Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Minnesota Christmas by Heidi Cullinan Part 2

Winter Wonderland #3
Finding Mr. Right can be a snow lot of fun.

Paul Jansen was the only one of his friends who wanted a relationship. Naturally, he’s the last single man standing. No gay man within a fifty-mile radius wants more than casual sex.

No one, that is, except too-young, too-twinky Kyle Parks, who sends him suggestive texts and leaves X-rated snow sculptures on his front porch.

Kyle is tired of being the town’s resident Peter Pan. He’s twenty-five, not ten, and despite his effeminate appearance, he’s nothing but the boss in bed. He’s loved Paul since forever, and this Christmas, since they’re both working on the Winter Wonderland festival, he might finally get his chance for a holiday romance.

But Paul comes with baggage. His ultra-conservative family wants him paired up with a woman, not a man with Logan’s rainbow connection. When their anti-LGBT crusade spills beyond managing Paul’s love life and threatens the holiday festival, Kyle and Paul must fight for everyone’s happily ever after, including their own.

Warning: Contains erotic snow art, toppy twinks, and super-sweet holiday moments. Best savored with a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of spice.

Santa Baby #4
Trimming the tree is more fun with three.

Twin Cities developer Dale Davidson has come to Logan, Minnesota, to turn it into Christmas Town, not to give in to Arthur Anderson’s offer to join him and his fiancé, Gabriel Higgins, for a Christmas Eve threesome. Dale is polyamorous, but it’s clear Arthur is offering a night of fun and nothing more. Maybe one night with the couple he admires so much won’t hurt…

Together the three of them light a fire hot enough to boil Lake Superior in January, and one night of fun becomes an extended engagement as Dale puts down some tentative roots in his new hometown. Everyone loves Dale, Logan’s own Santa Claus, and somehow no one knows what wild times are happening right underneath their noses. No one knows, either, the complicated ways they’re falling in love with one another.

But a shadow from Dale’s past emerges, an abuser threatening him with violence and shame. Ronny doesn’t want a happy ever after for Dale, only to draw him back into a consuming darkness. It will take the love of not only Gabriel and Arthur but all of Logan to convince their Santa he has nothing to be ashamed of—and that he will always have a home in their hearts.

Winter Wonderland #3
Original Review November 2015:
I want to start by saying I loved how on the surface Paul and Kyle are the perfect bear and twink stereotype but underneath the author has tweaked them just enough so that they are anything but society's often preconceived stereotypical bear/twink couple.  Add in the wrapping of local flare and I was in reader heaven.  I have never been to the North Woods of Minnesota but being from Western Wisconsin only minutes from the Minnesota border I enjoyed the local references but even more so I appreciated the respect for the harsh winter weather that is displayed in this series.  There is a fine line between just another snow storm, the need to carry survival gear in the trunk of your car, and enjoying the holiday.  Don't even get me started on Paul's family but the warmness of Kyle's more than makes up for it.  Throw in the carefree friendships, hearts, and love between the three couples, Marcus & Frankie, Arthur & Gabriel, and Paul & Kyle, at the center of this trilogy and you have a beautiful addition to your holiday reading.

Santa Baby #4
I just love the boys of Logan and they're back in full force with this year's Heidi Cullinan holiday treat, and it's just that: a treat of mega proportions!  But Santa Baby is a little different than the first three in the Minnesota Christmas series.  I've read threesomes, I've even read foursomes before some of which have led to poly relationships but never before has an author explained the nature of a true polyamory family as well as Miss Cullinan and she's done so without it coming across as a school lesson.  Arthur and Gabe, who we first came to know in book 2 Sleigh Ride, are back and very much in love but when Dale enters the scene, things should become complicated and jealous but they don't.  Oh, there are moments of awkwardness, what kind of a story would it be if everything was smooth sailing from page one?

Personally, I don't think I could manage a successful poly relationship, I like sharing my things but I don't think I'd be any good at sharing my love, not like that.  Perhaps that's why I'm so intrigued to read stories that have that kind of dynamic, especially when the tale is as well writen as Santa Baby.

Whether you like polyamory, threesomes, or just a well scripted love story, I highly recommend reading Santa Baby.  Do you need to read the series in order? I recommend doing so but as each story is centered around a different couple, it's not really mandatory but I find it flows better in order but you really do need to read Sleigh Ride before Santa Baby since they both are about Arthur and Gabe.  I haven't re-read these stories yet but I look forward to doing so as the Wisconsin weather gets colder, they'll definitely keep you warm on the long winter nights.


Winter Wonderland #3
Chapter One
A ten-foot-tall snow penis towered over Paul Jansen’s front steps. Again.

He perched on the edge of his sofa, sipping his coffee as he kept the curtain pulled back with his foot so he could assess today’s phallic offering. It was pretty good. It had a bulging vein down the front, but it wasn’t as defined as usual. Big balls, but they’d clearly been joined to the shaft in a hurry. The glans had a nice contour—the snow artist usually took the most time there.

He’d give it a B+. Putting his mug aside, Paul tightened his robe before stepping into his boots. Opening the front door, he squinted into the sleet and wind. Saluted the penis. Snapped a photo for posterity.

Then he took aim with his right foot, braced himself against the doorframe and kicked the sculpture into pieces before reaching inside for his shovel so he could deal with the balls.

This was the third snow penis he’d dismantled of the season—the very early snow season, as the first squall had come through in late September. After the October tenth storm, they’d had snow cover ever since. The snow penises had started shortly after the blizzard. The first time had him laughing, and he’d left it up for a few hours. But it upset his neighbor on the other side of the duplex. It also made it tricky to get out the front door. So after taking a picture, he’d kicked it down and told his friend Arthur once he got to work, “Very funny, but stop upsetting Mrs. Michealson.”

Arthur had only blinked at him. “What’s funny?” So Paul showed him the picture on his phone, and Arthur laughed. “That’s pretty good! But how’d you do it? The snow is way too fine to pack.”

“I didn’t. You think I’d put a penis on my own front steps?”

Arthur shrugged as if to say, Why not? He squinted at the photo. “Seriously, this is a work of art. It’s almost a sculpture.”

“Well, it’s gone now.” Paul frowned. “I thought for sure you’d put it there.”

“Nope, sorry.” Arthur passed Paul his phone. “Let’s get to work on this bookshelf.”

Paul had put the snow penis out of his head and focused on his job. Logan Design and Repair had only been open for eight months, and while they weren’t about to go bankrupt, they worked like dogs to break even. Paul had gotten his electrician’s license over the summer, and Arthur was working on plumbing. They didn’t do anything big, but they could fuss with a water heater, a fritzing stove, a garbage disposal. Right now they were assembling custom bookshelves for the new pastor’s study at the Lutheran church.

Paul did the books, which often kept him at the shop late. When that happened, dinner usually appeared, delivered by Frankie, Paul’s other best friend’s fiancé. Sometimes it was stew or something homemade, sometimes it was a hot beef sandwich from the café. Sometimes he got hauled off to Arthur’s house to have dinner with the whole gang: Frankie and Marcus, Gabriel and Arthur. Hauled off was the only way they got him there, because Paul hated being the fifth wheel.

Though he was equally tired of being alone.

The day the first snow penis showed up they’d tried to get Paul to come to dinner once they were done ribbing him about his secret admirer, but Paul refused to go, opting to eat his dinner from home at the shop as he caught up on some paperwork.

Shortly after he settled in, his mother called.

“Paul. I’m glad I caught you.” The clipped, irritated tone made it clear glad was a figure of speech and nothing more. “I heard about the incident on your porch. I hope you told Arthur it was in poor taste and I won’t have to hear about this happening again.”

Arthur’s name dripped with disdain as it came out of her mouth. “Actually, I have no idea who did it.”

His mother clucked her tongue. “What a scandal. Have you told the police?”

About a snow penis? Paul entertained himself for a minute with the idea of trying to file that report. “It’s only a prank, I’m sure. Probably won’t happen again.”

“I certainly hope not.” She paused, her tone promising she was about to segue into the real reason she’d called. “I wanted to know if you were coming to church this Sunday.”

Oh, hell. Whenever Mary Jansen told her son she wanted to know if he was going to church, it was code for I have someone I want you to meet. And this someone would not, under any circumstances, be male.

Paul fumbled for a lie. “I’m due to go hunting with the guys this weekend.”

“You’ve hardly been to service lately. What will Pastor think?”

“I went a few weeks ago, but I promise I’ll go again soon.”

“Let me know when, and I’ll have your favorites for dinner after.”

His favorites and an eligible young lady. “I will,” Paul said. This was also a lie.

She’d ended their call shortly after that, but the exchange put Paul off finishing his supper and distracted him enough he mostly stared, frowning at the totals on the computer screen until it was just past midnight. Giving up, he headed home.

A new penis blocked his front door.

The second one had been something else. Not quite as tall, but it curved carefully to the right, and it had all the veins detailed like it was going to be used for an anatomy lesson. This one was uncircumcised, and the balls had hair—dried grass fused into the snow.

He took a picture of this one too, sending it to Marcus, Gabriel and Arthur as a group text. Fess up. Which one of you is the artist?

He had his money on Frankie, since he was the stylist, but either they were all practiced liars, or it wasn’t any of them. They all replied laughing, insisting it wasn’t them, dying to know who it actually was.

Paul had no idea.

He wracked his brain, crawling through his most recent hookups, but none of them fit the penis-sculpture bill. None of them lived in Logan, either, and while he did live on the edge of town, whoever was giving his front steps dick was putting in serious effort at weird hours in questionable weather. This had to be somebody local.

Everybody in town ribbed him about his snow sculptures. Some people, usually older women, clucked their tongues and seemed to blame him for disgracing the town, but most people thought it was funny. Someone had snagged a picture of the second one, and it wasn’t uncommon for Paul to stand up from selecting a can from the bottom shelf at the grocery store to find someone grinning and showing him a Facebook photo of his front steps with a penis on it. Not knowing how exactly he was supposed to respond, Paul would chuckle or roll his eyes, basically aw-shucks his way out of the awkward.

His mother, of course, kept urging him to report the “indecency” to the authorities. His elderly neighbor hounded him with fears this meant they were about to see a home invasion. His sister, Sandy, sent him several Facebook messages explaining to him in self-righteous disdain how embarrassing the situation was to the family and how it was Paul’s responsibility to keep it from escalating.

Paul wasn’t sure what there was for him to do. He’d figured the first two for kids distracting themselves from the fact that they were getting full-on blizzards this early in the year. This third one, though, tipped him into annoyance.

The night following the third penis, after the little old lady behind the library checkout desk flashed him a snow-penis photo before she scanned his card, Paul complained to Gabriel, Logan’s librarian and Arthur’s fiancé. “Why just me?” he complained as Gabriel stood with him in the vestibule while Paul put on his coat. “It can’t even be a gay thing. You and Arthur aren’t getting it, and neither is Marcus or Frankie.”

“We’re too far out in the middle of nowhere. If anyone showed up on our lawn, Arthur would meet them with a shotgun.” Gabriel rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “But yes, you’re right, Marcus and Frankie should be fair game in their new house, if it’s a gay thing. Though maybe they’re afraid to target a lawyer who looks like a grizzly bear.”

Paul sighed as he wrapped a scarf around his neck. “I thought about rigging up a video camera to catch them, but I don’t have one. Plus it’s so cold and snowy, it would probably fog over or plain not work.”

Gabriel grimaced at the parking lot, which was a wasteland of snow and drifts. “It’s ridiculous how early the snow came this year. Frankly I’m terrified of January at this rate. Everyone’s worried, talking not about if we’ll lose power, but when and how often. Your snow-penis adventures are almost comic relief.”

“My neighbor doesn’t find them funny.”

Gabriel waved this idea away. “Edna Michealson loves to complain. Every time I run the Bookmobile, I have to mark out a half hour for her stop. Not to discuss books, but to listen to her itemization of the things she’s angry about that day.”

Paul didn’t enjoy listening to his eighty-nine-year-old former fourth-grade teacher lecture him about inappropriate snow organs. “They were cute at first, but enough is enough.”

Gabriel’s lips twisted in a sly grin as he leaned into the wall beside the coat rack. “I’m having fun watching Arthur attempt to replicate them. He’s finally figured out he needs to add water, but he doesn’t have the ratio correct and either ends up with soup or crumbs. Yesterday he managed an obelisk, but it cracked in half when he tried to add a testicle.”

Paul tugged his stocking cap into place, arranging it so the hole from the nail he’d caught it on wasn’t over his ear. “My family is convinced it’s Arthur.”

“I know we’ve been teasing you about it, but maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s a secret admirer.”

Paul snorted. If the snow-penis artist truly was an admirer…well, honestly, Paul wasn’t sure what he thought of that. Why not message him on Grindr and ask to meet for coffee? Anybody whose idea of courtship was c**k-blocking his front door…

Okay. It was a little cool. And even when the balls were glued on and he had to chisel them off the stoop, he laughed.

Paul waved goodbye to Gabriel and went home, stopping at the café to grab dinner. Unwrapping his hot beef sandwich, he sat in front of his television with the movies he’d checked out from the library.

It was admittedly too early, but Paul was already on his second round of Christmas movies. Gabriel had built up quite a collection, and there were enough new ones Paul had a lot of ground to cover before the actual holiday.

He loved the Hallmark and Lifetime movies. The first movie, Christmas with Holly, reminded Paul of the year he, Arthur and Marcus had lived together at Arthur’s cabin—that was the Christmas where Marcus and Frankie met, when Frankie got stranded in Logan. That holiday the four of them had become a family.

The second one, Christmas Lodge, wasn’t as good. It was sweet and cute and had that squishy quality Paul favored, where all the problems evaporated and Christmas was amazing. But it had a heavy Christian bent, and Paul couldn’t sink into it the way he wanted. While nobody in the movie was overtly homophobic, Paul knew the movie producers would tell him he didn’t deserve a gooey Christmas miracle because he was gay. He loved, though, the way the heroine found the perfect guy in the perfect place in the mountains. He knew real life wasn’t like that, but he adored sinking into the soft feeling where things did work out, especially at Christmas.

He could use a good Christmas. He could use a perfect guy showing up on his front door with a wreath and a wry smile, ready to move into his life. It hadn’t happened exactly that way for either Marcus or Arthur, but…well, it hadn’t escaped Paul’s notice that the last two years were like they’d taken turns getting Mr. Right for Christmas.

Three years, and three of them. The three bears, Frankie teased them. That made Paul baby bear, he supposed, which was fine. But he’d been trying to find his Goldilocks all year long, and he’d pretty much dated or bedded every gay man in the county and then some. Unless someone else got stranded during a blizzard, he couldn’t see how he’d be getting a happily-every-after for Christmas.

He checked his Grindr in case he could hunt down a different kind of happy ending, but there was only the usual nudge from PrinceCharming1990. Paul had no idea who the guy was, or even where he was—he had his location turned off. Wherever Prince Charming lived, he had some kinky ideas of what he wanted to do with Paul, and he was damn persistent about them.

Tonight PrinceCharming1990 played it coy. Let’s play in the snow.

Paul ignored the request to play in the snow the same as he had all the other not-really-veiled innuendos.

1990. That was probably the guy’s birth year. Paul would turn thirty-eight in February. When Prince Charming had been born, Paul was entering high school. That was just…no. The thought alone made him feel like a child molester. Even if this particular child could curl his toes with some of his sexual suggestions.

Prince Charming wasn’t on a sex app and wasn’t crafting snow organs on his doorstep. Paul put ice penises and Grindr out of his mind and one of the disks from the ten-pack of holiday romancesinto the player.

He’d been looking forward to this DVD set ever since Gabriel had ordered it for him, and he’d saved it for last in his current checkout binge only because the other two were due the next day. He had every intention of watching at least two of the ten movies, but he’d gotten up too early, and he fell asleep five minutes into the first one. One minute the first movie was starting, and then he opened his eyes and found himself staring at the silent home-menu screen.

Listening to the scritch, scritch, scritch of something on his front porch.

Paul sat up slowly, blinking at the door. It sounded like a raccoon. Or a bear.

Swish, swish, swish. Scritch, scritch, scritch.

Scrape. Shuffle. Scrape.

That wasn’t a bear. That was somebody on his front porch.

That was somebody assembling a snow penis on his front porch.

He scooted to the edge of the couch, checking the urge to rush to the door. If he made too much noise, whoever it was might run off. If he tiptoed to the door, he could pull it open and catch them by surprise. Halfway to the door, though, it occurred to him he should maybe have a weapon. Nothing lethal, but…well, if it wasn’t a couple of kids, he should be ready.

He didn’t have a baseball bat, though. He had his hunting rifles in the closet, but those were hardly appropriate. He also didn’t have a lot of time. A peek through the curtain revealed the penis was nearly assembled.

One guy. Not a kid, and not a bruiser. All Paul could make out was a dark-colored parka and a knit hat with earflaps. The pants were different. Kind of like the things they wore in hospitals. What did you call them? Scrubs. Something about them rang a bell, but he couldn’t figure out why.

In the end, he went without a weapon. Whoever this was, Paul could take him, though he doubted it would come to that. Drawing a deep breath, he steeled himself for God only knew what and put his hand on the doorknob.

He managed to flip the light switch after he yanked, which meant as the dim bulb illuminated the porch steps, he got a good look not only at a seriously articulated frenulum but the face of a bright, blue-eyed young man, cheeks pink from cold.

Paul stared. “Kyle? Kyle Parks?”

Kyle’s lips closed, pressing into a thin line. Then, bold as you please, he lifted an eyebrow, and his sly smile made Paul shiver in a way that had nothing to do with cold.

Blowing Paul a kiss, Kyle stepped off the porch and into the night, leaving Paul to stare at the snow penis, which he saw now came with a piece of printed card stock hanging by yarn cemented into the sculpture.

The card read, Let’s play in the snow.

Paul lifted his gaze to the intricately crafted penis, seven feet tall, flared glans gleaming like an icy jewel in the porch light. He thought about Kyle Parks, the nice night nurse standing out here on his porch, carving the penis, shaping all those veins.

Sending him all those PrinceCharming1990 Grindr texts.

Kyle. Little Kyle. Offering to lick his…

Paul shut his eyes, but he still saw the wicked smile from Kyle mixed in with PrinceCharming1990’s naughty suggestions.

Letting his breath out in a ragged huff, he opened his eyes and yanked the card off the penis. He kicked the sculpture over, not taking a photo, not lingering to watch it crumble in his haste to get inside and flip off the light.

But he lay in bed for hours, staring up at the ceiling, so far from sleep he wasn’t sure he’d ever get there again.

That couldn’t have happened. Of all the people who might have mounted a snow penis on his porch…

Let’s play in the snow.

To his shame, Paul got a little hard.

He buried his face in his pillow, groaning into the stuffing. He couldn’t act on this. He needed to block PrinceCharming1990 right now.

He didn’t, though. He lay in bed until the wee hours of the morning, the cheesy Christmas movies mingling with Kyle Parks’s wicked smile, until they tangled together and he dreamed of sweet Kyle standing outside a picturesque log cabin, smiling and welcoming Paul home.

Flanked by an army of well-endowed snow penises.

Everyone in Logan thought they knew who Kyle Parks was. Everyone in Logan was wrong.

The problem of growing up in a town of less than one thousand was people couldn’t seem to let go of your youth. They remembered Kyle selling Boy Scout popcorn or sitting in their Sunday school class or wetting his pants in their backyard when he wasn’t quite potty-trained, and somehow all those memories meant they couldn’t accept he wasn’t that kid anymore. In their heads, he was still the leggy little boy with a bad haircut. And everybody, everybody still talked about how he’d had such a habit of tottering around in his mother’s makeup and heels. Shouldn’t that have been our first clue? Except even there he wasn’t a gay man. He was a gay kid.

It didn’t help, Kyle knew, that he looked like a kid. Not only did he get carded everywhere he went, but more often than not people argued with him. You can’t be twenty-five. Out of town they talked about his baby face, but in Logan the people who’d known him since he was little insisted he still was little. The general consensus was he might, possibly, be almost twenty, but that was as far as they’d go. The State of Minnesota’s decree on his license that he’d been born in 1990 had to be a mistake. Someday Kyle supposed he’d be grateful for his youthful looks, but right now, he’d give anything for a few gray hairs. Or the ability to grow more than peach fuzz for a beard. Or a hometown where people were willing to believe he wasn’t Peter Pan.

As he drove away from Paul Jansen’s duplex, heart beating too fast, memory of Paul’s shocked, slightly horrified face burned into his brain, Kyle hated his youthful appearance more than he ever had.

In his head, making the snow sculptures combined with Grindr taunts had been the perfect flirtation. It was true, he couldn’t get Paul to give him so much as a second glance in person, but he’d assumed that was the whole you’re too young thing again. Possibly the I only date big, hairy bears thing, though he’d seen Paul with a few svelte men. Kyle had already tried to alter his own type—for a week he ate nothing but fatty food and drank whole milk, but he ended up losing weight because he got sick from all the junk. In the end, he’d reasoned all he had to do was get Paul to see him as a fun, sexual object. And available. And willing. Ergo, Grindr. Except Paul had at best nibbled on his lures.

The first snow penis had been a lark, but he’d gotten more mileage out of that than a pile of dirty direct messages, so he figured what the hell—lather, rinse, repeat. If he’d thought Paul would catch him in the act, he would have dressed for the occasion, or worn something he could have undressed in more quickly. Though from the look on Paul’s face, it wouldn’t have mattered. Dammit.

The drive between Paul’s house and his own home was brief, but no one else was awake at this ungodly hour, so Kyle was able to continue scowling to himself as he put away his coat and pulled material out of the refrigerator to make a sandwich. In deference to his shitty mood, he added an Angry Orchard cider. Putting the whole business on a tray, he shuffled around the corner to his room.

As he ate, he wondered, not for the first time, if it would help if he got his own place. It was possible Paul would reject him at any age and in any locale—which hurt—but…well, Kyle was willing to try anything.

He finished off his sandwich quickly but nursed his cider as he poked around the Internet, turning the volume down as he indulged in some shameless porn-clip surfing. Since he was cranky, he didn’t go for his favorites but instead fed his bad mood by searching for his kink in free two-to-six-minute teasers.

Because even in his porn he was “too young”. He’d bet his ass none of the guys in the bear-twink sections were twenty-five, and Christ, if he was dumb enough to go to the daddy-kink section, he got alarmingly young boys and men who reminded him of his grandfather. Which, he wasn’t casting any stones. But could a guy get a thin, handsome young man with a cute, cuddly bear who was either his own age or only a little bit older?

He knew better than to hope he’d stumble on the twink doing the bear. Oh, those videos existed, and you can bet your ass he had them bookmarked. But when he was in a mood like this…well, he didn’t know why all he wanted to do was drive home how impossible he was, but it’s what he reached for. In case he had some idea his problem was because he lived in a teeny-tiny town in the middle of nowhere. No way. He was a freak in every direction. Long, narrow feet. Skinny body and long legs. Baby face. Feminine mannerisms. Nellie bottom tattooed on his forehead against his will.

He had a nice haircut, and an excellent dye job, since Frankie Blackburn had moved to town and opened up a hair salon. Other than that, everything was miserable, and he might as well have a second cider.

He didn’t, because at this point it was six in the morning, and his mother was almost up. It didn’t matter how many times he told her it was different to drink in the morning when you’d been up all damn night, she still clucked and fussed. Which he supposed was another argument to move into his own place.

I’ll scan the ads tomorrow, he told himself as he climbed under his covers and drifted off to sleep.

His dreams were a fu**ed-up mash of porn, Paul and work. Which got weird when his brief foray into medical porn clips inspired dreams of Kyle giving a naked Paul a prostate exam in a nursing home bed. Had he been awake, he’d have shut his imagination down, but as it was, he woke hard and came in the shower with the very pretty image of naked Paul Jansen on all fours, begging for Kyle’s c**k.

His mother was in the kitchen as he came out, cooking pork chops for lunch, and she smiled and murmured, “Good morning,” to Kyle as he emerged. A country station played in the background, and Daryl Parks sat at the table, reading the paper. Kyle’s brothers sat across from each other, scanning through mobile phones. At the smaller table by the sliding door, three of Kyle’s nieces and nephews fought over who had more chicken nuggets and tried to spill each other’s milk.

Kyle peeked around the corner to the dining room and the TV room beyond before frowning at his mother. “Where’s Linda Kay?”

“I don’t know.” Jane Parks’s tone was heavy singsong, her eyes wide as she nodded toward the cupboard.

Kyle made a big show of scratching his chin and frowning. “Oh, no. Do you think she moved out?”

“It’s difficult to say.” Jane’s voice played along, but she returned her focus to lunch preparations.

“That would be a shame. It snowed again last night, and I was going to make a new fort. A big one.” He sighed dramatically. “I suppose I’ll just make a small one for the kids.”

The door to the pantry opened as two hundred pounds of beaming, gleeful woman emerged. Linda Kay enveloped Kyle first in a wide smile with her tongue protruding past her lips before wrapping arms around him and squeezing him. “I got you, little brother.”

Kyle hugged her back as best he could, and his smile, if not as beautiful and pure as hers, was heartfelt. “You got me all right. Does this mean you’ll make a snow fort with me?”

Linda Kay squinted her eyes shut tight and shook her head hard enough to flap her brown hair into his face. “No. I want to make a dragon. Breathing fire.”

“A fire-breathing dragon?” Kyle repeated, his brain already running ahead of him with the possibilities.

“That fire will be made out of snow, not the propane tank,” Jane remarked dryly from the stove.

Damn. Kyle grimaced at Linda Kay. “Our mother is no fun.”

Linda Kay got a wicked look in her eye as she leaned in and whispered loudly in Kyle’s ear, “I’ll sneak it out of the garage.”

“You will not, Linda Kay.”

When Linda Kay pouted, Kyle kissed her cheek. “We’ll find a way to make it cool. Let me get something to eat and a cup of coffee, and it’s on.”

Linda Kay followed Kyle around the kitchen as he made himself a pod of decaf in the Keurig, and when he leaned on his mother’s left shoulder to peer at his breakfast/lunch, his sister took up a similar position on the right side.

Jane sighed. “You two. Can’t you wait ten more minutes?”

“We’re hungry.” Linda tried to pinch off a corner of a pork chop only to laugh as Jane swatted her away.

This was because after twenty-five years as Kyle’s twin, she knew the drill. While she made her feint, Kyle stole a piece of bacon from the plate by the stove. He took a bite before surreptitiously passing Linda Kay the rest behind Jane’s back. As his sister scuttled off with a wicked chuckle, Kyle leaned on the counter and sipped his coffee while he chatted with his mother.

“Do you work tonight?” she asked him. “I know the schedule has been a mess lately, and I’ve lost track of your rotation.”

He nodded. “The late-late shift. Eleven-to-seven. But tomorrow I have off, because I’m day shifts over the weekend.”

Jane clucked in disapproval. “It’s not healthy for you to work such irregular hours. It’s bad enough with all those overnights.”

“Somebody has to work them. Though, there’s good news.” He grinned as he set his coffee aside. “I hear Dolorianne is thinking of retiring.”

Jane nearly dropped her spatula in joy. “Oh—does that mean you could take her shift? The regular days-only one?”

Kyle rolled his eyes. “God, I wish. No, this would mean I could have the three-to-eleven one if I wanted it.”

She frowned. “But, Kyle, you can’t possibly go back to school with those hours.”

Not this again. “Mom, I don’t want to be a registered nurse. I’m fine with being an LPN.”

“But you’d have so many more career opportunities as an RN, and you’d make more money.”

Kyle didn’t want to have this argument for the eightieth time, so he changed the subject. “How was your circle meeting yesterday?”

She brightened. “Oh—it was wonderful. The Ruth Circle and the Hope Circle met at the church, and the library board came over too, even Mr. Higgins. The fundraiser is on for sure.”

“So more sleigh rides with Santa and dancing after?”

“No, this year there will be more. A craft fair, an ice-skating rink, and all the local businesses will have open houses. And.” She elbowed him and waggled her eyebrows. “I told them you’d make snow sculptures.”


“Don’t complain. You love doing it, and Linda Kay will get such a kick out of helping.”

“They’re something special I do with her.” And until I got caught, on Paul’s front steps. Kyle glowered into his coffee. “Am I going to get paid, at least?”

She swatted him hard enough to make him yelp. “Kyle David Parks! Of course you won’t get paid. All the funds go to the library.” She aimed a wooden spoon at his nose. “And when you stop by to talk to Gabriel Higgins about what kind of sculptures, don’t you dare bring up money.”

Kyle held up his hands in self-defense. “I swear I won’t.”

Mollified, she added some cheese to the eggs she fixed for Kyle because she insisted people needed eggs for breakfast, whenever it happened. “It’s going to be something special. There will be charter buses from the Cities and Duluth, a Santa village and reindeer. They even have a theme this time. Winter Wonderland.”

That wasn’t a theme so much as a cute, generic title, but Kyle wasn’t going to argue. “Sounds great. I’ll stop by the library tomorrow, see if Linda Kay wants to go along.”

“If it snows the way it’s supposed to, that will work out nicely. She has designs on going to Eveleth to see Kenny, and she’ll be upset if the weather cancels her plans.”

“Okay.” Kyle pushed off the counter to get plates and glasses for the table, but his mother caught the edge of his T-shirt and held him in place.

“I also heard at the meeting there was another sculpture on Paul Jansen’s front porch this morning.”

Kyle grimaced, his black mood returning with a vengeance. “Yeah, well, it’ll be the last one.”

“I should hope so. He’s too old for you.”

“He’s thirty-seven, not seventy. Besides, our age difference is only three years more than the one between you and Dad.”

Jane pursed her lips and became focused on over-seasoning Kyle’s eggs. “I don’t understand why you can’t date someone your age, is all I’m saying.”

“Because the men my age are idiots. Also, there are five of them on my team in the whole county.” He pushed his toe into the loose section of a floor tile. “It doesn’t matter. He’s not interested. Nobody’s interested.”

She hesitated. “I bet there are more gay men your age in Duluth.” When Kyle gave her a hurt look, she kissed his cheek. “Don’t pout. I’m not telling you to move out. I’m trying to help you be happy.”

“I want to be happy here. If I move out, it will be to an apartment downtown.”

Linda Kay stuck her head around the corner where she’d been eavesdropping, her face a picture of betrayal. “You can’t move out!”

“I’m not moving out.” Kyle pulled out a stack of plates and passed them to her. “I’m setting the table, and you’re helping.”

She grumbled, but she helped all the same. When they sat down to eat, she leaned in close and whispered, “How did the snow penis go?”

He shook his head. “Busted. And he didn’t like it.”

Linda Kay flipped her wrist in a dramatic throwaway gesture. “Please. No taste.”

Grinning, Kyle leaned over and kissed her hair. “I love you, Linda Kay.”

“That’s because I’m awesome.” She stole a piece of his bacon and winked in her delightfully clumsy way. “We’ll give our snow dragon a big penis.”

“Mom would have a fit.”

She gave him a please, don’t be stupid look. “So we hide it, obviously.”

She held up her hand for a high-five. Kyle gave her one, then ate his eggs, his black mood getting buried under plans for an elaborate, ice-breathing dragon with a hidden dong.

Santa Baby #4
December 19, 2015
Logan, Minnesota, belonged on the front of a Christmas card.

A set of cards, actually, and as the thought expanded in Dale Davidson’s mind, he stepped away from the Winter Wonderland festivities to make a voice note on his phone. He took a few photos as well, examples to put in his ever-growing portfolio of ideas for how to turn sleepy Logan into a tourist destination.

He’d come to the small northern Minnesota town both as a favor to his longtime friend Marcus Gardner and as a straight-up business opportunity. Tiny hamlets like this, dressed up and spun the right way, could mean big tourist traffic for local businesses and investment money for the developers that helped the municipalities get those coveted visitor dollars. He saw a lot of potential profit in Logan.

Of course, because it was a small town, there’d already been trouble, chiefly at the informal city council meeting the other night, when a group calling themselves the Concerned Citizens for Logan had burst in and accused Dale of pushing a “homosexual agenda.” As irony would have it, this was in fact a bit of why he was here. If Logan was LGBT friendly, it’d be more attractive to Twin City tourists. Marcus and his friends had managed to make this sleepy village unusually gay-friendly—or so Dale had thought until the Concerned Citizens had appeared. The city leaders had worked overtime ever since then to convince Dale the naysayers were nothing but an aberration, that Logan was ready for this project and the vast majority of its citizens were fully onboard.

No one had worked harder, though, than Gabriel Higgins, Logan’s librarian. He had pulled Dale aside the day after the meeting and launched into a long speech about his own experience moving to Logan from Minneapolis. He’d explained the difference between Logan and his hometown of Roseau, Minnesota, making it clear Dale wasn’t to paint all small towns with the same brush. All this was impressive enough. But then he’d pulled out a binder of research and grants on LGBTQIA youth and adults in rural areas, statistics on how little development was being done in those places, and projections on how much good attention and effort was believed to do for that population. This was presented in a fat three-ring binder, which he’d given Dale a forty-five minute tour of before sending him home with the same. Gabriel had made it clear he could fill three more volumes with as many bits of data Dale required to be convinced of Logan’s worthiness.

Everyone on the city council and chamber of commerce had come up to Dale all day during the Winter Wonderland festival to make sure he hadn’t been too put off by the Concerned Citizens’ theatrics. They seemed sure Kyle Parks’s clever snow sculptures or Gabriel’s carefully delivered opening speech, or possibly Mrs. Jessup’s delicious, state-fair-winning Lussekatter had been what convinced Dale to continue the Christmas Town project and not back away slowly from the potential headache the Concerned Citizens had shown him. The truth was none of these things had swayed him. Thirty percent had been the mayor’s promise he’d pass local legislation if he had to in order to keep the riffraff at bay, which had kept Dale’s hand in. Seventy percent, however, had been Gabriel Higgins. His binder full of data. His passion.

And the fact that Dale found him incredibly attractive.

All of Marcus’s gay friends were a buffet of handsome and cleverness, but Gabriel in particular drew Dale. His wittiness, his devotion to causes he believed in, even his occasional awkwardness was endearing to Dale. Unfortunately Dale had missed his chance with the man by a year and some change, because Gabriel was also engaged, as were all the gay men in Logan, apparently. Normally when Dale felt an attraction this strong, he would push a bit, hoping perhaps the object of his affection was also polyamorous or at least open to hearing a pitch about joining his ranks. However, he wasn’t in Logan to complicate his friend’s life with his unconventional concept of relationships. He was here to develop the town’s tourist interests. End scene.

This didn’t mean he stopped pining for Gabriel, especially as he took his photos during the festival and discovered Arthur and Gabriel in one of his frames. They were thirty feet away from him: a tall male figure with glasses and a mop of curly hair smiling and holding a bag of something as he bent to kiss a shorter man with red hair and a full beard beneath a tall, wide-limbed tree draped with snow. Dale quickly snapped a photo, smiling to himself. He lowered the phone and pulled up the image, cropping it and editing the brightness and sharpness and adding a filter to make it the sort of image the two of them could use in their engagement announcements, if they wanted.

He had it pretty much perfect and was about to save it when a text-notification bubble drifted over the screen, and he hit it instead of the DONE button. The text, Dale noted with a riot of emotions, mostly negative, a few slightly anticipatory, was from Ronny.

Ronny Morgan: When are you done with Mayberry?

Dale rubbed his thumb along the side of his phone case, arguing with himself about how to respond and whether or not he should at all.

He’d gone six months without this relationship, except for the aberration at the company Christmas party last weekend. He couldn’t even call Ronny his ex. They had…hooked up. Kinky, intense, power-play hooking up, which initially had been fun. But it had gotten weird, uncomfortable, borderline seriously not okay, especially after last Christmas, so he’d ended it. Or rather, he’d tried to end it, an effort which had become so much easier once he’d broken away from Kivino Enterprises to form Davidson Incorporated. He was still a subsidiary, still worked for the same CEO, but he and Ronny were in different office complexes now, on different sides of the metro area. All he had to do was ignore any of the man’s texts that weren’t about work. Which he had done without issue.

Until he’d had too many glasses of champagne and let Ronny put his hands on him in the hallway while he waited for an elevator at the Christmas party. Until he’d sent a mixed signal instead of a firm not interested. And now here he was, unable to know if Ronny was texting him about work or trying to start something up again.

And how like him to not let me know which direction in the opening text.

The only way to find out was to engage, so Dale tapped a reply. Not sure. Why?

His heart thudded as he waited for the answer, and it sank, twisted and confused, when it came.

Need to make sure I give you your Christmas present.

Dale put his phone in his pocket without replying and did his best to erase thoughts of Ronny from his mind. He’d made a mistake to engage. The odds of Ronny having anything work related to say to him were low, and nothing would have been to do with the Logan project. It was Dale’s sole focus at the moment. It needed to remain that way.

Think about Logan, he reminded himself. Logan is why you’re here.

He mentally indexed the notes he’d made last night, the ones he’d put right on top of Gabriel’s. But his mind was jumbled, thrown by Ronny’s interjection into this safe, idyllic space. His phone buzzed against his thigh, jolts of sensation flicking him repeatedly to make Dale do what Ronny wanted. Pulling him into the shadows, laughing as he pushed him—

Dale shook his head roughly, dispersing the image. He settled his gaze on Gabriel and Arthur once more, letting himself appreciate how prettily slender and tall Gabriel was as he frowned at the bag, how handsome and strong Arthur seemed as he waved his arms and spoke animatedly to his fiancé. Dale didn’t consciously decide to start walking toward them, but he didn’t stop himself once he realized what he’d done. They didn’t appear to be doing something they’d mind him interrupting, and he desperately needed a distraction right now.

When they saw Dale, they smiled at him, waved, and then Gabriel sighed and gestured helplessly at what Dale saw now was a brown bag of steaming chestnuts.

“Do you have any idea how to eat these?” Gabriel held them toward him. “I bought them from a local vendor because I was trying to be polite, and now I have this bag of too-hot nuts I don’t know what to do with.”

Dale tugged his gloves from his fingers and tucked them in his pocket before withdrawing a nut from the top of the sack. “My grandparents had a chestnut tree on their farm in Wisconsin when I was growing up. They’re rare in the United States, though this wasn’t always the case. A blight in the early twentieth century wiped almost all of them out. They’re doing what they can to repopulate them with a strain strengthened by an Asian variety, but it’s going to take a long time to get back what we lost.” He peeled one edge of the tough husk with a skill honed by years. The chestnuts hadn’t been sliced through quite enough before they were roasted, and he had to get his pen knife out of his pocket to help them along the rest of the way. “Chestnuts are universal. Armies have survived sieges on them. They’re part of special celebrations the world over and have been for centuries. Millennia, even.”

He could feel Gabriel soaking in the story as only a librarian could. “I’ve always thought it was odd how we had a holiday song about them but we didn’t know what they were. Now I understand why. I should have thought to look them up sooner.”

Arthur leaned on a tree, watching idly as Dale peeled. “My great-grandpa talked about eating chestnuts at Christmas. I wonder where these came from, if they’re so rare.

“They’re starting to make a comeback, but demand far outstrips supply.” Dale discarded one side of the husk and worked off the other side as well. “Different cultures have different legends about chestnuts.” He sliced it in half to give them each a taste, passing the first half to Arthur, holding it out to drop it into his gloved hand. “In Japan they’re used to celebrate the New Year, symbolizing both hard times and success.” He extended the second half to Gabriel, but he was caught up listening, clutching the bag with both hands. Possessed by devilry, Dale didn’t give the librarian time to extricate himself and popped the meat into Gabriel’s mouth instead. “The early Christians believed they symbolized chastity.”

Oh, but Dale liked the way the remark made Gabriel blush. He knew he needed to diffuse the flirt, though, to let Arthur know he wasn’t actually making a play for his man.

Except Arthur only snorted and gave Dale a heavy wink, chestnut meat poking between his teeth as he reached into the bag for another nut. He swept the half Dale had peeled for him into his mouth with a wicked swipe of his tongue and bit into it smartly, giving it a few chews before replying. “Put us down for Japan, sweetheart.”

Arthur peeled the chestnut, mimicking Dale’s technique, holding his hand out for the pocketknife when the nut failed to comply as it had for Dale. Dale handed the tool over without a word, though he did note the way Arthur needlessly caressed his fingers as he collected the implement. Dale stroked his beard, trying to check his flicker of interest and stick to his earlier conviction Logan wasn’t the place for such things. Especially with practically married men in Logan. Especially with practically married men whose fiancés were standing right fucking next to him.

Hoping for a reminder of why he should behave, he glanced at Gabriel—only to find Gabriel studying him with the same wary, careful gaze.

Wary, careful, tentatively interested gaze.

The world shifted beneath Dale’s feet.

Arthur sliced the chestnut, carving it into thirds and splitting it between the three of them. He popped his part into his mouth, fed Gabriel the same way Dale had, and he did the same for Dale, though he took care to be extra sensual with his delivery of Dale’s portion. “A shame we don’t get chestnuts here too often, then. There’s no reason they should be so rare, except they’re not planted. Sounds like all they need to thrive is a bit of science, some common sense, and some care.”

It was all simple enough, what he was saying, and yet Dale had never felt as if tree talk could strip him naked. He was working out how to call Arthur out and ask if he was getting propositioned with a bag of nuts and for what, exactly, when Gabriel whispered in a warning tone, “Arthur.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “I was being cool, until you had to go and point it out.”

Gabriel blushed as if someone had been roasting him on an open fire. He tucked the bag of chestnuts to his chest and pressed a mitten to his face. “Stop, you’re making it worse.”

Ignoring him, Arthur turned to Dale, the seduction veil lowered, though not entirely dropped. “Look. Let’s be real. You’ve been giving both of us eyes one way or another.”

“Oh my God.” Gabriel tried to make himself shorter.

Arthur patted him on the back and kept going. “And you’re a tall drink of water, I’ll grant you. So let’s cut to the chase. You just flirting, or you interested?”

Stick to the plan. Tell him no. Except Dale’s gaze kept tugging to poor Gabriel, who was mortified at Arthur’s blunt approach. “Very interested. But I don’t know if it’s such a good idea, starting something in a small town.”

His reply leached some of the tension from Gabriel. Arthur, however, seemed annoyed. “Oh, hell, that doesn’t matter. It’s not as if we’re gonna fuck on the city square or anything.”

Gabriel rounded on Arthur, looking ready to do murder. But when he raised his hand as if to strike, Arthur caught his wrist in a lightning-fast strike, grinning as he held him captive with a wink.

Dale’s dick got a little hard, especially when Arthur raised an eyebrow at him. “You want to come play with us sometime before you leave for the Cities?”

Dale glanced around. They were in full view of the town, but they were slightly separated, off on a snowy knoll behind the farthest ring of shops. It was risky and surreal. He reminded himself of all the reasons he should say no.

But Jesus, Gabriel and Arthur were one hell of a distraction from those reasons. Gabriel’s pretty curls and the memory of what Arthur’s tongue did to a piece of meat. Dale’s thigh buzzed again, but Ronny’s texts were no more annoying than a gnat at this point, because he had other, better prospects now. Ronny could fuck himself with his present.

Dale cleared his throat. “What type of play are we talking?”

Arthur’s dark chuckle made Dale’s knees waver, and when Arthur stepped close enough to run a subtle hand up his arm, Dale’s legs buckled, however briefly. “I don’t know, son. Why don’t you tell me what you like?”

Dale’s blood rushed to his groin, but enough of it lingered in his brain to remind him of Gabriel’s nerves. They had to quit doing this out in the open. But part of him feared if they went anywhere private right now, Arthur would start something immediately. Dale paused, struggling to remember why exactly that was a bad thing.

He cleared his throat. “I’m pretty open-minded. Discretion is my bottom line, though. I’m not interested in being the subject of local gossip.”

“Then it sounds as if we’re all of the same mind.” Arthur’s thumb massaged at Dale’s elbow. “When do you leave town?”

With this prospect on the table, Dale was willing to stay through the New Year. “I’m flexible. I largely work remotely at this point, so I can stay in Logan as long as I’m needed here, or check in from the Cities. I have engagements tonight, tomorrow, and Monday night, but beyond then I’m free.”

“We’re booked Tuesday, but Wednesday we’re open. How about you come over to our place? Show us your chestnuts.”

It was Gabriel’s curls, Dale decided. They’d hypnotized him. He stared at them, cock throbbing a happy hum in his pants as Arthur stroked his arm, and he threw his common sense out the window. “What time?”

“Six-ish? We’ll feed you first.” Arthur chuckled and swatted Dale’s butt. “Wisconsin boy like you must eat venison, right?”

Dale kept his attention on Gabriel, who was long and lean and graceful as a gazelle. “Oh yeah. Anytime I can get it.”

“Great. See you then.”

Arthur linked arms with Gabriel and his bag of chestnuts and led him away.

Gabriel glanced over his shoulder, mortified, flustered…and eager.

Dale adjusted himself as discreetly as he could, relieved the phone in his pocket had finally gone quiet. God in heaven, but he wished it were Wednesday.


As the Winter Wonderland festival wound to its successful close, Arthur stood at the back of the old elementary gym with his fiancé, family, and friends, and soaked it in.

An older, former school on the other side of town had been turned into low-rent apartments, but this place had been where Arthur went to school until Logan’s enrollment had dipped low enough they’d had to consolidate with Pine Valley. Now this structure was the city council building and general catch-all meeting place for any and every event Logan couldn’t fit in the American Legion or a church. Tonight Marcus’s friends Laurie and Ed led Logan’s finest in the waltz, rumba, and, at the moment, were giving the room a tango demonstration.

Arthur watched this from the side of the room, and beside him stood two new friends, Spenser and Tomás, whom Laurie and Ed had spoken of last year and had managed to coax up for the festival this time. They’d brought their son, Duon, and Tomás’s parents and his nieces and nephews. They’d had reservations, apparently, about coming up to such a small town, worried about prejudice and discrimination, as Spenser was the single white person in their entire crew, but by all accounts they’d had nothing but a wonderful time all day. Renata, Tomás’s mother, had fallen in love with the craft fair and engaged in a lengthy discussion of knitting techniques with one of the sellers who, by some miracle, knew Spanish. Tomás’s father, José, and Arthur’s best friend and business partner, Paul, had been huddled together for the last half hour, Paul struggling to resurrect his high school Spanish and José dredging up his best English so they could have a serious discussion about the Minnesota Wild’s chances for the playoffs this hockey season. And the kids had a fantastic time because it was a festival and there were a million kid things to do and a Santa to visit in “his real house,” Arthur had heard them whisper to each other.

It felt good to be having a festival in his hometown. He missed these kinds of community events. When he was a kid, it happened all the time. The Memorial Day bonfire. The Fourth of July parade and celebration in the park, with the fireworks at dusk. The parade had stopped happening when he was really young, but he had a dim memory of standing on a curb beside his mom, stamping his feet and dancing in time to the beat of the bass drum. The bass line had fascinated him. His mom had told him when he was older he could be in band if he wanted, and he could be the one to carry the drum, and he couldn’t wait. Except by the time he got to school not only was the parade gone, so was the marching band. They barely had a music program at all now.

The tango demonstration ended, and the room erupted in applause. After Laurie and Ed took their bows, Laurie grabbed the mic from the stage behind him.

“Thank you so much for coming to the Winter Wonderland festival. Logan is such a wonderful town, and I know I speak for Ed and so many of us when I say we love any excuse we can get to come here and support your library, the Pine Valley Children’s Home, and so many other great causes. In a moment we’re going to announce the total raised, but first, let me thank—”

He cut off as Arthur’s mother, Corrina, leaned over and whispered in his ear. He nodded, then resumed speaking. “I want to thank everyone who has donated their time and resources today, particularly Kyle Parks for his stunning ice sculptures in the city center. I understand he stayed up all night finishing some of the pieces. So don’t miss your chance to thank him for his hard work, and remember, the best thanks you can give him is to make a donation to the Logan Library or to the Winter Wonderland Foundation. You can find links and addresses for those at the website, at the library itself, or in the back of the room on flyers near the cake, which I must warn you is almost gone. And we will announce the amount donated today, but before we do, we have to wait for the mayor. So until then, what do you say to a little more dancing?”

The room erupted in cheers and applause, though Arthur couldn’t help noticing Tomás, who was standing beside him and juggling a weary six-year-old, frowned. “Ed can’t keep dancing,” he said to Spenser. “He was pushing it to tango as it was.”

Arthur wondered why Ed couldn’t dance, then remembered the former semipro football player was former because he’d had a serious neck injury.

Spenser bit the corner of his lip. “You could dance with him, yes? Or Duon?”

Duon held up his hands. “No way. I ain’t dancing in front of all these white people.”

Tomás shifted the sleepy boy in his arms. “Where’s my mom? If I can pass off Ashton, I can get over there.”

“Here, give him to me.” Spenser held out his arms.

“He’s heavy.” Tomás jostled the boy gently. “Buddy, you’re big enough to stand. Let Uncle Spenser take you to Abuela, okay?”

But before they could get any further in their plans, Laurie continued speaking. “I’d like to do something different this time. You’re familiar, I’m sure, with the dollar dance at weddings, where the guests pay a dollar to dance with the happy couple? We’ll do a variation of it now. Ed will collect the money, and the dancers will be me…” he made brief eye contact with Tomás, who nodded, “…Tomás Jimenez, from my studio in St. Paul, and of course your librarian, Gabriel Higgins.”

Gabriel stiffened, choked on his sip of hot cider, and turned to Arthur with a wide, terrified gaze.

Arthur patted Gabriel on the back and took the cup from his hands. “You can do it, baby. You’re a great dancer. Anyway, all you gotta do is stand there and smile.”

Gabriel still looked rattled. “They could have asked me.”

“I imagine this was Laurie punting on the fly, trying to make it seem planned. Dollars to donuts he apologizes after for putting you on the spot.” He pulled his fiancé closer to plant a kiss on his cheek. “Hon, it’s gonna be ninety percent little kids coming up to you anyway.” He winked and shifted his hand to grip Gabriel’s butt. “And me.”

“You’re right.” Gabriel sighed. “I suppose I should get out there and do my civic duty or whatever this is.” He leaned into Arthur’s touch, bending slightly to speak into his ear. “But if I’m beset by Concerned Citizens for Logan or anything else unpleasant, I fully expect you to come rescue me.”

“Always, honey. Always.”

Arthur clapped with the rest of the town as Gabriel joined the other celebrity dancers, but nobody beamed with pride the way he did over the town librarian. Everyone queued up to dance with the gentlemen, but the line to Gabriel was longest and mostly filled with children clutching dollar bills and bouncing on their heels, smiling and staring wide-eyed at Arthur’s fiancé as if he had personally hung every star in the sky. Linda Kay, Kyle’s twin sister who had Down’s syndrome, hesitated at Gabriel’s line, but opted in the end for Tomás, waggling her eyebrows at Kyle when he came forward and quietly admonished her to behave herself during her dance. “I’ll be good,” she promised. “But he’s sure a sexypants.”

Arthur joined Gabriel’s line out of loyalty, though he did agree with Linda Kay.

Kyle stayed with his sister, apparently not trusting her to keep her promise, but Kyle and Arthur’s lines processed in parallel, so they chatted as they went.

“Too bad Laurie didn’t call up your mom or someone,” Kyle observed. “It’s all women in these lines, except for us. Women and kids.”

Arthur studied the sea of people waiting and saw Kyle was correct. “I guess this is the downside to him only knowing a bunch of gay men in a small town? I don’t know. Something tells me he’s killing time. I don’t think he had the luxury of forethought here.”

Kyle grinned. “I wished he’d have asked me. I would have suggested Penny Mattherson.”

Arthur scratched his chin, trying to think of why she sounded familiar. “Penny Mattherson. She’s Bob Mattherson’s sister, right? Went out with Ottie Johnson back in the day?”

“Yep. Right up until she acknowledged she was a lesbian instead.”

Arthur laughed. “So you wanted to have a full rainbow coalition on the dance floor?”

“Well, sure, but three gay men and one lesbian would hardly be a full representation.” Kyle sighed wistfully. “I keep thinking of what Dale said at the city council meeting, about how we could be a draw because we’re queer. I know it’s not that simple, but I’d love to make even a little of it happen.”

“It’s not as if we don’t already have a rainbow up here. We just have to gather it in…whatever you gather rainbows in. We should have a monthly LGBT supper club or something.”

“That’s a good idea.” Dale Davidson’s bright voice boomed over them, and Arthur and Kyle turned to find him standing in line with them.

“Oh, hi, Dale.” Kyle shrugged. “I’d love to have a group, but I don’t have time to organize it, and my schedule sucks. Maybe once I get to take my new shift, though it won’t be a whole lot better. Besides, where would we have it?”

“They meet all over.” Dale gestured to the gym around them. “Here would be a good place, though it might be big. Council room might be a bit stale, but it would work.”

“Or the library.” Arthur wanted it to be the library, actually, mostly because of family pride. “Maybe it could rotate. Because when the weather’s nice, we could have it out at our place.” He could see it in his mind’s eye. Picnic tables set up on the ridge, him and Marcus working the grill, Gabriel chatting with the guests. God, he wanted to have them all over now. When they had the remodel done, they’d have room for that kind of thing inside the house too. Of course, once they started fostering, they’d also be full of kids. Which was good. He wanted kids. Watching Spenser and Tomás wrestle their brood, however, had made him quietly glad they’d agreed on older kids only.

Hopefully kids less moody than Tomás’s eldest niece, who was off in the corner weeping over something with her abuela. For what had to be the eighth time.

This hour.

Kyle frowned at Dale, glancing at him and then at the two queues forming on either side of him. “Are you in line, or…?”

Dale looked sheepish. “You caught me. I came up to talk to you guys in hopes I could slip in. I tried to get over here earlier, but those kids are fast. And they’ve cut off Gabriel’s line.”

Arthur bit back a grin as he gestured to the space in front of him. “Be my guest.”

Dale inclined his head. “Thank you.”

They were nearly to Gabriel now, and Arthur made eye contact with his fiancé, getting a smile and a wave in return. Dale got a smile and a blush, and when Dale and Kyle got to chatting about the ins and outs of how to start up a local LGBT support group, Arthur noticed Gabriel’s gaze kept sliding over to Dale, mapping the muscles of Davidson’s chest through his sweater.

Arthur grinned. This was so much more fun to think about than whether or not he was biting off more than he could chew by signing on to be a parent.

Last night in bed they’d had the best sex they’d had in a long time while Arthur demanded Gabriel admit how much he was attracted to Dale. His fiancé had been stealing glances at the man ever since he’d shown up Wednesday night, and once Gabriel admitted he thought the guy was handsome, Arthur couldn’t resist taking the fantasy to the extreme, teasing Gabriel until, in the throes of passion, he acknowledged he wanted to be fucked by Dale. Because they were playing, Arthur had pretended to threaten to call the man up and tell him, then settled for giving Gabriel a sound spanking instead.

Dale Davidson was fucking hot, and he turned both Gabriel and Arthur’s cranks. He was almost as tall as Gabriel, but he was as wide as Arthur. He was blond, but a dull, dark blond, not the shiny light blond of Marcus’s fiancé, Frankie. He had a granite jaw covered in a neatly trimmed full beard and mustache. His eyes were a soft blue, reminding Arthur of the Minnesota sky in summer. Paul had said Dale was like a combo between Chris Evans’s Captain America and the Brawny paper towel man, and all this was truth. He looked as if he could bench-press a mountain, but he’d hold a door for you while he did it.

The man was a certified flirt with everyone from little old ladies to the stodgiest of councilmen, but whenever he flirted with Gabriel, he made a point to acknowledge Arthur as well so he knew Dale didn’t have any dishonorable intentions on his man. He did this now as he danced with Gabriel, not settling for simply dancing in place with him as the children had but instead showing off his moves as he spun Gabriel around the floor, eliciting catcalls and laughter from the audience. Gabriel blushed and did his best to keep up, but he appeared to be having the time of his life.

Dale gazed at Gabriel as if he wanted the next spin to take them into a bedroom, but then he’d wink at Arthur, the gesture telegraphing, Don’t worry, man, I won’t.

Too bad the guy didn’t know Arthur wouldn’t mind one bit, so long as Gabriel came home again once they were finished.

Dale Davidson was handsome and polished, with all the city ways that gave Logan residents a thrill, but he was honest folks too. At least six different people had said as much to Arthur while Dale visited in the final preparation for the Winter Wonderland festival. Dale was a charmer, but he was a pleaser above all. Odds were good he’d carry that attitude into bed as well.

Oh, hell yes, Arthur wanted this experience for Gabriel. And he was going to make sure his baby got it. Arthur thought about how good they looked together dancing now, how good they’d look fucking on Wednesday night. He thought, too, about what a pretty picture Dale would make on his knees. Captain America/Brawny Man could fit into one hell of a submission fantasy.

When Dale’s turn ended, he brought Gabriel back to his station to a round of applause, and passed him, breathless and flushed, into Arthur’s arms. Arthur accepted his fiancé’s embrace with a grin.

“Nice moves there, buddy.” He winked and drew Gabriel close, leading him in a slow, simple sway. “Bring them Wednesday.”

With a grin, Dale saluted and disappeared into the crowd. But Arthur watched him go, and Gabriel had his eyes on him too.

Oh yeah. Wednesday was going to be all kinds of interesting.

Author Bio:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren't enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her family. Heidi also volunteers frequently for her state's LGBT rights group, One Iowa, and is proud to be from the first midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage.


Winter Wonderland #3

Santa Baby #4

The Remington Kindle World Part 2

Kindle World is: Simply put, it’s fan fiction inspired by some of the best books, movies and televisions shows out there!  Fans get the chance to write a story that spins off of the series and submit it to Amazon. Amazon then publishes it and BAM! fans can download it and find out more about a certain world.  Sometimes one of those small characters you might have seen in one of the series stories will come to life in their own story, or new characters are born that are friends of main characters.  There are all kinds of ways for these worlds to grow.

THE REMINGTONS join the LOVE IN BLOOM series by New York Times & USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Melissa Foster. This 6-book steamy contemporary romance series features alpha male heroes and sexy, empowered women. They're flawed, funny, passionate, and very relatable to readers who enjoy new adult romance, contemporary romance, and women's fiction.

5 incredible authors have written spinoff books based on characters from different books in the LOVE IN BLOOM series. These books are all featured through the Kindle World. Welcome to part 1!

Proof of Love by CM Albert
Summary: Dez Wright bed hops because it’s easier to let a man between her legs than into her heart. After the death of her college sweetheart in a motorcycle accident that leaves Dez with a bum knee and a shattered heart, she throws all of her passion and energy into the one thing that can't hurt her: her flourishing photography career.

Mitch Michaelson thought he was dead the day he wrestled a pissed-off shark snorkeling off the Hawaiian coast with a model whose name he can hardly remember. But the tryst in paradise cost him more than his arm; it destroyed his career as a famous iron sculptor. After years of intense therapy, Mitch is finally rebuilding a new life working with kids at the community center in his sleepy North Carolina town.

When Dez blows into Arden’s Glen looking to take his picture for some do-gooder coffee table book, Mitch wants no part of it. He's put his glamorous past where it belongs and wants nothing more than to lay low, help the kids in his community, and be left alone. When fate steps in and brings the two together to help their friends and a troubled kid in need, will a couple of photographs and a magical one-night stand be all the proof of love they need? Or will their two stubborn hearts stay hell-bent on keeping their walls in place and playing it safe forever?

Mended by Love by Stacy Eaton
Josey Napier had given up on love after a longtime crush told her he loved her like a sister. Intent on staying busy at work as a surgical nurse to suppress the pain, Josey is shocked when she recognizes Tucker Wheatcraft, the police officer who saved a friend’s child from drowning, on her operating room table—fighting for his own life.

Four months after pulling a young boy from the freezing water while off duty, Tucker is struck by a car and shot. When he wakes up and finds the woman he’s had his eye on standing vigil over him, he’s thankful to be alive, but after weeks of therapy, Tucker still isn’t getting the feeling back in his legs, and the mind games are starting to wreak havoc with him. Can he ever be the kind of man that Josey deserves?

Proof of Love by CM Albert
I felt his presence before I saw him. A masculine energy washed over me while I stood there on the patio, daydreaming as I gazed into the dancing flames of orange and yellow that licked the wall of the fire pit.

“You must be the infamous Dez.”

I held my breath for a moment, on the precipice of knowing and not knowing. Afraid to face the curl of sexual energy tugging me in his direction. I heard his weight shift as he climbed the last step and joined me on the patio.

I turned to face him, a practiced, sexual smile curving on my lips before I could stop it. My eyes slammed into familiar, dark, piercing ones and the smile slipped from my mouth, crashing to the weathered floorboards beneath our feet. “Newman,” I hissed out. For some reason, the old Jerry Seinfeld reference tumbled from my lips with an ease I found disturbing.

His mouth turned up at the corner, amusement reaching his dark brown eyes. “Jerry,” he bantered, laughing. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t run me off the porch first, since you’re so good at it.” I crossed my arms over my body, the chill of the night settling in my bones as I stood there, not sure what to make of this gorgeous man who was now staring me down.

“Wow.” He nodded his head, running his hand through his thick, brown hair before turning away. He gazed out at the woods, the lake nearly impossible to see under the blanket of darkness. He turned to face me. “This is awkward,” he said. “Can we start over? For our friends’ sake?”

I looked him up and down, my eyes caressing the jeans he was filling out nicely and the black sweater that hugged his chest with precision. He was even better looking over firelight than he’d been earlier in the day, but it wasn’t enough to sway my first impression of him. “I don’t know. It’s not every day I nearly get run off the road, plowed into at the market, and then almost made into roadkill all at the hands of the same man. I’m not sure I want to start over again,” I said with sincerity.

He scrutinized me for a moment, his brow crinkling in the glow of the flames. And damn if his thoughtful glare didn’t about melt my panties off.

“Look, first of all, you pulled out in front of me at the Vega Farm. I was driving down the street minding my own business when this”—he waved his hand in the air, grappling for the right word—“tourist, not familiar with our roads, pulls out in front of me and nearly made me swerve off the road.”

“Did you just call me a tourist?” I stepped closer to him and poked him on the chest. Not a good idea. It was a solid wall of muscle. I tempered my libido and steeled myself against his Superman good looks. “I did not pull out in front of you. You were speeding,” I huffed. “I was the one who almost landed in the ditch.”

He rolled his eyes. “You know I was only going about twenty, right?”

“You are so infuriating,” I seethed.

“And you are adorable when you’re acting all righteous,” he said.

Mended by Love by Stacy Eaton
Two of the officers were sitting up, one with her arm in a sling close to her side, another with gauze wrapped around his head, but the third one grabbed my attention like a neon sign. The officer was on his back, his uniform partially removed, and several people were working around him even as they moved him into a treatment area.

I followed the crowd of people into the room, standing back and listening to what was happening. These people were trained for emergency room trauma. I wasn’t here to complete any medical procedure, just to oversee and have a good idea of what we had when he came upstairs.

His blood pressure was high, understandably the material of his pants on his left leg had been cut, and bone stuck out through the skin, damn. I stepped around the gurney to the other side to see what exactly they were working on and found several people fixated on his abdomen area.

I clenched my teeth. A gunshot to the abdomen was never good. There were so many organs that could be damaged. All that soft tissue to check would be hell in the OR. If the bullet had fragmented inside his abdomen cavity, it was going to take a while to find it all.

The ER doctors called out for tests to be done, and I stepped up to Paul. “Hey, Paul, can you order an X-ray of his abdomen while they are doing the leg? I want to know if the bullet fragmented, and if so, how badly.”

“You got it, Josey,” Paul replied and I melted into the shadows again. As I leaned against the wall, I looked at the officer’s face for the first time. He was staring at me, and my heart skipped as I recognized him. Oh, shit.

Normally, I stayed out of the way when it came to the trauma room, but his eyes screamed for help—or maybe he just wanted someone to tell him it was going to be alright. I approached the gurney, resting my hand on his forehead. “Tucker, hold on, okay. We’re going to do everything we can for you.”

He swallowed and gave the slightest nod before he closed his eyes and winced in pain as someone pushed on his stomach. A moment later, he bucked his body and screamed as his leg was shifted.

“His pressure is dropping,” someone called out.

“Tucker, hold on, you got this.” I glanced around the room. “Has he had any morphine?”

“Yes,” one of the nurses stated, “but he’s not responding to it.”

“We have a ventricular fibrillation! Get me the paddles!” Paul shouted as an alarm began to sound.

I stepped out of the way, staring at Tucker as his body went slack.

I grabbed a nurse as she brushed past me, “I need a favor.” She nodded. “Get in touch with Dr. Mark Ellis and tell him Tucker Wheatcraft is getting ready to go into surgery,” I glanced down at Tucker’s pale face, “and tell him it’s not good.”

Author Bios:
CM Albert
USA Today Best Selling Author C.M. Albert writes heartwarming romances that are both "sexy and flirty, sweet and dirty!" Her writing infuses a healthy blend of humor, inspiration, and romance. She’s a sucker for a good villain, but is a die-hard believer in everlasting love. In her spare time, she and her husband wrangle their two young kids and enjoy spending time outdoors. When not writing or kid wrangling, C.M. Albert is also a book editor, Reiki practitioner, chocolate chip cookie aficionado, kindness ambassador, and seeker of naps

Stacy Eaton
Stacy Eaton began her writing career in October of 2010 and as each year goes by, she releases more and more novels. Stacy recently took an early retirement from law enforcement after over fifteen years of service, with her last three in investigations and crime scene investigation.

Stacy resides in southeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, who works in law enforcement, and her teen daughter who is working toward her second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and on the choral and cheerleading squads at school. She also has a son who is currently serving in the United States Navy.

Stacy is very involved in Domestic Violence Awareness and served on the Board of Directors for her local Domestic Violence Center for three years. She continues to volunteer with them when she has time.

CM Albert

Stacy Eaton

Melissa Foster

Proof of Love by CM Albert

Mended by Love by Stacy Eaton

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