Saturday, January 2, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Mistletoe Science by Serena Yates

The Mistletoe Phenomenon #1
Magnus Carstens, an eminent glaciologist, recently had to change his life: he's become his nephew Jakob's guardian after the boy's parents died in a plane crash, he's taken a new job as a park ranger, and he's moved them to Mistletoe, Wyoming, so he can offer a stable home to Jakob while still contributing to science. There he meets Lance Rivera, a disillusioned physical therapist who is working in his sister's store to make a living after his lover took off with all their money. When the two men come together--literally under the mistletoe--both realize all they really want, despite adversity, is a family to love.

The Solsitice Mistletoe Effect #2
Lance Rivera and Magnus Carstens are settling into their new life as a family with Magnus's nephew Jakob. But Magnus's parents are not enthusiastic about his choice of life partner and try to separate Magnus and Lance while they vacation in Sweden with Jakob. The woman they think more suitable for Magnus is Sigrid, an ex-student who is his intellectual equal and has loved and pursued him for years.

Magnus seems oblivious, but when an attractive offer from the University of Stockholm is added to the mix, Lance faces a crisis: What if Magnus chooses the new job and a life with Sigrid over the family he's started with Lance and Jakob?

The Mistletoe Experiment #3
Lance is on cloud nine. His lover Magnus has proposed to him, making Lance the happiest man on Earth, and they are planning to move their family to Sweden for Magnus's new job at Stockholm University. But when an old enemy resurfaces, followed by an unexpected new threat to their relationship, their new life in Europe with Magnus's nephew Jakob turns out to be very different from what they had hoped.

Will Lance and Magnus's love be strong enough to make their Mistletoe Experiment a success?

Mistletoe Science Paperback #1-3
The Mistletoe Phenomenon #1
The Solstice Mistletoe Effect #2
The Mistletoe Experiment #3

The Mistletoe Phenomenon #1
LANCE RIVERA could have done without the jolly Christmas music oozing from the store's loudspeakers. For the first time ever he couldn't get into the holiday spirit. Unfortunately, working at Holiday World required a happy smile. He snorted as he shelved mistletoe this and mistletoe that into the appropriate spaces in the backroom. Maybe Katie should rename her store Mistletoe World, as much as his sister loved the stuff.

When the little bell above the front door tinkled he pasted a friendly smile onto his face and made his way back to the main room. He did this job because he needed the money. Not that his family wouldn't have supported him; his parents had even offered his old room back, but he had his pride. It was about the only thing left after Brice had taken their savings and vanished once he no longer needed Lance as a source of a regular income.

"Good morning. How may I help you?" The words had left his mouth before he'd had a chance to look. He might not have been able to utter a single syllable if he had.

The man who stood before him was a true vision of male beauty, all six feet four inches of him. Silver-blue eyes were set in a broad face with a square jaw and a wide nose, topped off by blond wavy hair that was cut too short for his taste. Wide shoulders and what looked like a well-developed chest under a thick sweatshirt tapered into narrow hips. Strong thighs and long legs completed the picture. While the man's coat was open, there were still too many layers of winter clothes to see any more details.

"Hello." The man's deep baritone rumbled its way straight into Lance's heart. "We're here to buy some Christmas ornaments and decorations."

We? Oh, there was a little boy next to the vision. Maybe eight or nine years old with the same blond hair and wide nose but sky-blue eyes. He looked even more serious than his father. Why were the nice ones always straight?

"You've definitely come to the right place." More like the only place in Mistletoe, Wyoming, with a worthwhile choice. "There's a great selection over there."

The man looked where Lance pointed and nodded.

"Thank you." The man turned toward the little boy but didn't move from his spot next to the door. "Go on, have a look, Jakob. You can get anything you want."

Well, that was generous. But how was the little guy going to see or reach the top shelves? Not that it was any of Lance's business but the boy looked so lost when he trudged over to the display, he just couldn't ignore him.

"Here, Jakob." He grabbed a shopping basket and followed the boy. "I'll hold this for you and you can put the things you want inside. If there's anything you can't reach, just tell me and I'll show it to you."

"Thanks." The boy smiled hesitantly. "There's a lot of stuff here. Can you please help me find some red and white candy ornaments? And we need something for the tree. I don't really know what to get."

"Sure, I can help you. But maybe your dad knows better what you need?" Why wasn't the man over here helping his son anyway? He still stood by the door like a big log.

"My- my dad?" A tear rolled down the little boy's face. "My parents are dead. My dad can't help me anymore."

Oh, shit. He'd really put his foot in it now. The little guy was trying so hard not to cry, his lips quivering with the effort.

"I'm so sorry." That was true but totally inadequate. "Come here."

Lance dropped onto his knees and opened his arms. The little boy hesitated for a moment, looked over at the now very uncomfortable looking man near the door and hurled himself into Lance's arms. Lance held the back of his head and stroked his hair until the sobs and sniffles stopped. His shirt was wet but the boy had calmed down.

"My brother and his wife died in a plane crash in Africa eight months ago." The deep voice came from right next to them and a handkerchief appeared in his line of sight. "I'm his guardian and we're moving here so I can combine my work with his needs for schooling."

"I'm very sorry to hear about their deaths." Lance dried Jakob's tears and made him blow his nose. He tried to let go of the boy so he could get up, but Jakob clung to him like a limpet. He shrugged and kept him in his arms as he rose to return the now very wet piece of cloth. "What sort of work do you do that you'd move to Mistletoe?"

"It's not the center of the universe, is it?" The man smiled for the first time, making him look even more attractive. "I'm a glaciologist. I used to go on expeditions to the Arctic and Greenland, but that's no longer practical. So I retrained as a Park Ranger. I'll start working for the Grand Teton National Park in January, focusing on their glacier research and educational programs."

"A glaciologist, huh?" He never even knew such a profession existed.

"Yes. Uncle Magnus is a very good glaciologist. He studies ice shelves to see if they grow or shrink and how that will affect the weather and sea levels." Jakob was clearly proud of his uncle. "And he promised to teach me how to be one too."

"Did he, now?" Lance suppressed a grin.

"Yes. And he says it's very important to keep your promises." Jakob grinned.

"I did." Magnus nodded. "And right now I need to keep my promise of getting you some Christmas stuff, don't I?"

"Yeah." Jakob looked sad as he looked up at his uncle. "But I don't know what we need. And you can't really help, can you?"

Magnus shook his head.

"What?" Lance almost left his mouth open.

"Uncle Magnus doesn't believe in superstitions." Jakob frowned.

"So you've never kissed under the mistletoe? You don't know what you're missing." What had made him say that? He felt himself blush in embarrassment.

Magnus looked at him, silver-blue eyes twinkling and both eyebrows closer to his hairline than could be comfortable.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." Lance wished a convenient hole would appear in the ground and swallow him up.

"Why not? It's true." Jakob tilted his head. "My mom told him that too."

"Jakob!" Magnus shook his head. "Kissing under the mistletoe is just an old tradition. Some people like the excuse to kiss strangers, and that's total nonsense."

"And why would that be nonsense?" Katie's voice from the end of the aisle almost made Lance jump out of his skin. She must have snuck in through the back door when she returned from her lunch break.

"Katie! Don't." He turned around, Jakob still in his arms. "You may be my sister but that doesn't mean you can come in here and- and say stuff like that."

"What? I just want to know how someone who's never kissed anyone under the mistletoe can be so sure it's nonsense." Katie's impish smile made her look even more like a pixie than her small upturned nose and her slim figure.

"It- just makes no sense." Magnus looked totally flustered.

"I think you can't know that until you've tried it." She grinned. "Have you never been tempted to kiss someone you found attractive and wished for an excuse?"

"Well, not really." Magnus's eyes flitted to Lance, then back to Katie.

"Aha!" Katie clapped her hands. "I knew it."

"Really?" Jakob stared at Katie, and then looked at his uncle and back at Lance. A smile made his cheeks dimple. "Could you put me down, please? I think my uncle needs to conduct an experiment. And I don't want to see any of that mushy stuff."

"An experiment?" Lance put Jakob down and watched him take Katie's hand. He was too embarrassed to think straight. Just the thought of those strong arms around him and those full lips on his had him almost shaking. What was it about this man that made him want to trust again, despite all the disasters which were his love life so far?

"Yeah. Uncle Magnus says that if you're not sure about something you conduct an experiment to see if it's true or not." Jakob pointed at the ceiling in the corner and looked up at his uncle. "There's enough mistletoe up there for you to try and see if it works."

"Good thinking, Jakob." Katie picked up the shopping basket and turned Jakob toward the shelves. "Come on, I'll help you pick out some stuff while Lance and your uncle conduct their experiment."

The Solstice Mistletoe Effect #2
“ARE you ready to go?” Lance looked down at Jakob, whose hand reached up to clench his as they walked toward the front door. His lover, Magnus, had gone outside to warm up one of their two SUVs. Since he was from Sweden and had spent years on expeditions to research glaciers, he was a lot less sensitive to the freezing January temperatures than Lance. Even though Lance had grown up in Mistletoe, Wyoming, he’d only recently moved back from L.A. and was having a harder time adjusting than he’d expected.

“Sure!” Jakob wore his new down coat, matching mittens, and scarf. He looked a lot more ready to face the cold morning air than Lance felt. “It’s okay to be a little nervous, right? I mean, this is a new school, and I don’t know anybody there.”

“Of course it’s okay to be nervous.” Lance was a little jittery himself. This was the first time that Jakob would be on his own after the FBI had returned him from being kidnapped by his other uncle, Brian, and his wife Nancy. They hadn’t agreed with Magnus being named Jakob’s legal guardian after Magnus’s brother and his wife had died in a plane crash early last year. “But I think that you might know a few of the kids already. Remember our visits to the skating rink?”
“That’s right! George and Fiona said they’d see me in school.” Jakob grinned as he picked up his backpack.

“Mistletoe Elementary is a very good school. Uncle Magnus and I checked it out before we enrolled you.” Lance was still nervous, but they couldn’t keep Jakob at home forever. Besides, the boy needed kids his own age to play with.

The drive only took twenty minutes. Magnus was driving and Lance focused on the route; he’d be driving Jakob to school in the future, since Magnus would be at work at Grand Teton National Park. Today was an exception. Magnus hadn’t wanted to miss Jakob’s first day, so he’d arranged to start work a few hours later than usual.

When they arrived at the school, Magnus quickly found parking, and they walked toward the entrance side-by-side, Jakob skipping ahead. A few of the other parents who were dropping off their children did a double take when they saw Lance and Magnus walking together. Some stopped in their tracks and openly stared. Lance was surprised. They weren’t even holding hands.

He tried to shrug off the uncomfortable feeling of being watched because their family was different, but it wasn’t easy. He knew that Wyoming wasn’t exactly the most progressive state where same-sex relationships were concerned, but facing the reality of being noticed and stared at like that was harder than he’d thought.

He was relieved when they reached the principal’s office.

“Welcome to Mistletoe Elementary. My name is Helen Rutherford.” The grey-haired matron in a surprisingly cheerful light green pants suit shook Jakob’s hand and greeted Magnus and Lance with a small smile, pointing at some chairs. “Please, have a seat.”

When they’d made themselves comfortable, Ms. Rutherford pulled several sheets of paper from a drawer, sat down behind her desk, and put on her reading glasses.

“I’m glad that you were both able to come by today. So many parents don’t make the effort to be here together.” Ms. Rutherford smiled at Jakob, laugh lines crinkling around her bespectacled eyes. “And it’s a pretty important day for you, Jakob, isn’t it? I’m sure you’re glad that both your—uncles?—are here with you.”

“Lance isn’t my uncle!” Jakob grinned. “At least, not yet.”

“He isn’t?” Ms. Rutherford pretended to be surprised, but the twinkle in her eyes gave her away. Lance relaxed a little. It looked like this woman had a sense of humor.

“No, but that doesn’t matter, does it? He’s really good at taking care of me, and I love him as much as my Uncle Magnus.” Jakob looked ready to defend Lance against any possible attack from this stranger.

“You’re right, Jakob, it doesn’t matter. At least not to us. But there are a few rules and regulations which require some paperwork to ensure that both your Uncle Magnus and Lance will be recognized as if they were your parents. Just in case something happens and to make sure that they’re the only ones who can pick you up from school.” Ms. Rutherford pointed at the sheets she held. “So they need to complete and sign a few forms.”

“Okay, I guess.” Jakob nodded and watched patiently as Lance and Magnus went through three sets of papers. They provided contact details and a password for when they wanted to authorize others to pick up Jakob.

Ms. Rutherford took the sheets back when they were done and looked them over carefully. Finally, she took off her reading glasses and smiled at them.

“Looks as if we’re all set, gentlemen. Let me just put these away safely and I’ll show you to Jakob’s classroom.” Ms. Rutherford got up, walked to one of the lockable filing cabinets, and put the paperwork into one of the many drawers.

They followed her through the quiet corridors decorated with colorful drawings and craft projects until they reached one of the classrooms at the very end of the hall. Ms. Rutherford turned toward Jakob.

“Now, the other children have been in here for about ten minutes, but they know to expect a new student. So, we’ll walk in, I’ll introduce you, and then your teacher will take over. His name is Mr. Harris.” Ms. Rutherford waited for Jakob to nod before she opened the battered-looking door.

With a last uncertain glance at both of them, Jakob followed her into the classroom. Lance had trouble staying where he was, and Magnus didn’t look as though he was faring much better. God, it was hard to let Jakob go after all he’d been through. But coddling him wouldn’t do any good at all. Lance sighed.

“This is much harder than I thought.” Magnus’s deep voice woke Lance from his gloomy thoughts. He looked up into silver-blue eyes that were shining with emotion. “He’s been to school before, of course, but that was before all the craziness with my idiot brother-in-law. You’d think that the fact they’re in prison, awaiting trial, would make me feel better about letting him go, wouldn’t you?”

“I know what you mean. We’ve had him under our protection for almost two weeks, so it feels weird to let him stay with strangers.” Lance frowned.

“It’s not logical to feel like this—but I still do.” Magnus grinned. “Sometimes I wish I could return to my blissfully ignorant state where I could just ignore emotions. You have taught me too well, älskling.”

It made shivers of delight run down Lance’s spine when Magnus called him “sweetheart” in that deep baritone of his. He wanted to touch his lover so badly, but he knew he couldn’t. The risk was too high. The looks they’d been given earlier, when they hadn’t even done anything, were burned into Lance’s memory. He didn’t want to do anything that could provoke a similar or worse reaction.

“I love it when you speak Swedish. I wish we could go home right now.” Lance smiled when Magnus winked at him.

“So do I!” Magnus grinned. “Hold that thought until tonight and I’ll teach you some new words.”

“Sounds good. We might need a few new traditions and customs as well, now that Jakob’s in school.” Lance grinned back.

“Makes sense. It’s a new phase in our lives, isn’t it?” Magnus stepped back to make room for Ms. Rutherford coming out of the classroom.

“That went really well. Jakob chose a seat next to some friends he’s apparently made over the winter holidays. Mr. Harris seemed satisfied with the arrangement.” Ms. Rutherford smiled and led them toward the exit. “Thanks again for coming by and supporting Jakob. We’ll keep a close eye on him to make sure he settles in, and we’ll let you know if anything out of the ordinary happens.”

They shook hands and were outside before they realized they’d been dismissed. Lance started laughing.

“I guess being the principal means you have certain skills, and Ms. Rutherford doesn’t seem to be hesitant about using them with parents as well as students.” Magnus looked a little stunned, but he was smiling as well.

LANCE checked his watch for the fifth or sixth time within the last four minutes. He knew that he’d arrived at the school much too early, but surely it was three o’clock by now? He shifted in his seat, trying to make himself comfortable. It wasn’t the car seat that was the problem, though. He was eager to see Jakob and find out how the first day of school had gone for him. And he wanted to get away from the stares of some of the other parents who were waiting to pick up children. It looked like their little family had made quite an impression this morning if those people still remembered him.

Finally, the first kids appeared at the door. Lance soon detected Jakob amongst the laughing and jostling kids. The boy seemed oddly quiet, but he looked relieved when he saw Lance. He opened the rear car door and climbed into his booster seat, buckling himself in.

“Hi, Jakob.” Lance turned around so he could look at the boy.

“Hi, Lance.” Jakob’s eyes were overbright.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Lance was about to unbuckle himself to climb into the back and take the boy into his arms. He looked like he needed some comfort.

“Nothing’s wrong. I just….” Jakob blinked, trying not to let the tears fall. “Can we please go home?”

“Sure we can go home. As long as you promise to tell me what’s bothering you.” Lance waited until Jakob nodded before he turned back toward the front and started the car.

The twenty-minute drive seemed much longer than it had this morning. By the time they made it into the house, Lance’s stomach was in knots. They sat down on the sofa in the living room and Lance opened his arms, finding them full of confused little boy only seconds later.
“Okay, Jakob, now I know something is definitely wrong. Would you please tell me about it?” Lance had to hold back his own tears at seeing Jakob so distraught.

“Some—some of the kids in my new class are really mean.” Jakob burrowed against Lance’s chest and slid his arms around him, holding on for dear life.

“Why? What did they do? Did they hurt you?” If anyone had done something to Jakob, they’d have to deal with Lance.

“They said some really horrible things when we talked about our families. At first, they felt sorry for me when I talked about Mom and Dad and the plane crash last year. I explained to them that it was okay because I have Uncle Magnus and you now. Some of them got really upset. I mean, I know that not everyone likes or understands two men living together like you and Uncle Magnus do. But why do they make it sound so bad?” Jakob looked up, his face scrunched into a frown. “You’re not doing anything wrong, are you?”

“We don’t think we’re doing anything wrong, no.” Lance sighed. “But not everybody agrees with us. We’ve never talked about this, but some people think that two men loving each other is wrong.”

“I know. Mom and Dad talked to me about it when they explained why Uncle Magnus didn’t have a girlfriend.” Jakob swallowed. “But I never thought that anyone would be so awful about it. They wanted to know what it was like to live with ‘sinners’. Some of them even laughed when I said it was just like having two dads. Like they didn’t believe me.”

“I know. And some of them won’t ever believe you. They can’t understand because they’re too prejudiced against anyone being different. It’s what they’ve been taught to believe, and most people never think about what they’ve been taught.” Lance took Jakob’s head between his hands and looked straight into his eyes. “Don’t let that ever stop you from thinking and believing what you know is right in your heart. And if any of them ever does anything more than laugh at you, you’ve got to let Uncle Magnus and me know, okay? We can’t let bullies get the better of you.”

“Okay.” Jakob pulled back and looked down at his lap. “But there’s more.”

“All right, tell me.” Lance really felt for Jakob. He’d been through so much already and now this.

“They—they made fun of you.” Jakob closed his eyes. “They said it was stupid for a man to stay at home and not have a job. That being a housedad was like being a coward.”

Lance was stunned. This was something he hadn’t expected. Thinking about it now, he probably should have. Mistletoe was a very traditional town, and even his own parents had expected him to learn a profession and become successful in it. They hadn’t said anything when he quit his job at his sister’s store to go and live with Magnus, but they hadn’t looked overjoyed either.

It wasn’t as if the decision had been easy for him. Giving up the ability to earn his own money had been a major step. At the time, he’d thought it was the right thing to do, and Magnus had been wonderfully supportive. It wasn’t as if they needed a second income, and Magnus had understood Lance’s wish to do what he’d always wanted. Besides, how else were they going to do a good job at raising Jakob? Especially for the next couple of years, while the boy was adjusting to the fact his parents were dead?

“I don’t know what to say to that, Jakob.” Lance put a finger under Jakob’s chin and gently pushed up until the boy was looking at him.
“Do you think they’re right?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never known a housedad before.” Jakob shrugged. “I thought it was the same thing as being a housewife. Lots of kids in my class have a mum who stays at home and doesn’t work. So, what’s the difference between them and you?”

“I think you’re exactly right.” Lance laughed with relief. Leave it to Jakob to figure it out and put it in words simple enough for anyone to understand.

“So why don’t people understand? Is it because that’s the way they’ve been taught, like you said before?” Jakob tilted his head in question.

“Yes, they probably believe that anyone who makes a choice different from what they consider to be ‘normal’ is a coward.” Lance wanted to believe that too, but sometimes facing society’s prejudices was very hard. Even though he knew he’d made the best choice for his own and his family’s well-being, it was hard to face others’ disapproval.

“That’s just stupid. If anyone’s a coward, it’s those people who don’t want to try anything new.” Jakob smiled and snuggled closer.

If only that would make the nagging feeling of doubt go away. Lance could only hope that he’d find a way of dealing with it.

The Mistletoe Experiment #3
“WAKE up, älskling.” Magnus’s voice was close enough to Lance’s ear for him to feel his lover’s hot breath on his skin. “We’re almost home.”

“Hm? What?” Lance opened one eye, only to quickly close it against the much too bright sunlight streaming through the plane’s window.

He’d had the most amazing dream about Magnus proposing to him in a mistletoe-covered gazebo in his parents’ garden in Stockholm, Sweden. The lovemaking that had followed the proposal had been wild enough to make him howl when he came. He blushed. His exuberance as such was really no surprise, but that it had happened outside, under the Swedish midnight sun, had made him feel somewhat embarrassed. Even now it felt like a dream. Stuff like that didn’t happen in reality, did it?

He snuggled back into his seat, not ready to wake up to find himself stuck back in the somewhat conservative town of Mistletoe, Wyoming. Magnus had a good job there, working as a Park Ranger and the resident glaciologist in the Grand Teton National Park. But their social life and acceptance as two men living together, raising Magnus’s orphaned nephew, wasn’t great.

Sweden had been so much nicer, nobody staring at them when they were holding hands in public. Wait. Snuggled into his seat? The droning noise of an engine made him sit up. He opened both eyes this time, forcing them to stay open, so he could take in his surroundings.

Shit, he really wasn’t in his bed at home. He was on a small plane, in the middle seat. Jakob was on his left, the eight-year old still blissfully asleep. Magnus, the boy’s uncle and now guardian, sat on Lance’s right.

“Älskling?” Magnus grinned, showing off his perfect white teeth in a face tanned by the summer sun. His silver-blue eyes sparkled with mischief. “Are you with us now?”

“It wasn’t a dream?” Lance slid his hand into his lover’s, the Swedish version of sweetheart making him instantly hot and all emotional at the same time.

“What wasn’t?” Magnus frowned.

“Sweden? The proposal and the—uhm, things we did afterwards?” Lance blushed despite the fact that he’d spoken low enough for no one to overhear him.

“No, it wasn’t a dream.” Magnus laughed and squeezed his hand. “Unless I had the same dream, that’s what happened on Midsummer Eve, just over a week ago.”

“Wow, I can’t believe we’re engaged. Having you and Jakob as my family makes me happier than I ever thought possible. It almost feels like it’s too good to be true, you know what I mean?” Lance’s heart jumped with happiness.

“We are most definitely engaged.” Magnus pointed at Lance’s left hand, where a wide yellow gold ring with three small square diamonds channel-set along its center now resided. He lifted his own left hand, still tightly held by Lance, to show that there was a matching ring. “It feels right, doesn’t it?”

“It does. More than I can say.” Lance smiled, feeling warm and fuzzy all over. “I’m so glad it wasn’t a dream.”

He thought back to everything that had happened in Sweden. The initial rebuff by Magnus’s parents, and their attempt to make Magnus marry that obnoxious Sigrid woman to start a new generation of their family had been bad enough. But the worst part of it had been that Magnus hadn’t understood why their cold reception had caused Lance’s insecurities to resurface. The attack on their relationship, coupled with being in a foreign country, had made him feel very unsettled. The proposal Magnus had made after thoroughly rebuffing Sigrid and setting his parents straight on their relationship had ensured that Lance would never doubt his love again.

“And you’re still okay with moving to Sweden, like we talked about?” Magnus smiled. “We don’t have to, you know?”

“Oh, but I think we should. People were so much more open and accepting of our relationship there than they are in Mistletoe. And it will be great for Jakob to be close to his grandparents and to grow up speaking two languages.” Lance smiled back at his fiancé, happier than he’d ever been.
“What about you, though? It’ll be a big change.” Magnus still looked a little worried, even though they’d talked about it a lot.

“Yeah, but a good one.” He shrugged. “I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve lived in Mistletoe practically all my life, and I’m ready for a change.”

“In that case, we’ll figure out the organizational details as soon as we can.” Magnus entwined their fingers and leaned back in the small plane’s seat.

Lance listened to the steward’s announcement about stowing their tables and wearing their seatbelts, just waiting for their imminent landing. He started thinking about all the things he needed to get done once they were back and made a quick mental to-do list. There was a visa for him to apply for, a house for them to find, Jakob’s schooling to organize, the move itself to set in motion. He knew he was going to be very busy if they wanted to make their relocation a reality by the end of the year.

DRIVING up to their house a little over two hours later made Lance realize how tired the long flights and the time change had made him. It was only early afternoon here, but he hadn’t slept much during their eighteen-hour trip, and his body was ready to sleep now. Getting Jakob settled back in and unpacking while Magnus aired out the house and went through their mail would have to be enough of a distraction to keep him going.

Lance was just starting to unpack their second bag when he heard Magnus’s voice coming from their study-playroom across the hall.

“Oh, no.” Magnus sounded alarmed.

Lance rushed over to see his fiancé holding an official looking envelope in his hands, staring at the letter he’d extracted from it. From his worried facial expression, it was clear that this piece of paper didn’t contain good news.

“What is it?” Lance stepped closer to try to read the letter.

“It’s the court summons we’ve been waiting for.” Magnus dropped the hand holding the letter and took a deep breath. “We knew it was coming, but it still got to me, seeing it like that amongst our mail just now.”

“We’ve got to tell Jakob.” Lance didn’t look forward to that. “I assume he’s being asked to testify?”

“Yeah, it looks like they want him to tell his own story of the kidnapping.” Magnus rubbed his face with his free hand. “I mean, it sort of makes sense to have the victim there, and I’m sure it’ll help the jury see how cruel and wrong Brian and Nancy were when they tried to take him away from me. But, shit, it’ll bring the trauma from last December back to him, now that he’s just barely managed to get over it.”

Yeah, shit was right. Brian and Nancy Tabbart, Jakob’s mother’s brother and his wife, had been a piece of work. Even though Magnus’s brother, Mikkel, and his wife, Irene, had named Magnus as Jakob’s guardian in their will, the Tabbarts had not only fought Magnus over custody, but had come after him to Mistletoe to take matters into their own hands. They didn’t believe a gay man should be raising children. They’d complained to the local sheriff, but the man had sided with Magnus, since he was legally in charge, and there was no reason to take a very well-adjusted and happy Jakob away from him.

Seeing their efforts thwarted, Brian and Nancy had kidnapped Jakob, attempting to take him back with them to Florida. They’d been caught with the help of the police and the FBI, but the whole episode had left all of them severely shaken.

Now it was all going to be unearthed again, the old emotions and fears certain to have a negative impact on their little family. He could only hope that they were all strong enough to deal with it. Those bigoted criminals couldn’t be convicted and sent to prison fast enough for his liking.

MAGNUS sat on the wooden bench in the Cheyenne District Court’s corridor, hoping that his nervousness about their testimony at the trial didn’t show. Jakob was tense enough without Magnus adding to his discomfort. The boy’s little hand held onto his larger one, but it was cold and clammy. Jakob had said that he didn’t want to tell a courtroom full of people about the kidnapping, but he’d eventually understood that it would help make sure his tormentors went to prison. Magnus sighed. He was such a brave kid.

Lance sat on Jakob’s other side, and Magnus relaxed a little at the sight of his beautiful fiancé. Sometimes Magnus still felt the butterflies from proposing to him after the most memorable solstice celebration ever. His own stupidity had almost cost him the man he loved, but Lance was a forgiving soul. The man made him happier than he’d ever been, and not just because he was gorgeous, with his dark hair and Latino looks. His giving nature and the way he’d made an immediate connection with Jakob had a lot to do with the deep love Magnus felt for him. He couldn’t imagine ever living without him.

“We’ll be fine.” Lance smiled at them both, and squeezed Jakob’s other hand. “The judge isn’t going to let anyone scare you.”

“I know.” Jakob’s voice was low, and the boy didn’t look up. “But Uncle Brian and Aunt Nancy are still going to be there, and I don’t want to see them again.”

“You know they have to be there, even if you don’t like it, right?” Magnus was ready to ask for special treatment, though, if that was needed to protect Jakob. “It’s why we made sure that I go first, so that I’ll be in the courtroom by the time you come in. The court officials will also watch them like hawks.”

“Why can’t Lance be there with us too?” Jakob looked up, his blue eyes bright with unshed tears.

“Because a witness can’t stay in the courtroom until after they tell their story. People might get confused by what they hear other people say, and the judge wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Lance smiled again. “It’s all part of having a fair trial.”

“But they did a very bad thing. I just want them to go to prison.” Jakob’s stubborn pout had become very rare since Lance had moved in with them last December, but it was back in full force now.

“I’m certain they will go to prison for a very long time.” Lance frowned. “We just need to tell the judge and the jury exactly what happened.”

“Mr. Magnus Carstens?” A court official stuck his head into the waiting room. “They’re ready to see you now.”

“I’ll be right there.” Magnus hugged Jakob, squeezed Lance’s hand, and followed the guard through the thick wooden doors.

He looked around as he was shown to the witness stand. The courtroom looked no different than anything he’d seen on TV. The twelve members of the jury sat silently and mostly attentively on one side; only one of them, an older man wearing a plaid shirt, about to fall asleep.

Across from the witness stand was the prosecutor, Ms. Baxter, a young-looking woman with a tight blonde bun and wearing a well-tailored pants suit. They’d briefly met before the trial to discuss strategy, mainly so he and Lance would be able to tell Jakob what would happen. She’d also outlined the defense’s potential strategies and had reminded him to keep his answers short and to the point.

Magnus was sworn in and took his seat. He answered the prosecution’s questions, but it was even harder than he’d expected to relive the emotional hours of last December, after he’d realized Jakob had been taken from his room. But Ms. Baxter got him through it, sticking to the facts and supporting him with glances and smiles.

When it was the defense lawyer’s turn, the painfully thin man rose and wandered over to the witness stand, seemingly in deep thought.

“So, let me get this straight, Mr. Carstens.” The defense attorney stopped in front of him, making sure the members of the jury could see them both. “You were awarded custody over your nephew after your brother, Mikkel Carstens, and his wife, Irene Carstens, nee Tabbart, died in a plane crash in Africa.”

“That is correct.” Magnus nodded.

“You didn’t think that was rather irresponsible of them?” The defense lawyer frowned.

“What, the fact that they died?” What the hell?

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Carstens.” The man shook his head. “The fact that they wanted you, a confirmed, gay bachelor, to take—”

“Objection!” Ms. Baxter raised her hand. “I fail to see what Mr. Carstens’s sexual orientation has to do with the kidnapping.”

“Mr. Leahy, please approach the bench.” The judge looked like a man who didn’t allow any nonsense in his courtroom, despite his youthful appearance.

Mr. Leahy had a short, intense conversation with the judge before he returned to his previous position. He looked slightly chastised, but none the worse for wear.

“Let’s approach this from a different angle.” Mr. Leahy pinched his nose briefly. “Once Mr. and Mrs. Tabbart fought you for custody, didn’t their reasoning make you think that maybe the child would be better off with them?”

“No, it did not.” He’d had his doubts all right, but if Mikkel and Irene wanted him to take care of Jakob, he would. That had never been up for debate.

“So, you didn’t think that a young boy would be better off with a couple who can offer him a normal life?” Mr. Leahy played the role of slightly surprised man really well. “A life with a female as well as a male role model, with a stay-at-home parent and in a city large enough to offer him lots of friends and a good school?”

“No, I didn’t think so then, and I certainly don’t think so now.” Magnus smiled. “I thought that whatever the boy’s parents considered was right for Jakob is what I should do. Even if I had to change my life to take care of him, which I did. Jakob became my first priority from the moment the responsibility for raising him passed to me.”

Half the members of the jury were frowning, the other half looked thoughtful. Except for the old man in the plaid shirt, who looked like he was about to nod off, his eyelids clearly drooping as his head sank farther and farther forward. His neighbor, a young woman in a bright yellow dress, touched his shoulder and he pulled himself upright again.

“So, if the boy’s welfare was so important to you, why did you take a complete stranger into your home, just days after you’d met him?” Mr. Leahy’s eyes widened, as if this really surprised or shocked him.

“Objection, your honor!” Ms. Baxter rose from her seat. “This line of reasoning is completely inappropriate and unrelated to the case.”

“Your honor, I am simply trying to prove that Mr. Carstens is an unfit guardian and that my clients had good reason to want the child removed from his care.” Mr. Leahy glared at Magnus. “People like you shouldn’t be allowed to raise children.”

“Mr. Leahy!” The judge banged his gavel. “You will refrain from judgmental statements like that last one, or I will find you in contempt of court. We are here to try Mr. and Mrs. Tabbart for the kidnapping of Jakob Carstens, not to make value judgments about Mr. Carstens’s fitness as a guardian.”

Magnus found it difficult to suppress a smile. It looked like the Tabbarts’ defense had hit a bit of a roadblock.

“Now, will everyone come back to order, please.” The judge looked around the courtroom. Nobody dared to move. “Mr. Carstens, you may answer the question relating to your reasons for bringing Mr. Rivera into your home, since that seems relevant to what happened later.”

How was he going to answer that question? He couldn’t very well explain what he had come to think of as the Mistletoe Phenomenon to the judge, could he? It was clear to him, and of course to Lance, that kissing under the mistletoe just before last Christmas had had some effect on the speed of their relationship’s development. But that was only part of the reason, and he felt that it was a part best left out of the official explanation.

“One of the things I found most difficult after my brother’s death was making an emotional connection to Jakob that was more permanent than that of a visiting uncle.” Magnus swallowed. “Jakob and I used to see each other on a regular basis, but I was never the person who raised him. I felt that I needed a different kind of connection with him for that to be a success. Adding his parents’ recent deaths to the mixture only made this more difficult.”

“What you’re saying is that you were having trouble relating to the child, isn’t it?” Mr. Leahy had apparently recovered from the shock of being reprimanded by the judge.

“Yes.” Magnus could only hope that this admission wouldn’t damage the case. But he couldn’t very well lie about what had happened. “We were slowly beginning to trust each other more. Partly, I think, because Jakob saw the changes I made in my life to make sure that I was around for him when he needed me. But it still wasn’t easy. When we met Lance, the connection he made with Jakob was immediate. Jakob responded to him, and opened up. Lance helped him begin to deal with his parents’ deaths. I brought him into our home as a caregiver for Jakob.”

“And that was the only reason?” Mr. Leahy barely suppressed his smirk.

“That was the only reason that was truly important.” Magnus smiled.

He wouldn’t give this idiot the satisfaction of walking into his trap. The fact that he’d fallen in love with Lance rather quickly had played a role, even though it had taken him longer to realize and admit it. But the reality of it was that without Lance’s ability to help him with Jakob, he would not have moved that quickly.

Whatever they tried to make him look bad, or their little family look “abnormal”, he was going to fight tooth and nail. He was no longer willing to tolerate uneducated, short-sighted bigots interrupting their lives. He had a family to defend, and he was going to do that to the best of his ability.

Author Bio:
I’m a night owl and start writing when everyone else in my time zone is asleep. I’ve loved reading all my life and spent most of my childhood with my nose buried in a book. Although I always wanted to be a writer, financial independence came first. Twenty-some years and a successful business career later I took some online writing classes and never looked back.

Living and working in seven countries has taught me that there is more than one way to get things done. It has instilled tremendous respect for the many different cultures, beliefs, attitudes and preferences that exist on our planet.

I like exploring those differences in my stories, most of which happen to be romances. My characters have a tendency to want to do their own thing, so I often have to rein them back in. The one thing we all agree on is the desire for a happy ending.

I currently live in the United Kingdom, sharing my house with a vast collection of books. I like reading, traveling, spending time with my nieces and listening to classical music. I have a passion for science and learning new languages.


The Mistletoe Phenomenon #1

The Solstice Mistletoe Effect #2

The Mistletoe Experiment #3

Mistletoe Science Paperback #1-3

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