Sebastian Marchetti and his husband Ryder Beckett are flying high since their retirement from the Air Force. They’re still young, still hot for each other and enjoying life as a married couple and members of the Flying Marchettis aerobatic team. When tragedy strikes their extended family, the couple become parents overnight and the demons of Ryder’s past return with a vengeance. With the Marchettis and the entire town of Forza pitching in to help, Bas and Ryder strive to make Christmas unforgettable for a special little boy and his newborn brother while laying to rest past and present pain.
Ryder pushed the shovel into the dirt with more force than necessary to loosen the sandy soil. He could have used the small backhoe that Sebastian had borrowed from his brothers-in-law who owned Todd Brothers Construction, but he needed the physical activity to help slow the spinning of his brain. He worked for the better part of three hours until his muscles burned and protested. He ignored everything except the staked out areas that needed to be dug. The rain had let up for a few hours but storm clouds gathered darkly once more. Ryder never noticed. When the sky began to pelt him with huge drops of water, he ignored it. Not until hard hands closed over his biceps did he jerk himself free of the stupor he’d been in.
Sebastian’s flat tones alerted Ryder to his husband’s concern. Bas very obviously held himself in check, keeping his emotions to himself in what Ryder knew was an attempt to be supportive and not add to the turmoil of the situation.
“Yeah. We should probably go inside.” Ryder turned his head toward the house, staring unseeingly at the windows that spilled golden light into the deepening gloom.
“There’s no lightning. No danger,” Sebastian said quietly, rubbing his hands down Ryder’s arms in a soothing manner.
Heaving a sigh, Ryder pushed the shovel deep into the ground in front of him and let go of the handle. The tool stood like a lone beacon in the rain soaked night, a symbol of Ryder’s confusion and pain.
“I can’t imagine what Ryan is going through,” he murmured. “If I lost you, I would be done. I don’t know how he picked up the phone and called me. After his first few words, when he practically screamed that Kat was dead, he sounded so calm, so unemotional, so…together.”
Hard arms came around him as Sebastian drew him back against his body, the rain pouring over them, drenching them through their t-shirts and jeans.
“Everyone deals with grief differently, Ryder. Your brother seems to feel the need to put his house in order, to take care of things,” Sebastian said in Ryder’s ear. “Maybe being busy and focusing on what needs to be done helps him to channel his grief into productive outlets. Maybe he’s hanging by a thread and he’s just waiting until he gets here to let go and lose it. Maybe he needs your support and your love to help him deal with his grief. After all, he called you, not your mother and father.”
Ryder closed his eyes on a stab of pain. “My father wouldn’t tolerate any show of emotion. He’s an Army man after all, a Ranger. And my mother would make up for his lack of emotion by an overabundance of it.” He shook his head. “No, Ryan wouldn’t call them first. They would only make him feel worse.”
Sebastian brushed a kiss to Ryder’s ear. “Well then, your brother called the only person he trusted to help him deal with this devastating blow. You.”
A rush of emotion swept over Ryder and his legs gave out, dropping him to the ground. Caught off balance, Sebastian was pulled with him and the two of them tumbled into the hole Ryder had dug which was fast becoming a mud pit in the downpour. Ryder twisted around, pressing his body against Sebastian’s, ignoring the mud that caked them both.
“Ryan’s loss made me realize what you went through when my plane went down,” he said hoarsely, tears forming in his eyes and trickling out to mingle with the rain on his face.
He dug his fingers into Sebastian’s hard shoulders, holding him tightly with a frantic sense of their mortality fueling his strength and urgency. Their bodies cleaved together and they rocked into each other’s hips, mud coating every inch of them as they rolled in the flower bed. Seeking Sebastian’s mouth, Ryder kissed him hard, pushing his tongue between his lover’s lips, demanding a response. He slipped his hands beneath Bas’s t-shirt, spreading slick mud over the hard muscles he loved to touch.
Muffled moans of pleasure came from Bas as he returned the caress, his fingers finding the curve of Ryder’s ass and digging into the muscle through the layers of denim and mud. Ryder ground his crotch against Bas’s, uncaring that they were out in the open lying in a growing pool of mud in the middle of a December rainstorm. He needed Bas. Needed to feel Bas around him, in him, loving him, sexing him. He needed to feel alive so that the specter of his brother’s loss would go away. So that death would go away. So that the fragility of life was held at bay by the love he felt for Bas and that Bas felt for him. Ryan’s wife might be dead but Ryder’s husband wasn’t and Ryder needed Bas as he had never needed him before. Right there in the mud of their yard.
He pulled at Bas’s clothes, popping open the buttons of his lover’s jeans. Bas murmured a weak protest and Ryder kissed it from his lips. He brushed his fingers over Bas’s cheek, streaking it with mud. Then he smiled sadly.
“I knew how hard it was for you when my plane went down and you had no right to even ask how I was or what happened,” he whispered, his gaze holding Bas’s. “I knew, but I didn’t understand. Hearing Ryan tell me that his wife had been killed gave me that understanding. For the past few hours I’ve thought of nothing but what my life would be like if something happened to you. If tragedy can strike the golden boy Ryan Beckett then where does that leave me?”
“It leaves you with me. In my arms, safe in my love,” Sebastian said promptly, hugging Ryder tightly despite the squish of the mud between and beneath them. “No one, not even death can take that love from us, Ryder. Life holds no guarantees. You know this. You’ve been to Afghanistan. You’ve punched out of a disintegrating jet. And so have I. Either of us could have been killed by that. I could have died in Iraq, but I didn’t. We survived war zones, we survived the stupid ass policies of our government about being gay. Our love has transcended so much that I can’t imagine death would take it from us.”
More tears squeezed from Ryder’s eyes at Bas’s words and he nuzzled his husband’s throat, trying to burrow into his warmth. “Don’t leave me,” he moaned, shivering with emotion. “Don’t ever leave me, Bas.”
Tenderly, Sebastian kissed him, staring at him with solemn eyes. “I won’t. My love will always be with you, Ryder.”
With a deep, shuddering sigh, Ryder eased his grip on Bas. “Maybe we should take this into the house.”
Bas chuckled. “Why? I was enjoying the slipperiness of the mud, weren’t you?” He cocked a brow at Ryder as a wicked grin began to turn up the corners of his mouth.
Ryder slipped one hand between their bodies, snaking his fingers into the open fly of Bas’s soaked jeans. “I’m a dirty boy. I always have been.” His hand closed around hot, hard flesh. “God, you better be dirty too, Bas cause I won’t be responsible for corrupting you.”
A full-blown laugh filled with love and lust and amusement escaped Sebastian as he snaked his hands into Ryder’s jeans seeking Ryder’s hard flesh. His dark eyes held more emotion than Ryder could ever remember seeing in them, even when they first confessed their love or when they’d gotten married. In the face of tragedy, their love blossomed, he thought with savage satisfaction, his hand stroking Bas’s cock in time with Bas’s strokes of Ryder’s cock. He smiled as lust swamped his senses. Their love triumphed even when covered in a thick coat of mud.