holding on tight
Buffalo Bedlam series
Featuring Vince and Joseph from Skating On Chance.
Joseph Parelli gave up everything familiar when he moved to Buffalo, New York to be with his boyfriend, Vince Forsberg. He isn’t settling in as well or as fast as he’d hoped, and there are still ties that pull him back to his former city. Ties that cause arguments between him and his better half. But as the holiday season grows closer, Joseph is determined not to let anything get in the way of having a perfect Christmas with Vince.
Vince Forsberg has everything he ever wanted: A career playing hockey, a great group of friends, and best of all, the love of his life, Joseph, by his side. But he worries that the rough patch Joseph is facing in Buffalo might be enough to make him move back to New Jersey. Permanently. And Vince can’t let that happen. He needs to make sure their first holiday together is perfect enough to show Joseph that life in Buffalo with Vince is where he belongs.
The pressure is overwhelming, and with every holiday mishap, “perfect” slips further away. Can they save Christmas, or will their first holiday together be their last?
Holding On Tight was previously part of the Hockey Holidays anthology and has since been expanded.
READ AN EXCERPT
"…and all I want for Christmas is you…"
Lyrics and melody floated in the air, mixing with laughter and conversations. Whistling along with the song, Joseph Parelli weaved his way through the crowded apartment, smiling and nodding at the throng of Buffalo Bedlam players and their significant others. Everyone had gone all out in their attire for the team's ugly sweater party, from garish sweaters with blinking lights to cable-knit eyesores with dancing reindeer.
The tacky blue and white surfing snowmen decorating his chest ensured that he fit right in.
On the surface anyway.
No amount of holiday silliness could squash the slight discomfort he still felt when thrust into situations with the full-on group of players, wives, and girlfriends. Although they were welcoming, he hadn't been around them enough to remember everyone's names, let alone forge many friendships.
Clutching his phone like the lifeline it was, he headed for the recently vacated area he'd spotted beside the Christmas tree. There, a large floor-to-ceiling window gave him a view of downtown Buffalo, and hopefully, the minute he needed to collect his bearings and regroup.
Strands of twinkling lights and holiday decorations brightened up windows on neighboring buildings. And, several stories down, a steady stream of traffic pulsed with the stoplights' alternating flashes of red, yellow, and green.
As much as he liked his newly adopted city, living by Lake Erie just wasn't the same as living by the Atlantic Ocean. And morning runs along Canalside weren't the same as morning runs along the beach. But Buffalo, New York had one thing that Asbury Park, New Jersey did not: Vince Forsberg. And for Vince, Joseph would do just about anything.
Including willingly giving up his home and a job he enjoyed. And moving away from his friends and family and everything familiar.
Although, the people filling the team captain's place to capacity were becoming more familiar. He smiled as the Fraser brothers waved to him, but he stayed planted in his corner and scrolled through his emails once again.
He'd expected things to get better once he found a job, met new people, and got settled into a new routine. But nearly three months post-move, job prospects weren't looking good. He peered at his phone screen and the latest dash of disappointment at the top of his inbox. Finding out he didn't get the bar manager job after he'd been so sure he had it in the bag stung pretty badly.
"There you are. Brought you a drink." Vince, wearing a matching sweater, came to a stop at his side. Blond hair tousled and blue eyes twinkling, the Buffalo Bedlam defenseman and love of his life carried two tumblers of Scotch. His smile faded as he studied Joseph's face. "You okay?"
"Absolutely." He quickly lowered his phone. "One hundred percent."
"Why don't I believe you?" Without waiting for a response, Vince set the drinks down and then nudged him toward the hallway and then into a guest bedroom where the party-goers had stored their coats.
Joseph craned his neck as he entered the blissfully quiet space. "What are you doing? Coat room or not, I don't think Celek wants people hanging out in here."
Vince closed the door, shutting out the noise. The lines of concern on his face deepened. "Talk to me. I can tell something's wrong."
"Are you a psychic now? That actually might explain why you're one of the league's best defensemen."
"Cute. But really, your poker face stinks." Vince gently hip checked him. "Besides, I like thinking I'm able to read you."
"So much for hiding it well." Sighing, he leaned into his boyfriend. No matter how many times his gaze rested upon Vince, the man still took his breath away. When Vince's arms came around him, Joseph relaxed into the comfort of his embrace. "I didn't get the job."
"The one you interviewed for the other day? I know you were excited about it. I'm sorry."
Joseph lifted a shoulder, tried to pretend the disappointment didn't run as deep as a canyon, and breathed in Vince's scent. "Yeah. Well."
Vince kissed his temple and then hugged him tighter. They were almost evenly matched in height and build, but the similarities ended there. "Something good will turn up."
"I hope so. It's been almost three months. I know that's not long compared to how long some people are unemployed, but I didn't think it would be this hard. I've applied for every nightclub manager, every bar manager position out there. I know I'm well qualified, this last place told me that I was too qualified. Hearing that is a little discouraging."
"You don't have to worry about how long it takes you. What's mine is yours." Vince's strong fingers flexed and rubbed over Joseph's back. He paid for the house, the groceries, and all of the bills. Joseph contributed what he could, but at best, it was a quarter of what Vince put in.
Restless, Joseph moved out of the embrace. "As generous as that is, I have to pull my own weight. The money coming in from renting out the shore house helps, but it's not enough to live on. Especially not in the off-season. Not many people are looking to spend a week at the Jersey shore during the winter."
"You know…" Vince's gaze dropped to the snowmen woven across Joseph's chest. "Maybe we should think about putting it up for sale."
Not again… Muscles rigid, he huffed out a sigh and met Vince head on. The argument—no, the discussion—hadn't reared up in a few weeks. Even so, his answer hadn't changed. No matter how many times they'd gone around and around about it. "No."
"Why not? You don't need it to help supplement Nonna's expenses anymore." Vince had generously helped out there, taking over the monthly amount Joseph added to his grandmother's account to make sure that she wanted for nothing at her resort-like retirement community. With his multi-million dollar contract to play for the Bedlam, the supplement was like a droplet of water in the ocean.
"I know that." He turned toward the bed. Staring at the mattress piled high with coats was easier than looking Vince in the eyes. "But it's semi-regular income. I can't let the house go. At least not until I find another job… And maybe not even then."
"But dealing with the renters stresses you out. Especially since you're dealing with them from four hundred miles away. I hate seeing you like that."
"It's fine." It wasn't, but he'd need to learn to handle it better.
"And you have to rely on Aaron to drop off and collect the keys for you, and report back on the state of the house. Not to mention what happens if anything is damaged, and how you—"
"Stop." Frustration rose hot alongside his disappointment, burning through his blood and tightening his jaw. "I don't want to do this here."
Tension thickened the air as they stared at each other. The muffled laughter and music from the living room reminded him that they weren't alone, and that they'd been in the room far too long already.
Vince tucked his hands into his back pockets and gave a single dip of his head. "Fine."
Raking a hand through his hair, Joseph turned toward the door. "We should go."
His phone pinged, and the alert seemed as loud as a gunshot. Breath caught in his lungs, he stopped and glanced at the screen.
"What is it? Job news?" Vince's voice, strained yet tentative, came closer.
"Got an alert from the rental company." He lifted the phone so Vince could view the screen. "I have a guy who wants to rent the shore house for Christmas."
Shoulders slumped and expression stony, Vince didn't look thrilled. At all. "That's less than a week away. You don't need to go back to Asbury Park to prep the house, do you?"
"No." He shrugged away the renewed discomfort. No way did he want to start arguing about the rental again. "Everything was fine when I went back to visit Nonna at Thanksgiving, and Aaron has the keys. I know he checked on the house last week."
Voices echoed from the hall, and the door flung open. Slater Knox and Noah Alzado burst in, the teammates laughing and talking over each other. Slater grinned at them from beneath a silly elf's cap. "Hey. We were looking for you."
"Well, you found us." Joseph pocketed his phone and tried to find a smile for the pair. "What's up?"
"We need Vince to settle a debate between Leo and Rod."
Vince drew up next to Joseph, arms crossed over his chest, close but not close enough to touch. Yeah, he was ticked off. They always touched, a brush of fingers on the shoulder, a hand on the back. Always. "I know better than to side against the goalie. Tell Rod that whatever it is, he's right."
Slater gasped and held a hand to his chest in mock surprise. "And I thought Leo was your best friend."
"If the situation were reversed, Leo would do the same thing." The slight, tight smile stretching across Vince's chiseled features didn't reach his eyes. And he made no further movements toward the door.
Gaze darting between Vince and Joseph, Noah grabbed Slater's arm and tugged the redhead through the doorway. "Let's go, Knoxie. We'll pass along the message, guys. Sorry to interrupt you. We'll make sure no one else comes in."
Slater glanced back, eyes narrowed and forehead creased, but before he could say anything further, Noah managed to pull the door closed behind them.
Vince huffed out a sigh and rubbed his hands over his face. "Slater's probably standing guard in the hallway now."
Picturing the redhead positioned like a no-nonsense bouncer nearly made him smile. "Yeah. We better go, so we're not blocking anyone's access to their coats or bags."
Not that they'd have any luck hiding their frustration with each other once they returned to the party. Vince was right, he didn't have a good poker face. Neither of them were good at hiding their feelings.
"Wait." Vince's hand curled over Joseph's shoulder. He shifted until they were face to face. "I don't want to fight with you. I hated that we had to miss Thanksgiving together. I don't want anything to ruin Christmas."
At the earnestness in Vince's expression, Joseph's anger and stress melted away. They'd gone through a lot to be together. He loved Vince with all his heart. In the face of that, nothing else seemed as important. "Me neither."
Vince stepped closer and eliminated the space between them. "We're lucky to have each other. I'm so glad you're here with me. Let's just focus on that."
"Deal." Smiling, Joseph cupped Vince's face in his hands and then leaned in and pressed their lips together. Soft yet firm, Vince's lips parted, allowing him in. Slowly, savoring, he deepened the kiss, reveling in the warmth that could quickly ratchet into sizzling heat. Vince's hands, large and capable, pulled him in tighter, like he could never get as close as he wanted.
The sounds from the living room grew louder, and Joseph reluctantly drew away. Clutching Vince's hand, he opened the door. "Let's go."
They rejoined the group and reclaimed their drinks. Joseph's phone buzzed in his pocket, but he resisted checking the notification. Tonight was for the team to be together and blow off some steam. No one needed to see tension and drama between Vince and him. He would quietly deal with the rental, at least until after the holidays.
He and Vince would have the perfect Christmas. He wouldn't let anything get in their way.