Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: For the Love of Christmas! by Gillian St. Kevern

The Ugliest Sweater #1
Dan’s favourite festive sweater is so ugly, it’s cost him not one but three boyfriends and sent him back to his parents’ place for the third Christmas in a row. About to give up hope of ever having a Christmas date, Dan meets Jake, a hot guy with a rock and roll edge. Jake is infatuated with Dan’s sweater but vanishes before Dan can decide if Jake is for real or really in need of an eye-check. After all, no one has ever liked the sweater.

Dan’s sweater is rocketed to national attention, when Jake’s radio colleagues launch a hunt for the mystery man in the hideous jumper. Dan jumps at the chance to meet Jake again, and they hit it off in a big way, to the accompaniment of intimate gigs, exclusive clubs, and the paparazzi. Dan falls hard, but despite obvious mutual attraction, Jake refuses to take him back to his apartment. Is the relationship real – or a ratings stunt? After all, Jake has a reputation for cool that Dan, a lowly gym instructor, could never approach. Is a fondness for tacky Christmas clothing the only thing they have in common? Or does uber-cool Jake hide a Christmas secret of his own?

Ibiza on Ice #2
Tired of being ridiculed as the man dumped in favour of an ugly Christmas sweater, Aston is determined to get revenge--by having his dream vacation at Ibiza's hottest clubs! He's even planned a social media campaign to make sure his ex, Dan, knows exactly what he's missing.

When a snowstorm strikes, and Aston's media campaign takes off before he does, he finds himself propositioned by his unwelcome roommate Mike: trade vacations, or Mike will out Aston as a fake. Desperate to save his reputation, Aston finds himself in Finland--and falling hard for a man with a sweater almost as terrible as Dan's. Worse, Laaksonen cares as little about impressing people as Aston cares about being nice. Aston knows he has too much self-respect to fall for a man so hazardous to his reputation. But the long Polar Night poses the ultimate test to his Ibiza club dreams...

The Ugliest Sweater #1
Once again, another new author for me and what a great introduction and I look forward to checking out more.  Who doesn't love an ugly Christmas sweater? Okay, love might be a bit strong but they are certainly part of the festiveness of the season.  Dan and Jake are perfectly suited for each other and while The Ugliest Sweater might be a bit shorter than I would have liked, it's jam packed with fun, romance, humor, and holiday cheer.

Ibiza on Ice #2
I won't lie, I didn't quite feel Ibiza on Ice as much as Ugliest, but that's down to my initial feelings about Aston.  When he broke it off with Dan based on the level of ugly of Dan's Christmas sweater, it says more about his character than Dan.  Even though it took a few pages to begin to see Aston as more than just the shallow man who dumped his guy over a sweater, I began to realize that maybe underneath that shallowness is a man who could be happy.

Needless to say, For the Love of Christmas! is definitely a great addition to my holiday shelf that I look forward to re-reading.


The Ugliest Sweater #1
“Absolutely not.” Aston stood in the kitchen doorway, wearing Abercrombie and Fitch and an expression of disgust.

Dan looked over his shoulder and swallowed. “Morning,” he started.

“Don’t ‘morning’ me.” Aston’s eyes flashed.

Dan had spent the week psyching himself up for this, but he still took a step back. When riled, Aston could be very sarcastic.

“Have you lost your goddamn mind?”

“That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?” Dan looked down at himself. “It’s only a sweater.”

Aston snorted. “That is ‘only a sweater’ the same way the Titanic was a bit of a wreck.”

Dan forced a laugh. “You can’t compare a sweater to an actual tragedy.”

“That sweater is an actual tragedy. Honestly, Dan. Have you gone blind?”

Dan smoothed his hand over the sweater. It was three different shades of red, five of green, and two of brown. The knitter had been unable to choose between subtly seasonal Shetland techniques or boldly pledging their allegiance to all things Santa, so had combined both. It was a seasonal train wreck in garment form. Even his dad, widely acknowledged as having absolutely no taste in anything, blanched at the sweater. “I quite like it.”

Aston shut his eyes and shuddered. His white T-shirt was far too lightweight for London weather, but it showed off his tan (thirty pounds for ten minutes at a salon off Earls Court). “How could you do this to me?”

“I’m not asking you to wear it!”

“No.” Aston folded his arms. “I am not dating a man who is willing to be seen looking like something a reindeer puked up.”

Dan steeled himself. “It’s me and the sweater, or not at all.”

* * * * *

“And that’s how I ended up moving back to my parents’ a few weeks before Christmas.” Dan put his change down on the counter. “The sad thing is they were expecting me. I show up on the doorstep, my car full of boxes, and all Dad says is, ‘a bit early this year, isn’t it, son?’“ Dan shrugged. “I have been dumped three Christmases in a row.”

The cashier was staring at his sweater, fascinated.

Dan cleared his throat.

Her gaze jerked up, a guilty flush spreading across her face. “I’m sorry, I zoned out. Could you repeat your order?”

Dan sighed. “Gingerbread latte with soy milk. Grande size. Have here.”

“Coming right up.” Her fingers rattled across the cash register with confidence. “Pick up from the counter.”

Dan had moved towards the counter before he realised she’d forgotten to ask his name. He looked back, but the middle-aged woman who had taken his place was giving him a look of approbation. Dan leaned against the wall near the counter, tugging at the sweater’s collar. As a fitness instructor at a large gym, he was used to being stared at—just not like this. The two suited businessmen had paused their intent argument, while the cool guy in the blazer had pushed up his sunglasses to get a better look. The group of teenagers probably thought they were being discreet, but the sheer amount of nudging and glances sent his way made their scrutiny clear.

Dan scratched his chin. Should have got the coffee to go.

“Gingerbread sweater! I mean—” The server froze, looking down at the cup she held. “Really ugly latte!”

Someone laughed, trying to disguise it as a cough. Then, everyone was coughing. Dan grabbed his tray, making his way to the back of the Starbucks as quickly as possible. Goddamnit, he hated Starbucks! Too expensive, loaded with calories, and the coffee wasn’t even that good! He was setting his training programme back an entire week just stepping in the door. If it wasn’t for the seasonal menu… Cursed gingerbread lattes!


Dan looked up.

The guy with the sunglasses stood in front of his table. His tray trembled in his hands. “I couldn’t help but notice you are wearing clothes.”

“Yeah.” Dan nodded. “So are you.”

Really nice clothes, actually. Blazer, silk T-shirt, skinny jeans, and boots. It looked casual, but the outfit would have set Dan back a few weeks’ salary—and made him look ridiculous. This guy pulled it off in a malnourished rock star way.

What he wasn’t pulling off? Speaking. The guy took a deep breath and stalled, mouth working but nothing coming out.

“Are you all right?” Dan started to worry. The sweater tended to have an effect on people, but this was the first time it had caused hyperventilation. “Here, sit down.” He took the tray out of the guy’s hands and nudged the other chair towards him.

The guy folded into it in a way that suggested he was a pro at falling out of clubs, cabs, maybe even beds. “Sorry,” he said. “I swear I’m usually more collected than this.”

“You’d have to be.” Dan cringed inwardly. He was no good at making small talk with strangers. He took a sip of his latte, wondering what on earth he was supposed to do.

The guy laughed. “Yeah. Sorry. It’s just.” He paused, licking his lips. “Your sweater.”

Dan braced. “What about it?”

“It’s hideous.” His tone was almost reverent, and he stretched out a hand to stroke Dan’s sleeve. “It really is.”

Dan’s laugh was startled. The words were so at odds with the tone in which they were delivered. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

The guy ran his fingers over Dan’s arm. The touch sent warmth shooting through him. “I’ve seen some pretty terrible sweaters, but this is truly in a class of its own. Where—” He licked his lips again as if suddenly unsure. “Where did you find it?”

People only ever asked that question with a faint sneer. Dan felt his chest expand with a cautious stirring of hope. “You really want to know?”

Rock star must have realised he was still feeling Dan up because he let go and picked up his drink, an eggnog latte in a to-go cup. The name on the paper sleeve said Jake. “Let me guess. Present from your nan? Or maybe you lost a bet.” He shrugged as if he already knew the answer.

“No, actually.” Dan had an elaborate story prepared for these moments involving a raffle and a dying Aunt, but somehow he found himself telling the truth. “Me and my then boyfriend were about to move into an apartment together, so we went to a car boot sale to pick up some of the stuff we were missing on the cheap. I saw the sweater immediately. I mean, it stands out.” Dan tried to laugh, but the way Jake stared at him with undisguised interest took the wind out of his sails, and he felt like he’d been tackled. “Simon saw me looking at it and said ‘No way.’ The guy who had it said he’d been trying to flog it for years and never even had anyone try it on. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even when we were picking out cutlery. I mean, it was ugly. So ugly it was kind of beautiful. And when we were going back to the car at the end of the day and the sweater was still there, it flashed through my head that I might be the one person in the world who could love it, so I had to get it.” He took a nervous sip of his latte, awaiting Jake’s reaction. It was one thing to be a loser wearing a horrible sweater, quite another to out himself as a loser wearing a horrible sweater by choice.

Jake watched him with an expression Dan could not define. His eyes shone, and his face was flushed. “You mean that? And you’re not colour-blind or anything?”

Dan shook his head. “Not as far as I know.”

“And Simon?”

“We broke up three weeks later. He said he couldn’t look at me the same way after the sweater.”

“It takes a lot of confidence to wear a sweater like that.” Jake ran his tongue deliberately across his bottom lip.

Nervous habit or invitation? Dan caught a brief glimpse of a metal stud before Jake’s words registered, and then he jerked his gaze up to Jake’s eyes. “Eh?”

Jake grinned, a smirk playing around the edges of his mouth. “I like a man who’s secure in himself. It’s hot.”

“Thanks.” Dan told himself the heat in his cheeks was just warmth. For all its design faults, the sweater was toasty, and Starbucks was not stingy with their heating. He toyed with his latte. Would asking for Jake’s number come off as desperate? Then again, no one had ever liked the sweater… “Um.”

“Can I blow you?”

Dan’s brain short-circuited. He stared, sure he couldn’t have heard what he thought he’d heard.

“That probably came out wrong,” Jake continued. “What I meant to say is that I would really like to suck you off.”

Ibiza on Ice #2
“What is Dan doing?” Aston frowned at his phone screen. “He saw the message. I know he saw the message. So where’s the reply?”

“He’s ignoring you.” Mike, Aston’s companion in the cupboard-like hotel room, didn’t even look up from his phone. There was not much to look at. The curtains were a faded geometric design that almost succeeded in making the stains look like part of the pattern, and there were cracks in the plaster ceiling. The carpet had given up on life altogether. Fortunately, their two twin beds took up most of the room, so they didn’t have to see much of the carpet at all.

If only the same could be said for Mike. Aston gave him a withering glare. The man had long, shaggy hair and wore a woollen jersey that—while thankfully bereft of hideous seasonal decorations—showed signs of being mended by hand. The overall impression was a university student who had never got around to graduating. Or even shaving. Mike was not Aston’s first choice to share a hotel room with, or even his second, third, or fourth. Unfortunately, the worst snowstorm in British history, cancelled flights, and a shortage of hotel rooms at Heathrow had led to Aston lowering his standards considerably. The only upside was that British Airways was footing the bill for the shared accommodation. “He’s not ignoring me.”

“Right.” Mike snickered. “Who could ignore knees like those?”

Of all the people Aston would have preferred to walk into the hotel room while he lay on his back on the carpet with his knees in the air, camera in hand, and laptop precariously balanced on the edge of his bed, Mike was the absolute last. He hadn’t offered to hold the laptop steady while Aston faked his beach photo, just leaned against the wall to watch, making disparaging comments. And when Aston had said ‘Do you mind?’ in his most cutting tone, Mike had simply grinned and said that he didn’t. “Shut up.”

“Why should I? This is as much my hotel room as it is yours, and to be perfectly honest, watching you fake beach photos was not how I wanted to spend my vacation.”

Aston sat up. “You’re not even going on a real vacation, just some crummy cut-price ski thing.”

“Hey, it was the best I could afford, and I’ve lost an entire day already. The group will have started without me. You, on the other hand, don’t need to play catch up in the clubs.”

Aston glanced uneasily at his computer. “At least Ibiza is a real vacation destination.”

“In summer, sure. It’s winter in Spain, you know.”

“Still warmer than here,” Aston shot back. “God, I want to be out of this country.”

“You’ve said. Repeatedly. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was rooming with a desperate fugitive. What’s the deal?”

Aston blinked. Mike was unexpectedly sharp underneath that scruffy exterior. “I’ve been working towards this vacation for years, honing my beach body, spending every night I could out clubbing. Ibiza has some of the best clubs in the world! Space has this amazing—”

“No, I mean…there’s more to this than liking a good time. When the flight attendant told you there was no way you’d be flying to Ibiza today, you practically broke down. You asked about other flights, if there was any way you could detour.”

“I want to get to Ibiza as quickly as possible.”

“You offered to go to Ibiza via Shanghai.” Mike put his phone down, sitting up to look more closely at Aston. “That’s a detour of eight to ten hours.”

“I want to be on my way. I can’t stand all this waiting around.” Aston shrugged.

“So you’d rather be crammed into a tiny airline seat instead? Just relax. British Airways is footing the bill, and they offered us an upgrade on future flights.”

Aston smiled slightly. “Business class is enough to make anyone jealous.”

“There! What did I tell you?” Mike crossed his arms. “You’re obsessed with this ex of yours.”

“I am not.”

Aston’s phone beeped with his message alert. He snatched it up, only to see that it was a google notification. He sighed, dropping it onto the bed, and met Mike’s eyes. “That could have been an important message from British Airlines.”

“Sure. Just accept the fact that you were dumped—”

“I wasn’t dumped! If anyone was dumped, it was him!” Aston sucked in a short breath. “I gave him an ultimatum. Shape up or move out.”

“What? At Christmas? Harsh.”

“Christmas is just like any other time of the year, except that everyone loses their collective minds about it.” Aston stood from his bed. “Nothing special about it—just exceptionally good marketing.”

“Spoken like a true advertiser. But you’re not working now. Doesn’t the thought of Christmas coming give you a sort of anticipation, a sense of wonder, of excitement?”

“All Christmas has ever given me was a feeling of dread. It’s a fake holiday for fake people.”

“All right, all right, sorry I brought up your deeply rooted Santa trauma.” Mike mirrored Aston’s actions, standing up. “The airline gave us complimentary meal vouchers. Want to see if we can trade them in at the bar for drinks?”

Aston shook his head. “Pass.”

“What are you going to do, sit and stare at your phone? You can do that in the bar with a drink in hand. Come on.”

“Not feeling it.”

“And you call yourself a clubber?” Mike paused in the doorway, sticking his wallet into the back pocket of his paint-splattered jeans. “I tell you, there is something about you that just doesn’t add up… Maybe I should scan the papers while I’m in the bar. If I’m rooming with an escaped convict, I want to know about it.”

Not good. Not good at all. Aston gulped. “You are not— For Christ’s sake. Fine, I’ll come to the bar.” He picked up his phone, patting his pocket to check he had his wallet. “But don’t expect me to like it.”

“No,” Mike muttered. “That would be entirely too much.”

Author Bio:
Gillian St. Kevern is an author of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Originally from New Zealand, she currently lives in Japan and has visited over twenty different countries. Her writing is a celebration of the diverse people she meets.

As a chronic traveller, Gillian is interested in journeys rather than endings, writing characters that grow and change to achieve their happy ending. Her stories cross genres, time-periods and continents, taking readers along for an unforgettable ride.


The Ugliest Sweater #1

Ibiza on Ice #2

No comments:

Post a Comment