Thursday, November 30, 2017

Random Tales of Christmas 2017 Part 2


A Solstice Journey by Felicitas Ivey
Summary:
Upon leaving his company's Christmas party, Gunnar Dagviรฐurson decides to walk to the train and enjoy the snowfall, only to get caught in a winter storm that magically transports him to a mysterious foreign realm. That’s how Celyn finds him, stumbling blindly through the snow, and Celyn takes Gunnar home to a castle of faery. Gunnar wants to find his way home for Christmas, but suddenly he’s faced with a choice: does he go back to his adopted family in the human world or stay with the magical family he’s found?

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2013 Advent Calendar package "Heartwarming".

Worth the Wait by Caitlin Ricci & Cari Z 
Summary:
When Tate promises his niece Addie he'll get a book signed by her favorite author, he never expects to end up in a line four blocks long with sleet coming down around him. It's three days until Christmas and he's cold and miserable, but Addie will be devastated if he gives up.

A cute guy who offers him an umbrella is just the encouragement Tate needs to stick it out, especially when Brandon brings him something hot to drink. But the signing ends before Tate can get to the front of the line, and Tate is sure he's ruined Christmas for his niece. Luckily Brandon gets him in to see the author, who happens to be his mother.A simple thank you isn't enough for Tate, and neither he nor Brandon wants to end things there. For two men unused to such an instant mutual attraction, the Christmas season just got a little more merry.

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






The Case of the Sinful Santa(from End Street Volume 2) by RJ Scott & Amber Kell
Summary:
Zephariel, the Angel of Vengeance, Nick Klauson, nephew to Santa, Christmas magic, zombies in the school and a necromancer causing chaos...and at the centre of it all-Mal.

Zephariel is the Angel of Vengeance and is tracking down his cousin Danjal for misuse of brimstone. When he walks into a bar and finds Nick Klauson drowning his sorrows, he is instantly drawn to him. Could this be his fated mate?

When Nick and Zeph join forces to deal with zombies in Mal's school, sparks fly. Add in a demon, a wolf and a necromancer, and Sam and Bob have a hunt on their hands.

Saturday Series Spotlight: End Street Detective Agency #1-5

The Case of the Guilty Ghost #6

Original Review October 2016:
When a series like End Street happens, there is the potential for new characters with each entry but you don't expect them to all carry over from one to the next.  I mean when a case concludes so should the clients, right? Well not in this series and neither does it get crowded, each character has his or her place in their world and in the continuing story.  Who knew Santa's family could be so interesting? Well, you will after you've read Case of the Sinful Santa, which in itself is a bit of conundrum, Santa(or his family at least) taking part in anything that involves sin, what a devilish idea and RJ & Amber handle it interestingly.

RATING: 

Merry Krumpus by Stephani Hecht(Dire Pack Reborn #3)
Summary:
It won't be a very happy holidays if the Dire Wolf Pack succumbs to the Krumpus.

When Angel's younger cousin, Vinny, comes to live with them he brings more than just his attitude. Thanks to the fact that the sixteen-year old's depression he's lost his Christmas Spirit and that brings a curse upon the Dire Wolf Pack--The Krumpus.

As the monster begins to kill members of the pack off will Angel and his brothers be able to stop the creature in time? Or will they lose the pack and Vinny?

Dire Pack Reborn Series

Not Just for Christmas by Lisa Worrall
Summary:
When his last boyfriend broke his heart and stole his life savings, Glenn figured he would be much safer if he closed the door on love and threw himself into his job as head window dresser in a large department store. Unbeknownst to Glenn, while he continues to build a wall around his heart, his Guardian Angel is plotting to give him his happy ever after involving a mannequin and a sprig of mistletoe.


This may be a short story but its not short on fun and holiday cheer.  As a matter of fact there's just so much heart in this tale that you'll be shocked when you turn the last page so quickly.  Not Just for Christmas is jam-packed with the magic of the season that will leave you with tons of hope and smiles.  Short but worth the read.

RATING: 

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Random Tales of Christmas 2017




A Solstice Journey by Felicitas Ivey
THE HOLIDAY party was going full swing—had been for an hour or so—but I was working at my desk. It wasn’t because I was a workaholic trying to make points with the boss. Well, maybe it was, a little. But it was more because I didn’t know any of those people, since I had only been here a month. I did want to finish out one more account before I went and tried to be social.

I really don’t have the personality to be charming and witty. I’m too serious and too geeky, and I never really know what to say to someone.

But I was enjoying the music I could hear faintly over the distant buzz of voices. And I was talking on the phone with my mother, so I wasn’t actually working working.

“Do take care of yourself,” she instructed. “I’m worried that you’re alone for the holidays.” This sounded a little more intense than my mother’s usual fussing.

I broke up with my boyfriend when I transferred here, because we both knew a long-distance relationship wasn’t going to work for us. We just weren’t that committed to each other. Ted had been more of a fuck buddy than a lover, since we hadn’t really attempted to date. We each showed up at the other’s apartment, ate and fooled around, and then left the next morning. We’d been together for almost a year, and I hadn’t even left a stray book at the man’s place, never mind clothing or a toothbrush. That was what we had wanted at the time, since we were both rebounding from high-maintenance, messy relationships.

“I’ll call,” I promised. “And being alone isn’t a bad thing.”

Christmas and the end of the year were coming, but at this company, no one took a vacation, so I couldn’t go home for the holidays. I usually did, no matter where I was working. This was the first year I wouldn’t be able to.

“It’s the Solstice today,” she murmured. “The beginning of the Yule. You received your presents?”

I had no idea what she was talking about. We celebrated Christmas when I was growing up; my parents had been devout but not pushy about it. They did the same thing every year—no matter how old the children were—and that was send new clothing for Christmas every year. And I teased them about it, because I felt I was too old for such things. The Yule Cat wouldn’t eat me because I didn’t have new clothing.

“I got my packages, and I promise that I’ll open them when I’m supposed to. I love you,” I told her. “Give everyone my love, and I’ll call you on Christmas.”

“Please remember that I love you,” she said in an odd tone of voice. “No matter what, I always will love you.”

“I figured that out when you accepted me jumping out of the closet,” I teased, wanting to cheer her up. Christmas was hard for her with my father being gone.

She laughed, even if it was a little strained. “A mother knows those things. And you didn’t steal your sisters’ boyfriends.”

“I’m not stupid,” I replied. My sisters were clever, ruthless women who made Viking men look like wimps.

“We love you,” she repeated and then hung up on me.

I snapped my phone shut and put it next to my keyboard. I frowned at the screen and managed to add up another row of numbers before I was interrupted again.

“C’mon, you’re making the rest of us look bad.”

I had positioned my desk so my back was to a corner and I could see the door even as I hid behind my monitor screen. The voice belonged to an older man, in his midfifties, with silver hair and a curly beard, who was peeking around my door. He sort of looked like St. Nick, but he was wearing a blue suit—designer—not a red one.

He smiled. “I’m going to get a reputation as a Scrooge,” he admonished as he glanced over my desk, probably looking for my nameplate. It was buried under a couple of piles of paper, so he couldn’t see my name. I recognized him, though. He was the VP of this section, Ben Scudder. “Um—”

I stood up, skirted around my desk, and held out my hand. His eyes widened a bit when he saw how tall I was. “Gunnar Dagviรฐurson,” I said.

He stared at me for a moment before shaking my hand, looking at me like I might crush it while I shook it. I was used to the reaction by now. I even found it funny. I had lived up to that name. I was big and brawny, and even in a suit, since I looked like I should have an axe in one hand and a shield in the other, because the suits never appeared to fit quite right, even when tailored. I looked like I should be out pillaging a farm someplace instead of running numbers. My appearance almost matched my name.

When I was a teenager, I had thought my parents were insane for naming me Gunnar. I was adopted. I figured that out as soon as I learned to walk, I swear. It wasn’t hard. My parents were tall, blond, and blue-eyed, advertisements for the Swedish Bikini Ski team, although they were actually Icelandic. I had the blue eyes, but that was where it ended for me. My skin was the color of strong tea, and my curly hair was darker, cut short so I could impose some sort of control over it. I really didn’t look anything like either of them. My parents had adopted me shortly after they married. I had never asked them about it and had never wanted to find my birth parents, much to their relief. We weren’t blood, but they had raised me and treated me the same as they did their four daughters. That was why they had given me a traditional Icelandic name, no matter how odd it sounded with the way that I looked.

“I promise I’ll knock it off soon,” I told him with a smile in return. “I just want to make sure I wrap up the Leup account.”

“Don’t worry about that,” he said, waving his hands at me. “Now is the time for some Christmas cheer.”

He looked guilty for a second, so I grinned and started to shut down my computer. I knew enough not to argue with a VP about working through the party. I could always come back to my spreadsheets later.

“Protestant,” I reassured him. “I promise my parents weren’t pagan, even though they’re Icelandic. We always celebrated Christmas no matter where my father’s job took us.”

“Ah, that’s why you don’t have much of an accent,” he said as he started to shoo me out the door. “Even though your name makes me think of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets.”

“Bork Bork Bork,” I said with a grin. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that joke, and I doubted it would be the last. “But I’m Icelandic,” I repeated, “not Swedish.”

I glanced back, shrugged, and decided I could be seen without my suit coat for once. I still had my tie on, at least, not that the dress policy was very strict, but it was the principle of the thing.

“I hate to ask this, but how long have you been here?” Scudder asked as we walked down the hallway to the party in the boardroom. The food and alcohol were in there, while the rest of the party had spilled out into the hallway and surrounding cubicles because of the number of people.

“I transferred in about a month ago,” I said. “From the Tampa office.”

The company moved employees around every couple of years, either as a lateral transfer or a promotion. Smart people took the moves, no matter how much it screwed up their lives. Those who didn’t usually didn’t get promoted after the second refusal.

He looked at me questioningly, and I smiled. “I like snow, even though I didn’t see a lot of it growing up.”

“But I thought you said you’re Icelandic?”

I shrugged, very aware of the people looking at us and trying to guess why we were together. I had found out over the years that office politics were at their most cutthroat during the Christmas season, and I wondered how many people thought I was kissing his ass instead of Scudder just being a nice guy.

“My father’s job moved us around a lot, so I’ve spent a lot of time other places,” I explained. “My sisters and I grew up all over. A lot of them weren’t cold, though. I didn’t see snow, really, until I went back to Iceland for university.”

“Where did you grow up?”

We stopped in front of the bar. He grabbed a couple of glasses of red wine and handed me one. I took it, not wanting to make a fuss. At least it wasn’t some sort of mixed drink. I didn’t drink a lot, and getting drunk at the office Christmas party wasn’t a good idea. I made the mental note to start eating as soon as I could. Breakfast had been a while ago.

“Italy, Egypt, Brazil, France, and a couple of other places I probably can’t remember,” I said. “My parents were sent all over until my father died two years ago. My mother lives in Blรถnduรณs now, and my sisters are scattered all over Iceland. I’m usually home with them for Christmas, since the whole family tries to make it, but not this year.”

I felt guilty about not going home. But there just wasn’t any way for me to take the time off. I was going to visit after the holidays, but it wouldn’t be the same.

“You seem to have led a really exciting life,” he said. “And I stayed put in good ol’ Beantown.”

I could have guessed that, since he had a Boston accent so thick it was almost a caricature. But that didn’t mean he was stupid; he had his MBA from Harvard and his undergrad from Amherst College. My education wasn’t as highbrow. I had earned my BA and my MBA from the top universities in Iceland, although they weren’t as impressive as an Ivy League education was to Americans. But I didn’t know what to say about his comment, because while growing up, I had thought everyone lived like that. It wasn’t until I got to university that I found people who hadn’t moved all over the world because of a parent’s job.

We moved into the boardroom to get something to eat. People moved out of our way, mainly because of Scudder, but also because I think people didn’t want to get between me and food. Scudder moved off to spread more cheer, and I soon finished piling my plate with odds and ends, which was kind of difficult while juggling a glass of wine. I was figuring out where to eat when Ida Minos thankfully relieved me of my glass of wine. She was the departmental administrator. Her age was somewhere between thirty and retirement; she didn’t look old but had been working for the company for decades. From the flush on her cheeks, she’d had a couple of glasses of something herself.

“Follow me,” she said, then worked her way through the crowd with ease. No one wanted to peeve the woman in charge of the office supplies. It wasn’t quite the parting of the Red Sea, but close. We ended up near her office.

“Thank you for the cookies,” she told me as she handed back my glass.

I had baked her cookies and dropped them off in a tin earlier in the day. It wasn’t really a bribe, but I was in the mood to bake, and it wasn’t like I knew a lot of people I could give them to. I could only eat so many chocolate gingersnaps without either getting sick, or sick of them.

“You’re welcome,” I answered sincerely. “You’ve been very good to me.”

She snorted. What had been happening was I was polite enough to actually ask her for office supplies instead of just raiding her closet like so many people did.

“Finish that and let me show you around,” she said. “I want you to meet some people, and this is the time to do it.”

Worth the Wait by Caitlin Ricci & Cari Z

THE RAIN wasn’t heavy, but it was constant, a continuous misty drizzle that infused the air with more of a chilling sensation than was actually there. In a few months, once spring arrived, Tate knew there would be pale green buds just starting to appear on the tips of the maple trees in their neat little sidewalk enclosures. For now, though, it was three days until Christmas, and the rain was quickly turning into sleet around him. The remaining light from the pale winter sunset was just enough to make the wet ground sparkle a bit, reflecting in the store’s windows, which were ringed with plain, perfect white pinpricks of light.



A long line of people stood on the sidewalk outside the store, in bulky multicolored coats or under sturdy umbrellas, chatting and waiting impatiently for the line to move forward. It was, objectively, a lovely evening scene, one that Tate might have enjoyed if not for his quickly soaking feet as he stood in the wet and wished he hadn’t agreed to go to the bookstore during the last minute mad rush of Christmas shoppers.

Subjectively, it was a special sort of punishment for the shortsighted. Tate shivered as a tiny rivulet of ice water slid down the side of his face and dropped onto his sodden shirt collar. His hoodie was entirely insufficient against the weather, but he hadn’t planned on being outside long enough for it to matter and had come straight from work, with no time to change between. He had a better coat, far away where he’d left his car before hopping on the Sixteenth Street Mall bus to get here, but if he went back for it now he’d be giving up his place in line. He was already close enough to the back that he didn’t want to surrender any potential advantage when it came to getting these books signed. The plastic crinkled under his arms as he gripped his package tighter, and Tate sighed. At least he’d had the foresight to wrap the books up in a plastic grocery bag to keep them dry before heading out.

This wasn’t exactly how he’d seen his Friday night playing out. Then again, since his usual Friday night would have been going home and crashing on the couch after ten hours of mostly inane help desk queries, he couldn’t say this was worse, exactly. At least he had a purpose other than mindless relaxation tonight.

The Case of the Sinful Santa(Volume Two) by RJ Scott & Amber Kell
Nick Klauson pushed open the door to the tavern and climbed onto a seat in the back corner where it was dark and he could be alone. He needed somewhere to lick his wounds and this place was as good as any. The barman—woman? Nick could never tell with satyrs—waited expectantly and Nick didn’t keep him or her standing there long. He didn’t have to think about what he was going to order.

“Whisky. A bottle. One glass,” he said firmly. He waited for a reaction and was vaguely disappointed when there was none. The whisky was old, the crystal tumbler bright and there in front of him was the means to forget who he was for a few hours at least.

“Do you want any food?” the satyr asked. Her features coalesced into a feminine shape and she batted her eyelashes at Nick. If she only knew how freaked out Nick was to see a paranormal being able to change sex at the whim of the person they were with.

“Do I look like I want food?” Nick snapped. “If I’d wanted food I would have ordered it.” He stopped as he realised the residual anger from his last showdown with the family was spilling over into spite and irritation. “Sorry,” he mumbled before swallowing another mouthful of burning alcohol. He wiped his mouth. “Bad day.” Bad year. Bad life.

The satyr leaned over the bar, giving Nick an eyeful of newly fashioned creamy breasts in a low-cut top. “You look stressed,” she began with a low purr. “I can help you with that if you have the time.” Evidently the satyr was reading Nick all wrong. The alcohol was burning in his system and he clung to the buzz as long as he could. Unfortunately his family had this damn gene that meant they didn’t stay drunk for long. Sometimes he hated that…sometimes he wanted to drown in the haze of contentment and just stay there for an hour or two.

“Wrong…uhm…” He waved a hand at her breasts.

She chuckled and in the weirdest, unsexiest, most obscene way ever, she morphed into a male. Nick nearly choked on his whisky. The male bartender was so the absolute opposite of what Nick wanted in a guy. She…or he—or whatever the satyr was—had chosen a small blond twink of a thing. What he was faced with couldn’t have been more wrong. Nick loved his men big and dark-haired and strong enough to drag him to bed.

“Better?” the satyr said in a soft voice.

Nope. All wrong.

“I’m not interested,” Nick said quickly. “That isn’t what I came in for.”

The satyr reached out a hand and touched his cheek, startling him back on the stool. “Shame. You’re soooo pretty.”

Nick pulled away from the satyr’s reach. “Uh. Yeah. Just the whisky, thanks.”

“Are you really sure? I can be anything you want me to be.”

“Can you be a way out?” Nick snapped then regretted it. The satyr eyed him with confusion then opened his mouth to answer. “Never mind,” Nick interjected. “The whisky is fine.”

The satyr moved away and morphed as he walked, back into the buxom blonde. Nick could feel the disappointment emanating from her. He hated that. Not only was Nick the only skinny one in the family, but he had a broken form of the family trait of empathy. Not a useful skill when the only emotions he was capable of reading were misery and disappointment. He couldn’t even get empathy right. And as for ho ho freaking ho…

“Is this seat taken?” a voice rumbled to his left. Irritation flooded Nick. This was a big bar with a lot of spaces to hide, why would someone want to share his?

“Yes,” he snapped.

The owner of the voice chuckled and the sound cut through Nick’s melancholy. That was one low, sexy noise. He looked sideways and got an eyeful of man. Big man. Huge. Maybe six-four to his five-ten. Wide, solid, with dark hair, and even in the dim lighting at this end Nick could see the man’s eyes glint with amusement. Nick squirmed in his seat. Why had he said yes? The man, or whatever he turned out to be in this mixed human/para bar, was clearly interested enough to choose to sit next to Nick. Add to that Nick had a whole afternoon to kill.

“No,” he said.

“No what?” the big man said.

“When I said yes, I meant no. No one is sitting there.”

The man looked down pointedly at the fact he was already perched on the stool anyway. “Then I’ll stay,” he concluded.

The satyr behind the bar moved over to serve the new guy. Nick blinked furiously. The alcohol had clearly got to him because he could swear the satyr was morphing from male to female and was at times stuck as a bearded sixty-year-old man with the biggest chest he’d ever seen. He shook his head and concentrated on his whisky. He was obviously losing it big time.

“Zeph Constantine,” the big man introduced himself and held out a hand to shake.

“Nick Klauson.”

They shook hands and Nick winced at Zeph’s grip. Firm, maybe a little too firm. The shaking went on for some time. Neither man released his hold. Finally Nick realised he was still holding Zeph’s hand and embarrassment flushed his face. Thank the heavens they were in the gloom so Zeph didn’t see the tell-tale signs of Nick’s classic awkwardness around hot men.

“What brings you to the city?” Zeph asked as he sipped on what looked like water but could well have been vodka for all Nick knew.

“Toy convention,” Nick answered immediately. Then his mind went blank. What else could he add to that one? That was his cover story and he hadn’t spent any time embellishing it to be able to give details.

“Interesting. And?” Zeph prompted.

“I’m a statistician,” Nick lied on the run. “I look at trends in toy sales to support company marketing.” So it wasn’t actually lying, but he had fudged a little there. His actual job was to visit toy fairs and determine trends, but he was also there to investigate areas with any pockets of residual despair—the parts of the city and the surrounding countryside where there was a lack of joy. Not that he would tell sexy here anything about what he really did. His job description was a little screwy, but that was what he did and he did it well.

Merry Krumpus by Stephani Hecht
Chapter One
Vinny stood in the front of his cousins' home and studied it very carefully. The one word that came to mind was unimpressive. When he'd first heard through the grapevine that Bishop was the Alpha of the pack, Vinny had imagined his kin would have moved up in the world. Yet they were still living in the same home they had been all their lives.

Not that the house was that bad. Sure, it was boring because it was so ordinary, but it was still better than some. Vinny on the other hand, had come from a lavish condo. One that had all the bells and whistles. He was willing to bet Bishop's home didn't even have a bidet. How primitive.

Still, since Vinny's parents had kicked him out, it wasn't like he had anywhere else to go. The rest of their extended family wanted nothing to do with him. So, he decided this was the only place he could go. He had taken the careful measure of not calling ahead of time and alerting his cousins that he would be arriving. For all he knew, they didn't want him, either. Vinny was just hoping that he could throw some puppy dog eyes their way and wiggle his way into their lives.

He let out a sigh, creating a billow of air in the winter environment. It wasn't like he had any other choices. If his cousins turned him away then Vinny was going to find his privileged butt on some cot in the homeless shelter. He couldn't let that happen. They didn't have high-end beauty products there. He had his skin and hair to think about. He hadn't worked this hard and long to look this good, only to let things go to pot.

He let out a sigh to steady his nerves then made his way to the front door. His only thought was, what if my parents got to them first and told everybody to turn me away. Sure, my cousins may be gay, too, but my parents could have lied to them about the reason why I was kicked out.

It took every ounce of Vinny's courage to knock on the door. When Angel answered it, Vinny felt a small ray of hope. Out of all of them, Angel was the nicest. He even had a smile for Vinny.

"Hey, what are you doing here?" Angel asked.

Vinny gave a slight shake of his head. "The rest of the family didn't call and tell you?"

Angel gave Vinny a strange look. "Why would they do that? They haven't talked to us since we came out."

Vinny adjusted the straps of his backpack. Which held all of his worldly belongings. "Yeah, that's why I'm here. I was kicked out of my house."

"Why?" After asking that, Angel's eyes grew wide. "Oh, I see now."

A heat came over Vinny's cheeks. Was it that obvious he was gay? Did he dress in a certain way? He loved his skinny jeans, and his father had made more than one snide comment over them. Maybe they were some kind of secret code or something.

"See what?" Vinny snapped. "That you have yet another queer in the family. Well, give the Omega a prize because he's right. Somebody better stop the press, Angel finally got something right for once."

Vinny expected Angel to bristle at that last comment. Yet, the Omega just stood there, a serene look on his face. He even blinked a few times as a tiny smile appeared on his face.

"I wouldn't be too demeaning with the Omega remarks, since you're one, too," Angel said. "You may have dyed your hair black, but I still have pictures of you and the natural color is blond. You're not fooling anybody. Especially, with that skinny ass."

"You don't know shit."

Angel let out another sigh then stood to the side. "Why don't you come in and explain it all to me?"

Vinny did as told. Not because he was about to follow anybody's orders, but it was as cold as snot outside. The last thing he wanted was to freeze his balls off. He liked them very much, thank you.

When Vinny saw the indoors was decorated for the holidays, a surge of anger hit him. How dare anybody be so excited about the time of year when his world was going to shit?

"So, how old are you?" Angel asked.

"Seventeen," Vinny replied tilting his head up defiantly.

Even though the law said he was still one year from being an adult, Vinny didn't agree. He was as mature as his cousins and he dared them to say otherwise. Age didn't mean anything. Vinny had been through a lot and he had the mental scars to prove it.

"I'm shocked that your parents threw you out," Angel said as he began to make coffee. "Sure, they may be narrow-minded, but they always thought the world revolved around you."

Vinny pressed his lips together. The last thing he wanted to admit was his parents hadn't technically tossed him to the curb. They'd just stated they had trouble accepting the fact that he was gay. They'd asked for some patience until they got used to the idea.

Well, they could go take a hike. Vinny was insulted that they needed any time at all. He was their son and they should be happy with him no matter what. He didn't have the time for their feelings. After all, he was the one who was grappling with the idea that he was different. Not them.

"Well, you don't know everything about them, do you?" Vinny challenged.

Angel shrugged. "I do know that your father was there for us when our parents died. He knew we were gay, too. He didn't seem to have a problem with it."

Rage filled Vinny. "You don't know anything about him. He just puts on a good face when he's around you. He's super terrible in real life. You wouldn't believe some of the things that he says."

Angel rolled his eyes. As if! Vinny wasn't a child to be coddled. He was almost able to go see R-rated movies and stuff like that. In a year he could even be drafted and go to war. There was nothing kiddie about that.

"Maybe I should just call your father and try to iron things out for you," Angel offered. "I'm sure it's all a big misunderstanding."

"I don't want to talk to him!"

When was Angel going to get it? Vinny's life was going to pot and Angel didn't realize the importance of it. He was acting as if it were just another day in pack land. No big deal, it was just Vinny's life that had just gone into the crapper.

"But the holidays are coming up. Where's your spirit?" Angel asked.

Vinny threw his hands up in the air. "Screw the holidays! I want nothing to do with them."
As soon as Vinny delivered that bombshell, it grew dark outside. Almost as if somebody had snuffed out the sun. A powerful wind blew over the lands. It was so strong the windows shook and the trees shivered. A wolf, that is a normal one, rather than a shifter, howled in the distance. An ominous feeling clung in the air like cigarette smoke.

"Well, that's never happened before," Angel said, drawing each word out slowly.

There was a knock on the door. Vinny looked out the window and let out a huff. Great! It was the town elder. A woman that had to be in her hundreds. Just what he needed was for her to stick her nose into his business. That was exactly why she was there, too. Vinny had no doubt. A flea couldn't fart on their pack land without her knowing about it. So, she was probably there to tell Vinny to go home and things would turn out just fine.

No thank you!

"Don't let her in," Vinny ordered.

Angel walked over to the door then unlocked it. "Don't be crazy. She is one of Bishop's most trusted advisors."

Vinny rolled his eyes. "Yeah, was she the one who told your mate to pretend to be a vet in order to hide the fact that your Omega gift is healing?"

Angel frowned at him. "Who told you about that? What makes you think that he's not a vet?"

Once again Vinny rolled his eyes. "I have a thing called the internet."

"I'm only a few years older than you. I know what it is."

"I did a background search on your mate. I found that he went to law school, but there is no mention of him going to veterinary classes."

"You really need to stop snooping in other's lives. One of these days you're going to find something that you don't like," Angel warned.

"Really? Because I've found a lot of things there that I've liked a lot."

Angel gave him a droll look. "I'm not even going to go there. You're still too young for me to have that kind of discussion with you."

"When will I be old enough?"

"Never," Angel declared.

Angel opened the door and let the elderly women inside. Like the rest of their neighbors, she was a Dire Wolf shifter. Though Vinny had never seen her shift before. It was most likely because she was too old. It would only make sense to him. It took a lot out of the body to shift and she was probably too frail to withstand it.

The old women pointed a finger at Vinny. "I know what you're thinking. I may be old, but I could still take you over my knee and give you the whipping that you deserve."

"You don't know anything about me," Vinny grumbled.

"I know a spoiled brat when I see one," she countered.

A stifled laugh came from Angel. What a traitor. Since he was Vinny's cousin, the Dire Wolf shouldn't be siding with the elderly woman.

"You don't even know me," Vinny snapped.

Angel pointed at him. "You will have respect for you elders."

"Why?"

"For one thing she's an Alpha and you're an Omega."

As if Vinny needed to be reminded about his hated blond hair and blue eyes. To him they'd always been a sign of weakness. A warning that he'd spend his entire life answering to others and never have his own choices in the world.

"Whoever heard of a female Alpha?" Vinny sneered.

Next they would be telling him the sky was brown and the ground was blue. Just because he wasn't officially an adult yet, didn't make him stupid. He wasn't about to believe everything that was told to him.

The elderly woman walked over then grabbed Vinny by the throat. In a flash she had him off the ground and pinned to the wall. All with one hand. Fear spiked through Vinny, but a bit of outrage did, too. How dare they treat him like that?

"Okay, I get it. You're a frigging Alpha," Vinny gasped. It was kind of hard to breathe through her viselike grip.

"You care to repeat that?" the lady asked.

"Okay, you're an Alpha and I should show you more respect," Vinny rushed.

She abruptly let him go, making Vinny crash to the ground. He landed in a crumpled mess. Which didn't exactly up his cool factor. Vinny put a hand to his now aching throat and shot Angel and the Alpha a dirty look. They could have found a way to prove their point in a much less humiliating manner. They didn't have to make a fool out of him. After all, he was having the worst day of his life.

"You're both jerks," Vinny said.

Before either one of them could reply or choke him out again, Vinny got up then ran up the stairs. He'd visited several times before so he knew right where the guest bedrooms were. Vinny picked the largest one, went inside then slammed the door behind him. He even took the extra step of locking it. Not that his cousins couldn't have broken it down if they really wanted too. Vinny just hoped for once somebody would respect his privacy and let him be alone. That way he could fume all he wanted.

For nearly an hour he sat in the dark room, waiting to see what his family's next move would be. He was a little disappointed when nobody came to beg him to come out. Didn't they care about him at all?

Just as he was about to leave, he heard a blood-curdling scream from across the pack lands. It was so filled with horror that it made Vinny's blood turn cold. Whatever was happening could not be good.

He rushed to the window and looked through the glass. He saw several of the Betas running to the house of the Marshall family. They had just only come to live with the pack. The place they'd stayed before had become too brutal and the Marshalls had fled in fear.

It currently seemed as if they would have been better off at their old home. Even from the distance, Vinny could see large puddles of blood soaking the snow surrounding their dwelling. The Betas arrived, but going by their slow pace, they were already too late to save the family.

Then Vinny saw it. He just caught a glimpse of it. He'd only seen it before in horror movies or schoolbooks. Yet, there was no mistaking its brownish red skin that was only covered by a loincloth. Any more than he could deny its upright gait, the horns on its head and the hooved feet.

For some reason. One that Vinny could not fathom, the Krumpus had come to their pack. Which was crazy. They only showed when there was no holiday spirit. Yet, everywhere he looked he saw the houses covered with lights, garland and even those stupid blow up figurines.

So, why would that monster show its ugly face? Then Vinny thought back to his earlier conversation and his body grew cold. It was him! He had been the one to basically say the hell with the holidays and that he wanted nothing to do with them.

Worse yet, even with the Krumpus showing up, Vinny still had no desire to get into the mood. The last thing he wanted was Jingle Bells and Holly Jolly. He wanted to hide out in his room until the end of January and forget the whole thing was going on.

Yet, he knew he couldn't do that. If he did so, then he would be acting like the child they all accused him of being. Vinny ran from his room. He had to find his cousins and let them know what was going on.


Felicitas Ivey
Felicitas Ivey is the pen name of a very frazzled helpdesk drone at a Boston-area university. She's an eternal student even with a BA in anthropology and history, since free classes are part of the benefits. She's taken courses on gothic architecture, premodern Japanese literature, and witchcraft, just because they sounded like fun. She has traveled to Japan and Europe and hopes to return to both in the future.

She knits and cross-stitches avidly, much to the disgust of her cat, Smaugu, who wants her undivided attention. He's also peeved that she spends so much time writing instead of petting him. She writes urban fantasy and horror of a Lovecraftian nature, monsters beyond space and time that think that humans are the tastiest things in the multiverse.

Felicitas lives in Boston with her beloved husband, known to all as The Husband, and the aforementioned cat, whom the husband swears is a demon, even though it's his fault that they have the cat. The husband also is worried about Felicitas’s anime habit, her love for J-Pop music, and her extensive collection of Yaoi manga and Gundam Wing doujinshi, which has turned her library into a Very Scary Place for him.

Caitlin Ricci
Caitlin was fortunate growing up to be surrounded by family and teachers that encouraged her love of reading. She has always been a voracious reader and that love of the written word easily morphed into a passion for writing. If she isn't writing, she can usually be found studying as she works toward her counseling degree. She comes from a military family and the men and women of the armed forces are close to her heart. She also enjoys gardening and horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies where she calls home with her wonderful fiance and their dog. Her belief that there is no one true path to happily ever after runs deeply through all of her stories.

Cari Z.
Cari Z was a bookworm as a child and remains one to this day. In an effort to combat her antisocial reading behavior she did all sorts of crazy things, from competitive gymnastics to alligator wresting (who even knew that was legal!) to finally joining the Peace Corps, which promptly sent her and her husband to the wilds of West Africa, stuck them in a hut and said, "See ya!" She also started writing, because some things she just thought she could do better. She's still climbing that ladder, but can't stop herself from writing, or from sharing what she creates.

Cari enjoys a wide range of literary genres, from the classics (get 'im, Ahab) to science fiction and fantasy of all types, to historical fiction and reference materials (no, seriously, there are so many great encyclopedias out there). She writes in a wide range of genres as well, but somehow 90% of what she produces ends up falling into the broad and exciting category of m/m erotica. There’s a sprinkling of f/m and f/f and even m/f/m in her repertoire, but her true love is man love. And there's a lot of love to go around.

Cari has published short stories, novellas and novels with numerous print and e-presses, and she also offers up a tremendous amount of free content on Literotica.com, under the name Carizabeth.

RJ Scott
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn't with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn't like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

Amber Kell
Amber Kell has made a career out of daydreaming. It has been a lifelong habit she practices diligently as shown by her complete lack of focus on anything not related to her fantasy world building.

When she told her husband what she wanted to do with her life he told her to go have fun.

During those seconds she isn't writing she remembers she has children who humor her with games of 'what if' and let her drag them to foreign lands to gather inspiration. Her youngest confided in her that he wants to write because he longs for a website and an author name—two things apparently necessary to be a proper writer.

Despite her husband's insistence she doesn't drink enough to be a true literary genius she continues to spin stories of people falling happily in love and staying that way.

She is thwarted during the day by a traffic jam of cats on the stairway and a puppy who insists on walks, but she bravely perseveres..

She also writes under the name Mikela Q. Chase.

Stephani Hecht
Stephani Hecht is a happily married mother of two. Born and raised in Michigan, she loves all things about the state, from the frigid winters to the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. Go Wings! You can usually find her snuggled up to her laptop, creating her next book or gorging on caffeine at her favorite coffee shop.

When she’s not running around like crazy, trying to get her kids to their various activities, she’s currently working on numerous projects. In the coming months, she has several books coming out with eXtasy Books in both The Lost Shifter Series and Drone Vampire Chronicles, plus a few additional projects that are still in the development stages.

Lisa Worrall
Thank you for reading and taking the time to review and/or rate. It's jaw-dropping to me that you would do either. I feel a bit like Sally Field in her famous Oscar speech "You like me - you actually like me"

I live in a small seaside town just outside London, on the South Coast of England that boasts the longest pier in the world; where I am ordered around by two precocious children and a dog who thinks she's the boss of me.

I've been writing seriously for three years now and love giving voice to the characters warring to be heard in my head, and am currently petitioning for more hours in the day, because I never seem to have enough of them.

I like nothing more than bringing together two people in interesting and sometimes bizarre ways, and hope that the readers enjoy the characters' journey as much as they and I do.


Felicitas Ivey
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Caitlin Ricci
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Cari Z
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RJ Scott
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Amber Kell
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Stephani Hecht
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EMAIL: archangelwriter@yahoo.com

Lisa Worrall
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EMAIL: lisaworrall69@gmail.com



A Solstice Journey by Felicitas Ivey
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Worth the Wait by Caitlin Ricci & Cari Z

The Case of the Sinful Santa(Volume Two) by RJ Scott & Amber Kell
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Merry Krumpus by Stephani Hecht

Not Just for Christmas by Lisa Worrall

Blogger Review: The Soldier Next Door by Brigham Vaughn

Summary:
All twenty-seven-year-old Travis Schultz is supposed to do is keep an eye on the kid next door for a few weeks while his parents are out of town. Eighteen-year-old Owen Wheeler has other plans. Newly graduated, with plans to enlist in the Army, Owen wants to get laid before he ships out and he’s had a crush on Travis for years.

The age difference and the responsibility he’s been entrusted with make Travis hesitant, but the attraction is too much to deny. When the casual one-night stand turns into something more, Travis has no idea how to tell Owen how he feels. He misses his opportunity before Owen leaves and is left at home with a broken heart when Owen cuts off all contact.

When they meet again years later, Owen is in the midst of recovery from being injured in the line of duty and Travis will have to decide if he can forgive Owen and try again.

๐Ÿ“šPublisher's Note: This book was previously released as part of the Right Here, Right Now anthology with Pride Publishing.๐Ÿ“š

๐Ÿ’ฅThis book contains brief mentions of PTSD and war-related injuries.๐Ÿ’ฅ


When Travis was asked to keep an eye on his 18 year old neighbor while his parents are away for a few weeks, he never expected it to change his life.  Owen isn't exactly pleased with the idea of having his neighbor checking up on him for the few weeks his parents are gone, especially with him joining the Army at the end of summer but then maybe it won't be so bad when its the neighbor he's been crushing on for years.  When Owen asks Travis for a favor of his own, will Travis comply?  Where will it leave the boys when the summer is up and Owen leaves for Basic?

Followers of my blog and reviews already know how much I love the writing of Brigham Vaughn.  Not only do I consider her a friend and kindred spirit but her writing style and ability to tell a story is amazing and never fails to entertain(that is my honest opinion that would be the same even if we disagreed over everything๐Ÿ˜‰).  The Soldier Next Door is no different, it may be shorter as its a novella originally part of Pride Publishing's anthology Right Here, Right Now but it is definitely not short on heart.  Travis and Owen's journey is a perfect blend of romance, humor, and drama with a healthy dose of lust threaded throughout. 

Perhaps the scenario that Travis and Owen find themselves in is something only found in books and television but the way Brigham creates it, I wouldn't be surprised if it happened on my block.  Fiction is where we go to escape our everyday lives but when an author can bring you that escape and still fill it with people you could see walking past your front window, you know you have found something special.  Would I have liked to seen more of the pair and had the future delved into?  Of course, I never want a Brigham Vaughn tale to end but it is a novella after all.  There was a time when I would have taken a half bookmark away automatically just for the "shortness" of the story but it was authors like Brigham that showed me when a story is well written with intriguing characters, length(or lack thereof) is not a factor.

Simply put: Travis and Owen's journey in The Soldier Next Door is a wonderfully fun tale and although its not a holiday story, I can't imagine a better time of year to give it a read.

RATING: 


“Travis, sweetie, can you grab the potato salad out of the fridge?”

Travis glanced up from his phone to look at his mom. “Sure, which one?”

“Oh, I made the mustard potato salad since you’re home. I know it’s your favorite. Your dad bitched and bitched, but I promised I’d make him some of his favorite soon.” Judy Schultz fussed with the flowers one more time, even though they were already perfect.

Travis stood and slipped his phone into his pocket. “No, not which potato salad, which fridge?”

“Oh.” Her hand fluttered distractedly. “The one in the basement.” She yelled after him as he turned to walk away. “Oh, and can you grab the big cooler we always put drinks in? There’s ice in it already. And once that’s up, can you set up the drinks on the deck?”

“Sure, Mom.” Travis chuckled to himself and jogged down the stairs. She was always a little flustered before her annual Fourth of July barbecue. It was a huge party—half the neighborhood came, along with all of her book club friends and their families.

Travis paused when he reached the bottom step. There was a man sitting on the couch, knees spread wide, elbows propped on them, head hanging.

“Hey,” Travis called out in a soft voice, not wanting to startle the guy, but he jerked upright and for a moment Travis would swear there was sheer terror in his eyes.

“Fuck,” he swore. Travis saw him take a deep breath and when he set down the can of soda he’d been holding and placed it on the coffee table, his hand was trembling.

“Shit, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you, man…Owen?”

“Hey.” He stood and half-turned to face Travis.

Owen was taller now. A hell of a lot more bulked up. His voice was even deeper. And his eyes had the shadowed appearance of a man who’d seen far too much. But he still looked like the guy Travis had never intended to fall for.

Travis swallowed hard and stared at the man who’d broken his heart four years ago.

“You’re home.”

Author Bio:
Brigham Vaughn is starting the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga.  She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.


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