Home for the holidays for the first time in five years, Clayton Osborne steps off the plane with a chip on his shoulder and a suitcase full of grief…only to come face to flannel-covered chest with his worst nightmare. It’s Jake Carver, his high school nemesis and guilty crush. Clayton never expected Jake to still be working on his family tree farm. Of course, now that he’s older and wiser, it will be no problem to ignore Jake’s axe-swinging, barb-slinging, larger-than-life presence. Right?
Jake Carver loves his work, running NorthStar Tree Farm like it was his own. He’s let other things in his life fall by the wayside as he poured everything he had into his job. Until Clayton Osborne, star of his teenage dreams and his greatest regret returns home as beautiful and feisty as ever. If Jake just keeps his head down and focuses on his work, he can make it through the holidays without revealing his lingering feelings for Clayton. Right?
The mountains of North Carolina ring with more than Christmas bells when boyhood enemies collide as men. Long-buried feelings blossom and grow while the pair work side by side to save the farm, until Clayton must confront his obligation to return to his job in Chicago. He’s going to have to choose. Does he want his big-city life, or love in the mountains? All of this hinges on whether he and Jake can finally bury the hatchet. Can love overcome the years of conflict in their past?
With the help of a good old-fashioned Christmas miracle, it just might.
They settled into a routine, spending the week setting up for the Jubilee and cutting trees for retail, Clayton organizing the office into a semblance of order while Jake decorated the house. Visiting Ma every other day.
There was no discussion of it, but they fell into a pattern of eating every meal together before long, breakfast standing in the kitchen, lunch out by the barn, dinner at the table.
Clayton worked through Ma’s patched-together home cookbook, flipping through stained, sticky pages to find old favorites.
On Thursday, he stood stirring a pot of Brunswick stew when the creak of a floorboard alerted him to Jake peering over his shoulder.
He held out a taste on the cracked wooden spoon, steam thickening the air between them.
Jake ducked his head, pausing at Clayton’s hissed “Careful, it’s hot,” and nodded slowly before blowing on the spoon, letting Clayton slip it between his full lips with a satisfied hum. The resulting flutter in Clayton’s stomach had nothing to do with food.
The sweet, building comfort of domesticity started ringing alarm bells in Clayton’s head, warning him to make a reality check before he fell too deeply into the fantasy.
That was how he found himself sitting up in bed, scrolling idly through his favorite dating app just to take a look at the local scene since he’d been gone.
Plenty of attractive guys, but he couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm, passing on every one without a second thought.
Until he came across a profile picture that stopped him in his tracks, the air freezing in his lungs.
There, on his screen, right in front of his face, was a set of abs Clayton could have picked out of a lineup.
In poor lighting.
During a snowstorm.
A familiar canvas of warm skin scattered with tiny tight black curls, every muscle defined and exaggerated to absurd proportions. Dark-brown freckles across his broad shoulders with a thin, jagged scar stretched across his collarbone and a birthmark in the shape of Australia just above his Adonis belt on the left side.
Jake freaking Carver had a profile on here. Under the name “MountainMan21.”
Clayton sucked in air with a ragged gasp, having spent far too long without taking a single breath, fixated on the image.
His radiator must be working overtime because the room was suddenly far too hot.
A thrill went down his spine, old fantasies resurrected like a phoenix from the flames. Memories of working the farm with Jake in the summer during high school, his shirt magically evaporating and leaving Clayton as hot and sweaty as the sun beating down on their heads.
But then reality set in, along with building, brewing anger.
Just like the way Clayton had usually cooled off in those days when Jake had shoved him into the filthy pond, laughing as he sputtered in the mud.
What if this wasn’t really a profile?
What if it was a trap? He’d read about that happening sometimes. Guys making fake profiles to lure unsuspecting people and beat them or worse.
Was Jake involved in something nefarious?
Clayton didn’t want to believe it; Jake had mellowed so much as an adult, giving no hint that he bore Clayton any ill will for his sexuality. Acting so sweet with his ma.
But this. It came out of nowhere.
Clayton was going to have to get to the bottom of it.
After he scrolled through the rest of these pictures.
Cheese crisps, how many angles could one guy use to take pictures of his own abdomen? Not that Clayton was complaining about the view, but, wow.
He only hated himself a little bit for taking screenshots.
Burying the Hatchet
by A.C. Thomas
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: December 7, 2020
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, holiday/seasonal, Christmas tree farm, interracial, enemies/rivals to lovers, second chances, family drama/homophobia, outing, slow burn, size difference, Southern, mutual pining
Goodreads | NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link | Amazon
A.C. Thomas left the glamorous world of teaching preschool for the even more glamorous world of staying home with her toddler. Between the diaper changes and tea parties, she escapes into fantastical worlds, reading every romance available and even writing a few herself.
She devours books of every flavor—science fiction, historical, fantasy—but always with a touch of romance because she believes there is nothing more fantastical than the transformative power of love.a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js
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