Synopsis: Jack Horwood doesn’t do families. Or Christmas. From the time his mother sold him to her pimp to the moment he walked out on the man he loved, Christmas has always been about change and painful choices. This year seems no different. Helping Daniel and Nico recover from their imprisonment and hunting down those responsible puts Jack in a frame of mind he doesn’t want to inflict on anyone. Least of all Gareth and the tentative relationship they’ve started to rebuild.
But Gareth, for whom Christmas is all about new beginnings, won’t let Jack take the easy way out. He makes him face his ghosts instead. Even when said ghosts invade their bedroom.
When Daniel’s parents are found, Jack is determined to settle the matter without involving Daniel at all. But fate decrees otherwise, and it’s Gareth who helps him finally understand that the strongest bonds are those forged together. Once he gets that, Jack can step up and make a decision designed to lay his ghosts to rest—for good.
Gareth had been right, at least where the food was concerned. By the time the soup was a promise of velvety, orange-and-fennel-scented richness and the goose was roasted to perfection, Jack had started to regard cooking with Gareth as a new form of torture. He had prepared a mountain of sprouts, peeled blanched chestnuts until his fingertips were sore, and been smacked over the head more than once with a wooden spoon for sneaking strips of the rather tasty prosciutto he was supposed to wrap around the chipolatas.
“I bought extra so I could eat some,” he whined, only to hear Gareth laugh.
“I doubt you bought that much extra. And anyway, dinner is ready when you are.”
“Want me to light the fire?”
Jack left Gareth to the contemplation of the contents of the wine rack while he lit the fire he’d set just that morning. A small flame sprang up from the thin shavings of kindling. The fresh pine he had added to the stack of wood hissed and caught fire, releasing scents of peace and woodland to mingle with the enticing aromas of roast goose and baked orange. The drapes were closed against the dark and damp of an English winter evening, and a golden glow suffused the room as the fire caught and grew.
Lighting the tall tapers on the dinner table and watching the tiny flames reflect on porcelain and crystal only added to Jack’s feeling of comfort and safety, and he wondered why he never felt like this in his own home, however many candles he lit.
The pop of a cork from the direction of the kitchen held the answer. And it was obvious.
Gareth made the difference.
Jack could lean on him without being thought weak. He watched Jack’s back without having to be asked, and he provided reason when Jack was too tired to think straight. Gareth Flynn was someone Jack didn’t want to be without—and for whom he was even prepared to brave ghosts.
In fact, Gareth did for him what he was trying to do for Daniel and Nico. That was the simple sum of it.
“What’s so amusing?” Gareth crossed to the dining table, carrying a tray that held a tureen of soup and a bottle of sparkling wine in a chiller.
Jack hadn’t realized he was smiling. He didn’t feel like explaining his epiphany just yet. It seemed silly that he’d been too busy settling into his new job at Nancarrow Mining, getting used to working for his former CO once more, and helping Nico and Daniel, to notice what was right in front of his face. He waved his hand, encompassing the candlelit tree, the fire, the table dressed in gleaming white linen, fine porcelain, crystal, and sparkling silverware. And more intangible things like warmth, the sense of being wanted, and the inviting aromas of Gareth’s cooking.
“This,” he said after a moment. “You. Christmas.” He stepped around the table and wound his arms around Gareth’s neck, pressing close. “I don’t do Christmas,” he said softly, brushing his lips over Gareth’s in a barely there caress. “Never have. I always used to work. And nobody’s ever….”
Gareth dotted a quick kiss on Jack’s forehead. “Which is exactly why I do it, of course,” he quipped. “Workaholics like you need a civilizing influence. And you like my cooking.” He pried Jack’s arms from his neck and turned him around. “Now sit down before the soup’s cold and the fizz goes flat!”
Jack complied without a word, happy in his anticipation of a spectacular dinner. He didn’t even bother to check his smile.
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Synopsis: You don’t greet your new boss dressed like an underage rent boy. But when Jack Horwood—ace hacker and ex-MI6 operative—opens the door to Gareth Flynn, he’s too busy to worry over details like that. And anyway, his potential new boss is his former Commanding Officer – the same guy Jack has had a crush on since he was seventeen. So he should understand, right?
When he applied for the job in Nancarrow Mining’s corporate security division, Jack had hoped for peaceful days repelling cyber attacks. Maybe a bit of corporate espionage on the side. His plans didn’t include rescuing abused children, hunting pimps, or dealing with his overly protective and hot-as-hell boss, Gareth Flynn.
Walking away is not an option. Jack never takes the easy way out. More than that, meeting Gareth raises old ghosts that Jack needs to put to rest. Rescuing kids. Taking risks. Saving the day. Jack can do all that – but deciding what to do about his attraction to Gareth isn’t the sort of cloak-and-dagger game Jack plays well. Yet Gareth, strong and smart and always on hand when needed, might be Jack’s salvation.
ABOUT JACKIE KESWICK
Jackie Keswick was born behind the Iron Curtain with itchy feet, a bent for rocks and a recurrent dream of stepping off a bus in the middle of nowhere to go home. She’s worked in a hospital and as the only girl with 52 men on an oil rig, spent a winter in Moscow and a summer in Iceland and finally settled in the country of her dreams with her dream team: a husband, a cat, a tandem, a hammer and a laptop.
Jackie loves stories about unexpected reunions and second chances, and men who don’t follow the rules when those rules are stupid. She has a thing for green eyes and tight cyclist’s butts and is a great believer in making up soundtracks for everything, including her characters and the cat.
And she still hasn’t found the place where the bus stops.
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