Authors: Ava March
My True Love Gave to Me
By Ava March
Alexander Norton loathes the festive season. The revelry of the
is a reminder of Christmas four years ago, when his first love, Thomas Bennett, broke his heart and fled to New York without a word. So when he encounters Thomas at a holiday ball, Alexander is determined not to let on how much he still hurts.
Thomas has returned for one reason only: Alexander. Having finally come to terms with his forbidden desires, he will do whatever he must to convince Alexander to give their love another chance. But instead of the happy, carefree man Thomas once knew, Alexander is now hard and cynical. Saddened to know he’s to blame for the man’s bitterness, Thomas resolves to reignite the passion he knows lies hidden behind the wall of disdain…
In December 2010 we published our first set of three holiday collections. I hoped at the time it would become a Carina Press tradition, and I’m pleased that we were able to do this again in 2011.
I invited four authors who have built strong careers in the male/male niche to work with me to create this year’s holiday collection of male/male novellas. Josh Lanyon, K.A. Mitchell, Ava March and Harper Fox each brought their own unique voice and flair for storytelling to the Men Under the Mistletoe collection to create something truly magical.
As I read
by Harper Fox,
by Josh Lanyon,
My True Love Gave to Me
by Ava March and
The Christmas Proposition
by K.A. Mitchell, I found myself falling in love with the strong men in these stories, just as they fell in love with each other. These novellas combine the perfect blend of hot chemistry and raw emotion to transport any reader to that lovely place of good book glow!
I’m incredibly pleased to make these stories available to you both individually, and as a collection, and I hope you fall in love with them just as I did!
We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.
Executive Editor, Carina Press
The last note of the violins faded into the idle chatter of what were surely hundreds of guests, signaling the end of the last dance before the midnight supper. Alexander Norton quickened his step and weaved through the crowd. He tipped his chin up and stretched his spine, trying but failing to see over the clusters of people in front of him. Had all of London arrived while he had been in the card room? The press of bodies certainly contradicted the notion that a fair amount of the
spent the Christmas Season in the country.
He sidestepped around an elderly matron and then came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the parquet dance floor. He did not need to cast even the most cursory of glances over the couples. His gaze somehow knew exactly where to go, landing with unerring accuracy on the most handsome man to ever grace a ball.
His pulse simultaneously settled and picked up a gait. He didn’t know how it could be possible, but that was how it felt whenever he looked upon Thomas Bennett. A distinct sense of calm mixed with a brilliant spark of true, pure need. A spark that held so much more than mere empty lust or infatuation.
With a tip of his chestnut-brown head, Thomas executed a smart bow, bringing the lady’s white-gloved hand up while not coming close to the vicinity of his lips. His mouth moved, but given the din of voices and the distance of more than a few paces, Alexander could not make out his words. Likely a thank you for the dance.
So polite and well-mannered. A smile curved Alexander’s lips as pride swelled within him.
And he’s mine.
Taller than most every other gentleman in the room and with a strength to his frame that belied his nineteen years, Thomas was not only handsome but a dutiful young man who understood his function at such affairs. The type mothers coveted to partner their unmarried daughters. Not that they ignored Alexander. He had been on that floor twice since arriving a couple of hours ago with Thomas. His family’s fortune alone made him a suitable candidate, never mind that his uncle was an earl. But when given the choice, the ladies always chose Thomas over himself.
He did not blame them in the slightest. He was of the same age as Thomas and they were both from good solid families, but the similarities ended there. At barely five-feet-seven and with features that more than approached feminine, he wasn’t the sort ladies swooned over. No bother, though. It wasn’t
attention he sought.
The girl gave Thomas a curtsey. He placed her hand on his arm and escorted her across the dance floor.
Alexander turned on his heel and plunged back into the crowd. As if drawn by an invisible cord, he made his way around the room, toward the direction Thomas had gone with the girl, and was only held up once. Couldn’t very well pretend as if the elbow he clipped with his own did not belong to his aunt. He extended his apologies, answered her inquiries about Oxford—though he did not elaborate on why exactly he enjoyed his studies so immensely—and offered his own inquiries into the health of his uncle. Thankfully she spotted an acquaintance, saving him from a detailed description of his uncle’s gout-ridden foot, and bid him good evening before his impatience could show itself.
He found Thomas near a refreshment table decorated with sprigs of holly and laden with silver bowls of punch. The spiced scent of the wassail clung to the air, just as the girl’s small hand clung to Thomas’s arm. She was gazing up at him in rapt attention as he conversed with a woman who was likely the girl’s mother judging by the similarity in stature. Not a hint of jealousy threatened to disturb the love Alexander held tight to his heart. Petite and with guinea-gold curls, she was a pretty thing, if one’s interests ran toward soft slight curves and demure smiles. But he well knew which direction Thomas’s interests ran and any attempts by the girl to garner more attention than good manners dictated would be in vain.
It had been two months since their first tentative kiss, a mere brush of skin against skin that forever changed their newfound friendship into something so much more. And to think he had dreaded going to Oxford to start Michaelmas Term.
It took considerable effort to tamp down the grin as he came to a stop on Thomas’s other side. He felt the change in Thomas’s posture immediately. The straightening of his broad shoulders, the ever so minor shift of his weight, his strong body leaning toward Alexander as if the man’s soul knew to whom it belonged. Subtle and so slight Alexander doubted anyone noticed, yet he felt it down to his bones.
Thomas turned his head. Fathomless brown eyes flecked with amber met his own. The edges of his lips lifted then the polite mask fell back over his features as he turned his attention once more to the girl’s mother. “Allow me to present my good friend, Mr. Alexander Norton.” Crisp yet smooth as warmed velvet, Thomas’s voice washed over him. “Norton, Mrs. John Wilcox and her daughter, Miss Susan Wilcox.”
Alexander tipped his head to each woman as Thomas made the required introductions then did his best to stand quietly and wait, to ignore the impatience stringing his nerves taut, as Thomas and the women finished their discussion on the recent dry weather. As if Alexander cared if it had not rained for three days.
“We are at home Friday mornings, Mr. Bennett, and would so love to see you.” Mrs. Wilcox’s attention flickered to Alexander. “And you as well, Mr. Norton.”
He murmured his thanks, but he would be anywhere but in her drawing room come Friday morning.
“Thank you for the invitation,” Thomas said, smiling warmly at the older woman. If Alexander did not know him better, he’d almost believe the man genuine in his appreciation of the invitation. “Now I must beg your forgiveness. We must be on our way. Thank you once again for the dance,” he added with a half bow to Miss Wilcox.
Alexander made to grab Thomas’s hand, to tug him away from the women and out of the ballroom, but stopped just in time. Instead, he contented himself with walking beside Thomas as they made their way to the double doors.
“Do you wish to stay for the supper?” Thomas asked as they weaved around other guests, Alexander staying as close to Thomas’s side as propriety would allow. “While I need to rise early tomorrow to accompany my mother to my grandmother’s for a call, I needn’t leave the ball exactly at midnight. I can stay another half hour if you’d prefer.”
“No. No supper.” The words rushed out of his mouth. The promise of what midnight would hold had sustained him through the ball. Now that the time had arrived, there was no way he would welcome a delay.
“Eager to leave?” Thomas asked, the barest hint of a tease beneath the murmured words.
Twenty-two hours since he last had that proper mouth beneath his own. Felt more like twenty-two days.
At Oxford, with its many buildings and their myriad of narrow corridors, it was nothing at all to find a brief moment alone with Thomas. A kiss before dinner, a delicious touch after an hour of study. Quick, hasty moments, the worry of detection always too near to linger over long, yet the opportunities to indulge abounded. London, with its press of social and familial obligations over the Christmas Season made their time not their own, never mind the almost continual weight of the watchful eyes of others. Yet there were chances to be completely alone with Thomas, if one was eager enough to find them. Or manufacture them.
When they reached the entrance hall, a servant handed them their greatcoats and Alexander called for the carriage. As he slipped on his coat, he took up a place near the front door to wait for the equipage to be brought around.
“Do you think that wise?” Worry pulled Thomas’s brow as he watched the footman disappear down a corridor leading to the back of the house, toward where the carriages would be waiting in the alley. “Won’t your father be put out if he finds it missing?”
He waved off the concern. “Last I saw my mother she was happily chatting with a group of friends. My father’s ensconced in the card room. Judging by the pile of coins at his elbow, he won’t wish to leave anytime soon. In any case, I already informed him I was borrowing the carriage and would send it back once I arrived home.”
He had left his curricle at the livery and pressed Thomas to walk to the ball from White’s for a reason, after all.
Thomas held his gaze for a moment then understanding dawned. His eyes flared then dropped to his polished evening shoes. He shifted his weight. The barest hint of a blush stained his cheeks.
Thomas was so physically solid and strong, so confident and sure of himself, it was easy for Alexander to forget this was all very new to him. Alexander had dallied with a few boys back at Eton, though he hadn’t gone so far as to allow any to bugger him. Those boys had meant nothing to him. It was more desperate adolescents stroking each other off under the coarse woolen blankets of their narrow beds than anything. Greedy sloppy kisses and sticky hands. But it had certainly been more than enough to confirm his suspicions that he preferred men. Whereas he was the first man Thomas had ever kissed, his quiet confession beneath the old oak’s branches, the two of them cloaked in the cool October midnight shadows, forever etched in Alexander’s memory.
“I-I’ve never before…not with another man.”
He could almost feel Thomas’s warm breath fan his lips.
“You’re the only one, Sasha.”
He took a half step closer to Thomas, close enough so his shoulder grazed muscular biceps, and brushed his fingertips over Thomas’s hand hanging limp at his side. The touch casual to any observer, though he swore he could feel the heat of the man’s body even through Thomas’s white evening gloves and his own.
“I’ve missed you.” He spoke for Thomas’s ears only, so softly the words did not even echo off the high ceiling of the marble-floored entrance hall, yet he knew Thomas would not miss the longing within them.
Thomas moved not a muscle. He just stood there studying his shoes. Alexander’s heart slammed against his chest. Then dark eyes caught his beneath the fan of their lashes. The barest hint of a nod. A brush of fingertips against his own.
The touch lit up every nerve in his body. A tremble of anticipation racked his spine, mixed with the sweet taste of relief. He pulled his gaze from Thomas’s and glanced down the corridor behind them. That damn footman better hurry.
Thomas gave his greatcoat a tug to straighten it. “How did the cards treat you?” he asked, every trace of hesitation gone and as casual as could be, as if Alexander wasn’t on the verge of tackling him right there, the butler standing guard at the front door be damned.
“Didn’t leave behind any vowels.”
“That’s good to hear.”
A frown threatened to pull his lips. “No need to sound surprised. Or relieved. I can hold my own in a game of cards.”
“Didn’t mean to imply you couldn’t. Just…” Thomas shrugged.
“I know. You don’t much care for cards. But as far as vices go, it’s not that bad of one.” Most every man in London gambled, to the point where it was an expected way to pass the hours. Given that Thomas always did what was expected of him, one would think he would have no qualms at all joining him at the card tables. But rather than allow Thomas’s disapproval to dampen his spirits, he threw the man a smile. “You could do with a bit of vice yourself, Bennett.”
He received an arch of a dark brow. “I have plenty of that—” Thomas lowered his voice, “—thanks to you, Sasha.”
Alexander’s breath caught. He briefly closed his eyes in an effort to rein in the sudden surge of lust, to keep it hidden from view.
Absolutely wasted effort.
And damnation, Thomas had deliberately added the
to torment him. Thomas well knew what effect it would have on him. After Alexander mentioned his grandmother was from Russia, Thomas had started calling him Sasha…when they were alone, of course. Thomas was the only person who referred to him that way. He was Alexander to his family, Norton to his acquaintances, and Sasha to Thomas. A name owned solely by the man he loved. A name that seemed designed to be whispered in a heated rush against his lips.
A cool draft of air swept into the entrance hall as the butler opened the front door. “Mr. Norton, your carriage.”
It was all he could do not to dart out the door. His father’s black town carriage stood at the ready at the foot of the stone steps. Another one of their hostess’s footmen had the door already open. Rather than immediately enter, he paused to give the direction to the driver then followed Thomas inside, settling on the black leather bench opposite him.
The door snapped shut.
“Why are we going to Drury Lane Theatre?” Thomas asked.
“We aren’t.” He closed the shade on the window in the narrow door, cloaking the interior in almost full darkness. “I needed to give the driver a direction and it will do as good as any.”
The carriage lurched forward.
Alexander pounced on Thomas, cutting off his words.
Knees straddling muscular thighs and with his hands cupping that strong jaw, he pressed his lips to Thomas’s. Greedy and impatient, he flicked his tongue against the seam of Thomas’s lips.
With a groan, Thomas opened his mouth. A silken tongue brushed his own.
Hot and intense, sensation washed over him, filling his chest, his heart, his soul. A moan shook his throat.
By God, it was only like this with Thomas. No other had ever come close to rousing these feelings within him. Making his pulse pound through his veins and need claw desperately at his throat. This was where he belonged. With Thomas. In the man’s arms.
Wiggling closer, he slanted his mouth over Thomas’s, deepening the kiss. Their tongues twined together. Luxurious. Decadent. Yet the faint scratch of stubble just beyond Thomas’s lips added a coarseness to the kiss. Adding a layer that roused Alexander’s passions like no other. A firm reminder with every slant of his mouth that he was kissing a man. Kissing Thomas.
He worked his hands between their bodies, shifting back just enough to push the length of Thomas’s greatcoat aside to reach the placket of his trousers. Alexander’s fingers slid over the buttons, unable to find a firm purchase. He grunted in frustration, the sound lost in their kiss. Urgency rode hard and heavy, turning his movements jerky, as he tugged off his gloves and threw them behind him. He pulled on the placket once again, and this time was rewarded as it gave way.