Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Random Tales of Christmas 2017 Part 8

What Father Christmas Left by Felicitas Ivey
Ex-Pat American Jacob Moore is looking forward to hosting his traditional Christmas Eve party with his partner, Errol. They love the quiet night of friends and food at their house in London, and the break before dealing with family, presents, and Boxing Day. The quiet is shattered when Jacob’s younger half sister, Pru, shows up on his doorstep, running away from home for a very good reason. Jacob has stayed in touch with her over the years, even though he’s estranged from their father. But nothing prepared him for this.

Now he has to decide what to do with this unexpected package from Father Christmas.

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2014 Advent Calendar package "Celebrate!".

The Boyfriend Sweater Curse by Ari McKay
All serious knitters know about the boyfriend sweater curse: knit a sweater for a boyfriend, and he’ll break up with you soon after. Gabriel Sutton isn’t the superstitious type, but after the curse strikes three times, he isn’t taking anymore chances. His new boyfriend, Noel Rivera, will have to be content with store bought gifts.

Yet as their relationship develops, Gabriel begins to believe Noel might be the perfect man for him. Noel doesn’t make fun of Gabriel’s holiday traditions and wants to create new traditions of their own. As Christmas draws closer, however, Gabriel sees signs of Noel pulling away, and he worries this relationship will be as big a mistake as the others. Are Noel’s late nights and secretive phone calls a sign he’s cheating? Or will the magic of Christmas bring Gabriel the love he’s been searching for all along? 

With the holiday nearly upon us, its safe to say that I have read more than a few tales of the season over the past thirty days or so.  Some might find themselves becoming even more critical when it comes to reviewing or what they are expecting well I am no more critical now than I was at Thanksgiving when I really started with this years holiday reading.  I like to think I keep an open mind all the way through and I was intrigued to read The Boyfriend Sweater Curse by Ari McKay.  I mean lets be honest, knitting is not a commonplace hobby for the younger males today so Gabriel's love of all things yarn really piqued my interest before even beginning.  And who doesn't love the element of a good curse?  Despite the dreaded sweater curse that Gabriel has potentially fallen victim to, this holiday tale is a delight.  Did the ending surprise me? No but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the journey that Gabriel and Noel took getting there.  Simply put: The Boyfriend Sweater Curse is a true gem that will warm your heart and make you smile.


Wild Bells by Charlie Cochrane
The Shade on a Fine Day
Curate William Church may set the hearts of the parish's young ladies aflame, but he doesn't want their affection or presents, no matter how much they want to give them to him. He has his sights set elsewhere, for a love he's not allowed to indulge. One night, eight for dinner at the Canon's table means the potential arrival of a ghost. But what message will the spirit bring and which of the young men around the table is it for?

The Angel in the Window
Two officers, one ship, one common enemy.

Alexander Porterfield may be one of the rising stars of the British navy, but his relationship with his first lieutenant, Tom Anderson, makes him vulnerable. To blackmail, to anxieties about exposure—and to losing Tom, either in battle or to another ship. When danger comes more from the English than the French, where should a man turn?

Original Review January 2017:
I absolutely love historicals and I love Charlie Cochrane's historicals so when Wild Bells showed up on my Kindle, I devoured  it like a starving man wandering the desert when he comes across a lone watering hole, unfortunately I just now got around to posting my review.  History can be a very wicked place and lets be honest, the past has not been kind to the LGBT community so I always find them as a helpful reminder that even though we as a society have a long way yet to go toward acceptance and equality, we've also come a long way too.  I always love when historical authors remind us of the severity of what they faced but I love it even more when its not used as a teaching lesson.  Charlie Cochrane has never written a lesson, if you walk away learning something then all the better, but that is not the goal.  She sets out to write a loving intriguing story that fits the time and that is what she has done once again with Wild Bells.

The Shade on a Fine Day is a wonderful blend of paranormal, history, and romance.  The Angel in the Window takes you to the sea with an interesting mix of history and romance.  Together they made me smile, laugh, go awww, with a little bit of worry, all of which had me captivated from beginning to end.  Charlie Cochrane's historicals may not have explicit passion compared to many authors but that doesn't mean the passion isn't there and trust me, explicit or not, Wild Bells left me breathless.


Dear Ruth by Kim Fieldings
Dear Ruth,
I’m not in the mood for Christmas. After a romantic relationship went up in flames, I returned to my hometown in rural Kansas. Then my mother passed away. I’m really busy with my job as fire marshal—and now with my mother’s advice column, which I reluctantly took over. There’s a sexy newcomer down the street, a guy with a young daughter and an unfortunate disregard for fire safety. He seems to want to be friends, but that creates problems that may be too hot for me to handle. The last things I need right now are flammable holiday decorations and too much holiday food. How am I supposed to give good advice to others when I can’t seem to get my own life straight?
—Bah Humbug in Bailey Springs 

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2017 Advent Calendar collection Stocking Stuffers.

Regret Me Not by Amy Lane
Pierce Atwater used to think he was a knight in shining armor, but then his life fell to crap. Now he has no job, no wife, no life—and is so full of self-pity he can’t even be decent to the one family member he’s still speaking to. He heads for Florida, where he’s got a month to pull his head out of his ass before he ruins his little sister’s Christmas.

Harold Justice Lombard the Fifth is at his own crossroads—he can keep being Hal, massage therapist in training, flamboyant and irrepressible to the bones, or he can let his parents rule his life. Hal takes one look at Pierce and decides they’re fellow unicorns out to make the world a better place. Pierce can’t reject Hal’s overtures of friendship, in spite of his misgivings about being too old and too pissed off to make a good friend.

As they experience everything from existential Looney Tunes to eternal trips to Target, Pierce becomes more dependent on Hal’s optimism to get him through the day. When Hal starts getting him through the nights too, Pierce must look inside for the knight he used to be—before Christmas becomes a doomsday deadline of heartbreak instead of a celebration of love.

Click to Check Out Previous
Random Tales of Christmas 2017

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4
Part 5  /  Part 6  /  Part 7

What Father Christmas Left by Felicitas Ivey
MY PARTNER Errol tells me that every year I lose my mind at the beginning of December and don’t get it back until mid-January. He may be right. But I always tell him I lost my mind long ago, and the holidays have nothing to do with my insanity. I then remind him of how we started dating, while telling him he’s as insane as I am for being with me.

When I was growing up, holidays weren’t for the family. My father partied and networked the entire time, for the good of his “business.” He was hungover and cranky for most of it, and there were more fights than fun at home because of that. The house always looked like what Hollywood imagined Christmas should look like, including empty, fake presents underneath the professionally decorated tree. Nothing homemade or “childish” was ever hung on it. The dinners and parties were catered, so the house never smelled like cooking. It was as if fairies were responsible for the whole thing, and just as unreal.

I was fourteen when the divorce happened. Mom and I moved out one day without any warning, followed by a couple of tense meetings with lawyers. And since my mother didn’t like Christmas, we never really celebrated it. Mom died right after I started college. With nothing to hold me at home, my senior semester abroad in England turned into me living here permanently, and then moving in with Errol after we had dated for a couple of months.

Today, the whole house smelled of spices, sugar, and chocolate from the baking I had done. The gingerbread men were various flavors besides the conventional ginger, including some green tea ones, because I was feeling daring and bored. Errol was on a business trip, and I was expecting him back tomorrow, Christmas Eve.

I was in the kitchen singing to some inane pop version of a traditional carol, decorating biscuits for the Yule gathering the next night. The biscuits were just a few of the things I had baked for the party, along with some mince and fruit tarts, fairy cakes, brownies, and a couple of different kinds of cakes, not including the fruitcakes I’d been soaking in rum and brandy for about a month. The fumes coming off them would make anyone drunk. Along with enough sweets to fill half a dozen Nutcracker ballets, I had a banquet of meat, seafood, veggies, and pasta to feed an army. Or all the men who were showing up for the party. Quiet time before the insanity of Christmas and Boxing Day with their families, and something Errol and I had been doing as long as we had been together.

I was pulling the last batch of gingerbread men out of the oven when the doorbell rang. I stopped singing, wondering if I was hearing things. I wasn’t expecting either a package or a visitor. I peered out the kitchen window, curious about who it could be.

Outside was a young lady in her teens. I blinked and then looked closer at her with a frown. I didn’t know why my younger sister Prudence was standing on my stoop, but I wasn’t going to get any answers unless I let her in.

I’d received a Christmas card from my father’s company every year, containing a “family” picture of him, Pru, and his current wife, which was the only reason I recognized her. I don’t know why I was still getting a company card, since I hadn’t talked to the man in almost a decade.

He was on his sixth marriage, with a woman who claimed to be younger than I am. He went through wives like they were a seasonal accessory, and they got younger and dumber each time.

I unlocked the door and opened it just as she went to jab the ringer again. She was trembling and exhausted, looking very ragged.


That was all I had to say. Pru started crying and fell over the threshold and into my arms, dropping the overnight bag she held. I caught her, and she wrapped her arms around me and didn’t let go as I shut the door behind her and then maneuvered the two of us to the sofa in the reception room at the back of the house.

Pru was my half sister, the product of our father’s third marriage. She was fifteen years younger than I was. While I didn’t talk to my father, I had kept track of Pru. We had exchanged e-mails for a couple of years, since it was something our father didn’t think to block or monitor. Most of the e-mails had been short notes about the things going on in her life and what was happening in mine. Nothing had prepared me for her showing up at my front door on Christmas, though.

“I’m sorry, Jacob,” she mumbled into my chest after crying for a couple of minutes.

She took after her mother, petite and pretty, with big blue eyes and blonde hair. I took after my mother’s family—huge, hulking men, who were big and ugly enough to scare small children when they smiled at them. Okay, I wasn’t that bad, but I knew I wasn’t good-looking. I was comfortable enough in my skin now to accept that, but it had been hard growing up. Father hadn’t thought of putting me on the company’s Christmas card even when we were still talking, since I hadn’t been attractive enough for him. That wasn’t something you should tell an eight-year-old, but he had.

“I didn’t know you had a passport,” I said inanely.

Pru giggled when I said that, a semihysterical, semirelieved sound. She probably thought I wouldn’t let her into my home, even after she had flown over the pond from America.

“They went on a trip for Christmas,” she said quietly. “I was told I should stay at school and not annoy them—either Dad or Mom. No one bothered to check if the place closed or anything for the holidays.”

I took a deep breath but didn’t say anything. Pru continued, relieved she finally had someone to talk to about how hurt she was. It probably also helped she was talking to my chest and not me.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone what they did, so I took the money they sent me instead of a present and figured out how to get a bus ticket and then a plane ticket here. I had a passport, because in the fall the school took us to Quebec for a trip. I figured coming here, even if you weren’t here, would be better than staying alone.”

“And you didn’t tell me because you didn’t want me to tell you no?” I asked Pru sadly.

She nodded against my chest.

“Let’s have a cuppa,” I announced. “Then I can make the bed in the guest room for you. A nap after you’ve had something to eat will be just the thing.”

“You don’t really know me, and you’re just going to let me stay?” Pru sat back and looked at me as if I were insane. She rubbed her eyes and looked so young and hurt. I wondered what the fuck had happened to make her think like that.

“You’re family,” I said. She was, and it was all that mattered.

“What’s a cuppa?” she asked me, blushing and looking down at the sofa.

“A cup of tea,” I explained to her. “I’m very British now. I think tea solves every problem, from a bad day to a terrorist attack.”

Pru smiled shyly at me when I said that. “Where’s Errol?” she asked me.

“Business trip,” I told her briskly. “He should be back late tonight.”

“He won’t mind?” Pru sounded embarrassed, as if she’d just realized I didn’t live alone.

“Errol would love to meet you,” I informed her. “He thinks I should have invited you over for a visit long before this.”

“I feel stupid now,” she mumbled. “I should have gone to a hotel.”

“Would anyone rent you a room? And is there even one available at this time of the year?” I asked. “You’re not even old enough to drive. You did the right thing coming here.” I refrained from commenting on our father. Pru didn’t need to hear it.

I shooed her into the kitchen, making her sit at the island that separated it from the rest of the living area. She looked around in wonder as I went over to shut off the radio and filled the kettle to make another pot of tea. The kitchen was all stainless steel and very professional looking, while the reception area was decorated in warm greens and browns. The furniture was modern and heavy with clean lines, built for two men who were very big. The table next to the garage door was covered with plates of cookies between Christmas decorations. There was a small tree in the far corner with some presents underneath it. The tree was tastefully decorated for the most part, and I was panicking over whether I should remove the penis-shaped candy canes right now or wait until later. Pru really wasn’t old enough to see such things. But then, until five minutes ago, my mental picture of her had her frozen at five, Christmas card photos or not.

“It smells wonderful,” she told me in wonder. “It’s like Christmas exploded in here.”

She clapped her hands over her mouth after she said that, as if she thought she had said something wrong instead of admiring my work.

“Errol thinks I’m insane,” I said with a smile, trying to put her at ease. “Are you hungry? You must be exhausted. It’s at least a ten-hour flight from where you are.”

Pru nodded and poorly hid a yawn behind her hands before putting them down. “I’m both.”

“I have some fresh-baked bread, and preserves,” I offered. “Just something to tide you over to tea.”

“Tea?” she repeated. “We’re having…. Oh, you mean the meal one, not the liquid one. It’s really a thing here? You… you sound so British. It sort of shows up in your e-mails with the way you word things, but you sound like you’ve never even been to America.”

“I make it one, since both Errol and I like to eat,” I said, grabbing the bread and bringing it over to the table. It was a boule, made to be ripped apart to be eaten. I took a couple of different pots of jam out of the refrigerator, grabbing some plates and putting them in front of her. “The jams are gooseberry and apple. I got them at the local market.”

“Did you bake the bread?” she asked, tearing off a chunk.

“I made it between batches of everything else,” I said. “I was home for a couple of weeks, so I think I went a little crazy on the baking.”

“It’s a really nice place,” she said shyly, dipping her head. “Even if the address was weird. What’s a mew?”

“It’s a British thing,” I explained. “Just like the ground floor is the American first floor. That, and the building called that used to be some sort of barn, so they call it ‘mews.’”

“Cats lived here?” she asked, smiling tentatively at me as if I would yell at her for the joke.

“Hunting hawks mostly, but where there are birds, there’re cats, so ‘mews’ works for me too,” I told her with a smile.

I went back to fiddle around with choosing a tea, something herbal and soothing so she would sleep. She didn’t need to be keyed up on caffeine now. She was overtired and frightened, which was why she was acting oddly, most likely. I didn’t want to think this was the way she normally acted, because it wasn’t good. It was as if she expected me to yell at her for any mistake she made. But knowing our father, he probably acted like that a lot, shouting at her and making her feel like shite whenever she was with him.

The kettle boiled, and I poured it into the pot and carried it over to the table with two mugs, milk, and some sugar on a tray. None of those artificial sugar substitutes for me, and Pru looked too skinny. Not the usual teenage girl “I need to be a size zero,” but more like she had been sick. “Have a cup of tea. It’s a nice mint mixture.”

Pru nodded, and after it steeped, I poured her a cup as she nibbled on the bread. I tore off a chunk for myself and slathered it with some of the gooseberry jam. “How’s school going?”

Pru grimaced and shrugged, trying to appear casual but failing. “It really never changes. I have to figure out what college I want to go to. Dad’s been threatening not to pay for it. I don’t know if Mom will either. Both of them think I can go someplace for spare change, and not even state colleges are really expensive. But he’s willing to pay for that school, so why shouldn’t he pay for college?”

“He said the same to me, even though it was in the divorce he had to pay for my college education,” I said. “So he paid for most of it, which still astonishes me. Granted, I didn’t go to an Ivy League, but it still wasn’t cheap. But is University something you want to do? Do you want to do a gap year and then Uni?”

“‘You’re not going to be a hippie like your brother,’” Pru said, mimicking our father. “‘You are going to get a real degree in a useful field and have a real job and make something of yourself.’”

I choked on the bread in my mouth, trying not to laugh. “I assure you, I’m not a hippie. But I wasn’t a business major, so my degree is useless to him.”

I had been an art history major with a minor in art preservation and museum work, with high marks in all areas. I worked at some of the numerous museums in London, doing textile preservation. Anything from an ancient tapestry to a mod Dior dress, I could fix it. It was fun and interesting, and I liked work that showed me I had built something that day, unlike a lot of office jobs.

“I like math,” Pru said quietly, as if it was something to be ashamed of. “But not accounting. I want to figure out why the numbers work.”

“Accounting’s like that, I’ve been told. At least that’s what the forensic accountant I dated kept telling me.”

“Isn’t Errol an accountant?” Pru asked me.

“Programmer,” I corrected her. “All the numbers he cares about are ones and zeroes. That’s why I manage the household accounts. He still thinks money’s magic and can’t balance his accounts to save his life. But he’s a great presenter, so he does get jobs. Someone else just finishes the details, like contracts and payments.”

Pru giggled at that, sipping at her tea. “Go back to whatever you were doing,” she said. “I don’t want to bother you.”

“You are not a bother,” I scolded her. “I’m glad you came.”

“You are?” she asked me, her eyes shining. “I… I felt so stupid when I got on the plane, I almost got off of it. I didn’t even know if you were home. Or if you wanted me here. Or—”

“Never think I don’t want you in my life,” I said to her, cutting her off. “You’re my sister. If I didn’t want you in my life, I wouldn’t have contacted you. I’m just mad that I waited so long to do it.”

“Dad was angry when I told him,” she said, tearing up a little. “At Thanksgiving. It slipped out. I’m not ashamed of you, but I didn’t want to have a scene. And us talking to each other would cause a scene when he found out. It seems everything I do will cause one. Tiffany thought you were being weird. But she’s not the sharpest pencil in the box. She looked really pissed I was with them for Thanksgiving. My mom called me, but as soon as she found out Dad didn’t like you e-mailing me, she thought it was the best thing in the world. But she sounded distracted. I think she has a new boyfriend, but then neither one of them can keep track of which holiday I’m supposed to spend with them, so both of them making plans without me isn’t new.”

Pru sniffed and quickly drank the rest of her tea, probably remembering her parents were united again, with both of them dumping her for Christmas because they didn’t care enough to bother to see what each other’s plans for the holidays were. She yawned again, looking worn with dark circles under her eyes.

“I think it’s time for someone to take a nap,” I announced, like she was five. But she needed to rest. I think getting to London had taken all the energy she had.

Pru nodded, and I went upstairs to make up the daybed. I put on the sheets and added a couple of quilts. I kept the house cool, and I didn’t want her to be chilled. I was finished when Pru walked up the stairs.

“There’s a full bath on this floor,” I said. “The master bedroom has its own, so you don’t have to deal with us stinky boys.”

Pru looked a little uncomfortable for a second. “I don’t want to be a—”

“Whatever shite you’ve been told, you aren’t a bother.”

Pru’s lip quivered, and I went to hug her. She sobbed once. I rocked her for a couple of minutes, rubbing her back. I wondered what a mess the current wife was making of Pru and why Father didn’t stop her. But then, he’d have to give a damn to stop something like that, and I knew he hadn’t for me. For all I knew, he was the one treating her like this.

“I’m bushed,” Pru said, stepping out of my arms after she had cried herself out again.

She wasn’t lying. She had come in on the red-eye and had probably been a bundle of nerves since she had bought her ticket.

“Take a nap, and then we’ll go out to get something to eat,” I promised her.

Dear Ruth by Kim Fieldings
It is with much sorrow that I announce the passing of my close friend, Becky Reynolds. Most of you knew Becky and are aware of the outstanding contributions she made to our community. She made Bailey Springs a better place for us all.

What most of you didn’t know, however, was that Becky was also a beloved columnist for this newspaper. As Dear Ruth, she provided valuable advice for over thirty years. I am sorry to announce that Dear Ruth is now on indefinite hiatus.

Becky is survived by her son, Bailey Springs Fire Marshal Bryce Reynolds, and by a large group of friends, students, and admirers. She enriched us all.
—Alma Bernard, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

“HOW ARE you holding up?”

Bryce didn’t answer right away. Instead he firmed his jaw, gazed out the window of Louella’s Café, and watched a few intrepid pedestrians brave the slippery sidewalk. He’d been placing bets with himself on the likelihood he’d end up rushing out to administer first aid, but so far he’d remained indoors, enduring Alma Bernard’s sharp scrutiny. Since Alma wasn’t going to grant him mercy, he sighed and turned to face her.

“I’m fine. I’m thirty-eight, which is plenty old enough to survive without my mommy.”

“I turn sixty-five next month, and I still miss mine every day.”

Bryce patted Alma’s hand. “I’m sorry. I’m being… I’m being an ass. You knew Mom longer than I did. Her death hit you hard too.”

“It did. And the stories I could tell you about our teenage years!” She smiled as she sipped her tea. Then she set her cup on the table and peered at Bryce through her purple-rimmed glasses. “I really do want to know how you’re doing, Bryce. Your mother would never forgive me if I let you pine away.”

“She’d probably come back and haunt us both.”


Regret Me Not by Amy Lane
The Morning After….
THE EVER-PRESENT shush of the sea echoed in his ears. Even before he was awake, Pierce Atwater knew that sound had haunted him in his dreams.

He yawned and stretched, the familiar aches of healing injuries pulling at his skin and muscles and the unfamiliar ache in his backside waking him up fully. Oh, hey. It had been a while since that happened.

With a heave, Pierce sat up entirely, getting his bearings. The beach house he’d lived in since Thanksgiving glowed as bright and gold as he remembered—too beautiful. Almost pristine.

His body, on the other hand—that felt well-used.

He turned and looked at the bed he’d just vacated, noting that it was rumpled and sex stained; lovemaking and sweat permeated the room.

Oh wow. Oh damn. What had he done?

A piece of paper—the ripped-off corner of a brown grocery bag—caught his attention on the other pillow of the king-sized bed.

Please don’t leave without saying goodbye—

Pierce stared at the note, only marginally prepared for the giant ache that bloomed in his chest.

Aw, Hal—you deserve so very much more.

He looked around the room again, eyes falling on the clock radio. He was supposed to leave in an hour—he’d told his sister specifically that he’d be in Orlando by lunch so he could bake cookies with her kids.

He looked at the note again and tried hard to breathe.

The Month Before
“SO YOU have the Lyft app, right?”

“Yeah, Sasha—don’t worry about me, okay?” Pierce regarded his younger sister fondly. She was made to be a mother—even if she came into being one a little young.

Sasha bit her lip, trying not to argue. She’d been such a sweet kid growing up—never saying boo to either of their rather domineering parents. She’d gotten pregnant right out of high school, and even though Marshall had stepped up and married her and they’d both managed to get their degrees, their parents… well, they’d never let Sasha live down what a disappointment she’d been. Or—their words—what a slut either.

Pierce had hated them long before Sasha got pregnant, but the way they’d tried to destroy her for a simple human failing had sort of sealed the deal.

But parenthood had made Sasha—and Marshall—a great deal stronger than they’d been as feckless teenagers, and while Sasha wouldn’t argue with her beloved older brother, she would discuss things she disagreed with.

“Pierce, you almost died,” she said quietly, her thin face suddenly lost in the pallor of anxiety and the cloud of fine dark hair she could never keep back in a ponytail. “I mean… I refuse to see Mom and Dad over the holidays because they’re just… just….”

“Awful,” he supplied with feeling. Yeah. He’d resolved not to put up with awful anymore.

“Toxic,” she agreed, leaning back against her aging SUV. Darius and Abigail were sleeping in the back seat after playing out in the surf under Pierce’s supervision while Marshall and Sasha moved Pierce into the condo. Pierce had worried—he couldn’t move very well without the cane these days, and what did he know about kids and water?

But mostly what they’d wanted to do was run away from the waves and collect shells, and the one time Abigail had been knocked on her ass into the surf, Pierce had bent down and picked her up by the hand before the pain even registered.

The move had hurt—but it had given him some hope. His doctors kept assuring him that he could get most of his mobility back if he kept active and remembered his aqua regimen. Picking Abigail up and reassuring her that Uncle Pierce wouldn’t let her drown gave him some confidence that his body might someday be back up to par. And the condo had a pool, which was why he’d taken his best friend Derrick’s offer to let him use it over the winter months while Pierce got his life together. Pierce was definitely in a position to follow his doctor’s advice.

So now, looking at his sister and thinking about how much self-assurance she’d had to grow to push a little into Pierce’s state of mind, he couldn’t be mad at her.

And he had to be honest.

“I’ll be grumpy and pissed off and bitter,” he said, letting his mouth twist into a scowl of disdain for the land of the living. He’d been fighting it off since Sasha picked him up at the airport. “It’s a good thing you made me get the car app, because seriously, I may have let myself starve to death. As it is, the groceries are going to keep me going for a good long time.”

Sasha’s eyes grew big and bright, and he took her hand and squeezed.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. None of it is your fault. You would have let me stay at your place forever, and I was getting in your way. This is good. I’ll hang out here, find a little peace, and when I go back to Orlando, I’ll be up for getting my own apartment and getting out of your hair, okay?”

“I’d never kick you out, Pierce,” she said miserably. “You know that.” She wiped the back of her hand across her big brown eyes. “You just… you got out of the hospital and—”

“And I was an awful fucking bastard,” he said with feeling. Oh God. The defining moment for calling up Derrick to take him up on his offer was when he’d heard his father’s words coming out of his mouth, telling his sister she was useless because she couldn’t help him off the couch without pain. “Sasha, you deserve better than me. You deserve better, period. I’m not going to hang around you and get in your way again until I’m decent company for human beings, okay?”

Sasha shook her head, still crying. “You were in pain,” she whispered. “And you were sorry right after. And you’ve done so much for me, Pierce. I can forgive you for being mean once when you did so much for me….”

He remembered the night she’d shown up at his apartment, in tears, practically hysterical, because she’d told the parents about an impending Darius and had been read the riot act about what a fuckup she was.

He’d taken her in—let her stay with him for a couple of months until she and Marshall scraped up enough money for rent and a car. She’d gotten a job, and Pierce had paid her tuition as she made her way through school. She had a career now—one she could work from home as a developmental editor of a small press. Marshall had his degree in software engineering, and together they made a good living—good enough to afford a guest bedroom and to put Pierce up for a month after the accident.

Pierce squeezed her hand now. “You listen to me,” he said gruffly. “You don’t owe me a thing. You’re the only family I want to see—pretty much ever. So just let me work shit out in my own head, and I’ll come back for Christmas a whole new man, okay?”

“I like the one you are right now!” she said staunchly, and then she threw herself in his arms and held on tight. “Love you, big brother,” she whispered, and Marshall stood behind her, guiding her away.

“Love you too,” he said belatedly, and Marshall turned and shook his hand firmly.

“Come back when you promised, okay?” Marshall was just as slight as Sasha—two small, mild-mannered people getting along in a bright, brash world. Pierce had always fancied himself their champion knight—he couldn’t be that as he was.

He had to make himself better.

“Christmas Eve,” Pierce vowed. “Don’t worry, Marshall. Nobody likes being alone on Christmas.”

Marshall shrugged. “We wouldn’t be alone, Pierce. We just don’t want you to be.”

With that, the guy Pierce and Sasha’s parents had driven off their property with a baseball bat guided a disconsolate Sasha into the old vehicle and piloted it away.

As soon as they’d left the parking lot, Pierce allowed his shoulders to sag and dragged his sorry ass to the back door of the condo.

He crawled into bed and stayed there until he absolutely had to get up and pee the next morning.

STAYING IN bed for sixteen hours had consequences—he almost didn’t make it to the bathroom, he was so sore. After he’d taken care of business and washed down a granola bar, he realized he was going to have to be serious about that pool thing, or he really could end up curling into a ball and dying in a beach condo in Florida.

For a moment he contemplated it—he’d always been the kind of guy to consider all the angles—but eventually he decided he wouldn’t go quickly enough and managed a pair of board shorts and a T-shirt. As he walked through the tiled hall of the condo, he realized the tile was going to destroy his body almost as quickly as the inactivity, and made a mental note to buy some rubber mats at the very least, so he’d have some padding for his joints. Derrick had said to make himself at home—ergonomic home decorating was a go!

Just as soon as he got into the… ahhh… pool.

Heated, of course, and a perfect counterpoint to a cool day in the high fifties/low sixties. He’d set his phone on a lounge chair, playing something disgustingly upbeat and perky, and went about doing the exercises he and his physical therapist had worked on.

Actual physical motor activity really did have magical properties—it must have. He was working up a head of steam, the resistance and buoyancy of the water supporting his body as he used active stretching techniques, when a voice cut into his workout Zen.

“If you don’t straighten your back, you’ll be in a world of hurt!”

Crap. Whoever that was, he was right.

Pierce adjusted his form and then looked over his right shoulder, from whence the voice—deep and sharp and young—had issued.

“Thanks,” he said briefly, taking in the sprawled form of what looked to be a teenager wearing board shorts, a leopard-print bathrobe, and giant aviator sunglasses, lounging in one of the chaises. Dark hair, faintly sun streaked, was cut almost Boy Scout short around an adorable frat boy face. His hands were sort of a mess, loosely wrapped in gauze, but other than that, he was as untouched as a virgin’s dreams.

“Dude, what in the hell are you listening to? This shit.” The boy shuddered. “I’m saying. I bet you could work up a sweat if you had decent music.”

“It’s a mix,” Pierce said weakly, feeling old and slow. “I just hit an easy button, you kn—”

“I’ll get you a better sound,” the kid said, picking up the phone. “What’s your password?”

Pierce gave it to him and then stopped dead in the water and almost drowned. He was in the deep end, and he had to work to stay afloat and—

“Don’t spaz,” the kid said on a note of deep disgust. “My phone’s in the condo, and I could give a shit about your passwords. Jesus, if I was a hacker genius, I’d be someplace warm, you think?”

Pierce took a deep breath, and suddenly Katy Perry came blaring out of his phone. Well, okay, so everybody had heard this song; it did make him want to work harder. Pierce was calling it a win.

“Thanks,” he said again, panting now because he was moving faster.

The kid shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. You gonna be here tomorrow?”

“Yeah, but—”

“Same time?”

“Yeah.” ’Cause why not. Nothing better to do, right? No job, no wife, no life?

“Good. I’ll see you here with better music. Now stop doing that water walk thing and do a mountain climber—come on—I know you can.”

Pierce glared at him—and switched the move.

“There you go. Now follow my pace. You can go faster.” The kid started clapping, and Pierce struggled to keep up.

“I can’t… do… that…,” he gasped. He expected attitude back, because the kid had given him nothing but, and he was surprised when the clapping slowed.

“Sorry. You just look younger than this pace.”

Pierce had his back to the kid, but he had the sensation of a thorough visual once-over. He adjusted to the new pace and found his wind again. “Car accident,” he managed, trying not to be offended.

“Aw… aw hell. I’m sorry. I’m being an ass. I should just leave you to your workout.”

“No,” Pierce called out, stopping to tread water and cool down enough to talk. “Sorry—just… I was getting a workout. I suck doing this alone.” He kept his arms and legs moving and found the kid on the side of the pool again—he’d moved from where Pierce had first spotted him to stand right in front of the line Pierce was using to go back and forth.

“Yeah, well, being alone sort of sucks on all fronts,” the kid said philosophically. “I’ll try not to be an ass if you try to do a hard workout, how’s that?”

Pierce found himself nodding, even though he’d only come out to the pool out of what he deemed necessity. “Deal,” he panted.

“Okay, now back to mountain climbers. I’ll set the pace, and if it’s too fast, cry uncle.”

“Groovy,” Pierce breathed, positioning himself to go. “Now shoot.”

The kid put him through a decently difficult workout, adjusting for the things Pierce couldn’t do yet and pushing him hard in the stuff he could. After forty-five minutes, Pierce was starting to cramp up, though, and the kid had him stretch out.

Good stuff, really—the blue freedom of the water, the structure of the workout, and the congeniality of dealing with another human being without bitterness or backstory served as sort of a purge—some of the self-pity Pierce had wallowed in for the past sixteen hours was rinsed away.

But not all of it.

He was getting out of the pool when the damage in his calf and thigh screamed protest, and he groaned and grabbed on to the rail. The kid was right there, though, stepping into the water regardless of his pricey flip-flops and the hem of his leopard-print bathrobe.

“Uh-oh—overdid it. C’mon, let me help you to the hot tub. I’ll give you a rubdown, okay?”

“No,” Pierce grunted, suddenly aware of this kid. Lean and narrow but defined practically by muscle group, his body was a work of art, and Pierce didn’t even know if he was of age. And even if he was of age, he was too damned young for Pierce.

“No hot tub?” the kid asked sharply. “Or no gay guy touching you?”

Pierce’s face heated. “No hot teenager touching me?” he mumbled, limping toward the steamy goodness of the little spa and trying not to lean too much into the kid’s strong arms.

The youngster’s throaty chuckle didn’t reassure him in the least. “I’m twenty-three, old man, so cool your jets. Besides, I’m”—his voice dropped sadly, and the suddenly vulnerable look on his frat boy face made him look even younger—“well, I’d like to become a massage therapist, but I’ve only got half the coursework and hours done. Seriously, though, I’m halfway a professional, and I’m pretty good, so maybe let me work out the cramp in your leg?” He smiled winningly and used his free hand to lift his shades so he could bat a pair of admittedly limpid and arresting amber-brown eyes. “After all, I did work you over pretty hard.”

Pierce rolled his eyes at the double entendre, but as he reached for the rail of the hot tub, he had to concede that having his leg worked on would make the whole working-out thing feel like less of a mistake.

“Yeah, sure,” he muttered, taking the steps creakily one at a time. “Sure, you can squeeze my muscles till I scream.”

The kid chuckled again, inviting Pierce in on the laugh. “So you’re happy to let me rub one out on you?”

Pierce groaned. “God, kid, I can hardly walk. No sex jokes until I can make it out of the pool without collapsing.”

“So there can be sex jokes. Eventually. I just want to make sure.” Very gingerly the kid lowered Pierce until he was sitting. After he straightened, he scampered up the steps and pulled off his sodden robe, laying it out on the chaise to dry, and kicked off his ruined leather sandals.

“Oh geez.” Pierce thought of the massacre of perfectly good shoes and robe and was attacked by his conscience, which he’d assumed was dormant or dead. “Kid, I’m sorry about the clothes—”

“Don’t be.” He shrugged. “They’re my old man’s, and since he kicked me out of the house for Christmas, he can pretty much kiss off his super classy robe and huaraches, you hear me?”

Pierce wasn’t sure whether to chuckle or be horrified. “Just for Christmas?” he asked, making sure.

He lowered the sunglasses over his eyes again, probably to help him look insouciant when he was—in all likelihood—wounded. “Folks were having important political friends over. I’m a gay embarrassment, so I got the beach house. Last year they were in Europe, and I got the beach house with my boyfriend and we fucked like lemmings. No boyfriend this year.”

“The lemmings are safe?” Pierce asked, sympathies reluctantly stirred. Parents who judged their kids for sexual activity? He knew those assholes! Pierce and Sasha had grown up with their very own set.

Kid laughed, sounding young and happy instead of casual and cynical. Pierce liked the sound. “Here, let me rub your leg down—I promised.”

Pierce grunted. “Kid—”


“Like the computer?”

Hal stared at him, unimpressed. “Oh dear, a Space Odyssey joke. I’ve never heard one of those, given that I’ve had this stupid name since birth. Now give me your leg.”

Pierce complied, startled by the venom. “Well, I could call you ‘Prince Hal,’ like—”

“King Henry the Fifth? Like in the Branagh movie?”

Pierce racked his brains, trying to remember. “I thought Branagh just did Hamlet,” he said, confused.

Hal gasped and wrapped his hands around Pierce’s ankle. “Heathen! How could you not know about the Branagh King Henry? He was young and still faithful and downright adorable!”

As he spoke, Hal worked his capable, agile fingers up Pierce’s leg—between that and the hot, bubbling water, Pierce’s entire body was melting like chocolate in the sun.

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.

Ari McKay
Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who collaborate on original m/m fiction. They began writing together in 2004 and finished their first original full length novel in 2011. Recently, they’ve begun collaborating on designing and creating costumes to wear and compete in at Sci Fi conventions, and they share a love of yarn and cake.

Arionrhod is an avid costumer, knitter, and all-around craft fiend, as well as a professional systems engineer. Mother of two human children and two dachshunds who think they are human, she is a voracious reader with wildly eclectic tastes, devouring romance novels, military science fiction, horror stories and Shakespeare with equal glee. She is currently preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.

Charlie Cochrane
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

Her Cambridge Fellows series of Edwardian romantic mysteries were instrumental in seeing her named Speak Its Name Author of the Year 2009. She’s a member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and International Thriller Writers Inc.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.

Kim Fielding
I have lived in Illinois, Oregon, Nebraska, and Croatia, but for a long time now I've called the boring part of California home. I have a husband, two daughters, a day job as a university professor, and a passion for travel. I write in many genres--contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, historical--but no matter when and where my stories are set, I love complex worlds and complicated characters. I think that often it's a person's flaws that make him stronger and more beautiful.

Amy Lane
Amy Lane dodges an EDJ, mothers four children, and writes the occasional book. She, her brood, and her beloved mate, Mack, live in a crumbling mortgage in Citrus Heights, California, which is riddled with spiders, cats, and more than its share of fancy and weirdness. Feel free to visit her website or blog, where she will ride the buzz of receiving your e-mail until her head swells and she can no longer leave the house.

Felicitas Ivey
EMAIL: Felicitas.Ivey@gmail.com

Ari McKay

Charlie Cochrane
EMAIL:  cochrane.charlie2@googlemail.com

Kim Fielding
EMAIL: kim@kfieldingwrites.com

Amy Lane
EMAIL:  amylane@greenshill.com

What Father Christmas Left by Felicitas Ivey
The Boyfriend Sweater Curse by Ari McKay

Wild Bells by Charlie Cochrane

Dear Ruth by Kim Fielding

Regret Me Not by Amy Lane

Promo Tour: Miracle on Aisle Two by Beth Carter

Title: Miracle on Aisle Two
Author: Beth Carter
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday Romance
Release Date: November 1, 2017
Fired two weeks before Christmas, distraught single mom Madison wonders how she’ll afford to pay for her young daughter’s Christmas gifts and still keep a roof over their heads. Sleigh bells and twinkling lights are the last thing on her mind—until a handsome stranger intervenes.

Successful architect Adam Donovan dives into his work by renovating an elaborate hotel after his wife leaves him. He barely notices it’s Christmastime until he overhears a young mother’s tearful plea. Stepping in makes Adam feel like Old Saint Nick himself.

Will Madison and Adam find holiday joy—and possibly love—after discovering Adam’s secret or will it tear them apart?

Two weeks before Christmas, Madison rushed to work excited about her office Christmas party. In the passenger seat sat her favorite go-to holiday recipe, chocolate-covered cashew clusters. All ten of her co-workers at the dental clinic loved her homemade candy and insisted she bring the same treat year after year.

Dressed in a black Christmas sweater featuring a smiling Santa with an extremely long white, furry beard, Madison hummed along to Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas as she anticipated the secret Santa gift exchange. Employees always brought a wrapped five dollar gift, drew numbers, and either opened a new present or stole one of their co-worker’s gifts. Last year she ended up with a goofy sock monkey. The upside was her five-year-old daughter, Betsy, had loved it.

At a stop light, Madison checked her sparkly red lipstick. She loved the holidays—and parties. This is going to be one of those perfect days. I can feel it.

After she parked, Madison frowned as she glanced around the almost-empty lot, plus the dental office appeared dark. That’s weird. I wonder if this is some sort of surprise party where everyone is hiding inside and had to park elsewhere. If so, I missed the memo.

Madison drove to the corner of the lot just in case, parked, and lifted her container of chocolate cashews. As she stepped over a pot hole, a gold bell atop Santa’s red stocking cap jingled. Usually, the sound made her happy and festive. But today, something was off.

As she approached the steps, she squinted when she spotted a handwritten note on the front door.

Author Bio:
After being a bank vice president and a hospital public relations director, Beth Carter shed her suits, heels, and waved good-bye to corporate America to pen novels and children’s picture books.

Winner of the 2017 RAVEN Award, 2015 RONE Award, and named Best Debut Author in 2015, Carter writes rollercoaster romance and women’s fiction.

Her debut, THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS, received two coveted awards. The author received Favorite Contemporary runner-up in 2017 for her contemporary romance SLEEPING WITH ELVIS. Carter has a Christmas novelette, SANTA BABY in an eight-author collection, SIZZLE IN THE SNOW. Her first novella is MIRACLE ON AISLE TWO.

Carter’s four children’s picture books include SOUR POWER, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE?, THE MISSING KEY, AND SANTA’S SECRET.

Additionally, the author has several short stories and poems published in five anthologies. Her six-word memoirs appear in numerous collections alongside famous writers and celebrities. Beth Carter was born and raised in the Midwest. She and her husband divide their time between Missouri and Florida.


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