Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Part 2

The Beary Best Holiday Party Ever by BG Thomas
Before he discovered the Heartland Bear Clan, Ron Corbin figured no one could ever love a “fatass” like him. But the big group of big men accepts him, and likes him just the way he is. Having finally found a place he belongs, he works hard to get elected president of the club—and wins. He’s the happiest he’s ever been.

But Paddy Brennan, a sexy bear cub who blew into town and became Mr. Popular overnight, is elected vice-president. Ron doesn’t think Paddy has earned the honor, and now he’ll have to work shoulder to shoulder (and belly to belly) with the guy for a year.

Ron will do what’s best for the club even if that means setting his personal feeling—that Paddy is a jerk—aside. But then as the two men get to know each other, Ron reluctantly finds he not only likes the guy, but is growing more and more attracted to him.

Deep down, Ron still worries he isn’t good enough, but maybe Paddy can show him there’s a beary happy ending waiting for them after all.

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2015 Advent Calendar package "Sleigh Ride".

The Journal of Sanctuary One by RJ Scott
Sanctuary Series #6

Jake spends every Christmas at Sanctuary 1. From a small child the cabin was home for his family in the special season, and with the third anniversary of his dad's death approaching he arranges for Kayden, Beckett and himself to meet at the cabin a few days before Christmas. When a snowstorm means Kayden is blocked in NY with Beckett, Jake ends up in the cabin on his own.

Sean is being hunted and the only place he can run to is somewhere mentioned in an old journal - the original Sanctuary Cabin. The cabin is no longer in official use but it would be a good place to heal and take stock of just what the fuck is going on with his life.

Neither man is prepared for being stuck together for an entire week, nor for the secrets that threaten to get them both killed.

Click Here to Check Out Sanctuary Series #1-7

Click Here to Check Out Sanctuary #8

Journal of Sanctuary One
You'll find my original series review here from 2015 but just a little side note on Journal specifically.  Having read 5 stories in the Sanctuary series before this one, it was nice to find Jake at the center of this holiday tale.  Now, I've included it in my Random Tales of Christmas but Journal is so much more than just a holiday romance, as with the rest of the series, you have a little bit of everything wrapped up in a great big Christmas gift to us a readers.

Original Overall Series Review July 2015:
I'm doing an overall series review because in my opinion you can't just read one book, you must read the whole series to fully enjoy the tale.  Yes, each book is a standalone in regards to the couple that is featured and that each book has a separate part of the mystery that begins and ends but the series is centered around the bringing down of the Bullens family.

Now, I will say that some people might be a little put off by the suddenness of each couple getting together but I found them perfectly acceptable for both the characters and the scenarios.  Because of the possible life and death situations that the Sanctuary team members and their subsequent charges are placed in, I felt that it was very believable for each couple to realize grabbing life and love with everything they have when it's right in front of you, the right call.  This might be a turnoff for some but it was not for me.

I found it to be a well written, character driven tale that is definitely worth reading.  As I started out with, I think it should be read as one long story to get the sweeping effect of both the mystery and the love as well as the friendships that are explored.


Don't Stop Believing by Gwen Hayes
The Ogre from the Hill
Simon Powell, the town recluse, only comes to town to deliver firewood and get supplies. Two days before Christmas, he sees the new librarian’s car in a ditch and knows he can’t leave him on the road, but it’s too late to take him back to town. He’ll have something he’s never had in his cabin in the ten years that’s he’s lived there…company.

The Book Nerd from the City
Adam Parker moved to the small community to make big changes in his life, but being snowbound with the bearded lumberjack in his rustic cabin was something he’d thought only existed in his fantasies. Simon pushes away anyone who wants to get close to him, but Adam sees what he’s hiding in his heart and he wants it. Badly.

A Christmas to Remember
Adam smells like cinnamon and redemption and Simon aches to run his fingers over the scrape of stubble on his cheeks. To pull him into a kiss. To reignite feelings he’d denied himself for too long. Life is right there, blazing in the eyes of the town librarian. A man who isn’t afraid of him. But he learned long ago that everything he touches gets tainted, and he’ll do anything to keep his darkness away from Adam’s light.

But Adam has something else on his side—he’s been a very good boy this year and all he wants for Christmas is Simon. 

Who doesn't like a good old fashion tale of love with the help of a Christmas miracle to open a lonely closed off heart? I've never read Gwen Hayes before but I'll definitely be keeping an eye out now because Don't Stop Believing is wonderfully heartwarming.  Don't let me kid you, there is certainly some heartbreaking drama, well maybe "heartbreaking" is too strong a term but definitely heart-hurting.  Simon may like his hermit life but fate has other ideas when he finds Adam stuck in the snow during a storm, fate can be a devious trickster that way at times but she usually knows what she's doing and this time Adam may be just what Simon needs but will he let in Adam in?  For that you have to read the book yourself but you won't be disappointed.  If you're looking for something to put you in the holiday mood, then this is the story for you.


A Cop for Christmas by Jamie Fessenden
Mason Collier isn’t big on authority figures. When Office Steve Coleman pulls him over and gives him a speeding ticket, he doesn’t react well. He’s even less happy when he discovers the cop lives next door to his parents’ house.

No matter where they turn this holiday season, Steve and Mason keep running into each other, and whenever they talk for more than a minute, they piss each other off. But from wayward dogs to Christmas tree hunts to maple syrup festivals, it proves impossible to avoid each other in the small town.

If Mason can see the good man behind the badge, he might just get a cop for Christmas. 

The Glass Minstrel by Hayden Thorne
It is the Christmas season in mid-19th century Bavaria. Two fathers, Abelard Bauer and Andreas Schifffer, are brought together through the tragic deaths of their sons. Bauer, a brilliant toymaker, fashions glass Christmas ornaments, and his latest creation is a minstrel with a secret molded into its features.

When Schiffer sees Bauer’s minstrel ornament in the toy shop, he realizes that Bauer is struggling to keep his son’s memory alive through his craft. At first he tries to fault him for this, but then recognizes that he, too, is seeking solace and healing by reading his son’s diary, a journal that reveals, in both painful as well as beautiful detail, the true nature of Heinrich’s relationship with Stefan.

Fifteen-year-old Jakob Diederich is the son of a poor widow. The boy is burdened with his own secret, and he develops an obsession with a traveling Englishman who stays at the inn where Jakob works. The lives of Bauer, Schiffer, and Diederich intersect during the holiday as Schiffer tries to focus on his family in the present, Bauer struggles to reconcile his past, and Jakob copes with an uncertain future.

Echoing the sensibilities of melancholy 19th Century folktales, lyrical prose and rich period detail quietly weave a moving tale of redemption, hope, and haunting, but timeless, themes. 

Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Parts

The Beary Best Holiday Party Ever by BG Thomas
WHEN RON Corbin heard his name announced as the new president of the Heartland Bear Clan, he could hardly contain himself. He bellowed a loud, “Yowza,” which made everyone laugh. It was only by the grace of God that he kept himself from whooping out, “I’m king of the world.” After all, hadn’t nearly everyone thought it a very egotistical thing for James Cameron to shout when he won his Oscar for best director?

Ron had never understood that. It seemed like a logical thing for the Titanic filmmaker to shout. Perfect, actually. The Leonardo DiCaprio line was one of the most famous from the movie. And it was how Cameron must have felt when he won the Academy Award.

It was certainly how Ron felt when Mel Gunter, the man who had run the club for well over a decade, stood up in front of everyone and declared him as his successor. Ron really did feel like the king of the world. Or at least his world—and his world was the Kansas City bear club.

There was nothing more important to Ron than the Heartland Bear Clan. In many ways the social group had saved his life—at least he felt that way. He’d been one big old depressed bear when he’d been introduced to the group of men. In fact, once upon a time he’d hated the fact that anyone thought of him as a bear in the first place. Bears were fat. And fat was bad, right? Men who couldn’t stop eating, right? Who couldn’t stick to a diet? Who refused to take care of themselves? Who had no self-pride?

That’s what he’d thought. What he’d been told over and over and over again.

“I do not know how you can be a child of mine!” came the voice of his mother.

“Fat! You’re a fatass!” came the voice of his father. “My son—my son—a fatass!”

But the Heartland Bear Clan had changed all of that. Had changed his life. Okay, so he was a bear. Yeah, he was a bit chunky. But not ugly. He’d worked quite a bit to find his style, as well. He kept his brown hair almost military short and his full beard trimmed fairly tight. Yeah, a bear. And a pretty good-looking one. And now, as president of the club he’d devoted so much of his time to, he couldn’t be happier.

Until he found out who was going be his vice president.

The Journal of Sanctuary One #6 by RJ Scott
Chapter 1 
Heading north on I-87 gave Jake one hell of a long time to think. His mind went from cases, to allocating resources, to family and Sanctuary. The landscape outside the car, a blur of green and then concrete-gray, passed mile by mile and in his head he ticked off everything he needed to get out to think on. Maria would be good in Ops, she should move there. Manny and Josh needed to work up the next stage of the Bullen case, Joseph had left a message with Ops for Dale that he was coming home, and hell, Beckett had to have training if he wanted to think about working with Kayden.

"Earth to Jake."

Think of the devil and he appears. Kayden's cheerful voice was in his ear and interrupting his peace.

"Hey," Jake offered. Indicating, he pulled out to pass a slow-moving logging truck, and then concentrated on settling back in his lane.

"Good news or bad news, bro?" Kayden said. Jake could feel his heart sink. He had seen the weather forecasts before he left; he knew what the bad news would be.

"Hit me all at once," Jake sighed.

"We're frozen in up here." Kayden and Beckett were in New York, and the ice storm that preceded a predicted ten inch dump of snow was likely to cause chaos even in a city that was used to the white stuff. "I'm not seeing us getting out of here any time soon."

"It's not a problem," Jake said. It wasn't the first time the winter weather had delayed a visit to the cabin and it wouldn't be the last. "I don't want you driving even if they did get your roads open and clear."

"Storm front is chasing your ass up north, Jake. You may wanna think about pulling off soon and finding the next Motel 6. Get yourself some luxury."

Jake snorted at the mention of the infamous Motel 6. No way in hell was he going to be stopping off at one of those, not after the incident a few years back with the cockroach. Anyway there was no need to pull off. He didn't need a sat nav to know exactly where he was. "I'm only ten miles to the turnoff."

"Hell, you made it up the mountain already?" Kayden sounded surprised, but the journey so far had been smooth. One stop for coffee and indulging his weakness for chocolate and he had made good time.

"I’m assuming you're not making it up for tomorrow then?"

"Sorry, Jake. All packed but there is no way we're getting out today or tomorrow. We'll try on the twenty-third."

"Don't worry about it, K, there'll be a logjam on the roads out of the city. Stay where you are and have Christmas in New York with Beckett." He looked in his rearview mirror and the ominous snow dumping cloud formation really was close. "Looks like the snow is herding me to the cabin." He laughed although he didn't really feel the humor.

He'd been snowed in at the cabin before. Many a family Christmas had been spent stuck in snowdrifts with no way down off the mountain. Just… this Christmas was only the third since his dad had died and selfishly he kind of wanted to have Kayden—and by extension, Beckett—with him. Having Kayden here would cement the memories he had of his mom and dad, Max and Emma, and he and his brother before everything ended so suddenly. His mom and dad dying in a plane crash in these mountains three years ago had stopped everything abruptly—as only death could.

"Good news though?" Kayden prompted gently. His soft words pierced through the memories of happier times.

"There's good news?"

"Manny came through on the Senator Bullen case, pulled out some more content from the encrypted files."

"What did he find?" Jake slowed on the main road off of I-87 and fishtailed slightly in a thin layer of snow and ice that had accumulated on the old road. The off-road SUV ate up the slippery and uneven road. Snow began to flake around him, light and soft and beautiful, each individual crystal wending its way down in a random fall blown by the soft wind. Of course it wouldn't stay this way, but when the snow started it was a mesmerizing thing.

"There are files talking about the FBI: watch lists, connections, all kinds of things." Kayden continued.

The Bullen case had ended for Sanctuary with the arrest of both Senator Bullen and his brother, Alastair. Well, officially it had ended. In fact Jake had given blanket approval to any and all outside work by his operatives on cracking the files or following up leads. He wasn't the only one who was dissatisfied with how the case had been left. Too many links to nebulous other parties involved. Not least the FBI and Sean Hanson.

Jesus. Every time he thought of what Sean had done, double-crossing the FBI and Sanctuary, working with the Bullen family, bitterness rose in him and threatened his temper. Fucking asshole had worked as an FBI/Sanctuary liaison and had been selling them both out. For what? Money? Manny hadn't found any kind of money trail for Sean and he had tried damned hard to get something. Anything.

"You're thinking about Sean aren't you?" Kayden commented with his uncanny perception as to what the hell was in Jake's head at any given point. Adopted brother he may be but Kayden still had a freaky connection to Jake's thoughts.

"No," Jake lied.

"Liar. Manny got a hit on him in Albany, but he didn't get any further than notice that Sean was accessing bank accounts. Oh, and he used the access to follow a money trail for Sean and it's not looking good. Regular deposits from two sources, one we can link to the Bullens directly."

Every tiny hope that Jake had about Sean being redeemable died at that moment. So Sean had been paid for information. Sean had also disappeared. On a hijacked prison transport he had been released and literally gone to ground to God knows where. Damn good at his job, he had even evaded the normally infallible Manny. Jake concentrated on the road for a second as it forked, and he took the left that led him higher into the mountain.

"Sean is still a person of interest," Jake confirmed. Like Kayden or Manny or anyone at Sanctuary would think otherwise. The bastard had made friends with everyone, come across as the consummate FBI guy with a smile that lit up the room and a brain that would not quit. He'd come into Jake's life and turned it upside down and then without a second thought betrayed every single one of them. Why did thinking that in black and white hurt so much?

"You going to be okay up there on your own?" Kayden said. He was evidently moving away from the Sean situation and focusing on Jake. Jake was more than happy with that.

"More food than I need, a generator with a month's fuel, books, the internet, the comms room for work, TV, a spa bath, and a steam shower? I'll manage."

Kayden groaned. The cabin may well be old but it was luxurious and relaxing. "Promise me one thing, Jake?"

Great. Kayden was using his 'I'm your brother and I love you and you worry me' voice.

"What?" Jake said. He knew exactly what Kayden was going to say and already Jake had his defenses up. Kayden was going to go on about not working, and sleeping, and eating right, and all the other shit that he threw at Jake when he was worried. Jake hated when Kayden got his doctor's hat on.

"Have at least an hour a day when you don't think about work?"

Jake was a little startled by the soft tone. He and Kayden were close but his brother was usually more telling than pleading. Clearly Beckett was having a softening effect on him.

"I will." Jake could promise that easily. After all he had to sleep. And not all of his dreams revolved around Sanctuary. Some of them, the ones he pretended he didn't have, were about Sean.

They ended the call and Jake guided his SUV up the last mile to the cabin past the tourist camping areas. Empty and dusted with snow, their normal muddy look softened by the white blanket to make them look halfway beautiful. He turned onto the private road and about a quarter mile up the track he slid to a stop. A tree lay across the road and he smiled at the memories. This particular tree had been threatening to topple over for years, in fact his dad had promised each year that he and Kayden would need to go out and cut it back. Smiling fondly at the downed trunk he resolved to get the power saw to cut it down and transport the wood up to the cabin. Of course that wouldn't happen just now as he needed to walk the remaining three-quarters of a mile to the cabin itself with the snow starting to become a little heavier.

Parking the 4x4 to one side of the road to leave room for Kayden if he managed to get up here, and with memories of his dad and Christmases past keeping him warm, he hoisted his backpack on to his back and heaved out his other bag. Neither were that heavy, some books, a Kindle, a laptop, and a few clothes. This cabin was a home away from home and held a complete closet of clothes suitable for rustic mountain Christmases. Walking the short distance in the crisp cold mountain air was like stepping into a cold shower. Every cell in Jake was alive and sparking to keep him warm and his breath puffed in small clouds as he exhaled.

Enough snow had fallen to make the ground crunchy underfoot but not enough to mask the road or the landmarks that Jake recalled from all his previous visits. The tall fir that Kayden had wanted as the Christmas tree when he first came to the family, but had then decided was going to be his tree and should be left to grow tall. The rocky outcrop covered in shrubs and snow where they used to sit and talk as boys. Where Jake learned about Kayden's life before he'd been repatriated from the compound his father had created. Where they talked about Kayden's father dying, of his hopes and his dreams, and where Jake realized that the younger man he grew to call brother was some kind of super-brain who could ace advanced calculus and biology without studying.

The last part of the journey was more level and finally Jake rounded the corner. He stopped walking for a second as the beauty of the scene stole his breath. The cabin was exactly as he remembered from his last visit in April. Low and spread out on one level, it was set back onto an acre of open land with a large expanse of pasture in the front. Surrounded by a fence it was covered in a thin layer of snow and looked stunning. With a grin at the thought of the peace awaiting him inside, he finished the walk and keyed in the entry code for access.

After stamping to remove the light covering of snow from his boots he closed the door behind him and shrugged off the backpack and his jacket. The heat was on and Jake sent a mental thank you to the O'Briens who owned the next cabin over, some three miles away. They had long ago been entrusted with Sanctuary secrets and kept an eye, when no one was here, on the cabin that used to be Sanctuary One. Of course the place wasn't used as a safe house now and it had long since stopped being a useful place to hide or protect anyone. The systems inside were all cutting edge; by definition it was upgraded as soon as every other cabin was. But the place wasn't far off one of the new extreme mountain trails and as such had been passed back to Jake's dad, and now to Jake and Kayden.

Jake turned immediately right from the mud room and down the corridor to dump his bags on the end of his bed. Stretching tall he attempted to unkink himself from driving and being cold. Then, with hot coffee warming him from inside he slid into the chair in front of the two computer screens in the small comms room. Once logged on he scanned his e-mail. Manny filtered his messages and only passed along to Jake those that were deemed important. There was an invitation to a fundraiser in March, perfectly suitable to the millionaire Callahan. He hated attending them but he made useful contacts so the evenings were never a complete loss. After adding the date to his calendar he glanced at the other two mails. One was a request for clearance on a new operative, and another contained a round robin joke that had been forwarded by Manny.

Connecting to Manny himself he smiled when he saw his right-hand man appear on the screen.

"You're on vacation," Manny admonished. He had a stern expression on his face but there was a smile in his eyes.

"Kayden said you have information for us?"

"Well, hello to you too," Manny said. He shook his head as he spoke.

"Hello, Manny, how are you, how is Josh, and what information do you have for me?"

Manny grinned widely. "Josh is fine, we're doing good."

The two had vanished to the Canadian safe house after the arrest of Senator Bullen. Too many people wanted to use Josh as a pawn to get his dad to recant testimony. Until the Bullens were both out of the story that was where they were staying. Jake missed Manny, missed his irrepressible humor; Manny really was the better part of him. The one who calmed him down, organized him, told him how things were.

"So anyway," Manny continued, "turns out there is a whole other level of connections we are missing here, including some kind of link to the FBI and the Bullens. There're only a few notes, some deleted files I am attempting to reconstruct, but let's face it, the Bullens did not only plant someone in Sanctuary, they were using the same person in the FBI."

"You can connect Sean to it all?" Jake felt his stomach twist. He had wanted to believe in Sean. Seemed there really was no doubt at all Sean Hanson was a traitor.

"No. Nothing explicit, but I'm working on it."

"Good." Jake considered adding the same warning Kayden had given him about taking an hour off to Manny but then thought better of it. Cut Manny in half and you would find Sanctuary written across the middle. He was as embroiled as Jake was. At least Manny had a life now. Although exiled away from the main Sanctuary he was with the guy who had stolen his heart and he had left of his own accord. One day they could come home, but not until Manny was sure Josh was safe. Like Morgan, Josh Headley would always be a target for a family they helped destroy.

"You had an email from Owen Reynolds but it went through to a generic address, I'm forwarding it now with attachments."

Owen? He hadn't heard from Owen since, hell, he couldn't remember when, March maybe? His dad's closest friend, former FBI, former special ops, and advisor when Max had first bandied the idea of Sanctuary, had been out of the country more times than in. Jake saw the e-mail arrive. The contents were a general Merry Christmas and an attached photo of Owen and his wife Martha and their dogs—three huge dopey Great Danes.

"I got it."

"There's nothing else for now. All is quiet apart from the normal placing."

"How many jobs do we have going over Christmas?"

"You don't need to—"

"Manny, just report as normal. Please." Jake added the please to soften the demand. Manny was only looking out for him but Jake wasn't interested in sleeping away the next week or so, he wanted to be strategizing and working on the things he normally had no time to do back in the office.

"We have seven active cases that look to be going over Christmas. One is a family with two small kids."

"Did you organize—"

"Yes, Santa is making a visit as usual." Manny grinned widely. Jake found himself smiling back as stupidly as Manny was. They tried to do this for small kids in protection if it was at all possible, a tradition started when they had their first case involving kids after Jake had just taken over Sanctuary

Manny continued. "The other six are single adults. And the freed-up operatives are Dale and Michaela so we can cover emergencies, though this snow is shutting everything down big-time. Dale is following on closing down some loose ends with the Bullen case with me."

Manny signed off with a final warning for Jake to get his ass into the hot tub to relax with a capital R. Jake flashed back a quick reply to Owen's e-mail to acknowledge he'd received it. He added he would send more news later. Owen had always been Uncle Owen to both him and Kayden and not keeping in contact was just plain stupid. Owen and Jake's dad, Max, had been as close as brothers.

Jake leaned back in his chair staring at the blank screen after he had sent the quick mail. This first part of the stay at the cabin was always the hardest. He had the guilt that he wasn't working hitting him square in the chest and that itch that he should be doing something, anything, instead of sitting here and looking at his reflection in the flat, black screen. He didn't have a holiday the whole rest of the year but his family had come to what had been Sanctuary One every Christmas and Jake's internal body clock demanded the annual shutdown. Kayden said he looked tired, exhausted even, but Jake knew it was work and a whole lot of something different.

It really had been one hell of a year and he didn't know where to start to analyze just how tired he was. Sanctuary was three times the size it had been this time last December. Case after case had been thrown at them, as well as more and more operatives whom Jake felt personally responsible for. He loved his job, loved what he did, but he was tired at the moment. Tired, and if he was honest, heartsick. And wasn't that the kicker. Heartsick. Fucking Sean and his silver eyes that promised Jake could trust him. He'd seen Nik find Morgan, Manny meet and fall for Josh, Dale get his SEAL in Joseph. Hell, even his own brother had found someone who was the other half of him. It could be done and for a few shining weeks Jake had really thought he'd found someone he could spend good time with.

Attraction and lust had turned to hate and guilt and the overwhelming feeling of being completely thrown at Sean's deception. Even now, despite hating the man, he could remember the taste of him, the feel of him in his arms. They'd danced around each other like combatants on a field of war flirting and kissing and Jake had fallen halfway in love at the possibilities of what he could have with Sean. Strategies for keeping things to themselves warred with an instinctive need to touch. If Sean hadn’t backed off then they would have been lovers. Jesus, imagine the fallout from that. Jake wasn't just exhausted nearing the end of a very busy year heading up a business like Sanctuary. He was tired, angry, unsettled, sad, and he'd just reached the end of his rope.

Best he stayed in the mountains, licked his wounds, and it was probably a very good thing that Kayden and Beckett couldn't make it either. He glanced over at the presents he had wrapped for his brother and Beckett and a sudden stupid loneliness washed over him. The silver paper reminded him of Sean's eyes. Jeez.

More coffee was required.

A Cop for Christmas by Jamie Fessenden
Steve decided to take Rufus out into the yard to pee. The dog had already marked most of the yard by this point, and probably didn’t have much left in him, but he assumed Mason had come to talk to Sam. Steve didn’t need to hover around for that.

To his annoyance, Mason followed him.

“What?” Steve asked testily when they were out of earshot from anyone listening in the barn.

Mason stopped walking, startled. “What do you mean, ‘What?’”

“Why are you following me?”

“Sorry. I just thought…. It’s pretty awkward between me and Sam right now.”

“I know. I heard all about your date last night.”

Mason grimaced. “Exactly. I tried to tell Mom it was a bad idea for me to come over here, but she twisted my arm.” Rufus was begging for his attention, so he petted the dog’s head absently. “She seems to think Sam and I are perfect for each other. We just don’t know it yet.”

“Sam’s a good guy,” Steve said, the old feelings of protectiveness welling up again. He glanced at the barn, certain Sam was watching them, but there was too much contrast between the bright sunlight in the yard and the shadows inside for him to make out anything.

“I don’t doubt that. But he’s really not my type.”

Steve snorted. He didn’t have much respect for the idea of people having a “type.” “My mother practically hated my father on sight. He was ex-military, clean-cut, a cop, and she was an anti-war activist who mostly went for scruffy-looking guys in Bajas and sandals.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine you with a hippie for a mom.”

“Activist,” Steve corrected. “She wasn’t what I’d call a hippie. I mean, she wasn’t particularly into mysticism, and she never did drugs. That would have been a deal-breaker for Dad. He loved her, but he was still sworn to uphold the law. My point is, he wasn’t her ‘type,’ and she wasn’t his. But they still fell in love.”

Mason smiled and came closer, his feet crunching on the packed snow. “That’s really sweet. How on earth did they even meet to begin with?”

“How do you think? Dad arrested her at an anti-nuclear protest. I hear things got a little rowdy.”

Mason laughed. “Yeah, I went to a couple of protests against the Iraq war when I was in college. Kade still does a lot of that.” He shook his head sadly. “But I’ve turned boring in my old age.”

“According to your driver’s license, you’re twenty-nine,” Steve said, then wanted to kick himself for bringing up the traffic stop while they were having a pleasant conversation.

Mason didn’t seem upset by the reminder. “I just mean I’m not a very interesting guy. I do freelance illustration for a living, if you can call it that. I read a lot of books, watch a lot of romantic comedies, and help out with UNH art classes for extra money.”

“And I’m a cop who watches a lot of action flicks and loves dogs more than people. I’m not your type, and you’re not mine.” The implication of that suddenly struck him, and he froze, his eyes going wide like a deer in headlights.

Mason stared at him, an expression of surprise on his handsome features. He said quietly, “Dogs are pretty awesome.”


They jumped at the sound of Kade’s voice.

The Glass Minstrel by Hayden Thorne
Without another glance in Bauer’s direction, Schiffer strode over to the nearest shelves and began his inspection. One by one, ornaments came under close inspection. He turned them over and over in his hand, raising them up to the light or moving them close to his face, frowning through his spectacles as he explored in silence. “Very impressive,” he muttered every so often.

Once in a while, he’d be distracted by the dolls, the horses, the miscellaneous toys, taking up a little dancer and a soldier and tucking them under his arms. Then he’d go back to the glass ornaments and inspect them further.

Bauer continued to tidy up, occasionally glancing over his shoulder to mark his customer’s progress around the room. As Schiffer slowly neared the basket in the corner, Bauer felt his heart speed its beating. He moved the broom back and forth mechanically as he turned his attention back to his work, though he anxiously waited for a response from Schiffer.

The response came quickly enough.

“My God!”

Feigning surprise, Bauer stopped his sweeping and turned. “Yes, sir? May I help you with something?”

Schiffer stood before the corner basket with his back to Bauer. His figure was stiff and tense, his head bowed. Silence fell on the two men for a moment. Then Schiffer spoke up. “I know this. I recognize this figure. What in the world are you trying to do, Bauer?”

“Making an honest living, of course.”

“Don’t be clever.” Schiffer turned around, raising a hand, which held the glass minstrel. His complexion was flushed, and mortification shone in his eyes as he stared at Bauer. “What do you mean by this?”

Bauer rested his hands on the broom. Surprised at his own calm, he blinked and regarded his companion. “I intend to sell it, of course. What can your objection be, Herr Schiffer, against that piece?”

“What can my objection be? Are you mad? This is scandalous!”

“What’s so scandalous about a minstrel, pray? I’ve created shepherds and other ragged characters. I see nothing objectionable about a minstrel.”

“This is your son!”

Bauer’s gaze hardened -- as did his heart. “Do you then object to the fact that the minstrel looks like my son, sir? Do you object to the fact that I’m selling it? Or is it for other reasons that you’re suddenly so -- excited -- about a little glass trinket? And how would you know that what you hold in your hand is really Stefan’s likeness?”

Schiffer took a few ragged breaths before he spoke again. “I’ve seen your son, yes. Too many times, in fact, in Heinrich’s private journals. My boy took to drawing yours when words failed him.” He held up his other gloved hand as Bauer started to speak, silencing him. “What, do you fault me now for looking at Heinrich’s private entries? I had no choice after he died, Herr Bauer. He and your son gave me no choice. That journal’s all that’s left of my boy’s life, and I kept it. I read it. Several times over. I forced myself to explore his world to find answers.”

“And did you?”

“Yes. Yes, I believe I did.”

Bauer smiled grimly. “Then consider yourself the more fortunate of the two of us. Stefan left nothing to me. All I could do was to mold that --” He pointed at the minstrel. “And it did little to help me. I remain as ignorant as I was the first time I found out about -- the two of them.”

“So now you think it a prudent thing to sell your son this way, with everyone in this miserable little town knowing what had happened?”

“That minstrel isn’t my son, for heaven’s sake! And you call me mad?” Bauer laughed, anger now edging his words. “It’s nothing more than an empty likeness -- a failed attempt on my part to connect with my dead boy. If I sell it, I’m ridding myself of a useless exercise that’s caused me more grief than I’d hoped.”

Schiffer’s eyes narrowed and he continued to hold the glass minstrel up. “Then destroy it,” he said, his voice dropping to a near whisper, though the challenge was clearly perceived. “If it’s nothing more than poison to you, break it. It hasn’t a partner, after all. You left it in the basket with the rest of your abandoned, imperfect pieces. It means nothing, then, if you think it undeserving of a place on your shelves.” He shook his hand in emphasis. “Here. Rid yourself of a useless glass trinket. If you won’t, I can spare you the tedium and crush it myself.”

Bauer stared at the man in furious disbelief. “You and your wife accused me once of siring a monster. Then you enter my shop, stand there, and mock my son’s memory as though your own played no part in this? How dare you! Pay for what you need, Herr Schiffer, and leave my shop!”

“You assume that my suffering isn’t as great as yours? Heinrich was my oldest, Bauer, my heir! He was the best of my children!” Schiffer retorted. Even from where he stood, Bauer could see the tears gathering in the man’s eyes, but what pity he had felt at first had fled. “Had I known that he’d been weakened by -- by that --”

Bauer raised a finger in warning, cutting Schiffer off. “Take care, sir,” he said, his voice low and trembling. “Take care what you say about my son. Unlike yours, he was my only child. Say one word to disgrace his memory in my face, and I swear I’ll tear your heart out of your chest with my bare hands. Do you think I’m joking? Do you? I won’t think twice, and I’ll laugh -- heaven help me, I’ll laugh -- when I breathe my last on the gallows.”

“What in God’s name -- are you threatening me now?” Schiffer sputtered, eyes widening in shock. “You damned savage --”

“I’m defending my son, who can’t speak for himself. Did you really think that you wouldn’t do the same were I insulting your boy?”

Schiffer, red-faced, his mouth opening and closing without a sound escaping it, merely stared at his antagonist. What self-importance he’d had, what assurance and superiority he’d worn on his shoulders when he’d first entered the shop, had vanished. He seemed to be nothing more than a dandified buffoon, standing there and looking mortified and shocked beyond words, forced into stunned silence by his inferior.

Bauer extended his arm. “Now give me that! If I sell it, it won’t be to you!”

His sharpness seemed to work some magic on Schiffer, who started, blinked, and looked down at the minstrel he held as though seeing it for the first time. It took a moment for him to reply, and when he did, his voice was quieter, more even. Humbled. He raised his hand. “What if I were to pay you handsomely for it?”

“Why would you want it, firstly? You’ve already made your sentiments and your disgust clear.” Bauer glanced at the clock. “We’ve less than five minutes left before I close my shop. Decide now.”

Schiffer remained calm, and he brought his hand down, the minstrel still firmly held. “I’m buying this, along with a few others. I didn’t mock your son’s memory, Herr Bauer, and I won’t. Of the two of us, I consider myself the more fortunate, yes, as I understand my son’s nature now. You’ve yet to accept yours, for all your righteous anger.”

“You may say what you wish. It’s no matter to me, now that I see through you, and believe me, it’s too easy to do that.” Bauer turned around without waiting for another word from Schiffer, and he continued to sweep up, inching his way closer and closer to the counter in a dim hope Hayden Thorne 43

of placing something physical between the two of them before Schiffer provoked him into physical violence. He fought hard not to let the other man see a single sign of his own distress, which was now eating away at him, gutting him. The fury that simmered had broadened its reach. He was painfully, bitterly angry at Clara, his wife, for dying and leaving him alone to raise his son; at Stefan for his selfishness, pride, and his misplaced affection; at Heinrich for giving Stefan ample reason to shame his father and dead mother’s memory; at the Schiffers for being the wealthy, proud hypocrites that they were.

Within moments Schiffer approached the counter with a small collection of figurines and toys, including the glass minstrel. The two men met each other’s gaze for a brief space of time that felt like a suffocating eternity to Bauer. Neither spoke, which was a relief.

All the same, Bauer himself felt less comforted than ever. It was all he could do to force himself back to business, and he tallied Schiffer’s purchases, wrapped the figurines individually, and set them all in a box.

“Thank you, Herr Schiffer,” he said with exquisite dispassion in his voice as he surrendered the box to the other man. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you.”

Schiffer took the box from him and touched his hat. “Good night,” he replied, his voice a perfect match for Bauer’s. “A blessed Christmas to you.”

Author Bios:
B.G. Thomas
B.G. loves romance, comedies, fantasy, science fiction and even horror—as far as he is concerned, as long as the stories are character driven and entertaining, it doesn't matter the genre. He has gone to conventions since he was fourteen years old and has been lucky enough to meet many of his favorite writers. He has made up stories since he was child; it is where he finds his joy.

In the nineties, he wrote for gay magazines but stopped because the editors wanted all sex without plot. "The sex is never as important as the characters," he says. "Who cares what they are doing if we don't care about them?" Excited about the growing male/male romance market, he began writing again. Gay men are what he knows best, after all. He submitted his first story in years and was thrilled when it was accepted in four days.

"Leap, and the net will appear" is his personal philosophy and his message to all. "It is never too late," he states. "Pursue your dreams. They will come true!"

RJ Scott
RJ Scott has been writing since age six when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies and was told to write a story. Two sides of A4 about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born. She reads anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror; however, her first real love will always be the world of romance. From billionaires, bodyguards and cowboys to SEALs, throwaways and veterinarians, she writes passionate stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and more than a hint of happily ever after.

Gwen Hayes
Gwen Hayes lives in the Pacific Northwest with her real life hero, their children, and the pets that own them. She writes stories for teen and adult readers about love, angst, and saving the world.

Gwen’s first novel, Falling Under, was released in March of 2011 by NAL/Penguin and followed up by the sequel, Dreaming Awake, in January of 2012.

In addition to writing, Gwen is a freelance editor at

She is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency.

Jamie Fessenden
Jamie Fessenden set out to be a writer in junior high school. He published a couple short pieces in his high school's literary magazine and had another story place in the top 100 in a national contest, but it wasn't until he met his partner, Erich, almost twenty years later, that he began writing again in earnest. With Erich alternately inspiring and goading him, Jamie wrote several screenplays and directed a few of them as micro-budget independent films. He then began writing novels and published his first novella in 2010.

After nine years together, Jamie and Erich have married and purchased a house together in the wilds of Raymond, New Hampshire, where there are no street lights, turkeys and deer wander through their yard, and coyotes serenade them on a nightly basis. Jamie recently left his "day job" as a tech support analyst to be a full-time writer.

Hayden Thorne
I've lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area though I wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). I’m married with no kids and three cats, am a cycling nut (go Garmin!), and my day job involves artwork, crazy (read: incomprehensibly fun) coworkers who specialize in all kinds of media, and the occasional strange customer requests involving papier mache fish with sparkly scales.

I’m a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. My books range from a superhero fantasy series to reworked folktales to Victorian ghost fiction. My themes are coming-of-age, with very little focus on romance (most of the time) and more on individual growth with some adventure thrown in.

BG Thomas

RJ Scott

Gwen Hayes

Jamie Fessenden

Hayden Thorne

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