The Christmas Eve wedding Evan Cleary pulled together in four weeks is crashing down around him and taking his fledgling event planning business with it. With an empty altar and over a hundred guests arriving soon, he turns to the resistant, gorgeous brother of the runaway groom for help.
When Richard Patterson’s flamboyant brother storms out hours before he’s scheduled to marry his equally dramatic partner, Richard is left dealing with the fallout. The last thing he wants is more drama, yet he can’t deny his attraction to the effeminate event planner trying to salvage the wedding.
Evan thinks his crush on Richard is a lost cause, but one steaming kiss later, he learns different. What starts as a night of hot sex turns into a connection neither expected. But Evan knows their relationship is hopeless unless the ultra-conservative Richard can embrace every part of him—both in private and in public.
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Evan Cleary cringed when the fragile vase shattered against the wall and burst into a spray of water, glass, and roses. Damn.
“How could you?” The vase-wielding groom cried at his partner, agony ripping through his words.
“I didn’t know!”
“Didn’t know?” The high squeak threatened to break the crystal champagne flutes arranged around the reception tables. “I shouldn’t have had to tell you.”
“Honey. Nate. Please.” Bryan wrung his hands, his face as twisted and tortured as his appendages appeared to be. “It didn’t mean anything.” He shot a pleading glance at Evan, distress turning his round face red.
Evan took a step back, glancing between his two clients. This was not good. Having his first big event degrade into a brawl of outraged hurt would ruin his reputation.
That couldn’t happen. No, he wouldn’t let it happen.
“Gentlemen, please.” He adopted a droll tone, squared his shoulders, and waded into the fray. “This can be solved without the hysterics.”
“What?” Nate’s outrage was backed by a hard glare. Hurt wavered beneath his anger before his face crumpled and he burst into tears.
“Baby, please.” Bryan rushed forward before Evan could respond, desperation elevating his voice. “I love you. You know that.”
Nate spun out of Bryan’s reach and grabbed another vase from a perfectly set table. “Love doesn’t fuck around without consent.”
Oh God. Not another one. Neither the silent plea nor his frantic lunge toward Nate stopped the vase from flying. It zoomed at Nate’s partner—most likely ex-partner—with an accuracy that’d been absent earlier. The dull thwack of the heavy object against Bryan’s skull solidified the sinking ball of doom lodged in Evan’s stomach.
Water splashed and roses peppered the air with red and white petals. Bryan stumbled back with a grunt, one arm flailing before he slammed into the table behind him, the champagne flutes toppling like dominos. He slid to the floor, wedged between two chairs, bright-red blood oozing from the welt on his forehead.
This was so fucking bad.
Evan leaped forward, spurred on by visions of his fledgling event planning business crashing before it’d even taken off.
“Bryan!” The cry pierced the shocked silence as Nate shoved past Evan. “Baby! What did I do?” Nate hovered over his fallen lover, hand moving back and forth in an indecisive dab at the growing trail of blood that’d reached Bryan’s jaw. “Oh God. Oh God. Are you okay?”
Bryan flinched, then groaned. He prodded his forehead, the stunned shock slowly morphing to rage. “Do I look okay to you?”
Shit. Evan rushed over, nudged a floundering Nate out of the way, and pressed a napkin on Bryan’s wound, spreading the cloth to block his sight. With luck, it’d cut off his rising anger—justified or not. Evan had to shut him down before things got worse.
“Does it hurt?” he asked, knowing the answer but scrambling for anything to divert Bryan’s focus away from Nate.
“Yes, it hurts,” Bryan grumbled from behind the cloth.
With a bit of trepidation, Evan peeked at the wound. The gash was split wide under blood that quickly pooled before he pressed the cloth back in place. He swallowed down the bitter rise of his frustration. Why me? Why this event?
“I’ll get some ice,” Nate said before he took off toward the kitchen.
“Nate, wait,” Evan called to stop him, even though it might be smarter to let him go. He needed to save this blundering Christmas Eve wedding if his business had any hopes of making it into the New Year. The income from this event had kept him afloat, but he needed more clients. Referrals were the key to success, and he’d sunk four weeks of his time into this event based on the promise of the influential and money-laden attendees who’d see the spectacular results.
He glanced between the two men, heart clenching at the reality before him. A deep inhale, a held breath, and he let his dreams slip away. “I think he needs stitches.”
“My face.” Bryan shoved the cloth away from his eyes and leveled a hate-filled glare at his partner. “What did you do?” He pressed a hand to his cheek, effectively smearing the blood into a clownish masquerade of a frown.
“Oh, baby. You’re still beautiful.” Nate’s croon switched to indignation when his memory apparently caught up with the moment. “Wait. What do I care? You deserve to be scarred like my heart is.” The exaggerated flounce of his hand across his chest was worthy of a grand stage.
Evan had to bite his tongue to hold in his tired sigh. He was used to the dramatics after a month of dealing with the dueling prima donnas, but this round pushed the limits of his patience.
“Nate,” Evan snapped, professionalism be damned.
The harsh tone jerked the offense from Nate’s face. With his long limbs and flowing movements that contained a dancer’s grace, he was a handsome man who still resembled an adolescent. A fact he played up with subtle makeup to enlarge his brown eyes and offset the blond highlights in his hair.
“Bryan needs to go to the hospital.” That pretty much doomed the wedding that was scheduled to start in under two hours. “What do you want to do?”
“Oh, that bitch is not taking me to the ER.” Bryan jerked the cloth from his face to scowl at what was almost certainly his former partner. “He’s done enough damage to me.”
“Me? I’m not the one who was stuffing his little sausage up the loose ass of the maître d’ this morning.”
“And that’s worse than scarring my face with a vase?” Bryan tapped at his forehead, leaving bloody fingerprints behind. “Wait. What do you mean by ‘little’?”
“Trust me, honey.” Nate lifted his chin and pointedly stared across the room. “Your dick is tiny compare to the stud meat I’ve ridden before you.”
“You really are a bitch, aren’t you?”
“Takes one to know one.”
“Guys,” Evan interjected, his jaw stiff under his waning calm. “This is not helping. Someone has to go to the hospital with Bryan, and it can’t be me.”
“Why not?” The dual echo of disbelief merged in a soprano note that went badly off-key.
Evan rubbed his forehead and stood from his crouched position in front of Bryan. “Is the wedding still happening?”
Another emphatic echo from both men. At least they finally agreed on something. The irony yanked a choked groan from his chest. “Then someone has to deal with the hundred and fifty guests who’ll be showing up to the canceled event.”
“What?” The baritone bark crashed over Evan with a simultaneous dose of desire and dread. Fuck. “What do you mean canceled? What in the hell is going on?”
The ache behind Evan’s eye bloomed into a full throb. He didn’t need this. Not now. Not ever. But then he should’ve known it was coming. Richard Patterson had been an enticing thorn in his side since he’d been booked to coordinate this wedding.
“Richie,” Nate wailed, the theatrics kicking into overdrive. “That louse of a man cheated on me.”
Nate sprinted toward his older brother like he was his knight in shining armor. Evan had to concede Richard made one hell of a rescuer. With broad shoulders and a wholesome face etched with a square jaw, he could sweep Evan off his feet any day he wanted.
But that would require Richard to remove the condescending stick wedged up his ass, and Evan didn’t see that happening anytime soon.
Nate flung himself against his brother’s chest and covered his face with his hands, shoulders shaking. It was hard to tell if the sobs were fake or real, but the glare that hit Evan from across the room was positively glacial. That, he could tell.
“What happened?” Richard’s focus shifted to Bryan, and Evan released the breath he’d been unconsciously holding.
“Oh, please.” Bryan pushed himself up, and Evan grabbed his arm to keep him from tumbling back on his ass. “I’m the one needing stitches. It was just a quickie. No one would even know if the gossiping waiters had kept their mouths shut.”
Nate spun around, mouth gaping. “And that makes a difference? How many other men have you screwed that I don’t know about?”
Bryan flushed. A fact that was visible beneath the layer of smeared blood and the napkin he was still holding to his wound. They obviously didn’t want to know the answer.
“Richard, dear,” Evan interrupted. There was no way he was repeating the vase-throwing event, and Nate was warming up his arm if his guppy impression was any indication. “Be a sweetie and take Bryan to the ER, will you?”
He flipped his head to get his long bangs out of his eyes and put on the charming smile that’d gotten more than one man to jump to his bidding. But not this one. The steady glower from Richard could’ve taken down a parade of bears in the middle of gay pride.
“Please, dear?” Evan begged as he dragged a reluctant Bryan forward. “You’re the first one here, and we can’t have guests arriving to see this.” He waved a hand at Bryan.
“I’m leaving,” Nate huffed. He executed a perfect spin and strut, chin pointed high, hips swaying as he stalked toward the exit.
“Nate.” Richard’s low growl was not one Evan would’ve ignored. But Nate seemed impervious to the edge of authority that raised the hairs on Evan’s arms. “Do not leave me with this mess.”
Nate stopped at the double doors to stare back at them. He covered his mouth with a shaking hand and shook his head. “I can’t stay, Richard. I’m sorry. It’s too humiliating.” With that, he pushed out the door, leaving the rest of them in a stunned state of denial.
That just happened.
Richard mumbled something beneath his breath that came across as derogatory, but Evan couldn’t be sure and it didn’t matter. He still needed his help.
“Could you please get Bryan to the hospital?” He resisted batting his eyes only because the tactic would likely fail on the formidable brother. Richard might’ve been supportive of the wedding and helpful during the planning process, but Evan wouldn’t be surprised if this latest round of dramatics plunged him over the understanding-brother cliff.
“Don’t bother. I’ll get a cab.” The usual lilt had drained from Bryan’s voice, leaving behind a cold flatness. Bryan jerked his arm from Evan’s grasped and started to walk away, only to sway and stumble toward a table. Evan lunged forward and grabbed him before he ruined another table setting.
“Fine. I’ll take him,” Richard said in clipped notes. He hitched up his tux sleeve to glance at his watch. “I have to call my mother. Give me a second.” He strode away, digging his cell from his inside pocket as he went.
“Pompous prick,” Bryan muttered.
“Maybe,” Evan agreed as he coaxed him out of the banquet room. “But he’s a damn-fine-looking prick.”
“Give it up.” Bryan snorted, derision dripping from his tone. “He can barely tolerate men like us.”
Men like us. Flaming? Feminine? A “girly” man?
That was still on Evan’s questionable list. Richard’s stern manner and not-so-hidden dislike for all things obviously gay had been countered by his equally obvious love for his brother whose name was probably listed under the definition of “flamboyant” in the gay dictionary. The heated looks he’d caught from Richard before his icy reserve slammed back into place was another big clue.
“I can still look,” he countered. Fantasizing about the controlling, sexy man was the closest he’d come to a mutual orgasm in months. His nightly jerk-off sessions were the only thing that’d made the last four weeks of hell bearable.
And what in God’s glorious holiday was going to get him through the next nine hours of cheer with no grooms and a room full of disappointed partygoers?
Alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.
A smidgen of hope refused to be smothered by the depressing turn of events. There was still a chance he could salvage the night. He just had to convince Nate’s mother—the check wielder and ultimate decision-maker—to turn the canceled wedding into a Christmas Eve party.
He sent up a silent prayer to the universe that Christmas Day would arrive with his mind and business intact. Maybe he’d get lucky and Santa would grant him his wish.
And if Santa really existed, Evan would be buried in presents to make up for the twelve years of struggle that’d been his life since his parents had thrown him out. Years of laboring under numerous event planners while saving every cent he could to start his own business.
Right. He was on his own, like normal.
Determination reset, he squared his shoulders and laid out his plan. There was no way he was letting the party fail. Grooms or not, he’d make this the best Christmas Eve party in all of Minneapolis.
I loved this short but intense story. . . . The happy ending is really sweet and this is a quick and lovely reading to start this Christmas Holiday with the right mood.
[P]acked with strong, sexy, emotional moments that left my heart fluttering.
Champagne Kisses is a beautiful Christmas story that ticks all the boxes.
[A] quick fun read that kept a smile on my face.
Lynda Aicher grabs you from the beginning of this story and does not let you go until the end.