Monday, December 24, 2018

Monday's Mysterious Mayhem: The Magician's Angel by Jordan L Hawk

Vaudeville stage magician Christopher Fiend lives for the spotlight. His chance at big time stardom awaits him in Chicago, the next stop on the circuit after the little town of Twelfth Junction.

Edward Smith wants nothing to do with his family's theater. Until Christopher catches his eye on opening night, then treats him to a very special performance during intermission.

When a dead body turns up in the middle of Christopher’s act, suspicion immediately falls on him. If Christopher and Edward can’t work together to clear his name, Christopher won’t make it to Chicago in time. Edward knows he shouldn’t get attached to a man who will be gone in two days, but his heart—and a very special angel—have other ideas.

The Christmas Angel series of holiday romances follow the travels of an angel ornament through the decades as she inspires (and sometimes nudges) lonely men to find their Happily Ever After. The Magician’s Angel is the third in series, which can be read in any order.

The Christmas Angel Series
In 1750, a master woodcarver poured all his unrequited love, passion, and longing into his masterpiece—a gorgeous Christmas angel for his beloved’s tree. When the man he loved tossed the angel away without a second thought, a miracle happened. The angel was found by another who brought the woodcarver True Love.

Since then, the angel has been passed down, sold, lost and found, but its magic remains. Read the romances inspired by (and perhaps nudged along by) the Christmas angel through the years. Whether it’s 1700s England (Eli Easton's Christmas Angel), the 1880’s New York (Kim Fielding’s Summerfield’s Angel), the turn-of-the-century (Jordan L. Hawk’s Magician’s Angel), World War II (L.A. Witt’s Christmas Homecoming), Vietnam-era (N.R. Walker’s Soldier’s Wish), the 1990’s (Anyta Sunday’s Shrewd Angel), or 2018 (RJ Scott’s Christmas Prince), the Christmas angel has a way of landing on the trees of lonely men who need its blessing for a very Merry Christmas and forever HEA.

Christopher Fiend's next stop after Twelfth Junction could be the one that makes or breaks his career, too bad a body turns up that might not let him leave Twelfth Junction in time to make Chicago.  Edward Smith grew up around the theater his dad owned and now his brother is trying to make it survive.  A green carnation and a cleverly slipped card leads to a backstage bit of fun but shortly thereafter a body turns up in the act of the wearer of the carnation.  Will Christopher and Edward have more than the backstage fumble or has the body on stage put an end to it?  Will the Christmas Angel bring two more together or has murder put an end to her record of matchmaking?

Another winner in the multi-author The Christmas Angel series.  A spot of murder to brighten up one's holiday is always a blessing in my book.  There comes a point where you can only take so much sweetness without the sour.  Don't get me wrong, Magician's Christmas has loads of holiday sweet within the pages but Jordan L Hawk has sprinkled in just the right amount of mystery and mayhem to give this entry an extra splash of awesomeness.

Once again, I wonder how the Christmas Angel went from one era to the next but that in itself adds a recurring flavor of holiday magic that doesn't need to be answered to be enjoyed.  Jordan L Hawk has a history of using real magic to further a story along but this time around its slight-of-hand pure theater magic that is involved but as we see even the vaudeville kind can be a life saver too.

Magician's Christmas is a lovely blend of historical accuracy, murder, heat, and heart to make this romantic mystery novella one of the best I've read this holiday season.  I don't imagine we will see Christopher Fiend and Edward Smith again but if the author ever felt the pull to write more of them, I know I for one would be first in line to gobble it up.

I should add that Jordan's entry in this series is third but can be read as a standalone.  I myself have read this series out of order, not something I often do but in this series it is doable.  However, I do personally recommend reading Eli Easton's Christmas Angel first as you learn the how and why the ornament came to be and as I have said in my other reviews so far of this series, not knowing her origin would probably leave me a bit distracted from completely enjoying each subsequent entry no matter what order I read them.  But that is just my personal preference. 


Author Bio:
Jordan L. Hawk is a non-binary queer author from North Carolina. Childhood tales of mountain ghosts and mysterious creatures gave them a life-long love of things that go bump in the night. When they aren’t writing, they brew their own beer and try to keep the cats from destroying the house. Their best-selling Whyborne & Griffin series (beginning with Widdershins) can be found in print, ebook, and audiobook.


The Magician's Angel by Jordan L Hawk

The Christmas Angel by Eli Easton

Summerfield's Angel by Kim Fielding

Christmas Homecoming by L.A. Witt

A Soldier's Wish by N.R. Walker

Shrewd Angel by Anyta Sunday

Christmas Prince by RJ Scott

Random Tales of Christmas 2018 Part 11

Matthew's Present by Sarah Hadley Brook
Matthew Blick is almost thirty years old, and he hates the thought of another holiday alone. He has become a bit of a wet blanket when Christmas rolls around every year. So much so that even his five-year-old niece, Hannah, knows something needs to change. She asks the department store Santa to bring her uncle a man to love, and when Santa sees her uncle, he formulates a plan to set that possibility in motion.

Santa shows up at Matthew’s house and at first Matthew can’t place him, but then the memories of his first kiss flood his mind and he is shocked to find that Santa is the man he has carried a torch for since high school. Will this twist of fate help Matthew change his view on the holidays? Only a kiss can tell.

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

A short but lovely and fun Hallmark-ish holiday romance.  Could this have been better had it been longer? No doubt, especially considering the author is Sarah Hadley Brook but on the flipside, Matthew's Present is just the right amount of pages to convey the holiday spirit.  From the minute little Hannah whispers to Santa asking to bring a guy to make her uncle happy you just know where this story is headed but that doesn't make this any less entertaining.  Sometimes we need that little extra push to remember what our hearts need and Hannah is just that push for Matthew and Tyler, even if she didn't realize who her wish would be.  A true holiday gem not to be missed.


Tutus and Tinsel by Rhys Ford
Half Moon Bay #2.5
Zig Reid-Harris has everything an eleven-year-old girl could ever want: a great home, two fantastic fathers named Deacon Reid and Lang Harris, and all the books she could possibly read.

When a school assignment about holiday traditions unexpectedly broadsides her, she discovers burying the past isn’t as easy as it looks, and the stark reality of her life before her adoption sinks in. Ashamed of the bleakness and poverty she came from, Zig struggles with the assignment until an epiphany strikes the whole family—it’s time to start their own traditions.

Zig and her fathers plunge into the insanity of holiday joy, exploring everything the season has to offer and learning how precious family truly is along the way.

Company for Christmas by AE Ryecart
A Festive Cinderfella Story.

Who says fairy tales are only make-believe?

Every night, Nathan works the street known as The Rack. Like every other rent boy, he dreams his Prince Charming will come and take him away to a better life.

Too bad Nathan's stopped believing in fairy tales.

Max has everything except the one thing he craves: somebody to love, cherish, and protect.

Somebody to call his own.

When Nathan and Max’s worlds collide on the cold and grimy backstreet, little do they know that Christmas magic has already cast its spell.

Maybe fairy tales really can come true after all.

Company for Christmas is a 16k novelette. A warm woollen coat instead of a glass slipper, an unconventional found family, an inflatable Father Christmas called Dirty Santa... and the best Company for Christmas ever.

Dallas Christmas by RJ Scott
Logan Maxwell, a winger for the Burlington Dragons, is stuck in Dallas and missing Christmas with his family. There's no snow in this damn city, he's lonely, and he can't even remember the last time he hooked up with a guy.

Spending his precious Christmas break with the other single players on the team could be great, he guessed, but for one thing; Archie Simard.

Lusting after the brother of your team captain is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas, Logan knows that. But when fate throws him and the temptation that is Archie together, it’s hard not to fall in love.

This story was previously published in the Hockey Holiday Anthology

Who doesn't love a good lusting-after-someone-you-shouldn't story?  Okay, there probably are some people who don't like that particular trope but I'm not one of them, I love them!  In Dallas Christmas, it is kind of combinedt with mixing-business-and-pleasure trope so for me its a two for one in my fave department and then to add an extra layer of icing on top, Dallas is written by one of my favorite-go-to-happy-place-authors: Miss RJ Scott!  Talk about a win-win. 

Watching Logan and Archie maneuver the shoulds and should-nots of their Christmas stuck in Dallas is not only a romance lover's dream its just pure fun.  Throw in a little Logan's coach and Archie's brother(who is one in the same, hence the mixing of business and pleasure trope) and you have a delightful stocking stuffer treat that has "Christmas morning from Santa" written all over it.

I should add that I originally read this as part of the Hockey Holiday Anthology less than a month ago and I still gave this holiday short a re-read.  In my book that speaks more to my love of it than most of what I said above.


Just in Time by Jacqueline Rohrbach
The legendary ghosts of Christmas—Past, Present, and Future—failed to cure Evan Eazer of his misanthropy. He hates people, loves conflict, and has a swearing habit to boot. Phil, the Ghost of Imaginary Time couldn’t be more thrilled. Finally, it’s his turn to get off the bench and into the game. He’s sure he can cure Evan and earn back his place in the giving-people-Christmas-epiphanies rotation.

Evan won’t reform easy. He’s immune to Phil’s many charms and seems content to live out the rest of his life bitter and alone. Worse, Phil’s time on the bench has left him ignorant to the ways of humanity. He struggles to navigate the new world and find his place within it let alone help someone else find his way back on the right path.

But one thing Phil does understand about the strange world in which he finds himself is Evan and his pain. He knows what it’s like to be misunderstood by pretty much everyone. But can he get Evan to understand him, too?

I've been wanting to read an M/M story reminescent of Dickens' A Christmas Carol for years now and although this isn't exactly what Just in Time is, there are elements of it involved.  Ever wonder what would happen to Scrooge if the Ghosts of Christmas failed to show him the true meaning of the holiday?  Well, Just in Time explores that case and the Ghost of Imaginary Time is sent in, even if he has to push to get the chance.

I'm really not going to speak too much to the plot of this holiday short other than I found it to be quite ingenious.  A lovely blend of classic and originality.  Phil the Ghost of Imaginary Time is probably way too chipper considering the task before him as well as the outcome the last time he was sent in but you gotta love his gung-ho spirit.  Personally, my gung-ho would have turned to get-up-and-outta-here about five minutes after meeting Evan the man who beat the Ghosts of Christmas, but not Phil he doesn't give up so easily.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are some dark moments that Phil faces and he begins to waver but never truly gives up.  Does he succeed where the previous ghosts failed?  For that you have to read Just in Time for yourself but you can probably guess where the characters end up but as so often, the meat-and-potatoes of this holiday tale is not in the destination but the journey getting there.  Trust me, this is not one you want to miss.


Click to Check Out Previous
Random Tales of Christmas 2018

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4
Part 5  /  Part 6  /  Part 7  /  Part 8
Part 9  /  Part 10

Matthew's Present by Sarah Hadley Brook
“THERE HE is, Uncle Matthew,” his niece announced quietly, her excitement tempered with the respect all children have for Santa. Eagerly, she nudged him and pointed ahead, barely able to contain her enthusiasm. She was practically bouncing up and down in her pink-and-white snow boots as a grin spread across her delicate face.

Finally, he thought, fighting another yawn. They had been standing in line for at least an hour. He shifted her pink coat onto his other arm and glanced over at Santa’s Workshop, immensely pleased that someone in a Santa suit was making his way over to the green velvet throne. The oversized plush chair was adorned with hideous gold accents and something that he could only assume from this far back was supposed to be holly berries. Larger-than-life presents and toys—was that supposed to be a spinning top?—surrounded the throne, and the ground was covered in lots of fluffy white faux snow.

Several more people dressed in matching elf costumes scurried around as they prepared to open the gate to the dozens of people waiting their turn. He looked down the line of frustrated parents as he tried to gauge how much longer he would be stuck in this nightmare, taking some personal satisfaction at the defeated expressions many of the adults wore. If he had to be stuck here, he was glad there were others suffering along with him. What kind of monster had created this special kind of hell that pulled children in through the lure of sitting on Santa’s lap, only to spit them back out tired, angry, and hungry?

While standing in place for the past hour, he had witnessed the process several times over as more than one ran from the line, a shrieking mother or father usually close on their heels. Most of those parents didn’t show back up, choosing to forgo the line and head home instead. Lucky bastards, he thought.

He scanned the department store again. Large, bulky wreaths decorated with red and gold bows hung everywhere, while thick garlands made of artificial greenery draped across signs, countertops, doors, and railings. Massive ornaments in every shape and color hung from the ceiling throughout the entire store. There was just no way to escape the holiday.

Tutus and Tinsel by Rhys Ford
“SCREW IT! Everyone can go to hell!” A door slammed somewhere in the front of Reid’s Auto Shop and was followed by a stomping frenzy worthy of a brontosaurus. There was more cursing, this time in a mangled Spanish, and then Zig returned to her tried and true favorites. “Fucking shit!”

One of the young mechanics—probably Eli—mumbled something, but it was hard to hear through the cinder block walls, despite the open double doors that led to the main shop. Hunkered over a ’71 Norton Commando, Deacon tightened down another gauge, counted to five, and grinned when Zig groaned loudly.

“Shit! He’s supposed to be at Angel’s fixing something.” Her dramatic sigh was worthy of a hippo in love with a crocodile prince. “I already owe him two bucks when I get my allowance this week.”

“Maybe if you throw yourself onto the mercy of the court.” Abe, Eli’s boyfriend and fellow mechanic chortled. The beefy young man passed the open door, carrying a box of parts to the car he’d been working on. “You’d think you’d learn.”

The oncoming storm muffled most of what they were saying, but Deacon figured Zig needed to vent a bit of steam before she made her way to the back of the shop, where he was working. Eli and Abe would hear her out, but neither of them would offer up much in the way of how to fix what was wrong. They’d make sympathetic murmurs, and when Zig reached a point where she was willing to listen, she’d come find him.

In a lot of ways, the auto shop was her home away from home… well, one of them. Lang’s bookstore, a few doors down, got a lot of Zig traffic as well. She earned money at the auto shop doing the odd job and then turned around and handed her hard-earned cash to the book store to satisfy her reading addiction. But as close as she was to Lang, she always sought out Deacon when life threw her a curveball.

Reid’s was busy with a constant flow of customers and cars that needed work. He’d brought on a few more mechanics, made Eli and Abe senior technicians, and hired a retired librarian named Mabel to man the front desk and answer calls. Mabel’s prim and proper exterior masked a woman with the heart and mouth of a pirate, and she ran the place as tightly as though she were the captain of a ship. She kept the sales books in order and warmed up the reception area with endless coffee and bright chatter.

All the growth in the front of the shop meant Deacon could concentrate on the work he did in the long bay attached to the back of the building.

As much as cars were the foundation of Reid’s success, his love of restoring and customizing classic motorcycles satisfied his soul. He loved the research as much as he did the tinkering and consulting with a bike’s owner on its specs and looks. Most of all he loved the relative solitude of the workroom of his own shop and bringing life back to beautiful machines.

The stomping continued and then stopped at the door, but Deacon focused on the bike and reached for one of the filters he brought with him from the front office. In the years since he’d adopted his niece and married his husband, Lang, he’d learned a few things about how to handle Zig, especially since she was more like him than her deceased mother. Where his sister would take the easy way out of things or con someone else into taking the blame, Zig met life head-on, ready to do battle with any and all obstacles.

Even the ones she should walk away from.

Deacon had learned a lot of hard lessons, some in prison for receiving stolen goods or in the rough, mean Long Beach neighborhoods where he and Zig grew up, but the most difficult thing he’d ever done was walk away from everything he knew and move to Half Moon Bay to start his life over.

The little girl standing at the double doors that connected the auto bays to the long receiving bay he’d converted to a cycle shop was worth every agonizing moment and every dollar he’d spent to make the move. He knew it the moment he picked her up from her foster home and put her into the sidecar of his motorcycle, and he vowed to be as perfect of a dad as he could, although he knew he’d fuck it up something fierce along the way.

He had, no question about it, but she kept coming back to him, and she held on tight when the world got too sharp and she grew brittle. They’d come a long way together and went even further when Lang joined their family. Still, it was hard to look into Zig’s enormous too-adult green eyes and not see the little girl who’d once needed a nightlight to fall asleep.

“You heard me, right?” Zig muttered, a bit of challenge in her voice. “And I hate that the swear jar’s back. Sometimes I just want to say bad things.”

At eleven and a half, Zig was getting tall. She was a coltish stretch of golden-skinned, smart-mouthed young girl on the verge of womanhood, and it broke Deacon’s heart a little bit to find the top of her head was getting a lot closer to his chin with every passing day. He’d been weak-willed one hot afternoon a few weeks ago and agreed to let Zig shave the underside of her head. He helped her parse out the line and then took a pair of clippers to her soft tumble of caramel curls. Lang came home to what he thought was a dead poodle on the kitchen floor and a sobbing Zig now shorn around her ears and filled with instant regret.

The tears lasted for an hour, and after two bowls of ice cream, Lang helped her even the line out while they both shot evil glares at Deacon as he sat quietly at the kitchen table, refusing to point out that the clippers and mane cut were Zig’s idea. He mentioned that no one could actually see her shaved skull under the wealth of hair she still had left, but the response he got was less than friendly.

A trip to the movies and a dinner at Zig’s favorite pizza place soon smoothed over that particular bump in the road.

Deacon stayed silent and waited Zig out. Her heavy boots were speckled from mud, and her Crossroads Gin gray hoodie was nearly soaked through from the storm raging outside of the bay’s rolling doors. She’d worn a black Reid’s Auto Shop shirt into school with a pair of the ugliest pink camo cargo capris ever made, but he took one look at her that morning and decided it wasn’t a battle he needed to fight.

He was pretty good at picking his battles now, mostly because a lot of it didn’t matter. As long as he wasn’t raising an asshole kid, Deacon figured he was doing okay.

“I’ve got reasons.” She fired off her opening volley and kept her voice down to a whisper so soft that he almost couldn’t hear it over the rain. “Good ones.”

“Huh.” Deacon allowed himself that small noise in the pregnant pause of doubt before she began the mad scramble of words and indignant outrage over some slight she’d been given. “Pass me that socket over there on the bench.”

Zig brought the tool over, along with a few lemon drops she snagged from the candy jar he kept on the work bench. She popped a couple into Deacon’s open mouth, settled down on one of the shop’s stools, and hooked her feet into the metal ring above its wheels. Deacon knew his daughter well enough to know she was struggling with how to package whatever she needed to say as her gaze drifted out to watch the sheets of rain that poured off the tin roof of the bay.

After a few minutes, Zig sighed and mumbled, “Mrs. Bryant wants us to do a presentation on our family’s holiday traditions, like what our first Christmas or whatever was like and what we remember from it.”

That was not what Deacon expected to hear.

“It’s stupid, and it sucks. Not everybody’s got money,” she snapped. “Mom sucked. And not like you were around. I didn’t have shit back then. You know.”

“Well, shit, kiddo.” Deacon huffed out a breath, straightened up, and reached over to ruffle Zig’s hair. “We can do something. It’s not going to be that bad.”

Zig clamped her lips in tight, turned her face away, and refused to look at him. She clenched the stool’s leather cushion, dimpling it deeply, and her knuckles turned white. A sheen flashed over her eyes, a brief watering before she blinked and hid her unshed tears.

They’d both come from shit. There was no denying that. They’d been born into squalor, and Deacon’s path was set toward ruin nearly at birth. His mother taught him how to shoplift, how to shove Styrofoam flats of pork chops and hamburger down the back of his loose jeans, his hoodie tugged low to hide the bulge tucked against his spine. At seven he learned to “shop” on his own and bring what he lifted back to whatever hellhole she’d found for them to squat in. Too many of his holidays were spent in food kitchens or ratty hotels, where he ran the hot water in the bathroom on full force and hoped it would be enough to cook a Cup Noodles for dinner.

His first real Thanksgiving meal was in juvie, and he punched one of the other guys in the face just to take his slice of pumpkin pie. He knew his mother hadn’t been much better for his younger sister, and Deanna did even less for her daughter. She let Zig’s life disintegrate around her while she chased another hit of whatever drug she could get her hands on.

Deacon wouldn’t sugarcoat Zig’s life before foster care. He knew exactly what Zig had lived through, and he worked to help her overcome her mistrust of people. She pulled a lot of crap because she’d only had herself to depend on, but she’d stopped hoarding canned goods around her bedroom and didn’t lead with her fists anymore when she was challenged by someone at school.

She was learning to walk away when something wasn’t worth it and to go full in when it was… a hell of a lot sooner than Deacon ever had. Denying what she’d gone through when Deanna was alive would have been erasing the struggles she’d fought through, and Deacon knew in his gut it was better to point out that she’d come through it and was a better person than it was to sweep it all under the rug and pretend it never happened—especially since there were still nights when he was woken up by her insensible cries. He still spent hours holding her, reassuring her that he would always be there to protect her, and rocking her gently until the dawn turned the creamy walls of her bedroom a blush pink.

“We didn’t do jack for Christmas, or Halloween even. Like, all the kids at school would come back after vacation, and they had all this cool shit or they went someplace. We didn’t do that.” She still ducked her head down and couldn’t look at him. “One time I stole a Barbie doll from the box they put toys in for poor kids, and I hid it from Mom. But when school started, I brought it with me to show what I got for Christmas. So I could pretend, you know? I don’t want to tell Mrs. Bryant that. I don’t want her to know about back then.”

“I can talk to her and—”

“No! Then you’ve got to explain. It’s just… this sucks.” She finally looked up, her face wet with tears. Her bottom lip trembled, and Deacon reached for her, but Zig shook him off. “Why was Mom such a shit? Why didn’t you come get me sooner?”

If Zig had picked up a chisel and stabbed him in the heart, she couldn’t have hurt him more than she did with the words she flung at him. Deacon gathered her up in his arms and expected a fight, but Zig surprised him and flung herself at him in a desperate lunge. He held her tightly and rocked her back and forth while he smoothed her hair as she sobbed. Her slender body shook as she worked out her pain and frustration, and her tears soaked his shirt. His heart broke for what must have been the thousandth time since he’d first learned that his sister died and left a little girl behind to wallow in the ashes of her broken, fucked-up life.

“I hate Mom. I’m glad she’s dead. I hate her so much.” She caught her breath and exhaled in stuttering jerks into his chest. “I just want to be normal, Dad.”

“Well then, you’re shit out of luck, baby girl.” Deacon sighed, kissed the top of her head, and whispered, “You’re never going to be normal. You can’t be, because you’re already pretty fucking special.”

Just in Time by Jacqueline Rohrbach
Chapter One
The stage was set for Evan to have a life-changing epiphany. Smoke drifted across the graveyard, tangling itself around the crumbling tombstones. Most of the markers had faded through the years. Evan could make out the occasional Smith, or maybe that was only his mind filling in the blanks by putting common names over eroded canvases.

He bent next to the nearest one and wiped his hand across the bumpy surface. A coat of fine, almost silky, white powder clung to his fingers afterward. He’d known he’d get that result with no clear answers to show for the mess. Still, he was annoyed when he stood and cleaned off the dust using the untucked side of his shirt. Life was mostly like that for him. He knew what was going to happen before it did, but it didn’t stop him from feeling disappointed.

“Okay, get on with it, Johnny Bones for Fingers,” he told the newest ghost to visit him that night. There’d been two before him: the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present. Fed up with their nagging criticisms, and going on very little sleep, he snapped, “Make your bloody point. I need to shit and this place fucking sucks.”

There was a long pause before the Ghost of Christmas Past said, “And this lonely grave is yours, Evan,” in his deepest, scariest voice. His bony fingers wiggled above the exposed plot.

“Smooth recovery,” Evan said and shrugged.

“You died alone. No one to mourn you.”

Evan shrugged again. “Sounds about right.”

“You were unloved.”

“It’s a cruel world.”

“Even your family scorned you.”

“Right back at them.” Except for his mom, Evan amended silently. At one point, he would have put his sister on that list, but she’d shown herself to be as materialistic and heartless as their other siblings after their mother died.

“This is your last warning!” Past’s ominous voice boomed. The echo of it reverberated in Evan’s stomach, morphing his bowels into an uncomfortable churning sludge. No matter how ridiculous, the future was always scary. But it didn’t change his mind or heart.

“Tell you what, I’ll get cremated,” Evan said. “Putting that in my living will as soon as you dump me back off at my bedroom.”

Puffs of black smoke coiled around the robed figure. The ghost vanished along with the archetypical cemetery. The familiar surroundings of his bedroom and the musky scent of himself greeted Evan when he blinked open his eyes.

Evan got up from the bed. Although he was only in his early twenties, he had old bones. He swore he felt his back creak in protest. A slit of sunlight peeked through the curtains, cutting a peephole into his life. Evan drew them tightly together until he and the rest of the world felt like two separate things.

He didn’t need anyone. Not in the past, not in the present, not in the future.

“That guy is an irredeemable wanker,” The Ghost of Christmas Present griped.

“I’ve met serial-killing clowns I’d like to spend more time with,” The Ghost of Christmas Past agreed.

“The world is a darker, desolate place with him dwelling in its recesses. He festers like a tooth with an abscess, rotted beneath the glossy enamel.”

“Cut the emo shit, Future. Just say he’s a damn wanker,” Past said.

Future sniffled at Past’s slight and drew a dark hood up around his face to sulk. Through it, he mumbled, “Philistines. No talent for drama.”

The Ghost of Imaginary Time listened to the other ghosts quibble about the human, some delightful sounding chap named Evan Ezear. They’d been tasked to cure him of his misanthropy. Imaginary had been on the bench since he could remember, waiting for his turn to charm someone into re-embracing humanity. It sounded like this fellow might be his ticket back into the big game.

“Guys, maybe I can give it a crack?”

Present scoffed. “What are you going to do, Imaginary? You don’t understand people and people don’t understand you. Perhaps you could confuse him until he reforms?”

The Ghost of Imaginary Time loved the absurdity of the statement and embraced it close to his chest, holding it dear. Grinning, he cocked his eyebrow and said, “Maybe.”

“Well, you’ve never worked,” Present said. “No one has ever understood your gimmick. What is it, anyway?”

Imaginary wanted to say, I teach them to live with you three assholes, but he wanted to get his way more, so he plastered a smile on his face. “Embrace who you are. Understand that you know nothing!”

“Don’t you remember what happened to the last poor chap?” Future asked.

Imaginary did remember. “The last guy had a meltdown. Which was sort of like an epiphany…” Imaginary stuck one finger up in the air as if to hold up his tenuous argument.

“He ended up in an asylum,” Past reminded him. Not meanly, only matter-of-fact.

“Where he had several more epiphanies,” Imaginary said.

“Because you blew his mind to shit,” Past retorted. “To utter fucking shit. Ka-blooey.”

Behind Past, the other two ghosts nodded in agreement. Always an asshole, Present went the additional step of giving Imaginary’s supposed stupidity a slow blink and a pointed lip smack.

“Well, he talks funny,” Imaginary said, jabbing his thumb toward Future. “Like the Ghost of Christmas Thesaurus, amiright? What human can even figure out what he’s getting at? He always ends up pointing at their sad-looking grave in some hackneyed cemetery he conjured from a Dicken’s novel. The world is more modern now, Future. There are automatic sprinklers. The guy with the overgrown weeds and open graves isn’t in business anymore.”

“Scurrilous!” Future bellowed and banged his bony hands on the table. The result was more of a clatter, but Imaginary reacted as though the gesture had its intended effect and recoiled. Future loved to grandstand and playing along could grease the wheels.

“Don’t be a wanker,” Past said. “We’re all the same here.”

“My bad. You’re right,” Imaginary said. To Future, he added, “Hey, I’m sorry, buddy. You run a good game.”

Future sniffled in his practiced dignified way. “I say there’s no harm in giving it a shot. We can at least let Imaginary endeavor to transform this cur’s heart into something unblemished.”

Imaginary beamed. “Thanks!” He turned to Present and said, “Come on, buddy, give me a shot.”

Present flipped a dismissive hand in the air and said, “Fine. Whatever. Tell you what, I’ll even give you until Christmas. Just don’t send him to the loony bin.”

Imaginary tried to conceal his excitement. After several moments of flapping his hands and screaming, “Oh my god, Oh my god, finally, oh my god,” he took a deep breath and said, “Okay, what’s his deal, Past?”

“He just hates people.”

“That’s it? He doesn’t have some tragic backstory?”

“Well, his mother died of cancer.”

“That’s something!” Imaginary said, making a mental note.

“Everyone’s mother dies,” Past said. “Most people don’t become bitter pricks about it.”

“True. Anything else?”

Past thought for a moment, then held up his index finger when something came to him. “He had a lot of crazy friends who always had strange issues that needed solving. For example, some guy once put three weasels into Evan’s bathtub.”

“What for?”

“You know, I couldn’t really figure it out. I think his friend just might have been an asshole.”

Sometimes the past wasn’t as complex as people wanted to make it, so Imaginary accepted the answer without pause.

In that space of time, Present asked, “What are you going to call yourself? Your name immediately invites a ‘what’ and a confused head tilt.”

“Well, I’m not going to use my work name. I’m going to call myself…” Imaginary thought really hard and came up with an answer. Cheerily, he said, “Phil.”

“Good luck!” Past said with a salute and tilted smile. Phil could always count on Past to be hopeful about the future. “Brush up on your acting skills and read the human manual. Last time, when you blew that guy’s mind to shit, you didn’t understand people. I doubt your skills have gotten better since you’ve been on the bench for, you know, centuries. Also, be mindful that the more human you act, the more human you’ll become, so don’t get too far off task. Okay?”

Imaginary didn’t plan on doing either of those things. “Sure.”

“Cheers, my good man,” Future said. No matter what had happened earlier, he always looked forward. “Make us overflow with the waters of your success!”

Present couldn’t let things go even though that was mostly his job, so he said, “See you real soon.”

Sarah Hadley Brook
Sarah Hadley Brook lives smack-dab in the middle of the Heartland and is the mother of two wonderful young men, as well as two cats. During the day, she works in the nonprofit world, but reserves evenings for her hobby-turned-passion of writing, letting the characters she conjures in her mind take the lead and show her where the story will go. When not working or writing, she can be found reading, working on dollhouses, trying her hand at new recipes, or watching old movies and musicals. In her ideal world, Christmas would come at least twice a year, Rock Hudson and Doris Day would have costarred in more than three movies, and chocolate would be a daily necessity. She dreams of traveling to Scotland some day and visiting the places her ancestors lived. Sarah believes in “Happily Ever After” and strives to ensure her characters find their own happiness in love and life.

Rhys Ford
Rhys Ford is an award-winning author with several long-running LGBT+ mystery, thriller, paranormal, and urban fantasy series and was a 2016 LAMBDA finalist with her novel, Murder and Mayhem. She is published by Dreamspinner Press and DSP Publications.

She’s also quite skeptical about bios without a dash of something personal and really, who doesn’t mention their cats, dog and cars in a bio? She shares the house with Yoshi, a grumpy tuxedo cat and Tam, a diabetic black pygmy panther, as well as a ginger cairn terrorist named Gus. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird and enjoys murdering make-believe people.

AE Ryecart
I love all kinds of MM romance and gay fiction, but I especially like contemporary stories.  Born and raised in London, the city is part of my DNA so I like to set many of my stories in and around present-day London, providing the perfect, metropolitan backdrop to the main action. I write at home, in the gym, in cafés - in fact any place I can find a good coffee!

RJ Scott
USA Today bestselling author RJ Scott writes stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, a happily ever after.

RJ Scott is the author of over one hundred romance books, writing emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men 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.

She’s always thrilled to hear from readers, bloggers and other writers. Please contact via the links below.

Jacqueline Rohrbach
Jacqueline Rohrbach is a 36-year-old creative writer living in windy central Washington. When she isn’t writing strange books about bloodsucking magical werewolves, she’s baking sweets, or walking her two dogs, Nibbler and Mulder. She also loves cheesy ghost shows, especially when the hosts call out the ghost out like he wants to brawl with it in a bar. You know, “Come out here, you coward! You like to haunt little kids. Haunt me!” Jackee laughs at this EVERY time.

She’s also a hopeless World of Warcraft addict. In her heyday, she was a top parsing disc priest. She became a paladin to fight Deathwing, she went back to a priest to cuddle pandas, and then she went to a shaman because I guess she thought it would be fun to spend an entire expansion underpowered and frustrated. Boomchicken for Legion!

Sarah Hadley Brook

Rhys Ford

AE Ryecart

RJ Scott

Jacqueline Rohrbach

Matthew's Present by Sarah Hadley Brook

Tutus and Tinsel by Rhys Ford
Company for Christmas by AE Ryecart

Dallas Christmas by RJ Scott

Just in Time by Jacqueline Rohrbach