometimes the unexpected and never-imagined-possible can bring the most treasured gifts.  Ryan and Cary definitely have chemistry onscreen but what Ryan discovers offscreen is what holiday romances are all about and Keira Andrews does it beautifully once again.


The Christmas Pageant by D River
When Troy Swenson left the army to raise his little brother, he had no idea what he was in for. Now a high school history teacher at Brentsen Academy, he finds himself drafted into running the school's Christmas Pageant. There's just one problem: He has no idea how to do that.

Fate intervenes and sends him help in the form of Taylor Douglas, a parent of one of his students. Taylor is a handsome, funny guy and if Troy allowed himself to think such things he'd find him very attractive. However, Troy doesn't have time for romance. He barely has time to breathe as he struggles to keep the Christmas Pageant from falling apart around him.

What he doesn't realize is that Taylor is going to drag him out for fun no matter what feeble protests Troy offers. Troy finds friendship with Taylor easy. The problem for Troy then becomes, how does he keep the feelings he starts to have for Taylor in check? 

Life is full of changes and sometimes the ones that come out of nowhere can lead to the most unexpected highs.  Troy discovers that when he's called in to the principle's office over a fight his little brother was involved in. D River is a new author to me and one I'll be checking out again.  The Christmas Pageant is a great addition to my holiday library that brought a few tears but also plenty of smiles and heart.

Red Dirt Christmas by NR Walker
Travis had been here at Sutton Station for just over a year. We were technically engaged, not that we’d told anyone. He was happy just knowin’ I’d said yes, and I had some head-clearin’ stuff to work through. Knowing I was good enough for Trav was one thing, but knowing if I was good enough to be a husband and father was somethin’ else entirely.

Life at Sutton Station had never been better. Business was strong, Trudy and Bacon’s little baby, Gracie, was a few weeks old now and as cute as a button, Ma’s health was good, and my relationship with Laura and Sam was in a pretty good place. And Travis? Well, life with him was still all kinds of perfect.

But, to Travis’s dismay, Christmas at the Station was just another day. Another day of getting up before the sun, feeding animals, fixin’ what needed fixin’, and checking water troughs all while tryin’ to keep out of the blistering heat.

And this year weren’t much different. Only that it was Travis’s first Sutton Station Christmas. The fact we didn’t go all out with decorations and celebrations baffled him, and if I was bein’ truthful, it disappointed him too.

Which was why I had to make it a special kind of Christmas…

This is Book #3.5 in the Red Dirt Series

Cold Feet
Afterwards, Sam denied he’d started it.

He’d been aiming for the tree behind Ryan, not at Ryan himself, he insisted. But whatever its intended target, Sam’s snowball hit Ryan perfectly on the back of his neck, exploding on impact and sending powdery snow down the gap between beanie and jacket.

After that, mayhem ensued. Snowballs flying as they ran and ducked, laughing and trash-talking each other. They were in a small copse with a few trees and bushes for cover, but as soon as one of them ventured out in search of a new patch of snow to make missiles with, the other would take the opportunity to release a fresh barrage of snowballs.

Finally, frustrated by Sam’s surprisingly good aim, Ryan reverted to his rugby skills and tackled Sam, knocking him full length into the snow with an “Oomph!” Of course, Ryan went down too. But by then he was too wet and cold to care.

They were on a slope, and the impact caused them to roll together, over and over until Ryan wondered if they were going to turn into a giant snowball like characters in a cartoon. But they finally came to rest, panting and laughing as the slope levelled out.

Sam ended up pinned beneath Ryan, laughing out loud. He’d lost his hat at some point in their tumble, and his hair was in his eyes. Snow crystals had caught in it, glinting in the sunlight. His smile was wide and infectious, and Ryan laughed too, dazzled for a moment. Then Sam’s gaze drifted over Ryan’s shoulder and focused on something above them.

“Is that mistletoe?” he asked.

Ryan pushed himself up and offered a hand to Sam to help him back onto his feet. Then he tilted his head back to squint at the spherical tangle of leaves in the bare branches of the tree above them. “I think so.”

Ryan met Sam’s eyes again, then realised he was still holding his hand. They each had gloves on, and Ryan wished they didn’t. He wanted to feel Sam’s skin. They stared at each other for a moment, and Sam licked his lips. They were pink, a little chapped from the cold, and Ryan’s gaze locked onto them. His heart surged, and panicky heat flooded him.

How I Met Your Father
Chapter One
The flight attendant steadied herself against the turbulence as she’d probably done a million times before—absently. Like it was no big deal. She simply slapped a hand against the overhead bin and waited, and when we leveled, she smiled directly at me as she walked by.

I pushed my sunglasses back into place, swallowed a straw-full of watery rum and coke, and concentrated on the view outside my window before the stewardess got it in her head to speak to me again. A few wispy clouds separated us from the wide blue Caribbean waters sparkling thirty thousand feet below. In twenty minutes or so, we’d land in San Juan, and I’d flee this tin tube. We were basically coasting at this point. I could make it. I could fly. I’d been in the air all day, shitty as the flights had been.

My stomach lurched as we dipped, and the Fasten Seatbelt indicator binged a split second later.

“Return to your seats . . . fasten your seatbelts . . .” I lost half of what the captain was saying as his voice crackled over the intercom. Panic seized my gut as I caught a bit about “rough air,” and I squeezed my drink until the cup crackled. I almost crossed myself.

I focused on the passenger in the seat beside me. He hadn’t moved, resting like we all weren’t about to go down in a giant ball of flames. His thick arms were still folded across his chest and, while his eyes were closed, he wasn’t sleeping. Golden hair sprinkled his wrists and forearms. A big watch glimmered in a ray of warm sunshine. Blond and red whiskers stippled his square jaw, and his hair seemed too shaggy for the boardroom, curling at his neck and around his ears.

He frowned and sighed, “Goddamn San Juan,” and because he hadn’t said anything other than “more coffee” since we’d boarded, I nodded. Goddamn San Juan, indeed.

Turbulence wasn’t new to me. I’d never flown to San Juan without experiencing bumps along the way, like a trial by fear was the price one paid to enter paradise. And it was because of this vast experience with Caribbean bumps that I’d proactively ordered a drink as soon as Florida’s coastline had faded from view.

I clung to that drink as the plane plummeted like a roller coaster hitting its first, death-defying drop. We dipped hard to the squealing delight of some teenager girls seated in coach. I remained silent, but inside, a litany of fuck fuck fuck rattled around my head.

The flight attendant stumbled as the aircraft righted itself as suddenly as it had wronged itself, and while I knew, knew, it was only turbulence—we’d simply flown into rising air currents, as Bill Nye the breezy Science Guy had once explained at the Nickelodeon Awards—my heart pummeled my sternum.

The man next to me remained unfazed, but something mechanically significant could have happened and none of us would be the wiser. Crazy things happened every day—all you had to do was watch the news. Engine failure. Pilot error. Flocks of birds took entire aircrafts out of the sky. Wings fell off planes. Batteries caught fire. It happened all the damn time.

Yet the world beyond my window remained sprightly sunshine and clear skies. No smoke trails. No flaming engines. No burning feathers, and no ocean rushing to meet me at five hundred miles per hour. Just endless, cerulean water. I peeled my knuckles from the armrest and laid my hand in my lap. My fingers twitched.

Turbulence. It’s nothing.

Though it felt like something when the plane stuttered again through the wild blue yonder and the next dip lifted my ass clear off the seat by a good three inches. I freaking floated above my flotation seat cushion and my stomach dropped to my toes, because technically? We were falling. And the man beside me? His eyes finally snapped wide as we slammed back into our seats.

“Jesus.” I downed my drink before it soaked my crotch. The engines roared healthily as an anxious silence descended throughout the cabin. Not one word of comfort or explanation from the pilot either, that dick.

Maybe he had more important things to do—like fly the plane.

The blond guy had flattened a palm against the seat back in front of him during the last drop, probably to keep himself from smacking his skull on the overhead compartment. His eyes narrowed on our flight attendant.

She smiled woodenly, and we shot through another wall of rough air. This time, the teens wheee!’d less energetically. The wings tilted as we rolled to the left, then the right, and as I rechecked the security of my seatbelt, the plane leveled.

“Fuck. Me.”

The Golden Man actually smiled. “Relax. It’ll be over in a minute. We’re fine.”

I didn’t feel fine. I felt like I was having a heart attack. “Sure.”

He didn’t look fine, either. Beneath his tan, he looked . . . impatient, like the flight would go much more smoothly if he were the one at the controls. He checked his watch.

Another dip launched our flight attendant sideways. She smacked into the cockpit door face-first and dissolved to the carpet. I moved to help, but my neighbor gripped my sleeve. “Stay. She knows what she’s doing. You’ll only distract her.”

The stewardess staggered to her feet, a sober trickle of blood running from her nose. She staunched the flow with a napkin as her gaze swept the cabin, landing briefly on each of us as she cataloged our welfare.

The captain’s voice returned. “Flight attendants, please be seated.” Anxiety ripped through me and threatened to chuck up my rum and coke.

A redheaded stewardess arrived through the curtain. She flipped the jump seats down, and the two women fastened themselves into individual five-point harnesses that were a hell of a lot sturdier than the flimsy two-pointers we passengers had buckled over our laps. Once the women were settled, the redhead frowned over her coworker’s injury.

We were all pretty much frowning.

The blond man’s stare met mine, his irises gleaming like quicksilver. Unfriendly lines bracketed his mouth. “I’ve flown in worse. This is nothing.”

I’d flown through worse too, and for that reason, I’d considered washing an Ambien down with my drink while we were still on the ground in Atlanta. I would have, except drink mixed with drug never turned out as well as one hoped, and besides, I needed to function upon arrival. I had twenty minutes to connect with a commuter flight to Nevis and get my ass to Chuck’s hasty Yuletide wedding. I had the gang to reconnect with—we were the groomsmen, after all.

We shot toward a new pocket of rough air. Bang, bang, bump, lift. Fall. Fear. Fuck. My cup hit the floor, and I didn’t retrieve it.

We were so damn close to Puerto Rico. Goddamn, we were almost there. It had been what? Five minutes of turbulence? Not much to most seasoned travelers, though it felt like an eternity to me as adrenaline leaked into my system. But if we were in actual danger, the flight attendants would do something heroic, right?

I glanced at the bleeding woman strapped securely in what looked like a parachute. Then I prayed.

Please don’t let me miss Chuck’s wedding.

Please don’t let me puke, and if I do, don’t let anyone recognize me.

I needed to get a grip.

Keep the plane in the sky. Let us land. It’s turbulence, for crying out loud. I refuse to die by cloud fart.

Something brushed my knuckle. Something warm and rough and steady. Mid full-blown panic attack, my eyes jerked open.

Mr. Golden Man.

He’d reached over the armrest—hand hovering above my lap, fingers stroking the backs of mine.

What. The. Hell? I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t flinch or pull away, which I should have, but fear of imminent death pinned me in place. My throat clicked as I swallowed, my skin tingling, my face burning. His posture didn’t reflect impatience now. No. He appeared rock steady.

The plane shuddered again, accompanied by the tinny, metallic sound of struts and bolts straining, and instead of rational and strong and fucking normal—I clung.

He stroked my knuckles with a tender brush of skin against skin. “We’re fine”—voice pitched so only I could hear—“Relax.”

He moved against the armrest, and our shoulders bumped. His fingertips breezed across my clenched fist, and that simple contact traveled dart-like through bone and sinew, from knuckle to joint, ball to socket, tendon to ligament, from wrist to elbow, and shoulder to chest. His touch pierced my ribs, and the fear dissipated. I loosened my grip as a strange new feeling nestled behind my breastbone.

“I’m okay.” I cleared the lump in my throat and breathed a little easier. “But what . . . are you doing?”

“Distracting you.” He smiled easily, no hint of recognition in his eyes, and I realized he didn’t know. He had no clue who he was sitting next to. Whose hand he was holding. “Your color’s better. You’re not hyperventilating now. See? You’re fine.”

I nodded, not because I agreed, but because I couldn’t speak as the plane bounced through the air like a rubber ball, rattling my skull and flinging crap inside the overhead bins. Engines whistled outside the windows, and a beverage cart crashed in the galley.

He turned my hand over so we were palm to palm. Firm and tight—he measured our hands. Did he think they fit together? They felt right to me. Almost like his hand had been made for mine. I glanced at the flight attendants, and thank God, neither one appeared interested in us. Dying by fiery airline crash was one thing; having a witness to this public coddling was another.

And no shit, he laced our fingers and actually held my hand. Held it like he meant it.

Maybe I wanted to die after all.

Or maybe embarrassment would flat out kill me. If I could sink through the floor, into the baggage hold, straight through aluminum alloy, and freaking free-fall thirty thousand feet to the cool water below, I totally might do it. No one would ever know that Justin Hayes—whose face had once graced a million lunchboxes across America, for God’s sake—needed his limp-wristed hand held on the scary airplane ride.

And, Jesus, I did. I really, really did.

The man’s eyes crinkled at the edges, and when he squeezed my hand again, my heart skipped. Woodsy aftershave flooded my senses.

The tiny second hand chased a staccato path around the face of his watch, tick-tick tick-tick tick-tick tick, and as time whipped by, my pulse marched with Tag Heuer. Mr. Golden Man and I bumped in our seats, fingers forged together like iron.

For better or worse, I couldn’t let go.

“It’ll be over in a sec,” he said.

“You keep saying that. Like you know.”

“I’m right. You’ll see. Piece of cake. He’s found a better altitude.”

And as if by his command, the flight leveled. A few more seconds ticked past, then voices began to peck through the silence. Someone laughed. The captain made his crackling reappearance on the intercom, that foot-dragging asshole, saying we’d “dropped to a more comfortable altitude” and we were “on our approach to San Juan.” Outside the narrow window, I caught a glimpse of Puerto Rico’s rocky coastline.

My champion or protector or whatever he was—this touchy-feely stranger—held tight. When his thick thumb nudged into the hot space between our joined hands, I finally found my balls and shook free. I didn’t need his help. I shoved his hand from my lap, my skin so hot I expected to spontaneous combust, ironically bring the whole fucking plane down anyway.

Scrubbing my hand against my jeans didn’t remove the feel of him. Did it offend him? I didn’t give a rat’s ass. I glared out the window, wishing I’d swallowed an Ambien in Atlanta after all.

What kind of person held a stranger’s hand? And, God, what sort of grown man allowed it?

I let the sun fry the last few minutes away. It cooked my burning face as the urban sprawl appeared below.

We didn’t make contact again. Not when we landed and the passengers offered the usual Welcome to San Juan applause. Not as we taxied and I texted my assistant a curt, Landed. Not after we arrived at the gate and I tossed my seatbelt and shoved my sunglasses back onto my nose as far as they would go. Not as I crammed my Cubs cap on my spectacularly blond hair and radiated not to be fucked with.

I didn’t say Merry Christmas or Nice to meet you or Thanks for holding my hand. Goddamn. I didn’t even bother to say Excuse me as I climbed over the sun-streaked hand-holder’s knees like a rabid billy goat and bolted from the plane.

Not a Thank you to the flight attendant, either, as she wiped her bloody nose and blushed. She didn’t meet my gaze, and I clued in. Not only did she know me—I bet she still had a Rhythm Method poster packed away with her pom-poms and her prom dress—but she had witnessed that Sun God babying me.

The redheaded flight attendant opened the forward door, and I was first off the plane.

Chapter Two

A wall of stifling humidity swamped me on the Jetway, but it didn’t slow me. My first stop in San Juan would be a tour of the restroom. Sure, I needed to clean the feel of him from my hands, right freaking now, but a bigger problem presented itself thanks to that grabby man-coddler. I wasn’t the only one who’d sat stiff and silent for the last few minutes of the flight, because that final slide and push of his thumb against my palm hadn’t been innocent. It had been sexual. More than a pass, it had been a promise.

I sped through the jam-packed terminal, ignoring announcements, the garish Christmas displays, the crush of overburdened holiday tourists, and any form of directions to my gate—both in English and Spanish. I fast-tracked my way through the crowd, sporting an unprecedented, uncomfortable, and very public erection. If anyone recognized me in this boned-up state, just one celebrity-savvy stranger with a handy-dandy cell phone, one TMZ where-are-they-now parasite, I could kiss my hard-earned privacy good-bye.

I’d nearly made it to safety, too, my dumb dick rubbing wantonly inside my underwear as I jogged, when a firm hand landed between my shoulder blades and shoved me.

“In here.”

The scent of aftershave gave him away.


A wide palm splayed high on my spine. Hot breath tickled my neck as he hustled us toward the family restroom. We were steps away. Something nudged my backside, probably his carry-on bag, but I came to an impossibly stiff point anyway as he all but threw me inside the bathroom.

The door slammed, the lock clicked into place, and like that, we were alone in an antiseptic, white-tiled lavatory. A couple of handrails, a toilet, a sink, and a plastic changing table strapped to the wall. Two fat koalas stared at us. The sound of our breath filled the small space.

He moved fast. Caging me against the wall, gray eyes full of sin. Cool tile chilled me through my shirt. My heart thumped. Tall. Jesus, he was so tall the top of my head barely came to his chin. He could tuck me right under. “Just trust me.”

Trust him? I didn’t trust anyone, but right now? I was in. Maybe it was the leftover adrenaline from our hellish flight, or the fact that he’d chased me from the plane, through the gate, and halfway to the next terminal, or maybe I was just desperate for human contact, or maybe this kind of trust was the easiest kind—so, yeah, I was in.

I nodded and wet my lips and his gaze followed the swipe of my tongue. A lock of golden hair touched his collar. Stubble peppered his jaw, but I focused on the shadowed spot where his open shirt met tanned skin.

Say something, you moron.

“Do you know who I am?” Instant regret. I swallowed and tried again. “I mean—”

“I don’t care.” A growl, and the world went black with a click. Our bags hit the ground, and I made room for him between my feet, my palms resting flat against the wall. He could come to me. That’s what he wanted. I was no novice at the quickie-in-the-restroom experience. I’d been on tour for years, my love life both a public relations challenge and a closely guarded industry secret. I was Justin Hayes. Spotless. Untarnished. Perfection. A real American heartthrob and favorite pinup for a generation of hormonal teenage girls. My real sex life had always been private—Chuck’s, TJ’s, and Matt’s livelihood depended upon it then—and my sanity relied on it now. So, I’d become a pro about sex on the sly.

He hovered, his breath flavored of coffee and mint, and slowly, he traced the tight seam of my mouth with a smooth stroke of tongue. He laid a gentle, teasing, nice-to-meet-you kiss on my lips.

I let go of the wall, grabbed his hair, and yanked him close. I didn’t have time for bullshit. I had a fucking plane to catch. I needed him to open his damn mouth, which he did with a groan. Lust ripped through me, drowning everything beyond the four bathroom walls, because everything I needed was right here. Right now. Right inside his mouth, in the exquisite taste of him—whoever the hell he was.

It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he jacked me up that wall, hands touching everything. Holding me, grinding me, fingers sliding buttons free like a libertine. He used his strength, his height, his obvious expertise, and shoved me right to the raging edge.

He freed my belt as our whiskers scraped together and his hot mouth explored my neck. His knuckles brushed my stomach as he slid into my underwear, then rooted for my cock.

My dick met his hand, and need clawed a path from my balls to the head of my dick. I yanked his shirt from his pants, fumbled his impossible belt, until, at last, I slid home and a soft spring of hair grazed my fingers. I clutched his hard cock.

Man, this was gonna be quick. It needed to be, so I let it happen. Seesawing together, jeans at half-mast. Somehow my shirt pushed to my armpits, and we just kept working and sweating as Flight 702 pre-boarded for any passengers needing a little extra assistance.

“Oh fuck yeah.” Airport talk. I didn’t care if it was twisted, it turned me the fuck on. I spun to face the tile, backing into his boner until his hard dick hit the cleft of my ass. “Bite me.”

Sweet pain pierced my neck as his teeth closed on my skin, and I was lost. We dry fucked each other into a frenzy. He masturbated me with one hand and worked himself against that dirty spot between my thighs, nudging into the worn space there, pinching the flesh of my balls. I trapped him with my legs.

Fast. So fucking fast and full of the kinds of noises no bystander should hear outside the family restroom. I couldn’t have predicted that this moment, this sex, this stranger, would trip me into a mind-shattering, life-altering orgasm.

“Talk to me.” He grunted against my neck. “You like this?”

I babbled something incoherent, fuck yeah, yes. I loved it. Faster, harder, who the fuck knew what I said—but everyone in the airport probably heard it—and my cork popped as he jackhammered my cock in his fist. He blasted cum into my underwear, his teeth working the tight edge of my trapezium the whole time. I’d have a mark there—a toothy round bruise to remember him by. His cheek grazed mine and he groaned and I groaned and people passed on the other side of the thin door. A cart beeped. My fucking heart exploded, or it felt that way to me. I couldn’t breathe, but I sort of didn’t want to anyway. I just wanted to stay right there, quaking into this stranger’s talented hand.

“You okay?” I wheezed like a smoker running a four-minute mile.

“Pretty much. I’m good.” He didn’t move, and I felt a flicker of concern as he pinned me. How old was he anyway? Did he have a heart condition? Jesus. Maybe I’d killed him.

I wiped sweat from my face with the back of my wrist, and another second passed before he finally tucked himself into his pants. Harsh fluorescent light exploded against my eyeballs, and I grabbed for my jeans. The water ran. He cleaned up. I did my best to quickly do the same, because my flight must be boarding. And as soon as I got on that plane, my Calvin Kleins were getting tossed in the lav.

“I’m Jack, by the way.” He buttoned his silk Tommy Bahama shirt, and I just smiled stupidly. He looked exactly like a Jack. He waited, and I realized I hadn’t offered him my name.

“I’m . . .” Some long practiced sense of self-preservation kicked in and I held back. “. . . I’m hoping you don’t tell me you’re a cop.”

“Nope.” He checked that fancy watch again. “And no one saw us come in.”

“Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?”

“I am.” His smile confirmed it. “We should go. My flight’s about to leave.”

“Yeah. Mine too.” It was almost too easy.

“You go first. I’ll follow in a sec.”

I cracked the door an inch. “So. Uhm. Thanks.” I returned his smile. “For what you did on the plane, I mean. And, uh . . . I . . . appreciated it.”

“The pleasure was all mine.” He winked, and thin lines radiated from his pale eyes. Strands of silver and ash highlighted his wanton hair. My heart actually skipped a beat. Justin Hayes paled next to Jack’s rugged matinee idol smile.

“Merry Christmas.” I opened the door to the packed corridor and hadn’t taken a single step before a woman’s voice cut through my happy haze.

“Justin? Is that you? Justin Hayes?” A young woman in a yellow sundress zeroed in on me from behind her enormous white sunglasses. A fan? A stalker? TMZ? Sometimes the line blurred impossibly, and one couldn’t read ill intent until it was too late.

I ducked backward, content with hiding in the bathroom. I should have pushed forward, but post-orgasm, I didn’t have the energy. Had she taken a photo? I hadn’t seen a cell phone or a camera, but that meant nothing—everyone had a cell phone.

Before I could shut the door, Jack collided into my back. “What the—”

He acted quickly, assessing the threat almost as if he were trained to do so. Instead of hiding, he shoved me forward, just as he had earlier, his broad hand settling again between my shoulder blades. He wordlessly threaded us through the teaming masses before anyone else recognized me, or before my fan realized I’d just left the private restroom with another dude. Jack towered over me, and he sort of hid me as well. A bag hit my knee and I went ass over tip into the food court, but he yanked my shirt and in no time, we hit the stairs to the tiny lower concourse. When Jack’s hand eased, I turned to look, and he was gone.

Where the Love Light Gleams
Chest heaving, Ryan slammed the door behind him and leaned against it. “I should’ve just kept my big mouth shut,” he muttered. “He’s never going to like me the way I like him. God, I’m such an idiot!”

Pounding footsteps preceded a forceful knock. Ryan waited, breath lodged in his throat.

Cary’s voice rang out. “I know you’re in there. Open the door! Please.”

Ryan ran a hand through his hair, then took a deep breath and blew it out. Trying to appear utterly calm, he twisted the doorknob and stepped aside as Cary rushed in.

“Didn’t you hear me calling?” Cary was slightly breathless, his brow furrowed.

“No.” Ryan tried to smile. “Sorry. Do you need something?”

“Do I...” Cary shook his head incredulously. “What I need is for you to talk to me. I heard what you said to Dara.”

Blood rushed to Ryan’s cheeks, and he laughed, although it came out as more of a squeak. “Oh that? I was just kidding around.”

“Kidding around.” Cary didn’t sound convinced. “So you’re not in love with me?”

“I...” Ryan swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “It was a joke.”

“A joke.” Cary stepped forward, backing him up against the closed door.

Ryan jerked his head in a nod.

Cary was now less than a foot away. He was a few inches taller, and his broad shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist, his body muscular yet lean. Short light blond hair swept up from his forehead, and his green eyes were intense as he watched Ryan. This close, Ryan could see the flecks of gold in Cary’s eyes, and his heart skipped a beat. God, he’s so beautiful.

“That’s too bad, because I’ve been in love with you for months.”

Ryan’s eyes widened. “But that’s...impossible.”

“Shut up and kiss me.”

With that, Cary closed the gap between them, taking Ryan’s face in his hands as he pressed their lips together. Their mouths opened as they kissed passionately. Ryan’s pulse raced, excitement skipping up his spine as he yanked Cary against him, their bodies--


Cary broke the kiss and stepped back. He looked to the director. “Go again?”

The director nodded. “Good kiss. But give me a little more on the ‘I heard what you said to Dara’ line.” She focused on Ryan. “You’re playing it just right. Great trembling in your hands. Just need to get some more sweat on your brow. You’re supposed to have just run from the air lock, and it’s a big ship.”

As the assistant director called for makeup to bring their spray bottle, the crew prepared for another take. Cary grinned at Ryan, and dimples appeared in his cheeks. “Sorry, think I slipped a little tongue in there.”

Yes, you did, and God I want more. Ignoring the desire thrumming through his veins, Ryan waved it off. “That was a good take.” It was their fourth, and he’d hoped it would get easier as the day went on. Instead his yearning for Cary increased each time their lips met. Despite the twenty-five bored crew members watching, when Cary kissed him, everything else faded away.

After fantasizing about being with Cary for the past year, Ryan had told himself that the reality--even if it was fictional and not real--would be a huge disappointment. On-screen kissing was supposed to be awkward and uncomfortable and epically unsexy. And in Ryan’s experience it always had been.

Until now.

He wasn’t supposed to breathe in the citrus of Cary’s aftershave and feel desire coiling in his belly. He wasn’t supposed to notice how thick Cary’s eyelashes were, and how the gold in his eyes matched his hair. His knees weren’t supposed to go weak because Cary’s kisses were warm and wet and tasted like honey and promised so much more.

“Let’s just hope the network censors don’t look too closely. I swear, straight couples can practically get naked on screen, but gay characters...” Cary shook his head. “Drives me nuts. Hey, did you hear anything more from that hate group who sent the nasty letters?”

“Nah. I think Tammy took care of making sure my mail is examined more closely. It’s no big deal.”

Cary huffed. “No big deal? You shouldn’t ever have to hear that kind of garbage. You’ll tell me if it happens again, right?”

“What are you going to do? Beat them up?” Ryan secretly loved Cary’s protectiveness. He smiled and nudged Cary with his elbow. “Besides, now that they’re finally putting Steven and Kishi together, you’ll probably start getting your own hate mail.”

Cary still frowned. “Yeah, but it’s not the same. Everyone knows I’m not gay in real life.” He scoffed. “No way a tough guy like my dad would ever have a gay son. No one would believe it even if it was true.”

“Yeah.” Ryan stopped himself before his brain went too far down the “what if” road. “By the way, your scales are coming loose a bit on your neck.”

“Crap. I keep sweating them off.”

As the makeup team sprayed fake sweat onto Ryan’s forehead and touched up the purple scales crawling up the side of Cary’s neck and across one cheek, Ryan breathed deeply. He reminded himself that none of it was real. Cary’s declaration of love and his kiss that left Ryan buzzing--it was all for the cameras. Nothing more.

So he should stop remembering the press of Cary’s body and how his firm muscles had felt beneath Ryan’s hands. Ryan was in good shape himself, but he was positively ordinary next to Cary’s golden handsomeness and toned, perfect body. Not too bulky, but just right. As Cary tipped his head to give the makeup artist better access to his neck, Ryan imagined kissing him there, sucking on the tender skin and--

One of the show’s publicists approached, her heels clacking across the spaceship set. “How are we today, gentlemen?”

Ryan smiled. “Hey, Tammy. We’re good.”

“Excellent. The reporter from Out and Proud will be here in an hour. He wanted to see the kiss filmed, but as you know we’re keeping the set closed. If anyone leaks this kiss before the episode, I will eat their lungs for breakfast.”

Cary smirked. “And their balls for lunch?”

“Nope. Balls are for second breakfast.” Tammy winked.

The director called out, “Places everyone.”

Fake sweat artfully moistening his dark hair where it fell across his forehead, Ryan took his position to run into Steven’s room once more. Part of him hoped the director would want dozens of takes, but he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep himself in check. He’d worn extra-tight briefs to keep from embarrassing himself, but his one-piece bodysuit costume didn’t leave much to the imagination.

The second assistant cameraman clapped down the slate in front of the camera. “Space Academy, two-twelve, scene nine, take five.”

Silence settled over the set, and the director yelled, “Action!”

As he ran and slammed the door once more, Ryan’s heart pounded anew, and he couldn’t help but look forward to Cary’s next kiss.

* * * *

After leaving his trailer, Ryan almost walked straight into Tammy, who tapped a manicured nail on her watch. “You’re five minutes late.”

“Actually, I’m three and a half minutes late, but I had to go to the bathroom. Besides, actors are supposed to be late. And/or hungover.”

Tammy laughed and tucked a red curl behind her ear. “You haven’t reached that phase of your career yet. Talk to me when this show has garnered more than a cult following and you’ve made at least one successful slasher flick during hiatus.”

Cary was already seated in a director’s chair on the command deck of the set, which wasn’t being used for filming that day. It was little more than a Star Trek rip-off, but there were only so many layouts of a spaceship that worked well for filming. Cary still wore his dark green one-piece costume, but the top half pooled around his waist, and he wore a white T-shirt.

It was a V-neck, and Ryan tried not to look at Cary’s light chest hair poking out. He wondered for the hundredth time what it would be like to run his fingers through it and taste Cary’s nipples and--

Never. Going. To happen.

With a smile on his face, Ryan sat in the empty chair beside Cary and shook hands with the reporter seated across from them. Tammy lingered in the background by the space-thruster control station.

The chubby, middle-aged reporter smiled. “Hi, I’m Chuck Basilica from Out and Proud. Thanks for meeting with me today.”

“I’m Ryan Drake. It’s our pleasure,” Ryan answered. He and Cary had done a ton of press for the show at the upfronts in May, and they had a system down pat. They’d alternate answering questions, share a few amusing anecdotes, and generally be their most humble, charming selves.

Of course now that their story line was heating up, the gay press was taking interest. Chuck didn’t waste any time.

“Rumor has it the sexual tension between Steven and Kishi is going to move from subtext to text during February sweeps. You’ll be the first gay human/alien love story on American network TV. Is this true?”

Cary answered. “Well, we’re definitely exploring our characters in greater depth this season, and relationships between many of the cadets will be evolving.”

“Hmm. That sounds like a yes to me.” Chuck smiled.

Ryan smiled back. “All we can say is that fans should keep watching, because there’s some great stuff coming up for Steven and Kishi.”

“Fair enough. Now, were you both surprised at how quickly fans embraced your characters? Individually, but especially as a potential couple. There are quite a few ‘Stishi’ fansites out there.”

“I think we were both surprised, and of course it’s an honor,” Cary replied. “I mean, we were just happy our little midseason replacement show got a pickup for season two, and that viewers took to it so passionately. We may not get the highest ratings, but the fans are extremely vocal and loyal. The best in the world. We feel so blessed to be a part of Space Academy.”

“Let’s talk about your careers for a moment.” Chuck glanced at his notepad. “Cary, of course you’re part of a Hollywood dynasty. You were named after family friend Cary Grant, isn’t that right?”

He smiled. “That’s right. I only hope I can have a career half as incredible as his.”

“Your father and grandfather made their mark in action and adventure movies, while you’ve focused more on drama and now sci-fi. Do you feel any pressure to live up to their legacy?”

Cary’s smile didn’t falter, but Ryan noticed the way Cary’s jaw flexed briefly, his shoulders tightening. “Only in the best way. I’m so proud of Dad and Grandpa, and they’ve always been so supportive of me.”

As Cary went on about his family, telling the public what they wanted to hear, Ryan put on his best listening face. He remembered the first little cast get-together at the exec producer’s house one night in the Hollywood Hills. Ryan had gone outside to get some air and stumbled across Cary on the phone with his father.

“But, Dad, it’s a good show. Plenty of movie actors are doing TV now. It’s not the way it was before. It’s a great part! I want to do it. Besides, I can’t exactly turn down steady work.”

Cary paused, and Ryan could hear Robert Holloway’s raised voice through the phone but couldn’t make out what he was saying.

Cary went on, “I want to make my own way. I can have a good career in TV. Maybe do some theater in the summers. I think it’s worth a shot.” He paused again. “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, but I guess you’re used to disappointment by now, aren’t you?”

Ryan tried to back away without being heard but of course promptly tripped on the leg of a deck chair, sending it clattering.

Cary whirled. “Dad, I’ve gotta go.” He hung up and eyed Ryan cautiously. “Hey. Look, if you could just forget you heard any of that...”

“Heard what?” Ryan raised his hands. “I didn’t hear a thing.”

The tension in Cary’s face relaxed. “Thanks, man. Ryan, right? I think we have a couple of scenes together in the pilot.”

“Yeah, we do. You want to run lines this weekend?”

Cary smiled, his eyes crinkling. “Absolutely.”

Now, almost two years after they met, Cary was just about Ryan’s favorite person in the world. Of course Cary was straight, and they’d never be anything more than friends. Which was totally fine with Ryan. Well, not totally fine. But he was working on it.

“And let’s talk about your background, Ryan. You’re from Toronto. How has it been adjusting to life in La-La Land?”

“I’ve lived here for a few years now. There are always great things about any city, and LA has so much to offer. It was a bit of a culture shock, but being close to the beach sure helps.”

“You came out while you were still in Toronto performing in a local production of Rent. You mentioned having lunch with your boyfriend in an interview, and when Space Academy premiered, many bloggers and gossip sites picked up on the old article. Do you regret coming out so early in your career? Do you think you’ll get pigeonholed?”

He’d expected the question, so Ryan resisted the urge to sigh long-sufferingly. He wished it didn’t come up in every interview. “No, I don’t regret it at all. I’ve been out since my senior year of high school. It’s just who I am, and I don’t think it’s impacted my career negatively. I played a straight character in a movie during summer hiatus.” He shrugged. “All I can do is give the best performances I can and hope to continue to have opportunities.”

Cary interjected, his tone firm. “I think Ryan is an inspiration to other gay actors. And straight actors, for that matter. Someone’s sexuality shouldn’t matter in this day and age. He’s an amazing artist and person.”

Warmth bloomed in Ryan’s chest. “I’m lucky that Cary and everyone here at Space Academy are completely supportive. I hope that we’ll get to the point one day when it won’t be a big deal anymore.”

“I hope so too,” Chuck replied. “So are you seeing anyone, Ryan?”

“No, there’s no one special right now.” No one I can actually date, that is.

“Cary, you’ve been seeing Succubus High star Amanda Walker for over a year now. Any wedding bells in the future?”

Cary chuckled. “We’ll have to see. Amanda’s a great girl.”

Actually, Amanda’s a high-maintenance pain in the ass. Ryan kept a pleasant expression on his face. It wasn’t that he was jealous or anything. Okay, maybe he was. But Cary deserved so much more than her. He reminded himself that it wasn’t as if Amanda Walker was the only thing standing between him and Cary. She was irrelevant. Cary was straight. The end.

“You guys are both twenty-five now. How does it feel to be playing high school students?”

Ryan chuckled. “Well, I don’t think we’re the oldest actors to play teenagers.”

“With his big brown doe eyes and baby face, I think he’ll be playing a high schooler for at least five more years.” Cary laughed, eyes crinkling.

“But we love our roles,” Ryan added. “High school--whether here on Earth or orbiting the fifth moon of the newly discovered planet Alida--is so rife with drama and potential for character growth.”

Chuck’s eyebrow popped up. “Ah yes. Such as discovering one’s sexuality?”

Cary and Ryan shared a glance and a smile. Cary answered. “That is a common theme, Chuck. I think our fans are really going to enjoy our characters’ arcs as this season continues in the new year.”

Tammy cleared her throat. “I’m afraid we have to end things there. Ryan and Cary are needed back on set.”

They said good-bye to Chuck, and Ryan checked his call sheet. The next scene was an “intimate moment” between Steven and Kishi. No kiss, but they’d both be shirtless and playing a particularly close game of imperia, a basketball-ish game. The scene was early in the episode, before their kiss, and Steven would be barely able to contain his attraction to Kishi.

Ryan took a fortifying breath as he headed back to set. He didn’t think of himself as a Method actor, but he was certainly living and breathing his character’s emotions these days.

* * * *

With a sigh, Ryan popped open a can of soda as he sat back on the couch in his trailer. He still had one more scene to shoot, and it was going to be a long day. As he picked up the TV remote, there was a knock on the door.

His heart stupidly skipped a beat when he found Cary waiting outside. “Hey, man! I’m wrapped. Just wanted to say merry Christmas and all that.”

Ryan ushered him in and handed him a bottle of water from the fridge since Cary didn’t drink soda. That was just one of the reasons he’d been featured on the cover of Men’s Health and Ryan never would be. Ryan worked out and kept trim and healthy, but he wasn’t a heartthrob like Cary.

“Big plans for the holidays?” Ryan asked. “Will you be with your mom or dad?”

“Neither. Dad’s in Thailand shooting another sequel to Blowing Shit Up.”

Ryan laughed. “Is this Strike Back part four?”

“Yep. The world’s appetite for explosions and cheap one-liners continues unabated.” He flopped down on the couch. “Besides, my stepmother’s with him, and I can’t deal with her. She seriously tried to give me parental advice at Thanksgiving.”

Ryan sat beside Cary and swung his feet up onto the low coffee table. Most movie stars would sniff at his small oak-paneled trailer, but with a sofa bed, shower, toilet, and kitchenette, the twelve-foot space was luxury for Ryan. He still wasn’t used to being waited on, and at first the trailer had seemed unnecessary. But for the long days of shooting, he was very glad to have it.

“Tell me you’re exaggerating.”

Cary took a swig of water. “I wish. No, it seems that in Janelle’s twenty impressive years here on Earth, she’s learned a lot. She was quite put out that I didn’t want the benefit of her extensive knowledge when picking my hiatus project.”

“Wow. Okay, so what’s your mom doing for Christmas?”

“She’ll be in Hawaii. I’d go, but Amanda booked us into a spa for a cleanse.”

“A cleanse? For Christmas?”

Cary grimaced. “Yeah, nothing but lettuce and lemon water or something. Oh and pepper or hot sauce, I think. Yum. It’s in the desert near Palm Springs. Lots of yoga and massage, at least.”

“And starvation. No turkey? No stuffing? No cookies? It’s just not Christmas without a ton of fattening food.”

“Eh, it’s no big deal.” Cary shrugged. “I’ve never really had a real Christmas. Growing up, my parents were always getting married and divorced, and they vacationed in the tropics. A white Christmas and the family all together is just something I saw on TV.”

Ryan’s jaw dropped. “You’ve never had snow at Christmas?” He realized he was practically shouting and flushed at his overreaction. “Sorry. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.”

“The most wonderful time of the year? Well, you’re Canadian, so it’s understandable,” Cary replied playfully. His smile faded. “Nah, Christmas was just never a big deal. I got presents and everything, but it’s never been a big special day with walking in a winter wonderland and all that.”

“I’m sorry.” Cary seemed uncharacteristically melancholy about it. “Hey, you’re more than welcome to join me and my family in the Great White North.”

To Ryan’s surprise, Cary’s face lit up. “Really?”

The invite had slipped out, and he hadn’t really been serious, but the thought of actually spending Christmas with Cary had Ryan’s stomach flip-flopping. “Of course. I’m flying home tomorrow, and we’re going up to our cottage on Friday. More snow than you can shake a stick at.” He knew he should limit the time he spent with Cary off set, but... But I can still look even if I can’t touch.

Again, Cary’s smile disappeared, and he slumped back against the cushions. “Man, I wish I could, but Amanda will kill me if I try to back out of the spa. Besides, I wouldn’t want to intrude on you and your family.”

“It wouldn’t be an intrusion at all. My parents keep saying they want to meet you. You’re my best friend out here.”

Cary’s expression was unreadable. Pleased, maybe? “Really? Thanks, man. That’s nice to hear. You know you’re my boy too.” He punched Ryan’s shoulder lightly.

Ryan cleared his throat and pretended his whole body wasn’t on fire. “Well, the invitation stands if you change your mind.”

They smiled awkwardly at each other. Things had always been totally comfortable between them, but now that they’d kissed on set, Ryan felt on edge. If he relaxed, he was afraid he’d do something that would cross the boundaries without even thinking about it. Now any kind of touch barring a shoulder punch seemed too intimate. He’s not your boyfriend. It’s all pretend.

Their eyes met, and Ryan swore a current surged between them, shooting up his spine and then right down to his dick. Cary licked his lips, and they stared at each other in the silence. Ryan could feel the heat from Cary’s body beside him on the couch, and Cary seemed to be leaning into him.

A soft knock on the door was followed by a PA calling out, “Ryan? We’re ready for you.”

The strange mood broken, Cary drained his bottle. “See ya next year.” He stood, then pulled Ryan up into a straight-guy hug, slapping his back with a thump.

“Right, see you next year. Merry Christmas.”

As he walked to set, Ryan decided it was a good thing they had three weeks until they had to be back in the second week of January. Time to get this crush on Cary under control. Between work and their friendship, they had a good thing going, and Ryan was damned if he was going to mess that up.

Red Dirt Christmas
Chapter One
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

I was muckin’ out the stables with Billy when he stopped and leaned on his shovel. He was lookin’ out to the paddock and grinned his half-a-face smile. “Ah, boss. You might wanna take a look.”

I followed his line of sight and let out a long sufferin’ sigh. “Jesus.”

Billy laughed and I shook my head. We could see Trav smilin’ as he rode the dirt bike into the yard. Strapped onto the seat behind him was a six foot pine tree. He pulled the bike to a stop, and his grin got even wider.

I stared at him. “Trav, what’s that?”

“What does it look like?” he asked, his eyebrows knitting together. “It’s a tree.”

“I can see that.”

“Mr Travis,” Billy said, all concerned-like. “You can’t be cuttin’ them trees down. They special to the Aboriginal people’s culture. Mr Travis, you disrespectin’ our people.”

Travis’s face was priceless. He paled, his eyes went wide, and his mouth fell open. He looked at me for some kind of guidance, and I just shook my head and clicked my tongue. Travis turned back to Billy, close to panicking. “Oh. I didn’t know. Oh my God. I just thought it looked like a Christmas tree and there were plenty of them. Billy, I’m so sorry. I can take it back. I mean, I can’t replant it ‘cause you know.” He looked at the tree on the back of the bike and cringed. “Well, I hacked it off at the ground. God, I’m so sorry. Is there something I should do?”

Billy looked at the tree. “Well, there’s a spirit dance from the Dreamtime. The person who takes the tree needs to do it.”

Travis nodded seriously. “A spirit dance?”

Trav stared at Billy, and I stared at Billy. A spirit dance? I had to give it to Billy. He held it together for about five seconds of absolute silence before he lost it. He burst out laughing, which made me laugh too. “I’m just pullin’ your leg, Travis. There’s no spirit dance,” Billy said, holding his sides as he laughed. His smile was so contagious.

Apparently Travis was immune. He glared at us. “Oh, you sons of bitches. You had me going.” He put his hand to his heart. “Jesus Billy, you scared the crap outta me. I thought I’d broken some traditional Aboriginal code or something!”

Billy just laughed some more. “The look on your face was so funny.”

“I hate the both of you,” Trav said, but he was smiling.

“These trees are like a weed,” Billy said. “Introduced by the white fellas two hundred years ago. They grow fast, but they’re not native.”

“I didn’t think they were.” Travis ran his hand along the fronds of the tethered tree. “But it’s the closest thing to a Christmas tree out here.”

“Christmas tree?” Billy asked. “Not too old for that? Still think Santa Claus climbs down chimneys?”

Travis frowned. He looked at his feet and shifted his weight. His voice was quiet. “No. It was just a tradition in my family. My grandfather would cut down a tree and we’d decorate it as a family. We had special ornaments and there would be a huge dinner and it was kind of a big deal. I just thought maybe… You know what? Never mind.”

Billy knew Travis’s grandfather had died not long ago. “Oh Mr Travis, I didn’t mean anything. I was just jokin’ with ya. Here, let me help you get it off the bike.”

Travis sighed and his frowned deepened, and Billy quickly undid the straps and lifted the tree by himself. “Where do you want it, Mr Travis?”

Trav was lookin’ down at the dirt, and Billy stared at me with wide eyes. “Boss? I didn’t mean nothin’ by it,” he whispered.
I saw the corner of Travis’s lip curl up and I rolled my eyes. “Oh, for shit’s sake. He’s joking, Billy.”

Billy’s eyes shot to Travis, and Travis’s frown became a slow spreading grin. “I’m just pullin’ your leg,” he said with a laugh. “You’re not the only one who can spin one, Billy.”

“Your grandfather never cut down a Christmas tree?”

Travis shook his head, still grinning. “My grandfather would tell everyone we were going to pick a perfect tree, but he’d take me fishing instead and we’d just buy some random tree from a lot on the way home.”

Billy dropped the tree into the dirt and pushed Travis’s shoulder, which of course led to them trying to put each other in a headlock, which was only made more difficult because they were both laughin’ so hard. I looked at Texas, Trav’s horse. Even he didn’t look impressed. He just twitched his ears and swished his tail in a yep-they’re-idiots kind of way. “I know,” I told him. “You have no idea what I have to put up with.”

“Who are you talking to, Charlie?” Travis asked. They’d apparently stopped wrestling and were lookin’ at me.

“Your horse,” I answered seriously. “He thinks you’re both dickheads.”

Travis brushed himself down, though why, I’ll never know. Red dust got into everything here; there weren’t no escapin’ it. “I’ll never get used to the Australian display of affection of calling the people you’re supposed to like horrible names.”

I snorted out a laugh. “You’d think after a year you’d be used to it.”

Billy picked up his shovel and offered it to Trav. “Wanna shovel shit?”

“Um, gee, thanks, but no,” Trav replied, with an I-ain’t-stupid look on his face. “I have a Christmas tree to put up. Considering Christmas is three days away and no one seems to give a shit.”

I lifted up the horseshit covered shovel. “Texas does. Bags of it.”

He rolled his eyes at me and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “Tell me, how damn hot is it? You know, Christmas should be cold, not one hundred and thirty freakin’ degrees.” Without waitin’ for an answer, he reached behind his head and pulled his T-shirt off. It was one of my old shirts, kinda threadbare, but I didn’t mind him wearin’ it. It clung to his body when he got all sweaty… Nah, I didn’t mind him wearin’ it at all. I minded even less when he took it off. Wearing just his jeans, boots and hat, he wrapped the shirt around the tree and lifted it easily onto one shoulder. I watched as the muscles in his back and arms flexed, all shiny with sweat, the way the red dirt smeared on his skin, and a lucky drop of sweat as it ran from the back of his hair, right down his spine and disappeared where his jeans slung low on his arse.


Billy snapped his fingers in my face. “You in there, boss?”
Travis turned around and, realising I’d been busted totally checkin’ him out, he grinned. And seeing that Billy wasn’t lookin’ at him, Travis licked his lips all suggestive like, and ran his free hand over his abs as he turned to walk out.

I flung horseshit at him.

He didn’t even turn around. He just laughed. As he walked away, he asked, “I can put this in the living room, right?”

“Would it matter what I said?” I called out after him.

His reply was distant as he reached the house. “Nope.”

Billy laughed, and I grumbled as we went back to shovelling shit. When we’d heard the screen door shut, Billy looked up to make sure Travis was gone. “He got no idea what you plannin’, does he, boss?”

I smiled as I kept on shovelin’. “None.”

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.

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.

Keira Andrews
After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal and fantasy fiction, and—although she loves delicious angst along the way—Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

D River
D. River has been writing for many decades, and most of it is filthy, dirty stuff that you absolutely shouldn't read. Highly-trained experts have successfully quarantined most of that work to keep innocent bystanders from debilitating cases of blushing.

D. River started putting out books for sale with Wild Horses. Since no one told him to stop, he went on to publish other novels, including the popular Love Bites. The men in white coats caught up with him, though, and he vanished off the face the of Earth. Having made his escape and having set up shop in an abandoned adult toy factory, he is now ready to unleash more paranormal romances/adventure stories on an unsuspecting world. 

NR Walker
N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance.
She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn't have it any other way.

She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don't let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.

She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things...but likes it even more when they fall in love.

She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.

She's been writing ever since...

Jay Northcote

LB Gregg

Keira Andrews

D River

NR Walker

Cold Feet

How I Met Your Father

Where the Love Light Gleams

The Christmas Pageant

Red Dirt Christmas
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

The Greatest Gift by Felice Stevens

Title: The Greatest Gift
Author: Felice Stevens
Series: Memories #3
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Release Date: December 10, 2015
Cover Design:  Dar Albert/Wicked Smart Designs
After five years, Alex Stern and Rafe Hazelton have what seems to be the perfect marriage. Alex is entering his last years of residency and Rafe’s veterinary business is busier than ever. For Rafe, all that is missing is a child, but Alex, afraid of ending up to be a man like his father, isn’t as sure. He doesn't want to make any mistakes.

When a new patient enters the hospital, Alex is drawn to the young, desperately ill single mother, who shares her fears for the future of her young son. Rafe worries about the toll on Alex becoming emotionally invested in a patient, yet he too can’t walk away once he meets the little boy, and together they vow to help in any way possible.

Families are not always born of blood— love is a gift no one can plan for. And sometimes from the darkest of tragedies, the brightest light will shine.

This is a 25k word novella in the Memories series.

Alex and Rafe are possibly my favorite Felice Stevens' couple so when I heard they were going to be starring in their own Christmas story I was beyond stoked.  Let's just say I was not disappointed.  I have not had any intimate experience with cancer but I have spent a few Christmases sitting by my mother's hospital bed so just after reading the blurb I knew a few tears would fall, and fall they did.  I can't really think of more to say that wouldn't leak spoilers so I'll just say this is a beautiful story that needs reading because not only is it a great tale but you just might walk away learning a little something about yourself too.


“Are you asking me to walk away from it?” Sometimes in the night he’d wake up and ask himself if it was worth it, so he understood Rafe’s concern. But then he remembered Seth’s words, inscribed in his heart—if you give up, maybe that one person whose life you can help won’t make it because you aren’t there.

And that meant everything was worthwhile.

“No, of course not. I know how hard you’ve worked. It’s hard to see you sad, that’s all I’m saying.” Rafe toyed with the beer bottle. “I don’t want you to change from the happy person you always were.”

“Am I?”

His greatest fear, the one that prevented him from adopting a child and giving Rafe that family unit was losing his joy and becoming bitter and disillusioned, like so many others.

Without answering, Rafe took his hand and led him to the sofa where they sat down together, legs entwined.

“No, not yet. But I could see how easily it might happen. I know you’re doing it because of your brother—”

“No, you have it all wrong. It may have started out to beat what killed Seth, but now I want it because I feel as if I am making a difference. That if I help one person it can be the start of helping two or three.”

Alex needed this validation from Rafe, the person he loved beyond anything to ground him. While this residency was brutal emotionally, the rewards it reaped were worth the toil and he’d gladly give of himself if it helped his patients. He needed to know that Rafe wouldn’t give up on him and their marriage.

“I want to keep on with it but I don’t want to lose you in the process. If I become a different person or you see me change for the worse you need to point it out to me; smack me in the head and tell me I’m fucking us up.”

There was such tenderness in Rafe’s eyes, and his lips curved in a smile. “You’ll never lose me; I’m in it for the long haul. It’s you I worry about. I don’t want you to lose yourself.”

There was a sense of peace wrapping his arms around Rafe to hold him close; something special and wondrous in being secluded from the rest of the world with the one person who understood and never judged him, who merely loved and provided a warm and safe harbor to return home to every time.

“I’ll try not to.” He rubbed his feet over Rafe’s, warming them up against his socks. “But if I do, make sure you look hard.”

“You could never hide from me,” said Rafe kissing his cheek. “No matter where you go, I’ll always find where you are.”

Author Bio:
Felice Stevens has always been a romantic at heart. While life is tough, she believes there is a happy ending for everyone. She started reading traditional historical romances as a teenager, then life and law school got in the way. It wasn't until she picked up a copy of Bertrice Small and became swept away to Queen Elizabeth's court that her interest in romance novels was renewed.

But somewhere along the way, her reading shifted to stories of men falling in love. Once she picked up her first gay romance, she became so enamored of the character-driven stories and the overwhelming emotion there was no turning back.

Felice lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Her day begins with a lot of caffeine and ends with a glass or two of red wine. Although she practices law, she daydreams of a time when she can sit by a beach and write beautiful stories of men falling in love. Although there is bound to be some angst along the way, a Happily Ever After is always guaranteed.


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Memories of the Heart #1

One Step Further #2

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Through Hell & Back Series
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