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Deck the Halls (Stonewall Investigations)
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Andrew Barker is ready for the holidays. His perpetually bright and cheery personality feel right at home for Christmas. He has time off from work and a husband who’s waiting for him at home, what else would he need?
Well, he had no idea he would be needing to sign divorce papers – let’s start there.
Declan Rose-Covington, part of a luxury hotel dynasty, is coming into Stonewall Investigations because he needs help with a family issue. With his mom’s huge holiday retreat around the corner, he’s hoping to solve it before Santa comes to town. The last thing he’s expecting is to enter the detective agency and fall for the strikingly handsome man sitting behind the front desk.
Of course, life has ways of delivering well-wrapped surprises.
When Declan and Andrew meet they both feel an instant connection. Soon, the connection grows powerful enough to push Declan toward a crazy proposition: invite Andrew to the family retreat as a fake boyfriend. Andrew would get a nice week-long vacation out of it and Declan would avoid the judgemental jabs from all the spoused-up family members.
The potential for disaster was there, but there was also a chance to truly make this the most wonderful time of the year. And that was something neither of them wanted to miss out on.
Deck The Halls is a full-length and standalone Stonewall Investigations story
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It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and I was already, unabashedly, playing Christmas music through the speakers that flanked my computer. As if all I needed was a basted and stuffed turkey to stuff me with tryptophan so that I could wake up and welcome the new holiday season. This time of year was my absolute favorite, and I wasn’t shy about it. Nope. I’d grown up pretty shy and then grew out of it when I came out in high school and found an awesomely supportive group of friends. Since then, I’d pretty much owned my sometimes awkward, sometimes charming, always cheery sense of life.
“Wow, you don’t waste a day, huh?” Mark Masters asked as he came over to my desk, leaning on it and smiling. I was by the couch, where a few hefty cardboard boxes were sitting, their flaps open and sparkly green garland spilling out like I’d just pulled a holiday-themed Amityville Horror inside Stonewall Investigations’ waiting room.
“Nope. Been waiting for an entire year for this moment! I can finally play these songs without getting ribbed by you Grinches.”
“Yes, look at you,” I said, motioning him up and down with a thick red ribbon in my hand. “I can see it in the way you look at me. You wish these were Halloween decorations, don’t you? No, no, let me guess… Valentine’s day?”
“Wrong on both guesses,” Mark said, crossing his arms and smirking. He was wearing a black button-up and dark jeans, the opposite of what I had on: an evergreen silk button-up with abstract Christmas trees painted on in big black brushstrokes, and white pants.
I liked to experiment with clothes, and thankfully Stonewall didn’t have any uniform policy to hinder those experiments. “I wish they were Groundhog Day decorations.”
“Groundhog Day? Really?”
“It’s a crucial day; we find out how long our seasons are. I think it should be celebrated more.”
I arched a brow, and we both broke out into laughter. “Here, let me help.” Mark came over and dug into the box closet him. The Stonewall offices weren’t huge, but we did have a good amount of space, which was rare for a place that was only a short walk away from the West Village. I had already strung up garland around the border of the room and hung a wreath on the door. I set the tree up in the morning, with Zane and Alex’s help. Currently, though, Mark was the only detective left in the offices. Everyone else was out working a case or taking some time off. Wanda was off with her husband on their first trip to Disney World, and Leo said he was getting a much-needed vacation, going off the grid and resetting his mind with his family over in Scotland.
I was staying put with my husband, Barry, who was at home on his last few days off before he headed back to work. Our relationship hadn’t exactly been the best over the past few months, but things were slowly getting better and that was what mattered. I wasn’t easy to deal with anyway. Not after the loss that had shaken not only me, but everyone at Stonewall. Losing one of our own had been unimaginable, and then it happened, and suddenly the foggy nightmare had turned into crystal-clear reality.
“Do you just want the snowflakes anywhere?” Mark’s question brought me back to focus.
“I mean, don’t just close your eyes and throw them, but yeah, put them wherever you think they’d look good.”
Mark laughed and went to hang up the oversized snowflakes, big and white and catching the light with its glitter coating. Over the speakers, one of my favorite Christmas songs started playing, and I couldn’t help but start singing along. It was one of those songs that just hit all the feels toward the end, getting me right in the chest and reminding me of the Christmases back when I was a kid, with my mom and dad again. A swell of happiness rose through me. I grabbed a handful of fake snow and threw it up in the air, totally okay with the mess I was about to make. I was just living in the moment, something I hadn’t done in a while, and nothing really felt better.
Except, just as the fake (and probably COPD-inducing) snow was falling, someone decided they needed our investigative help and opened the door, walking right into the impromptu snowfall. My eyes went wide, and I covered my mouth. I heard Mark go, “Oh,” behind me but didn’t offer much else after that.
Welp, I guess I had to take the sleigh reins on this one. “Jesus, I’m so, so sorry. Here, let me get that off you.”
I reached and rubbed some of the dusty snow off the man’s sleek leather jacket. I looked up and saw a face covered in snow, a set of piercing green eyes looking back at me, lips curling into a smile and instantly diffusing the sense of dread I was being filled with. “That’s okay,” he said in a tone I felt down in my gut.