Arctic Restitution (Arctic Absolution #3)
by

As he approaches his twenty-second birthday, the three-year anniversary of the brutal attack in an alley that nearly cost him his life in a few different ways, Jaye Larson thinks he’s left behind the ghosts from his years spent incarcerated, but when he’s delivered a mysterious letter with terrifying implications, old monsters rear their ugly heads. His normal new life in remote Zus, Alaska, with his lover, Dixon Rowe, the heart of a found-family that supports Jaye in ways he’s never before dreamed possible, is threatened by old deals and ties he begins to fear may never be broken. While old alliances strive to draw Jaye backward, Dixon and the rest of their family are called to step up to keep him steady. When the letter turns out to be just the first clue in a chain leading both Jaye and Dixon back inside the walls of the Federal Corrections Institute of Sheridan, Oregon, all of them are left facing carefully-held secrets and terrible new truths that refuse to be ignored. (M/M)

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Chapter 8: Happy Birthday


As Dixon opened the door, revealing the guest of honor to the packed house, a roar of excitement erupted within.

“Woo!”

“Jaye!”

“The birthday man!” yelled a guy named Bill Simmons who was the official town plumber and an acquaintance of Jaye’s through people at work. Bill had a beer in hand, and a goofy grin on his face. “He’s finally old enough to vote!”

“Close,” Jaye replied. “You’re close, man. Haven’t had the chance to vote in many elections thanks to the fine print and circumstances, but I’ll get there one day.”

“I swear he gets younger while the rest of us get older,” smiled Grant. He came in for a hug, which Jaye gladly returned. “Happy birthday, kid.”

“Thanks, Grant,” Jaye said, clapping him on the back. He’d never had a father figure in the slightest, but something about Grant had begun to fill that void a little. He had plenty of years on Jaye, as well as the wisdom and patience Jaye had always imagined in fantasy fathers or uncles that didn’t exist. Even the hug was a good one — solid and committed, like he wanted Jaye to really feel that the sentiments behind it were genuine. “You and Brek really didn’t have to do all of this.”

“Yes, we did!” Brekken cried, bouncing over as Sesi cranked up Paula Abdul’s Opposites Attract to full volume. She threw herself into a hug of her own with Jaye, which felt like she was trying to squeeze the negative energy right out of him.

Laughing, Jaye allowed it while Dixon caught his eye with a calm, proud gladness.

“You’re twenty-two! The world is yours for the taking!”

“As long as you pay for it first,” Dixon whispered in Jaye’s ear. He threw an elbow into Dixon’s side for that one. Dixon just laughed and kissed Jaye’s cheek.

“Dance with me,” Brekken said eagerly, taking Jaye’s hands after Dixon peeled the coat from Jaye’s shoulders.

Grant and Dixon backed steadily away as if afraid to be reeled in by her next. Jaye was happy to go, though. He let her take him into the middle of the crowded living room. Most people had drinks in hand, and were friends, co-workers, or friends of friends. He knew them all by sight if not name. They moved along with the beat to Material Girl as the track changed. Brekken squealed with joy, throwing her hands up. Feeding off of her good mood and lively spirit, Jaye couldn’t stop smiling and danced.

Colorful paper streamers draped from the ceiling, doorways, and furniture. Hand-made Happy Birthday signs were taped to the walls. To someone else, it might not have seemed like much, but to Jaye it was mind-blowing how much effort he was beginning to glimpse went into the planning and preparation for the party.

He bounced, moved, and gyrated to the beat, feeding off of Brekken’s huge, happy grin and easy laughter. The other dancers — all women plus one elderly gentleman Jaye thought helped run the post office — surrounded them. The collective good energy quickly made Jaye high. He’d never been to clubs or anything of the sort, but he began to see their allure.

“Dixon!” Brekken yelled. “Get your ass in here and dance with your boyfriend!”

Jaye smiled so wide his cheeks hurt as Dixon bashfully relinquished his position as chatty wallflower and slowly made his way into the shifting, wild collection in the dance-floor area — created by shoving furniture out of the way to clear the center of the main living space.

A few of the women let out cries of delight as he moved up close to Jaye and started to move his hips. Dixon blushed and Jaye let out a belly laugh. Not missing a beat, he hooked a hand around Dixon’s hip to keep him close.

“Loosen up, Trooper Rowe,” Jaye teased as Dixon’s blush deepened and his dancing remained somewhat rigid. “I’ve seen the way you can move your hips. Don’t pretend you can’t dance.”

“Where the hell would I have ever danced?” Dixon challenged, probably to cover over his sudden shyness.

“Come on,” Jaye lured, fitting their hips together and slinging his arms behind Dixon’s neck.

A wolf whistle went up and Dixon’s glance snapped around to try to identify the whistler. Jaye dragged his lover’s attention back where it belonged with a strong grip to Dixon’s chin and pecked a kiss to his lips.

“Whatever makes you happy,” Dixon said with a glad sparkle in his sexy blue eyes. “Love seeing you this happy.”

Jaye saw some of the women pairing up together as Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me came on next, beginning to slow dance together. A few bravely tried to pull their men in as well, and some were even successful.

Brekken sang loudly along to the stereo and Grant looked like he knew just how lucky he was, with only eyes for his wife as she swayed in his arms.

His attention pulled in all directions. He wanted to stop time and study each couple, the freedom and life in their eyes, the absolute lack of tension or guardedness in their bodies, the way they lived in the moment without a thought for the next. At the same time, he wanted to focus only on Dixon. To be only in his arms, dancing, surrounded by countless people from their lives. He wanted to let everything else go, but he also knew, way down deep in his heart, that it was the contrast with his time in Sheridan, and Anchorage, that made the night that much more special.

In that moment, in that little house tucked into the wild of Zus, Alaska, none of those people were afraid for their lives, sanity, or future. They carried no demons. They held nothing back out of fear.

It felt like heaven.

It took his breath away.

They danced for a long time, until the sentimental feelings bursting from him caused Jaye to follow Brekken to the kitchen when he saw her duck away.

“Hey,” she said, blocking his path when she noticed him behind her. “No peeking!”

“All right. I just…” He nodded toward the hall leading to the bedrooms. She let him pull her aside into the relative quiet of an empty room. He set his back to the door and cleared his throat. He felt the letter hanging over him, and everything he could only guess it implied. He sensed the torment of the Disciples who had years to go before they got to have any peace, if they got out at all. He understood the absence of his parents, and all of the people he’d left behind. He was who he was because of all of it. There was no pretending otherwise.

“What’s up? You’ve got a look,” she said, paying close attention to his expression as only a family member could.

“I just need to say thank you.”

“Jaye…”

“I need to.”

“The party’s barely started! Just enjoy yourself,” she urged tenderly.

“I am. Believe me. I just need you to understand how much this means to me,” he said, voice breaking and eyes watering.

“Oh, honey.” She pulled him into a tight hug. Somehow, it helped him breathe. The ache eased as he hugged her back.

“It’s not just because of how nightmarish my past few birthdays have been, or how my life was before Dix. It’s all of it. I never… I never thought I’d get to have this.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied with an extra tight squeeze before letting go and searching his eyes. “Who knew you could be such a softie? And over a lame little house party, too?”

“It’s an amazing house party,” he assured her. She wiped his eyes dry with the pads of her thumbs and he almost lost it again.

She saw it though and warned him with a pointed finger. “Nope! Don’t even think about it. We’re going back out there, right now.”

“I love you, Brekken Rowe.”

“Aww. I love you too, Jaye Larson.”

It was like there was a light made up of nothing but nurturing, warmth, and goodness inside her as she looped her arm through his and led him back out to the action. Jaye caught Dixon’s eye right away, and saw a flicker of concern cloud his expression. He quickly came over, excusing himself from a conversation with Sesi and a few others from the station.

“Hey,” he said, glancing between Jaye and Brekken.

“Get him back out there. Have a drink. Get some snacks. Have fun. I’ve got top-secret work to do.”

She snuck away to the kitchen again. Dixon whispered by his ear.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Just saying thanks.”

Since it was Dixon, who knew Jaye inside and out in literal and figurative ways, he read between all of the lines and kissed the side of Jaye’s head, then drew him in for a quick hug.

“Come on. I’m starving and I need a beer. How about you?”

“Sounds incredible.”

Dixon led him through the throng by the hand. Jaye called hello and waved to some others he hadn’t had a chance to speak to yet. He smiled and said thanks whenever he heard a Happy Birthday shouted in his direction. They rounded the corner and stepped into the dining room where the food was laid out. He spotted some slow cooker roasted caribou for sandwiches and some bacon-wrapped duck breasts. While he decided what to try first, he heard Oki ask, “What’re you gonna wish for?”

“Nothing,” he called back. “All of my wishes have already come true.”

Chain Link

Almost greedily, Jaye soaked in each and every moment, burning them into his memory, etching them into his bones. There had been some long, cold nights in his short life, and he knew how precious the little miracles were. They demanded reverence and rapt attention.

When Grant brought out the huge chocolate cake, decorated in icing in a rainbow of colors, scrawled with his name and his age, Jaye studied each second that ticked by as if his life depended on it.

He noticed some looks that indicated people thought he was acting out of character. And he was. There weren’t any jokes or cockiness. There was no effort put into pulling himself up and acting the part in order to impress or convince, threaten or intimidate. He was himself in a way he’d just begun to allow. The past was there, with all of its experience and hard lessons. But he had hope and contentment too, in such huge quantities, he could only stand in awe of it.

They sang to him, and he blew out the candles, asking only for it all to not end before he was ready.

There were cards stacked on a table. There were some small gifts he’d open and cherish later. There was hot food and plenty to drink. He shook more hands in one night than he’d done in his whole life.

Out back, some people were challenging each other to some friendly Inuit sports competitions like kneel jump, Musox push, and back push. The few eager challengers were in the center of the pool of light cast by the floodlight on the back of the house, with plenty of others holding drinks in a circle around them, cheering them on. It wasn’t at all like anything Jaye had seen growing up or in Sheridan — everyone was laughing and encouraging each other, keeping spirits up and helping anyone that stumbled. He knew part of that was due to the many Alaskan Natives present and the way they constantly influenced life in Zus. Fitness, strength, agility and camaraderie were vitally important to survival. No one faced anything alone, but always with the support of ancestors, family, and friends. Everyone was needed. No one was disposable.

Jaye talked to Sesi and some of Dixon’s friends about the past winter and the upcoming summer, comparing plans and activities people were excited to do. He asked about their families and their health. He deflected most questions about his past, but eagerly shared his desire to go hunting, fishing, hiking, off-roading and every other outdoor activity he could think of. With how much more established and stable he and Dixon were compared to last summer, they’d have much more opportunity to get out and explore. If they could do it with friends, it would be even better.

As the night wore on, and people’s energy became more subdued, Jaye became more tempted to express to Dixon in a more personal way just how grateful he was.

He saw his moment when Brekken and Grant were settled with a large group discussing plans for a camping trip a few months down the road. Jaye nudged Dixon and escaped down the hall. Dixon followed.

Jaye took him into the bedroom which used to be his and closed the door before locking it. Turning his back to the door, he took a long look up and down the man he was about to climb, or devour, or both.

Dixon’s chest looked muscular beneath the t-shirt pulled tightly over it. His arms bulged. His pants were filled out in all the right places. His vivid coloring made him seem like living candy designed to lick and suck for hours.

“I’m so hard right now.”

Dixon gave him a crooked, wicked grin and manhandled him onto the bed with arousing ease. He pinned Jaye’s arms and gave him a hot, passionate kiss. Then he stripped off Jaye’s shirt and yanked open his fly. The sounds of the party filtered easily through the door, but Dixon seemed to have only one thing on his mind.

He pulled Jaye’s boxers down and swallowed him whole.

“Fuck,” Jaye moaned, probably too loudly, then laughed. His thighs fell open and he gently rocked into each suck. Dixon rolled Jaye’s balls in a hand and that only made him moan louder. “Good present, Dix,” Jaye panted. “Just what I wanted. Nice, slow ride on your tongue.”

Dixon pulled off with a wet sound. “Thought you’d like it.”

“No, no, keep going. Unless I have permission to fuck you. Because I totally will. You think it’s still in here?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Dixon got up and went to the closet. He reached up inside, behind the doorframe, and smiled. When he withdrew his hand, it held a small bottle of lube.

“Your sister’s either not a thorough cleaner or very considerate.”

“No talking about my sister when I’m about to get fucked. New rule.”

Jaye chuckled and climbed out of bed only to push Dixon down into it. He gleefully stripped Dixon’s clothes off until he was completely naked, then spread him wide and licked him from thigh to neck.

The sense of people lingering nearby was impossible to ignore, but after two years in Sheridan, public sex was no big deal at all. In fact, that they had a closed, solid, locked door between them and everyone else seemed a luxury, allowing a private oasis to enable him to get exactly what he wanted without worry of what anyone else might think or do about it.

Of course, Dixon’s take on the situation might have been a little different.

“Seriously, don’t take your time,” Dixon panted, raising his hips and tipping his ass up to receive. Jaye fed him two wet fingers that went in with a little resistance. “Maybe we should barricade the door somehow.”

“It’ll be fine. I’ll protect your modesty, Trooper.”

“Everyone I know is out there right now.”

“Small worlds are kind of my specialty, you know. Still not an issue. Plus, my birthday, right? My rules.”

He withdrew his fingers, having spread lube as deeply as he could reach. Knowing how Dixon liked it didn’t mean some precautions didn’t need to be taken first, for Jaye’s peace of mind at least.

Spread, ready, and ass-up on the bed, Dixon waited for it. After taking one more moment to enjoy the view, Jaye lined up and applied gentle pressure to enter him. Patience was key. He’d barely stretched him at all. Lube and the slow stretch of his rim widening around Jaye’s cockhead were what made it happen. Jaye loved the soft moans from Dixon and the little shivers through his muscular body as he struggled to bear it.

Even the party noise around them brought Jaye a weird kind of comfort. Though he loved solitude, he’d grown strangely accustomed to being surrounded by others at all times. In Anchorage growing up, the urban setting meant being in the thick of it day and night, constantly. Sheridan only intensified that reality. Being out in remote Zus had its appeal, but it was nice to be around lots of people for a little while at least.

Dixon might have noticed Jaye’s enthusiasm because he glanced back over a shoulder, his skin flushed pink, his blue eyes peeking out from beneath golden eyelashes. “Guess you’re not shy, huh?”

Jaye chuckled and finally bottomed out. He sighed and caressed the curve of Dixon’s ass.

“Dix, if there’s something I never was or will be, it’s shy.”

“So if someone accidentally walked in here right now?”

“Wouldn’t even break my rhythm,” he replied, setting a slow, easy pace to give Dixon more time to adjust. “Might ask them to get me a beer, though.”

Dixon laughed, but Jaye saw the strain in his face, too. He bit his lip, frowning slightly. His breathing stayed rough. Reading the cues, Jaye gave it harder. Dixon’s mouth fell open. His frown deepened. His hand reached under his hips for his cock. Jaye let him tug a few times, then said, “Hands off.”

With a groan, Dixon obeyed, bringing his arms up by his head. One rubbed hard over the back of his head as his breathing got even rougher. Holding Dixon’s hips steady, Jaye pounded his hole as hard as he dared. The sound of Dixon’s panting and quiet whimpers were the sweetest music. For a fleeting, private moment, he wondered what it would have been like to top Cash and if it would have been as thrilling as it was to top a cop like Dixon.

Up on his knees, riding the snug heat of Dixon’s pale ass which was bent over in offering in front of him, Jaye held on and took the ride. He pulled out just before he came, shooting up through Dixon’s cheeks.

“Let me see you.”

Dixon turned his face to the side, trying to catch his breath. Jaye reached between Dixon’s thighs to gently caress his straining erection. Feathering his fingers along its length, he watched Dixon fight not to thrust like he wanted. Instead, he gave over completely to Jaye, giving him all of the power and control. It was exhilarating. Jaye knew the high of getting to dominate a strong, capable, sexy man like Dixon would never wear off. With proof of the world carrying on without them only steps away, Jaye savored every quiver and flinch, each jagged breath and quiet grunt. Dixon held out a while, but he finally came, his breath choking off completely as hot come dripped through Jaye’s fingers.

“God, I love you,” Jaye marveled.

“Love you too,” Dixon panted.

“No, I mean it. I know how rare it is to get to have someone like you like this. I’ve been trying to trust people my whole life, in the worst circumstances. I never dreamed I’d have someone trust me as much as you do. You’re my treasure, Dixon. Thank you.”

Pretty blue eyes flashed back at him. “You’re welcome. Happy Birthday.”

“Yeah, it is, isn’t it?”

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