A Fortunate Blizzard
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There are worse things than being stranded in a blizzard.
Artist Trevor Morrison has always appreciated the little things in life, treating each day as a gift. And with good reason: he’s been on the transplant-recipient list for too long now. When he learns just how numbered his days truly are, he resolves not to take them for granted. But he won’t be unrealistic, either—which means romantic commitments are off the table.
Marcus Roberts seems to have it all. He’s handsome, financially sound, and on the fast track to partnership at a prestigious law firm. In reality, though, his drive for success has meant no time for friends or relationships. Add in the fact that his family discarded him long ago, and he’s facing yet another holiday season alone.
When the biggest snowstorm to hit Colorado in decades leaves Marc and Trevor stranded at the same hotel, a chance encounter and a night of passion leads to more than either of them expected. Finding comfort in each other is a welcome surprise, but time is not on their side. Either they find a way to beat the odds, or they lose each other forever.
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“I know this is hard, Trevor,” Dr. Wheyvan said. She gave him a tight smile, then turned to rummage through a cabinet drawer behind her desk.
Trevor took a deep breath and stared up at the human anatomy poster on the wall. How many times had he sat right here, studying that poster while waiting for Dr. Wheyvan to come into her office? Every time hoping she had good news for him. Every time leaving with an increased sense of time running out as the fringes of his optimism grew a little darker.
“We can’t give up hope yet,” she said, spinning back in her chair, a sad smile on her lined face. She held out a pamphlet. “But the reality is such that you should be prepared.”
He took it from her and sighed. Gold letters on a blue background read, Deciding to Stop Dialysis. What You Can Expect. His throat tightened and the letters began to blur. He inhaled the stale, sterile air that seemed universal to doctors’ offices and held his breath, fighting back tears that no longer had the right to run down his cheeks.
It was always going to come to this, wasn’t it? He’d already used more than his fair share of life’s allotted good luck.
Seven years he’d been on dialysis waiting for a kidney transplant. Seven years he’d been trying to keep hope alive and shiny. Seven years he’d been fighting something he could only slow down.
He nodded. “You told me from the beginning that it would be a long shot because of my blood type.”
“A long shot is still a shot,” she said.
But long shots were finite, and ready or not, he could feel his coming to an end.
“If I decide to go off dialysis . . .” He swallowed with difficulty. “How much time am I looking at?”
“It depends on several factors—age, lifestyle, ESRD complications that arise, et cetera. You’ve always taken very good care of yourself, so you may have more time than others.” She studied him for a second, and he knew he wasn’t going to like what she was about to say. “Generally anywhere from four days to, at most, two weeks.”
Four to fourteen days? His throat closed, vision narrowing in on the pamphlet in his hand, yet he couldn’t see it.
He didn’t look up. “And if I stay on it?”
“If a transplant doesn’t come through in the next six months . . . Maybe a year.”
The gut punch stole his breath, and a cold chill spread over his skin. If Dr. Wheyvan was still speaking, he couldn’t hear it over the ticktock of mortality’s stopwatch, booming like thunder in his ears.
“Trevor . . .” Her warm, comforting hand on his shoulder drew him back from the edge of panic. He forced himself to look up, focus on the compassionate eyes that told him he wasn’t alone.
Dr. Wheyvan had been with him since day one. Through all the tests, all the treatments, all the hopes and letdowns of desperately trying to find a match that would save his life. She’d be with him at the end, too.
“Nothing needs to be decided now,” she said, her voice soothing. “You’re still so young, and you’re as healthy as you can be, and medicine keeps advancing.”
“Thirty-nine is not that young. That’s pretty much midlife.”
“Since when are you a glass-half-empty kind of man?” Her smile didn’t reach her eyes, but he appreciated the gesture. Even so, he could only shake his head in response.
Dr. Wheyvan frowned. “You’ve got time, Trevor.”
“Not much,” he said, the words tight and threatening to choke him.
Her smile faded, and her eyes began to shine. He looked away. If she started crying, there was no way he’d be able to hold back his tears. This wasn’t new or unexpected, only a reality he’d been hoping would go away if he ignored it long enough. That if he prayed hard enough, his match in shining armor would appear, save his life, and he’d live happily ever after.
He snorted. Everyone else was out looking for his or her prince, and here he was searching for the prince’s kidney.
“None of us know how much time we have left—a week, a year, ten years. All we can do is make the most of what we’ve got right now,” she said quietly. “And right now, I want you to go home and enjoy the holidays with your family and friends.”
With a nod, Trevor stood and pulled her into a brief hug. “Merry Christmas,” he choked out, and then spun on his heel, exiting her office without looking back.
Five minutes later, he stood outside the doctor’s office, zipped up his jacket, and turned his face to the pale-gray Boulder skies. Light snowflakes brushed over his exposed skin like feathers, falling in a lazy dance until they came to rest, quiet and gentle, at his feet. Would this be his last winter? His last Christmas?
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. He wasn’t supposed to be thinking about “putting his affairs in order” before he reached forty. He should be sharing his life with a handsome, charming man and thinking about settling down now that marriage equality had finally become the law of the land, not contemplating how he wanted to die.
A familiar chime drew his thoughts from the mental wishing well, and he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. Closing his eyes, he took a second to gather himself before swiping his thumb over the screen to accept the call.
“Hey, Mom,” he said, grateful he’d managed a cheerful tone. Shoving his free hand in his pocket, he turned and began walking to the parking lot, puffy clouds formed by his breath leading the way.
“Mi cariño. How did things go with your doctor today?” The subtle lift of hope in her voice poked at his heart. She’d stopped asking if they’d found a donor a couple of years before, but she couldn’t completely tamp down her unwavering hope. He’d lost track of how many times they’d held each other while she’d cried, helpless and angry that she couldn’t save her son from this. But very few people could, and of those, even fewer were willing.
“Good,” he said, hoping to blame the tightness in his voice on the cold air pricking at his skin and freezing his eyelashes. “Nothing new. Nothing that can’t wait to tell you in person.”
Nothing he wanted to voice over the phone right now—or could voice. The news was banging around inside his head in such a chaotic fashion that he couldn’t even begin to articulate it.
Her brief pause told him she was fighting the urge to demand he tell her right now. She usually pressed when she knew he—or anyone in his family, really—was holding something back, but she also knew when to let things go.
“I saw on the news that there’s a blizzard warning there,” she said instead, and he sent a silent thank-you to the universe. “They’ve already started canceling some flights into Denver. I want you to catch an earlier flight before they shut the airport down.”
“Okay, but I need to get to my treatment right now. I’ll call and check right after.” Reaching his car, he pulled the keys from his pocket, unlocked the door, and climbed inside, immediately turning over the engine and cranking the heat. “But you know we’re built for snow here. It’ll be fine.”
She huffed. “Nothing is built to withstand Mother Nature in a snit. Call me when you have your new arrival time, and we’ll see you at the airport.”
Trevor had to smile. His mom refused to take no for answer, no matter who or what dared to stand in her way. “I will.”
“Do it now, right after you hang up.”
She laughed, and he surprised himself by joining in, halfhearted as it felt to him. But as long as she didn’t pick up on it, he could get through the rest of the long day ahead. He was going to have to talk to her and the rest of his family about what options he had, limited as they were, but that conversation could wait until after the holidays. Maybe if he put it off long enough, it would just go away. He could stick his head in the sand and pretend he was perfectly healthy, pretend his kidneys were miraculously getting better rather than worse. That he had years and years ahead of him, that he’d see his nieces and nephews grow up, that he’d find his soul mate . . . that he wasn’t facing the decision of dying comfortably on his own terms now, having lived a good life, or dying later, after his body deteriorated to the point that he simply existed in painful misery until his inevitable end.
“I love you, mijo,” his mom cut in to his thoughts, as if knowing he’d slipped down the path to Maudlinville.
“All we have is today,” she’d told him time and again. “Live it.”
He still had now, he reminded himself. Tomorrow he could think about how many “nows” were left.
“I love you, too. See you tonight.”
He put his phone away, grabbed his snow scraper, and got back out to clear off the windshield. Only then did he notice how much snow had accumulated during the hour of his appointment. Quarter-sized flakes were falling at a steady pace, the sky a solid off-white slate, and a good four inches of fresh powder already covered the roof of his car. If it kept up, he might not make it to the airport at all, let alone have to worry about canceled flights. Luckily, he’d already packed, so he wouldn’t have to run back home up the mountain after his treatment. At least there was one good thing about this day.
“Come on, Prince Charming,” he said aloud, his breath bursting into the air on tiny white clouds. “All I need is one of your kidneys. Just one.”
Startled, the affidavit he’d been reading fell from his hands. He looked up to see Kate Bellamy standing in his office doorway with a scowl on her face. Her usually pulled-back dark hair now hung loose and long around her shoulders.
“Third time’s a charm,” she said, sauntering in to stand in front of his desk, hands on her hips. Her narrow gaze focused on the files scattered about his desk.
He frowned, retrieving the paper he’d dropped. “What do you mean?”
“I had to call your name three times to get your attention.” She plucked the page from his hand and began gathering up the loose papers on his desk, placing them unerringly into their respective files. With barely a glance, she seemed to know which went in which folder. A prime example of the many things that made her one of the best paralegals at Rawlings, Frank, and Earnhart, Colorado’s most prestigious law firm.
“Oh, sorry.” He reached for a file folder, and she batted his hand away. “What are you doing?”
“You—” she pointed at him with a piece of paper “—are going home.”
He leaned back in his chair, watching as she neatly stacked the folders. Kate had always made a point of telling him he was the last person in the office when she left for the day, a subtle hint that he should leave as well, to which he’d crack a joke and she’d walk away shaking her head, even as she laughed. But she’d never outright told him to leave before. He didn’t know whether to be annoyed at the order or touched by her concern.
“I’ve got hours yet until my car turns into a pumpkin,” he said with a smile.
She shot him a leveling stare and then motioned to the bank of windows behind him. “Look outside and tell me what you see.”
With a sigh, he obliged. Kate had joined the firm a little over three years ago, and he’d quickly come to rely on her expertise and knack for doing the impossible. He’d had a pretty solid track record with the firm over the ten years previous, but it had been flawless since she’d come on board. Which meant he wasn’t going to piss her off and essentially lose his right arm.
Outside, the short daylight hours of winter had given way to slate-gray darkness as white flakes drifted steadily down. “It’s snowing. Surprise, surprise.”
“Smart-ass,” she said, a note of laughter in her voice. “Look again.”
This time he looked beyond the snow to the city below. His office was on the seventh floor, facing west. Usually he could see the Front Range stretching north to south beyond the city, but now he could barely make out buildings he knew were only blocks away. Snow had already begun falling as he’d driven into work that morning—it was winter after all—but he’d had his head down all day, so focused on a new case he’d picked up from another attorney that he hadn’t realized how much had accumulated.
“That’s a lot of snow,” he said, turning to face her.
She raised an eyebrow. “That’s practically Snowmageddon, and they’ve issued a blizzard warning. Most everyone has left for the holidays already, and you need to get home before you get snowed in.”
He shrugged and offered a playful smile. “If I do, I can hit the gym downstairs, and then have dinner at the diner.”
“If they’re even still open. And then what? Sleep on your office floor?” She shook her head and leaned down to retrieve his briefcase from beside the desk.
“Why not? It’ll save me the commuting time, and I can get more work done.” With the new case added to his already heavy workload, he wasn’t kidding about using the time to make some headway. It wasn’t like there was anyone waiting for him at home anyway.
Kate set his briefcase on the desk and began stuffing his files into it. “You do realize tomorrow is Christmas Eve, don’t you?”
“Of course!” Actually, he hadn’t, but there was no way he’d admit that to her. That the holidays were upon him had danced around the edges of his consciousness, but he’d ignored it. The same way he had for close to twenty years now. All Christmas did was serve to remind him he hadn’t been a good enough son in his mother’s eyes. That he wasn’t the star academic or athlete that his brothers had been was the least of it—his mother finding out he was gay, too? He’d become a living ghost in his own home from that point on. So yes, he deliberately pushed the festive season from his mind as best he could, buckled down, and focused on work until the holidays passed and life got back to business as usual.
Judging by the concerned look Kate gave him now, she didn’t believe him. She dropped the last folder into the briefcase and snapped it shut with a bit more force than necessary.
She let out a breath, as if collecting herself before speaking, her voice soft when she said, “Please tell me you’re not spending the holidays alone, Marc.”
“I’m not spending the holidays alone.” Another lie. He smiled, hoping it didn’t appear as fake as it felt.
“I know we don’t talk much about our personal lives, and I really don’t mean to overstep here, but . . .” She sat down in a chair in front of his desk. “I worry about you.”
His eyebrows shot up. Whatever he’d been expecting, it wasn’t that. He was a grown man, perfectly capable of taking care of himself. Had been ever since his eighteenth birthday when his mother unceremoniously shoved him out the door and into the great big world all by himself. Longer than that even. She’d wiped her hands of him for good that day, but he’d already ceased to exist in her eyes years before.
“Why on earth would you worry about me?” A terrible thought entered his mind, and a chill slithered into his chest. “Did the partners say something?”
“No! No. Nothing like that.” She raised a hand in a placating gesture. “It’s just . . . This workaholic thing you do isn’t healthy.”
“I’m not a workaholic.” He frowned, even as relief that the partners weren’t displeased with his work flowed through him. Was he a workaholic? He was working hard toward a goal, to proving himself, sure, but that was called being focused and disciplined.
“Marc,” she said, her tone stern, “you’re the first one in the office and the last one out, every single day. You don’t take breaks, you work through lunch, and you’re always taking on extra cases. In all the years I’ve worked with you, not once have you taken a sick day or a vacation day. You never join me and the guys after work for drinks or dinner . . . You don’t even stop for watercooler chat.”
True, but he had good reasons to limit his socializing. “I’m on track to make partner by spring, which means putting in a ton of hours. You know what it takes. I don’t have the time for anything else right now.” Not only was he on a fast track, but he was going to be the youngest partner in firm history, and he wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize that.
“There’s more to life than making partner.”
“Not for me,” he blurted. He quickly looked away. He hadn’t meant to say that aloud and hoped she didn’t press for him to explain.
“Being so driven is admirable, don’t get me wrong,” she said, and he gave silent thanks she let his comment go. “But not at the cost of everything else in your life.”
“It hasn’t cost me anything.”
“Really? What happened to Tony?”
Marc sighed and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. She knew damn well what had happened to Tony. He’d come into the office to see Marc, but Marc had been on a call with a client. Instead of waiting until his call ended so they could talk, Tony had given Kate a message to deliver. Their five-month relationship was over because he was tired of Marc’s work always coming first. Granted, Marc did work a lot and had canceled more than a few of their dates because things had come up or run longer than planned. It wasn’t always going to be that way, but that didn’t matter to Tony. Don’t call had been his final words to Marc, scribbled on a pink “While you were out” message pad.
“Things will change after I make partner,” he said quietly, but deep down he knew that wasn’t true, either. As partner, he’d only have to work harder. He couldn’t blame Tony for leaving.
“Okay! Okay!” He laughed, raising his hands in surrender. “I give. I promise to get a life.”
“Good to hear.” Seemingly pleased she’d gotten through to him, she stood and walked over to a coatrack behind his office door.
“After I make partner,” he added.
Kate groaned, rolled her eyes, and shook her head. “Go home. Take your suit off and put on some real clothes. Tell me you own a pair of jeans.”
“I own more than one pair,” he teased.
“Shock of all shocks! Now go.” She handed him his jacket and briefcase, and gave him a gentle shove toward the door. “Be festive, have merriment, and build a snowman.”
He couldn’t help but laugh. Him, build a snowman? That was never going to happen.
“C’mon,” he said after he pulled on his jacket. “I’ll walk you out. Can’t have you missing Christmas because you got held up trying to get my sorry ass out of here.”
“I should have stayed at the office,” Marc grumbled, his voice echoing inside the empty car.
It’d been three hours since Kate had shoved him out of the office, and the only thing that had moved on the Boulder Turnpike was his gas needle, inching its way toward empty. He sighed and dug his cell phone out of the center console. No missed calls or texts. No one who would worry or check up on him, stranded out in the worst blizzard to hit the Rocky Mountain Front Range and eastern Colorado in over a decade.
He hadn’t worried when the snow had started falling earlier that morning. Denver knew how to deal with snow, and it never slowed anyone down for long. But this was close to two feet in twice as many hours, with snowdrifts as high as eight feet. According to the radio, CDOT closed the highway between Boulder and Golden because the drifts were nearly twice that. The road crews just couldn’t keep up.
If Kate hadn’t checked in on him, he’d still be at work—stuck there and having dinner from the vending machine. Now here he was, gridlocked on the turnpike somewhere between Denver and Boulder, with hundreds of similarly stranded, disgruntled commuters. Soon his car would run out of gas and he’d be forced to tough out a night in the freezing cold.
His stomach grumbled, and he added “starving” to his growing “Joys of Being Stranded in a Blizzard” list. Attempting to distract himself from his body’s plea for sustenance, he scrolled through his phone contacts. There was Kate’s number, and several numbers for each of the senior partners from the firm. Not that he’d ever called them for any reason beyond work. He also had the numbers for three of his favorite restaurants—since he never had the time nor the inclination to cook meals for one—the number to the gym where he worked out religiously every morning, and . . . his mother’s number. He stared at it blankly, his thumb hovering over the Call button. How many times had he wanted to press it, to try opening that long-closed connection, only to shove the phone back in his pocket? Hadn’t she made it clear enough all those years ago that she was done with him, that he didn’t measure up to her standards?
Swiping his address book closed, yet again, he dropped the phone back into the console and stared out the window. The thick, rhythmic sway of falling snow was hypnotizing. As unimpressed as he was at being trapped on the turnpike, he had to admit the snow was beautiful to watch—peaceful in its silence, tranquil in its insistence that the world stop and take a breath, release its grief, cleanse its soul, and start anew.
Kate was right. His quest for partner, on making something of himself and becoming someone his mother could be proud of, had cost him. Friends, relationships, and most of all, his true dreams, had fallen by the wayside of his single-minded drive for professional success. But he was almost there. Just a little longer and then he’d have the time to get serious about finding someone to share his life with.
Yeah, you keep telling yourself that, Roberts.
A shiver charged up his spine, scattering his thoughts.
“Damn snow,” he muttered, because blaming his sour mood on the weather was easier than looking any deeper for the real source.
He turned his attention to the line of vehicles ahead in hopes of seeing any kind of sign that traffic would start moving again soon. It looked like something out of a postapocalyptic movie. “Snowmageddon,” Kate had said. Just a long line of frozen vehicles for as far as the limited visibility would let him see, which wasn’t farther than a few hundred feet. A silent and still world, all its inhabitants long gone except for him. A strange sense of loneliness crept into the back of his mind, and he quickly shoved it away.
A knock on his window startled him, heart pounding against his ribs from the jolt. A state trooper stood outside, so bundled up Marc wasn’t sure if it was a man or woman. He rolled the window down, just enough to speak through, while his pulse settled back down. Cold air charged inside the car, slamming against his face and pulling a shiver from him.
“Turnpike’s shut down in both directions.” A man’s voice, muffled by the scarf covering his mouth and nose. A gossamer puff of steam from his breath obscured the rest of his face with a ghostly effect.
“No hope of getting out of here tonight, then?” Marc asked, wishing again he’d ignored Kate and stayed at the office.
The trooper shook his head. “Afraid not.” He pointed across the turnpike. “We’re not far from Superior, though, and there’s a hotel just off the turnpike there.”
Marc followed the line of the man’s gloved finger to see a dim yellow halo of lights in the distance. People were heading in that direction—hunched, dark blotches moving slowly against an otherwise solid blanket of dancing white.
Damn it. Barely ten miles from home but it may as well have been a thousand.
“Doesn’t look too far,” Marc said. And he did have a change of clothes and toiletries in his gym bag in the trunk. He could spend the night in comfort and warmth instead of freezing his ass off in the car for who knew how long.
“Maybe a half-hour trek in these conditions.” The trooper may have shrugged his shoulders, but he was so bundled up that Marc couldn’t be sure. “I’d encourage heading over there for the night, if you’re able. It’ll be safer and warmer until the blizzard passes and we can get traffic dug out.”
Marc’s office attire wasn’t all that conducive to trudging through a couple feet of snow, but at least he could bury himself in his work when he got to the hotel.
He glanced at the dashboard. The gas needle slipped down to an eighth of a tank, making the decision for him. He’d need enough fuel to get off the highway when the road crews were finally able to clear the way. Whenever that would be.
Marc nodded. “I think I will do that, thanks.”
“Good call.” The trooper rapped on the roof of Marc’s car a couple of times. “Wait for me to check in with the vehicle ahead of you. I’m trying to send people in groups for safety.”
“Will do,” Marc said and rolled up the window. He grabbed his winter jacket, scarf, and gloves from the backseat, and pulled them on before opening the door. Cold air dug into his skin like a million razor-sharp fingernails. In the seconds it took to walk to the back of the SUV, open the hatch, and grab his duffel bag and his briefcase, his eyelashes and the fine hairs in his nostrils had already frozen. Sitting down in the driver’s seat again, car door still open, he swapped his slick-soled dress shoes for running shoes, slung his things over his shoulder, and then joined his assigned companions for the trek across the frozen tundra.
* * *
A little over an hour later, after securing one of the last rooms at the hotel and a much-needed, very long, and very hot shower to thaw his frozen body, Marc sat in the crowded hotel lounge for a late dinner. His table was at the back, but tinted glass walls let him watch as more disgruntled, snow-covered people stumbled into the hotel looking for warmth and shelter for the night. The soles of wet shoes squeaked on the polished marble floor as people crossed the lobby to the reservations desk, and white flakes drifted from heavy jackets and knit hats, leaving small puddles in their wakes. The place was a mess.
Marc reached for his hot brandy, but paused with the glass halfway to his lips when a tall man crossing the lobby caught his attention. He didn’t look much different from the rest of the popsicle people at first glance, but something about the way he stood, the set of his broad shoulders, and those thick muscular legs wrapped in worn denim made Marc sit up a little straighter. The loneliness he’d been feeling earlier perked up too.
“If there is a god . . .” His whispered prayer trailed off when the man glanced toward the lounge and bright-blue eyes skimmed past him.
The man stepped up to the desk and reach into his pocket. His mouth lifted into a smile Marc wished he could see straight on instead of in profile. The man’s hand stalled, shoulders dropped infinitesimally, and his stance shifted from one of confidence to one of defeat. If Marc were in the courtroom, that change in an opponent’s body language would have been his cue to go in for the kill and win the case. But right now, it told Marc what he already knew. No rooms left at the inn, son.
Trevor’s shoulders slumped when the young clerk told him they were booked solid. “This day just keeps getting better.”
“I’m so sorry, sir.” The clerk’s dark eyes shone with genuine sincerity. “People have been coming in all evening, and with the airport closed now too, we filled up fast. You’re more than welcome to spend the night in our lobby or lounge. We’re gathering as many extra rollaways, blankets, and pillows as we can find, and the kitchen won’t be closing tonight.”
He forced a smile. “I guess that will have to do, then.” Not that he had any choice in the matter anyway. Not when the airport shuttle he’d finally caught had pulled into the hotel parking lot, and the driver announced they wouldn’t be going any farther. “Thank you.”
Trevor walked back into the main lobby area and pulled his cell phone from his pocket. His mom was going to kill him for not taking her warning about the snow seriously.
“Cariño. Did you catch an earlier flight? Please tell me you caught an earlier flight and you’ve just landed.” The words were rushed, her accent coming through stronger than usual, and his heart ached at the tentative hope in her voice. He would be spending Christmas alone for the first time in his life.
“No, I didn’t. I’m sorry, Mom.” Trevor sighed and sat on the arm of a vacant chair. “The airport is completely shut down. Traffic is gridlocked from the snow, and people are stranded everywhere.”
“Oh, mijo. Where are you now?”
“The shuttle dumped us at a hotel off the turnpike, but it’s fully booked.” A cold gust of air swept over him as the doors opened to let more stranded people inside.
“You can’t get back home?”
“Nope. No one’s going anywhere, so I’m stuck here for the night, at least. I was on the phone with the airlines for a while, and it looks like there’s no chance I’ll make it home for Christmas. I’ll be lucky if they manage to book me on another flight the day after.”
His mom was silent for a moment before she quietly said, “It won’t be the same without you, cariño.”
“I know.” He ran a hand through his hair, pushing the bangs out of his eyes. God, he was getting tired. He hadn’t felt too bad after his treatment, but the day was quickly catching up with him—and it looked like it was going to be a long one. If only there were still rooms and he could lie down for a while and recharge.
“Well”—her voice was stronger now, an edge of determination to it—“we’ll wait until you get here.”
“No! You can’t do that to the kids and everyone else. Especially Isaac. He’d have a fit.” His mom let out a short bark of laughter, but she couldn’t argue that point. Isaac was the same age as Trevor was, but when it came to everything Christmas, his brother acted more like three than thirty-nine. Trevor loved that infectious effervescence, though, and would never dream of dampening it. Not if he could help it. “Have Christmas. We’ll just have to celebrate extra big on New Year’s.”
A soft sniff echoed down the line, causing his eyes to sting and throat to tighten.
“Mom, it will be okay,” he said, fighting to keep the emotion from his voice. If he didn’t, then the two of them would both break down and his dad would have to step in.
“But what are you going to do? I feel horrible thinking of you all alone out there. Without your family. It’s not right.”
“Your little boy is not so little anymore,” he quipped, hoping to inject a little levity into the situation. “I think I’ll be okay.”
She huffed. “You’ll always be my baby boy, even when you’re an old married man.”
“Yeah.” Trevor squeezed his eyes shut and sank down into the seat of the chair. He was never going to be old or married, as much as he’d love to be both. But he wasn’t about to burst his mom’s bubble of hope right now. “And you’ll be the most gorgeous mother of the groom the world has ever seen.”
“Have you met my future son-in-law yet?”
“No, Mom. Not yet.” And he wasn’t going to, either. How could he start any kind of future with someone when he didn’t have one of his own?
“Well, you’d better hurry up before your mama is too old to look sexy in her high heels while she walks you down the aisle.”
“If he’s out there,” he mumbled.
“Of course he is!” Her adamant tone triggered an unexpected sense of loss for something he was now more certain than ever he’d never have.
Silence settled on the line between them, and over the din of the busy hotel lobby, Trevor heard laughter in the background. A rush of homesickness hit him hard. Should he move back home for his last days? As much as he wouldn’t want to put that on his family, after all they’d given and done for him, he knew his mother would kill him for even letting the thought that they’d think him a burden wander through his mind.
“Okay.” He gave himself a shake, hoping to dispel the creeping fatigue. “I’m going to go get some hot food and find a chair for the night. I’ll give you a call when I get my flights rebooked. Give everyone a hug for me.”
“I will. I love you.” Her voice caught on a hiccup. “We’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, and love you, too. Talk to you soon.”
Trevor ended the call, dropping the hand holding it to his knee and bringing his chin to his chest. He would be okay, he knew that, but the prospect of spending the holidays by himself cast a dark pall over his mind. All his friends had either left town already or had their own families in the area. Even if the blizzard let up in time, he didn’t want to intrude on anyone else’s holidays. Missing his own family, coupled with the reality of his future, such as it was, deepened the emptiness that was trying to consume him. The last thing he wanted was for his mood to bring down anyone else.
A heavy sigh pushed past his lips as he shoved the phone back in his pocket, grabbed his bag, and made his way into the lounge.
The place was quickly approaching standing room only, and Trevor had to shoulder his way up to the bar, where he ordered a tea with lemon—because the Irish coffee he really wanted wasn’t worth the damage it would do to his kidneys—and a plain buffalo burger with a small side salad. The bartender slid a steaming cup in his direction and the first sip made Trevor’s eyes water, sending a rush of heat cascading outward from his stomach. He closed his eyes, and he might have moaned but couldn’t be sure over the chatter of voices surrounding him.
“Perfection,” he said under his breath.
The barkeep smiled and shook his head. “Be ’bout fifteen minutes for your burger.”
Trevor dug a pill pack out of his bag, popped the two binders he was to take before every meal, and then turned his sleep-weary eyes on the lounge at large, scanning for an empty table. Through the crowd, he caught sight of a vacant seat at a table in the far corner. He leaned to the side for a better look and froze when his gaze locked with one of the most attractive men he’d seen in a long time. He had classic good looks: strong jawline, dark hair trimmed neatly, eyes that somehow seem brighter than they should in such dim lighting, no matter their color.
The back of Trevor’s neck and his face began to heat as the man held his stare. Whether it was from the tea or the intensity of those eyes boring into him, he couldn’t say. And he couldn’t look away. The handsome stranger managed to hold him captive without word or touch. That kind of instant attraction was rare for him, and of course it had to happen now, when he had nothing left to give anyone.
Though . . . a little temporary comfort was still allowed, wasn’t it?
Someone moving through the packed lounge jostled Trevor, spilling his drink and breaking his heated connection with the man across the room. He turned away, skin sizzling from head to toe and hand burning from the hot tea.
“Order’s up, buddy.” The bartender slid Trevor’s dinner across the bar top.
Trevor jerked his head up. “Already?”
The barkeep just did that smiling and shaking his head thing again as he grabbed a towel and wrapped it around a handful of ice cubes. He set the faux ice pack beside the burger.
Trevor had to shake his head, too—mentally anyway. Had he and Mr. Handsome really been locked in a staring contest for fifteen minutes?
The barkeep nodded and went back to mixing drinks. Trevor rubbed the soothing ice pack over his burned skin until the sting eased, and then turned around, his gaze instantly reconnecting with Mr. Handsome across the room.
Without breaking eye contact, Handsome reached over and angled the empty chair away from the table in silent invitation.
You’d be a fool to ignore that, Trev.
He shouldered his bag, picked up his plate and what was left of his tea, and made his way across the lounge. “Mind if I join you?”
A sensual smile stretched Mr. Handsome’s lips, his forest-green eyes sparkling. “Please.”
His deep voice sent a shiver of excitement up Trevor’s spine, and he cleared his throat. “Thank you.” He tucked his bag under the table and pulled up the chair. “This is a lot more comfortable than trying to eat at the bar.”
“More elbow room,” the man said. He motioned toward Trevor’s bag. “Were you heading for the airport?”
Trevor nodded and reached for his drink to wash down the bite of food he’d just swallowed. “I was on my way to Connecticut to spend the holidays with family.”
“I can’t believe they actually shut down the airport.” The man paused to take a sip of his drink. “When was the last time that happened?”
Trevor’s gaze lowered to the mouth of the sexy stranger sitting across from him, following the way his full lips curved over the rim of the glass, the way his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. A sudden image of those lips around something else rose in his mind, sucking, swallowing, and . . .
Shit, get a grip.
Trevor shifted in his seat and dropped his focus to stare pointedly at his food. “I’m not sure it ever has,” he said, a rough edge to his voice. “Bad timing too, with the holidays and all.”
“Will you be able to get another flight?” the man asked, seemingly unaware of Trevor’s quick trip to a mental porn set.
He shook his head. “Looks like now I get to spend it alone in Nederland.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” There was something in the man’s voice that made Trevor think he could relate. Then dark eyebrows rose and a flirty smile, intentional or not, sent a little thrill dancing in the back of Trevor’s mind. Damn, but this man was attractive.
“You live in Ned?” Mr. Handsome’s tone was playful. “You’ll be lucky to get back up there before March.”
Trevor laughed. Yes, living at eighty-two hundred feet did have its drawbacks, but he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. There was an intangible energy in the mountains that soothed his soul and fed his creative muse. He hadn’t achieved critical success as an artist until he’d moved here, even though his mom always said he was so talented he’d have reached that level anyway, regardless of geography. Nederland wasn’t all that out there in the boonies, either—just a thirty-minute drive down into Boulder . . . when the roads weren’t covered in snow. Chances were high the canyon road would end up closed from the blizzard too, if it hadn’t been already.
“It suits me.” Trevor shrugged. “How about you?”
“I was on my way home from work in Denver. Got stuck on the turnpike. Home is Boulder.”
“Wow. We’re practically neighbors.” Trevor took a bite of his burger, and his tablemate’s gaze focused on his mouth, staring long enough for heat to infuse Trevor’s cheeks before he lifted his eyes to meet Trevor’s. The air between them simmered and buzzed over the surface of his skin.
Damn. And he’d thought he was getting tired? Suddenly he was feeling fresh as a new day.
He put his burger down and struggled to swallow. Jeez, when was the last time he’d been so enticed by someone he’d just met? And when was the last time his body had shown even a spark of interest since he’d been diagnosed? Sure, he’d experienced instant attraction before, but he could count on one hand the number of times his breath had caught and his heart had stuttered. Which would be exactly one time. Now.
He reached out across the table. “Trevor.”
The hand that engulfed his was warm, smooth, and confident. “Marc.”
They shook twice, but Marc held on to Trevor’s hand instead of letting go right away—or maybe it was the other way around. Regardless, he didn’t care. The feel of Marc’s skin against his pinged every nerve ending with teasing jolts of pleasure, nudging at desires long ignored, and he fought the urge to lick his lips.
“Pleasure to meet you, Marc,” he said, his voice husky from the low hum of arousal coursing through his veins.
“Pleasure’s all mine.” Marc’s green eyes gleamed, and a hint of a grin tipped up the corners of his mouth.
A long beat or two later, Marc released Trevor’s hand slowly enough for his fingertips to slide along Trevor’s palm. Imagined on his part or forward on Marc’s, the effect was the same. Trevor’s previously dormant libido was waking up, and right then and there, he wanted Marc.
“Can I get you two another drink?” A frazzled-looking waitress interrupted their heated stare. Trevor leaned back, not having realized that he’d bent forward in the first place, pulled into Marc’s intense eyes by some unseen force.
“Not for me, thank you,” he said.
“I’ll have another hot brandy, please,” Marc ordered. With a nod of her head, the woman turned on her heel, and then they were alone again. Well, as alone as they could be in a packed lounge.
Marc shifted in his seat. “So what do you do, Trevor?”
“I’m an artist. And you?”
“Oh no!” Trevor exaggerated a wince, and Marc laughed. “There has to be a joke somewhere about that. An artist and a lawyer walk into a bar . . .”
Marc chuckled. “With the number of ‘walk into a bar’ jokes out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one.”
“I’m going to have to google that now,” Trevor teased.
Charged silence settled between them for a long moment, and their eyes locked again. Trevor knew he wasn’t imagining it, seeing his own desire reflected back at him in captivating shades of green. He had zero intention of starting anything with anyone, but there was no denying the way this man was tripping all his wires. They were two grown men stranded in a blizzard, though. What could it hurt to enjoy each other’s company for one night? Assuming Marc had been able to get a room, of course.
“So . . .” Marc began. He looked down at his drink briefly, as though he were carefully choosing his words or about to admit some deep, dark secret. Trevor caught the slight dip of Marc’s mouth as he pursed his lips, making a dimple in his cheek peek out. Uncertainty flickered in those eyes like a passing shadow, and gave Trevor the impression there was a story behind Marc’s outward confidence. A story he suddenly found himself wanting to hear. Or better yet, paint.
“Tell me what life as an artist is like.” Marc absently slid a long, manicured index finger around the rim of his glass.
Trevor followed the movement, hypnotized. A flush spread over his skin, seeped beneath the surface, and hopped a ride on the fast-moving current of blood in his veins to pool in his groin like an oasis at the bottom of a waterfall. Christ, all he could think about was getting Marc alone.
He cleared his throat and lifted his eyes. A faint grin tipped one side of Marc’s mouth, and Trevor fought the urge to lean across the table and capture those lips with his. Marc lifted an eyebrow, expectant. He was waiting for . . .?
Oh right, an answer. And the question was . . . not what he’d expected. He really had thought he was going to hear some sort of confession, and now the simple question about his work threw him off.
Floundering, he cleared his throat and blurted, “I paint.”
Marc’s grin stretched into a full-on smile and transformed him from merely attractive to heart-stoppingly gorgeous. “I’ve heard a lot of artists do that.” He winked.
Trevor laughed, a self-conscious weak-sounding thing, and ran a hand through his hair, tongue-tied. When did that ever happen?
“Well, no two days are quite the same, which suits me fine.” Aside from his dialysis treatments, which were as regular as clockwork. “I spend a lot of time observing the world around me, drawing and painting how I see it, how it makes me feel, what I hope my interpretation gives to others. Nothing makes me happier than being able to create something that moves or inspires someone in a positive way.”
“That sounds like a beautiful life,” Marc said, a wistful note in his voice.
Almost. He knew he had a lot to be grateful for, knew he was fortunate to be able to make a living doing what he loved most in the world. There was just that little ticking clock that dulled everything around the edges.
Trevor shrugged. “I can’t complain.” He smiled and received a matching one from Marc. The slow spread of it, the softness and promise in it wrapped around Trevor like a security blanket.
Amid the hustle and bustle of the bar, an easy stillness settled between them. Voices, laughter, and music teased Trevor’s hearing, and people dancing and making the most of their snowbound evening blurred in his peripheral vision. A bubble seemed to have formed around the small table in the back corner where they sat, protecting them from the world mere feet beyond them.
“How about you, Mr. Lawyer?” The low, husky tone didn’t surprise him, unintentional as it was, but the fire that flared in Marc’s eyes in response had Trevor sitting up a little taller. “Are you some high-powered shark defending criminals like the ones I see on TV?”
“God, no.” Marc shook his head. “I like to think I’m one of the good guys. I’m a civil rights attorney.”
Trevor raised his eyebrows, his thoughts immediately turning to a sexy Matthew McConaughey, who once played a lawyer defending a black man in the deep South. But now his mind’s movie reel replaced Matthew with Marc. “Tell me more.”
“It’s not nearly as exciting as it looks on TV.” Marc grinned, and his eyes sparkled. “Mostly it’s just a lot of paperwork and research, preparing arguments and such.”
“What about in the courtroom?”
Marc shrugged. “There can be some drama, but the high-profile cases don’t really come around all that often.”
“So what kind of cases do you handle, then?” Trevor leaned forward, drawn in by Marc’s soothing, seductive voice. Didn’t seem to matter what he was saying as long as he was simply speaking.
“Let’s say, for instance—” Marc paused, and Trevor got the feeling it was cut for effect “—that you’re gay.”
The effect worked, and Trevor grinned. “Go on.”
Marc tipped his head slightly and complied. “The state of Colorado has laws in place that protect employees in the private sector, as well as at state- and local-government levels, from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. Let’s say again, that a video of your boyfriend proposing to you . . .”
Trevor’s smile stretched wider, and he shook his head. Twice. Slowly. “Single.”
Marc nodded, the light in his eyes brighter. “The video goes viral, your boss sees it, and after fifteen years of being a model employee, fires you for no reason other than that you’re gay. I’m the guy you want at your back to settle those situations.”
“I’ll have to remember that,” Trevor said, deliberately dropping his voice an octave. “And . . . I think I would like having you at my back.”
[W]ell written, well-rounded and wonderfully conveyed. Definitely a must read, I devoured it in one setting, just could not put it down.
This story has all the components of a fabulous holiday read. It’s well-written, with a wonderfully easygoing style. It’s so romantic and swoony, but with the right amount of drama. The conflict is really well done – has you on edge but not wanting to throw your Kindle into the fireplace. . . . Grab this book and curl up by the fire one weekend soon! You’ll be so glad you did!
[A] sweet (and sexy) emotional story, really done well. I loved it.
The perfect romantic story to read under the Christmas Tree. Sweet, heartwarming, I loved everything about this book.
This one got me right in the feels. . . . [A] well-told strangers-to-lovers story.