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Christmas Catch

M/M, Contemporary Christmas Romance
[21 Pages / 4,700 Words]

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Every Christmas, Billy helps Cam bake cookies. Lots of cookies. It's a tradition as unshakable as their friendship, and Billy always looks forward to the challenge. But this year, a different kind of heat is igniting in Cam's kitchen. Maybe it's time for a new tradition—one that's urgent and intimate and wickedly sweet.

Series: Christmas Shorts
A Christmas Catch A Christmas Secret A Place Like Home Not Much of a Christmas Miracle Especially at Christmas


Cam's house already smells like heaven when Billy steps across the threshold.

"It's eight in the goddamn morning!" he shouts from the front hall, simultaneously unwinding his scarf and kicking his boots into the corner. "How are you already baking? You were supposed to wait for me!" He shrugs off his coat, the soft canvas material wet from heavy snowfall, and shoves his hat into a sleeve before draping everything over the stairway banister.

Even if he were unfamiliar with the layout of Cam's home, Billy would only need to follow his nose in order to find the kitchen. He inhales just to savor the warm aromas of sugar, vanilla, cinnamon. He deliberately ate a big breakfast—Billy knows better than to arrive with an empty stomach for a day like this—but his mouth still waters. It's going to be a challenge to resist gorging himself on the cookies they are supposed to be making for other people.

As Billy moves deeper into the house, he takes in an endless and charming sequence of holiday decor. The wreath outside was apparently not enough to express Cam's wellspring of Christmas cheer. There are smaller wreaths hanging from nearly every door inside the house as well, not to mention garlands draped and wound and woven wherever there is the slightest suggestion of a foundation to support them.

The massive tree in the living room is not yet decorated, but that's only because Cam always waits for his family to arrive in force. A small army of children—nieces, nephews, cousins, second cousins, godchildren—will descend and wreak their cheerful havoc sometime next week. But even with only the glint of rainbow string lights twining amid the branches, the festive aura is palpable.

Billy's best friend has always been Extra about Christmas.

When Billy finally pads into the kitchen, stockinged feet slipping on the smooth tile floor, he finds the explosion of holiday cheer has reached all the way in here. He can't help grinning at the sight, exasperated and fond in equal measure. There are strings of gold and silver garland strung along the tops of the cupboards where they don't quite reach the high ceiling. Glittery snowflake decals cover every cabinet and even what little of the fridge isn't already overburdened by souvenir magnets and family photos.

Cam himself wears a garish t-shirt bedecked in an abstract pattern of wrapped gifts and reindeer. It's a hideous shirt, and yet the way it clings to Cam's broad shoulders—the way it strains around powerful biceps—the way the thin fabric molds itself to every movement of his mountainous frame...

The effect is so distracting that Billy forces himself to look away.

He's been doing a lot of that lately. Jerking his gaze aside only after belatedly realizing he's staring. Hell, it's not like hero-worship is an unfamiliar sentiment where Cam is concerned. It's perfectly natural to admire the strong, sturdy, wildly protective man who's been at Billy's side since they were kids. Cam is the one person Billy relies on without fail—twenty years of friendship that has never once faltered.

Cam always put himself between Billy and any bullies who thought he looked like easy prey. He stood taller than their classmates when they were kids, and he towers over Cam now. Big and strong and sturdy, not just in the midst of confrontation, but in all the quieter moments that felt so much more important.

This new perception is different, in ways that Billy's stubborn brain shies from sorting out.

He doesn't know why he's being such a coward. He only knows, with some soft and inexplicable instinct, that he needs to be careful.

"When did you get up this morning, you absolute fanatic?" Billy surveys the racks of ornament-shaped sugar cookies already cooling on the counters.

"Four o'clock." At least Cam has the sense to look sheepish about it. Then he closes the oven door on a fresh batch and turns to give Billy a bright smile. He hasn't shaved in a couple days, but the rough stubble only serves to soften his expression. It does nothing to conceal the dimple creasing his left cheek. "I was too excited to sleep. Besides, we need to make twice as many cookies this year. We'll probably run out of time for decorating as it is."

Billy rolls his eyes, but he's grinning. Everyone knows Cam has a magic hand for baked goods. Iced or not, his cookies are sure to sell out at the Christmas bake sale.

Cam laughs at the display of exasperation and opens his arms. "Get over here, shameless brat."

Billy practically melts as he lets Cam wrap him up in a hug that smells of sweetness and citrus—the new batch in the oven must be the lemon-infused batter Cam's been experimenting with. It's so easy to bury himself in his best friend's arms and return the embrace, squashing his face in Cam's shirt to take in the soft, clean, sugar-dusted scent. If he's inclined to hold on a little longer than is strictly reasonable, so what? Cam is clearly in no hurry to let go either.

When they finally part, Cam's face scrunches in an expression Billy knows well. His eyes crinkle at the corners, and he casts an amused gaze along Billy's less-than-festive attire: gray t-shirt, soft jeans, colorless socks.

"You didn't get into the spirit at all, did you?"

"Shut up." Billy can't seem to wipe the sappy smile off his own face. "I'm here, aren't I? Do you want my help or not?" As though he could possibly stand to be elsewhere today. As though they haven't done this together every year for the better part of a decade, baking a steadily increasing mountain of cookies in Cam's spacious kitchen. If food is love, Billy and Cam have turned baking and sharing Christmas cookies into a love language all its own.

"Of course I want your help," Cam retorts, aggressively jovial. "You can mix the batter for the spritzes while I start the peanut butter balls."

It's only as he finishes gathering bowls and measuring cups that Billy realizes Cam's got some sort of Christmas playlist struggling too quietly through tinny phone speakers. The result is cheerful enough, but so weak as to be nearly inaudible.

Billy rolls his eyes again as he fishes in a drawer near the pantry. "There's a reason I bought you a wireless speaker, you ungrateful heathen."

"Too complicated," Cam says without taking his attention off his task.

"Uh-huh," Billy mutters. He has to fish out the charging cable and plug the device into the wall—of course Cam let the battery die—but as soon as he turns the thing on, Cam's phone automatically syncs. After a brief hitch in playback, the music pours through the small speaker, audible and far more robust, and Billy gives a nod of satisfaction. Too complicated his ass. Cam's just a stubborn luddite, determined to resist every effort Billy makes to simplify his life with technology.

But Billy makes no further comment as he tucks the speaker against the wall, then goes to wash his hands and dive into the work. Cam bumps his shoulder on the way past, and it's easy and good. Billy settles into the familiar routine with a warm pulse of satisfaction. There is something so viscerally right about sharing space with Cam this way. They barely need to talk, so practiced in their roles that everything feels like instinct. Ingredients, timers, temperature settings. All of it falls into an intricate dance to which both of them know every step—and with each dart for the sink, each beep of the kitchen timer, each hot tray of cookies coming out of the oven—Billy finds himself more aware of Cam's physical presence than he's ever been before.

There's a lightness in Billy's chest. The same one that's always there when he's around Cam, but he has the strange sense that the ember of devotion has begun to glow differently since...

When? He honestly doesn't know. The intensity of it doesn't feel new, and yet surely he should've noticed something so bright taking up space inside him. When he tries to decipher what it means, his mind once again skips to the side. Deftly avoiding... something. Billy makes himself let it go, knowing better than to try and chase down the sensation. Whatever it means, it will reach him when he's ready. And if it's going to make him feel this buoyant—this alert and light and full of affection—it can't possibly be anything bad.

"What are you thinking about?" Cam asks, as he steps into the space beside Billy and uses a spatula to scoop a tray of candy cane twists onto an empty cooling rack. He must have spotted the inward tilt of Billy's focus, but there's no hint of worry in the question. If anything, Cam's eyes sparkle with curiosity.

Billy cannot fathom what madness possesses him to answer, "You."

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Christmas Catch
Cover design by Yolande Kleinn
ISBN 978-1-946316-36-3
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