Thursday, November 24, 2016

Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Part 1

A Christmas Hex #2.5 by Jordan L Hawk
Roland knows he will never find love. Everyone views wolf familiars like himself as dangerous beasts, unable to rein in their savage impulses. He’s resigned himself to his fate—or so he thinks, until he meets the dashing Augustus Cao. His witch. 

Gus is on the trail of a gang of thieves, and Roland holds an important clue. Even though they can never bond, Roland can’t pass up the opportunity to spend a night with his witch. 

Can Roland conceal his secret, while helping Gus catch the thieves? Or will the handsome detective be the one to steal his heart? 

Click Here to Check Out Hexworld Series

A great little Hexworld standalone novella to kick off my holiday reading season.  A Christmas Hex may not have the Metropolitan Witch Police but it's no less of a little mystery with private investigator Gus and his would-be wolf familiar Roland.  Not a lot I can say without spoilers but I will say I loved it and it's a great addition to the Hexworld universe.


A Family for Christmas by Jay Northcote
Zac never had a family of his own, but Rudy has enough to share.

Shy, inexperienced Rudy has a crush on Zac from the moment his new colleague walks through the door. On an office night out before Christmas, Rudy finds the courage to make a move, and they form a tentative bond. When he discovers Zac will be alone at Christmas, he invites Zac to come home with him.

Zac prefers to keep people at arm’s length. Yet when Rudy offers him a family Christmas it’s impossible to resist. With no parents of his own, Zac is pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by Rudy’s. The only drawback is that everyone assumes they’re a couple. Unwilling to disappoint Rudy’s mum and make Christmas awkward, they decide not to deny it.

It’s not a chore for Zac to pose as Rudy’s boyfriend, but the pretence makes him want things that scare him—things like a real relationship with Rudy. Zac’s suffered enough rejection in his life already and is afraid to risk his heart. If he can get over his past rejection and let Rudy inside his armour, he might get more for Christmas than he ever imagined.

Detective Fox and the Christmas Caper by Isobel Starling
Every good Dick needs a sidekick…

Actor Tom Lewis’s world came crashing down when a honey trap and tabloid exposé outed him and put pay to his flourishing career. The housewives favourite was most well-known for his role as ‘Detective Fox’ in the quaint British series Malmesbury Murders. But after the media speculation about his sexuality, the show is in hiatus and Tom hasn’t worked six months.

Now things are getting serious, the money he made from M.M is running out and he needs a job desperately. So when Tom’s agent offers him a six week seasonal acting job, he reluctantly agrees… and takes on the role of Santa for a top London department store.

This decision changes Tom’s luck. Not only will he have an income for the holiday season, he’ll also be working with a very sexy young elf that he spotted at the auditions, named Eli Mason.

While on a break Tom overhears two unidentified store workers discussing a ‘job to get a little Christmas bonus”. He realizes the job is of the illegal sort. Now, Tom could call the police, but then again, wouldn’t it be great for his flagging career if Detective Fox saved the day.

So Fox is on the case, and as every good Dick needs a sidekick, Tom decides Eli will fit the role, in more ways than one.”

Fearless by Cat Grant
Irresistible Attraction #3

How can you plan for the future when escaping the past seems impossible?

After over a year together, Connor Morrison and Wes Martin decide to tie the knot. But an ethics complaint regarding their deeply non-traditional relationship threatens Connor’s job and Wes’s Ph.D. The fact that Connor tried to keep it from Wes—even with the best of intentions—makes the situation even worse and casts a pall over their plans for a Christmas wedding in New York.

It doesn’t help that Connor still treats Wes like glass, though Wes insists he’s recovered from the brutal assault he suffered a year and a half earlier. Wes may be okay, but Connor isn’t. Memories of taking a battered, terrified Wes to the emergency room that night still haunt him, and he can’t let go of the need to protect Wes from any and everything life might throw at him.

But Wes has had enough. Between the specter of the ethics complaint and Connor’s overprotectiveness, he’s already beginning to question their plans. Add in a family ashamed of and angered by his choices, and Wes might just leave Connor standing at the altar.

Click Here to Check Out Irresistible Attraction Series

Original Review September 2013:
This is marked as #3 of 4 but after reading it and reading the description of #4, I'd say it should have been reversed but it doesn't really make a difference. There's a character mentioned in here that is introduced in #4 but that's about it. A very good addition to the tale of Wes and Connor. We find out what happens next in their relationship as well as some family drama on Wes' side.


Devin December by Kate McMurray
A freak blizzard strands flight attendant Andy Weston at LaGuardia Airport on Thanksgiving. Tabloid reports about Hollywood It couple, Devin Delaney and Cristina Marino, breaking up in spectacular fashion keep Andy sane. And then Devin Delaney himself turns up at the gate Andy is working. Against all odds—and because there’s nothing else to do—Andy and Devin begin to talk, immediately connect, and, after Devin confesses the real reason he broke up with Cristina, have a magical night together snowed in at the airport. But the magic ends when Devin boards his flight home the next morning, and Andy assumes it’s over.

Then Devin turns up on his doorstep. Andy is game for a clandestine affair at first—who could turn down one of the hottest men on the planet? But he soon grows tired of being shoved in Devin’s closet. As Christmas approaches, it’s clear that this will never work unless Devin is willing to make some big changes. Devin has a holiday surprise in store—but will it be enough?

A Family for Christmas by Jay Northcote
The toast had popped, and when Rudy went to get the butter out of the fridge, he automatically straightened the photo of his family in its magnetic frame, a shot of them from last Christmas at the dinner table, all wearing paper hats and raising their glasses at the camera. He froze, staring at their smiling faces, as another memory from last night came back to him.

Oh my God. Had he really invited Zac home for Christmas, or was that a dream? Nope, Rudy was pretty sure it was real now the details were coming back to him. But the weirdest part was that Zac had said yes. Maybe he just said yes to shut Rudy up and was hoping he wouldn’t remember.

“You all right there?”

Zac’s voice made him jump guiltily. “Yeah, sorry. Miles away. I’m in a bit of a daze this morning.” He got the butter out and put it on the kitchen table. On autopilot, he gathered plates, knives, spreads and the coffee. Zac was still standing awkwardly in the doorway. “Have a seat.”

As they poured, spread, ate, and drank, the silence between them grew until Rudy wanted to hack through it with the butter knife. He had no idea where to begin, but they needed to leave for work in half an hour and he couldn’t leave things like this. Rudy had to know what was going on.

Was Zac seriously planning on coming home with him for Christmas? Rudy didn’t regret issuing the invitation, other than how hopelessly needy and overeager it made him look. He liked Zac—okay, he fancied him too, but that wasn’t the point—and he didn’t like the idea of Zac spending Christmas alone. Nobody should spend Christmas alone unless they really wanted to, and Rudy had got the feeling that Zac didn’t. Zac’s excuses about being antisocial hadn’t rung true after how he’d opened up last night, and his defensiveness had come off as protesting too much.

Rudy began tentatively. “So… um. About this Christmas plan….”

“Look, it’s okay. You were drunk. I’m sure you didn’t really mean to invite me home with you for Christmas. Don’t worry about it.”

“No! That’s not what I meant.” Rudy drew in a breath to give him the courage to be honest. “I did mean it. Okay, yes, I was drunk, and I wouldn’t have had the guts to ask you otherwise. But I’d really like it if you came.” He met Zac’s dark eyes and willed him to believe him. “It would be cool to get to know you better, and my family would be totally fine with it. I don’t like to think about you being on your own on Christmas Day—unless you really want to be.”

Zac shrugged, his shoulders tense and eyes wary. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

A wave of pity swept over Rudy, but he instinctively knew that if he let that show, it would be a mistake. Instead, he shrugged. “Well the offer’s there. It’s your call.”

Zac took another bite of his toast and chewed slowly while Rudy waited. He could almost hear the gears turning in Zac’s head as he weighed his options. Finally he nodded. “I’ll come.”

Happiness flooded Rudy and he couldn’t stop a huge grin from spreading over his face. “Brilliant. I’ll phone Mum later.”

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Zac smiled too—a little uncertainly, but Rudy would take what he could get from Zac. His gaze dropped to Zac’s lips, and something twisted in his chest as he thought about kissing him last night. They really ought to talk about that too, but Rudy was afraid that if he brought it up, Zac would insist it was a drunken mistake. As long as the kiss went unmentioned, Rudy’s hope could live on.

Fearless by Cat Grant
Wes swung into the driveway, frowning at the sight of Connor’s car. It wasn’t often that Connor got home before he did, and he normally pulled his Lexus into the garage instead of letting its pristine white paint job get splattered in the December downpour.

Shivering, he grabbed his backpack and climbed out of his battered Kia, pulling up his rain slicker’s hood as he sprinted for the front door. It was chilly inside too. Goose bumps crawled all over him, under his jacket and thick sweater. What the hell? Connor had never forgotten to turn on the heat before. Wes went over to the thermostat do it himself, rubbing his hands together as he waited for the ancient furnace to stop groaning and hum to life.

No sign of Connor in the living room or kitchen, though the telltale creaking of floorboards overhead signaled he was in his office. Wes stopped to plug in the tree, smiling at the tiny blue and white flickering lights. A fake tree this year, since they wouldn’t be home on the actual holiday. Still, it wouldn’t be Christmas without one, or without the stockings hanging under the framed Wyeth print they’d bought to celebrate moving in last February.

His smile widening into a grin, he charged upstairs. “Hey, you big goof, next time remember to turn on the heater when—”

He stopped dead in front of Connor’s closed office door. Connor rarely shut his door unless he was on some insane deadline or dictating notes. Either way, Wes knew better than to enter without knocking.

He lifted his hand to do just that, but then he heard Connor’s voice. “It’s been a year and a half, for God’s sake. I don’t understand why they’re making such a stink about it now . . . No, of course not, but Steve, I can’t just . . .” Wes leaned in closer, practically gluing his ear to the door, but all he heard was the muffled tick of the clock on Connor’s bookshelf. Then came a gusty sigh, followed by, “All right, all right, let me talk to him. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

The squeaky old rollers on Connor’s chair made Wes backpedal with a start. What was going on? It wasn’t like Connor to be so secretive. And he’d be pissed if he knew Wes had been eavesdropping . . .

Another groaning floorboard on the other side of the door was all it took to send him bolting back downstairs. A fresh chill shot through him, and no wonder—he still had on his damp, dripping slicker. He’d just stashed his jacket and backpack in the closet by the kitchen door when he heard Connor’s footsteps on the stairs.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” Connor said, going over to start a fresh pot of coffee.

That’s it? No hug, no kiss, no “How was your day?” Okay, so they’d been together awhile now. They were settled. They’d bought a house. Did that mean seeing each other was nothing special anymore?

“Just a few minutes ago.” Wes toed off his wet sneakers and socks and left them on the mat near the furnace grate, then went over to the cabinet to grab a couple of mugs. “I told you my last tutorial was over at four, didn’t I?”

“Oh. Yeah, you did. Must’ve slipped my mind.”

Typical Connor—he didn’t know what day it was half the time. Kind of sweet, even if it didn’t excuse the fact that Connor still hadn’t looked him in the eye. Time to take care of that. Wes set the mugs next to the coffee pot, then leaned his head on Connor’s shoulder. It felt like a hunk of granite under his cheek. “Relax, okay?” Wes murmured. “The semester’s over.”

Connor exhaled softly, his arm sliding around Wes’s waist and pulling him close. Finally. Wes’s eyes drifted shut as he drank in Connor’s fresh cotton and coffee smell, carded his fingers through Connor’s ginger curls. Now if he’d just let loose the tension in those long, lean limbs of his.

“Sorry I’ve been so absentminded lately,” Connor whispered, pressing a stubbly kiss to Wes’s throat. He’d left the house before Wes had gotten up this morning, obviously in such a hurry he’d skipped shaving, not that Wes minded one bit. “These last few weeks have been . . .”

“Brutal? Yeah, I’ve noticed.” Still nothing about the closed door or the weird phone call, but it was probably none of his business. Connor’s lab had landed some defense contracts this past year, and he wasn’t allowed to talk about them. “But now we’ve got a whole month to decompress and catch up.” He rubbed his thumb over the smooth, warm platinum band Connor had given him when he’d proposed last summer. An honest-to-God engagement ring. “And go to New York to make this official.”

As if that wasn’t enough to make them both grin like idiots, the pot chose that moment to chime its bouncy “coffee’s ready!” fanfare. But then Connor pressed his forehead to Wes’s, his happy expression fading. “Let’s go sit in the living room. There’s something we need to talk about.”

Not none of his business, then. “Trouble at the lab?”

Connor gave a start. “Um . . . yes and no.”

Well, that was informative. “What’s the matter? You and Steve fighting over those defense contracts again?”

He sighed. “I wish.”

God, what could be worse than that? Connor and Steve hardly ever disagreed about business—or at least, not long enough for it to become an issue—but last time they’d come close to severing their partnership. Stomach tightening, Wes grabbed his mug and trailed Connor to the couch. Connor’s gaze lingered on the tree, but the cheery lights failed to wipe the anxious look off his face. “I, um . . . well, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just spit it out. I’ve been put on probation for a code of ethical conduct violation.”

Wes’s hands—hell, his entire body—went so cold he could’ve sworn the furnace had gone off. “You, you mean, because of us?”

Connor nodded.

“But we’ve been living together over a year. Nobody’s said a word about it before.” In fact, the entire physics department had come to their house for his graduation party last May. There’d been some tut-tutting from one of the stodgy old emeritus professors about him and Connor living together openly, but no one had paid the man any attention. “Why the big deal about it now?”

“Apparently, someone’s lodged a complaint with the chancellor’s office.” Connor’s fingers trembled as he pulled off his glasses. “And no, they wouldn’t tell me who it was. Only that they’ve threatened to alert the media unless the situation’s dealt with.”

“Dealt with?” Wes echoed. “What does that mean? Are they going to fire you?”

“I’ve hired an attorney to look into my options. Hopefully we can work something out.”

“What’s there to work out? The university’d be crazy to let you go, what with all the patents and grants and prestige you’ve brought them. You’re one of the biggest draws the 3-D optics department’s got.”

Connor cracked a tiny smile and reached for Wes’s hand. “That’s very flattering, but sadly, it doesn’t cancel out the ethics issue.”

“But, but we’re not doing anything wrong! You’re not supervising my thesis. I’m not taking any of your classes—”

“The administration’s well aware. But evidently, adhering to the letter of the law doesn’t matter. The chancellor feels we’ve violated the spirit of it, which means I’ll probably have to take a leave of absence while they iron out the legalities.”

And if this actually made it into the news, Connor would have no choice but to resign. That would kill his business and make it nearly impossible for him to find a position at another university.

Wes clutched his belly, wincing at the hollow ache swelling inside. All this grief, all because of him. “Would it be easier if I just left?”

Connor’s eyebrows arched. “When you just started grad school last semester? That won’t look good on your transcripts. Besides, it’s way too soon for that kind of talk.”

“Too soon?” A shocked jolt nearly sent him springing off the couch. “School starts up again in a month!”

“Let’s wait and see what my attorney says, all right? I should be hearing back from him after the holidays.”

Two more weeks. The soft tick of the clock on the mantel sounded like a bomb counting down. “That’s cutting it pretty close, isn’t it?”

“Even if I end up sitting out next semester, it’s not the end of the world. More like an extended vacation.” He gave Wes’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “I know it’s a lot to process, but—”

“But if I go, they might ease up on you. It’d show them we’re willing to do whatever’s necessary to resolve the conflict.”

“And put your degree on hold?” Connor leaned forward and set his mug down on the coffee table. “You do realize you’d have to wait until next fall to start at another school?”

Actually, he hadn’t thought that far ahead, but it was still better than Connor getting kicked out. “If that’s what it takes, I’m okay with it. I’m sure Professor Redmond will keep me on as his research assistant.”

“Not if you’re not currently enrolled. Those jobs are earmarked for Berkeley grad students.”

Something else he should’ve realized, but hadn’t. He shifted on the couch, absently stroking its nubby wool upholstery. “Then I’ll get a regular job and keep up with my reading in my spare time.”

“Or you can stay where you are and let me handle it.”

Frustration and anger rose inside him, his free hand curling so tight his nails cut into his palm. Why wouldn’t Connor listen to him? “But I want to help. There’s no reason you have to take the fall for both of us.”

“Take the fall? You make it sound like we’re on trial.” Connor sighed. “Look, this isn’t your fault. And you leaving won’t make any difference in what they decide to do about me. What’s important here is that we do what’s best for your education.”

“Which means three or four more years at Berkeley without you, and you’re the reason I wanted to come here in the first place. Besides, I can just imagine all the dirty looks I’ll get when my classmates hear you’ve been forced to resign for my sake.”

“Let’s stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, all right? It won’t do either of us a damn bit of good.”

Maybe if we’d thought about that—and everything else—sooner, we wouldn’t be in this mess. The words danced on the edge of Wes’s tongue, but he bit them back. Connor was already upset; the last thing they needed was to start yelling at each other.

Still, this was all too much, too fast. Wes stared down at his ring, the clock’s ticking echoing inside his skull like a struck bell. He couldn’t believe this. Everything he’d been looking forward to—hell, his and Connor’s entire lives—had been thrown into turmoil. But did that mean . . . “Um, would you rather postpone the wedding until this is all settled?”

“No, of course not! Look, Wes . . .” Connor scooted close, putting his arm around Wes’s shoulder. Always so gentle, as if he were afraid he’d break him. “This doesn’t change anything. I still want to marry you. I wanted us to run off to New York last summer, remember? You’re the one who said we should put it off until Christmas so we could invite your family.”

And how many times since last June had he kicked himself for insisting on waiting? How many mornings had he opened his eyes to find Connor lying next to him, and felt certain he’d wandered into a wonderful dream that wouldn’t—couldn’t—last?

But it was easy to forget all that when Connor wrapped his arms around him and kissed him softly on the lips. Easy to watch the tree’s twinkling lights and listen to the rain coming down in sheets outside, and let himself be content in this warm, peaceful moment.

“Shall I get dinner started?” Connor asked at last.

Wes nodded. He usually helped with the cooking, but tonight he wasn’t in the mood. Instead, he sat watching the tree and listening to Connor bustle about in the kitchen, while he tried very hard to think of another solution.

Devin December by Kate McMurray
IT STARTED with a breakup and a blizzard.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving found me where I always was before a major travel holiday: manning a desk in the D concourse at LaGuardia Airport.

After a few years of working for Northeast Airlines, I had finally finished the flight-attendant training program, but apparently during the biggest travel season of the year, they didn’t trust the newbie enough to let me actually do the job for which I was trained. Thus I was stuck on desk duty just as I had been for the past three Thanksgivings. I supposed it was better than working a ticketing desk; at least out here on the concourse, there was a break between flights, rather than the endless parade of people with overstuffed luggage complaining about the bag fees.

There was indeed a break between flights when my fellow gate agent, Sarah, ran over all giddy, waving a magazine at me. “Andy! Andy, you have to see this.”

I was trying to watch the weather report on the TV over the seating area. Apparently nature was planning to have her revenge on Thanksgiving travelers by sending a nor’easter our way. On the day before Thanksgiving.

“Did you see this forecast?” I said to Sarah.

She waved dismissively. “Dude, whatever. All the weather forecasts predict the apocalypse these days. The blizzard of the century was predicted last week and all we got was some rain.”

That was true. The video footage of snow blanketing Chicago was persuasive, but we’d been enjoying a fairly mild November so far, temperatures well above forty degrees nearly every day. If that kept up, we’d have a wet travel day, but nothing catastrophic. I turned my attention back to Sarah. “What’s up?”

She flipped open the magazine—one of those tabloid-y celebrity-gossip rags—and showed me a picture. It was a paparazzi photo of Devin Delaney walking around New York City in an ugly puffy jacket, his square jaw recognizable even though his eyes were hidden by big aviator sunglasses. Dear Lord. Even in that ugly coat he was smoking hot. If I had still been a teenager, I would have cut out pictures of him and taped them to my bedroom walls so I could stare at his handsome visage as I drifted off to sleep. I imagined it would make my dreams sweeter.

Wait, Sarah was trying to tell me something. I looked at the whole spread. On the other side of the page was a similar paparazzi photo of Cristina Marino, Devin Delaney’s girlfriend. The two of them were Hollywood’s current It Couple, complete with a romance for the ages. They’d met three years before on the set of the epic period piece movie about doomed lovers that they filmed together, but their romance was not doomed. It was legendary. Gag inducing, if you asked me, but Sarah always got all starry-eyed when she talked about it.

So, whatever, old news, except that…. “Wait, Devin and Cristina split?” If I’d had a beverage, I would have issued a spit-take.

“I know,” said Sarah. “Can you believe it?”

Why I cared about a celebrity couple, I could not have said, but for a brief moment, it was like my own parents had announced their divorce. My heart sank. “That sucks. I can’t believe it.”

“It was on the news and everything yesterday. They issued a statement about how they just want to be left alone in this time of blah, blah.” Sarah rolled her eyes. “But I didn’t think you’d heard yet.”

“Yeah, I worked a double yesterday. I didn’t even turn my TV or computer on when I got home last night.” I’d just fallen into bed and then rolled out again in the morning to come to work. It was a glamorous, jet-setting life I led.

Sarah nodded. “And now nobody cares because there’s going to be a snowmageddon or whatever.” She watched the TV monitor for a moment. “Oh, sure, two feet. It’ll probably be two inches.”

“If it does snow, we’ll need riot gear tomorrow. You’re working, right?”


“Good. I don’t think I could get through the pre-Thanksgiving shift without you.”

SO WE were back the very next day. Right before my shift started, I stood at the window near the gate where I was stationed and watched the huge planes lumber down the tarmac. It had smelled like snow outside as I’d struggled through my already difficult commute—one made worse by the tide of people going to the airport. This seemed like a bad omen to me, but I tried to take it to heart that of late, so few of the predicted storms had amounted to anything. A few flakes fell from the sky but nothing too bad. A few flights had been preemptively canceled, but none by my airline.

I walked over to the desk, where Sarah sat on a stool and fiddled with the computer.

“Word from on high is that we should expect flight delays because of the mess in Chicago,” Sarah said.

I’d heard Chicago’s runways had finally been plowed, but the storm had caused so much chaos the day before they were still trying to get everything back on track. Northeast Airlines had a hub at O’Hare, so backups there tended to cause backups in New York.

But Sarah and I were at the gate that mostly ran direct flights to popular vacation destinations—Orlando, New Orleans, and Los Angeles—where everything was currently sunny and beautiful. As long as weather didn’t impede the flight paths, most of those flights would go. In fact, our first flight of the day was to Orlando, and everything was set to go on time.

Time passed the way it always does in the airport, with sudden flurries and bursts of activity followed by long, dragging downtime. Our first two flights took off without a hitch, which was pretty amazing all things considered, but soon the seating area near the gate flooded with parents and small children and strollers that should have been checked. We had to start tagging carry-ons because some families skirted the checked-bag fees by carrying on a million little bags. Sarah and I worked like a well-oiled machine, and we managed to get everyone on that third airplane. I watched it taxi out to the runway and realized the snow was actually coming down now.

“A dusting,” Sarah said dismissively as the flakes fell.

I was pretty sure she was wrong. The sky was overcast and ominous, the temperature shown on the TV screen was right around 32°F, and snow was starting to accumulate on the tarmac and on the wings of the plane parked at the next gate.

The phone at the gate rang.

Sarah answered it while I continued to watch the runway turn white. Passengers were getting restless behind me, fidgeting and looking at the snow fall softly outside the big windows.

“Excuse me,” someone said behind me.

I turned and saw a middle-aged woman. “How can I help you, ma’am?” I said. I was ever the service professional.

“Will this flight get canceled?”

“I don’t believe so, but—”

Sarah put the phone down and grabbed my arm to pull me away from the woman. “Twenty-minute delay,” she said. “The plane out of Orlando had to take a different route. Apparently conditions are actually worse south of us.” A moment later the board changed to reflect this news and Sarah used the intercom to announce it. A collective groan went through the crowd of assembled passengers. A baby started howling for good measure.

This was going to be a long day.

I went back behind the desk; people were starting to congregate to ask us questions. Three different people yelled at me about how they had to get to their families, and didn’t I realize it was Thanksgiving? Part of me wanted to point out that I would not be headed home to my family in Ohio because I needed the overtime pay for rent on my shitty apartment in Queens, but I kept quiet. I was not a human being with a family of my own. I was just a smiling face. My only function in life was to mollify these people.

Days like this made me question why I’d thought flight-attendant school was a good idea. I’d thought it would net me a raise, which it did, and I’d get to travel, which would be fun. The hours were more flexible. But it also meant being trapped with customers like this in a metal tube for multihour increments, catering to their every wish.

I liked customers most days, but not on major holiday weekends.

The plane that would take these people to LA finally pulled up to the gate. The exiting passengers looked harried. A storm like this caused the kind of turbulence that would have had everyone reaching for the airsickness bags. Outside, the snow was coming down even harder. There was a good inch on the tarmac now.

“How are we doing on standbys?” I asked Sarah. Really, anyone trying to fly standby on the day before Thanksgiving was on a fool’s quest, but every now and then we had a free seat.

Not so this flight. Sarah said, “Booked solid. Everyone checked in, too.”

There was some mild confusion as the rest of the departing passengers came off the plane and the flight crews exchanged places. I waved to Captain O’Rourke, a hunky dreamboat of a man with a stubbly chin and a bright smile. He grinned at me and saluted as he walked through the gate door.

Just then, a man in sunglasses walked up to the desk. “Please tell me you’ve got a seat on this flight.” As I started to shake my head, he added, “I have to get out of this fucking city.”

“Sorry, sir,” I said. I looked at the computer. “There’s another flight to LA leaving from this gate at three fifteen.”

He frowned. “Can you get me on it?”

“Hard to say. It’s booked, but if someone doesn’t show….”

The guy grunted and took off his sunglasses.

And oh mother of all that is holy, I was staring at Devin Delaney. Right there. In the flesh. Sexy as all get-out.

He eyed me warily as he slipped his sunglasses into his shirt pocket, probably realizing I’d recognized him.

At first I wasn’t completely sure it was actually Devin Delaney. I mean, what were the odds? It could have been a really, really hot guy who just looked a lot like Devin Delaney. I was thinking about making a “You must get that all the time” flirty play when I noticed Sarah suddenly go still at the edge of my peripheral vision. So she saw him, too.

Also, he didn’t look like he was in the mood to be played with, so I didn’t flirt.

“I’d be happy to put you on the standby list for the three-fifteen flight,” I said, “if I could just see your old boarding pass, Mr.….”

He sighed and pulled a crinkled boarding pass out of his pocket. “Delaney,” he said.

I hadn’t even been sure Devin Delaney was the actor’s real name. Apparently it was, though, because it was printed on his boarding pass, plain as day. Holy mother. Devin Delaney. Standing in front of me.

It seemed inappropriate to ask for an autograph.

I went to work instead. His actual boarding pass indicated he was booked on a flight at nine thirty that night. We’d been dealing with this sort of thing all day, people trying to fly standby on earlier flights to avoid the storm, so this was not an unprecedented situation. It also meant some seats had opened up on later flights, although I watched the computer as Sarah put the woman standing on her line into the last coach seat.

“It looks like there is one first-class seat available on the three fifteen,” I informed Devin Delaney. “There’s an additional fee, though.”

He whipped out his credit card. “Fine. Book it.”

Ah, so this was how it was going to go. Celebrities never lived up to what you imagined them to be. Devin Delaney was devastatingly handsome, but he was also brusque and probably used to getting what he wanted with a wave of his black AmEx. All right.

I wondered why he hadn’t been flying first class all along. Surely a celebrity of his caliber would not be slumming it with the rabble in coach.

But no answers would be forthcoming just then. I printed him a new boarding pass and invited him to relax and have a seat. He jittered a little, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, like he was agitated or worried about something. I suspected he, like every other person in the airport, was anxious to get where he was going before the storm hit—he lived in LA as far as I knew, so he was probably rushing home to his family—or maybe he was distraught because of his breakup with Cristina Marino.

Like I knew him and could even guess what was going through his mind.

Well, either way, he stepped away from the desk, slid his sunglasses back on, and sat at the end of a row of connected seats. He pulled out a phone and started playing with it.

I did my best to ignore him for the next forty-five minutes as we got this flight boarded and off the ground. I had so many passengers competing for my attention that I did forget Devin Delaney was sitting a mere ten feet away from me until we closed the gate door and I accidentally glanced his way.

Sarah looked at me, her eyes wide. We ducked behind the desk and she said, “Is that…?”


“Holy shit.”

It wasn’t the first time we’d dealt with a celebrity. About once a week, in fact, we had some high-profile passenger marching down the concourse. On Tuesday, we’d had a big-deal celebrity chef fly first class out of this very gate. But whenever someone I admired—or lusted after, let’s be honest—showed up at my desk, I always got starstruck.

So despite the fact that Devin Delaney, who had now pulled the collar of his leather jacket up to shield his face from onlookers, was just another in a series of famous people I’d seen in the sitting area just that week, I had no idea how to act around him.

I did nothing. Sarah and I took a break to grab lunch, and when we came back, he was still there. He had the big aviator sunglasses on in addition to the popped collar, and he was staring intently at his phone. He looked so shady and mysterious that he was basically drawing even more attention to himself.

I walked over to the window, looking outside for the first time in almost an hour.

It was bad.

I supposed if one did not live in a major city, one might view a blanketing of snow as quaint or picturesque. When I was a kid, snow held the potential for fun and a day off from school. But in New York, large quantities of snow were often a harbinger of chaos. I looked out the window and saw whiteout blizzard conditions and about eight inches of snow on the tarmac, and I flipped right out.

“The last time it snowed like this, the city shut down the subway,” Sarah observed.

“So not helpful.”

Sarah pressed a hand against the glass and peered through it. Then the phone at the desk rang.

“I don’t want to answer that,” I said, thinking about the assembled passengers.

“Maybe we’re just waiting out the worst of it.” Sarah walked over to the desk and picked up the phone. The monologue on her end was mostly just her saying, “Yes, I understand, yes, okay.” She put the phone down and glanced at me before going to the computer. Then she lifted the intercom receiver to her mouth.

“Attention passengers of Flight 3872 to Los Angeles. Due to weather, this flight has been canceled. Please line up in an orderly fashion at the desk so that we can make arrangements to book you on another flight.”

The wind outside was now howling so loudly I could hear it in the noisy terminal. After one particularly dramatic gust, the windows rattled in their frames. When I looked outside again, all of the runway workers in orange vests were gone.

Oh, this was really bad.

Author Bios:
Jordan L Hawk
Jordan L. Hawk grew up in the wilds of North Carolina, where she was raised on stories of haints and mountain magic by her bootlegging granny and single mother. After using a silver knife in the light of a full moon to summon her true love, she turned her talents to spinning tales. She weaves together couples who need to fall in love, then throws in some evil sorcerers and undead just to make sure they want it bad enough. In Jordan’s world, love might conquer all, but it just as easily could end up in the grave.
Jay Northcote
Jay Northcote lives just outside Bristol in the West of England, with her amazing, occasionally ridiculous husband, two noisy-but-awesome children, and two cats.

Jay comes from a family of writers, but she always used to believe the gene for fiction writing had passed her by. She spent years only ever writing e-mails, articles, or website content.

One day, she decided to try and write a short story—just to see if she could—and found it rather addictive. She hasn’t stopped writing since.

Isobel Starling
Inspiration strikes at the strangest of times.

Born in Germany, I spent most of my twenty-year professional career making art. I relocated to the UK and faced with the dreaded artist’s creative block, I started to write and found I loved it more than making art.

My first novel “Fall Together” was a bestseller in the GLBT-Bisexual genre on the ‘All Romance e-books’ site. I have just completed my sixth book and signed French translation rights for the whole Shatterproof Bond M/M series.

My greatest love is writing M/M relationships, and I hope one day to actually finish the fantasy novel that I put ‘to rest’ three years ago.

Cat Grant
Award-winning author Cat Grant's been scribbling naughty stories since she was knee-high to a bug. She lives by the sea in beautiful Monterey, California with one persnickety feline and entirely too many books and DVDs.

If you're looking for epic sci-fi, fantasy, or historicals, that's not me. Contemporary all the way, baby!

However, if you're looking for down to earth, complicated characters dealing with real-world problems (and the occasional comfort read!), I might just fit the bill.

Kate McMurray
Kate McMurray is a nonfiction editor. Also, she is crafty (mostly knitting and sewing, but she also wields power tools), she plays the violin, and she dabbles in various other pursuits. She’s maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with a presumptuous cat.

Jordan L Hawk

Jay Northcote

Isobel Starling

Cat Grant

Kate McMurray

A Christmas Hex

A Family for Christmas

Detective Fox and the Christmas Caper

Fearless #3

Devin December

Poppies for Christmas by Stacy Renée Keywell

Title: Poppies for Christmas
Author: Stacy Renée Keywell
Genre: Young Adult Romance
Release Date: November 16, 2016
A celebration of love without labels. It’s easy to be brave with you by my side!

Popular DJ Dexx finds himself positively smitten by the precociously pristine Poppy Paris. Too bad she’s already taken by an older boy, Declan Davies, a beautiful model with a thriving career, and a perfect family. By a dreamful stroke of chance, Dexx finds himself invited to spend Christmas at the Davies home by a gorgeous girl, granting him the opportunity to pursue the precious Poppy. But in his quest to win her over, he unlocks a world of imperfection and insecurity, where people are picked on for their disabilities, speech, appearance, and eccentricities. For Poppy and her friends, love trumps labels, and everyone deserves a brave friend to stand by their side. What gifts will Dexx discover this Christmas? Will he ultimately find true love, or will he discover something even greater?

You are invited to read a powerful story about living with autism, but not letting it define you, about being bullied, but carrying on with determination and grit, and about having dreams, but not giving up in the face of adversity. Come celebrate something beautiful with Poppies for Christmas.

The Science of Baking
I read somewhere once that cooking is an art. It takes imagination and flare. But baking? Baking is a science. It takes exactitude and precision. It requires patience. It requires dedication. It requires love. A whole lot of love. And well…that’s what I’ve got…love…love for a girl, a special one, one who deserves dedication. So what do I choose to prove my love? I choose baking.

Chapter One
Deep inside my tote, my hand grazed against my faithful sketchbook before I removed it. The metal spirals comforted my fingers as I dragged them across the row of sharp-edged rings. Firmly gripping the book, I flipped it open to a blank page near the middle. I smoothed out the slightly texturized, eggshell white page. I bent down and buried my nose in the crease, inhaling the faint lead pencil scent. It calmed me, readying me to add another chapter to my visual saga.

Spreading my tools around me, hard and soft pencils, a ruler, several firm erasers, and a small metal sharpener, I steadied my hand and cleared my mind, inviting in only the most blissful images of my fantasy. With a soft lead pencil, I constructed an oval blank for the face. Art classes definitely assisted in perfecting the technique, but dedication and talent trumped instruction.

I used the ruler to estimate the proper dimensions. I added eyes, a nose, some crazy-hot lips, all his beautiful features. I gave him expressive brows. I sketched his glossy dark brown hair, shaggy bangs flopping over to the side, covering his ear, exposing that sarcastic, twisted grin on his lips, the same way he looked when he joked around with his friends in the corner of the library during study hall.

A trusty eraser mopped up all of the stray, miscellaneous marks. I blew away a couple gummy shreds before I shaded in his taut jawline. I wiped up the last scattered pieces left behind on the page before I started on adding myself to the portrait. Duplicating the process, I gave myself a hipper, manga-esque look, allowing for a more whimsical likeness of myself.

Poppy and Kit sat at the same long, wooden table, on the opposite side of me. Kit swiped through the pages on her tablet, desperately trying to find the right page number, since she had neglected to tap the bookmark before closing out her chapter the previous night. Nervous oohs and aahs escaped her lips. Poppy, sitting with her legs crossed, jiggled her feet beneath her chair, shaking the table, creating a rattling earthquake under my artwork.

I shot a glare in her direction. “Would you please stop? The both of you! You are driving me crazy, and ruining my picture.”

Poppy and Kit stopped suddenly. They looked at each other, wide-eyed and innocent, two does in the midst of a meadow. Unaware! Clueless! Oblivious!

“I can’t think when you moan that way,” I snapped, addressing Kit. She squirmed underneath her oversized flannel shirt and baggy jeans.

“And, you,” I turned to Poppy. “You are going to smudge my drawing with all of that wild motion going on underneath the table. Can it!”

Their jaws dropped. They both stared at me, wordless.

“Please.” I hugged my journal protectively. Softening my voice, I turned to Poppy and asked her again. “Please?”

“Sorry,” they announced in simulcast, sighing, shrugging their shoulders, lost together in the great woods of their minds.

They looked back down at their own musings. I continued to draw.

In this picture, the two of us relaxed together on a chaise lounge, him with his large, bulbous headphones, and me with my skull and crossbones ear buds. Our eyes drifted in the opposite direction, lids almost closed, in a sleepy trance. My arm draped across his chest until our fingers entwined, intimately. We zoned out to his simpatico beats.

Author Bio:
Born with the passion for storytelling, Stacy Renée Keywell spends time stargazing, daydreaming, and creating adventures for her family to conquer. Being an educator for over twenty years, Stacy enjoys studying and sharing her knowledge of culture, philosophy, language, and the humanities. She loves the human spirit, appreciates profound humor, and dreams about the mysteries of the spiritual unknown. Besides following her whimsical dreams, Stacy’s hobbies include singing off tune, dancing oddly yet awesomely, reading as much as possible, and traveling around the globe with gusto. Stacy lives a life of fabulous clichés. Stacy works hard at telling bad joke, and making up amazing new words in hopes that they will one day find their way into the dictionary. She strives to love without labels with her nonprofit movement Project Love Without Labels, which tackles social stigmas and takes on bullying. She vows to bravely stand by the sides of those who need her, especially her two daughters. Stacy, her husband, and her children, live in Michigan in a quaint house in the woods.


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Pre-Order Blitz: Infamous by Lori Sizemore

Title: Infamous
Author: Lori Sizemore
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Expected Release Date: December 14, 2016
Justine Montgomery, daughter of a divorced beauty queen and TV magnate, is a tabloid disaster after her infamous sex tape. She’s so desperate to help save her family’s home she turns to her deal-making dad. Can she prove to him she’s cut out for a career in television or will she lose it all?

Sawyer has his own past and a successful career is his only goal. Seeing Justine fail would mean the promotion of a lifetime, but things get complicated when he develops feelings for her. Suddenly, the lines between work, life, sex, and love are blurry.

They will have to overcome the bitterness of a rejected ex, the controlling actions of her father, and the half-truths they’re telling one another to forge a lasting partnership both on the job and off the clock.

He considered her for a moment, searching her face. “I want to get you out of those expensive clothes.”

She froze and took a jagged breath.

Sawyer slid a hand behind her to pull her ponytail over her shoulder and run the curls through his fingers. “I want to mess up your hair, fist it in my hands while I kiss you until you can’t think.”

As he toyed with her curls, Justine blanked. At that second, she’d have said yes to anything he asked of her. She stood to open her door then turned back, unsure what would come out. “I can’t think right now.”

With a tilt of the head, he leaned in. “I’m going to kiss you anyway.”

A voice in the back of her mind told her she was going to have to practice telling this man no. He pressed her to the wall, sucked at her bottom lip, ran his tongue across it. Heat blasted through her.

Sawyer tugged her through the open doorway. He kicked the door shut and backed her against it slowly. Pale streetlight from outside the window cast them in shadows. The weight of how much she wanted him almost crushed her. They kissed and, despite them both being fully clothed, she felt vulnerable. Naked.

His hands pressed flat against the wall beside her, his breathing as uneven as her own. “Say it.”

“Say what?”

“Tell me you want me. That you think about me touching you, that it keeps you up at night. Tell me it’s not just me.”

“I do.” Her voice came out fluttery.

He ran a hand through her hair, toying with the ends. “I wonder things, like how you sound when you’re excited and…”

She put a finger to his lips, still moist from their kisses. “Stop saying things like that. I don’t want to know because then I won’t be able to stop thinking about you thinking those things.” She tilted her head back against the wall and steadied a hand on his chest. His muscles bunched beneath her fingers. She needed to think. She needed to process all of this and…

He lifted her hand, nuzzling the sensitive skin on her wrist, which sent a quiver down her spine. When she couldn’t take any more, she withdrew it from his grasp. And Sawyer was there, picking up where he left off, with a leisurely, complete, thorough kiss. And, oh, she kissed him back. How could she not? His kiss, it was everything. Like something in her, that had been off her whole life, snapped into place.

Her heart jittered in her chest and propelled her past the desire, past the panic gnawing inside because she wanted more of him. She wanted to touch him and taste him and be filled by him, but even more beyond that.

Author Bio:
Lori Sizemore grew up in the mountains of West Virginia and never quite managed to escape them. Lori lives at home with her husband of twenty-plus years and two of her three daughters. She also lives with two dogs, a cat, and five hermit crabs. Yes, five of them. This menagerie and her family keep her busy. She worked in mental health as a social worker for ten years before making the choice to write full-time.



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