Saturday, July 2, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Victorian Holiday Hearts by Summer Devon & Bonnie Dee

Simon and the Christmas Spirit #1
The holiday spirit has forsaken Simon Harris. A recent reminder of the man who used then left him sends lonely Simon on a glum visit to his club to while away a few hours. A breath of fresh air in the form of Christopher Andrews is about to enter his stale life.

Performer of many talents and faces, Christopher gained entrée into the club to win money at cards. Unfortunately, he’s losing. But the evening needn’t be a complete disappointment as he strikes up a friendship with a gentleman which ends in a bedroom.

Simon and Christopher enjoy a few hours of pleasure together, never expecting to see each other again, but Simon’s newfound resolution to change might just transform both their holidays.

If you follow my reviews you already know how much I LOVE Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon's historicals so when I saw they were having a Christmas tale this year I was on cloud 9.  I was not disappointed.  Christopher may have conned his way into the club to make some easy money but what he found in Simon was so much more.  Simon may be alone and not looking for anything meaningful but what he finds in Christopher is everything he didn't realize he was missing.  Together they are powerful and heartwarming and add in the holiday and it's a must read.


Will and the Valentine Saint #2
Will Andrews wishes to escape the craziness of his bohemian family and create some order in his life. Hiding his eccentric theater background and presenting false letters of recommendation, he interviews for a position at a legal aid society. The last thing he expects is to fall hard for his genteel employer, Hugh St. John.

When Hugh needs a secretary, one magnetic candidate draws him. Will Andrews shares his vision for the Society and is also the most attractive man he’s ever met. But Hugh has never even kissed a man and would never throw himself at an employee.

As the pair plans a Valentine charity dinner, they grow ever closer to surrendering to Cupid’s arrow. But when Will’s false credentials and true background are revealed, can Hugh forgive his lies and omissions? Can fragile romance blossom into true love after trust is broken?

Not only was this a great Valentine treat but we also got to see a little glimpse of Christopher and Simon from the authors' Christmas story Simon and the Christmas Spirit.  In Will and the Valentine Saint we see Christopher's brother Will trying to find his own slice of happiness in the form of Hugh St. John.  Of course, he is only looking for some independence but when he begins working for Hugh, his heart has other plans.  A brilliant novella for this holiday series from Devon & Dee that I can't wait to see what else is to come and who's happiness will be next.


Mike and the Spring Awakening #3
Young Micah “Mike” Cordett’s privileged life explodes when he is caught naked with a schoolmate. Running away from disgrace, he blunders into a trap in a seamy part of London and endures months of abuse before escaping. But with the help of the Andrews family, he’s begun to climb out of his fear. Yet, when a reminder of his happier past erupts into his life in the form of Lucas Spring, Mike’s not certain he’s ready to face the remnants of the charmed life he’d once enjoyed. He’s certainly not ready for love.

Lucas Spring pined for Mike from afar when they were in school. This shadow of the confident boy he once knew shocks him, and Lucas vows to do anything he can to help restore the person he’d so admired. With patience and determination, he hopes to ease Mike’s fears and perhaps even win his love.

But when a violent figure from Mike’s past looms into his present, will the tender shoots of a new beginning be crushed?

WARNING: Contains themes of sexual abuse that may trigger some readers. 

I knew when we were introduced to Mike in Will and the Valentine Saint that his story was going to hold secrets that could break your heart.  When Lucas Spring comes looking for his school year crush and finds a man who has not had an easy journey, their lives converge and a new path is formed.  Watching them travel this new path gives the reader hope even when they appear at odds with each other.  Another great read by the writing duo of Devon & Dee, the Victorian Holiday Hearts series may not be as explosive as some of their work simply because they fall on the shorter side of the length spectrum but they don't fall short on the plotline punch scale.


Simon and the Christmas Spirit #1
“I apologize,” Simon said, “if I have misread the situation. But your brother said that you require money, and the cards didn’t yield any. And then this…” He waved a hand. “Upstairs. In a bedroom.” He felt his face redden, but he refused to remain silent. If Christopher could be outrageous, he could at least attempt to meet him partway. “I wanted to be honest, but if you’re insulted, I am sincerely sorry.”

“It isn’t my intention to charge you for anything.” Christopher’s smile didn’t seem real. “Oh, I’ve been called worse. I have a thick skin. But it does feel odd to be offered money for that. No one has in the past, you see, and we have had dire times.” Now his smile seemed real, as if recalling marvelous occasions instead of a time he would have sold his body to stay alive.

He cocked his head to the side and examined Simon. “It’s odd that this situation should be an insult to me but not to you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You assume that I wouldn’t spend time with you without charging you. Seems rather as if you expect it would only be worth my while to gain profit and not to simply enjoy your company.”

Simon hardly supposed a creature this bright needed company. “I suppose the insult comes from using a person like a money box, for one, and a place to deposit, um, pleasure.”

Christopher whooped with laughter. Really, it was the strangest situation Simon had ever encountered. “Depositing pleasure,” he said and began to laugh again. “Such a bank,” he explained.

Simon smiled. “Sticky,” he said, and that sent Christopher off again.
When he could speak, he said, “It’s a pity this will never work in any kind of routine. I can imagine the master of ceremonies would call for a player’s removal the moment he discussed that kind of bank…” He went off into a wheezing fit. The man was a party, a celebration of life unto himself, and Simon couldn’t help but be buoyed along on such a wild current. He too began to chuckle, then laugh until he was whooping breathlessly along with his unexpected companion.

When was the last time he’d laughed loudly and freely without concern? Never with Thomas Millard, who’d cared very much about appearing sophisticated and, now that Simon thought of it, had been quite vain about his appearance. Millard would never have let go and laughed like a child about something entirely silly. But still, Simon had cared for him, and the thought of the lover who had badly used him sobered him from his laughter.

Christopher’s laughter also slowed, though his ever-present smile remained. “What is it? This is a night for confidences. You know all about me already. I’m a performer and a man who is perhaps too much entangled with his family. Tell me about the dark thing that haunts you during this joyous holiday season.”

“Haunts?” Simon snorted. “I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge. I have no ghosts that haunt me.”

“But something has happened to you, and fairly recently, I’ll wager.” Christopher set the wax fruits and nuts on the marble table, so close to Simon, he held his breath.

Christopher walked to the bed and perched on it. He patted the counterpane. “Sit, please, and tell me.”

Simon rose from the chair but was afraid to take a step. If he sat on that bed beside this man, it was tantamount to admitting what they were both here for and that he trusted Christopher. And despite Christopher’s talk about “just talk,” Simon knew better.

But the man was too damned appealing with those sparkling eyes and that too-wide mouth stretched even farther by a smile. Simon uncrossed his arms and took a seat on the bed. He still didn’t speak and, what a wonder, neither did Christopher for a few moments.

“Tell me,” he murmured again. “Was your heart broken?”

“A bit pummeled, but I shall be fine.” Simon didn’t intend to say more. His affair with Millard was his—at first to treasure and now to grieve over. But then words began tumbling out. “I had a lover for a time. I thought what we did…what we had was more than physical, but I was wrong. He lived off my largesse, and I foolishly offered whatever he wanted to take.”

“Ah.” Christopher nodded. “Giving you good reason to fear every man might desire you for the same reason.” He rested a hand on Simon’s knee, and the heat of it burned straight through his woolen trousers. “Trust me. I am not that sort. I may swindle or fudge the facts on occasion, but never in matters of the heart. That is the worst sort of confidence scheme.”

Simon gazed into eyes sharp as razors, and even though he’d only recently been deceived by a fine actor, he believed Christopher Andrews spoke the truth.

“Tonight,” Christopher continued in a hypnotic purr that soothed Simon even as it aroused him, “we will enjoy ourselves and each other. This is a season for celebration. We shall drink deeply of one of the great joys of life.”

Simon gazed at the sensually moving lips, then back at the devilish eyes. Mouth. Eyes. His gaze went back and forth while his body inclined forward almost of its own accord.

This is not happening. This is some sort of dream. I am not a man who tumbles so easily into… The warm pressure of a stranger’s mouth against his own stopped Simon’s thoughts dead.

Christopher smelled of cigar smoke from the cardroom and of something crisp and tangy. Gin, perhaps, with its infusion of pine. He tasted piney too as his tongue insinuated itself between Simon’s lips and stroked his. Delicious. Warm. One kiss made him crave more. And now Christopher’s hands had gone around his back, pulling him closer. The man gave a rumbling contented noise that made Simon’s rising cock swell harder.

A stranger’s body in his arms. A stranger’s tongue twisting around his. Clever kisses and capable hands. Was he actually sharing an illicit interlude right above the stolid, masculine rooms of his club? Below, Jenks continued to slide into his stupor with his newspaper spread over him and the card games went on with no one the wiser. That thought made their groping hands and devouring kisses all the more exciting.

Simon tugged at Christopher’s jacket until he shrugged it off. Then he scrabbled at shirt studs with clumsy fingers until Christopher gently removed his hands and took off the shirt himself. For a moment, Simon merely stared at the performer in an undershirt that bared sinewy arms and molded a muscular chest. With his braces off and his ill-fitting trousers sagging at the waist, the bulge in his drawers was visible.

Simon had to see what lay beneath. He reached out with both hands to open this unexpected Christmas gift.

Will and the Valentine Saint #2
Hugh had practiced the speech aloud at home until he knew “the script,” as Andrews called it, by heart. But this was the first time Andrews had asked him to deliver the address.

“Stand before me as you will when facing your audience,” he said when Hugh tried to get away with speaking from behind his desk. “In the center of the room. Back and shoulders straight. Mind clear of anything outside of your message. Deep breaths before you speak. You know what you need to do.”

Of course he did. Hugh had once been to a specialist who’d taught him techniques similar to the things Andrews suggested. So why did he instantly turn into a cringing, self-doubting child when called upon to speak before an audience—even an audience of one? He could almost feel his throat closing up, his mind going blank, his tongue preparing to stumble over the words as he faced his secretary. Will’s hazel eyes staring so directly at him made his heart stutter.

Hugh inhaled and began. “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen.” He paused before going on. “The Society of Legal Counsel for the Needy deeply appreciates your p-presence at our dinner tonight. We hope you enjoy the meal and the…entertainment provided.”

He hurried into the explanation of the firm’s good works. By the time he described a sample case to illustrate those good works, he was stammering over letters and pausing at inappropriate spots.

Andrews patted his palms against the air, gesturing for him to slow the rush of words. Hugh took a breath, but his mouth was a runaway horse over which his brain couldn’t resume control. He could scarcely breathe. He thought he might pass out. And the more he worried he might, the shorter his breath became. The words he struggled to recall had lost all meaning to him.

He was hardly aware when Andrews rose from the chair he’d placed in front of Hugh and approached him. Between one heartbeat and the next, he was suddenly just there, right beside Hugh. He put a hand on his back as he murmured, “Steady on. Stop speaking.” Then placed the other on Hugh’s waistcoat. “Inhale deeply, filling your diaphragm. Picture a point of light in the center of your forehead. Exhale and continue to focus on that point. Shut out every other thought. Don’t see the room around you, only the light.”

His calm voice and warm hand on Hugh’s abdomen and back were anchors. And the point of light he envisioned was a beacon, a lighthouse bringing him out of turbulence. The panic receded. Hugh could breathe again. 

After Hugh had got himself under control, Andrews continued. “Now you can focus on the speech again. Don’t look at the eyes of the audience if they distract you. Look above their heads. Picture that single point of light and speak directly to it. Recall the reason you speak, on behalf of men like Keller the tailor or Mrs. O’Gill and her brood evicted from their flat. This is not about you.”

The pressure of one palm left Hugh’s stomach, and a warm print was left behind between his shoulder blades. But the other man didn’t step away. He placed his palm on Hugh’s throat above his shirt collar. “These muscles need to relax. Loosen your throat and stop trying to squeeze the words through a tiny tube. Let them roll out of you, nice and easy.”

Nice and easy? How could he relax when Andrews’s hand was lightly massaging his neck? Hugh stood frozen by the unexpected touch. He’d never in his life felt anything as intimate as that caressing hand. He wanted William—how could he think of him as Andrews now?—to touch him everywhere. That was all he could think about.

But apparently his brain still remembered the speech he’d repeated over and over to himself in the privacy of his bedchamber, for it began to flow out of him—smooth and easy, just as William had said.

His voice didn’t falter or shake or sound pinched and tight. Hugh turned his head slightly to look into the other man’s face as he finished, “And so, honored guests, I welcome you tonight and pray you will give generously to support our worthy cause. Allow me to introduce our master of ceremonies, who will now…tell you…more of our hopes for the future.”

He stopped speaking but continued to stare into bright hazel eyes. His entire body was warm and relaxed and yet not relaxed, for he felt like a violin tuned too tight. William’s slow, beautiful smile was a bow sliding against his strings.

“Well done, sir. How did it feel?”

“It felt…” Hugh hesitated, but not in a stammer. He simply couldn’t find words to encompass the feelings roiling through him, the strong yearning to lean just a little closer to Will, who stood so nearby, and let his lips touch someone’s for the first time in his life. “It felt…very good.”

His voice grew so rough, it sounded as if a different man had spoken.

William’s eyes widened, the pupils dilated so those hazel irises nearly disappeared as he held on to Hugh’s gaze. The hand still resting on Hugh’s neck moved in a long slow caress all the way from jaw to starched shirt collar.

Hugh inhaled a trembling breath. William swallowed hard. Something enormous shifted and stirred and filled the space between and around them. William leaned closer. 

“William,” he murmured.

“I’m Will,” his assistant whispered. Neither of them moved. It was going to happen. Hugh’s eyelids closed and his lips parted.

Something warm and soft brushed his mouth. He opened his eyes and stared into William’s face. He should have said something or moved, but he could no more move than speak. 

William blinked and pulled away enough that Hugh could see his cheeks reddening. Will’s hand abruptly dropped, and he stepped back. He cleared his throat. “Well, sir, if you don’t mind. I’ll leave now. I’ve more details of menu and décor to attend to. I must check with a florist and…” He didn’t bother finishing the thought before fleeing from the office.

After the door closed behind him, Hugh groaned. Embarrassment, disappointment, humiliation, aching loss, and desire stormed through him. He’d never been so close to…to something, to whatever might have happened next, to the possibility of touching another human being, to the delight of having Will Andrews in his embrace. He felt as if a door had slammed shut and he’d been standing close enough that it smashed him in the face.

Mike and the Spring Awakening #3
They settled on the tarp to paint the set pieces. Back to back because the damned daffodils were so big, Lucas couldn’t sit next to Mike. Lucas dipped the brush into yellow paint and finished a petal. He already had paint on his hands. His valet, who disliked doing anything more than brushing his suits, would be a wreck at the sight of so much dirt as it was. Lucas was covered with dust and cobwebs. Paint would kill his man.

Lucas wiped his hands on the plain wood of a flower leaf and rose to his feet. Mike, still crouched, looked up at him, and the sudden flash of fear in his eyes made Lucas back away. “I’m just taking off my jacket,” he explained. “And my waistcoat too, I think.”

Mike put down his brush and stood. “A good notion.” He went to Lucas. “Allow me to help you? My fingers are still clean.” He eased Lucas’s jacket from his shoulders and then moved to his front to unbutton his waistcoat.

Lucas tried not to notice how close they were to each other or the way Mike’s chest quickly rose and fell as he worked the buttons. He was used to his valet performing these tasks, Lucas reminded himself.
“Mike.” He whispered the word.

“Hmm.” Mike’s fingers trembled. He slid the waistcoat off too, his fingers grazing Lucas’s arm, and Lucas swore he could feel that touch, even through the linen of his shirt.

He would try for a jovial tone, something light, though his heart pounded and his breath skittered. “You’re very good at this.”

“I help the actors dress and undress. During performances,” Mike said. His voice sounded husky. He deposited the coat and waistcoat on a tree stump next to the gate out to the stage entrance.

He returned to his flower again, without a word, dropping to a crouch and picking up his paintbrush.

“Does it bother you? To undress the actors?” Lucas said.

Mike seemed to watch his hands do the methodical dip and stroke, dip and stroke, as if it were someone else controlling the movements. “Usually, no. I don’t mind doing the work at all. But you’re different. When I’m near you, I feel a touch of fear.”

Lucas’s stomach turned over. He wished he’d taken off his own damned jacket.

“But there’s also something else.”

“Never mind the fear. That second bit of something else sounds good,” Lucas began, but he stopped. Mike’s shoulders were shaking. Damnation. “Mike?”

“It was gone, taken away from me, and now it’s coming back.” A tear dripped down his nose. Lucas wanted nothing more than to go to him and pull him close, but he knew better.

“Heavens, I do hope the ‘it’ you speak of means attraction,” Lucas drawled. “Forgive me if I’m presumptuous.”

Mike sniffed and wiped his nose on his shirt sleeve like a young boy. He twisted and looked at Lucas. His eyes were damp, but his mouth was twisted into a wry grin. “You’re doing it once more, forcing me to feel amused when I’m miserable.”

“That’s good, yes?”

“I hope so. God, I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want to hate physical contact, Lucas, but I’m afraid I will for years.”

Lucas’s vision went hazy and red as anger filled him. He wanted to kill whoever had done this to Mike. At the very least, he wanted to howl with rage. But Mike had said the Andrews’s chatter soothed him, and the stiff upper lip was their heritage. Lucas would give him both and hope it helped. He picked up the yellow brush and got back to work.

“Talk is all very well, but there is only one way to find out, you know, and that’s to try touching a person you might possibly find appealing. That person should know he must not respond badly—or perhaps not respond at all. That’s entirely your choice.” He spoke briskly. “And if anything about your own touch or his presence alarms you, then you stop. And try again whenever you choose.”

Lucas put down the yellow brush and picked up the red to fill in the center of the cheerful flower. A daisy, perhaps. “It should not be a great surprise to know that once again I volunteer myself to you. Outside or inside, in private, clothed, naked, I’ll do whatever you wish, whenever you wish it. Send word at two in the morning, and I’ll drag myself to the spot immediately.”

Author Bios:
Bonnie Dee
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.

I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.

Summer Devon
Summer Devon is the pen name writer Kate Rothwell often uses. Whether the characters are male or female, human or dragon, her books are always romance.

You can visit her facebook page, where there's a sign up form for a newsletter (she'll only send out newsletters when there's a new Summer Devon or Kate Rothwell release and she will never ever sell your name to anyone).

Bonnie Dee

Summer Devon

Simon and the Christmas Spirit #1

Will and the Valentine Saint #2

Mike and the Spring Awakening #3

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