Thursday, December 7, 2017

Random tales of Christmas 2017 Part 3

Desperately Seeking Santa by Eli Easton
Journalism student Gabe Martin gets his first professional assignment—to write about a Christmas charity dinner that benefits a children’s home. It sounds like a total snooze-fest until Gabe learns that the event’s Santa is a mystery man. He shows up in costume and no one has a clue who he is. Uncovering Santa’s identity sounds like the perfect angle to turn a fluff piece into serious journalism.

Mack “The Mountain” McDonall, at 6’10”, is University of Wisconsin-Madison’s enormous star wrestler. When Gabe first claps eyes on him at a wrestling match, it’s lust at first sight. Gabe’s friend, Jordan, sets up the pair on a date. But when Gabe chatters on about his plans for outing Santa, Mack goes cold, and their first meeting becomes an epic fail.

As Gabe researches the children’s home, he learns that Mack has secrets a guy famous for being a brute wouldn’t want the world to know. Can Gabe find his holiday spirit, write a killer article, win the heart of a surly giant, and give everyone a very merry Christmas?

Gabe Martin is having quite a week, he's got his first byline assignment and he's going to his first college wrestling match.  Mack McDonnel is a top wrestler in his weight class, truth is he could go pro if he wanted but for Mack its about the scholarship wrestling got him and has greater plans for his future.  When they meet, there is definite sparks but when Gabe's article connects with Mack's past will those sparks be squashed out before they have a chance to light something bigger?

First, I just want to say that I look forward to Eli Easton's Christmas stories every year, they have become a highlight of my holiday reading season.  Frankly, I think she could turn Scrooge into Santa even without those pesky ghostly visits.  Second, I have to admit that as a lifelong Wisconsinite I always enjoy a story even more when I find one set in my state.  We aren't a common setting for novels so when I find one I just gobble it up.  Third, I have never visited the UW-Madison campus, the closest I've come was my senior year in high school when our football team went to the championship and the game was played at Camp Randall.  I have however spent 2 years at UW-River Falls, a Division 2 school in the UW system.  So having Desperatly Seeking Santa by Eli Easton in Wisconsin at the UW-Madison, well it was just icing on the cake.

Now as to the story.  As I said above I look forward to Miss Easton's holiday tales every year and Desperatly was no different and it certainly didn't let me down.  The characters are fun, the story is intriguing and even though I had an inkling who Santa is, it never took away from riding along on Gabe's journey.  Having come from a wrestling town, Mack is the epitomy of the sport and I love how his size was developed.  As a society, unfortunately we are very "sight" oriented, the physicality of an athlete is what we see and not what's underneath.  I just love how the author has meshed first impressions with the reality of who Mack is and what he wants in life.

Desperately Seeking Santa is well written with intriguing characters that most of us probably don't see every day, here in Wisconsin characters of Mack's size is probably more common place because of the sport but even though most might not see them, the author makes them so real that you expect to look out your front window and see them walking down the street.  There's drama, humor, lust, romance, and everything in between making this a perfect holiday read but if you run out of time and find yourself reading this in the middle of summer you will love it just as much.


The Santa Hoax by Francis Gideon
When Julian Gibson realizes he’s transgender, he doesn’t think anything has to change. His parents and friends still call him Julia and think he’s a girl, but so long as Julian can still hang out with his best friend Aiden and read sci-fi novels with his dad, life seems pretty good.

Then high school happens. Aiden ditches him, and a new girl, Maria, keeps cornering him in the girls’ bathroom. A full year after discovering he’s transgender, Julian realizes life changes whether you’re ready for it or not. So Julian makes a deal with himself: if he can tell his secret to three people, it is no longer a hoax. What happens during his slow process of coming out leads Julian down odd pathways of friendship, romance, Christmas shopping, random parties, bad movies, and a realization about why kids still believe in Santa—it’s sometimes better than discovering the truth.

A Holiday to Remember by Felice Stevens
Breakfast Club #3.5
With Lillie away at a sleepover, Marcus and Tyler finally have some much needed time alone together. Marcus can't wait to get Tyler into bed. He has plans that involve getting and staying naked. But an innocent question from Lillie has Marcus wondering if he's ready to take that next big step.

Saturday Series Spotlight: Breakfast Club

Original Review January 2017:
What a delicious little holiday tale for Marcus and Tyler.  It may be short but it's jam packed with emotion, sexiness, and family, all the things we've come to expect from Felice Stevens.


The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish
Last month, Alex Barrow’s whole life imploded—partner, home, job, all gone in forty-eight hours. But sometimes when everything falls apart, better things appear almost like magic. Now, he’s back in his Michigan hometown, finally opening the bakery he’s always dreamed of. But the pleasure of opening day is nothing compared to the lonely and beautiful man who bewitches Alex before he even orders.

Corbin Wale is a weirdo. At least, that’s what he’s heard his whole life. He knows he’s often in a fantasy world, but the things he feels are very real. And so is the reason why he can never, ever be with Alex Barrow. Even if Alex is everything he’s always fantasized about. Even if maybe, just maybe, Corbin is Alex’s fantasy too.

When Corbin begins working at the bakery, he and Alex can’t deny their connection any longer. As the holiday season works its magic, Alex yearns for the man who seems out of reach. But to be with Alex, Corbin will have to challenge every truth he’s ever known. If his holiday risk pays off, two men from different worlds will get the love they’ve always longed for.
20% of all proceeds from this title will be donated to the Russian LGBT Network.

Each year, Riptide Publishing releases a holiday collection in support of an LGBTQ charity. Twenty percent of the proceeds from this year’s collection will be donated to the Russian LGBT Network.

The Russian LGBT network was founded in April 2006. It is an interregional, non-governmental human rights organization that promotes equal rights and respect for human dignity, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. They unite and develop regional initiatives, advocacy groups (at both national and international levels), and provide social and legal services.

To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit their website.  

Snowman with Benefits by Marshall Thornton
Desperate to win a neighborhood snowman contest, Trey pulls out all the stops. He and his boyfriend, Landon, work all morning to make a snowman along the lines of Michelangelo’s David. Unfortunately, all does not go well, and the two break up over Trey’s relentless perfectionism. Struggling to take a nap that afternoon, Trey is awakened by the sound of someone in his house. He goes downstairs to find the snowman has come to life – and he’s horny!

Click to Check Out Previous
Random Tales of Christmas 2017

Part 1  /  Part 2

Desperately Seeking Santa by Eli Easton
Chapter 1
Nov 28, 2017
Madison, Wisconsin

“You want me to write a story about what?”

Visions of cutesy reindeer automatons, paper snowflakes, and cheesy mall Santas danced in my head as I stared in horror at my editor.

Randall glared at me from around the papers on his desk. His whole office looked like it should be on a reality show called Hoarders at Work. There were stacks of newspapers and magazines, enough coffee cups to supply a Mormon family reunion, his commuter biking clothes, and even a small fake Christmas tree resting on a cardboard box. The Christmas tree was not a sign of the impending holidays. It had been there since I started as an intern in August.

“The Elks Christmas Charity Dinner,” Randall said slowly, as if I were hard of hearing. “It’s a city tradition.”

“So is roto-rootering the toilets at the YMCA. But we don’t write about that,” I pointed out.

Randall glared harder. “You’ve been bugging me for weeks to give you a story. I finally give you one, and all you do is complain. What? You got something against Christmas?”

I squirmed inside. He was right. I’d been working at the Wisconsin State Journal for only three months. So far, my part-time internship had been spent editing other people’s work or doing basic cut-and-paste columns like the weather and stocks. I’d begged Randall for a chance to do an original piece and knew I should say “yes, sir, thank you, sir.” But I couldn’t help my disappointment.

“Hey, I love the holidays. It’s a break from classes,” I said cheerfully. “But if I have to write a story about Christmas—”

“Your employment was ‘at will’ last time I checked,” Randall retorted dryly.

“—how about something interesting? Like an exposé about how the bell ringer at the East Towne Mall spent his take on booze? Or black market scams for the most-wanted Christmas toys? Something that can draw more than regional interest?” I added a hopeful and deliberately cheesy smile.

“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Randall wiped his face with his hand. He was in his fifties and had been at this newspaper since his first toddling steps as a journalist. I respected his editing skills and his instincts, not to mention the fact that he still had all his hair and was in pretty good shape for an ancient person, being a big bike rider and all. However, in my humble opinion, he’d lost his hunger. Fortunately, I had plenty of my own.

“Gabe,” he said patiently. “I need a nice, cheerful piece for the holidays. Something feel-good. We’re not the Washington Post and you’re not Bernstein.”

“Who?” I frowned. Honestly, my first association was the Berenstain Bears. Then my history class clicked in. “Oh. You mean, like, Watergate?”

Randall rolled his eyes. “Anderson Cooper then. You’re not Anderson Cooper.”

I made a face.

He sighed. “Okay, then who? Who’s your idol, Gabe? Seriously?”

“Is this a ‘understanding millennials’ sort of question?”

“Yeah, let’s call it that.” He folded his hands on what looked like a stack of invoices on top of a Chipotle wrapper.

I shrugged. “I dunno. Will Ripley. Errol Barnett.” They were two of my favorite international CNN correspondents. In the trenches. Reporting from war zones. Standing firm against hurricanes. That was my future.

Randall’s dry expression said I was naive. “Okay. Well, right now, you’re not Will Ripley. Right now, you’re an intern for a little Wisconsin print newspaper. So we’re not going to do a thing on black-market crimes during the holidays.” He glowered. “Cutesy. Christmassy. Heart-warming. That’s what I want. You have to start somewhere, kid. Christ, I wrote recipes as Mama Llewellyn for three years before I got a break.”

I snorted. “Mama Llewellyn? Seriously?”

He gave me a lopsided grin. “She was a widow from the U.P. Hey, I got fan mail! Even a marriage proposal from a farmer once. Don’t knock it.”

I had a good chuckle over that one before remembering my own predicament. “But… an Elks charity dinner?” I gave him one last pleading look. “Will anyone read about the Elks? Aren’t they all, like, over eighty years old? I’m asking for business reasons. Surely you have subscription quotas to fill.”

Randall jabbed a finger at the door. “The dinner is Saturday, December 16th. So you have two weeks to dig up some background. You’ll attend the dinner and your piece will run the following Monday. If you’ve got that much fire in your belly, Gabe, take this story and make something out of it.”

I walked to the doorway and turned around. “Oh I’ll make something out of it!” I insisted, in a tone that promised I’d show him and his little dog too.

But later, as I slumped at my desk, I despaired. I had no idea how I’d make something out of a bunch of seniors sitting around in some crusty old dining hall eating mashed potatoes and turkey.


The Santa Hoax by Francis Gideon
JULIAN DECIDED he needed to tell three people before it became real. Not that he doubted his feelings. There was no hesitation in his mind that he was male, even if his body sometimes disagreed. But there were some mornings, like at the beginning of high school, where he would wake up and feel as if nothing had changed—in the good way. He’d make it to the breakfast table with a smile on his face and sit down to toast and think everything was fine. His hair was just right, his Black Sabbath T-shirt fit snugly across his chest, and his jeans were clean from the wash. He looked good those mornings, and he was never afraid to look at himself in the mirror.

As he ate buttered toast and his father looked at the stock market, Julian believed himself to be his parents’ son. The pictures on the wall of his house were of a sister who had been sent away to live with a long-distance aunt. And Julian was just the golden child who remained. He got to stay behind and live at home, with all of his parents’ attention focused on him.

Everything, for a time in the early morning, would be right with the world. Today, the first of December, was one of those mornings.

“Julia, come on now. You’re going to be late,” Julian’s mother stated firmly. She placed a sandwich in his lunch bag and then raised her eyebrows when he didn’t respond.

Julian felt his cheeks turn red. He remembered, like an old scar on his body that still sometimes hurt, that his life was never quite as easy as he thought it was.

“All right, all right. Just give me a sec. I’m almost done.”

Julian lowered his eyes and watched as the butter congealed on his toast. He ate three more bites before he felt too sick to continue. His father soon finished his coffee and left his paper behind on the table. He smiled at Julian before heading back into the bedroom to finish getting ready for work. Alone in the kitchen, things felt right to Julian again. But he knew all too well that it would only be a matter of time before this peace was interrupted.

Three people? Julian thought with despair. How am I ever going to find three people to tell who understand while I’m still here?

Julian got up from the table and grabbed his bags. “Okay, Mom. I’m ready to go.”

Chapter One
One Year Ago
JULIAN HAD read a lot about transgender characters in novels before he realized he was part of that story too. Late one winter night when he was thirteen years old, he told his mother he needed to go out and grab some books from the library for a school project.

“Really?” she said. She raised her pale arm to her eyes to check her watch with a sigh. The hair she normally kept in a neat bun at the back of her head had already started to come out. The loose strands made her look as if she was a cheesy mad scientist from a movie and not the lab teaching assistant she normally was.

Julian’s mother, whose first name was Sarah, often spent late nights in the local university’s library or lab, finishing reports and gathering materials to complete her master’s degree before she could go on to her PhD. While most parents had a midlife crisis and bought cars, Sarah had gone back to school and decided to become the scientist she could never be when Julian was younger.

At least that’s what she told other people when she quit her corporate job two years ago.

“Yes, Mom. Just a small project. I already looked the book up online and know where it is in the stacks. So I’ll be in and out really quickly.”

Sarah leaned her nose down over Julian’s notebook and regarded the numbers there. Julian had learned a long time ago to hide his thoughts and feelings within books and then translate those books into the Dewey decimal system for the large library. His mother only knew the 500 and 600 sections well. Everything else around was a mystery to her. And so long as Julian was ready to go, she would be willing to hear him out.

“At least you’re prepared.” Sarah moved to the hallway to grab her coat. “That’s always one thing I could count on you for. Come now. Before the blizzard really hits us.”
INSIDE THE library Julian moved in between the dusty 800 and 700 stacks. This project was supposed to be an essay on sea horses for his biology class, which then led into an English class discussion about the way in which the animal-as-metaphor worked in Moby Dick. The assignments Julian had for middle school always sounded hard, but they weren’t that bad. The teachers talked a lot about preparing kids for high school as if it was a secret mission or boot camp. But Julian had seen his mother go through piles of research for her degree, and even that, once you got the hang of it, wasn’t difficult. Most of high school was about just doing the work and handing something in so the teachers could grade and do their jobs.

Nothing in school was really that hard for Julian, anyway. With no siblings and limited TV allowances (thanks to his mother’s ruling), he spent most of his time alone in his room, reading books he had pulled from his parents’ many shelves or the library at school. It was rare that he needed to go to the city’s library like this for specific books. If he couldn’t find what he needed at school or at home, he could always fall back on the excuse of needing a different citation for his project. His mother especially loved that excuse. Research, above all else, was supposed to be ethical as much as it was informative. Really, what Julian was looking for tonight felt personal, almost too much to share on his permanent record or punch card for the school library.

In between the shelves, he found the first book on sea horses. He had been reading Wikipedia online (a source the teachers had actually blocked from his middle school) when he realized that male sea horses were the ones to keep the babies. As he kept reading, he found that certain types of fish—for example parrotfish and clownfish—changed their gender when their family structures were threatened. Using his scientific analysis, Julian realized the Disney movie Finding Nemo should have had Marlin turn into Nemo’s mother in the film after his mother was killed. But Disney was one for creative license, Julian knew. They had let the stepsisters in Cinderella keep their feet intact, even if that really wasn’t how it was in the original Grimm story.

All of this searching for underwater life had led Julian to the fiction section online. He had followed the never-ending morass of names and identifications on Wikipedia, and went from clownfish and parrotfish in biology to a novel called Parrotfish. When he read the write-up for the book, he discovered it was about a transgender boy who uses the fish to explain to his lab partner how he has always felt like a boy—even if no one else thought he was one. Julian had stopped reading after that in shock.

Transgender? he had repeated in his head. What did that even mean? It didn’t take too much longer online to put the pieces together. He had known what drag queens were from listening in when his parents watched Will & Grace too loudly. And he had seen what butch lesbians looked like on the same show. But he had thought, as far as gender spectrum went, those two were the end. Maybe tomboy could be added in there every so often, but even that word made Julian uncomfortable. He had been called “tomboy” for years during middle school, sometimes as an insult and sometimes as a description of his clothing. But now at high school, the tomboy names had stopped. He was called “young lady” by his teachers and principal or “miss” by substitute teachers. It didn’t make sense anymore, but he had never really realized why.

Everything has a why, Julian told himself, thinking of his mother’s research. It’s just a matter of finding out how too. Though his skin had felt scorching hot to the touch, he continued to read online more about the word transgender. All that he came away with were the series of numbers he had written down in his notebook and a burning need to go to the library right now, even though a blizzard was starting outside.

As Julian walked down the YA section in the library, he could see Parrotfish’s spine before he touched it. Once the book was in his hand, the heavy feeling returned to his skin. The how and the why, he thought, are getting closer and closer to being solved.


Sarah hadn’t raised her voice, but inside the library on a Thursday night in winter, close to closing, her call for him was much too loud. Before he could really think about it, Julian tucked Parrotfish into his book bag along with all the other science books he had grabbed for class.

“I’m right here, Mom. I’m not far.”

“I know,” Sarah said, furrowing her brow slightly. “But we have to go now. You have everything you need?”

Julian nodded, not trusting his voice.

“Good. I’ll go clean off the car. You can check out without me?”

Julian felt relief bloom inside of him. If his mother didn’t see the actual book, she would merely assume that Parrotfish was just a book about parrotfish when she saw the receipt. It would be next to marine biology texts—a mere item in a series of several. This was perfect. Finally his night was going right.

As Julian waited in the small line, he dug his joint family card up from his pocket and looked down at his name next to his mom’s and dad’s. Julia as a name had always felt wrong to him, but he had never really known why. Now maybe he did know. He flipped the card over in his palm, closing his eyes as he worked through several different names he had always liked. Jack? Jason? Bobby? He shook his head. The woman ahead of him was getting at least ten small romance novels, so he still had more time to think. Daniel? Chris? He flipped the card over in his hand. He placed his thumb over the last section of Julia—then he realized how simple it could be. Just another n would completely change his name from something he hated to something he could stand. Something he could even grow to like.

Julian, Julian, Julian, he had repeated in his head. Yeah. He’d nodded. Yeah, I like that a lot.

“Good evening!” the woman at the counter greeted. “A lot of books here.”

“I have a project.” Julian felt his skin blush red with recognition as the book was passed over the scanner. He waited to be questioned about it further, to be interrogated like a criminal about something he had done deep down inside of him.

“Here you are, Julia Gibson,” the librarian said. Anna was written on her nametag. She smiled at Julian, probably recognizing him from years ago or from his mother’s constant visits. The library staff had always stayed consistent, and when Julian’s dad was a major donor to its funding and worked on the town council, it was good for the librarian to know specific customers.

“Thank you, Anna,” he said slowly. He held the books in his arms and loitered. No one was behind him, so he didn’t feel the constant pressure to be out. He could see his mother’s car through the glass doors, and she wasn’t even close to finished with clearing it off. Anna stood from her stool suddenly and gestured toward the plastic shopping bags at the end of the counter.

“You’ll probably want some. Your book bag can only carry so much! You’ll definitely be prepared for your project, I’d say. Are you thinking of becoming—”

“No,” Julian cut her off. “No, not at all. Just a stupid assignment. It’s boring, really. I don’t like it.”

Anna blinked a few times before smiling again. She took a seat as Julian put the books in the bag.

“Too bad,” she remarked. “I hear marine biology is a budding field.”

The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish
Chapter One
Alex Barrow liked bringing things to life.

A month ago, he’d had friends, a lover, and a prestigious job in New York. A week after that, he’d found himself back in his Michigan hometown, where he hadn’t spent more than a week since leaving a dozen years before. He had nothing to his name except—now—the bakery where he stood. And yet, alone in the predawn dark of opening day, Alex felt lighter than he had in years. He took a deep breath of leaf-scented air and felt himself grin. Yes, Alex liked bringing things to life, and he’d dragged this bakery into being from the wreckage of his life in New York.

It had begun with the one-two punch of Timo breaking up with him, and Rustica, the restaurant in the West Village where Alex had worked as pastry chef for four years, being bought by a corporate conglomerate. Down a boyfriend and a job in forty-eight hours, Alex hadn’t been sure which had been the bigger blow. And that, his best friend Gareth had pointed out with a knowing wink, should tell him something important about both.

Timo was a radiologist who owned the apartment they’d lived in. He was mature, sensible, handsome, and intelligent. He’d had a three-year plan, a five-year plan, and a ten-year plan, all of which, he’d explained patiently during the conversation that turned into a highly civilized breakup, had included Alex. That Alex hadn’t known he was included in these plans had been a problem. That he’d had very little interest in them, once he’d been told, had been a more telling problem.

As Alex had lain on the couch that night—because Timo was far too mature and measured to suggest he leave suddenly, but Alex had found it too strange to share a bed with the man who had been his partner and suddenly wasn’t—he’d realized he felt . . . not nearly as much as he’d expected. Certainly less than he’d imagined he should feel after being with someone for three years, living with them for two, meeting their family, sharing their bed, and knowing how they tasted and what made them cry.

And he’d thought maybe Timo felt less than he’d expected too.

Losing Timo had certainly been an inconvenience, in that it had left Alex without a place to live. Walking into Rustica the next night to the announcement of its sale, on the other hand, had been gutting. Finding out the following afternoon that he could keep his job if he simply produced the menu the corporate team designed, but would no longer have the freedom to develop his own recipes, had been devastating. With no apartment, he certainly needed the salary. But he didn’t want to be a machine, turning out the same pastries week after week, year after year. That was why he’d left his first two jobs at traditional bakeries. With no creative control and no power over the menu, he’d been bored as paste.

He’d left Rustica and walked through Lower Manhattan for hours, making pro and con lists in his head. When his phone had buzzed with an incoming call from his mother, Alex had almost ignored it, not wanting to admit failure on two fronts to the woman who only ever wanted to see him happy. But he’d answered anyway, and listened to her chat about the weather, the latest football game that had backed up traffic all the way to her house, a new store that had opened across the street from Helen & Jerry’s Java. As he listened, he’d calmed thinking about the Ann Arbor autumn.

About the way the days were warm but the nights turned cold as soon as the sun’s heat had burned away. The way downtown smelled like coffee and waffle cones and turning leaves and moss. The way the U of M fight song blasted from car horns and house windows and cell phone ringtones during football season and got stuck in your head even if you weren’t a football fan.

When his mom had told him that, lately, the arthritis in her hands had gotten so bad she could no longer even make the coffee drinks at Helen & Jerry’s Java—the café she and his father had opened his senior year in high school, and which his mother had run alone since his father died ten years ago—and that she wished she could take a vacation, drive up north with her new beau (her term), Alex’s head had gotten fuzzy. And then it had gotten very, very clear.

“Mom,” he’d said softly. “I think I’m coming home.”

And now here he was. He’d shipped his belongings, surprised but not upset to find that he didn’t own much he cared enough to hold onto. He’d given Rustica his notice, and he’d booked a flight. When he’d touched down in Detroit, it hadn’t felt like moving, it had felt like visiting, as he’d done dozens of times before.

He’d had one small duffel bag and his laptop, as if he were coming in for a long weekend like he always did. The taxi had dropped him off in his mother’s driveway, just like it always did, and his mother had come out to meet him, just like she always did. She’d told him he looked so handsome, just like she always did, and he’d seen the moment her eyes moistened, thinking about how she wished his father were here, just like he always did.

It was just the same, only everything was different.

Because this time, when his mother settled him at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a cup of decaf for herself, she didn’t say, “So, tell me everything,” like she always did. This time she said, “So, here’s the plan.”

Now, after weeks of work, the bakery that had existed in his head for years, in gradually shifting menu concepts, color combinations, and layouts, was finally a reality. Helen & Jerry’s Java was now And Son. Gareth had thought it was a ridiculous name; Alex’s mother had cried.

Alex could say now—armed with knowledge of the restaurant industry and professional baking training—that Helen & Jerry’s Java had not been a good coffee shop. The layout had been bad, the coffee mediocre, and the pastries . . . well, the less said about them the better. Alex had completely transformed it. His mother’s employees had jumped at the chance to log extra hours painting, cleaning, rearranging, and running endless errands. It had been pure luck that Mira, one of the baristas who’d worked there for a few years, had announced that she’d worked construction for her father all throughout high school. Alex had paid her to build out the counter and add a bench along the perimeter of the café.

While they’d worked behind paper-taped windows, Alex had spent his time sourcing ingredients, setting up deliveries, and designing his menu.

The best bakeries had a cohesive vision. You didn’t want a counter selling bran muffins next to key lime tarts next to baklava next to polvorones. The menu needed to have range, but not feel chaotic—provide surprises, but not overwhelm. For each recipe he added to the mental menu in his mind, Alex had shifted another one off. When he’d realized he needed a lemon glaze on this one or cayenne in that one, it sparked to life another avenue of flavors.

He’d felt like a kid, sitting cross-legged on the heavy steel prep table, scribbling his dream recipes on sticky notes that he rearranged over and over on the cool metal. He had so many things he wanted to try, so many ideas that he eventually stuck all the notes back into a stack, put them on the shelf, and said to himself, Ten and five. Ten basics and five specials. Start there and you can add more later.

Alex had always had a bit of a problem reining it in.

And Son was reopening on a crisp, cool Monday that smelled of rain that didn’t fall. Alex had been there since 3:30 that morning, baking, and when his employees showed up at 6:30, he smiled at the sounds of surprise they made as they looked around the finished bakery.

“It’s amazing!” Mira called as Alex came out from the kitchen. Sean, the other barista who’d worked for his mom, agreed.

“Thanks to you,” he said, and smiled at Mira. But he was really pleased with how it had turned out.

The walls of the seating area were sage green and behind the counter a warm terra-cotta. Pen and ink drawings hung in untreated wood frames. Gone was the clutter of small tables and too many chairs. In their place were several four- and six-top tables, and a long padded bench with tables ran around the perimeter of the café under the windows.

There were plants in the corners, potted succulents on small wooden shelves on the walls, and air plants hanging from the pressed tin ceiling. The whole effect was calm and warm and peaceful.

The earthy bite of coffee, the comforting smell of fresh-baked bread, and the snap of sugar made Alex’s stomach rumble, and he took a cinnamon streusel muffin back into the kitchen with him. He snapped a picture of himself taking a huge bite and sent it to Gareth.

Alex had met Gareth their first day of culinary school, and they had quickly become friends and then roommates. For ten years, Gareth had been the one constant in an otherwise hectic and chaotic life. Alex felt the ache of distance that he hadn’t felt since the first year after his father died, when he’d wake up some mornings and remember all over again that he was gone. It had been Gareth he’d called from Ann Arbor when his mother sat him down a month before and told him she’d signed over the café to him. Gareth who’d told him he’d be an idiot if he didn’t turn the café into a bakery of his own.

Happy opening day! Gareth wrote back in response to the muffin pic. Try not to eat ALL the stock. Then, a second later, I’m proud of you.

The warm feeling in Alex’s stomach persisted as he slid a tray of croissants out of the oven and added notes to his recipe binder.

When they unlocked the door at seven, Alex’s mother was the first to walk through. He hadn’t let his mom see the bakery at all, and her mouth fell open as she looked around. She shook her head at him, and he saw the moisture in her eyes as she pulled him down for a fierce hug.

“I still think it should’ve been ‘& Son,’ with an ampersand,” she said, sniffing.

“Mom, I told you, it’s harder to search for, and hard to put in a website URL. People don’t know what it’s called, so they’ll say, ‘It’s called & Son, but with that and-sign thingy.’ Besides, And is good for alphabetical listings, or—”

“Okay, okay, you know what you’re doing and I should butt out, I hear you,” she conceded, walking to the counter to greet Mira and Sean.

A man had trailed in after her and was standing politely off to the side. Alex turned to him and held out his hand. “You must be Lou Wright. I’m Alex. It’s nice to meet you.”

Lou grinned at him as they shook. He had mischievous brown eyes, dark brown skin, a bald spot, a warm smile, and an easy manner. Alex could see immediately why his mother liked him.

Alex got his mother and Lou coffee and croissants to go, and was about to retreat to the kitchen when someone approached the counter. Someone Alex couldn’t look away from.

The man was a few inches shorter than Alex’s six feet, and slim—almost willowy. He had a tangle of dark hair that fell around his face, and eyes almost as dark. His skin was light gold and there was a spray of freckles across his delicate nose. He looked up at Alex, eyes half hidden behind that veil of hair, with his head cocked like a bird.

“Coffee, please.”

He was the most beautiful man Alex had ever seen. Strange looking, a bit awkward, and half-wild, the way animals were that lived side by side with people but never went inside as pets. His face and the set of his shoulders made Alex want to tramp through the woods as the leaves fell, run through fields to tumble him down on sun-warmed grass, press flowers to his lips to see which were softer. Beautiful.

“Hi,” Alex said. “Hello. Good morning. Welcome to And Son. I just opened.”

The man cocked his head in the other direction and nodded. “Coffee,” he said quietly. His tone said it was a request even though his voice didn’t go up at the end to intone the question.

“Of course.” Get a grip, Alex. “Light, medium, or dark roast?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “Dark.” His voice was low and soft, and there was something so familiar about him all of a sudden that Alex narrowed his eyes against the jolt of déjà vu. But that’s how it was coming back to Ann Arbor. Always the sense of familiarity paired with that jarring discontinuity.

Under Alex’s scrutiny, the man dropped his chin a little and glared.

“Coming right up,” Alex said. “Can I get you anything to eat?”

The man shook his head, but the glare was gone, and as he handed over his money, it was replaced by a faraway look that made Alex feel like he wasn’t seen any longer. He brushed the man’s palm with his fingertips as he took the bills, and their eyes locked for a moment. Then the man jerked away.

He didn’t put anything in his coffee, just cradled the mug as he made his way to the corner table and folded himself onto the bench, knees sharp through faded denim. He slid a black notebook out of his tattered canvas bag and immediately bent so close over it that the ends of his hair brushed the paper.

He seemed completely absorbed in whatever was in the book, and after a while Alex went back to the kitchen, leaving the front of house to Mira and Sean.

When Alex brought baguettes out to the counter at lunchtime, the man was still there. He was still hunched over his book, but now he was drawing, his lines fluid, quick, and studied.

“Do you know that guy?” Alex asked Mira.

“Corbin Wale,” she said softly. “He’s come in for years, according to Helen—er, your mom. Since before I started working here. Sometimes he’s here every day for two weeks, sometimes once a week, sometimes he doesn’t show for a month. He always sits and draws. Helen always let him.” She bit her lip. “Is it okay? Or do you want me to . . .”

“No, it’s fine. I was just curious. Thanks.” Mira looked relieved.

Alex sliced a piece of warm baguette in half, spread one side liberally with salted butter, and scooped plum jam into a ramekin. He put it all on a plate and carried it over to the table in the corner. Corbin didn’t look up. He didn’t seem to notice Alex at all.

“Corbin?” he said softly.

Corbin jerked, his elbow nearly knocking the empty coffee cup off the table. The eyes that met Alex’s were wide and wild.

“Sorry,” Alex said. He kept his voice soft and smiled. “I thought maybe you might like a snack.” He set the plate down on the table and took a step back, since Corbin seemed threatened by his looming.

“I didn’t . . . I didn’t order that.” Corbin blinked quickly as if he was coming out of a dream, confused about what was real and what wasn’t.

“No, I just thought you might like it.” At the gaping mouth and fluttering eyelashes, he added, “Since I just reopened, I wanted to welcome customers. You used to come in when this was my mom’s place, right?”

“Your mom. Helen is your mom.”

“Yep. She asked me to take the place over. It’s been a lot of work for her lately. She gets tired.”

“Tired,” Corbin echoed, and his shoulders slumped a bit, like the word had taken up residence in his body.

“I’m Alex. It is Corbin, right? That’s what Mira said.” He nodded at his employee and she smiled.

Corbin gave a stuttering nod. His eyes tracked from the food on the table to Alex’s face. “You don’t want me to leave.” Alex realized that he said all his questions like statements.

“No. I’m glad you’re here.” It was a pat answer—one any new business owner would give a customer—but Alex felt the truth of it down to his toes. “Please make yourself at home.”

Alex tried to get a glimpse of what Corbin was working on, but the notebook was covered by Corbin’s arms, intentionally or not. All that was visible were some spiky black lines and an indigo curve arcing from under Corbin’s fine-boned wrist.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it,” Alex said, and turned back to the kitchen. As he got out the flour and butter to make pie crust, he realized what he felt was a vague sense of disappointment. Disappointment that he hadn’t seen the contents of the notebook. Disappointment that Corbin hadn’t asked him to sit down and join him. Disappointment that Corbin had seemed to draw closer into himself with every inch toward him that Alex moved.

And when he brought two pies out later that afternoon, disappointment to find the table in the corner empty, with no sign of Corbin having been there at all.

Chapter Two
Alex had a problem.

Alex had a problem and it was spelled C-O-R-B-I-N W-A-L-E.

The problem was that every morning Alex worked with bated breath, finding excuses to come out of the kitchen to see if Corbin was there. The problem was that when Corbin was there, Alex’s eyes seemed magnetized to him—to the cant of his head on his graceful neck. To the way his thin, nail-bitten fingers wielded a pen like a scalpel, ruthless and exacting. To the hair that often obscured his face. To the eyes that either stared resolutely down, completely absorbed by his work, or fixed, dreamily, on something up and to the right that Alex didn’t think he was seeing at all.

Alex would wait, hoping that some loud noise or sudden shift in the air would catch Corbin’s attention. Snap him out of absorption or dream, and bring him back to a place where Alex could reach him.

It wasn’t that Alex didn’t try. Sometimes he even succeeded, for a little while.

The next time Corbin came in, Alex asked what he was drawing. Corbin looked up, startled, as if he hadn’t realized his notebook was visible to anyone but himself. He looked at the page and then back at Alex, dark eyes framed in inky lashes.

“Everything,” he said, and a shiver ran up Alex’s spine.

A few days later, Corbin seemed out of sorts. Alex was working the cash register and when he asked Corbin how his day was going, Corbin muttered, “You can’t talk to me today. Please.”

“All right,” Alex said. “I’m sorry.”

Corbin’s brows drew together, a line between them. “No, no.”

Alex handed over his coffee without another word, and Corbin’s hand trembled as he took it. He pushed crumpled-up bills onto the counter and slunk to his table in the corner, tangle of hair hiding his face completely. Alex watched as Corbin stared into space, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth in a manner that absolutely did not send a shock of tender desire through him.

Alex watched Corbin. His cup emptied, though Alex never saw him sip it, and rather than becoming absorbed in his notebook, he pulled his jacket tightly around himself and left as suddenly as he’d come.

He didn’t come back for three days.

* * * * * * *

“Hey,” Alex said when Corbin next came in. “I realized why you looked familiar. I think we went to high school together.”

It had struck Alex as he was lying in his childhood bedroom one night, exhausted and wanting nothing but to fall into a dreamless sleep.

He’d closed his eyes on the day and instead of the grown-up Corbin, he saw a boy. Painfully skinny, with a messily shaved head like he’d run an electric razor over it himself. He had huge dark eyes and long lashes and his clothes were brown and green and gray, the colors of the forest, as if to announce the place he was camouflaged to fit in.

The boy had been a freshman when Alex was a senior, and he’d never known his name. It was a big school. Alex likely wouldn’t have remembered him at all, except that a month or two into the school year, someone had spray painted FOREST FAGGOT FREAK on a bank of lockers outside the auditorium. The boy standing in front of the locker that was clearly the epicenter was this pretty, skinny boy, staring at the words like they had no meaning.

After that, the rumors about him had reached even the senior class. That he was gay. That he didn’t deny it, and responded to neither taunts nor camaraderie. That he lived in the forest and animals followed him to school. That he spoke to them, but not to anyone else. That something was wrong with him.

Even then, Alex might not have remembered him. Might have grouped him in the category that his seventeen-year-old brain had marked Braver Than Me, because it felt easier not to tell anyone that he, too, desired boys instead of girls. Because it felt like he had something to lose.

But then the boy—Corbin—had disappeared.

The rumors flew. He’d gone feral in the woods. He’d been having an affair with a rich businessman and fled the country with him. He’d killed himself. Someone at school had found out he was actually a vampire and he’d had to leave town.

But here was Corbin in front of him—clearly not dead, likely not a vampire, as it was a sunny day, and not feral . . . not completely, anyway.

“Do you remember me?” Alex asked.

Corbin bit his lip and nodded.

“Oh, did my mom tell you?” It seemed likely that his mother had asked every customer who looked about his age if they’d gone to high school with her son.

Corbin shook his head. “I recognized you. You were a football player.”

He supposed that had been the most notable thing about him to a stranger in high school, but for some reason it still made his stomach feel a little hollow to hear it.

Coffee in hand, Corbin nodded at him and went to sit down. While Alex worked, he scoured his mind for other scraps of memory about Corbin from high school. He found only one.

Alex had gotten to school late one morning and had to park at the farthest edge of the lot. He’d cut around the back of the school to the science wing, and had seen someone coming out of the tree line. A skinny boy, all large eyes, and hands and feet too big for his body. A dog had been trailing behind him. At the edge of the woods, he’d paused and spoken to the dog. Then he’d scratched its head, knelt, and thrown his arms around its neck. The boy had hugged the dog like it was his only friend in the world, then snapped his fingers, and the dog had bounded back into the forest. Alex thought it must have been the last time he’d seen him until Corbin had shown up at And Son.

At lunchtime, Alex cut a thick slice of the oatmeal bread he’d baked that morning and toasted it. He spread the hot toast with butter and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar. Corbin was bent over his notebook, drawing as usual, but this time when Alex approached, he pushed his hair out of his face and looked up. His eyes were huge.

“I brought you a snack.”

He laid the plate on the table and hovered for a moment.

“That . . .” Corbin pointed at the toast suspiciously. “That’s my favorite.”

“Yeah?” Warmth flushed through Alex. Preparing food was always a pleasure, but this—preparing something for someone he liked and having them desire it—was the thrill of satisfaction. “I’m glad.”

He couldn’t help himself. He stayed in the hope that Corbin would eat it in front of him. When the man raised the toast to his full lips and took a bite, cinnamon and sugar spilling onto the plate like snow, something hot and possessive ripped through Alex.

Sugar stuck to Corbin’s lips, and Alex wanted to bend over him and lick it from his mouth. Corbin’s jaw clenched as he chewed, and Alex imagined Corbin on his knees before him, jaw moving for another reason entirely.

Corbin’s throat worked as he swallowed, and Alex fisted his hands in front of him and turned quickly away.

“Okay, enjoy,” he called over his shoulder, voice scraped raw with arousal and confusion.

He’d never responded to someone the way he responded to Corbin. He’d had lovers, he’d had good sex, he’d seen men across a room or over a pool table and felt attraction, lust.

With Timo, he’d felt desire, affection, love—or so he’d thought.

But Corbin had awoken something in him that felt like all of these, and none of them.

It was the difference between strawberry jam and a perfect, sun-ripe strawberry. Other people he’d desired had been jam. He’d seen them, liked them, saw potential in them, thought of what he might do with them, how they’d combine.

Corbin was a strawberry. If you had any sense at all, you took it as it was and you never questioned it. You didn’t add sugar and you didn’t add heat. You didn’t put it in a sandwich or use it in a cake. You didn’t do anything to it because it was already as absolutely, perfectly a strawberry as it would ever be. You recognized it, and were grateful for it.

And, if you were lucky, you savored it.

That was what Alex was doing.

Alex was savoring.

Eli Easton
Eli Easton has been at various times and under different names a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, an organic farmer, and a long-distance walker. She began writing m/m romance in 2013 and has published 27 books since then. She hopes to write many more.

As an avid reader of such, she is tickled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, two bulldogs, several cows, and a cat. All of them (except for the husband) are female, hence explaining the naked men that have taken up residence in her latest fiction writing.

Francis Gideon
Francis Gideon is pretty much nocturnal and drinks too much coffee. These two things may be related, but he's not sure yet. Also, he writes books. Francis Gideon is a writer of m/m romance, but he also dabbles in mystery, fantasy, historical, and paranormal fiction. He likes to stay up late, drink too much coffee, and read too many comic books. He credits music, especially the artists Patti Smith, Frank Iero, Gerard Way, Florence + the Machine, and The Pixies as his main sources of inspiration, but the list grows every day. Since age twelve, he’s been trying to figure out what genre is best suited for a strange, quiet kid like him and so far, he’s happy to be where he’s ended up. When not writing fiction, Francis teaches college English classes while he studies for his PhD. He has published several nonfiction and critical articles on everything from the Canadian poet and artist P.K. Page, transgender identity in the YouTube community, using fanfiction as a teaching tool, and character deaths in the TV show Hannibal. Those are all under different his “real” name, though. He writes his novels using his middle name, Francis, so that his students don’t Google him and ask too many questions. Both Francis and his partner live in Canada, where they often disagree about TV shows and make really bad puns. To talk more about books, bad horror movies, LGBT poetry, or anything else, please drop him a line! PS: The image used for this profile is clearly not Francis, but the album art cover for Brand New's Deja Entendu. Which is really good. You should check it out.

Felice Stevens
Felice Stevens has always been a romantic at heart. While life is tough, she believes there is a happy ending for everyone. She started reading traditional historical romances as a teenager, then life and law school got in the way. It wasn't until she picked up a copy of Bertrice Small and became swept away to Queen Elizabeth's court that her interest in romance novels was renewed.

But somewhere along the way, her reading shifted to stories of men falling in love. Once she picked up her first gay romance, she became so enamored of the character-driven stories and the overwhelming emotion there was no turning back.

Felice lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Her day begins with a lot of caffeine and ends with a glass or two of red wine. Although she practices law, she daydreams of a time when she can sit by a beach and write beautiful stories of men falling in love. Although there is bound to be some angst along the way, a Happily Ever After is always guaranteed.

Roan Parrish
ROAN PARRISH is currently wandering between Philadelphia and New Orleans. When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.

Marshall Thornton
Lambda Award-winning author, Marshall Thornton is best known for the Boystown detective series. Other novels include the erotic comedy The Perils of Praline, or the Amorous Adventures of a Southern Gentleman in Hollywood, Desert Run and Full Release. Marshall has an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, where he received the Carl David Memorial Fellowship and was recognized in the Samuel Goldwyn Writing awards.

Eli Easton

Francis Gideon

Felice Stevens

Roan Parrish

Marshall Thornton

Desperately Seeking Santa by Eli Easton

The Santa Hoax by Francis Gideon
A Holiday to Remember by Felice Stevens

The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish

Snowman with Benefits by Marshall Thornton

Review Tour: Snow Falling by Davidson King

Title: Snow Falling
Author: Davidson King
Genre: M/M Romantic Suspense
Release Date: November 28, 2017
Cover Design: Morningstar Ashley/Five Star Designs
After running from a past destined to kill him, Snow has been hiding on the streets.

Tell nobody your name.
Tell nobody your secrets.
Trust nobody!
These are the rules of the streets.

His entire life changes when he saves an eight-year-old boy from a violent end.

Christopher Manos is one of the most powerful crime bosses in the country.

Don’t ask anyone to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.
Secrets can get you killed.
Trust nobody!
These are the rules he lives by.

When his eight-year-old nephew disappears, he never expects the boy’s savior to end up being his own.

A man with a dangerous past and a man with a dangerous future find love amidst murder and mayhem. But with Snow's life being threatened at every turn, will Christopher's best be enough to prevent Snow Falling?

When Snow comes upon a little boy in trouble and comes to his aid, he has no plans for it to lead to a new beginning he was just doing what he felt was right.  Christopher may be the head of a family that has some questionable tactics but he is an honorable man so when his nephew is saved by a young man in an alley, he offers the man a job.  Will either man let the future take root and grow or will their secrets get in the way?

Snow Falling is a masterpiece!  That is the best way to explain what I read, nothing more, nothing less.  It is a true masterpiece, a gem to be savored.  When you factor in that this is a debut novel by the author, well frankly its hard to believe because its just so great.  Now, I would be lying if I said I am unfamiliar with the author because I consider her a friend and kindred spirit and I have been cheering her on for several years.  I knew her book would be good but even I was overwhelmed at how stunning and heartwarming Snow Falling is.

The characters, from Snow and Christopher to Roy and Bill to Lisa and Maggie, they all bring something to the story and not a single one is "window dressing" or "filler", they all have a part to play in the journey that is found within the covers of Snow Falling.  I mention that because that is a rare thing, in my experience there is usually at least one character that could have been removed from the pages and the reader would not miss them but not here.  Every character is intriguing in their own way and makes the story better.

As you know, I don't do spoilers so all I'll say in regards to the plot is WOW because I was hooked and had everyday life not got in the way I would have easily read this in one sitting.  Talk about an easy read, and don't think I mean "easy" as in simple and short. No, I mean "easy" as in it grabs you from the first page and before you know it half the book is gone and then suddenly you find yourself at the epilogue.  I started this review by saying Snow Falling is a masterpiece and I'll end with saying it has heart, no better way to say it: Snow Falling will break your heart, but it will also warm your heart.


“Why do you want to know my real name? It’s a name that no longer matters. The day my feet hit the pavement, I was no longer that guy.” I hated that this subject kept coming up.

“I will find out. I have to.”

This was so frustrating. “Why? Why’s it matter?”

“In my line of work, I need to know everything. The more I know, the easier it is to keep my people, my family, and myself safe.”

“I’m not a threat, but if you feel I am, then let me go. I never asked to be here, you haven’t given me a choice. I’ve been tossed plenty of times and each time, I land on my feet.” It was a challenge. A part of me wanted him to let me go so I could sever ties and have the choice taken from me. Another part wanted him to beg me to stay. That need to feel wanted and needed was quickly becoming a problem.

“You’re not a prisoner here. But you and I both know you don’t want to leave, so let’s not do this song and dance.” Christopher approached me. “You said your mother was a nurse. Did you realize you told me?”

“I knew.” Being in a daze never made me unaware. Being unaware was deadly. “It was harmless knowledge. There are millions of nurses all over the world.”

“My mother was a model. It’s how my father met her. They were together from the first day they laid eyes on each other. She passed when I was ten but I remember something she told me once.” He shifted his feet, the show of uncertainty making him seem vulnerable. I wondered if many people got to see this side of him. Was I special?

“What did she tell you?”

“It sounds silly now that I think about it, but in your case, it’s true.” His eyes bored into mine. “We are like a glass. You can have a glass for years, decades even. It will serve its purpose, being filled and drained over and over. Then one day, someone will come along and be a little too hard on it and a tiny crack will form. That fissure will weaken the glass. Every bump and bang. Every mouth that touches it or hand that grips it will contribute to its inevitable shatter.” He stepped closer. “But in its time, it will serve its purpose and when it’s a million pieces of glass, someone will come along and pick it up. They will decide if it should be thrown away or if it’s worth saving.” A tiny smile played on his beautiful lips. “You’re cracked a bit. You feel weakened, but Snow, I think even if you had a million cracks or were a pile of shattered pieces on the floor, you’d be worth saving.”

“Or I’d be trash.” I got what Christopher was saying and it was poetic and poignant, but it wasn’t me. “I’ve been called trash plenty of times. No one looked at my imperfections and thought I was a future mosaic. They looked at me and saw a mess.”

“Until now.”

Author Bio:
Davidson King, always had a hope that someday her daydreams would become real-life stories. As a child, you would often find her in her own world, thinking up the most insane situations. It may have taken her awhile, but she made her dream come true with her first published work, Snow Falling.

When she’s not writing you can find her blogging away on Diverse Reader, her review and promotional site. She managed to wrangle herself a husband who matched her crazy and they hatched three wonderful children.

If you were to ask her what gave her the courage to finally publish, she’d tell you it was her amazing family and friends. Support is vital in all things and when you’re afraid of your dreams, it will be your cheering section that will lift you up.