Authors: Jay Northcote
WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
When two friends pose as boyfriends, could what happens at Christmas turn into something more?
Justin is recently and unhappily single. Christmas is coming, and he doesn’t want to face his ex alone at their office party. So Sean—Justin’s best mate and long-time secret crush—volunteers to go with him and pretend to be his new flame.
Sean has always lusted after Justin from afar, but there’s never been a good opportunity to ask him for more than friendship. Posing as Justin’s boyfriend isn’t a chore, and if Justin wants to rebound onto him, Sean’s more than willing. At the party pretence and reality blur, and a kiss on the dance floor leads to a night of passion.
In the aftermath, they both assume it was a one-time thing until fate intervenes. Stuck together in London over the holidays, they give in to temptation again. But what happens at Christmas stays at Christmas… right?
Cover artist: Garrett Leigh.
Editor: Sue Adams.
What Happens at Christmas © 2015 Jay Northcote.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or business establishments, events or locales is coincidental.
The Licensed Art Material is being used for illustrative purposes only.
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book contains material that is intended for a mature, adult audience. It contains graphic language, explicit sexual content, and adult situations.
Justin groaned inwardly as he skimmed the email reminding him and his colleagues of the details for the office Christmas party the following weekend. This was exactly why getting involved with a co-worker had been a terrible plan. Partners were invited, and he knew that Andy wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to show off his new boyfriend.
“Oh, it sounds like it’s going to be a good one this year,” Jess said from her desk, where she was obviously reading the same message that had just pinged into more than one hundred inboxes at the finance company they worked for. “One of my mates works at the hotel they’ve hired for it, and it’s really fancy. The food should be great.”
“Yeah.” Justin tried to inject some enthusiasm into his tone.
From the way Jess looked up sharply, he obviously failed.
“Justin, you are going to come, aren’t you?”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure I can face it.”
He’d been trying his best to avoid Andy since the split. Luckily they worked in different departments, so their paths didn’t cross too often.
Jess’s expression softened, but there was a thread of steel in her voice. “You’ve already paid for your ticket, though. Don’t let him do this. Please come, Justin. Show him you’re having a good time without him in your life. It will be fun. Plus, Kieran is coming, and I’m sure he has a crush on you.”
Justin managed a smile at that. Kieran was a new guy, who had started in their department a few weeks ago. “Really? He’s sweet, but he’s not my type.”
“Yeah.” Jess sighed. “I had a feeling he wouldn’t be. You like them tall, dark, and handsome.” Kieran was cute and blond—much like Justin himself.
It was true. Justin had always been drawn to tall guys with dark hair, and if they had brown eyes like melted chocolate, then so much the better. Justin preferred not to think about why he had such an instaboner for guys who looked like that. Andy had ticked all Justin’s boxes physically. Shame he’d turned out to be an arsehole who couldn’t keep it in his pants.
“So, will you come? It won’t be the same without you,” Jess said hopefully.
“I’ll think about it.”
“I said I’ll think about it. Okay?” He felt like a heel for snapping at Jess, but she was poking at a splinter, and it hurt.
“Fine, fine.” She held up her hands and went back to her spreadsheets.
By the time Justin was on his way home that evening, his spirits had lifted a little despite the fight through the Friday rush-hour crowds on the London Underground. For the first time since he’d split up with Andy, he wasn’t going to be spending the weekend under his duvet with Netflix for company, because Sean was coming to stay.
Tall-dark-and-handsome Sean with the melted-chocolate eyes—Justin’s oldest friend and his unrequited crush.
Justin couldn’t wait to see him. They’d known each other since they were seven, and Sean was the only person Justin was still mates with from primary school. They’d gone off to uni in separate cities, but their friendship had weathered the separation. Both of them ended up living and working in London after graduation: Justin at his current job and Sean temping. They’d shared a flat for a while, but when Sean left to go travelling for nine months, Justin had managed to get a mortgage on the place he had now—with a lot of help from his parents.
On the way home, Justin stopped at the supermarket at the end of his road and stocked up with as much food as he could carry. His fridge had been pathetically bare for the last two weeks, as he’d had no appetite. He’d survived on a diet of breakfast cereal with the occasional slice of toast for variety. But unless Sean had changed while he’d been away, he loved his food, and the contents of Justin’s cupboards just wouldn’t cut it.
Laden down with bags of groceries, Justin was struggling to get his key in the front door of his building when a voice from behind him said, “Justin? Is that you?”
It was a voice Justin would know anywhere. He turned, letting the bags slip from his hands to the floor, barely noticing when one of them fell over and a couple of tins of beans made a bid for freedom.
“Sean?” Justin could just make out the shape of his friend in the orange glow of the street lamps, a bulging rucksack on his back.
“God, it’s good to see you.”
Sean moved forward and Justin went to meet him. They wrapped their arms around each other for a hug that went on for ages.
Sean was big and solid, and warm compared to the early December chill. He smelled as though he hadn’t had a shower in a couple of days, but Justin didn’t care. He squeezed back until Sean finally let him go.
“I thought you weren’t coming till tomorrow,” Justin said.
“Yeah, sorry. Is it a bad time? I managed to switch to an earlier flight.”
“It’s fine.” Justin shivered, chilly now he was out of Sean’s warm arms. “Let me get the door.”
He fumbled with his keys again, and once he got the front door open, the automatic light in the hall came on so he could see to pick up the shopping.
“Here.” Sean handed him the tins that had rolled away. “God. I haven’t seen real baked beans for months. It’s good to be home.”
Justin chuckled. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. It’s funny the things you miss when you’re abroad.”
Justin led Sean inside. “Make sure the door’s shut behind you, it sometimes sticks. My flat’s on the first floor.”
They made their way up the stairs, where the carpet was worn and grimy from use.
“This is me.” Justin unlocked the first of two doors on the landing and went in, with Sean following.
Justin flipped on the light. He studied Sean now he could see him clearly. His tall frame looked a lot thinner than before he went away and his cheekbones were more defined, emphasising his strong features. His face was tanned, jaw dark with stubble, and his hair a little longer than he usually wore it. It suited him. Justin’s breath caught as a wave of affection and longing swept through him. All these years, and the feelings he guarded so closely still persisted.
Sean smiled, and Justin realised he was staring.
“The beach-bum look suits you,” he said casually, ignoring the flush heating his cheeks.
“Thanks. Where shall I put this?” Sean asked, easing his giant rucksack off his shoulders.
“Oh, just dump it anywhere for now. Let me get this shopping into the kitchen, and I’ll give you a tour—not that it will take long.”
Justin’s one-bedroom flat was tiny, but it was home and he loved it.
“So this is the living room, obviously,” Justin said as they walked through it. “And the kitchen’s in here.” The kitchen was small but functional. It led directly off the living room, separated by a door. Justin put the shopping bags on the counter and started unpacking the fridge stuff.
“This is great, Justin,” Sean said. He was still standing in the kitchen doorway, looking around admiringly. “And it’s all yours?”
“Well, I’ve got a mortgage, of course, but it’s not astronomical. My parents were able to give me a good-size deposit when they sold their place to move to Scotland.”
“That’s very cool. I’m already stressing about finding somewhere to live if I want to stay in London. Rent is crazy, and I need a job first.”
“You’re welcome to stay as long as you need,” Justin said. “You know that.”
“You say that now… but I’m pretty sure you’ll get tired of me. I’m really messy, and I fart a lot.”
Justin laughed. “You don’t need to tell me that. I remember. And when we were at school, you always tried to blame your farts on me.”
“The one who smelt it dealt it.”
Justin threw a bag of Doritos at Sean’s head, but Sean caught them—and then opened them and started eating. Sean grinned obnoxiously, mouth full of orange cheesiness, and Justin tried to glare but couldn’t pull it off. His heart swelled, and he felt happy for the first time since Andy had dumped him. It was so good to have Sean back.
Once Justin had put the shopping away, he showed Sean the rest of the flat. “This is the bathroom. The shower’s over the bath, but it’s pretty good. And my bedroom’s this one.” He went through the final door that led off the hallway. “It’s a mess. I was going to tidy up, but you turned up early.”
“I’m shocked and appalled.” Sean shook his head in mock disapproval as he looked around the bedroom. A pile of clothes spilled off an armchair in the corner, and the bed was crumpled and unmade. “Seriously, man. You should see some of the places I crashed in over the last few months. This is nothing.”
“You can tell me your horror stories later. You’ve hardly updated your blog since the summer. I can’t wait to hear all about it. Rather you than me, by the sound of it. I like my home comforts or nice hotel beds.”
Justin picked up Sean’s rucksack on their way back through the hall.
“Holy crap, Sean. This weighs a ton. What have you got in here, rocks?” Justin could barely lift it one-handed. He let it drop in the living room next to the sofa. “Here’s your bed. It pulls out into a double. It’s quite comfortable, apparently. Not that I’ve slept on it myself.”
“Brilliant.” Sean yawned, stretching and rubbing his eyes. “I’m knackered. I hardly slept on the plane. Add that to the eight-hour time difference, and I’m going to pass out pretty soon. Sorry, I’m going to be crap company tonight.”
“Want some food before you crash?”
Sean rubbed his stomach thoughtfully. “Yeah. I probably should, but something light. I’m not hungry because my body thinks it’s 3:00 a.m., but you’re supposed to try and get back in sync as soon as you land.”
“Beans on toast?” Justin offered, remembering Sean’s excitement at seeing good old British baked beans earlier.
“Hell yes. I’ve had nothing but noodles and rice for the last week in Singapore. I’m ready for something that tastes like home. Have you got any brown sauce?”
“This is why you’re my best friend ever.” Sean grinned.
“Yeah, yeah. Cupboard love.” Justin couldn’t help smiling back. “It’s good to have you back. Welcome home.”
They ate their dinner sitting on the sofa, while Sean regaled Justin with stories of his travels. He’d worked his way around Australia and New Zealand for most of it, staying on farms for bed and board and spending his savings on the travel. But he’d kept aside enough to visit Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore on his way home.