Wednesday, December 28, 2022

A Final Seasons Greetings!

 

That is A LOT of bacon!!!

Happy Holidays 

to One and ALL! 







First off our winners for the Fatal Shadows: The Collector's Edition ebook giveaway are as follows:


Ekaterina

Heather

Binkabunny

Catrin

Rin

brbr

CathyR

Goge

Denise

Elyxyz

Aurora



I hope everyone enjoyed 2022's Advent Calendar. Thank you for reading and commenting and just generally engaging in the fun. And a very special thanks to Meg Perry and Natasha Chesterbrook for their wonderful contributions. They have become part of my holiday tradition. ;-)


I can't say that 2022 was the year I hoped for, nor was this one of the best Christmases (but at least I didn't get Covid!!). The world is pretty much a mess--maybe even more than usual. But I know I tried my best last year and created some stories that have entertained and comforted readers, and really that's all I can ask for. 


The beginning of a new year is always an energizing and exciting time for me, and this season is no different. I'm looking forward to 2023. I'm full of plans and ideas. I hope you are too. I hope 2023 will bring you health, happiness, and many wonderful surprises!



 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Advent Calendar Day 25 (Holiday Snippet Sagas - 4)

 


Holiday Snippet Sagas - 4

 

AND THEY ALL LIVED HAP—OR DID THEY?!

 

πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„ πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„ πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„ πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„ πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

 

Adrien English and Jake Riordan

 

“But how did you know Mrs, Andrews was the one selling secrets to the Chinese?” Detective Burke looked from me to the closed door of Jake’s hospital room.

“It didn’t make sense that Robin Pavel would be selling off his secrets to his biggest competitors. That’s beyond eccentric. And if it wasn’t Pavel, well, nothing happened in that place that Mrs. Andrews didn’t know about it.”

“But the Andrews woman couldn’t have disposed of two bodies on her own, let alone overpowered Lieut—Mr. Riordan.”

“No. She’s the brains. Boris the Elf was the brawn.”

“Boris the…” Detective Burke hastily consulted his notebook. “Boris Golo. Head of Security at Winter Wonderland theme park? Is that who we’re talking about?”

“That’s the guy.”

“This is the second victim in the mine shaft outside the site of former North Pole Village amusement park?”

“Wishing Well.”

“What’s that?”

“Not a mine shaft. A Wishing Well.”

“He fell down a Wishing Well? The EMTs said—”

“He didn’t fall. He was pushed.”

Burke repeated doubtfully, “Golo was pushed? You know that for a fact?”

“I pushed him.”

Burke threw another uneasy look at the firmly closed door behind me. He put his notebook away. “Maybe you better start at the beginning.”

“Can it wait? I’ve been through this twice already, and I’m a little tired.” To put it mildly.

“And it’s Christmas,” Burke said. “And we’ve both got places we’d rather be, but I still need to hear it from you.”

“He’d already shot at me twice. He was going back to the well to make sure Jake was dead. I managed to sneak up behind him and push him in. It’s not like I could have taken him in a fair fight.”

“No.”

“Elves like Boris don’t fight fair anyway.”

“Uh…”

I scrubbed my face with my hand. “Sorry. I’m just really tired.” I nodded back at the door. “Can I just hear what the doctor has to say?”

Burke sighed. “Yes. How’s he doing?”

“He was conscious, so that’s good. He has a broken leg for sure. Maybe a broken shoulder? Concussion. He’s dehydrated.”

“It’s kind a miracle he made it at all.”

I said shakily, “Yeah. A Christmas miracle.”

 

 

When the doctor left, Jake reached his good arm out to me, said groggily, “No, baby. Don’t look like that. Come here.”

I went over to the bed, cautiously moved into his half-hug—luckily his injured shoulder was dislocated, not broken—put my head on chest. I was past words, almost past thought. Just…so grateful, so glad to have him back. I had been so sure there was no last-minute Christmas miracle in our future.

He mumbled, “I thought I was dreaming when I saw you leaning over that wall. Or that heaven had a really weird doorway.”

I snorted. “Heaven? Sure about that?”

He grunted, peered blearily at me. “Are you wiping your eyes on my gown?”

I nodded. Dabbed my eyes again.

“Hey. No. Shhhh. I’m okay. Everything’s okay.”

“I know.” I shook my head, cleared my throat. “How are you feeling?”

“I’ll live.”

I shook my head. “You were so lucky, Jake. We both were.”

He smiled faintly, clumsily brushed his knuckles against my cheek. “I am lucky. And this wasn’t even the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I took his hand in mine, kissed his scraped and bruised knuckles. “No?”

He whispered huskily, “Not by a long shot.”




 Christopher Holmes and J.X. Moriarity

 

“That’s it,” J.X. said. “That is the last time you try one of those drawing room reveals. If you ever so much as even suggest it again—”

“Denouement,” I corrected which, given that my better half pronounced “the” as “thee,” I shouldn’t have. He was clearly upset. “Anyway, it worked, didn’t it? Miss Scarlet confessed.”

“Her name is Scarlatti. And yes, she confessed, after she shot you!”

“This little scratch,” I scoffed—just as if I hadn’t been shrieking like a wounded banshee when Miss Scarlatti fired her pearl handled derringer at me.

J.X. stuttered, “Th-that’s rich considering the way you were coming unglued last night at the very idea—”

“Well, hell yeah, I was! What normal person wouldn’t? But I—we—did solve another case. That’s…something. Not in time to save our host, which I know you’ll be glad to hear I feel pretty horrendous about, but at least she’s not getting away with it.”

 “Kit, I’m not glad to hear you feel horrendous about anything. I love you. If that lunatic had killed you…”  J.X. shook his head as though even the idea robbed him of words, robbed him of breath.

Which you have to admit is pretty gratifying.

“But she didn’t.” I put my hands on his shoulders, gazing into his eyes, which were dark with emotion. “I’m still here, still ready to irritate and exasperate you every chance I get.”

“I can’t joke about it.”

I said softly, “And the reason I’m still here is because you were here to knock her arm up and spoil her aim.”

He opened his mouth, but I headed him off. “And to push her down in a very ungentlemanly fashion, not at all like you, and tell her some very uncomplimentary, but totally deserved, things about her life choices.”

J.X.’s lips curved into a reluctant smile. He locked his arms around my waist, pulling me close. “I do love you.”

“You must. To put up with me. If it helps, I love you too. More than anything in the world. I know I don’t say it enough. Let alone show it enough...”

Our mouths brushed in a kiss light as snowflakes—then locked on.

When we could speak again, I said, “I promise that next Christmas will be everything you want it to be. No murders—old or new—no trips to snowbound pirate villages, no accepting invitations from eccentric millionaires, just…hearth and home and family and friends.”

He gave a little laugh, murmured, “I doubt that, but I appreciate the sentiment,” and kissed me once more.

 

 


 

 Taylor MacAllister and William Brandt


As the plane doors closed behind David Ruiz, Taylor muttered, “I still think we should’ve have let Escobar keep him.”

Will snorted. “You say that now, but you’d have felt bad about it later.”

Would I though?”

“Maybe not.” Will thumped Taylor’s shoulder lightly. “Anyway, mission accomplished.”

“Mission accomplished.” Taylor sounded weary. Well, they were both tired. Tired, bruised and banged up, and had had their worst suspicions about their fellow man confirmed.

On the bright side, their bank account had never been healthier.

Will said, “What do you want to do? Grab the next flight home or head back tomorrow?”

Taylor glanced at him. Their gazes lingered for a moment. Taylor smiled faintly. “What do you want?”

“We should probably head home.”

Taylor sighed. Nodded. “Yeah. Probably.”

Will studied him, said, “But what I’d like is a couple of days on a sandy beach with a cold beer and my favorite person in the world—and a couple of nights where no one bursts through our hotel room door.”

“That does sound pretty good.”

“It’s not like we can’t afford it,” Will said.

“True.”

“I mean, yes, it is Christmas Eve.”

“It is,” Taylor agreed. “But the person I’d be rushing home to spend Christmas with is right here and right now.”

Funny how nothing made Will happier than making Taylor happy. And he had a pretty good idea of how to do that.

“What do you say we book ourselves a couple of nights in that hotel on the beach? The office is closed for the week anyway.”

Taylor looked thoughtful, almost skeptical. “You sure you’re not going to regret this?”

Will threw his arm around Taylor’s shoulders, gave him a quick, hard hug. “Hey. I have some regrets in my life, but one thing I never have and never will regret, is spending time with you.”

“Hm.”

“So? What do you say? It’ll be like a little mini second honeymoon.”

Taylor offered that slow, sweet grin that never failed to pierce Will’s heart.

Will said softly, “Merry Christmas, MacAllister.”

Taylor settled more comfortably into Will’s arm. As they watched the plane carrying David Ruiz home grow smaller and smaller in the sky, he said contentedly, “Merry Christmas, Brandt.”

 

 


 

 

 

 Elliot Mills and Tucker Lance

 

“Confederate dollars.” Tucker shook his head in disgust.

They were playing chess in front of the fire in the lobby of the all but deserted Cathedral House Inn. It turned out the inn was not a huge holiday destination—which, after the adventures of the past week, suited Elliot and Tucker just fine.

“Well, they’re not entirely worthless,” Elliot pointed out. “Collectors will pay for them. A twenty-dollar bill is currently worth just under a hundred bucks, and that chest was full of a hell of a lot of twenty-dollar bills.”

“Even so.”

“Even so,” agreed Elliot.

“On the bright side.” Tucker paused to sip his mulled wine, and Elliot snorted at his slight shudder. Tucker was not much for mulled wine, but it was Christmas Eve and they were belatedly doing their best to have the vacation they had originally planned.

“On the bright side, we caught a serial killer.”

Tucker said grimly, “I don’t know if we can really take credit for that. It’s not like the solid citizens of this county didn’t suspect what was happening in their own backyard. They were willing to sacrifice the occasional tourist to keep the feds from getting involved in their little treasure hunt.”

“You can’t blame everybody for the actions of a few.”

Tucker said grimly, “When good men do nothing…”

Ellery shrugged. No denying that one, but so much of modern life was lived online, people were surprisingly blind to what was happening in their own backyard.

A cell phone buzzed.

“Is that you or me?” Tucker was already checking his phone.

“Me,” Elliot said, and then, phone to his ear, “Hey, Dad. What’s up?”

Tucker studied him as Elliot listened to Roland’s faraway voice. His brows drew together when Elliot said stammered, “I-I mean, if that’s what you…I’m a little…very happy for you both. Of course. Congratulations! Yeah, yeah. Merry Christmas to you both.”

When he put his cell phone down, he stared at Tucker.

“Did your father actually go and marry Detective Upson?”

Elliot nodded. “Her name’s Julia.”

“Well, I figured that was coming.”

Elliot stared. “You did?”

Tucker shrugged. “They’ve been pretty much inseparable these last months.”

Were they? He thought over the last year and reluctantly admitted to himself that, yeah, Upson was slowly becoming a regular fixture at his father’s place. And, as unlikely as it was, Upson—er, Julia—did seem to make Roland happy. He seemed calmer and more contented since she’d entered his life.

“I didn’t think my dad would actually ever remarry.”

“You’ve said plenty of times, he wasn’t really cut out for bachelor life.”

“I guess so.”

“And Upson…must be a glutton for a punishment.”

Elliot scowled. Tucker’s smile was sour. “I mean, I don’t get it, but she does seem crazy about your old man.”

Elliot nodded. “I just want him to be happy.”

“Of course you do,” Tucker said. “And I just want you to be happy. So why don’t we go upstairs and I’ll make you very happy.”

Elliot grinned. “You just don’t like losing at chess.”

“No, I don’t. And I hate mulled wine.” Tucker leaned over the board, knocking several of the pieces over. “But I’ll tell you what I do like.” He whispered a few details, eyes fastened on the way Elliot’s throat moved, the way his cheeks warmed, the way his eyelashes flickered.

Elliot moaned softly, revealingly.

“Upstairs. Now,” Tucker was gruff, not to be argued with, and Ellery was already on his feet and moving toward the staircase on legs that were just a little wobbly. It felt like a long time, too long since Tucker had given him the kind of attention he so craved, so needed.

They left the chess board and fallen players in the shadow of the flickering firelight.



 


Ellery Page and Jack Carson

“What are you smiling at?” Jack climbed into bed, navigating the black puddle of a gently snoring Watson, and landing beside Ellery in the nest of down comforters and feather pillows.

“I was just thinking that as much as I enjoy reading about guys solving mysteries and having adventures, it’s kind of nice curling up in a soft, warm bed with your favorite dog and your favorite—”

“Cop?” Jack teased.

Elliot grinned. “Definitely Watson’s favorite cop.”

“Ha. Anyway, it’s not like you don’t have your own share of adventures and mysteries.”

“True.” Jack held his arm out and Ellery shifted over. “This is the part I like best though.”

“Me too.”

Ellery leaned his head back, studying Jack with affection. “Merry Christmas, Jack.”

Jack said softly, “Merry Christmas, Ellery.”

Watson opened one eye, sighed, and went back to sleep.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Advent Calendar Day 24


 Ten Things I Learned from Watching Hallmark Christmas Movies







1 - Christmas tree lots are the perfect place to have deep, meaningful conversations with potential romantic interests. Also, Douglas Firs are everyone's favorite tree.




2 - Irreplaceable family recipes are lost on a regular basis but will be found when they are needed most. Same with treasured antique ornaments. 




3 - There is no such thing as spending too much money on Christmas decorations. One Christmas tree per household is the bare minimum.







4 - Be VERY careful about wishful thinking in public OR if you are anywhere near an angel tree-topper. Even snow globes can be dangerous if you're feeling pensive.








5 - You want kids. You just don't know it yet. 










6 - You're going to get the promotion/tenure/chance-in-a-lifetime. YAY!!! However, you'll realize you don't need it anymore.




7 - Whatever ails you, concussion will set you right.








8 - Whoever you're currently engaged to is probably not the person you really love.





9 - You were not meant for big city living. No one is.






10 - Small children, old people, and animals have forgotten more about love and making relationships work than you'll ever know. 


Friday, December 23, 2022

Christmas Coda 66


 

Christmas Coda 65 - Miles and Linley from Stranger in theHouse

 

 

Miles told himself—repeatedly—he did not expect Linley to be waiting to meet him at MontrΓ©al–Trudeau International Airport.

Even before that unplanned and prolonged layover in Detroit, Lin had been sounding a little impatient, a little irritated during their increasingly infrequent phone calls. Lin had a very different temperament than Miles. He did not like delays or interruptions or uncertainties. He did not like people “who did not know their own minds.” Lin was…sort of highly strung. But it wasn’t that. Or it wasn’t just that. Miles recognized the signs of “relationship fatigue.” Having had a lot of experience with being dumped, he knew what to look for.

Not that he had been looking for it. Just the opposite. He’d been hoping he was wrong, but he couldn’t pretend it was a complete surprise that Lin seemed increasingly distant when they did manage to connect.

He’d known the last time he had to delay his return to Montreal, it was liable to be the final straw.

Long distance relationships were challenging at the best of times, and, anyway, Miles had never understood what it was Lin saw in him—unless it was simply that Miles was the complete opposite of Giles. He didn’t know much about Giles beyond the fact that he and Linley had been together for five years and that things had not ended well between them. Oliver had once told him he thought Lin was still bitter about the breakup, but Lin had always brushed off the twin topics of Giles and their breakup as not worth discussing.

Anyway, it was not a surprise to find the airport lounge empty when Miles finally staggered off the plane at three in the morning. In fairness, there wasn’t anyone waiting to greet most of the other passengers either.

It was not a surprise, but his heart sank.

When you want something so much, it doesn’t matter how often you warn yourself not to get your hopes up, you just can’t help…hoping.

Even without the emergency landing and the endless layover it had been a difficult flight feeling, as he did, that he was probably making a huge mistake.

That was one of the most troubling things. Until Lin had become part of Miles’s plans for the future, Miles hadn’t had all these doubts and uncertainties. He’d been excited to begin the adventure of his new life. But once Lin was part of the equation…

Yes, that was it. 



Once he’d started picturing Lin as part of the future, then the idea that Lin might not be playing a role in that lovely dream after all, had dimmed his excitement, doused his enthusiasm. Made him question all of his decisions.

It didn’t help that somewhere between Detroit and Montreal he’d caught a chill.

So maybe it was just as well Lin wasn’t there to witness Miles, red-eyed, red-nosed, and sniffling—he was not crying, but he might as well have been—stumbling around the airport trying to find his luggage.

His luggage that had apparently taken a detour after Detroit.

“Miles!”

Miles was absorbing—trying to absorb—the latest bit of bad news when he heard someone shouting his name.

He turned, blinking in the hard, unforgiving overhead lights, and there was Linley.

Linley. Tall and elegant in jeans and a brown leather bomber jacket. Like the only living thing in the entire airport terminal. His hair was as black as a raven’s wing and his eyes were the rare, surreal blue found only in Tom Thomson’s work paintings. Miles had never seen anything as beautiful.

“Lin,” he croaked, as Linley reached him, giving him that automatic buss on each cheek. Linley’s face was cold and he smelled of Proraso and a winter’s night.

“I had a flat tire on the way over.” Lin sounded like he still couldn’t believe it. His expression changed, his fierce, blue gaze raking Miles’s face. “What’s the matter?”

“They’ve lost my luggage.” Miles realized then that Lin mistook the watery eyes and colorless face for a different kind of distress. “I think I picked up a bug.”

Lin blinked. “Qu'est-ce que tu dis?”

And Miles, who was never much for prevaricating, blurted out the truth. “I was starting to think we missed each other.” He didn’t mean it to come out sounding so wobbly with relief, but he really had figured Lin had cut his losses.

Or maybe he was feverish.

Linley frowned at him, but then decided to take action and try to locate Miles’s luggage.

That was almost amusing, watching his misplaced confidence that he would prevail where all others failed, slowly fade.

In the end, it was Miles who drew Lin, still protesting, away from the kiosk and out into the bitterly cold night.

It was starting to snow as they climbed into Lin’s Jaguar XJ, and the snow made everything—despite lost luggage and feeling a little feverish and overtired—feel magical and special. Like maybe everything would turn out all right after all.


Lin turned the key, flicked on the heat, and Christmas music warbled from dashboard stereo. The carol was in French.

Lin gave a funny laugh. He translated, “For over four thousand years, we were waiting for this happy time.” He leaned over and kissed Miles, so sweetly, so tenderly, not at all like that brisk official buss in the airport. He whispered against Miles’s mouth, “I thought you’d never get here, Miles.”

“Me too.” Miles smiled into that kiss.

Linley reluctantly let him go. He studied Miles, lightly stroked his cheek. “So many delays, so many excuses.” He shook his head.

“They weren’t excuses,” Miles protested. “They were reasons, legitimate reasons, Lin.”

Linley, his face shadowy and stern in the glow of the dashboard lights, murmured, “So many other and greater priorities.”

Which… Miles could see how it could look that way, feel that way.

He said simply, truthfully, “There was nothing I wanted more than this.”

Linley considered, nodded curtly, and put the car in gear.

 

 

They talked on the drive to 13 Place Braeside in Westmount, but their conversation was desultory, trivial: how was your flight, have you eaten, how’s the weather, how pretty the city is at night, how pretty the holiday decorations, how pretty the snow…

Afterwards, Miles remembered none of it, waiting in tense anticipation for the moment he saw the house again. It felt surreal when they passed through the ornate wrought-iron fence and the house swung into view, a red ivy-covered Jacobean stone mansion with a distinctive turquoise-green oxidized copper roof. All the lights were blazing—Christmas lights twinkled in the trees and along the edges of the sharply slanted rooftop.

They passed beneath the stately porte cochΓ¨re and Linley parked in the grand front exterior courtyard. No need to get the luggage. For that night at least, Miles’s worldly goods consisted of the clothes on his back. They went up the long walkway, snow-covered and dappled with shadowy lamplight, and Linley unlocked the massive custom-made, artisan-carved double-wood doors. The doors swung open onto the elegant foyer with its ten-foot ceiling, marble floor, and a wood-burning fireplace upon whose long marble mantel sat a pair of blue and white ginger jars with a phoenix motif.

Miles turned to Linley. “You got them back. The ginger jars!”

Linley nodded, his expression softening at Miles’s surprised delight. “Yes.”

Miles looked to his right, down the gleaming hallway to the steep, curving Spanish style marble staircase and he could see a small mountain of battered boxes as well as a couple of crates. The things he had packed months earlier.

This was really happening. It had happened.

He sniffed, touched his hand delicately to his nose, and Linley said, “Miles, are you feeling quite all right?”

“I think I might have a little cold,” Miles admitted. “It’s not Covid. I’ve had it and this isn’t that.” Still, he shivered at the memory of the arctic blast of airplane air conditioning that had seemed to hit him from every direction during the endless flight.

Linley immediately took charge, helping Miles out of his coat and boots, putting a supporting—unnecessary, but surprisingly comforting—arm around Miles’s shoulders as he guided him upstairs.

Upstairs to the master suite that had once been Capucine’s and was now…completely, totally, utterly redecorated?

Oh yes, it was the same set of rooms, but it was not the same set of rooms. 


All trace of Capucine—her clothes, her furniture, her art, her…artifacts…everything Miles had not had the nerve to touch, had been removed. The room had been repainted in soothing tones of oyster and pearl and dove gray. The furnishings were luxurious but masculine. All that remained of the rooms he remembered was the luminous green-gold light streaming through tall bay windows—and the glossy hardwood floors.

“I’m delirious, aren’t I?” he asked Linley. “I’m still sitting on that plane with a high fever and a runny nose and…”

Linley wrinkled his own elegant nose. “No. Oliver and I realized how unfair it was to have left you to deal with the flotsam and jetsam of Mother’s life.”

“But where did the furniture come from?”

“Everything here is from Braeside. Except the painting. That’s from my own collection. Call it a housewarming gift.”

Until that moment, Miles had not noticed the painting over the fireplace. In fact, he had not even registered the fireplace. The oil painting was a very large study of the Monterey coastline.

“Is that Louis Hovey Sharp?”

Linley smiled. “I thought you’d like it.”

“It’s beautiful.” Miles wasn’t sure why there was a lump in his throat. That was tiredness and, well, the wind in his ears as he plummeted off the cliff after taking that final leap.

Linley studied him for a moment. “You need a hot drink and an early night. Why don’t you get into bed and I’ll speak to Agathe.”

He turned and Miles said quickly, “Lin, wait.”

Lin waited, his expression inquiring—and maybe a little wary?

“Can we talk for a minute?”

“Of course.”

Miles swallowed hard, put his hand on Linley’s arm. Linley looked down at his hand, then covered it with his own.

He repeated more gently, “Of course, Miles.”

Miles said, “You’re right. I was starting to get cold feet. A little. I thought—was afraid— you’d changed your mind. About us.”

Linley’s brows drew together in a forbidding line. “Why would you think that?”

“It’s hard to tell on the phone, but each time we talked, you sounded more…faraway.”

“I was faraway. I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted you to come back. But you kept inventing reasons for why you couldn’t.”

Miles tried to clarify. “You didn’t just sound faraway, you sounded distant. You sounded cold.”

“No.”

“Yes. To me. Yes.”

Linley continued to scowl, but then he sighed. “It’s not always easy to show what you feel. I didn’t expect…you. And then it happened and then I was losing you. I thought.”

Miles had not intended to do this, certainly not here and now, but suddenly, it was all pouring out in a less than coherent stream of consciousness. “It’s just that I never could quite understand, so it was hard to believe. It all felt like part of the dream of this house and this life. And as much as I wanted to believe that it was real and I could have it all…it seemed, felt more likely that you would change your mind. That you had already changed your mind.”

“No.” Linley repeated firmly, “No. Miles. Look at me.”

Miles gazed into Linley’s blue eyes. Read the intensity, the sincerity.

“I’m not going to change my mind.”

“Do you believe in Fate?”

“No. But I believe in love. I love you.” Linley  rested the back of his hand against Mile’s forehead. He shook his head. “You should really be in bed. You don’t want to miss Christmas.”

Miles ignored that. “What happened between you and Giles?”

Linley looked taken aback. “You want to talk about Giles? Now?”

“You always change the subject. You were together for years. What went wrong?” 

“I’m not sure what to say. I change the subject because it was over so long ago. And it was painful. But if you want to know, Giles and I were perhaps too much the same. Too ambitious, too focused on the idea of us as a power couple on the Montreal art. We were so successful, it took time to recognize we didn’t have much else to talk about.” He grimaced. “There was no softness, no tenderness between us. In the end, we were nothing more than business associates with benefits.”

This was not at all what Miles had expected. He said, “I’m sorry.”

Linley’s smile was rueful. “Yes, you are. And that’s one of the things I love about you. With you, it was different from the first. I like you. You’re smart and funny and talented. But you're also kind. And honest. I find myself wanting to protect you, cherish you.” He drew a sudden, sharp breath. “Which is why, when it seemed you had changed your mind, all this made me feel foolish, naΓ―ve.” He nodded at the bed, the fireplace, all the beautiful little touches that made this room as much a haven as a place to sleep.

The room was a gift to Miles. A gift and a promise.

“I haven’t changed my mind.” Miles let Linley draw him into his arms. “I’m not going to change my mind. I love you too.”

Linley’s head bent for another kiss, but Miles drew back a little, saying, “You should know, I’m probably contagious.”

Lin’s lean cheek creased in a smile. He said, “Oh, you’re definitely contagious, my love,” and kissed him.

 

  .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Advent Calendar Day 22


Today I have a poem by one of my favorite poets, Amy Lowell.

Actually, this is just a fragment from the poem, which is beautiful, solemn, but maybe just a little too poignant for my mood today. It's titled "On Christmas Eve."


From On Christmas Eve


Sitting here on this Christmas Eve,

I think of you asleep above,

And the house has a gentleness which clings,

And a wide content of love.

What you have said and what you have done,

I should not have known enough to seek them,

But now the very rooms you leave

Have a peace which hangs like a hyacinth scent

All about them.

Your ways, your thoughts,

I would surely rather lose the sun

Than be without them.




Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Christmas Coda 65


Christmas Coda 65 – Andrew and Quinn from HIDE AND SEEK

 

 

Quinn stuck his head through the door to Andy’s office at Art Recovery Team, LLC, and said, “Hey. Got a minute?”

Andy’s heart lifted—there was never going to be a time his heart didn’t lift at the sight of Quinn—but he warned, “A minute is about all I have.” He nodded at the scattered files and logs on his desk. Business was very good. Almost better than they could handle.

Quinn pulled out the chair in front of Andy’s desk, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the littered desktop.

“How’s it going?” Quinn’s green gaze rested on Andy’s face.

Andy sighed, more wearily than he’d intended. “It’s going.”

“Another late night?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

Quinn nodded thoughtfully. Abruptly, he rose. “Let’s go for a walk.”

There was nothing Andy would have enjoyed more, which made him snappish. “I wish I could, but I’d like to be home before midnight.”

“Come on,” Quinn coaxed. “The fresh air will do you good.”

That was probably true, although unreasonably, it irritated Andy all the more. He just wanted to get the day’s paperwork done, so that he could get home at a reasonable hour and then maybe they could spend a little time together. There was definitely not a lot of togetherness time lately.

That was the down side of unexpected success.

But he rose, grabbed his jacked off the hook behind the door, and proceeded Quinn through the door Quinn politely held for him.

“Back in five,” he told Mia, their new front desk person.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught Quinn giving Mia a wink—and caught Mia’s grin.

That time he managed to keep his sigh to himself, but sometimes he felt like the only adult currently employed at Art Recovery Team, LLC.

They went down the wooden steps—the snow was piling up again—and Quinn said, “You want to grab a coffee?”

“Quinn. Seriously.” 

He could tell from the heavy sag of the clouds overhead that more snow was on the way. The air seemed to crackle with ice and sea salt, but Quinn had been right about one thing. It was invigorating to be outside in the cold, clear air. To see the shop windows brightly lit and gorgeously decorated, to hear the canned holiday tunes drifting from the little businesses up and down Main Street cheered me up a little.

“Seriously. Let’s get coffee.” Quinn did look serious, so Andy stopped protesting. He felt a flash of unease. He wasn’t the only one feeling the stress of starting a new business. They were both working all the time, both putting in late nights and crack-of-dawn mornings. Inevitably it was putting a strain on their relationship.


 

They ordered cinnamon coffee at the little cafΓ© down the street from Time in a Bottle.

“Cutty says you haven’t been by to see him this week.” Quinn stirred his coffee.

Andy frowned. “When did you see Cutty?”

“I ran into him earlier.”

Ran into him where? But Andy let that go. It wasn’t like he wanted—or needed—to start checking up on Quinn.

Andy said, “I’ve been meaning to stop by all week. I just haven’t had a free minute.”

Quinn’s cheek curved. His smile was wry. “That’s kind of what I want to talk to you about.”


Andy frowned. “What is?”

“When we talked about going into business together, was this what you pictured?”

Andy stared. He wasn’t sure where Quinn was going with this, but he felt certain it wasn’t good. He said defensively, “I didn’t think we’d have so many clients right out of the gate, no.”

“Me neither.”

“But that’s actually a good thing. We both poured everything we had into starting ART LLC. Would you prefer if we were in the red?”

 “No. But somewhere between being in the red and not having time for a cup of coffee with my boyfriend…”

Andy thought he knew where this was going. Quinn was not a nine-to-five kind of guy and he was bound to find any steady job, even in a field as varied and unpredictable as art recovery, increasingly monotonous and restrictive.

The job and maybe the relationship with Andy as well.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Andy said, a little stiffly.

Quinn said quietly, “Tell me that this is what you want.”

Andy felt sick with disappointment. Maybe he should have expected it. They were both so tired all the time. There were days they barely saw each other. “Is this not what you want?”

“You just answered a question with a question.”

Andy said slowly, carefully, “It’s not what I thought it was going to be.”

No lie. He had not imagined that he would be stuck forever behind a desk dealing with all the paperwork. Quinn was out there Doing All The Things while Andy was shuffling paper, talking to bureaucrats, and memorizing rules and regulations.

“Me neither. I think we need to hire someone.”

“Hire someone?” Andy repeated.

“We can afford another team member. Especially, if it means more time for us.”

For us.

Andy was so relieved he’d probably have agreed to hiring a whole fleet new hires as well as a private jet. He’d been afraid Quinn was ready to pack it all in—Andy included.

He relaxed, said resigned, rueful, “I guess you want another field agent?”

“I sure as hell don’t.” Quinn was so adamant, they got a few surprised glances from the holiday shoppers in the tables around them. “I’m thinking we hire an actual book keeper.”

“But we don’t need a book keeper. I can—”

“No. You’re not a book keeper,” Quinn said. “You didn't give up your job to become a book keeper."

Technically, he hadn't give up his job,  but in the essentials, Quinn was correct.

"The idea was we were going to do this together.”

Andy opened his mouth but he had no answer,

Exactly. That was exactly it. It wasn’t that Andy needed constant action and adventure. But book keeper, controller, office manager…none of those had ever been on his radar for things he wanted to do with his life. He’d been trying his best to hide his disappointment and growing dissatisfaction, but maybe he hadn’t done as good a job as he’d thought.

He felt obliged to make the same argument he made to himself almost daily, “We are, though. We’re just not—” He stopped as Quinn began to shake his head.

“Partners. All the way. That was the plan. That’s what I want.”

A few minutes ago, Andy had been dry-mouthed with fear and now he couldn’t stop smiling. “Okay, but—”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Well, yes. Sure, but at first, it wasn’t practical for both of us--”

“I don’t care if it’s practical or not,” Quinn interrupted. “When I said I wanted to spend our lives together, I meant spend every day together. Not an hour at night when we’re both to tired to see straight or an hour in the morning, when we’ve each got one eye on the clock.”

“If you think it makes sense,” Andy said meekly, as though he wasn’t warm all the way through with happiness and relief.

“I think it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Andy picked up his coffee cup, but set it down again.

“What’s so funny?” Quinn asked. He was smiling too, a little curious, a lot affectionate.

Andy shook his head, reached over to Quinn, who took his hand and squeezed it warmly. “Just…best Christmas gift ever.”

 

 

  

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Advent Calendar Day 20

 


Day 20!!! 

How can we already be on Day 20?

F-F-Five days until Christmas?! 

Well, yesterday was supposed to be a coda-writing day, but it did not go to plan. Which is par for the course. ;-D Which means today we have another holiday cocktail. This is called Blue Christmas (aka Blue Heaven?). 

Typically, winter cocktails don't feature pineapple juice. In fact, I was hoping to find a great espresso martini recipe, but it turns out, I don't have one! If you have a great espresso martini recipe, feel free to share! 


Blue Christmas 


Ingredients

2 oz. light rum

1 oz. blue curacao

1/2 oz. Amaretto

 4 oz. pineapple juice

splash of fresh lime juice 


Directions

Rim a short rocks glass with lemon juice and sugar. Add ingredients to cocktail shaker. Shake it like you mean it. Pour over ice. 


Optional: skip the sugar rim and float a Wilton white candy snowflake on top OR sprinkle a couple of white and blue snowflake candy crystals






Monday, December 19, 2022

Christmas Coda 64

 

Austin and Jeff from

  A VINTAGE AFFAIR


(Note there is an earlier Character Interview from 2013)

 


Nine Days Before Christmas


“Ernest?” Jeff repeated in disbelief. “You want to spend Christmas with Ernest?”

Ernest was Austin’s ten-year-old brother, so this was not as ominous a pronouncement as it could have been. Or at least, Austin wouldn’t have thought so. But Jeff did seem to be taking a dim view of the situation. Dimmer than expected.

“It wouldn’t have been my first choice—”

 “It’s our first Christmas together.”

Austin sighed. It was, and he too had been looking forward to all the sweet, silly, and sexy moments they’d been planning. Counting on, really. They didn’t have a lot of free time, let alone free time to spend together, and the first Christmas with someone special was…special.

As was the first Christmas without someone special.

“It’s Ernie’s first Christmas without Harrison. The girls are going on a cruise with the stepmoms, so he’d either have to stay on campus or come to us.”

The “girls” were Austin’s four sisters. The five stepmoms…well, it was complicated. Jeff knew exactly how complicated. It was disappointing and a little exasperating that he was taking this so, well, badly. Austin couldn’t help feeling like he was having to contend with the emotional needs of two ten-year-olds.

“Maybe he’d prefer to stay at school.”

“Come on, Jeff. No. He doesn’t prefer to stay at school.

“Ernest hates me,” Jeff said, and suddenly his attitude made a lot more sense.

“He doesn’t hate you,” Austin protested. Although, in fairness to Jeff, over the past nine months Ernest’s opinion of Jeff had seemed to steadily decline. “I think he’s just…”

“Jealous,” Jeff finished. “He sure as hell is.”

He sure as hell was, and that had a lot to do with the fact that Austin had instinctively tried to fill the void left by Harrison. A void he hadn’t even been sure needed filling—Ernest was always so emotionally contained, so self-sufficient—but yes, he did seem to expect, rely, on all the extra time and attention Austin spent on him. Which meant he’d also come to resent Jeff when Austin wasn’t available. Even when Jeff had nothing to do with it.

“Jeff, he’s a little kid and he’s been through a lot—”

“I realize that.”

“I love him and I’m not going to leave him to spend Christmas alone.”

“I know.” Jeff added grimly, “And so does Ernest.”

Austin stared. “Please don’t make me choose between my little brother and you.”

Jeff’s expression twisted. He pulled Austin over and kissed him. “I’m not asking you to choose, sweetheart. Just don’t let Ernest guilt you into going into outer space with him.”

 

 

Five Days Before Christmas


“Where the hell have you two been?” Austin backed out of the way as Jeff—mostly Jeff—and Ernest carried the eight-foot Fraser fir through the white portico of the elegant brick Colonial Revival house on Chatham Rd.

“Shopping for Christmas trees,” Jeff panted, wrestling the tree upright. “Wasn’t that the idea?” 

Austin barely managed to save the table lamp in time. “For three hours?”

The spicy scent of pine tree filled the large room, mingling with the scent of the fireplace and cinnamon apple candles.

“We went shooting,” Ernest informed Austin.

“You…”

Jeff protested, “Hey, I thought we were keeping that to ourselves.”

Ernest gave his ar-ar-ar laugh, sounding like a demented sea lion, but then he turned to Austin, eyes bright, cheeks pink and admitted, “It was great.”

Austin swallowed everything he’d been about to say, and managed a doubtful, “Was it?”

“Jeff says I show a lot of promise.”

He’d been to the range a couple of times with Jeff, so it wasn’t that he feared for Ernest’s safety. If he feared for anyone’s safety, it would be Jeff’s.

He glanced at Jeff, who drawled, “Then we went for a couple a beers. Since Ernest was buying.”

Ar-ar-ar barked Ernest.

Jeff winked at Austin.

 




Later, much later, after pizza for supper, after the tree-trimming, after the cocoa and popcorn viewing of Elf, and once Ernest was safely tucked up with his springer spaniel Buzz in the guest room, Austin climbed into bed beside Jeff, who was looking mighty pleased with himself as he studied the mid-century watercolor painting of Ballineen that hung over the fireplace.

“Thank you,” Austin said. “I mean it. You went way above and beyond.”

Jeff turned his head, his expression was wry. “Naw. No thanks necessary. I’m going to win that mini mad scientist over if it’s the last thing I do.”

“I think he had a really good day.”

“I think he had a great day,” Jeff said. “My day wasn’t so bad either. And my night—”

“Your night’s going to be fantastic,” Austin assured him.

He was joking, of course, but Jeff said seriously, “All my nights with you are fantastic.”

Of course that led to a kiss and then another. But Austin had to pause proceedings long enough to ask, “Does Ernest show promise on the firing range?”

Jeff met his eyes and started to laugh. He shook his head. “Worst shot I ever saw in my life. He’s terrible.”

Austin started to laugh too.

“I thought he was pulling my leg at first.” Jeff’s tone was almost awed. “I thought, nobody could be that bad. I know blind men that are sharp shooters compared to your brother!”

They were still laughing when they kissed, and Austin realized that those special Christmas moments  often happened at the least likely times.