Tuesday, January 23, 2018

After Christmas Holiday Reads 2017


Well, the holidays are over and the new year is in full swing but there were still a few Christmas romances that were burning up my Kindle.  So here are my reviews for those holiday tales and it's never too late to surround yourself with the magic of Christmas. If you find you're still in the holiday mood be sure to also check out all my Random Tales of Christmas 2017 and posts all things holiday.


⛄πŸŽ„πŸŽ…πŸ’—πŸŽ…πŸŽ„⛄Holiday Season Hi-Jinx 2017 at a Glance⛄πŸŽ„πŸŽ…πŸ’—πŸŽ…πŸŽ„⛄

Of Printers and Presents by Asta Idonea
Colleagues Ford and Vaughan have long admired each other from afar, but Vaughan’s shyness and Ford’s emotional hang-ups have meant that neither has made a move. That all changes when they draw each other’s name in the office Secret Santa.

We have all that one person we crushed on and just hoped and prayed for an opening to get the talking going.  Well, that's what Of Printers and Presents is, Ford and Vaughn have been crushing on each other and when they draw each other in the office Secret Santa that opening is before them.  Sometimes just when things are looking not so great is when they really turn out to be the best thing and way better than what we hope.  This short story is a lovely holiday read and even though I read it after Christmas it still warmed my heart.  Some might not like that idea that the huge "passion payoff" happens off page but not me.  Don't get me wrong, I love reading the full-on passion too but sometimes letting the reader's imagination write the scene can be hugely satisfying and for me that's what Asta Idonea has done with this little holiday tale.  Short but super lovely, lovely, lovely.


An Open Window by Rick R Reed
Two men. One Christmas Eve that changes the courses of both their lives.

Henry’s homeless and only wants a warm place to sleep on the coldest night of the year. A forgotten open window in a darkened house entices Henry inside with the promise of warmth and comfort. He knows it’s bad, but he promises himself he’ll be out before the owner wakes on Christmas morning. Except he oversleeps and the homeowner, Jim, discovers a bearded stranger sawing logs under his dining room table. When the shock and the drama that ensues dies down, Henry and Jim discover that they might have found, quite unexpectedly, the Christmas miracle they’d both been longing for—love and home.

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

After reading the synopsis for this holiday short I wondered how the author was going to pull off a happy ending and still make it satisfying in so few pages.  I needn't have worried(not that I really was).  My grandfather always taught me to lend a helping hand, be it a cup of coffee, a kind word, holding a door open, or a thousand other ways but unfortunately its been my experience not everyone feels the same so when Henry found a warm place even though he intended to leave before daybreak I knew Jim could deal with him one of two ways: turn him in or give him breakfast.  Of course this is a Christmas short so I pretty much knew what Jim would do but I still was intrigued to see how the author would get from point A to point Z within the limited number of pages that a short story holds.  I was not disappointed.  An Open Window is a beautiful holiday tale that reminds us just what the season is about and having read it and featuring it here afterwards may help to remind people that the spirit of Christmas should not be limited to only one day a year in December.


Matches: A Christmas Story by Rick R Reed
A poignant gay twist on the beloved Hans Christian Andersen classic, "The Little Match Girl"... 

Christmas Eve should be a night filled with magic and love. But for Anderson, down on his luck and homeless in Chicago's frigid chill, it's a fight for survival. Whether he's sleeping on the el, or holed up in an abandoned car, all he really has are his memories to keep him warm: memories of a time when he loved a man named Welk and the world was perfect. When Anderson finds a book of discarded matches on the sidewalk, he pockets them. Later, trying to keep the cold at bay hunkered down in a church entryway, Anderson discovers the matches are the key to bringing his memories of Welk, happiness, and security to life. Within their flames, visions dance and perhaps a reunion with the man he loved most. 

I really don't have a whole lot to say about this little short story other than it is absolutely brilliant and heartwrenching and yet somehow the author manages to make it believably heartwarming as well.  Of course the heartwarming part probably depends on the reader's definition of a happy ending.  Okay, perhaps "happy" is not the most accurate of word choices but its the best choice I can come up with.  Is it absolutely possible for an author to make you cry both sad and happy tears in as few pages as Matches holds?  Most people would probably say no but for me I can say without a doubt YES!  Unfortunately I rarely have time for re-reads when it comes to Christmastime but I think Matches will be an exception.


Christmas Wishes by RJ Scott 
Jamie's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm. The only hope there is for Jamie and his baby daughter, Grace, is to follow a light leading them to a cabin half hidden in the forest. What they find is a grumpy author in isolation and very little in the way of help.

Lucas never asked for company, particularly a hot guy and his tiny, demanding, daughter. Their arrival brings chaos and destroys his peace and he has no idea what to do. But when lust turns to more he fights the need to kiss his guest. 

Because Jamie will be leaving soon, so Lucas doesn't have to worry he'll lose his heart. Right?

A 9,000 word short story written for the 2017 Rainbow Advent Calendar

Christmas, two men, a baby, and RJ Scott.  What more is there to say? Not being a people person myself, I found myself understanding Lucas' grumpiness at having his isolation interrupted.  Being from Wisconsin and knowing how dangerous winters can be I also understand finding oneself unable to get out easily and the fear of finding yourself with a broken down car in the middle of nowhere.  A wonderful tale of finding yourself in a situation you may not want but exactly what you need.  Christmas Wishes is short but satisfyingly lovely.


Just Jack by Meredith Russell
Can two broken men find love in the chill of Winter?

Leo is having a bad day. Finding his boyfriend in bed with another man was one thing, being the subject of office gossip another, but falling on his ass in the snow in front of a gorgeous man was the final straw.

Jack has existed in a solitary life of ice and bitterness after betrayal. He swore no one would ever break his heart again, gave up on love, and became something else; Jack Frost.

As Jack and Leo get closer, Jack is left torn and confused. Jack yearns for anything that reminds him of his humanity, but the truth is, he feels nothing, not warmth, not love, and he knows he might never be able to love Leo the way he deserves to be loved.

When the line between fairy tales and magic, and the real world become blurred, can love conquer everything?

**Be sure to check out Everything: A Just Jack Christmas Short on Meredith Russell's Blot**

I'm not sure which character I fell for harder, Jack Frost who feels his heart is cold or Leo who has his heart finally broken when he finds his boyfriend in bed with someone else.  It's pretty obvious that Jack's heart is not as frosty as he believes just from his friendship with Abe and his family but when he meets Leo there is whole other level of not-cold he is about to discover if he only lets himself.  Leo has not been completely blinded by his boyfriend's wandering but its this first-hand discovery that opens his eyes and lets him finally break free.  Just Jack is so much more than a Christmas story, actually its really not a holiday tale at all and yet Christmastime seems the perfect opportunity to give it a go.  Sometimes the coldest hearts have the most room for love.  Just Jack is fun, loving, and full of heart.


The Little Matchboy by Eli Easton
By the light of a flame, Georgie finds a Christmas miracle in Central Park.

A free Christmas Short, part of the 2017 Rainbow Advent Calendar.

A new spin on a classic? Perhaps. Truth is The Little Matchboy is absolutely beautiful.  So many of us don't always believe in miracles not even at Christmas but they do happen.  Yes, I know this is a fictional short story but that doesn't mean miracles are fictitious.  Eli Easton does Christmas stories so well and this short for the Rainbow Advent Calendar may be short on length but its long on message and endless on heart.  You must always believe.


The Christmas Curse by Ruby Moone
It’s almost Christmas 1806, and government agent Jared Templeton finds himself adopted by a beautiful stray dog as he walks his customary route each night to his Mayfair home. Having never owned a dog before, Jared is surprised to find himself talking to the beast. It’s wonderfully easy and lifts some of the heavy burdens he carries.

Eventually Jared confides in the dog, not only secrets about his work as an agent, but also the biggest secret about himself. About his innermost desires and needs, safe in the knowledge his companion will never betray him.

But at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, Jared discovers things are not quite what they seem ...

A free Christmas short story written for the 2017 Rainbow Advent Calendar.

I am going to jump right out of the gate and say this needs more.  Now I'm not saying the story is lacking or that it would be better if it was longer(okay maybe it would be but that's not what I'm referring to), no what I am saying is that you just know that Jared and Wesley have further adventures ahead of them and I for one would love to read them.  As for The Christmas Curse, well shifter curse tales are more common for October and Halloween reading but this one is perfect for the Christmas holiday.  Throw in the historical aspect and Ruby Moone gives us a wonderful tale of hope and love.  Once Jared recovers from his total gobsmacked feeling will he let himself open up to love?  I'm not giving anything away when I say yes because this short isn't about what awaits the reader at the end but how the pair arrive.  Just a lovely read that makes you smile.


The Glow of Luminiferous Aether on Tinsel by Jana Denardo
As Chief Tactician for the airship DeGrasse, Jacob Scarberry has spent the last six months on a wearying tour of duty. He’s missing home, and his prosthetic leg is conducting the December cold straight to his core. But with the holidays coming up, he's looking forward to a well-earned leave, sharing some Christmas surprises with his lover, Dr. H. Alphus Troyer, and welcoming in the dawn of the 20th century.

A professor at Ohio University, Al is already on Christmas break, and his unconventional household is in a festive frenzy. Al is a bit less joyous, his anticipation of Jacob's return warring with uncertainty over the special gift he had commissioned for him. Would Jacob appreciate it, or will it put a strain on their relationship?

Suddenly Al's worries become trivial when the newspapers report an attack on the DeGrasse. With Jacob fighting for his life miles away, Al is left to wonder whether Jacob will return at all, or whether the planned festivities will become holiday heartbreak instead.

A wonderful blend of holiday and steampunk.  Those who follow my blog will know that I don't really see steampunk as a separate genre, for me its all science fiction but that is just my personal feelings.  Steampunk, or science fiction in general, is not a genre we often associate with Christmas.  For some not being a typical genre means its pretty open game for plot, for me it actually means it has a lot to live up to.  Jana Denardo does not disappoint.  Taking a common theme, loved one waiting at home while their significant other is away serving and hearing news of danger, can be a dangerous thing for authors when treading the line of clichΓ© and original storytelling.  The Glow of Luminiferous Aether on Tinsel is a lovely blend of said clichΓ© and steampunk originality letting Jacob and Al(and the reader) remember what is really important.  Whether you like steampunk, alternative history, or just a great heartwarming tale, I seriously recommend checking this short story out because it certainly left me smiling and I certainly wouldn't say no to reading more if the author were to explore this universe further .


Of Printers and Presents by Asta Idonea
Ford Ackerman leaned over the printer, fumbling at the rear tray, and Vaughan sucked in a sharp breath. The bending action pulled Ford’s trousers taut over his perfect butt, framing two globes so delectable that saliva pooled in Vaughan’s mouth and his own trousers were suddenly a tad too tight. Everyone in the office had pronounced Vaughan mad last month when he refused the chance to relocate to a recently vacated desk by the window, away from the noisy printers and the staff restrooms, but he’d assured his boss, Marie, that he found the sound of the copiers soothing and scarcely noticed the foot traffic to and from the restrooms. Ford was the real reason he’d stayed though. Sitting here, Vaughan got to see Ford several times a day as Ford went in and out of the men’s room or attended to the printers, replacing toner or paper, or fixing jams and other glitches.

Vaughan had been celebrating his third anniversary with the company when Ford started with them two years ago. Although he’d previously liked his job well enough, Ford’s arrival on the scene ensured that Vaughan leaped out of bed each weekday morning, eager to get to the office. Essentially, Ford was no more than a dogsbody. He carried out all the menial tasks the other employees hated. He set up rooms for meetings, organized stationery supplies, and filled lunch orders. He mended broken equipment, greeted visitors, and sorted the mail. Most of Vaughan’s colleagues hardly acknowledged Ford’s existence unless they needed something, and even then Ford might as well have been a machine. To Vaughan, however, he was very real.

Aside from the spectacular, bauble-like buttocks, Vaughan didn’t know what it was about Ford that so captivated him. Ford wasn’t classically handsome, that’s for sure. Yet there was something magical about his graceful movements and the dexterity in his long, slender fingers as he flicked through files and plucked at pages. Then there was his smile. He didn’t use it often, but when he did, his eyes brightened, completely transforming his mien. It was a real classic-era Hollywood smile—a Gene Kelly smile.

Vaughan knew that Ford was gay—that vital nugget of information had found its way out of the director’s office following Ford’s initial interview—and he appeared to be permanently single, attending staff events alone and never meeting anyone either at lunchtimes or after work, at least not as far as Vaughan had ever witnessed. Nevertheless, in the two years they’d worked together, Vaughan had never approached Ford on any topic save that of an empty stapler or to place a coffee order.

As he watched Ford now, Vaughan’s mind teemed with thoughts of all the things he and Ford could do together: dinner dates, movie nights…and more personal pursuits. He shook his head. Why did he torment himself like this? Why dream of something that could never be? He knew he wasn’t going to stride over there, spin Ford away from the printer, and pull him into a kiss. So why pretend he might?

Vaughan had always been painfully shy. His work didn’t require much in the way of external interaction, and over the years, he’d learned to manage his condition with friends and co-workers, but he still faltered when it came to romance. Although he was officially out to his colleagues, having determined to get that drama dealt with from the get-go, the idea of dating Ford with them all knowing about it, and doubtless smirking behind his back, was enough to send genuine shivers down his spine. Besides, what would Ford want with someone like him? Vaughan was a boring average Joe; Ford deserved someone special.

Then there was the risk of rejection and its aftermath. If he approached Ford and Ford rebuffed him, how would Vaughan be able to face him at work each day? The same would be true if, by some miracle, they did hook up and it didn’t work out. Office romances were minefields, and he had no desire to be blown to smithereens, no matter how strong the inducement.

Nevertheless, Vaughan regularly dreamed about Ford and sought every opportunity to learn more about the object of his affection. Thank god for social media! Already friends with some of his other colleagues on various platforms, he’d summoned the courage to send Ford a request shortly after meeting him, and Ford had approved the connection. Despite being less shy online, Vaughan never commented on anything he saw on Ford’s page, unwilling to draw attention to himself, but he viewed Ford’s profile religiously after work each day and read any new posts. Ford rarely shared selfies or anything about his friends and family, but he did provide tantalizing information on his likes and dislikes, so over the last twenty-four months, Vaughan had acquired a fairly comprehensive understanding of Ford’s hobbies and interests. Video gaming and comic books covered the bulk of it, but Ford also seemed to enjoy classical music and a wide range of films. Were someone to create a quiz category on Ford Ackerman’s favourite superheroes, Vaughan would score full points.

Ford shut the printer tray and straightened. He scrunched the mangled sheet of copy paper he’d retrieved from its depths in his fist, before tossing it into the nearby recycling bin. Then he studied the display and pressed a series of buttons. The printer rumbled back to life, happily spewing forth sheet after sheet, and Ford watched it for a moment, no doubt to check all was well. When he turned to go, he looked in Vaughan’s direction and caught his eye.

Panic laced through Vaughan, but he managed to flash a faint smile and a nod of greeting as he raised a file in front of his face to hide his flushed cheeks. He needed to take more care. It wouldn’t do to be caught staring like that again. He didn’t want Ford to get the wrong idea. Or the right one. Ford was a beautiful fantasy. The last thing Vaughan wanted was to ruin that.

An Open Window by Rick R Reed
EMBERS FLICKERED, orange and yellow, in the hearth. Jim and Henry sat in front of the fire, wrapped in two things—a yellow-and-white afghan, worn soft, and each other’s arms.

The heat of the dying flames still gave off a little warmth, and when Jim looked over at his husband, his best friend, his soul mate, his outrageous lover, he saw him again as a very young man. A fire’s glow can do that, erasing lines, warming the complexion, and adding a subtle hint of magic to almost any face.

But even without the enhancement of firelight, Jim would have felt the same about Henry, regardless of time’s relentless march across his features.

Jim touched that face, because even after all these years, he couldn’t keep his hands off this man. This man who’d come into his life in such an abrupt and unexpected way twenty years ago tonight.

“Merry Christmas, honey,” Jim said softly, looking deep into Henry’s warm and soulful brown eyes.

Henry touched the tip of Jim’s nose and smiled. “Not quite yet.” He glanced at the old grandfather clock near the front door. “One more hour until it’s official.” Henry moved away for a moment to pour them some more wine, a Sicilian red. He shook the bottle a little to empty the last of the wine into Jim’s glass. “Another one bites the dust.” He set the wine back down and returned to Jim and his warm embrace.

They sat for a long time, staring into the embers, which were almost like orange/golden eyes staring back. Jim was just starting to get sleepy when Henry said, “Remember?”

He didn’t need to say more. Jim laughed and nodded. “The night we met? Of course, how could I ever forget?”

“It was the night before Christmas,” Henry started.

 “Oh, there was a creature stirring all right!”

They pressed their foreheads together, laughing and remembering. It was easy to laugh now, but back in 1997, Henry wasn’t laughing much, and if he’d been told back then that he would one day laugh about the predicament he’d found himself in that particular winter near the end of the twentieth century, he’d have called you crazy.


Ready for the men in the white coats.

“It was horrible,” Henry said. “Horrible and wonderful all at once.”

“Isn’t it funny how things work out?” Jim asked. “Sometimes the very best gifts life gives us show up in clever disguise.”

“I don’t know how clever my disguise was, but it sure scared the wits out of you that Christmas morning.”

They closed their eyes. Two minds, as one, drifted back twenty years.

Just Jack by Meredith Russell
Chapter 1
“Not again.” The man gritted his teeth and pulled on the handle of his car door. The door wouldn’t budge, and the man, looking to be in his fifties and carrying a little weight, grew red in the face and wiped at his brow with the back of his gloved hand. “Denise,” he called toward the house and then walked, far more delicately than a man of his build should, down his driveway.

Winter in Maine was gloriously frosty. A layer of snow had settled on the tops of houses and cars, the trees looked magical coated in white, and it was easy to imagine them shivering in the chilly morning air. Every warm breath taken that cold morning caused a white mist to hang in the air.

Jack leaned against the lamppost on the opposite side of the street and enjoyed his new game. He didn’t know who the man was, what he did for a living, or care who Denise was to him. For Jack, the man was entertainment on yet another wintry January morning. This was the third morning in a row Jack had walked the street before sunrise, tormenting the man by freezing the door of his seventy-plus-thousand-dollar car. Another day or two and Jack would get bored with his mischief and search out new acts of trickery to see him through the day. Every day so far, the man’s reaction had been priceless and something to call on when Jack’s day needed brightening. But today Jack was left disappointed when the man made his way to the house and back unscathed.

Yesterday had been far more fun. The man had ended up flat on his back, having slipped on the ice. He had lain on the ground like some up-ended turtle, rocking around in his thick winter coat, unable to bend his limbs in such a way to get himself the right way up.

Jack grew tired of waiting for something comical to happen. “Maybe tomorrow,” Jack said in a low voice. He pushed off the streetlight, eyed the icy handprint he had left, and then carried on his way.

It was seven in the morning, barely light. The early risers heading for work were up and out in their driveways, complaining about the cold as they defrosted their cars. The sidewalk was covered in fresh snow, which glistened beneath the man-made lights and was, as yet, undisturbed by human feet, just a spattering of prints from birds and what was possibly a cat. Jack loved the cold, and he smiled as a chilling breeze circled him, carrying with it the fresh scent of the day and the crisp brown leaves that had fallen from the trees. The prickle of cold against his skin was one of his favorite feelings, like a thousand icy fingers pinching at his arms and face. God, how he loved it.

Opening the top button of his jacket, he savored the cold against his chest and gently traced his fingertips over his chilled skin. He breathed deeply, content with his icy touch and the feel of the cool air whipping up around him. What he wouldn’t give to be wrapped up in a blanket of cold. To slip inside the deliciously chilled wind and zip it up as if it were a sleeping bag made just for him.

Holding out his hand in front of him, Jack encouraged the breeze into a spiral that wrapped around his arm and caused a delightful shiver to pass through him. The air glowed the most beautiful shade of blue as it danced around Jack, and his chest ached from the knowledge this beauty was only for him—and those like him—to see. Anyone watching would think he was mad. They wouldn’t see the dance of blue and silver, nor would they hear the wind’s angelic song reverberating in the air.

Jack stroked the breeze as it snaked through his fingers, gently drawing moisture from it and into the palm of his hand. He rotated his fingers, spinning the moisture into a sphere, and then gently teased it with his icy breath until the sphere hardened. The size of a tennis ball, the sphere became a ball of ice, and Jack flicked it into the air and caught it.

“Perfect,” he said.

The ball was smooth, flawless, and transparent. He reached out his other hand and dragged his fingers over the hedge he passed. The leaves of the hedge crackled and curled in on themselves beneath his touch, which left them coated in wintry white frost. All he needed now was someone to have a little fun with. He grinned at the thought.

A dog barked, and Jack looked ahead. “Perfect,” he said again and teased the ball between his finger and thumb.

A large German shepherd was standing several yards in front of him. The dog was on a leash, and on the other end of that leash was the dog’s owner, a petite woman dressed head to toe in pink with matching accessories. She was talking on her cell phone and looked to be in her forties, dressed in winter clothing, each item seemingly edged in white fur.

Too old to be playing at Barbie, Jack decided.

He blew on the ball of ice and watched as frosty patterns formed across its surface. He admired what could only be described as art. Spirals and symmetrical branches merged together in raised icy paths, very much like patterns etched into Christmas tree ornaments. It was all about the details for Jack. If he was going to do something, then it should be perfect and beautiful.

Content with his creation, he pulled back his arm and bowled the ball toward the dog. The sphere rolled along the sidewalk, leaving only a small line in the snow as it seemed to weightlessly skim its surface. Jack watched and waited, merely encouraging the sphere along its chosen path.

As if it had a mind of its own, the sphere steered to the left, and as it neared the dog, the ball skipped off the sidewalk and into the street. The dog barked loudly, pulling at its leash as it sought to chase the ball of ice. The woman struggled to hold the large German shepherd and stumbled forward as the dog darted after the ball and into the road. She performed some poorly crafted acrobatics routine as she desperately held onto her dog. But the dog’s desire to chase the ball was greater than any strength she might have had to hold onto him. It was as if she weighed nothing as she was dragged forward by her pet and into the road. Cursing, she eventually gave in as she tripped up the opposite curb. With a yelp, she let go of the leash and landed on her face in the snow-covered grass of a neighbor’s lawn.

Jack laughed as the woman lifted her head. White covered her cheeks and forehead, and she rolled over to sit on the frozen ground. Her mouth curled down with a pathetic whimper, and she slapped the ground in a halfhearted tantrum.

“Caesar,” she called after the dog.

The German shepherd pricked up its large ears and glanced back at his owner. The dog’s tongue hung out the right side of its mouth, all wet and shiny as it panted excitedly. White puffs of the dog’s warm breath filled the air around the animal’s head, and choosing to ignore the woman, the dog ran off down the street.

“Caesar!” She lowered her head and brushed the snow from her coat.

Had she seen him? Jack wondered. Jack didn’t know whether she had or hadn’t, and though he claimed to not care, there was always a pang of disappointment in his chest, a need to be noticed.

Turning away, he walked down the street. He didn’t look back or stop to help her. He never did. It was not in his nature to worry about the misfortunes of humans. They were just something to pass his time.

A short way down the street, Jack spotted the escaped German shepherd sitting on the sidewalk, seemingly waiting for him. The animal held in its mouth the ball of ice, though the ice was already melting from the dog’s breath. As Jack got closer, the dog placed the ball on the grass and sat upright. Jack smiled and held out his hand, running his fingers over the dog’s coat. He frowned as he stroked the soft fur. Though he knew there should be something more, he felt nothing but the cold.

“Get away from me,” he said to the dog. “I’m no good for you.”

The dog simply looked up at him through large amber eyes.

“Go on. Get.”

Jack narrowed his gaze and looked down at his hands. The prickle of ice played in his palms. He could show the dumb animal exactly what he was capable of.

The dog licked his hand, and Jack tempered his desire to strike out. The dog, clearly oblivious to Jack’s nature and wanting nothing more than to have him throw the ball again, just sat and stared up at him.

“Okay,” Jack said softly.

The dog nudged at his hand.

“I said, okay.”

Jack bent down to pick up the ball of ice. He wrapped his hand around the slippery lump and squeezed. It only took a second and the sphere was solid again, a frosty layer coating its surface once more. He looked over his shoulder in the direction of the German shepherd’s home. The dog had done him no wrong, and as much as he liked to mess with the lives of the humans in the town, he never meant them any real harm.

“Go home,” he said and threw the ball back up the street.

Happily, the dog bounded off, its leash trailing on the ground as it chased the ball. Jack worried his lower lip and waited until the dog was out of sight. Hopefully, the animal would be reunited with his owner.

Cramming his hands in his jacket pockets, Jack looked at the ground, and with the toe of his boot, he drew a circle in the snow. Adding eyes and a smile, Jack admired his masterpiece for a moment. It wasn’t quite right. He crouched and held his hand over the simple drawing. Slowly, he pulled back his hand. The soft flakes quivered. He teased the snow, rearranging the picture, then straightened up. The image’s smile was gone, replaced with a frown.

“Hello, Jack,” he said to the drawn face.

With a heavy sigh, he dragged his foot across the image, wiping the sidewalk clear. If only it was that easy to wipe away the morose feeling from inside him.

He rubbed a hand over his face and took a deep breath. There was a smile on his lips as he looked ahead at the elderly gentleman making his way toward him.

“Too cruel?” he asked himself.

Maybe. Jack smiled. Or maybe not. He wiggled his fingers and felt the cold air surge between them. This was who he was—the bringer of mishaps, ice, and mischief, and of the frost on the window panes.

He was Jack Frost.

Chapter 2
“This… this isn’t what you think.”

Leo Marsh stared at his boyfriend in disbelief. Not what I think? How was catching the cheating bastard with his dick in another man’s mouth anything but what he thought?

“This, here. There’s no explanation you can give me that makes this okay.”

“Baby, listen to me,” Mac Donovan said as he pushed the other man away and got to his feet. He quickly pulled up his pants. “This is nothing. This is a mistake. This is—”

“Over,” Leo finished. “You asshole. You’re a fucking liar.” Leo had never hit anyone in his life, but right then, he wanted to slam his clenched fist into his lying asshole of a boyfriend’s face, break his perfect nose, dislocate his manly square jaw.


Leo had done Mac a favor. He’d been in the office since six a.m. organizing paperwork and displays for a presentation Mac was supposed to be giving to the company directors tomorrow. He’d wanted nothing more than to help when Mac had called in sick. Mac was supposed to be home, suffering and pathetic, taken to his bed. That’s what he’d claimed when he had phoned at one in the morning. Had this other man already been with him when he called? Some little piece of ass Mac had picked up in a bar for a sleepover?

“It’s so over.” What the hell had he been thinking? For some reason Leo believed bringing his sick boyfriend an early lunch was a sweet, romantic gesture. Finding Mac with his pants around his ankles and some shirtless man nuzzling his crotch wasn’t on Leo’s to-do list for the day.

“No, no. Don’t say that.” Mac was on his feet and at Leo’s side before Leo’s brain could engage enough for him to plan an escape. “I love you. You and only you.”

Leo looked at the young man who had stayed kneeling beside the bed. He could have been Leo’s double—short wavy blond hair, the same straight nose and high cheekbones. The only difference between them seemed to be ten years or so in age. Was this some trade-in scheme? Had he really just been cheated on with a younger version of himself? Fuck, he suddenly felt more like fifty than his actual thirty.

Leo met the young man’s eyes. The man remained unmoved by Mac’s declaration of love for Leo. So, this kid was just a fuck. A morning screw while Leo was at the office. Was that supposed to make him feel better about this whole messed-up situation?

“You said never again,” Leo reminded him. Yes, Mac had done this before. Twice, in fact, that he knew of.

“I know. I know. I’m weak. You know that and how hard I fight these feelings because I love you.” He had his hands on Leo’s chest and ran them upward to squeeze his shoulders. “But maybe, maybe it’s time to stop fighting. Maybe this time we could both… You know?” He looked at the young man and directed the next part at him. “I mean, you would be up for that, right? The three of us?”

The young man pursed his lips as he shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

Mac cupped Leo’s face and held him fast, forcing Leo to look at him. His hazel eyes darkened and he looked serious. “See. It’d be good for us. Maybe it’s what we need.”

Leo closed his eyes. So, he wasn’t enough for Mac anymore? Had he ever been? “No.” He wasn’t going to have sex with some stranger. How the hell would that fix anything?

“Please.” Mac kissed him, but the kiss left Leo cold.

Leo stared at Mac’s mouth. How he used to long for Mac’s kisses and his touch. He was everything Leo had ever wanted, and foolishly he’d thought Mac felt the same about him. Now all he felt was repulsion.

“What’s his name?” Leo asked. Why he wanted to know, he wasn’t sure. He just felt like he should ask.

Mac opened his mouth but said nothing.

“You don’t even know his name?”

“Sure I do. It’s…” He looked at the other man, who was on his feet and getting dressed.

“Chris,” the young man said and pulled on his T-shirt. “Look, if this isn’t happening, then I have somewhere to be.”

“It is,” Mac insisted and held up his hand to stop Chris from leaving. He looked at Leo. “It is.”

Leo shook his head. “No, it isn’t.” He focused on Chris. “You should leave now.”

Chris nodded and gathered his things. This time Mac didn’t stop him and simply glanced at him as he passed them on the way to the door.

As soon as the door shut, Leo freed himself from Mac’s hold and put some distance between them.

“Is this the first time?”


“Here with him?”

Mac nodded. “Of course. He came onto me. I’m weak.”

Leo closed his eyes. He didn’t know why he asked, maybe out of some twisted way to punish himself further for being such a fool, but he did. “How many others?” He opened his eyes and stared into Mac’s. Mac’s eyes clouded with guilt. Leo had really hoped he’d been wrong, that Mac would say this was one little slip.

“Did you use protection?” he asked. He was angry as hell and wanted Mac out of his sight. But he needed to know.

“Of course.”

Leo took a deep breath. He needed to get out of there.

“We can talk about this.”

Talk? He wouldn’t give Mac a chance to worm his way out of it this time. The silver-tongued asshole didn’t deserve another chance.

“I’m done. We’re over.” He made to leave, but Mac had him by the arm.

“You don’t mean that.”

“I do.” Leo wished he sounded stronger, but he was tired. He hadn’t gone back to bed after Mac had called that morning, too busy worrying about getting everything right and in place for the meeting tomorrow, in place for Mac. “I’m sick of putting up with your crap.”

Mac gripped his arm more tightly. “Please.”

Leo dared to look up into Mac’s eyes. He had always adored the color of Mac’s eyes, a warm toffee flecked with emerald green. There was always such passion and heat in the way Mac looked at him, and before, one glance from Mac would cause Leo to melt. He held Mac’s gaze. He felt nothing now.

“What do you want me to say? Anything. I’ll do anything.”

Leo stayed silent. He’d invested three years of his life into their relationship. But enough was enough. Mac wasn’t ever going to change. It had finally come down to this moment, and Leo needed to make the decision that was right for him. No more second chances. Not this time.

“Move in with me,” Mac said quickly.

“What?” Had the kid literally fucked Mac’s brains out?

Mac released Leo’s arm and took both his hands in his. “It’s what you wanted, right? The two of us? Living together?” He leaned forward for a kiss, but Leo turned his head, Mac’s lips making contact with his cheek. He continued, “You can move in here.”

Once upon a time, Leo would have done anything to hear Mac say those words. How he had longed for them to be more than a toothbrush and a few toiletries in each other’s bathroom. They had been close once. Mac had even gotten him a key made, but then Mac had blown it, just like he had now, and it was like a reset had been hit on their relationship. He never would have expected it, but Leo was actually glad Mac had kept him at a distance. At least this way, Leo could walk away.

Shaking his head, Leo snatched his hands back. “No. I’m not doing this.” So many times Mac had talked his way back into Leo’s heart, and Leo into his bed. But not this time. This wasn’t Mac confirming Leo’s suspicions and the office gossip about what Mac had done behind his back. This time he had seen it with his own eyes. He’d seen the other man. He’d seen the lies and the cheating. They were done.

He took his keys from his jacket pocket. Never had the pile of metal felt so damn heavy. Looking into Mac’s eyes, he turned the keys over in his hand.

“Don’t,” Mac said.

If only Mac had been able to keep it in his pants. Leo had been happy in his little oblivious world. In his mind, he had been enough for Mac and they had been enough for each other. But he deserved better than this.

“I love you.”

“If you really loved me, this wouldn’t be happening. We wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation.” He separated the key to Mac’s apartment from the rest. Was he strong enough to go through with this? He looked at Mac. I deserve better than you. Pressing his mouth in a line, he freed the key from the keychain and held it out to Mac.

“Keep it,” Mac said.

Leo looked between the key and Mac. If he stayed, then what? How long would it be before Mac cheated on him again? He had to stick by his decision. For his own sake.

“I don’t want it.” As Mac wouldn’t take the key, Leo bent over and placed it on the floor. He let his fingers linger for a moment before he straightened up.

Mac rested his hands on his hips and eyed the key. “You’re giving up on us?”

“There is no more us, Mac.” He stepped forward and studied Mac’s face. God how he’d loved the man. Mac had been his Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome. Where had they gone wrong? “It wasn’t me that gave up.” He kissed Mac on the cheek. “Goodbye,” he said, then turned on his heel and walked away.

“Leo, wait,” Mac called after him. “Leo. You know you need me, right? You’ll be back.” He paused. “Leo!”

Leo didn’t stop until he reached the bottom of the stairwell. He glanced upward over his shoulder and listened. To his relief, he didn’t see or hear anything or anyone. If Mac had followed him out of the apartment, he wasn’t sure what he’d have done. His heart and head were all over the place. Three years. Three fucking years he’d just walked away from. Where had they gone wrong? Deflated, he sat on the bottom step. Was it him? Was he unlovable?

This was all Mac’s fault. Leo needed to remember that. So maybe he wouldn’t win any prizes for being the perfect boyfriend, because who the hell was perfect, but he had never lied to or cheated on Mac. Hell, if anything, he could be accused of trying too hard. With a sigh, he gazed out the apartment building’s doors. Through the glass he could see it was snowing again. Shivering, he rubbed at his chest. He felt like there was a block of ice clamped on either side of his heart, painfully squeezing the organ. Could someone die from a broken heart? Pressing his palm flat, he felt the gentle thump of his heartbeat.

Not completely broken.

The pulse beneath his hand reminded him there were worse things that could have happened to him today, not many, considering how he felt right now, but there were certainly some. A door opened and closed above him, and he heard voices on the stairs. The voices were female, and Leo guessed they belonged to Mac’s neighbors, a mother and daughter who lived across the hall.

He eyed the entrance. He couldn’t sit here all day, despite the sudden urge to curl into a ball and be damned with everything. He was only supposed to be on his lunch break, and he’d already spent a good amount of time thoughtfully selecting his ex-lover the perfect sandwich and standing in line for his salted caramel mocha. Ex-lover. That sounded pretty damn final.

I should have taken back the damn sandwich.

He blew out a heavy breath and got to his feet. He’d save the self-pity for the evening and have a full-on Bridget-Jones moment with a tub of ice cream and a breakup playlist. He straightened his tie. Not really his style. More likely popcorn and horror movies. As much as he’d love to see Mac chopped up into little pieces right now, it was never going to happen.

I’d never get away with it. He sniffed a laugh. Watching Freddy or Jason hack up a few people might help a bit, he figured. He sighed. He needed to get a grip, get back to the office, and hope to God nobody asked him how Mac was doing.

Fastening the button on his suit jacket, Leo prepared himself for the rush of cold. He pushed open the door to the block and stepped outside. Fresh air swirled around him, and he took a moment to appreciate how invigorating the sensation was. Breathing deeply, he stood tall. Despite the solid feeling still lingering inside his chest, he felt somewhat comforted by the chilled world before him. He rubbed at his chest and took the three steps down to the sidewalk. There he stopped as a cold shiver worked its way up his spine toward his collar and beneath his hairline. It was a strange feeling, but one he welcomed. For some reason, it felt right.

People walked past him, wrapped in their warm coats, hats, gloves, and scarves as they hurried through the snow. A gust of wind caused the white flakes to twist and turn, and Leo narrowed his eyes as a flash of blue spiraled in front of him. Rubbing his eyes, he dismissed the spark of color. He was tired, but he still had lots to do back at the office. If he could, he’d have ditched the presentation in favor of something else, but as it was, not only was the presentation important to Mac, Leo’s future at Harding’s Toys also rested on it.

He glanced up and down the sidewalk and settled his gaze on a man walking toward him. The man stood out from the other people on the street. He didn’t rush like the people around him, who looked as if they were running from the cold in search of a hiding place. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. He wore a short coat open over a pale blue shirt and dark jeans. His skin was fair, even more so set against his dark hair, and softened by the trimmed growth across his jaw. Something familiar leapt in Leo’s chest, but he was sure he had never seen the man before. He watched as blue spirals seemed to dance around the man, then their eyes met ever so briefly.

Clearly, Leo was imagining things, because the icy cold that had gripped his heart since leaving Mac’s apartment made way for sparks of heat. This didn’t happen to him, not like this. Sure he’d ogled plenty of handsome men, some had been downright fuckable, but never had a reaction been so strong to a simple stranger on the street. He was well and truly in lust.

A smile curled the man’s full mouth, and he looked over his shoulder. Leo’s attention was drawn beyond the man as someone seemingly slipped in the snow. The man’s smile widened as a second person fell on their ass behind him, then a third. Others stopped to help the fallen people, but all the man did was simply glance at Leo as he passed him. Intrigued, Leo stepped out. What happened next was a blur as his feet slipped from under him and he fell forward. His head hit the ground and all he remembered thinking was how shitty his day was turning out.

The Glow of Luminiferous Aether on Tinsel by Jana Denardo
The icy night wind bit deep, like a dog gnawing down to the bone. Jacob Scarberry pulled his blue wool pea coat tighter as he shivered. The cold burned his fingers through his gloves, and he shoved his hands up under his arms. Thick charcoal clouds obscured the silvery light of the moon, making the night more forbidding. Jacob ignored the urge to yank out his pocket watch to test how much longer he’d be on the deck of the DeGrasse. It wouldn’t be much longer, but at this point, as the wind and the airship’s engines carried them lazily eastward, he’d be home soon.

Jacob wished he could wear a third set of pants to keep out the cold, but he’d never be able to move in them. A union suit and woolen uniform trousers should have been enough to keep out the December chill, except his metal prosthetic leg, a miracle of spring-work technology, conducted the cold straight through his stump, up into his jewels, and even made his bladder ache. His slow path around the ship’s deck as he kept watch did little to warm him.

He had one sure way to feel warmer: thoughts of a certain Dr. H. Alphus Troyer waiting for him back home. Theirs was a strange and beautiful relationship. He’d never understand why a man as smart as Al would want to be with an air corps man like himself. Al argued that Jacob, as the onboard tactician, possessed intelligence in abundance. Though it would seem not enough to figure out a way to avoid guard duty in the middle of the frigid night just before Christmas. The airship’s engines growled a bit as a crosswind caught the balloon, rocking them. Jacob braced himself, widening his gait to help keep his balance, and his heavy boots thudded on the wood decking. Above him, the airship’s bladder rustled from a strong gust. He’d need more than thoughts of his debates with Al to keep him warm if the wind got any colder. Luckily, he had many fond memories of sharing Al’s bed. Now those were warm thoughts.

“My goggles are frozen to my face.”

Turning to face Marion Rose, Jacob tried not to laugh at her sour tone. Her lovely hair had been jammed up under a hat, and her goggles did look fogged. They wore them mostly to keep the wind out of their eyes, and when it was this cold, Jacob appreciated the lenses. The same could be said of the thick hat he wore over his dark hair. Behind Marion, the tinsel some wag had hung on the inside of the railings fluttered in the breeze, dully reflecting the bright moonlight.

“Everything is frozen to us,” Jacob said, patting his right thigh just above the leg Helen, his prosthetist, had crafted for him. “My leg is probably giving my stump frostbite.”

She crossed the gondola and tossed her arms around him. Between her thick woolen coat and his, he could barely feel the embrace. “Hmmm, this should be warmer, but it isn’t.”

“No, not really.” He rubbed her back. If he had any interest sexually in women, he would have considered Marion a perfect mate. Maybe it was better this way. He could be friends with this bright lady mechanic without sex messing things up.

“I bet you’re looking forward to getting home to Athens.” She hip bumped him. “To a certain professor.”

“Hush.” He meant that sincerely. Marion had guessed his love for Al—he wasn’t sure how—but he didn’t want it to be common knowledge.

“No one else is on the deck freezing to death,” she replied. “But point taken. The both of us could find ourselves committed to Athens Lunatic Asylum. You, a wedded bachelor, and me, a woman who thinks independently.”

The bitterness in her words crystallized in the night air. Jacob swallowed past the boulder in his throat—The Athens Lunatic asylum. It was a real fear. It wasn’t unheard of that homosexuals and mouthy women who didn’t know their places were committed as insane. The asylum was a beautiful place—even had dances, inviting the town, to give the patients something positive—but Jacob didn’t want to end up inside its walls for good. He doubted the new age looming before them would bring fast changes on how women or homosexuals were viewed.

They were less than two weeks to the turn of the century—1900. The mere thought of seeing a new century excited Jacob. He didn’t understand the hysterical types who swore the world would end. It hadn’t ended with any other turns of the century. Why should this one be any different, no matter what the religious zealots said? Al already had a party planned for New Year’s Eve that Jacob looked forward to nearly as much as he did Christmas. Given all he’d been through with the military, Jacob counted himself lucky to see a new century. At least this guarding precious cargo detail should be an easy one provided they avoided airship pirates.

He peered over the upper deck’s rail. A large, inky snake cut across the landscape—the mighty Ohio River. Pinpoints glittered in the darkness from all the gas streetlamps lighting up the small river towns that had cropped up along the waterway. Gazing east, the darkness seemed endless, consuming all.

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.

Rick R Reed
Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love.

He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a three-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Caregiver, Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). His novel, Raining Men, won the Rainbow Award for Best Contemporary General Fiction. Lambda Literary Review has called him, "a writer that doesn't disappoint."

Rick lives in Seattle with his husband and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever "at work on another novel."

RJ Scott
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn't with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn't like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

Meredith Russell
Meredith Russell lives in the heart of England. An avid fan of many story genres, she enjoys nothing less than a happy ending. She believes in heroes and romance and strives to reflect this in her writing. Sharing her imagination and passion for stories and characters is a dream Meredith is excited to turn into reality.

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

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

Ruby Moone
Ruby lives in Lancashire in the northwest of England. All through school she was told she would never get anywhere if she didn’t stop daydreaming. Eventually it occurred to her to write down the daydreams, and voilΓ ! The beautiful men in her head came to life. Ruby writes historical and contemporary gay romance but has a definite weakness for handsome men in billowing white shirts, breeches, and cravats. Oh, and she loves tea. Lots of tea.

Jana Denardo
Jana Denardo's career choices and wanderlust take her all over the United States and beyond. Much of her travels make their way into her stories. Fantasy, science fiction, and mystery have been her favorite genres since she started reading, and they often flavor her works. In her secret identity, she works with the science of life and gives college students nightmares. When she’s not chained to her computer writing, she functions as stray cat magnet. She’s also learning that the road to enlightenment is filled with boulders she keeps falling over and that the words gardening and Zen don’t go together no matter what anyone says.

Asta Idonea
EMAIL: nickijmarkus@y7mail.com

Rick R Reed

RJ Scott
EMAIL: rj@rjscott.co.uk

Meredith Russell
EMAIL: meredithrussell666@gmail.com

Eli Easton
EMAIL: eli@elieaston.com

Ruby Moone

Jana Denardo

Of Printers and Presents by Asta Idonea

An Open Window by Rick R. Reed

Matches: A Christmas Story by Rick R Reed
Christmas Wishes by RJ Scott

Just Jack by Meredith Russell

The Little Matchboy by Eli Easton

The Christmas Curse by Ruby Moone
The Glow of Luminiferous Aether on Tinsel by Jana Denardo