Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: Winter Warmers

Baby, it's cold outside! Beat the chill with Winter Warmers—a seasonal anthology.

Mulled wine. Butterscotch kisses. Hideous sweaters. Candy at the beach, or a trip to a sex shop in Amsterdam. And the man of your dreams, wrapped around you... Winter warmers come in many shapes and sizes, from the tongue-in-cheek to the hot-as-hell. Enjoy a quintet of heart-warming tales of men loving men from Clare London, Chrissy Munder, JL Merrow, Josephine Myles, and Lou Harper that are guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face.

One thing's for sure—it's going to be a red-hot Christmas!

Stories Included:
Lucky Dip by Clare London
Andy Jackson always knew that class 2C’s help in preparing for the annual Christmas Fair would be a mixed blessing. Then he’s paired up on the Lucky Dip with Greg, the man who dumped him but now can’t keep away, the pupils are either lecturing him on his lovelife or losing bladder control, and no one’s fixed the broken handle on the storage room. It may all be one whoopee cushion too far for him.

Butterscotch Kisses by Chrissy Munder
Matthew Morrison is determined to conquer his fear of heights and achieve a winning outcome. At least, that’s what the best-selling, self-help book he’s listening to promises. Being stuck on a three-story tower in the middle of a snowstorm wasn’t part of the plan. With no St. Bernard in sight, it’s Cute Ticket Guy Adam to the rescue, and an outcome Matthew never anticipated.

Wintertide by Lou Harper
May meets December when Jem and Oscar chance on each other at the Santa Monica Pier, only weeks before Christmas. The two men are separated by age, social status, and their taste in candy, yet if they are both naughty and nice, they might just find holiday cheer together.

When in Amsterdam... by Josephine Myles
Brandon is on his first visit to new boyfriend Jos’s home country, just in time for their Sinterklaas celebrations. But an unexpected detour into a sex shop leads Brandon to new discoveries about himself, and a whole new dynamic to their relationship. The weather may be cold and damp, but Brandon and Jos soon heat things up!

A Pint of Beer, a Bag of Chips, and Thou by JL Merrow
What’s the best gift a young man could get for Christmas? Mohawked saxophonist Liam wouldn’t have picked the hideous collection of knitwear he’s presented with by his mum and his aunties. He’d rather have the gorgeous older man he sees every day while busking at King’s Cross. But with a little Christmas magic in the air, maybe those garish garments are just the thing for attracting a silver fox…

Lucky Dip by Clare London
I glanced over at the rather chaotic mess on our too-small table and wondered if it’d be ready in time, let alone compare to my ambitious plans on paper.

Over at the Lucky Dip, Greg seemed to be struggling as well. He had a small group of helpers who were meant to be sorting and wrapping the gifts, then filling the barrel with wood shavings. They were a couple of years older than my team, but their attention was already waning: being let off lessons was all very well, but only if they could spend the time on their Gameboys. Greg held a large sheet of paper which looked like a checklist, but as his team’s chatter grew louder and more restless, his expression looked more frustrated than festive.

“Mr Canbury needs help,” Amy said, rather unnecessarily, I thought.

“He can manage just fine.” Had I sounded too sharp? Amy peered up at me, nose wrinkling in that way she had. “Okay.” I sighed. “I’ll go and see if I can help. If you’re sure I can leave the stall for a moment…”

“Poppy poked Eddy in the knee with a chopstick. He’s paying attention now.”

I rolled my eyes and made my way to the Lucky Dip barrel.

“Andy,” Greg said, breaking into a smile.

My heartbeat really shouldn’t have quickened at that, but it’d been a while since anyone except my mother had smiled at the mere sight of me. “Do you need me for anything?”

He hesitated, for the slightest fraction of time. His gaze flickered down my body then back up. He blushed, and I think I may have, too.

“Yes,” Charlie from 4B announced loudly, standing at Greg’s heel. “We’ve lost our balls.”

I blinked, and for a moment I thought I heard Tommy’s giggle behind me. No, it couldn’t be. I’d left him behind at the stall, untangling the twine we were using as spaghetti, in the hope of keeping him – and his lack of bladder control – out of mischief.

Greg cleared his throat but there was no mistaking the smirk on his lips. Or the way he quickly licked them, the moisture glistening under the hall lights.

I cleared my throat, too. “Problem with deliveries? There are a few parcels in the Parents’ Association room that haven’t been claimed yet.”

Greg nodded and smiled. “We’re missing the Glitter Jet Balls. Also…” He glanced down at the paper in his hand. “The Santa Whoopee Cushions.”

This time, I was sure I heard Tommy’s gasp of excitement in the background. I nodded to Greg and said, “I’ll go and see what we have in there.”

“Wait, I can help you.” Greg took a step so he was toe to toe with me. I could feel the heat from his body. We were all pretty sweaty from working all morning, but he smelled very good. Must have been the expensive aftershave. He took my arm and drew me away from the barrel. “Maybe we could find a quiet moment to talk. Andy, please…”

“I’ll help Mr Canbury,” Charlie announced.

“Me, too!” came the chorus from a group of boys behind him. They all appeared to have a similar disrespect for any job that entailed nothing more interesting than wrapping odd-shaped novelties in snowflake paper for hours on end.

“No thanks. None of you children is allowed in that room, remember?” I tried not to snap, but I didn’t seem to be able to think calmly with Greg’s hand on my arm. “Besides, Mr Canbury needs help here.”

Another, smaller figure pushed its way behind the Lucky Dip barrel, too quickly for me to see who it was, but a shiver of premonition ran down my spine. I pushed closer to Greg to try and see better. Our hips brushed, and he caught his breath. His fingers tightened on my wrist.


“Tommy!” I shouted.

I was never going to be in time: I just couldn’t move as fast as a toddler bent on release. All the other boys spun around, following my horrified gaze. Greg gave me a single, startled look then turned in one fluid move that showed how quickly he’d grasped the situation. What he actually grasped was a bucket, at the same time as reaching for a small, irrepressibly giggling boy who’d launched himself off a chair, on to the relatively soft landing in the top of the barrel, and had started to pull down his shorts.

None of us was ever going to be in time.

Wintertide by Lou Harper
Jem hated Mariachi music. Its bouncy, overblown beats made him think of cartoon mice hopped up on meth. Speedy Gonzales: The Lost Years. Jem wondered if it made him racist or something, but he decided against it; he hated polka too and he was half-Polish. It was those bouncy Mariachi tunes reverberating through his apartment building, courtesy of one of his neighbors, that chased him all the way from Hollywood to the Santa Monica Pier on that particular afternoon. That was one way of spending his day off.

People who didn't know LA thought of Hollywood as all glamour, but in reality there were only a few blocks of shiny tourist trap, the rest ranging from decent to outright grimy, like where Jem lived. Santa Monica was far more upscale and in summertime it would be hopping with throngs of people, but now, under the muck-colored clouds, it was as appealing as a wet dog. LA tended to have plenty of sunshine all year around, but this winter was unusually wet and gloomy, matching Jem's mood. There were only a few weeks left till Christmas, and he felt ho-humbug at best.

Jem killed a couple of hours hanging around, playing in the arcade. When he got hungry he went into one of the cheaper food places and got a burger. Pulling the zipper all the way up on his puffy coat, he wandered outside and sat on a bench to watch the few people stubbornly determined to have their fun. He wasn't sure why the man in the gray peacoat caught his eye. The guy was tall, but not too tall, older, in his forties probably, kinda good looking, but not exceptionally so. Jem's gaze glued itself to the guy, taking in his trim figure, salt-and-pepper hair, the easy, graceful way he moved. There was something about the man that aroused Jem's curiosity. He wouldn't have been able to say what if you paid him, but he kept looking, trying to figure it out. There were people like that, who simply grabbed your attention without trying, making you wish you knew them. Maybe it was the friendly set of lines in the corner of his eyes. In this town only the poor aged naturally -- everyone else used Botox to wipe the wrinkles and expressions off their faces. Peacoat appeared affluent enough to take care of those laugh lines, yet there they were, to Jem's delight.

He trailed after Peacoat, all the way to the far end of the pier. Only a few stragglers made it that far, most people getting lost in the shops and restaurants. That part of the dock was wider than the main tract. Peacoat took the stairs leading to a lower platform that wrapped almost all the way around the head of the pier. It was a simple, narrow walkway mostly used for fishing, although Jem doubted anyone ever caught anything there. The few fishermen not discouraged by the weather stood at the side facing the open sea. Peacoat walked around to the opposite side. Jem couldn't fathom why, as all you got there was a craptacular view of the pylons under the pier and the parking lot on the shore. Maybe the man wanted to be alone—Jem could see him from the upper level only by going right up to the rail. It was as private as you could get in a public place. The man took something out of his pocket—it looked like a piece of candy. He unwrapped it and threw it in the water. Then he did it again. When he did it for a third time Jem had to find out why. He knew it would drive him crazy if he didn't at least try.

When in Amsterdam… by Josephine Myles
Brandon hadn’t noticed them in the shops at Schiphol Airport or Centraal Station, but he’d been distracted by Jos chattering away about all the family members he’d be meeting over the next few days. Then there’d been that walk across a windswept, canal-bordered plain criss-crossed by lanes of traffic. Brandon had been so entranced by the view of the Amsterdam skyline—so different to Bristol—he’d nearly been run over by a tram, and hadn’t had attention to spare for anything else.

Now though, with the tourist shops of Amsterdam’s main drag right up close and personal, Brandon couldn’t ignore them any longer. He gaped at the window display of a tabak, and then at the greasy spoon café next door to it. There, in amongst the tinsel and baubles he’d expect at this time of year, were the incongruous figures.

“Jos, why are there golliwogs everywhere?”

“Golliwogs?” Jos asked, in that sexy Dutch drawl of his. The one that turned every z and s into a deliciously soft “sch”. “I don’t know this word.”

“Golliwogs,” Brandon enunciated clearly, jabbing his figure in the direction of the offending window display. “Little blackface dolls in crazy outfits climbing all over the place.”

Jos squinted. Brandon wasn’t surprised he was having problems seeing, what with the icy drizzle. He took hold of Jos’s hand and pulled him closer to the café window, hoping the awning would provide them with some shelter.

“That’s Zwarte Piet,” Jos said. “The Pieten are like your elves, I told you this on the plane, liefje. They help Sinterklaas hand out the presents to the good boys and girls.”

Brandon was aware of a woman sitting at the counter on the other side of the window, staring openly at them as she took a huge bite of a pastry. He glared defiantly, keeping hold of Jos’s hand. Amsterdam was meant to be a place where anything went, wasn’t it? Surely in a country where prostitution was legal and you could buy weed in cafés, people wouldn’t have a problem with a white guy and a black guy holding hands?

The nearest golliwog grinned fiercely as he dangled from the tinsel streamer. Sinister white plastic teeth gleamed and afro curls stuck out from under a floppy silk hat. Brandon dropped Jos’s hand and took a step back.

“This is fucked up, mate. Seriously.” Brandon spun on his heel and started walking, glad to see Jos drop into step beside him. They were a good match, height-wise, and managed to cover the ground quickly. But whereas Jos was all blond fur over heavy muscle, Brandon was a beanpole topped with an impressive afro. Or he’d thought it was impressive, anyway, until he’d become uncomfortably aware of just how similar it was to the golliwogs’ hair.

The hard knot of fear in his chest ached. His anger wasn’t really about the golliwogs, he knew. It was about the whole situation with Jos, and what he was expecting from Brandon. Things Brandon wanted to run away and hide from, but which tugged inside him muttering dark secrets.

Brandon pulled his hoodie tight as a gust of stinging rain blew into his face. “It’s bloody freezing here,” he complained, and stepped into the relative shelter of a narrow side street.

A side street lined with golliwog infested shop fronts.

Brandon groaned. What had Jos called them? Pieten?

“What’s the story with the Pieten?” he asked. “Why are they black?”

“We tell my nieces and nephews they get black going down the chimney to bring them their Sinterklaas gifts,” Jos said, his tone uncharacteristically evasive.

“And is that what everyone thinks?”

Jos sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t ask me right now.”

“Please. I want to know.”

“Okay. When I was a child, my mother told me they were slaves that Sinterklaas had freed on his travels. From Ethiopia.”

Brandon grimaced.

“See, I knew you would not like it, but it’s a tradition we keep for the children. It’s not meant to be racist.”

Brandon tried to wipe out his scowl. It wasn’t Jos’s fault, after all, any more than it was Brandon’s fault that Bristol still had a concert venue named after a slave trader. Mind you, Brandon had helped circulate more than a few petitions to rename Colston Hall.

Brandon peeled his gaze away from the Pieten and tried instead to focus his gaze on the array of mismatched gables that topped the tall, crowded buildings. It probably would have worked if the heavens hadn’t chosen that moment to dump a month’s worth of rain in mere seconds. He dodged into a shop doorway, knocking into a stand of postcards with his rucksack.

“Voorzichtig,” Jos admonished, setting the stand straight and smirking. “You don’t want to spoil this lovely display.”

Brandon took a closer look at the postcards. “Bloody hell. Do people really send each other these?”

Jos squinted at the array of colourful dildos on the card Brandon had singled out. “I think many tourists prefer to take the real thing back in their suitcases, perhaps?” He gestured at the display case at the back of the shop, and Brandon’s skin heated.

“I didn’t realise it was this kind of shop,” he said, his gaze skittering over the shelves arrayed with dildos, handcuffs, and assorted scary-yet-fascinating objects, to the burly, leather-clad man behind the counter, and then back to Jos again. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. Maybe we should buy a souvenir, while we’re here.” Jos did that thing with his eyebrows that made him look like the devil incarnate and always sent a rush of blood to Brandon’s groin.

“I think Mum would prefer a windmill or a pair of clogs.”

A Pint of Beer, a Bag of Chips, and Thou by JL Merrow
I didn’t even try to sneak out on Christmas Eve, just headed straight into the living room. The coven was lined up on the sofa, all three of them with expectant looks on their faces, as if they’d known I was on my way.

Then again, they’re witches. They’d probably known before I had.

“Come on, Mum,” I challenged her. “I’m ready for you. Do your worst.”

“It’s all for your own good, young man, so don’t you forget it. Happy Christmas, love, and here’s hoping it’ll be keeping you warm long after I’m gone.” She heaved a sigh.

“Are you off to the bingo, then, Mum?” I asked innocently.

“I’ll be off to your Aunty Gerry’s church in a minute, to pray for some respect from the fruit of my womb. Now open it, love.”

Mum’s present was all done up in recycled paper, tied with string. I opened it up—handing the wrappings back to Mum so she could use them again next year—and shook out the brightly-coloured woollen thing inside.

“It’s a cardigan, love,” Mum said, before I could ask.

“I knew that, Mum,” I lied. “It’s …great.”

I was lying again. The sweater was so garish it threatened to make the Doctor Who scarf look staid. It had more colours in it than I thought there were colours, all clashing madly in an abstract pattern. If Joseph from that book of Bible stories Aunty Gerry bought me when I was little had seen it, he’d have been sick with jealousy. Or maybe just sick. It was that bad.

“Well, go on, love. Put it on.”

“I, uh, I don’t think it’ll go with my leather trousers,” I protested weakly.

“Your trousers are black, Liam. Black goes with everything.”

I pulled on the cardigan. It came down to about my knees, had pockets I could have fit my head in—mohawk and all—and was so thick and bulky there was probably a whole flock of sheep somewhere walking around shivering. “You won’t need to wear a coat with that—just your scarf,” Aunty Des decreed smugly. She didn’t wait for an answer, just looped it around my neck half-a-dozen times.

“And your hat,” Aunty Mags added, making to get up, so I pulled it out of my pocket and shoved it on my head quick, before she could jam it down tight and maim the mohawk for life.

The skies were clear as I walked to the Tube station, showing more stars than there were last-minute shoppers hurrying through the streets with bags in their hands and desperate looks on their faces. A pity; a bit of torrential rain—or maybe a small tornado—would’ve given passers-by something else to think about than my ridiculous get-up. As it was, I had to endure the stares and the shouts of “Oh my God, there’s been an explosion in an Oxfam shop!” I didn’t answer; just held my head up high and prayed my silver fox would turn out to be colour-blind.

I was halfway through "Your Latest Trick" by Dire Straits when I saw him. There were snowflakes on the shoulders of his trench coat—it seemed the weather had turned wintry again—and there was tiredness in his eyes, but maybe just a little bit of anticipation, too? Our gazes met and held each other. I steeled myself for action. It was Christmas Eve: my last chance. After tonight he’d likely be off work until the New Year. I couldn’t wait that long.

I launched into Billy Ocean’s "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" and gave it all I’d got, never breaking eye contact.

And maybe there was a little bit of magic in the air, as time seemed to slow, making that escalator ride last almost as long as the song. I let the last notes fade as he stepped off and walked up to me, his hands in the pockets of his trench coat, the crowd parting before him like he was Moses. A kind of tension in his jaw, he waited until I’d finished before he spoke.

“Look, if I’m wrong about this, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bash my head in. But I was wondering if I could buy you a drink. At a bar, I mean,” he added hastily. “Or, you know, a café—whatever’s your poison.”

A smile rolled out across my face in a slow crescendo. “There’s a pub around the corner that does great ale. Let me pack my stuff up, and I’m all yours.”

His face lit up. “Promises, promises.”

“My aunties would have my hide if I went around making promises I didn’t keep,” I said, scooping the coins out of my case so I could put away my sax. “I’m Liam, by the way.”

“Neil,” he said. “That’s my name, not an order.”

“Oh?” I said, pouting just a little. I shouldn’t do that, I know. Doesn’t really go with the whole punk image. “Still, the night’s young.” I put my saxophone in the case and snapped it shut.

As we rode up the escalator side by side, Neil shook his head. “I must be off my rocker, you know. Either that or you are. It’s the only explanation.”

I gave a pointed look down at my get-up. “Well, I know who most people’s money would be on.”

We stepped out of the station and a blast of icy wind blew straight through us. Neil shivered. “Hey, put this on,” I told him, unwinding my scarf from my neck and wrapping it three times around his. Widdershins, in case you were wondering. I’m left handed. It’s easier that way.

“Hey, you don’t have to—”

“Haven’t you heard?” I interrupted him. “Misery loves company.”

He looked down at the ridiculous scarf, and chuckled. “I’ve always preferred A problem shared is a problem halved. You know, if we halved this scarf maybe it’d be something approaching normal length.”

“Ah, but then we’d have two of the things. They might start breeding, and then where would we be?”

“Come across a lot of sexually active scarves in your time, have you?”

Author Bios:
Chrissy Munder
I usually try to let my writing speak for itself but I’ve been told that a bit of info about me might be amusing to some readers. Never let it be said I stood in the way of anyone’s amusement! So, for the curious, here’s a little background on your’s truly.

The joke when I was growing up was that no one could remember a time when I wasn’t reading. I was born with a book in my hand (ouch, sorry about that, Mom!) and haven’t put it down since. At the age of seven I commandeered an old desk in the basement, set out some pencils and paper and grandly announced the “writer was at work”.

Well, the more practical aspects of life interrupted those plans and I was forced to become a practicing realist in an effort to combat my tendency to dream but here I am once again, happy to share with you my love of romance and fiction.

Even though I’ve lived in more states than I have fingers to count I tend to set a fair portion of my fiction along the Western Coast of Michigan and I always try to highlight a few interesting aspects of the coast in my stories.

I feel there isn’t a more romantic or interesting location around and I am a firm believer in the transforming magic of romance in all its many guises whether it be het, m/m or f/f.

Please, come with me and share the magic.

Clare London
Clare took the pen name London from the city where she lives, loves, and writes. A lone, brave female in a frenetic, testosterone-fuelled family home, she juggles her writing with her other day job as an accountant. She’s written in many genres and across many settings, with award-winning novels and short stories published both online and in print. She says she likes variety in her writing while friends say she’s just fickle, but as long as both theories spawn good fiction, she’s happy. Most of her work features male/male romance and drama with a healthy serving of physical passion, as she enjoys both reading and writing about strong, sympathetic and sexy characters.

Clare currently has several novels sulking at that tricky chapter 3 stage and plenty of other projects in mind . . . she just has to find out where she left them in that frenetic, testosterone-fuelled family home.

All the details and free fiction are available at her website. Visit her today and say hello!

JL Merrow
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.

She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and the paranormal, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novella Muscling Through was a 2013 EPIC Award finalist, and her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy. Her novel Relief Valve is a finalist in the 2015 EPIC Awards.

JL Merrow is a member of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.

Josephine Myles
Eccentric Englishwoman, absent-minded mother, proud bisexual, shameless tea addict, serial textile craft hobbyist, iconoclastic logophile and writer of homoerotic romance—Josephine Myles is all these things at once. She has held down more different jobs than any sane person ever should and is fundamentally rebellious, preferring the overgrown yet enticing path rather than the wide and obvious one.

Jo once spent two years living on a slowly decaying narrowboat, and was determined that she would one day use the experience as fodder for a novel. It may have taken a few years, but she got there in the end. She usually does.

Lou Harper
Under a prickly, cynical surface Lou Harper is an incorrigible romantic. Her love affair with the written word started at a tender age. There was never a time when stories weren't romping around in her head. She is currently embroiled in a ruinous romance with adjectives. In her free time Lou stalks deviant words and feral narratives.

Lou's favorite animal is the hedgehog. She likes nature, books, movies, photography, and good food. She has a temper and mood swings.

Lou has misspent most of her life in parts of Europe and the US, but is now firmly settled in Los Angeles and worships the sun. However, she thinks the ocean smells funny. Lou is a loner, a misfit, and a happy drunk.

Chrissy Munder

Clare London

JL Merrow

Josephine Myles

Lou Harper


Band Geeks and Riptides by Monica Duddington

Title: Band Geeks and Riptides
Author: Monica Duddington
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance
Release Date: November 23, 2016
Can a homesick band geek find happiness in Surf City, USA?

High School band geek Olivia never asked to move from her hometown in Oregon with its motto Keep Portland Weird, to Surf City, USA, a.k.a. Huntington Beach, California. However, just before her senior year that’s exactly what her mother decides they will do. Olivia finds herself in a foreign land of surf, sand, and sun where she’s not even sure she speaks the language. She’s convinced she’ll never fit in.

Homesick and desperate to find her place in her new school, Olivia makes some potentially serious mistakes. But has she missed noticing friendships that have snuck up on her? And then there’s the enigmatic drummer Sean, who seems to be making Olivia’s heart beat some odd rhythms. 

Maybe it’s not time to give up on Surf City, USA.

The following excerpt takes place at a marching band practice for the percussion instruments. Olivia, who plays marimba, loves this kind of practice. After a couple of miserable weeks being homesick she’s about as happy as she’s been since moving from Portland, Oregon to Huntington Beach, California. At an earlier practice she had noticed a tall boy who played drums and was wearing a fedora.

Tall Boy With Fedora is approaching me. I don’t look away, just watch as he gets closer. I’m still smiling. And swinging my arms.

“You shouldn’t squint.” He points at my eyes.

“Huh?” I have to tilt my head back to see his face. It’s way up there. I’m short. Really short. Five-foot-three on an especially tall day. There’s a sneer on his face, like he can’t believe I’m so stupid to be squinting.

“When you were playing. I saw you squinting into the sun. It’ll give you a headache.”

Tall Boy With Fedora removes the hat and gently places it on my head, where it falls all the way to my eyebrows, it’s so large. He takes the front rim and scoots it up my forehead a little, angling the hat.

“There. That will help you,” he says, as he runs a hand through his brown hair, mussing it up so it’s going every which way. The gesture allows me to catch a glance of a tattoo on his inner forearm. Not a picture of anything, more of an intricate design.

He’s eyeing me and his hat sitting on my head.

“Um, thanks. But don’t you—”

“I’m used to practicing in the sun,” he interrupts me. “Portlandia people aren’t so used to it, I’m guessing.”

He’s turning to walk away. “Wait,” I say to his retreating figure. “How do you know where I’m from?”

Looking over his shoulder, he smiles at me. Smiling is a good look on him, much better than sneering. It brings light to his dark brown eyes. “Don’t know. Heard it around I guess.” He shrugs and continues on his way.

I run a finger along the rim of the hat and watch him as he starts talking to a group of friends.

Now I wish I knew Tall Boy Without Fedora’s real name.

* * * * *
It’s heaven.

More than two hours of nothing but percussion. My mallets fly as if my hands aren’t guiding them. Everything we play is something I already know, and most are old favorites. The late-afternoon sun is warm, and the marine air caresses my skin. Marine air. Not concrete and asphalt air. Today it’s sweet and salty. I can’t stop smiling.

During our first break, I chat with Grace and even Kevin. Twice my eyes wander to Tall Boy, and I catch him staring at me. Probably making sure I’m taking care of his hat.

“Hey, why you wearing Sean’s hat?” Kevin asks.

Sean. Tall Boy Without Fedora has a name!

“You mean the tall drummer with the mussed-up brown hair?” I ask, just to make sure.

“Yeah, what’re you doing with it?” Kevin’s acting like I’m standing before him with an AK-47 or something.

“He thought I was squinting too much, so he lent it to me for the practice.”

“Huh, he never lets anyone even touch that hat.” Kevin peers in the direction of Sean, as if to find the answer. “And, well, even though Sean’s a friend and all, during practices he’s not exactly the friendly type. More the keeps-to-himself kind. Really into his music. Not the kind of person to just give a stranger a hat.” He’s shaking his head in disbelief.

“Don’t know,” I say. “But it was nice.”

This time I peek at Sean, catch him looking at his hat, and smile at him. One corner of his mouth goes up, and he quickly looks away.

Author Bio:
Despite the fact that at the age of three, Monica Duddington had two imaginary friends who were motorcycle-riding men from Santa Monica who lived part time in a utility shed at a reservoir, her parents never got her into therapy. Today, many years later, any imaginary friends who might pop up get to have their day as characters in her novels. Monica writes paranormal, historical, and contemporary young adult novels.

Monica is quick to admit that she has a serious reading addiction—an addiction she likes to foster. She can’t live without her husband and family, chocolate, tea, red wine and, of course, stacks of books.

Though she grew up in the beach towns of Southern California, home is Oregon, and has been all her adult life. She loves the mountains, trees, beaches, and wine country of the Pacific Northwest, and even the rain, since it encourages people to curl up with a good book.

In addition to writing young adult fiction, Monica also writes mysteries and paranormal romances under the name Monica Knightley.


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The Princess Dilemma by Heather Hiestand

Title: The Princess Dilemma
Author: Heather Hiestand
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: November 30, 2016
England, 1837:  In the game of kings, there can be only one winner, but a second chance at love is worth more than any throne…

As a British army colonel, Edward FitzPrince deals with dangerous secrets every day. When his mother dies and he learns he may have a claim to the British throne, he quickly finds himself out of his depths. The Scottish-born soldier discovers life in London and political maneuvering foreign indeed.

One woman can help him, German Princess Charlotte von Scharnburg, with whom he had a secret romance more than a decade before, his long-lost wife. As the best friend and lady-in-waiting to his half-sister, Queen Victoria, who has just ascended the throne of England, Charlotte is now his natural enemy.

Edward is determined to have his birthright. Charlotte must ensure her family’s survival. They will be each other’s greatest ally, or tear each other apart.


Edward glanced over the balustrade to see a woman of such natural beauty as to put the King’s Staircase to shame. All the magnificence of the palace seemed to dim around her. Her shining gold hair contained more than a hint of auburn and her eyes were very dark under reddish brows. Surely lips were not so naturally red past childhood, and he suspected this woman was in her mid-twenties. Still, she had a splendid figure, and was tall for a woman. She would rest her head right against his shoulder if she leaned against him. Who was she?

He nodded his head at her and came slowly down the stairs, conscious of the kingly effect of his gleaming white trousers and shined boots against the black stairs and gold walls. He could see her breasts rise and fall. She was breathing rapidly, as if she had run down a long corridor to reach him.

A woman so beautiful must have wed right out of the schoolroom, though she wore no ring on her plump little fingers. Strange to see such hands on such a tall lady.

She stared at him a little strangely, as if he should know her. “I am lady-in-waiting to the queen,” she said. When he didn’t respond, she continued. “Baroness Lehzen sent for me in early spring, when it became obvious the princess would need a larger household soon.”

Her beauty must have made his mouth go dry. He worked his tongue against his teeth before he spoke. “You must be a cousin on the German side, and not related to me.”

She blinked then inclined her head, indicating she knew his relationship to her mistress. “I am a second cousin through Her Majesty’s mother, the Duchess of Kent.”

“I see,” he murmured. That explained the faint Continental accent. “I am very happy to see my sister, Princess Victoria, but my appointment is with Princess Sophia. I will, of course, be happy to pay my respects.” In fact, he could hardly contain his glee at reaching his sister so easily.

“The princess is in the queen’s apartments at present,” the lady said, arching one of her brows as she emphasized his sister’s assumed title. “Will you follow me?”

He had been told many a time that he never smiled, but he could feel the corners of his lips tilting up as he trailed the woman. While her wide skirt hid the curves of her hips, he could see she had a pleasingly tiny waist. Being in mourning for the king, she was dressed all in black, but her sash accented those curves with great proficiency. The wide, ruffled sleeves on her arms were pure silliness, however, a waste of money that could get caught in doors, catch fire, and rip on anything protruding. Women’s fashion had never made sense to him.

Sometimes he wondered what a woman would look like in men’s clothing. He wanted to see this lady-in-waiting in tight buff trousers, all the better to see her backside. A trim linen shirt might display her bosom well. It was hidden from view by a fichu, though the bodice of her dress itself was low-cut enough to display her charms if she dared.

Author Bio:
Heather Hiestand was born in Illinois, but her family migrated west before she started school. Since then she has claimed Washington State as home, except for a few years in California. She wrote her first story at age seven and went on to major in creative writing at the University of Washington. Her first published fiction was a mystery short story, but since then it has been all about the many flavors of romance. Heather’s first published romance short story was set in the Victorian period, and she has written in many subgenres of romance since then. The author of many novels, novellas, and short stories, she has achieved best-seller status at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. With her husband and son, she makes her home in a small town and supposedly works out of her tiny office, though she mostly writes in her easy chair in the living room.


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