A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Disarming Donner (North Pole City Tales #5) by Charlie Cochet

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

disarming-donnerNumber 5 in the North Pole City Tales, Charlie Cochet brings us another very sweet story of elves, fairies, Jack Frost, and Rudy and his fellow Rein Dear.  Reading these stories is like reading an adult Christmas tale, complete with toy soldiers and sugar plum fairies. 

In this story, Cupid’s half-brother, Calder, is in North Pole City to train Cupid, now that it’s been revealed that he is part dark elf.  He needs to learn to control his magic, and Calder, a good elf at heart, is the most sensible choice. Calder is a big guy, handsome, dark-skinned, and attractive to the diminutive Donner, Cupid’s friend.  Donner, with his violet-colored eyes and sweet temperament unknowingly attracts Calder’s attention.  But Donner, like the others in NP City, wants nothing to do with a Dockalfar—a dark elf, and despite his attraction to Caldar, he keeps him at bay.  Until an accident happens that changes everything. 

Honestly?  These stories shouldn’t make any sense, and they shouldn’t be so darn cute or make me want to gobble them up faster than Christmas cookies, but they do.  Too sweet for some? Maybe. But I’ll bet once readers start this series, it will be very hard to put the books down. I know I’m sticking with it to the end of the series, and I recommend that others do the same.  Another super sweet stocking stuffer to share with my friends, this is my holiday auto-buy every year.

Cover art by the inimitable Paul Richmond depicts a shy Donner being courted by Calder with a sweet treat Donner won’t be able to resist—a perfect match for this story.

Sales Links

        

Book Details:

ebook, 68 pages
Expected publication: December 21st 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634778138 (ISBN13: 9781634778138)
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesNorth Pole City Tales #5

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Holiday House Swap by Sarah Madison

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

holiday-house-swapThis story was a delightful surprise. Though it started out slow, and I was a bit concerned I might not like the story when I read the first chapter, it quickly picked up pace and I found myself making excuses to take a break from my usual work to get back to reading it.

Noah Kinley is the author behind the pen name of Julie Velazquez, a highly popular author of a romance mystery series. Originally Noah took his friend Julie’s name because his agent told him he’d never get an offer using a man’s name. When the books picked up in popularity, Noah was stuck, and by then Julie was making public appearances as the author, and neither felt they could reveal the truth.

Fast forward a few years and Noah is getting close to being agoraphobic at his secluded cabin in Vermont so he decides to do a holiday house swap with a family who own a southern plantation-type home, complete with horse farm, in Virginia. Traumatized after the flight and stress of travel, Noah is soaking in the Jacuzzi with soft holiday music playing, a bottle of wine at his side, and munching on cheese and crackers when suddenly a soldier aiming a gun in his face is in the doorway. Turns out the owner of the house is retired USAF Major Connor Harrison, not his brother who pretended to own the home and engineered the swap with Noah.

Once his heart settles, the two spend time together straightening it out, and Noah starts to think this might not be a bad vacation after all. The story takes a while to build, and both men have family issues and career issues that need to be resolved so the story is interesting as everything unfolds. There’s a lot of information about horse ranching, training, and breeding so those who enjoy that topic should definitely pick this up. But over and above that, there’s plenty of time for romance, and for a host of complications arising out of Noah’s continued refusal to reveal his real identity. But everything comes to a head at an impromptu holiday party Noah and Connor throw for family and friends.

I’m trying not to reveal spoilers here, but suffice it to say it was a highly entertaining story, full of tension, both sexual and career-oriented, and had plenty of plot twists and turns to keep readers interested. It also had a brief, but totally unexpected and sweet ending, quite fitting for an author of romance novels.

If you enjoy holiday stories, retired military, horse farming, and/or a sweet contemporary romance, I recommend you try this one.

Cover by Brooke Albrecht shows a handsome man lying with his head on a pillow, both superimposed over a quaint rural snow scene. As it’s highly likely that’s Noah daydreaming about the beautiful countryside, it’s a very fitting cover for this story.

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Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Expected publication: December 21st 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1635330939 (ISBN13: 9781635330939)
Edition LanguageEnglish

A MelanieM Advent Calendar Review Day 21: Iced (2016 Advent Calendar – Bah Humbug) by Jon Keys

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

iced-by-jon-keysKeith Walker, a mall bookstore employee, is struggling to get through another miserable holiday season while trying to preserve a crumbling long-term relationship. One of his few comforts is his morning coffee made by a good-looking, younger barista. Austin Novak felt an attraction when Keith started frequenting the coffee shop, but he doesn’t think the older man has any interest in him or his graphic novel collection.

A Christmas week snowstorm buries the city and locks Keith’s car into its parking spot. Keith decides to show Austin his gratitude for helping free the car from the ice with a dinner invitation. The meal becomes complicated when Austin meets Keith’s boyfriend, Shawn, and things go downhill from there when Shawn announces he’s heading to Cancún with his coworkers. Keith is caught between keeping his boyfriend happy and keeping his job. But Keith might not need a plane ticket to find the happiness that’s been missing from his life.

Iced by Jon Keys is a well written holiday romance.  It flowed smoothly, the characters felt real as did some of the situations. So why didn’t I connect with it better?

It could be Keith and his awful floormat relationship with his existing boyfriend, Shawn.  We got to see exactly how badly Shawn treated Keith as well as how far Keith would go to ignore the sheer blatant cheating and humiliating behaviors he exhibited towards Keith, especially in front of Austin.  If I had been Austin, I would have been at the door in a heartbeat.  This wasn’t one red flag, it was a truckload.  Yes, the story worked its way through to a romance, but honestly?  It lost me here, and never recovered.

Others, I know are going to see it differently.  For them, the recovery, the meet again through the phone call, all of it will add up to a delightful holiday love story.  I guess it should have done it for me as well.

But it didn’t.  It’s that initial impression that got me and stayed with me.  I could never establish a real connection to their relationship after that.    See what you think and let me know.  I give it 3 stars because its so well written and thought out.   You take it from there.

Paul Richmond’s Series brand cover continues to  delight.

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Book Details:

ebook, 47 pages
Published December 1st 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1635331838 (ISBN13: 9781635331837)
Edition LanguageEnglish

Series2016 Advent Calendar – Bah Humbug

An Alisa Release Day Review: Love and Snowball Fights by J.R. Loveless

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Rating:  5 stars out of 5

 

love-and-snowball-fightsLane Freeman supposed there were worse places to be dumped than a place named Christmas Valley. After being ejected from the foster care system, he spent the past five years hitchhiking and moving around. But six months of a steady job at Tal’s Bar and Grill, an apartment, and even a three-legged cat have him almost ready to risk putting down a few roots when Tal’s brother comes home for the holidays.

 

Dallas firefighter Trey Jenkins reluctantly accepts that Lane isn’t like the other drifters who’ve come through his brother’s place. A fragile attraction begins to bloom between them in spite of the many reasons they each have to fight it. Trey wants to give Lane a family, but experience has taught Lane to depend on no one but himself. Will winter love burn hot in the town called Christmas Valley or will Lane return to his wandering ways?

 

This was a wonderful story. Lane is perhaps one of the sweetest guys in the world and so debilitating shy you can’t help but love him.  Trey is very self assured and will to anything to protect his family.  They become friends and bond a little while working at Tal’s bar.  When they are forced together during a snowstorm it is hard to hide their attraction.

 

Not many stories cause gut wrenching reactions, but this story definitely affected me (it even had me in tears at one point).  Lane’s complete lack of self worth is heartbreaking to see.  We see through his eyes how he has been affected by his parent’s death and his continuous denial in the foster care system, he can’t see how he could be worth or wanted by anyone.  Trey makes him see that maybe there is a possibility of something more for him.  I loved that we got to see Lane and Trey together after the holidays and see how they are adapting to their relationship in their real lives.

 

Cover art by Bree Archer is great and give a great visual of the characters.

 

Sales Links

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Book Details:

ebook, 116 pages

Published: December 21, 2016 by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13: 9781634778145

Edition Language: English

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Snow in Montana (Montana #4) by R.J. Scott

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

snow-in-montanaThe fourth installment in the Montana series, it’s now Sheriff Ryan Carter’s turn to find love, and not just the one-night-stand kind of love he’s used to. When he meets Jordan Darby, a child star now known as the King of Christmas for all the holiday made-for-TV movies he’s starred in, something stirs in Ryan’s heart, even before he realizes Jordan is gay.

Closeted for years, Jordan fears coming out, not just because it will lose him jobs as a romantic lead, but also because it may upend the fledgling production company he and his twin have started. This first year they are filming their Christmas romance in Montana and have sold it to a family network so the fear is real. His coming out right now could cause that network to negate their contract, and he and his brother could lose all the money they’ve invested from both their own savings and from their deceased actor father’s estate.

But RJ Scott delivers a very feasible story to create a world in which Jordan, only a Hollywood B-list actor, can leak the story slowly and move on with his life. Without flaunting it, he manages to find a way to make a romance with Ryan work, even after he returns to LA to finalize the film.

What makes this story different is that the mystery, which surfaced in the first book involving Adam and Justin, remains strong and is interwoven throughout this book. So much so, in fact, that at times I felt that it detracted from the developing romance between Ryan and Jordan. Instead of this story being 80% Jordan and Ryan, 20% other series’ characters, it felt like at least 50-50, and if anything, it may have even been tipped the opposite way. I guess that’s my way of saying that I would have liked more of Ryan and Jordan, more conflict, more slow burn, more loving, and more romance, so I was ultimately disappointed in this book. I’m ready to move on from the mystery, and I’m at the point where Adam is more annoying than anything, and Justin comes across as a drama queen. I hope the end of the series is near and that future books don’t focus so much on either of the former books’ characters or else just focus on them and be done with it.

So overall? Jordan and Ryan—great couple, beautiful setting, sweet romance; and the ongoing mystery—complex, annoying, ready to draw to a close. If that’s something you’d like, this would be a great series to pick up. I would not recommend this book as a standalone.

Cover art by Meredith Russell shows a beautiful scene of two handsome men against a snow-covered background

Sales Links

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Book Details:

ebook, 360 pages
Published December 7th 2016 by Love Lane Books Limited
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesMontana #4

Of Christmas, Cookies and ‘Love and Snowball Fights’ by J.R. Loveless (cookie recipe, excerpt, and guest post)

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Love and Snowball Fights by J.R. Loveless
D
reamspinner Press
Cover art by

Available for Purchase at

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Of Christmas, Cookies and Love and Snowball Fights by J.R. Loveless

Does anyone else feel the anticipation in the air as Christmas creeps closer? Is your shopping done or do you still have those last minute gifts to get like I do? As I write this post, a few days before it is actually due to go up, I’ve just spent hours running around and I am exhausted yet there’s still more to be done! It doesn’t feel as though I will ever be finished! Christmas is only days away and I have cookies and goodie baskets to make too!

If you’ve been following my promotional blog posts, you’ll know today is my release day for Love and Snowball Fights, but also that I have been sharing with you recipes that my mother and I make every year as a part of the tradition for the gift baskets we hand out each year. This post is no different, of course! One of the treats every person relates to the holidays is peppermint candy canes. They’re typically placed on the tree as a decoration, later to be enjoyed by the little ones or even adults alike! Peppermint Holiday Cookies are easy to make while being a wonderful treat to make the holidays even sweeter. We’ve been making these to add to the treat baskets for several years now and everyone agrees they were a great addition to the list.

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Peppermint Holiday Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup Butter, softened

¾  cup granulated white sugar

1 large egg, beaten

3 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup crushes peppermint candy canes

¾ cup confectiors’ sugar

5 teaspoons warm water

2 tablespoons crushed peppermint candy canes

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat butter and granulate sugar in electric mixer until smooth.
  3. Beat egg into mixture until completely mixed. Mix in flour and salt until mixed.
  4. Fold in crushed candy canes into the mix, until just combined, don’t over mix.
  5. Roll dough into balls 1 tablespoon at a time, arrange on a baking sheet.
  6. Bake in preheated oven until firm, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for about a minute before you move them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk confectioners’ sugar and warm water together until smooth. Dip each cookie into the icing. Then top with additional crushed candy cane. Set aside to let it dry for at least  five minutes.

These would be fun to make with your children and family! Even perhaps make it a tradition to have around for Christmas! I know we love them here in our household. They also make a great gift to give at this time of year or to bring to any holiday parties you may attend. A great way to use up any leftover candy canes after the tree comes down too!

I decided to go with a different excerpt this time, something a little sweeter to go with the recipe above and to entice your taste buds for the story. Lane has never experienced a snowball fight before so when Trey draws him into his first one, he doesn’t quite know what to do when he ends up tagging Trey in the forehead. It leads to Trey retaliating in a way Lane doesn’t expect. Read on to find out what happens!

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Blurb

Lane Freeman supposed there were worse places to be dumped than a place named Christmas Valley. After being ejected from the foster care system, he spent the past five years hitchhiking and moving around. But six months of a steady job at Tal’s Bar and Grill, an apartment, and even a three-legged cat, have him almost ready to risk putting down a few roots when Tal’s brother comes home for the holidays.

Dallas firefighter Trey Jenkins reluctantly accepts that Lane isn’t like the other drifters who’ve come through his brother’s place. A fragile attraction begins to bloom between them, in spite of the many reasons they both have to fight it. Trey wants to give Lane a family, but experience has taught Lane to depend on no one but himself. Will winter love burn hot in a town called Christmas Valley, or will Lane return to his wandering ways? 

Excerpt

Trey’s ankle felt much better that morning, if his desire to dig out the front sidewalk of his parents’ home was any indication. Lane warred with the urge to help and the side of himself demanding he remain as far away from Trey as possible. The kindness in him won out, and after he’d dressed in a pair of jeans two sizes too big for him, held up by a borrowed belt, and the long-sleeved shirt he wore the day they left his apartment, which Mrs. Jenkins had somehow washed without him knowing, he put on his boots and grabbed his hoodie and jacket.

When Trey came downstairs, he frowned at Lane. “You should stay inside where it’s warm.”

Lane ignored the bite of rejection and shook his head. “I want to help.”

Trey studied him for a long moment and then sighed. “Let’s at least see if Ma has an extra pair of gloves somewhere.”

Minutes later Lane had a snow shovel in his hand and was working beside Trey to clear out the walkway to the street and the driveway. They wouldn’t be able to drive until the snowplows came through, but this way it was already done. He saw others in the neighborhood doing the same thing, and the mindless activity soothed him as he dumped each shovelful away from the walk. Several times he bumped into Trey but merely apologized and continued to work. When they reached the end of the pathway, the muscles in Lane’s arms quivered and he couldn’t help his heavy breathing. Trey, of course, was barely winded. Lane made a face but started digging toward the cars.

“You can go inside and rest now if you want to. I can finish this up,” Trey said.

Lane shook his head. “I’m fine.”

He thought he heard Trey whisper, “Stubborn,” but ignored the comment and kept digging. The crunch of the snow giving way to the shovel gave him a deep sense of satisfaction.

It wasn’t more than a couple of feet into the mountain of snow between the walk and the driveway that he felt something hit his back. Lane jerked up and turned to stare wide-eyed at Trey, who smirked at him and casually tossed another snowball in the air, waiting to see what Lane would do.

“I can’t believe you just did that!” Lane exclaimed. He scooped up a handful of snow and threw it at Trey. Some of it hit his chest, but it scattered as it flew through the air, making little to no impact. Trey raised an eyebrow, but instead of saying anything, he lobbed the one he held at Lane. Lane attempted to sidestep, but it grazed his arm.

The gloves were off and they started lobbing snow at one another. Trey had the clear advantage, having had many snowball fights in his life. Lane guessed Trey was going easy on him, though. He couldn’t stop laughing, ducking behind mounds of snow to avoid whatever Trey threw his way. The longer they played, the more confident Lane became. He crafted each ball quick and sure, compressing it tighter as their fun continued, but it was the final snowball that hit Trey square in the face that ended their game.

Lane gasped in horror and rushed out from behind the barricade as Trey fell backward into a mound of white. “Trey!”

Lane almost slipped as he skidded to a stop next to where Trey lay. Trey’s eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving.

Lane dropped to his knees next to Trey. “Oh, my god, Trey. I’m sorry! Please be okay!” He leaned over and started brushing the snow from Trey’s face, wincing at how red Trey’s nose and forehead looked. “Trey,” Lane pleaded and shook Trey gently.

Suddenly Trey reached up and grabbed Lane around the waist, twisting them until Lane lay beneath him. Lane gave a sound of protest, but it was cut off when Trey held a snowball he hadn’t noticed before over him. “That wasn’t very nice,” Trey husked.

“I-I’m sorry,” Lane stuttered, very aware of Trey’s hard body on top of his. “I didn’t mean to. Are you okay?”

Trey’s eyes crinkled at the corner and one side of his mouth came up in a half smile. “All’s fair in love and snowball fights, Lane.”

He dangled the snowball closer to Lane’s face. “You wouldn’t,” Lane protested, ignoring the comment about love.

Chuckling, Trey shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. I’ll make you a deal.”

Lane swallowed. “What is it?”

“Go back inside and rest while I finish clearing the driveway or….” Trey lowered the snowball a bit more.

For a half a second Lane considered it and then said, “No.”

Trey clucked his tongue a couple of times. “You really are a glutton for punishment.”

Lane glared up at him. “I’m not going to sit around and do nothing while you’re out here with an injured ankle.”

He saw a slight hesitance in Trey’s posturing, but it disappeared rapidly. Trey kept his word, but he didn’t shove it in Lane’s face as Lane expected, squeezing his eyes shut in preparation. Oh no. Trey chose to stuff it down the front of Lane’s shirt. Lane gasped at the icy chill, eyes flying open to stare in shock at Trey, who had a wide grin on his face. He remained still for several seconds, absorbing what Trey had done and feeling the ice melt against his skin, sliding down his chest.

Instead of getting mad, Lane chose to get even. He grabbed as much snow as he could from beside him and shoved it up the back of Trey’s leather jacket and under his shirt. Trey let out an exclamation of shock and sat up to fluff out his clothes in order to dislodge the ice. Seeing his chance, Lane squirmed out from under Trey and stood. He went to move around Trey but wasn’t fast enough. Trey tumbled him down in the snow once more. Lane let out an “oomph” as he hit the hard white surface.

“The last person who did something like that didn’t survive,” Trey growled, eyes twinkling to show Lane he wasn’t serious. Their faces were even closer to one another than before, and Lane noticed a small white scar at the corner of Trey’s mouth and the dark flecks of brown hidden in the steel of Trey’s irises.

“It was only fair,” Lane wheezed.

Trey grunted. “Maybe so, but I can’t let that trespass go.”

Lane wriggled under Trey, attempting to get free once more. His movements caused Trey’s eyes to darken to that liquid silver, and he halted, not really knowing what to do. He was tired of fighting it, but at the same time, knew he should hold strong against the only thing that lay in Trey’s direction: pain.

“Lane?” Trey queried.

“Y-yeah?”

“Can I kiss you?”

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About the Author

J.R. Loveless is an avid fan, reader and writer of anything pertaining to male/male romance. She started out her adventure into the genre in 2004 when she discovered the anime Loveless, a softer side of Yaoi. The moment she saw Loveless, it sucked her in and hasn’t let go since.

After Loveless, she voraciously searched for anything she could find within the anime world pertaining to Yaoi and Shounen-Ai. She found Gravitation, Princess Princess, Gakuen Heaven, Junjou Romantica and so much more. As she searched for the different animes available, she stumbled across an amazing forum that to this day she is more than ever thankful she found.

J.R. currently has several works in progress and several more ideas on the slow cooker. Ideas come to her out of the blue, a lyric in a song, a line in a movie, or just out of nowhere while she’s standing in the shower. She loves to make up her own stories, to follow her heart, and to write things her way because she loves a happy ending.

She is always thankful for all of her followers on AarinFantasy and for all of the wonderful people who read her stories. Please feel free to send her an email or to drop her a note on Facebook. She will always try to respond, even if it isn’t right away.

Find Me Here:

In Our Holiday Spotlight Today: Hearts Alight by Elliot Cooper (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Hearts Alight

Author: Elliot Cooper

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: December 19, 2016

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 26700

Genre: Romance, paranormal, holiday

Add to Goodreads

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Synopsis

Dave Cunningham hates the rampant consumerism that’s come to dominate his family’s Hanukkah celebrations. But a chance to bring a bit of a holiday happiness to his long-time crush, Amit Cohen, helps put him in a more festive mood.

In the quest to craft the perfect gift, Dave tries to urge a few personal details out of stoic Amit. Unintentionally, he learns the Cohen family’s secret: Amit is a golem. But Amit has a problem that runs deeper than his magical origin, and a Hanukkah miracle might be the only thing that will keep the budding flame between him and Dave from going out.

Excerpt

Elliot Cooper © 2016
All Rights Reserved

Nothing made Dave Cunningham want to hibernate in his apartment for the winter quite like shopping for Hanukkah gifts with his brother-in-law. He stared up at the shelves full of brightly colored toys with an internal groan. Only another hour, he told himself. Two if he was unlucky. He fought the urge to plug his headphones into his ears to drown out the omnipresent Christmas music filling the store.

“What d’you think of this LEGO set?” Jake held up a large box depicting a desert island playset, complete with pirates and skeletons. His wide brown eyes looked frantic, panicked. He shook the box and pulled a face at the heavy rattling. “Shoshie loves pirates, but she’s probably too old for LEGOs. Or…I mean, is anyone ever too old for LEGOs?”

“She’ll love whatever you get her.” Dave half glared at Jake but caught himself and shook his head. It wasn’t Jake’s fault the delightful minor holiday of their youth had been swept up in consumerism. “You shouldn’t have to get her anything. We go through this same torture every year.”

“It’s not torture; it’s fun. It’s festive!” Jake insisted and flashed a bright smile. “Just thinking about her face when she opens the big one on the eighth night? I love it. And, more importantly, she loves it.”

“My sister likes getting presents,” Dave said. He couldn’t help but blame her for the deterioration of their family’s Hanukkah celebrations. There wasn’t any malice left in his blame, though, just an understanding of the sad truth. In trying to keep Shoshana invested in and excited about her Jewish heritage, their parents had put them on a dark path to celebrating materialism.

It had started when he was in high school and Shoshana was in middle school. First, with her upset at her Christmas-celebrating friends and their incredible hauls of gifts. Then the growing jealousy over not being able to participate in the Santa-spangled sweep of dominant American culture. Finally, they’d all endured one too many crying fits and months-long debates about whether or not modern―or historical―Christmas was even about Jesus’s birthday.

Their mother and father decided to do what some of their friends had done: one small gift for each night of Hanukkah. And since their father had grown up in a Christian family, he liked the idea of gifts exchanged between everyone, not just from parents to children.

For the first few years, the new tradition seemed all right. Shoshana’d been made happy. Dave had even enjoyed helping pick out gifts for his sister and parents. But as time went on, the presents got bigger, and their importance in the scheme of the holiday celebrations almost usurped their father’s latkes. They’d definitely overshadowed the lighting of the menorah and family game time.

“Don’t act all high and mighty like you don’t like gifts,” Jake said, arching a brow. He glanced back at the second box he’d picked up―a pirate LEGO set of a huge ship. “Ship or island?”

“Ship, so she can display it after it’s built.” Dave didn’t bother looking at the boxes or their respective price tags. Jake made plenty good money running Gin Teal, his hipster bar downtown. “I’m not saying I don’t like gifts or that she shouldn’t. Just that Hanukkah isn’t about gifts. It’s the festival of lights. Celebrating the rededication of the Temple. The miracle of the oil. Spending time with family and―”

“You’re saying you don’t want a totally secular Hanukkah, I get it. But Shoshie does.” Jake put the ship set in his shopping cart and headed down the aisle toward the board games. “She’s an atheist. I’m agnostic. It works for us and we can celebrate with old traditions and more modern ones. Without guilt, even.”

Dave plucked at the fringe on his blue-and-silver-striped scarf, his mind a jumble of rebuttals. There was more to it than the consumerism, the secular chokehold. He didn’t mind a dash of either. Modernity wasn’t the problem. It was the lack of balance. And the horrible pressure to be thoughtful and tasteful and have enough money to bring material happiness to his loved ones. He’d tried not giving gifts the year before, after explaining his tight budget and distaste of the focus on presents. No one had batted an eye; they’d all been understanding. And then they’d lavished him with gifts and, without meaning to, had made him feel terrible for not being able to reciprocate. It was a vicious cycle he couldn’t break.

“Maybe I should just celebrate on my own this year. I could open up my schedule to take more evening shifts at work, make a little extra money. Business is picking up with people wanting to do pottery-painting parties to make holiday gifts. And we’re booked up for three of our five holiday-themed painting classes,” Dave said as he trailed after Jake, hands thrust deep into his jeans pockets.

“You just said Hanukkah is about families celebrating together.” Jake shot him another look, pursing his lips in disbelief. A slow smile crept across his lips. “Oh, I know what this Scrooge act is about.”

The gleam in his eyes was the same one Shoshana and his mom got when they tried to set him up on dates.

“Don’t say it!”

“You’re lonely. Romantically lonely.” Jake picked up a game box and skimmed over the descriptions on its side and back. “Hiding at work and in your apartment isn’t going to change that. Besides, no one’s going to be doing art classes the week after Christmas. You’ve told me before your Valentine’s customers don’t start until after the first of the year.”

Dave groaned and picked up a Magic 8 Ball, flipping it over a few times without reading the message in the inky window.

At least Jake hadn’t said the dreaded “you need to find a woman.” Dave had tried dating women, but it had never worked out, for one reason or another. He was too oblivious. Too attentive. Too observant. Not observant enough. And, once, he’d been so lackluster in bed that his girlfriend had told him to stop, thanked him for his time, and walked out of his life.

Dating men hadn’t gone much better, if he were being honest with himself. He was no towering gym-honed testament to manhood, with his short stature and soft middle. He wasn’t highly educated, having done a failed stint at one of the local community colleges. He didn’t have much money, though he did have a decent job at his dad’s art studio. Since he’d gotten his own place, he’d been treading water. No one wanted to stick around and join him in his ambitionless pool.

“You should swing by the bar Saturday night,” Jake said after placing a dice game in his cart. He smiled at Dave with the brotherly warmth that had been there since high school, when they’d only been best friends, and then reached over to grip Dave’s hunched shoulder. “I’ll buy you a beer if you’ll just show up. You don’t even have to talk to anyone. Just…be present.” He smirked and cocked his head to the side, putting one fabulously thick sideburn and wooden earlobe plug on display.

“Har-dee-har. Let’s see what the oracle has to say. Should I go to Jake’s hipster haven on Saturday?” Dave shook the Magic 8 Ball, still secure in its packaging. When he flipped the ball over, the answer floated to the window. Dave sighed. “It is decidedly so.”

“Good!” Jake pushed his cart down toward the seasonal area of the store, beyond the tinsel trees and endcaps bursting with foil bows and rolls of wrapping paper. “Just a heads up, my uncle Amit’s working that night.”

The man was physically everything Dave wasn’t: chiseled muscles, strong chin, tall, huge hands, and slightly wavy black hair that swept perfectly to one side. Amit Cohen straddled that maddening line between men Dave wanted to be and men he wanted to be with. So what if he was a reclusive workaholic?

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NineStar Press | Amazon

Meet the Author

Elliot Cooper writes speculative fiction featuring queer characters. His novels and novellas come with hopeful and happy endings, though his short fiction runs the gamut of styles and genres. He strives above all to make his readers feel, while also increasing positive representation of LGBTQ characters and their stories.

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