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Make the Yuletide Gay

A holiday themed anthology with contributions by:

Nicky Spencer, Stephen Hoppa, Addison Albright, Nell Iris, Amy Tasukada

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A Christmas Party to Remember – Copyright 2017 Nicky Spencer

Let’s Not Go Crazy – Copyright 2017 Stephen Hoppa

Captain Jack and the Snack Attack – Copyright 2107 Addison Albright

The Christmas Day Date – Copyright 2017 Nell Iris

The Year of the Monkey – Copyright 2017 Amy Tasukada

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Smashwords Edition

Cover image used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.

* * * *

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the authors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

WARNING: This book is for adult audiences only. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which may be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

Published in the United States of America.

Table of Contents

A Christmas Party to Remember by Nicky Spencer

Let’s Not Go Crazy by Stephen Hoppa

Captain Jack and the Snack Attack by Addison Albright

The Christmas Day Date by Nell Iris

The Year of the Monkey by Amy Tasukada

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About Make the Yuletide Gay

Sleigh bells ring—are you listening?

It’s that time of year again, and we have the perfect way to get you in the mood: A free anthology! Five holiday stories that are guaranteed to warm your heart, heat up your cold nights, and most importantly: Make your yuletide gay.

A Christmas Party to Remember by Nicky Spencer

Last Christmas, Cory and Wes made a connection that left them both thanking Santa. But when Cory doesn’t show up for their first date, Wes swears he won’t make that mistake again. This year, can Santa’s magic find a way to bring them back together?

Let’s Not Go Crazy by Stephen Hoppa

The holidays are stressful enough without Ethan’s boyfriend Nate trying to kill him with Christmas cheer. But Nate’s found a whole new way to torture Ethan when he reveals that he wants kids. Will their conflicting desires tear their relationship apart, or will they find a way to ring in the new year stronger than ever?

Captain Jack and the Snack Attack by Addison Albright

Two men determined to win the same treasure at a charity silent auction, a wayward kitten, grumbling tummies, and a dilemma: what’s the correct gift-giving etiquette for a first date that’s mere days before Christmas, and what could possibly go awry with this merry combination?

The Christmas Day Date by Nell Iris

One rainbow Christmas tree in harm’s way and an afternoon spent eating far too many cookies, equals two men with changed holiday plans. But how does that translate into a date?

The Year of the Monkey by Amy Tasukada

The last thing Aoi wants to do for New Year’s is spend it with his boyfriend’s parents. They were far from thrilled when their son came out. Can Aoi warm their hearts making traditional mochi or will they end up in an even stickier situation?

A Christmas Party to Remember

By Nicky Spencer

About the Story

Last Christmas, Cory and Wes made a connection that left them both thanking Santa. But when Cory doesn’t show up for their first date, Wes swears he won’t make that mistake again. This year, can Santa’s magic find a way to bring them back together?

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A Christmas Party to Remember

Part One - Last Christmas

Wes

“I’m here! I’m here! I’m not late, I’m here!”

I pushed my way through a group of bemused and grumbling tourists, headed toward the back of the hotel lobby where my best friend, and date for the evening, waited.

“About time,” said Georgia. “The party’s on the second floor. Come on.” I followed her into a sleek elevator.

“How do I look?” Georgia asked.

“Stunning.” It was the truth. She took off her coat as soon as we slipped through the doors. She wore a sparkly black dress with a fitted skirt and a looser top sewn with silver sequins, her dark auburn curls loose around her shoulders. She’d topped it all off with an epic shade of red lipstick that said just because she was showing up to the party with her gay BFF, didn’t mean she was going home with him.

Georgia leaned in to check her teeth in the mirrored walls of the elevator.

“You look perfect,” I told her. “Relax.”

“Ha. Easy for you to say.” She and her boyfriend Evan had broken up just weeks before. They’d been working for the same accounting firm since before they started dating, and while she was able to mostly avoid him at work since they were in different departments, she knew she’d have to see him at the office Christmas party. She had begged me to be her plus one; she couldn’t bear the thought of facing him alone.

Georgia turned around so she could see her ass in the mirror, and I fidgeted with my Christmas tie. It was my favorite; some cheap Target special that I’d picked up a few years before with cartoon reindeer all over it. Cheesy as hell but I looked forward to wearing it every year.

When we reached the second floor, we exited into a winter wonderland. The small entryway between the elevator and the conference room that her firm had rented for the evening was bordered by leafless trees that had been spray painted white and decorated with twinkle lights. Huge glittery snowflakes hung from the ceiling. All the tables were covered in blue tulle and the walkway had been littered with shimmering blue and white confetti.

“There’s the open bar,” Georgia said. She hadn’t stopped talking about it since she’d invited me, and as soon as we stepped through the door she made a bee-line. I smiled to myself and followed her. I could use a drink, too.

Georgia was already in deep flirt-mode by the time I reached her. The bartender was young—I wouldn’t peg him at a day over twenty-five—and apparently exactly what thirty-eight-year-old Georgia needed to take her mind off of Evan. She tossed her hair and laughed loudly at something the younger man said. I sidled in next to her, placing my hand on her back.

“Scotch on the rocks, please,” I said.

“Wes!” Georgia exclaimed. “This is Sam. Sam has promised to keep me well-stocked tonight. Right Sam?”

The dark-haired young man smiled. “That’s right, Georgia. If you say you’re over twenty-one, I’ll believe you.” He acted like he didn’t believe her, and Georgia laughed again, reaching out to touch his arm.

“Wes, can I keep him?”

“I don’t know. Has he been treated for fleas?” I accepted my drink from Sam with a nod. He winked in return.

Georgia pushed playfully at my shoulder. “Stop.”

“I’m gonna go find a table.” I kissed Georgia’s cheek and left her to flirt with Sam, making my way to an empty table near the back wall where I could keep an eye on her. She finished her cocktail, and one more, before stumbling over to me.

“Sam is cute,” she declared.

“Very.”

“And young.”

“Yes.”

I thought she was about to add something else, but then she froze.

“There’s Evan,” she said.

I followed her eyes to see the man in question standing in the entryway to the banquet room, a barely legal blonde with a plunging neckline on his arm.

“And his rather buxom young date,” I murmured.

“I need another drink.” Georgia moved to signal Sam for a re-fill, but I put my hand on her arm and pushed it down.

“You’ve had two in less than ten minutes. Let’s pace ourselves, shall we?”

Georgia scowled at me and reached for my Scotch. I pushed my chair back with my legs, holding the drink in the air where she couldn’t reach. Unfortunately I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings, because I ended up pushing my chair into, and spilling my drink all over, someone who had been walking behind me.

I jumped out of my chair, spinning around to apologize to the man I’d inadvertently Scotch-bombed, who was looking down at his wet shirt.

“Shit, I’m so sorry! I’m such an id…”

The words died out when he raised his head, and I found myself looking up into the eyes of one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen. He was tall and slim, with artfully styled thick blond hair and matching stubble. He wore slim-fitting black slacks and a tight black t-shirt with the words At Your Service scrawled across the front. The shirt was drenched.

I tried to swallow but my mouth was dry. “Uh…s-sorry,” I stammered. It was my latent social anxiety rearing its ugly head; I could handle anonymous transactions with grocery store clerks and fast food workers, but put me in front of an attractive man and all capacity for speech disappeared.

“S’alright, mate,” he said, green eyes glittering as he smiled at me. “I can be pretty clumsy sometimes.”

Oh my god, he had an accent? Was he trying to kill me?

“You’re not…” I began, then dry-swallowed again. “It was me. Fault. My fault.” Epic speech fail.

The guy wiped his hands on his pants—apparently they’d gotten wet as well—and said, “Lucky I have a spare shirt in the back. I better go change, but can I bring you a fresh drink? What were you drinking?”

I stared at him. My mouth wouldn’t work.

“He was drinking Scotch. On the rocks,” Georgia interjected.

The hot blond Australian winked. “One Scotch on the rocks, coming up.” And then he was gone.

I looked at Georgia, my face aflame.

“What just happened?” I asked.

“You just had the most adorable meet-cute ever,” she replied with a huge grin.

“Hmm?”

She laughed. “He was hot. Are you gonna go for it?”

Go for it? The guy was completely out of my league. Besides, it had been ages since I’d last attempted anything resembling romance. I was seriously out of practice, and transitioning into “charm” mode took a lot of work. I had to build up to something like that, it didn’t just happen.

I shook my head vigorously.

“Oh come on, Wes! He’s so cute, and he obviously liked you. When was the last time you went out with a guy?”

“We had a way better president, I’ll just say that.”

Georgia smiled. “He’s into you. And he’s coming back with a drink. Just flirt with him a little, see what happens, okay?”

“Easy for you to say,” I muttered. At least when he came back he’d be bearing Scotch; I was going to need it.

But he didn’t come back. A few minutes later, a young girl in a matching black t-shirt brought me a fresh Scotch, and about a minute after that the party was officially underway. Dinner was served, and the CEO of Georgia’s company stood in front of the room and gave a speech. I kept looking around the room for Hot Australian but he was nowhere to be found. I didn’t know if I was relieved or disappointed.

Georgia had stuck to water throughout dinner, but the moment dinner ended and the DJ started spinning top 40 Christmas tunes, she headed straight back to the bar. I’d hoped to keep her somewhat sober for the rest of the night but clearly I had failed. I slumped in defeat.

“What happened to your date?”

The Australian accent was like liquid velvet over my skin. I shivered a little, and turned to look at him.

He had changed his shirt; he now wore a white button up, the collar open and the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He stood with his arms folded, and I was distracted by the golden hair dusting over his well-muscled forearms.

“What?” I asked.

“That redhead you were with. Where’d she go?”

Disappointment twinged in my chest. Of course he was straight. And of course he was interested in Georgia.

“Sh-she went over to the bar,” I said to my hands. “There was a hot young bartender she had eyes for, but you might be able to catch her before that goes too far.”

“So you guys aren’t together?”

“Not like that, no. We’re just friends. And she’s very single, you should go for it.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re just friends, but she’s not the one I’m interested in.”

I looked up at him. “What do you mean?”

He laughed. “Am I really that rusty? I’m trying to hit on you.”

I blinked. “Oh.”

“Let’s start over. Do you mind?” He angled his head at the chair next to me and I shook my head. As I tried to catch my breath, he pulled it out and sat down.

“I’m Cory,” he said, holding his hand out.

I took it slowly and shook it, not quite sure what was happening.

“N-nice to meet you, Cory. I’m Wes.”

“Wes,” he repeated, nodding. “Lovely to meet you.”

Was I having an out-of-body experience? The moment was surreal. Things like this didn’t happen to me. How was I supposed to handle it? What should I say?

“So…you’re hitting on me?” I asked. Oh god, anything but that!

Cory laughed again. I was starting to really like that sound.

“Truth is I was hoping you and the redhead weren’t together. You were pinging my gaydar like crazy; am I off the mark?”

I shook my head, stunned by how forward he was. I could never in a million years start a conversation with a stranger like that, let alone flat out ask if they were gay. “No, you’re not off the mark. I am. Gay, that is.”

“Me too,” Cory replied, flashing a gorgeous set of dimples at me.

I glanced back at Georgia, who was still draped over the bar flirting with Sam, then I looked back at Cory.

“Sorry I ruined your shirt.”

“S’okay. I have dozens. Perks of being the boss.”

“The boss?”

“Yeah, you’re looking at the co-owner and head chef of At Your Service, the hottest catering company in the city. At least according to my mum.” Those dimples again.

“Wow,” I said, genuinely impressed. “The food was amazing.”

“Thank you. I cook everything myself. Well, I do have a little help. But it’s all my own recipes and creations.”

“You’re very talented.”

“Thank you,” he said again, and then we just sat there, smiling at each other like a couple of idiots.

I glanced back at the bar again to find that Georgia wasn’t there anymore, and a young woman with blue hair was behind it serving drinks. I looked around the room, and finally found Georgia on the dancefloor with Sam. She seemed to be having a fabulous time, and Sam smiled at her like he was genuinely happy to be there. I figured she was in good hands, so I returned my attention to the cute caterer in front of me. Taylor Swift’s version of Last Christmas poured through the speakers.

“I love T-Swift, but nothing will ever beat the original,” said Cory.

“I’ve always been a huge George Michael fan.”

Cory grinned at me. “Me too.”

I grinned back.

“Can I ask you something, Wes?”

I almost laughed; he certainly hadn’t requested permission earlier. But instead I said, “Sure.”

“Are you single?”

My heart thumped as I nodded. “Yes.”

“Good. Would you like to dance with me?”

Oh god. He wanted to dance? I would step all over his feet. And I probably had armpit stains on my shirt.

“Don’t you have to work?”

“My part of the evening is pretty much done. My employees will take care of the clean-up. All I have to do now is enjoy the night.”

His words were seductive, snaking under my skin and wrapping around my spine. I wondered what he had in mind. Part of me was terrified of making a fool of myself, but a bigger part of me wanted to find out.

“Then let’s dance,” I said, the words leaving my mouth as though someone else had taken control of my body.

Cory stood and took my hand, leading me out onto the floor. It wasn’t exactly a slow song, but I didn’t object when he put his hands on my waist. I rested my own on his shoulders and followed his lead.

“So tell me about the catering business,” I said after a few beats. That was a thing I’d learned over the years; when you were getting to know someone, you should ask them questions about themselves.

“Not much to tell. People need food, I cook it.”

“That simple, huh?”

“Well, no. It’s hard work, crazy hours and a lot of dealing with very rude and unreasonable people, but I get to be my own boss, and I get to cook for a living, so it’s worth it.”

“I know how you feel. I’m a freelance graphic artist. Setting my own hours is the best part of my job.” I noticed that I had stopped stuttering, and a knot loosened in my upper back. Maybe I wasn’t too terrible at this. Maybe I could do it.

Cory’s smile fried a few neural pathways in my brain. We continued to move with the music, our eyes locked. I had just met this man mere moments ago, but I couldn’t remember having such a strong physical reaction to anyone in a long time. My stomach churned—he gave me all the butterflies. All the heart pounding, clammy hands, shaky breath butterflies. I could happily lose myself in him for months.

I cleared my throat. Pheromones; it had to be pheromones. No such thing as love at first sight.

“So what’s a single freelance graphic artist doing at this corporate Christmas party?”

“My friend Georgia—the redhead—needed a date. She and her boyfriend just broke up.”

“That’s too bad.”

I looked over my shoulder. The woman in question had her tongue down the young bartender’s throat. “I think she’s doing okay,” I said.

Cory must have followed my gaze, because he laughed. “Oh yeah, she’s just fine.”

He tightened his hold on my waist, and I leaned in, inhaling the cologne at his neck.

A couple songs later, Cory said, “I like your tie.”

“Thanks,” I said, suddenly wishing I’d worn something more elegant or classy. I couldn’t break my gaze from his. Something about his eyes had me under thrall. His face moved closer to mine, and I prepared myself to feel his lips on mine. I’d never wanted a kiss more in my life.

The spell was broken when someone bumped into me, causing me to nearly lose my balance. I grabbed onto Cory’s arms to keep from falling.

When I turned to give the stink-eye to the offending party, I saw that it was Georgia. Drunk, but not fall-down drunk. She was draped all over Sam-the-Bartender, who gazed at her adoringly.

“Um, so…Sam and I are going home,” Georgia said, a little too loudly.

“Oh. Are you sure?”

She nodded emphatically, and Sam added, “I’ll take good care of her, I promise.”

“I bet you will,” I muttered. But Georgia was a big girl. She could make her own choices, and she deserved a night of fun to get her mind off her heartbreak.

And to be honest, I was glad to stay. I had only just met Cory and there was so much more I wanted to know. Wanted to do.

“Okay,” I said, a bit louder. “Be careful. And play safe.”

Georgia looked Cory up and down, then said. “Same to you. Love you.” She kissed my cheek, and then she and Sam were gone, and it was just Cory and me.

We danced for what felt like forever, just enjoying each other’s touch, the closeness. We talked a little. What other music did he like? What kind of graphic design did I do? I loved his laugh, and the way his stubble brushed against my forehead as we danced. The more we talked, the easier it got. I was surprised to realize that despite having just barely met him, and even though he was almost unbearably gorgeous, I felt safe with him.

“Looks like it’s about time to go,” Cory murmured into my ear. We had drifted even closer together, and I’d rested my head on his shoulder. I looked up to find that the room had mostly cleared out. All that were left were Cory’s staff, and two or three company employees gathering up the last of their things. The DJ announced that this would be the last song.

I wasn’t ready for the night to be over. This wasn’t like me at all, but once again feeling like I’d left my body, I somehow summoned the superhuman courage to whisper, “Do you maybe want to get a room?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Cory and I went back down to the lobby. He kept a hand on my back while I paid for a room, then grabbed my hand as we re-entered the elevator, this time headed for the twelfth floor.

He ran his hand along the side of my face. “You’re hot, you know?”

I shook my head. “I’m average.”

It was his turn to shake his head. “You’re definitely not average.” And then he leaned in to kiss me.

My body jolted when his lips touched mine, but I quickly relaxed into his touch. It was a soft kiss. Gentle, romantic. Just a hint of tongue. He tasted like wassail.

When the elevator dinged the doors opened onto our floor, a rush of apprehension hit me. Was I really about to do this? This wasn’t me, was it? This wasn’t real life. But then Cory took my hand again, and I released a breath. He was real, and he was the stuff of fairy tales. Hell yeah, I was doing this.

“I don’t usually do this,” I told him as he slid the keycard into the slot. I’d never been much for casual hook-ups. I’d tried it once or twice, but I didn’t like sex with people I didn’t know, people I couldn’t be sure to see again. It was awkward. Embarrassing. Clinical. I craved the connection. I preferred sex with someone I cared about. It was better when there were emotions involved.

But Cory, even though we’d just met, didn’t feel like a stranger. I already felt connected to him. I already felt all kinds of things for him that I couldn’t explain.

“Don’t worry. I’ll still respect you in the morning.” The light flashed green, and with a rakish grin, Cory pushed the door open.

I followed him into a room fancier than any I’d ever been in before. It had better be, considering what I’d paid for it. The room had hardwood floors, a fireplace, and not one but two chandeliers. And a bed. A giant platform bed right in the middle of the room, covered in a white down comforter. I gulped when I saw it.

The entire west wall was windows, looking out onto the glittering lights of the city. It had started snowing, and the tiny white flakes drifted lazily to the streets below. It gave the illusion of being in a snow globe, and I had the brief thought that this entire night might be a dream.

“Care to join me?” Cory asked.

I broke from my reverie and looked at him. I had stopped a few steps from the door, but he’d walked all the way in. Now, he made his way back toward me slowly.

I nodded, and took his outstretched hand. He pulled me toward him gently, then pushed the suit jacket off my shoulders and started lightly mouthing at my neck. I released a shuddered breath, and let my hands drift into his hair. His hands found their way to my tie, and he wiggled his fingers under the collar, loosening it before tugging it down. Then he started on my buttons.

I reached to pull the tie over my head, but he stopped me, green eyes sparkling. “Leave it. Please?”

I nodded. He made quick work of my shirt, leaving me in just my slacks and the tie around my neck.

“Mmm,” Cory hummed. “Yeah, that’s hot.”

“If you say so.” I reached for him, grabbing his shirt and pulling him toward me. “We need to get yours off, too.”

“Gladly.” Cory started undoing his buttons, but I was too impatient. I put my hands on his face and pulled him in for a kiss. He grunted at the contact, then relaxed into it, letting his hands work their way up my shoulders.

“Damn. You’re a good kisser, you know?”

His words sent heat waves through my body. No one had ever told me that before. I responded by kissing him again, pressing my crotch tightly against his leg.

“We’re not going to get very far at this rate,” I murmured against his lips.

“We’ve got all night.” And with that, he grabbed my tie like a leash and pulled me toward the bed. When we reached it, he spun me around and shoved me backwards onto it. My shoulders bounced against the duvet and my head hit the feather pillows just as Cory climbed atop me, straddling my hips. His shirt was only half-unbuttoned, and we were both fully clothed from the waist down.

“Get naked.” I reached for the button of my own pants, releasing the aching length inside and rubbing at it through my boxers.

Cory pulled the half-open shirt over his head, revealing a vast expanse of pale skin, his chest and belly lightly furred with blond hair. My mouth watered, and I reached up and grabbed his waist, pulling him down into a kiss.

We both let our hands explore. Mine up and down his back, around to the front, rubbing my palm on that hairy chest. He gripped my arms, alternately caressing my skin and squeezing my biceps, up to my neck, then down to my wrists, grazing the soft skin there before tangling his fingers with mine. We kissed slowly, our groins seeking contact, and I groaned in relief at the pressure he provided.

“You smell good,” Cory said, inhaling deeply against my neck.

“You feel good,” I said back. I rolled us so that I was on top, then moved down to kiss his chest. “I love chest hair.” I drew a light circle around his nipple with the tip of my tongue, then dove down to taste his navel. His erection pushed through his pants, pressing insistently against my chest. His hands threaded through my hair. I moved further down, nuzzling my face against his flat-front slacks.

“Shit, Wes, I’m so hard.”

The sound of my name on his tongue made me throb. I opened my mouth and bit gently at the shape of him.

“Please,” he panted.

“Pull it out for me.”

His hands flew from my head to his fly, and they shook as he pulled the zipper down. I helped him shimmy out of his pants. Neither of us had the patience for any more foreplay. I gripped the waistband of his underwear and jerked them down, then slid my mouth over his cock.

His flavor overwhelmed my senses, and we both groaned. He whimpered when I pulled off and licked at the tip. Before I could put my mouth on him again, he reached down and grabbed the damn tie again, yanking me back up so our faces were close.

“You’re too far away down there,” he said.

I kissed him. “I can’t wait,” I breathed against his lips.

“Take your pants off.”

I complied happily, relishing his mouth on my neck and shoulder as I kicked at my pants. Soon, I was naked and on my back, Cory’s beautiful, slim body hovering over me.

“Can I try something?” he asked.

I nodded, and he reached for the tie at my neck. I let him pull it over my head, and watched as he wrapped it around his palm. He reached back down and closed his silk-covered hand around us.

I gasped. The cool material was incredible against my skin. My back arched as his hand began to move.

“How does it feel?”

“Amazing.”

There was almost no friction as the fabric slid up and down, and yet his grip squeezed me with the perfect amount of pressure. I couldn’t keep my hips still, and he moved with me, licking and nibbling at my collarbone as he jerked us both, hard and fast.

I came hard, and he followed not long after. I didn’t even care that we had just ruined my favorite tie. It was worth it. I could probably wash it.

We fell asleep wrapped around each other, and as I drifted into unconsciousness, I whispered “Thank you, Santa.”

I woke up the next morning to an empty bed. A hollow ache began to spread through my chest. I hoped I was wrong; maybe he’d just run out for bagels or something. But my gut told me he wasn’t coming back.

I dropped my head back onto the pillow. It hadn’t been a one-night stand for me. I had really liked him; I’d been looking forward to waking up with him. Maybe ordering breakfast. Exchanging numbers, arranging a date. I wanted to know him. See where this could lead. But as the minutes ticked away into an hour and then more, it became clear that he’d had a different idea. I supposed that was only natural. Most guys could do casual sex. They didn’t read love and relationships and forever into every sexual encounter. I was the weird one.

I got up and took a shower, then gathered my clothes from the floor. My wallet was there in the pocket of my pants. At least he hadn’t robbed me. I dressed and made sure I had all my stuff, ready to get out of that hotel and forget the night had ever happened. But I couldn’t find my tie.

I checked between the wet, rumpled sheets. I even pulled the bedspread off and shook it out but it was nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t until I was almost to the door that I noticed the note taped to it. I couldn’t help the grin that spread across my face when I read it.

Sorry I had to run, something came up. Meet me at Sweet Afton for brunch? 11:30. See you then.

xoxo-Cory

917-555-5852

Relief mixed with anticipation in my veins. He did want to see me again. I texted him right away.

Cory, this is Wes. Of course I’ll meet you for brunch. See you at 11:30

I left the hotel floating six inches above the sidewalk. I couldn’t wait to see him. Couldn’t wait to get to know him better, to see what we might be able to become. I just had this feeling about him. It was way too early, crazy to even be considering, but the chemistry between us was off the charts. What if he was The One? I actually giggled out loud at the thought as I let myself into my apartment and headed for my room to change my clothes.

At 11:20, I walked into Sweet Afton and got a table. It was a quaint little place, more bar than restaurant, but Google assured me they were known for their brunch. The space was small but charming, with exposed brick walls and thick wood beam ceilings. And the food smelled fantastic. I texted Cory to let him know that I was there.

Small table, back right corner

I ordered some coffee and settled in to wait. I was early, and didn’t expect him for at least ten minutes.

Ten minutes passed, then twenty.

Hey, you on your way? I texted. No response.

After thirty minutes I was starting to feel pretty stupid.

This is Cory, right? I texted.

If I have the wrong number, lmk pls

Nothing. After nearly fifty minutes I got the hint. I paid for my coffee and went back home. I never got a return text.

Part Two – This Year

Cory

I stop briefly at the employee entrance to the hotel and take a deep breath. This place brings back a lot of memories, both good and bad. Memories of the most beautiful man I’ve ever met, the most amazing sex I ever had. But also memories of the most excruciating physical pain I’ve ever experienced. Pain that still, a year later, hasn’t completely gone away. I rub my aching right hip, the one with the steel rod holding everything together, and head into the building. I can’t complain too much; I’m lucky to even be able to walk.

My company catered this same party last year. I’ve been looking forward to tonight’s event ever since the accounting firm called to book it. I don’t know if he will be there. Probably not, since he doesn’t work at Stewart and Braun. He was that redhead’s plus one last year. But she might be there, assuming she still works there, and I’ll finally have the chance to talk to her. At least, it’s the best chance I’ve had all year. I’ve tried not to get my hopes up but it’s been hard.

I tried to find her earlier this year, the redhead Wes was with at the party, when I’d recovered enough to start putting my life back together. I couldn’t stop thinking about that night I’d spent with him; that last perfect moment before everything turned upside down. I wanted that moment back. I wanted a do-over. But I’d lost my phone, so I didn’t have his number, and I didn’t even know his last name. And I couldn’t remember the name of the woman he’d been with. I called the accounting firm that we’d catered for and asked about her, but they wouldn’t give out any personal information when I couldn’t give them more than a vague physical description.

I tried looking for him online, but in a city this big, I couldn’t narrow it down enough. All I knew was “Wes” and “graphic designer.”

So tonight’s my best chance. I’ll work the party, pray to God that the redhead shows up and hasn’t dyed her hair, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get Wes’s number. Or a last name. Something. Anything. Because I can’t accept that I will never see him again.

“You’re here!” Lauren gives me a warm hug as I join her in the kitchen behind the event room. “Are you ready?” she asks, her blue eyes wide with concern.

Lauren is my sous-chef, and of course, she knows all about what happened last year. She was a rock for me when I was stuck in the hospital. She ran the business like a champ so I could focus on getting better. And she did everything she could to help me find Wes. She even called the hotel for me, trying to find out who had been tending the bar at the party, since the one thing I did remember was that Wes’s friend had gone home with the bartender. But the hotel said he’d only been a seasonal employee and they didn’t have his contact information.

Every road was a dead end, and eventually I’d given up. But Christmas is the time for miracles, right? I had the chance to sit on Santa’s lap a week ago, at a party we catered for a small “independent film” company. “Have you been naughty this year? Or have you been very, very naughty?” Santa, dressed only in booty shorts and a red hat, asked me. I told him that the only thing I wanted this year was a second chance.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” I say. “More than ready.”

“I really hope this turns out the way you want it to.”

“Me too.”

We’re doing dinner buffet style this year, so Lauren and I start wheeling food out to the banquet hall and setting it up on a long table. The party isn’t due to start for another thirty minutes, but my eyes keep drifting back to the door. I don’t want to miss the moment when she gets here. I hope she doesn’t hate me. Wes probably thinks I stood him up; I’m sure he didn’t have great things to say about me.

I’m about out of things to fiddle with on the table, and it’s time to head back into the kitchen to wait when I see her. I recognize her auburn curls, bouncing around her shoulders. This year she’s wearing slinky green dress that shows off her creamy white skin. Damn. If I was into women…

I keep an eye on her as she wanders through the room, stopping to mingle with co-workers as she makes her way to the open bar. I chuckle a little to myself; I remember that about her, too.

Once she has her drink and has found a seat at an otherwise mostly empty table, I know that it’s time. The party will officially begin in twenty minutes. If I’m going to talk to her, it has to be now.

My hip aches, and my limp is slightly more pronounced as I walk toward her table and tap her shoulder.

She looks up at me with a “Who the fuck are you?” expression on her face and I nearly lose my nerve. She’s an intimidating woman. But I have to do this. I swallow hard and say, “Do you remember me?”

She just regards me blankly. “I’m sorry, should I?”

I can’t tell if she genuinely doesn’t remember me, or if she’s messing with me. There’s a slightly hostile undertone to her words so I’m leaning toward the latter.

“I’m Cory. I run the catering company, and I…met your friend Wes last year.”

She purses her lips but doesn’t say anything. I forge ahead. “I’m sorry, I know we met at last year’s party, but I don’t remember your name.”

She barely conceals an eye roll, then sighs. “Georgia.”

“Georgia!” I repeat. I’ve been trying to remember that name for a year. It’s like finally scratching that itch on the unreachable part of your back.

Her face is like stone; she clearly doesn’t have a good opinion of me.

“Look, Georgia. I know you remember me from last year and I’m sure you probably hate me because of what went down with Wes, but…I’d really like a chance to explain.”

This is when she explodes.

“What’s there to explain? You hit it and quit it on my best friend. Which, you know, fine. But you didn’t have to make him think it was more than that, you know? But maybe that’s what gets you off. Making a guy think you’re interested, that you had a connection and want to get to know him better, then just not show up and never answer any of his texts or calls. Make him think he’s crazy. Does that do it for you? Is that it?”

“No, of course not. I had every intention of meeting him that morning.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“I was in the hospital.”

She blinks, but doesn’t say anything. That got her attention, and I jump at the opening. “My phone got crushed in the accident,” I say hurriedly. “I didn’t get a replacement for it until almost six weeks later. The new phone didn’t show my missed texts or calls. I have no idea who tried to get in touch with me during that time.”

Her eyes narrow. “Accident?”

“I was hit by a car, crossing the street to catch my Uber. I was in a coma for six days, and then in the hospital for several weeks after that. I had quite a few surgeries. And then of course there was physical therapy for months after that...”

She looks at me like she’s trying to decide if I’m making it up, so I pull up the sleeve of my t-shirt, showing her the long, thick scar on my shoulder. “That was the least serious of the injuries.”

Her eyes are wide. “Damn, boy. Okay, I believe you.”

“You do?”

“Yeah.” Her face softens, and she nods at the seat next to her. I take that as an invitation, and sit down at the table.

“Well then…can I ask a favor?”

She sighs dramatically. “What?”

“Can you give me Wes’s number? Or at least tell me his last name. I haven’t been able to get him out of my head for a year. I really think we could have had something good, and at the very least, well. I’d like to explain to him why I disappeared.”

“I can do better than that,” Georgia says, a glint in her eye. “I’ll get him to come here so you can tell him now.”

“Now? I…I can’t now, the dinner is about to start. I have to work. And I’m…I’m not ready.”

“Well, you have until the end of the party tonight to get ready. I’ll have Wes here by the time you’re done.”

“Really?”

And I finally get to see her smile. “Yes, really. Wes really liked you. He was so sad when you stood him up and didn’t answer his texts or calls. And I was ready to string you up by the balls. But if your story is true, and it seems like it is, well, then you didn’t hurt him on purpose. And I think everyone deserves a second chance.”

“Thank you, Georgia.”

“Don’t thank me yet, I still have to convince him to come. But I have an idea. You see that guy over there?”

She points to a man a few tables over in an ill-fitting suit, his arm around a plump but pretty younger woman.

“That’s my ex-boyfriend, Evan, and that’s his wife Megan. They got married, like, five minutes after we broke up and now they have a six-week-old baby.”

“Damn, he moves fast,” I remark.

She nods. “It bothered me a lot at first, but they seem really happy. I guess when it’s right, you just know it.”

She’s talking about her ex, of course, but I can’t help but think of Wes. People would probably think I’m crazy for having such strong feelings for a guy I only met once. Someone I barely know. But Evan and Megan are living proof: When it’s right, you just know it.

“But even though I’m pretty much over it,” Georgia continues, “I still don’t love having it flaunted in my face. In fact, Wes offered to come with me again this year as moral support, but I told him I’d be okay. But maybe it’s harder than I thought it would be?”

That glint is back in her eye as she pulls out her phone and starts dialing. I can’t help but laugh.

“Wes? I need you. I thought I could do this. I thought I could handle seeing Evan here with Megan, but I can’t. Wes, I’m panicking, what do I do?”

Dang, she’s good. She’s worked herself up so much her cheeks are pink and I think she may even have tears in her eyes.

“No, I can’t leave early. You know how my boss is about stuff like this, I have to stay for a while. No, don’t come now, you won’t get here in time. But…maybe you could meet me at the hotel bar downstairs in a couple hours? Say ten o’clock? Okay. Thank you. I’m sorry I’m such a mess. Love you too.”

Georgia puts the phone down and grins at me. “And that’s how it’s done.”

I match her grin. “You’re amazing. Thank you so much.”

“You can thank me by treating Wes right. And don’t get hit by a car this time, okay?”

I laugh. “Deal.”

I head back into the kitchen walking on air. I hum and dance my way through the dinner, and when I tell Lauren I have to leave early, she gives me a hug and wishes me luck. I hurry home; I have something I need to do before I meet Wes at the hotel bar.

I make it back to the hotel with ten minutes to spare. I find a table near the front and settle in to wait. I want to see him the moment he walks in.

As I wait I get nervous. What if he doesn’t show? What if I’m about to experience exactly what he did a year ago? No, he’ll show, I tell myself. He doesn’t know he’s meeting me. He thinks he’s meeting Georgia, to console her after a tough night watching her ex with his new wife. He’s a good guy. He won’t blow her off.

When he walks through the door, he takes my breath away. He hasn’t changed a bit. Chestnut hair, a short, well-groomed beard. He’s wearing a thick wool coat over his suit and a red and white scarf around his neck. His cheeks are pink from the cold, his eyes bright even from this distance. He came. “Thank you, Santa,” I whisper.

When he sees me, I think he might turn around and walk back out the door. I stand, and he regards me warily. I don’t move, afraid I might spook him. Like he’s a bear or something. Finally, his shoulders drop and he approaches me cautiously. Yes! A victory.

“Wes.”

“Cory.”

“I’m so glad you came. Can I get you a drink?”

“Sure,” he says after a beat. He hasn’t dropped his guard, but he’s giving me a chance. I’ll take the win.

I get us both a Scotch from the bar while Wes removes his coat and scarf, and return to the table. I don’t quite know what to say, and actually I don’t really feel like talking. I just want to drink him in. Wes is here.

“Is Georgia here?” We asks when I return.

“No.”

“So this was a setup.”

“I guess you could call it that. I talked to Georgia at the party, and she agreed to help me. I really just wanted a chance to explain what happened last year.”

“What happened last year was a one night stand. It wasn’t a big deal.”

“It wasn’t?” A weight settles on my chest.

He shrugs. “Obviously. I mean…I thought we had a connection, but clearly you didn’t feel the same way. You got what you wanted and then bailed. Fair enough, but I don’t know why you had to lead me on with that brunch invitation. That was humiliating, you know?” He bites his lip, as though he didn’t mean to say that last part. It’s adorable. It reminds me of how nervous he was last year when we first met, before he relaxed enough to let me get to know him. I hate that I hurt him. That he’s back to guarding himself around me.

“I wanted to meet you more than anything in the world,” I tell him. “I didn’t stand you up on purpose.”

“Oh yeah? Then why didn’t you tell me that the dozens of times I called and texted?”

I tell him my story, much the way I told Georgia earlier tonight, and I watch his face carefully for his reaction. As I speak, his eyes transition from skeptical, to concerned, to shocked, to empathetic.

“Wow. That’s crazy,” he says when I finish. He blinks and looks down at his hands, then back at me. “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.” I can’t help the grin on my face. I’m actually sitting at a table with Wes. Talking to him, looking at his face. And that intense chemistry between us is still there. Like a bungee cord of heat tying us together. I hope I get the chance to do more than talk to him. But that can wait. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.” He bites his lip and looks down at the table, twisting his Scotch between his fingers.

“So you did go to the restaurant? That morning, I mean.”

He nods. “I did, but when you didn’t show up…”

Dammit. “I’m so sorry.” I just stop myself from reaching out and putting my hands over his.

“It’s not like you did it on purpose,” Wes says. “I mean…I know that now. But at the time, I felt pretty stupid.”

“I would have called you if I could. I hate that I made you feel that way. Our night together…it was special to me, Wes.” I take a deep breath—here goes nothing. “I’d really like a second chance. I haven’t stopped thinking about you since that night. Well, since I woke up from the coma, I guess. When I met you, I thought you were just a cute guy that I could have some fun with for an evening but it turned out to be so much more than that. And I’ve spent an entire year trying to figure out how to find you again so I could tell you that.”

“Really?”

“Yes. That was night was very special for me. So I guess the question is…was it special to you?”

I think I know the answer; Georgia let the cat out of the bag earlier. But I still hold my breath as I wait for his response.

“Yes, it was. I told you then; I never do things like that. But you made me feel so safe, so wanted. I felt something that night, with you, that I’d never felt before. All I wanted was to spend more time with you, explore what we might have. I haven’t stopped thinking about you.”

“You don’t know how happy that makes me.”

His first real smile lights up his face, and it twists my stomach up like a Gumby doll. “I can’t believe we’re here right now. Like the last year never happened.”

“Let’s pretend it didn’t, okay? Let’s pretend it’s still that first night. We’ll do it right this time.”

“I don’t know, it seemed pretty right at the time.” There’s a heat in his eyes that tells me he’s talking about more than just our meeting. I squirm in my seat. I hope he’s willing to go home with me tonight, because I have a whole year’s worth of time to make up for with him.

And that reminds me. “I have something for you.”

“Really?” He’s surprised, of course, but pleased.

I reach into the pocket of the coat hanging over the back of my chair and pull out a small box, giftwrapped in blue paper covered in penguins. “Merry Christmas, Wes.”

He looks like a little kid as he pulls the ribbon of the package and tears into the wrapping paper. When he opens the box, he freezes, just staring.

“You bought me a tie? It looks exactly like the one I lost last year. How did you remember that?”

“No, I didn’t buy you a tie.” I wait for him to piece it together.

“Wait. Is this…my tie? The tie?”

I grin widely.

“Is it…um…” his cheeks flush a shade of red that would give Rudolph’s nose a run for its money.

“I had it dry-cleaned,” I tell him. “I was afraid it would fall apart in the wash. I held onto it to remember you by, but…well, I couldn’t leave it like that.”

He throws his head back and laughs, a laugh so hearty and warm it could be coming from Santa himself. “Did the employees at the dry cleaner say anything?”

I laugh too. “Not a word.”

“I can’t believe you kept this.”

“It’s the only thing I had to prove that night really happened.”

“Wow. You’re quite the romantic.”

“I guess I am. I think you bring it out in me.”

He studies my face, and I warm under his gaze. I want to know what he’s thinking, but I don’t say anything. I just let him take me in, and I do the same. I can’t believe he’s really here! I could look at his face for hours.

Wes yawns, and I look at my watch. It’s only eleven, but when you’re in your mid-thirties eleven might as well be three in the morning.

“Are you tired?” I ask. “Do you want to go?”

He shakes his head, then nods. “Yes, I’m tired, but I don’t want to go. I’m afraid if I go to sleep, I’ll wake up and find out this was all a dream.”

“It’s not a dream.”

“Prove it.”

I lean in and take his lips in a soft, tender kiss. He sighs into it, opening his mouth and letting me take the lead. He tastes delicious, like Scotch and peppermint. When we finally part, his lids are heavy and his eyes are dreamy and far away.

“I’m not ready for tonight to be over,” he says.

“Do you want to go back to my place?” I suggest. “I can think of a few things we can do with this tie.”

“I like the way you think.”

I lean in to kiss him again, and the last year slips away. All that matters is that we’re together, like we were always meant to be. And we have a hundred Christmases ahead of us to get it right.

The End

About Nicky Spencer

Nicky Spencer is a romance writer of all pairings. Nicky is a firm believer that love conquers all–that’s why her favorite theme is forbidden love. If two (or three!) people shouldn’t be together, Nicky will find a way to get them there. When you love someone, nothing else matters.

Nicky lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with no husband, no kids and a part-time dog. She loves to read, write, listen to podcasts, watch baseball and waste time on the internet. She is firmly anti-oxford comma.

Links

Web: https://nickyspencer.com/

Twitter: @authornicky

Facebook: Nicky Spencer

Also by Nicky Spencer

A Bolt of Blue – Available Now

Ian Golinski has been in love with his best friend since he was fourteen years old. When he finally decides to confess his feelings, he finds that his perpetually single friend isn't so single anymore. What’s a boy to do when he has to share the love of his life with someone else? Especially someone so damn hot?

Dusty Smith has finally found The One. The only problem is The One clearly has feelings for someone else, even if he doesn’t realize it. Dusty has to convince his lover that they’re meant to be. But how does he do that when the other man turns out to be perfect for them both?

Mitch Becker likes things nice and simple. But as his relationship with his boyfriend heats up, he starts developing feelings for his best friend. Suddenly his life is one big complication. How can he choose between two soul mates?

Find out what happens when three men ask the question: What if we don’t have to choose?

Let’s Not Go Crazy

By Stephen Hoppa

About the Story

The holidays are stressful enough without Ethan’s boyfriend Nate trying to kill him with Christmas cheer. But Nate’s found a whole new way to torture Ethan when he reveals that he wants kids. Will their conflicting desires tear their relationship apart, or will they find a way to ring in the new year stronger than ever?

Let's Not Go Crazy is the fourth installment of Figuring Out Everything Between Us, which Follows Nate and Ethan as they grapple with their own dysfunction in their journey to love one another.

* * * *

Let’s Not Go Crazy

Nate

"Where are you?” Ethan sighed into the phone.

“At the mall,” I answered absently as I wove between tight knots of Christmas shoppers.

“I thought you were studying for your psychology exams.”

“I was.”

“At the mall?”

“I was at the library… then I saw someone, so I…” I caught site of the couple. They were still arguing. She looked like she was about to smack the guy over the head with the armful of cook-books she’d borrowed from the library in the mall. That was something I’d always liked about Christmas. The stress made people violent and explosive.

“Nate, are you following people again? You can’t do that, buddy. Someone’s going to call the cops on you.”

“There’s nothing illegal about being in a mall.”

“Fine, whatever, dinner’s been ready for hours.”

“I’ll be home soon.”

He sighed. “You’re lucky I love you so much.”

I grinned as Ethan’s words spread through my body like sunshine, and said back, “Love you, too.”

I turned away from the couple about to kill each other. I guess I’d been curious, because they reminded me a lot of me and Ethan; how we used to be… still were sometimes, but less and less. Over the year and a half we’d been together, we’d become less like two clashing forces trying to destroy each other, and more like partners working together. It was strange, but I liked it. We were interwoven, and became more knit together every day from all the little shit; making dinner together, taking care of his dogs, sleeping side by side.

I hadn’t realized it was happening at first, but some of my insatiable itch to completely possess Ethan had been soothed as life slowly melded us together. Frankly, it was much easier to love him when I didn’t constantly feel the need to rip his skin off and climb inside of him.

I’d spent weeks hunting for the perfect Christmas gift that could express all this, but I was beginning to think it was a hopeless mission. A window display caught my eye, and when I turned, I smacked hard into something at waist height. It was only when I heard the thing crying that I looked down and realized it was a kid. I rubbed my hip bone where his head had cracked into me, and bent down.

“You okay?”

He looked up all weepy eyed, and the way his mouth moved but couldn’t make any words kinda reminded me of Ethan—but then everything reminded me of Ethan.

“You okay, kid?” I asked again.

He nodded, but kept crying.

“Where’s your mom… or whoever.”

He shook his head.

“Are you lost?”

He nodded.


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