Sunday, December 24, 2017

Random Tales of Christmas 2017 Part 11


Santa for Hire by Asta Idonea
Summary:
Dumped by his ex on Christmas Eve two years ago, Oxford Street department store manager Richard Barratt now hates the holidays. Things go from bad to worse when the store's usual Santa is too ill to reprise his role and the firm sends cocky but handsome Blaine Ryder to take his place. The attraction between the two is clear, but Blaine is an incorrigible player who reminds Richard of his ex. His idea of a relationship is a quick roll in the hay, and his advances have Richard running for the hills. It might take some special intervention for both of them to realize they can change enough to have a chance at a holiday romance.

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2016 Advent Calendar "Bah Humbug."


Santa for Hire is a lovely holiday read that combines holiday magic with heartache and fear to end up with a heartwarming tale.  I just wanted to wrap my arms around Richard and tell him not to give up on romance but I certainly understand his fear of opening up again.  As for Blaine, well his cockiness can be a bit too much at the beginning but I love how he isn't too arrogant to realize he screwed up.  Its a bit short and probably could have been a little better had it been a little longer but sometimes a story doesn't really need length to be entertaining and warm the heart.  All in all, Santa for Hire is definitely a keeper for my holiday shelf and reminds us never to truly close ourselves off because what we never knew we needed could be hiding right around the corner.

RATING: 

Ice Around the Edges by Mary Calmes
Summary:
Evan Kano’s life is on an even keel until the night he’s shot at the homeless shelter where he works. The resulting turmoil is not caused by a bullet but by a blast from the past: Evan’s first lover has returned to visit him in the hospital and deliver some big news.

Ten years ago, Dixon Bain walked out of Evan’s life because he thought his family didn’t approve of him having a male lover. But Dixon has discovered that what he thought he knew could not be further from the truth, and now he’s returned to claim the only man he’s ever loved... if he can melt the ice around the edges of Evan’s still-wounded heart.

This title is part of the 2010 Advent Calendar: Naughty or Nice.

A Gift of Time by Jaclyn Osborn
Summary:
Be careful what you wish for... it just might come true. Jack Taylor learns this the hard way. He's a workaholic who wants that highly sought after corner office at the advertising agency he works for, and he'll do anything to get it—even if that means constantly disappointing his fiance, Caden. 

On his way home one Christmas Eve night, he's dreading the argument he knows will happen once he walks through the door. To make matters worse, he forgot to get a gift for Caden, so he makes a quick stop at a Christmas shop he's never seen before. Inside, he meets a mysterious man who sells him an antique clock. When he gets home, he and Caden fight, just as he expected, and he ends up sleeping on the couch. 

Fuming from their fight, Jack makes a wish to have never met Caden. And it comes true. 

Waking up in an alternate reality around Christmas, Jack has everything he's ever wanted: the perfect job, fancy car, and luxurious apartment. But he soon realizes it means nothing without the man he loves. 

There's only one way to reverse the wish: get Caden to fall in love with him before Christmas Eve... or lose him forever. 

All Snug by BG Thomas
Summary:
Elliot and Shawn each want to buy the same one-of-a-kind item for Christmas—a very old and expensive antique bed—as a gift for their lovers. But when they both arrive at the store at the same moment, the proprietor tells them to figure out between themselves who gets the bed. Elliot and Shawn decide to hold a contest: winner buys bed.

And so the competitions begin, from selling charity tickets to cleaning out stables, and interpersonal tension and burgeoning attraction mount as the days until Christmas pass. But who deserves the gift more: Elliot, who can afford the expensive gift for his casual sex partner, or Shawn, who can barely cover rent, and the mysterious man he’s head-over-heels for?

This title is part of the 2010 Advent Calendar: Naughty or Nice.

You Can't Choose Your Family by Zahra Owens
Summary:
Jay and Fran have been a couple for twenty years. They have a great relationship with only one minor bone of contention: while Fran is very much a member of Jay's extended family, to Fran's family, Jay is just "his business partner." It's not that Fran doesn’t want to come out to his family; it's more that they don't want to hear it.

When Fran's father, an evangelical minister, dies, Fran hopes the rest of his family will be more accepting. This hope is nipped in the bud by his very conservative older brother, so Jay's mother steps in and invites Fran's mother over for Christmas... but will joining Fran’s happy-go-lucky in-laws be too much for Fran's mother, or will they help her see the truth of just how much Jay means to Fran?

This title is part of the 2010 Advent Calendar: Naughty or Nice.

**Be sure and read the beginning of Jay and Fran's story in You Can Choose Your Friends**

Click to Check Out Previous
Random Tales of Christmas 2017

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


Santa for Hire by Asta Idonea
THE AWFUL moment had arrived. Not long ago he’d felt there was plenty of time in which to prepare, to steel himself for the agony ahead, but somehow the dreaded hour had snuck up on him. What had one day seemed far off was already here the next.

Richard Barratt took a deep breath. He tugged at his collar and straightened his tie. He brushed off the already spotless arms of his suit jacket and glanced down at the perfectly tied laces on his leather shoes. Then, unable to put it off a moment longer, he pushed open the swing door and emerged onto the salesroom floor.

Overnight, while he failed to get a wink of sleep, crews had been hard at work. The Homeware department of Langley & Giles’s Oxford Street branch had been transformed from the pristine section he managed like a well-oiled machine to a hideous winter wonderland. Christmas had been infiltrating the store for weeks. The cards had started appearing downstairs in Stationery as early as September. Wrapping paper and labels had followed in October, along with Christmas puddings in the high-class Food Hall on the lower ground floor. And now the rest, signaling six weeks of Christmas-cheer hell.

Richard couldn’t understand why it had to be his section that bore the brunt of the deluge. Surely Toys and Games would make more sense. Christmas was all about children’s presents, after all. But upper management had been firm. Toys and Games required more space at Christmas, not less, and Homeware had the best layout to accommodate the monstrosity that formed the centerpiece of their annual Yuletide displays: Santa’s Grotto.

He walked over to stand in front of the plastic log cabin and grimaced. The tinsel festooned around his floor was bad enough, but this thing made his blood curdle. Cute to the point of vomiting, it represented everything Richard hated about the holidays. What was wrong with just a plain log cabin? Why did it have to be covered in glowing candy canes? And as for the flea-bitten model reindeer that looked stoned out of its brain—

“Morning, Mr. B. Ready to get into the holiday groove?”

Ice Around the Edges by Mary Calmes
I hated hospitals, and having spent the last two weeks in one, I was dying to go home. Not that there was anyone to go home to, but still. The smells, the sounds—I was ready to get the hell out of purgatory. And the wound, under the bandage, was itchy now instead of painful.

“Hey.”

Looking up, I was stunned.

“What?” he groused at me, irritated that fast.

I was speechless. The man who had just walked into my room was my ex, but what made it amazing was that he wasn’t my last one. He was not Ari Klein, who had decided that living with a man who ran a homeless shelter was too much work, and he was not Sean Harris, who I had spent three years with before that. The man I was looking at was Dixon Bain, the very first man I had ever loved, back a million years ago when I was young and stupid and twenty-two. It had begun at eighteen, when we were both freshman in college at the University of Chicago, and ended four years later, when he returned to New York.

“Holy shit,” I managed to get out.

He walked over to the bed, took off the black cashmere and wool overcoat, and draped it over the end. He was wearing a navy blue suit underneath, the epitome of polished and professional. I was thinking he should have been on the cover of GQ.

“Can I sit and talk to you?”

“Course,” I told him, too out of it to do anything but stare at him. I watched him grab the chair that my boss sat in an hour before and move it next to the bed. He sat down facing me. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Dark olive green eyes focused on me.

“Jesus, Dix, what’s it been?”

“Ten years.”

I knew for certain it was at least eight, but I would take his word for it. “And you’re doing what? Just…visiting?”

He cleared his throat. “You know Gwen Dawkins of Peterson Dunbar, don’t you?”

It took me a minute, because really, it had been forever since I’d laid eyes on the man, and I was having just the most surreal moment ever.

“Ev.”

And he was shortening my name like it was normal and expected and still us.

“Um, yeah, she––she’s the community outreach coordinator at PD.”

He nodded, leaning forward. “Well, I don’t know if you know or not, but Peterson Dunbar is an affiliate of Bain Limited.”

I shook my head. “No, I had no idea.”

His eyes were hard to describe, because when you said olive green, people immediately had a vision in their heads of what that looked like. But Dixon’s eyes… his eyes were this clear green mixed with brown, the color of dark khaki but with a sort of simmering intensity in them everyone always noticed. They were unique, just like he was. When I had been spellbound by the man those many years ago, just looking up and finding myself caught in his gaze had made my cock hard. I was very glad that I was swaddled under layers of blankets so he couldn’t see the reaction I was having to him. Some things never changed.

“So.” He cleared his throat. “When Gwen sent an e-mail to her boss saying that she felt a donation in your name to the shelter you ran would be a good idea, sort of a gift for the holidays, I had to sign off on it as my director of charitable contributions is out on maternity leave.”

I nodded.

“I e-mailed her back, asking why we were making a donation in your name, and she explained that she felt it would be a nice gesture, as the shelter would be missing their director for at least a month while you recuperated from getting shot.”

I had the weirdest feeling that I was dreaming. “So you came all the way from New York just to check up on me?”

“Yes.”

I saw how tense he looked. “Why?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“But why would you?”

“Because you got shot, idiot.”

I squinted at him. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said sarcastically. “What could it be?”

“I have no idea.”

“I needed to see you.”

“You could have just called.”

“Yes, I could have.”

Taller than me, broader, more muscular, he was a swimmer just like I was. We had swum on the same team in college; it was how we had met.

He was not the kind of man you noticed right away; he grew on you instead. It took hours of listening to his low husky voice, days of noticing the way his lip turned up in the corner when he smiled, and months of having the heavy-lidded gaze leveled on you for the slow heat to build to recognition. When I was eighteen, it had taken me an entire semester to realize that it wasn’t air I needed—it was Dixon Bain.

He was sexy and hot, but not necessarily handsome. Ten years looked good on him. He had laugh lines now, his copper-colored hair was cropped short, and the eyebrows, dark and expressive, were no longer hidden under heavy bangs. I used to push his hair out of his face to trace down the long nose, the full lips, so I could see him, kiss him. There had been more-beautiful-than-him men in my bed over the years, but never one as sensual or one I loved quite so hard.

“Evan.”

“Sorry, tell me why you didn’t just call?”

“Because I wasn’t sure if you’d talk to me or not.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

He shrugged broad shoulders.

“You don’t need a reason to call me. You can just call.”

“I thought I did.”

I smiled at him. “’Cause you’re an idiot.”

“This is not news,” he said, reaching for my hand, and I let him take it.

“You look good.”

“I wish I could return the compliment,” he said, taking a deep breath in as he leaned on the bed. “You look like shit.”

I cracked a grin, and my lip hurt because it was split. “Nice.”

He squeezed my hand gently. “So I don’t see anyone around.”

“Meaning?”

“Is there a guy in the picture?”

“Not right now.”

“Why not?”

“You know me.” I grinned lazily. “I’m difficult.”

“You just want to save the world, is all.”

“Yeah, well, that’s really annoying to most people.”

“When did the last guy bail?”

“He didn’t bail; the relationship was called on account of time. He wanted more of mine, and I couldn’t give that to him.”

“You always did suck at time management.”

There was no arguing that point. “So you just pop back into town after ten years to catch up?”

“You’re hurt. I wanted to see you.”

“Why?”

He let my hand go and raked his fingers through his thick hair. “Because all the things I thought were right were wrong.”

“I have no idea what that means.”

“No, I know.” He sighed deeply. “But one thing is for sure.”

“What?”

He leaned back in the chair, his hands locked behind his neck as he studied me. “You would not be in the hospital right now if you were with me.”

“Oh no?”

He shook his head. “No. This is the result of no one keeping track of you.”

“Uh-huh.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “You disagree?”

“Please, Dix, the guy that did this is a fuckin’ psychopath. There was no way anyone could’ve protected me from this.”

He nodded. “Forgive me if I disagree and say bullshit.”

I let out a quick breath.

“I would have kept a better watch over you after he threatened you the first time with the fuckin’ gun,” he said pointedly.

“How’d you know about the gun?” I asked, because the man who had shot me, Andrew—Drew—Sims, had in fact made more than one trip to the shelter to threaten me. He did not like the fact that I spent a lot of time talking to the kids, boys and girls ages fourteen to seventeen, who he’d strung out on drugs. First he befriended them, then he got them hooked on drugs, and then, when he was sure he had them good and addicted, he had them turn tricks for him. He was the biggest piece of lowlife scum I knew, and I never missed an opportunity to screw with him. And because I was seen as doing the community a service, the police in downtown Chicago checked on me, and when I said I was worried, they would go mess with him for no other reason than my word. The fact that he was a pimp wasn’t the problem; the fact that he preyed on children was. Apparently he had finally had enough. It sucked for him that I lived through his attempt on my life, because now, with everything else he had done, it was life behind bars for Mr. Sims.

“Ev?”

I looked up at Dixon.

“You had a restraining order against Andrew Sims. He wasn’t allowed within a hundred feet of you or the shelter at any time. That’s a matter of public record.”

I shook my head. “I’m too tired to argue with you.”

“I bet,” he said, leaning forward, both hands taking my one. “Hard to debate the truth.”

“Knock it off,” I sighed, closing my eyes.

He was quiet, and I felt his fingers sliding between mine.

“Let go.”

“Make me.”

“Why don’t you go home?”

“Sure. Why don’t you come with me?”

My eyes drifted open. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Evan, you are in desperate need of me.”

“Oh? How you figure that?”

“Look around.”

I didn’t say anything.

He put a hand on the side of my neck, and his thumb slid over my jaw, under my chin and down, stroking my skin. His hand on my neck was warm, and I was getting sleepy.

“You were always a sucker for me petting you.”

I grunted because my energy was gone. My eyes would not stay open.

“I have something to say, all right?”

“G’head,” I said, and my voice was deep and raspy.

“Okay,” he said, his thumb sliding up and down my throat. “Now, I don’t want you to get up on your high horse and be offended. I just want you to listen.”

“Sure.”

“All right. So we both know that any guy who isn’t me isn’t going to last.”

“Oh?” I smiled, opening my eyes to look up at him. “How come?”

“Because no one but me is strong enough to take your bullshit on a day-to-day basis.”

“Is that right?”

“Yeah, it is,” he said firmly, standing up, walking several feet from the bed, and turning back around to look at me. “You are so much work.”

And it clicked then how he had no idea who I was anymore. “I used to be work; I’ll give you that. The way we fought and made up and the stuff that got broken when we went at it… whole lotta drama back then,” I agreed. “But I’m not that guy anymore, Dix. I’ve learned stuff from everybody I’ve been with. When I was with you I had no clue who I was. I’m different now.”

“I’m sure you’re different in some ways, but not in the way that matters.”

“Like?”

“Like you need someone to remind you to eat and take your vitamins and go to bed. You used to forget to sleep for days at a time until I came home and held you down and fucked you so hard and so long that your body gave up and you passed out.”

Jesus.

I remembered when he used to walk in the door after working back-to-back shifts at the restaurant for a few days and I was still awake. If he wasn’t home to lie down with, I forgot to go to bed, and then I was so wired I could barely even breathe. I would listen for him, for his return, with my whole body. I was tense, overwrought and vengeful, picking a fight with him the minute he walked in the door. He would shake his head like I was ridiculous before he’d throw me down, manhandle me like I wanted—needed—and bend me over the bed and take me hard. I would crack and crumble and collapse under him. His arms tight around me, holding me close… I had never slept better, so safe, so loved.

Crap.

“You put everyone else before yourself; you always have. It’s a great quality, and it’s scary as hell at the same time.”

I smiled and let out a sigh. “I’m a big boy now, Dix. Nobody has to take care of me anymore.”

“Oh yeah? Who’s at home to take care of you now?”

I had no answer for him.

“Are your folks coming in from Dallas?”

“They’re actually on a cruise for the holidays.”

He nodded. “Did you call them?”

“No. They’ve been waiting to take that vacation forever. I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“And your brother Craig and his wife?”

“They have a new baby, so they’re not traveling this year. They wanted me to come to Atlanta, but… I have a lot to do at the shelter.”

“You mean you had a lot to do at the shelter. Who’s taking over for you?”

“I… the assistant director. He’s got everything under control; he came by today and gave me an update. My boss came by too. I think he was concerned that I’d be worried, so he dropped by to make me feel better.”

“So let me understand: they will get along just fine without you.”

“For a short amount of time, yes.”

“I see.” His voice dropped low as he looked at me. “So technically, you could be off from now until what––after New Year’s?”

“Well, yeah, but––”

“Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“Okay, then you should come and stay with me for a little while. Just a few weeks or so and see how it goes.”

All Snug by BG Thomas
The more I thought about it, the more I knew I had to have the bed. My boyfriend wanted it. It was Christmas. And while it was a bit overpriced, I could afford it. Steve on the other hand, could not.

I’d thought about it for two weeks, and when Steve casually mentioned it was still at the antique store, I made up my mind. It was perhaps an excessive gift for a man I’d been dating for less than two months, but when I thought about what Steve and I would do in that bed, the scales were tipped.

A call to the antique store the night before told me the bed was still available. So it was quite a surprise when I arrived at Derringer’s early the next morning and asked for the large, oak four-poster bed at the very same time as another customer. The look on both the proprietor’s and the other man’s faces (and my own, I’m sure, had I been able to see it) were quite comedic really. Like they’d been caught doing something they shouldn’t.

“Oh, my,” said Mr. Derringer, the owner of the store. “I haven’t had anything like this happen in a long time. And it’s been sitting there two months.”

The other man, youngish, slim, with dark hair and pretty, wide startled eyes, looked like he might cry. “I… I think I was here first,” he said.

“I’m not sure,” Mr. Derringer said, adjusting his glasses.

“I did call last night,” I reminded Mr. Derringer. He knew me; I’d bought a few things from him in the past, most of them costly: a standing lamp, an oil painting, and a few other odd items (more than one with a rather naughty touch).

“So you did, so you did,” he said, looking up, down, but not seeming to want to look at either of us. “But, ah, you didn’t ask me to hold it.”

“So?” asked the young man. “Does that mean I get it or not?” He looked like he was about to go into fight or flight mode. Which would it be? I wondered.

Mr. Derringer, nervous thing that he was, began to shake, fumbled with some papers on his desk, removed his glasses and began cleaning them. He looked back and forth between us. “You both approached me at the same time,” he said in that spineless voice of his. He drove me near insane he could be so insipid. But he also found things that no one else could. He had a gift for it.

“I’ve got my card out!” the young man practically shouted.

“I’ll pay cash,” I pressed. This was ridiculous, and I didn’t want to be here all day. I did need to get to the office at some point.

“Cash?” asked Mr. Derringer, his little eyes focusing on me.

I liked the sound of Derringer’s voice now. Holiday season or not, cash was always good, and who knew if the young man could even afford the bed. His peacoat looked worn, his pants with tattered cuffs were just a little too long, and his shoes had certainly seen better days.

“I don’t see why that makes any difference,” said the young man. “What do you usually do in a situation like this?”

“I…” said Mr. Derringer, “I could use the cash.”

“I’ll give you an extra hundred,” I said and pulled out a roll of bills.

“No!” yelled the young man. “You can’t do that!”

“I can,” I said. “Do we have a deal, Mr. Derringer?”

“I’m sorry, young man,” Mr. Derringer apologized, staring at my cash like he was starving.

The young man turned to me. “Look, I really want that bed,” he said, his eyes wide and pleading. “The… person I’m seeing really wants it. Anything else would just be a letdown.”

Person? I smiled at the lack of pronoun and wondered if that “person” was another man.

“I went through hell to get the money,” he continued. “There isn’t anything else I want. It’s really important to me. Please.”

Oh, those eyes, I thought. Like a big puppy dog, but blue instead of brown. This young man was just too sweet.

But why did that matter? I really wanted the bed as well. Steve had a reason for wanting a four-poster bed, and the idea caused my dick to twitch right there in that little store. Steve was just crazy in the bedroom, any room for that matter. I’d never known a man with such a sexual imagination. My whole adult life had seemed to be filled with men who considered tickling to be kinky. They’d given the word “vanilla” a whole new definition. I’d resigned myself to sexual mediocrity, and then Steve had shown up in my life. Finally, I’d met someone with an erotic imagination to put mine to shame, a man who wanted to fulfill my every fantasy.

Yet the kid looking at me, and he didn’t seem to be much more than a kid, really did look like a puppy. One who’d been kicked just a few times too many and was expecting me to kick him as well.

Shit.

“I am going to let you two decide,” said Mr. Derringer. “I have a few calls to make. You two work it out.” He turned and practically fled the room.

“Please?” the young man asked again.

Please? Did he say “please”? I almost laughed, but knew it would hurt the man’s feelings. I bet if I had shouted out “boo” at that moment, the kid might have wet himself. Shit. It would be like kicking a pup. I glanced down at my watch. Oh, to hell with the office, I thought. It wasn’t going anywhere. This young man intrigued me. “I’ll tell you what,” I said. “Let’s go have some coffee and talk about this. We’ll both present our case and see if one of us can talk the other one out of it.”

“I… I….” The young man paused and then seemed to make up his mind. “All right,” he said, nodding.

I went to find Derringer. “We’ll be back. Don’t sell that bed, you hear me?” I said.

Mr. Derringer heard me. Most people did.
We sat down at a small table outside The Radiant Cup, my pick as the best coffee shop in Kansas City. I loved everything they made, especially their lattes. The young man had some hot chocolate—cheapest thing on the menu—and when he’d paid his bill, counting out his money almost to pennies, it only confirmed my suspicions that this guy had no business buying such an expensive gift.

I took a sip of my latte. Wonderful. Perfect as usual. “You’ve been here before?” I asked.

“Nah, I usually just make my own.” The young man laughed. “I can buy a can of coffee at Aldi’s for what a cup costs here.”

I nodded. Yes, I was right. “Maybe,” I said. “But then it is Aldi’s coffee. You get what you pay for.”

“And I want to pay for that bed,” he said excitedly.

“I don’t think you can really afford it. Am I right… what is your name?”

“Shawn,” he answered.

“I’m Elliot. Shawn, I’m thinking you’ve got yourself in hock to your eyebrows trying to buy that bed. That ‘person’ you are buying it for. They know it, too, I bet.”

“Maybe,” Shawn said, chin out. “But it sure is going to shock the shit out of him when I get it.”

I raised my brows despite myself.

“Yeah,” Shawn said defensively. “‘He.’ I’m gay! You think just because you’d be having straight sex in it that you should have the bed?”

“Whoa,” I said. “Let’s not even go there. For one thing, I’m gay too.” I surprised myself at making the admission. Not that I was ashamed, but I kept my private life private. There could be many an important deal lost because of how some bigots felt about gays.

“You are?” Shawn asked, obviously surprised. “Gosh. You don’t look it.”

I laughed. Didn’t look it? Was this guy for real? “You don’t ‘look’ particularly gay yourself, Shawn.”

Shawn blushed. It was a most delightful shade of pink. “You’re just so… big. I think your arms are bigger than my thighs.”

I laughed again. “Not quite,” I said. “I just like to keep myself in shape. It’s amazing what you can do with a personal trainer keeping on your ass. And there is nothing wrong with your thighs.” Now what the hell had made me say that?

Shawn went even more red and tried to hide his expression by taking a long sip of his hot chocolate. I don’t know if was his blush or the morning sun, but I was again noticing just how blue his eyes were. Was he wearing contacts? They were the most amazing color. And huge. Otherworldly.

He really was sweet. Like a kid, but the more I looked at Shawn the more I could see he was no kid. Surely no more than about thirty, but all man. Handsome too. His skin was pale, and it really brought out the shadow of a threatening beard along his jaw. Maybe it was that complexion that made his eyes look so blue? “How long have you been out?” I asked.

Shawn almost spit out his chocolate. “What? Why do you ask?”

“This guy you are seeing, is he your first boyfriend?”

“My second,” he said, chin out again.

“You just come out recently?”

“Why do you want to know that?” Shawn asked.

I shrugged. “You seem so naรฏve. How old are you?”

“You sure do ask a lot of questions for a guy trying to talk me out of buying that bed.”

“Just trying to get the lay of the land,” I said. It was what I did. How I’d become so successful.

“I’m thirty-two. And how old are you, oh Master Yoda?”

It was my turn to nearly spit out my coffee. Master Yoda? “I’m thirty-nine,” I said. “And I’ve been out since I was fourteen, so I guess I know a few things.”

“Fourteen?” gasped Shawn, and once again did that thing with his eyes. Made them look huge.

Oh, if we weren’t both already taken, I thought, I’d take you home right now.

“You knew you were gay when you were fourteen?” Shawn asked again.

I nodded. “Coach Brennermyer—”

“The coach—!”

“No!” I said. “No. He never touched me. But his thighs! One look at him in those shorts of his, and Janet, my ‘girlfriend’ never had a chance.” As a matter-of-fact, it was the coach that had inspired me to get myself in the shape I was in. I liked my body. It made up for what I considered a boring face—light brown eyes, big nose, lantern jaw—and it surprised me when a trick told me it was my looks and not my body that had gotten them interested.

Shawn reddened again.

“Did you have a Coach Brennermyer?” I asked.

Shawn smiled, then nodded slowly. “He was my art teacher, though. Mr. Finsecker. He was also the track coach, and I became his assistant for the chance….”

“To see him naked? Or was it the team?”

Shawn hid his face behind his hands. “I can’t believe I’m talking to you about this.”

“Sweetie, you’re thirty-two, not fourteen,” I said. The kid—no, the young man, I reminded myself—was charming, no doubt about it. His man, whoever he was, was lucky.

Shawn peeked from between his fingers. “I guess I am naรฏve,” he said. “The thing is, I didn’t know I was gay. I didn’t know why I wanted to see guys naked. In retrospect, it boggles my mind that I didn't know. How could I have not known? I hung out as long as I could in locker rooms and… Oh God!” Shawn closed his fingers over his face again. “I can’t believe I just admitted that!”

“You’ve never told anybody that? What about the guys you’ve had sex with? Or your boyfriends…?”

“You’re a stranger,” Shawn said and all but giggled.

I smiled once more. I hadn’t stopped smiling around this guy. He was just that charming. “You’re a sweetheart. Your man is lucky to have you.”

Shawn dropped his hands and revealed a shy smile. “Thanks.”

I took a big swallow of my coffee, and then gave Shawn a level look. “You can’t really afford that bed, can you?”

Shawn looked down at the table, and then slowly back into my eyes. “I’m going to, if you let me. I got some money out of my savings to start. My boss said I can have all the overtime I want. I figure if I work ten to twenty hours a week extra, I can do it.”

I whistled. “That’s a lot of hours.”

Shawn shrugged.

“But then I’ve worked that many hours on many a week, and I’m salary,” I admitted. Of course I also earned a percentage and got some very nice bonuses. “You must really love this guy.”

Shawn smiled, and it was a sweet smile. He was this mix between man and boy, and that smile was all boy. Happy joyous boy. “I do. He’s perfect. He’s everything I ever dreamed of and more. He holds doors open for me, pulls out my seat at a restaurant!” Shawn got a faraway look on his face. “He calls me ‘Baby’,” he said, and then he sighed. Shawn looked up at me. “He doesn’t have as much time for me as I wish he did. But that’ll be easier when I’m working more. I won’t notice as much.”

The guy didn’t have enough time for him? Shit, if Shawn were mine, I’d never let him out of my sight, despite the fact that he was probably as vanilla as hell in bed. Hรคagen-Dazs vanilla bean maybe, but vanilla nevertheless.

But wasn’t I tired of vanilla? Isn’t that why Steve appealed so much?

“And if he likes the bed as much as I think he does,” Shawn continued, “it’s all he talks about—then maybe I’ll be sleeping in it on a more permanent basis. If he asks me to move in with him, I’ll be able to see him as much as I want.”

Whoa, I thought. Shawn had it bad. I remembered feeling that way. How much I’d longed for love. Someone to call my own, to come home to each night, to wake up with each morning. But years of disastrous relationships had made me stop believing it was even possible. I’d exchanged dreams of love for a lustful reality of hot sex.

Shit. I’d come here to lay out to this kid that I was going to buy the bed. Period. But now? It was confusing. I looked into his face, shining with an innocence I’d lost years ago, and heard Shawn’s passion, and I was tempted to just let him have it. Yet for some reason, I was also feeling like I should be responsible and talk the kid—man—out of it. Not so that I could get it for Steve, but because I knew that trying to pay for that ancient thing was going to put a ridiculous financial strain on Shawn. He was a big boy; he was a grown man and could make his own decisions. However, I found a strange protectiveness rising in my chest. What to do?

Maybe find out just how much Shawn really did want the damned thing?

And that led me to an idea.

“I’ve got a thought,” I said. “Let’s you and me go back to Derringer’s and buy the bed together, fifty-fifty. Then we’ll have a little contest.”

“What do you mean?” Shawn asked. “Fifty-fifty? What kind of contest?”

“Well, we buy the bed, and that way it isn’t going anywhere. We don’t have to worry about someone else going in there for a Christmas present.”

Shawn nodded warily. “Ah, okay…. And the contest?”

“We figure out a series of little challenges and see which of us wins them. In the end, whoever has the most wins, gets the bed.”

“Like some kind of reality show or something?” Shawn asked, eyebrows raised.

I laughed. “Yeah. Except we won’t be on TV.”

Shawn gave a half-shrug. “Weeeellll….”

“You can even figure out the first challenge,” I said.

“This is really weird,” Shawn said.

“Yeah, maybe. But it’s better than me telling you that I am going to get that bed.”

“Why do you want it so damned bad?” Shawn asked, exasperated.

“Because I do,” I told him. Like he was going to understand I was doing it for the sex. He’d get all romantic and tell me I could get sex anywhere. And I could. But Steve was special. It might not be love; I’d given up on that before I’d given up on the idea of finding a wild sex partner. And Steve was all that and more, plus he didn’t charge. Why should Shawn’s romantic reasons outweigh my sexual needs?

“And you usually get what you want?”

I nodded. “I do,” I confessed. “If you win our little contest, I let you pay for the rest of the bed, and you take it home. If I win, I pay you back what you put into it, and I get the bed.”

Shawn didn’t say anything for a minute, just stared at me. Finally, “Fine,” he said.

“What’s your sweetie’s name?” I asked.

Shawn shook his head. “You know, let’s leave their names out of it. It makes it too personal. I don’t want to start feeling guilty when I whip your ass at this.”

He was joking, but I could also see the sincerity in those pretty eyes of his.

“Fair enough,” I replied. “So, what is the first challenge?”

“The Male Box. Tonight. They’re having this charity thing. You sell tickets for people to get their pictures taken with Santa. Except he’s some leatherman. I volunteered to go through the crowd and get people to buy tickets. So you be there too. Whichever one of us sells the most, wins the first round.”

Charity, I thought. Fair enough. I only hoped Shawn was as good as he seemed to think he was, because this was right up my alley. I’d raised enough money through the years. Shawn may have bitten off more than he could chew. “You got it,” I said.

You Can't Choose Your Family by Zahra Owens
“Jayson Molenski, stop fussing over me!” Fran swatted away his boyfriend’s hands and knotted his tie himself.

“It’s crooked and your mother will fuss. Now whose hands do you prefer all over that buff body of yours?”

Fran sighed. “Mother will be too busy grieving to fuss over my tie.”

“That’ll be the day,” Jay muttered under his breath.

“You don’t know her,” Fran replied, obviously frustrated.

“And whose fault is that?” Jay said sharply. He toned it down almost immediately, though, and gave Fran a compassionate smile to smooth over his harsh words.

It had been their bone of contention for the past twenty years. Almost before they were convinced they were a couple, Jay had introduced Fran as his boyfriend to everyone who wanted to hear, and that included his extended family. In fact, the first time they’d had full-blown sex was in front of the fireplace at Jay’s parents’ winter cabin while the rest of the family was honoring their long tradition of going caroling in the village square. Jay had promised that they’d hear his family coming from miles away, but they hadn’t counted on the fact that their rigorous sex would leave them both sound asleep in front of the family hearth. Luckily Jay’d had the brilliant idea of covering them both up with a quilt; otherwise everyone from Jay’s grandparents to his one-year-old nephew would have been privy to the glorious sight of their bare asses.

It was still one of those stories that got told late at night after everyone had ingested too much eggnog. It never ceased to embarrass Fran, but deep down he was eternally grateful that it had been the surefire way of getting accepted into his boyfriend’s family. The following morning Howard, Jay’s father, had slapped Fran on the back with a heartfelt, “I guess you can call me Dad from now on, Son,” and that had been the end of the ordeal. Everyone had accepted that Fran was Jay’s boyfriend and had simply expected them to be together forever. Libby, Jay’s mom, often commented on how Jay had struck it lucky and how she felt she’d at least done something right with one of her kids, since the other two barely managed to show up with the same partner two Christmases in a row.

Fran looked at his boyfriend and saw the frustration in Jay’s face. He knew how much it hurt Jay that Fran still hadn’t introduced him to his family. But could Jay blame him?

Fran’s father was an evangelical minister who preached fire and brimstone to his flock when it came to homosexuality. When they were young they’d been paraded around as the epitome of the perfect family, complete with exemplary children, so in the eyes of his father, Fran was severely flawed. He’d tried to come out, but his father had dismissed it. Sometimes Fran wished that his father would just throw him out, but no, that didn’t fit with the perfect family. Fran had to be saved from the wrath of God, which was certainly going to come down over the whole family if Fran didn’t amend his ways. So Fran endured the few family visits he couldn’t get out of and waited for the moment he could return to the man he loved.

Now the agony was over.

Pastor Galloway, Fran’s father, had keeled over during a particularly fiery sermon and was dead by the time he hit the floor of his pulpit. Now they were getting ready for his funeral, and Jay had insisted on coming along. It wasn’t that Jay had never met the Galloway family, but to them, he was just “Franklyn’s friend from college” and recently “Franklyn’s business partner.” On the rare occasions that both men were in the same physical location as the rest of the Galloway family, Jay had to be hyperaware of how he acted around Fran and had to make sure he refrained from the little gestures and touches that would give them away.

Fran looked in the full-length mirror to check his suit and tie. He was satisfied with his look, his dark, curly hair cut short to meet with his mother’s approval. He closed his eyes when Jay wrapped his arms around Fran’s frame. After all these years, it was still his boyfriend’s touch that gave him the most reassurance and calm.

“Jay, you know I love you more than anyone in the world.”

“I know,” Jay replied, resting his chin on Fran’s shoulder. Jay was still as handsome as the day he’d walked into one of Fran’s first college classes twenty years ago. He sported the same beach bum look, with the long blond hair and tanned skin he’d had then, and had only gained muscle over the years, unlike Fran, who was still a tall, skinny runt.

They looked at their reflections, and Fran felt nothing but pride. The conviction that he wanted to grow old with this man was one that had set in over the years, and everything they’d been through had only added to that assurance. Even the resistance of Fran’s family had added to that resolve. Fran knew Jay hated the secrecy and lies, something they’d successfully banned from their own lives by living openly and honestly, but instead of making a big deal out if it, he only occasionally brought it up. Jay had stuck by him through it all, and Fran appreciated it more than he could ever put into words.

Although Fran wanted to have Jay close for a little while longer, he didn’t protest when Jay pulled away. “I think we should go,” Jay suggested. “I’m wearing my best poker face. Let’s not let it go to waste.”

Fran grabbed his boyfriend’s face with both hands and kissed him passionately.

“Oh Fran,” Jay lamented theatrically. “Now I’ll have to do my make-up all over again.”

“Fag,” Fran replied, slapping his boyfriend’s ass as Jay turned around.

“That’s me,” Jay flirted. “And I have a fag for a boyfriend too.”

“Thank God for that,” Fran replied with a laugh.
For Fran, any family function was fraught with tension, since the Pater Familias had always dominated all the goings-on. Any opportunity was good enough for him to lecture his youngest son about his duties as a Christian man and how the Bible condemned homosexuality. Even the occasional presence of Jay never deterred the old man, which was the reason Jay usually stayed away. Only this time, he couldn’t.

Galloway Senior’s death was both a relief and a source of grief to Fran. He wanted the support of his boyfriend at the funeral, and at the same time, he hoped to test the waters on whether there was a chance Jay would be tolerated by the family now that its most dominant member was no longer holding the scepter. To be honest, Fran expected that Jay would kindly be asked not to attend the funeral. Jay had brought a book he could read in the car just in case.

The street where Jay parked was full of people on their way to the church, so all they could do was squeeze each other’s hands just before they exited the car and started walking along with the rest of the crowd. Nobody paid them much attention until a fresh-faced young woman stepped up to Fran.

“Uncle Frank!” she shouted excitedly, using the abbreviation of his name Fran loathed. She smiled at him and then looked at Jay before politely nodding and returning her gaze to her uncle. “Dad wanted me to come get you as soon as you arrived. He wants to talk to you before the service.”

Fran looked at Jay, and Jay urged him on with a nod.

“Alone,” she added, clearly to make sure Jay didn’t come along too.

“Tell him I’ll be there as soon as we find our seats in the church,” Fran said with surprising command in his voice.

“Oh, you’re up front with the rest of the family, of course. Your friend will have to sit in the back. There’s only space for family up front. ”

Fran bit his tongue, and Jay put his hand on Fran’s forearm. He didn’t speak until the girl was out of earshot. “Fran, it’s okay. Don’t cause a scene at the funeral. I’ll be fine.”

“It’s not okay, Jay,” Fran hissed. “You’re more family to me than they ever were. If you can’t sit with me up front, I’m sitting in the back with you.”

Jay shook his head. “I’m here for you, but you need to sit with your brother and your mother.”

Fran sighed. “I’ll go talk to my brother first. He’s probably going to tell me he’s the boss now and we have to dance to his tune.”

“Just listen to him and then do exactly what you want. In that respect nothing will change, but I hope he’s a little more mild to his baby brother than your father was.”

Fran huffed and left Jay at the back of the church. Despite his boyfriend’s soothing words, Fran was still seething when he left to meet his brother. Leonard Galloway was ten years older than Fran and as impressive as their father had been. Compared to his brother, even at six foot one, Fran was a shrimp. They’d never been close, partly because of the age difference, partly because Leonard was their father’s favorite and Fran was the thorn in his father’s side.

Fran spotted his mother talking with the women’s guild and simply smiled warmly at her when their eyes met, knowing that even in her darkest hour those women were her biggest support. His brother was standing to the side.

“Franklyn,” Leonard greeted Fran with all the warmth of an industrial freezer. He held out his hand and squeezed Fran’s until Fran thought he felt bones crunch.

“Leonard,” Fran answered as calmly as he could. His brother still made him feel like a ten-year-old who always got in the way.

“Lindsey tells me you brought your… friend.”

Fran took a deep breath in and thought of Jay’s words. Don’t make a scene. They were standing in the church, at the back and side, and Leonard continued greeting people who came up to him to offer condolences. Fran knew better than to raise his voice, but he was sick and tired of lying. “He’s my partner, Len. We’ve been together for twenty years.”

Leonard nodded, and Fran knew his statement would be ignored. “How’s business going?”

“Booming,” Fran answered, his eyes narrowing. “We have five crews working full time, mostly doing maintenance on the gardens we designed, and all Jay and I do is meet clients, design their gardens, and draw up estimates.”

“Who would have ever thought there’d be money in puttering around a garden,” Leonard replied, smiling at an old woman who passed by them.

Fran bit his lip because he so wanted to give his brother a piece of his mind, but he knew it wouldn’t solve anything. Don’t make a scene. Fran looked out over the crowd and spotted Jay standing where he’d left him. Jay smiled softly when their eyes met, and in that moment, Fran knew it didn’t matter.

“We make good money, Len. In fact, Jay and I just bought a house in a much nicer neighborhood, and the refurbishing will be done just in time for Thanksgiving. Why don’t you come over with your family? Jay will be cooking, and he makes the best turkey.” It was a little white lie to involve Jay in the conversation, but it got Leonard’s attention. Before his brother could reply, Fran lowered his voice. “And I’m giving you a choice, Leonard. Either Jay sits with me and the rest of my family, or I sit in the back with him.”

“Franklyn, you can’t possibly expect me to allow—”

“No, I didn’t think so,” Fran replied, leaving Leonard behind as he made his way over to where Jay was still standing. On the way, he met the older lady who had greeted Leonard and whom he recognized as a very well-regarded member of his father’s large congregation.

“Mrs. Green, you haven’t aged a day. Thank you for coming this morning. My father would have appreciated it very much.” When Fran saw her struggling for the right way to address him, he helped her out. “I’m Franklyn, remember? Pastor Galloway’s youngest.”

“Oh, yes, of course. You used to come with your mother to help fill the charity baskets for Christmas!”

“The one and only, Mrs. Green.” Fran heard the crowd settle down and knew service would start soon.

“Give my regards to your mother and tell her I’ll talk to her after the service,” Mrs. Green said in hushed tones.

“I’m not sitting up front with her, but I’ll tell her as soon as I see her,” Fran replied, purposely ignoring her stunned expression as he made his way to Jay’s side.

“How did it go?” Jay whispered.

Fran took his boyfriend’s hand and squeezed it. He’d kept a brave face up to now, but he felt his strength crumbling. He couldn’t answer and knew that Jay would understand. They continued holding hands throughout most of the service, and Fran didn’t care who saw them like that. He’d done enough hiding.


Asta Idonea
Asta Idonea is an alternate pen name of author Nicki J Markus.

Nicki was born in England in 1982, but now lives in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. She has loved both reading and writing from a young age and is also a keen linguist, having studied several foreign languages.

Nicki launched her writing career in 2011 when she released several short stories with Wicked Nights Publishing. She then had two novellas published with Silver Publishing, prior to the company’s closure.

At present, she has several new projects on the go. As well as branching out into the exciting world of M/M under the pen name Asta Idonea, Nicki is working on the first book in a fantasy-mythology trilogy and hopes to find a publisher for it in 2015.

Nicki currently works as a freelance editor and proofreader, and in her spare time she enjoys completing MOOCs and pursuing other interests, including: reading; music; theatre; cinema; photography; sketching; and cross stitch. She also loves history, folklore and mythology, pen-palling and travel.

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

Jaclyn Osborn
Jaclyn Osborn was born and raised in the state of Arkansas. When not actively writing a new book, she can be found plotting and gaining inspiration for the next story. Writing is her passion and she's thankful for each day she's able to live her dream. A firm believer in happy endings and redemption for damaged souls, her boys in her stories mean the world to her, and she'd be lost without them.

All types of genres in the m/m world interest her, in both reading and writing, and she hopes to delve into a few of them in her writing career.

B.G. Thomas
B.G. loves romance, comedies, fantasy, science fiction and even horror—as far as he is concerned, as long as the stories are character driven and entertaining, it doesn't matter the genre. He has gone to conventions since he was fourteen years old and has been lucky enough to meet many of his favorite writers. He has made up stories since he was child; it is where he finds his joy.

In the nineties, he wrote for gay magazines but stopped because the editors wanted all sex without plot. "The sex is never as important as the characters," he says. "Who cares what they are doing if we don't care about them?" Excited about the growing male/male romance market, he began writing again. Gay men are what he knows best, after all. He submitted his first story in years and was thrilled when it was accepted in four days.

"Leap, and the net will appear" is his personal philosophy and his message to all. "It is never too late," he states. "Pursue your dreams. They will come true!"

Zahra Owens
Zahra Owens is a multilingual globetrotter who loves big cities but also has a weak spot for the wide-open spaces that are so rare where she lives. She likes her men every which way they come and never tries to change them. Men who are tough on the outside but have a huge soft center get extra credit, though, as do the strong, silent types who think they hide their damage well… but don’t. She makes it her personal goal to find them their happily-ever-after, even if the road toward this leads via hospital beds, villas with gorgeous vistas, or ranges full of horses.

Zahra is proud to be a former president of the Rainbow Romance Writers, a special interest chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and won’t quit until M/M romances are treated like every other romance story. RWA allowed her into its Professional Authors Network, but she hasn’t quit her day job yet since it allows her to work in a man’s world. And what girl can resist that?

If Zahra had her wish, a day would have at least thirty-six hours, because how else would she find the time to finish all the novels still inside her head?


Asta Idonea
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EMAIL: nickijmarkus@y7mail.com

Mary Calmes
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Jaclyn Osborn
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BG Thomas
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EMAIL: bg_thomas@livejournal.com

Zahra Owens
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Santa for Hire by Asta Idonea
Ice Around the Edges by Mary Calmes
KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  GOOGLE PLAY

A Gift of Time by Jaclyn Osborn

All Snug by BG Thomas

You Can't Choose Your Family by Zahra Owens

Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: The Christmas Fling by Heidi Cullinan


Summary:
Sometimes it takes a village to fall in love. 

Eccentric, reclusive, socially awkward project designer Evan Myles doesn’t date. Paying for sex with professionals is so much more efficient and suits his needs well enough. But when he’s on assignment in rural Logan, Minnesota, for the Christmas Town project and a handsome stranger at the bar catches his attention, Evan decides it’s time to break his rule. It doesn’t matter that he’s never so much as flirted before. It can’t be that hard, can it?

Davidson Incorporated lead architect Terry Reid hasn’t been hit on so clumsily in his life. Terry’s the first to admit he’s a neurotic Prince Charming, and he’s kissed his share of male and female frogs, but he’s never met anyone quite like Evan Myles. Evan calls Terry by the wrong name, mistakes Terry for a simple construction worker, and picks apart his work as an architect. Despite this rough start, Terry is lured by the brilliance of Evan’s ideas, his quirky personality, and once they’re alone in Evan’s cabin, the man’s mad skills in bed. Yet Terry knows it takes more than a single night of passion to make a relationship work, and after so many failures, he’s just not ready to try again.

Evan and Terry’s path is strewn with stones neither of them can dislodge. Fortunately, they’re not alone on the road to romance. They’re in Christmas Town, home to matchmakers, meddlers, and more “fairy godfathers” than they could possibly know what to do with.

Most importantly, in Logan, Minnesota, happy ever after is guaranteed.


Evan Myles may be socially awkward and eccentric but he is also sweet and honest but its that social awkardness that has left him paying for escorts and sex, it just makes life easier with no emotional messiness.  Terry Reid has a few hang ups of his own that has left him a bit on the neurotic side.  When Evan and Terry's worlds collide, their controlled set of personal rules are thrown for a loop.  Will the Logan Christmas Town project give them common ground to build on or will it throw one too many curves into the path for them to overcome?  Will the boys of Logan be able to work some holiday magic to guide Evan and Terry?

I love when an author gives us characters with eccentricities that we don't often see.  Some might say that the characters are too eccentric and therefore unbelievable or unrealistic but life is full of phobias and what some might call oddities.  Its what makes us all unique so when we find well written characters such as Evan and Terry, we not only get to enjoy a lovely story  but we also get to see some of our own peculiarities explored on the page/screen.  Whether you understand Evan and Terry's hang-ups doesn't always keep us from wanting to wrap them in bubblewrap one minute and whack them upside the head the next.  Its those warring emotional connections to the characters that makes The Christmas Fling so fun.  Now don't get me wrong, just because its fun doesn't mean there isn't drama but the author blends it all together so perfectly that before you know it you have reached the final page.

I will say that the humiliation kink is not necessarily something that ticks my boxes but its a real kink that people do get pleasure from and the author deals with it wonderfully and realistically, both the actual kink and Terry's inner feelings of shame afterwards.  However, if it is something that doesn't quite sit with you, you can skim through a couple of scenes and still enjoy a beautifully written journey of acceptance and love.  I know some people are not fans of miscommunication or misunderstanding tropes and truth is when not done correctly it can be a bit cliche but in the case of The Christmas Fling I think it actually adds to helping the reader understand the inner "pain" that Evan and Terry deal with every day.

Whether you label this new series a spin-off of or sequel to the author's Minnesota Christmas doesn't really matter.  Yes, Christmas Town is in Logan, Minnesota and the characters we have grown to love are there, but Evan and Terry are the beginning of a whole new set of holiday romances that I can't wait to read in Christmases yet to come.  So many authors out there bring us wonderful holiday stories but only a select few continue to amaze and entertain with an annual holiday romance that somehow manages to mesh original creativity with expected holiday cliches that guarantee to wow the senses.  Heidi Cullinan is one of these such authors and I am already hungry for what she will bring us for the 2018 holiday season.  The Christmas Fling was a complete surprise for me because I had no idea there was going to be a new one this year but Amazon decided it was something I'd enjoy so when it popped up in my "Recommended For You" list, I gobbled it up. Talk about an early Christmas present from Santa.

RATING: 


Evan Myles really should have included an escort clause in his employment contract.

When he said as much to his assistant Charlotte as they sat drinking together in his Northwoods cabin one Saturday evening, she laughed. “Okay, I’ll bite. Why would you need an escort clause?”

“For the obvious reason, of course.” Evan grabbed the bottle of wine in front of him and took a swig. “I haven’t gone this long without sex since I entered puberty and learned what to do with my dick in the first place. This assignment isn’t difficult, but it’s endless. It’s not fair I have to learn how to arrange for sexual companionship in such an environment on top of everything else.”

“To be fair, I arrange for all your needs except personal hygiene.” Charlotte cupped her chin thoughtfully, resting her elbow on the tabletop. She had a glass of wine in front of her, but she sipped it slowly, as usual. “Though I hadn’t thought of the problem of your personal life. I mean, I knew you had escorts in Minneapolis, but I didn’t realize you only had escorts.”

“I wouldn’t have the first idea how to arrange for a sexual relationship in any other manner.” He glared at the label of the wine bottle. “I tried to use apps here to find men. It didn’t work. I don’t think there are very many gay people in Logan, Minnesota.”

“Please. The place is swimming in gay, proportionally. They aren’t even a thousand people in town and yet they have not one, not two, but three married gay couples, plus whatever it is you want to call Dale and his librarian. There’s also the lesbian veterinarian who moved in earlier this summer, plus that bisexual farmer. Dale has that Rainbow group too, and it’s getting so big they’re talking about building a center. This place is so queer it generates its own rainbow.”

Dale Davidson was the owner of Davidson Incorporated, the company in charge of the construction and promotion of Christmas Town in Logan. Evan liked Dale, and he understood Logan was important to his employer. That didn’t mean Evan cared for the place, especially when it was causing him so much frustration. “The point is there are no gay men for me to sleep with.” Evan stared balefully at the countertop. “It’s been over two weeks now. I’ve never gone this long without having sex. I’m starting to be convinced I might die.”

Charlotte gave him a long-suffering look.

Evan relented. “Very well, I understand I won’t perish without sex. However, my creative performance has absolutely suffered, stuck up here all this time.”

“You’ve put out some of your best work while you’ve been in Logan. Try again. I mean, it’s okay to simply say you’re horny and be done with it. I’m not going to judge. We can buzz down to the Cities for a weekend pass, get you laid, and be back by Monday. Dale’s busy with Gabriel at the moment, but I’ll leave him a message, tell him it was an Evan emergency.”

“You’re missing the point. I don’t want to go to Minneapolis and get laid.”

Raising her eyebrows, Charlotte tilted her head at him. “You’re right, I did miss the point. Tell me again, and I’ll listen harder.”

Most people would say something like that and they’d be teasing Evan, but Charlotte never made fun of him. She was as refreshing as always. “Escorts aren’t only sex workers. They provide companionship for me. Yes, I pay them for it, but it’s a tidy arrangement, and it suits me. I miss that more than the sex. I don’t think I can find that kind of situation up here.”

“You didn’t say that, though. You told me how you’d never gone this long without having sex.”

Evan drank more wine. “Well, I was embarrassed.”

Charlotte winked as she rubbed his arm. “You know, if you were a woman, I’d have seduced you a long time ago and made you mine.”

“It wouldn’t have worked. I prefer men, and we’re both too dominant in bed.” He frowned. “I assume you’re dominant.”

“Oh, I am. It also wouldn’t matter that you prefer men. If I wanted you, I could win you.”

Pushing the wine bottle away, Evan threw up his hands. “How? How can you be so good at seducing people you can win them over even if they aren’t interested in you? I can’t believe that’s true.”

“Believe it. I’ve dined like a queen in Christmas Town. All the so-called straight girls loved having one-night lesbian stands with the wicked lady from Minneapolis, especially when they heard what I could do with my tongue.”

Evan considered this. “So I should let the straight men know I give incredible blow jobs?” He tried to imagine himself walking up to men in Logan and shuddered. “I couldn’t do it. I haven’t even left the cabin once since I got here. I hide in the basement when the cleaning people come, or whoever it is bringing the food.”

“That would be Frankie Blackburn, one of Dale’s good friends. He’s a hair stylist formerly from the Cities who owns a salon on Main Street, but he’s also married to a local lawyer, Marcus Gardner.”

The sea of names and titles had leaked out of Evan’s ears, with the wine to sail away on. “The point is I don’t speak to regular strangers, let alone strangers I’d like to sleep with regularly.”

“Strangers you’d like to sleep with are easier than regular strangers. That’s Charlotte’s hot tip number one.”

Somehow Evan found this claim suspicious, but he wanted to believe. “How are they easier?”

“It’s not much different than your escorts, to be honest, except you’re not paying them. The exchange is that you promise them a good time instead of money.”

Already Evan wasn’t fond of this. “See, I’ve had a few escorts who admitted they’d see me for free, which sounded like dating. I told them it would lead to complications and declined.”

“You’re one in a million, Ev. I take it this means you give your escorts a good time either in bed or out of it?”

“They usually tell me I take some getting used to because I’m so blunt, but I’m a generous lover.”

“See? All we need to do is give you a bit of polish and set you loose on Logan.”

Evan was nervous simply thinking about it. “I don’t know about that.”

“I do.” Charlotte clinked his bottle with her glass. “Drink a little more wine, and we’ll head into town and people-watch at the bar. If you see someone you like, you can go in for a dry run. If you don’t, we get you an emergency session with an escort for tomorrow and try again with the locals next week.”

The idea of trying with the locals at all was so terrifying Evan wanted to skip to the emergency session here and now. Except he did need to set something up in Logan. He’d be here for several more weeks at least, and he’d be back up again at some point for another phase of the project. Even if he could bring up an escort, he could only bring one, and in his experience relying on one escort made things awkward.

Charlotte patted his leg. “Don’t worry, honey. I’m going to be with you every step of the way. Well, up until you bring your catch of the day back to your luxury cabin and decide to show him your shower attachments. Okay?”

Evan nodded. “Okay.”

“Right. Class is in session, genius boy. I’m going to teach you how to get laid no matter where you are. Ready to get schooled?”

“I’m ready,” Evan said, though he wasn’t confident in this plan in the slightest. Somehow he was sure what worked for Charlotte wouldn’t come as easily to him.


๐ŸŽ„๐ŸŽ…๐Ÿ’—๐ŸŽ…๐ŸŽ„Take a road trip to Logan, Minnesota and learn
Frankie & Marcus, Paul & Kyle, and Arthur, Gabe, & Dale's
romantic journeys as Christmas hi-jinx unfold.๐ŸŽ„๐ŸŽ…๐Ÿ’—๐ŸŽ…๐ŸŽ„



Author Bio:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren't enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her family. Heidi also volunteers frequently for her state's LGBT rights group, One Iowa, and is proud to be from the first midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage.

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