Chapter One

 

The view beyond the window, beyond the spindled railing around the wraparound porch, was right off a Currier and Ives print. A sparkly layer of white draped everything in sight. It was a winter wonderland to warm the heart.

“Fucking snow,” Garrett Clark muttered under his breath, although there was no one there to hear him. The quiet of the house would have normally suited him to a tee. “I get the point already. It’s a white Christmas. You can knock it off now.” He raised his voice in suggestion to Jack Frost or the Spirit of Christmas—whoever was responsible for the overkill on nature’s décor. “Great. This is just great. And now I’m talking to myself.”

That was the problem. He was by himself. Usually he didn’t mind being alone, which is why he did housesitting as a sidebar to his writing… with the occasional cross-country skiing and road biking thrown in for exercise. Pretty solitary pursuits, all. But over the holidays?

Alone at Christmas, what a cliché. So sappy.  Even he wouldn’t write such tripe. 

He gave the whirling, falling snow outside one last glare, then reluctantly gave up his vigil at the front window, conceding defeat. Mother Nature was apparently not on board with Garrett’s plan to fill his home-du-jour with Christmas cheer and brotherhood. He flicked off the porch light and the snow appeared to suddenly stop falling.  

I wish.

When he first accepted this housesitting gig over the two-week holiday period, he had gone into full planning mode. A huge Queen Anne-style inn up in the mountains over the holidays, within driving distance of home? All “his” for two weeks? E-mails had flown as he invited all and sundry up for some playtime in the winter wonderland.

He hadn’t even let the disappointing news that Ethan Christiansen was already committed to his sister’s house for Christmas get him down for long. He could totally see the appeal of being with the rugrats on Christmas morning when they woke up after Santa had come. Ethan’s twin nephews and niece were all still at that magical age. Made for a very fun season. And Ethan had promised to come up for New Year’s Eve. 

Which was a whole week away. He wasn’t sure why all of sudden the romance of the place was getting to him anyway. It wasn’t as if he and Ethan had a hearts and flowers relationship or anything. They weren’t even dating. No, their connection was more about leather and toys. And though a part of Garrett wouldn’t mind more than that, he didn’t want to rock the boat. Hot, smoking scenes were just… fine.

Fine? 

A little spooked at the direction of his thoughts and expectations—which he totally blamed on the fucking perfect house with its luxurious bedrooms, clearly for lovers—he mentally chastised himself. It wasn’t too much for Ethan to ask, to have Garrett wait a week to see him. Ring in the New Year together. And when he did finally come, the more basic reality of their roles would put an end to the meanderings of his holiday and snow-induced, sugar-coated hallucinations.

He sighed. When had he gotten it in his head that Christmas was so important? Must be something in the air up here. Either that or he was getting sappy now that he was approaching his thirties.

With many of his friends unattached transplants, not having families in the area, Garrett had been certain he’d have at least a couple of guys who would jump at the chance to come up and spend the holiday in the mountains. There was a ski resort lift about three hundred yards away—if you had a lift ticket and didn’t mind walking uphill—plus cross-country and snowshoeing trails. Add in a huge house with nicely appointed rooms and a hot tub, and what more could someone at loose ends want?

Maybe decent weather for actually getting there? Yeah, that would’ve been nice. With most people having to work until today, it wasn’t like they’d had a choice to get a jump on the storm. 

Oh, when the weather broke, he might still get a few takers. But it was late on Christmas Eve, and even though Garrett knew it was just another night, the prospect of rattling around all by himself in this monstrosity of a retreat on Christmas Day just took his knees out from under him.

Garrett sighed again and began closing down the house for the night, the unfamiliar routine of this new house temporarily distracting him from his melancholy. The inn was really beautiful and in great condition, a place to take pride in. He could see why the owners—Ethan’s aunt and uncle—had wanted someone to watch over it while they were closed to guests during their anniversary trip to Hawaii. 

Usually his housesitting took him much further afield, sometimes even to other countries. But it was nice to be in an area he was familiar with for a change. For one thing, he already had a season pass to the bordering ski resort, so he’d be able to do runs anytime he wanted. And he knew the backcountry trails around here like the back of his hand. Plus even though he no longer had family in the area to celebrate with—his parents had moved to New Mexico several years ago—it was still home. Home for the holidays….

He’d brought tons of groceries up with him, but instead of fixing something warm, he munched some cold pizza from Bellagio’s that he had picked up on the way here, another plus of being close to home. He ate in the breakfast nook and tried not to think about all the empty chairs surrounding him.

Once he cleaned up and shut down for the night, he had to steel himself to keep from going to gaze hopefully out the window again and watching for headlights he knew wouldn’t appear. He ascended the staircase instead, letting his hand trail along the smooth wood banister. It really was a warm and welcoming place—the perfect place to share. Maybe that’s why he was so melancholy. 

He’d chosen a room at random—the Blue Room—but wouldn’t be surprised if it was the honeymoon suite. Though from the peeks he’d given to some of the other rooms, most of them would all do just as well. The canopied cherry four-poster he’d be sleeping in practically begged for two people. He wouldn’t think about how perfect the posts would be for attaching cuffs.

This room was set into the corner of the house under the turret and had a sitting area in the rounded window area with a comfortable chair and ottoman, perfect for curling up with his laptop. Or it would be if his muse was cooperating. He usually worked late, but tonight he just tired and cranky and not up to being creative. Maybe tomorrow he’d be more in the mood. 

Since there won’t be anything better for you to do

Giving his snarky brain a bitch-slap reminder that he could easily bypass all mental activity and go skiing instead, he went through his routine to get ready for bed. His fingers danced over the sole toy in his dop kit—a decent-size plug he usually had to work to get in. Oh, but once it was in, it hit all the right places with just a shift or a tap. Ethan sometimes teased him for ages with one just like this one—letting it slip into place then pulling it back out to the wide part, stretching him. Or he’d flip Garrett over his lap and give him hard blows with his open hand, making sure to connect with the base each time, sending a dizzying combination of pleasure-pain jolting through him with every hit. 

By now, he was dealing with a semi-erection just thinking about Ethan and their scenes.  He was just fooling himself, he thought ruefully, if he was really considering bypassing the toy at this point.

After finishing his nighttime routine, he snagged the plug and a tube of lube before he headed towards the bed. Ethan loved to see him on hands and knees… well, head down and ass up, to be precise. The sight of Garrett in the open and vulnerable position never failed to bring Ethan into a dominant mindset. But first he’d get ready.

He lay on his back and took his time prepping himself, all the while remembering the last time Ethan and he had gotten together. They usually met at Ethan’s place, and that night had been no different. They’d been out with a few friends to watch a conference championship game at a bar over a few beers. The sex had been random; there was no set pattern to when and why they would go beyond friendship and take their respective kinks out to play. 

All Garrett knew was that sometime during the evening, a look had passed between the two of them—a hot, electrifying exchange that left no doubts with either man that they’d be making their excuses to the rest of their group very soon.

As soon as they’d entered Ethan’s home, Garrett had all but thrown himself against Ethan, stepping into his space in a challenge the man would be hard pressed to ignore. He’d thumped his body into the other man’s, their similar heights allowing them to fit comfortably together, in contact from chests on downward.  Ethan quickly turned the tables, spinning Garrett around and pressing his upper body up against the entry wall, holding him in place with his chest, legs bracketing his. 

“You’ve been wanting this all night, haven’t you?” he growled in Garrett’s ear. “I couldn’t believe it when you ordered another pitcher.”

He’d laughed, shamelessly pushing his ass back against the hard cock rocking along his backside. “I thought it would be a good peace offering since we both had to leave early because of… work.”

“Stop.” Garrett had known immediately what Ethan was referring to and reluctantly halted his movements, though he left his hips canted back in inviting contact with Ethan’s. Garrett remembered how he’d held his breath as Ethan moved his hand slowly down his abs to his waistband. His touch had lingered there for some time as if he’d been trying to decide what to do to Garrett next. 

Hole slicked and ready, Garrett ran the plug down to his abdomen and let it rest there as his brain reenacted the moment of decision. He left the toy sitting on his lower abs as he ran his hand—in his mind, Ethan’s hand—up under his shirt to flick lightly at a nipple until it was taut, before giving a hard pinch that sent a bolt of sensation zinging straight to his balls.

Garrett had remained against the wall, panting for oxygen, as Ethan had leisurely tweaked and tortured first one nipple and then the other.

“One of these days I’m going to get you off with nothing more than twisting your nips. Won’t touch you anywhere else. Work them until they’re begging for mercy. You won’t make a sound, though, will you? Not until I tell you to come and you shoot for me.”

Groaning both at the time and at the memory, in both scenarios it took Garrett all the willpower he had to keep from squirming under the touch. They both knew that since Ethan had commanded him to stop moving, it would take an earthquake to get him to disobey—a fact which Ethan never failed to put to the test with upping the ante in challenge.

His pants had then been unfastened and unceremoniously shoved to his ankles. With his shirt and shoes still on, it had been a terribly slutty and debauched pose to hold, somehow making Garrett feel more naked than if he’d been completely nude.

Ethan had cupped his ass cheeks, kneading the muscles, exposing his hole repeatedly but not touching where he needed it. Garrett now flipped over, the dildo dropping to the mattress unimpeded as he replicated the pose, though on his knees on the bed rather than standing in Ethan’s foyer. He pulled his ass cheeks aside enough to feel the cool of the room on his slicked, prepared entrance.

On that night, Ethan had left him for a minute, walking deeper into the house before returning. He had then sank to his knees behind Garrett and roughly prepped his hole with lube-laden fingers until he was fucking two scissoring and twisting fingers in and out, in and out—oh, so good! Garrett had almost cried out in protest as the fingers disappeared, but he had forced himself to wait anxiously for the next touch. Surely Ethan wouldn’t leave him hanging?

Garrett reached down to grab the plug, knowing what came next. He’d been put out of his misery as Ethan ran a cool, hard object up and down the cleft of his ass over and over until it was as warm as his clenching hole. He slid the plug in just as Ethan had penetrated him with the dildo—not in increments, but in one long, inexorable slide that didn’t ask for entry, but demanded compliance.

He grunted as the plug seated itself and he breathed through the adjustment. Ethan had smoothed a hand along his lower back, then down the curve of his ass. Garrett remembered wishing fervently that the caring in his touch was that of a lover, of something more than just a friend and partner in kink….

He’d played Garrett with an expert touch, every movement bringing him closer to the point at which he’d break position or beg or… God, he loved every minute of what they did together. What a crazy, fucked-up, wonderful thing they had. They meshed like two sides of the same coin.

But Ethan wasn’t his lover. And Garrett wasn’t holding his breath that they’d become lovers anytime soon. Ethan wasn’t gay. Probably bi, if Garrett had any instincts about these things left. Ethan was just too comfortable with intimately touching another man to be completely straight. But he’d never, to Garrett’s knowledge, dated another man. In fact, Ethan and Chris and Will, their other two best friends, had cut quite a swath through the available women in the area. 

Ethan and Garrett’s time together was all about an exchange of power. He would be a fool to think he could “convert” him to a boyfriend.

The dampening effect of that reminder on his emotions didn’t begin to touch the fever pitch he’d roused his body to, and he broke off from the memory. Maneuvering carefully, plug still held in place in his ass, he lay down on his back and took his uncomfortably hard cock in a rough, welcome grasp. He planted his feet and thrust up into his palm while he reached down to give the plug a nudge at just the right angle. A couple more pulls and the orgasm boiled up from his balls. He yelled as he came, the physical release so complete and consuming that it nearly made him pass out.

It took eons for his heart rate to resemble normal again, but eventually he dragged himself from bed to do some cleanup in the bathroom. He rinsed the toy and left it sitting on a towel, then headed to the bedroom again, a bit too awake to just go to bed. A good orgasm had the opposite effect on him than many other people; it enervated him, wound him up. 

Remembering that the wood-burning fireplace was operative, he kindled a fire in the already-laid hearth and then sat back on the loveseat, poking at it occasionally until a decent-sized fire was going. When the yawns finally started, he made sure the screen was in place, crawled into the four-poster, and closed his eyes.

Lying in bed, the random dancing of firelight teasing at his eyelids, Garrett could almost hear the voice of his grandma, reminding him to make his Christmas wish before he went to sleep. 

What I really want, Santa can’t bring, Mimi. 

Flipping on his stomach and burying his head under the pillow, he wished anyway… then promptly cursed himself for his sugar-plum delusions.