Monday, December 19, 2016

Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Part 9


Christmas Wish by BG Thomas
Summary:
Harry is desperately unhappy with his life. He hates his job, his apartment, and most especially, he hates the way he looks. Despite this, once Harry hears that his fantasy man, Javier Torres, is playing Santa at the local gay bar, he can't wait to get his picture taken sitting on Javier’s lap in hopes of finally catching the sexy man's attention. But it all goes wrong, and Harry ends up telling a different “Santa” exactly how his life could be made better... but he doesn’t expect his Christmas wish to come true!


We've all wished for a change at some time in our lives, 5 pounds lighter, hair not so frizzy, abs slightly firmer, job more fulfilling, and a hundred other things, Harry however takes it to the extreme and when he wakes the next morning, he's a different man - literally.  As the old adage says, you never know what someone feels until you walk a mile in their shoes and Harry learns that looks isn't everything.  Will he be able to fix it before he loses everything, especially his best friend Cody?  Well for that answer you'll have to read Christmas Wish for yourself and trust me, not only will you enjoy it but you just might learn something about yourself in the process.

RATING: 

Angel Voices by Rowan Speedwell 
Summary:
On a frigid winter night, college freshman Will stumbles into the shelter of a church during choir practice. His father has just discovered that Will is gay, and has beaten him and thrown him out of the house. But right now Will’s interested only in getting warm.

Will’s college roommate Quinn is a soloist in the choir, which is practicing for a Christmas program. He discovers Will in the church—and his friend’s condition. Will, who has grown up in a repressed environment, including church school, an abusive father and a passive mother, is taken aback by Quinn’s enthusiasm and determination to take care of him.

Does Will have a future after all, especially one that will include Quinn?

Angel Voices is a lovely Christmas story of rejection and acceptance.  Some might find the way Will and Quinn deal, in part, with Will being beaten by his dad and thrown out of his home for being gay a little disjointed or rushed, i.e. the sex.  Personally, I just looked past that and concentrated on the emotions behind the sex and the fact that Quinn shows Will that not every family is like his dad. A great addition to my holiday library.

RATING: 

Still Life by Jaime Samms
Summary:
When Allan Song’s ex, Mac, shows up to model for the life drawing class Allan teaches, he turns everything upside-down. Mac is still as infuriatingly attractive as when Allan first met him—and still trying to figure out where he fits on the gender spectrum. He’s more than a little out of control, and he’s taken some stupid risks that have come back to haunt him. If they’re going to get back together, Allan wants a real relationship—but for that, he and Mac will need to look below the surface.



Cabin Nights by Ashley John
Summary:
Oxford University student, Ben thinks a skiing holiday in the French Alps is his idea of hell, so when his best friend, Jonny suggests they spend Christmas there he isn’t impressed. Taking to the slopes like Bambi on ice, Ben isn't having much luck, until charming bearded beauty, Cal, comes crashing towards him in a flurry of snow at fifty miles an hour. From the moment Cal offers to help Ben get back on his skis, the attraction is instant and Ben is convinced that a man as perfect as Cal is out of his league.

Womanizer Jonny wastes no time asking out a girl he meets on the slopes and he makes her promise to bring along a friend to keep Ben occupied that night in the Apr├Ęs-Ski Bar. When that friend turns out to be Cal, he's given the opportunity of a lifetime to wine and dine with a man of model like beauty, with a charismatic personality to match.

When Cal invites Ben back to his Cabin, they find themselves trapped in an extreme whiteout and with the men forced to spend the Christmas holidays together, they quickly find they are doing more than roasting marshmallows next to the warm and inviting fire.

Of Christmas Past by Teryn Day 
Summary:
Jonathan Barthes has always been able to see—and speak to—the dead. Unfortunately, restless spirits tend to be somewhat needy, and his “gift” has cost him everything from a promising acceptance into med school to a long string of failed relationships. Unable to find a purpose after a terrible autumn semester, he accepts his aunt’s offer to become the caretaker of one of the estates his great-uncle left her over the holidays. He expected the restless spirits: the little girl, the mean governess, and he especially expected the ghost of the vindictive young man who calls himself Cecil.

Cecil's handsome enough when he’s not making the mirrors bleed or the radios speak in tongues. As the year crawls on and reaches its end, however, Jon begins to help Cecil uncover the mystery of his life—and his tragic death. Jon had a dream of helping the living—but maybe, just this once, when he helps a ghost, that ghost will help him back.


Of Christmas Past is a nice blend of holiday, friendship, historical, paranormal all factors that make a difference in the lives of Jon and Cecil.  The low sex drive being asexual was a little disconcerting that it was mis-researched but the characters are well written and the paranormal element difference from the norm in holiday romance made up for it for me as I like to look at the story as a whole when reviewing and rating.  I look forward to checking out more from Teryn Day,  another new one for me.  A great addition to both my holiday and paranormal shelves.

RATING: 

Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Parts

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


Christmas Wish by BG Thomas
IT WAS a Saturday night, and The Male Box, Harry’s favorite gay bar, was packed. A dance version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” bombarded the patrons from all angles. There were men everywhere—lined up for drinks, dancing, waiting to dance, waiting for something more—but none of them was the man Harry Fielding was looking for.

“I don’t believe you dragged me here again,” said Cody, his best friend.

“I hardly twisted your arm,” Harry said. He was sure this was the night. It was the Saturday before Christmas.

“I hate it when we come here,” Cody said. “None of these men know we’re alive. That song from Chicago is about us.”

“Which song?” Harry asked, barely paying attention. The charity stand should’ve been big. Why couldn’t he see it?

“‘Mister Cellophane’,” Cody answered. “They look right through us, walk right by us….”

“I don’t give a shit,” Harry said. “Tonight, Javier is going to have to pay attention to me.”

“Yeah, right,” said Cody with a theatrical roll of his eyes. With anyone else it would have looked silly, but Cody somehow always carried it off. It was just one of the things Harry loved about his friend. “Why will he have to pay attention to you?”

“Because, Butthole,” Harry snapped, “he won’t have a choice. I’ll be sitting right in his damned lap. He won’t be able to ignore me.”

Cody shook his head.

Harry smiled wistfully. “I’ll finally be able to say something to him, Cody.”

“And he’ll be totally enthralled with your personality and turn away from his hunk friends?”

“Why are you being this way?” Harry shouted, and then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wasn’t going to get mad. He’d been looking forward to this night all week. Javier was playing “Santa,” and ten bucks for a picture for charity meant he would be sitting smack-dab in the lap of his fantasy man. He’d be able to touch him. And if Javier looked anything like the Santas in years past, Harry’s fantasy wouldn’t be wearing much. Harry would get to touch quite a lot.

“I’m sorry,” Cody said. “I just know these guys, Harry. I don’t know why you obsess with their kind.”

“Their kind?” Harry asked, still searching for the Christmas display. The Male Box was a big bar, but not that big. “What ‘kind’ is that?”
“Clones,” Cody said.

“Says the hairdresser!” Harry laughed.

“Hairstylist,” Cody corrected with a wiggle of his hips. “At least we’re friendly. We’re real. Guys like Javier just don’t have anything to do with guys like us, Harry. They have a reputation to uphold. They can’t be seen—”

Angel Voices by Rowan Speedwell
Chapter One
Light and music streamed out of the church, stained glass casting long flares of color on the snow, a luminous accompaniment to the sounds of the organ and angelic voices drifting through the open double doors. The angels obviously needed practice; they would sing a line, then stop a moment while an invisible conductor made an inaudible comment, then sing the line over and maybe, maybe, get as far as the next line before stopping again.

Will stood in the purple light emanating from around some saint’s head and listened a moment, caught in the tenuous beauty that contrasted sharply with the ugliness he felt. He ached all over, his feet throbbing in time to the pounding in his head, his hands, his chest, his heart. The church was the first open place he’d seen in his eight-mile-plus walk—at least the only open place he’d seen that wouldn’t require cash outlay of some kind for food or drink or a ticket. He could keep walking—his dorm was only across the campus, but all the way across campus, and he was tired, and cold. And tired. So, without even thinking much about it, he climbed the two steps up to the broad church porch and went through the open, welcoming doors.

The lights in the nave of the church were on full, though the ones up around the altar were dark—except for that red one that he knew was something important, but didn’t have the energy to think about. He wasn’t religious—his parents were, but theirs was a different faith than the one this church housed. Their religion didn’t live in tall, cathedral-like places like this, with colored glass, lamp-like chandeliers, and wood carvings and statues. Theirs was cold and modern, at least in terms of the buildings.

This place was foreign, but it was warm, despite the open doors. The wood pews looked worn and well used, golden in the lamplight. The lamps cast pockets of shadow where they weren’t quite as bright, like back here in the very last row, over by the wall, underneath the balcony where the choir was practicing. Will gratefully slipped into a pew, leaning back against the warm golden wood and letting his duffel fall onto the floor beside him. It was so weird to be happy to just sit down.

He’d come in during one of the quiet moments. Now that he was inside, he could hear the voice of the director or conductor or whatever the head person of a choir was called, but he still couldn’t quite understand what he was saying. Then the voice stopped speaking, and Will heard the faint rapping of his stick or baton or whatever. The choir burst out singing again.

The acoustics inside the church made the sound richer and more beautiful. He listened, dazed by the purity of it.

And then a single voice, male, clear, powerful, and impossibly sweet, rose over the rest in a solo that sent a shudder through Will’s heart: “Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices . . .”

Will took his frozen hands from his jeans pockets, put his striped wool scarf over his face, and started to cry.

* * * * * * *

“Okay, okay,” Bennigan said, waving his hands absently. “Fifteen-minute potty break, then we’ll go through the rest of the program. Quinn, good job on the solo, but I still think you need a little more punch on the ‘fall’ so that it really stands out. Wake the sleeping millions, got it?”

“Yes, sir!” Quinn saluted in cheerful mockery and headed to the stairs from the choir loft, beating the rest of the group to the door and lunging in his usual headlong way down the worn stairs.

“One of these days you’re gonna fall and break your neck,” Sean said behind him.

“Not him,” Ellen said in disgust. “Leads a charmed life.”

“I do, I really do,” Quinn agreed, and opened the door out into the nave, the rest following, chattering, as he led the way to the restrooms at the rear of the church.

On his way back, as he wiped his hands on his sweatshirt because the stupid blow-dryers in the bathroom never dried properly, he saw the figure huddled in the very last pew on the far side of the nave. He would have just taken the figure for a street person who had come in to get warm, but it wore the green, blue, and orange striped scarf his roommate Will had worn over his denim jacket when he’d left that afternoon for the holiday break. Quinn had said something about the jacket not being warm enough, and Will had just muttered that he had a ride home.

The response was typical of Will—their conversations tended to be brief at best. Not that Quinn minded; Will was a quiet, considerate roommate, tidy and undemanding, if impossibly shy. He was nice to look at, too—a bit gangly, like most teenaged guys, but with a strong bone structure under his pale skin, hair the color of autumn leaves, and eyes the green of spring.

The guy in the corner had Will’s untidy dark-red hair and the denim jacket. Quinn frowned. That didn’t make sense—when Will had left, he’d had his duffel with him and was clearly going home. Had his ride fallen through? Why hadn’t he gone back to the room, then?

“Will?” he said quietly, crossing the flagstone aisle to the pew where Will sat.

There wasn’t any answer. Was he asleep? Quinn slid down the pew to his side and sat, touching his shoulder gently. “Will?” he said again.

Will started, and looked over at Quinn in a disoriented panic.

Quinn’s hand fell away. “Holy fucking shit, Will, what happened? Were you mugged?”

Will’s face was a bloody mess, the skin blooming with bruises, his nose swollen, crusted with blood, and muddy with tears and dirt. His hands, too, were dirty, and red with cold. He reached up and pulled the scarf away from his face. His mouth was swollen, the lip split. “Quinn?” he said in confusion.

“Yeah, kid, it’s me. What happened? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Will sat up straighter, winced, then shifted away from Quinn’s reaching hand. “I’m okay. I just stopped in—I heard the singing. It was good.”

“What happened to you?”

Quinn looked up to see Bennigan standing in the aisle on the other side of Will. “Were you mugged? Do you want us to call the police?”

“No, no police.” Will put his hands up and shook his head. “It’s nothing. I’m fine. I just . . . I just fell. It’s okay.”

“It’s not okay, and that’s not from a fall. I thought you were going home. Were you in some kind of accident?”

“We need to call his parents,” Bennigan said.

“No! No parents! It’s nothing!” Will stood up, waving his hands frantically in denial, then went pasty beneath the bruises and collapsed into Quinn’s arms in a dead faint.

Chapter Two
Will’s hands were burning. Someone had set them on fire, and they were burning. The skin was melting like the bad guys at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and pretty soon they would disintegrate. He’d never be able to draw another straight line, and there went his engineering career, and his father would be so pissed.

He could see it now, the old man’s face livid purple with rage, his big hands coming up in fists and smashing into his nose. God, that hurt, but he could still breathe, so it wasn’t broken, wasn’t that how it went? Then the other fist into his gut so the breath shot out his mouth, and then the blows coming fast and furious, punctuated with screaming. His or someone’s, with foul words he’d never heard his father say before coming from his father’s mouth.

“No,” he moaned, and something cool touched his forehead.

A soft voice said, “It’s okay, Will. It’s okay.”

He opened his eyes to bright whiteness and confusion. After a moment, he recognized the voice. That was Quinn—they’d been roommates for the last couple of months, his freshman year at college.

Quinn was a music major and also a freshman. Will remembered his father’s disdain for him and his complaint that Will should have had his own room and not have to share with a “fairy-assed colored boy”—but Will was on a scholarship and didn’t have anything to say in the arrangements. The scholarship required he live on campus for the first year, despite his family living in the area—another thing that annoyed his father—and the college gave him no choice as to roommates.

He’d done what his father had told him, though, and kept to himself, watching with envious eyes as Quinn made friends with everyone on the floor while Will quietly rejected any overtures of friendship toward himself. It had been so hard—Quinn was witty and outgoing and so damn, damn beautiful, with his tawny skin and bright dark eyes and silky brown curls, soft, loose, and tipped with gold. He’d never seen hair like that on a guy before, and he wondered if Quinn’s mixed race was the source or if he colored it that way.

Those pretty eyes weren’t so bright now; they were dull with worry and fatigue.

“Quinn?” It hurt to talk; his head felt stuffy and his throat was sore. And God, his head ached—hell, everything ached.

“Shh. It’s okay. You’re gonna be fine.” Quinn reached out and touched his forehead again, his hand cool against Will’s burning skin. “You’re in the hospital—you passed out at the church last night. Do you remember?”

Will remembered being at the church, remembered Quinn’s worried face and the other, older guy, and talk of calling his parents—shit! He struggled to sit up, panicking that any minute his father was going to come through that door and he would be so pissed . . .

Quinn pushed him back down embarrassingly easily. “Hey, don’t go anywhere!”

“My parents! Did they call my parents?”

“No, bud.” The word had a faint accent Will couldn’t place. Will hadn’t noticed Quinn having an accent. “We didn’t. You freaked out when Bennigan mentioned parents, so we didn’t. We brought you here instead. Do you remember that?”

Will shook his head, but the movement only made it hurt worse. He heard a whining noise and realized it was him. “I just remember the church.”

Quinn gently cupped his cheek and said again, “Shh, it’s okay. Can you tell me what happened? You wouldn’t let us call the police, either.”

“I fell,” he said dully. He sort of remembered saying that before.

“Right,” Quinn said, and his voice was flat. It didn’t sound right; Quinn’s voice was part of what was beautiful about him, so lively and expressive. Quinn MacLachlan didn’t do flat. “You fell multiple times on your face, gave yourself a mild concussion, and banged up your own damn ribs.”

Well, that explained why it hurt to move. “Oh,” he said.

“Will.”

He opened his eyes again—when had he closed them?—and looked up into Quinn’s face. The shards of anger he saw in Quinn’s eyes faded and were replaced by concern. “Did your father do this to you?”

He didn’t answer. He couldn’t.

“Shit,” Quinn said. He smoothed the hair back from Will’s forehead. “How did you get back here? Did you even make it home?”

“Yeah,” Will said, leaning into the caress like a cat seeking petting fingers. “It— He— I—I walked back. I didn’t have any money for a cab or a bus or anything. Just my duffel bag. I didn’t need any money over break because one of the guys from my church goes here and gave me a lift home.”

“Didn’t you have your ATM card or anything?”

“I don’t have one. Dad . . .” He didn’t finish, but Quinn nodded as if he knew what he was going to say. “I have a checkbook, but there wasn’t anything open.”

“It’s okay—wait a minute. You walked back? I thought you lived in Airport Heights.”

“I do. I did. Yeah.”

“That’s got to be ten miles from here. You walked the whole way? Through those neighborhoods?”

Will sighed and didn’t answer.

“Oh. Well, good thing you were smart enough to figure I was at rehearsal.”

“I didn’t. It was just . . . open. Warm. I was cold and tired.”

“Fuck. Will . . .”

“I just want to go home,” Will said plaintively.

“But I thought—”

“No, not there. Home. The dorm. Can we just go home now?”

Quinn’s eyes were bright again, but it seemed to be from the wetness in them. “Sure, bebe,” he said in a husky voice not at all like his usual smooth tenor. “We’ll go home.”

Still Life by Jaime Samms
Prologue
“STOP!” Allen batted his roommate’s hand off his shoulder.

“You’re getting that look.”

Allen scowled at the textbook on the table in front of him. “What look, Mac?”

A finger pressed lightly to Allen’s forehead, just above the bridge of his nose and his glasses, prompting him to swat again.

“The one that puts this incredibly lickable divot between your brows, turns your lips down at the corners, and tenses your shoulders up until you get a migraine.”

“You sure you’re straight?”

Mac wrinkled his nose and looked away. “I was just trying to ease the tension.”

“Right. That’s why you had your hand over my shoulder and halfway to my chest. I told you to cool it with that shit, straight boy.”

“It’s only to ease the tension,” he insisted.

“Go find something to do, please. I have to get this paper done.” Mac’s bid to ease the tension was only causing more of it, and not in Allen’s shoulders either. It was getting very hard to ignore his attraction to his supposedly not-gay roommate, and that was just embarrassing.

Mac snarled softly. “I thought you handed that in yesterday.”

“I handed one in yesterday. This one is due on Monday, and I still have to get it in shape. And then type it up.” He sighed and once again pushed Mac’s hand out of his shirt. “I don’t have time for your brand of bicurious tension relief, dude.”

Mac blew a breath out as he trailed his hand off Allen’s shoulder. “I think you got that backward, but you know where to find me if you change your mind.” His hand lingered at the back of Allen’s neck, soft on the warm patch of skin.

“Mac.”

“Right.”

Ten minutes later, Allen’s cell phone beeped. He reached into his backpack for it and glanced at the screen, texted a frowning face back, and hit “send” before dropping it onto the table. It beeped every five minutes until he turned it off.

“Since when don’t you answer your cell?” Mac called from the bedroom.

“Since my dumbass roommate is being a jerk-off and trying to distract me!” He tossed the phone back into his pack and reached for another textbook. He counted six paper airplanes landing on the table, one in his hair, and one in his lap. Probably there were a dozen more peppered over the living room floor.

Mac was a pathetic shot.

Allen ignored them all, though the pink one with the red lip prints smeared across the wings made him smile.

“Where’d you get the lipstick?” he asked, flattening the plane so the lips matched up again.

“My secret stash,” Mac rumbled, still from the bedroom.

Allen chuckled, not a bit surprised Mac would keep a souvenir from one of his conquests.

Sunshine streaked across the table by the time Allen looked up again. That meant it was well past lunch, and he still wasn’t satisfied with his draft, though his stomach growled, far beyond caring about anything but a meal.

“Who’s the dumbass now?” Mac asked, voice gentle as he dropped a plastic plate with a sandwich and handful of potato chips onto the last clear space of table and set a cup of coffee next to it. “Eat.”

Allen glanced over as he picked up half the sandwich. “Nice apron.”

“You like that?”

Allen nodded around the sandwich. “That shade of pink goes with your skin tones.”

“Okay, dude? That is so gay.” Mac stalked off, back toward his room, and Allen nearly choked on the bit of bread in his mouth as he got a luscious eyeful of Mac’s bare ass and long, deliciously muscled legs.

“And that isn’t?” he called after his disappearing friend. “What the fuck, dude?”

Mac just laughed.

It took all the tricks Allen knew to get his mind back on the paper he was trying to finish. It was dry, boring fare.

Nothing like that glimpse of Mac’s ass. Mac’s straight, untouchable ass.

“Fuck.” Allen pushed his notebook away.

“Maybe not fucking the first time, yeah?”

“What?” Allen looked up from where he’d been contemplating the image in his mind to where Mac stood leaning on the door frame of his bedroom. “The. Fuck.”

Mac’s face pinked. His expression began to crumble. “You hate it?”

Allen’s brows shot up. “It. Is a dress.”

Mac straightened and ran his hands—decidedly delicate ones, Allen suddenly noticed—down the front of the blue sundress he was wearing. “You hate—”

“No!” Allen shot out of his chair. “I don’t.”

Did he?

“It… actually…” He nodded. “It looks good on you.” And it did. He never would have pictured his friend in a dress, but here he was in front of him—inescapable—and as objective as he could be about it in this moment, he had to admit Mac was suddenly so very, very Mac. More than he ever had been in the two years they’d known each other.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Strangely.” He took a moment to just breathe and look. “Yeah.”

Mac’s bright smile was as wide as ever, but somehow also shy. “Thanks.”

“Yeah.” Allen pushed his glasses up his nose. “Wait. You’re straight.”

Mac’s smile vanished. “I’m a lot of things, actually.”

“Clearly.” Allen took a few steps forward. “Clearly, I have not been paying attention.”

“Very clearly. Are you now?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” Mac took the last few steps, and then took Allen’s face in both hands and kissed him in a way that definitely could not be ignored. Or mistaken for straight.

When he let him go, Allen’s glasses were perched crookedly on his nose. Mac carefully removed them and set them on the table. “You’re not freaked out.”

“Processing.”

“Good or bad?” Mac studied him, eyes darting over his face, teeth biting inside his lower lip.

“Stop that.” Allen touched his mouth. “Two years, and you’ve been hiding dresses in your closet all this time?”

“Just the one.” Mac’s voice barely rose above a whisper. “Just in case, you know?”

Allen nodded. “You could pass it off as left behind by some chick if I found it.”

Mac gave a slight, nodding shrug. “Lame, I guess, but—”

“Practical.” Allen reached over and lifted a bit of the silky skirt between thumb and finger. This was new, this fascination about what was under the filmy material. Not that he hadn’t seen Mac swagger around the apartment enough times buck naked, but this was different. Allen liked men. Always had. Liked the way jeans hugged their ass and cradled their parts, and the way a sweater stretched across broad shoulders… And he liked the way this skirt flirted around Mac’s thighs and hid what Allen knew was under there.

He stepped a little closer, dropping the skirt. Laying his palm flat on Mac’s thigh, he slid it up slowly, watching Mac’s flecked hazel eyes for any sign of discomfort. His fingers encountered lace and a hard bulge beneath. He cupped the delicately wrapped package and squeezed.

Mac’s eyes dropped closed, and his breath sighed out. His hips rocked forward, pushing his dick into Allen’s palm.

“You ever been with a guy before?” Allen touched his lips to Mac’s throat and kissed his way up.

“Not seriously.”

Allen leaned back a bit to look into his eyes again. “You sure about this?”

“Very.” He sighed again and leaned into Allen’s caresses. “I’ve been sure about this for two years. I just didn’t know.” He stepped back and spread his arms. “I knew with you, it had to be all or nothing. I didn’t want to hide….”

“Oh.”

“Now you’re freaked out.”

“I never thought a guy in a dress would turn me on like this.”

“Enough to do something about it?” Mac moved, boldly spreading his hand over Allen’s own erection, caged in his jeans.

“Not standing here.”

If anyone had told Allen a guy in a sky-blue sundress would ever drag him off to bed, he would have laughed. From the moment the dress hit the floor, Mac didn’t give Allen a chance to catch enough breath to beg for mercy, never mind laugh. And yet he couldn’t remember sex ever being so much fun as Mac laughed his way through trying to give his first blow job. Allen would have regretted coming all over his face if Mac hadn’t grinned so hard as he wiped it off with his fingers and licked them clean.

Allen wiggled down from where he was leaning against the headboard and pulled Mac against his side. “How did I miss this?”

Mac kissed him gently. “You didn’t. We’re here.”

“I guess so.” Allen breathed in Mac’s scent, closed his eyes, and just relaxed into the idea that this was real. He didn’t remember falling asleep.

Morning. Allen groaned and rolled out of bed. Mac’s bed.

“Oh shit.” Not morning. Sunshine brightening Mac’s western facing bedroom meant the sun was well past up and on its way down again, and he hadn’t even thought about typing his paper. “Shit!”

“Problem?” Mac appeared in the doorway, two cups of steaming coffee in one hand.

Allen half expected to see him in some sort of satin negligee, but he stood there in his familiar old grey track pants rolled up at the cuffs and hanging off his hips in a way that only made Allen want to push them the rest of the way down.

“Don’t even,” Mac warned, holding the coffee out with one hand and his pants up with the other. “You have work to do. Come on.”

Allen sighed, shuffled out to the table, and sat. “I don’t want this degree anymore.”

“Yes, you do.” Mac opened Allen’s laptop and tapped the mouse. “Better read it over. There might be typos. I’m told spell-check is really, really stupid.”

“Oh my God. You typed my paper.”

Mac grinned at him.

“You type with two fingers.”

Mac nodded.

Allen turned in his seat and gazed up at his… lover. “Last night you blew my mind, and this morning you got up and typed up my paper for me.”

Mac shrugged. “You didn’t laugh at the dress.” His grin softened to a less-certain smile. “You have no idea how huge that is, do you?”

“I just don’t know,”—Allen stood and reached for Mac’s hand—“how I never noticed.”

Mac punched his shoulder lightly. “You’re hard to distract.”

“Congratulations. I’m distracted.”

“You sure? Because I could put the dress back on,” Mac offered, pointing in the direction of the bedroom.

“I’m pretty sure all that would accomplish is you ending up naked again.”

“And?”

“And….” Allen glanced at his laptop. “No idea what my point was.”

Mac handed him his coffee and picked up the computer. “Come on. You can read in bed.”

Chapter One
A BEAD of sweat gathered at the base of the model’s throat and quivered on the edge of falling for half a minute before it finally broke the surface tension and slid down between his pecs. The twinkle of Christmas lights caught the drop, and it sparkled against dusky skin, all the way down until it disappeared into the sparse dusting of hair. My mouth fucking watered and I glanced around. All my students seemed intent on their easels. Thank God none of them noticed me practically drooling.

I glanced back to the man on the dais to find him watching me, a half smile curling his lips and a sultry glare fixed on me through his lashes. He blinked slowly, once. He fucking knew. Heat flashed up into my cheeks.

Grin widening, he hummed along with “Santa Baby” playing on the radio in the background.

I stepped out of the circle of students and mouthed the word “asshole” at him. He didn’t move a muscle otherwise, but his eyes narrowed a tiny bit and he lowered his gaze. He’d caught me staring, and he knew what he did to me. When he lifted those long lashes again, there was no mistaking the amusement in his eyes.

God, he was a jerk.

“Santa, baby, hurry down the chimney—” I hammered the off button on the staticky radio with a snarl. A chorus of complaints rose from the students.

“Wrap it up, people!” I said loudly.

Several students jolted with surprise, but they made hurried assessments of their work, compared it to the model, and made last second additions.

“Mr. Mackenzie, if you could just stay still another few minutes, I’ll grab some pictures and we can tape your feet. Make it easier to find the pose next week.”

“Sure.” The model grinned at me and winked. “Anything you like.”

A refrain of catcalls filled the room and I glared at him.

“Good. Don’t move.” I stalked off and took my time fetching my phone from my jacket pocket.

“You going to Facebook those, Mr. Song?” one of the students asked.

“Professionalism, Bradley.” I snapped a photo from the front and shot Mackenzie a dark glare while he smirked. “I’ll e-mail them to you.”

The class laughed.

Once I had taken the shots and placed dots of masking tape on the dais so Mackenzie could find his spot next class, I patrolled the circle once more, commenting as I went.

“Brad, this is life drawing. I think you’ve shaded the man’s ass to death. It’s not that pretty. Move on. Balance. That goes for all of you. Don’t focus on one single aspect of your subject. Quickest way to lose the big picture. Look at your composition as a whole and find what sets it apart.”

Brad tilted his head and frowned as his gaze roved from his drawing, over the model, back to his work, and finally, back over the model again. At least I wasn’t the only one drooling.

“Seriously, Brad?” I said, leaning closer so the rest of the class couldn’t listen in, “Not that spectacular.”

Brad looked at me like I was crazy. “Don’t get out much do you, Teach?”

I raised an eyebrow and pointed at his drawing, which focused very much on the model’s considerable assets.

“Fine, all right. I might have gotten a little….”

“Picture’s worth a thousand words, Brad. You’re good at likenesses, but there’s more to a person than what he looks like.” I moved on.

“Jenny, nice work. Your proportions are good. You’ve been practicing.” The girl grinned and nodded. “Now remember that people don’t float, darling. Give him some context, yes? You have the Christmas tree in there, but there’s no interaction between subject and setting.” Her face fell. “No one part of the painting is any more important than any other. If it doesn’t work together as a whole, it won’t matter if you managed to draw every wart and wrinkle. It will still look flat and lifeless.”

I moved away from her station and addressed the class. “People don’t come to see art for photorealism, folks. They want to see your soul ripped open and splattered on the canvas. If you can’t bare it all here, in this classroom where it’s safe, you have no business taking this course. Be brave. Show me something.”

I strode to another easel and picked up another girl’s drawing.

“Like this.” I turned the drawing around so the whole class could see it. “Alyssa, here, is not afraid to get in there and really see.”

“She only drew his eyes and lips!” Brad complained.

“But look at it, Brad. I grant you, he has a nice ass, but look at this.” I rotated the smudged charcoal drawing to fully face him. “Tell me what you see.”

“Eyes. Pretty lips.” He shrugged. “A guy holding a Christmas ball and looking at his reflection.”

“He wants something,” Jenny said. “Something really important. He just… wants.” She glanced from the drawing to the man and flushed.

To his credit, Mackenzie didn’t bat an eyelash, but stood motionless for the students still feverishly getting down the last lines and shades.

“Good, Jenny. What else?” I surveyed the students paying attention.

“What else, people? Look!”

“Lonely?” Someone asked, voice tentative.

“What, Dillon? You’re not sure?”

The young man shrugged, his attention flitting around to his fellow students. “Okay, fine. That drawing looks pissed off and sad and scared.” He glanced to Alyssa and back to me. “Maybe….” He cleared his throat. “Maybe someone wants to be seen. Noticed. Someone’s angry at being overlooked. Like they feel invisible, and all they want is just someone to look at them.”

“Good!”

Alyssa grabbed the drawing out of my hand and banged it back on her easel. “Whatever,” she mumbled, crossing her arms in front of herself and scowling.

I smiled. “Good. Get mad, Alyssa. Get good and mad. Scream and shout, and then paint, because that’s when you’re going to do your best work. Do me a favor. Go back in your portfolio and juxtapose this drawing with the one you did the first day of class. Come back here next week, and we’ll get Mac—” I snatched the nickname out of the air and slammed it away in my head where it belonged. “Mr. Mackenzie to pose again, and I want you to draw the difference between then and now.” I motioned to him that he could relax, and he eased himself out of the pose as I turned to face the class.

“In fact, I have an even better idea. I want you all to do this over the holidays. Have a good look at where you were when you started this class, and think hard about where you think you want to go. Take everything you’ve learned over first semester and apply it to a new study and show me where you want to end up.”

“That isn’t even a real assignment,” Brad complained. “What are we supposed to draw?”

“You, Bradley. Draw a self-portrait.”

He nodded, a look of relief washing over his face.

“But—”

Half the class groaned.

“Here it comes,” muttered Brad.

“No faces. No hands.” I caught Brad’s eye. “This isn’t about body parts and photorealism. It isn’t about your favorite teddy bear, your dream gallery opening, or all the tools of your trade. It’s about everything in between.” I pointed to Alyssa. “It’s about all the shit nobody knows about you. All the crap you never say out loud, the secrets you keep, and the ones that are killing you a little bit every day. All the bullshit you keep inside until it rots, and all the dreams and ambition and the most fragile bits of yourself you know you’ll never be able to protect, but that you try to anyway.” I pointed to Dillon. “And all the things you see and know that you aren’t supposed to see or know.”

“How?” Brad asked, a whine in his voice.

“I don’t know, Bradley.” I turned to him. “That’s what you have to figure out. Then bring it, show me, and if I believe you, you pass. You can fuck off the entire rest of the year. If you can pull this assignment off, nothing else matters.”

“No more life drawing.”

I shrugged. “That’ll be up to you. If you can convince me you have the guts to do this assignment, and do it for real, I’ll give you a gold star, and you can come join class or not, as you wish. I won’t force you to, and I won’t kick you out.”

“Are you daring me?” His eyes lit up with the challenge, and I puffed my chest out.

“Show me. Make me believe it.”

“Bring it,” he said. “You’ll see.”

“Okay, then.” I faced them all. “You have your assignment. Go forth and wreak havoc on the pub. I’m done with you miscreants ’til next week. It’ll be last class, so think about the assignment and make sure you have all the supplies you need, because I can’t guarantee I’ll be here to open up over the holidays if you forget something.”

“Oh, please.” Bradley snorted. “You aren’t going anywhere. You never do. You probably live here.”

The radio came back on, crooning Harry Bellefonte’s smooth tenor, spoiled by the scratchy static. He was soon nearly drowned out by the rag-tag stragglers chattering as they rinsed chalk and charcoal off their hands. Someone sang along, off tune, about half pennies and Christmas coming.

Bah, humbug.

I listened to the excited babble about holiday plans and drinking parties and tried not to show how eager I was just to have the lot of them out of there. Unobtrusively, Mackenzie hopped off the podium and made it to the washroom to change. I couldn’t help but agree, albeit silently, with Brad’s assessment of his attributes. He had a luscious ass. But then, I’d known that a long time before his first stint as my life drawing class’s model.

I was intimately familiar with the ass. Both the physical one and the man behind the body. My students didn’t need to know that, and I was at least grateful to Mackenzie for keeping that information to himself. Past was past, and I wanted it to stay there.

Of Christmas Past by Teryn Day
He saw the little girl, swathed in light, her tulle dress and her curls bouncing as she saw him. She ran and vanished around a corner.

In the bathroom, he took his contacts out. Now that night had fallen, he knew activity was likely to increase, and the musty smell of the house was getting to him more and more. I’ll get used to it, he thought, reminding himself that even if he didn’t get used to it, he’d be back in civilization as soon as possible.
Jon washed his face.

When he looked up, wiping the beads of water from his eyes, he saw a dark red stream slipping down his forehead. Taking in a quick breath, he felt his own forehead and found only clear water. He looked back in the mirror and saw another drip coming from the seam at the top. Then another, then another, until there was a red cascade down his reflection.

He yawned and squeezed water out of his eyes with his knuckles, before turning around to grab the towel he’d used when he showered earlier, only to see a latticework of scratches—as if by human nails, buried deep into the paint on the wall above the towels. He still reached for one, but the rack was torn off the wall just before his hand could touch it. It slammed into the ground violently, leaving two ugly gouges where it had been attached to the wall. Jon dried his face off with a washcloth instead.

He returned to his room. He merely glanced up as every painting on the walls began to rot—it wasn’t just that the oils seemed to boil, forming bubbles and flaking away, but each and every subject seemed to age before his eyes. Every ancestor lining the hall became elderly, then sunken, then rotted, and then a skeleton before Jon even had time to think to himself, Now, which one was that?

Just after he stepped through the bedroom door, it slammed behind him. The loud noise startled him and he jumped, then looked over to the opposite wall to see a single word drawn in deep crimson near the window. The whole room smelled like copper.

‘DIE.’ Simple, to the point.

“Please,” Jon said, “stop that.”

The entity froze in the middle of writing ‘KILL,’ leaving only the characteristic psychic hum of paranormal activity, of a spirit reaching out to touch the living world. The lights flickered.

When the light settled, a young man was standing in the room with him. He was only a little taller than Jon, with dark hair and eyes that might have been gentle on someone else. He was in a black vest, slacks, and white shirt. Not necessarily a modern look, so Jon suspected he’d been there a while.

Also, he was semi-translucent. Jon stared, unfazed, and resisted the urge to yawn again, for fear it would be just a little too dismissive of this spirit’s attempts to terrorize him. He’d seen it all before, and this one was a bit of a showy prick, so Jon decided it was best not to antagonize him. Excessively.

“It was a little much, don’t you think?” Jon asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he faced the ghost of the young man down.

The ghost moved left, then right. He ducked, then rose and jumped, eyes never leaving Jon’s, and Jon followed him as he did a full circle around him before finally stopping where he began, back straight and heels formally snapping into place.

“You can see me?” the ghost asked, although he somehow managed to make it sound more like an accusation.

“Yes.” Jon did yawn then. “Yes, I do. I’m very gifted.”

“It’s been a long time since anyone could see me.”

“I’m sorry,” Jon said. He probably should give this one more time, but he was tired and couldn’t help himself. “Can I go to bed now?”

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

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

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

Rowan Speedwell
An unrepentant biblioholic, Rowan Speedwell spends half her time pretending to be a law librarian, half her time pretending to be a database manager, half her time pretending to be a fifteenth-century Aragonese noblewoman, half her time… wait a minute… hmm. Well, one thing she doesn't pretend to be is good at math. She is good at pretending, though.

In her copious spare time (hah) she does needlework, calligraphy and illumination, and makes jewelry. She has a master's degree in history from the University of Chicago, is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and lives in a Chicago suburb with the obligatory Writer's Cat and way too many books.

Jaime Samms
With most of the hours in the day taken up by a part time job and the full time occupation of raising and schooling two kids, writing is somewhat of an indulgence, but it's the indulgences that keep us sane, right? When not otherwise occupied, like most writers, reading is my relaxation method of choice, and you can find my reviews at Kuriousity.com and Dark Diva Reviews to let you know what I liked (and occasionally, what I didn't). And just in case there are an extra few minutes in the day, I also help out the admin team abelong to a writer's critique group: Dreaming in Ink. After all, idle hands and all that.
Ashley John
Ashley John is a gay author of gay/mm romance novels. Living in the north of England with his fiance and two cats, Ashley John spends his days writing down the voices he hears in his head. His books are primarily romance dramas with sprinklings of erotica and he has a knack for making you feel like you're living right beside the characters he creates. Ashley John is also a keen artist and he puts his artistic side to designing all of his own covers.

Teryn Day
Teryn Day belongs in the Pacific Northwest because she cannot stand heat but loves the woods. She has a deep and lasting fondness for the tales that history tells and believes we should maybe listen. She writes and edits.


BG Thomas
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Christmas Wish
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Angel Voices
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Still Life
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Cabin Nights
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Of Christmas Past
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Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: All in Fear


Summary:
Horror wears many faces, and its masks can be tantalizing. Some of the top names in queer fiction come together to spin their own versions of horror. Worlds rife with dark beauty and mystery, the familiar becoming terrible, creatures ethereal and alluring—and all bearing the gleam of love. Does hope lie along these grim passages or only doom? It will become clear. All in time—and all in fear.

Stories Included:
Company by Roan Parrish 
Nick Levy’s family is falling apart and he has no friends, but at least he can escape into the world of his favorite comic book series, The Face of the Vampire. Naturally, when the vampire in question shows up one day, Nick is enthralled. After all, what could be better than his own personal fantasy made real? Except that Nick isn’t exactly sure whether Michel is real or not. And when the arrival of a new boy in school promises romance, Nick sees a side of Michel he never could have imagined. This Michel is cruel, jealous...and he’ll do anything to keep Nick for himself.

Love Me True by Kris Ripper 
Palmer's life is as good as it gets. Well, okay, so he hates his mind-numbing office job. But he's found a hot, smart, incredibly kinky guy. The sex is explosive. The power play is off the hook. And if he gets his way, Jon will soon be his husband.

When Palmer asks, Jon says yes. For the first time ever, Palmer thinks things might be really good. Sure, bad things happen in the world—to other people. But this is all he needs: Jon at the end of the day, in their bed, arms around him.

How could he have possibly been so stupid?

The Price of Meat by KJ Charles 
Johanna Oakley will do anything to save her beloved Arabella from the cruelty of Mr Fogg’s madhouse—but ‘anything’ turns out to be more than she bargained for when she finds herself working for a man suspected of worse than murder. As Johanna is plunged from the horror of Sawney Reynard’s barber shop into the foul, lawless labyrinth at the heart of London, can she or anyone get out alive?

His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
Joining Zeta Psi isn’t Steve’s dream, it’s his dad’s. Nevertheless his dad’s gift of the mysterious Bailey flask gets Steve an in to the frat house, and maybe his best shot at being accepted on campus. But the flask’s silver sheen may only be lighting his way into the darkness at the heart of the frat—and the darkness he’s learning is within himself. Steve wants to choose who he is, but choices are dropping like flies as he learns the true mystery of the Bailey flask. How does he give back a gift that’s also a curse?

Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale 
STAFF SERGEANT JASON ESSEX, YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS:

REPORT TO: CAIN INSTITUTE [ADDRESS REDACTED]

ACTIVE DUTY COMMITMENT: GUARD AN ENTITY CURRENTLY HELD IN AN ENCLOSURE AT THE CAIN INSTITUTE. RECORD DAILY MEASUREMENTS. KEEP ANY AND ALL PERSONS FROM ENTERING OR LEAVING THE FACILITY. ENSURE THE ENTITY REMAINS COMPLETELY INCARCERATED. OBSERVE THE ENTITY WITHOUT ENGAGING.

ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS: THIS ASSIGNMENT WILL BE CARRIED OUT IN FULL ISOLATION. PLEASE BE ADVISED.

Beauties by J.A. Rock
When Dr. Lester Usole attends an event at AI developer Carnificiality, he’s introduced to Beauties: artificial beings designed to provide tailored sexual experiences for their human owners. Lester isn’t interested in sex—but he is fascinated by Ira, a Beauty too violent to be sold.

Lester convinces Carnificiality to give Ira to him.

Author Bios:
Steve Berman (Editor)
Some tidbits about me...

I turned down a scholarship to Miskatonic University because I heard of the high rate of incidents against the student population.

I briefly worked for Omni Consumer Products in their Marketing Department. Great benefits, nice cafeteria, sadly too prone to executive whim.

Last year I stayed at the noted Mauna Pele resort in Hawaii. The accommodations were impressive but my traveling companion disappeared soon after wanting to attend a pig roast.

I've slept with one minor porn star and with a guy who later became one.

And I happen to have written some fanfic that inspired the memorable holodeck scene in Star Trek: Hidden Frontiers episode "Vigil".

K.J. Charles
I'm a writer of romance, mostly m/m, often historical or fantasy or both. My books include The Magpie Lord and Think of England.

I'm also a freelance editor, and I blog about writing and editing at kjcharleswriter.com.

I live in London, UK, with two kids, a tolerant husband and an even more tolerant cat.

Avon Gale
Avon Gale was once the mayor on Foursquare of Jazzercise and Lollicup, which should tell you all you need to know about her as a person. She likes road trips, rock concerts, drinking Kentucky bourbon and yelling at hockey. She’s a displaced southerner living in a liberal midwestern college town, and when she’s not writing you can find her at the salon, making her clients look and feel fabulous. She never gets tired of people and their stories -- either real or the ones she makes up in her head.

Roan Parrish
ROAN PARRISH is currently wandering between Philadelphia and New Orleans. When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.

Kris Ripper
Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Kris shares a converted garage with a toddler, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Kris is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns, because they're freaking sweet. Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that.

JA Rock
J.A. Rock is the author of queer romance and suspense novels, including BY HIS RULES, TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, and, with Lisa Henry, THE GOOD BOY and WHEN ALL THE WORLD SLEEPS. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama and a BA in theater from Case Western Reserve University. J.A. also writes queer fiction and essays under the name Jill Smith. Raised in Ohio and West Virginia, she now lives in Chicago with her dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.


Steve Berman
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KJ Charles
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Roan Parrish
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Kris Ripper
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JA Rock
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EMAIL: jarockauthor@gmail.com



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