Winter Warmers is a holiday anthology by five great authors. Each one is short story length making for a solid novel-sized book. I really enjoyed the anthology and would definitely recommend it. The stories have a nice range from sweet and fun to hot and sexy. Below I have a summary and some thoughts on each of the stories.
Title: Lucky Dip
Author: Clare London
The story opens with school teacher Andy Jackson helping to get ready for the school Christmas Fair. It is a bit chaotic and Andy is more than a little clumsy and he is even more stressed with the arrival of Greg Canbury who has come to set up the Lucky Dip booth. Greg is an uncle of one of the students and he and Andy used to date until Greg broke up with him on the school Quiz Night. Andy is shocked when Greg tells him how much he regrets the breakup and how sorry he is and that he wants to get back together. Another clumsy fall by Andy leads to the men getting stuck overnight in the storage closet. Forced together and aided by copious amounts of mulled wine stored in the closet, the men talk through what happened between them. Greg admits to being scared about the strong feelings he had for Andy and apologizes for how he reacted. When Andy sees how sorry Greg is, he is able to forgive him and the men take advantage of their seclusion to get together once again before they are rescued.
I think London does a nice job of giving us a sense of the men and their personalities in such a short story. I felt like I got to know them well, especially Andy with all his anxieties and clumsiness. My only issue with the story was I had a hard time following along in the beginning. Short stories by nature require you to sort of jump in to the middle of things, but I found myself a little lost for a while with all the kids introduced and the bustle happening with the fair. I had a little trouble keeping track of the characters and getting a handle on what was going on. Once the guys moved to being alone together things flowed more smoothly for me and I really enjoyed watching the lovers get reunited with the help of a little liquid courage. This was a sweet story and I was glad to see the guys make it back together.
Title: Butterscotch Kisses
Author: Chrissy Munder
We first meet Matthew Morrison, gloved hands clutching firmly to the railing of the steps to the town toboggan run, determined to face his fear of heights. His recent date dumped him when Matthew was unable to climb the stairs and, with the aid of a self-help manual, Matthew is now determined to face his fears and make his way to the top. Well, that doesn't go so well, at least the first time. So he is back for more every night, each time making his way a bit further to the top. He is anxious and a bit humiliated as kids pass him by on their way to the top, but his spirits are improved by Cute Ticket Guy who greets him each night wearing a different funny animal hat. In addition to his fear of heights, Matthew has got some other issues with confidence, especially when he feels compared to his more outgoing identical twin Eric.
One night while continuing his efforts to make it to the top, Matthew gets caught in a freak storm. He is lost in his fear near the top of the steps and doesn't even realize the increasingly bad weather or how cold he has become. Cute Ticket Guy comes to close down the ride and help Matthew down, sheltering him in his ticket booth and warming him up with hot chocolate and butterscotch schnapps (a Butterscotch Kiss, sounds so yummy!). Cute Ticket Guy turns out to be named Adam and the two men hit if off, talking and flirting and a little kissing, with the promise of more to come.
This was such a sweet story, I really loved it. Matthew is adorable and his inner commentary was so funny. I loved that little bit of dorkiness mixed in with a real desire to overcome his fears and face his challenges. The story had a light tone and lots of humor. This story was a lot of fun with a great tone, sweet characters, and great sexual tension.
Author: Lou Harper
Jem Kowalski is wandering around the Santa Monica pier one cold day when an older man catches his attention. Something about this guy just draws Jem in, and he follows him along the pier, watching him throw something into the water. Jem finally decides to talk to the guy, and after a quick chat and a shared kiss, accepts the man's invitation to come over. Although it seems a bit fast, Jem figures it is not much different than going home with a guy at a club, just different surroundings. The men have sex and settle in for the night, but Jem takes to wandering around the apartment. When he sees signs of another man in the house, he assumes the worst and takes off.
When Oscar Westfield wakes up, he is sad to see that Jem has gone. We switch to his POV and learn that the pictures and other items belong to Charlie, his partner of 20 years who died five years before. Oscar finds himself really drawn to the much younger Jem, who reminds him of Charlie when they first met - sort of wild and untamed and needing care and love. He can't get Jem out of his mind and is determined to find him in hopes of starting a real relationship. I won't say more other than Jem is very happy to see him!
I really liked this story and the dynamic between the two men. Jem is quite a bit younger and a bit wild and impulsive. He is just what Oscar needs to snap him out of the mourning he has been in since Charlie's death. I liked the alternating POV as it gives the reader the perspective of both men as the plot unfolds. Harper does a nice job of taking the story from the quick hookup into something more lasting and meaningful in just a short story.
Title: When in Amsterdam
Author: Josephine Myles
Brandan has come to Amsterdam with Jos, his boyfriend of two months to spend Sinterklass with Jos' family. On the way to the hotel the guys are caught in a sudden downpour and the first place Brandon ducks into to get dry turns out to be a sex shop. Brandon is a bit freaked out. Although not inexperienced, his background is pretty vanilla and he knows Jos has been into more kink with past boyfriends. He worries about what Jos really wants and whether he can meet that need.
After borrowing a dressing room to change into dry clothes, Brandon sees a leather harness that catches his attention in the back room. When Jos offers to model it for him, Brandon finds himself filled with both fear and desire. Seeing Jos strapped into that harness makes Brandon crazy, and he realizes that maybe he can do this after all. The men take off for the hotel where Brandon explores his Dom side and realizes it may not be as buried as he thought.
Wow, this story was hot! Watching Brandon come alive as he realizes how much the dom/sub dynamic really turns him on was incredible. And I really loved the sort of role reversal between them. Often in books I have found that when one partner is new to BDSM it seems to be the sub who is the one being taught. So I thought it was a nice twist to follow Brandon as he learned what it means to be in control and how to use it for both his own pleasure and that of his partner. This story was very romantic and unbelievably sexy. Definitely my favorite of the anthology.
Title: A Pint of Beer, a Bag of Chips, and Thou
Author: J.L. Merrow
Liam is an out of work musician, playing for money at the King's Cross station and living with his mom and two aunts (who just happen to be witches). He has been watching one particular commuter day after day, a gorgeous older man with silver hair who seems to be avoiding eye contact. His mother and aunts want him to find love, and cook up a little something to make that happen.
The first day one aunt gives him a hideous bright purple knit hat that looks like a tea cosy when sitting on top of his mohawked head. Liam knows better than to refuse to wear it and catches quite a bit of attention, including that of his handsome stranger. The next day he ends up with an incredibly long knitted "Dr. Who" scarf courtesy of his other aunt, drawing even more attention. By day three he is a complete spectacle, adding a hideous, multicolored sweater to the outfit. But this is finally enough to give his handsome stranger the courage to approach him and ask him out (turns out his name is Neil). The men hit it off, sharing drinks and dinner and then attending midnight mass together. Although they must go their separate ways that night, it is clear that there is more to come for Liam and Neil.
I really enjoyed this story, especially Liam and his somewhat kooky family. The tone is very light and humorous, especially Liam's narration which is casual and fun. I love the total acceptance he has for the craziness of his family and the love and devotion between them all is clear. I found the story clever, creative, and a lot of fun.