Friday, December 11, 2015

Random Tales of Christmastime Part 4


Sock it to Me, Santa! by Madison Parker
Summary:
Ryan is assigned to Jamie Peterson for his class's secret gift exchange. If word gets out that he has to make a handcrafted gift for flamboyant and openly gay Jamie, Ryan will be the laughing stock of the school. It's a good thing no self-respecting boy would be caught dead in a craft store, because otherwise he'd be at risk of being spotted when his mom drags him to her weekly craft workshops. He hopes Jamie will appreciate all the trouble he's going to for this assignment. Finding the perfect gift is gonna be tricky. Jamie deserves something good, though, after all the crap he has to put up with at school. At least, Ryan tells himself that's the reason he's putting so much thought into the gift. It couldn't be that he has feelings for Jamie, could it?

Acts of Faith by AM Arthur
Summary:
Cost of Repairs, Book 4

Love can be built on a broken past…but not on broken trust.

Rey King has settled into his new life with Samuel Briggs, and his catering business has taken off to the point he’s brought a business partner on board. Yet something is missing. He’s still haunted by the pain of losing his daughter, Faith, in a custody battle six years ago.

Then, one month before Christmas, Faith’s grandmother passes away, and Rey gets a shocking offer he never saw coming.

Samuel knew loving Rey wouldn’t be easy, but then again he’s no walk in the park either. Still, for eighteen months they’ve thrived as a couple…until a shy seven-year-old girl shakes his belief that he and Rey can overcome anything.

Settling Faith into their chaotic lives would be a welcome challenge, if things weren’t complicated by Rey’s too-cute, overly attentive new business partner. As misunderstandings, miscommunications, and unresolved tensions escalate, Rey begins to wonder if the best Christmas gift of his life could cost him the man he loves.

Click Here for Book 5 and Series Info


I really enjoyed getting back to Samuel and Rey in Acts of Faith.  The addition of Rey's daughter, Faith was absolutely spectacular.  We get a bit of Schylur and Barrett as well as a cameo of Gavin and Jace too from books 2 & 3.  I had read the first 3 books in this series over a year ago but I got sidetracked and just recently came back to it.  It was like walking into a store and running into an old friend, time may have passed but it feels like only yesterday when you start talking.  That's exactly how this book made me feel.  Rey is in his element as he's trying to start up his business and in his relationship with Samuel and yet, he's thrown for a loop when he is given a chance at the one thing that has eluded him for the past 6 years.  But, with help from the man he loves and the friends that have become his family, Faith just may become the missing piece that puts this puzzle together.

RATING: 

One Kiss by Silvia Violet 
Summary:
Jake Sanders comes home for Christmas after a dreary semester filled with sleepless nights and a cheating boyfriend. Finding a new man is the last thing on his mind until he discovers that Ben Swinburne now owns the bakery where they both once worked.

Five years ago, Jake and Ben shared a single kiss, and Jake has never forgotten the way Ben’s lips felt against his. When Ben catches Jake under the mistletoe, passion ignites between them.

This time around, Ben wants more than one kiss, but Jake isn’t sure he’s ready for another relationship. He must find the strength to move past his pain and open his heart, or will he miss out on a second chance with the man of his dreams.

This title has been previously released by another publisher.


A great little tale of missed possibilities that come around again but is either Jake or Ben in a similar state of mind to explore the opportunity?  The novella was a little on the short side but it was still a very enjoyable read and a great addition to my holiday library, I can certainly see myself reading this again next year.
RATING: 

The Christmas Mansion by Hollis Shiloh
Summary:
In a world of gas lighting and horse-drawn carriages, Rex is fixing up an old mansion to host a Christmas party for his wealthy family's business. He meets a gentle, insecure magician named Gene, who's come to work on the crumbling mansion's moldings. He doesn't expect to fall in love.

Note: This story first appeared in "Christmas Delights," a collection of Male/Male gay romance stories set in and around the Christmas season.


Holiday historicals are few and far between for my liking so when I came across The Christmas Mansion I swallowed it up beginning to end.  As most of you might recall, longer stories are my preference but long as a tale is well written then length does not enter into whether I like it or not. I really enjoyed this one, it had all my favorite elements, Christmas, historical, magic, romance, and characters that snuggled into my heart.  At some point in our lives we all feel like the odd one out kind of like Gene does so when he finds a connection to Rex I couldn't wait to see how it played out.  Another great addition to my Christmas library.

RATING: 

Need You Now by Mercy Celeste
Summary:
One night or the rest of their lives.

Jake Benefield knows he has to let go of the crush he's had on Logan Riley for four long years. He leaves to pursue a graduate degree only to discover love and loss. Home again, the last thing he expects is for Logan to confess his feelings for him. Can their friendship survive a cold winter one night stand or is Logan looking for more than Jake is ready to give him?

Note: Need You Now was previously published with this title as well as Midnight Clear. Other than title there are no significant changes to the story.


Sock it to Me, Santa!
PART ONE:
The First Exchange
I don’t know what made me do it — what made me say her name. I guess I panicked. Mike didn’t usually bug me about girls, so it caught me off guard. When he asked me whose name I was hoping to get for the Secret Santa gift exchange, I looked around the room and weighed my options. Ben Olson caught my eye, but I didn’t dare say his name. Mike didn’t know I was into guys. No one did, and I planned to keep it that way until I left for college. But if I had to pick someone, I guess it would be Ben. Even though he was into sports, and I wasn’t. He was also into cheerleaders, and I definitely wasn’t.

“Well?” Mike said. “Who do you hope you get?”

I started to say, “No one,” but it came out in a stutter.

His smile was full of mischief. “I knew it. You do like someone. Finally. Who is it?”

I leaned in closer to him. “Shh! Would you keep it down?”

“Well, who is it?”

And that’s when I panicked and said her name: Amber Owens. She seemed all right, but I hoped Mike wouldn’t try and play matchmaker. The last thing I needed was some girl chasing me around again. At the beginning of the school year, I made the mistake of smiling at Didi Anderson, and she developed a crazy girl crush on me. It was a nightmare. She left love notes in my locker, telling me how cute I was. According to Didi and her misplaced affections, my eyes are like blueberry pop-tarts. Not blue like a sparkling sky or a shimmering ocean, but blue like pop-tarts. I’ve had blueberry pop-tarts. They’re not even blue. They’re filled with purple goop and covered with white frosting and rainbow sprinkles. I guess love makes you say funny things. I never got the chance to find out what foods the rest of my body parts reminded her of. When she finally worked up the nerve to ask her friend to ask me to ask her out, I politely said I wasn’t interested. The fan mail stopped abruptly.

I hoped nothing like that would happen with Amber.

I leaned in closer to Mike. “And I never said I liked her. Just, if I had to pick someone in this room—”

“Relax. You look like you’re about to pass out or something.”

I shook my head. “I’m fine. It’s just this whole Secret Santa thing. It’s stupid. I mean, we’re in high school, not fourth grade.”

“Yeah, but you know Mrs. Keats. She lives for this kind of shit.”

Homeroom sucked. My bad — advisory sucked. They changed the name last year to TAP: Teacher Advisory Period. But it sounds ridiculous to say I’m in TAP. Like I’m a dancer or something. So I just call it advisory. Whatever they call it, it sucked. What was the point? It wasn’t like we learned anything during those weekly twenty-five minute sessions. And Mrs. Keats, our advisor, was hell bent on making us all become friends. Her “getting-to-know-you” activities were the worst.

Last week she stood in front of our class and held out a roll of toilet paper. She made us each come up and tear off the amount we’d “normally use”. Like I’d want to share that information. I kinda have a thing about cleanliness. Let’s just say, I typically use a lot. After seeing how much toilet paper everyone else took, I’d say I use a shit ton. But I restrained myself, taking what seemed to be a socially acceptable amount. I didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to my bathroom routine. It wasn’t until we’d all returned to our seats that Mrs. Keats told us for every square we’d taken, we had to tell the class one thing about ourselves. Lame. I should have known it was some kind of trick.

Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to be like Kevin Parker with his fuck-you attitude. After Mrs. Keats had explained what we had to do, he got up, blew his nose into his wad of toilet paper, and then dumped it in the recycle bin (right under the sign that listed tissue as non-recyclable). Kevin didn’t give a shit about anything. Teachers mostly let him be, as long as he wasn’t causing too much trouble. I guess it wasn’t worth the hassle to argue with him. They couldn’t really make him participate. If he wanted to flunk out, that was his business. Still, I wondered what he would’ve said if he had gone along with the toilet paper game. Or any of the other stupid things Mrs. Keats made us do.

Not only were her activities embarrassing, they were also ineffective. It was December, and the only person I really knew in my advisory was Mike. And that’s only because we both ran cross country. Unfortunately, I was also the only person Mike knew. That meant he always came and sat next to me in advisory. Every Friday morning I had to listen to him rant about his ex-girlfriend, Stacey. I can’t say I blame her for breaking up with him. He used to talk smack about her all the time when they were dating. It kinda got on my nerves, but whenever I’d say something about it, he’d tell me I’d understand one day, when I had a girlfriend of my own.

At times I was tempted to tell him that would never happen, that I wasn’t into girls like that. But Mike’s not the kind of guy I’d want to confide in. I don’t think it would go over well. Thankfully he didn’t give me a hard time about not having a girlfriend. Most people either didn’t notice or didn’t care. If someone asked, I’d say I couldn’t afford to date and that having a girlfriend would interfere with my gaming addiction. It seemed to work. Sure, I was called a fag or a loser from time to time, but that was just guy talk. I got called a faggot more times while playing video games online than I ever did in real life. When you’re a gamer, being heckled by your opponent goes with the territory. I wasn’t addicted to gaming like some people were. It was just something to do when I was bored, which was most of the time. And it was my one social outlet with other guys. I played up my love of gaming, though, to keep Mike and others off my back. When he started dating Stacey, he was almost never online anymore, so he couldn’t argue with my logic.

“Hey, if I get Amber, I’ll trade with you, okay?” Mike said. “I don’t really care who I get as long as it’s not Jamie.” He shuddered.

We both glanced over at Jamie Peterson. He was sitting in a huddle with two girls, flipping through a magazine. Jamie was always hanging with girls. I doubt he had any guy friends. If there was such a thing as cooties, Jamie had them. And they were highly contagious. Any guy seen talking to Jamie — or standing too close, for that matter — might as well kiss his social life goodbye.

I’d been lurking around the Internet long enough to know Jamie was what they called an “emo twink.” He didn’t dye his hair black or have his face pierced, but otherwise he fit the stereotype. He wore eyeliner sometimes and painted his nails. His tight clothing hugged his small, skinny frame, and he loaded up on so many accessories, some days he actually jingled when he walked.

“I’m not buying a Christmas present for a fag,” Mike said.

I inwardly cringed at his remark, but let it pass. “You mean make.”

“What?”

“You have to make the presents,” I said. “One a week for the next three weeks. Weren’t you listening? We’re not supposed to spend more than $10 on supplies.”

“Whatever,” Mike said, waving his hand. “I’ll make a trip to the grocery store and buy some candy or something.”

“And you’re not supposed to call it a Christmas present. It’s a ‘winter gift of cheer,’” I said with an over-exaggerated smile. We both laughed.

Mrs. Keats walked around the room with her “holiday jar” filled with slips of paper. Mike reached in and pulled out a name, then waited for me to do the same.

“I got Louis,” he said. “Who’d you get?”

I tried to remain expressionless as I stared at the name on my slip of paper: Jamie Peterson.

I stuffed the paper in my front pocket. “It’s a secret.”

“Come on, who is it? Is it me?”

“Fuck off. I’m not telling.”

“If it’s me, I want Halo 4 for Xbox.”

I laughed at him. “Idiot.”

“Homo.”

“I’d rather be a homo than an idiot.”

“Fuck that. I’d rather be an idiot than a homo.”

Jamie Peterson glanced over at us, and I watched his lips draw into a tight frown. Shit. He probably thought we were talking about him. Of all the names I could’ve drawn for the gift exchange, why did it have to be his?

* * * * *

I struggled to come up with a gift idea for Jamie. I eventually gave in and asked my mom for help. She managed our local craft store and ran weekly workshops there. If anyone could help, she could.

“What’s he like?” she asked.

I shrugged. I didn’t know. I wished I’d paid closer attention last week during that toilet paper game. I could’ve gained some insight into his interests. I remembered Jamie saying something about the knitting club, but Mike started snickering and making fun of him, so I didn’t catch the rest of what Jamie said. Knitting club? Even I had to admit, that was pretty gay.

“Well, tell me something, Ryan. I’m working with a blank slate here. What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of him?”

“Soft.” It was out of my mouth before I could reign the thought back in, and I felt the heat of embarrassment creep up my neck.

She cocked her head and gave me a puzzled look. “Soft?”

“I didn’t mean soft.” I bet Jamie did feel soft, though. His long, coffee colored hair looked like silk. I bet it felt like silk, too. “I meant soft-spoken.”

“So he’s shy?”

“I don’t think he’s shy. I think he just keeps to himself because people pick on him a lot.”

“What?” She stopped chopping vegetables and walked over to sit next to me at the kitchen table, a look of concern on her face. “Why do people pick on him?”

I rubbed my forehead, searching for the right words. “He’s…”

“He’s what?”

“He’s…in the knitting club.”

She bit her lip, trying to hide her amusement. “So, he’s in the knitting club and he’s soft.”

“Soft-spoken.” I was never going to live that down.

“Hmm. Sounds like a clever way to meet girls.”

“I don’t think he’s interested in meeting girls.”

“I see.” Her expression had morphed from one of concern to one of pity. “And this is why kids pick on him?”

“Yeah.”

“I hope you don’t take part in anything like that.”

“No, of course not.”

“Because I know I raised you better than that.”

“I know, Mom. I wouldn’t do that. I hate bullies.”

“Good.” She reached out and placed a hand on my shoulder. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

It wasn’t a question, but it felt like one. “I know,” I said quickly.

She removed her hand, but held my gaze.

Did she suspect I was gay? We’d never talked about it before, and I wasn’t ready to lay that on her now. She had enough to deal with, raising me and my little sister now that we’d lost my dad. Dakota was only five. How the heck would I explain it to her?

“Maybe you should talk to Jamie,” Mom said. “Get some ideas for your gift exchange.”

“That would be social suicide.”

She gave me a stern look.

“Mom, he knits.”

She laughed. “I happen to love knitting. It’s very relaxing. So, he’s a boy. What is it about knitting that requires two X chromosomes?”

“I don’t know. It’s just the way it is.”

“Maybe the way it is isn’t the way it ought to be.”

“Okay, fine. He knits. BFD.”

“Watch your language,” she said. “Dakota’s in the other room.”

“Sorry.”

She smiled. “If you ever want to try it, I’d be happy to teach you.”

“No, thanks.”

“It has nothing to do with gender. A monkey could learn to do it.” Her eyes lit up. “And speaking of monkeys, I’m hosting a workshop Wednesday evening at the store. We’re making sock monkeys. Why don’t you join us? You can make one for Jamie.”

I shook my head in protest. “No way. I’m not making a stuffed animal. Mom, he’s a boy.”

“Yeah, but he’s…” She waved her hand around. “Artsy.” She smiled. “You can make a boy monkey. Besides, I could use an assistant. It’s a full class.”

“Mom, I’ll be the only guy there, and you know it. It’ll be humiliating. What’ll all the old ladies think if I’m sitting there making a sock puppet?”

“Sock monkey. They’re not puppets. And you worry too much about what other people think.”

“Mom…”

“You know, Christmas is only a few weeks away. I think Santa will be more generous to boys who help their mothers in times of need.”

“That’s a dirty trick, playing the Santa card,” I said with a groan.

She smiled and returned to making dinner. “Just wait and see,” she said. “Jamie will love it.”

* * * * *

Monkey madness. That’s the only way I know to describe what transpired Wednesday evening. I understood why my mom dragged me along. I was the one who lugged all the supplies from her SUV to the back room of the craft store where she set up for her class, and afterwards, I was the one who lugged them all back. That part was fine. I didn’t mind helping her set out the sewing machines either. It wasn’t until the room filled with middle-aged women that things started to get crazy.

They swarmed around me, eager to introduce themselves to the “nice young man” who’d infiltrated their craft circle. My mom beamed as she explained that I was her “little helper” that night.

“You have nothing to worry about,” she said to the group. “If my son can do this, anyone can.”

Sometimes she had too much faith in me.

My first mistake was choosing black socks. My mom tried to warn me, but I didn’t listen. She’d brought a variety of socks, some with stripes and stars and hearts, but I figured those would be too girly. I went with the plain black ones. I soon found I couldn’t see any of the marks I’d drawn on the fabric and was sewing blind. After butchering one of the monkey’s legs, a “nice old lady” took pity on me and took over on the sewing machine.

“Let me help you, Ryan, before you sew your fingers together,” she said, causing the other women to giggle.

I smiled politely and surrendered to my role as the evening’s entertainment.

Once we were done at the sewing machines, we returned to the tables to stuff the various body parts and sew them in place by hand. The ladies on both sides of me got a kick out of teaching me how to sew. At least they were having a good time. I, on the other hand, swore under my breath each time I pricked my finger with the needle. I was pretty sure my blood had found its way onto the monkey in several spots, but it was hard to see on the black fabric.

Before we closed up the crotch hole, my mom passed out pieces of red felt. “Now I want you to cut out a heart shape, like so,” she said as she demonstrated. “Then take the heart and insert it through the hole so that it lays inside the monkey’s chest. No one else will know it’s there, but the monkey will appreciate it.”

I rolled my eyes. Even I was tempted to say, “This is so gay.” There was no way I was stuffing a heart inside my monkey. Especially not one designated for Jamie Peterson.

“You too, Ryan,” my mom said. “It’s a long-standing sock monkey tradition. If you don’t give your monkey a heart, he could turn into a hoobajoob.”

The ladies giggled.

“Hoobajoob?” I felt like the only clueless one in the room.

“The hoobajoob is like the boogie man of the sock monkey world,” my mom said as she scrunched her shoulders and wiggled her fingers. “He preys on the insecurities of the weak. All sock monkeys fear the hoobajoob.”

“Mom, please stop saying that word,” I deadpanned.

She laughed, and the other women joined in. I cut out a heart in order to appease them, but I slipped it into my pocket rather than stuffing it inside the monkey. Hoobajoob be damned; that was asking too much.

I tried my best, but my monkey came out lumpy. His ears weren’t even, and his mouth was crooked. Most of the ladies chose black button eyes, but my monkey was black, so I had to choose a different color. My mom didn’t have much of a selection, so I ended up using big red buttons. I figured black and red would look badass.

I was wrong. The monkey looked demonic.

One of the elderly women peered over at me and said, “Well, isn’t that frightful?”

My mom flashed me a sympathetic smile.

I wanted to throw the damn thing in the trashcan. I’d spent nearly two hours on it, and it looked like hell.

“Thanks for coming, Ryan,” Mom said on the ride home.

I crossed my arms and sulked like a five-year-old. “It was a disaster.”

She laughed. “I should bring you to all my workshops. After seeing your hoobajoob, everyone loved the way their own monkeys turned out.”

I scowled at her. “What about Jamie? I can’t give him that thing, and I’m supposed to drop the gift off to Mrs. Keats by tomorrow.”

“It’s not that bad. I was only teasing.”

“Mom, it looks like a voodoo doll. Complete with blood sacrifice. It’ll probably scare the crap out of him.”

She smiled in amusement. “You’ll figure something out.”

“Can I give him the one you made?”

“It’s not done. I was too busy helping the other women with their finishing touches. Besides, that wouldn’t be right. It’s supposed to come from you.”

I grumbled something about no one knowing the difference, but she’d made up her mind. I was screwed. I reached into my pocket for a stick of gum, but my fingers found the small felt heart instead.

Acts of Faith
Even after eighteen months together, the simple sight of Rey standing in their kitchen made Samuel smile. Seeing him standing over a tray of slightly scorched…things, parked on a trivet on the island countertop, would have normally elicited a smartass remark that Rey would fire right back with his trademark sass.

The grinning stranger in his kitchen, standing comfortably close to Rey on the other side of the island, curbed Samuel’s ability to tease. Something unusual turned around in his stomach—not jealously, certainly, but far darker than simple curiosity about the handsome man he didn’t know.

“Hey, babe,” Rey said. His smile looked adorably guilty as his dark brown eyes flickered from Samuel to the tray of blackened things in front of him. “Sorry about the smell.”

Samuel hadn’t even noticed until Rey pointed it out. The room carried the lingering odor of burned toast. “Did it set off the fire alarm?” Samuel asked.

“Nope.”

“No harm done then.” He purposefully ignored the stranger until he’d locked his gun away. When he turned around, he assessed the man he’d only glanced at earlier. Taller than Rey, but shorter than him. Slim, toned build. A head of thick, blond hair that was shaggy and bordered on unkempt. Green eyes. Handsome. Their age.

Rey slipped around the island to wrap an arm around his waist, and Samuel leaned into the easy embrace. He enjoyed coming home to Rey after a long night walking his third-shift beat around Stratton. “This is David Weller,” Rey said. “David, my partner Samuel Briggs.”

The name clicked for Samuel. “The guy you were talking to about the expansion opportunity. I thought that was tomorrow.”

“David had a last minute thing come up tomorrow, so I suggested tonight. I didn’t figure you’d mind getting our Saturday back.”

Samuel pressed a kiss to Rey’s temple. He didn’t mind at all. Samuel was a police officer, and he worked Monday through Friday nights, three to eleven p.m., and he’d been irked when Rey said they were having a guest on what was typically their date night. He hadn’t argued the point because he knew how important this potential expansion was for Rey. Even though Samuel would have preferred being there to judge Rey’s prospective future business partner for himself, he trusted Rey’s opinion.

And he trusted Rey.

“I don’t mind at all,” Samuel said. “Nice to meet you, David.”

“You too,” David said, speaking for the first time. “I feel like we’ve already met, for all Rey talks about you.”

Rey chuckled. “I’m not that bad.”

“He’s that bad.”

Pride and possessiveness swelled in Samuel’s chest. “So what did you burn?” Samuel asked Rey.

“We were playing with a recipe I wanted to try for Keith and Becky’s party next weekend,” Rey replied. “I forgot to set the timer.”

“Turnovers are better when they aren’t black,” David said.

Rey rolled his eyes. The familiar teasing boded well for working together. But the affectionate look in David’s eyes only intensified the funny feeling in Samuel’s gut. He needed to distract himself from it, and food was always an excellent method.

Samuel raided the fridge for sandwich fixings, unsurprised when Rey gravitated to his side and began helping him assemble it. “So what did you two talk about?” Samuel asked.

“Little bit of everything,” Rey replied. “I talked about my catering and my numbers for the last six months. David told me about the last few parties he planned and his numbers for those. We both seem to have similar ideas on how to proceed.”

“That’s great.” Samuel layered a few slices of deli turkey over Swiss cheese. To David, he asked, “So what does your significant other think of going into business with a near-stranger?”

The nosy question probably should have earned Samuel a glare, or even a poke in the ribs. But the question was genuine, asked with the best of intentions. As a police officer, Samuel was trained to gather information, to observe and then to make judgments. He needed more pieces to clearly see this puzzle picture. Rey must have understood that, because he didn’t object to the question.

David flashed him an amused smile. “No significant other at the moment, Officer, but unless they put a ring on my finger, they wouldn’t get a vote in who I go into business with. Not that I don’t respect the fact that you two operate differently.”

Samuel smoothed out his rising hackles. He glanced at David’s left hand—pale spot around the wedding band finger suggested he’d worn a ring there for a long time. He was still uncertain if David had received it from a man or woman. “Well, until the laws in Pennsylvania change with the times, any ring on our fingers would only be symbolic of a promise, not a sign of marriage.”

Next to him, Rey had gone still. Before Samuel could ponder the significance of that, or re-examine what he’d said, David spoke. “Who says I was married?”

“Your finger did.”

David looked at his hand as though he’d never seen it before. “Ah, well, maybe the ring I wore there was only symbolic as well.”

A rush of irritation made Samuel slap the top layer of rye bread onto his sandwich a little too hard. David was being deliberately obtuse and vague with his answers. “So you’re making this decision all on your own.”

“Well, no.” David winked. “Rey has some input too, wouldn’t you say?”

Samuel couldn’t figure out if David was flirting with him or just being a dick. He was too tired and hungry to care very much tonight, so he decided to make his exit before his temper got the best of him and ruined what could be a good thing for Rey.

“Hey, why don’t you two finish what you were doing?” he said to Rey. “I’m going to go watch TV and eat this.”

Rey blinked several times as he shook himself out of his own deep thoughts. “Okay, we’re about done anyway.”

Samuel cleaned up his mess then took a bottle of water and his sandwich into the den. He settled on the wide, micro-fiber sectional sofa and sank deeply into the cushions. He loved his sofa more than almost any piece of furniture in the house. It took up nearly two full walls and had a chaise lounge on the left end. The right end had an electric footrest that he used to prop up his feet and his sandwich.

The rumble of voices from the kitchen cut off when he turned on the TV. He flipped through a few channels until he found The Ref playing on cable. Edited for television was less fun, but his choices were limited this late and this was a Christmas movie he didn’t mind.

A tiny waver of guilt settled in while he ate. Even if David had been baiting him, Samuel should’ve been better than that. This was important to Rey, and he hoped that Rey wasn’t in there apologizing for the sideways interrogation from his boyfriend the cop. He’d never do anything to deliberately hurt Rey. He knew how hard Rey worked for everything he had.

When they’d first met eighteen months ago, Rey had been a handyman/short order cook who’d barely scraped by. He was attacked while helping out a friend and the resulting head injury had left him without full sensation in his left hand. After physical therapy and a hell of a lot of King stubbornness, Rey had nearly complete control of his hand back after less than a year. Even before then, Rey had been making extra money by helping out with parties, mostly through friends. He hadn’t thought to create an organized catering business until this past May.

The idea had taken off quickly. Rey was a damned fantastic chef, and he was soon booking multiple events a week. The only promise he’d made to Samuel was never on a Sunday. Sunday was their day, always, to spend together and not work. Samuel was the one who suggested Rey think about taking on a business partner. He’d brought it up at Halloween when he saw how stressed Rey was getting about a particular corporate party he was catering. Samuel and their friend Barrett McCall had both pitched in to get him through it, but Rey had agreed he needed help.

Finding someone that Samuel had been given a chance to meet was the first real step forward in that process. Rey had been making calls and posting on the Internet for weeks, trying to find someone nearby he thought he could work with. And apparently David Weller was someone he would work with, if their long evening and cooking accident was any indication.

Samuel wanted Rey to succeed and to be happy. Rey loved cooking, and he loved doing things for others—this job was the best of both worlds, and Samuel would do anything to help Rey achieve his dream. After all, Samuel was living his dream: renovated home, stable job as a police officer, sharing his life with a man he loved and who loved him.

By the time he’d demolished his sandwich, the front door had opened and shut. Old floorboards in the hallway creaked as Rey headed toward the den. Rey snatched the empty plate off Samuel’s lap, deposited it onto the coffee table, then took its place, snuggling up close and wrapping his arms around Samuel’s neck. His c*ck immediately took notice of his lover’s proximity.

“Sorry to surprise you like that,” Rey said. He pressed his nose into the short hair above Samuel’s temple, breath tickling his ear. “Time got away from us.”

“Sounds like you were having a good time.” He realized that sounded bad, as if he was jealous, so he amended, “Which is a good thing, especially if you want to work with him.”

“We definitely hit it off. He’s got some really good ideas on party themes and menus, ways we can expand our client list. Plus he has an Associate’s degree in accounting, so he’s better at the math side of things than I am.”

“Is he gay?”

Rey pulled back far enough to look him in the eyes. Deep in the eyes, as if he could see right through him. “Are you jealous?”

Samuel didn’t like lying to Rey, even about little things. And a hot, potential business partner was not a little thing. Still, he didn’t want to come off like a jealous teenager who wouldn’t let his boyfriend have other male friends. He was not that controlling, and he’d be a hypocrite, since two of their best male friends were, in their own unique ways, pretty hot. “Maybe a tiny bit,” he admitted.

“You have no reason to be jealous, Sam.” Rey’s left hand slid down his chest then lower to press against Samuel’s growing erection. “No reason whatsoever.”

A gentle growl rose up in Samuel’s throat as he went from interested to fully hard. “Oh? Something down there you like?”

Rey’s eyelids drooped and his voice went husky. “There’s something down there I like quite a lot. Love, actually, especially when it’s in my mouth.”

One Kiss
When I pulled into my parents’ driveway, I couldn’t help but smile at the crazy colored lights snaking along the roofline, outlining every window, and circling the porch columns. Strands of glittery reindeer lights covered the azaleas lining the front of the house, and bells tinkled in the breeze.

My mom loved Christmas, and every year she sent my dad outside on the day after Thanksgiving with string after string of lights, admonishing him to cover every available space with them. This year, a bevy of penguins had joined the animatronic reindeer and polar bears on the lawn. I could imagine my dad shaking his head as he set them out. But making my mother happy made him happy, so no matter how much he grumbled about the decorations, he always did his best to turn our home into a winter wonderland.
It was good to be home. I’d been avoiding my family, using the excuse of my tough-as-hell vet school schedule, but really I’d been depressed ever since I got dumped by my cheating bastard of a boyfriend a few months ago. I wasn’t good company for anyone.

I grabbed my duffle bag and my laptop from the backseat and headed to the door smiling as one of the penguins greeted me with “Merry Christmas from Winterville”.

“Mom! I’m home!” I called as I pushed the door open.

“Jake!” She rushed from the kitchen wearing one of her many Christmas aprons. That day’s selection was an appalling shade of green with little Santas all over it. She raced down the hall, and I gathered her up in a tight hug. Yep, it was good to be home.

I took a deep breath, drinking in the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. “Chicken and dumplings?”

My mom smiled. “You know I always make your favorites when you come home.”

I gave her a kiss. “Thanks, Mom. Did you make chocolate cake too?”

She laughed. “That’s your sister’s treat, not that you won’t eat your share.”

“When will Lauren be here?” My sister and I had always been close, and I regretted not calling her more in the past few months.

“Not for a few hours. Come on and put your things in your room.” My mom started up the stairs, and I followed, grinning at the greenery that circled the railing and imagining my dad complaining about the whole damn house smelling like a pine forest.

I slung my duffle bag on my old bed and set up my laptop as Mom chattered about old friends of mine who’d gotten married and former teachers who’d retired and other local tidbits. I was about to inquire about our plans for the next few days when she said, “You’ll never guess who bought Highland Bakery a few months ago.”

My heart sped up as it always did when I thought about the bakery. Remembering the years I’d worked there meant thinking about Ben, my high school crush. He was five years older than me, and he had refused to go out with me until I graduated. I’d counted the days, waiting for my fantasies to come true. Then, a few months before graduation, he told me he’d finally saved up enough money for chef school. I was thrilled for him until I found out he’d be moving. We shared an amazing kiss that night, and I’ve never forgotten the feel of his lips on mine.

“Marsha sold the place?” I asked as I untangled my laptop cord.

“I told you she was thinking about retiring.”

My heart beat even faster when I turned and saw that my mom had a look like she was up to something.

“Who bought it?”

“Ben Swinburne.”


Author Bios:
Madison Parker
Madison Parker grew up in Germany where she feasted on Gummib√§rchen, wandered through the woods on many a Volksmarch, and dreamed of one day living in a castle on a mountain with a boy who knew how to rock a pair of lederhosen. The Fates had other plans for her, but she’s not complaining.

She has a passion for photography and art, and likes to dabble a bit with web and graphic design. She also has an affinity for all things geeky (read: Star Trek and TRON). Although she is extremely left-brained (logical, rational, orderly), her artistic, creative side never ceases to flail around in a desperate attempt to be noticed. Madison now spends her free time reading, writing, creating fine art photography, and playing with her feisty German Pinscher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, her pup, and her troop of sock monkeys.

She began writing LGBTQ fiction to help address issues of bullying and low self-esteem in young adults. Madison’s short story, SOCK IT TO ME, SANTA!, explores one boy’s struggle to come out in a hostile school environment. Her debut novel, PLAY ME, I'M YOURS, takes the reader on an emotional journey in search of love and self-acceptance.

AM Arthur
No stranger to the writing world, A.M. Arthur has been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long. She credits an early fascination with male friendships and "bromance" (and "The Young Riders") with her later discovery of and subsequent affair with m/m romance stories. When not writing, she can be found in her kitchen, pretending she's an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments. 

Silvia Violet
Silvia Violet writes fun, sexy stories that will leave you smiling and satisfied. She has a thing for characters who are in need of comfort and enjoys helping them surrender to love even when they doubt it exists. Silvia's stories include sizzling contemporaries, paranormals, and historicals. When she needs a break from listening to the voices in her head, she spends time baking, taking long walks, and curling up with her favorite books. Keep up with her latest ventures by signing up for her newsletter.

Hollis Shiloh
Hollis Shiloh writes love stories about men, also called gay romance or m/m romance, with the preferred genres of contemporary, historical, and fantasy. Hollis's stories tend towards the sweet rather than the spicy. When not writing, the author enjoys reading, retro music, and being around animals.

Mercy Celeste
Mercy Celeste is the pen name and super hero persona of mild mannered MJ Colbert....which is bull, I'm not mild mannered. I was, in fact, raised in a barn--or several. We even had grain silos. My motto growing up, anything a boy can do, I'm right behind him doing it just as well or better. I've broken too many bones to begin to count. Scraped, skinned or scarred pretty much everything that can be scraped, skinned or scarred. How I'm still walking and talking is a miracle.

So about the writing, well, I don't really consider myself to be a writer. I'm a storyteller, and when I have a story to tell, it won't rest until it's twisted me up and purged itself. The result is at times comical or tragic, depending on the people who live in my head and what they have to say. Most days that's not a lot of anything. Others I can't shut them up. They especially love when I'm driving, oh, yeah, a drive across town is a lesson in how not to get myself killed or be pulled over for reckless driving. And those are the good days.

Welcome to my crazy world, if it's boring now, wait five minutes, and don't blink. Things have a tendency to get interesting around me.


Madison Parker
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EMAIL:  madisonparklove@gmail.com

AM Arthur
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EMAIL: AM_Arthur@yahoo.com

Silvia Violet
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EMAIL: silviaviolet@gmail.com

Hollis Shiloh

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EMAIL: hollis.shiloh@gmail.com

Mercy Celeste
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WEBSITE  /  KOBO  /  SMASHWORDS
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EMAIL: mercyceleste@gmail.com



Sock it to Me, Santa!
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Acts of Faith
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One Kiss
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The Christmas Mansion
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Need You Now
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