Clay and Daniel fell in love as enlisted men during Desert Shield, but Don’t Ask Don’t Tell meant they had to keep it secret. After Clay’s convoy was ambushed, PTSD changed him, and their relationship ended in a horrible fight on Christmas Eve.
Twenty-five years later, they’ve reconnected on Facebook, and Clay finds out Daniel will be alone on Christmas Eve. Impulsively, he sets out for Daniel’s hometown of Gilead, Ohio —where Daniel is now the mayor— to surprise him with a visit. But a blizzard strikes and Clay wrecks his car. All hope of seeing Daniel is lost —until a mysterious old man named Nick offers Clay a ride.
The weight of past wounds and the scars of war might make their reunion awkward, but Clay is willing to take the risk to win back his lost love. Despite a lifetime of disappointing holidays, Clay hopes that this soldier is finally coming home for Christmas.
Welcome Home, Soldier
Clay stared at the ominous green door—Daniel’s favorite color. With a fortifying breath, he pushed the doorbell. When he didn’t hear anything, he knocked on the door with a fist. On the other side, a dog barked.
His heart gave a pang at the sound. His white German Shepard Lola had died too young, only seven. Damn, I miss her.
Clay raised his hand to knock again, but the rumble of a man’s voice followed by the switch of a deadbolt stopped him. His heart skipped. This is it.
The door opened.
“Clay?” Hazel eyes met Clay’s, wide with shock.
At least he recognizes me. That’s a start. Shoving his hands into his jacket pockets, Clay offered, “Merry Christmas, Daniel.”
“Wh-what?” Daniel shook his head. “Get in here,” he declared, opening the door and ushering him inside.
Clay didn’t hesitate to enter, sighing when warmth and the scent of cookies, smoke, and pine surrounded him.
The scents of home…
Daniel shut the door, blocking out the howling storm. “What the hell are you doing here, Fisher?”
A dopey yellow lab pushed between Daniel and Clay, then promptly shoved his nose straight up Clay’s crotch.
“Well, hello to you too.” Clay laughed, stepping back. He held out a hand to protect himself from more inappropriate sniffing.
“Get down, George,” Daniel scolded the excited dog as he took hold of his collar. “Sit,” he commanded, and though George obeyed, he was scooting and squirming in his seat. White around the muzzle, the old dog was still playful at heart.
Standing in the foyer, Clay took a good look around Daniel’s home.
Straight out of a Christmas story.
Feeling like a tool for gawking, Clay knelt down, his knee popping. “You’re a friendly guy aren’t you, George?” He gave him a good scratch behind the ear, and George happily licked his face. Clay missed having a dog. They were always so happy to see you when you came home.
Hopefully Daniel is half as glad to see me as his dog.
Still ruffling up the dog’s floppy ears, Clay risked a peek upward.
Twenty-five years had changed Daniel. His thick, sandy-blond hair had grayed at the temples, and his eyebrows were a little unruly. Weather and a tan had aged his skin, laugh lines marking his eyes and cheeks. He’d gained weight too, no longer having that lean soldier’s body Clay had spent hours exploring.
Nervously, Clay looked down at George, still petting him.
When he glanced up again, a funny thing happened. Though he hadn’t seen Daniel in ages, it only took a moment for Clay to register his age, and then it was gone. In a blink, Daniel was once more the man Clay had known and never forgot. The same hazel eyes with long lashes stared back at Clay. That cowlick still curled his hairline. Yes, his face was a little rounder, his body a little softer, but he was the same.
Clay’s beautiful, perfect, wonderful Danny.
But he’s not yours anymore.
Awkward yet oh-so-familiar being on his knees in front of Daniel, Clay gave the dog one more pat, then pushed himself to his feet. Daniel stared at him, and Clay hoped Daniel liked how the years had treated him.
Clay sure liked what he saw.
He shoved his hands in his pockets again and flashed a grin, hoping to appear casual and calm—two things he was not. “Probably surprised to see me.”
Still staring, Daniel nodded.
Forcing himself not to stare awkwardly at his feet, Clay didn’t want to appear nervous. “I felt bad when you told me your son was gone for Christmas. I didn’t have anywhere to be. And since we’re only three hours apart, I thought I’d drive out and surprise you.” He gestured toward the door. “I didn’t expect snowpocalypse to strike.”
Daniel frowned. “Didn’t you check the forecast?”
Still so pragmatic and logical. He chuckled. “No, I didn’t check it, Danny.”
Daniel flinched at the nickname he’d hated when they were younger and his frown disappeared. Daniel never allowed anyone to call him Danny, so naturally Clay had done it all the time.
Their eyes met, and Clay swore they both recalled all the times Clay had whispered, “Oh, Danny, please…” while they’d writhed, naked and lost to passion.
Clearing his throat, Daniel turned away and walked into his kitchen. The cabinets and floors were all warm, golden oak, the fixtures brushed nickel. White granite counters broke up all the wood, and recessed lights on a drywalled ceiling made the space bright. “You’re here,” he said. “Might as well take your jacket off and make yourself at home. I was making cookies.”
Clay’s heart leapt with delight. When was the last time you had homemade Christmas cookies?
He didn’t exactly offer you any.
Wordlessly, Clay took off his jacket, feeling like an intruder.
He looked around again. The four-foot-tall carving of a black bear with a trout by the door surprised him—but it felt so very Daniel. With the open ceiling and those big windows, he’d bet this place was a bitch to heat, though. The only thing out of place in the tidy cabin was the wrapping paper and dog toys littering the floor by the tree.
Of course Daniel bought his dog Christmas presents.
Clay studied Daniel while he moved about the kitchen as if on edge —expected when someone from the past just showed up in the middle of a blizzard. And Clay hadn’t even explained he didn’t have a car or a phone yet. The only things he had were his pajamas and three pairs of underwear in his pocket.
Shit! He still had on the pajamas over his clothing.
“Um, I probably look pretty strange,” Clay said, indicating the plaid bottoms. “I totaled my car a few miles down your road. I was in the car for a while, trying to decide if I should walk back to Gilead or not. Figured I’d layer to keep warm.”
Best to leave out wearing underwear as a hat.
Une histoire de Noël très sympathique et comme je les aime :)
Par contre, j'aurai bien aimé un peu plus d'histoire, ou au moins un petit épilogue.
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