His For The Holidays
L.B. Gregg, Harper Fox, Z.A. Maxfield and Josh Lanyon
Carina Press, 2010
This was a fabulous anthology with four Christmas themed stories from four great authors. As a collection I would rate it with 5 stars, because each of the separate stories is worth the buy. Here's my take on each of them.
Mistletoe at Midnight
5 out of 5 stars
This is a perfect holiday story! It has a fabulous love couple, some sort of Christmas miracle, an intriguing narrator's voice, this author's distinctive humor and an engaging plot.
Owen is the narrator of the story. He is a vet and he and his dog arrive late for the Christmas get-together of his family at an inn in Vermont. At arrival he discovers that his first love, Caleb, is also staying at the inn. And to make things even more complicated, his mother has invited his last ex-boyfriend, Keith, as well. Through short flashbacks Owen and Caleb's shared history is revealed and it's obvious that they are each other's 'one that got away'.
During the first part of the story, also a lot is revealed in the conversations, which are - in combination with Owen's thoughts on them - a delight to read. But so is the 'action' that follows. A constant factor throughout the story remains Owen's ability to make and phrase his observations that never fail to make me snort. A few examples:
“I had a type, and now everyone in the entryway knew it, including me. I was suddenly very glad to be blending in to the wallpaper.”
“His briefs lovingly cupped his crotch. I didn’t even pretend I wasn’t looking because, by God, he wasn’t as shriveled from the aftereffects of hypothermia as one might expect. He was gorgeous.”
“My mother clapped her hands and stood. Today’s holiday sweater was a fully decorated Christmas tree with tiny silver jingle bells and more blinking lights. She must wear a battery pack in her bra.”
Everything comes together nicely in the end and the happy ending is very satisfying. Not merely because of the great and hot smexing, but also due to the sweet exchange of Secret Santa gifts. This is a story that I've read in one breath and that I didn't want to finish so I could enjoy these heroes a bit longer.
Nine Lights over Edinburgh
4.5 out of 5 stars
This author’s writing style is different from most authors’ I know of. It’s elaborate, descriptive - some will call it verbose - and expressive. I think you’ll love it or hate it. I happen to enjoy it once I surrender to it. Harper Fox’s writing has the ability to take me to the places she describes. In this story those are the dark alleys and obscure corners of the streets of Edinburgh. The colorful descriptions of the surroundings emphasize the main character’s gloomy and damaged soul. James is a detective inspector with the Scottish police, divorced since one year from his wife with whom he has a young daughter. He’s doing dangerous undercover work on his own, drinks too much and has to deal with a new, unkind Chief. She is trying to bring him down and five days before Christmas it appears she succeeded. James reluctantly agrees to do what she wants, a security job for the visiting Israeli ambassador. On that job he meets Toby, a Mossad agent to whom he feels instantly attracted. When Toby takes a bullet for him when things go awry their fate is sealed. After that a whole series of suspenseful events happen and Harper Fox makes us feel the drama, the attraction and the hope.
I loved the careful way the author portrayed her heroes and their blooming relationship. I loved how she made the hope for better times tangible. And I enjoyed her plotting inventiveness. But there’s one thing I found hard to grasp: that all these events happened in such a short period of time (five days). I’m not talking about instant love per se but more about the suspense elements. Like Toby leaving the hospital after one day after taking a bullet up the shoulder and subsequently skipping a night’s sleep and going into full action to take a kidnapper down. I mean, is he made of steel? Alas, this story needs a little suspension of disbelief I reckon. But other than that, I fully enjoyed this story, which was the least Christmas-spirited of the collection of four from the His for the Holidays anthology.
“From his position on the bench, struggling with his shoelaces, McBride could see parts of his colleagues seldom exposed in cultures that did not include a skirt in their national dress. He repressed a smile. It was enough to put a man off. And that would be grand, wouldn’t it—cure him, straighten him out and send him home to Libby with a hard-on.”
I Heard Him Exclaim
4.5 out of 5 stars
In I Heard Him Exclaim we’re treated at Christmas in all its glory, with the commercial bells and whistles (and lights) to match. Main character Steve’s family is completely nuts when it comes to Christmas: they decorate their houses outrageously and they live for the festivities. Steve himself used to be equally nuts, and he liked to play the part of Santa, but not this year. He is not in the spirit because he is no longer filling out the Santa suite after a heart operation early that year. He decides to go to Las Vegas to escape the festivities, but on his way there he meets Chandler, who just inherited guardianship of his five-year-old niece, Poppy. The two of them can use Steve’s help after their car broke down and their holiday plans got canceled, so Steve decides to take them home. There he and Chandler work together to give Poppy a wonderful Christmas while they feel more and more attracted to each other.
I have to admit that I had a little trouble with getting the image of Steve as an old, wrinkly Santa out of my head after the first descriptions of his physical features. I’m not a big fan of the May-December theme where the age difference between the characters nears the parent-child gap. So, to make this story work for me, I had to make Steve a bit younger and more attractive in my head than the author probably had meant him to be. But apart from that, their love story was easy to enjoy. I loved Chandler and his feelings towards his niece and I found Steve’s observational skills regarding Chandler very engaging and sweet. And their smexy moments were certainly sizzling hot and entertaining in their variety. The author succeeded in conveying that Steve and Chandler are so right for each other, even if they only met a couple of days ago. Overall this was a well-written, enjoyable, festive love story with a touch of seriousness and a lot of smiles in it.
“[…] men came in two different flavors, and one of those flavors could fix cars. The other, the group to which he belonged, were utterly useless without a cup of coffee in one hand and a computer mouse in the other. He looked under the hood of the car and felt like the apes at the beginning.”
4.75 out of 5 stars
I think I lost my heart to Noel! He’s one of those characters that I will remember for a long time. And his Robbie is one hell of a sexy opponent. This is such a loveable and memorable couple. And they play their parts wonderfully in an amusing, well-paced plot, which is nevertheless way too modest and short. I’m of the opinion that their relationship could’ve used a couple of (or rather a lot) more pages. I was just about getting settled into the story when it already ended… Icecapade is probably the shortest story in the His for the Holidays anthology which is to my regret.
Alas, the story that we did get though, was very satisfying. Noel is a former cat burglar and now a novelist living a quiet life with his horses. Robert Cuffe is the FBI agent who has been on his tail for years and with whom he spent a hot, memorable night nearly eleven years ago. They haven’t seen or spoken each other since then. Until now. Suddenly Robert rings Noel’s doorbell the day before Christmas, allegedly investigating a new series of burglaries even though Noel retired over a decade ago. The men spend some time together, talking about the past, Noel’s morals and more sexy things, meanwhile helping several of Noel’s neighbors out with their problems, like saving a baby llama from a crevice it fell into.
As with other books of Josh Lanyon I loved the narrator’s voice, this time in third person and from Noel’s point of view:
“What a day. He still hadn’t showered or shaved. No wonder Robert was keeping him at arm’s distance—and he hadn’t even started fooling around with llamas yet.”
“The cab smelled like llama and wet dog. At least, that’s what Noel hoped it smelled like. Hopefully his lack of grooming wasn’t catching up with him.”
This story had a few of those chuckle moments as well as some pretty sexy ones. Like the opening scene in which the actual sex scene already took place. Although we don’t even witness the actual smexing, I remember this scene as being sexy as hell. Later in the book we are invited into the bedroom at the right moment, thank goodness. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that! This couple’s chemistry is hot, tangible and fabulously described and their developing relationship is unique and unforgettable thanks to the fetching plot it’s wrapped in.