Thursday, November 23, 2017

Random Tales of Christmas 2017 Part 1


Snow Angels with Bear by Bonnie Dee
Summary:
Can this romance stand a snowball’s chance in hell?

Hitting a dog in a snowstorm is a heck of a way to meet a guy. When August Long rushes an injured stray to the vet, he’s blown away by the gruff yet sexy doctor. August never intended to hook up with a small-town local, but Eric Grover woos him with snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and a passion hot enough to melt the winter snow.

No one seems to know why an ex-military surveyor has moved into Hopewell Springs and Eric is intrigued by the stranger. Tall, handsome August lights his fire while filling a need for companionship he hadn’t realized he lacked. Spending time with August and Bear, his recovering German shepherd, makes Eric begin to believe love is possible.

But there’s a shadow threatening their budding romance. August fears telling Eric everything his job entails and keeps the secret until the truth detonates, nearly destroying them. For the two men to reconcile their differences, it may take a Christmas miracle—and the intervention of an adorable dog or two.

Blogger Review: Caring for Riggs by Bonnie Dee

Blogger Review: Hot Under the Collar by Summer Devon

Chilling with Max by Bonnie Dee(Goodreads)


August Long never meant to hit the dog and he certainly never intended to find himself attracted to the local vet.  Eric Grover never expected the new stranger in town to come barreling through his office with an injured dog and never expected to find himself attracted to said stranger either.  We all know life isn't about what we expect to happen and sometimes the unexpected can bring us the greatest joy but only if we open our hearts.

Don't really know what to say about Snow Angels with Bear other than it was a perfect beginning to my holiday reading.  Bonnie Dee brings us interesting characters that could certainly be your next door neighbor and even with the light-hearted feel of a holiday romance and the help of friendly pets Bear and Polly, don't think there isn't drama.  The drama in Snow Angels may not be huge or super angsty but its there and its just intriguing enough that adds another great level of storytelling to August and Eric's journey.  Sometimes we need help finding our way and in this tale(and standalone series) that help comes in the form of a lovely if not a bit unlucky(or lucky depending on how you look at life) German shepherd.

If you are looking for a super deep angsty tale than Snow Angels with Bear may not be the one to choose now but if you are looking for a journey of love, friendship, attraction, and fun with a little drama than this is definitely the one for you.  Whether you read it now for the holidays or put it on your TBR list for later, you won't be disappointed.

RATING: 

Love and Snowball Fights by JR Loveless
Summary:
Lane Freeman supposed there were worse places to be dumped than a place named Christmas Valley. After being ejected from the foster care system, he spent the past five years hitchhiking and moving around. But six months of a steady job at Tal’s Bar and Grill, an apartment, and even a three-legged cat have him almost ready to risk putting down a few roots when Tal’s brother comes home for the holidays.

Dallas firefighter Trey Jenkins reluctantly accepts that Lane isn’t like the other drifters who’ve come through his brother’s place. A fragile attraction begins to bloom between them in spite of the many reasons they each have to fight it. Trey wants to give Lane a family, but experience has taught Lane to depend on no one but himself. Will winter love burn hot in the town called Christmas Valley or will Lane return to his wandering ways?

Love Unwrapped by Hayden Hunt
Summary:
How could he do this to me? 

I thought me and my ex really had something together. And then I find out he's been cheating on me for months. I mean, we were supposed to move in together, for crying out loud! And to think, I was going to surprise him by taking him to the shelter to adopt that dog he's always wanted. It was my Christmas gift to him.

Well, jokes on him, because I'm going to adopt a dog anyway. What better way to get through a break up, right? And, well, when I meet a cute shelter employee named Gene I'm definitely not disappointed. I'm not sure it'll actually lead to anything but there's nothing wrong with some harmless rebound flirting, right?

It's been a long time since I've been open to dating again. 

After my ex dumped me brutally years ago, I've become pretty closed off when it comes to meeting new guys. I just don't want to end up hurt like I did before. Plus the animal shelter keeps me really busy these days. Someone has to be there for these dogs.

So when I meet Eli, I'm a little nervous. He's not only very attractive but also incredibly kind. I can see myself really falling for a guy like him. But I can also really see myself getting my heart ripped out by him... And I'm not sure if exploring a relationship is really worth it. Even if he does love Christmas time as much as I do.

This standalone MM Christmas romance comes complete with HEA ending and bonus material from two of my other books!

Nøtteknekkeren by Felicitas Ivey
Summary:
Thijs and his older brother, Rik, are spending Christmas Eve at their uncle Yvo's annual gathering. For Thijs, it’s the first time he's been there in almost a decade. 

Thijs has vague memories of the magical Christmases spent with his uncle. But he doesn’t know if the images in his mind of the enchantment that happened while he waited for Santa are dreams, memories, or the product of years of therapy for an accident he doesn’t remember. He just knows when he stopped visiting Uncle Yvo, the dreams stopped too. 

Are his dreams of a prince waiting for him every Christmas Eve just dreams? Tonight might finally be Thijs’s chance to learn the truth. 

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2015 Advent Calendar package "Sleigh Ride".









Add Love and Mix by Sean Michael
Summary:
Firefighter Jason "Jase" Weller and EMT Scott Bronson are living the perfect life. They work together in jobs they love, they live together, and in their downtime, they still can’t get enough of each other. It’s been six amazing years. Then on Christmas Eve, Jase’s former lover Elsa shows up with a six-year-old girl in tow. The strung-out junkie claims Kerry is Jase’s daughter and it’s his turn to care for her, and then she walks out.

Shocked at both the fact that Elsa is now a junkie and that he has a daughter he never knew about, Jase nonetheless steps up to the plate as her father and Scott offers his full support. Having an instant family comes with plenty of challenges, and the two men work to deal with sweeping changes in their lives and to make things right for Kerry.

It’s not going to be easy, and their new circumstances test them and their relationship like nothing ever has. They’ll need all the love they have for each other, and the love they discover for their daughter, to keep from breaking apart.

Original Review February 2017:
Add Love and Mix is a perfect title for this story, Jase and Scott are already in a loving, lasting relationship when the book begins but then you add in little Karissa and you have a tale of Christmas miracles that will bring a smile to your face.  I suppose some might think it feels a little rushed in places but you can't always have every little moment in great detail, there comes a point where you just take the "rush" and let it run, a leap of faith in the author and their literary process.  I personally did not mind the rushed moments because there is plenty of scenes that aren't and when you put it all together what you have is a story of romance, humor, drama, sacrifice, family, and although maybe it's not as heat filled as many Sean Michael books it will still warm you up on a cold winter night.  Add Love is only the second Sean Michael story I've read but it only re-enforced my want to devour more and I look forward to doing so.

RATING: 


Snow Angels with Bear by Bonnie Dee
August puttered around the house like a fussy old lady straightening picture frames and setting doilies under vases. Well, maybe not that bad, but he was taking more time than necessary to straighten up, as if Eric Grover were an adoption agent making certain his home was fit for an orphan. What was the point in scouring the tub and shower or getting every last wrinkle out of his bedding? The veterinarian wouldn’t even be in those rooms.

I’d like him to be. Not the bathroom, but the bed. August could picture the big bear of a man sprawling there and taking up more than his share of the mattress. He’d like to see how hairy Eric was. A tuft of dark curls at the throat of his shirt suggested a full pelt from chest to groin. What delicious heat such a large body would generate, keeping August warm on a cold winter night.

“Shut it!” he warned himself aloud. “Just shut it down right now.”

Of course, he was projecting. The chances of his meeting another gay man in this tiny burg were about as likely as finding pinecones on a magnolia. Eric Grover probably wasn’t inclined that way, as much as August might like him to be.

Anyway he should be focusing on the dog right now. It was a big responsibility to take on. He hadn’t had a pet since he was a little kid—a cat named Jerry that had been hit by a car. His military life had been too transitional to allow for pet ownership, since he’d been stationed wherever his expertise was needed. Even now he was living in a temporary home from which he’d be absent for hours. He prayed he wouldn’t return to a house trashed by a bored, impatient, and very large dog.

Earlier that day, he’d purchased the largest-size dog crate he could find, a huge bed, enormous dog dishes, a fifty-pound bag of dog food with an airtight container to store it, the longest-length collar the feed-and-grain store sold, a retractable leash, a massive tug-of-war toy and another toy that looked something like a deer carcass. He was ready with rawhide bones, biscuits, breath fresheners, three trays of canned dog food, and an assortment of flea and tick treatment options since he couldn’t decide which one was best. Along with the antibiotic and pain relievers Patricia at the clinic had given him, he had everything he could possibly need to keep this dog for at least a month—and it only took about half his paycheck.

August smiled. Owning a dog would hardly break the bank, but it was a big commitment. Not owning, he corrected himself, fostering.

The doorbell rang. August tossed down the pillow he was plumping and walked slowly to the front of the house. He waited before answering the door so he wouldn’t seem too eager.

“Hey,” he greeted the burly man on the front stoop. Fresh snowflakes powdered broad shoulders under a black coat and sprinkled Grover’s dark brown hair. As they melted on hair, beard and moustache, they made glittering diamonds in the porch light.

August dragged his attention from the vet to the dog beside him. “Come on in.”

Both man and dog entered the small front hall, their sheer size filling it to bursting. They were the only guests August had entertained since a week ago, just after he’d arrived, when a local pastor and his wife dropped by to welcome him to the community with muffins. When they’d enquired about his religion, August had named the Christian church his mother occasionally dragged the family to and hoped it would keep them from proselytizing. Pastor George and Judy had informed him their church accepted members of many Christian denominations, this being such a small community it was necessary to combine. They’d left him with muffins and a business card with a prayer on the back about the reclaiming of lost sheep.

Eric had eaten the muffins and thrown away the card.

“Come right in,” he repeated, gesturing toward the living room. The house might be a wreck, but at least the furniture he’d leased was modern and comfortable.

Grover offered him the dog’s lead. “Here. Time to get acquainted.”

August produced a treat from his pocket to get the dog moving, then let his new pet sniff around the living room before guiding him to a fluffy bed near the fireplace. “Lie down. You can explore more after you rest.”

The dog dropped onto the pillow with a sigh.

August looked at Dr. Eric, hands buried in his coat pockets, shoulders hunched. He looked nervous and anxious to leave. Now that the dog was delivered, what excuse could August make to prolong his visit? “Want a drink?”

“Sure.”

“Let me take your coat.” August stood behind the vet as he removed his long, black duster. A mist of melted snow spattered him, and when he carried the heavy oilskin coat to the front entry to hang it, the aroma of wet animal fur wafted up. Hardly a sexy odor, yet it caused a prickle of arousal. The duster conjured images of cattlemen and open ranges, the stoic cowboy daydreams of August’s youth.

He was glad to have something to do with himself as he got a pair of glasses and poured the scotch he’d opened yesterday to unwind after his accident. Dr. Grover sat in one of the chairs near the fireplace. Too bad August hadn’t lit a fire. It would’ve added a romantic glow. He handed Grover a glass and sat across him from.

“Drafty house.” Grover looked around. “You should caulk the window frames and nail plastic over them before winter really sets in. This place has been neglected for years since the Browns lived here.”


“I can tell. But it was a good price and convenient. It’ll do.” August was miffed that his guest hadn’t commented on the new décor or the small touches he’d made to turn an abandoned house into a home. But August was practical too and agreed with Grover’s concerns. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to play handyman.”

“I could help you with the window plastic. It’s kind of a two-person job.”

August paused with his glass halfway to his lips. Was Grover being neighborly, or was it an invitation to spend more time together? “That’d be helpful. Thanks.”

Grover nodded toward the sleeping dog. “What are you going to name him?”

“I put an ad in the local paper and online in case someone around here is missing him. If nobody responds, I guess I’ll have to call him something, even though I’m not keeping him.” He gazed at the mass of gray-and-black fur against the stark white cast, the closed eyes that he knew were golden yellow when open, and the large paws moving as the dog tracked some animal in his sleep. “He reminds me of a bear cub, so I guess I’ll call him Bear.”

“Good a name as any,” came the laconic reply.

Love and Snowball Fights by JR Loveless
A LIGHT snow fell outside the window of the warm, crowded bar and restaurant Lane Freeman worked for. He picked up a bin and made his way over to clear off a table its occupants had just vacated. Christmas loomed close, a mere three days away. Colorful lights were strung up on the eaves of the houses, and decorations were scattered on the lawns of the small town he’d lived in for the past six months. The holiday always reminded him of the things he didn’t have: a home, family, or even friends. He didn’t wake up with eagerness on Christmas morning or expect to find loved ones gathered around the tree when he exited whatever bedroom he currently slept in. There were no gaily wrapped presents or affectionate embraces, no cheerful laughter or tender smiles. Not anymore.

After his parents were killed in a car accident when Lane was fifteen, he bounced from foster home to foster home until his eighteenth birthday when he was no longer a ward of the state. After that he’d moved from place to place, worked whatever odd job he could find. Now twenty-three, Lane found himself in a place where the people all knew one another, a town called, ironically, Christmas Valley, Washington. He ended up there accidentally after hitching a ride from a long-haul trucker. The man left him behind, most likely because of the painful silence Lane brought in his wake with his inability hold a conversation outside of one-word answers. Since then he’d found a job busing tables at Tal’s Bar and Restaurant, the only job available that Lane felt qualified for as he wasn’t exactly a chatterbox.

Socially awkward and embarrassingly shy, he found it hard to talk to people, which made it difficult to be a waiter or make friends, harder still to meet a significant other. The only things Lane had were a three-legged cat named Chloe—a stray he’d found in the alley out behind the restaurant—and a tiny apartment over an elderly woman’s garage.

“Lane!” his boss, Talbot Jenkins, shouted over the din. Tal was the epitome of kind and always made sure Lane had something to eat, especially after Lane had almost collapsed one night from hunger after starting work. He’d hired Lane despite his problem with talking to people. Over the six months, Tal had spent time trying to pull him out of his shell, and now Lane could hold a conversation without it being too stilted or full of long, awkward silences.

Lane turned to look at his boss from where he had begun to wipe down the table. Tal waved at him, motioning him over. Swallowing hard, Lane set the rag down in his bin and picked it up, weaving through the tables and patrons to the bar. Tal stood there with a man who looked a lot like him. As Lane approached them, he noticed how attractive the man was. Black hair framed a ruggedly tanned face with eyes gray as a steel pillar; his muscular body was lovingly hugged by a black T-shirt and well-washed blue jeans. He towered over Lane by almost a foot.

“Lane, this is my brother, Trey,” Tal introduced him. “He’s going to be helping out around here for a few days. Just wanted to let you know since you come in early for prep and he may be here.”

Unable to meet Trey’s gaze, Lane nodded and gave an uneasy smile before walking away. He caught a word from Tal as the music hit a lull. “…shy.”

Continuing with his work, Lane forgot about Tal’s brother until the place had emptied out and he started clearing the last of the tables. He was reaching for a glass when someone brought a hand down on top of his. He started in surprise and glanced up to see Trey standing there, bin in hand as well. Dropping his gaze, Lane yanked his hand away and darted off to the next one. His chest felt tight and he had no idea why his cheeks were flushed.

“How long have you worked for my brother?”

Trey interrupted his thoughts, causing him to almost drop a glass. People tended to avoid talking to him once they realized how bad his shyness really was. It left people uncomfortable and they didn’t like to be uncomfortable. Lane chose to remain quiet and shrugged, placing a plate of chicken-wing bones into his bin, then wiping down the table. Tal had already disappeared into his office to go through the day’s receipts, and the waitresses had all gone home for the evening, leaving Lane to do the cleanup. He didn’t mind, really, preferring to do his work in the soft silence of the establishment after the doors were locked.

“You don’t know?” Trey asked.

Lane had to clear his throat in order to answer this time, as it seemed obvious Trey didn’t intend on letting him be. “Six months,” Lane rasped.

“How’d you end up in Christmas Valley?”

Shrugging again, Lane fidgeted and rushed to clean up another table. Why didn’t Trey seem to understand he didn’t want to talk? When he didn’t answer, it seemed to only prod Trey into continuing to talk.

“My brother and I were raised here, actually. Our father worked for the factory off Route 9 and our mother ran a dress shop for years before the Internet made everything easier to get hold of at a cheaper price.”

Lane shivered as the rough tenor trickled over him, bringing awareness in a way he hadn’t felt in a long time. If things weren’t already a challenge for him, being gay made it worse. The only experience he ever had with another guy was a foster brother in one of the many homes he resided in over his three years in the system, a teenager named Gregory. They bonded rather quickly and Lane practically hero-worshipped the boy, who was a year older. Gregory took the time to get to know Lane and drew him out of his shell, making him feel special. Lane had no idea now if Gregory had done it just to get into his pants or if Gregory had really cared for him. Once the foster parents found out what they were doing, they immediately removed Lane from the home and he didn’t see Gregory again until after they were released from the foster care system, a memory he didn’t care to think of right then.

“I never wanted to stay here and got out as fast as I could, but Tal loved it. Moved back home after college and opened the restaurant.” Trey hefted his full container and set it on the bar. “Are you planning on sticking around for good?”

Lane had the sense Trey wasn’t asking for himself, but rather because he didn’t trust Lane. “I don’t know,” he murmured and lifted his bin to head into the kitchen.

Trey followed. “Really? No long-term plans, then?”

Discomfort rattled Lane and he set his tray down near the sink harder than he intended. His hands shook as he picked up the dishes and began rinsing them off to put in the dishwashers. When Trey suddenly crowded closer, Lane let out an embarrassing squeak. Heat suffused his face and Lane bent almost in half over the sink trying to get away from Trey.

Trey brought both hands down onto the edge of the counter, effectively trapping Lane in place. “If you’re here to hurt my brother or steal from him, you better think twice, you got me? He’s had enough of your type coming in here and robbing him blind or leaving him with a mess to clean up.”

Lane bit his lower lip, his breath shallow and thin. “I-I’m not.”

“Not what?” Trey demanded.

“Not going to steal,” Lane managed. He flinched when Trey raised one hand, believing the man intended to hit him, only to jerk when Trey gripped his chin in an uncompromising hold and forced him to look up at him. Trey glared down at him with steely gray eyes, silent and dangerous. Lane swallowed hard and tried to pull away. He could feel his chest getting tighter and hoped he wasn’t about to have a panic attack.

Trey searched his face for several long seconds and then released Lane, stepping back. “You better not or you’ll be answering to me. You don’t fool me for an instant with this shyness bit.”

He had no idea what he’d done to piss him off, but Lane didn’t wait around for Trey to attack him again, instead darting around Trey and out into the front, racing for the bathroom. He barely made it to the toilet, throwing up the little bit he’d eaten earlier. His insides heaved with each retch and Lane found himself shaking once he finished, sinking to his knees and wrapping his arms around his waist.

Foster homes weren’t always nice. There were a few where Lane had wondered if he’d make it out alive or not sometimes. The parents were drunks or violent by nature, hiding it well whenever the social workers came around, threatening to beat the hell out of any of the children who might rat them out, and wanting nothing more than to claim the check from the government for the ones they housed and rarely fed. Trey reminded him of those times.

By the time he exited the bathroom, the remainder of the cleanup was done and Trey was nowhere to be seen. Lane felt bad at not having finished his job on his own and hoped Tal wouldn’t get mad. He clocked out, retrieved his jacket from the employee area, and silently exited the back of the restaurant to begin his short walk home. The streets rolled up rather early in the small town, most businesses closing by six in the evening, and there were only a handful of cars that drove by in the walk to his apartment.

Trudging up the stairs on the side of the garage, Lane wondered if maybe his time here was over. Maybe he should move on after what happened with Trey. He didn’t want to cause any trouble for Tal, and he didn’t know if he could be around Trey for however long he planned to stay. He frightened Lane.

Chloe met him at the door, purring and rubbing against his leg. Lane gave a tired smile and bent down to pick her up, hugging her briefly while allowing the door to close behind him. Tears stung his eyes and he fought them back. “Hi, Chloe,” he greeted gently. “How’s my girl? Are you hungry?”

Chloe meowed and butted her head against his nose, causing him to laugh. He carried her to the teeny kitchenette and set her on the counter. He grabbed a container of wet food and popped it open, then dumped the contents into her bowl. “Here ya go, baby.” She dove in and Lane smiled, petting her back while she ate. “I hope your day was better than mine,” he murmured.

Once she finished, Chloe sat down and began grooming herself, still purring. She was a beautiful black color with a white chest and two white feet. Her pink, heart-shaped nose twitched as she cleaned her face and paws.

Lane removed his jacket and hung it up on the hook behind the front door before he toed off his boots. He shed his clothing and tossed them haphazardly at the laundry basket. He could just make out the sound of the old lady’s television set as he got dressed in a pair of pajama bottoms and a ragged T-shirt and wondered how she could possibly fall asleep with it so loud. Then again, he supposed she was rather hard of hearing.

He looked around the small apartment, at the yellow walls with white trim. A floral loveseat rested against one wall with an old cedar storage chest next to it, while directly across from both was a queen-sized bed. The only other piece of furniture was an entertainment unit nestled against the wall between the bed and sofa that held a twenty-seven-inch old-style television and some books. Lane didn’t have many pleasures in life, but he did love to read.

The first thing he’d done after finding a place to live and a job to support him while he was in Christmas Valley was check out the local library. Borrowing books was the highlight of his week, sad to say, but he did rather get along with the librarian, a young woman named Vicky. She always had a new recommendation for him when he came in and seemed really kind. He would miss her and their weekly chats when he left.

Lane sighed and slid under the comforter. He reached up to snap off the lamp and lay in the darkness, ignoring the muffled sound of the TV nearby and staring at the ceiling. He tried to think of how he could have possibly angered Trey but could come up with nothing. Tomorrow he’d hand in his resignation and start packing up his things. Hopefully, Tal would let him finish out the week so he’d have enough money to begin fresh somewhere else. This time he would need to figure out how to travel with Chloe, never having had to worry about that before, but he couldn’t leave her behind. He’d grown too attached to her now. Thankfully, he’d picked up a pet carrier three months back at a yard sale for five dollars, thinking it would come in handy to take her to the veterinarian for her shots and if she ever got sick.

He couldn’t be sure how long it took for him to fall asleep, but when he did, his sleep was restless. He tossed and turned, facing off against Trey in his dreams only to find himself in Trey’s arms. By the time his alarm went off, Lane had been through the wringer and he felt more tired than rested. If he wasn’t convinced before, he was now. He couldn’t stay. Not after this.

Chloe jumped up on the bed and meowed, cuddling up against him. Lane smiled sadly. “I think it’s time we moved on, baby. We aren’t welcome here any longer.”

She gave a meow in response, tilting her head to the side. Lane scratched her under the chin and got out of bed, stretching with a light moan. He rummaged through the itty-bitty closet to pick out a pair of his jeans and a light green T-shirt for the day and then went to take a hot shower, ignoring the cold wood floor beneath his feet. The bathroom mirrored the rest of the apartment, small with yellow walls and white trim. Lane sometimes wondered who’d decorated the place before he moved in. He let the water heat up while removing his pajamas.

He didn’t linger in the shower. Things were going to be hard enough when he spoke to Tal; drawing out how long it took to get to work wouldn’t make it any easier. With a hand towel generously provided by his landlord, Lane wiped away the steam fogging the mirror and stared at himself. Slender, almost feminine features gazed back. His blond hair clung to his scalp, soaking wet, and his dull green eyes were ringed with dark circles, evidence of his poor night’s sleep. He had no muscle to speak of, really, and his ribs were clearly visible. Someone who looked like Trey would never be interested in someone like him, even if Trey didn’t hate him.

It pained him to know he cared so much about what a stranger thought. He was Tal’s brother, though, and Tal mattered to Lane a lot. Lane looked forward to the time he spent with Tal during the morning prep work and even sometimes after the restaurant closed. Despite his reluctance early on, Lane now enjoyed his chats with Tal. Somehow Tal had even gotten him to open up about some of his past and the foster homes he’d lived in, including the ones he hadn’t felt safe in. Tal didn’t push or demand for more than Lane wanted to part with, but made Lane feel comfortable sharing the details with him. So knowing Trey thought he would take advantage or try to hurt Tal caused a deep ache in Lane’s chest.

Sighing, he briskly towel-dried his hair and the rest of his body before getting dressed. He padded barefoot into the main room to put on his socks and boots. He fed Chloe and then pulled on his jacket.

“I’ll be back later, baby girl,” he said while opening the door.

Lane locked it and took the stairs carefully. He burrowed deep into his coat to try to ward off the bite of the wind. It was still a little early to report to work, so he stopped in at the Greasy Spoon, a diner everyone in town frequented for breakfast. Malia, one of the waitresses, smiled and waved at him. He waved back while scanning for a free place to sit. A stool was open at the counter and he made his way to it.

Malia bustled over with coffee. “Good morning, Lane,” she greeted him enthusiastically as she poured him a cup.

“Good morning,” he murmured.

“The usual?” she asked.

Lane nodded as he added sugar and creamer to his coffee. He picked up his mug and took a small sip, giving a sigh of pleasure. It warmed his frozen insides.

“Scrambled eggs, wheat toast, and bacon coming right up,” Malia said.

Lane had been too busy enjoying his coffee to notice the stool next to him was vacant. It wasn’t until he heard “I’ll have the same” in that rough tenor that he realized who’d taken the seat beside him.

Tightening his fingers on the mug, Lane ignored Trey and took another drink.

“Not going to say good morning?” Trey mocked.

Lane didn’t respond. The heat of the coffee no longer warmed his insides. He felt colder than he had outside in the freezing wind. He kept his gaze locked on his coffee and huddled further into his jacket.

Trey made a scoffing noise. “Still playing the part, huh?”

Unable to stomach Trey’s dislike of him, Lane stood and tossed down enough money to cover the coffee and food. He hurried out of the diner, ignoring Malia calling for him. There were knots the size of Alaska in his belly and he doubted he could eat even a bite of the eggs anyway. Had he come off as rude to Trey? Was that why he thought Lane wanted to take advantage of or hurt Tal? Maybe he should apologize. If he did, maybe he could stay in Christmas Valley. It was the only place he’d truly considered making a home for himself. Instead of quitting, maybe he could try talking to Trey first.

Lane made it to the restaurant and took out his key to unlock the back door. None of the waitresses had arrived yet and Lane breathed a sigh of relief at the silence, needing some time to gather himself. He started unloading the two dishwashers and getting the plates ready for the day, setting them within easy reach of the cooks. The saltshakers and the napkin holders needed to be refilled. Lane set out new sets of silverware on the tables along with paper placemats. He bustled from one end of the restaurant to the other, finding satisfaction in the mindless tasks.

Tal came in as Lane finished. “Hey, Lane. You’re in a bit early, aren’t you?”

Shrugging, Lane replaced the remainder of the placemats and cutlery back into their containers behind one of the service stations. “I didn’t have any other plans.”

“Did you at least eat?” Tal frowned.

He shook his head.

Tal gave him an exasperated look. “Let’s go.”

Lane followed Tal into the kitchen, knowing he wouldn’t let him be until he’d eaten something. “Why didn’t you eat?” Tal demanded as he took out a fresh piece of chicken and started up the grill.

“Wasn’t hungry,” Lane offered.

“We’ve had this conversation before, Lane,” Tal huffed. “You aren’t on the road anymore and you aren’t in one of those damn foster homes. If you can’t afford it, come to me. I’ll help you out. You know that. I don’t need you passing out on me again in the middle of work.”

“I don’t want you to use food from your restaurant on me. You never let me pay you back,” Lane protested.

Tal glared at Lane. “It’s my damn restaurant, Lane. I can do whatever I want. Now shut up and let me make you something to eat. Correction: tell me why you didn’t eat while I cook.”

“I really wasn’t hungry.”

“Bullshit, kid. Are you out of food again? Why didn’t you stop by the diner on your way in? Do you need money?”

“No!” Lane felt cornered. He couldn’t tell Tal about Trey or the real reason he didn’t eat that morning, but he didn’t want to lie to Tal. “I really wasn’t hungry,” Lane tried again.

Tal sighed as he set the piece of chicken on the grill and turned to look at him. “I wish you’d talk to me, Lane. You aren’t as alone as you think. I care what happens to you, buddy.”

Discomfort set in and Lane fidgeted, playing with the belt loops on his jeans. “I know,” he muttered, staring at the floor.

“Then stop giving me gray hairs!” Tal grunted. “Tomorrow morning I’m taking you to the grocery store.”

Lane jerked his head up. “No! I-I don’t want you to do that.” Oh God, if Trey heard that, he’d think he was taking advantage of his brother even more. “I’ll go myself.”

Tal flipped the piece of chicken and gave Lane a skeptical look.

“I will, I promise!” Lane swore, almost begging.

“You better,” Tal snapped. “Now do you want cheese on your sandwich?”

Lane relaxed, sighing quietly. “Okay.”

The smell of the chicken cooking made Lane’s mouth water and his stomach growl. The sound caused Tal to give Lane another agitated look, but thankfully he didn’t say anything else as he finished preparing the chicken sandwich. Tal placed it on a plate and handed it to Lane. “Eat.”

He accepted the dish and perched on a nearby stool before taking a big bite of the sandwich. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until he’d consumed the entire thing in minutes.

Tal cleaned up the grill while Lane ate and took the plate once Lane had finished. “Don’t ever skip another meal, Lane. I mean it. You’ve put on weight since you’ve been here but you’re still too skinny.”

Flushing, Lane nodded and hopped off the stool. “I need to check on the bathrooms.”

“No, you sit, let the food digest. I’ll go check ’em.”

“But it’s my job,” Lane protested.

Tal raised a brow. “And whose restaurant is this?”

“It’s still my job,” Lane replied stubbornly. “I should do it.”

“And I’m your boss who is telling you to remain on that stool until the restaurant is ready to open, you hear me?”

Lane wanted to keep arguing, but when Trey stepped into the kitchen, he practically swallowed his tongue. He dropped his gaze to the floor and skirted around Trey, rushing out of the room.

Tal’s voice reached him as he disappeared into the bathrooms. “What the hell did you do, Trey?”

As if Trey didn’t have enough ammunition to hate Lane, now Tal thought Trey had done something to him. He didn’t hear any more once the door closed behind him. He leaned against the counter, trying to breathe to calm his nerves, and struggled to keep the food down. A frown settled between his brows. How could he apologize to Trey if he couldn’t be in the same room without wanting to throw up? That was going to be a real problem. Lane managed to get a tentative hold on himself and pushed away from the sinks to look in each stall. They were pretty clean. One of them needed a new roll of toilet paper, which Lane got from under the sink. After he replaced the empty roll, he cleaned off the sink with a couple of disinfectant wipes.

When he exited the men’s room, he breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t hear Tal still yelling at his brother. He went into the ladies’ room and did the same perusal. He swept up the loose paper on the floor and threw out some paper towels left on the counter. Everything else looked pretty good. Lane gave a nod of satisfaction and returned to the front of the restaurant. He ensured each table had been set and nothing was out of place.

“Lane?” Trey’s voice came from behind him and Lane tensed, hands shaking.

He couldn’t turn around to face Trey. Instead he chose to fidget with some menus, getting them lined up perfectly with one another. He almost jumped out of his skin and couldn’t stop the small sound he made when Trey’s hands came down on top of his, stilling his movements. Lane didn’t know what to do. He flinched when Trey started talking.

“I’m sorry.”

Nøtteknekkeren by Felicitas Ivey
I TOOK one more deep breath in the bathroom, like my therapist taught me, to combat stress. I had been in therapy after an accident when I was younger. I’d had all sorts of issues then. I liked to think I had fewer of them now, but I was sure my brother Rik would point out I just had different ones.

All I had to do was go to a Christmas party. I just had to walk out this door, have a nonalcoholic drink or two, and pretend to be normal. I could do that for a couple of hours. Hell, I did that for most of my life now, since I wasn’t comfortable around large or even small groups of people. I would force myself to not remember how strange and magical Christmases at Uncle Yvo’s house had been for me when I was growing up, and the hope I had that it hadn’t changed.

Before my accident, Christmas had been an even more wondrous holiday for me because it was always here. After Rik decided it was better if we celebrated Christmas away from here, Christmas had become dull and colorless. Rik always had an excuse not to come here, citing business or illness or “forgetting” about the invitation, until this year. This year Rik had decided to accept Uncle Yvo’s invitation, and I had been overjoyed.

Christmases with Rik hadn’t been enjoyable for a number of reasons, and part of me wanted to say it was because I’d grown up, but I thought that was a lie. Rik and I were brothers, but we weren’t really close. And most of the time, Christmas with Rik had been some sort of awkward party filled with his friends, people I didn’t know and had nothing in common with. Those days had been more stressful than joyful, and I was always overjoyed to slip back to my life when the holiday was over.

It wasn’t like I didn’t love my brother Rik, because you were supposed to love family. It was more that Rik and I had never agreed on anything, and the ten-year gap in our ages didn’t help. Rik didn’t think I should be gay. Rik didn’t like that I wasn’t interested in working for the family company. Rik didn’t like that I was in some small town in Vermont repairing computers and not living in New York City with him, doing something important. But we’d never been close, so I wasn’t going to turn my life around to please him.

I had sensed the Christmas magic that filled this house as soon I walked through its door, which was why I was having the small nervous breakdown in the bathroom right now. I breathed in and out, thought soothing mantras, and wondered why I had left my Valium at home.

Add Love and Mix by Sean Michael
Chapter One
JASE WHISTLED as he drove the truck back to the firehouse. He was pumped like he always was after a call.

The snow was falling thick and white, coating Ottawa in Christmas cheer.

He almost always worked Christmas Eve, but this was the first time he could remember it actually snowing. Looked like it was going to be a big storm too before it was over.

He pulled into the house and parked the big rig, grinning as the ambulance pulled up next to him.

It had been a good call. Small fire, no injuries, and they’d dealt with it in record time.

He hoped that would be the last call until Boxing Day. Not because he didn’t want to work, but he didn’t want anyone’s Christmas ruined like that.

Jase climbed out and joined the other guys in making sure everything was ready for their next call, then lingered, letting the other guys hit the showers first.

He headed over to the ambulance, finding Scott on his own, restocking.

“Merry Christmas Eve, babe.”

“Hey, gorgeous.” Scott grinned at him, green eyes warm and sparkling under the crazy mop of black curls.

God, he was in love with this man. Still. Time and proximity only seemed to deepen the way he felt.

“You almost done there? I bet the showers are deserted at this point.” There was a reason they both took their time when they got back to the house.

“Perv.” Oh, that was a naughty smile.

“Takes one to know one.”

Jase stepped up into Scott’s space, looking into the green eyes, the heat he was feeling matched there.

“Someone might catch us,” Scott said.

“Don’t you mean catch us again?” Jase laughed and rubbed Scott’s crotch. “They’ll give us some privacy, long as we’re quick.” And he knew they could be quick. Hell, they were both so ramped up from the call, they’d be going off like rockets.

“Go. I’ll be there in two shakes.”

“Of my ass?” Eager and randy, Jase shook it as he headed into the station proper.

The place was decorated for Christmas: lights twinkling, the tree fully decorated, everything shiny.

There were even gifts under the tree. The guys who worked over Christmas did a white elephant game. He had his real gift for Scott under his bed.

The showers were empty, and he went to the far one, turning it on hot before stripping.

Barely three minutes passed before warm hands wrapped around his waist, the touch sure, wanton.

Jase leaned back against Scott’s solid body and groaned. “Hey, babe.” Resting his head on Scott’s shoulder, he kissed his lover’s neck.

“Hey,” Scott said. “You ready for our vacation to start? I sure as fuck am.”

“Yeah. Boxing Day here we come. You think next year we should take the holiday off?” They worked because they didn’t have families, but they had each other.

“Eh. Maybe. I like to save it for the guys with kids.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Jase grinned as he nibbled on Scott’s neck. “We’re motherfucking selfless wonders.”

“Saints. True saints.”

He laughed, turning to grab Scott and push him up against the tile. Then he took the kiss he wanted, diving into Scott’s mouth.

Scott climbed up his body, legs coming to rest around his waist.

Jase humped against Scott, their bodies slamming up against the tile.

Their cocks rubbed together, the sensation fucking amazing.

They didn’t have time to goof around, to take their time. They simply had to get to it.

Biting at Scott’s lips, Jase moved faster, moaning when Scott’s hand wrapped around both their cocks.

Scott knew how to touch him, how to touch them and bring them off.

“Fuck, yeah. Just like that, babe.”

Groaning, Jase closed his eyes, feeling the pleasure course through him.

“So easy.” Scott was such a tease.

He bit hard at Scott’s lower lip. “Butthead.”

There wasn’t any heat behind the word, though. Nor any strength, his body entirely focused on how good everything felt.

“Uh. Uh-huh. Yours.” Scott tugged the tips of their cocks good and hard.

“Fuck!” Jase jerked, bucking their bodies hard against the wall, and came, spunk spewing up over Scott’s hand.

Scott watched through his orgasm, then began jacking them both good and hard.

He shuddered. “Fuck. Sensitive.”

Still, he didn’t ask Scott to stop, did he? No, he leaned one hand against the tile and, pushing the other between them, tweaked Scott’s right nipple—the more sensitive of the two.

Scott arched, bared his teeth. “One more time.”

Jase twisted the nub harder this time, digging his fingernails into Scott’s flesh. “Come on. Give it up for me.”

Scott shot like a hose, spunk pouring out of him in long pulses.

“Fucking love that smell.” To Jase it meant safety and sex and love and happiness.

Grinning, he took another kiss, lips lingering lazily against Scott’s. He knew they had to rinse off and get out before they got walked in on, but he wanted another moment with his lover.

“Merry almost Christmas, love,” Scott said. “I mean it.”

“Yeah. All that matters is that we’re here together, and it’s a good one.”

Jase gave Scott one last kiss and stepped back. He slid his hands to Scott’s ass, holding on until Scott had his feet back on the ground.

Grabbing the soap, Jase made short work of soaping up his lover’s skin, touching more thoroughly than he probably needed to.

Scott helped out, and they managed to get out of the shower and into towels before Andy came through, rolling his eyes.

“Jase, man, you got someone at the front asking for you.”

“Seriously?” Practical jokes abounded at the firehouse. Especially when they were working holiday shifts.

“No, I’m making it up. Yes, seriously.” Andy rolled his eyes again, and Scott laughed, snapping his ass with a towel.

Jase sent a mock glare at both of them and pulled on his jeans and a T-shirt before heading out to the front.

He blinked at the woman standing in the lobby. She looked like shit—strung out and hollow cheeked, hair stringy and ragged.

“Can I help you?” Jase asked.

“What? You don’t remember me? We slept together for six months, you pig.”

He shook his head. He didn’t know any crackheads. The only woman he’d slept with for six months was just before he’d met Scott. He and Elsa had broken up over six years ago.

He met her eyes, ready to tell her he wasn’t who she was looking for, when he saw a flash of Elsa in the sunken eyes.

“Elsa? No way.”

“You do remember. Excellent. I got something that’s yours, and I don’t want the little bitch no more.”

With that, she shoved a skinny, filthy little girl with tears streaking her cheeks and a huge bruise on her tiny face toward him.

“Mommy! Mommy, please!”

“Shut up. This fucker is your dad. You’re his problem now.”

The girl started crying outright, and Elsa went to backhand her, but Jase stepped in between the two of them, hand on the little girl’s shoulder as she began to wail louder. “Hey! What the hell happened to you? And what are you talking about, I’m her dad?”

This was not the woman he’d known. And they’d always been careful. He knew they had.

Aside from condoms, she’d been on the pill.

“You left, and I found out about the little bitch three weeks later. Tried everything to get rid of it, but it lived.”

“Hey there, sweetie.” Scott’s voice was soft, gentle. “Would you like to see my ambulance? Maybe have a Coke?”

Jase turned and nodded to Scott, mouthed, “Thanks,” then shifted his attention back to Elsa.

“Why didn’t you call me?” He would have helped. Gotten her and the baby the proper care. Hell, helped pay for the abortion if Elsa was determined to go through with it. “And when did you get hooked?”

“Fuck you. I was using when I was with you. Why do you think I had to start selling shit? You weren’t ever there. I needed something.”

“Jesus, Elsa….” He didn’t know what to say. He totally didn’t recognize this awful bitch in front of him. Either physically or mentally. “I’m sorry. You need some help getting clean?”

“Fuck you. I’m out of here.” She tossed a tiny backpack at him. “I tried to sell her. No one wants her. She’s worthless.”

Jase’s mouth dropped open in pure, unadulterated shock.

That shock began to turn to anger as Elsa turned on her heel and marched out.

He went to go after her, but Andy grabbed his arm, held him back.

“Don’t, man. That kid is better off pretty much anywhere else.”

He nodded jerkily. Andy was probably right.

Christ.

Jase was nearly shaking, his emotions a jumble.

“Why don’t you go find Scott and see how she’s doing?” Andy suggested.

“Yeah, yeah. Good idea.”

He headed out to the bay where the ambulance was parked.

“Do you like the red ones? I do. Lots.” Scott was talking, chattering away, and the little girl’s tears had dried up.

“Hey, there,” he said quietly. Shit, Elsa hadn’t even told him her name.

Scott and the little girl both looked up, and Jase crouched so he wasn’t so tall. “What’s your name, honey?”

“Karissa.”

Jase blinked. That had been his twin sister’s name. She’d died when they were six. A boating accident. “That’s a beautiful name. I had a twin sister named Karissa.”

He saw Scott looking at him in surprise.

Jase didn’t talk about her very much, but it seemed appropriate, what with the little girl in front of him.

“Mommy told me. She drownded, and she’s a ghost that pinches bad girls.”

Scott’s eyes widened farther.

“What? No. No.” Jase put his hand on her back. “She was a wonderful little girl, and she would never pinch anyone.” Maybe him, when they were bickering, but usually only in retaliation. “She’s my guardian angel, and I bet she’s looking out for you too.”

“Are you really my daddy?”

He looked at Scott. What did he tell her?

She was the right age for it to be a distinct possibility. And Elsa had named her after his sister.

But would it be fair to say yes and have it turn out later that she wasn’t?

He looked from Scott to her, and she stared back, giving him his first look at her big blue eyes. Christ, he saw those eyes in the mirror every morning, and he’d seen them every time he’d looked at his twin sister too.

“Yeah, Kerry,” he told her, his twin’s nickname falling off his tongue easy as anything. “I think I am.”


Chapter Two
SOMEONE WAS going to die.

Possibly several someones.

Jase was first in line, though.

The little one was sleeping in his bus, curled up on a stretcher. Jase was inside talking to the captain, and Scott… well, he was sitting as still as possible—so he didn’t stroke out.

Twenty minutes later, Jase showed up, looking at Karissa for a moment before crooking a finger, indicating Scott should follow the asshole to the table in the corner.

“Have you seen outside?” Jase asked.

Had he seen outside? What the fuck did that have to do with anything?

“No. What’s up?”

A kid? A little girl? He’d known Jase was bi. That wasn’t a shock. Unprotected sex with a motherfucking crack whore? Shock.

“Big damn storm,” Jase told him. “It’s still snowing. I don’t think we’re going anywhere. So it looks like we’re all snowed in for Christmas.”

Jase ran his hands through his hair, making it stick up most appealingly.

Unprotected sex with a crack whore, Scott reminded himself.

Jase finally looked right at him. “I didn’t know.”

“About which part, man?” He totally bought that Jase didn’t know about the little girl. Jase wouldn’t allow that abuse to happen. No way.

“I had no clue Elsa had a little girl, or that I was the father. Hell, if those eyes didn’t look exactly like mine, I’d think she was shining me on to get money or something from me.” Jase touched Scott’s arm and moved in close. “I swear.”

He pulled away. “Dude, did you know about the other? That you were fucking a… a…” Crack whore. “…addict?”

“No way. I never would have been with her if I’d known. And we were careful, Scott—I always used a condom. Always. Plus she was on the pill.” Jase shook his head. “She wasn’t like that when I knew her. The Elsa I knew never would have treated a kid like she treated Kerry, never would have dropped her off and left, never would have told her there was a ghost out there looking to pinch her!”

Scott squeezed the bridge of his nose. “She doesn’t even have a fucking coat on, Jase. Tomorrow is Christmas, and we’re at work.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Jase put his hands on Scott’s shoulders and rubbed. “Man, based on what I saw, she’s better off here than she was with Elsa. I didn’t even recognize Elsa.”

Jase glanced at the ambulance. “We gotta figure out what we can put under the tree for her.”

“We have to get her out of the ambulance in case we get a call,” Scott replied.

Jase nodded. “I’ll put her in the bed next to mine. She looks like she could use a good meal too. Or, like, a hundred.” Jase squeezed his shoulders. “Are we good, babe?”

“I… I don’t know how to answer that. You’re a dad. This little girl’s been abused. It’s Christmas. I’m in shock.”

Jase pulled him in for a hug. “I know. I’m sorry. I truly am. I’m not sorry that little girl isn’t stuck with the awful woman Elsa’s become, but I’m sorry it’s disrupted everything.”

“Yeah. Yeah, let’s just deal with what we have to.” He couldn’t figure out what else to do.

“Yeah. Yeah.” Jase squeezed him again, then took a quick, hard kiss that, even with everything going on, felt damn good.

Then Jase went over to the bus, carefully picked Karissa up, and carried her back into the firehouse.

Scott busied himself with changing the sheets on the stretcher and making sure the ambulance was ready.

Jase came back out a moment later. “She’s still out, and Deuce promised to keep an eye on her, and Jack’s gonna make her a breakfast when she wakes up.”

Scott nodded and handed Jase Kerry’s backpack. “This thing is filthy.”

“Is there anything in it?” Jase opened it gingerly and upended it onto the table.

There was a folder of papers, a couple of photographs, a spare set of clothes, and a naked baby doll with one eye missing.

In the papers, they found a birth certificate with Jason Weller listed right there in all-caps as the biological father.

Jase swallowed hard and shook his head. “I wish I’d known.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

A daughter. Jase had a daughter.

Did that mean Scott was going to need to leave? Move out?

“I wish we could go out too, buy her some clothes and a bear and stuff. Something for under the tree. You think the guys would mind if we go through the white elephant stuff and find her stuff? Oh! Maybe there’s some chocolates left in the box Donnolly brought in for his kid’s school fundraiser.” Jase talked fast, looked more than a little harried.

“I bet they wouldn’t. There’s stuff left from the angel tree too. Not all the kids we bought for showed up at the community Christmas bash we threw.”

“Oh, rock on.” Jase nodded, then sat down heavily. “Jesus Christ, Scottie, I’m a fucking dad.”

“Yeah.” Scott wasn’t sure what that meant for him, but he knew he was going to have to accept it if Jase asked him to go.

Jase reached out and grabbed his hand, held on tight. “Tell me it’s all going to work out. That we’re going to get a Christmas miracle here.”

“I…. Well, some people would say it happened already, right? You got your daughter for Christmas.”

Jase blinked at him a few times, then nodded slowly. “Yeah, I did. And she got away from Elsa. Yeah. You’re right. That’s how I have to look at it.” Jase got up. “Come help me find presents for her while she’s still sleeping?”

“You got it. I’ll keep track so we can replace them.” He headed to the back, totally unsure how he went from looking forward to vacation to… this.

They started going through the gifts, finding a stuffed unicorn, a teddy bear, and a box of crayons with three coloring books. “These are good, right? Man, I don’t know anything about six-year-olds. Like not a fucking thing.”

“These will be fine. She’s scared. She needs a bath and clothes.”

“We’ve only got showers. Am I supposed to put her in one of those? And we only have one set of clean clothes for her.” Jase was back to panicked.

“We have a washer and dryer, man; we can put her clothes in that. And she’ll be fine in the shower. You can leave your shorts on to help her out. Relax. You’re a big brave fireman, aren’t you?”

“Fuck off, Scott.” Jase was grinning, though.

“Yeah.” But fucking of any sort wasn’t going to happen for a while.

Jase hugged him suddenly, holding on tight. “Thank God I’ve got you. You’re way better at this shit than I am.”

“You’re going to be okay. You can cope.” Right?

“I know I can—I’m going to have to, aren’t I?” Jase shook his head and chuckled at the same time. “Okay. Washing of child and clothes. Feeding. And Christmasing. We get through that and then worry about everything else later, right?”

“Yeah. Good thing you have some vacation time coming and planned, isn’t it?”

Jase shot him a look. “We have some vacation time coming. This isn’t going to send you running, is it?”

“Do you even want to tell this little girl you live with a guy?”

“Why the hell not? Neither of us are in the closet, and no child of mine is going to be prejudiced.”

Something inside Scott eased, the worry dissolving with a pop.

“Not to mention you’re my lover. We’re together. We’ve been together six years, Scott. Of course I’m going to tell her I live with a guy. I live with the man I love.”

“I was worried you were going to throw me out.”

“What? No. No way. You’re like this solid good thing right now.” Jase grabbed his hand and held on.

“Are we going to take her home Boxing Day, man?”

“Yeah. She’s my kid. I don’t know how it’s all going to work, but I’m not going to turn my back on her. I can’t, and God knows she doesn’t look like she’s had it easy.”

“No.” Scott wasn’t sure he’d be a good stepfather. Co-father.

“Okay. Okay. Let’s go tell the guys and see if Andy’s going to make something kid friendly for Christmas dinner.” Jase took a few deep breaths, looking a little less freaked out.

“The guys will be cool. They’ll understand.”

“It’ll be nice, having a kid here for Christmas morning. Kids are what it’s all about anyway.”

They’d only taken a few steps when Hank came barreling down the hall, eyes wide. “Dude. Dude, your… the little girl, she’s crying.”

“Oh fuck.” Jase went running like he was headed right for a fire. Lord have mercy.

Scott looked at Hank. “Looks like we’re dads. Merry Christmas.”


Bonnie Dee
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.

I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.

JR Loveless
I am a proud author of m/m romance and spend as much time as possible thinking of new worlds to create and new characters to fill those worlds. While I work a full time day job right now, my true dream is to spend my days writing and plotting rather than locked up in an office. I write gay romance because I love men and two men together just equal HOT! I stumbled on m/m romance at a time in my life when it was darkest and it saved my sanity and brought me back onto the path I'd strayed from --- Writing. It is and always will be my passion. Someday I hope to break out into the young adult world as that has always been where my interest lies, but I would never abandon my love of m/m romance! I write from the heart. My stories are meant to stir up feelings, to show that not everything is love at first sight, and allow my readers to lose themselves from their everyday lives, to take the red pill and follow my characters down the rabbit hole if you will.

Felicitas Ivey
Felicitas Ivey is the pen name of a very frazzled helpdesk drone at a Boston-area university. She's an eternal student even with a BA in anthropology and history, since free classes are part of the benefits. She's taken courses on gothic architecture, premodern Japanese literature, and witchcraft, just because they sounded like fun. She has traveled to Japan and Europe and hopes to return to both in the future.

She knits and cross-stitches avidly, much to the disgust of her cat, Smaugu, who wants her undivided attention. He's also peeved that she spends so much time writing instead of petting him. She writes urban fantasy and horror of a Lovecraftian nature, monsters beyond space and time that think that humans are the tastiest things in the multiverse.

Felicitas lives in Boston with her beloved husband, known to all as The Husband, and the aforementioned cat, whom the husband swears is a demon, even though it's his fault that they have the cat. The husband also is worried about Felicitas’s anime habit, her love for J-Pop music, and her extensive collection of Yaoi manga and Gundam Wing doujinshi, which has turned her library into a Very Scary Place for him.

Sean Michael
Often referred to as "Space Cowboy" and "Gangsta of Love" while still striving for the moniker of "Maurice," Sean Michael spends his days surfing, smutting, organizing his immense gourd collection and fantasizing about one day retiring on a small secluded island peopled entirely by horseshoe crabs. While collecting vast amounts of vintage gay pulp novels and mood rings, Sean whiles away the hours between dropping the f-bomb and persuing the kama sutra by channeling the long lost spirit of John Wayne and singing along with the soundtrack to "Chicago."

A long-time writer of complicated haiku, currently Sean is attempting to learn the advanced arts of plate spinning and soap carving sex toys.

Barring any of that? He'll stick with writing his stories, thanks, and rubbing pretty bodies together to see if they spark.


Bonnie Dee
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EMAIL: bonniedeeauthor@gmail.com

JR Loveless
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Hayden Hunt

Felicitas Ivey
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EMAIL: Felicitas.Ivey@gmail.com

Sean Michael
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BOOKWORLD  /  PRIDE PUBLISHING  /  B&N  /  AMAZON
EMAIL: seanmichaelwrites@gmail.com



Snow Angels with Bear by Bonnie Dee
Love and Snowball Fights by JR Loveless
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Love Unwrapped by Hayden Hunt

Nøtteknekkeren by Felicitas Ivey

Add Love to Mix by Sean Michael
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Tales of Turkey Day 2017


A Midnight Thanksgiving by Trina Solet
Summary:
Alex and Vaughn have been frenemies for a while, but they never spent any time alone together. That all changes on Thanksgiving night. When they become concerned about a friend in crisis, Alex and Vaughn are thrown together as they go in search of him.

The guys make an unlikely team. Alex thinks Vaughn is too uptight and would never be interested in a carefree guy like him. Vaughn thinks Alex is irresponsible, but being around him breaks down his resistance. The more time they spend together, the closer they get. By the end of the night, they can't keep their hands off each other. But will they admit how they really feel or will it all be over when their mission ends?


A Midnight Thanksgiving is not the first Trina Solet story I've read but I don't think it was as good as A Pizza for Thanksgiving or A Christmas Boyfriend but it still was an enjoyable read that I was glad I gave a chance.  Alex and Vaughn may not exactly like each other but they put that aside to search for a missing friend on Thanksgiving and in doing so they realize that perhaps they find more than just tolerable company in each other.  As I said, A Midnight Thanksgiving is not a great story but I'm glad I read it and it still touches you and warms the heart all while entertaining which makes it all worth it in my opinion.

RATING: 

Sweet and Sour by Astrid Amara
Summary:
Miles Piekus thought he and Itai would make a great team, despite the infidelities haunting their past. After all, Itai is smoking hot, they’re both driven entrepreneurs, and they love each other. What else did a person need?

Well, a lot more, apparently, because not only are they no longer passionate, they don’t even share the same passions. Like people, affections change, and Miles wonders if a relationship this broken is truly worth repairing.

Itai’s business launch with his ex-boyfriend isn’t helping. And Miles himself has a new business to grow over a busy few weeks where Thanksgiving and Hanukkah collide to form either the best holiday season ever, or a kosher caterer’s worst nightmare.

But help comes in the unexpected, ruggedly handsome form of Detective Dominic Delbene, a pickle aficionado with his own ghosts, who stakes out the deli to capture a dangerous drug dealer. As Hanukkah’s eight days come to an end, Miles discovers that Nic is not only good with pickling; he’s good at everything.

Hannah's Big Night by Mary Calmes
Summary:
Matter of Time #8.5
A Jory and Sam Thanksgiving Ficlet.

Click Here for Saturday Series Spotlight: A Matter of Time
1st Re-Read Review 2016:
Another one I originally read August 2015 & forgot to mark it here. I re-read it again and I love Hannah & Kola nearly as much as the dads, Sam & Jory. You can definitely see Hannah takes after Jory and Kola is more like Sam.  A little adventure of Thanksgiving as only Jory, Sam, and their kids could find before them.

RATING: 


Pulling his Wishbone by Julian Clearwater
Summary:
It’s Thanksgiving, and Riley wants to pull Dustin’s wishbone! 

A highly successful real estate developer, Dustin returns to his gritty steel hometown to purchase and close the failing mill and make another fortune by selling off the land. 

Once he arrives, “Dusty” isn’t prepared for what he finds. 

Overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia, he ends up hosting a Thanksgiving feast for the entire town. He also doesn’t count on falling in love – with his former football teammate, Riley Dunn, aka “Wishbone”. A shared bottle of whiskey is all it takes for Dusty to shed his inhibitions and give in to his carnal desires, which Riley expertly satisfies. 

Caught between exploring the feelings he has for his best friend and the money he stands to gain by destroying the town’s livelihood, Dustin must make a choice that could ruin his chances of happiness forever. 

Two bonus gay romance stories included.

Cold Turkey by Hayden Hunt
Summary:
I thought I could quit him cold-turkey. 

All I wanted was to come home and have an enjoyable Thanksgiving with my parents. But I should have known that wasn't going to happen. We've always had a rocky relationship, we're not close by any means.

I was much closer to my best friend's family. Ethan lived across the street from me growing up and we were always incredibly close. His house was a second home to me. So when he saw me outside of my parent's house, he offered to let me spend Thanksgiving with them.

Which would be great, if I wasn't trying to hide the fact that I'm still madly in love with him.

I never thought I'd see him again.

I was elated when I saw Daniel sitting outside of his parent's old house. When he went away after High School, I was convinced he'd never come back to this town. I have missed him ever since he left...

So when he agreed to spend Thanksgiving with my family, I couldn't be happier. And finally, I think I might have the courage to tell him how I really feel. I was a coward when we were younger, when I was still trying to figure myself out, but things are different now. At least, I hope everything will be different now.

Because I still really, really want him.

This standalone novel comes complete with HEA ending and bonus material from two of my other books!


When I was searching for stories centered around Thanksgiving I was coming up short but then I came across Hayden Hunt's Cold Turkey and thought this sounds interesting.  Was it great? No. Was it good? Yes.  Was it worth my time to read it? Definitely!  I have an amazing relationship with my parents so when I find a story where one of the characters has just the opposite, it breaks my heart for them but it also reminds me how blessed I am.  That feeling alone made this a perfect story for Thanksgiving.  Did it feel rushed at times? Perhaps but when the bulk of the story happens over a four day weekend some elements have to happen quickly but Hayden Hunt does it in a way that makes it believable, fun(okay fun might not be the best word but its what I got), and Cold Turkey definitely was entertaining that touches the heart.  A perfect Thanksgiving story that will warm the heart any time of year.

RATING: 


Sweet and Sour by Astrid Amara
“It’s a disgrace, what you’ve done to this pickle!”

Mr. Frank Elder, a loyal customer of Piekus Pickles for over fifteen years, brandished a sad pickle aloft, as if its very appearance were something so appalling everyone in the establishment would gasp in horror.

As it was, Miles Piekus, owner of Piekus Pickles and the one being verbally accosted, wiped the spatters of pickling liquid from his face and affixed an apologetic smile upon his face.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Elder. Can I get you another one?”

“You try it!” Mr. Elder cried, shoving the offensive vegetable in Miles’s face.

Miles took the small green pickle and bit off the end. It tasted crunchy, garlicky, and tart, just like a pickle should taste.

“It’s very sour!” Mr. Elder complained, and Miles understood the problem.

“This is a full-sour pickle. You usually buy half-sours.” Half-sours were brined in salt and spices only. This pickle had been brined in vinegar and for a longer time. Miles wondered if the old guy had finally lost his sense of smell. “See how dark it is? Half-sours are a lighter green.”

Mr. Elder scratched his temple. “But I thought I got my usual…”

“Did you select pickles from that first barrel by the window?” Miles pointed to one of six large wood barrels lining the wall of the deli. “Because I moved the barrels around when I renovated, and I bet you selected full-sours instead of your regular.”

“Even if that was the case, your mother would have caught the mistake before ringing me up.”

That was likely true and not the first time Miles had heard the complaint. He’d inherited his family’s store when his parents retired and moved to Arizona three months ago, and the transition embittered many of the older, traditional client base that found Miles’s youth and enthusiasm off-putting.

“I’m sorry,” Miles repeated, his smile firmly attached. “Let’s get you half a dozen half-sours on the house.”

“You don’t have to go that far—”

“I insist. You’re right. I should have caught the mistake, and I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Miles gathered a jar and used the tongs in the half-sour barrel to fish out half a dozen small cukes from the brine. He sealed the lid and moved quickly to the cash register to ring up the sale. As he did so, the bells over the front door jingled and two couples hurried in from the rain, talking loudly. Miles smiled at them, then stole a glance back to the closed door behind him. The door opened to a narrow flight of stairs that connected to the second floor of the building, where Miles’s boyfriend currently sat, ostensibly not helping with the business.

Miles sighed.

He handed the jar to Mr. Elder and made a note for his Regular Clients board hidden behind the counter about the man’s tastes.

“Thank you, Miles,” Mr. Elder said in a complaining voice. “I’ll give you one more chance.”

“I’m so relieved.” Miles waved him good-bye, annoyed but also grateful that when he called his mother that night to give her the daily update, he didn’t have to admit losing an old customer.

He’d already lost others. When he took over the store, he’d gotten a loan and renovated what had been a simple kosher pickle storefront into a full-scale deli offering freshly made, exotic, ethnic pickles from all over the world as well as a selection of soups and sandwiches. The traditionalists disliked seeing kimchi and tamarind chutney lining the counters alongside their kosher dills, despite Miles’s staunch adherence to the rules of kashrut.

So some previously loyal customers had not returned. But of course there were new clients, and the store’s location in the center of Northwest Market Street, the heart of the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle, made it a quick and popular lunch venue for the businesses in the area. His sales grew weekly as word spread. He’d done little advertising, yet every lunch crowd surpassed the last. And he’d had a rush that morning on his warmly spiced cranberry chutney that he’d advertised in the window for Thanksgiving.

The store had one staff member, a sweet woman named Chloe who cleaned, ran the register, and made coffees while he cooked and made the sandwiches.

But she went on maternity leave shortly after Miles took over. He assured her she could keep her position and that he’d rely on Itai for the extra help. After all, that had been the plan. Itai was supposed to be working with him.

It was a flawed plan, he now realized, as he tried to do the job of three employees all by himself.

Miles sold the last of his chutney to one of the couples that came in, and had to quickly make four sandwiches to go before helping another older customer with her order. When they all left, he was alone in the deli for the first time since opening at eight that morning, and he realized he really should start prepping another batch of the chutney before the lunch rush. But he’d been on his feet all morning, and the temptation of his stool called to him. After years of office work it was a difficult transition to standing twelve hours every day.

Miles’s boyfriend, Itai, had purchased him fatigue mats for behind the counter and in the kitchen, but they only provided so much relief.

Thinking of Itai, Miles glanced behind him again to the door that led to the staircase connecting the ground-floor store to the upstairs living area.

His parents had purchased the old two-story brick building in 1980 from a bankrupt manufacturing company. The storefront offered an airy space with wide windows overlooking busy Market Street, a deep walk-in refrigerator, and a large commercial kitchen. Upstairs, they’d converted the open space into a quaint three-bedroom apartment where Miles and his brother, Dan, grew up, steeping in the smells of vinegar and pickling spices.

Now that Miles had inherited the apartment above, he’d spent his meager savings from years in accounts payable. He’d renovated his living space and taken out a line of credit to complete the remodels in the store.

Itai had thought it stupid. Ballard was a Scandinavian neighborhood, not known for any impressive percentage of Seattle’s Jewish population, and a poor choice for a kosher deli. But opening in a new spot would have cost a great deal more. Besides, the old brick two-story was the only home Miles remembered.

“Itai?” Miles called loudly. He wasn’t surprised to get no answer. It was Tuesday, and Itai had online conference calls every Tuesday with the venture capitalists that had funded his startup. He rarely left the home office, let alone visited the store itself.

As Miles cleaned the counter, he allowed himself a few moments of self-pity. The plan had been that Itai would sell his share of Fantastic App Engine, the startup he’d founded with an ex-boyfriend, and join Miles full-time in the deli. Miles would teach him the family recipes, as well as the basics of ringing in customers, making the sandwiches, and doing the books at the end of the day.

But as the sale of Fantastic loomed, Itai seemed to further remove himself from their original plans. It was harder to find time to get Itai into the store at all, let alone hold him there long enough for training.

The lunch rush started early that Tuesday, and by ten thirty a line stretched from the counter to the door. The five tables were full. The phone kept ringing. Last-minute advance orders for cranberry chutney stacked up, and he made a mental note to quadruple the usual batch for tomorrow. But would he even be able to find enough fresh cranberries the day before Thanksgiving? He made another mental note to call the produce guy right after lunch.

By one o’clock he’d run out of the daily soup and switched it out for the kosher cauliflower tahini bisque he’d planned on serving the following day. Most customers took their lunches to go, but a few stayed behind and waited impatiently for a free table. He wondered absentmindedly, as he wrote down yet another complex sandwich order, if he removed the pickle barrels from the front entirely, whether a bar along the window could be installed to allow people to sit and look out onto the street as they ate their lunch. It was worth measuring to see how many folks could sit down—although the thought of removing all the barrels made him cringe. The remaining old-school customers would have a hissy fit if they couldn’t pick out their pickles themselves.

He’d already moved some of the lesser-selling pickle barrels behind the counter, so when the next customer ordered a sweet-and-spicy to accompany her sandwich, he had to pull on a glove and reach into the oak barrel to grab one. He shook off the excess liquid and turned to the counter.

“That’s a big pickle you got there,” said the burly-looking man next in line.

Miles realized he was holding the cucumber at crotch level, pointed toward the customer like a ludicrous green erection. He quickly dropped it onto the waiting plate, feeling his face turn red. “Can I help you?”

The man’s dark hair was a lot like Itai’s: thick, black, and cut short to keep it under control. But unlike Itai, who tended to his hair with an army of products to keep it slicked and styled, this man clearly didn’t care about his. It was tousled and wild, and Miles realized he liked the look better. He wondered if he could get Itai to forgo the gel.

“Am I speaking to the owner?” the man asked. He studied the deli wares in the cold case of the counter, his dark, arching eyebrows coming together with an expression like he was examining a virus in a microscope.

Miles generally tried to avoid people who asked for the owner, since they typically wanted to either complain or to sell him something.

“Yes,” Miles said.

The customer made eye contact briefly before glancing down to take in Miles’s body. At once Miles’s insides heated. It was pitiful how a simple look was such a trigger for him. God help the innocent man who just admired Miles’s belt buckle. He reminded himself that not every glance at his body was laden with innuendo.

Whatever the guy was selling, Miles knew he must earn a great commission.

“I came here a few years ago,” the man stated, “and it was just a pickle place. So now you offer a full menu?”

“Mostly sandwiches and soups, but yes, I’ve expanded my parents’ business into a deli and catering service. Would you like to sample something? All ingredients are organic, and I make an effort to seek out sustainable local businesses for my cheeses and breads.”

“No meat?” The man frowned at the deli case.

“No, we’re strictly kosher, so this is a dairy-only facility. But I do have fish and can recommend some great relishes, cheeses, and sauces to go with any meat dishes you might prepare at home.”

The man flashed him a quick, crooked smile, then glanced back down at the deli counter. He scanned the rest of the wares quickly before moving to the barrels. He looked everywhere: the back of the counter, down the corridor that led to the walk-in and kitchen and bathroom, the small seating area to the right of the entrance.

If he didn’t keep glancing back at Miles and offering a devilish smile, Miles would have suspected that he was casing the joint. As it was, he finished his inspection of the food offerings and the walls, floors, and equipment it was all housed in, and returned to the counter.

Really, Miles thought, what is this guy selling? Fire suppression systems? Advertising?

“I’ll take two pickled eggs, two fire-and-ice pickles, and a cup of hot lime relish.”

Miles packed up the man’s order. As he did so, the customer continued to examine the deli, and Miles wondered if the man had anything to do with the call he’d gotten last month from a realtor looking to buy out the old building to knock it down and put a larger office complex in its place. Real estate in Ballard had burgeoned in the last decade, and offers came in regularly for the brick two-story.

But the man didn’t mention his inspection as he collected his paper bag of goods. “May I also get a half-sour?” he asked.

“Sure. Help yourself from the marked barrel along the wall. Do you want a bag for it?”

“Nah, I’ll eat it now.”

“That’s $13 total.”

The man handed Miles fifteen dollars. “Keep the change.”

“Thanks.” Miles put the change into his tip jar. He always felt a little guilty having a tip jar with Chloe on maternity leave, since he owned the store and it seemed ridiculous to tip himself. On the other hand, a lot of customers had asked for it when he installed the espresso machine, since they were used to tipping baristas. Now it became a convenient place to throw the change customers didn’t claim.

“I like the changes you’ve made,” the man told him.

“Thanks.” Miles smiled. “It’s been a lot of work, but I’m happy with it.”

“My parents owned a deli when I was a kid, and this reminds me a lot of their place.”

“Oh?” Miles cursed silently as another four customers came in, all wearing suits. More from the brokerage next door. “It was in Seattle?”

“No, in Portland.” The man seemed to notice the customers behind him and smiled. “Well, thanks. Good luck with the business.”

“Come back soon,” Miles said. What demanding parting words. He shook his head to clear his embarrassment and took the orders of the four men.

As he prepared their sandwiches, he noticed the handsome customer hadn’t left. At first Miles assumed he was waiting for a table, but when one cleared, he didn’t claim it. He was examining the pickling barrels closely. At last he selected his half-sour. Miles watched as the man licked the sides of the pickle with excessive enjoyment before sticking the thing in his mouth and biting it in half.

He chewed and then stuck the rest fully into his mouth, his lips stretching around the wide, thick shape. Its pornographic connotations undoubtedly brought an embarrassing flush to Miles’s face, judging by the way his skin heated.

How much could that man fit in his mouth?

“What are you thinking about?”

Miles spun around at Itai’s voice. “What? Nothing. What are you doing here?” he asked, flustered. He’d been so focused on the customer he hadn’t even heard the upstairs door open.

Itai smirked knowingly. He knew Miles too well—knew that flush on his neck only came when he was thinking something perverted.

“I thought you wanted me to train today.” Itai moved toward the espresso machine and started up a drink for himself. He looked tired but still was attractive enough to take Miles’s breath away. He was more than just ruggedly handsome; he was gorgeous. Miles had always considered someone that good-looking out of his league, but here he was, living with him, planning a future with him.

Itai was tall for an Israeli, a little over six feet. His dark black hair was brushed away from his face to highlight his warm brown eyes and broad lips. He had high cheekbones and a perpetual five o’clock shadow that lent him an air of dangerousness.

And despite the fact that he worked at home and didn’t need to dress for the office, he always appeared stylish, even when he was sporting sweatpants. The designer brand complemented his long, muscular legs and perfectly contrasted with the charcoal-colored T-shirt he wore over his gym-toned frame.

“It’s kind of late now,” Miles whined.

“Hey, I have a job, you know,” Itai countered.

“I know.”

“I had my conference calls, and then Travis couldn’t figure out why the code was acting wonky on Mozilla browsers, so I had to help him sort it out.”

Miles had learned over a year ago not to flinch or frown whenever Itai’s business partner and ex-boyfriend was mentioned, but it still inevitably caused a stab of jealousy when he heard Travis’s name.

“He always needs help,” Miles complained. “He must be a sucky programmer.”

“No he’s not,” Itai countered, right on cue. If there was anything guaranteed with Itai, it was his defensiveness about Travis. “He’s awesome, but he’s exhausted with the launch so he doesn’t have time to problem solve.”

“And you have time?” Miles asked. “You’re as busy as he is.”

Itai blinked at him.

“What?” Miles hated that chastising stare Itai gave him.

“Honey, don’t be petty. It isn’t attractive to me,” Itai said. The words stung, but Itai lessened it with a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’m going upstairs again.”

“Wait, I thought you wanted to train!”

“You said it was too late.”

“Yeah.” Miles wiped a mess off the counter. “But I could use some help cleaning up.”

“Sorry. If you don’t absolutely need me, then I better get back to my wireframe.”

Miles scowled and scrubbed at the counter, listening for the door to shut behind him.

Shit.

Handled inelegantly, like all their interactions these days. It seemed everything Itai did pissed Miles off. And everything Miles asked for was terribly inconvenient to Itai. Maybe it was just that stage in their relationship.

They’d dated for a year, broke up, and were now on month eleven of their second attempt at domesticity. This time round Miles had set several rules, including the one about moving in together. At the time, Itai had agreed to them all. He loved Miles, he’d said, and would do anything to have him back.

But now Miles wondered if they weren’t both stagnating in the forced twenty-four-hour companionship, in a way that made him yearn for more and cause Itai to pull away. He couldn’t remember the last time the two of them had gone out on a date night. Or seen a movie at the theater, or gone to a restaurant instead of simply eating leftovers.

In fact, now that he thought about it, he felt like the only times they didn’t argue were when they discussed completely neutral, pedestrian topics like the laundry or the Seattle Sounders.

At some point in the last year they’d moved from dating to being married, he realized, and without any of the fun stuff that came before it.

The lunch crowd trickled out of the deli, and the line shrank, and no customers came in for the last fifteen minutes before three, so he was able to get most of his cleaning tasks done before turning the sign off, locking the front door, and pulling down the blinds.

Miles made himself a sandwich and did the books and his change order before inventory. He then wrote out his shopping list for the following day.

He spent an hour and a half shopping and making his deposit. When he returned, he headed straight to the kitchen. Of course, the cranberry chutney was first on his list. He’d marketed it for Thanksgiving, but this was an interesting year since Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided, and he’d sold a lot for those holiday dinners as well.

He also daily restocked his bread-and-butter pickles. He set about scrubbing cucumbers clean, slicing them, and laying them in large platters with layers of salt between them to sit overnight.

He took out those he’d salted the day before and moved them into the kitchen to start the pickling process. For him, it was repetitive but had a meditative quality he appreciated. He’d been making pickles with his mother since he was eight years old, and he knew the recipes and techniques by heart.

The only challenges came from the newer, expanded selection, but he cherished those culinary ventures. His last batch of pickled grapes with cinnamon and pepper had been left in the white-wine vinegar for too long, so he’d ditched them and started over again.

He then chopped soup fixings. He stirred sauces. He added ingredients to his weekly delivery list. By the time he was done in the kitchen, it was nearly seven o’clock. His feet ached, and he wanted nothing more than a shower, a beer, and a night sprawled on the couch in front of the television.

The moment he finally made his way upstairs and opened the second-floor door, Itai called out, “What are we doing for dinner? Are you cooking?”

Miles suppressed his annoyance. It was only a question. “I’m beat. Let’s order in.”

“Okay. Thai food?”

“Sure.” Miles kicked off his shoes and made his way across the weathered gray carpet to the bathroom. He’d wanted to replace the old flooring but it had been too expensive, so he was stuck with it until he started making real revenue from the store.

The bathroom was old as well and had blue linoleum tiles on the counter and cheap plywood doors on the cupboards. But the shower was hot, the water pressure was good, and that was all that mattered at the end of the day. He could enter their home in Architectural Digest someday in the future.

He stepped out of the shower and shaved at the counter naked. There’d been plenty of times in the past that Itai had come in during Miles’s shaving routine and things had gotten quickly amorous. But that hadn’t happened in months now. Miles was stuck with only his reflection for companionship. He’d lost weight in the months since opening the deli, undoubtedly an effect of stress. His brown hair was growing shaggy around his ears and was in desperate need of a cut, but that would have to wait a few weeks, at least until after Hanukkah. To his horror, he discovered the gray patch that had formed at his temples was increasing, not magically converting back to brown. And his hazel eyes were beginning to make him look older, with dark shadows under them from all the late nights working in the kitchen.

It turned out opening one’s own business did not improve one’s physique.

He threw on a pair of sweats and an old shirt, poured himself a beer, and cranked on the television. A few minutes later there was a knock downstairs, and Itai made his way down the back entrance to meet the delivery driver in the alley. He returned with a plastic bag full of noodles and soup. He and Itai sat next to each other on the couch and ate in front of the sports channel, saying nothing.

“I can change it if you want,” Miles offered, knowing the only thing Itai hated more than American football was watching the endless pregame and postgame analysis of football, but Itai shook his head.

“I’m not paying attention anyway. I have to get back to the computer.”

“Did you meet with that marketing team for your launch?” Miles asked. He didn’t particularly care, but he thought it was polite to at least feign interest.

Itai shrugged. “Travis did, and I’m going to go over the strategic plan tomorrow with him. The Saturday night venue is all set, and the media packets are done. I think there will be a good turnout.” Itai shuffled his fork through his noodles, not looking at him. “I’m sorry we didn’t hire you for the catering.”

“That’s fine. I don’t want to do an event that large right now anyway. I’ve got enough to worry about this Friday with thirty guests.”

“Travis didn’t want any ethnic food and got a great discount from La Brie’s.”

“That’s fine,” Miles repeated. He hadn’t been upset, but for some reason now he was. “You know I don’t do only ethnic food.”

Itai looked at him apologetically. “I know.”

“I can cook all sorts of things.” Miles realized he was sulking again and looked away. “But it’s fine.”

“I figured you would be exhausted from the Friday night Hanukkah dinner.”

“I likely will be. Maybe I can do your next launch party.”

Itai laughed at that. “God, I hope there is never another launch party. The whole idea is to get this product sold off and never work on it again.” Itai surprised Miles by putting his food down on the coffee table and scooting closer. He put his arm around Miles. Miles stretched closer, enjoying the brief and unexpected moment of companionship. He leaned his head against Itai’s shoulder, breathing in his cologne. Itai always smelled like products, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; he found the scent of Itai’s shaving cream alluring.

But as he settled into the companionable comfort, Itai shifted away. He gave Miles a brief kiss on the forehead and stood. “I have to get back to work.”

Miles offered up his empty container of soup. Itai took this into the kitchen, leaving Miles to slouch on the sofa, staring like a listless zombie at the men predicting the Thanksgiving Day football game.

At nine o’clock Miles’s mother called, right on time. Since moving to the desert, his mother called every week without fail, at the same time.

“Hi, honey,” she said, sounding thrilled. He wasn’t sure what was more embarrassing: the way his mother still spoke to him with the same level of enthusiasm she had when he was a child, or the fact that after all these years it still filled him with joy.

“Hi, Mom.”

“How’s everything going?”

“It was a good week last week. We beat our sales record again.”

“Oh, honey, I’m so proud of you! How’s Mr. Nedlich?”

“He still hasn’t been in.”

His mother clicked her tongue. “I’m worried about him. Maybe you should call his house and see if he is still alive.”

“Mom, I’m not going to call clients to see if they died because they haven’t bought pickles in three weeks.”

“But it’s highly irregular,” she countered. “Mr. Nedlich would come in every Tuesday morning, at eight o’clock, as—”

“I know. I know. You’ve told me a thousand times. He’d come in right after dropping his grandson off at school. But he hasn’t come by. Maybe he’s fine and doesn’t like the way I make pickles.”

That was the wrong thing to say. There was a long pause. “You changed the recipes?”

Miles rolled his eyes. “No, Mom.”

“Because I made those recipes perfect over thirty years and—”

“I’m kidding, Mom. The pickles are fine. Maybe he doesn’t like me.”

“Well why wouldn’t he like you?” she asked, genuinely baffled in the way only one’s mother could be.

“I’m not you,” Miles reminded her. “I’m young. I’m gay. I’ve changed things. I don’t know. There are a dozen reasons to dislike me.”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. He’s probably dead, that’s all.”

Miles grinned at that. Only his mother would find it more likely that a customer would die than dislike her beloved older son.

“Have you seen Goldie and Len?” his mother asked.

“Yes. They came in on Friday. And Frank Elder showed up today, distraught because he’d picked up full-sours.”

“He only orders half-sours.”

“I know that now. I gave him half a dozen on the house, so hopefully he won’t hunt you down to call and complain.”

His mother laughed. “Let’s hope only old Ira is that crazy. How’s Itai?”

“Busy. The launch is this Saturday.”

“Has he learned how to use the register yet? Make sure to tell him about the broken tax key, because—”

“He hasn’t worked the register yet,” Miles said, hoping she wouldn’t pry too much.

“Oh. I thought he was going to—”

“I’ve got him helping with other things right now.” He didn’t want to have a long discussion about this, because he didn’t want her to be right. She’d expressed concern when they’d gotten back together, so he now worked to paint Itai in only the most favorable light.

“As long as he’s pulling his weight, honey,” she said.

“He is; don’t worry.”

“It’s just that I remember how much he hurt you before, and I don’t want to ever see you like that again.”

Miles expelled a deep sigh. The last thing he needed right now was his mother reminding him of the time Itai had cheated on him, leading to their breakup. Things were better now, but it was still a sore subject.

“Mom, drop it.”

She seemed to sense the tension and gave in. “I’m sorry. You know I worry, that’s all.”

“Itai and I are doing fine,” Miles lied. “And if Fantastic App Engine sells, he’ll make a ton of money.”

“As long as he’s being helpful to you,” she said again.

“Yeah, yeah. Where’s Dad?”

“Out in the pool, of course.”

“At nine at night?”

“It’s the only time its bearable going outside,” his mother said. “The rest of the day it’s too hot to do anything but lay indoors next to the air conditioner.”

“I thought you moved for the heat,” Miles said.

“We did. We love it.”

“But you sit in air-conditioning all day. Isn’t that like living in Seattle?”

His mother laughed like that was crazy talk.

Miles asked after his younger brother, and they chatted briefly about his struggles in grad school back east before she ended the call.

“All right, honey. Call me if you need anything.” She said this every time she called, as if he’d forget.

“I will. Love you.”

“Love you too, honey.” She blew kisses into the phone, and he hung up, feeling his typical mixture of embarrassment and affection for her. 


Astrid Amara
Astrid Amara lives in Bellingham, Washington. She's a former Peace Corps Volunteer, an advocate for animal rights, and a bureaucrat by day. After work she can usually be found writing, riding horses, hiking, or else sleeping. Her novel The Archer's Heart was a finalist for the 2008 Lambda Literary Award.

Mary Calmes
Mary Calmes lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and two children and loves all the seasons except summer. She graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Due to the fact that it is English lit and not English grammar, do not ask her to point out a clause for you, as it will so not happen. She loves writing, becoming immersed in the process, and falling into the work. She can even tell you what her characters smell like. She loves buying books and going to conventions to meet her fans.


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Julian Clearwater

Hayden Hunt



A Midnight Thanksgiving by Trina Solet
Sweet and Sour by Astrid Amara
Hannah's Big Night by Mary Calmes

Pulling his Wishbone by Julian Clearwater

Cold Turkey by Hayden Hunt