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Excerpt for Baby It's Cold Outside: A Gay Christmas Romance by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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A Record Label Love B-Side

© 2018 Reanna Pryce

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law.

Cover by The Impress Service.





















December 19th

Fuck Greg.

Okay, fine, that’s a relatively new sentiment, Patrick is the first to admit. Usually there’d be a comma between the words and he’d be groaning them into the crisp cotton of his pillowcase as a quick, clever tongue did dangerously enticing things between his cheeks. But that was before Greg sat him down in the living room of their beachfront Malibu home – no, Patrick’s home – for A Talk.

We need to talk.

Those, Patrick muses as he shoves another cardigan into his case along with seven other close to identical cardigans, are not words that anyone in a relationship wants to hear. Apparently, it translated to Patrick needed to listen whilst Greg spent one hour and thirty-seven minutes listing all of his flaws with PowerPoint precision. Apparently, Patrick is a workaholic with no time for a relationship. Which seems just a little unfair coming from the man that’s been happy to reap the benefits of Patrick’s hard work if it meant he could lounge around on their – Patrick’s – couch in his underwear, eating Goldfish crackers and watching reruns of Two and A Half Men.

That was almost five weeks ago. Just over a month that Patrick has spent locked in his home studio listening to Prince, drinking expensive scotch and pointedly ignoring calls from Joe. It’s not like he’s not capable of running the studio alone and if Jaxon James has to wait for his mixes then Patrick isn’t going to lose any sleep over it. Take that, accusations of workaholicness… Workaholicy… Workaholism. Yeah. That sounds right.

But through a haze of Purple Rain and decent malt, a thought occurred to Patrick, and once it occurred to him it wouldn’t leave him alone, winding around him and poking at him, prodding at all of the tender, bruised places until he grabbed for his phone and scrolled to G in his contacts. Three rings and a gusting sigh, “What do you want, Patrick?”

“`S’bout the vacation, Gregory,” Patrick slurred through the warm burn of alcohol and the cold sting of rejection. “Eagle Point. Next month. How’re we gonna work this?”

Privately, he’d congratulated himself on making it through four whole sentences without passing out or breaking down and it was almost worth it to hear the confused hitch in Greg’s breathing, the annoyed sigh as he huffed out through his nose and into the mouthpiece. The obvious irritation warmed Patrick a little as Greg hissed through gritted teeth, “You don’t like snowboarding, Patrick. Why don’t you just let me – ”

“Nuhuh,” Patrick shook his head vehemently, even though Greg couldn’t see him. “`m goin’, `s my vacation too, y’know. Why… Why shouldn’t I go?”

“But…” It was one syllable, just a click of noise down the line and into his ear but, even through the fog of whiskey, Patrick knew. Greg had a replacement lined up, a “someone else” to join him on the slopes and to slip into the hot tub out on the deck of the luxury lodge that Patrick paid for. He knew and it hurt and he’d cry about it later but for that moment, just in that second, it felt good to scupper those plans.

“I’ll change my flight,” Patrick informed him, tongue thick and brain buzzed. “`S a two-bed cabin. Think we can be… Mature enough. `S fine. We’re all… All adults here, right?”

And so, it’s decided. Patrick will go on the damn skiing holiday and he’ll… He’ll sit at the bar and he’ll look good and Greg’s going to remember all of the great times and there’ll be, well, Patrick hasn’t really got a plan but like, a reunion or something? Dramatic. With music and sweeping up in tanned, muscular arms. Yeah. The details will come later, the most important thing is that Patrick gets there first and bags the master suite in the lodge because he is not being relegated to a twin bed whilst Greg humps whoever-the-hell-it-is on the king size four poster.

The problem is, Patrick decides, surveying his suitcase filled with his trusty cardigans, band shirts and button downs, his awards suit zipped away into a bag just in case, is that Greg is actually right. Patrick really does hate snowboarding. He hates it, and he hates being cold and he hates the fact that he’s going to be stuck in the middle of fucking Colorado with an ex so recent the wounds haven’t even begun to scab over. But – here’s the real kicker – one of Greg’s meticulously scored out list of faults was stubbornness. Oh, Patrick is so goddamn stubborn. He won’t back down, not an inch, not for a second. This is his vacation too, dammit, his two weeks booked out of the studio to spend some time recharging. So, he’s going to go to Colorado and he’s going to drink Irished up coffee and sit in the hot tub and, like, read or something.

Gregory Michaels can go to hell.

December 21st

“I’m on vacation, Rob,” Patrick’s boots crunch through the snow as he trips his way unsteadily towards the lodge. “You’re just… Look, it’s almost Christmas, just tell Jaxon we’re shutting down for the holiday and I’ll speak to him in January.”

“You were supposed to be done with those tracks two goddamn weeks ago,” Rob explodes and Patrick can picture him pacing the expanse of their office, curls a mess, a clutch of paperwork in his hand. Patrick loves working with Rob, he really does, but sometimes he wonders if he’s working with a man in his twenties or a Jewish grandma. “He’s gonna hit the roof, man!”

“And this is why you’re the publicity guy and I’m the music man,” Patrick soothes, hurrying as much as he dares on the ice as he catches sight of the welcoming glow of twinkling lights up ahead. His breath hangs as thick as mist in front of him, icy clouds that remind him just how cold it is out here right now. It’s Chicago cold – maybe colder, cold sort of reaches a point where colder loses all meaning – and LA has turned him soft, shivering into the collar of his coat, silly trapper hat pulled low. “You’ll think of something. Have a great Christmas, Rob! Give my love to the family!”

“No! Don’t you dare hang—” Patrick cuts him off with a smooth glide of his thumb over the screen – and a silent curse at Joe for making him yank his glove off in the first place, if he loses a finger to frostbite he’s firing him – shutting off the phone with a sigh and stuffing it down into his pocket. He’s going to get chewed out for that in the new year, it’s neither big nor clever but, truly, at this point in time, he’s not sure he cares.

Oh, but it’s almost worth freezing his ass on a treacherous and surprisingly badly lit trek from the cabin to the bar as he steps into the glorious warmth of the lodge. There’s laughter ringing through the rafters, smiling groups of happy holidaymakers artfully positioned around the room and the image of Christmas past is perfectly complemented by the huge fir tree that dominates the centre of the room, bedecked with ribbons and trinkets and thousands upon thousands of twinkling points of light. Best of all – Patrick hurries forward, kicking snow off his boots with renewed vigour and yanking off the dorky hat – is the bar, ranged against the wall and flanked by a fire that looks like it might go some way to taking the chill from his bones. His coat is discarded on a convenient hook and, smoothing down his cardigan, he makes his way to the sweet solace of alcohol and heat.

“What can I get for you?” The bartender asks, all smiling eyes, crisp white shirt and geeky little bowtie. Patrick likes bowties. He squints at the name tag and slips off his fogged-up glasses, buffing them against his sleeve.

“Well, William,” he raps his knuckles lightly against the smooth, polished expanse of wood between them. “My boyfriend just left me and I’m here out of spite so… Why don’t we skip right to the big guns, hmm? Scotch on the rocks, but replace the rocks with extra scotch, please.”

William, like all good bartenders, is adept at providing a sympathetic ear if it means a patron will keep lining the cash register with fifty-dollar bills. Patrick has money, more money than his relatively simple tastes really know what to do with, and certainly enough to keep tipping decent scotch down his throat as William makes sympathetic noises. Enough money soon creates a scenario in which there’s enough scotch to stop him from noticing the knowing twinkle in William’s dark eyes. Enough that it seems like a damn fine idea when Will – they’re friends now; Will is fine – leans up against the bar with a suggestion tripping from the tip of his tongue.

“So, your ex is here to snowboard?” He asks casually, buffing a tumbler to a glittering diamond shine that reflects back each sparkling point of light in the room as he holds it up to check for smudges.

“`S’right,” Patrick nods unsteadily and wonders if it’s too late to start alternating whisky and water. “He’s one of those adren- adrenny- andrenly...” Adrenaline junkie, he can talk, it’s just not easy around a tongue thickened by whisky, “Idiots. He’s an idiot. Likes throwing himself down mountains n’ out of planes n’ stuff.”

“Well,” Will twinkles like the Christmas tree, all sly suggestion and not-so-subtle hints. “Why don’t you learn? Maybe you can impress him if you can join him on the slopes?”

Snowboard? To impress? Patrick tried it once and can all too clearly remember clinging to Greg like a terrified baby koala as they edged their way back down the nursery slope. Greg left him sipping a restorative cocoa in the lodge, safely deposited by the fire with a good book whilst he took off with the handsome friend he insisted on bringing along for company. They didn’t return until the early hours of the morning, long after the slopes closed but… Patrick didn’t question it too closely. But maybe Will’s right, he certainly sounds convincing, all bright smile and shining eyes.

“What’re those?” Patrick asks in plaintive tones, pointing to the array of strange-looking bottles in interesting colours lined up on a shelf beneath the usual spirits. Patrick could be imagining it, but he thinks Will may have been adding a drop or two here and there from this bottle and that into his drink as the night has gone on.

“Now, Patrick,” Will grins a tease into his collar, straightening the ice tongs on their little tray. “That’s a trade secret. So, about these classes…”

“`m not takin’ baby classes,” Patrick mutters into his glass, punctuating it with a sickly hiccup. “`m not embarrassin’ myself with goddamn five years olds.”

“No, of course not,” Will soothes. “I have a buddy, he gives private lessons. Let me set it up, you can meet him at the rental shop tomorrow at nine. Now, in all honesty, Patrick, I think it would go against everything they teach us at bartender school if I served you another drink.”

“`m goin’ anyway,” Patrick grumbles, taking the hint and staggering to unsteady feet with a delicate belch. Wait, there’s a bartender school? He’ll think about that later. “What’s his name? This snowboard dude?”

“Finn,” William grins and Patrick’s just a little too drunk to notice the knowing little curl of his lips, just a little too far gone to hear the insinuation loaded heavy in a sentence that reads as nothing more than innocuous reassurance. “I think the two of you are gonna get along great.”

December 22nd

Nine the next morning finds Patrick cold and shivering miserably in his thick ski jacket, pants, gloves, boots and hat. Nothing keeps out the chill, it seeps under his clothing and seems to be made worse by the knowledge that, by the time he returns to the cabin for lunch, Greg will be there. Greg and a possible Someone Else. Greg who’ll sigh and shake his head at Patrick’s hangover and childish insistence on taking the master suite.  The knife lodged sharp between Patrick’s shoulder blades seems to twist a little deeper as he sighs deeply and, scuffing at the fresh powder, glances around for his instructor.

“Patrick?” There’s a voice that rings with Chicago and a smile as blinding as sun against snow, a gloved hand held out for him to shake. “I’m Finn, your instructor.”

“How did you know it was me?” Patrick bristles with irritation borne from the hangover slamming its way through his skull and the indignity of prising himself from his bed a clear three hours before he would consider it a reasonable time to be conscious.

“You’re the only grown dude hanging out by the nursery slope looking worried,” Finn grins all bright and teasing behind his goggles. “You were a pretty easy spot.”

That’s reassuring. Patrick scowls into his collar and yelps as a tiny avalanche of snow drifts its way from the overhang of the roof above him and deposits itself entirely down the back of his neck, squeezing its icy, dripping trail through every tiny crack in his full body wrapping to slick, cold and unpleasant, down the tender heat of his back. Finn laughs like it’s funny and, with a board under each stupid arm, strides away across the slope leaving Patrick with very little choice but to trot along behind.

Okay, game face, Patrick, maybe this can be fun? Maybe, if he stops being so negative and tries to enjoy himself, he can pick it up this time. Finn’s a professional, he must know some tricks. Then, once he’s confident, he can invite Greg out onto the slopes and they can have their moment against the backdrop of mountains robed in snow and scattered with pine trees. It will be beautiful and perfect and everything Patrick’s been imagining since he forced himself onto a plane in LAX. That’s the dream.

In reality, he lasts approximately eleven and a half minutes of Finn’s patronising repetition of relax your knees, your knees, Patrick, relax them, no, that’s the opposite of relax, just relax before his fuse – admittedly already short – runs out and the end of his rope is officially reached.

“Snowboarding is ridiculous,” Patrick announces loudly, struggling to kick his feet free from the stupid board. “This outfit is ridiculous, this mountain is ridiculous, fastening my feet to sixty-four inches of fibreglass is ridiculous and you,” he points squarely at Finn who pushes up his goggles and widens his eyes – copper bright, twinkle sharp and framed by thick, dark lashes – innocently, “You are fucking ridiculous.”

“So… Not enjoying it?” Finn asks mildly, catching Patrick and steadying him against his chest - solid, even through the jacket and Patrick is getting goosebump shivers - as he wobbles on his bound feet. “Click ‘em to the left, dude. Like I told you.”

“Okay, dude,” Patrick snarls, twisting his foot painfully to the left with a strangled yelp, kicking his way free with a series of curses that seem to make Finn smile. Finn is a dick, Patrick has decided, but he’s also sort of handsome – liar, Finn is divine – and an idea is forming that seems to fountain its way from his lips before his brain has chance to intervene, a tingle in his chest and a tightening of his larynx that he can’t seem to control. “Okay, look, I can’t snowboard but… Be my boyfriend.”

“Uh, okay,” Finn rolls his eyes and dusts snow from the board Patrick has kicked across the slope. “Hello, high school.”

“People asked you out like that in high school?” Patrick queries, somewhat jealous. No one asked him out in high school. “Anyway, no. Not my real boyfriend, obviously. I can’t impress my ex with snowboarding but maybe I can make him jealous. With you.”

“You want me to pretend to be your boyfriend?” Finn folds his arms and assesses Patrick, head cocked, expression unreadable. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-seven,” Patrick begins eagerly, missing the sarcasm in the question entirely. “I like Korean food, I don’t follow sports, my favourite band is-”

“Dude,” Finn interrupts him with a laugh. “Shut up, I’m not being your fake boyfriend.”

With that he grabs a snowboard under each arm and begins to trudge his way down the nursery slope and towards the rental shop. The idea is stupid, Patrick knows it is, he should just head back to the cabin, pack his suitcase and get to the airport. There’s still a couple of days before Christmas, he could get a flight to Chicago, go spend some time with his mom and…

“I’ll pay you,” he calls at Finn’s retreating back. A back that, along with the rest of Finn, pauses and tenses, head tilted just a few degrees like he’s listening. Patrick pays for many services; he has a cleaning lady, a man that takes his dirty laundry away and brings back ironed and laundered perfection, a gardener, an accountant, a lawyer and, he thinks, maybe a personal trainer. Been a while since he’s seen him though. Anyway, he pays people to do things he can’t do himself and, seriously, he can’t be his own boyfriend and he doesn’t have a whole lot of options halfway up a mountain in Colorado. “Seriously. I’ll pay you.”

Finn turns, amber eyes thoughtful, lip caught between his teeth and Patrick is suddenly struck by the notion that he’s actually… He’s pretty cute, well, from what he can see between the stupid unicorn hat and ridiculous Super Mario scarf. Beautiful cheekbones, tall, thick, muscular shoulders. Like, if he had to pick from a line-up of guys that might make Greg jealous, this guy would be pretty close to ideal. That kind of cute.

“Isn’t that… That’s prostitution, isn’t it?” Finn asks. There’s a moment or two of silence between them, Finn still contemplative, Patrick blushing furiously because no - no - he didn’t mean it like that he just… Before he can open his mouth to object, Finn continues with a smirk that curls right the way up to eyes the same colour as the whisky Patrick would very much rather be partaking of right now. “How much?”

Look, Patrick knows it’s a bad idea, alright? He gets that. It’s completely ridiculous but maybe, just maybe, if he can introduce Greg to his “replacement”, he’ll feel a little less small and unloved. Maybe, if Greg sees him with a handsome stranger he’ll rethink some of the hurtful things he said and reconsider his decision. It’s a lot of maybes but they’re all Patrick’s got so, instead of laughing and pretending it was just a dumb joke like a sensible person, he pauses, considers a fair wage for the level of work and makes his proposition.

“Five hundred a day. Plus expenses,” he shrugs, considering Finn’s truly awful lime green jacket and striped orange and red pants. The expenses he has in mind definitely revolve around some appropriate “boyfriend” attire. “And I’ll book you out solid for private lessons for the two weeks I’m here so it won’t affect your job. Look, why don’t we go to the lodge and discuss this over a drink? You’re booked with me until lunchtime, right?”

With a slow nod, Finn seems to agree, striding off towards the rental shop with purpose as Patrick hurries in his wake once more. He’ll be a little more relaxed, a fraction more confident, once they’re sat opposite one another at a little table by the fire. It would almost be romantic if he weren’t discussing his proposition to buy Finn’s company to make his recently-ex-boyfriend jealous in an attempt to win him back. A plan that seems more and more futile the more time he devotes to thinking about it.

Fortunately, when he emerges from the employee lounge in his street clothes, Finn looks a lot more acceptable than his dire choice in ski attire would seem to attest. Once he’s seated on a wingback armchair in the bar across from Patrick and clad in black jeans and a flannel shirt, his hair a dark, tufted mess from his hat, he makes quite an adorable prospect. He’s so broad, Patrick’s pretty sure Finn could bench press him with one hand. Add to that a strong jaw and lush, rather kissable-seeming lips pursed in thought and puckered to strong, steepled fingers and, in other circumstances, well, Patrick could possibly develop a little crush.

“And what do I have to do, exactly?” Finn narrows his eyes suspiciously and Patrick feels the burning heat of a blush creeping up from his collar once again.

“Just hang out with me, say nice things about me,” Patrick shrugs helplessly – is this guy for real? How hard is it to behave like a boyfriend? “Basically, you can go out there,” he jerks his head back in the direction of the slopes, “And spend the next two weeks in the cold teaching rich, bored assholes how to snowboard or—”

“I can take your money,” Finn cuts him off with a grin that’s all tease and merriment. “And spend it sitting in here pretending to date a rich, bored asshole. Okay, a thousand dollars a day?”

“We agreed five hundred,” Patrick’s teeth are clenched so hard he can almost hear his dentist wincing. Finn is smiling wide with blinding brilliance as he sips his hot chocolate, latte lip smudged with cream that’s swept away by the curve of a pink tongue and Patrick isn’t – he swears he isn’t – thinking about licking it himself next time. It’s downright annoying how these thoughts keep burning through his irritation.

“I think you suggested five hundred,” Finn counters. “Right now, we’re negotiating.

“Negotiate this,” Patrick raises his middle finger with a grin that’s all raised eyebrows and sarcasm, Finn’s eyes widen in a parody of shock, jaw slack with a mocked-up animation of horror, held for a beat before he floods with a smile.

“You’re good,” Finn laughs and leans back with a shrug. “I mean… Sure, I’ll do you the honour of being your fake boyfriend, let’s make… Wait, what did you say his name was again?”

“Greg,” Patrick sighs, the reminder sharp in Finn’s words. This isn’t normal flirting, this isn’t the promise of good things to come, it’s Patrick paying a dude he met less than an hour ago to pretend to like him for enough time to either win Greg back or to deaden his embarrassment at being alone in front of his ex.

“Greg,” Finn repeats with a nod and a smirk. “We’ll make him hate us, dude. Swear to God. Okay, I just need to head back to my chalet and grab my stuff, how far away is your cabin?”

Wait, what?

Patrick blinks at Finn, cup halfway to his mouth, mouth halfway to open, words halfway to his tongue as he thinks and tries to work out why Finn would need to remove anything from his chalet and why it might have something to do with the distance between Patrick’s cabin and the bar. Finn blinks back, snaking out a hand and snagging a marshmallow from Patrick’s cup, a sunrise slow smile lighting the room as he leans back.

“Why,” Patrick asks, punctuating the question with a sip of his drink, “are you fetching your stuff?”

“Dude, seriously?” Finn scratches his stomach revealing a dark flash of a tattoo etched between honey gold hipbones and Patrick reminds himself sharply that it’s not polite to stare. “You want Greg to believe that we’re serious enough for you to invite me on vacation but we’re not serious enough to share a room? Or a cabin? You want a fake boyfriend? Well, buckle up, ponyboy, you’re about to get the Finn Archer Boyfriend Extravaganza.”

“This,” Patrick groans around another mouthful of cocoa, cream and confectionary, “was a really fucking bad idea.”

“Aren’t you going to ask me?” Finn raises his eyebrows nonchalantly.

“Ask you what?” Patrick is almost scared to hear the answer.

“If I’m into guys,” Finn shrugs, amber eyes aglow with curiosity and firelight, flame bright.

“It doesn’t matter,” Patrick returns the gesture with a smile he doesn’t feel, the cool blue of his eyes will quell the flames, he knows. Greg told him he doesn’t shine, a black hole. “I just need you to pretend.”

Later that evening

Finn suits candlelight just as well as he suits firelight, golden flame licks highlights of copper and gold against his skin, paints him with shadows that smudge him softer at the edges. Patrick’s wondering why he brought him somewhere quite so romantic for dinner – an impulse he felt strangely unable to ignore – and didn’t just take him to the burger bar further along the resort.

“So, whereabouts in Chicago are you from?” Finn asks, chin propped on his hand as he regards Patrick over their crostini.

“Evanston, originally,” Patrick licks a crumb from his fingertip, considers the consequences of doing the same to the smudge of sauce on Finn’s lower lip. “But I grew up in Glenview, it’s—”

“No fucking way!” Finn practically squeals and Patrick jumps – hard – casting a wary eye at their fellow diners. It’s not the Michelin starred place he would’ve taken Greg but it’s still relatively classy and shouting at the dinner table is strictly verboten. “I’m from Wilmette!”

Minutes and more are lost to the comparison of notes, of friends in common – they have none – of schools attended – different – of whether or not the little diner with the roller-skating waitresses is still operational between their suburbs – it’s not, they tore it down and built a Denny’s. It’s ridiculous, Finn opines, to remove tradition. It’s progress, shrugs Patrick with the pragmatism Greg said robbed him of romance. Finn just smiles, though and Patrick could almost pretend he’s having fun, could almost relax a little but a familiar voice sets his heart to a messy gallop, restricts his lungs to a strangled gasp.

“Patrick?”

It’s Greg, all smiling eyes and towering height and a chest Patrick isn’t allowed to press himself to any more. It’s Greg in the button-down Patrick bought him for his birthday and the oxygen has left the room. It’s Greg with his hand on the shoulder of someone that looks familiar – Drew, Patrick’s personal trainer, good to know the retaining fee has been put to good use – and Patrick is stutter-stammering an introduction.

“This is my — my boyfriend. Finn.” Finn is quiet, eyes narrowed, handshake brief. “He usually dresses better than this but we thought…”

Patrick trails off as Greg laughs in his expensive shirt and Finn gapes – crestfallen, hurt, no, that’s not what Patrick meant – and Drew smirks like a man who wants his face punching. But, you know, by someone bigger than Patrick. (Why is everyone bigger than Patrick?) There’s a call for more chairs and somehow, he’s pressed up, miserable and hot with shame, next to Finn as Greg and Drew grin at them like a couple that do everything as a “we”. Patrick wants to sink through the floor.

“So,” Greg asks, eyes narrowed and lips drawn into a smirk. “Where did the two of you meet?”

“Well…” Patrick trails off, heart hammering wildly. Shit, shit, shit, why didn’t he think of this before?

“Can I?” Finn flutters his eyelashes and slips onto Patrick’s lap. He winds his arms snugly around Patrick’s neck – damp with cold sweat, in case anyone’s interested – and plants a sloppy kiss on his cheek that very nearly finds him dumped straight onto the floor. “Please, Trickerdoodle? You know I love this one!”

Okay, let’s get one thing absolutely straight, Patrick does not trust Finn at all. Not one bit. Not as far as he could throw him which – given how goddamn heavy the son of a bitch actually is – wouldn’t be particularly far. But since he’s currently staring into the abyss of a brain devoid of plausible ways he met this grungy asshole with his badly fitting shirt and too-tight pants, and given Finn seems to actually have an idea, he acquiesces with a nod dressed in a gusting sigh, “Sure.”

“Okay, so I’m working my shift at Go Go Boys,” Oh God, no. “And who should call me over for a private dance but this gorgeous dork.”

Patrick is going to kill him. He’s planned murders before – usually Rob’s – he’s done his research and now knows of about seventeen different ways to dispose of a body and he’s pretty sure he can buy himself an alibi if he tosses enough fifties at Will the bartender. Yes, this is it, he’s going to take Finn out into the forest and beat him to death with his own stupid snowboard. Then, he’s going to resuscitate him and beat him to death again, just for good measure.

“You met at a strip club?” Greg’s isn’t smiling anymore, he’s open-mouthed with shock and Patrick is burning with well-deserved embarrassment.

“Hey, now,” Finn admonishes, bopping Patrick on the tip of his nose with a finger he’s lucky isn’t immediately snapped off. “We prefer gentleman's club, don’t we P-Bear? Anyway, I danced for him and, well, I don’t mean to brag but I can do this thing with my hips,” he demonstrates with a roll that makes Patrick wriggle uncomfortably against his chair with an undignified little squeak. This is a family resort and that was inappropriate, “and he just couldn’t resist me! So, here we are and just falling more in love every day, aren’t we, shnookums?”

“Oh yeah,” Patrick agrees through the blaze of embarrassment on his cheeks. He deserved that. “Couldn’t be happier.”

Patrick pushes at his crème brûlée in silence once Finn has slid off his lap and into the warm embrace of his chocolate parfait but it’s okay, Finn is charming and smiling, touching his hand or his cheek in convincing little displays of affection. Patrick relaxes, Patrick starts to have fun. Don’t judge him, okay, but it’s nice to laugh with a handsome dude, to rest his hand on a warm knee, to open his mouth to taste a little of Finn’s dessert. They’re sickening, ordering champagne to celebrate their first Christmas together – first of many, Trickserbelle – a dark head tucked under blonde hair as Greg looks thoughtful.

“I hope you don’t mind that we took the master suite,” Patrick slurs, drunk on golden bubbles that tickle his nose. “`S’just… First vacation… ‘s special, right?”

“Yeah,” Drew mutters sullenly into his Sprite and fruit salad - veganism is a bitch - bitter brown glare focused all on Patrick. “We’re fine in a twin bed.”

“You’re too kind, Drew,” Finn declares, already on his feet and pulling Patrick with him. “You’re a treasure, a gem, a total babe…”

Finn carries on singing endearments as they shrug into their coats – Finn’s is still lime green, still awful, Patrick’s is still expensive and understated and purchased from a boutique in Beverly Hills and no way suited to the mountains of Colorado in December – and crunch their way along the path. There’s breath rising like steam from Finn as he walks and Patrick wants to lean a little closer, to take it into his own lungs and feel it, freezing warmth, suffusing through him from the inside. Finn’s the most irritating person he’s ever met, dancing down the frost-dusted sidewalk but there’s something, some tingling compulsion and notion that overrides sensible thought.

Mostly, he thinks it’s that Finn’s insanely handsome.

There’s silence in the cabin as they strip off coats and hats and boots, just the thump of feet against wall as snow is kicked off and the low hum of the heating system warming the room. Oh, sure, there’s a wonderful fireplace all stacked with logs but – embarrassingly – Patrick has literally no idea how to light a fire. He’s lived in LA for a decade, he barely knows how to operate the fancy air-conditioning system in his house.

“I’ll light it tomorrow,” Finn nods to the fireplace like a goddamn clairvoyant. “I guess you don’t know how?”

“Fuck you,” Patrick snaps, because seriously, who does Finn think he is? “I could light a fire; how hard can it be?”

Finn smirks, infuriatingly self-assured as he grabs himself a beer from the comically large, shiny fridge. Irritation strikes a beat in Patrick’s chest – those are his beers dammit – and he wants to say something, to put Finn in his place but really, what can he do? Hey, put my fucking beer down and get back to being my fake boyfriend? Ridiculous.

He’s tired though, it’s barely eleven but his eyes sting with grit, his bones aching with exhaustion from the early start and the emotional wreckage of seeing Greg with someone else and so, with a yawn, he inclines his head towards the staircase and murmurs his excuses into his shirt collar.

“Look, man,” he sighs remorsefully. Like he doesn’t want to run as far away from pretty amber eyes that know the truth – he’s paid him to be here – like he isn’t embarrassed and regretting the decision to leave the familiarity of his home, his studio, his safe places. “I’m absolutely beat, I’m gonna head up to bed but… Like, help yourself to anything, food, beer, TV.”

There. He’s been a good host. Finn nods his approval and smiles a goodnight as Patrick takes the stairs with a heavy heart and heavier feet. Not a moment too soon, apparently, as he hears Greg and Drew crash into the cabin as he’s pulling the bedroom door closed behind him. He pauses, head cocked and listens to an awkward exchange of greetings, to Finn’s declaration that he was just waiting for Patrick to slip into something more comfortable. He scowls; he can hear the dramatic wink in Finn’s voice as he sings out a goodnight, hear the shit-eating grin in the dance of his feet against the treads and then there he is, large as irritating life, in the doorway of the bedroom, hands on his hips like Peter goddamn Pan.

“Jesus Christ, Patrick,” he declares in tones that ring through the cabin and Patrick’s ears, that colour him as red as Finn’s shirt. “Is… Is that even legal!” With that he pulls the door closed with a thump and a twinkle as he hisses a conspiracy, “Get on the bed! Come on!”

“Why?” Patrick snaps, eyes wide with panic; this isn’t a service he intended to pay for.

“Look, they think I’m a sexy stripper,” Finn whispers. Well, maybe Finn thinks it’s a whisper. Patrick’s pretty sure they can hear him back in Chicago. “He needs to think we’re up to naughty things!”

Patrick stares. Patrick’s lips move but sound doesn’t come out for the longest moment as he twists at the hem of his cardigan and tries to voice all of the many reasons that Finn is an asshole. Instead, when his tongue loosens, he finds the only thing he can mutter is; “I’m going to put on my pajamas. Please be decent when I get out of the bathroom.

“It’s okay,” Finn calls after him, all theatre. “They’ll just think I have my mouth full for this part.”

When Patrick returns, dressed in an old Bowie shirt and flannel pajama pants, Finn is stripped to his boxers – tacky, hot pink with neon green stars – on the bed, casually thumbing through a well-worn copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He glances up with a grin, wiggles his hips suggestively and calls out a throaty, “Oh my God, Trickerdoodle, don’t stop…”

Trickerdoodle? Patrick rolls his eyes, determined that won’t stick.

“Put on your pajamas and get off my bed,” he instructs, pointing to the perfectly adequate couch in the corner.

“I don’t wear pajamas, and this is my bed too, Trickserbelle,” Finn pats the mattress invitingly, Patrick feels he has very little choice but to lay down. “He’ll know if two people slept in the bed or just one, pillow dents, man, they give you away. Fuck, Patrick, just like that! Oh, take me, you stud!”

The last sentence is loud and horrifyingly close to Patrick’s ear, punctuated with the squeak of the bed springs as Finn rolls to his knees and begins to bounce. There follows possibly the most excruciating ten minutes of Patrick’s life so far, all squeaking springs – honestly, he would have expected better from a luxury cabin, he’ll be mentioning this on Trip Advisor – and loud moans and groans before Finn reaches his dramatic conclusion, collapsing to the mattress with a wail and a grin that sparkles like mischief. Patrick wonders if he can smash the ice on the nearby lake and drown him successfully without anyone noticing.

He rolls over, his back to Finn and the covers drawn up to his chin, questioning each and every decision he’s made in his twenty-seven years of existence that have somehow led him to this very moment. And, as Finn curls into his back in a way that’s horribly presumptuous, he can’t find the words to voice an objection, particularly as Finn murmurs a sweet, “Mm, you’re fuckin’ toasty, dude,” all soft and warm in his ear.

Tomorrow, he decides, he’ll buy Finn some goddamn pajamas. Then he won’t have to rely on body heat.

December 23rd

Patrick has spent most of the day listening to ridiculous innuendos and double entendres from his delightful sham boyfriend. Sham stripper boyfriend, he corrects himself irritably as they walk down the main street of the resort. It’s been dark for a couple of hours already and the lights strung back and forth across the street twinkle like fireflies, joining the festive glow of the Christmas tree outside the lodge and the wreaths that glitter and gleam against doors and lampposts. Finn’s hands are tucked into his pockets, the imprint of Patrick’s elbow no doubt still stinging on his ribs from when he attempted to link their hands. Patrick told him he didn’t mean any offence by it, he’s just not a PDA kind of a guy.

Finn still sulked until Patrick bought him a churro.

“So, hey,” Finn begins with a shrug, head inclined towards the lodge. “Will sent me a text earlier, he said something about some old booze that needs using up and he won’t charge. Want to go get tanked up for free?”

Something about that offer doesn’t sound quite right to Patrick but free booze is free booze and honestly, a sandwich at the bar for dinner sounds wholly preferable to a repeat of the restaurant performance with Greg and Drew. What the hell, it might even be fun.

Of course, it’s inevitable that Greg has had the self-same idea, seated at a table in the lodge’s restaurant area and picking at a sandwich that seems to contain avocado and alfalfa sprouts whilst glaring jealously at the turkey club sandwich on the plate of the man at the next table. That’s exactly the kind of comeuppance he gets for leaving Patrick – who would have quite happily been splitting a plate of cheese fries with him right about now – for a my-body-is-a-temple, fitness guru vegan. Or Fun Sponge, as Patrick has taken to thinking of him.

Patrick orders the turkey club with a side of fries, just out of spite.

Will, it transpires, really is willing to pump the two of them full of entirely on the house booze. Patrick’s not sure it’s wise to partake of out of date alcohol although a small voice is asking him when whisky ever had an expiry date. That voice can shut up, he decides, there’s nothing weird about this, nothing strange at all about the twinkle in Will’s eyes or the way he fiddles constantly with those strange bottles behind the bar.

He’s distracted from questioning Will once again by Finn’s excited squeal, “Dude! It’s karaoke night! I completely forgot!”

“Wonderful,” Patrick frowns into his drink. He can sing, he knows that, he’s laid down vocals for enough bands, heard his voice on the radio in the background of dozens of chart hits – even more that never make the charts. He can belt out a tune and hold the room, he’s not bragging, it’s just the truth. But… Karaoke? With Finn? In front of Greg and Fun Sponge? He needs another drink.

“Come on, man,” Finn encourages him, truly awful Christmas sweater ablaze with flashing lights twisted around Rudolph’s antlers. Where did he even find something like that? “Just relax, have fun. We’re young and in love!”

There’s a nasty sort of sting in Patrick’s chest because, actually, let’s be real, no one is in love with him right now. And what if they never are again? What if this is a slippery slope to a lonely old age where he pays pretty boys to sit on his lap and call him Daddy? Oh god, the thought is horrifying, he signals for another whisky and wonders if there’s enough booze behind the bar to help him through the next week or so.

An hour later and Patrick isn’t sure there’s enough booze in the state to see him through the night.

“Could you remove the stick from your ass?” Finn hisses, eyes narrowed as he scowls at Patrick across the table, it’s on the tip of Patrick’s tongue to remind him he’s free to leave at any time. “Everyone likes karaoke, don’t they?”

“`m having a good time,” Patrick takes a passive aggressive swig of his drink – he’s sure some might argue that it’s not possible to drink with passive aggression, those people have never met Patrick. “There’s nothing up my ass.”

“You want to do I Got You Babe?” Finn asks, glancing down at the song selection. Patrick snorts derisively. “Okay, how about If I Could Turn Back Time parentheses I’d Pull The Stick Out of Your Ass Before We Left the Cabin close parentheses?”

“Ha… ha…” Patrick twitches uncomfortably at the collar of his shirt and nods towards the stage. “He’s the fourth – the goddamn fourth – drunken asshole to murder Sinatra tonight. Is no one… Is no one even paying attention to what’s going on up there?”

“Damn, you take this seriously, don’t you?” Finn grins all bright and glowing and why isn’t he wasted when he’s been tossing back booze like it’s going out of fashion. “My miniature master of musical marshalling.”

“My actual asshole of asshattery,” Patrick swipes back and winces as the guy currently crucifying My Way hits a particularly sour note. “And I’m not miniature. I’m average. You’re the freak of nature. This is torture. Actual torture. I’m, like, ninety-eight percent sure this is in the Geneva Convention.”

“Congress never ratified the Geneva Convention,” Finn is examining the song list once more but it’s clear that he can taste Patrick’s shock from across the table as glances up with a lazily raised eyebrow. “What? I almost have a poli-sci degree. I know some smart person stuff.”

Finn went to college? And to study Political Science? That… That’s sort of surprising. Patrick frowns at him with renewed interest because, okay, it’s not that Patrick had him entirely written off as some kind of loser snowboarding bum, it’s just… Okay, that’s exactly what he thought. And now he feels like something of an asshole for making assumptions and judging a book by its cover and a dozen or more other ridiculous turns of phrase that all mean don’t be a fucking dick, dude.

“Okay, fine,” Patrick forces a smile and tries not to look at the way Greg is stroking Fun Sponge’s hand a couple of tables across. He grabs for the song list with hands that only shake a little and wonders why it isn’t working, why Greg isn’t stealing jealous glances at Patrick and Finn. “Let me take a look.”

Finn seems to read Patrick’s mind, all thoughtful glances as he pulls his chair closer and mutters under his breath, “Aren’t you going to ask? Seriously?”

This time, Patrick doesn’t need to clarify. This time, Patrick can continue to stare down studiously at the book in front of him as he murmurs like his conviction isn’t wavering, “I don’t need to know. You’re pretending to be my boyfriend; the details don’t matter.”

“You should kiss me,” Finn flexes his fingers like he’s thinking of taking Patrick’s hand.

“Kiss — kiss you?” Patrick’s a stammering blush glowing bright in the dimly lit room. Finn, by comparison, is all smoky eyes and soft, pouted lips as he leans closer, hands still awfully close to Patrick’s.

“Yeah,” he whispers, still thoughtful, like he’s just thinking this through. “I mean… You want to make him jealous, don’t you? He’s not gonna get jealous if he never sees us touch, is he?”

“After the performance you put on last night,” Patrick begins haughtily.

“During which you were entirely silent,” Finn cuts him off with a shrug. “Not very convincing.”

Patrick looks down and blushes a red so bright it puts Finn’s twinkling sweater lights to shame because Finn doesn’t know – can’t possibly know – that Greg always complained that Patrick never offered any cries of ecstasy when they were in bed together, always complained that Patrick was silent and insisted on keeping the lights off. Finn doesn’t know that so Patrick shouldn’t be burning crimson, shouldn’t be shooting a miserable glance at Greg from under his lashes and wondering what the hell he thinks he’s doing here. Finn doesn’t know that Patrick just didn’t know how to let go, that he wanted the sex to be fired with passion – who wouldn’t? Greg’s beautiful – but something always held him back.

He darts another look at Finn’s lips – plush against his thumb as he bites at his nail – and tries to imagine kissing him. There’s a weird feeling in his stomach that he can’t blame entirely on the booze, a fizz and a tingle and, with a determined little huff, he looks down at the song sheet. Eyes scanning for something, although he’s not sure what, until he sees it and nods with a self-satisfied sort of smile. Perfect.

He fills out his card and hands it to the DJ, waits anxiously through two more Sinatra numbers and Build Me Up Buttercup before his name is called and he takes to the tiny stage. He forces himself not to check the mic on instinct, takes his place in front of the screen and lets the opening bars of music flow around the room like so much raw silk. He listens and he closes his eyes for just a moment as he raises the mic, takes a breath and begins to sing.

Treated me kind, sweet destiny, carried me through desperation, to the one that was waiting for me…”

And as the song winds on, as each note falls as bright and clear as winter snowfall onto the assembled collection of holidaymakers, Patrick doesn’t know if he should be looking at Finn or at Greg. He can sing this song and remember the good times, remember karaoke nights in LA where Greg would grin at him from the table and tell him he was incredible. He can remember walks along Santa Monica pier with ice cream and arms wrapped around one another – awkward because of the height difference – Patrick would feel like a little kid as he trotted along with Greg’s rangy strides. They had good times, dammit, why doesn’t Greg care?

So instead, he watches Finn, watches the way his eyes glitter gold in the low light of the room, the way his lips curve into a sleepy smile, chin propped against the honey gold of his fist. He watches the way his head bobs in time with the slow beat and how the coloured lights twinkle on his – still hideous – sweater. He holds his gaze until the last note rings out clear and polite applause ripples the room. Except for Finn. Finn who jumps to his feet with two fingers jammed into his mouth as a piercing scream of a whistle soars over the room, as he whoops and stamps his feet and declares that’s my boy!

Patrick blushes and, disconcertingly, he isn’t sure if it’s mortification or a strange sort of embarrassed pride that colours him pink. He’s just not certain if he’d rather Finn conveniently disappeared or if he’d rather the my boy, was genuine. He doesn’t like this, doesn’t like it at all.

He likes it a little though as Finn puts on another bed-shaking performance for Greg and Drew, as he jostles Patrick into a couple of half-hearted moans that he hopes burn Greg raw from the inside. He even sort of likes it as Finn curls into his back again, leg slung over his own and nose to the nape of his neck. He kind of likes Finn’s stupid boxers, neon orange and emblazoned with Drew Warhol style Santas.

He likes all of it. And he’s not sure how to feel about that at all.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve doesn’t find Patrick brimmed with holiday cheer. It finds him hunched over his laptop at the kitchen counter, working through Brendon’s tracks in a manner that can only be adequately described as pouty. At least, that’s what Finn calls him as he slouches on the couch in his pajama pants - so he does own some, they’re just not good enough for sleeping, apparently - and watches holiday specials back to back.

This, Patrick would like to point out, is not how he envisaged his Christmas break unfolding when he’d booked the cabin back in the ninety-degree heat of an early LA summer. This isn’t how he imagined it when he decided to crash Greg’s romantic break with Fun Sponge – sorry, sorry, Drew – and it absolutely is not what he imagined when he decided to pay Finn to weave a spell of jealous allure around him. Because what’s happening, what’s actually happening, is entirely predictable as Greg spends his days out on the slopes and his nights in a twin bed with the person he actually wants to be here with.

So, and this part isn’t entirely fair, Finn is now an irritant. He’s the spike of a pebble in Patrick’s shoe, reminding him with each step that he’s an idiot, a failure and possibly insane. Who pays a random dude from a ski resort to parade as their paramour anyway? Patrick Kearny, that’s who. Critically acclaimed music producer, vocalist and loser.

“The wind’s gonna change and you’ll stay like that,” Finn informs him, ever so helpfully, from the refrigerator where he scavenges slices of cheese like a trash panda.

“Maybe it’ll pick up and blow you the fuck away,” Patrick mutters under his breath, immediately feels mean because – come on – it’s not Finn’s fault. Not directly anyway. Okay maybe he could be a slightly more adoring fake boyfriend and then maybe Greg might start taking this whole thing seriously. So, all right, maybe it is sort of Finn’s fault.

Finn pouts and Patrick pointedly turns his laptop a little to block him out. Finn continues to stare, elbows propped on the counter, chin hooked to the top of the laptop until Patrick caves with a sigh.

“What do you want?” He sighs deep enough to gust them somewhere else. Maybe a place where Patrick has someone special and Greg is the one looking in and doing ridiculous things for attention.

“Get dressed, we’re going out,” Finn declares with a smile so golden it melts the harder edges of Patrick’s icy irritation. As Patrick slips into a clean polo shirt and shrugs on a cardigan he wonders, not for the first time, what it is that makes Finn tolerate the crap that Patrick keeps tossing at him. Then his eye lands on his wallet on the nightstand – oh yes, of course. Five hundred dollars a day.

They walk in silence that should feel awkward but somehow doesn’t, their progress scored only by the crystal scrape of boots against compacting powder as they wind their way through the resort. It takes Patrick longer than it should to realise they’re heading for the ski lift as he shivers into his wholly inadequate coat. Finn pauses with a smile, unwinds the offensive Super Mario scarf from his neck and slings it around Patrick’s, tucking it neatly into his jacket as Patrick tries to avoid eye contact, glowing bright with each brush of gloved hands against his skin.

“So,” Finn begins once they’re sat on the lift, enjoying a picture-perfect view of sunset over the mountains, the sun sinking slow, burning orange and gold, washing the snow like blood. “Are you going to ask me?”

Patrick pauses, eyes on Finn’s gloved hand clutched like need to the edge of the bench. Patrick pauses and wonders what would happen if he just… reached… out… and…

No.

“No. I don’t need to know what you think of guys,” or me, “I don’t need to know who you want to fuck,” if you want to fuck me, I know you don’t, “I just need you to do what I’ve paid you to do.”

Finn’s cast in burning light from the sunset, reflecting gold and amber and copper against eyes and skin that glow and shine with it, the light weaving bright highlights into the fluffy tufts of hair that poke out from under his hat. It adds sparkle to his thick, silk-dark lashes as he bites his lip and takes in the view with an arm slung across the back of the bench, almost like it’s wrapped around Patrick but it’s not. He stares and he smiles and he looks sad all at once and Patrick dies inside because this isn’t what he wants. Patrick sits in silence and stares at the view he wasn’t invited to watch – at the rather lovely way the stupid unicorn hat casts shadows across Finn’s face, at the plush tuck of his lip between his teeth. The lift trundles around slowly and deposits them safely back on the ground.

It’s Christmas Eve and Patrick is lonelier than he thinks he’s ever been. This can mean only one thing – it’s time to get wasted.

Patrick has no idea how many drinks he’s sunk, how many notes he’s handed to Will to line the register tucked discreetly behind the bar. He knows it’s enough that he only feels a slight ache when he sees Greg and Drew wrapped around one another at a corner table shrouded in shadow. He knows it’s enough that he’s starting to laugh at Finn’s crappy jokes. There’s music playing – not a live band, what kind of luxury resort is this? – but the usual love songs and Christmas ditties, the dancefloor sparkling silver with starlight as couples sway and twirl together.

“Dance with me?” Finn asks, all innocent smile and cheekbones dusted pink with liquor although he seems sober. Patrick shakes his head. “Come on, don’t be such a killjoy, dance with me.”

Patrick doesn’t dance. He used to, he has reasonable rhythm and it used to be sort of fun swaying in time to a beat but Greg told him he looked stupid so he stopped. It’s cooler to lounge by the bar anyway, whisky in hand and enigmatic smile on his lips. He thinks he sees Greg shoot him a glance across the dancefloor, impossible to say for certain. Impossible to say if it’s jealousy or pity, remorse or dislike that flickers across eyes like bitter chocolate then the moment passes and he’s engrossed in Drew once again.

“Please?” Finn’s smiling sadly, as though he knows the answer, as though he’s anticipating the rejection before Patrick even opens his mouth.

“No,” Patrick shakes his head and wonders – just for a moment – what kind of turn the night might have taken if he’d said yes. If he didn’t hesitate, just for once. If he was a little less Patrick and a little more Finn. How would he have reacted if a lonely stranger had asked him to step into the role of “boyfriend” for a time? He’d have thought they were insane. He’d have moved away as fast and as far as he could but Finn… Didn’t. And Patrick can’t work out why.

“Why are you trying to make that asshole jealous?” Finn asks around a mouthful of Malibu and coke. Patrick’s spluttering on whisky and ice as he flicks a glance from Greg – all handsome, grinning, tall – to Finn – smiling, spoon cuddles warm in bed and scarves tucked soft around cold necks – and back again. It’s almost impossible to remember why he’s making Greg jealous – or not, as the case may be – so he just stares helplessly at swirling amber in his glass so he doesn’t have to look at swirling amber framed by dark lashes. “Seriously, Patrick, you’re a nice guy. I mean, you’re actually sort of a dick, but I get why you act that way, you shouldn’t be doing this, dude, you can… You can do better.”


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