Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: Men Under the Mistletoe


Summary:
Baby it's Cold Outside
A man receives the gift of pleasure at the hands of two expert lovers. Boyhood sweethearts get a second chance at romance. Two very proper gentlemen indulge their forbidden desires. And a Christmas tree farmer has an epiphany. It may be cold outside but these four holiday novellas will warm you up.

Anthology includes:
My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March
Alexander Norton loathes the festive season. The revelry of the ton is a reminder of Christmas four years ago, when his first love, Thomas Bennett, broke his heart and fled to New York without a word. So when he encounters Thomas at a holiday ball, Alexander is determined not to let on how much he still hurts.

Thomas has returned for one reason only: Alexander. Having finally come to terms with his forbidden desires, he will do whatever he must to convince Alexander to give their love another chance. But instead of the happy, carefree man Thomas once knew, Alexander is now hard and cynical. Saddened to know he's to blame for the man's bitterness, Thomas resolves to reignite the passion he knows lies hidden behind the wall of disdain...

Winter Knights by Harper Fox
Historian Gavin Lowden is in Northumberland on Christmas Eve for two reasons: to find evidence of a romantic bond between Arthur and Lancelot, and to finally tell his partner Piers that he loves him. Piers has promised to come clean with his conservative family and join Gavin for their first holiday as a couple, but at the last minute, he bails. Devastated, Gavin heads out onto the moors alone, just as snow begins to fall…

Gavin stumbles into an underground chamber, where strange happenings cause him to question what is real and what is fantasy. He’s found by two mysterious men, who offer him a bed for the night–and awaken him to nuances of erotic pleasure he didn’t know existed. Pleasure he hopes to be able to share with Piers.

When Piers learns that Gavin has gone missing, he is desperate to find him. He knows now breaking up was a terrible mistake, and he’s ready to take the next step in their relationship—if it’s not already too late.

Lone Star by Josh Lanyon
Growing up in rural Texas, Mitchell Evans' ambition to be a dancer made him a target. Though he found success in New York City, Mitch is at a crossroads, and heads home for the first time in twelve years to figure things out. When what appears to be a reindeer jumps out in front of his car, he drives off the road and into the path of the one man he hoped to avoid.

The last person Texas Ranger Web Eisley expects to see four days before Christmas is his first love. He hasn't seen Mitch since they quarreled over coming out to their friends and family years ago. Though he's not in the closet now, Web has worked hard for the respect of his fellow officers, but he still regrets the loss of Mitch in his life. And his bed.

The attraction between them is as strong as ever, and it doesn't take long for the men to pick up where they left off. But is love enough to keep Mitch in town in the New Year?

The Christmas Proposition by K.A. Mitchell
It's Christmas in Epiphany, Pennsylvania--the busiest time of year for Mel Halner. But running the family Christmas tree farm has worn down his love for the happiest season of all, and lately Mel's been wondering what if he'd said yes to a ticket out of town with millionaire Bryce Campion three years ago.

Bryce isn't used to people saying no to him, and he can't forget Mel or their brief but sizzling affair. He might not have been offering forever, but Bryce can't understand a guy as sexy and smart as Mel choosing to stay rooted on the family farm over enjoying the high life with him. He's determined to make Mel see what he's missed out on the first chance he gets.

Stories also available for purchase separately.

A great holiday anthology from four amazing authors filled with love, heart, hope, and everything we want at Christmastime, truth is it's filled with elements that we need all the year through. Whether you read this in anthology form or each book individually, it's a great addition to your holiday library.

My True Love Gave to Me
Historical and romance all wrapped up in a pretty Christmas bow, course it isn't all pretty.  Set in a time when not only is it considered immoral but also illegal, Thomas runs away from his feelings for his friend Alexander only to return years later to find his friend a changed man.  Watching, wondering, and waiting to see if love can find a way is both heartwarming and heartbreaking but a definite must.

Winter Nights
Sometimes we just need a little help when it comes to realizing what is truly important in life and boy do Gavin and Piers get some interesting aid.  As often in both fiction and life communication is key to happiness.

Lone Star
I always enjoy stories when one of the main characters comes back home and is faced with past friends/enemies, especially when they come face to face at a most embarrassing time. And that's pretty close to what happens when Mitch runs off the road when he sees what he thinks is a reindeer in the road, that's right, I said a reindeer. A brilliant tale of Christmas bringing old loves a new chance.

The Christmas Proposition
Sometimes the holidays can be so busy that we don't see what's in front of us. Sometimes when our hearts have been hurt we don't want to see what's in front of us. And sometimes, we've been hurt so much that we don't want what's in front of us.  Mel and Bryce are thrown together again when friends' wedding plans are turned upside down.  Watching their hearts open is beautiful and frustrating but well worth discovering.

RATING: 


My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March
The last note of the violins faded into the idle chatter of what were surely hundreds of guests, signaling the end of the last dance before the midnight supper. Alexander Norton quickened his step and weaved through the crowd. He tipped his chin up and stretched his spine, trying but failing to see over the clusters of people in front of him. Had all of London arrived while he had been in the card room? The press of bodies certainly contradicted the notion that a fair amount of the ton spent the Christmas Season in the country.

He sidestepped around an elderly matron and then came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the parquet dance floor. He did not need to cast even the most cursory of glances over the couples. His gaze somehow knew exactly where to go, landing with unerring accuracy on the most handsome man to ever grace a ball.

His pulse simultaneously settled and picked up a gait. He didn't know how it could be possible, but that was how it felt whenever he looked upon Thomas Bennett. A distinct sense of calm mixed with a brilliant spark of true, pure need. A spark that held so much more than mere empty lust or infatuation.

With a tip of his chestnut-brown head, Thomas executed a smart bow, bringing the lady's white-gloved hand up while not coming close to the vicinity of his lips. His mouth moved, but given the din of voices and the distance of more than a few paces, Alexander could not make out his words. Likely a thank you for the dance.

So polite and well-mannered. A smile curved Alexander's lips as pride swelled within him. And he's mine. Taller than most every other gentleman in the room and with a strength to his frame that belied his nineteen years, Thomas was not only handsome but a dutiful young man who understood his function at such affairs. The type mothers coveted to partner their unmarried daughters. Not that they ignored Alexander. He had been on that floor twice since arriving a couple of hours ago with Thomas. His family's fortune alone made him a suitable candidate, never mind that his uncle was an earl. But when given the choice, the ladies always chose Thomas over himself.

He did not blame them in the slightest. He was of the same age as Thomas and they were both from good solid families, but the similarities ended there. At barely five-feet-seven and with features that more than approached feminine, he wasn't the sort ladies swooned over. No bother, though. It wasn't their attention he sought.

The girl gave Thomas a curtsey. He placed her hand on his arm and escorted her across the dance floor.

Alexander turned on his heel and plunged back into the crowd. As if drawn by an invisible cord, he made his way around the room, toward the direction Thomas had gone with the girl, and was only held up once. Couldn't very well pretend as if the elbow he clipped with his own did not belong to his aunt. He extended his apologies, answered her inquiries about Oxford—though he did not elaborate on why exactly he enjoyed his studies so immensely—and offered his own inquiries into the health of his uncle. Thankfully she spotted an acquaintance, saving him from a detailed description of his uncle's gout-ridden foot, and bid him good evening before his impatience could show itself.

Winter Nights by Harper Fox
My pen scraped dryly on the page. Midsentence, on the trail of an idea, I paid no attention and ploughed on, only noticing at the end of the line that I was no longer writing but carving invisible letters into the paper. Damn.

I sighed and sat back, chain of thought snapping, dissolving in fireworks behind my eyes. I was due a break anyway. If Piers were here, he'd be calling time, reminding me of the promises I'd made a year ago when my headaches started getting out of control. Ten minutes' rest every hour, Gavin. I smiled, thinking of my cramped little study at home, where Piers had propped up a massive metal sign, nicked from the verge of a motorway: Tiredness Kills. Take a Break.

Nicked by him, I suspected, though I never could get him to confess. And he was taking care of me in absentia now too. The pen had been a gift from him. At first glance an ordinary biro, the barrel was packed with tiny Swarovski crystals. I'd never have bought such a thing, or imagined I wanted one, but the glimmer of the crystals in sunlight or neon would catch my eye from time to time as I worked and distract me, making me stop for a minute and turn the pen idly in my fingers. It was the prettiest, most frivolous thing imaginable. It gave me great pleasure to flourish it before the bearded professors in my academic publisher's meetings.

Take that and the motorway sign together, and you'd get an impression of Piers diametrically opposed to the reality. He wasn't a devil-may-care young student with a taste for mischief and glitter. He was a theology postgrad, tall and thin, serious enough to make you weep. He had silky, thick black hair that would flop into his eyes whenever he took off his glasses, and those eyes were so beautiful, hazel struck through with golden green, that I'd offered to pay for corrective laser surgery. But Piers had no time for personal vanities. He was a Catholic, quietly and fervently devout.

Desire shivered through me. I got up, went to the window of my hotel room and looked out. Snow was coming down with the four o'clock dusk. The roads were still clear but the hills were hushed and shrouded, a deep chill reaching me through the glass. A perfect Christmas Eve, in this outpost of northern England, among the crests of the Pennines. I imagined a train leaving Newcastle, threading the Tyne Valley and stopping at Bardon Mill. I imagined Piers, who could drive but didn't like to, loping through the snow like an elegant short-sighted wolf in time to catch the little bus that ran from the station up to Hadrian's Wall. It wouldn't be long now. He was on his way.

Coming to join me for our first Christmas together in three years. How so chaste and earnest a Catholic boy had ended up in my bed in the first place I had no idea. Perhaps it had been because I had known little about his religious convictions and cared less. We'd met at a drunken party in a mutual friend's digs. I'd taken one look at him, and disregarded the alarm with which he'd returned it. I'd wanted him. I'd bulldozed him into the nearest bedroom; laid him down among the coats and college scarves, where thirty seconds of protest and struggle later he'd been coming down my throat with a force that suggested starvation need. I'd been bulldozing my way past his scruples ever since. They didn't matter. He'd grow up and get over them. He'd never told his family, and we'd never spent a holiday together, but all that was coming an end at last. I'll come clean with them tonight, Gav. Then I'll get the train out and join you at the hotel, I swear.

Lone Star by Josh Lanyon
A lone star blazed in the midnight blue sky.

It looked like the Christmas star, which was appropriate seeing that it was four days till the holiday, but with Mitch's luck it was more likely a crashing jet plane headed straight for him.

Incoming.

Yeah, that would be about right. On the bright side, it would spare him driving any more miles down this long, dull stretch of memory lane. Texas looked only minimally better at night than it did in the day. Nothing but rugged, ragged landscape. Igneous hills of limestone and red rock as far as the eye could see—which wasn't far, given the darkness beyond the sweep of the rental car headlights.

Mitch rubbed his bleary eyes. This was more driving than he'd done in years. He didn't even own a car anymore. New York had decent public transportation, and when Mitch wasn't working he was—well, he was always working, so problem solved.

Prickly pear, yucca, and juniper bushes cast tortured shadows across the faded ribbon of highway. A mighty lonesome stretch of country, as they'd say out here. Cemeteries were more plentiful than towns. He wasn't entirely alone, though. Outside of Fredericksburg a pair of headlights had fallen in behind him and they continued to meander lazily along a few miles back. Some cowboy moseying on home, though not in any hurry to get there.

That made two of them.

It had been six months since Mitch had got the word his old man had keeled over, and he'd have happily waited another six months—or six years—before dealing with what his father's lawyer euphemistically called "the estate." But after the blowup with Innis, Mitch had desperately needed time and space. And one thing Texas had in plenty was space.

Speaking of space, the star twinkling and beaming up ahead could have fallen right out of the state flag. It was the biggest star in a night field of stars. A beacon burning in the night. Mitch blinked tiredly at it. He hadn't slept on the plane, hadn't slept in nearly forty-eight hours. Not since he'd walked into his dressing room to catch Innis with his pants down. Not a euphemism, unfortunately. Innis's excuse— Up ahead Mitch caught movement in the middle of the road. Headlights picked out the gleam of eyes. A deer. A very large deer with a huge rack of antlers. An eighteen point—no, not a deer. Mitch's eyes widened. A caribou. In Texas?

What the hell?

A caribou—in Texas—wearing a red leather harness with bells?

A reindeer?

He was asleep. He had fallen asleep driving.

Mitch wrenched the wheel. The tires skidded off the road onto the rocky shoulder. He tried to correct but oversteered. Instinctively, he slammed on the brakes, the car spun out. It did a wild fouetté across the highway, tipped over the side and rolled once. The air bag exploded from the dashboard. The car landed upside down in the sand and gravel beneath the embankment.

Dust and powder from the air bag filled the interior. The engine died as the car rocked finally to a stop. The passenger door had flown open. Mitch could smell oil and antifreeze and cornstarch and singed juniper. The air bag hissed as it deflated. Or maybe that was the radiator leaking. Or the sound of four tires simultaneously going flat.

"What was that?" He wiped the air bag talc residue from his face. His eyes and skin stung.

It had happened so fast. So fast there hadn't even been time to be afraid. And at the same time it had seemed to occur in slow motion. Like watching a film or seeing it happen to someone else. Really weird. Maybe that out-of-body sensation was shock.

The Christmas Propostion by KA Mitchell
Chapter One
Bruce Springsteen was asking Clarence Clemmons if he’d been good this year. Decorative snowflakes drifted onto rows of evergreens. Kids laughed and chased each other around a classically constructed snowman. On the tenth of December, Holly’s Tree Farm was enjoying the peak weekend of peak season. And I was counting down the hours until I could escape this Christmas hell for a glorious week in sunny St. Thomas.

“Sixty hours, twenty-two minutes,” I grunted as my sister and I swung the nine feet of Douglas fir up to balance on three feet of Prius roof.

“We know, we know.” Allie, my brother’s wife, stepped around me to offer hot chocolate to the new owners of the Douglas fir.

“So shut up and tie.” My sister threw a length of twine across roof and tree, burning my cheek as the end whipped by.

“Nice shot,” I told her as I crouched down in half-frozen mud to look for a place to tie off my end.

We were all pretty good at aiming the twine we used to tie down the trees. Gloves or no, we spent all of January digging fiber slivers out of our skin the way other people combed tinsel icicles out of their carpets.

By the time we had wrapped off the twine, The Boss was hoarsely winding down his version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” The eternally upbeat DJ announced, “And now, a special request from Holly’s Tree Farm.” I looked around in panic. The first few strains of Andy Williams’s “We Three Kings” cued up. I was going to kill my brother. If any of the old timers were here, I’d be stuck reliving the worst part of my childhood.

I headed for the tractor to see if any of the cut-your-owners needed help lugging their future fire hazard back to their car. If I wasn’t here, no one could—

Mrs. Carmichael appeared right in my path, two grandchildren in tow. “You’re all here this year. Please. They’ve never seen it.”

“Yeah, my kids have never seen you guys do your thing.” Her son Mark, wore the same smirk I’d gotten used to in high school.

We’d managed to avoid the ritual since my brother Bal left home. Twelve years of freedom because it didn’t work with two.

“C’mon, bro.” Bal hooked his arm around my neck and led me toward the life-sized Nativity scene on the left side of the parking lot.

I shut my eyes and let him drag me along. It wouldn’t be that bad. One or two pictures, no props or robes.

“Allie found the costumes upstairs and brought them down.”

My eyes popped open. What had looked like a bolt of cloth propped up against the wall of the roofed platform resolved into three colors purple, blue, red. Three shining plastic crowns, the frankincense, myrrh, and gold. One for each of the name-cursed Halner children, brother Balthasar, sister Caspar, and me, Melchior.

Cas shrugged into her red robe and slapped a crown on me. “Play nice, Mel. Sixty hours and nineteen minutes.”

“Sixteen.” I knew to the minute exactly how long every damned Christmas song in recorded history was. I kept track of time with them since I heard them a thousand times between Thanksgiving and January 7.

“Right. So behave.”

It was easy for Cas. She’d never had to hear Mark Carmichael sneering, “Shouldn’t his robes be pink? He’s a natural in a dress.”

Somehow Bal had never had that problem. Tall, broad-shouldered and blond, the blue satin only made him look like a king. As Andy crooned his way through the verses, each of us moved from position to offer up our gifts to the plastic baby Jesus in the wooden manger.

Cameras clicked and flashed. Humiliation enough for one year, then the News Nine Williamsport truck rolled into the parking lot, and I wondered if you could actually die from embarrassment.

It must have been a slow news day, as the reporter told me they were going to air today’s video with one they’d shot twenty years ago, when the three of us still had single-digit ages, a saccharine segment punnily entitled, “Wee Three Kings.”

“Can’t beat the free advertising.” Bal nudged me hard enough to make my crown tip over my forehead.

I clenched my teeth and thanked plastic baby Jesus that Bryce Campion was miles away from Epiphany, Pennsylvania, probably already on his way to St. Thomas for the wedding. At least when I saw him again, I’d be barefoot and relaxed by a couple of rum runners and not suffering eternal shame under five yards of mildewed, billowing satin.

No matter how many times I tried to make my escape, Bal assured me that his wife had things under control. We were in our basic pose when Cas, who was bent in a bow of reverence behind me said, “Five Finger Death Punch is playing in your ass.”

Bal wobbled and almost fell from where he bowed with one foot on the raised platform. “Huh?”

“My phone.” I shoved my box of myrrh, my crown and my robe at my sister. “Gotta take this. Could be Tiff.” I fished the phone out of my pocket.

Ignoring Bal’s opinion on the appropriateness of heavy metal as a ring tone on a Christmas tree farm, I sprinted away from the site of my newsworthy humiliation.

“Hey, Tiff.”

As soon as I heard my best friend’s voice, I knew with a bone deep chill that had nothing to do with the swirling wind sending a fluffy flake up my nose that I wasn’t going to St. Thomas.

“What happened? Did Kurt—?”

“No. He’s great.” Tiffany sobbed at me. “He’s here. Holding me.”

Not cold feet then.

“You’re going to see it on the news, but…but…

Despite having listened to her cry through more than one high school break up, I couldn’t understand her through the hysteria.

“Mel?” Either Tiff’s breakdown had given her larynx a sex change or her fiancĂ© Kurt was on the phone now. I’d only met him a few times, but he had a thick Boston accent I’d place anywhere.

“The wedding planner turned out to be a bastard. Took the deposits and disappeared. The resort in St. Thomas never heard of us. Fifteen other couples lost out too.”

Just in case I’d considered escaping solo to St. Thomas, my deposit had also been entrusted to the bastard. He’d run off with my dreams of sand between my toes, an umbrellaed drink in my hand and stars on the ocean. Left me with sticky sap, cloying hot chocolate and life-sized plastic Nativity sets.

“So what are you guys going to do?”

Boston, my desperate imagination supplied. It wasn’t exactly warm but it was on the ocean. And more importantly, not here.

“Mel?”

Tiff again. I bit back a sarcastic Still here. It wasn’t her fault, and she was the one suffering the most.

“Everyone was all ready to travel. I know you guys are busy, but is there any way…please, Mel. Can we do the wedding at the farm?”

“The tree farm?” I asked stupidly, as if there were several other farms Tiff and I could possibly be talking about.

“Your parents used to do it for people. We could do it before you open on Friday.”

The day before Christmas Eve. No, that won’t be an absolute madhouse.

“Mel?”

It didn’t matter that Bal and his wife had spent two weeks of vacation time so I could get my one chance to spend Christmas somewhere else. Or that I was still worrying about whether Cas would fall off the wagon. Or—and this was the one, ladies and gentlemen, that really put an icy sweat down my flannels and thermals—that I’d still be old stuck-in-Epiphany Mel instead of sun-kissed and sexy the next time I saw Bryce Can’t-Be-Bothered-To-Say-Goodbye-After-Two-Months-of-Fucking-Me Campion.

None of that mattered when there was only one possible answer. “Of course, Tiff. We’ll make it absolutely perfect.”

Author Bios:
Josh Lanyon
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.

Harper Fox
Harper Fox is an M/M author with a mission. She’s produced six critically acclaimed novels in a year and is trying to dispel rumours that she has a clone/twin sister locked away in a study in her basement. In fact she simply continues working on what she loves best– creating worlds and stories for the huge cast of lovely gay men queuing up inside her head. She lives in rural Northumberland in northern England and does most of her writing at a pensioned-off kitchen table in her back garden, often with blanket and hot water bottle.

She lives with her SO Jane, who has somehow put up with her for a quarter of a century now, and three enigmatic cats, chief among whom is Lucy, who knows the secret of the universe but isn't letting on. When not writing, she either despairs or makes bread, specialities foccacia and her amazing seven-strand challah. If she has any other skills, she's yet to discover them.

Ava March
Ava March is a bestselling author of sexy, emotionally intense M/M historical erotic romances. She loves writing in the Regency time period, where proper decorum is of the utmost importance, but where anything can happen behind closed doors. With over fifteen works to her credit, her books have been finalists in the Rainbow Awards and More Than Magic contest, and deemed ‘must-haves’ for Historical M/M romance by RT Book Reviews readers. Visit her website to find out more about her books or to sign-up for her newsletter.

KA Mitchell
K.A. Mitchell discovered the magic of writing at an early age when she learned that a carefully crayoned note of apology sent to the kitchen in a toy truck would earn her a reprieve from banishment to her room. Her career as a spin-control artist was cut short when her family moved to a two-story house, and her trucks would not roll safely down the stairs. Around the same time, she decided that Chip and Ken made a much cuter couple than Ken and Barbie and was perplexed when invitations to play Barbie dropped off. She never stopped making stuff up, though, and was surprised to find out that people would pay her to do it. Although the men in her stories usually carry more emotional baggage than even LAX can lose in a year, she guarantees they always find their sexy way to a happy ending.


Josh Lanyon
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EMAIL: josh.lanyon@sbcglobal.net

Harper Fox
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EMAIL: harperfox777@yahoo.co.uk

Ava March
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EMAIL: ava@avamarch.com

KA Mitchell
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EMAIL: KA@KAMitchell.com



AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  B&N
KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  AUDIBLE  /  GOOGLE PLAY


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