Winter Storm by April Kelley - PART 4 & Giveaway
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Josh Ainsley is one of those teachers who goes above and beyond. When he agrees to deliver a day’s worth of homework to a student’s house, it’s not exactly out of character. So what if the student’s father is one of the hottest people Josh has ever seen? Operation homework drop turns into a rescue mission when he gets caught in a snowstorm and subsequently snowed in with one sexy dad. Who says good deeds go unrewarded?
Josh stepped closer to the warmth radiating from the fireplace. The cold went all the way to his bones even after Max had given him dry, clean clothes to wear. The crackling and gentle roar of the fire brought home the fact that his little adventure took a lot of his energy as fatigue set in deep.
Max and Ari were in the kitchen. The murmur of their voices trailed to him, but he couldn’t make out distinct words. Since he knew Max wasn’t in the room to see him, Josh lifted his arm, bringing the sweater fabric to his nose. It smelled a little like Max’s cologne and the air coming off the lake in the summer. The borrowed clothing definitely came from Max’s closet.
The house smelled a little like the clothing and maybe some type of cleaning spray. He stood in the living room where a lighter-colored couch sat in the center of the room with a rug separating it from the fireplace, which stole the show.
The mantel was made of dark wood and had framed photos on its top. On the wall was an expensive-looking painting of the lake. Josh leaned in to try to see the name of the painter in the bottom corner. The painter was local to the area if their subject was the lake, so Josh wanted to see if he recognized the name, but the artist’s signature consisted of only two initials.
The photos captured his attention next. Most were of Ari, Max, and another man. One was especially cute because it showed Ari with sand all over his chubby, toddler body. A blue bucket sat upended beside him, and there was another man in swim trunks with his sandy hands around a castle tower, engineering it to not give in to gravity. The man smiled as if he knew someone was taking his picture, but he wasn’t going to pander to it by looking directly into the lens.
Another photo showed that same man lying in a hospital bed with blankets covering him from his torso down. He had a red scarf around his head. Even with the cover, Josh could tell he didn’t have hair. The chemicals, designed to kill his disease, had made it all fall out. His skin was ashy and gray. He looked as if he were in pain, but still, he smiled for the photo, looking directly at the camera.
“My husband, Lenn. He died three years ago.” Max stood with a mug in each hand. Steam floated around the top.
The faint smell of coffee met Josh’s nose. “I’m very sorry for your loss. That must have been difficult.”
Max smiled. “It was. Still is, sometimes.”
Max had changed, wearing much the same thing Josh did, only his pajama pants were a red plaid, not blue like Josh’s, and his sweater was all black.
He held out one of the mugs, and Josh took it.
“I didn’t know how you take your coffee, but I left room for sugar and creamer. I have the flavored stuff. Ari likes it in his hot chocolate sometimes.” Max took a sip from his mug.
Everything in Josh focused on Max’s lips as he sipped. They looked as strong as the rest of him, which made Josh want to fall into his arms. He’d never had such a strong reaction to someone, and right after they had a conversation about Max’s husband, even if it was a brief one, it seemed like an inappropriate thought.
Josh cleared his throat and focused on his coffee so that he wouldn’t perv on the man. “Black is fine.”
“So, I checked the forecast while the coffee was brewing.”
Josh winced. “I did, too. It looks like you’re stuck with me for a while.”
Max’s expression softened when he smiled. The dimples in his cheeks became more pronounced. “It’s not a hardship.”
Heat came to his cheeks, and he knew he blushed. He might have questioned his interpretation of their conversation at the school before but not with that statement. The flirting was obvious.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?” The seriousness of his tone was unmistakable.
Josh made sure to meet Max’s gaze. “Not at all.”
Max visibly relaxed as if he hadn’t been sure how welcome his flirting was until Josh put his worries to rest. “It’s been a while.”
Josh wasn’t sure what he meant by that and was afraid to interpret it wrong. He started to ask him, but Ari came into the room with a pillow under his arm and a giant comforter trailing behind him.
He put his pillow on one end of the couch and lay down. Before he could get the blanket around himself, Max went over, setting his coffee mug on top of a coaster on the end table, and took the blanket, tucking Ari in, and then he handed Ari the remote control.
“Lord of the Rings marathon?” Ari asked as he settled into his prone position.
The television hung on the wall in the corner. It came to life.
Max met his gaze. “What do you say, Josh?”
Josh nodded. “Sounds like fun.”
Max gestured toward the recliner chair before grabbing a blanket from a wicker basket in the corner. When Josh sat, Max put the blanket on Josh’s lap, letting it flow down his legs.
The act surprised Josh enough that he did nothing but lift his arms, all while holding onto his mug with both hands. He looked as if he were making an offering to the gods, so he put his arms down when Max finished.
When their gazes met, Max winked and turned toward the couch again. He lifted Ari’s feet, blankets and all, and sat, putting his feet in his lap.
The recliner had the best view of the television, but Josh focused on Max. His chair shared a side table with the end of the couch where Max sat. He grabbed a coaster and set it next to Max’s, putting his mug on top.
Ari worked the remote until Frodo Baggins lit up the television screen.
Josh forced himself to avert his gaze to it and not stare at Max.
It wasn’t until the movie was underway that he felt warm fingers on the back of his hand. He didn’t realize he rested his hand around his coffee mug until then.
Max rubbed against the skin on Josh’s hand before tapping as if trying to get Josh’s attention.
Their gazes met, and Max smiled. Max whispered when he spoke. “Is there a rule about dating a student’s parent?”
Butterflies fluttered around in Josh’s stomach. He shook his head. “Nothing in my contract, no.”
Max chuckled and shook his head. “You’re gonna make me work for it, huh? Okay. So do you date?”
Josh turned his hand over, laying it palm up on the side table.
Max traced circles with his fingers in the center of Josh’s palm.
Max’s expression changed right before he pulled his hand away from Josh’s. “I understand.”
Josh leaned into Max as much as possible while being adjacent to each other and put his hand over Max’s. “That came out wrong.”
Ari gave them an annoyed look before turning back to the movie.
Josh lowered his voice before speaking again. “I haven’t dated in a long time. Not for any particular reason other than because I just haven’t expended the energy.”
Max leaned forward as well, taking Josh’s hand in his. “I haven’t dated since meeting Lenn.”
Ari sighed and paused the television. “Are you guys going to talk through the whole thing?”
“We’ll go to the other room to finish our conversation. How’s that?” Max moved Ari’s feet and stood.
Ari rolled his eyes. “I thought you wanted to have a marathon.”
“I do, but I need to talk to Josh for a second.”
“Just ask him out already.” Ari sat up and shook his head.
Max raised his eyebrows, then stumbled over his words. “That’s not…I mean…now, I don’t think you need to be worried about this.”
Ari gave Max a look as if he thought he was ridiculous. “What are you talking about?”
“Me dating someone.”
Oh God, the conversation suddenly felt as if it shouldn’t include Josh. But if he moved, it would draw attention to him, which he didn’t want. Josh grabbed his coffee mug and held it in both hands. He would wait to see what turn the conversation took.
“Dad. I’m in middle school. I know what dating means.”
“That is not what I meant.”
Ari held up his hands and shook his head. “Then what are you talking about, and please let’s not have the Mr. Ainsley-taking-Papa’s-place conversation because I already know that is not possible.”
Max’s eyebrows went up. “I wasn’t gonna say that so bluntly.”
Josh wanted through fall to the floor. Anywhere was better than witnessing a conversation that should remain between father and son. Instead, he stood and headed into the kitchen. “I’ll give you two privacy.”
Max said, “Thank you, Josh.”
He heard part of their conversation on his way out of the room, although he wasn’t trying to.
“You’re my number one priority. Just like when Papa was here. I just don’t want you to forget that.”
“I haven’t dated since Papa.”
“You like Mr. Ainsley?”
Josh didn’t catch how Max answered that question, but a part of him wanted to eavesdrop. Instead, he went into the kitchen, put his mug on the counter, and contemplated his current situation.
Getting stuck in a winter storm with Max Weaver wasn’t exactly the worst place he found himself. And Ari was a great kid. Josh had thought so since the first day he had him in his class.
Max and Josh definitely had a mutual attraction. While a date sounded nice, Josh didn’t know what kind of baggage Max carried around. What were the emotions Max would have to work through to date, and did Josh have the mental capacity to help him through the pitfalls of that journey? of that journey?
To Be Continued… on December 22nd
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Thank you for reading Winter Storm, a MM small town romance novella. If you liked the book, please take the time to review it.
Don’t miss April Kelley’s next release, A Tarnished Strength. It’s the fourth book in the Pickleville Series.
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COPYRIGHT (c) 2020 by April Kelley
Cover Art by Once & Books
Cover content is for illustrative purposes only, and any person depicted on the cover is a model.
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the author’s written permission.
Published by Hard Rose Publishing
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
April Kelley is an author of LGBTQ+ Romance. Her works include The Journey of Jimini Renn, a Rainbow Awards finalist, Whispers of Home, the Saint Lakes series, and over thirty more. She’s a main contributor at Once and Books. April has been an avid reader for several years. Ever since she wrote her first story at the age of ten, the characters in her head still won’t stop telling their stories. If April isn’t reading or writing, she can be found taking a long walk in the woods or going on her next adventure.
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