Make the Yuletide Gay – update

When we (me, Addison Albright, Amy Tasukada, Nicky Spencer, and Stephen Hoppa) released our holiday anthology Make the Yuletide Gay back in November 2017, our intention was that it was going to be a freebie. Unfortunately, Amazon didn’t get the message and sold it for 0.99 for several weeks. All of us and some of our friends tried reporting a lower price, and we emailed several times to try them to get them to make it free.

While we waited for Amazon to get with the program, several people bought the anthology and paid for it, even though it was available for free at all the other retailers. And while we were very happy that our readers wanted to read our stories, we felt bad for the money. It was supposed to be free and we didn’t feel like we could keep it.

So, we talked about it and decided that all the earnings from Make the Yuletide Gay would be donated to a charity, and we were all in agreement that we wanted it to be The Trevor Project.

Make the Yuletide Gay has been free on Amazon for quite some time now and this month we got the final payments, making it a total of $56.62. We wanted to show you that we donated the money as promised. So, if you paid for our freebie, you can at least take comfort in the fact that your money went to a worthy cause. Thank you ❤️

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Christmasvaganza: #SuperShort

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Today is the last day of 2017 and of Christmasvaganza. I told you on Friday that I switched places with the review and the Flash Fiction this week because I wrote a story taking place on New Year’s Eve. What I didn’t tell you was that the story is about Lenny and JJ, the two guys from my story The Christmas Day Date, featured in the anthology Make the Yuletide Gay.

It’s not standalone, but don’t fret if you haven’t read it yet. The anthology is FREE, so go ahead and download it and read it before you continue with this scene from their lives. The links are below.

iBooks | B&N | Kobo | Smashwords | Scribd | Amazon

I hope you like this glimpse into Lenny and JJ’s future. If you’re really lucky, they’ll show up here on the blog again. Until then I wish you a Happy New Year. Please, please, please, let 2018 be better than 2017 was!

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Decisions

It was thirty minutes until the ball would drop and I still hadn’t decided if I was gonna watch it or go to bed. I closed my eyes to shut out flickering lights from the muted TV and leaned my head against the back of the couch. A deep sigh escaped me, and I rubbed my fist against my chest.

My heart ached with loneliness…which was fucking ridiculous considering I’d spent most of my nights alone since I sobered up ten years ago. But seven evenings with the greatest guy I’d ever met was apparently enough to make me crave his company. To make me itchy when I was parted from him.

Had it only been seven days? It felt like longer…and not nearly long enough. Like maybe forever wouldn’t be long enough, but it was far too early to think about heavy stuff like that. Especially since I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. For JJ to wake up one morning with a frown on his narrow face, and wonder what the heck he was doing with someone like me.

I would fly apart if his beautiful blue eyes turned cold and disdainful when he looked at me.

I shook my head and chuckled. Wrinkled my nose at my own stupidity. I could practically hear JJ scolding me. Stop putting yourself down, Lenny. It was good advice. Insecurities were a real turnoff and I didn’t want to make myself into a sad case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Which should also be applied to the reason I was alone on New Year’s Eve in the first place, instead of hanging out with my new boyfriend. JJ’s friends had told him in no uncertain terms that they were welcoming the new year with dancing and drinks. He’d hesitated to agree. Said he wanted to spend time with me. And then he’d asked me the impossible.

To go with them.

I’d really wanted to say yes. To see his body wiggle in tempo with the music. To make out with him on the dance floor.

But I couldn’t. His pleading eyes, impossibly big behind his huge glasses didn’t help. I’d opened my mouth to say yes, but the thought of spending an evening surrounded by drunk people made my skin crawl worse than it had when I’d come down off the sauce.

What if I couldn’t keep my hands off it?

What if I drank myself into a stupor and hurt JJ?

I couldn’t risk it. He must have seen the terror in my eyes because he hadn’t pushed. Instead, he declared he would stay home with me, but I didn’t want to be the schmuck who kept his man from seeing his friends. So, I’d convinced him to go and kissed the slight pout he’d been unaware of, off his soft lips.

“Crap,” I muttered and stabbed the off-button on the remote. The apartment grew dark except for the light that filtered in from the outside and I rubbed my droopy eyelid with a knuckle.

I needed to do something about my hang-ups. I couldn’t keep hiding from the real world like a fucking loser if I wanted to be with JJ.

Leaning forward, I kneaded my neck. My knee bounced, and I had to force it to stay still by pressing down a palm on my thigh.

What if…

What if I went to the AA? Got myself a sponsor?

I’d stubbornly resisted going all this time. I didn’t want to rely on anyone but myself for my sobriety. I’d gotten myself into the damn mess and had been determined to get myself out of it. But maybe talking to someone who knew what I’d been through wouldn’t be all that terrible? Maybe they could even teach me shit that could help me cope with a situation where booze was involved? At least I’d have someone I could call if I was scared I was about to fuck up.

I waited for the anxiety to turn my stomach into a nest of angry wasps at the thought of going to a meeting and baring my soul, but it never happened. Instead, I felt lighter, as if someone had filled my body with helium and I was on the verge of floating away.

I flew off the couch and grabbed the key JJ had given me before he’d taken off earlier.

At least watch the fireworks from my place. I have a better view, he’d said and I wrinkled my nose when I remembered the half-assed promise I’d given him in return. No more of that shit. I stalked across the hall and stabbed the key at the lock, missing my target several times before I finally could let myself in. When I closed the door behind me, I was enveloped by a sense of home. Of peace.

The rainbow-decorated Christmas tree was lit, and the cheerful colors drifting from the living room drew me in like the moon pulled the tide. Even though I’d seen it every day this last week, it still had a profound impact on me. It was as if the twinkling lights colored my entire existence, transforming my boring, old gray life into a magnificent rainbow.

Or maybe it was JJ himself who did all that.

I shook my head. I was getting far too maudlin in the last shivering minutes of this old year. I needed to find some positive energy. Start the new year in the way I wanted it to continue.

Wandering over to the window facing downtown, I fished out my phone from my pocket and fired off a text to JJ.

hope ur having fun. gonna watch the fireworks from ur place. miss u

I jammed it back down my jeans and looked out. It was a cloudless night, perfect for fireworks, and cold seeped into my hand when I rested it against the windowpane. I shivered, happy to warm be inside. The city was awake and teeming with life, people celebrating and having fun. But I was right where I wanted to be.

I left my eyes drift closed. Funny how the loneliness had disappeared as soon as I set foot in JJ’s home even though he wasn’t there. Funny how my swirling thoughts unfurled and slowed down.

My eyes flew open when two cold hands slid under my sweatshirt and tried to steal heat from my tummy. “JJ? Whatcha doin’ home so early? I didn’t hear you come in.”

He moved closer, plastered his front against my back and buried his cold nose into the base my neck, mashing his glasses against my head. “Mmmm,” he hummed, and I shivered as his hot breath puffed against my skin. “I’m so happy to find you here.”

I tucked my hands under my shirt and laid them over his and he wove our fingers together. “Didn’t you wear your gloves? You’re ice cold.”

“I was in a hurry.” His lips touched my neck as he spoke, sending a quiver down my spine. He freed one of his hands and squeezed it between us, fumbling with the buttons of his coat, and started shrugging out of it. When he’d freed himself from one sleeve, he repeated the process with the other, until his coat thumped down on the floor behind us.

I reached back and grabbed his glasses, and pulled them off and put them away so he wouldn’t break them. I twisted my head and whispered, “I missed you, Julius.” I drew out the s in his name and it had the desired effect. His ballet slipper colored lips claimed mine as if he owned them, and his arms tightened around my waist.

He kissed the breath out of me and filled my belly with happy flutters. His fingers splayed on my stomach and tugged lightly on my sparse fur, but he didn’t move below the belt, respecting my limits.

His gaze was unfocused as he withdrew, and he rested his forehead against my temple. He let out a sigh.

“Did you have fun?” I asked.

“Mhm.”

The first round of fireworks exploded outside the window, but I didn’t move. Instead, I kept my eyes on JJ. The colors danced over his relaxed face and he looked so content.

“Why didn’t you stay with your friends?”

“Rob said we should start the year the way we wanted to continue it. He meant dancing and having fun.” He pressed his lips against my cheek. “But for me, it meant hanging out with you. So here I am.”

My breath hitched at his words. I’d thought the exact same thing a few minutes before he got home. And just like that, I knew how I wanted to start the new year.

Freeing myself from his embrace, I turned around. Cupped his dear face and looked into his icy blue eyes that shone with warmth and affection. A happy smile played on his lips. He took my breath away and it was definitely the right decision.

I stepped away from him, grabbed the back of my shirt, pulled it over my head, and dropped it on the floor. I ran my fingers down my chest, over my belly, and rested them on the button of my jeans.

His gaze zoomed in on my hand, and his pink tongue darted out and licked his lips. I wanted to kiss him. Suck on that quick tongue and mash my mouth against lips and not stop until his face was red and scratchy from my stubble.

“Lenny? What are you doing?” His voice was breathless and low. Red and green and blue flashed over his skin.

I flipped open the button. “You said you wanted to start the year the way you want it to continue.”

“Yeah,” he rasped and his Adam’s Apple bobbed in his throat.

I pulled down the zipper, but the heat in his eyes could have melted it right off the fabric.

“But you said…” He cleared his throat. “You said next time you had sex, it would mean something.” He kept very still, didn’t make a move or try to persuade me, but his eyes never left my hand and a slight tremble in his legs betrayed what he really wanted. His tongue darted out again, wetting his lips, making my dick twitch in my pants as if it had been the one being licked.

“And I meant it,” I said, letting my baggy jeans fall to the floor.

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Christmasvaganza: Friday Review

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This is the last holiday themed review for this Christmasvaganza. But…it’s the wrong day, you say. I know, I know. I went rogue this last Christmasvaganza week, and switched places with the review and the Flash Fiction story that would normally be posted today. That little story takes place on New Year’s Eve, so I thought I’d post it on…you guessed it…New Year’s Eve 😀

Instead, I give you one of my all time favorite reads. Holiday or otherwise.

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christmas kitschSometimes the best thing you can get for Christmas is knowing what you really want.

Rusty Baker is a blond, rich, entitled football player in a high school full of them—just the type of oblivious jock all the bullied kids hate. And he might have stayed that way, except he develops a friendship with out-and-proud Oliver Campbell from the wrong side of the tracks. Rusty thinks the friendship is just pity—Oliver is very bright, and Rusty is very not—but then Oliver kisses him goodbye when Rusty leaves for college, and Rusty is forced to rethink everything he knows about himself.

But even Rusty’s newfound awareness can’t help him survive a semester at Berkeley. He returns home for Thanksgiving break clinging to the one thing he knows to be true: Oliver Campbell is the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

Rusty’s parents disagree, and Rusty finds himself homeless for the holidays. Oliver may not have much money, but he’s got something Rusty has never known: true family. With their help and Oliver’s love, Rusty comes to realize that he may have failed college, but he’ll pass real life with flying rainbow colors.

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I’m like a big sea creature, and no place is the sea.

There’s something about the way Amy Lane uses language that speaks to me. She takes simplistic, boring everyday words and crafts them into magic with a power to reduce me into a blubbering mess on the couch, desperately clinging to the box of Kleenex. She writes feelings that I feel in my heart and stomach. She takes ordinary people and transforms them into super heroes. Because sometimes super heroes don’t wear a cape. Sometimes they’re the ones seeing you for who you really are, or the ones being there for you when you really, really need it.

Like Oliver and his family are for Rusty when he gets thrown out of the house when his parents catches him kissing his boyfriend on the day before Thanksgiving. Like Rusty’s friend Rex who starts out as an annoying roommate at college but ends up being a part of Rusty’s chosen family. Like Rusty himself, offering his big heart to someone you’d least expect.

I love this book. Rusty is a fabulous character; he’s a young man who doesn’t really know who he is until he meets Oliver. He thinks he’s nothing but a dumb jock who has to do what his parents say and that’s how he ends up at a fancy college where he doesn’t belong. Where he struggles every day until one day he goes to bed on a Friday and doesn’t wake up until Monday from Oliver screaming at him over Skype.

Which—by the way—is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever read. Period.

Oliver is a fabulous character who realizes long before Rusty, that Rusty’s most likely gay. He fights tooth and nail for their relationship and when Rusty is overwhelmed with life and circumstances, Oliver is right there. Holding him up.

I love the scene when Rusty admits to himself—and Oliver—that he’s gay.

“Oliver?”
“Yeah?”
“I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”
“Me too, pendejo.”
“And even if I’m not gay, you know what?”
“What?”
“I’m pretty sure I’m Oliver-sexual.”

I mean. Awwwwwwww. Died.

This book is full of lovely moments that makes my heart break in my chest of both happiness and sorrow, and that’s just the way I love my books. After being tossed out on his ass, Rusty moves into a crappy apartment that he makes habitable with the help of Oliver’s family. He doesn’t have a lot. He sleeps on an air mattress and has mismatched furniture and in general it’s not great. But he finds the silver lining.

I woke up in the morning groggy, cold and hungry, but I was damned grateful for the milk in the fridge and the cereal in the cupboards. Oh, and for the toilet paper in the bathroom, too.

Or,

A perfect day for me will always start with tiny dogs and a warm house in the winter, and coffee, and people glad to see me when I wake up.

This last quote is perfection and is how I fell about life. Except I’m allergic to dogs, and I live in Malaysia so I prefer a cool house over a warm, and I don’t drink coffee, but tea. But the sentiment hits me right in the heart. Who needs big, grandiose gestures when it’s the little things that makes life worth living?

This book is fantastic. I loved it when I first read it back in 2015 and I loved it even more when I re-read it now. Read this book. Buy this book. You won’t be sorry. This book is 10 stars, but since someone…ehum…decided on a five star rating system, I give it five stars. Or Christmas trees, since this is Christmasvaganza after all.

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Christmasvaganza: Surprise Special Guest

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I know I said last week that the fabulous Amy Tasukada would be my last guest here in Christmasvaganza, but I have a surprise. Another guest! I wanted to extend Christmasvaganza through the entire month of December, but didn’t know what to do with the extra Thursday. Answer the questions myself? Sounded boring so I asked my friend Kiska Gray if she wanted to be a surprise extra guest on the blog, and she did!!

Kiska is not part of the Make the Yuletide Gay anthology like my other guests, but she’s a  friend of mine who happens to work nights…which works very well with my time zone. So she and I talk a lot during the days (when she doesn’t actually have to do her work stuff of course…she’s not a lazy bum). We kick each other’s butts when necessary, support each other and just chat about writerly things. It’s awesome, since most of my writer friends are on an American time zone which sucks when you’re in South East Asia like me 🙂

But enough blathering. Please help me welcome Kiska to the blog 🙂

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Hey there, everyone—Kiska Gray here! Nell was awesome enough to let me hang out on the blog today, to talk a bit about Christmas—because who doesn’t love Christmas, right?

The holidays were always a big deal to my family growing up. We’d always celebrate on Christmas Eve by going to my grandma’s house and having dinner and hanging out with the cousins. Grandma always wrapped our presents in newspaper—the comic section, to be exact! Of course, that meant finding our NAMES on the packages was next to impossible…not to mention the few years she decided to “code” them, or one time she forgot to put names on them entirely. Oiiiii.

After a big meal with my Aunt Sharon’s famous pie (mmmm piiiiie) we’d go home that evening and watch a Christmas movie, eat hard candies, and go to bed. Sleeping was next to impossible, since we’d have the butterflies of excitement in our bellies, and early Christmas morning, we’d wake Mom and Dad up and open presents and eat the candy out of our stockings for breakfast.

Those were the days… -wistful sigh-

Now that we’re adults, it kind of sucks. We had to really work around everyone’s work schedules this year, which makes for stress-a-palooza, but we still try every year to make it special 🙂 Nell has given me a few Christmassy questions to answer, so we’ll start it off.

What’s the worst thing about Christmas?
Honestly? For me, it’s the stress. I have anxiety, and on top of work stress and family stress and holiday stress, it just gets to the point where it all builds up and by the time Christmas is over, there’s this HUGE letdown for me (I usually cry it off LOL yes, I’m a big baby!

Which is the worst Christmas song in the history of Christmas songs and why?
UGHHHHH That stupid Christmas Shoes song. I don’t know why I can’t stand it, but it makes me cringe. I know it’s supposed to be super sad, about a dying parent and crap, but it just makes my skin crawl #NOPE

What’s your favorite Christmas…
– candy: Queen Anne chocolate covered cherry cordials ❤

– song: No particular favorite, but the older ones, the ones that have that Christmassy feeling that slam me right back into childhood, listening to the radio as my parents drove around looking at Christmas lights.

movie: The Santa Clause, with Tim Allen. Love it.

tradition: Every year, my family would buy a box of Zachary chocolates, sort of a tradition, and Christmas morning we’d hand the box around and use the little “map” guide thingy to figure out what flavor was what. Good times, good times…

– food: TURKEY! And pumpkin pie. MMM.

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I actually have written a Christmas story this year (though, to be fair, I wrote it in July—yay Christmas in July!) and it ironically became my debut novella. It was released out into the wild early this month and kicks off a series that revolves around sexy guys with sheltered hearts and their rescued pets…and true love, of course.

Second Chances is the story of Ky and Nikolas, childhood best friends turned college lovers, who met their end when Ky spooked and left Nikolas without an explanation. Six years later, each with their own lives, they meet again—but will they get a second chance at love? (I write romance with HEAs, guys, so take a guess! :P)

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It’s a 28,000 word novella and while it starts the Sheltered Hearts series, each book in the series is centered around a different couple, so it definitely stands alone. Who knows? We might even get to see Ky and Nik later on down the line, as cameos in other heroes’ books.

Get it on Amazon: myBook.to/KGSecondChances

It’s also FREE in Kindle Unlimited 🙂

Want a free short story? Sign up for my newsletter and download “The Kissing Booth” for free! Link: https://instafreebie.com/free/5sGfi

Happy holidays!

~ Kiska
kiskagray.wordpress.com

 

Christmasvaganza: Swedish Holiday traditions

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By now, I’m usually pretty fed up with Christmas and everything associated with it and just want to eat a pizza and forget all about being jolly. So, I thought I’d finish off the Swedish holiday tradition part of Christmasvaganza with a little help from Will Ferrell (who knows about this stuff because he’s married to a Swede).

As you might understand, most of what he says is rubbish, but the thing about the akvavit and the drinking song is spot on. Enjoy 🙂

Christmasvaganza: Music Monday

christmasvaganzaMerry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! As a Swede, I did my main celebration yesterday at my parents’ house with lots and lots of food, but I have a large family so I’ll be celebrating today and tomorrow, too.

But first things first. Today is the final Music Monday in the Christmasvaganza, and I’ve saved the best for last. And really, what other song could I possibly choose today of all days, than Last Christmas by Wham?

Today is one year since George Michael passed away, and I’m still heartbroken. He was one of my biggest idols, and when I learned about his death last year I broke down crying. I still can’t listen to his music without tearing up.

So, without further ado, here’s George Michael and Wham ❤️

Christmasvaganza: Sunday Review

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Happy Holidays everyone. Christmas Eve is when Swedes have their main celebration so as you read this, I’m probably stuffing myself full of my parents’ wonderful food, hugging my daughter, and enjoying the Christmas spirit. But if you want to curl up on the couch with a good book before your celebration starts, I have just the thing for you. This book gave me the warm and fuzzies and made me feel just the way you want to feel on Christmas. Like everything is right in this world. Read it. You won’t be sorry.

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Ballerina Dad by Amy Aislin

ballerina dadAttending his daughter’s holiday dance recital should be easy for pro hockey player Patrick Barnes. Showing up in a tutu, however, wasn’t exactly part of the plan. And yet the holidays get even more interesting when he bumps into Lee, the man he let get away years ago.

Ballet instructor Lee can’t believe who just walked into his studio. He also can’t believe how quickly the flare of attraction between he and Patrick resurfaces, despite the years that have gone by since they last spoke.

Once upon a time, they let opportunities get away. Is it possible they’ll now have the chance to pursue the spark that has come back to life after just one conversation?

Holidays are a time for giving, and neither Patrick nor Lee are about to take this particular gift for granted.

First time I ever heard about this book, I wanted to read it. Who can resist a big hockey player showing up at his daughter’s dance recital in a pink and purple tutu? I can’t, that’s for sure 🙂 Anyway, I pre-ordered it and when I got the email from Amazon that it had been delivered to my Kindle app, I jumped at it and started reading it at once.

And OH MY GOODNESS, I almost died of happiness.

But first things first and a fair warning: before I continue with the actual review, I’m gonna go off on a tangent: My (now 22-year old) daughter was a dancer when she was little. Ballet, hip-hop, contemporary, you name it. She danced in her room, she danced on her way to school, she danced all the time. And the best thing I knew, was going to dance recitals and watch 20 little girls or so doing their routine. How they always looked at the teacher to make sure they got their moves right. How cute they were in their tutus. How happy it made them. When I read this book, I was transported right back to that time. The opening scene with Pat in his tutu and his adorable daughter Jordan made me miss it. However. In my daughter’s dance classes, there weren’t any dads in tutus. Too bad, that would have been awesome.

Oh well. Back to reviewing. I loved the characters. Ballerina Dad himself, Pat, is a big guy, a pro hockey player who’ll do anything for his daughter, including dancing with her in a tutu and (accidental) glitter in his beard, even if he worries about pictures of him showing up on social media (he’s famous…pro hockey player, remember?)

“Fuck it. He was going to own this damn tutu. And when he did the group mother-daughter dance, he was going to rock it like he’d had more than two days to rehearse with Jordan. If his teammates gave him shit, so be it. A happy Jordan was a happy Patrick. So there.”

Lee is Jordan’s dance teacher and a big surprise to Pat. It turns out they know each other. They met in high school and had a thing for each other back then, but because of life and circumstances they never had a chance to date or be together.

Until now. When they meet after not having seen each other for ten years, the stars align in their favor. Their chemistry is still off the charts. They decide to go on a date and that first date was so adorable it could have melted the heart of the Grinch. Amy Aislin has done a fantastic job of showing their connection, how deep their emotions run, so even if the relationship moves at warp speed, it’s totally believable.

I mean:

“It was more than that: a belief, a knowing, that if they were ever to become more than friends, they’d have something incredibly special.”

…or:

“…this wasn’t about sex or lust. It was discovery and longing and the freedom of two souls finally in the right place at the right time.”

*happy sigh*

I felt connected to the MCs and love that they’re not stereotyped like they could have been. I loved Jordan and the rest of Pat’s family (and a non-villain ex-wife is SO refreshing… as is a guy who’s bisexual without anyone making a big deal of it!!) I loved every word and Amy Aislin’s writing style. She’s been on my reading radar for a while. I’ve even bought another book by her, but not gotten around to reading it. That will change now, though, because if this book is representative of who she is as a writer, she just rocketed up high on my list of favorite authors.

Five glorious, heart-melting, aww-inducing Christmas trees.

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