Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Part 5

A Walk in the Dark by Kate McMurray
A year ago, Brandon was Jared’s roommate’s boyfriend—and completely off limits. Rex and Brandon have since broken up, and now, as Christmas approaches, Jared runs into Brandon again… and wonders if Brandon might return his once-helpless longing.

Diary Dates by TJ Masters
Postgraduate student Andrew Chin arrives in London not only to study, but to explore life away from his traditional family in Singapore. His adventure begins at the airport, where he finds the diary of a wealthy British businessman and endeavors to return it.

James Howard is twice Andrew’s age, and he’s not used to selfless youngsters. Despite a rocky first meeting, the two develop an unlikely friendship as James introduces Andrew to the city. James is looking forward to the festivities leading up to Christmas in London and maybe a celebration with Andrew. But will a nasty bout of the flu ruin their romantic holiday?

Not if Andrew has anything to say about it.

Diary Dates is a pleasant little holiday novella that warms the souls. May/December romances are not always easy to write, there's a fine line between the age gap making a difference and being completely ignored,  TJ Masters has threaded the line wonderfully and still making this novella believably romantic. Another new author for me that I look forward to checking out.


First Christmas by Debbie McGowan
Remember the way you used to feel when you were little? So eager for Santa's visit, sleeplessly counting the minutes till morning, trembling with excitement and anticipation... Will I get what I wished for? Have I been good enough?

Josh and George spent half a lifetime apart, so it matters not that they're all grown up now. For this is their first Christmas together, in their new home. They finally have all that they wished for...

...But perhaps Santa still has a few surprises in store.

This Christmas, join Josh and George for a Christmas story full of festive magic and romance.

Best read in December, in front of a roaring log fire, by the twinkling light of a Christmas tree.

Other stories about these characters:
- Beginnings
- Breaking Waves
- A Midnight Clear

And, of course, you can read about them and the rest of their friends in the Hiding Behind The Couch Series.

An Improper Holiday by KA Mitchell
He followed all the rules until one man showed him a dozen ways to break them.

As second son to an earl, Ian Stanton has always done the proper thing. Obeyed his elders, studied diligently, and dutifully accepted the commission his father purchased for him in the Fifty-Second Infantry Division. The one glaring, shameful, marvelous exception: Nicholas Chatham, heir to the Marquess of Carleigh.

Before Ian took his position in His Majesty s army, he and Nicky consummated two years of physical and emotional discovery. Their inexperience created painful consequences that led Ian to the conviction that their unnatural desires were never meant to be indulged.

Five years later, wounded in body and plagued by memories of what happened between them, Ian is sent to carry out his older brother s plans for a political alliance with Nicky s father. Their sister Charlotte is the bargaining piece.

Nicky never believed that what he and Ian felt for each other was wrong and he has a plan to make things right. Getting Ian to Carleigh is but the first step. Now Nicky has only twelve nights to convince Ian that happiness is not the price of honor and duty, but its reward.

An Improper Holiday is a wonderful blend of historical, drama, and romance wrapped together in a beautiful Christmas package.  Ian and Nicky may not quite remember their time together the same but it's pretty obvious the feelings are still there and with the help of a younger scheming sister and the traditions of the holiday, maybe their future is not quite as unhappy as Ian thinks he's destined for.  A great addition to my holiday library.


Alone for Christmas by Ashley John
Noah expected to spend Christmas alone, but he never expected to spend it falling in love with his boss.

With his third divorce looming and his bank accounts frozen, Chip Harington was surprisingly okay with spending Christmas alone, even if he was living out of a suitcase in his office. He had already decided to skip the office Christmas party, until some surprising words from one of his employees makes him change his mind.

Noah always expected the crush for his boss to fade, but after two years working under Chip, his feelings are stronger than ever. With Chip’s personal life in tatters once more, Noah never expected his boss to show his face at the office Christmas party, so he was even more surprised when his drunken attempt to kiss Chip turned into so much more.

Chip assumed his encounter with Noah was nothing more than a one-night stand, but when his employee emerges from a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, they are forced to spend Christmas together in a London office block. With the lines between employer and employee blurred, will either man emerge from the snow the same, or will their Christmas encounter change the course of their lives forever, making them wish they had spent Christmas alone after all? 

Yet another new author for me and I look forward to reading more.  Alone for Christmas is a fun, sexy, romantic story with interesting characters that you just want to hug and make sure they have the happiest holiday ever.  Chip and Noah may be employer and employee but given the right circumstances they could be given the opportunity to be more.  When those circumstances appear, will it lead to more or will their employer/employee relationship win out?  Yep, you guessed it for that answer, you'll have to read Alone for Christmas for yourself but trust me, if you're looking for a well written holiday tale than you won't be disappointed in giving this one a chance.  Another great addition to my holiday library.


Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Parts

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4

A Walk in the Dark by Kate McMurray
I was never big into the holiday season. Most years, I put up with it, but Christmas had a way of reminding me that I didn’t have anyone to share the holiday with. The image on TV was of all these happy families sitting down to big turkey dinners, while I mostly spent the last two weeks of December sitting alone in my apartment and eating leftover Chinese food. My mother lived in the city, but she thought Christmas was a lot of materialist claptrap and was generally disinterested in making the holiday the Norman Rockwell painting that part of me yearned for.

My roommate Rex was certainly not helping matters that one Christmas a few years ago. We’d been friends for a zillion years, but he’d been trying my patience lately. See, he had this boyfriend. I was at home one night when they came in, all smiles and giggles. By my estimation, Brandon and Rex were parading arm in arm into my apartment for the 437th time, and I wanted to vomit.

Yes, Rex. After all the time I’d known him, I still didn’t know if that was his real name, but that wasn’t important. The real problem here was that Rex and Brandon were laughing and leaning on each other, headed for Rex’s bedroom, where I knew they would fuck, probably loudly. It
was as if I didn’t exist, even though this was my home, too, and Rex and I made eye contact on his way by.

I didn’t know what it was about this time, but something in me snapped. I could not listen to them fuck one more time.

Unfortunately, I’d been camped out on the couch in a stretched-out T-shirt and a pair of gym shorts, hardly appropriate for the cold winter night outside. The building’s heat was turned up to sauna levels, but there was no way to adjust the old radiators, so Rex and I had taken to spending our December wearing as little as possible around the apartment. Well, Rex did that regardless of the season. The bottom line was that going outside would require going to my
room to change, which required walking past Rex’s room, where he’d be fucking Brandon. Poor, sweet, adorable Brandon, who spent several nights a week with Rex but somehow still didn’t know what an asshole he was. Like the name alone wasn’t enough of a tip.

Luckily, my iPod was on the coffee table, so I picked it up, popped in my earphones, and cranked the volume up to eleven. Just as the telltale moans began to seep out from the space below Rex’s door, a good thumping beat flooded my ears and drowned them out.

I slipped into my bedroom and kicked the door closed. It took some work, but I managed to wrestle myself out of my workout clothes and into jeans and a clean shirt, only extracting my headphones when I thought I heard someone knocking on my door. (The sound turned out to be Rex’s goddamn headboard banging into the wall that separated our rooms.) I tripped and stumbled when I tried to shove my feet into a pair of sneakers and hit my knee against my dresser, sending bolts of pain through my leg.

It took me a few more minutes to track down my wallet and keys. I took my winter coat off the hook near the door and slid it on. I had no idea where I would go. I just knew I needed to get out of the apartment.

But just as I reached for the knob, Brandon tiptoed out of Rex’s room. He was wearing his coat, a pair of dark jeans, and a sheepish expression. His dark-blond hair was tousled and his face was flushed, and he was just so goddamn adorable.

“Uh, hey, Jared,” he said.

Diary Dates by TJ Masters
Chapter One
“CABIN CREW, prepare for landing, please.”

The pilot’s voice interrupted the movie Andrew was watching. He turned to look out the window. Far below there were lights twinkling in every direction; they were descending over London. After more than thirteen hours in the air, the thought of arrival filled him with excitement and anticipation.

Andrew had worked hard and made his family proud of their only son. A great school record led to university and an honors degree. Never one to rest on his laurels, he had secured a job with a very powerful and respected medical engineering company. Now, after just two years in the post, his company was sponsoring his place at King’s College London for a master’s degree.

The postgrad course was a big thing, but for Andrew, traveling to London to do it really was the icing on the cake. A couple of senior colleagues at work had already followed this route and spoke fondly of their time in London. Life here was going to be so different from the traditional culture of Singapore. Andrew took life quite seriously for a twenty-four-year-old, so he had no great plans to go wild during his stay, but he was looking forward to being away from the watchful eyes of his large family for the next year.

He had accepted that marriage was expected of him, but he was in no hurry to satisfy his family on that count. Attending his cousin’s wedding last month had reminded him of his obligations. It wasn’t just the comments and questions from every older member of the family, especially the nosy aunts, but also the shame of the red envelopes to come. The lai see were traditionally given by the married couple to the single members of the family at the next Chinese New Year to highlight their status.

Now he was nearly seven thousand miles from home and free to live his own life for a while. For months now, Andrew had compiled a huge list of places to see and things he wanted to experience. He was eager to get started.

A crowd of weary travelers carried Andrew along the aircraft walkway, through corridors, and up escalators, moving as part of a winding snake of fellow visitors presenting their papers at passport control.

Andrew had arranged to meet a friend from his undergraduate days at the airport. Jenny was also in England to study and had been a constant source of encouragement regarding Andrew’s plans to travel to the UK. It would be good to see a familiar face, but right now the call of nature was telling Andrew that he needed to find a restroom before venturing out to meet her.

Andrew was pleased to spot a young couple whom he’d chatted with at Changi and later during the flight. They had stopped at a row of seats near the restrooms and appeared to be sorting out some of their own luggage. The only other occupant of the seats was an older, smartly dressed businessman, sorting through some papers. After exchanging bows, Andrew asked the couple if they would mind watching his luggage briefly while he went to the toilet. They agreed, and he rushed off to relieve himself and splash some cold water on his face.

The couple were ready to leave when he got back, and the businessman had already gone. Andrew bade farewell to his fellow travelers and turned back to his own bags.

On the end seat next to his suitcase was a notebook of some kind, its pages bulked up by odd pieces of paper, all held together with a stout elastic band. Andrew looked around quickly for the businessman who’d been sitting there, thinking that the book looked like something a businessperson might carry, but saw no sign of him. Unsure what to do, Andrew picked up the weighty book and pulled the band off. Inside the front cover was the name “James Howard.” Below it was a neatly written e-mail address and telephone number.

Just then Andrew’s own phone buzzed. He took it from his pocket to find a text message from Jenny.

Where are you?

The sensible thing would have been to find a lost property desk to hand in the diary, but the prospect of questions and laborious paperwork led Andrew to avoid that option. Resolving to contact the owner directly and hoping there would be some easy way to reunite him with his diary, Andrew quickly but carefully put the book into his rucksack and made his way through the customs hall to the exit.

No sooner had Andrew passed through the outer doors than a loud squeal announced Jenny’s presence. It wasn’t difficult to spot her in the crowd, jumping up and down, waving both arms in the air. As soon as he passed through the barrier, Jenny leapt on him, clearly pleased to see him and not at all shy about showing it.

“Welcome to London!” she said, beaming at him. He felt himself smiling uncontrollably in response. It hit him then that his journey was finally over.

The famous map of the London Underground appealed to Andrew’s technical mind, and many times recently he had called it up on the Internet and traced the long journey on the dark blue Piccadilly line from Heathrow Tube station to Holborn Station. This was close to the flat where Jenny lived and which was soon to be Andrew’s new home in London.

The train was packed, mostly with people traveling to their jobs in central London. They soon arrived at their destination and Jenny helped Andrew carry his luggage up a flight of stairs to the apartment. They spent the morning unpacking in Andrew’s room while they caught up on each other’s news.

Eventually, Andrew remembered the diary. Eager to get it back to its owner, he called the number he’d found in the book, but it went to voice mail.

A well-spoken masculine voice confirmed that it was the phone of James Howard. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, Andrew hung up while he decided what he was going to say. In the end he left a simple message telling Mr. Howard that he had found his diary at the airport and wanted to return it as soon as possible.

Jenny suggested they go out, so they left everything and ventured out into the busy London streets. After walking around, taking in the sights, they grabbed a sandwich for lunch from a coffee shop. Just as they were trying to decide where to try next, Andrew’s phone rang and he recognized the number on the screen as the same one that he had dialed earlier. Feeling a little nervous, Andrew answered. “Hello?”

“Hello, yes. You left a message earlier about my diary.” The man sounded businesslike.

“Oh, yes, I think you left it at the airport. How can I bring it to you?”

“Thank you for calling me. My whole life is in that book. I will pay you a finder’s fee, of course. Can you bring it to me at my office?”

“I’m sorry, what is a finder’s fee?” Andrew had never heard the term before.

“I will pay you a reward for bringing the diary to me.” The man sounded a little impatient.

“Ah, no, Mr. Howard, I do not want any reward. Just to give your book back to you.” Such a thing had never occurred to Andrew, and it was certainly not what he intended. “I have only come to London today, but if you can tell me where to come so I will bring the diary to you.”

“My office is near Euston Station. Can you come there?”

Andrew remembered the name from the journey earlier. “Yes, I think that is not far. When can I come there?” He hoped that the man would not say now, because Andrew needed to go back to the flat to collect the diary first.

“I’ve got meetings this afternoon. Can you come at five o’clock?”

“Yes, sure.”

“I’ll text you the address. When you come to reception tell them who you are. They’ll be expecting you.”

“Okay, Mr. Howard. I’ll go there at five o’clock.”

For a moment Andrew thought the man was going to hang up without saying anything more, but then he suddenly asked, “Can you tell me your name?”

“Oh, sorry, sir. My name is Andrew, Andrew Chin.”

“Chinese name?”

“Yes sir, I arrived from Singapore today.”

“Okay, Andrew, I must go. Thanks for contacting me.”

“No problem, Mr. Howard.”

The man at the other end had already hung up. Andrew, in his usual kind way, assumed that the man’s abrupt manner on the phone was just because he was a busy, important person.

Andrew told Jenny what was going on, but she said she couldn’t go with him because she was having a tryout for a waitressing job later. A text from Mr. Howard provided Andrew the address of his office. After looking it up, he decided that he could make his way there on his own.

They wandered the streets for another couple of hours and then went back to the flat so that Jenny could get ready for work. While he was waiting, Andrew looked up James Howard’s company on the Internet. It was a world leader in technical ceramics and Mr. Howard was the company’s CEO.

Jenny had warned him that he would arrive at his destination far too early if he left just after four, but he was nervous about being late. So it was that just half an hour later he arrived at the address and found himself in front of a modern office building.

He still had another twenty minutes to wait for the appointed time. Not wanting to be seen yet, he carried on walking until he reached the end of the road, where a low wall marked the boundary of another building set back a little from the road. Sitting himself down on the wall, Andrew took off his rucksack and removed Mr. Howard’s diary in its protective plastic bag.

Beyond the initial search for the owner’s details, Andrew had left the book unopened. Once he had realized that the book was a diary, it became a private thing. Now, however, the thought that the diary was about to pass out of his hands again nudged Andrew to take a look at it. If nothing else, he wanted to see whether the diary would give him any clues about the man he was about to meet.

The thick band holding the book closed was essential, since it held so many loose bits of paper and business cards between its pages. Removing this carefully, Andrew ran his slender fingers over the spine and cover. The black surface felt almost like fine leather, although it was too thin to be real. All the entries in the diary were neatly written, probably with an ink pen. This idea seemed a bit old-fashioned, but at the same time quite stylish. The multiple appointments on almost every page showed that this James Howard was indeed a busy man.

One of the most telling things was the odd pages, which were full of doodles. These were either geometric patterns or tiny drawings, but all quite neat. Maybe some of those meetings were not so interesting.

Another curious observation was that there was little difference between some of the weekend pages and those for the weekdays. Did this man never take a day off? A closer look showed that many of the Sunday pages contained recipes. Maybe he collected them for his wife to cook at weekends when they had some time together.

The extra twenty minutes passed quickly. Andrew bound up the diary again and put it back in its plastic carrier. Tucking the package in his rucksack, Andrew walked to the office building and up the steps to the huge glass doors. Everything about the place made him feel small, including the reception desk in front of him. It seemed that they were expecting him, because as soon as he asked for Mr. Howard, the receptionist asked him to wait while she tapped something into a computer.

“Hi, Diane. It’s Josie on reception. Mr. Howard’s five o’clock is here.” She must have received a reply, because she simply said, “Okay, thanks.” She then turned to Andrew and asked him to take the elevator to the tenth floor and check in with the secretary there.

Soon Andrew was stepping out of the elevator to be greeted by a smiling woman who stood up and indicated that he should follow her. She knocked at a plain wooden door and opened it without waiting for an answer. Andrew was waved in, and the door closed behind him. There was only the briefest moment to take in his surroundings before James Howard looked up from his desk and greeted him.

Andrew was struck by Mr. Howard, who was not just a smartly dressed businessman, but a very attractive one. His warm smile and bright eyes put Andrew at his ease

“Are you Andrew? Yes, of course you are. Do sit down.” Mr. Howard indicated one of the stylish chrome-and-leather office chairs in front of his desk. “Do you have my diary with you?”

“Yes, sir. I do.” Andrew quickly sat down and started to pull out the bundle from his bag.

“Thanks for taking care of it for me. We use technology for everything here, but I still like to keep a written diary. My colleagues laugh at me. A youngster like you probably thinks I’m just old-fashioned.”

Andrew briefly appraised the man behind the desk. He had always gotten along well with people older than he was and he had to admit that Mr. Howard was a handsome man, probably in his forties but fit and well groomed with dark hair, graying at the temples and carefully styled.

“No, sir. I think a book is a really good idea.”

“Anyway, I’m grateful to you for finding it and taking care of it for me. How much do I owe you?”


“Your reward. How much do you want?”

“No, sir. That’s okay,” Andrew said, taken aback at the suggestion. He wondered whether it was something cultural that made the man want to pay him.

“Come now.” Mr. Howard reached into the top drawer of his desk to take out his wallet. “You must want something, or you would have just taken the diary away or handed it in at the airport. So how much?”

Andrew felt his cheeks grow warm with embarrassment. Why did the stranger think so badly of him? He started to get up. “No. I’m sorry. I just wanted to give the book back to you safely.”

“Why would you do that for nothing? Don’t you want some sort of reward in return?”

Now Andrew felt really offended. “I’m sorry, Mr. Howard, I am new in London today. In my country we respect our elders a lot. I think that you are important man and your diary important for you.” In his nervous state, his accent was slipping into the Singlish dialect of his countrymen. “I’m sorry if I did the wrong thing, sir.”

Andrew turned and almost ran to the door. The secretary looked up in alarm as he rushed past and punched the down button on the left panel. Luckily, the door opened immediately and he stepped inside, relieved to be away from James Howard and his strange diary.

An Improper Holiday by KA Mitchell
Chapter One
The tall mahogany clock made the customary ominous tick as Ian waited in front of the equally foreboding desk. Nothing good ever came from being called into the study, even if now the man seated behind the mahogany desk was brother rather than father. Standing at parade rest had lost the comfort of familiarity, as if the empty sleeve pinned back at his elbow created some sort of asymmetrical impropriety to the stance.

Ian supposed he could have interrupted Edward’s shuffling through his books, but habit held him silent. The last time Ian had been peremptorily summoned to stand before the desk in question, his father had been behind it, and it was never to Ian’s advantage to interrupt the old earl in his calculations when such calculations concerned how many strokes of the switch would correct Ian’s behavior.

Edward—no, he must think of his brother as Rayne now. Their father had issued his final orders while his second son’s own life danced with death on the edge of a surgeon’s blade. Rayne rubbed a hand over his eyes and slapped away a ledger before looking up, dark brows shooting to his hairline in surprise. “God’s blood, Ian. Why did you not speak? How long have you been standing there?”

“Not long. I—I suppose old habits are the hardest to break.”

The corner of Rayne’s mouth twitched, offering a fleeting glimpse of his younger self. “Expecting ten of the best?”

“The thought crossed my mind, God rest his soul.”

Edward made a brief nod of agreement, all trace of humor vanishing from his expression.

“Your sister tells me we have received an invitation to the Carleigh Twelve Night fete.”

The very instant the word Carleigh entered Ian’s ears, he wished himself on the receiving end of his father’s switch rather than the brother’s order he sensed would follow.

“I wish to cultivate the marquess’s favor. He would be an ally in the House. You and the heir are of an age, are you not?”

“We knew each other at school.” And I mean that in every sense of the word, brother.

Edward had barely paused long enough for Ian to answer. “Your sister desires to attend. You shall act as her chaperone. And while there, you shall canvass the marquess’s leanings on several items that will be coming before us. Perhaps your prior affiliation will lend itself to influencing the heir.”_

I sodomized him just after Father purchased my commission, but I doubt that is the sort of influence you seek. Pain, tears and blood, and still Nicky had whimpered, “It’s all right.” And Ian, finding himself in such a hot grip, could no longer restrain the motion of his hips, even as Nicky’s teeth sank deep into his bottom lip, prick flagging despite the attention of Ian’s fist. That sort of parting might lend itself to awkwardness on a renewal of their acquaintance.

But Lord Rayne could command Ian to undertake any sort of awkwardness his lordship deemed necessary, and if Ian didn’t care to accept the latest commission, he could make his own way in the world. Surely there was a yet-to-be discovered path for advancement available to a younger son with a missing limb and no familial support.

If he could face French artillery, he could face Nicky. Though he rather preferred the artillery. “When are we expected?”

“It is their usual Twelve Night gathering. I am sure you remain familiar with the customs of our country.”

Of course, the twenty-fourth. Which meant he needed to get his sister Charlotte stuffed in a carriage as soon as possible. At this time of year, the journey to Carleigh Castle would take him perhaps three days on horseback. Traveling with whatever his sister would want to drag along would double or triple the time required. He had heard that females were difficult travel companions.

“Also, I wish you to encourage some sort of suitable attachment for her. Or at the very least, some respectable company. She is still a bit—”

“Hoydenish?” Ian suggested. He hadn’t been home long, but the sister he remembered who was so often pleading with him to conceal that she had once again been climbing trees and riding astride did not appear to have become much more civilized. As he had dressed this morning he had seen her well past the bottom of the Italianate garden, tugging at something in the arbor and scribbling in a book.

“I think I should prefer headstrong.” His brother’s lips quirked again. “Damn me. Ian, I believe you may have smiled for a moment.”

Stanton men were not renowned for a sanguine temperament, and Ian had found very little about which to be cheerful since his return from the Peninsular War. “I’ll do my best to correct it in future, Rayne.”

“See that you do. There are some papers I should like you to examine before you leave in order to familiarize yourself with the items that concern me.” Rayne began digging through the books and ledgers.

Ian nodded and stepped closer to the desk. If he were busy with Lord Carleigh, perhaps he could avoid his son. A mountain of letters to rival the Alps melted into an avalanche, and he reached out with his hand to stop it, forgetting for an instant the moment when he’d awakened to find his arm a half-yard shorter. Phantom pain shot deep into his bones, a fire in flesh that had long since been tossed out to rot on a field in Spain.

“Does it pain you much still?”

“No,” Ian lied. He had always lied easily. Except to himself. From what he’d been able to glean from conversations with other maimed officers both in the Second Fifty-second and others, the phantom limb would be with him until he joined it in death. His body couldn’t remember what his brain knew: his left hand had been shredded by shrapnel, a tourniquet the only way a field surgeon could save his life. “I simply moved too suddenly. It will pass quickly.” Or it will throb for hours. But there is nothing to be done for that. “I shall inform Charlotte of your decision.”
On his return from the Continent, unable to face his family or friends, Ian had immured himself with distant cousins in Norwich. He preferred that damp time staring at marshes in England’s arse-end to being trapped in this warm coach with plush upholstery if such comfort came burdened with searching stares from his sister. By the fourth day, those stares had grown more frequent, almost unceasing.

“Don’t you have knitting or needlework? An improving book?”

Nan, Charlotte’s maid, pursed her lips and stared out the window. Ian had difficulty deciding whether the contortion of her mouth was to hide amusement or disgust.

Charlotte’s laughter in no way resembled the drawing room titters Ian had heard on his brief forays in society.

“My dear brother, in my three and twenty years have you ever known me to engage in handwork or read an improving book?”

“Perhaps you should take it up.”

“Perhaps you would care to share why you have ‘such a February face, so full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness’.”

“Ah, I see you have managed to plow through at least one work of Shakespeare. Father would be pleased to know your governess was not an utter waste of what funds he could rescue from the exchequer’s clutches.”

“And I see you are attempting to divert my attention.”

“From the scenery?” Ian’s arm ached as he fought the urge to gesture at the frozen fields with his missing hand.

“From my question. We are on our way to celebrate the most joyous time of the year with dear friends, yet from your expression, one would think you are being dragged to the hangman.”

That was one possible outcome of his sinful relationship with Nicky. Or could he request the block? Was a more honorable execution possible for sodomites who were younger sons of an old and loyal house? He really ought to know the exact statute, even if he had sworn never to repeat the crime. “I am filled with a generous quantity of holiday spirit.”

“Your glower is very misleading. Come now, Ian. You were not always so much like Father. Or Edward.”

“Rayne,” Ian corrected.

“Oh, of course, his lordship the Earl of Rayne. The same esteemed lord who dipped my plaits in ink.”

“That was I, Lady Charlotte. Lord Rayne would be the chap who preferred to replace the ink with a dozen small spiders.”


“Still here, dear sister.”

“And you are still avoiding my question. What is this sudden dread you have of Carleigh Castle? You and Lord Amherst always seemed to be such particular friends.”

A chill took a tight grip on Ian’s lungs. The emphasis as she spoke trod dangerously close to an insinuation. If Charlotte had been a man, he’d have considered resorting to violence to protect his—Nicky’s?—honor. But a female, even one as hoydenish as his sister, could not be aware of the darker aspects of male desire. And she was waiting for him to speak.

“I find that a curious choice of words.”

Charlotte’s gaze was all too penetrating. “Dread?”

Ian clung desperately to the reprieve she had offered. “Yes. I am not dreading the party, merely my duty as your chaperone. With such a great beauty, I will have time for nothing but keeping your more importunate suitors at bay.”

Charlotte’s gaze had not wavered, but at last she smiled. “Are you certain there was no accompanying damage to your skull at Badajoz?”

One didn’t refer to the casualties of war in mixed company, but Charlotte was still the girl whose braids had looked best when tipped with black ink. “As I remember very little after the mine exploded, anything is possible.”

Her expression turned to sympathy and Ian looked away. This was what had kept him in Norwich long after he was fully healed. Useless sympathy when he felt consumed with anger. If he had moved more swiftly on the escalade, if he had not accepted assistance from the eager young Lieutenant Archer, the man would still be alive and Ian would be whole—or wholly dead. Either state preferable to his current existence as neither.

“Do you think it will snow?”

“I fervently pray that it will not.” It would be bad enough to be trapped at Carleigh Castle by the weather, but a snowfall would provoke Ian’s memories of the five days he and Nicky had spent penned in by man-high drifts at the marquisate’s hunting cabin. It had been the first time they had dared to fully disrobe, the first time they could look their fill without fear of discovery. Five days of the same wretched stew turning to gruel over the fire, five days of Nicky’s infectious laugh, five nights of hard flesh pressed together until they were bound by spit and sweat and spilled seed.

“You have the most bizarre look on your face, Ian. Does your arm pain you very much?”

He could not even school his features around his sister. How was he to look at Nicky, perhaps even at Nicky’s betrothed or—bloody hell—Nicky’s wife, without some untoward emotion starting in his face? Ian’s guts writhed with a dread against which he had thought himself inured since leading his company to that breach in the walls at Badajoz. He could ask Charlotte about Nicky’s state of attachment, even a female as peculiar as his sister would surely be aware of the alliances among the ton, but a newly found respect for her perception held him back.

“I am merely stiff from days in this carriage.”

“You are wishing you had ridden.”

“Of course not. I am pleased to keep you company.”

“You are a terrible liar.”

“I am an excellent liar. I told Rayne how much I admired that nag he spent far too much on, leaving him none the wiser. You merely have an unbridled imagination which causes you to see pain or frustration where there is none.”

“Is that what it is?”

He met her steady gaze. Though she had yet to demonstrate the decorum Ian expected from a lady, his sister’s acquisition of a dangerous perspicacity and immunity to his teasing boded ill for any future peace of mind.

He chose to exercise the familial option of ignoring a pestering female relation, focusing his gaze on the passing scene, wishing he could ignore the memories provoked by the lazy spiral of snowflakes that had begun to fall.
Amidst the deluge of inappropriate reminiscences, one item which had escaped Ian’s notice was the memory of the Carleigh tradition of lavish hospitality. There were so many guests milling in the Gold Salon, with more arriving every moment, that avoiding Nicholas Chatham, Lord Amherst, was a mission at which even the most bumbling of soldiers could succeed. If the crush also ensured that no one had borne witness to Charlotte’s precipitous departure from the carriage, nearly bowling over the footman who was trying to assist her, so much the better.

The last stretch of the carriage ride might have been especially designed for Ian’s torment by one of Lucifer’s more creative demons. The coachman seemed determined to catch the wheels in every rut, a constant reminder that he was utterly useless, as he could neither brace himself nor his sister against the sudden lurches that bounced them like India rubber within the confines of the coach. Then his gaze caught a familiar landmark and he was flung back into the bittersweet memory of the first time he had accompanied Nicky home to Carleigh. Nicky had wagered his skill at satisfying Ian against the speed of the coach and four.

Certain he could outlast the final few furlongs, he had taunted, “I can see barns, Nicky, and yet—”

Nicky had shockingly, devastatingly put his mouth to the same use as his hand, an obscene and wonderful kiss, warm and wet around the head of Ian’s prick. A rut jolted Ian deeper into the slick suction and there was no further need to mark furlongs, or even a yard. The heat of Nicky’s mouth, the movement of his tongue, drew the sweet aching fire from Ian’s spine, brought it boiling from his stones and out his prick—and into Nicky’s mouth.

It should have been horrifying, but the notion that he had spilled between those wide, quick-to-smile lips only made his body clench again and again with pleasure. He had scarcely even cared when Nicky had wiped his face on Ian’s formerly immaculate trousers.

With that fresh in mind, he had been nearly unaware of the present-day coach coming to a stop and unable to halt his sister’s unladylike vault from the coach step. Intent on executing his chaperonage with a greater deal of success, he scanned the room, located her by dint of the towering yellow feather which graced her bonnet—easily recalled after the constant tickle against his nose as the coach jolted along—and cut a swath to her side like Major-General Picton into Ciudad Rodrigo.

Ian wished he could ply his saber for safe passage here. The manse in Norwich, the Stanton manor in Oxfordshire, even their London townhouse all were untenanted wastelands compared with the long narrow salon. Not since Badajoz had there been so many other bodies around him. And while the scents and sights of a nobleman’s salon in Derbyshire were far removed from the stench of smoke and entrails—or worse the vision of what had been men fragmented by shot and shrapnel—Ian’s ears roared as blood pumped hard and fast, heating his skin, empowering his limbs. The voices around him faded under the drumming of his pulse, vision narrowing as if through a tunnel, the only sight not blurred that of the plume nodding on Charlotte’s bonnet.

A hand fell on his shoulder. Blood full of heat, muscles warm and vigorous, he whirled, good right hand reaching for the saber he no longer wore at his waist.


If there had been a trace of shock and fear on Nicky’s face, Ian’s chance to study it was lost as Nicky used the hand on his shoulder to pull Ian into a half-embrace, which though entirely appropriate to the season and their outward familiarity, left Ian rigid. The thrum of battle-ready nerves still vibrated across his skin, but for an instant the familiar scent of the flesh just above Nicky’s collar managed to penetrate the sensory blinders keeping him shuttered from the crowd.

In that instant Nicky became a bulwark, shelter and shield against the worst memories of the Peninsula. He was reaching to offer some reciprocation but Nicky had stepped back, hand sliding along Ian’s arm to close on the empty sleeve.

Ah, there it was. Horror soon masked by pity. The dark blond curls that had slipped through Ian’s fingers in countless caresses fell over Nicky’s forehead, but the clear blue eyes still laid his feelings bare.

“Lord Amherst.” Ian executed as correct a bow as possible with Nicky yet clinging to his sleeve and turned, wrenching free at last.

But although Charlotte’s plume was still in sight, the path to her had closed and as he sought another, Nicky stepped around him again.

“Lord Amherst, is it? Are you not aware that in this bedlam no one would hear were you to shout, Captain Stanton?”

“I am a simple gentleman only, my lord. As I am of no further use to His Majesty, I have resigned my commission.”

More sympathy, lashes lowered in grief, drawing Ian’s gaze to the candlelight’s sheen on Nicky’s cheek, the wide curve of his lips. That mouth. The mouth that had—

Ian tore his gaze free of the fascination, a wrenching separation that shared the aching emptiness of his left arm with all of his bones. Charlotte’s gold plume had moved off, nodding near a lacey cap adorning the head of a tall slender blonde.

“And at the moment, my lord, I am failing in my new commission. I beg your leave as I must see to my sister.”

“Then as always, I shall stand aside and permit you to do your duty.” Nicky’s voice held a rough edge quite unlike any Ian had yet heard from Nicky’s lips.

When Nicky turned and strode off without another word, Ian was forced to a surprising conclusion. Amherst was furious.

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

T.J. Masters 
T.J. Masters is a fifty-six-year-old author and life coach living in Hertfordshire just to the north of London, England. T.J. has shared thirty years of suburban life with his civil partner Ian, and they enjoy the love and support of T.J’s large Irish family who all live nearby. In 2009 T.J. took early retirement from a thirty-three-year school teaching career and decided to follow a new path. After qualifying as a life coach, T.J. found that he was coaching a couple of authors who were going through the process of giving birth to the book which “had always been inside them.” This rekindled T.J’s long-held desire to write and get published.

With a lifelong passion for books, learning, and the sharing of knowledge, T.J. woke up to the realization that he had stories to tell, books to write, and less than half a lifetime left to do it in. As for the kind of books he is writing… well, let’s just say that he decided to channel over thirty years of experience in the gay BDSM lifestyle into a genre where it would be most appreciated!

Alongside this passion for books and writing, T.J. also found an outlet for his inner geek and has become a great advocate for social media in various forms. Blogging has become a great outlet for T.J’s many interests including the writerly ones.

Debbie McGowan
Debbie McGowan is an author and publisher based in a semi-rural corner of Lancashire, England. She writes character-driven fiction, covering life, love, relationships - the whole shazam. A working class girl, she ‘ran away’ to London at 17, was homeless, unemployed and then homeless again, interspersed with animal rights activism (all legal, honest ;)) and volunteer work as a mental health advocate. At 25, she went back to college to study social science - tough with two toddlers, but they had a ‘stay at home’ dad, so it worked itself out. These days, the toddlers are young women (much to their chagrin), and Debbie teaches undergraduate students, writes novels and runs an independent publishing company, occasionally grabbing an hour of sleep where she can!

KA Mitchell
K.A. Mitchell discovered the magic of writing at an early age when she learned that a carefully crayoned note of apology sent to the kitchen in a toy truck would earn her a reprieve from banishment to her room. Her career as a spin-control artist was cut short when her family moved to a two-story house, and her trucks would not roll safely down the stairs. Around the same time, she decided that Chip and Ken made a much cuter couple than Ken and Barbie and was perplexed when invitations to play Barbie dropped off. She never stopped making stuff up, though, and was surprised to find out that people would pay her to do it. Although the men in her stories usually carry more emotional baggage than even LAX can lose in a year, she guarantees they always find their sexy way to a happy ending.

Ashley John
Ashley John is a gay author of gay/mm romance novels. Living in the north of England with his fiance and two cats, Ashley John spends his days writing down the voices he hears in his head. His books are primarily romance dramas with sprinklings of erotica and he has a knack for making you feel like you're living right beside the characters he creates. Ashley John is also a keen artist and he puts his artistic side to designing all of his own covers.

Kate McMurray

TJ Masters 
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Debbie McGowan

KA Mitchell

Ashley John

A Walk in the Dark

Diary Dates

First Christmas

An Improper Holiday

Alone for Christmas

Tears to Cheers by Stacy Eaton

Title: Tears to Cheers
Author: Stacy Eaton
Series: Celebration #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: December 12, 2016
Linda Maxim is a woman who learned early on how to work hard and succeed. Her only regret is that the man she loved disappeared just days after she got pregnant at the tender age of sixteen.

Fourteen years later, Ian Dugan needs a break from life and ends up crashing his vehicle and waking up in the hospital to find Linda watching over him.

Can Linda forgive Ian for leaving her alone as a pregnant teen? Will Ian be able to forgive Linda and himself when he learns of the daughter he never knew about? Find out on New Year’s Eve if Ian can erase the tears and find something to cheer about.

The Celebration Series
Welcome to the second book in the Celebration Township Series, Tears to Cheers. This series consists of thirteen novel and novellas that take place over the course of a year, beginning with Christmas. During that year, twelve more stories will unfold in the Township of Celebration, Pennsylvania, and each release will coincide with an upcoming holiday.

When the technicians were ready, I stepped out of the room after one final glance at the monitor to confirm that he was still stable. Outside the room, the team huddled, waiting to be let back in to prepare for the next step.

I glanced at the assistant who was talking to John Pointer, one of Celebration Township’s police officers, “Is someone trying to notify the family?” she asked him.

“His license said he is from Bryn Mawr, which I think is down by Philadelphia. Thad is trying to contact someone down there to try and make a notification.”

“Officer Pointer,” he nodded as I approached him and asked, “What is the patient’s name?”

John glanced at the small notepad he held in his hand, “Ian Dugan, age thirty-one.”

All eyes landed on me as the gasp left my lips. “Ian Dugan? Is his birthday April twenty-fifth?”

“Yeah? Why? You know him?” John queried back.

I glanced back at the door, “Yeah, I know him.”

“Damn, sorry about that, Linda. How long has it been since you’ve seen him?” Jason asked from beside me.

Memories of my sophomore year of high school flashed to the front of my mind like a strobe light. Ian’s light green eyes and boyish smile as he grinned down at me when I said I’d go to his junior prom with him filled my mind.

I’d been enthralled with his eyes, with the smile that could light up a room along with the deep voice that commanded attention, even at that young age.

“I haven’t seen him since I was sixteen, no one around here has.”

I stared at the door as the voices around me faded. Ian Dugan was the man I had fallen head over heels in love with in high school, the one I had lost my virginity to on his prom night. He was also the one who disappeared out of my life two days later. He not only vanished from my life, but from our school and our town as well. Shortly after he had left, I had resolved to never fall in love again.

Author Bio:
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.


Tears to Cheers #2

Tangled in Tinsel #1

Heathens to Hearts #3
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