Excerpt: Wet, Hot, Australian Christmas

Sweat beaded on Reid’s back, and he felt an errant drop trickle down his spine. He was too drowsy to move, but managed a mumble from beneath his Panama hat. “It’s hot, Graham. I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to have a holly jolly Christmas. I’m sweating just lying here.”

“I like it when you’re sweaty,” came the languid reply from the beach towel next to him.

“But sand is going to stick all over me,” Reid said, playing up a boyish whine.

“Mmm. I like it when you’re dirty, too,” Graham said, and they both smiled. “As much as I like staring at you in your bathers, are you ready to go? I think we’re already pushing the limits of that SPF on you.”

“Yeah, I’m ready,” Reid replied and sat up, reaching for the phone he’d tucked by his hip. He shaded the phone’s screen from the sun’s glare and checked it against his smartwatch. “I’ll tell you what, it’s hard enough to have summer without ‘Shark Week’, but now I gotta accept a sweaty Christmas, too?” The television event was like Reid’s Super Bowl, and he could not remember a year without his shark programs to escape from sweltering summer heat.

“You’ll get used to it. We still use the same hokey winter crap you Americans do. And we’re gonna decorate the tree tonight, yeah? You won’t even notice the difference.” Waves broke against the shore, and Reid thought he heard the shrill pitch of an albatross carried on the breeze. “Alright, you might notice a bit—I mean, Santa’s reindeer are swapped for snow-white kangaroos.” Graham laughed.

Reid snorted, lifting his hat to wipe his brow with a clean corner of his towel. They both stood, feet sinking into the soft sand, and gathered their belongings. Reid looked at the happy people splashing in the waves. Two were wearing Santa hats. He frowned. “Yeah, I’ve noticed.” Squinting, he slid a finger over his watch’s screen, grunted, and lifted his head. He scanned the patch of ocean, where he now knew a small shark was passing through just beyond the break. He didn’t know why he looked; sharks were almost impossible to spot with the naked eye while standing on the sand.

“Hey, you’re not thinking about taking a backseat on our first Christmas together, are you? Jesus, who doesn’t like summer? Something odd about you,” Graham teased. He slung an arm around Reid’s shoulders and dropped his voice. “And I like it.”

They started their way back to the car park, the sand on the blissful edge of burning their skin when it crested over the tops of their feet. Tapping on his smartwatch, Reid angled toward the lifeguard tower. He waved and whistled to the young man in a bright-yellow, long sleeved shirt and red Speedo standing on the tower’s deck. The lifeguard had golden brown hair and a puka shell necklace that stood out against his bronzed skin. He lowered his binoculars and flashed Reid a bright smile.

“Oi, Reid! All done for the day, then?” he called.

“Hey, Lachy.” Reid nodded, signing an ‘a-okay’. “All done. Everything working properly on the app for you?”

“Yep. Fine, mate.” Lachlan picked up something from his chair and then flashed Reid his tablet, nodding.

“Great. Thanks,” Reid said.

“Adios, lifesaver Lachlan,” Graham mumbled, waving a hand over his head. Reid smirked and bumped his hip into Graham’s.

They ambled to Graham’s aging blue Subaru WRX. Graham unlocked the car, opened the passenger door, leaned in, and retrieved his phone from the glove box. Reid laughed.

“What?” Graham asked, straightening up.

“You have the LifeJacket Float on it right now? In the car?”

“Sure, why not? It’s kinda cool,” Graham said, chuckling and making the waterproof and floatable orange foam-wrapped phone dance in the air. He powered it on, and his smile faded.

“What is it?” Reid asked.

“Voicemail,” Graham said, letting out an audible sigh while listening to the message.

“Your mom?” Reid mouthed. Graham nodded, still listening. Finally, he tossed the phone onto the backseat. A shadow enveloped his face.

“What did she want?”

“Eh,” Graham shrugged a shoulder. “I think she’s settin’ me up to work late tomorrow. Probably wants me to play waiter at some bash.” His full lower lip pushed outward.

Reid couldn’t help but notice how sexy he looked pouting; he wished that they were playing around and that Graham wasn’t actually put-off.

“I see.” Reid shook out his beach towel, watching the plumes of floaty granules drift across the bitumen. He bent forward and rubbed his hands through his medium-length, auburn hair to rid it of stray pieces of grit and straightened back up. “You know, Graham, you might not hate it all so much if you… took charge,” Reid said, denim-blue eyes flashing up to gauge Graham’s reaction.

“That’s a lot easier said, mind you. I’ve been workin’ the family business since I was an ankle-biter. It’s hard for me to imagine being in charge and,” he hesitated, his eyes dimming, “without Dad.”

Reid didn’t know what to say. To him, sometimes words alone felt too crass an answer to emotions. Both dropped into the Subaru with a tired groan, and Graham got the air conditioner running. Reid reached over and laced his fingers with Graham’s. They sat in silence until Graham shifted in his seat and dropped his sun-bleached head. At first, Reid thought he misheard the snort.

“It just occurred to me: I’ve never met anyone who hates the beach but spends all his bloody time on the ocean.”

“I don’t hate the beach. It’s just…” Reid tried to blow at a few grains of sand that must have adhered to his lips after shaking out his towel. “Well, it’s irritating.”

Graham smirked, brushing the back of his hand over Reid’s forehead, pushing away a lock of his hair. “I love ya’, ya’ ol’ grump Yank,” Graham said, tenderness shaping his features.

A light heat warmed the tops of Reid’s ears and he smiled. Though exchanging I love yous with Graham wasn’t new, even playful iterations gave his heart a jolt.

“Yeah, but I don’t know why.” Reid chuckled. “Hey, are you hungry? We could grab a meat pie on the way back.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Graham said, and they pulled onto the road.

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