Thursday, December 21, 2017

Random Tales of Christmas 2017 Part 9

I'll Run Away for the Holidays by Stephani Hecht
Scott is about to find out that sometimes the best Christmas gifts are the ones that have always been right in front of your face.

Scott Cooper has never liked the holidays. So when his best friend, Madison, asks him to travel to her childhood home to celebrate Christmas, he can't refuse fast enough. Just as Scott is getting adjusted to the idea of having to deal with her crazy family, another one of Madison's relations joins in for the car trip; her very sexy, very younger brother, Anson.

Now Scott finds himself working hard to manage all the crazy Madison's family is dealing out, while fighting his new found attraction to Anson. In the meantime, he has to face a suddenly jealous Madison, who is upset that she's about to lose her best friend to her little brother. Plus, Grandpa and Drunk Aunt Nora and the Christmas tree have gone missing.

But, Holiday miracles can happen to anyone, or so Scott would like to believe. For it would take true magic for him and Anson to survive with their sanity intact, let alone for them to find a happily ever after.

The Werewolf Before Christmas by Charles Payseur
Ray seems like the perfect boyfriend—he’s gorgeous, incredibly romantic, and has a mechanical suit he invented to become the dastardly MantaRay. For Alec, who also spends his nights making life difficult for do-gooders everywhere, it’s a match made in supervillain heaven. Except that Ray is a bit too into the hit soap opera All My Werewolves. When tempers flare during what’s supposed to be a quiet night out, Alec nearly ruins everything over a stupid bet with an alien gorilla.

Desperate to prove his feelings to Ray, and with Christmas fast approaching, Alec decides the fastest way to Ray’s heart is to embrace the thing that threatens to divide them—a certain werewolf show with a certain actor who Ray admires. A simple kidnapping promises to do the trick, only fur (and fandom) fly when Alec’s romantic gesture leads to a very hairy situation. Can Alec prove to Ray how much their relationship means to him, or will his plans be ruined by the werewolf before Christmas?

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

I've got to start by saying that if you are looking for something a little different for your holiday reading than The Werewolf Before Christmas is definitely worth reading.  With superhero/villain movies and comic books popping up everywhere and being the latest craze, it only seems fitting that we get one in our Christmas novella shelves.  But don't think Werewolf is your typical superhero story because its not, the author doesn't really give us superheroes but the villains instead and not the evil garden variety type that has become commonplace in Hollywood.  No, MantaRay and Alec Azam(which I'm adult enough to admit it took me a few minutes to get the full effect of the name) are fun villains and even though he's pushed into by fellow baddie, GorillaLord, Alec is determined to prove to Ray how important he is to him with a huge Christmas stunt.  Throw in the hit soap, All My Werewolves and Ray's favorite actor from the show and Alec thinks he found the perfect stunt to prove his heart to Ray.

HOLY HANNAH BATMAN!(Or should I say HOLY HANNAH MANTARAY!) Talk about a delightful holiday ditty.  As I'm writing this I just discovered that The Werewolf Before Christmas is actually the third Superhero/Villain story in the author's series Spandex and Superpowers.  I guess I have to go back and read the first two because this universe that Charles Payseur has created is fun, intriguing, and just plain old-fashioned entertainment with just the right amount of lusty WOW to get the adrenaline pumping.  So whether you are looking for something different or not I highly recommend Werewolf because its brilliantly entertaining that left me smiling from beginning to end.


A Very Henry Christmas by NR Walker
A 12,000 word short story about food, fluff, and fornication. 

Henry wants to share his and Reed’s first Christmas Eve being engaged by hosting dinner with their closest friends. Henry loves food and he loves to cook—he plans an entire menu and decorates the house to rival a department store, but even though everything’s perfect, something’s not quite right. 

As Henry and Reed prepare for a merry Christmas, no matter what happens, you know it will be a very Henry Christmas. 

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

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

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

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

Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Brandon Witt
Fifty-six-year-old Samuel Phillips is all alone on his small farm in the Ozarks, with nothing but a menagerie of chickens, pheasants, turkeys, and other birds as company—which is just the way he likes it. In fact, if Samuel had his way, he’d tear down his neighbor’s house so his solitude could be absolute. One day Faloola, his favorite turkey, escapes, forcing Samuel to make the trek next door. When Raymond Webber—sixty-seven—answers the door as naked as the day he was born, Samuel doesn’t know whether he’s more annoyed… or attracted. The two men are opposites in every way—Samuel is serious, while Raymond believes in free love and herbal relaxation. The weeks leading up to Christmas are rocky to say the least, but some holiday spirit might help them get past their differences….

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

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Random Tales of Christmas 2017

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4
Part 5  /  Part 6  /  Part 7  /  Part 8

I'll Run Away for the Holidays by Stephani Hecht
Chapter 1
There has to be a certain irony to listening to "White Christmas" while surrounded by palm trees, green grass, and a bright, hot sun.

Not that Scott yearned for his childhood days of blistering cold, wet snow, and icy roads. Not by a long shot. He much preferred sandy beaches, the crashing ocean, and a cabana boy or two. So why in the hell he'd allowed his friend Madison to talk him into going home to Michigan for the holidays was beyond him.

To make matters worse, they were driving all the way from Florida to her parents' place. Which meant a mind-numbing seventeen hours cooped up in the car with nothing more to occupy his mind than her endless chatter. While he and Madison may have been friends since the fifth grade, and he loved her more than anybody, it would be a strain even for him. To say Madison had a tendency to ramble on about inane topics would be an understatement.

"Will you cheer up? This is going to be fun," Madison admonished as she hefted a large suitcase into her bright yellow VW Bug. It had a rainbow bumper sticker that read, I do support gay marriage. She listed to the right and almost fell, no doubt because the luggage looked as if it weighed more than she did. Scott didn't think she tipped the scales at much more than one hundred pounds.

"You remember how cold it gets in Michigan this time of year?" he asked as he rushed over to help her load the rest of the luggage. A hippie stuck in modern times, she styled her hair in thick braids and only dressed in long peasant skirts. For the trip, Madison had decided to wear a bright rainbow pattern and her favorite pair of platform sandals. Since she could barely walk in the things, Scott seriously worried that if she did too much bending or twisting, she'd end up with a broken ankle before they even started the journey. Knowing his luck, she'd expect him to carry her in his arms for the duration of the holidays.

"Of course I remember what it's like back home." She blew her blonde bangs off her face as she leaned against the car. "It's a hell of a lot cooler than here. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of the heat."

"Cooler?" Scott echoed, incredulously. "I checked the weather report. This morning it was five below zero. I would much rather be sunbathing than freezing my balls off."

Madison went on like she hadn't heard his negativity. A wistful smile spread out over her overly-glossed lips. "There's snow at home."

"That we'll probably get stuck shoveling."

"We can go ice skating."

"We'll probably fall through the ice and die from hypothermia."

"Oh, and we can make snow angels." She clasped her hands together and gave a squeal of excitement.

"And get snow up the back of our shirts. Do you remember how uncomfortable that is?"

She finally turned on him, her eyes bright with fury. "Would it kill you to be happy just once in your grouchy, boring little life?"

Ouch, that hurt, because it had a hard ring of truth. He refused to let it show, though, even to her. Instead of answering her outright, he just plastered on the biggest, fakest smile he could muster. That only incited her further. Letting out a low growl, she stepped forward and flicked him on the forehead.

"Hey, whatever happed to peace and love?" he exclaimed as he rubbed away the pain.

"Suck it," Madison snapped before she spun on her heels, wobbled for a second, then regained her balance enough to stomp off to the driver's side.

"Someone needs to spend more time staring at their lava lamp so they can unwind a bit," Scott muttered before he went to the passenger side.

As he buckled up, Scott took Madison's advice of trying to be happy, no matter how twisted the delivery may have been. He started with the fact that she drove the newer edition of the VW Bug. More leg room, airbags, and a working radio were all good things. Then he reminded himself how good a cook her mother was. Granted he hadn't had her turkey and stuffing for three years, but he'd be willing to bet it still tasted as rich and moist as ever. Plus, her aunt made the best eggnog in all of Michigan. Which reminded him...

"Is your drunk Aunt Nora going to be there?"

A wry smile twisted Madison's lips. "Yeah, although since she was due to get there this morning I don't know if she's had time to drink enough to qualify as intoxicated yet."

"You're kidding, right? Last time I stayed over, she offered to make me a Bloody Mary for breakfast," he drawled as he reached over and turned down the radio. At the moment he really didn't want to listen about Rudolph or his eight little friends.

"See, that's because she doesn't like you," Madison replied simply as she started the car.

"Why? Does she only offer booze to people she hates?"

"No, she gives out alcohol to everyone. But, she saves her good drinks for those who she considers better."

Even though he knew he'd be walking straight into her verbal trap, he asked, "So, what did she offer you?"

"A mimosa, with her most expensive champagne." Madison gave a smug grin as she pulled out into traffic.

"I still can't believe that I'm going back there after the whole..." He trailed off, not able to utter that horrible phrase.

"The Myrtle incident?" Madison finished, because unlike him she didn't associate one of the worst days of her life with those three words.

"Yes, I didn't think any of your family ever wanted to ever see me again." He didn't add that Anson would be top on that list.

"I'm sure they're over that. After all, Myrtle was just a pet turtle and he was getting old." Madison shrugged.

"That's easy for you to say since you weren't the one who ran him over." Scott could still hear Madison's mother's screams, the look of hurt and horror on Anson's face as he gazed down at the shattered remains of his beloved pet.

After a few moments, Scott noticed she'd failed to get off the exit for the freeway. "Where are we going?"

"I promised Mom I'd pick up Anson."

Madison shot him an apologetic glance as he groaned. Speak of the devil. The last time he'd seen Madison's little brother had been on that trip three years ago. Despite living minutes apart, the two men avoided each other and with good reason since their last encounter dealt with the skinny, awkward teen making a pass at Scott. While Scott had tried his best to let the kid down easy, there were still hard feelings between them. It didn't help matters that said pass occurred just moments before the whole turtle-cide. Of course Madison knew nothing about the previous incident, since the last thing Scott felt comfortable saying was, Hey, guess where your baby brother tried to put his hands? As far as she knew, Scott and Anson just disliked each other because of Myrtle.

"Anson's not so bad now that he's off his World of Warcraft kick," Madison assured him.

"Did college life get in the way of his gaming lifestyle?"

Scott silently cursed every mile that now separated them from Michigan. It was going to be bad enough before, but now that he had Sir Eager-But-Slobbery-Kiss along for the ride, it was going to take everything he had to keep on a cheerful face. Maybe he'd get lucky and Anson would sleep all the way there.

"He's decided to major in pre-med, so he's really cracking down. I barely convinced him to come home at all, especially since he knew we would be driving because of my fear of flying."

"How did you persuade him?"

"I kind of guilted him into it by reminding him this is going to be the first Christmas since Grandma died. I explained that Grandpa would need all of us." She nervously chewed on her bottom lip, showing how bad she felt about manipulating Anson. Madison had always been easy for Scott to read.

"Wasn't your grandpa the grumpy guy who kept asking me if I had sugar in my gas tank?"

She gnawed even more on her lip. "Yeah, but I'm sure he didn't mean anything insulting by it."

"Right." Scott drew the word out slowly, so she caught the gist of his disbelief.

"Besides, I don't think he'll say anything like that this time. Not since Anson came out to the family."

Scott had to admit she may have a point there. Since they all thought that their darling Anson could do no wrong, the whole family was probably on board the gay parade float now. As the youngest child, they all coddled and doted on Anson. Which was probably why the kid was such a little brat.

"Does Anson still say dude all the time and wear those ridiculous T-shirts?"

Madison chuckled. "Not so much anymore, he mostly gave that stuff up around the same time he lost his online gaming habit. He's really matured. I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised."

Somehow Scott seriously doubted that, but he kept his opinion to himself. The topic switched to small, non-important things until they pulled into the large college campus. The place seemed to be strangely deserted. There were hardly any people rushing around the sidewalks and only a few cars parked along the street.

"Most of the kids already left a couple weeks ago when the winter break started," Madison answered his unspoken question.

"I would have thought Anson would have been eager to get home, so why is he still here?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. He's been acting strange lately. I almost had as hard a time talking him into going home as I did you. Ever since this summer, he hasn't been himself."

She parked the car, but left it running. "You stay here and I'll go in and get him. Anson is such a slow poke we'll be waiting out here forever if I don't hurry him along."

After she left, Scott busied himself by trying to find a decent radio station, only to discover that each and every one seemed to be playing holiday music. "Little Drummer Boy." No. "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Not again, since he'd already suffered through it twice on the ride over. "Frosty the Snowman." Damn it, couldn't that guy melt already? "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." Hell, no! Not even if he'd actually been in the holiday spirit.

He finally found a station playing eighties' songs. With a sigh of relief, he closed his eyes and let himself get lost in the familiar beat of "West End Girls." Niiiiiice...he'd take this over Rudolph any day.

A loud knock on the window jerked Scott out of his appreciation for the Pet Shop Boys. Looking at the source, he saw a tall, muscular, blond, gift-from-the-gods man standing by the passenger side window.

"Looks like Santa brought my Christmas present early," Scott mumbled before he rolled down the window.

The blond cocked his head slightly to the side before he leaned in closer. From the new angle, Scott could see how the man's eyes were the deepest blue. His cock swelled in appreciation. He'd always had a thing for blond hair and blue eyes. This newcomer could not have met his wet dreams more perfectly.

Then the guy opened his trap. "Dude, you haven't changed one bit in three years."

Scott's mouth dropped as he shook his head. No, no, no! This had to be some sick kind of joke. "Anson?" he croaked out around a suddenly dry throat.

"Were you expecting someone else?" Anson asked, his full lips twisting in a crooked grin.

Damn, no one should have a smile that sexy and cute.

"No, it's just that you don't look like...well, you," Scott stammered like some kind of idiot.

"Three years is a long time, Scotty, plus I've been eating both my spinach and Wheaties."

The sarcastic comment hit Scott like a snowball to the face. Well, it was obvious that, while Anson may have done some growing up on the outside, inside still lurked a little brat. Scott started to tell him as much, but Madison returned.

"There you are," she called from the sidewalk. "I went to your room so I could help you carry your luggage."

Anson straightened up. The move made sure his groin came exactly level with Scott's face. Despite himself, Scott couldn't help but notice how large and tempting the denim-covered bulge appeared.

"I have only one bag," Anson called back, appearing to be completely oblivious to the situation into which he'd just placed Scott.

Madison frowned. "Aren't you planning to stay for the rest of your winter break?"

Anson laughed, and if Scott wasn't mistaken, the kid seemed to lean in more so his cock moved closer. All Scott would have to do was turn his face and he could practically kiss the thing. Unwanted, the image of him doing exactly that popped into his head. He could almost see himself slowly lowering Anson's zipper, then pulling out the man's dick so he could fully worship it. And he could almost hear the sweet noises Anson would make as he got sucked off. Would he be one of those low-moaning types? Or maybe the kind who lets out breathless gasps?

"I think a few days of family fun are all I'm going to be able to stomach," Anson answered Madison. "Unless I want to become a raging alcoholic like Aunt Nora."

"Well, we wouldn't want that," she returned easily.

Anson swiveled his hips so his cock nearly brushed against Scott's face. Okay there was no doubt that the brat was doing it on purpose. Scott felt torn between getting pissed off, or from letting out a groan of appreciation. Because even he couldn't help but admit, Anson had grown up very nicely.

"Yeah, because if I became like Auntie, it would be me who ran around with underwear on the outside of my pants for the first part of Christmas day. I still have flashbacks to the year I got to see Nora's Victoria Secret's G-strings way too many times." Anson gave a grin that could only be called adorable.

"That must have made for a memorable holiday," Scott drawled as he flicked Anson in the thigh, just inches from his erection.

Anson yelped and took a step back. "Especially if I wear a bright pink thong, like Aunt Nora did on Christmas eve. Not even Santa could love her in that get-up."

Scott's stomach did a slow turn of revulsion. "The last time I saw her, she was like twenty pounds underweight and had a huge mess of red hair."

Madison cocked a brow. "And your point is?"

"I just can't imagine anyone wanting to see her in any kind of lingerie, let alone a pink thong," Scott said lamely. He didn't add that Nora also had the body of a twelve year old boy and buck teeth that would make a horse proud.

"He does have a point, sis," Anson cut in. "Pink clashes so horribly with red hair. Nora should pick a different color. Maybe a bright blue or a soft purple?"

"As interesting as this conversation is, we should probably get going," Scott cut in. In all the years that he'd known the siblings, he'd learned that they could babble for hours if allowed. Each one trying to out-bullshit each other. While it did annoy him, it also caused a slight bite of jealously since he knew he'd never have that kind of carefree relationship with his own brother. The last time he and Jared spoke more than a half dozen words to each other had been back in high school.

Anson gave him another one of those damn grins before going to the back of the car and throwing his suitcase into the trunk. He came around and somehow managed to fold his large frame into the tiny backseat of the car. Once he got settled, he leaned back and studied Scott.

Scott swallowed hard as he felt Anson's gaze practically leave behind a heated path. Damn, Anson may have well been wearing a shirt that begged fuck me with the open desire that stood evident on his face. He even had the audacity to run his tongue over his lips, like he was just waiting for a chance to lean forward and take a bite. To Scott's horror, he found himself mimicking the motion, his gaze riveted on Anson's full mouth. Madison, for her part, seemed oblivious to the sexual tension as she got in and started up the engine. She looked over at Scott, a beaming grin on her face.

"Are we ready for the long drive?"

Afraid of being caught basically drooling over his BFF's little bro, he jerked his head forward and gave a dumb nod. "Yeah, I think we're all good to go."

"Cheer up, Scott. This is going to be a great Christmas. I just know it." She gave him a mock punch in the arm.

Scott glanced up in the visor mirror and met Anson's gaze in the reflection. The younger man gave a slow wink, a wicked grin spreading out over his face as he ran the palm of his hand over his cock.

At that point Scott realized the trip and Christmas holiday would be a whole lot longer than he'd anticipated.

The Werewolf Before Christmas by Charles Payseur
THE SINISTER Plan was packed, but most of the bar patrons were crowded around the big-screen television in the front, leaving the back a bit more open, except for those who were so large that they would otherwise block everyone’s view of the latest episode of All My Werewolves. And, of course, Alec Azam, who sat absently twirling his short mustache with one hand and drinking from a quickly depleting glass with the other.

“I just can’t understand how you can watch this,” Alec said, rolling his eyes as the bar erupted in cheers as two of the characters embraced for a sultry kiss, only to be broken midway through by a slap, a round of shouting, and a subsequent werewolf battle. “The show isn’t accurate with regards to werewolves. At all. It’s not even a full moon out. It looks to be the middle of the day.”

“These are science werewolves,” Ray said, his gaze not leaving the screen, “not magic werewolves. They were created by a secret government agency to be supersoldiers and then disavowed when they broke out and took refuge in the Rocky Mountains. Now they’re ski instructors-slash-superspies working for a secret countergovernment freedom front that fights against the exploitation of supernatural beings. They can shift whenever they want. Didn’t you pay attention during season two?”

Alec watched as Ray took a sip from his Shirley Temple, the small drink almost looking comical when compared to the large pack on Ray’s back, which was nearly as big again as the rest of him and which, when needed, could be expanded even farther into his MantaRay suit. It was surreal seeing a man who had fought Gravity to a standstill and one time knocked Maxim into a cement truck daintily hold his nonalcoholic drink and watch a show that made a mockery of the supernatural.

“I must have fallen asleep during that part,” Alec said. Truth be told, he had slept through most of the show he’d been forced to endure. Ray always got far too intent to pay attention, and after all of Alec’s attempts to steer their nights into steamier territory were rebuked, sleep seemed a more appropriate response than seeing if Ray would notice if he just started masturbating right there on the couch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t have to go that far—”

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

Miles sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Miles said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nah, I’ll eat it now.”

“That’s $13 total.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much could that man fit in his mouth?

“What are you thinking about?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

Itai blinked at him.

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

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

“Wait, I thought you wanted to train!”

“You said it was too late.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay. Thai food?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Itai looked at him apologetically. “I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi, Mom.”

“How’s everything going?”

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

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

“He still hasn’t been in.”

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

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

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

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

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

Miles rolled his eyes. “No, Mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He only orders half-sours.”

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

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

“Busy. The launch is this Saturday.”

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

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

“Oh. I thought he was going to—”

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

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

“He is; don’t worry.”

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

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

“Mom, drop it.”

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

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

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

“Yeah, yeah. Where’s Dad?”

“Out in the pool, of course.”

“At nine at night?”

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

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

“We did. We love it.”

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

His mother laughed like that was crazy talk.

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

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

“I will. Love you.”

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

Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Brandon Witt
FEATHERS WERE going to fly. It was only fair. I told Faloola the time before that if she wandered off again, it would be her last. I gave her too much leeway. Pretty soon all the other turkeys were going to start taking little holidays as well.

I kept threatening to turn her into turkey noodle casserole.

We both knew I wouldn’t.

But damn, she had to pick a day like this to wander off. Even with the thermal underwear, thick felt hat, gloves, and wool scarf, the freezing air cut through me as surely as if I’d jumped into my icy pond. Snow was pretty looking out from my window, but that was it. When I was a child, five decades ago, I’d loved the white shit, thought it the best thing ever. Those days were long gone. Now it just made my bones ache and tried to give my cattle’s noses frostbite.

Honestly, if it hadn’t been nearly sunset, I wouldn’t have worried about it. Faloola always came back. Even though she was my favorite, she wasn’t a kindred spirit. She liked adventure, travel, seeing new things. In all of my fifty-six years, I’d yet to leave the Show-Me State. Not even once. I used to be proud of that fact. Made me the most genuine of all Missourians. Somehow made me better than the rest, even if I didn’t completely fit in with them.

Of course, maybe if I’d traveled some, I’d have ended up searching for Faloola somewhere warm.

It hadn’t snowed in over a week, but it had been so cold not a single flake had melted. The snow had solidified into a thick gray crust over the earth, cracking with each step of my boot. Even the icicles that hung from tree branches over my head had lost their shine, now looking like shadowy fangs ready to devour me. I snorted out a laugh, causing steam to billow in front of my eyes for a split second. Mamma had always said I was a bit dramatic. Maybe she was right. Didn’t mean the trees weren’t ominous at the moment. Nor the woods just beyond my pastures.

Lord, if Faloola had wandered into them, I really was going to make her into a casserole. Although, if she was actually in there….

I didn’t want to think about it. Despite the heavy weight that grew in my gut with each step.

Fox. Coyote. Or even a damned opossum, for fuck’s sake.


I should’ve done a better job at securing the chicken wire. She was the only one who ever went wandering, though. She enjoyed it. And she always came back.


Of course, lots of things stop coming back at some point. Even people.

Stephani Hecht
Stephani Hecht is a happily married mother of two. Born and raised in Michigan, she loves all things about the state, from the frigid winters to the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. Go Wings! You can usually find her snuggled up to her laptop, creating her next book or gorging on caffeine at her favorite coffee shop.

When she’s not running around like crazy, trying to get her kids to their various activities, she’s currently working on numerous projects. In the coming months, she has several books coming out with eXtasy Books in both The Lost Shifter Series and Drone Vampire Chronicles, plus a few additional projects that are still in the development stages.

Charles Payseur
Charles Payseur currently resides in the frozen reaches of Wisconsin, where his partner, a gaggle of pets, and more craft beer than is strictly healthy help him through the long winters. He works an incredibly boring day job so that his nights can be filled with spaceships, magic, and attractive men kissing (and maybe a bit more than kissing...). His work can also be found at Torquere Press, Circlet Press, and in Lightspeed Magazine's Queers Destroy Science Fiction! When not writing fiction and poetry, he contributes to a number of blogs and review sites, and runs a home for his thoughts on short speculative fiction at Quick Sip Reviews. On Twitter as @ClowderofTwo he annoys the internet with far too many cat pictures and cocktail recipes.

NR Walker
N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn't have it any other way.

She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don't let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.

She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things...but likes it even more when they fall in love. She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.

She's been writing ever since...

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

Brandon Witt
Brandon Witt is many things.  Above all, he is living the dream.  After years of writing and reaching for the stars, he is a published author through Dreamspinner Press.  Thus far, his novels include The Shattered Door, Then the Stars Fall, and three installments of the Men of Myth series.  Also, he has short stories published in various anthologies.  

For the first eighteen years of life, Brandon lived in a small Ozark town, El Dorado Springs, Missouri before moving with his family to Colorado. There he got degrees in Youth Ministry and Special Education and worked as a counselor and special education teacher for fifteen years.   

The tension of his religious upbringing and being a gay man finds its way onto nearly every page in his novels, as does experiences that over a decade of loving children who have faced much abuse and many struggles.  Reflecting what he has discovered to be true in life, Brandon's writing does not shy away from challenges and conflict but also revels in the joy that can only happen when truly embracing and loving all that life has to offer.  

Stephani Hecht

Charles Payseur 

NR Walker

Astrid Amara

Brandon Witt

I'll Run Away for the Holidays by Stephani Hecht

The Werewolf Before Christmas by Charles Payseur

A Very Henry Christmas by NR Walker

Sweet and Sour by Astrid Amara

Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Brandon Witt

Release Blitz: One Thousand Cranes by Amy Tasukada

Title: One Thousand Cranes
Author: Amy Tasukada
Series: Yakuza Path #3
Genre: Thriller, Standalone, M/M Romance
Release Date: December 12, 2017
When a body goes missing, a young Yakuza’s life hangs in the balance…

Aki Hisona’s latest promotion is a cause for celebration. But because his new job is working as the personal secretary for the Yakuza's Kyoto-based godfather, it’s also a cause for dangerous envy. He takes an invitation from a friend for congratulatory drinks, but Aki never thought the night would end with a deadly knife fight…

Aki is tasked with disposing of his friend’s corpse, but there’s one problem: the body is missing. As body parts surface around town, it’s only a matter of time before the police piece together the clues. But keeping one step ahead of the cops may not matter if Aki can’t solve the mystery before his cold, unforgiving godfather boss does…

The Yakuza Path: One Thousand Cranes is a pulse-pounding standalone thriller in the ongoing series of Japanese mafia stories. If you like gritty settings, page-turning whodunits, and accurate portrayals of Kyoto traditions, then you’ll love Amy Tasukada’s gripping tale.

Author Bio:
Amy Tasukada lives in North Texas with a calico cat called O’Hara. As an only child her day dreams kept her entertained, and at age ten she started to put them to paper. Since then her love of writing hasn’t cease. She can be found drinking hot tea and filming Japanese street fashion hauls on her Youtube channel. 

Want more of Aoi and Sato every month? Subscribe to Amy Tasukada's email and get a free short story of this adorable couple. Sign up today at Amy's website.


One Thousand Cranes #3


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