ATF agent Peter Lomax isn’t a hearts and flowers kind of guy, but he can be possessive, and it caused problems until Carver Fleming. Carver may be part of the art world, but he gets Peter, loves belonging to the man, and Peter treasures the way Carver understands them together.
Carver loves Peter, but he's fully aware that six months doth not a commitment make. Carver wants to make the relationship last forever, but he’ll have to leave their life in Chicago to take care of the family he loves. He wants to do it with Peter by his side, but going from the city of Chicago to tiny Colt, Kentucky is a big change.
Carver has only one Christmas wish: Please, oh please, let Peter fall enough in love with Carver's family to follow Carver home.
TRUTHFULLY, THE idea had been a good one, and you had to give it to the director’s wife for coming up with a fun way to drum up contributions to the fallen agents’ fund, but why we all needed to go was beyond me. It wasn’t like, on our salaries, plus living in Chicago, we could actually afford to purchase any of the art on sale.
Not that any of us had any real appreciation of what we were looking at anyway. I had a little more than the others because I had the hot boyfriend who ran a different gallery in the city. He was on loan, along with a lot of other people, to oversee the well-publicized black-tie event.
“It’s a roach,” my partner, special agent Elliott Dorsey of the ATF, was explaining to his lovely wife Felicia. “Pete and I had to come over here earlier to drop Carver off some food so he wouldn’t starve to death, and we saw this creepy piece of crap then.”
“I asked C when the giant—” I burped up a chili dog I’d had for lunch. “—can of Raid was gonna be added, but he just told me to get out.”
“Which was rude,” Elliott commented.
“And I still don’t see it.” He pointed, gesturing at the eyesore in the center of the gallery.
No sound from Felicia, so after a second, we both turned to look at her. She looked absolutely horrified.
“What?” I asked her.
“Are you kidding?”
She seemed agitated but still beautiful. I had never seen her in an evening dress before.
“Bug making you wanna hurl?”
“I don’t really get it,” Elliott said, wincing. “And if you think about it, it’s actually kinda gross.”
“It’s not a bug!” Felicia Dorsey insisted, looking at us both like we were nuts. “And where is Carver? I need him here to cut the stupid.”
“He’s around here some—Hey,” I said defensively. “Are you trying to say something about me and your husband?”
“Trying?” she demanded sarcastically.
“It’s totally a bug,” Elliott said, pointing at the long strands protruding from the top—or what I thought was the top—of the sculpture. “Those are the feeler thingies on top.”
“Antennae,” I corrected him.
“They are not,” Felicia insisted.
“Are you high, woman?” Elliott asked his wife, gesturing with both hands. “Can you not see the legs and the wings? It’s a sewer roach.”
“It is,” I agreed, tipping my head at the back end. “And I think that’s supposed to be crap it’s climbing out of.”
“Oh dear God,” she groaned.
“Maybe it’s supposed to represent urban decay,” Elliott said, obviously pleased with himself.
“The plight of the inner city.”
She whirled around to face the both of us. “You guys are disgusting. They would not put a giant roach on display here at the Sanderson Gallery! Ask Carver if you don’t believe me.”
We were both quiet.
“Stop looking at me like—Gah! I hate you both.”
I squinted at her. “Money where your mouth is, smarty-pants. Twenty bucks says it’s a bug.”
“She’s not taking that bet,” Elliott said. “It’s totally a bug.”
“Ohmygod, where is Carver?” she moaned loudly.
“Don’t cry about it,” I baited her.
“She’s just bein’ weird ’cause she’s all dolled up for once and she doesn’t want us to make fun of all the froufrou art.” Elliott yawned again. “Man, I’m beat.”
“What art?” I grumbled. “It’s a bug.”
“It’s not a bug!” she half yelled. “Do you know what normally gets sold out of this art gallery?”
“Art?” Elliott snickered, cracking himself up.
I nodded helpfully.
“Seriously, could you two just grow up for one night?”
“Gotta be good,” I told him. “We’re dressed up.”
“’Cause it’s nice in here.”
“Fancy,” he said, dragging out the word
“Refined.” He made a clicking noise with his tongue.
He furrowed his eyebrows because he was thinking.
“Ohmygod, stop,” his wife snapped at us. “If you two could not ruin my night with your juvenile crap, I—”
“Speaking of,” Elliott said, cutting her off, his gaze on me. “I bet you can’t take a crap here.”
“You’re daring me to take a dump?”
“No, I’m saying I bet the bathroom is way too nice here to drop a load in.”
“Are you kidding?” Felicia moaned.
“No matches,” I offered.
“Only scented candles,” he confirmed, shaking his head. “Not gonna cut through the noxious cloud of gas.”
“You’d have people passing out all over the place.” I gestured to include everything.
“Ohmygod, you two need to be separated,” she whispered harshly, stepping between us.
“But why?” Elliott stomped his foot.
Spinning me around and then shoving me forward, she ordered me to get lost.
“Go rescue your man from whoever’s got him,” she directed, sliding her arm through her husband’s to lead him away. “And remember, we’re going to dinner on Sunday because I want to see you guys before you leave on your trip.”
“Oh, don’t remind him,” Elliott whined. “He’s a fuckin’ basket case about it already.”
“You are?” She switched from wanting to brain me with her sequined black clutch to worrying. “Why?”
I shook my head.
“What if Carver’s folks hate him?” Elliott theorized. “It’s not like Pete’s some great catch. I mean, look at him.”
“He’s gorgeous,” she soothed me, leaning forward to kiss my cheek. “And he’s an ATF agent, which is sort of romantic, and—”
“You think our job’s romantic?” he asked his wife seductively. “You wanna come with me to my car, lady?”
“I’m going to beat you ’til you’re dead,” she said flatly.
He made a noise of disgust. “Not hot.”
“Walk with me,” she said between clenched teeth, tugging Elliott forward. “I look fantastic, and I never look fantastic, so you two better suck it up and give me a goddamn elegant evening!”
“Elegant,” Elliott repeated, snapping his fingers. “That’s the word I was trying to think of.”
She growled and started walking away with my partner.
“The snarling certainly isn’t elegant,” I called over to her.
The flipping me off over her shoulder wasn’t either, but it made her husband laugh.
I walked from sculpture to painting, saw the bids on little sticky notes on the corners of the glass, moved on before anyone could ask me if I liked whatever I was looking at, and kept an eye out for my boss.
I was trying to stay out of Director Harvey’s way since he would not be happy to see me and I really didn’t want to get into it with him again. What he called reckless, I called saving lives. Yes, I had traded myself to a gunman for a civilian, and yes, I had been taking a chance, but it had been a necessary risk. Afterward, Elliott had punched me so hard in the stomach I had doubled over, and when I got home—since he had gone ahead and called Carver and informed him of the peril I had put myself in—that had been a whole other scene. It had taken hours of reassurance and cajoling to get the man I loved to speak to me. And even though it was weeks ago at this point, I was still on the director’s shit list. Everyone had gotten out safely, including the gunman, but still, the director was pissed. We had saved three lives at a liquor store robbery that had escalated and turned into a hostage negotiation. And while I didn’t think I would get a commendation, neither had I anticipated my director thinking I had a death wish. I didn’t. Not at all. But Friday night, after work, was not the time to have that discussion. So when I saw him walk in the front door, I ducked out toward the back.
I walked around some walls and came out in front of a painting that didn’t make my eyes bleed or my brain hurt. Not that I liked it, that part had to be made clear, but certainly it was the only piece in the gallery I found interesting.
As far as I could tell, I was looking at yellow ghosts. Maybe. Or they could have been shadows made of gold or sunlight, because there was also rain.
I thought it was rain.
Maybe the vantage point was inside looking out at the rain.
God, I hated art.
“You’re looking at my piece.”
I turned slowly because, really, I would have had to be deaf to miss the come-on.
“Yes, I am,” I said, pivoting to face the man.
“You like it?”
“I don’t hate it,” I conceded.
He held out his hand for me. “Anton.”
“No last name?” I asked, taking the offered hand.
“Just Anton,” he simpered, running his gaze over me from head to toe and back.
It took me a second to realize that the delicate, vulpine-featured man who I had thought would be intimidated with my size had clasped my hand with his other and was holding on tight.
He was five foot six, with huge, limpid green eyes fringed in long, thick, brown lashes, and was maybe all of twenty. The way he was smiling up at me was absolutely decadent.
I scowled and then it hit me. “I’m not an art collector, I don’t own a gallery, and I’m not looking to be your patron.”
“Okay,” he whispered, stepping in closer to me and inhaling.
“Are you drunk?” I asked dryly. “Anton?”
“No,” he purred. He reached out, put a hand on my hip, and curled a finger into the belt loop of my dress pants. “I’ve just been stalking you since you came in, and I kept hoping I’d figure out a reason to come talk to you. Who knew you were an art lover?”
“I’m not,” I clarified, cupping his chin in my hand and staring down into all that emerald. “It’s just that of all of them in here, yours is the only one I at least get.”
He lifted one mischievously arched eyebrow. “And? What do you see?”
“And you knew that before or after you read the title?”
“Don’t be a wiseass,” I snapped, letting him go. “I figured something like that before.”
“But is the painting supposed to be in the rain?”
“You see rain there?”
His breath caught. “I bet people tell you all the time how beautiful you are.”
“No,” I said softly. “Only my boyfriend.”
“Yeah.” I said frankly. “But thank you, I’m very flattered.”
“He’ll never know,” he assured me, lifting his hand to my bicep.
“I’ll know.” I was adamant, taking a step back so his hand fell off my arm. I wasn’t stupid; I knew what I looked like, and at six foot three, built like a linebacker, with muscles formed from years of devotion to the gym and a strenuous job, I knew some men noticed me. But more importantly, I always had one man’s full attention and that was worth more than every other on the planet. That’s what love did: it made you accept no substitute once you found the real thing.
“Would you like to have dinner with me?”
“If he were single,” Carver said as he appeared at my elbow, “he would probably love to have dinner with you, Christopher Banks. But since he’s not, he can’t.”
Poor kid—his eyes got huge and round, and he looked like he’d seen a ghost.
“Walk away before I get angry,” Carver warned him.
“I—Mr. Fleming, I had no idea he—you…. Please don’t pull my pic—”
“I won’t,” Carver said, taking hold of my hand. “No harm done. Just go. Now.”
Anton, aka Christopher, didn’t say another word, just bolted like he was being chased.
“You,” he growled at me.
“Oh, I didn’t do anything, and you’re so not mad.” I laughed softly, kissing his cheek.
“I’m not? Because I think I am.”
I took his face in my hands, marveling as I always did that the man with the big, beautiful brown eyes, adorable little upturned nose, and the most beautiful lips I had ever seen in my life belonged to me. “No. You know better.”
“I’m mad,” he snapped even as his eyes betrayed him, drifting shut as I bent to kiss him. “Don’t pick up little boys.”
“Never,” I promised, slanting my mouth down over his.
He opened for me, tilted his head back in surrender, and wrapped his arms around my neck as I took and he gave, boneless against me, a low whine in the back of his throat as I claimed him.
“You like kissing me,” I mumbled, smiling before I straightened up.
“No. Correction: I love kissing you,” he husked, grabbing the lapels of my suit jacket and then tugging me back into an alcove before reaching up—he was five foot ten to my six foot three—and wrapping his arms around my neck. He pulled me down and kissed me, pressing his hard, lean body into mine.
His attention, as always, annihilated me. It had from the beginning.
The very first time I saw the man, I nearly swallowed my tongue. He had been standing in a group of people at my friend Irene’s fortieth birthday party, and the only thing wrong with him was the other man draping his arm around his shoulders.
Lithe, with a lean, taut frame, his back tapered to a narrow waist and a beautiful, tight, round ass. His long legs were encased in threadbare jeans, and the color on his arms was, I was guessing, the same as he was all over, a gorgeous golden tan. I wanted to check and see, have him naked under me so I could perform a thorough head-to-toe inspection.
“That’s Carver Fleming,” Irene had explained as she wafted by on her boyfriend Gus’s arm. “Cute, huh?”
I had nodded, watching him laugh, curl his hair around his left ear, and shift from one foot to the other, just that much movement showing off the fluid, sleekly muscled lines of the man. Because I was so involved with my own carnal thoughts, I didn’t notice when the entire group of five people—my dream guy, his date, and three others—focused on me. It was fantastic. Everyone got to see me drool.
Groaning, I turned toward the sliding glass door to make as dignified a retreat as possible and was alone out on the patio of the club in River North moments later. Fortunately it was summer in Chicago or I would have frozen to death.
“Caught you staring.”
When I turned my head, of course I found myself looking into the big, warm, brown eyes of the man I wanted to make a meal of. “Yeah, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you or—”
“Why would I be embarrassed?” he asked, walking forward to join me at the rail, his gaze searching mine. “A gorgeous man checking me out? How is that bad?”
“Oh,” I said curtly, trying to remain aloof. “I just—I saw your boyfriend and I meant no disrespect.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” he clarified.
“No,” he assured me, leaning closer, into my space, putting his hand on my arm. “I’m Carver Fleming. What’s your name?”
“And what is it you do, Peter?”
“Pete,” I said without thinking.
“Pete,” he echoed, smiling up at me with hooded eyes.
“I’m an ATF agent.”
“That’s like FBI?”
“Not really. We do tobacco and firearms and a lot of other crap. Mostly gun-trafficking, bring people up on firearms violations.”
“Gangs, the mob; I bet you see a lot of them.”
“Pretty much, yeah,” I said, gazing down at him as he slid his other hand under my jacket and settled it on my left hip.
“So, Pete,” he began, “like I said, I noticed you checking me out.”
His smile was warm. “Well, obviously I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been looking right back at you.”
It made sense.
“I have a soft spot for bright Caribbean-blue eyes,” he teased, winking at me.
He was an artist, so I understood the extra modifiers. Black wasn’t black, it was onyx. Beige was ecru and yellow was amber. But the truth was, only one color got me worked up.
“I like brown,” I rumbled, and I watched as his lips parted and heard his breath catch. “Blue, green, gray—those can all be cold. But brown is always warm and soft and deep.”
He nodded, and when he spoke, his voice had dropped an octave. “Okay, so forget about the flirty banter I was gonna lay on you… would you like to grab a late dinner with me and then go back to my place?”
I liked straight to the point. I was a big fan, actually. “Yes, please,” I sighed as I put a hand on his cheek and dragged my thumb over his lips. “Except we should pick something up and I should take you home with me.”
Something flickered in his face. “You want to take me home?”
“If that would be all right?”
He scoffed. “Got a revolving door on your bedroom, agent?”
I chuckled, powerless to glance away from him. I was riveted. “Not at all, not in a very long time.”
“Can’t be that long, how old are you?”
“Thirty-six,” he answered, squinting at me.
“Older man,” I teased him. “That’ll be different.”
“How so?” he asked, letting go of my jacket and reaching up to slide his right hand around the back of my neck, and step into me, parting my thighs with his knee, notching his groin against mine.
“Maybe you know what you actually want,” I said playfully, licking my lips because they had gone dry, along with my throat. “That would be a nice change right there.”
He nodded. “Get a lot of that, do you? Indecision?”
“Me too,” he confessed, “and guys wanting to take things slow but without the pesky monogamy.”
I grinned wide. “I think we’ve been dating the same people.”
“Yeah. I mean, apparently I don’t even know how to date, since I’ve been told I get too serious too fast.”
He seemed bemused. “Let me understand: a man who looks like you, and no one wants to keep him? What’s wrong with you?”
“Well, for starters, apparently I’m much too possessive.”
“I would think it would be the other way around.”
“I bet you get hit on everywhere you go. I could see that getting old for whoever you’re dating.”
I scoffed at him. “Hardly.”
“Do you own a mirror, Agent Lomax?”
“No. I mean,” I hedged, “I don’t scare little kids when I walk down the street, but I’m not normally the guy people follow around after either.”
“Oh no?” he asked, slipping his fingers up into my hair and massaging the back of my head. “I find that very hard to believe.”
“Well, it’s—” God, he smelled good, and the stubble on his cheeks, was so sexy, and his dark, full lips. “—true.”
He tightened his grip as he bent my head down. “I think you’re mistaken. You’re definitely the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a very long time.”
It didn’t matter if the man was deluded, the important part was how he sealed his lips over mine, the way I opened for him, and the press and play of our tongues together.
His low moan made me brave, and I tore my mouth free.
“No, don’t go,” he protested.
I grabbed his hand and yanked him after me down the stairs and around the side of the building into the alley. Crowding him, I walked him back into the wall on the other side of the dumpster, pushing, pressing, putting my hands all over him, desperate for skin. I tugged on his shirt, got under it to run my hands over the washboard abs, and then slid them lower to his belt buckle.
“Whatever you want.” His breath fanned hot over my face.
“Fuck a lot in alleys?”
“No. I never—this isn’t like me,” he gasped, and I understood. He was a little too classy to let some stranger grope him in public. “You’re just so—”
“Intent,” I replied, working the belt loose first, then the snap on his jeans and the zipper, before shoving my hand down the front of his pants.
“Yes,” he moaned.
His noises were so sweet, so full of surrender.
“Pete you—oh,” he panted when I closed my fingers around the long, hard length of him.
“If you feel this good in my hand, I can only imagine how good you’d be in my mouth.”
“I want to—eat with you,” he whimpered as I dropped to my knees, “and—Pete!”
I shucked his jeans and briefs to his knees in one sharp motion, leaving no room for protest, then slid my lips over the large, flared crown. I loved that he was already rock hard simply from being close to me.
“You’re not supposed to—”
He stopped talking when I took him down the back of my throat, swallowing, squeezing, and then licked the underside, making everything wet, laving and sucking until the man was writhing on the wall, clutching at my hair.
“I can’t… you have to stop.”
But I kept the suction strong, bobbing my head as I quickened my movements and he began pumping in and out of my mouth, chanting my name, whimpering softly.
“Just—please,” he begged me.
I shoved my fingers into my mouth beside his dick and got them wet, slick with saliva, and then dragged one along his crease as I swirled my tongue over the length of him, tracing the thick vein on his beautiful cut cock.
Pulling back, I let him slide free of my mouth and stood fast, spun him around, and shoved him roughly up against the exposed brick wall. He clutched at it, bracing himself as I jerked him off with one hand and parted his cheeks with the other, working a finger slowly, gently, up inside.
He yelled my name as he spurted over the wall, rigid in my hands, gasping, jolting with aftershocks before he started mumbling something under his breath.
“Slow down and talk to me.”
But he was shuddering too hard to speak coherently, and when I wrapped him in my arms, he leaned back heavily.
It took long minutes for his breathing to even out, and I was careful as I uncurled my fingers from his shaft, and slid free of his clasping channel. Tenderly, I lifted his underwear and pants, zippered and belted, piecing him back together. Turning him, I leaned next to his ear and kissed the skin behind. He took a deep breath, and when he did, I could finally make out the word.
“What about home?” I asked as I leaned in to hug him.
He coiled his arms around my waist, burrowing against my chest. “Take me home with you. Let’s go now.”
“You sure? I just manhandled the hell out of you.”
“I’m sure.” He shivered, sighing deeply. “And you can do that whenever you like.”
“Remember what I said about being possessive?”
“I do, and I’m looking forward to it,” he murmured, lifting his head to kiss over my jawline. “You lead, I’ll follow.”
And for the past six months, the highly independent, driven man who worked day and night to make his gallery the premier spot in the art community in Chicago—hosting everyone from new and upcoming artists, trending ones, and established darlings of the art world—also, amazingly enough, made time for me. But I too had changed, bent for him. What I had done for no others—small things like making sure we always ate dinner together, calling before making plans to check if he wanted to come, and never, ever, letting an argument fester—I did for Carver Fleming. And I knew why: I was finally, desperately, in love. He was my home and I was his. The problem was, unlike my own family, which was scattered to the wind, his was in one centralized location, and even worse, they expected him for Christmas.
“… not listening to me.”
Jolting, I met his gaze and saw how amused he looked. “What?”
“You didn’t hear a word I said.”
“No.” I cleared my throat. “I did.”
“Really?” He was trying not to laugh. “What did I say, then?”
I had no clue, so I went in another direction. “I noticed that you didn’t put your painting in the show.”
“Don’t try and change the—”
“You don’t want to own an art gallery; you want to be an artist.”
He glared at me. “I’m not ready yet.”
“I think you are.”
It had been a common conversation lately: his dreams versus his life.
“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” he said irritably, stepping away from me, letting me go.
“Because it’s not time.”
“That sounds ominous.”
He shook his head. “I’m going to have to ask you to make a choice here soon, but not yet. I need more time.”
I should have known it was all too good to be true.
A nice warm and fuzzy story, this is perfect for snuggling up in front of a warm fire on a cold night.
Read the full review at
I really, really love happy endings.
a warm and lovely holiday story
So much more than a Christmas novella. A fabulous story about family, love, commitment, relationships, and the choices we make that make or break them.
Now, obviously, being this smitten by the story, my one complaint is that it’s too short!!!
Short and sweet, WHERE YOU LEAD is a funny and endearing read...
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