Trimming the tree is more fun with three.
Twin Cities developer Dale Davidson has come to Logan, Minnesota, to turn it into Christmas Town, not to give in to Arthur Anderson’s offer to join him and his fiancé, Gabriel Higgins, for a Christmas Eve threesome. Dale is polyamorous, but it’s clear Arthur is offering a night of fun and nothing more. Maybe one night with the couple he admires so much won’t hurt…
Together the three of them light a fire hot enough to boil Lake Superior in January, and one night of fun becomes an extended engagement as Dale puts down some tentative roots in his new hometown. Everyone loves Dale, Logan’s own Santa Claus, and somehow no one knows what wild times are happening right underneath their noses. No one knows, either, the complicated ways they’re falling in love with one another.
But a shadow from Dale’s past emerges, an abuser threatening him with violence and shame. Ronny doesn’t want a happy ever after for Dale, only to draw him back into a consuming darkness. It will take the love of not only Gabriel and Arthur but all of Logan to convince their Santa he has nothing to be ashamed of—and that he will always have a home in their hearts.
Logan, Minnesota, belonged on the front of a Christmas card.
A set of cards, actually, and as the thought expanded in Dale Davidson’s mind, he stepped away from the Winter Wonderland festivities to make a voice note on his phone. He took a few photos as well, examples to put in his ever-growing portfolio of ideas for how to turn sleepy Logan into a tourist destination.
He’d come to the small northern Minnesota town both as a favor to his longtime friend Marcus Gardner and as a straight-up business opportunity. Tiny hamlets like this, dressed up and spun the right way, could mean big tourist traffic for local businesses and investment money for the developers that helped the municipalities get those coveted visitor dollars. He saw a lot of potential profit in Logan.
Of course, because it was a small town, there’d already been trouble, chiefly at the informal city council meeting the other night, when a group calling themselves the Concerned Citizens for Logan had burst in and accused Dale of pushing a “homosexual agenda.” As irony would have it, this was in fact a bit of why he was here. If Logan was LGBT friendly, it’d be more attractive to Twin City tourists. Marcus and his friends had managed to make this sleepy village unusually gay-friendly—or so Dale had thought until the Concerned Citizens had appeared. The city leaders had worked overtime ever since then to convince Dale the naysayers were nothing but an aberration, that Logan was ready for this project and the vast majority of its citizens were fully onboard.
No one had worked harder, though, than Gabriel Higgins, Logan’s librarian. He had pulled Dale aside the day after the meeting and launched into a long speech about his own experience moving to Logan from Minneapolis. He’d explained the difference between Logan and his hometown of Roseau, Minnesota, making it clear Dale wasn’t to paint all small towns with the same brush. All this was impressive enough. But then he’d pulled out a binder of research and grants on LGBTQIA youth and adults in rural areas, statistics on how little development was being done in those places, and projections on how much good attention and effort was believed to do for that population. This was presented in a fatthree-ring binder, which he’d given Dale a forty-five minute tour of before sending him home with the same. Gabriel had made it clear he could fill three more volumes with as many bits of data Dale required to be convinced of Logan’s worthiness.
Everyone on the city council and chamber of commerce had come up to Dale all day during the Winter Wonderland festival to make sure he hadn’t been too put off by the Concerned Citizens’ theatrics. They seemed sure Kyle Parks’s clever snow sculptures or Gabriel’s carefully delivered opening speech, or possibly Mrs. Jessup’s delicious, state-fair-winning Lussekatter had been what convinced Dale to continue the Christmas Town project and not back away slowly from the potential headache the Concerned Citizens had shown him. The truth was none of these things had swayed him. Thirty percent had been the mayor’s promise he’d pass local legislation if he had to in order to keep the riffraff at bay, which had kept Dale’s hand in. Seventy percent, however, had been Gabriel Higgins. His binder full of data. His passion.
And the fact that Dale found him incredibly attractive.
All of Marcus’s gay friends were a buffet of handsome and cleverness, but Gabriel in particular drew Dale. His wittiness, his devotion to causes he believed in, even his occasional awkwardness was endearing to Dale. Unfortunately Dale had missed his chance with the man by a year and some change, because Gabriel was also engaged, as were all the gay men in Logan, apparently. Normally when Dale felt an attraction this strong, he would push a bit, hoping perhaps the object of his affection was also polyamorous or at least open to hearing a pitch about joining his ranks. However, he wasn’t in Logan to complicate his friend’s life with his unconventional concept of relationships. He was here to develop the town’s tourist interests. End scene.
This didn’t mean he stopped pining for Gabriel, especially as he took his photos during the festival and discovered Arthur and Gabriel in one of his frames. They were thirty feet away from him: a tall male figure with glasses and a mop of curly hair smiling and holding a bag of something as he bent to kiss a shorter man with red hair and a full beard beneath a tall, wide-limbed tree draped with snow. Dale quickly snapped a photo, smiling to himself. He lowered the phone and pulled up the image, cropping it and editing the brightness and sharpness and adding a filter to make it the sort of image the two of them could use in their engagement announcements, if they wanted.
He had it pretty much perfect and was about to save it when a text-notification bubble drifted over the screen, and he hit it instead of the DONE button. The text, Dale noted with a riot of emotions, mostly negative, a few slightly anticipatory, was from Ronny.
Ronny Morgan: When are you done with Mayberry?
Dale rubbed his thumb along the side of his phone case, arguing with himself about how to respond and whether or not he should at all.
He’d gone six months without this relationship, except for the aberration at the company Christmas party last weekend. He couldn’t even call Ronny his ex. They had…hooked up. Kinky, intense, power-play hooking up, which initially had been fun. But it had gotten weird, uncomfortable, borderline seriously not okay, especially after last Christmas, so he’d ended it. Or rather, he’d tried to end it, an effort which had become so much easier once he’d broken away from Kivino Enterprises to form Davidson Incorporated. He was still a subsidiary, still worked for the same CEO, but he and Ronny were in different office complexes now, on different sides of the metro area. All he had to do was ignore any of the man’s texts that weren’t about work. Which he had done without issue.
Until he’d had too many glasses of champagne and let Ronny put his hands on him in the hallway while he waited for an elevator at the Christmas party. Until he’d sent a mixed signal instead of a firm not interested. And now here he was, unable to know if Ronny was texting him about work or trying to start something up again.
And how like him to not let me know which direction in the opening text.
The only way to find out was to engage, so Dale tapped a reply. Not sure. Why?
His heart thudded as he waited for the answer, and it sank, twisted and confused, when it came.
Need to make sure I give you your Christmas present.
Dale put his phone in his pocket without replying and did his best to erase thoughts of Ronny from his mind. He’d made a mistake to engage. The odds of Ronny having anything work related to say to him were low, and nothing would have been to do with the Logan project. It was Dale’s sole focus at the moment. It needed to remain that way.
Think about Logan, he reminded himself. Logan is why you’re here.
He mentally indexed the notes he’d made last night, the ones he’d put right on top of Gabriel’s. But his mind was jumbled, thrown by Ronny’s interjection into this safe, idyllic space. His phone buzzed against his thigh, jolts of sensation flicking him repeatedly to make Dale do what Ronny wanted. Pulling him into the shadows, laughing as he pushed him—
Dale shook his head roughly, dispersing the image. He settled his gaze on Gabriel and Arthur once more, letting himself appreciate how prettily slender and tall Gabriel was as he frowned at the bag, how handsome and strong Arthur seemed as he waved his arms and spoke animatedly to his fiancé. Dale didn’t consciously decide to start walking toward them, but he didn’t stop himself once he realized what he’d done. They didn’t appear to be doing something they’d mind him interrupting, and he desperately needed a distraction right now.
When they saw Dale, they smiled at him, waved, and then Gabriel sighed and gestured helplessly at what Dale saw now was a brown bag of steaming chestnuts.
“Do you have any idea how to eat these?” Gabriel held them toward him. “I bought them from a local vendor because I was trying to be polite, and now I have this bag of too-hot nuts I don’t know what to do with.”
Dale tugged his gloves from his fingers and tucked them in his pocket before withdrawing a nut from the top of the sack. “My grandparents had a chestnut tree on their farm in Wisconsin when I was growing up. They’re rare in the United States, though this wasn’t always the case. A blight in the early twentieth century wiped almost all of them out. They’re doing what they can to repopulate them with a strain strengthened by an Asian variety, but it’s going to take a long time to get back what we lost.” He peeled one edge of the tough husk with a skill honed by years. The chestnuts hadn’t been sliced through quite enough before they were roasted, and he had to get his pen knife out of his pocket to help them along the rest of the way. “Chestnuts are universal. Armies have survived sieges on them. They’re part of special celebrations the world over and have been for centuries. Millennia, even.”
He could feel Gabriel soaking in the story as only a librarian could. “I’ve always thought it was odd how we had a holiday song about them but we didn’t know what they were. Now I understand why. I should have thought to look them up sooner.”
Arthur leaned on a tree, watching idly as Dale peeled. “My great-grandpa talked about eating chestnuts at Christmas. I wonder where these came from, if they’re so rare.
“They’re starting to make a comeback, but demand far outstrips supply.” Dale discarded one side of the husk and worked off the other side as well. “Different cultures have different legends about chestnuts.” He sliced it in half to give them each a taste, passing the first half to Arthur, holding it out to drop it into his gloved hand. “In Japan they’re used to celebrate the New Year, symbolizing both hard times and success.” He extended the second half to Gabriel, but he was caught up listening, clutching the bag with both hands. Possessed by devilry, Dale didn’t give the librarian time to extricate himself and popped the meat into Gabriel’s mouth instead. “The early Christians believed they symbolized chastity.”
Oh, but Dale liked the way the remark made Gabriel blush. He knew he needed to diffuse the flirt, though, to let Arthur know he wasn’t actually making a play for his man.
Except Arthur only snorted and gave Dale a heavy wink, chestnut meat poking between his teeth as he reached into the bag for another nut. He swept the half Dale had peeled for him into his mouth with a wicked swipe of his tongue and bit into it smartly, giving it a few chews before replying. “Put us down for Japan, sweetheart.”
Arthur peeled the chestnut, mimicking Dale’s technique, holding his hand out for the pocketknife when the nut failed to comply as it had for Dale. Dale handed the tool over without a word, though he did note the way Arthur needlessly caressed his fingers as he collected the implement. Dale stroked his beard, trying to check his flicker of interest and stick to his earlier conviction Logan wasn’t the place for such things. Especially with practically married men in Logan. Especially with practically married men whose fiancés were standing right fucking next to him.
Hoping for a reminder of why he should behave, he glanced at Gabriel—only to find Gabriel studying him with the same wary, careful gaze.
Wary, careful, tentatively interested gaze.
The world shifted beneath Dale’s feet.
Arthur sliced the chestnut, carving it into thirds and splitting it between the three of them. He popped his part into his mouth, fed Gabriel the same way Dale had, and he did the same for Dale, though he took care to be extra sensual with his delivery of Dale’s portion. “A shame we don’t get chestnuts here too often, then. There’s no reason they should be so rare, except they’re not planted. Sounds like all they need to thrive is a bit of science, some common sense, and some care.”
It was all simple enough, what he was saying, and yet Dale had never felt as if tree talk could strip him naked. He was working out how to call Arthur out and ask if he was getting propositioned with a bag of nuts and for what, exactly, when Gabriel whispered in a warning tone, “Arthur.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “I was being cool, until you had to go and point it out.”
Gabriel blushed as if someone had been roasting him on an open fire. He tucked the bag of chestnuts to
his chest and pressed a mitten to his face. “Stop, you’re making it worse.”
Ignoring him, Arthur turned to Dale, the seduction veil lowered, though not entirely dropped. “Look. Let’s be real. You’ve been giving both of us eyes one way or another.”
“Oh my God.” Gabriel tried to make himself shorter.
Arthur patted him on the back and kept going. “And you’re a tall drink of water, I’ll grant you. So let’s cut to the chase. You just flirting, or you interested?”
Stick to the plan. Tell him no. Except Dale’s gaze kept tugging to poor Gabriel, who was mortified at Arthur’s blunt approach. “Very interested. But I don’t know if it’s such a good idea, starting something in a small town.”
His reply leached some of the tension from Gabriel. Arthur, however, seemed annoyed. “Oh, hell, that doesn’t matter. It’s not as if we’re gonna fuck on the city square or anything.”
Gabriel rounded on Arthur, looking ready to do murder. But when he raised his hand as if to strike, Arthur caught his wrist in a lightning-fast strike, grinning as he held him captive with a wink.
Dale’s dick got a little hard, especially when Arthur raised an eyebrow at him. “You want to come play with us sometime before you leave for the Cities?”
Dale glanced around. They were in full view of the town, but they were slightly separated, off on a snowy knoll behind the farthest ring of shops. It was risky and surreal. He reminded himself of all the reasons he should say no.
But Jesus, Gabriel and Arthur were one hell of a distraction from those reasons. Gabriel’s pretty curls and the memory of what Arthur’s tongue did to a piece of meat. Dale’s thigh buzzed again, but Ronny’s texts were no more annoying than a gnat at this point, because he had other, better prospects now. Ronny could fuck himself with his present.
Dale cleared his throat. “What type of play are we talking?”
Arthur’s dark chuckle made Dale’s knees waver, and when Arthur stepped close enough to run a subtle hand up his arm, Dale’s legs buckled, however briefly. “I don’t know, son. Why don’t you tell me what you like?”
Dale’s blood rushed to his groin, but enough of it lingered in his brain to remind him of Gabriel’s nerves. They had to quit doing this out in the open. But part of him feared if they went anywhere private right now, Arthur would start something immediately. Dale paused, struggling to remember why exactly that was a bad thing.
He cleared his throat. “I’m pretty open-minded. Discretion is my bottom line, though. I’m not interested in being the subject of local gossip.”
“Then it sounds as if we’re all of the same mind.” Arthur’s thumb massaged at Dale’s elbow. “When do you leave town?”
With this prospect on the table, Dale was willing to stay through the New Year. “I’m flexible. I largely work remotely at this point, so I can stay in Logan as long as I’m needed here, or check in from the Cities. I have engagements tonight, tomorrow, and Monday night, but beyond then I’m free.”
“We’re booked Tuesday, but Wednesday we’re open. How about you come over to our place? Show us your chestnuts.”
It was Gabriel’s curls, Dale decided. They’d hypnotized him. He stared at them, cock throbbing a happy hum in his pants as Arthur stroked his arm, and he threw his common sense out the window. “What time?”
“Six-ish? We’ll feed you first.” Arthur chuckled and swatted Dale’s butt. “Wisconsin boy like you must eat venison, right?”
Dale kept his attention on Gabriel, who was long and lean and graceful as a gazelle. “Oh yeah. Anytime I can get it.”
“Great. See you then.”
Arthur linked arms with Gabriel and his bag of chestnuts and led him away.
Gabriel glanced over his shoulder, mortified, flustered…and eager.
Dale adjusted himself as discreetly as he could, relieved the phone in his pocket had finally gone quiet. God in heaven, but he wished it were Wednesday.