Daddy, It’s Cold Outside

All Jude Kensworth White wanted for Christmas was to be home with his family. He certainly didn’t need to be stuck in a cabin for a last minute work retreat. He considered not attending, but was assured things would be ok by his current boss and former childhood best friend, Logan.

Logan Clark needed Jude at the retreat. He knew Jude would have to be there for the entire thing to work in the first place. He was trying to get rid of his ghosts from Christmas past, and he knew there was no way to banish a ghost without looking it straight in the face.

Neither of them were expecting the turn of events that leaves them both confronting their past and weathering the present.

This Christmas was looking to be a very special Christmas for the both of them.

 

Chapter One

Jude Kensworth White

“I love Christmas,” Audrey said as she finished up tying the thick gold ribbon into an impressive knot. Seriously, that thing looked HSN ready.

Mine on the other hand… well, not so much.

“I’ll second that,” I said, taking a step back from the long table to admire my lack of handiwork. It was clear to everyone in the stock room that I wasn’t the greatest when it came to arts and crafts. My gift was wrapped in a shimmery blue paper that was wrinkled around a few corners and torn at another. The silver ribbon looked like I outsourced someone who had just learned to tie their shoes. It didn’t help that it was sitting next to Audrey’s gift, which was wrapped perfectly in a rich red velvet-colored paper, finished off by an expertly curled and knotted ribbon. “We can put mine at the back of the tree.”

Audrey chuckled as she grabbed her gift box. “Come on, I have to get back to sorting through a thousand different receipts if I want to get out of here on time.”

“You’re still not done with his expenses?”

“No,” Audrey said, her shoulders slumping. She was usually upbeat and quick to smile. Today though, she looked exhausted. Her long brown hair was up in a loose ponytail and her contacts were no where in sight, replaced by a very stylish pair of black Ray-Ban glasses, thick rims framing her tired brown eyes. She was wearing a light windbreaker over her white blouse, most likely to protect from the air vent that was located right above her desk. I had offered to switch with her once as the cold didn’t bother me as much, but our boss, Logan Clark, denied the request, saying it was because she needed to be next to his office since she was his assistant. He apparently thought his entire tech company would crumble underneath him if his assistant was further than ten feet away at all times.

I thought that was bullshit. My desk was only a minute walk down the hallway.

The real reason he didn’t approve the switch? Logan probably didn’t want to look out the glass wall of his office and see me every day. And that was fine because I didn’t want to be reminded of his smug face on a daily basis, either.

Even though that face was the definition of the golden ratio. He was made out of marble and stone, with a square jaw and thick lips. The damn bastard.

We had a little bit of a complicated history.

I grabbed my sad-looking gift. If this was being given to anyone, I would have put way more effort into making sure it didn’t look like I went dumpster-diving for it. The box was only being used as a prop, though. The box was empty, light as a feather and meant to sit underneath the office Christmas tree, which we had been asked to put up that same morning. Which was weird seeing as how it was already the twenty-first of December.

Needless to say, we were all pretty confused when we clocked in and there were already demands for us written across the whiteboard, in that neon-blue ink Logan loved using for some reason. Maybe because the brightness seemed to have burned an impression into our corneas, making sure we don’t forget what we were asked to do. He had apparently bought a Christmas tree and was having it delivered to the office, where we would then be in charge of decorating it. Thankfully, I didn’t mind that at all. I loved this season, and decorating a Christmas tree might as well have doubled as yoga for me. There was something meditative about it. It’s like I get transported back to being a little kid, running down the stairs with my older sister tagging behind me, our dads already sitting cross-legged next to the tree, a pile of gifts (wrapped way better than anything I could do) laid out in front of them. They enjoyed mixing the gifts in a big pile so that my sister and I would work together, figuring out whose was whose.

Besides, decorating the tree beat sitting at my desk and answering a ton of emails. I was in the middle of closing a deal on a new game we were supposed to acquire, and although things were falling into place, it was still stressful. At twenty-eight, I was the youngest full-fledged producer at APEX. I had worked years at a different company and only recently transferred to APEX, about four months ago. As soon as the position opened, I pounced. Even with the fact that Logan and I had a tumultuous past, there was no way I could at least not apply. I knew that I would end up producing my own games, my own apps, whatever I could think of that would help move APEX forward, a huge promotion from what I was doing in my last job.

“Looking forward to your trip?” Audrey asked, grabbing my box and placing it just behind hers.

“I’ve gotten to the stage where I can’t think about it because I’m so excited.” We started walking back to her desk. The main office space was large and open, but our desks were through a hall and around the back.

I couldn’t be more excited. I had moved from Los Angeles to New Jersey four years ago, as soon as I landed a job. I had just graduated from UCLA with a degree in business, and I was ready to take over the tech world. Jersey had boomed as a tech hub starting in the year twenty-twenty one when Amazon had decided to open up a hub in Newark. This attracted a huge amount of attention from Silicon Valley, which was collapsing underneath the exorbitant prices of real estate in San Francisco. Then a new tax law was passed by the Jersey governor benefitting the tech companies, and the rest was history. It was the last push they needed. Logan’s company was also based in Jersey, so when I moved jobs, I didn’t get any closer to my family.

It meant I was a half a world away from my parents and my sister. It was rough at first. My family had grown up as a tight unit. Of course, there were a couple of arguments here and there, but we always came together as a family by the end of the day. Especially when dad started getting sick. That changed a lot for me, for all of us. It also really solidified the glue that held us all together. We spent every holiday together unless one of the dads was called in to work for some reason. Then we would be sure to celebrate that holiday a day later, or a day before. I had one Christmas Eve turn into Christmas (which, as an eleven-year-old, was legitimately the highlight of my life), and I had one Thanksgiving that had been moved to Saturday. But no matter what, we always shared in the spirit together.

Then I had moved, and it had changed. The first year, I made sure to fly out for all the major holidays. The second year, work was so intense, I cut my trips down to half. By the third year, I was so busy at work, I had to FaceTime them while they were having their turkey feast, but I made sure to clear my schedule for Christmas.

We reached Audrey’s desk as she was telling me to bring her back a surfer husband from the west coast. Normally, Logan had the blinds open, giving a clear view of his impressive office. Today, he had them shut. I always felt a little weird walking by when Logan was in there, sitting at his desk. Sometimes, I felt his eyes pinned to my back as I walked. It could have just been in my head (and probably was), but I could have sworn I saw him staring through a reflection in the window. The few times I thought it had happened, it left me feeling a warmth that quickly spread down from my back to my thighs and everything else in between. By the time I would get back to my desk, my briefs were already feeling tight. I’d roll my chair a little further in, hiding an obvious bulge in case anyone walked into my office. It didn’t help that my office had a glass door, meaning anyone could look inside unless I pressed a little button that fogged up the glass. But I never pressed the button because I felt like people would know exactly why I was pressing that button in the first place.

I’m crazy. I shouldn’t need to be jacking off because of Logan. Logan is trouble. He always has been.

Honestly, though, that wasn’t entirely true. He wasn’t always trouble. It was quite the opposite, actually. When we were growing up, I was the one who would prank our teachers or lead random adventures through the city. Logan would follow along, always with a smile that would charm the pants off anyone who threatened to get me in trouble. We were like the perfect team. Two mini Bonnie and Clydes biking around the city, causing trouble and creating stories to last the rest of our lives.

Well, for me at least… it was perfect. We were perfect.

Logan, on the other hand, obviously didn’t see it the way I did. Not with how he treated me the night he left. What he did to me.

It was hard to forgive and definitely something I’d never forget. Our past didn’t stop me from applying for a good job at Logan’s company, but it certainly was stopping me from letting my gaze linger on him longer than it should.

Deep down, I knew that if I did look at him — really looked at him — then forgiving and forgetting wouldn’t be that hard at all.

I left Audrey underneath her polar vortex and made it to my desk, without any spontaneous boners making a guest appearance on the way. I rolled out the comfortable leather chair and sat down, flexing my neck and cracking my knuckles before I went back into work mode. It had been nice to get a distraction, especially of the holiday kind. I grabbed my light blue earbuds and popped them in, unlocking my computer and going to my music player, where I dug around for some good Christmas music.

There was one song in particular that I wanted to play: Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

It was a song I tended to avoid during my usual November to January binging of holiday music. It carried a lot of weight to it and brought me back not only to a time of being young with my family but also to a Christmas that meant a lot more to me than most others. Thinking of Logan had done it to me, and I was going to ride the feeling.

As soon as the first notes hit, I was thrown back to that day in the basement where Logan and I were standing with inches separating us.

I was so lost in the song, I almost clicked out of a calendar invite without even reading it. I managed to stop myself mid-click and read the message. Logan’s name was written above it, denoting that the invite came from his computer.

Wait… what?

I read it again. Was this man crazy? Logan must have lost it. Truly lost it.

There’s no damn way.

I pulled out my earbuds and dropped them on my desk. Baby, It’s Cold Outside kept playing through them as I walked to Logan’s office, every step making me angrier.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

Logan Clark

 

I fucking hate Christmas.

I looked around bleakly at the silver garland strung across the ceiling of my office. It was a tiny and shitty distraction from the pink slips on my desk. They were arranged in a neat pile, each one blank, each one having to get assigned to someone. Next to the pile was a stack of employee folders, which I had pulled out earlier in the day. The blinds were drawn shut against the wall that looked out at Audrey’s desk. I didn’t want anyone having to see the grim reaper at work.

It’s how I felt. Like a damn death dealer. My pen was a scythe. This was shit. Pure shit. I shook my head, got up from my chair and paced the room a little bit. Outside, the day was clear and bright, the sun shining down on the people walking along the street below, all of them holding some kind of bags from the nearby mall, everyone trying to get their Christmas shopping done last minute. None of them aware of the pure fuckery I had to deal with fifteen floors above them.

How was I supposed to lay anyone off? And during the holidays?!

It was fucked.

If my finance department didn’t bring the hammer down on me so hard, I would have pushed to wait until at least the new year. But they were heartless and cared more about the spreadsheets and the little red and green numbers. I understood their part, too. They kept the lights on. And if we didn’t lay off three people before the year was over, then those lights may very well be turned off.

I really hate Christmas.

This time of year never brought me any joy. No matter how much Mariah Carey sang on the radio or how many colorful lights my neighbor could hang up on the same tree I had been telling him he needed to cut for a year now. No, the holidays were never fun for me. Something never failed to go wrong. Sometimes catastrophically.

It was why the corporate coach I had hired told me it would be smart to plan a staff retreat for this time of year. She told me to put up a tree in the office and to inundate myself with mistletoes and Christmas music, even though Christmas day was right around the corner. She said it would improve employee morale and make me feel better, too. I didn’t pay her thousands of dollars to ignore her advice (even if it did sound a little too hokey-dokey for me), and so I did exactly what she said. I ordered a tree for next-day delivery and asked Audrey to set up a retreat overnight. I made sure to tell her to deck the place out; pick the fanciest cabin she could find, I told her. We were going to spend a good amount of money on it and make it as fun as possible, seeing as how I was having the retreat from the twenty-second up until Christmas Eve. I wanted it as enticing as possible so that people wouldn’t complain as much. I also told her to keep quiet about it. I wanted to send out calendar invites so that the requests came directly from me. That way people had a harder time of saying no. The downside with the plan was that I didn’t have time to sit down and send out invites and figure out who was coming. I did manage to send one off before I had to focus on the pink slips that were burning a hole through my desk.

I guess Audrey can send the rest of the invites.

Of course, the only invite I sent out was to Jude, who was a constant presence in my thoughts ever since he started working here a few months ago…

Who the fuck was I joking? Jude had always been in my thoughts, even since before he applied for a job at my company. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted him at the retreat. I knew all I’d think about the entire time was “what happened to us?” Well, that and I’d also be constantly thinking about bending him over a chair and fucking him senseless.

He had turned into quite the man during our fallout. My cock had immediately noticed the second he had walked into my office on his first day. I remember being scared of standing. Fucking standing. Since then, I’ve either had to jack off every day, sometimes right there in my office, or find a random guy off Grindr that was good enough to get my mind (and cock) off Jude and his intoxicating smile. And those damn light gray eyes of his. And that silky soft head of brown hair that made me want to twine my fingers through, steering him while he moved down my body, kissing his way toward my belly button.

Annnd, there was another boner.

I went back to my desk and sat down, grabbing the soft blue stress ball next to a thriving bonsai tree and giving it a few squeezes, trying to ignore the warm throbbing against my thigh. My legs bounced under the glass table, alternating from right to left after one got tired. After a minute, my dick quieted down, and Jude slowly faded from my focus, replaced by the grim task at hand. I reached for my laptop and set it on top of the folders. The spreadsheet the finance people had sent me earlier in the day was open, taking up the entire screen. My eyes raked over each row, every column. I was trying to find anything, something that they could have missed. I would have canceled the retreat in a heartbeat and rerouted that money if I could, but the warlocks in finance had that side of the budget frozen. It was a ridiculous amount they allocated to employee morale, and something they wouldn’t be doing again. I had reached one row of numbers that stood out to me when I heard three sharp knocks against my closed door. I shut the laptop, leaving it on top of the folders and covering them from sight. I grabbed the pink slips and put them in my drawer.

“Come in.”

The door opened, and I was surprised to see Jude. He had an intense energy to him. He looked pissed. His jaw was clenched, and his face was a little pink.

It was actually pretty hot.

“Logan, I just got your invite.”

“Great, I’ll be seeing you there.” I didn’t even leave any opening for him to reject it. I couldn’t. He had to be there. He was part of this entire fucking mess. One of the reasons why this holiday season always crawled underneath my skin and pricked at my nerves. The other reason— well, I didn’t want to think about it. So I didn’t. I focused on Jude standing in front of my desk. He was looking so damn handsome in a light blue short-sleeved shirt, tucked into a tailored pair of dark pants that made his crotch look like a fucking bull’s-eye for my mouth. I was half-expecting him to snap with a “Hey, my eyes are up here, buddy,” but I managed to stop openly admiring him in time. I looked into his light gray eyes instead.

Bad idea.

Those were just as, if not more, captivating as his bulge.

But I wasn’t going to back down. I wasn’t going to look away. He was also angry, and our eye contact was filled with tension. I still couldn’t tell if it was the good kind or the bad kind, but by the way his jaw was clenched and his hands jammed in his pockets, I was leaning toward the latter.

“Logan, I have to fly back home. I was leaving on the twenty-third.”

“Change your flight. I’ll personally cover the cost.”

Jude’s eyes widened before they narrowed. There was a power thing going on here. I felt like I should stand, but I didn’t want to intimidate him, either. I just needed him there.

Need?

I didn’t give myself time to think anymore about it. “I’ll make sure you get the earlier flight out on Christmas Eve. I’ll look into it myself.” I didn’t want to beg him. He was an adult, and he could do whatever he wanted.

Maybe it’s better if he doesn’t go. That way things stay much less complicated.

But him going could also help distract me

Jude crossed his arms. I noticed he had been going to the gym recently. The shirt looked tight around his biceps. I cleared my throat and adjusted myself in the seat, waiting for Jude’s answer, ignoring the warmth that made my dick twitch.

“I mean,” Jude started. “I don’t want to miss out on something important to the company.”

“It is,” I said. And although he could do whatever he wanted… I wanted him to do what I wanted. It would be like a Band-Aid we’d just need to rip off. We didn’t need to talk about anything from our past or what had happened. What I did. None of that. I just wanted him there to help with getting over this stupid Christmas shit. Him being there would be a small distraction from the barrage of holiday bullshit. If we could talk and just make things a little less awkward between us, that would be great, too. But he had to be there for that to happen. Then the retreat would end, and we’d go on with our lives.

“Ok.” Jude said. I smiled. I didn’t want to; I wanted to keep things simple. Just a nod. Nothing extra. No need to reveal how irrationally happy Jude’s decision had just made me.

But I smiled, and it was a huge fucking grin. I was sure it was big enough to give me those damn dimples that had a mind of their own.

Jude smiled back. His was a little more contained. More cautious. But it wasn’t his smile that made me shiver in my seat. No, it was his eyes. Those breathtaking slate-gray orbs. I’d stare into them all fucking day if I could.

“Alright,” Jude said, breaking eye contact and leaving me aching for it. “I’ll see you at the cabin then.”

“See you.”

He walked out and closed the door behind him. I could see his shape walk away through the still-shut white blinds.

I turned my attention back to the task at hand, ignoring the warm, gentle pulse against my thigh. There was a screen built into my glass desk, to the left of where the pink slips were resting. I tapped at the center to wake it up. Icons for different apps popped up, seemingly as if they were floating just underneath the glass surface of the table. I opened the calculator app and typed in a few numbers. I already did the math in my head, but I wanted to double-check it. This wasn’t something that I could afford to fuck up.

Sure enough, my calculations were correct. Slashing a chunk off of my salary would ease enough of the pressure to at least pause the downsizing and restructuring. It could give me enough time to find these people other jobs.

It’ll be ok.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Jude Kensworth White

The thin gray sweater I threw on wasn’t enough to keep the chill from giving me small shivers. Or maybe that was just an after effect of interacting with Logan. I had walked in there angry and left shaken, in a good kind of way. I was still upset, mind you. I was just… less upset. He still had it, that bastard. He could still disarm me with a smile.

I was standing outside by the entrance to our building, underneath the onyx walkway that led out into the street. There were projections of different APEX accomplishments on the dark, polished floor. On either side of me were rows of beautiful emerald-green hedges, dotted with bright pops of color from flowers growing out of them. Sapphire blues and ruby reds mixed together with eye-catching yellows and oranges. The tops were dusted with a white powder to look like snow, a subtle nod to the holiday season. It was a huge improvement from where I used to work before, where we all had cookie-cutter cubicles and zero flourishes in terms of architecture and decorations. It was obvious that Logan took a ton of pride in the company he built, making sure that every aspect of it was flawless, from the ground up. He was always like that. A stickler for details. He was a pain to work with in group projects back in high school, but I also secretly loved how frustrated he always made me. Because it meant he was pushing me to be better, to get that A-plus and make sure that we were giving the best effort we could. I was a little more of a slacker in school, but Logan always drove me forward, even if I did complain on a few occasions.

And now he was the owner of a revolutionary tech company, making everyone proud, not just me. At first, it had been a little surreal to read blog posts about Logan and his company’s huge initiative to support homeless youth. News of his work had gone viral. He became the tech mogul with a heart that could sell a cover of a magazine with his smile. A lot of the other big tech guys that had risen during Logan’s time were never really able to cross their success over into the mainstream, but Logan was quickly becoming a household name. Not only was he photogenic, but his volunteer work was showing notable results. He was creating safe and modern apartment buildings big enough to house the kids until they could get their feet under them. Each building is equipped with its own kind of “economy” used through an app. The kids take up chores and earn coins they can spend at the stores inside each of the apartment’s ground floors. There were also counselors that lived inside the buildings. Job fairs were held every weekend, and recruiters were constantly holding open meetings inside the library.

All of this was funded by the money he made from advertising through his messaging app. There were rumors that money was starting to get tight, but that was always just watercooler stuff. Things seemed to be going great, and his housing project was already established and making a huge difference in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.

It still didn’t stop me from getting upset at him, though. That damn bastard, with his smoldering gaze and his philanthropic ways…

Ugh, maybe it did stop me from getting mad at him.

I had to call my sister to decide.

“Emma,” I said into the phone as soon as she answered. She must have been able to hear the frustration in my voice.

“What’s wrong?”

“Work crap.” I looked around, making sure no one was walking out. “Logan.” I sighed. “Crap.”

“What did he do? Look at you?”

“Very funny,” I said, not sounding amused. “No, he wants the heads of his departments to go to some Christmas retreat for the next couple of days. I think it was some crazy idea from the therapist he hired or something. I mean, it sounds like it could be fun, but I want to be home for Christmas.”
“Wait, so you won’t be?”

“Well, yeah, I will. He’s offering to personally pick up the tab on me changing my flight so I can come home on Christmas Eve.”

“Sounds like he really wants you there.”

“He really wants us all there.”
The silence on the other line was enough of a reply from my sister. “Whatever, I should still be home for Christmas, that’s what matters, I guess.” I tried looking at the positive side. I’d have a good time hanging out with Audrey and the rest of the team and then get home in time for some honey ham and corny movies.

“Just remember,” my sister said, “you guys have a past that’s hard to ignore. That stuff is going to come boiling up when neither of you are expecting it. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Second chances rarely are.”

“Second chances imply that there was a chance to begin with. There wasn’t. We were meant to be best friends for a period in our lives, and then we were meant to move on.”

“Yeah, sooo ‘meant to move on’ that you land at the company he just happened to create.”

It was my turn to respond with a bout of silence. Emma chuckled on the other end of the phone. “I’m just saying, a lot’s changed since the last time you two actually sat down and talked. Maybe you’ll end up seeing what we all saw was going on between you, even back then.”

My eyebrows drew together. That was news to me. “Wait, what?”

“Jude, it was obvious you two were the same peas in the same pod. I overheard Dad and Pop talking one day about how they hoped no one’s heart got broken. I guess they sort of saw other things coming, too.”
My throat felt tight. My dads may have seen it coming, but I was definitely blindsided by it. By the fight that tore apart our perfect little peapod. “Regardless,” I said, steeling myself. I leaned back against an onyx-black column. “Things happened the way they did, and that’s fine. I have a dream job, and yeah, it happens to be at Logan’s company, but that’s ok, too. What we have is purely professional, and it’s going to stay that way for the entire retreat.”

Silence. We sure were siblings. Just then, movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention. I turned my head and saw Gary Fernandez, wearing an oversized Santa’s costume lacking the stuffing for the stomach. He held the red velvet hat in one hand and his phone in the other. He waved and smiled my way, surprising me with the friendliness. He had been given me the side-eye since I started working at APEX. Rumor had it, he was vying for the job I ended up with and was still holding some bitterness about not getting it. He also had an obvious thing for Logan, which had me thinking he was maybe intimidated by some of the rumors I already heard floating around about Logan and I. Gary worked in the same department but usually stuck to his office, and so he was rarely around Logan. But when he was, he would be sure to leave behind a puddle of drool, his eyes always glossy behind the thick-rimmed hipster glasses he swore looked good on his extra-round face.

Maybe the Santa outfit has him feeling merry and jolly and not like a raging jealous bastard.

“Seriously?” Emma’s voice cut in. “Come on, Jude, there’s something there.”

I felt myself crack. I had to shut this down. My sister was only trying to help, but I was past the helping point. “I can never get with Lo—him. He’ll always remind me of the insecure, ashamed, hurtful kid that was more scared of his feelings than of hurting me. He’s just not a good guy. I don’t think he can ever be.”

Silence. But it didn’t last long. Emma let out a breath. “Damn. Sorry, Judy.”

“No, no, I’m sorry” I shook my head and matched my sister’s exhale. She was the only one who ever called me Judy, and it always made me smile a little. “It’s just me being frustrated, that’s all. I haven’t really talked about any of it for years.” My head gently dropped back on the hard stone. “I don’t even really mean it. Of course, he’s changed, and so have I. And I don’t want to say he’s a bad guy, either, because he’s not. We were just in a really rough spot back then… Who knows.” I pushed off the column and started walking back into the building. “Maybe you’re right, maybe it is a second chance.”

“I’m always right, Judy.”

“Mhmm,” I agreed. She did have a way of being right more often than not. I thought it was just a big sister thing, but nope, she was just point-blank right about a lot of things. Three years separated us, so we were always pretty close growing up, and her advice helped me countless of times. She hadn’t known about Logan until a few days after everything happened, but even then, she knew exactly what to say to get me back in the right mindset.

The glass doors to the building slid open, and I entered the lobby area. There were plenty of seats and comfortable couches, all of them in the bright blue color that came to symbolize APEX. The rest of the décor was a cool fusion of ancient Japanese and more modern pieces. Logan wanted to have every section of the building invoke a different part of the world, symbolizing how interconnected everyone was and how even more connected they became when APEX hit the app store. There was a tranquil stone garden of jet-black and snow-white stones surrounding a large koi pond that had a waterfall coming down from the ceiling, making the waterfall seem like it was almost hoisted in the air by magic. “How’s Dad feeling?” I asked, walking over to the koi pond.

“He’s good!” Emma voice pitched up toward the end. Something she did whenever she was lying.

“Em.”

“He’s good, Jude. Promise. Just tired, that’s all.”

“Ok, well, I’ll call him in a little bit. He’s at work, right?” I glanced down at my watch. The time difference was only three hours, but it still threw me off sometimes.

“Yeah, he went back in after the tests.” I could hear Hamilton, Emma’s puppy, greeting her with a symphony of yaps as she walked in through her front door. “We’re all really excited to see you, Judy.”

“I’m really excited, too,” I said, trying to cut down the stalks of fear that grew up from my gut. My dad was going to be fine. I had to keep telling myself that. There was a stretch of time where things didn’t seem that way, but that was in the past. And now, with the experimental drug trial he was going under next week, there was a ninety-five percent chance that he would be completely cured.

“Alright. I better get back to my desk before I don’t even have a job to go to a retreat for.”

“You do that,” Emma said, “I have to fend off a ravenous Pomeranian that thinks my fingers are those delicious, and yet terrible for you, canned sausages.”

I laughed as my sister yelped on the phone, most likely getting nipped by Hamilton, who could jump like a damn cricket. He was a wacko pup, and was a blast to puppy sit whenever my sister had to travel, which was pretty often for her job.

“Alright, talk later, love you.”

“Love ya,” I said, hanging up the call and slipping my phone back in my pocket. I walked away from the suspended waterfall and crossed the lobby to go underneath a pair of big arches that resembled those found at the entrances of old temples, colored bright red and green, which was a subtle nod to Christmas since they were normally red and yellow. On my way to the elevators, I couldn’t help but think about what Emma had told me. About how a second chance was rarely a bad thing.

It took me the full elevator ride to the seventeenth floor to push Logan out of my head and forget about second chances. Like I had said, there was never a first.

Only a first dance.

And a first kiss.

And a first lov—

No, nope, no way. I wasn’t going that far. The L-word didn’t apply to Logan. Not in the romantic sense. I loved him because he was my best friend, but it had ended there. Nothing else.

Nope.

Nothing.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

Logan Clark

The drive to Sunrise Mountain was long, made longer by not only the immense amount of people on the roads making a last-minute holiday trip but also by the growing seed of gloom I felt in my gut. It made time warp, like I was swimming through molasses to get to the retreat.

This entire thing was a bad idea. I realized it too late. Last night, actually. I had just showered and finished packing up my bag. I got into bed and I laid there, realizing what a huge mistake I had made. Christmas wasn’t for me. I should have accepted that and moved the fuck on. Instead, I was dragging myself and some of my reluctant employees to a Christmas retreat bound to be all kinds of awkward and depressing. No amount of garland was going to make this any better.

Not to mention, I was guaranteeing myself time with Jude, the man who still revved me up and scared me at the same time. I wasn’t the type of man that got scared easily. Maybe as a kid I was jumpy, but life sorted that shit out. I was made of fucking steel nowadays.

That’s why I was surprised to feel that unfamiliar tug of fear in my gut. Like my stomach was being yanked around a little. It wasn’t the kind of fear induced by something like, say, a terrifying clown holding a red balloon. Nah, it was another kind of fear. The kind I felt back when I was a teen, the kind of fear that I thought I was completely done feeling. It was the fear of accepting how much I wanted Jude, because accepting it would have made me gay. And yet I couldn’t deny what I felt, so that fear never left. For as long as we were best friends, there was always an undercurrent of fear running through me, making me act in ways I knew I shouldn’t, just to make sure I didn’t leave any hints of how I really felt for Jude. It was a special kind of torture. If it were as easy as erasing my connection with Jude, then I would have done it. But I obviously couldn’t. Even after years apart, that connection was still there, whether or not we liked to admit it.

I thought I had severed the connection, that was for sure. I accepted who I was in my junior year of university, and since then, I’ve slept with enough guys to make up for all those years of being repressed. Never, not once, had I felt that free falling type of fear with any of them. Come to think of it, I never really felt anything with them.

But not with you, Jude Kensworth White. I’m fucking free falling all over again.

As I drove north up the freeway, the Sunrise Mountain range growing larger on the horizon, I kept thinking about that fear and what it meant. I felt it the second I saw his name on his resume, and it hadn’t gone away.

There was something else that hadn’t gone away, either. A special kind of heat that ignited inside me every time Jude came into my orbit. That was why I had to be so cold with him. Because it was the only way to dampen the intense heat inside me. It started in my lower back and spread, reaching out like fiery fingers, kneading my muscles and redirecting my blood flow, the heat reaching my balls and never failing to give me a boner persistent enough to have to take care of. Just thinking about him had me feeling a twitch against my thigh.

Aw, fuck.

Now I was getting horny, and the GPS was still saying I had an hour’s drive ahead of me. There must have been an accident ahead because the map was showing a bright red road. Thankfully, my car was self-driving, so that took some of the stress out of the journey. Ever since it became mandatory to let go of the wheel and switch to self-driving, accidents became a huge rarity. My first car was self-driving so I didn’t grow up knowing how it felt to drive for long stretches. It was such a foreign concept to me. My dick, on the other hand, that was the complete opposite of a foreign concept. I knew it like… well, like the front of my hand. And I knew it needed attention now that I had Jude on my mind. Just thinking about those sexy lips and that confident strut had my dick pressing up against the fabric of my jeans, throbbing for a release. My windows were darkly tinted, so if there was a truck driving by, they would have a difficult time looking down and into my car, where I was now unzipping my jeans and lifting my ass off the white leather seat. The car in front of me would probably just think I was taking a little nap, not unusual to see since the cars were more than equipped to drive themselves.

I wasn’t wearing any underwear, so my semi-hard cock flopped out onto my stomach. My head fell back on the cushioned headrest as my hand closed around my warm shaft, my eyes shut as I started to stroke. Jude’s inviting smile was painted across my vision, like a stylized painting splashed with different colors onto a dark canvas. It transformed into a steamy smolder that made me thrust my hips upward into my closed fist. The picture zoomed out to reveal Jude’s naked body. I imagined it to be well defined, but not obnoxiously so. I could practically feel the covering of fur he had on his chest, leading down and creating a trail of pure fucking happiness toward that delicious, hard cock of his. I pictured myself holding his cock instead of mine. I could feel the weight, the silky soft heat, the pure sex in the air. My own cock leaked a clear precome, enough of it for me to run my palm over and wet the rest of my dick with. My balls were tight as I grabbed them, picturing them inside Jude’s mouth, his head buried between my thighs.

Fuuuck.

The radio clicked on as my strokes started reaching terminal velocity. I was so lost in my own thoughts, I hadn’t realized the station I was listening to was out of range, and so another one was beginning to broadcast. I kept on stroking, my car inching along the freeway by itself, images of Jude bending over and spreading his ass open for me filling my mind. That was when something else entered my mind, jarring me. White Christmas was playing on the radio, and that was enough to throw me out of my fantasy. I had previously been listening to an interesting interview on NPR, and so I thought I had been safe from the barrage of holiday songs that cluttered the airwaves this time of year. Of course, the new station wasn’t speaking to a world-renowned astrophysicist about the recent trip to Mars. No, this station was playing a pop remix of a popular Christmas song that immediately reminded me of what I was getting into.

Cock in hand, I tried to push past it. There was no way I wasn’t emptying my fucking balls. Especially not with Jude’s face permanently plastered onto the walls of my brain. I couldn’t get him out. Not even the cheery singing of days being “merry and bright” could stop me from jerking myself back to the edge. I stroked with one hand and tugged on my tight balls with the other, creating a really fucking nice pressure. My stomach was getting tight, my breaths short, my strokes faster. I pictured Jude on his hands and knees, taking me inside him, letting me do everything and anything. It was fucking perfect. And then I saw us collapsing, sweaty messes and pink chests, onto the bed, laughing and touching and kissing.

My cock spasmed in my closed grip. My thighs tensed and my legs kicked out as I shot rope after rope of come onto my white shirt, the sticky fluid immediately seeping through and leaving soaking wet trails down my front.

“And may all your Christmases be white,” sang the end of the song.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

***

After jerking off and switching shirts, the trip actually became a little more bearable. I was able to sit back and relax the rest of the way. I got through three and a half Christmas songs before I had to turn the radio off, though. That was where the eBooks came in. I reclined my seat and opened one up, getting lost in a fantasy world of wizards and demons. There was probably work to do or emails to answer, but I was going to try and use this time as a way to decompress, separating myself from the grind that had become part of me. I was always working, so I was going to challenge myself to leave it all in the office for the next few days.

I was just reading the chapter where the hero of the book saved his husband from a starving dragon when my car slowed down and pulled off the freeway. I set the book aside as I looked out of the window and admired the huge mountainous peaks that surrounded me. They were snowcapped and felt alien when I thought about the bustling city I was in only hours before. There was a serene kind of silence to it all that was making me feel even better about coming out here. The cabin we rented was lakeside, so it guaranteed excellent views of not only the mountains but also the serene water. I had been here once before on a ski trip and fucking loved it. Granted I wasn’t being inundated with Christmas shit at that time. But still, it gave me hope. Maybe I’d love my second trip to Sunrise as much as I loved the first.

The car wound through a couple more roads before pulling up next to the lake. There were a few cabins ahead, but one stood out like a sore holiday-themed thumb. Seriously, like the fucking thumb had string lights wrapped around it instead of a cast. The cabin was covered in not only lights, but also fake snow and huge ornaments and inflatable Christmas people. I could see Santa with his arms wide and thrown up as he stood on his sleigh on the roof.

Looks like he’s getting head.

I huffed and shook my head.

Fuckin’ hell.

This was going to be worse than I thought. As the car got closer, the cabin grew bigger. It was a damn mansion. Where the hell did Audrey find this shit? I had to remember to give her a big Christmas bonus because no matter how much I hated this, she must have worked hard to set it all up.

The car pulled up to the front of the massive cabin, driving past a gate appearing to be made out of six-foot tall candy canes.

Ugh.

The car did a fine enough job parking itself to the side of the driveway, leaving space for other cars. I grabbed my heavy black coat from the back seat and put it on. The weather update said it would be cold. They were even projecting snow later in the week, but I expected to be long gone by then. The weather had been all kinds of crazy lately, though, so who really knew?

With the coat zipped up and my bag in hand, I got out of the car. The air was definitely a kind of biting cold. It nipped at my earlobes the second I stepped out of the car. I hurried to the door and pulled out my phone. The house had an electronic lock system, and Audrey had downloaded the key onto my phone yesterday, so all I had to do was pull it up and hold it against the small white pad next to the door. A second later, a pleasant beep sounded, and the doors clicked open.

Inside, I was immediately greeted by warmth. For a split second, I was happy. The heat hugged me like an old friend. And then I looked around and wanted to cancel it all. Forget about old friends. If I thought the outside of the cabin was bad, the inside was a surprise of North Pole fucking proportion. It was like Santa jizzed all over the room after not having jerked off in since last Christmas. There was fake snow covering almost everything, and cartoon penguin statues holding out gift boxes, flanking a velvety red couch which sat across from a coat rack that seemed to be made out of shed reindeer antlers. There was a hologram —a fucking hologram — of a jolly old Santa welcoming me inside with a wave, his red and white suit looking so real I was tempted to reach out and touch the image, except the gentle flickering gave its holographic status away. There were huge snowflakes that hung from the vaulted ceiling on invisible threads and the low sound of Christmas music filled the room from hidden speakers.

Fucking…. Hell.

The locks unclicked behind me. Someone else must have gotten here. I turned to greet them, hoping it would be Audrey. She was the one I was most comfortable with. Not only was she my assistant, but I considered her a really good friend. We’d been working together for three years and she really got me. I always made sure to have her back, too, if she ever needed it. And I knew that once the time came, she’d need my help finding a bigger position somewhere else. She had her eyes set on being a producer in Hollywood, and she was going to take what she learned in the tech side of the world and bring some new, exciting shit to the screen. I believed she could do it.

Just not anytime in the immediate future. I still really needed her.

The door opened, and my superstar assistant was nowhere in sight. Instead, it was Jude Kensworth White, the one and only man who had the power to freeze me in my tracks with a look alone.

“Hey, Jude,” I said, ignoring the fact that my heart just picked up its pace out of nowhere. And were my hands clammy? Yep. Definitely clammy. What the fuck? All Jude did was smile. And it was a quick smile before he dropped that sexy gaze of his, down to the floor. Why did he have such a spell over me? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to push so hard for him to come.

Must be all this Christmas shit. It’s throwing me off.

Yeah… that was it.

 

 

Chapter Five

Jude Kensworth White

Welp. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought I’d walk in and at least have a few minutes to decompress. Look around and then maybe find Logan. I saw his car in the driveway, so I knew he was inside the cabin (and holy shit, what a cabin it was. More like a Christmas theme park), I just figured he was off being miserable in his room, probably drinking expensive champagne and listening to goth music or something. He had such an aversion to this season, I totally thought he’d be trying to do everything to seclude himself from it on the retreat.

Instead, there he was, standing in front of me. He looked really good, too. Like, wow, holy shit, he looked good. He was wearing a light gray cardigan and dark jeans that fit snug around his thighs. His hair was shaved close on the sides and styled at the top into a sexy look that complimented the white and gray hairs peppering his head. He looked like a studly silver fox, even though he was only two years older than me.

Holy fucking jingle balls, Logan’s looking really damn good today.

“Hi,” I said, reaching out and offering a glove covered hand. I pulled my hand back, quickly took the glove off and stuffed it into the pocket of my coat, then stuck my hand out again. Logan reached for it, his grip tight around mine. I couldn’t help but notice how big his fingers were, and how warm his hand was. I also noted how much of a perfect fit it was around mine. The touch was enough to light my gut on fire. If I were really losing it, I would have pulled him in right then and there and locked his lips with mine. I wasn’t on peppermint scented bath salts, though, so I still had control of all my faculties. “Guess we’re the first, huh?” I said, taking my hand back. I broke from Logan’s gaze and looked around him, blown away by how much of a Christmas wonderland this place was. It was incredible. I felt like a kid in a snow-covered candy store. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought. I’d spend a few days having fun with Audrey and the other coworkers, and then go home to see my family in time for Christmas Eve dinner.

“Looks like it.”

Logan sounded miserable. He looked around, standing shoulder to shoulder with me. I realized how close we were and moved a step to the side. It felt weird, and way too good. I took off my coat and walked to the crazy looking coat rack. I hung my coat on the top most antler and reached out to grab Logan’s. He handed it over to me with a thanks. I couldn’t help but notice how good it smelled as I hung it up next to mine. His cologne and natural scent drifted off it, making my head feel a little light. There were notes of pine and spice and man.

“This place is incredible,” I said, looking around the room and admiring more of the decorations. There was a crazy real hologram of Santa welcoming me, which blew my mind. This technology had become more and more common over the years, but it was still pretty expensive and rare to see in a setting like this. “How cool is this?” I waved a hand through the image before moving on. “And this is only the entrance, huh?”

“Yup.”

I looked back at Logan, who was still standing by the door. He was watching me like someone looking through the glass of a gorilla exhibit at the zoo. Like my actions intrigued him, as if he couldn’t understand anything I was doing but wanted to try. I felt a little exposed. I crossed my arms and left the room, looking to explore the rest of the cabin. I expected Logan to stay behind, but heard his boots walking across the wooden floor behind me.

The next room appeared to be the living room, and it was just as decked out, but in a much classier way. The previous room, the entryway, was a blast of Christmas wonderland, almost verging on cartoonish. The living room was the opposite, with its more subdued style. There was a huge crackling digital fire set in an authentic wooden fireplace, just next to a towering Christmas tree. It was wrapped in silver and red garland, covered in golden lights that glittered like gold flecks amongst the dark green leaves. There weren’t any oversized decorations or mind blowing holograms, just dim lighting and a smell of cinnamon in the air. The couches were a rich white in color, complimenting the silver and red from the tree. A piano was playing quietly over the sound system, hitting notes that embodied the Christmas season.

“I can’t believe how beautiful this all is,” I said.

I also can’t believe I’m standing here with you behind me. The guy who totally ruined me all those years ago and yet can somehow make me forget all about it.

I wasn’t the type to hold grudges. I understood, we were kids and we were confused and shit happened. It sucked that it meant I had to lose my best friend, but I had made peace with it. I wasn’t really holding any negative energy toward Logan. Nothing that would make me want to repel him.

It was almost the opposite… I was getting pulled toward him.

“How was the drive here?” Logan asked. He leaned on the doorframe, his eyes feeling so damn familiar. I could tell he was hating this whole holiday thing, though. What the hell happened? He used to love Christmas. We had some great memories around the season.

“It was fine,” I said, moving to admire an incredibly intricate Christmas town laid out on top of a long oak table. “I was able to finish up this presentation I’m giving next week to high school kids about becoming a producer in the tech field.”

“Oh, wow, I didn’t know you did that kind of stuff.”

I nodded, realizing how much Logan had been missing out of my life. We hadn’t really talked in, jeez, what was it, five years now? Sure, he hired me four months ago, but we had never spent one-on-one time like this.

“To be fair, this is the first time I’m speaking to high school kids,” I clarified. “I’ve talked to college kids before, but never high school. It’s for an outreach program I created a couple months ago. I saw my dads’ make their organization helping out LGBTQ kids in developing countries, and I kind of felt a calling to do something similar. But they’re doctors, so they can fix people. I can only talk to them. I figured high school kids are the ones that are usually most impacted by talking. When they’re listening, at least.”

Logan chuckled at that. Actually chuckled. It was a sound I immediately recognized, and one that I instantly wanted more of. Like a drug addict finding themselves back on the needle. It was that intense.

“I always figured you would save the world one way or another.”

“Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. You’re doing way more in terms of world saving than I am. Let’s see if I even survive my first presentation. Sure, high school kids are moldable, but they can also be damn terrifying. I’m scared I’m going to get heckled off the stage. I see them throwing tomatoes and bananas and that terrible—but also really tasty— pizza at me. Or, like, filming some kind of prank on me that ends up going viral and I either become a laughing stock or get invited onto a daytime talk show. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Logan was laughing now. It didn’t last long, but it was louder than that chuckle, and just as addicting. “You’ll be fine,” he said, moving from the doorway and toward the tall bookcase against the wall across from me. The digital, hyper-realistic fire crackled and snapped behind me, its warmth spreading through the room from an invisible vent above it. “But if you see people start filming, run for it.”

It was my turn to laugh. “What do you think they’d do?”

“Lots.” Logan was smirking. And it was smoldering. That damn asshole. He was somehow making me even hotter than the hot air that blew from out of the vent. “They could go the classic Carrie route,” he continued, shrugging. “Or maybe they pull their resources together and come up with something more elaborate. Maybe with projections and holograms and live spiders or something.”

I cracked up. “They can’t be that sadistic can they?”

Logan arched an eyebrow. “High school,” he emphasized.

My laughs abruptly stopped and my expression sobered. “Shit.”

We both broke down then. It felt so good to be able to laugh with Logan. It was like finding a long lost treasure from your past stuffed deep in your closet. Like a favorite book you suddenly remember every page too. Hell, you can even remember the way the cover felt under your fingers, and how the pages had that smell to them, and the way the book felt when it fell on your face just as you started dozing off. Logan was so familiar, and yet, somehow, he was completely different.

“You’ll be fine,” Logan repeated. His lips were still curled into a smirk, but the smile wasn’t as wide. He was containing himself. I remember him filling up a room with his laughs. I remember how his smiles would be so wide, he’d get dimples sometimes. “How’s dad and pop?”

“Good,” I said. I didn’t realize how happy I’d get moving away from the topic of high school. Not because the kids terrified me, but because it was reminding me of a time when everything was totally different between Logan and I. When things were so much better. “Dad’s still reciting nerdy dad jokes, except now he has his own pediatric practice, so the nurses are sort of contractually obligated to laugh.” I held back on telling him about my dad’s medical condition. Logan was around when my dad had started getting sick, but had left before things got really bad. It still made my throat constrict just talking about it. I knew I would tell him, I knew he’d want to know, I only needed to take some time.

Logan was smiling at hearing that my dad was doing well. “Pop is still working at Sierra View,” I said. “There’s rumblings of a promotion. Chief Nicholas Kensworth White. But that’s still not for sure though.”

Wow, that would be huge. He’d be leading the entire hospital.”

“Yeah, and I know he’d be great at it. I swear, he loves that hospital almost as much as he loves Emma and I. He’s got some great ideas, too. I’ve even been pushing him toward politics but Emma keeps talking sense into him. And I don’t think dad is too fond of the idea, either.”

“That would be a ton of scrutiny and bullshit, but hey, if he’s got the plans and the passion, I think it’s a good idea. I remember him going out of his way to make sure all our neighbors were happy and doing well. He’s always looking out for everyone. That’s someone I’d give a vote to. They were actually inspirations for my housing initiative.”

“Really?” I asked, feeling my chest grow warm. That meant a lot. Logan’s volunteer work as well known, and I had no idea it was my dads whom inspired him. “Well, we’ll see about the politics,” I said. “I just don’t want him getting hit with a smear campaign or anything like that. It would be huge, though, I think he’d try his damn hardest to make a difference.”

“And Emma?” Logan asked.

“She’s gre—“

Logan’s phone rang, interrupting me. He glanced at the screen and looked up at me. “Sorry,” he said, bringing the phone to his ear. “Audrey?” he answered, turning around.

I tried to look away, but damn it, he was so irresistible. I had to eat him up with my eyes while he was distracted on the phone call and no one was around to call me out on my blatant eye-fucking. Everything, from the way his thighs filled out his jeans, up to his perky butt that had my hand twitching to slap it, to the broad shoulders that pushed against the soft fabric of the cardigan.

“Wait, what?” he asked, his voice sounding strained. Like he wasn’t expecting what he had just heard. My brows drew together. “A mix-up. Great.” It sounded like it wasn’t great at all. “Audrey, how did this happen?”

Shit. What happened?

I tried turning my attention back to the tiny figurines ice-skating inside the mini-Christmas town, but my ears were pinned to the phone call.

 

Thank you for reading the sneak peek! Stay tuned for Daddy, It’s Cold Outside to hit e-shelves sometime before Thanksgiving!

Max

MaxWalkerAuthor@outlook.com

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