When Ross takes a cross-country holiday road trip, his travel companion turns out to be more than expected.
Ross is inexplicably drawn to Byron. When it turns out they are from the same place on the other side of the country, Ross suspects something strange is going on. Why does Byron have so much holiday cheer? Why do weird things always happen when he's around? And most importantly, will they really attempt to climb a mountain in the middle of winter?
Ross wandered to the corner of the room. Scents of nutmeg, allspice, and fresh baked cookies filled the air. He sipped at his cider. The gentle cinnamon soothed his body as it warmed his insides. Laughter and cheer surrounded him as people mingled and caught up with friends they hadn’t seen in far too long.
Ross hated everything about it.
He grumbled to himself and tried to blend in with the wall. He watched Johnny flirt lightheartedly with a few girls on the other side of the room. That man didn’t have a happy bone in his body, then, all of a sudden, it’s like he’s Santa himself. These parties sucked.
Ross glanced around to figure out if he could leave unnoticed. Holiday music blared through the speakers, and he sang to himself softly, “It’s the most labor intensive time of the year.”
“What was that?”
Shit. Someone heard that?
Ross spun around to find a devilishly good-looking man in a well-tailored suit smiling at him. He almost laughed at the cheesy Santa hat on his head—it contrasted with the rest of his expensive outfit in spectacular fashion.
The man must have noticed his smirk, because he cocked his head sideways as if to ask: what’s so funny?
Ross said, “Nothing. Forget about it.”
The man’s voice was eerily upbeat. “It sounds like someone doesn’t like Christmas.”
Ross moved in closer and lowered his voice.
“Well, don’t you find it a little ironic? It’s a Christmas office party for UPS employees. The people here aren’t even the ones that profit. We just have to double our workload. We’re miserable. What is there to celebrate?”
It only then occurred to Ross that this guy might be wearing a suit because he was actually one of those higher ups that profited with no extra work. The way the man smiled sent shivers down Ross’s spine, and also confirmed his suspicion.
He said, “I’ll make a note of that when I plan this for next year.”
Ross gulped. Plan? Now he felt like a complete idiot. He couldn’t lose this job over running his mouth, could he?
Ross said, “Sorry. I told you to forget it. I was just on my way out anyway.”
He spun toward the elevator to get out of there and into the miserable city. His family had told him he’d be miserable in New York, and now he was beginning to think they’d been right. You can’t take the small town out of the boy, or however that goes.
He pounded the down button a bunch of times, willing it to come faster. Ross sensed a figure come up behind him, but he wouldn’t give that smug corporate suit the satisfaction of turning around. The elevator door finally opened, and he walked in.
The man followed. He said, “Come on. I’m not mad. Honesty is refreshing. People just tell me what I want to hear most of the time because of who I am.”
“Yeah. Sounds terrible.” The sarcasm dripped off Ross’s tongue, and he couldn’t stop himself. How much deeper could he dig his hole at this point?
The man said, “I didn’t even catch your name.”
Ross folded his arms across his chest. He knew he was acting like a baby, but this time of year had done this to him for as long as he could remember. Those holiday sounds triggered something awful inside of him.
He relented. “Ross.”
The man’s piercing gaze drove Ross a little wild. After a moment of silence, the man said, “Good, and now you ask me for mine?”
Ross strained the words out. For all he knew, this man had the direct power to fire him. “What’s your name?”
Ross rolled his eyes. Of course it was. He was probably born rich and never worked a day in his life. His father was probably the CEO, and he’d inherit the whole business. That would be classic luck for Ross during this ridiculous holiday.
Just then, the elevator jerked to a stop, and Byron fell into Ross’s arms. His face was so close, and he smelled so good. It wasn’t the pungent smell of a fancy cologne like he expected. Byron smelled like a genuine outdoors man. He smelled of mulch and sweat and, oh God, even a little sex.
If he didn’t know any better, he thought Byron had smelled him. Of course, Ross had been doing the same, but this was so obvious. Byron dug his nose into Ross’s neck and took a loud sniff.
This broke the spell, and Ross pulled away, suddenly realizing they were trapped in this elevator together.
“Oh, no. No, no, no.” He paced around tiny room. “We’re not in some made-for-TV Christmas special rom-com. I don’t believe this. This stuff doesn’t happen in real life. We’re not going to be stuck in here and end up kissing, then spend the rest of the holidays looking for each other because we didn’t get each other’s contact information.”
Byron’s eyes narrowed. “I take it you watch a lot of those. That was oddly specific.”
“And you don’t get to be charming and handsome and funny.”
Byron arched an eyebrow, and Ross’s chest fluttered.
Byron asked, “I don’t?”
“No. So stop whatever it is you’re doing right now.”
Ross moved to the corner farthest away from Byron, and the elevator lurched back into motion.
Byron laughed. “I guess you were right.”
Ross kind of wished he hadn’t been right. He wouldn’t have minded kissing Byron for a bit. These holiday emotions always got him so messed up. Nothing bad had ever happened to him during the season, so he didn’t know where this animosity came from.
And sure, he blamed his job recently for his pent up stress and frustration, but Christmastime had always been that way. At least since he moved to New York.
Byron let him sulk in the corner for the rest of the trip down, and when they reached the first floor, Ross stormed out without looking back.
Byron called out, “Are you from Montana?”
Ross stopped dead. How could he know that? He slowly turned back. The wide open lobby of the building felt so empty and cold. Byron stepped toward him, and the powerful sound of those expensive black dress shoes echoed off the ceramic tile floor.
How nice it would be to just let someone that powerful take control for a night. Ross almost moaned out loud at the thought.
Byron said, “Let me guess, the Northwest part. Near the Beartooth Mountains.”
“How could you…?” Ross didn’t even know what the appropriate question was.
“In the elevator, I got a good whiff of your scent.”
That was not what Ross expected to hear. He tried to get a read on how stable a person Byron was.
Ross said, “Okay. I’m leaving. You’re a psychopath or something.”
“Wait. You were adopted. Every year, around this time, you get really agitated and you don’t know why.”
Ross couldn’t believe this guy. He didn’t believe in psychics, so he said, “Yeah, me and millions of other people.” But he couldn’t explain the adopted part or knowing where he was born. Lucky guess?
Byron’s deep and pleasant voice sounded like he genuinely cared.
“I know what’s going on. I can help.”