Adrien Jimenez stared at the sparse text on his phone’s screen.
Christmas Village short Santas. Helping out tonight. Sorry babe. Make it up to you, promise.
Stomping his foot didn’t do a thing to change the words or the sick feeling in his stomach. All he accomplished was slipping on the throw rug in his bathroom, taking out half the toiletry items on the counter and losing his grip on his two month old phone. Of course the darn thing landed in the toilet with a huge sploosh.
His brother Sam poked his tousled blond head into the bathroom. “What gives bro?”
Adrien cast a quick glance in the mirror to make certain that Sam was maintaining their stepdad’s no filming Adrien on pain of dire consequences mandate. Whew. There was no electronic equipment in his younger sibling’s hands. Sam had one arm braced against the door frame and the other propped on his hip. A single knot released its hold on Adrien’s stomach. Thank goodness there was no strange equipment visible through the reflected doorway into the bedroom. Adrien huffed out a shaking breath, squinted and shuddered. Wrinkling his nose, he pointed at the sad, submerged carcass of his phone. A picture of his boyfriend Devon’s face flickered before the whole screen went ominously black. Adrien threw up his arms and rolled his eyes heavenward. Breathing in the nose-hair tingling scent of bleach and Windex slowed the racing of his heart.
“Crapdoodly. At least I just finished cleaning the bathroom. So, you know there’s no actual—”
Sam’s eyes widened. He gulped, the sound echoing against the tiles of the little bathroom, and then he scrambled backwards, first into the bedroom, and then out into the apartment’s hallway. His rapidly retreating voice floated back to Adrien. The rapid patter of his retreat paused in the entryway of Adrien’s apartment.
“No way, man. I already paid my penance for the whole Stupid Shit Adrien Does Sex-tape scandal. I did my time, bro. I might be on Mom and Poppa parole, but I’m not bobbing for crap covered Galaxy phones. No way, no how. Nuh-uh. Count me out.”
Adrien sneered at the empty spot his brother had been in only seconds ago. Coward. He was putting on his boots and—slam—yep, high tailing it over to Mary Catherine’s place across the hall for cookies and sympathy. Geez. Adrien wasn’t even going to ask him to fish out the phone.
“Chicken-hearted punk. Not like I was gonna make you get it out. Sheesh. And even if I did ask, all you had to do was say no. Punk.”
Now Adrien couldn’t even use Sam’s tacky blue iPhone to text Devon back and protest his breaking their date. Crap. Adrien eyed the toilet. Ew, yuck, and oh my gosh grossness. A bubble rose from the submerged device like a last plea for help from a drowning man. Adrien’s belly did a slow roll. His phone might be toast but Adrien still had to see if it could be salvaged. Pursing his mouth, Adrien squeezed his eyes shut and plunged his hand into the toilet. Even knowing he’d just scrubbed the toilet within an inch of its porcelain life didn’t stop the incredible ick factor.
“I am so getting a little leash for my phone next time. That has got to be cheaper than the cost of psych and retail therapy I’m gonna need after this.”
Pulling the phone he’d dubbed little Mickey out of its watery grave, Adrien quickly pulled the device apart, shaking out as much water as possible. He’d have to wait to see if the drying out could save his beloved little electronic bestie. For now, he’d better call Benji and Marcus. He was so gonna need back up on this one.
Heaving another sigh, Adrien left Mickey the phone under the rays of a heat lamp turned to low on his bathroom counter and made his way into his kitchen to sanitize his hands with the industrial strength hand cleaner Devon kept under the sink in there for when he and Michael worked on cars together. Picking up the portable handset from the house phone as he passed his nightstand, he hit autodial number three. Tucking the phone between his shoulder and his cheek, Adrien turned the water on low, grabbed the degreaser-ultra-cleaning crap from under the kitchen sink and began to lather up.
“Missy? Hey, pretty girl. Can you get Benji for me? I have a level two Black Glitter Alert piggy-backing on a level seven Red. Yes, I am serious. No, really. This is a sincere level two. Missy, level two is reserved for electronics. Stop laughing you mean little hussy. Go get your brother or I’ll let him chaperone your next date all by himself.”
A loud thumping noise indicated the quickness with which Missy dropped the phone to the kitchen counter after that threat. Adrien took a moment to finish washing off his hands before drying them on a paper towel. He really didn’t want toilet water on any of the towels he might wipe his face with later. Double eww.
Only when he had a hand free to hold the phone again did he dare shut off the water. On the other end of the line he could hear Missy hollering. “Benj! Heya, Benji-man! Adrien killed another phone, and he’s babbling something about possible de-boyfriending. I think. There’s definite talk of level seven glitter alerts. I’m not sure about the de-boyfriend status. Nope. I don’t see Devon ever letting him go either, but I still wanna come. This is gonna be hilarious.”
Adrien rolled his eyes. No one took his boyfriend alerts seriously. Gah. He might as well be the ancient Greek seer, Cassandra. One day, they’d all be sorry. He’d knew things. These plebeians did not appreciate the greatness of having an inside track to his premonitions. Sure, he was wrong about eighty percent of the time, but when he was right they were forewarned, dammit. Adrien made his way back into his bedroom after gathering up the things he’d need for a trip to the mall. Like the ruined bits of his phone… he could definitely use replacing the phone as cover if Devon spotted him. A thumping noise, a high pitched squeal and the shrill sounds of Missy retreating came over the line and then—
“Hey Adrien. What the heck man? Another phone? Does your insurance even—”
Adrien cut him off, managing to keep his voice steady for most of the conversation. “Benji, I need you to get Markus and get over here. I need to get to the mall…and I need help. Stop laughing. Markus will make the whole phone replacement thing easy. Yes, yes, before you even say anything, I’ll bet you two weekends worth of kitchen chores that I’m right about that. And…I need you and Missy for cover. You know I’m not supposed to hang around Christmas Village anymore. So, I need to find out what the heck is going on with Devon, and I can’t call him.”
Benji snickered. “Adrien, we told you to write his number down. Do you want me—”
Growling, Adrien smacked his hand against the receiver hard enough to sting before putting the handset back up to his ear. “Don’t mess with me, Benji. I need you to get over here and take me to the mall. Please. This is a bona-fide level seven red glitter alert. Devon’s broken four dates in the past month. And this last one is to pick up shifts at the Christmas Village.”
Silence echoed between them. Benji cleared his throat.
“Oh. I guess this is serious. I’d have to bring Missy even if you didn’t request her. Seriously Adrien, this operation hasn’t got a prayer of being low-key with her along. You do realize that, right? Or, you know, we could drop her off at your mom’s—”
Adrien swayed were he stood, visions of his petite firecracker of a mother getting the scoop on the Devon situation from Missy the Mouth.
“No, bad idea Benji. Bad. Idea. Bring Missy along. I’ll get Trece to run interference if she’s around.”
Benji cackled. Adrien rolled his eyes.
“Come on, Benji, you should know better. Mama Jimenez would go all snooty Spaniard on Devon for breaking my heart and his Puerto Rican pride would get into a big hairy knot. Even couples counseling from Mary Catherine might not save us then.”
He paused for breath, and Benji huffed out an aggravated sounding sigh. “Adrien, why don’t you just call and ask him what’s up?”
Adrien stomped again, growling as he did so. This time there were no dire results. He was so busy admiring the fact that he hadn’t fallen over his own feet, scared his cat into hiding, or accidently screwed up his recently redone blond streaks and the way they made his brownish-dark blond hair look amazing that he almost didn’t catch Benji’s next statement.
“Adrien. He isn’t cheating. God. Are you ever going to get how devoted that man is to you?”
Adrien made a scoffing garr-humph noise as he continued to admire his hair in the mirror. He was so going to keep getting these streaks forever and ever, amen. His upright stature in the mirror over his dresser made him grin from ear to ear. Darn it, he looked good. Benji sucked in a big breath before he spoke again, so Adrien had time to jump in with the one thing his buddy couldn’t argue against.
“I have a hinky feeling about this one. We need to be there, okay. Yes, everything is probably fine and Devon’s probably just neck deep in something completely legit, but…I can’t shake this feeling. It started earlier this month, Benji, and the hink factor has only gotten stronger.”
Benji’s sigh this time was resigned. None of the Twinks messed with Adrien’s hinky feelings. He’d been right too many times.
“Okay, Adrien. I’ll call Markus. You get ready and meet us downstairs in thirty minutes. We’ll be there, with our little spy bells on. Oh, hey, isn’t Sam over at your place today? Is he coming too? Cause I can borrow the ‘rent-mobile if we need the room.”
Adrien snorted. “No, we can take your jalopy. Sam bailed on me when my phone fell in the toilet.”
Raucous laughter blasted through the phone. Pulling the offending instrument away from his ear, Adrien glared at the sleek black handset. Benji continued to bray into the other end of the connection, so Adrien huffed out an aggravated farewell and hung up. He needed to get ready for Operation Spy on Santa.
Putting himself together for his stealth mission to the mall, Adrien reflected on the craptastic message that popped up in his voice mail when he checked it from the house phone. The message from Devon had pulled the hinky feeling closer to the surface. There was nothing overtly wrong in the words.
Adrien-Andy’s Santa broke an arm. Michael and I got volun-told we were filling in. I’m up tonight. So sorry to break our date. See you around midnight, and babe, you really need to keep your phone on. What if—oh, gotta go.
Not anything really wrong. Except Devon texting the message implied that Adrien would flip out over him agreeing to fill in at Christmas Village. Adrien knew better. Even though he hated the cavalier way the owners of Christmas Village had fired him last year, he got why. They really couldn’t have an elf with a sordid Sex-capade making the round on YouTube working in Christmas Village. So yeah, he got it. He still resented the hell out of Devon agreeing to work there without even talking to him first. A year ago, Adrien might not have minded so much. He’d have been working right alongside his gorgeous boyfriend in their local Christmas Village’s annual photo-with-Santa booth as one of the helper elves.
And Andy? Adrien shouldn’t be angry that he’d asked Devon. Andy needed his job, and well, you really couldn’t run the village with only one Santa. It still galled. Because Andy knew Devon—well, in the hot sweaty sex way. They had a hot weekend before Devon met Adrien, and damn if that didn’t still chap Adrien’s ass. Adrien blew a puff of air out of the corner of his mouth, shook his head to clear it, and then eyed his ensemble. Dark jeans that flattered his nicely round hiney. Check. Suffering poet type black turtleneck in a silk-cotton blend which showed off the new definition his chest had developed over the past year of working out with Devon. Check. Solid black beanie pulled low over his distinctive and ever so sexy hair. Shame, that. Oh well, there were times when one really did need to attempt to hide one’s light under the nearest bushel basket. He was pretty sure he’d hit the perfect stealthy yet sexy note. Sometimes these monochrome outfits could be hellishly hard to judge, though. Either he’d nailed it, or the guys and Missy were going to laugh their asses off at him.
The unease in his stomach hitched up another notch. He pressed his lips together and nodded firmly at Michael Clarke Duncan, his enormous black tom-cat. “Don’t worry, Michael buddy. I’ve got this covered.”
The cat lazily cracked open one golden eye, yawned expansively, and then rolled onto his back. With all four paws in the air, Michael Clarke Duncan twitched his tail a few times. Then he grunted, canted his ginormous head to one side and began to snore. Adrien’s mouth curled up at one corner.
“Ha. Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Adrien did the disaster double check. Boots tied? Check. Keys in hand? Nope…but they were in his coat pocket, so kinda check. Phone—oh scratch that one. The phone was toast. He’d get it replaced while he was at the mall. Okay, that was everything. Time to sneak past Mary Catherine’s door without getting caught by Sam the Chicken-hearted. With one hand in his pocket to muffle the sound of the keys, he stealthily pulled open his front door. Oh, crap. If he locked the door, Mary Catherine would be stuck with Sam unless she booted him out in the cold. Well, at least Sam would be stuck until his parents could come pick the brat up. Well, to be fair, Mary Catherine wouldn’t leave Sam out in the cold deliberately…but she was a busy woman, and the way Sam’s luck ran lately the outcome could be bad. Adrien back tracked, snagged a slip of paper and a pen from the table next to the answering machine and then scribbled out a quick note to Sam and Mary Catherine. He poked the little hook intended for the wreath he and Devon were supposed to have picked out together tonight through the paper. Then he taped the bottom edge to the door. There was no sense taking the chance this note would fall off his door as so many others had.
Markus tipped the edge of his retro-styled shades down and peered at Adrien. One corner of his full lips quivered on the edge of a smile. Even his damned chin dimple seemed to smirk at Adrien. Giving his best crinkly brow and mad-but-flinching face, Adrien huffed his way into the back seat next to Missy.
“What? I’m doing laundry tomorrow.”
Benji, Missy, and Markus snorted, giggled, and then full on belly laughed. Missy reached over to pat his arm consolingly. The bottled laughter and sunshine scent of her Joy by Jean Patou perfume filled his head. Adrien took a deep breath. God, if the stuff wasn’t three hundred fifty dollars for point five ounces, he’d bathe in the stuff. He shot the back of Benji’s curly blond head a dirty look. Markus winked at him.
“S’okay, Adrien. We know how much you love to pull out all your ‘Bond, James Bond’ stealth moves and strut them around.”
The fucker managed to look more high class spy in his old Jonas Bros. tee and high tops than Adrien did in his all black ensemble. Adrien ground his teeth together. Benji popped a Gotye cd in the disc player and put the car in drive. Flashing a shiny bright smile and batting his stupidly long eyelashes at Adrien in the rearview, Benji opened his big blue extra wide.
“Don’t be mad, Adrien. You always pull out the Bond gear when you’re worried that a boyfriend is creeping around on you.”
Hot, sharp talons caught at the edges of Adrien’s heart. “I don’t think Devon’s creeping. I just have a hinky feeling. And he’s broken four dates now. So, you know…”
Benji’s eyes softened into pools of blue as warm and wide as summer skies. “Yeah, we know, Adrien. We know. Give Markus your latest phone carcass so he can check it over, and we’ll see what’s up, ‘kay?”
Adrien’s throat tightened. His eyes stung as he met Benji’s gaze in the mirror. Blinking hard, Adrien cleared his throat. He had the best friends in the whole world. Markus stuck his hand back to receive the phone parts. Adrien placed the quart sized Ziploc baggie he’d put all the bits into forward. His chest filled with a slow, spreading warmth.
The lightly floral scent of Missy’s body spray increased as she scooted closer, laid her head on his shoulder and poked him in the side. Adrien squeaked, arching to the side and splaying a hand over his ticklish midsection.
“Hey, stop that now. You know I meant you, too.”
Missy lifted her head back up, smirking before she stuck her tongue out. “Yeah, I know, but you guys have to start remembering that I’m a girl. I mean a woman. Female. Whatever. I’m not just one of the boys, okay?”
Adrien and Benji shared a weighted glance while Markus snorted. Markus spoke for them all.
“Cupcake, we would never in a million years mistake your Royal Shortness for anything other than a beautiful young lady. We just like to pretend that you’re never gonna grow up enough for us to need to think about you dating or god forbid—”
“Don’t say it!” Benji and Adrien shouted out the command in perfect unison. Adrien shivered. Benji made a quiet whimpering noise. Markus grunted as though something suddenly pained him. Missy wrinkled her nose up.
“Fine. Whatever. Just behave or I’ll start wearing push-up bras and hoochie gear.”
All three guys whined, low and desperate. Markus continued speaking for the rest of them.
“Okay, Missy. Just. Be patient with us. We’re not trying to be jerks. We love you a lot, and we know what worthless shits guys can be sometimes. Girls too when their trying to get into your pants. We want you to have someone who likes you for you. I—can you cut us some slack on that?”
Missy stared out the window of her door for a few seconds. Her voice, when it finally came, sounded as soft and measured as the tones of a world class bell ringer’s Christmas offering.
“I know Markus. It’s why I haven’t slaughtered you all for the overbearing tag-alongs and so called chaperoning. I get that you guys love me. You gotta let me grow up though, even if that means letting me make mistakes sometimes.”
Benji pulled up on the parking brake with a jerky motion. “We’re here. Everybody out and um, do what you have to do. Missy, you don’t have to hang with us unless you want to, okay?”
Missy’s lips spread wide in a smile that threatened to light the whole world with its brightness. Wow. “Yeah, big bro, I know. I kinda like hanging out with you losers, though, so I’ll tag along with Markus.”
Benji’s shoulders dropped in what Adrien knew was abject relief. They all piled out of the warm car into the bitter cold of the day. Benji made a shooing motion to Missy and Markus, and they high-tailed it through the slushy parking lot toward the mall’s nearest entrance. Slinging a companionable arm around Adrien’s shoulders, he tugged him around to walk down the sidewalk heading off to the right.
“Come on, man. We have to go this way or Devon will spot us for sure. He always sees you no matter what else is going on. We’ll head into the Christmas Village area from the back side.”
Benji snickered then, and after one appalled moment of staring up at this friend Adrien busted up laughing as well.
“Dude, that is so wrong. I should tell Devon you told me to sneak up on him from the back side.”
They snorted, giggled, and chortled their way around the building.
Twenty minutes later, Adrien thought he might not laugh again for a very long time. When they arrived, Missy went around the front of the coffee shop and let Trece know they were hiding out in the access hallway. Trece snuck them into through the back entrance of her coffee and cookie shop. The store was conveniently located diagonally from the Christmas Village. Within five minutes of setting up their “observation point” behind the big potted plant at the edge of Trece’s seating area, they got an eyeful of Devon catching some ridiculously cute little red haired twink in his arms. Adrien gasped as Devon’s broad shoulders and sleek black hair dipped low over the little hooker’s—
“Oh my god. Is he?”
Benji’s shocked voice spoke Adrien’s thoughts aloud. Trece coughed uncomfortably. Adrien stomped his foot, nearly falling over. Trece’s eyes welled as she caught him, set him back on his feet and nodded.
“I’m sorry Adrien. I don’t know what to tell you. That kid showed up here last week, and this is the third time I’ve seen Devon all up in his grill like that.”
She snapped her gum, big brown eyes flashing with ire. She patted Adrien’s hand. “You want me to kick Devon’s ass for you, baby?”
Adrien swallowed thickly. His stomach burned, and his vision went a little blurry. “No. Trece, you need this job. I’ll—omg, and that kid is a ginger. I mean, I know Markus says gay black boys are unicorns, but really? We all know the truth. Red heads are already rare, and a cute gay twink with red hair? That’s like a winged unicorn or something.”
Benji and Trece exchanged a look. Trece’s big gold hoops danced in her ears as she shook her head.
“Adrien, that’s not the worst part. I saw Devon give him another kiss earlier today. The boy practically climbed right into Devon’s lap, and then the big idiot put his arms around the little guy and kissed him.”
Spots danced in Adrien’s vision as he raised a trembling hand to touch his lips. Benji gasped. Trece waved her hands back and forth.
“No, no, earlier wasn’t on the lips.” Trece paused dramatically, pointing one professionally airbrushed nail at her temple. “Devon kissed him right here.”
Gold and red glitter sparkled on the tips of every nail. For a brief moment, Adrien let himself drift on the wonder of Trece wearing glittering nail tips, and then he snapped out of it. “Oh my god. That’s even worse. On the lips is nothing. A little surge of hormones, easily cured by getting him home and letting him screw me blind. But a smoocher on the temple? Crap-doodly, that means he cares.”
Benji nodded. Trece grimaced, her bright red lips puckering as her brows drew together in a puzzled looking frown.
“Mmm… okay. So what are you going to do?”
A flash of heat rushed through Adrien’s veins. He got a sudden, vivid image of himself marching over to Christmas Village, snatching that rotten Santa’s beard right off and—a tiny girl skipped by the front of the shop, tugging at her mother’s hand and pointing excitedly toward the photo booth.
“Crap. I can’t start a big scene.”
Trece and Benji both nodded glumly. Benji patted Adrien on the back.
“No, you really can’t. Not only would Andy probably get fired, but you’d traumatize whatever little kids are around for sure.”
Trece tilted her head to one side. “Ah, hell. Come on Adrien. I’ll make you a coco with a candy cane straw, okay?”
Adrien’s breathes came shorter as an image of last year’s near catastrophe at the village flashed through his mind. What was—wait a minute. Devon, no matter what he said to the contrary, craved being the guy who rescued people. And Trece said—
“Trece, tell me what happened earlier again?”
Tugging at her earring, Trece squinted at Adrien. “Ah, Adrien? Is this some new self-punishment? Cause I gotta say I—”
“—Trece just tell me exactly what you saw.”
Sighing, Trece complied. “Okay. Um, the little guy came hauling ass from the direction of the locker-room. He ran right up onto Santa’s platform, and I couldn’t see what was going on for a second because some big guy blocked my view, and the next thing I knew Devon stood up, little Ginger-Bread climbed up him, and Devon kissed him on the side of his head.”
Adrien nodded, a fluttering starting in his mid-section. Okay. This was going to be okay. “Then what happened?”
Trece grunted. “I—wait. Devon jumped up before the Ginger-man got there. And he looked really pissed off at first. You know, at first I was worried he was gonna deck the kid. I almost forgot that after he kissed him, cause that really knocked me for a loop. I—I was gonna come by your apartment when I closed up tonight.”
Adrien nodded. “I know you would have Trece. Okay? So anyway, after the little elf climbed up Devon, is that when his face changed?”
Benji hummed. “Adrien what—”
“—shush, Benj. I think maybe Devon thinks he’s protecting someone. You know how he gets.” Adrien shook his head.
While that trait was awfully cute when applied to him, having Devon spread it around to the general populace was not going to fly. Adrien growled low in his throat. Someone needed to make darn sure Devon remembered keeping his boyfriend safe from weirdoes, stalkers, and his own clumsiness required his full attention. Little Red could find his own guy to get kisses from. Nodding decisively, Adrien turned resolutely away from the windows in the swinging kitchen doors.
“I need to remind my Santa his number one elf, me, needs safe-guarding. It’s a dirty, sweaty, naked job, but somebody’s got to do it.”
Trece tossed back her head and laughed. “I—I’m not sure I understand what in the fresh hell just happened here. Adrien, you are a special kinda cray-cray, you do know this, right?”
Adrien grinned and winked over at her. Benji wiped a hand over his face, groaned and pulled his phone out of his pocket, and hit number five on his speed-dial.
“Sam? Yeah, this is Benji. I need a favor, man. You gotta reactivate the Stupid Shit Adrien Does channel. I don’t care. Yes, of course he knows. Who do you think thought this crazy ass scheme up? Well, if you can get me their sign-in codes, I’ll fix their systems so they can’t get on YouTube. Nah, it won’t mess up the computers. Eh, just re-direct. Okay. Meet us over at Adrien’s in an hour. No, he’s not there. He’s at the mall with me. Wha—okay. I’ll bring you one of Trece’s chocolate chips and a double whip, but you gotta get the cameras. I don’t care how. Just make it happen. I’m calling an official level seven red glitter. No, for reals. M’kay.”
He snapped his phone shut. Adrien blinked at him, grateful for the vanilla and chocolate scents seeping out of the industrial sized oven to his right. He needed the steadying aroma right now.
“Benji, if you just did what I think, you are hereby promoted to full evil genius status.”
Benji and Trece exchanged another glance. Benji cleared his throat.
“Ah. Adrien? That kid is wicked hot, and even I can see the little boy lost thing he has going.”
Waving a hand in front of his own crotch like a game show hostess presenting a prize, Benji drew attention to his larger than the average bear sized package.
“So, given that I’m pretty partial to being the little spoon, and he still has this profound an impact on me… well, a cutely sleezy strip show at home were Adrien has to catch you before you brain yourself on the dresser is not gonna cut it.”
Adrien gulped. “It’s not?”
Shaking his head, Benji sighed. “No. It really isn’t. We need full media coverage, Adrien. We’re gonna have to let Sam loose. I know that sounds crazy after everything we all did last year to get him to quit filming everyone all the time, especially you, but Devon needs to be worried about the big picture. Stupid Shit Adrien does rebooting is very, very big picture. Then, once you reel your sexy man back in we can find a clean way to get rid of the dangerous competition.”
Adrien’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “Hey, we aren’t going to hurt anybody, right?”
Benji snorted. “No way. We’ll send Missy in on a recon mission—you know she can get a tongueless worm to spill the punch with one bat of her eyelashes. I’m glad she works for us. Well, you know what I mean.”
Adrien nodded. “Yeah. Good thing we’re not criminal masterminds or something. With Missy on our side we could take over the world.”
Even Trece nodded at that, a wide grin stretching across her face. “Little heifer is dangerous to say the least. Makes a sistah proud. Listen, I got just what you probably need for a Christmas video. I bought a little holiday themed outfit right before I broke up with Jeremy the idiot. Adrien, the velvet bikini bottoms and Santa hat are perfect for what I think you have in mind. Call them an early Christmas pressie from me.”
Benji patted him on the shoulder, turning to walk toward the rear door of the kitchen. “Trece, I can get to the hallway by security through here, right?”
Trece nodded. Her brows crinkled and she squinted at Benji. “Uh, yeah. Why?”
Shrugging Benji snagged Adrien’s wrist to drag him along. “Eh, Markus is for sure done at the phone place, because Elliot is the sales rep. working today and he wants in Markus’ pants almost more than his manager, Melinda wants to get back in them.”
Adrien choked. “Ohmahgah! Markus actually did a girl? Crap-doodly, I would never have thought…I mean, is he like, bi-curious now? Kinda reverse operation, isn’t it?”
Benji scowled in a deliciously smouldery way. Then he wagged his finger at Adrien. “Do. Not. Jump. To. Conclusions. And stop interrupting…soooo, that’s why I sent Markus to get the phone replaced. So Markus and Missy will be over at security so Missy can use the bathroom to check her makeup and Markus can flirt with Liam.”
Adrien boggled at Benji. “Oh my god. Markus? And Melinda? When did that happen? Oh, wait. I remember. The one time he got really drunk…he was so ashamed after. Because he really wasn’t that into her and he’s always lecturing the rest of us about treating sex like it matters. Huh. So…omg. Oh. Mah. Gah. Markus and Liam? I gotta say that makes a lot more sense to me.”
Benji waggled his eyebrows. “Heh, me too. They’re not together. Not yet, but oh yeah, -doesn’t Markus wish.”
Trece snorted behind them. “You two take it into the kitchen…I see someone from the Village heading this way, and I can’t tell if it’s staff or customer yet. Y’all will so be busted before you can carry out your evil plan if anyone from over there spots you. Tell Sam I’ll stop by after work with the cookies. I have to come over anyway to get my Santa hat back. Take my key that’s hanging on that hook by the door, Adrien. The velvet bikini is in my top right dresser drawer. Pay no attention to the other things you find in there.”
She gave a wicked smile, waggled her eyebrows, and then ran a hand over her close cropped afro. Shooing them into the back, she waited. Then she stepped in behind them, peeping out the window as she finished off her thoughts before.
“Anyway. About the toys. You know, a girl has gotta have her toys.”
A bell dinged out front, and Trece gave one more audacious wink before she disappeared through the swinging doors. Adrien snagged the keys she’d indicated, took off her spare house key and hung the others back up. The sound of Trece loudly telling the customer he could take his business down the street if he couldn’t find a way to talk to her more politely seeped through the doors between the front and the kitchen. Benji laughed and shook his head.
“I love this place a lot. It used to be cool when we were kids and old man Hardaway owned it, but since Trece bought the shop the cookies taste better, the coffee is amazing, and the floorshow is priceless.”
Trece’s distinctive tones rising a hair louder, telling the guy he couldn’t get her fired because she was the owner pulled Adrien from his fear of losing Devon long enough to let him smile gamely.
“Yeah, the floorshow is better than anything Vegas has to offer.”
With a last check to make sure the back door would lock behind them, they stepped through into the access corridor. Pulling the heavy steel door shut, they made their way toward the security office.
By the time they’d swung by Trece’s apartment and driven back across town to Adrien’s place, Adrien’s palms were sweating. First of all, the things Trece had in her “naughty drawer” where enough to keep Adrien blushing for a month. Sure, sex toys were cool, but having to see Trece’s personal stash might scar him for life. Stripping like a naughty elf for Devon alone? Mildly embarrassing, but ultimately doable. Trying to manage the same feat while fully aware that possibly thousands of people were going to see the naked evidence of how bad he had it for Devon? Oh god. He needed to be somewhere private so he could heave up every single speck of stomach content he possessed. Dear lord this—omg, Sam was so going to use this for some kind of leverage. Benji pulled the car up in front of the elder Jimenez’ home, turning to look at his sister over the back of his seat.
“Missy, don’t be mad. We need you to handle keeping Lynn and Carlos off the net for the next few hours.”
Missy’s frown morphed into a considering squint. “You’re not just dumping me because you think I’m too young for whatever?”
Adrien leaned over to kiss her cheek. “No way, Queenie. We need you to keep mom and poppa off our tails. They’ll kill me and Sam both if they find out about this. I—”
Missy reached up to pat his cheek. “I know. You want to get Devon to pay attention, and for whatever reason the lot of you can’t figure out that the simplest way to deal would be to just talk to him.”
She shrugged. “I’ll help. But for the record? This is gonna bite you in the butt. Promise me you’ll tell Devon what’s really going on before the end of the night. He actually does listen to you, Adrien. And Benj, just because our mom and dad manipulate each other instead of communicating doesn’t make it a good method.”
Benji gaped at his sister. Markus cleared his throat in a very un-Markus like manner, all deep and judgy sounding. Adrien smiled.
“I promise, Queenie. And we’ll try to keep it off the actual published channels, okay?”
Missy gave him a squinty eyed stare. “Hmmpf. I still think you guys are a bunch of idiots, but I’ve got your backs. Does Lynn know I’m coming?”
Adrien nodded. “Yeah. She said you can spend the night since she doesn’t work tonight, and that she’ll drive you home in the morning. There may have been mention of Spaghetti Warehouse and cake.”
Missy flung open her door and tried to get out of the car so fast she forgot to unfasten her buckle. Markus crowed with laughter.
“I have the same reaction to Spaghetti Warehouse’s tiramisu, kiddo. See if you can con Lynn into getting a whole cake for the rest of us to eat the day after tomorrow at Sunday dinner. I will owe you big if you can swing that.”
Adrien bit his tongue to keep from cracking up. Missy did some kind of weird fist-bump thing with Markus, undid her buckle and then ran up the front walk to the house. Lynn opened the door, waved at them all and then Missy drew her into the house.
“Oh my god, Markus. You actually did the Puss-in-Boots big cute eyes.”
Benji snorted. “Dude, I don’t care how big you owe Missy, she is not going to the next dance with Emmanuel Lopez. That kid is already a daddy. Twice. No fucking way.”
Markus and Adrien both sobered.
Markus nodded. “No problem. He decided last week that he wanted to go to the dance with his ex.”
Benji and Adrien both eyed Markus.
He rolled his eyes and continued. “Yeah, well, I may have paid him a visit and told him I’d give his number to every single homo in the tri-state area if he didn’t.”
Adrien gaped at his friend. “Crap, Markus, he’s a kid still.”
Markus shook his head. “Nope. He’s a minor according to the law, but the second he got some girl preggers? He became a man with responsibilities. At least in my book. If he wanted to be a boy still? He shoulda wrapped that shit up. That girl didn’t get caught by a broken condom. She got tricked, because Emmanuel told her he couldn’t get her pregnant. I would never let someone who hasn’t learned to respect their partners spend a single unsupervised minute—nah, better make that a second—in Missy’s presence.”
Missy’s words kept echoing in Adrien’s head, right through getting into his silly velvet bikini bottom and rubbing a little baby oil on his body so he’d look shiny in the video. By the time Sam and Benji had everything set up to film his special striptease for Devon, Adrien’s nerves were stretched to the breaking point. Nibbling on the tip of a fingernail, he wrestled with his conscience.
“I don’t know if I can do this, guys. I mean, not all premeditated like this.”
Benji quirked an eyebrow at him. Sam put both hands on his hips. He grit his teeth together as the tips of his ears started turning red.
“Fine. I don’t want to be involved in this anyway.”
With that he stomped out of the bedroom, through the apartment to the front hall and—Adrien flinched as the heavy thud of the front door slamming shut echoed through the apartment. Adrien swung his gaze from his empty bedroom doorway to land on Benji’s astonished expression. Wrinkling his nose, he smoothed a hand over the soft fabric of his bikini bottom. “Well, crap. Do you know how to do the stuff to make this viewable but not public?”
Benji shook his head. “Not a fucking clue. Maybe we should just call it off?”
Adrien shook his head. “No, I still think the plan is solid. We’ll just have to take it down right away once Devon sees it.”
Markus tsked. “I think Missy was right, especially in light of losing our resident tech-wizard to…er, does anyone know what the hell is wrong with Sam?”
Adrien flopped down on his bed. “Mom and Papa Carlos really laid into him last year. I—it probably really chafes for me to ask him to do something that would get them mad at him all over again, you know?”
Markus flopped down on the other side of Adrien. Grinning crookedly up at the ceiling, he nudged Adrien in the ribs. “Heh. You know if we actually did this it would so end up on GayTube or something, right?”
Adrien covered his eyes with both hands. “Oh my god. You are so right.”
Markus laughed. “Okay, so I have a better idea. You two have to wait here, and Benj? Cough up the car keys.”
Benji tossed his keys over as Markus bounded up off the bed. Sitting down on the bed’s white and purple comforter, Benji rested one hand on Adrien’s shoulder.
“Oh my god. I am so scared of what his royal nut-job is going to come up with for us.”
Adrien drew in a deep breath. Wiggling his toes, Adrien shivered. Then he reached up to pat the hand Benji had on his shoulder. “I don’t know. Let’s just hope it doesn’t involve strategically torn catsuits and glitter again.”
Benji turned big eyes toward Adrien. “Oh god. I bet that’s what he’s going to do. I hope you have enough saved up for a deposit somewhere, because if he brings the explosives this time as well? You will so have to move.”
Adrien smacked Benji in the arm. “Ohmahgawd. You know those were fireworks, and it so wasn’t Markus’ fault they went off in the house. Andy is the one who dropped the lit match.”
Benji shrugged. “Okay, but I’m just saying…good thing Andy owns his place. Otherwise it woulda been eviction city.”
Adrien cracked a smile. He couldn’t dispute the logic. “True. But you are leaving out vital information.”
Benji frowned. Lifting his hand from Adrien’s shoulder, he tugged on his bangs. “I am?”
Adrien nodded. “Yep. He also brought Stoli, Godiva chocolates, and a plan for the greatest game of combined freeze tag and spin the bottle ever created.”
Benji’s look turned speculative. “Ah. I’d forgotten that. You’re right. That is vital information. As long as we take the explosives away right away, everything else is really kind of brilliant. You want to practice the dance he taught us last time? Just in case”
Adrien squealed. “Oh mah gawd, that is perfect. Yes. That. Let’s do that.”
Bing Crosby warbled about Merry Little Christmases, the apartment was dark save for the twinkling tree lights, and Adrien was sprawled in front of the tree wrapped in a velvet bikini and a bowtie. A key rattled in the lock. Breath catching in his chest, Adrien watched the door slowly swing open on Devon… and the gorgeous little ginger-haired boy from the Christmas Village.
“Oh. I. Um.”
Adrien jumped to his feet, face blazing with heat. Eyes stinging, he raced first into the master bedroom and then into the attached bathroom. Locking the door behind him, he turned. In the mirror, his face streaked with tears and eyeliner, he looked ridiculous. Sniffing, Adrien blinked hard and turned to grab a face tissue from the box on the counter.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why are you even surprised?”
The bedroom door thudded closed. Devon’s smooth deep tones vibrated through the air. “Come out, Papi. I want to explain.”
Adrien saw a whole different shade of red than his outfit afforded. Unlatching the door, he flung it open. “How dare you bring that hussy here? I saw you kissing him with my own—”
Stomping forward as he uttered the words in a furious stage whisper, Adrien tripped over the shoe he’d left strewn across the floor with the rest of his clothes earlier. Pitching forward into nothingness, Adrien slammed his eyes closed as a loud shriek ripped through the air. Strong arms closed around him, and a breeze made of soft deep laughter shifted the hair at the top of his head.
“Oh, mi Corazon. He is a boy. Kicked out by his parents today. I was comforting him, and I know you. I knew you would leave me if I let this poor boy go to a shelter tonight of all nights. I—there were thefts happening at the mall, and they hired me to investigate. I could not break my client’s confidence to tell you.”
Adrien blinked his eyes open. “W-what?”
Teeth gleaming whitely against his brown skin, Devon shook his head. “Oh, Adrien. How could you think any other would ever do for me? Foolish. Someone thought Angus—that’s the boy’s name—was the thief. I—Adrien, I am ashamed. My investigation led to him being outed to his family, and they threw him out. Two days before Christmas. Pendejos. I do not understand this throwing children away.”
Adrien’s heart shook, stuttered, and then fell into a deep, steady rhythm. “You. Oh, Devon, I’m sorry.” Pushing up onto his tip-toes, Adrien pressed his lips briefly to Devon’s. “Of course he can stay here. Oh mah gah. I—can we keep him? How old is he? My mom is gonna want him…and—”
Devon’s arms pulled tighter across Adrien’s back a split second before his lips cut off Adrien’s chatter. He ravaged Adrien’s mouth, tongue mapping out every nook and cranny. Adrien moaned, straining forward as Devon pulled back to speak.
“He’s not a puppy, Adrien. Angus is nearly eighteen, so no one is going to get to raise him…we can be his friends though.” Pushing Adrien out to an arm’s length away, Devon raked him with a hot gaze. “I see you were planning on giving me an early Christmas gift, yes? Let’s get our guest settled and then we can investigate this little outfit of yours at length.”
Devon ran a caressing hand down Adrien’s side, gripping his hip and pulling him close again with a moan. “Too damn sexy for words. You, Adrien Jimenez are too damn sexy to ever be a shopping mall elf. It’s a wonder you didn’t start riots when you worked at the Christmas Village.”
Adrien bit back the impulse to share about the time there’s been a bit of a stampede he’d inadvertently caused the first year he worked in the Christmas Village. No need for Devon to know all his naughty secrets at once. Smiling, he lifted his face toward Devon.
“Let me put some clothes on, and I’ll come out to meet Angus properly.”
Devon pressed a kiss to his temple. “I knew you would say that. Tonight, after he’s gone to bed, will you do whatever you were going to do to me before?”
Adrien laughed. “No. I was going to seduce you away from Angus’s ginger-haired clutches. Now I’ll just strip you naked and have my wicked way with you.”
Devon’s eyes lit with a passionate fire. “Dio mio. I hope the boy goes to bed early.”
Then Devon put one big hand around the front of Adrien’s throat, stroked a thumb along the line of his jaw and swooped in for another kiss. His other hand slid under Adrien’s ass, pulling him in closer and higher. Balancing on his tip-toes with Devon’s touch sending fire sparking through his veins, Adrien hoped their new house guest was going to bed early as well. Devon deepened his kiss and Adrien moaned in need. Devon gave a wicked chuckle as he pulled back and patted Adrien’s ass.
“Soon, Corazon, soon.”
Adrien whined, and picked his jeans up of the floor. Devon snickered. “Corazon? I don’t think you want to put those on right now. Maybe a pair of sweatpants?”
Gazing down to where Devon was pointing, Adrien regarded the bulging red velvet covering his groin. “Ay dios. I see what you mean. Oh mah gawd, Devon, he’s going to know what we were doing.”
Devon stepped over to the dresser, pulled out a pair of Adrien’s sweats and tossed them to him. “Si, he will. But if he is going to live here until he gets on his feet, I intend that he see you in this state often.”
Gaping, Adrien stared at Devon for a few stunned moments before he could speak. “But why?”
Devon winked at him, walked over to the bedroom door and then paused to speak with his hand on the doorknob. “Because I intend to remind you every day how hot this fire burns between us.”
Then he pulled the door open and walked out into the living room. A floppy, foolish grin spread across Adrien’s face. Even the embarrassment of facing Angus with an erection still tenting his velvet bikini bottoms couldn’t squelch the wonder of Devon’s declaration. He whispered to himself. “Oh mah gawd. He really does love me.”
**And to All a Love Filled Night**