Don’t MIss Out on the Release Blitz with Excerpt for Sleigh Duty by L.M. Brown

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RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Sleigh Duty

Author: L.M. Brown

Publisher: Self Published

Cover Artist: Studioenp

Release Date: December 7, 2019

Genre/s: Paranormal / Shifter M/M Romance

Themes: Family ties, Christmas

Heat Rating:  1 flame out of 5

Length: 13 974 words/ 44 pages

It is a standalone story.

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Buy Links – Available in Kindle Unlimited

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Amazon US  |  Amazon UK

 

Can a reindeer shifter find love this Christmas?

Blurb

Being called upon to pull Santa’s sleigh is an honour for any reindeer shifter, but for Dashiel the timing couldn’t be worse. 

Stuart was looking forward to his Christmas Eve date with Dashiel, only to have him cancel at the last minute.  He puts his disappointment aside and instead focuses on making his younger brother’s Christmas as wonderful as it can be, despite the loss of their parents the previous winter. 

While flying over his home town, Dashiel spots a young boy on the streets, and he knows he has to help. When the young runaway turns out to be his date’s little brother, he brings him on board the sleigh, determined to see him safely home to Stuart. 

Can a reindeer shifter pull Santa’s sleigh, reunite two brothers, and find love this Christmas?

 

Excerpt 

“Dashiel, you’re up next,” the elf in charge of fittings called. “Get your hooves moving, you’re holding everyone up.”

Dashiel wondered who had first depicted Santa’s elves as cheerful little toy makers. He had yet to see one smile. They seemed even more miserable than he was right now. Of course, he hadn’t met many, and it was the most stressful time of year for them. Not to mention they hadn’t seen daylight in three months. That would make him grumpy too. Still, there was no need for them to prod him in the rear quite so hard to get him moving. 

The next few hours were spent being trained in how to respond to the reins. Dashiel didn’t mind learning how to pull the sleigh, he just wished they could leave off the bells until they were in the air. The constant jingling was driving him up the wall. 

Then came the flying lessons. Yuri must have seen Dumbo recently, because he was giving them a loud rendition of the song about elephants flying, but substituting reindeer instead. Apparently teasing the first timers like Dashiel was the highlight of his night. There were three shifters who had never been summoned before, Dashiel being the youngest of the trio.

The first time Dashiel’s hooves left the ground he almost panicked. Thoughts of flying off into space nearly had him hyperventilating, even though the others assured him that no matter how hard he tried, he would never even reach the height of a plane. 

Finally, they were as prepared as they could be. Dashiel took his place beside Fred. Yuri and wife were in front of them, the couple taking the lead.

Everyone went quiet when Santa arrived. He was just as Dashiel had pictured him, though he had never seen him in person. Unlike the couple in front of him, Dashiel’s parents had never been summoned on the same night, so he had never been brought to the North Pole with them. 

As they took off into the sky, Dashiel glanced below and saw how large the toy factory truly was. It was so much more than a single building. There was an entire village, with every house decorated for Christmas. 

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said to Fred. 

“I’ll take your word for it,” Fred replied.

“You’re not scared of heights are you?” 

“I’ll be fine as long as I don’t look down.”

Dashiel snorted. “I’d rather look down at the ground, than at Yuri’s arse all night.”

“I heard that,” Yuri replied. “I’ll have you know, my arse is the envy of reindeer the world over.”

Dashiel couldn’t laugh properly in his reindeer form, but he was starting to feel the Christmas spirit now. Chances were, he would be required to do sleigh duty again in the coming years, but there were those who were only summoned once in their life, and since he didn’t know if he would be called again, he intended to make the most of tonight.

 

 

About the Author 

L.M. Brown is an English writer of gay romances. She believes mermen live in the undiscovered areas of the ocean. She believes life exists on other planets. She believes in fairy tales, magic, and dreams. Most of all, she believes in love.

When L.M. Brown isn’t bribing her fur babies for control of the laptop, she can usually be found with her nose in a book.

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Looking for Your Next Holiday Story? Check Out the Book Blitz with Excerpt for Pattern for an Angel by CJane Elliott

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Title: Pattern for an Angel

Author: CJane Elliott

Publisher: CJane Elliott

Release Date: December 1, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/NB

Length: 17,150

Genre: Romance, holiday, single dad, drag queen, contemporary, genderfluid, nonbinary, acceptance, family, angel, Christmas, chosen family, meet cute

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Synopsis

Can an angel gown for a little boy let a single dad and a drag queen stitch together a new pattern for love?

Hospice nurse Gabe Martin is bisexual but doesn’t have time for love—his main priority is raising Ian, his adopted five-year-old son. Ian loves wearing dresses at home and wants an angel gown for his kindergarten holiday pageant. When Gabe visits a sewing store to get help with Ian’s costume, he’s assisted by a bewitching employee named Loren who opens up Gabe’s focused world.

Drag queen Loren Schuster likes playing with gender norms and wearing skirts and dresses in everyday life. A bad breakup killed his interest in serious relationships, but he reconsiders that stance when gorgeous single dad Gabe walks into the shop. Loren helps young Ian see it’s okay to be himself, and together, Loren and Gabe create a new pattern for a family full of love.

Excerpt

Oh well, you win some, you lose some, Loren thought after he rang up her purchase. As he was replacing the purple-blue material on the shelf, the bell to the shop door tinkled. The store had been crazy busy, which was to be expected for the Friday after Thanksgiving. He turned. Now there’s someone I’d love to win.

The guy coming in the door was seriously hot—dark and lanky with a mouth made for kissing. He was being steered along by a gal, but they were enough alike to be siblings. Loren hoped. His mouth twitched at the expression on the guy’s face and his wide eyes. Safe to assume he’d never been in a sewing shop before.

Loren stepped out from behind the counter and remembered that he was wearing one of his favorite skirts when the guy’s gaze dropped. He braced himself for some negative reaction and was floored when the guy smiled happily and nudged his companion. She brightened.

“Oh, you’re perfect,” she exclaimed.

“I am? I mean, of course I am, but why?”

“We’re looking for a way to sew an angel dress for a little boy.”

“Aww. That’s wonderful.” Loren waited for Hot Guy to say something, but his smile was more than enough. “Do you have the pattern?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Hot Guy had a deep voice. Lovely. He got the pattern out of his bag and handed it over.

“Hmm. Yes.” Loren inspected it and nodded sagely. “This seems straightforward enough.”

“It does?” Hot Guy was even hotter with that hopeful expression.

The truth was, Loren was talking out of his ass. Mia was the expert, and this was her store. Loren enjoyed being around the fabrics and different materials, the buttons and the lace, because he loved playing dress up. But you could put what he knew about sewing into one thimble. However, Hot Guy and his girlfriend/partner/sister didn’t need to know that.

“The problem is,” the gal said, “neither of us know fuck-all about sewing. I still can’t believe Ian’s kindergarten expects the parents to sew these costumes. I mean, are we in the 1950s or what?”

“So this is for your little brother?” Loren asked.

“My son,” the guy said.

Huh. He didn’t look old enough to have a kindergarten-aged child. Bummer that Hot Guy was apparently married or whatever. But that was the story of Loren’s life.

Then the gal piped up. “Gabe adopted him last year. He’s a great kid.”

Sounded like they weren’t together if only Gabe adopted this kid. “Great. So you’re Gabe, and you’re…?”

“Nita. We’re sister and brother. Gabe’s a single dad.” Nita cut a significant glance at Gabe, who frowned back. Loren could relate. Sisters always loved to meddle in their siblings’ love lives.

“Hi, Gabe and Nita. I’m Loren. I’m sure we can help you figure out the sewing part. Let’s start with material.” Loren’s favorite. White satin was way more fun than drab paisley.

Ten minutes later, after a delicious wallow in all the permutations of white satin, they had the fabric. Gabe hadn’t offered many opinions about which material but had seemed amused by Loren’s and Nita’s many exclamations.

But when Loren confronted the rest of the pattern instructions, his head spun. Mia was usually here and helped folks with deciphering the patterns. Loren could only guess what some of it meant but did his best to pick out thread and other needed parts and assembled them on the counter.

“Well. This is everything.” Loren hoped. He started to ring up the items.

“Everything but a sewing machine. What do we do about that?” Nita asked.

“You can rent them. This seems a simple enough pattern.” Panic rose in their faces, and Loren quickly added, “Or, better yet, you can hire someone to sew the costume.”

“Could you?” Gabe asked, shooting a sudden intense glance in his direction.

Damn. Of course he could not. But something made Loren say, “Why, I’d love to!”

Life was getting interesting. Even if Loren had to learn to sew. By tomorrow. How hard could it be?

Purchase at Amazon

Meet the Author

After years of hearing characters chatting away in her head, CJane Elliott finally decided to put them on paper and hasn’t looked back since. A psychotherapist by training, CJane is an award-winning author whose sexy, passionate stories explore the human psyche. CJane has traveled all over North America for work and her characters are travelers, too, traveling down into their own depths to find what they need to get to the happy ending.

CJane is bisexual and an ardent supporter of LGBTQ equality. In her spare time, CJane can be found dancing, listening to music, or watching old movies. Her family supports her writing habit by staying out of the way when they see her hunched over, staring intensely at her laptop.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | eMail | Instagram

 

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Love Christmas Romances? Check Out the New Release Blitz for Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol by Drew Marvin Frayne (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol

Author: Drew Marvin Frayne

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 18, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 36100

Genre: Historical Holiday, LGBT, Christmas, romance, fairy tale, businessmen, ghost, prostitution, poverty, 19th century England, pirates, tear-jerker, time travel

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Synopsis

Peter Cratchit, a young lad preparing to make his way in the world, is the eldest son of Scrooge’s lowly clerk Bob Cratchit. Peter flourishes under the tutelage of his “Uncle” Scrooge and seeks to make his mark as a man of business, like his uncle before him.

One Christmas Eve, as Scrooge lays dying, Peter embarks on a risky ocean voyage that he believes will secure the future for his family. Onboard, Peter finds love, happiness, and success, only to lose it all by the voyage’s end.

Returning to London, Peter shuns his family and instead finds himself living on the streets, haunted by his failures and his dead lover, selling his body just to survive while he waits for the winter cold to claim him once and for all. But winter snows also mean Christmas is coming, and for the Cratchit family, Christmas is a time of miracles. Can a visit from three familiar spirits change Peter’s life again? Is there one more miracle in store for the lost son of one of Dickens’ most enduring families?

Excerpt

Peter Cratchit’s Christmas Carol
Drew Marvin Frayne © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Scrooge was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. He died some two years past on this very day, Christmas Eve. I would it were not so; yet I suspect the old man would not agree. He became rather infirm at the end, frail and forgetful, and though he did his best to remain cheerful, I know he hated to show weakness of any kind. It wasn’t a matter of pride, nor vanity; no, it wasn’t for his sake that he cared so. It was that, as he himself often said, he had become a sort of safeguard, a protector, to his family and to his community, and he hated the thought of us carrying on without him there, watching over us all. And we, of course, would clasp his hand and tell him that he would be looking over us in the next life, and that such thoughts brought us great comfort, and they should bring him great comfort too. And he would sigh, and agree with us, and settle in, at least for a while, until another great spasm wracked his breast, and his chest would heave with immense, raggedy gasps for air, and his worries arose all over again.

He died a good death, if it could be said that any death should be regarded as good. Though I have not spent nearly as many years as Scrooge did on this planet, I have knocked about a bit, and circumstance has shown me both great fortune and great tragedy. And as such, I have come to believe there is no good death to be had in this world. I have seen many poor wretches, past all hope of recovery from whatever it was that ailed them—whether it be an infliction of the body or the soul—beg for death, pray for it, and have watched it come in many guises, be it the cold, or the cough, or the cutthroat. I have seen their prayers answered, even if those answers came in some form of pain they had never envisioned. And yet I say, when the end did finally come, each and every one begged to stay, begged for their final breath to be forestalled, begged to live for even one moment more. Yea, though I have been on this world for less than a quarter of a century, I have come to know its horrors and have learned the greatest horror of all is that there is no world, no life, beyond this one.

Scrooge would not have agreed with this; oft he told us the tale of his visitation by his old friend, Jacob Marley, dead seven years in the grave before his return, and the further visitations by the three spirits who haunted him, also on a Christmas Eve. To Scrooge, there was no greater evidence of providence than this, and he lived such feelings in his heart for the rest of his life. I was glad of it; we all were, all of London town, though those of us who were closest to him felt his change of heart and his largesse most keenly. And many was the time, as a young man, on a Christmas Eve like this one, I sat cross-legged on the floor at Scrooge’s feet and listened to his tales of Christmas ghosts and astonishing spirits, of visitations to the past, and of the wondrous things that are yet to come.

Yet even then, I was a skeptic. After his tale was complete, Old Scrooge, as wise at reading faces as he was at managing his business, would frequently tousle my hair and tell me, “Young Master Peter, you must have the conviction of your faith. It is not enough to simply believe; you must know Christmas, and keep it in your heart all the year long.” Such words were enough for Tim and for the others; but I, I would only smile, and say, “Yes, Uncle Scrooge,” in a manner and tone that were always respectful, but that the cunning old man also knew to be mollifying. And Scrooge would then bend quite low—for he was a tall, wizened old fellow, and I have always been inclined to be undersized—and he would say to me, “You must not fear the world so much, Peter Cratchit.” And I would nod, and he would pat my cheek, or sometimes playfully pinch my nose. But what he meant by those words, I cannot say. In my experience, there is much to fear in this world, and much calamity the world will set upon the unwary soul who is not ever vigilant.

A growl in my stomach disturbed my thoughts. Time to dispense with these ruminations on the past; I was hungry. I willed my body out of its bed, a small recess in the side of a crumbling brick building used for the storage of livestock, a cramped pen to house the beasts before they were led to slaughter. The recess provided some shelter from the elements; there had been rain last night, so it was useful to keep dry, though the rain had been only a drizzle, and the weather was unseasonably temperate for so late in December. That was no small mercy.

The recess had once been a side door, now sealed up, when the building had been used for some other purpose, long forgotten to time. The smell of animal excrement that clung to the building—and to those who worked or, like me, dwelt within her—was formidable, but it also meant the alley I called my home remained deserted during the nightly hours. Safety in this life often comes at great cost. Those who have suffered at the world’s hands know this lesson all too well. The men who tended the animals had assembled a small cleaning station, clean water and a strong lye soap, behind the building, and they charitably did not begrudge my use of it from time to time, provided I did not tarry, and they did not see me. I hastened in my morning ablutions and made my way out to the street.

There was a bakery on Saint Martin’s Close; it was there I would seek to break my fast. Every morning, my repast was the same: two hot buttered rolls and a small tankard of ale. The only difference was whether the baker would tally the cost of his labors on my tongue or on my tail.

I made my way down Carol Street to the main Camden Road. I used to live on this very road, as a youth, but far down the other end from those places where I now worked and resided. Camden Town was named for Camden Road; the road was the heart of the ward, bisecting it in the north and making up the entirety of its western edge. It was impossible to be in Camden Town and avoid the Camden Road. And yet, in all of my wanderings through this neighborhood, I always avoided the familiar façade of my former house, with its chipped paint and ill-fitted front door. I was more interested in the thick, oaken door that led to the alley behind the bakery, where the business received deliveries of flour and other such supplies. I knocked. Some days, the baker answered promptly, as if expecting me; other days, like today, I had to wait. He was a busy man, having woke well before the dawn to assemble his breads and rolls and pastries and cakes. His bakery was a small one, but he did a good measure of custom, enough to keep him in flour and dough and sugar and coal for the ovens. Still, he had only one boy to help him prepare the daily wares—in this neighborhood, even relative prosperity resulted in genuine poverty.

Whether the boy was his son, or some urchin off the street, I do not know. The baker and I did not converse on such matters. It was, in part, because the man’s well of English was so deficient that any conversation would prove inconsequential at best. I could not identify his native tongue, and he spoke only the English of a tradesman and knew the terms for barter and exchange, and little more. My own English improved greatly under the tutelage of Ebenezer Scrooge, who gave me books to read and provided college-trained tutors to sharpen my intellect. I was beyond basic schooling by the time our families came together; but my mind was quick and hungered for knowledge, and Uncle Scrooge filled it with book after book on all manner of subjects—history, literature, economics, philosophy, mythology, the principles of business. I eagerly took it all in, save perhaps the poets, who I found too disordered, too insubstantial, to truly relish. Still, for an occasion such as this, the silver portion of my tongue was not really necessary. It was my tongue’s other talents that the baker was interested in. I suppose, in the end, this, like so much in life, was simply a matter of business. I needed what the baker had to offer; he felt the same. Talk would only prolong the necessities of exchange.

The man finally answered and hurried me inside. In nicer weather, he sometimes took his payment in the alley, but he did not like the cold and the damp, so he ushered me into a cramped cookery room stuffed with coal- and wood-burning ovens. I had no objection to being enveloped in warmth; it made for a pleasant change of atmosphere from my usual status at this time of year.

I could see by the sights and sounds of his distresses that my morning patron was more harried than usual. His eyes were darting around the room. His gestures were quick, and rough, and impatient. He was a large, hirsute man, with a rotund belly and a gray, prickly beard, which, at the moment, was dusted in a rather generous supply of flour.

I was no longer fond of beards; I generally preferred smooth-faced youths, like myself, and not the wooly chins of older men, though, in my line of work, older men were my main custom. And this was business, not pleasure, and the baker felt the same as I, especially today. Even as he penned me into his back kitchen, he continued to bellow orders to the boy out front. I often wondered what the boy thought of our exchanges. Perhaps it was of no consequence to him. Perhaps he was grateful he did not have to provide a similar service. Or perhaps he did. Who can say.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

Drew Marvin Frayne is the pen name of a long-time author (Lambda Literary Award finalist) who is finally taking the opportunity to indulge his more sentimental and romantic side. When not writing the author lives with his husband of 20+ years and their dog of 10+ years in a brick home in the Northeast. Find out more on Drew’s Website.

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Looking for Your Next Holiday Story? Check Out the Release Blitz for A Christmas Wedding by A E Ryecart (excerpt and giveaway)

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RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: A Christmas Wedding

Author: A E Ryecart

Publisher: Independently Published

Cover Artist: Tammy Clarke/Meredith Russell 

Release Date: November 19, 2019

Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance

Themes: Christmas, Wedding/Marriage, Domineering family

Heat Rating: 3 flames  

Length: 49 000 words

It is part of a series but it can certainly be read as a standalone.

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Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Universal Link

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK 

 

Christmas. A Wedding. Family. It’s the Perfect Storm…

Blurb 

For Rory Kincaid marrying Jack, the youngest son of the aristocratic De Lacy family, on Christmas Eve, is a dream come true. Handing over the wedding planning to Jack’s mother, the strong-willed Lady Diana, is turning out to be more of a nightmare.

As their big day approaches, the pressure’s on and the strain is beginning to show. Announcements in society magazines, a guest list that’s growing and growing, and fittings for the best bespoke tailoring in London, it’s all a far cry from Rory’s humble upbringing. Piece by piece, Rory and Jack’s dream of a simple winter wedding is fading fast.

Rory is Jack’s everything. Sweet, kind, and totally adorable, Rory is all Jack has ever wanted. And what Jack wants most of all is to give the man he loves the wedding day of his dreams — and that means taking a stand against the indomitable Diana.

***Warning: this story contains two gorgeous men, a mountain of mince pies and cupcakes, a punk rocker Christmas fairy called Bunty, and a snowy Christmas Wedding.***

 

Excerpt 

“Where are we going? The Tube station’s that way.” Rory nodded in the direction they were coming from.

“We’re not going home, or not just yet.”

“Oh? I thought we were going to decorate our living room, drink lots of advocaat, and then get naked on the rug.”

Jack threw back his head and laughed. “That sounds like a plan, but there’s something I want to do first.”

“You mean something is more important than naked advocaat?”

Jack just smiled in response. There wasn’t a lot that was more important than naked advocaat, but what they were about to do next just about topped it.

The tiny street would be so easy to miss in the messy and higgledy-piggledy maze that was the City of London. 

“Jack? What—?”

Jack pressed his fingertips to Rory’s lips and gazed into Rory’s questioning, confused eyes.

“Just go with me on this, okay?”

Jack pushed the door open, and he and Rory stepped into another time.

The shop was crammed with tall and narrow display cabinets, all of them holding a treasure of watches. Behind the counter, in a corner and almost hidden, sat a small, round, bald-headed man. A pair of glasses perched on the end of his nose, and another was wedged on the top of his head as he worked on the mechanism of a pocket watch, using what looked like a set of toy tools.

“Mr. De Lacy.” The man put aside his work, stood up and extended his hand to Jack.

“Mr. Hogarth. Let me introduce Rory Kincaid, my fiancé.”

Jack moved aside to allow Rory to shake Mr. Hogarth’s hand. Jack smiled; in a moment everything would be revealed.

“Let me bring your order.” Mr. Hogarth disappeared into a back room.

“Jack, I don’t understand. What’s going on?” 

Before Jack could answer, Mr. Hogarth returned bearing a small black box, which he handed over to Jack. 

“Please.” Mr. Hogarth gestured to a small table and a couple of chairs on the other side of the shop, in the only space not taken up with display cabinets, before he returned to his place once more behind the counter and took up his work as though he were alone.

“I want you to have this,” Jack said, opening the box as soon as he and Rory were seated. 

“What?” Rory gaped at the watch, displayed on a pad of black velvet. “But we agreed a strict ten-pound budget, just something silly this year. I haven’t—”

“No, it’s not a Christmas present.”

“Then what—? I don’t understand.”

Jack took the watch out of the box. Like his own, it was plain and unadorned. The black Roman numerals were stark against the white face; the casing was gold, deep and burnished.

“When I was twenty-one, my father presented me with a watch from this shop. He did the same for George,” Jack said, referring to his elder brother. “My father also had a watch on his twenty-first birthday, as did my grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather. The De Lacy men have had watches in one form or another from Hogarth’s since the late eighteenth century. All those watches came from here, from this very shop.” Jack glanced toward the counter, but Mr. Hogarth had gone and was now nowhere to be seen. 

“This isn’t a Christmas present, Ro. This is something every De Lacy man receives. And I wanted you to have one, too, because that’s what you’re on the point of becoming: a De Lacy man.” Jack’s lips lifted in a wry smile. “I didn’t know you when you turned twenty-one, although I wish I did. I’m just making up for lost time. On Christmas Eve, you’re going to take my name. I want you to be wearing this watch when you do.”

“Jack, I–I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything. Just accept it, along with the words I had engraved.”

Jack held the watch out. All his focus was on his fiancé, reading for the first time the words engraved not only on the watch but on Jack’s heart.

Love, always and forever.

Four simple words which said everything Jack held deep inside about the man he’d found huddled on his doorstep just two Christmases before.

 

 

About the Author 

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 I write any place I can find a good coffee! 

 

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one of three ebook copies of A Christmas Wedding

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A MelanieM Review: In This Bed of Snowflakes We Lie by Sophia Soames

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Rating:  5 stars plus out of 5

Oskar Høiland hides from life. It just makes things easier that way, not having to face all the fears and drama of living. He especially hides from other people, because Oskar has grown up fearing the snide remarks and the quick glances that strip him of the tiny scraps of confidence he still has left. He is just going to keep existing. Work hard to complete his medical degree and perhaps watch a few more series on Netflix in peace and quiet over Christmas.

Erik Nøst Hansen should be an almost fully-fledged adult. He should be able to sort out the mess that festers in his head and stop lying. It’s just hard. And it’s bloody terrifying to even acknowledge the thoughts that swirl around in his head at night when he can’t sleep. He also needs to figure out how to talk to the boy downstairs. The one with the golden curls and the crooked smile. The boy who is completely monopolising Erik’s messed-up heart.

A story of falling in love and being brave. A Christmas tale with a difference, set in the university dorms of central Oslo, where lies are uncovered, snowflakes are falling all over the place, and beds are made to lie in. There is a slightly unconventional family. A mess of animal onesies. Too much food and a very Merry Christmas.

Sophia Soames became one of my favorite authors based on one book alone.  That would be 717 Miles, a touching, amazing, utterly human journey of love and recovery by two young men in London.  Trust me,  i wanted more, so much more.

Here is the story (along with the 717 Christmas short) that I have been waiting on.  Sophia Soames manages to write these microcosm of humanity, in this case, two flights of dorms on a campus in Norway.  Then ushers up such incredible portraits of human fragility, unknowing strength, unbelievable kindness, bravery, and , yes, the sheer being of youth…in Norway and all that entails.  And she does so with characters and a narrative that takes your breath away.

In This Bed of Snowflakes We Lie by Sophia Soames is full of Norwegian Christmas customs and all things bakery and sweetness.  I had no idea and I absolutely wallowed in it all the while looking up those names and goodness.  She folds them into a story where two young men are finding out who they are, how they can be their best selves (whatever they are), all the while helping several  or one traumatized friend in their dorms manage the holiday.

Oskar Høiland and Erik Nøst Hansen are two such endearing young men, confused at times about themselves and how they appear to others.  Also about their sexual appeal, and who they appeal to.  It’s a lovely, natural, sexual journey for them both, without major outside angst, as this is a very accepting society, at least within this circle of people.   And what a circle of people it is.  From the warm, quirky, and oh please, please adopt me too family of Erik’s (yes, I wanted to be there, that’s how all embracing and incredible those scenes are), to the dormates on floors one and two, these are all characters that will sing to your heart.  You, the reader, will want to know them, want to be their friends, hug on them, and follow each and every one of their paths through life, to make sure its a safe and happy one.  That’s how deeply you will connect to each and everyone.

In the end, what you will also remember is the analogy that brings  you back to the title.  In This Bed of Snowflakes and the imagery it brings up.  Of the two in love young men, lying on their backs, as the snowflakes swirl down around them, and Erik, talking about how individually snowflakes are so delicate but together, formed into a whole, they are so strong.  And now I’m sniffling again.

Read this book, discover this author.  Both are amazing and unforgettable.   And yes, I highly recommend them both.

 

Cover Artist: Miriam Latu. I love this artist and this cover.  Perfection and so different than the usual covers.  Draws you in just as it should.  Yes, that’s Oskar.

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Universal Link  

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 217 pages
Published November 14th 2019
ASINB07ZS1MDNS
Edition Language English

 

 

Don’t Miss Out on the Release Blitz for In This Bed of Snowflakes We Lie by Sophia Soames (excerpt and giveaway)

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RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: In This Bed of Snowflakes We Lie

Author: Sophia Soames

Publisher: Self-published

Cover Artist: Miriam Latu

Release Date: November 14, 2019

Genre/s: Contemporary M/M Romance

Trope/s: Forced Proximity, Christmas, Family,

Themes: Christmas, family, coming out, University Dorm living, Norway, Scandinavia

No triggers or warnings. No age gap, University aged student MC’s.

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 62 891 words

It is a standalone story.

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Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Universal Link  

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK

 

 

Love is supposed to be easy. You are supposed to find your person and fall in love, and then you hold each other and kiss and live happily ever after. 

Well, Erik has ended up in the wrong bloody love story. He is stuck in the one full of angst and worries and confusion and pain. Lots of pain. 

 

Blurb

Oskar Høiland hides from life. It just makes things easier that way, not having to face all the fears and drama of living. He especially hides from other people, because Oskar has grown up fearing the snide remarks and the quick glances that strip him of the tiny scraps of confidence he still has left. He is just going to keep existing. Work hard to complete his medical degree and perhaps watch a few more series on Netflix in peace and quiet over Christmas. 

Erik Nøst Hansen should be an almost fully-fledged adult. He should be able to sort out the mess that festers in his head and stop lying. It’s just hard. And it’s bloody terrifying to even acknowledge the thoughts that swirl around in his head at night when he can’t sleep. He also needs to figure out how to talk to the boy downstairs. The one with the golden curls and the crooked smile. The boy who is completely monopolising Erik’s messed-up heart. 

A story of falling in love and being brave. A Christmas tale with a difference, set in the university dorms of central Oslo, where lies are uncovered, snowflakes are falling all over the place, and beds are made to lie in. There is a slightly unconventional family. A mess of animal onesies. Too much food and a very Merry Christmas. 

 

 Excerpt 

Oskar’s first instinct is to flee. Run. Hide somewhere until the thing in his bed has disappeared. He blinks. Shakes his head in disbelief and looks again. 

Nope. He’s still there. There is still a very-much-fast-asleep person in his bed, his breathing soft against Oskar’s pillow, and that ridiculous pink bandana is sliding down over his eyes. 

He moves carefully to get a closer look, then recoils back as he remembers. No clothes! He is stark naked in his own room, like a normal person would be. It’s just, this dude is there. Right there. On his bed.

Yes, he had left his door unlocked, but then that doesn’t mean any random person can just come in and decide to sleep in his bed? Does it? Especially when the random person is flat-out drunk. Oskar can smell the alcohol now, his body recoiling at the fumes escaping along with little bubbles of spit at the corner of the dude’s mouth. Beer-scented mouthfuls of air with every breath. Every little snore. 

He doesn’t know how he didn’t realise someone was here before. I mean, the dude is not exactly quiet, snuffling and snoring and smacking his lips together in his sleep. 

Oskar’s eardrums are still ringing from having his earphones on the highest volume, and the beats from upstairs are still going strong, but still, he should have noticed. How the fuck didn’t he notice?

There are a pair of threadbare joggers on the floor, which he pulls on, and the t-shirt on the floor looks clean enough, so he pulls it over his damp hair and tiptoes further up along the side of his bed to get a closer look. 

It’s definitely one of the guys from upstairs. The tall pretty one. The one with all the girlfriends. The one with the reputation.

Yes, Oskar listens. He might not speak much to the other students, but his hearing is good—well, it was until today, and he will sue if his hearing is damaged from this bloody party, starting with suing the pants off this dude that has crashed Oskar’s planned Netflix marathon—and he pays attention to the stories. The tall tales of weekend shenanigans. The obvious boasting and lies. And the things that might actually be true.

Like the whispers doing the rounds about this guy. The tall one with the messy dark-brown hair and full lips. Kisses like he means it. Great lay apparently. Can get any girl he wants. That’s what he has heard. Hangs around with the dark-haired guy with the black floppy fringe, and that lanky boy with the frizzy hair. Well, he probably hangs around with everyone. Always smiling and never alone. Never sitting on his own in the cafeteria like Oskar, hiding in the corner with his headphones on. 

No, this dude is always the centre of attention. Surrounded by people clinging to his every word. Laughing at his jokes. Staring adoringly at him as he throws his head back in laughter. 

Except this dude is now here. And Oskar hasn’t got a clue what to do.

He could go get Freddie, he supposes, and they could probably manhandle the dude out of the room. Dump him on the sofa for the night. He is quite sure the girls would approve, and in the morning, he would wake up and find this guy on the sofa making all the girls laugh, having charmed them into making him coffee and buttering his toast and spoon feeding him their secret imported stash of Swedish Treo hangover fizz, whilst placing tiny morsels of hot buttered toast on his tongue. 

He pushes that scene out of his head with a sigh. The boy is his problem. He is in Oskar’s bed. And if he doesn’t get him out of here, things will be shit awkward in the morning, he is sure of that. 

“Dude,” he whispers, and nudges the guy’s shoulder before he can stop himself. He should think this through, make some kind of plan. Maybe wake him up gently so he doesn’t scare the shit out of the poor guy, waking up and realising he has crashed in Oskar’s bed, instead of wherever he thought he was crashing.

 He probably took a wrong turn, thinking this was Madeleine’s room. Or Ingvild’s. Or one of the other girls. Maybe he thought he could get lucky by just throwing himself in some lucky girl’s bed. Just like that. Oskar wonders if people do that, just full-on go for it and shamelessly offer themselves like that. 

Oskar shudders at the thought. It’s a mistake whatever it is, and Oskar won’t let him get away with this. Not tonight. Not now. He doesn’t need the grief, or the inevitable shaming in the morning when this dude tells all his friends that the nerd downstairs tried to get him in the sack. Lies and raw laughter trying to make light of a situation that he knows will end badly, with Oskar being the butt of every joke. The one the girls will gossip about and point their fingers at. The one that came on to one of the beautiful people. One of their people. Where Oskar just doesn’t belong.

Because the boy is beautiful, even Oskar can see that. Soft long dark hair framing his face, freckles decorating his pale skin and those lips. Even his fucking profile is perfect, his straight nose burrowing into Oskar’s pillow. 

“Dude, come on! Wake up.” Oskar shakes his shoulder this time, but the guy is dead. Dead to the world. Not a hint of pretending to wake up. He just snores and burrows further into the pillow.

“YO. MATE!” This guy is no mate of his. Nor will they ever be, mates or whatever, but Oskar is shouting now. Desperate. He needs to get to bed. He needs an hour of some mindless American sitcom to calm him down. He needs to sleep. Please. 

He tries to pull the guy off the bed, grabbing the dude by the ankles only to realise the guy is still wearing shoes. Big clumsy boots with heels. Ridiculous. I mean who wears shit like that in the middle of winter? It’s not like December in Oslo is the place for something that wouldn’t look out of place in a Texas Rodeo. 

“Fuck,” he grits between his teeth. 

The sofa out in the main room is seriously uncomfortable. No one ever bothers to even  sit on it, and even if he considers sleeping there, the bleach fumes would make him retch before long. 

It’s not like he could go sleep in anyone else’s room. It’s just not the kind of thing he could do. Not his thing. Not that he is close enough to any of the others to warrant such a request. 

He could sleep on his own floor, he supposes, except that the dude is lying on top of his duvet. 

It takes a few good pulls, but finally the duvet gives way and the dude rolls over as Oskar drags the fabric from underneath his body. He almost bursts into laughter, because the dude is now on his back, mouth wide open and the bandana has slipped down covering his eyes and nose. He looks like a twat. 

A drunk snoring twat in ridiculous boots. 

Oskar is a medical student. Oskar fucking knows what can happen. He wouldn’t be a responsible human being if he didn’t ensure that his unwelcome roommate at least survives the night. 

The boots come off his feet to reveal socks underneath. Ridiculous socks with little reindeers and Santas that make Oskar swallow another inappropriate giggle. This isn’t funny. This isn’t funny at all.

He rolls the bandana up over the dude’s fringe, carefully removing it before tossing it aside, and straddles his body to try to roll him into the recovery position. He has done it several times in training, but always with willing perfectly conscious subjects underneath him. Never a half-dead comatose man breathing alcohol fumes at him, making him retch in disgust. 

It takes a few goes, and Oskar gets braver as the guy is definitely out for the count. He doesn’t wake up, even when Oskar knees him in the balls by mistake, trying to manhandle his shoulder over towards the mattress. But he is finally there, safely in position on his side with his hand supporting his chin, so any accidental vomiting won’t choke him to death and there is nothing restricting around his neck to hinder his breathing. His airway is open, and he is safe. In the middle of Oskar’s bed. 

Oskar wants to cry. He wants to bury his face in his hands and howl. Scream out in frustration. 

Instead, he covers the unconscious body in his warm duvet and switches off the light. Lets his own body slide in under the covers at the very edge of the bed, as far away as he can get. Oskar lies there, perched on the edge of the mattress, yet he can still feel the breath from the other man hitting the back of his neck. Soft puffs of air stroking the skin under his still-damp hair. 

He shudders. It’s hours until he finally falls asleep. Restless and terrified of what he might find next to him in the morning.

 

About the Author 

Sophia Soames should be old enough to know better but has barely grown up. She has been known to fangirl over tv-shows, has fallen in and out of love with more popstars than she dares to remember, and has a ridiculously high-flying (un-)glamourous real-life job. 

Her long-suffering husband just laughs at her antics. Their children are feral. The Au Pair just sighs. 

She lives in a creaky old house in rural London, although her heart is still in Scandinavia. 

Discovering that the stories in her head make sense when written down has been part of the most hilarious midlife crisis ever and she hopes it may long continue.

Miriam Latu is a Norway based artist, specialising in hand-drawn pencil portraits. She works with old-school pen and paper, and more of her work can be found on Instagram @om_hundre_ar_er_allting. 

 

Also by Sophia Soames, with cover artwork by Miriam Latu

717 miles

717 miles Christmas

The Scandinavian Comfort Series

Little Harbour

Open Water

IN THIS BED OF SNOWFLAKES WE LIE

What If It All Goes Right? (Out Jan 2020) 

 

Come join my Facebook reader’s group 

Sophia Soames’ Little Harbour  

Find me on social media @sophiasoames on all platforms

Facebook: Sophia Soames  |  Twitter: @sophiasoames   | Instagram: @sophiasoames 

 

 

Giveaway 

717 miles – Christmas Special

A short novella to follow on from where the novel 717 miles left off.

This will be FREE to download from Amazon from November 14 -18.

Just follow the link and enjoy.

 Mybook.to/717milesChristmas

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK 

Please note that this is not a standalone story and should be read after completing 717 miles

 

Add on Goodreads

BLURB

717 miles Christmas Special

I promised myself many years ago that I would never set foot in London again.
I promised. Adam promised. I said I wouldn’t. He said I would never have to.
Yet here we are again, and life has become quite surreal. This is us, a good few years later, older and wiser with more baggage than the baggage belt at Heathrow.

And now it is Christmas and Adam is working too much and I have far too much time to think about things that shouldn’t really matter. Or maybe they should?

717 miles Christmas Special is a short novella to follow on from 717 miles, the novel, and should not be read as a standalone.

 

 

Follow the tour and check out the other blog posts and reviews here

 

Hosted by Gay Book Promotions

 

Ready for a Holiday Treat? Check Out the New Release Blitz for Holiday Gridlock (Cruised #2) by Gretchen Evans (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Holiday Gridlock

Series: Cruised, Book Two

Author: Gretchen Evans

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 11, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 18600

Genre: Contemporary Holiday, LGBT, contemporary, holiday, Christmas, age-gap, interracial

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Synopsis

Gabe is way too happy. Mark is as close to a perfect boyfriend as you can get. He’s smart, good-looking, successful, and he cares about Gabe. He’s also way more serious about their relationship than Gabe’s ready for. He wants them to move in together.

The closest Gabe’s ever gotten to living with a boyfriend is accidentally leaving his boxers behind. But he and Mark are way past that. It’s terrifying.

Mark invites Gabe home for the holidays where Gabe gets an intimate look at Mark’s family, his childhood, and how different their Christmas traditions are. It’s loud, overwhelming, messy, and…really nice. Homey in a way Gabe’s never experienced.

But Mark wants more than for Gabe to just have a peek at this part of his life. He wants Gabe to become part of the family, to go to bed with him every night, and wake up with him every morning. He wants all their Christmases to be together. Moving in may be just the start.

It might take a Christmas miracle for Gabe to figure himself out and overcome his fears. Or maybe a little familial intervention.

Will Gabe and Mark take the next step, or will they get stuck in holiday gridlock?

Excerpt

Holiday Gridlock
Gretchen Evans © 2019
All Rights Reserved

DECEMBER 17TH
Pressure squeezed Gabe’s sinuses like a vice. A vice might be too extreme. More like he’d walked into a wall repeatedly, and now his entire face ached.

He blew his nose for the hundredth time. It wasn’t much relief. The best he could do was snuggle deeper into the nest of blankets he’d assembled on his couch and pray for the sweet release of death.

The scratch of a key turning the old, cheap lock on his front door roused him. The light coming through the blinds had dimmed a lot, and the Netflix “Are you still watching?” glared at him from the TV. He must have dozed off watching Planet Earth. Thank God for Nyquil.

No point in getting up. Only one person had a key to his apartment: Mark. If it wasn’t Mark, that meant someone was picking his lock and planned to rob him. Good. They could take whatever they wanted as long as they took this damn cold too.

“Hello!” Mark called from the hall.

Gabe managed to sit up, sort of. “In here,” he called out, voice cracking.

Mark appeared in the living room doorway wearing a devastatingly handsome three-piece gray suit. Gabe was sick, not dead. He could appreciate his sexy his boyfriend in almost any state. Mark gripped a brown paper Whole Foods bag in his hand.

His boyfriend. It was a thrill to think about. How often did a gorgeous, successful man you met on a hookup app turn out to actually be gorgeous and successful? And then be as interested in you as you were in him? Their early days of hooking up in public bathrooms—and one memorable time, a parking lot—were behind them. But those were some nice memories.

They had gone from an awkward “hey, let’s try this” to practically living in each other’s back pockets in only a few months. Gabe hadn’t had many relationships and sometimes felt a little lost at sea. But when Mark was with him, that didn’t seem to matter.

Mark’s legs were long, and Gabe’s apartment was small, so it only took a couple steps for Mark to reach him. He dropped the groceries on the battered coffee table and bent to kiss the top of Gabe’s curls.

“How are you feeling?”

Gabe pulled himself up to sit a little higher. “Like shit.”

Smiling, Mark smoothed back Gabe’s hair. Gabe stretched into it like a cat begging to be petted. It didn’t make his nightmare of a cold go away any faster, but it certainly made him feel better. He didn’t want Mark to stop but… “You’re going to get sick.”

“Maybe, but I take my vitamins.” Mark pulled away, picking up the grocery bag as he walked toward the kitchen. “I brought you dinner.”

Food sounded unappealing. He couldn’t taste anything. Couldn’t smell anything. It was like putting cardboard in his mouth.

Mark slung his jacket over the top of the lonely stool Gabe had at his breakfast bar, leaving him in white shirtsleeves and a vest that hugged his waist perfectly. He propped himself against the counter, rolling up his sleeves. Gabe could see the bulge of the veins in Mark’s forearms from the couch.

“I’m cheating a little.” He pulled a plastic tub with something gross-looking sloshing against its sides and a shrink-wrapped pack of chicken cut into bite-size pieces from the bag. “Premade stock and precooked chicken. Good chicken soup takes time, so we’ll make do with this. Add some fresh vegetables and noodles and it’s almost like the real thing.”

There was nothing like seeing a man who made your heart pound, dressed like that, proposing to make nearly homemade chicken soup just because you were sick. How could Gabe say no to dinner now?

He watched through the tiny opening between the breakfast bar and the kitchen as Mark quietly went about his business. Mark knew where the pots and pans were, where the cutting board and sharpest knife were kept. He knew to use the front left burner because the others were bent and the pot would wobble. Gabe hadn’t realized Mark paid so much attention to his dingy little kitchen.

They cooked dinner together often, but usually at Mark’s much nicer condo. His kitchen had granite countertops and an oven that didn’t burn things. Watching Mark move so effortlessly around Gabe’s space settled something warm and heavy in Gabe’s chest. Something that wasn’t congestion.

He must have dozed off again because suddenly Mark nudged his elbow with one hand and held out a steaming bowl of soup with the other.

“Here. Eat some soup and drink some water; then you can go back to sleep.”

Gabe sat up, his back against the armrest and legs stretched out in front of him, and took the bowl. The steam felt good against his face as he tried to smell it. “You gonna tuck me in?”

Mark balanced his own bowl of soup as he lifted Gabe’s legs to sit on the couch. He lowered Gabe’s legs back to his lap and made sure Gabe’s feet were covered before picking up his spoon. “You are far too sick to be lascivious.”

“Nice SAT word. And anyway, I read an article about how regular sex can help fight off colds.”

Taking a long moment to bring the spoon to his lips, Mark delayed answering. He shot a wicked grin at Gabe after he swallowed. “I thought you were worried about getting me sick.”

Touché.

“How do you feel about sex with hospital masks?”

“Decidedly unsexy.”

“Spoil sport.”

Gabe turned back to his soup. He couldn’t taste it, but it was warm and made his throat feel better. He managed most of it but left a lot of the noodles behind before Mark took the bowl from him.

Sounds of running water and clinking dishes came from the kitchen as Gabe snuggled down in his blankets. He found the remote wedged between the back of the couch and the cushion and clicked on the Antarctica episode of Planet Earth. That was a good one.

He hummed as Mark settled on the couch, putting Gabe’s legs in his lap again.

“This the one with the whales?”

Gabe hummed again, his eyelids sliding closed.

“Do you want me to wake you up before I go so you can go to bed? Or do you want to sleep on the couch?” Mark’s voice was quiet, and his palm rubbed circles on Gabe’s calf, which was not going to help him stay awake.

“How long are you staying?”

“At least until I see some whales. That’s the only reason I came over.”

Gabe tried for a playful kick, but even that took too much energy. It looked more like an uncoordinated leg spasm. Mark laughed at him anyway. Gabe refused to rise to the bait. Instead, he purposefully shut his eyes and went to sleep.

The next time he came to, it was dark outside, but a soft glow filled his apartment. Mark must have turned on a lamp. Gabe stretched his legs. Mark wasn’t on the couch with him anymore. He must have gone home.

There was a little dip of sadness in Gabe’s chest at the thought.

The dip didn’t last long. Mark’s legs came into view next to the couch. Gabe had to crane his neck to see the rest of him.

“Here.” Mark held out a glass of water and two green pills.

Gabe didn’t bother to sit up. He could swallow lying down. It was one of his hidden talents. He popped the pills and tilted the glass back. He spilled some on his shirt but couldn’t bring himself to care.

“How did you know I needed more medicine?”

Mark perched on the coffee table, resting his elbows on his knees and searching Gabe’s face. “Because I love you, and I pay attention. I’ve been here more than four hours and you haven’t had any. I figured it was time. Are you sure you don’t need to go to a doctor?”

Mark had been the first to say I love you, but Gabe had said it right back. Since then, Mark dropped casual I love yous every day. Gabe was more reserved, but Mark didn’t seem to mind. Gabe thought Mark knew even though he didn’t say it all the time, he still felt it.

He took another swig of water, managing not to spill that time. “Nah, it’s only a cold. Give it a couple of days, and I’ll be fine.”

A deep V creased the skin between Mark’s dark eyebrows, and the small lines around his eyes deepened. Gabe wanted to kiss him. Badly. He started to pull himself up, unsure if he’d actually kiss Mark or not, but at least wanting to be on eye level with him.

Mark cupped Gabe’s elbow and helped him sit. He didn’t look relieved by Gabe’s change of position. “I’ll take you to the doctor if you need to go. Whenever you need to go.”

Gabe smiled, but that didn’t seem to convince Mark either. “I’ll be fine. Promise. I already feel better than I did yesterday.”

He rose slowly as Mark pulled on the blankets wrapped around Gabe, keeping them away from Gabe’s feet so he wouldn’t trip. Mark was good at small things like that. Mark was good at everything.

He waited, shoulder propped against the bathroom doorway, while Gabe brushed his teeth. Gabe didn’t have the energy to shower or change from one set of sweats to another to sleep in. He wanted to collapse, face first, on the bed. Instead, Gabe let Mark pull back the covers and usher him in. Like he was a child.

It didn’t feel patronizing or condescending. It was comforting.

“You know, I could do this every night if you’d move in with me,” Mark teased.

Bringing up an ongoing argument with one party sick was unfair.

“You’re taking advantage of my weakened state.” Gabe rolled on his side and hugged a pillow to his chest. “Besides, you could do this every night if you moved in here too.”

Mark sat on the bed, tucked up against the bend in Gabe’s knees. “My place is closer to work.”

Gabe snorted. “You don’t seem to mind the drive anymore.”

“Yeah, but I’d rather have you at home, in a nice big bed on clean sheets, than in a bathroom.” He rubbed his broad palm from Gabe’s knee to his hip. The heat of it soaked through straight to Gabe’s skin.

Don’t Miss Out On the Release Blitz for Irises in the Snow by Isabelle Adler (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Irises in the Snow

Author: Isabelle Adler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 4, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 25300

Genre: Contemporary, Anxiety, artist, childhood friends, Christmas, contemporary, family drama, holiday, second chances, small town

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Synopsis

It’s Christmas, and Justin’s life is fraying at the edges. The family business he took over instead of going to art school is bleeding money, and his boyfriend of seven months cheated on him. Under these circumstances, family gatherings can be rough, but Justin believes he has everything under control. That is, until Elliot, his former best friend (and the first guy to ever break his heart) unexpectedly shows up at the holiday dinner party.

With both of them still nursing the wounds of the past, it might take a real Christmas miracle for Justin and Elliot to learn to appreciate the art of second chances.

Excerpt

Irises in the Snow
Isabelle Adler © 2019
All Rights Reserved

The Rowel family home greeted Justin with familiar smells of cinnamon cake and fresh pine. In his mind, these scents had always been associated with the holiday season and long evenings spent around the dinner table or playing Scrabble in front of the fire. They were enough to ease some of the ache in Justin’s chest, softening his mood a tiny fraction.

“Justin!” His father clapped him on the shoulder and pulled him into a hug, which Justin carefully returned. “I’m glad you could finally make it.”

Despite the long remission, his father still appeared frail—or so it seemed to Justin, who, like most children, had grown up with the illusion his father was invincible until the universe proved him wrong.

“Of course,” Justin said. “You know me; I can’t say no to mom’s cooking.”

His father raised his eyebrow skeptically, undoubtedly recalling the string of last-minute cancellations and half-hearted excuses for not coming over in the last few weeks.

A familiar wave of guilt washed over Justin. With everything that had been going on, he knew he’d be hard-pressed to withstand his parents’ well-meaning inquiries into his personal life and into the state of the family business, which had become Justin’s sole responsibility. He couldn’t bring himself to tell them just how badly both those things were going.

He cranked up his smile to a new level of dissimulation, but thankfully, his mother emerged from the kitchen before his dad could challenge his statement.

His mother wiped her hands on her apron and reached up to plant kisses on Justin’s cheeks.

“Everybody is already here,” she told Justin as she led him by the arm into the living room as if he’d forgotten the way. “I love it when the house is full.” Her tone was a touch wistful as she gave his arm a gentle squeeze before returning to the kitchen.

Justin supposed having them all together was a rare occurrence these days. He lived in a one-room apartment above their hardware store, and his sister Trish had recently moved in with her fiancé. Nowadays, only the holidays presented an opportunity for Kelly Rowel to gather all of her loved ones, and, despite having to close the shop early on Monday to attend the day-before-Christmas-Eve family gathering, Justin was glad he could do something to make his mom happy. But as soon as he entered the brightly lit living room, he came to a screeching halt.

A fire already crackled merrily behind the grate. Huge red and white socks adorned with hand-embroidered names hung off the mantelpiece, decorated with a fake holly arrangement making its yearly appearance in the Rowel household. The TV showed a romantic comedy set in the Swiss Alps, as far as Justin could tell at a cursory glance. His sister Trish, her fiancé Dave, and Aunt Marnie sat glued to the movie while Uncle Tony fiddled with his iPhone.

None of them, however, had the dubious honor of grabbing Justin’s attention. That belonged to the young man wearing trendy gold-rimmed glasses and the blandest Christmas sweater in existence, sitting ramrod-straight in Dad’s old armchair and seemingly engrossed in Anne Hathaway’s foreign love affair.

No way. What was he doing here?

Justin didn’t know how long he stood in the doorway, transfixed, until his father, coming up behind him, gave him a slight nudge.

“Look who I have here!” he announced, and everybody, including the young man and Uncle Tony, raised their heads and turned his way.

“Hey, Justin!” Trish got up to meet him and give him a vigorous hug.

They sure were an affectionate lot, he thought absently as he hugged her back. Once, all that warmth was what kept him going. Now, it seemed almost…superfluous.

“Hi, Trish,” Justin said when she let up, and nodded to the rest. “Aunt Marnie, Uncle Tony, Dave. Elliot.”

“Oh, right.” Trish finally seemed to recall there was someone else present. “Mom invited Elliot to spend the holiday with us. You remember Elliot?”

Justin nodded curtly, unable to tear his eyes away from their guest. He definitely remembered Elliot Turner.

The man in question stood up, vacating his seat for Justin’s dad, and extended his hand in greeting.

“It’s nice to see you again,” he said.

Elliot’s voice was deeper, more mature than the last time Justin had spoken to him. Somehow, he seemed taller too. His gray eyes behind the shiny glasses regarded him seriously.

“Sure,” Justin said politely, shaking his hand. “It’s been a while.”

“Five years,” Elliot said.

“I was sorry to hear about your parents,” Justin said.

An awkward silence, accentuated by the chatter from the TV, settled around the living room at the mention of the tragedy. Trish and Aunt Marnie exchanged a nervous look. Really, did they expect Justin to just ignore what had happened?

When he’d heard of the terrible car accident last year, he tried calling Elliot in Los Angeles, but Elliot never picked up the phone or responded to Justin’s email in which he offered his condolences. That, above anything else, made it perfectly clear Justin was no longer welcome in his life.

So what was he doing back, standing in Justin’s parents’ living room?

“Thank you,” Elliot said gravely.

Suddenly, Justin was aware he was still holding Elliot’s hand and let it go, taking an involuntary step back. He wasn’t prepared for all the half-repressed memories dragged to the surface by Elliot’s touch—and he certainly wasn’t prepared to deal with them in front of his notoriously meddlesome, if well-meaning, extended family.

Elliot stepped away as well, dropping his eyes. The sudden loss of contact felt like…well, a loss.

“Is Mark coming?” Trish asked, peering behind Justin’s shoulder as if expecting to find his boyfriend loitering in the corridor.

“No,” he said curtly.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Maybe he’ll join us tomorrow, then?”

“I don’t think so. How are your studies going?” he asked Trish, desperately trying to divert her focus elsewhere.

“I’m doing great. Passed all my midterms.”

“With flying colors,” Dave said.

He rose from his seat to shake Justin’s hand as Elliot stepped aside to make room for him and plopped back down, taking over half the couch in a casual sprawl. Dave was a big guy, tall and built like a quarterback. Trish was taller than Justin by an inch, and nearly as broad in the shoulders, but Dave made her seem petite in comparison.

“That’s terrific,” Justin said, his voice warming.

His plan of going to art school had gone up in flames and then slowly fizzled over the years as other considerations took precedence over the illusions of youth, but at least it hadn’t all been for nothing. With her athletics scholarship, Trish had been accepted to UIndy, and as long as she got to achieve that dream, he was happy to do anything he could to support her.

“I can’t believe you got even paler, though,” Trish said, casting a critical eye over him. “And thinner. Are you auditioning for the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past?”

“You’re the one to talk, Trish,” Aunt Marnie observed primly. “That’s the trouble with young people today. You can’t be bothered to take care of yourselves. Eating sandwiches in front of the TV instead of sitting down for a proper meal, chugging all those soft drinks, always on your phones instead of having a nice long conversation over the dinner table.”

She glanced disapprovingly at Uncle Tony as she said it. Justin couldn’t tell whether her dissatisfaction stemmed from his being effectively absent from the proceedings, or that his preoccupation with his own mobile device undermined her point of it being the affliction of solely the younger generation.

Justin rolled his eyes and caught a glimpse of Elliot doing the same. He pretended not to notice.

“Oh, shush, Marnie.” Justin’s dad, John, tsked in annoyance at his sister-in-law as he settled comfortably in his shabby armchair. “Leave the girl alone. The last thing she needs is your dieting advice.”

“Just so you know, I eat healthier than all of you,” Trish said, sitting back down on the sofa beside her fiancé. Thankfully, she wasn’t ruffled by her aunt’s comment. Unlike Justin, she had always boasted a sunny disposition and staunchly refused to let bullies of any variety upset her. “And I drink nothing but fresh juice and water. Carbonated for special occasions.”

Dave snickered and petted her arm lovingly.

“Yes. Well. You must be tired, dear,” Aunt Marnie said, changing the subject and addressing Justin. “Why don’t you sit, put your feet up for a bit? Now, are you sure your young man isn’t coming? I had such a nice chat with him when you brought him over for Thanksgiving. Did you know—”

“I’m sure,” Justin interrupted her. Elliot’s gaze was like a laser beam trained on him, but he refused to meet it head on. “Actually, I think I’ll go see if Mom needs any help in the kitchen.”

Justin beat a hasty retreat before they could all start bickering again—and before he had to explain his current heartache in front of the man who was the first to ever break it.

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Meet the Author

A voracious reader from the age of five, Isabelle Adler has always dreamed of one day putting her own stories into writing. She loves traveling, art, and science, and finds inspiration in all of these. Her favorite genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and historical adventure. She also firmly believes in the unlimited powers of imagination and caffeine.

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