All the Trimmings
One would think Chrissy Wallace’s attention would be on the giant Santa being hoisted into the sleigh on top of her grandparents’ house, not on the perfectly proportioned, jean-clad backside of the hunky man doing the work. In her defense, standing on the ladder as he was, the man had a damn fine ass to look at—the perfect peach shape a woman could sink her heels into and ride to the finish line. She’d bet he’d dig those long, thick fingers of his deep into her butt and hold her in place while he pounded her into the mattress.
One hand clasped firmly around the steering wheel, she used the other to fan the heat from her face. This was what happened when she hadn’t had sex in nine months. With her grandparents on vacation and her house-sitting for them, what were the odds she could get lucky? An hour away from home with none of the small-town ogling that went with it? It’d be so much easier than looking for a hookup in one of the clubs on Palm Canyon Drive. If he was helping out her grandparents, he’d already been vetted. So…hell yeah, she was going to go for it. Providing he was available, of course.
Please, let him be available. He can be my Christmas present.
Movement on the roof drew her gaze to the man helping him. Another stunning male specimen. These must be “the nice young men who moved in next door” her grandmother had mentioned. Sunglasses guarded his eyes against the setting sun hovering near the peak of San Jacinto. Those rays bathed his tan skin in gold, highlighting the cut of muscle in his biceps and forearms. Nothing like being able to wear a tank top in December. One of the many reasons she loved living in Southern California.
Her heart somersaulted as she watched him haul Santa to safety on the roof. He handled the decoration like it weighed nothing, and she knew for a fact the thing weighed a ton and was awkward as hell. Much as she loved it, Santa and his sleigh had been the bane of her family’s existence for as long as she could remember. A chore to be avoided at all cost, only to be done under duress and pleading from Grandma to put the decoration in place. Someone always caved. With her grandparents heading out for a Baja cruise, everyone thought they’d be spared this year, especially since Chrissy’s parents were going too. Well…they had
been spared. Someone else had been pressed into service.
Probably fell prey to Grandma’s charming smile and bright blue eyes
. For a woman nearing seventy, Grandma still knew how to work it. Oh, to have a snippet of that power.
The man on the ladder joined his partner on the roof, taking a stance on the other side of Santa. Seeing their matching smiles made her mouth drop open. Twins. Decisions, decisions
. Surely one of them was unattached. Maybe both? Oh, the fantasies that wrought.
She snapped her jaw shut and pulled into the driveway next to Pops’s Prius. Grandma waved at her, love beaming from her eyes. Chrissy was embarrassed to admit she hadn’t seen her standing there until that moment. Her attention had been riveted elsewhere. She sneaked a final mouthwatering glance upward, then cut the engine and got out.
“Chrissy!” Grandma hurried her way, arms open.
Chrissy was conscious of the men above, wondering if they were looking, possibly interested. She was tempted to fluff her hair into some semblance of order, check her breath, flash them a smile that broadcasted her need. She hugged Grandma instead.
“I’ve missed you.” She meant it too. Even though she only lived an hour away, seeing them wasn’t so easy, and not because of Chrissy’s schedule. It was their
active calendar that made things tricky. She hoped she’d have half their energy at that age.
“Oh, baby, we’ve missed you too. It’s so wonderful of you to take care of everything while we’re gone.” Grandma rocked her to and fro.
“It’s no problem. I didn’t want you to miss out on your cruise.” Without that promise, her grandmother wouldn’t have budged.
One thing a person had to know straight up about her grandmother—the woman lived Christmas. It was up to Chrissy to make sure everything was in place—decorations, baking, and dinner—by the time her grandparents returned on Christmas Eve for the family gathering the following day.
Grandma held her at arm’s length. “But it’s so much work, and…” She chewed on her lower lip, gaze wandering off into space. Chrissy knew the look too well. Grandma was thinking about all the things that could go wrong to her perfect Christmas setup.
“Now, now.” She steered her toward the house. “I’ve been watching you do this since the day I was born. I’ve got it covered.”
“Well, but… Chrissy, you know I really like all the trimmings. I know your parents meant well, and I do appreciate the cruise, but it really is very inconvenient. There’s still the tree and the candy-cane walkway. The lighted reindeer in their forest.” She gasped. “Oh dear, the truffles! I forgot to make truffles before I left.”
“Damn it, woman.” Pops charged from the house, a suitcase clutched in each hand. Her lime-green purse dangled from his shoulder. “We can survive without truffles for one year. Chrissy’s here. Get in the car. We’re going to hit traffic as it is.”
Chrissy reversed momentum and aimed her toward the Prius. “I’ve got this, Grandma. I won’t let you down. You’ll have Christmas with all the trimmings, just like always. I promise.”
“Well…okay.” If only she sounded more convinced. Grandma opened the car door to sit, then yanked back.
“Boys,” she shouted up to the roof, “this is the granddaughter I told you about. Chrissy, meet Joe and Jess Palmer.” A point of her finger indicated who was who. “You can tell them apart by their dimples,” she whispered. “Joe has one on the left. Jess has one on the right.”
Bright smiles rained down on her with waves she returned. No dimples visible from this distance. She placed them at around thirty just like her, another plus.
“Nice to meet you,” she called up.
“Likewise,” they responded.
“We’ve heard a lot about you,” Joe replied.
“And we’re looking forward to meeting you,” Jess added.
Chrissy took a chance. “I see she’s got you hard at work. Can I repay you with dinner tonight?”
Joe shrugged one hand. The other balanced Santa in the sleigh. “Sorry, we’ve already got plans. Tomorrow?”
She smiled. “Tomorrow, then.” Damn. Well, not all hope was lost.
“Could we please
leave?” Pops stressed.
“Yes, yes.” Grandma sank into the seat. “Keep your panties on. Now, Chrissy, if you need anything, don’t hesitate to—”
“Ask Joe or Jess for help. Those two can do anything,” Pops said. “You know the code for our security system?”
“I do, Pops.”
“Good. Don’t call us. Our cell phones will be off for the duration. I’m officially unplugging your grandmother.”
Judging from Grandma’s scowl, she wasn’t happy about that either. Grandma loved her tech.
Chrissy shut the car door. “I’ve got it. Have a good time.”
“We will.” Pops started the engine.
Grandma reluctantly clicked her seat belt in place. “There’s a casserole in the fridge. Lasagna in the freezer. All my recipes are—”
Pops buzzed her window up and backed from the driveway. Grandma’s frown turned to laughter. She gave Pops a playful smack and was beaming as Chrissy waved them off. They’d be fine once they hit the sea. Both loved cruises. Her parents thought it’d be the perfect present and spare Grandma all the work that went into Christmatizing the house. Good intentions, but…what were they thinking? Did they not know this woman?
Footsteps crunched in the white rock surrounding the house. She glanced around. Her breath caught at the male yumminess brushing their hands on their jeans. With their sunglasses now perched on their heads, she blessed the unobstructed view of their faces and the hint of laugh lines bracketing their mouths. Not identical twins, mirror twins.
“Santa’s all secure. I’m Jess.” He stepped forward, hand extended.
Chrissy met him halfway. He folded her hand into his bigger one. Instinct made her want to step closer, to press against all six feet of him and get a good feel. Somehow she maintained some semblance of decorum.
“And I’m Joe.” He took her hand when Jess relinquished it. Now she was caught deliciously between them. Though she’d never been one to actually go that route
, the temptation now was intoxicating, stirring fantasies she’d come to more times than she could count.
They smiled at her. Dimples eluded her, but the laugh lines told who was who. Left was Joe, and right was Jess. She’d bet one of them was left-handed as well. Plus, Joe’s eyes were flecked with a hint of gold among the brown. She was sure there would be other nuances the more time she spent with them. After all, it wasn’t her first experience with twins.
“All this time I thought it was a pool house in your grandparents’ backyard,” Jess said. “I never realized it was Christmas Central.”
“Would you believe she’s actually downsized?”
Joe laughed. “By ultimatum or choice?”
They knew her well. “A little of both. Some things wore out over the years. She decided some things should go to the rest of us. Pops is smart enough to not draw too big a line in the sand.”
“Clever man.” Jess clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “What next? We’ve got a little time before we have to get ready to go.”
“She mentioned something about a tree?” Joe’s eyebrow came up.
Chrissy didn’t want to wish that monster on them, but it was a nine-foot behemoth. It’d be tricky to handle on her own. “I’d appreciate the help on that one. I can start decorating it tonight.”
“Lead the way.” Jess motioned toward the house, but it was Joe who gently pressed his hand against the small of her back.
She reined her dancing libido to a halt. The touch was a courtesy, nothing more. No sense getting her hopes up. Some decorum had to prevail. One didn’t go jumping the bones of her grandparents’ neighbors—yet—unless one of them made the first move. That hand against her back was beyond promising. If she leaned into it, signaled her interest—
Chrissy jerked to a stop inside the front door. “Oh dear.”
“That’s an understatement.” Joe skirted around her. “It looks like Christmas exploded in here.”
It did indeed. Decorations spilled from open boxes that covered the living room from wall to wall. Lighted garland draped the fireplace mantel—and that was the extent of work done. She wanted to weep.
“No wonder Pops wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.”
“Have any of you thought of putting your foot down?” Jess stepped into the maze of boxes. “Just saying no?”
“Like the two of you said no when she wrangled you into putting Santa and his sleigh on the roof? Be thankful the reindeer team that goes with it fell apart years ago and that my uncle made Rudolph disappear. Besides, this is my grandma. Can you really say no to your
grandma? I’m guessing not, since you couldn’t say no to mine.” Damn, her chin started quivering.
“Point made. Standing around worrying about it isn’t going to fix things.” Joe rubbed his hands together. “Let’s clear the way for the tree and work from there.”
“Find us some music, Chrissy.” Jess pulled boxes away from the picture window. “I’m presuming this is the showcase for the tree?”
“Bingo. And let me tell you, it’s a tight fit.” She scrolled through the music channels on DirecTV until she found Top 40 music.
“We’ll make it fit.” He headed for the patio doors, Joe on his heels.
“Are you cold?” the bartender asked when Val ordered another beer.
She blinked in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“Your scarf.” He pointed out the wine-colored garment wrapped loosely around her neck.
“Oh. No. No, I’m good.” She touched the soft fabric, enjoying the feel of it against her skin.
He delivered the beer with a wink. “You should go out on the dance floor; that’ll warm you up.”
He was a cutie, with curly, dark hair and teeth that flashed white when he smiled, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Aidan. She paid for the beer and gave him a dollar tip. “Thanks.”
She really didn’t feel like dancing. Didn’t feel like being social, either, which was why she’d texted her friends Smokey and Lupita to let them know she wouldn’t be dropping by Our Place tonight. Her friends would catch on to her weird mood and try to jolly her out of it or ask her a million nosy-ass questions about why she was so down.
So why was she here, at the Hot Spot, instead of at home with a good book or watching TV? Because she didn’t want to be alone, either. Tonight was Ladies’ Night, which meant the drinks were cheap, the place was packed, and everyone was on the make except her. Which made it the perfect place to be anonymous, lost in the crowd.
Her afternoon with Aidan haunted her. She kept picturing his expression when he’d learned she wasn’t going home for Christmas. He probably wondered what kind of home life she’d had, if her family was messed up or dysfunctional. What would he say if she told him that her parents were good people, loving and patient? Too patient, considering her troubles. They’d stood by her through everything, never blaming her even when she deserved blame, never realizing how that added to her burden of guilt and shame.
It wasn’t that her mom and dad didn’t want her home. They’d been disappointed to hear she was staying in Rosemont. They’d even offered to pay her bus or train fare, so she couldn’t use the I-can’t-afford-it excuse. She’d made up a bunch of other reasons involving work and school and since then, like a little chicken, had avoided their calls and texts. She couldn’t tell them the truth—that she didn’t want to go home. She couldn’t stand their hovering, their worried looks, their concerned questions. They’d try so hard to behave normally, but normal no longer existed. Not for Valerie Stenzler.
Once again she smoothed the soft scarf around her throat. She’d checked its label once she got home, relieved to learn it wasn’t really cashmere. She wouldn’t feel right accepting such an expensive gift from Aidan when their thing was only casual.
She frowned. Why had he been so curious about her friends? It wasn’t as though they had an exclusive relationship. She never asked him who his next booty call might be. She tried to work up some anger at him having the audacity to question her but instead just felt frustrated that she’d been so quick to explain about Smokey and Lu. She didn’t owe him any explanations.
She unwrapped the scarf from her neck, folded it, and stuffed it into her jacket pocket. She should break it off with Aidan. Their friends-with-bennies thing was getting too comfortable.
Val glanced at her phone on the bar. She should text Smokey, see if she and Lu were still at Our Place. She should find her friends, get drunk, dance. Get Aidan off her mind, at least for one night. Maybe find some nice girl looking to hook up. There were too many straight girls here, and Val had no interest in all the drama that would involve.
As she picked up her phone, someone joggled her, bumping her shoulder. The phone flew from her hand and landed on the floor.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” A young woman with long dark hair reached for the phone at the same moment as Val. The brunette got there first. She handed it back with an apologetic frown. “My bad. It’s not broken, is it?”
Val hardly glanced at the screen, captured instead by the girl’s beauty. “No, uh, no. It’s fine.”
The brunette sighed in relief. “Thank God.” When she flicked a strand of hair behind her ear, a bracelet winked on her wrist. So sparkly. Were those diamonds?
She touched Val’s wrist with a long-fingered, perfectly manicured hand. The glossy red polish on her nails matched the color on her full lips. “Since I almost broke your phone, why don’t you let me buy you a drink?”
Val had only had a few sips of her second beer, but she wasn’t about to refuse the offer from this gorgeous creature. Straight girl, she reminded herself. Straight girl.
Val expected her new friend to order something supergirlie like a chocolate martini, but instead she told the bartender “Two beers, please.”
The curly-haired ’tender flashed his pearlies and made a big deal of popping the bottle caps and making with the cocktail napkins, but the girl just smiled politely and paid. She passed Val a beer and clinked the lip of her bottle to Val’s. “Cheers. I’m Candie, by the way.”
“Hi, Candie, I’m Val. Cheers.”
While they drank, she couldn’t help but give Candie the once-over. She was a stunner, tall and slim, with long legs accentuated by the black stilettos on her feet. She hadn’t walked in the snow in them, had she? Val couldn’t tell if they had the trademark red soles, but to her untrained eye they looked designer. Same with the short red dress that accentuated Candie’s curves.
Val was caught staring when Candie gave her the side eye. They both laughed nervously, and Candie flicked her hair again. She fiddled with her bracelet and cleared her throat.
“Are you all right?” Val asked in concern. Why would someone as hot as Candie be nervous?
“Oh, of course!” She answered too quickly for it to be true. “So, uh, tell me, Val…” Her face went pink and she snickered. “I can’t believe it. I was just about to ask you if you came here often. Pretty lame, huh?”
Val laughed. “That’s okay. Icebreakers are never easy. Actually, I don’t come here much. It’s a meat market, you know?”
“Yeah.” Candie glanced around as though to confirm that. When she turned back, she gazed at Val as if no one else were in the room. Val’s heart gave a little bump. Straight girl
, she reminded herself.
Candie wet her lips and indicated Val’s outfit with a nod. “If you don’t mind me saying so, you don’t look like the type of girl who comes here for Ladies’ Night.”
Val grinned. She hadn’t bothered to change from her booty call at Aidan’s, and still wore the same worn jeans, T-shirt, and boots. Nothing anyone would consider pick-up gear. “I’m not. This isn’t my usual hangout. I just didn’t feel like being alone tonight.”
Candie nodded. “You wanted to get lost in a sea of strangers. I get it.”
get it. Val was a bit surprised, and touched. “Yeah. So…I could say the same thing about you. You don’t look like you belong here, either.”
Most of the women in the bar tonight were showing themselves off in their short, tight, I’m-so-hot outfits. Candie put them all to shame. She was a swan amid a flock of ducks. She didn’t make a thing of it, though. She didn’t even seem to realize it.
She belonged in an upscale club, where gatekeepers allowed only the crème de la crème to enter. Not some cheesy pick-up joint offering piped-in top-forty hits and watered-down, two-for-one cocktails.
Candie answered with a one-shouldered shrug and a small smile, a heady combination of shyness and mystery. Val swallowed hard and looked away, heat swirling in her belly and zeroing in to her core. Bad news.
Candie again touched her wrist. She leaned in and murmured against Val’s ear. “Would you like to dance?”
Val’s pussy wanted one thing while her brain told her another. She lifted her beer to take a sip, then discovered the bottle was empty. “I should, uh, I should go. Thanks a lot for the beer.”
Candie’s forehead creased and her mouth crimped. She looked like a little girl who’d been told Santa wasn’t real. “You won’t stay for just one dance? Please?” She glanced at the dance floor. “There are other girls out there dancing together.”
Yeah, but all those girls were marking time until some guy stepped in to dance with them. What Candie proposed was different, right? Or was Val making a wrong assumption? While she tried to figure out just what was happening, Candie took her hand and led her to the floor.
Val couldn’t have told anyone the name of the song they danced to, or any of the lyrics. All she responded to was the heavy beat of the music and the supple motion of Candie’s body. She felt as though she weren’t in control of her movements—instead, the music controlled her. Candie writhed sinuously, closer and closer. So close Val could smell her sweet fragrance, see the sheen of sweat glistening at her hairline. Straight girl?
She wasn’t the only one transfixed by Candie. A circle had formed around them, some women gazing on curiously, others looking pissed that they’d stolen the limelight. The guys, though, all had their tongues hanging out. Val knew it wasn’t because of her. Everything about her was average: her weight, her height, even her ordinary brown eyes. Nothing about Val stood out compared to Candie, not even her brightly dyed hair. Candie was the one who’d captured everyone’s attention.
When the song ended, there were some hoots of appreciation, but Candie didn’t seem to notice. She gave Val that shy little smile. “Thank you.”
One guy, emboldened by alcohol and lust, came forward. “Hey, girls. That was hot. What say we—”
This time Val took the lead. She tossed the dude a “’Scuse us” as she grabbed Candie’s hand and scooted her off the floor.
Where to go? Still holding Candie’s hand, she swept down the hall, past the bathrooms, and out a back door into an alley. As soon as the door closed, Val moved in for a kiss.
This was the litmus test. If Candie recoiled in horror, Val would know she was a straight girl only looking to see if she could seduce another girl. Been there, done that, got the heartache.
Candie didn’t pull back. As their mouths softly met, Val couldn’t hold back a sigh. Candie took advantage by teasing her tongue along Val’s parted lips.
It was a short kiss, but a heady one. Candie had mad skills.
Candie gently stroked Val’s cheek. “I like kissing you.”
Walker paced in his bedroom. Three days. Three fucking days and not a word from Ben. Damn it. He wanted to claw out someone’s eyes. His own, probably. He’d known from the start that a relationship with Ben might be doomed. The poor guy wasn’t comfortable in his skin, sometimes even in the privacy of the bedroom, let alone secure enough in his attraction of men. Walker had never understood that mentality and never been attracted to a guy who was firmly in the closet before.
But something about Ben’s mix of sweet innocence and rugged football star had pulled Walker in. Ben might be the perfect match. If he could get out of his own damned way. Walker spun around when his phone rang from across the room. He marched over and snatched it off the dresser. When he saw Ben’s face on the screen, he considered ignoring the call out of spite. He was too mature for that, wasn’t he?
He pushed the green button on the screen and held the phone to his ear.
“I’m downstairs. Can I come up?” Ben asked.
“Yeah.” Walker hung up and went to the living room to buzz Ben into the building. A few moments later, he opened the door of the apartment to find Ben on the other side. All his anger disappeared at the look on Ben’s face. He was so distraught Walker could do nothing but pull his lover into his arms and lead him straight into the bedroom.
He closed the door with a bang behind them and pressed Ben against the door. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. Then he closed his mouth over Ben’s, not giving him a moment to protest or fight. Three days of silence had been enough of a fight. Now it was time for the making-up part. Ben fought his hold for a half a second, then returned the kiss with fire that burned through them both. Walker tugged at Ben’s clothes, pulling the jacket free, then slipped his hands under Ben’s shirt, searching for the hot, smooth skin he knew would be there. Yes.
Ben moaned into his mouth as Walker caressed along his abs. Ben pushed him back, and Walker froze for a moment. Ben was almost never aggressive. But then Ben was stripping, and Walker admired the view of Ben’s beautiful naked body. Whistling softly, Walker pulled his shirt and sweats off. Then his boxers. He reached blindly for a bottle of lube, not daring to take his gaze off Ben’s. The intensity he was used to finding in those blue eyes was multiplied by ten tonight. So much was left unsaid between them, but Walker needed to reassure himself that Ben was still his. Reassure Ben that they were still together, that no matter what Eddie had said, or how disappointed Walker was, that their relationship meant something, and it was worth working on.
He didn’t say any of this but instead spun Ben around with one hand and popped open the bottle with the other. Ben grunted but didn’t protest. He rested his forearms on the door, presenting his back to Walker, who took a moment to admire the vulnerable line of his lover’s spine. Then he gently stroked the back of Ben’s neck, eliciting a soft moan. He cupped Ben’s chin and turned his head to the side. “I want to see your eyes,” he demanded.
Holding Ben’s gaze, Walker poured lube on his fingers and reached for Ben. He rubbed up and down the crease of Ben’s ass, cupping and kneading the edges of his rear until Ben’s mouth opened in a pant. This was what he needed. What they both needed. To reestablish boundaries, to reassure them both that they would be okay, that they would figure out a way to work through their issues. Together. The feel of Ben’s skin beneath his fingertips made Walker’s blood surge.
“Ready?” he asked. Rough as he wanted to be, Walker would never hurt Ben. He had to make sure the other man was prepared.
Ben nodded, his gaze never wavering. Walker grinned and worked his index finger into Ben’s puckered hole, watching the pleasure spread on his lover’s face. Ben clenched his thighs and cried out.
“So warm,” Walker said, thrusting his finger deep and stretching for several pumps. Ben moaned and pushed his ass back for more. Walker slid in his middle finger, and Ben’s body didn’t offer any resistance. Walker pressed his body against the side of Ben’s and kissed him deeply, pouring everything he wasn’t ready to say into his kiss. Walker trailed kisses down his lover’s neck, nuzzled, and bit down. Ben spasmed, digging his fingers into the door. After another long nibble, Walker stepped back and found a condom. He slipped it on and stalked the few feet until he was right behind Ben again. Heat radiated off their bodies, and Walker savored it for a second, soaking up the sensation of skin on skin. Loving the closeness, relishing in the intimacy. Here, alone, he could show this man what it was like to be loved. He didn’t worry about Ben pushing him away. Didn’t concern himself with the outside world, with putting on a front, with trying to respect Ben’s boundaries. Here, he was in charge, and he would use his whole body to show Ben how good they could be together. Walker spread Ben wide and thrust deep.
Walker screamed and banged his hand against the door. “So hot. So tight,” he whispered against Ben’s ear. Ben shivered, and Walker nipped the other man’s earlobe and pulled back, then surged forward. He pounded into Ben over and over without stopping, without mercy. Ben groaned and bucked against him, but Walker kept him still with a firm hand on the shoulder. Fire burned in his gut and then in his balls. “Touch yourself,” he demanded.
Ben’s hand slipped between his legs, grabbing his cock and stroking. “Oh, God,” he moaned.
Walker’s breath caught in his throat, and his thighs clenched, the orgasm ripping through his body with intensity. Ben cried out a second later and joined him in bliss.
BEN’S KNEES THREATENED to give out. It was only his leaning against the door and Walker’s hot arm around his middle that kept him upright. He sagged as Walker pulled out from his body, then feathered a gentle kiss down Ben’s spine. Goose bumps shivered along his skin. God, he’d missed this. Walker lifted him up and back so he was pressing fully against Walker’s sweat-soaked chest. The other man, though shorter, held most of Ben’s body weight as if it were nothing. Damned big old firefighter muscles. Ben let himself be half-carried to the bed. He slumped down onto the mattress, and Walker handed him some tissues. Ben cleaned himself up, and Walker did the same.
Lying back on the pillows, Ben watched Walker wipe away the mess he’d made on the door and couldn’t help but smile at the way they’d gone at it. He’d come over ready to confess his sins. Ready to take whatever fight came out of it and see if he could make things right with his lover. Clearly Walker had had better ideas. Now guilt weighed heavily on his shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, staring at Walker, unable to keep quiet any longer. What if that was the last time he’d have with Walker? The thought made his blood run cold.
Walker sauntered across the room and crawled over Ben, making him shiver with the intensity of that light-brown gaze. “I am the one who should be sorry. I had no ideas the guys would treat you like that. I mean, I should have. Honestly, ’cause they’re assholes. And that’s how they’d razz on anybody who I was dating. Or who any of the other guys were dating. Regardless of sex.” The heat of his body soaked into Ben, making him squirm. “But Eddie was way out of line. And he knows it. I’m sorry he was like that. It will never happen again.”
“I shouldn’t have run away…like I always do.” His voice was small. Unsure. He hated that weakness.
“Baby, don’t talk like that. I think I’ve been asking far too much of you. That’s on me. Not you.” Walker lowered his voice, and then his body, covering Ben in warmth. “I love you. And I want you to be happy. That’s why I push so hard. It hurts me to know that you’re so torn up inside about what you want. About what you like, and making peace with it. I hate
that you don’t want me to touch you in public.”
Ben cringed. Walker was right. Every time the other man tried to touch him outside of the bedroom, it was all Ben could do not to jump away from him. “I know. I’m trying to work on it. I really am. I just… I don’t know how to make myself okay with it. I spent my entire adolescent and early adult life hiding, terrified of someone finding out. It’s hard to dispel that kind of fear.” Ben hadn’t told Walker about Jesse. He couldn’t. The guilt over abandoning his friend was hard enough to deal with on his own. He’d never be able to look Walker in the eye and admit such cowardice. He’d turned his back on his best friend, on the first guy he’d kissed, and Jesse had killed himself over it. Ben couldn’t change the past, but he damned well was going to keep it buried. He refocused on Walker, who’d just admitted his love.
Walker shifted to the side, his body flush against Ben’s. Twining his fingers with Walker’s, Ben smiled. “You said you loved me.” It was the first time either of them had said it, though Ben was pretty sure they’d both been tempted a time or two.
“So I did,” Walker said coyly. He lifted Ben’s hand and slipped a finger into the hot cavern of his mouth.
“No fair, persuading me with that incredible little mouth of yours,” Ben said, ending on a moan. “But, yes, I love you too.”
Now that the words were out there, Ben wished he hadn’t said them. Damn. The excitement in Walker’s eyes made Ben’s heart clench. He’d meant it. He did love Walker. But he’d also crossed a line three days ago when he’d kissed Lexie. And he couldn’t tell Walker. Not now, after they’d both just confessed their love. As they kissed, Ben’s spirit felt crushed.
“I have an idea. And I think you might hate it. But please, hear me out before you say no,” Walker said.
“I think it might be cool, and sexy as hell, but also good for you, to do a private photo shoot for me, for Christmas.”
Ben’s heart seized. His breath got trapped in his lungs. Photographs. He shuddered. He wasn’t sure he could do that, but the hope in Walker’s eyes made him realize he had to try. He loved this man, and if Ben wanted to keep him, he was going to have to do something drastic. And soon.
“I think, um, maybe that would be okay.” Ben swallowed hard. What the hell had he just done?
Anthology, Caitlyn Willows, Nona Raines, Rachell Nichole