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Excerpt for First Footing by , available in its entirety at Smashwords







“Hey! A late Christmas card.” Caleb dumped the shopping bags on the kitchen floor and picked up the large red envelope on the counter. He ripped it open it, pulling out a brightly-coloured, sparkling card. Excess glitter relinquished its hold and fell in a light scattering at his feet. He read the greeting inside the card, his mouth creasing in a half-smile, then he closed it and stared at the front again. Two polar bear cubs with surely unnaturally large brown eyes, nestling at the foot of a snow-laden pine tree, the rest of the forest in the background. Cute. Or that’s what it was obviously meant to be. He tried not to snort aloud and turned the card around slowly, wondering aimlessly what the bears would look like if they were hanging upside down from the branch of that very same pine tree.

Owen had come into the apartment after him, closing the front door carefully and depositing the car keys on the allotted hook. He followed Caleb into the kitchen and his bags joined the rest of their supplies. Reaching past Caleb, he rifled through the remainder of the envelopes on the kitchen counter. “Is that my mail?”

Caleb ignored the complaint, mild though it was. “It’s to us both.” Anyone would think it was Owen’s apartment. Well, actually, of course, it was. Caleb just spent most of his free time here, and his guy had said “make yourself at home” enough times, hadn’t he? He smiled to himself, watching Owen lift his reading glasses out of his shirt pocket and put them on, then carefully slit open an envelope of his own with the official letter opener, not a clumsy thumb like Caleb did. When Owen’s face tightened, Caleb grimaced. Maybe his lover was wondering whether suspending his four-paged credit card bill from a similar, crisply illustrated tree would have the same effect.

Caleb could recognise the point at which Owen became aware of Caleb’s attention—and surrendered to it.

“So what was in the red envelope?”

“Christmas card from Amy.”

“Amy?”

“The little kid downstairs. Number eight. I helped her fix her bike.”

Owen frowned. “The blue one?”

Caleb laughed. “She’s blonde, same as a lot of other kids.”

“The bike, I mean. You know that’s what I mean.” Owen made that semi-growling sound in the back of his throat that happened whenever Caleb irritated or frustrated him. Which happened quite often. “Christmas was weeks ago.”

“Don’t bitch. It probably took her that long to decorate it. Isn’t it a nice gesture?” Caleb waved the card in front of Owen’s face, scattering some more glitter on the floor. To be honest, he didn’t like the way the bear cubs’ eyes seemed to follow him, no matter what angle he held the card. He’d never thought of himself as wishing ill to animals, but such a visual assault by huge, soulful eyes and artfully ruffled fur, combined with the loopy, immature handwriting of their new friend—well, it was enough to make anyone tense up, wasn’t it?

“What do you mean, it’s to us both?” Owen’s eyes narrowed.

Caleb raised an eyebrow and lifted the card in a mock toast. “To us!”

“No.” Owen grimaced, and his reading glasses shifted on his nose. “Don’t be such an idiot. I meant that card. Was it really sent to both of us?”

Caleb paused for a moment, admiring the shallow frown across the bridge of Owen’s nose. Now that was cute. He could imagine picking the glasses gently off Owen’s face, snapping them shut and running his fingertips along the slight indentations left on the other man’s cheeks. Actually, the glasses made Owen look more than cute. Caleb didn’t say that aloud, though he wasn’t usually one to fear retribution. The tension drifting from Owen was intriguing, though. It also sent a rather promising shiver down Caleb’s spine, tightening his groin.

He looked instead inside the card, feigning concentration. “To my friends at Christmas, it says. Friends. Plural.” He saw Owen’s mouth open again and forestalled the response. “No, it doesn’t say To Caleb and Owen at Christmas, but that’s because there’s not enough room inside the border. She’s crammed in all these sketches of hearts and Christmas baubles and Santa hats, too. I think that blob at the bottom may be a reindeer but I wouldn’t put good money on it. And of course, her writing’s not the neatest at the best of times.”

“Where have you seen her writing?”

Caleb smiled. “She sent that lovely thank you note, remember? When I got the bike working again. The blue one.” He ignored Owen’s tutting noise. “Even though her Mum made her write it, it was a sweet thought. And she said she was really sorry about you falling over the broken spoke, she won’t need to keep the bike in the hallway any more, though you should take more care to look where you’re going, and her Mom told her those words you used weren’t really suitable for anyone under eighteen.”

Owen rolled his eyes. “Oh, really?”

“Anyway, I never really liked those grey pants you ruined, made you look like you work in some dead-arse office job with wall planners and critical path analysis charts...”

Owen held up a hand to halt Caleb’s teasing, with an expression somewhere between amusement and annoyance. “Which you know damned well I do. I can’t help that.” He sighed and pursed his lips as if he were annoyed, but his gaze was focused on Caleb’s mouth and his eyes gleamed with something sly. “Anyway, that’s not what it’d say.”

“Huh?”

“Amy’s card. It would say To Owen and Caleb.”

Caleb gazed back at his lover. He saw Owen’s gentle glare; he could hear the tone that he knew signalled Owen’s hackles rising. He knew it of old. Mentally, he rubbed his hands together with glee. If he’d known where his hackles were meant to be, they’d have grown goose bumps with the delicious anticipation of a new skirmish. Provocation was the bread and butter of their sexy relationship, as far as Caleb was concerned.

“No way. You’re wrong,” he said, breezily. “It’d definitely say To Caleb and Owen. Put the coffee machine on, will you? Then I’ll unpack the food.”

Owen didn’t move from his position beside Caleb. He placed a hand rather too carefully on the counter, fingers splayed, pressing it to the cool surface. As if he were trying not to clench it into a fist. “To Owen and Caleb.

“Uh-huh.” Caleb shook his head, emphatically. He traced a couple of letters on the faux marble counter with his finger and he could see Owen’s eyes following the movement. “Caleb first. Alphabetic, you see?”

Owen growled again, that throaty sound. It ran quickly through Caleb’s nerves and caused a throb between his legs that had damn all to do with too-tight briefs. Yeah, he often heard it when Owen was pissed at him—and it was great sport to provoke Owen deliberately. But he also heard it in the dead of night when they were in bed together and the lights were off and the sheets were warm with their sweat. When he, Caleb, was a little too enthusiastic with his second finger. Just before Owen would cry out and arch his back, just before he’d reach for Caleb with a plea that was dangerously close to a demand, and a grip that could raise bruises.

Caleb tightened his hold on the card. At almost the same time, Owen reached out and grasped the edge of it. They stared at each other, eyes on a level. Neither of them let go. Neither of them seemed to have sole possession.

Stalemate.


***


“Alphabetic?” Owen glared at Caleb. Damn the man! They couldn’t even do the week’s shopping without some kind of pointless argument. “Not if you use surnames. I’m Anders, you’re Matheson.”

Caleb tutted back at him. “I think not. I’m Caleb—that’s how everyone knows me. Two easy syllables.”

“Like Owen.”

They’d leaned towards each other, maybe without realizing. Owen brushed against one of the shopping bags on the floor, and a jar of instant mocha coffee dropped out onto his foot. It took considerable strength of will not to yelp. He tugged at the card again, and more glitter drifted down around the opened bag. He didn’t move his gaze from Caleb’s face. There was a glint in Caleb’s eyes that he knew well; it meant that the man was at his most intransigent; at his most mischievous.

Owen knew that mischievous look meant trouble. He’d seen that look, glinting in darkness, like that of a prowling wild animal. He’d seen that look, full of naked hunger, making him feel like an early supper. He’d seen it just before he was tempted into uncontrollable laughter; he’d seen it promise—and deliver—hours of unimaginable and immeasurable pleasure. His body shuddered involuntarily. A hell of a lot of his actions were involuntary, nowadays. Ever since Caleb all but moved in with him.

Caleb was frowning now. “You know, Owen sounds like a name for one of those bear cubs.”

Owen snapped back. “Better than Caleb. That sounds like one of Santa’s elves.”

“If you believed in Santa.”

“Which I don’t, of course. It’s a fable, a pagan myth, and I’m too old and wise for such crap.”

Caleb tilted his head thoughtfully, and gazed up as if he sought an answer to life itself from the kitchen walls. His throat stretched, the tendons strong in his long neck. “Caleb and Owen,” he said, musingly. “Or Owen and Caleb. Hmmm. Of course, they do say, ‘age before beauty’.”

Provocative bastard. Owen was only two years older than Caleb. He tore his gaze away from Caleb’s throat and let out a snarl. There was no other word for the guttural sound that emerged. “Actually, I believe they say ‘cast pearls before swine’.”

Caleb’s mouth twitched. He obviously didn’t think Owen would notice the way he’d snuck an additional finger on to the spine of the card, trying for extra purchase. “Then they are sadly deluded. The phrase is ‘dust before the broom’, surely.” He tugged.

Owen was ready for him. He’d placed his foot nearer to Caleb’s, surreptitiously balancing himself for any further attack. He tightened his grip and tugged back in his direction. Caleb’s body jerked and the card creased in protest along one corner. Owen used Caleb’s momentary surprise to push his knee between his lover’s thighs, anchoring him against the counter.

“You’re perverting this, Caleb. This… discussion.”

Owen immediately realised he should never have used the “p” word. Caleb raised an eyebrow and licked his lips. It was his favourite “pervert” look, and Owen felt the muscles in his buttocks clench as if he were preparing for flight or flight. He wanted to move his feet, but not to help him fight for a damned Christmas card. He found he wanted to move them much nearer his companion. Actually, they wanted to be bare, and tucked possessively around Caleb’s ankles, supporting his own body as he crouched above Caleb, who would be lying beneath him, arching up and moaning…

Discussion, you say?” Caleb hissed into Owen’s ear.

Owen jerked back, startled. Bloody hell, they were now inches from each other, clutching at nothing more than a rectangular piece of card. Glitter sparkled on his palms and he could see more of it stuck to Caleb’s forearm. How ludicrous must they look? He stared into the other man’s black pupils, felt his breath catch. A strand of Caleb’s hair had fallen forward over his ear and teased against his cheek. Owen glanced at the curl, knowing how soft it’d feel. He imagined it brushing across his belly, trailing slowly and smoothly across his nude, hot skin, down towards his spread thighs. His flesh felt uncomfortable in his clothing, despite his casual jeans and loose shirt. When he looked up from the errant lock of hair, he saw that Caleb’s cheeks were flushed. There was the flicker of strong emotion in his eyes—a slim tongue of flame in his irises.

“Discussion. Yes, Matheson.” Owen cleared his rather painfully tight throat. “You’re losing the point, so you use distraction. I am not so—”

“—easily distracted?” Caleb countered. He moved his free hand on the counter top and his thumb brushed at the hairs on the back of Owen’s hand. They sprang up at his touch like reeds under a sudden breeze.

Owen cursed the fact he couldn’t control his smallest reactions. “No. I’m not. You should learn to choose your battles.”

“They also say possession is nine tenths of the law.” Caleb sighed as if resigned, his eyes following the path of his thumb, watching it stroke along the pale-blue veins under Owen’s skin. He ran it apparently aimlessly along the dark-skinned forearm, up towards the elbow. Owen’s shirt was short sleeved, and his bare skin goose bumped underneath the caress. Caleb licked his lips again, as if he wanted to lick gently at the million little bumps. All of them.

But he didn’t relax the grip of his other hand, clamped to the Christmas card.

Owen kept his feet firmly planted, twisting his torso further toward Caleb. He felt Caleb’s thumb brush smoothly into the crevice of Owen’s elbow and from there up towards his shoulder. It slipped casually under the hem of the shirt sleeve, nudging at the protected skin there, at the threads of hair in Owen’s armpit. Owen felt Caleb tug quickly, impatiently at the card again.

But Owen’s own grip remained secure. A hiss of satisfaction escaped his moistened lips. “He who hurries, cannot walk with dignity,” he said. His gaze was meant to challenge Caleb, though he was never entirely sure if it did.

Caleb grimaced. The corners of his mouth still twitched. “I don’t know why you’re being so dogmatic. One might say it was the sign of an insecure man.” His fingers were tight on Owen’s inner arm, looking deceptively affectionate.

But Owen knew how strong Caleb’s arms were; he’d stretched under that possessive grip as many times as he could ask for. He leant very gently in towards the shadowed hollow of Caleb’s collarbone. He knew the taste of it; he very much liked the taste of it. “It’s just that things should be right,” he replied. He felt far too warm and, to be honest, he didn’t know why he was being so stubborn. His palm was sticky on the counter and he lifted his hand away, letting it fall to his side.

“You mean, you should be first?”

“This is nothing to do with first, Caleb. With last. With top, bottom. Just… what’s right.”

Caleb raised his eyebrows again. He reached across with his free hand and lifted Owen’s glasses off his nose. He squeezed them shut and placed them down on the counter. Owen felt his heart beat speed up and he could hear his breath coming faster and shallower. He still had his leg pushed between Caleb’s thighs, but something about the tension in Caleb’s body made him doubt he was in charge. When he glanced down, he could see trails of glitter on the kitchen floor around his boots. Then Caleb relaxed his leg on one side, which had the effect of nudging his body against Owen’s groin.

Owen was damned if he’d let the gasp of need out of his traitorous mouth.

“Is that what you’re worried about, Owen? Who’s on top?” Caleb dipped his head and blew along the skin running from Owen’s throat to his chest. His voice vibrated against the flesh, and Owen couldn’t stop his convulsive swallow. “Top, bottom. Just words.”

Owen laughed, amazed it didn’t sound as shaky as he thought it would. “You mean like, give and take?” He shifted his leg again, nudging it against the inside of Caleb’s thigh. “Give…” He pressed his hipbone against Caleb’s, letting the pressure rub against Caleb’s groin. “And take?” The front of Caleb’s jeans felt warm and swollen: Caleb’s breath hitched very satisfactorily. Owen slid his hand around his lover’s waist and swiftly up under the loose hem of the T-shirt to touch bare, warm skin.

Caleb sucked in a breath, more like a gasp. “Now that’s some kind of a distraction!”

Owen found and teased a small, hard nub of nipple. His fingers felt hot; his desire was greedy. The edge of the kitchen counter ground awkwardly into his hip, and he bit back a curse as a package in one of the discarded shopping bags stabbed his ankle. He tried to nudge Caleb backwards, out of the room; they should take this to a more comfortable place. The thought of more comfortable places and the taking of Caleb suffused his mind with sudden, erotic excitement.

Then Caleb twisted in Owen’s grip and his back slammed up against the kitchen door. His foot kicked a can of speciality soup that had rolled out on to the floor and it rocked up against the base of the cooker. His hand came up to the dark hair at the nape of Owen’s neck and grasped itself a handful. He wrenched Owen’s head back just a little, but enough to hold it taut: trapped. Their eyes were inches away; Owen glared at Caleb.


*

Caleb felt as if he could drown in the darkness of Owen’s eyes—in the desire he saw there. He’d drown, and it would be hot and thrilling and shocking. He’d not call for help. Definitely not.

“What about the card? About the greeting?”

“To hell with it.” Owen muttered, and ran his fingers down Caleb’s nearest rib. The faint sheen of sweat made the progress almost slick. He grabbed Caleb’s waist again, as if to manoeuvre them both out of the kitchen and into the hall.

The muscles on Caleb’s belly clenched away from his lover’s touch as if they were unwilling or nervous. Caleb knew that would never be the case, but he liked the effect a hell of a lot. He grunted, and let himself be moved through the doorway; he felt the spring of carpet under his feet again. Leaning forward, he touched his mouth to the bottom of Owen’s jaw, tight with determination. “No longer a problem? Where’s your staying power?”

“I’m saving it for other pursuits,” Owen whispered hoarsely against Caleb’s ear. He backed Caleb towards the lounge, and kicked the door open in front of them. The furniture seemed a long way away, and his patience seemed shorter than ever.

Caleb knew Owen’s impatience of old. He wondered exactly when Owen had started to imagine stripping Caleb and making out on the couch; he knew that’s where Owen’s thoughts were now, he could see the darkness of Owen’s dilated pupils. Maybe it had been when they’d finished the shopping and Caleb had leant over into the trolley to pack the bags; or when Caleb had searched deep in the arse pocket of his jeans to find the parking ticket; or when Caleb had opened the bag of doughnuts in the car and dipped a finger in to pick up the excess sugar….

Owen gave a small, tight moan. “He who fights and runs away, Caleb, lives to fight another day. I don’t care about Amy’s Christmas greetings, however they’re phrased.”

Caleb sighed exaggeratedly. Owen’s cheeks were brushed with the colour of the jam in those doughnuts Caleb had eaten. He thought it was just as delicious. “So you’re unmoved by those cute bear cubs?”

“I’m like stone.” Owen turned his head away from Caleb’s lips and bit none too gently at the other man’s ear lobe.

Caleb hissed in a breath. “And such frivolous glitter?”

“Irritating.” Owen nudged his knee between Caleb’s legs, and stumbled them up against the arm of the couch. He ran his mouth from Caleb’s ear and down to his neck. “Drop the card, Caleb.”

Caleb threw his head back, his Adam’s apple throbbing under the barest touch of Owen’s lips. “Good strategy, Anders. You negotiate well.” He moaned as teeth nipped at his skin. “But the early bird catches the worm, they say…”

Owen gave a strangled chuckle. His breath was very shallow. He slipped long, well-practised fingers in under the waistband of Caleb’s jeans. Caleb tightened his hand in Owen’s hair to keep him close.

They both released their grip on the Christmas card at almost the same moment. It fell to the carpet, damp with sweaty fingerprints and sadly bare of almost all its sparkle. Neither of them gave it a second glance.

Caleb smiled to himself as Owen pulled his tee shirt up and over his head, then with both hands free, pressed Caleb back down on to the cushions. Owen’s body followed, though careful not to crush him. So strong, thought Caleb. Yet so mindful of me. The smile, though private, grew deeper.

Owen’s kiss was slow but irresistible. Caleb opened his mouth to take in Owen’s tongue, his arms already wrapped around the other man’s back, lifting Owen’s polo shirt, peeling it up and off over the shoulders so that bare flesh could touch other bare, heated flesh. Caleb’s nerves shivered at the contact; the desire seeped through pores and skin. The caress was both familiar and exhilarating as always.

He sighed aloud. “Just one thing?”

Owen’s reply was more of a groan than coherent words. “Huh?”

“So how should I sign our card back to her?”


*


“Huh?” Owen said again. He had a mouthful of Caleb’s nipple, sucking the skin, pressing his teeth lightly against the stiff, roughened tip. He couldn’t be expected to cope with all this damned conversation at a time like this.

“Happy Christmas from Caleb and Owen?”

Owen flipped the button of Caleb’s jeans, nudging down the pliant zip. He dove his fingertips down inside, twisting his wrist to cup his palm against Caleb’s groin.

Caleb gasped. “Or from Owen and Caleb?”

Owen shook his head impatiently, his hair brushing against Caleb’s belly. He shifted on the couch so he was further down, his head now at Caleb’s waist. He growled. “Sign it from the damned bear cubs for all I care.”

Caleb started to laugh. He never had any bloody sense of occasion, although Owen knew that heady, hysterical rush of happiness as well. He licked at Caleb’s navel, and Caleb’s pelvis arched up from the seat. Owen smirked to himself. It was like a Pavlovian response. Caleb may be the spontaneous one, but Owen knew how to play him.

He felt the pulse of the hot, engorged flesh inside Caleb’s jeans against his palm. Caleb was wriggling the jeans down off his hips, the swelling inside his boxers begging to be freed. His cock was hard and damp, the tip of it just emerging from the waistband of his underwear, a pearl of moisture nudging at Owen’s chin. Caleb hissed through gritted teeth and, with a grunt of frustration, pushed both jeans and boxers to below his knees.

Owen shifted again on the couch, trailing his tongue down over the tight belly, licking at the line of soft hairs that ran down to Caleb’s groin. He was pursuing the aforementioned swelling with enthusiasm. He knew the taste of it, intimately; it was better than instant mocha coffee; better than speciality soup; better than Christmas. As his mouth reached the wrinkling balls, Caleb groaned. Owen slipped his tongue under one of them, and Caleb’s cock bobbed reflexively against his nose. Caleb’s arousal was always gratifyingly enthusiastic.

Owen could hear the hammering of Caleb’s heartbeat in every single vein.

“It’s not for you to tell me what to do. To say how we both should be.” Caleb’s voice was soft and still mischievous. His hand rested briefly on the top of Owen’s head, as if to guide. Not to control. Not really.

Owen laughed aloud. “But I agree! We’re not like that. We don’t have that kind of relationship. We don’t have one who is dominant—”

Caleb’s fingers suddenly gripped more tightly as Owen’s tongue began to lick in slow, deep strokes up and down his cock. “Or one who is submissive.”

“There’s no one master,” Owen whispered. He lifted his head and slipped his mouth down over the tip of Caleb’s dick.

Caleb moaned. “Or servant.

To anyone listening, it would have sounded as if they’d had this debate many times before. And enjoyed it, too. It could be assumed that this was all part of their foreplay; all part of the frisson; the passion. If the two men had been asked outright, they’d have confirmed that was definitely, and deliciously, the case.

“Just us. Caleb and Owen.” Caleb gasped. He was moving almost instinctively, thrusting up into Owen’s mouth, seeking the touch, seeking the satisfaction. His climax would be fast and full, as it often was first time around. But Owen knew he had magic recovery skills. Caleb would rest momentarily, then kick the damned clothes off completely, and roll Owen on to his back in return. He’d spend some fruitful time on Owen’s aching, over-sensitive body, and be ready all too soon for further joy…

Caleb’s cry was loud when he came, and his body shuddered against the sagging cushions. Owen gripped his thighs, savouring the feel of Caleb’s flesh, trapped and throbbing inside his mouth. The seed on his tongue was hot and tasty. Caleb was still moaning; he always sounded delighted—almost surprised, as if he’d had no idea such play would lead to this!

Owen found it the most incredibly erotic thing he could imagine.

His jaw ached a little; his own cock was straining inside his jeans. He thought he could see some stray glitter sparkling on Caleb’s bared torso. His ears rang with the groans from both of them.

Just us … Caleb and Owen.

“Or Owen and Caleb,” he mumbled.

Caleb lay back, exhausted, collapsed, consumed. But he still laughed, making his body shake and his softening cock slip slyly out from between Owen’s lips. “You’re the provocative one, Anders. Why the hell do they always say it’s me?”

Owen shrugged slightly. There was a stray, sticky drop on his lips; he licked it into his mouth, relishing the aftertaste. He knelt up beside the couch, moving forwards so that he could look at Caleb’s flushed face. He was happy to be quiet – just to gasp and moan and softly cry out, hoping there was the promise of more – and soon. But Caleb could talk all the time for all he cared; as, in fact, he usually did. After all, Owen reasoned, if he was talking, he was there – and Owen wanted nothing else.

Who says it’s you?”

Caleb reached a hand across, slipping it round Owen’s neck and scratching gently at the sensitive flesh there. He felt Owen’s back arch and a hiss of anticipation escape the man’s lips.

He grinned with pleasure. “The mysterious they, I guess.”

Owen’s voice was tight in his throat, amusement warring with feral need. “We’ll send them the Christmas card, shall we?”

Caleb tugged him down against his exposed body, mouth offered up for more kissing, fingers reaching for buttons and zips and the search for nakedness and fun. “Sure. From us both. Whatever way it’s written.”

Owen let himself be rolled round on the couch and laid on his back, his pants pulled down, his body unwrapped with rich indulgence. Caleb parted his legs and began the tortuously slow process of licking down his inner thighs. Every new touch made him shiver; every finger’s pressure on his hips made his cock leap and beg.

“Maybe you can include a little glitter in our greetings,” he murmured, not entirely sure why he said it. It may have been the glimmer in Caleb’s hair; the sparkle on his left shoulder blade. These things were tantalising in an odd kind of way. Or it may have been the temporary insanity that always seemed to accompany the glorious adventure of fucking with Caleb.

Caleb chuckled in reply, and his warm breath nudged Owen’s balls to one side. The room was hot, the air thick with desire and delight.

In the kitchen, the can of speciality soup nudged at a bag of frozen peas, forgotten and defrosting slowly on the floor.

Everything there was cool and silent, resting underneath a small frosting of Christmas card glitter.






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