Stuffin’!

Confession: my favourite part of Christmas is the stockings.

I know, I know, there are a billion other things about Christmas that might be more amazing, or louder, or brighter, or have more feeling to it, but the thing is, after years and years of retail, it’s the stockings that I still loved on Christmas morning.

See, part of it is simple: Stockings were done in bed. So I didn’t have to get up yet, I could relax still, in my jammies, have a cup of tea in bed, and sit there with my husband and unwrap stockings. When you’ve been pulling “leave the house before 6:00am and get home some time after 6:00pm” for anywhere up to twelve days in a row leading up to Christmas, you really, really, love that morning lie-in, let me tell you.

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Stuffed!

Second, they’re often silly, or cute, or an indulgence, or sweet, or fun, or a mix of all three. A paperback book, some candy, soap, a puzzle, a mug… You never know what awesome little thing might come out of a stocking. Even when practical—like, say, socks—they’re somehow all the more fun because you’re sitting on your bed and you’re both taking turns opening little presents and the paper is piling up between you. It’s also something you get to do right away, before you have to drive to meet up with the rest of the family, before you have to get dressed and have breakfast…

Maybe it’s just me, but the whole cozy, silly, sweetness of it all is why I still loved it, even when the rest of the joy of the season had been stamped under the boot heel of retail.

It was why I introduced stockings to my in-laws (it was something they didn’t do) and we continue to do them to this day. I just finished stuffing their stockings today. Some years it’s more challenging than others, but I like the hunt. Or at least, I do when it goes well. It went well this year, so I enjoyed it.

What about you? Do you do stockings for your holidays? Are there rules? A specific time to open them?

Small Splashes of Colour

One of the things about Canadian Winter, even as early as December, is the way everything turns white and pale. The sky might be blue, but often it’s grey, the trees are their grey-brown palest, and the evergreens end up covered with snow. White is everywhere.

That’s one of the reasons I love Christmas cards. They’re like little splashes of colour, with lovely sentiments inside, and a reminder that that light will, indeed, come back, and when it does, it will bring the rest of the colour wheel back with it.

Every year, when we put up the Christmas cards, it’s a sweet reminder of how many people we know throughout the world, and even if maybe sometimes we sit down to write the cards we’re sending out and think, man, this is gonna take forever, I try to remember how much I enjoy receiving them.

Now, before this sounds like a guilt trip, we’ve skipped years, too. Sometimes, you just don’t have it in you to put pen to paper. When our friends were in the early baby/toddler years, there was radio silence across the board for years at a time (because who has time for that?) In the colourless months, I totally get it: self care comes first. Get through how you get through.

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“Hello, I will be your daily dose of not-white.”

And hey, even winter finds ways to bring us a dash of colour now and then.

One of the things I try to do to remain organized (ha!) is keep the cards from the previous year. That way I can look at them to make sure we’ve sent out cards to everyone we meant to (if we relied on memory we’d mess it up). A few years ago, this led to me realizing that I had a card from Dan’s grandmother, who had passed that year. We put it up again, smiling at it (it’s a lovely card, of two robins, and specifically addressed to both of us, which is a huge deal to me).

As the years have gone by, we have more than one card now we put up on a yearly basis from someone who has passed. These last cards are bittersweet, but they’re very much like splashes of colour against winter’s white: they’re a reminder of those we’ve lost, but in a way that returns their voice to us, with loving greetings and warm wishes.

So they go back up.

Every year.

Queermas (part two)!

I’m going to go out to do some shopping today. Mostly, all I’ve got left to worry about is stockings, but they sure don’t stuff themselves, do they?

Yesterday I listed some awesome gay books I bumped into this year, and today I’m gonna focus on some of the lady folk I’ve loved this year. So, if you’re looking for some great present ideas, I hope to have some for you…


binti

Available from Tor.com

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

I listened to this one unabridged from Audible over the course of a couple of days, and the performer was freaking brilliant. Every vocalization was so immersive and engrossing, every character of the small cast so distinct. Wow. So, if you’re an audiobook fan, don’t worry about the performance. Truly.
Prose-wise, this was so solid. A great SF tale through lenses you don’t encounter often in the mainstream, I can see why this blew away so many readers, and I count myself among them. The ideas in play of home as healing, as well as liberation and tradition and so many other pieces just click on so many levels.

Narratively, the set-up is deceptively simple (as is often the case in novellas): a woman from a very insular culture sneaks out in the dead of night to accept a position at a multi-species university on another planet. Mid-way to her destination, an alien attack occurs, and she finds herself in the unique position of being so many firsts to these aliens: the first human to offer a resistance to them, the first human to understand them, the first human to offer an option that is not violence.

So engaging. So happy to have read it, and so looking forward to the next instalment.


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Available from Bold Strokes Books.

How Sweet it Is, by Melissa Brayden

My quest to grab every Melissa Brayden audiobook continues, and How Sweet It Is was a complete gem.

First, I have to say Brayden hasn’t hit a rough spot yet with narrators, always seemed to grab top-notch voice performers, rather than readers, who really put effort and character into each word. So if the reader is a big deal to you, worry not. This audiobook has that covered.

Second, the story itself. Oh, man. So, we’ve got two women in the middle of rough patches in their life. There’s Molly, a woman who runs her family bakery is trying very hard to keep the business afloat, while keeping the financial stresses and the dire reality to herself. Her in-laws are brilliant and could probably help, but Molly’s a bit too proud to ask them, and since her wife died, although her in-laws are wonderful family, they’re also a painful reminder of the woman that she loved who was taken from her suddenly and far too soon.

Jordan is the younger sister of Molly’s deceased wife, and Molly and Jordan have always gotten along—though that’s not the case between Jordan and the rest of Jordan’s family. The family has a history of going into medicine. Jordan is a mover and shaker in the film industry, but that doesn’t hold a lot of weight in the eyes of her family. That Molly is one of her few champions—and also a high school crush of hers—goes a long way when the two reunite. Jordan is home while something blows over, and the two reconnect.

And find something else. Something that sparks, and crackles, and might be worth risking more for.

There’s so much against them here: how Jordan’s family might react, the reality Molly is facing with her business, that Jordan’s life and career is elsewhere, and the memory of the older sister who is always going to be an impossible standard for Jordan to live up to, and maybe something Molly’s heart is unwilling to let go.

Brayden’s usual wit is on display here, too, with some great one-liners and laughs amid what is otherwise often a really bittersweet story of two women falling for each other during a time in their lives that could not likely be worse. Keep a handkerchief handy, as there’s more than a couple of sucker-punches for those readers who bawl at some family-themed “proud of you” moments.

Frankly? This is a wonderful book. (Bonus recommendations: I also listened to and loved Heart Block, and Firework, this year, too.)


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Available from Bold Strokes Books.

Miss Match, by Fiona Riley

When I travel, I generally spend my time reading. It makes the beastly reality of air travel somewhat tolerable if you can find a good story to sink into, and sometimes, an hour or two of reading even seems to go by quicker than it really is.

When I started Miss Match, I was just taking my seat on my flight home from the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival and thus in a funk. It’s always hard to say goodbye to a wonderful gathering of queer authors and the sense of community that creates. At that conference, I got to meet Fiona, and so I cued up the book…

…and then we were landing in D.C. I was actively annoyed that I had to put my kobo away for a few moments while I deplaned and got myself to my next gate, and I dove right back in as soon as I was sitting. I finished the book mid-way between D.C. and home, and had a huge smile on my face.

Miss Match is immersive, rich, and downright engrossing. The narrative set-up is this: Samantha, a woman who runs a rather elite matchmaking service, has been recently burned and despite being an incredibly observant and talented matchmaker, she’s lost all confidence in her own ability to ever find someone for herself (and certainly no longer trusts her own judgement on the matter). Lucinda is a former dancer nursing a life very much built on loneliness and losses, who has recently come into a new position at a major PR firm—coincidentally the same firm that made sure fallout from Samantha’s woes didn’t affect her business. Fate brings them to the wedding of a couple where both women both have ties, and there’s a spark.

But can a spark be enough in the face of hardened hearts, betrayals, and the pain of loss?

Riley brings both women to such emotional life that I had zero trouble sinking beneath their skin, moved by their plight. Add to this a definite flare for the erotic, and there are pages that scorch hot. Riley also surrounds both women with a full range of supporting (though sometimes not-so-supportive) characters that live and breathe for the reader. Boston itself often feels like a character, too. Major bonus points from me as well with bi visibility, and a cast of characters with a wide range of backgrounds and cultures.

Fans of Melissa Brayden‘s Soho series should definitely take a glance here.


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Available from Bold Strokes Books.

The Princess Affair, by Nell Stark

Another audiobook (you’ll notice a theme today) I listened to while walking the dog, this book is romantic escapism at its best: a fictional version of the royal blood line of England includes Princess Sasha—or “Sassy Sasha” as she’s known to the tabloids. When Rhodes Scholar Kerry Donovan comes to the UK to study, a chance encounter becomes a spark that both try very hard to resist for equally valid reasons: Kerry, because she absolutely doesn’t want to live in the closet (or, for that matter, in full view of the entire British population), and Sasha because coming out would be a massive step in the face of the scrutiny she faces.
But the heart wants what the heart wants, and when a tragedy forces the two to truly examine what they feel, things begin to spin a bit out of the carefully controlled balance they’ve been trying to maintain.

Added to this, I have to note that Stark has a real knack for adding the perfect dashes of realism into her romances, no matter how over-the-top the scenario appears at first glance. The misogyny, double-standards of public scrutiny, academia… The world is not one of rainbows and glitter, and it makes the successes of these women all the more sweet.

(This is also a double-recommendation, as the next in the series, The Princess and the Prix, was also awesome.)


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Available from Bold Strokes Books.

Soul to Keep, by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Rebekah Weatherspoon is on my “immediate buy” list. This is just one of many of her books and novellas I’ve loved, so search the whole ‘Spoon catalogue, okay?

First off, if you haven’t read the whole Vampire Sorority Sisters series before, allow me to suggest you grab ’em all. While the books definitely stand alone with their own internal narratives, there’s a larger story at play that also moves along, and it’s always best to start at the beginning to get the world-building down pat.

And the world is freaking built. Seriously. Rebekah Weatherspoon ties Christian Baines with my favourite re-imagining of vampires, and the whole culture, network, and world Weatherspoon brings to life—uh, undeath—in her stories is flipping brilliant.

Add to that the super-hot smexy bits and you’re in for a great ride.

In this particular volume, we get to visit Jill (previously seen as not much more than a brat and a snob and driven by order and a high need to accomplish all the things) and Tokyo (a vampire with a penchant for recklessness), and spins one of the best relationship-start seeds I’ve read.

Jill, in a med program, wants to put together a sexual health curriculum offering that will truly change (and be truly representative of) the campus. When a comment from Tokyo makes Jill realize she’s missing some practical notions of what relationships are all about, the two embark on a secret (and shapeshifted) relationship, so Jill can fill in some gaps.

Their evolving relationship is so freaking cute, and with that edge of both realizing it’s moving from “just as an experiment” to something neither of them expected (and didn’t really want). There’s also a thread explored in the relationship between vampires and their feeders that I really found fascinating—whether Weatherspoon intended something that could so easily be a parallel or metaphor for an abusive relationship or not, I don’t know, but there were scenes so sharp they might as well have been vampire fangs—which I feel I should point out is not Jill and Tokyo, who are a brilliant model for a couple entering a new relationship where one of the pair has much more experience, and consent is queen.

In parallel to this relationship story, the “big bad” continues to evolve in the story running through the background of the series, and this those big bad things do more than bump in the night. I can’t wait to see where the sisters go next.

Also, massive praise for the level of diversity in so many ways: racial, sexual, cultural… I always love Weatherspoon’s characters.

Queermas (Part one)!

I’m not done my holiday shopping yet (I know, I know, three years out of retail and I’ve become “that guy”). In my defence, I had a major fall last week on the ice and my arm, shoulder, and hand have been weak and aching ever since (I did something to the muscles near my forearm and elbow, I think) and the thought of carrying anything makes me twitch. At the moment, I can’t even lift a full cup of tea in my left hand without pain, so I’m going to be a bit later with my shopping.

If you’ve got any queerfolk who are readers on your shopping list this year, here are some of the awesome books I came across over the course of 2016. We’ll start with the books for guys into guys…


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Available from Carina Press.

Chaos Station, by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen

 
I’d already read Jenn Burke‘s Line of Sight and greatly enjoyed it, so I nabbed Chaos Station eagerly. I wasn’t let down.

The basic narrative set-up is simple enough: a soldier with some dark secrets and a friend in need ends up meeting up with a ship of shippers who sometimes delve in the greyer areas of the law. He hopes to affect a rescue before his former military friend ends up dead. What he couldn’t have hoped for was to find a man he once loved, a man he’d been told was dead, alive and acting as one of the crew on the ship. Their past complicates an already complicated mission, but gives both men a chance at something they thought long-past hopeless.

The world-building here is grand, and done in small steps and small revelations that help not to overwhelm the reader with too much, too fast. You learn about the war humanity fought with one of the alien races in broad strokes at first, and in detail as the backgrounds of the various war vets are explored. The culture that exists post-war is also revealed in bits, and you get a sense of just how much humanity suffered and lost, and how much work there still is to be done to recover.

Ditto with the characters: both the main fellows are definitely the walking wounded. Both men suffered in the war (in very different ways), and their scars (literal and figurative) are a major part of their characters. There’s quite a bit of angst in their feelings for each other, too, but none of it feels forced or unnatural. Survivor guilt, trauma, disability—there’s no “use magic technology X!” solution to the very real hurts these men have encountered. The balancing act with their more hopeful selves is all the more delicate because of this grim side to the narrative, but it’s handled well. I find I can’t handle books where the suffering is endless and the angst is almost a force of nature, and at no point does Chaos Station go that far. Better, the book is sprinkled with humour in places that serve as a great pressure valve for some of the harsher moments.

At the core, the romance is a major force in the novel, but it’s also not the entirety. The rescue mission, the foil of a criminal organization the crew has (albeit accidentally) angered, and the “family” sense of the crew all contribute to make a well-rounded adventure to boot.

There’s a full series ahead after this title, and I’m a few books in.


country

Available from Lethe Press.

Country, by Jeff Mann

I was lucky enough to get an advance reading copy of this one, and though any of you who follow my blog know I adore Jeff Mann, I have to say I was nervous about this one: it features a bunch of things I don’t necessarily connect with: country music, rural culture, and living a closeted life. But I shouldn’t have worried.

Following a big name Country star, Brice Brown, who is outed in the late 90’s, the exploration of homophobia is bang-on perfect, and all the more vicious given both the time and the culture. Jeff Mann’s voice is so lyrical and clear I had zero trouble connecting with a man so very unlike me, and yet found my empathy evoked. I also liked that Brice is by  no means a perfect man—he’s as much a product of his culture as those who throw hate at him from within it, and beyond self-loathing there are a few moments of pot/kettle that are deftly written. Brice is flawed, and that made it all the easier to connect with him. Mann explores depression, too, which is a welcome change, and there’s a sense of realism to the entire novel that keeps it from being a “happily ever after with rainbows” that would completely break the suspension of disbelief.

And, of course, the food. Some day I will learn not to read a Jeff Mann book while hungry. I don’t even know what half the dishes are, but I eat so damn much while he describes them.


BSB-NightSweats

Available from Bold Strokes Books.

Night Sweats, by Tom Cardamone

I did a Q&A with Tom Cardamone back in January, which you can read here. I should point out that I don’t normally read a lot of horror or darker fiction because it gets stuck in my head and I end up having nightmares, which is as pathetic as it sounds (more on that when I get to Christian Baines, most likely).
Despite not loving the world of horror, I read Pumpkin Teeth from Cardamone (which I adored), and read this book a story at a time during bright sunny hours so my subconscious has time to chew through the stories long before I headed to bed.

Listen. I said I’m not a horror reader usually, and I meant it.

Cardamone weaves darker tales which have a way of subtlety to them rather than visceral shocks. “Suitcase Sam” stuck with me for months after the fact, for instance. And Night Sweats, for anyone who likes horror, has a complete range of dark and disturbing to be had. It’s rare I can suggest horror, and to add to this my love of short fiction means Cardamone is a perfect suggestion for those queerfolk in your life who love the things that creep, crawl, and scuttle in the shadows.


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Available from Bold Strokes Books.

Puppet Boy, by Christian Baines

So, this took me a long time to read and I don’t want anyone to think that reflects upon the readability by any means. It’s actually quite the opposite. These characters, who were in turns dark, empathetic, frightening, engrossing, and disturbing kept knocking me for a loop and—a quirk of mine—if I read tension thriller type books or horror books or dark psychological books and then go to sleep, I end up with bad dreams. So I measured this one out, read it when the sun was up, read it when I had something light and silly to do afterwards, and I really, really enjoyed it.
And only a few nightmares.

Kidnapping, rent-boys, Titus Andronicus, religious fundamentalism, exploration of sexuality, usury, dubious consent, there’s so much going on here and yet Baines manages to get Eric under your skin even as he makes terrible choices and you’d like as much to slap him as help him.

Normally, when I write a review, I try to give some hint as to the narrative, and I have to be honest, I’m not going to expand much on what’s listed on the back of the book, as I found myself enjoying peeling back the onion, as it were, and discovering each new layer. Much else would be a spoiler, and in this case, I’d say it matters.

Having already read The Prince and the Practitioner and The Beast Without and having enjoyed both, I should also mention The Orchard of Flesh was high on my “as soon as I can get my hands on it” list, and just as wonderful, though again I’m not done because there are squishy bits that make me flinch.


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Available from Bold Strokes Books.

Soul’s Blood, by Stephen Graham King

Before I say anything else about this book, I’ll start with this: If you love futuristic sci-fi action adventure served up with smart stories, well-built worlds, and just a dash of romance, you don’t need to read the rest of my review, you need to grab this book and start reading.
But hey, if you want to humour me first, here we go.

The Maverick Heart is a sentient AI ship, one of the rare survivors. That sentient being, Vrick, travels the systems with Keene and Lexa-Blue, a pair who do what they need to do to get by and earn their living and freedom to travel the stars. When a former flame from Keene’s past asks them for help (and doesn’t take no for an answer), they find themselves enmeshed in the middle of a culture clash rapidly turning violent that could spell doom for a whole world.

Soul’s Blood juggles a lot at once. The three main characters (I’m including Vrick among these, who is my new favourite AI ever) are all engaging in their own way. I freaking adored Lexa-Blue, the more “shoot first and then shoot second” of the trio, though I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a kick-ass lady in my sci-fi. Keene is more of a “fixer” and technological in focus, and while his relationship with his former love is the starting spark of the story, he’s not relegated to “romance plot” alone, and both men show clear growth from their days of young love; yes, they still feel the spark, but they’re also grown men now, and one of them has the weight of his world on his shoulders.

I already knew Stephen Graham King could write solid space opera, having read and enjoyed Chasing Cold, but with action, intrigue, tech, firefights, and just enough breathing spaces between the chaos, Soul’s Blood brings an A-game.

Best of all, world building is artfully balanced. At it’s heart, the main conflict of the story is one of culture: two vastly different races living on the same planet on the edge of a war that would devastate both sides. Keene’s former love is a technarch of a highly technological society, and trying to stop attacks from a genetically modified people who have a vast array of psionic ability and a hatred of the technology that was used to create them. As Vrick, Keene, and Lexa-Blue learn more of the players and issues at hand, the reader is brought with them in a way that feels very natural. We learn about the specific planet in enough detail that it lives and breathes, and gain glimmers of the other systems outside that world in teasing ways that paint an enticing picture and leaves the reader ready for the next voyage of the Maverick Heart.

I, for one, can’t wait.


Spinning the Record, by Robert Hyers

This was my first book I chose for myself to read for a new “leave the house and all electronics behind on Sunday mornings and go read for an hour” plan with my husband. As I already love anthologies, and I knew I’d be pausing for a week between sessions, it was a perfect fit.

When I first came out, my brief experiences with the gay club scene were exactly that: brief. I had one brush with a rave, as well, and it was a wall of exclusion that was as clear as the bright colours everyone wore: You Should Leave. So part of me was worried I’d find these stories wouldn’t let me in either.

Instead, I was drawn in almost from the start, and impressed at how Hyers’ characters walked such a range within what does become a very tightly explored theme throughout. There are voices here we never get to see in most queer books: these aren’t your upper-class pretty twinks and muscleboys enjoying the clubs (though they are also there, they aren’t the characters who bring the stories to life). The voices shared in these stories are poor, they’re Latino, they’re the eyes who watch from within as well as without, and they’ve existed before, during, and after the hey-days of many versions of the DJ-hosted worlds of music, dance, and raves.

The drugs flow freely, the lines blur and criss-cross in an ever-changing maze of who is allowed in, and who will never be. There’s violence on the page as often as there is compassion (with a few scenes that left me flinching—though my own tolerance for violence on a page is set quite low). Manhattan (and New Jersey) are represented here in a way I’ve not encountered before, and I’m the richer for having read them. If there’s any justice, this anthology will get noise.

Specifically, quite a few tales struck me. ‘Stuart and His Mannequin’ tucked itself neatly aside my love of the speculative and strange; ‘Bosom Buddies’ had pitch-perfect balance between the hopes, joys, injustices, and frustrations of the drag world; ‘Mariposa in Outer Space’ was outright brilliant; and the final tale, ‘Spinning the Record,’ was the perfect final beats to a series of tales that never let the rhythm pause for a moment.

I’m really, really glad to have read this collection, and will be seeking out more from Robert Hyers.


 

Triad Christmas

TriadBlood

Triad Blood is available from Bold Strokes Books.

Triad Blood takes place during autumn, and the next book with the Triad boys takes place just near Valentine’s Day, which means the first Christmas that Luc, Anders, and Curtis spend together kind of gets skipped.

Well, in case you wondered, here you go:


 

When Luc came up the stairs, he found Curtis sitting on the floor in the living room, staring at the Christmas tree. The wizard turned, saw him, and then called out, “Anders, he’s up!”

Luc blinked.

“Next year we’re staying up late because there’s no way I’m going to torture myself like this ever again. We open gifts at midnight.” He crossed his arms.

Heavy footsteps above let him know the demon was coming, so Luc took the opportunity to join Curtis on the floor, leaning in and kissing his forehead.

“Whatever you’d like, lapin.”

“Finally,” Anders said. He came into the room, went straight to the tree, and picked up a box with his name on the tag. He took it to the couch and sat, already ripping at the wrapping.

triad-soul

Triad Soul will be out next year, from Bold Strokes Books.

“So, Anders will start,” Curtis said.

The demon grunted.

“That’s from me,” Luc said.

The revealed dress shirt was lovely. A rich brown, with a tiny repeating black check pattern, the material was just the right shade to complement the demon’s eyes, and had been tailored specifically for him.

“You got me a stuffy shirt?” Anders said.

“Try it on,” Curtis said.

“Why?”

“Because it’s Christmas,” Curtis said. “When you get stuff for Christmas, you try it on. It’s a rule.”

Anders paused, then grinned. Without another word of complaint, he stood, unbuttoned the shirt, and slid it over the sleeveless back V-neck he was wearing.

Luc shared a glance with Curtis. Was it him, or had that seemed too easy?

Still, once the demon had buttoned up the shirt, the effect was as Luc had hoped: he looked a touch classier, and the colour really did flatter his deep tan and dark eyes. Now, if he could just get the demon to have more than a nodding acquaintance with a razor…

“Me next,” Curtis said. His glee was almost child-like, and Luc found it infectious. He eyed the various brightly wrapped packages under the tree, intrigued.

“From you?” Curtis said, pulling out the gift he’d wrapped.

Luc nodded.

Curtis tore apart the wrapping, though he took a moment to affix the small gold bow on the head of the overly muscled animated character on his T-shirt. Luc wasn’t sure what the “Power of Greyskull” entailed, but apparently, a fur loin-cloth was included.

When Curtis opened the box, his breath caught. “Luc, these are gorgeous.”

A set of calligraphy pens with hand-tooled wooden handles, a glass inkwell, and exquisite sheets of paper were bundled inside a cleverly carved wooden box that appeared to be a book when stood on it’s end, but opened to be a kind of desk.

“I thought it might be useful for your study of runes and talismans.”

“Try it,” Anders said.

Curtis took one of the pieces of paper, one of the pens, and after a few moments to think, he dipped the pen into the ink and drew a symbol onto the paper. He carried the paper to the fireplace, and dropped it onto the merrily burning wood.

The flames turned green.

They applauded. Curtis turned and bowed. He sat back down, folding up the box and leaning in for a quick kiss. “I love it. Thank you.”

Predictably, Anders sat down on the floor beside Curtis. Luc had wondered how long it would take the demon to close the distance between himself and the wizard once Curtis had kissed him. He hid his smile by reaching under the tree and pulling out one of the gifts labeled with his name.

“That’s from me,” Curtis said.

Carefully unwrapping the paper without tearing it—something that seemed to make Anders clench his jaw, which was an added bonus—Luc revealed the narrow cardboard box and opened it to find a silver ring. It had a wide band, and there was script in a blocky, angular alphabet on the inside.

“Try it on,” Curtis said.

“Yeah,” Anders said. “Try it. That’s the rules.”

They both glanced at Anders.

“What?” he said.

Luc put the ring on, and felt a soft, feathery touch across his skin. It spread from his finger to the palm of his hand, then up his wrist and along his arm. By the time the sensation had spread across his body, he was smiling at Curtis, eyebrows raised.

“Magic?” he said.

“Bear with me,” Curtis said, and he got up from where he sat to go to the mantle. From inside a small metal box that Luc had owned for decades, Curtis pulled out a vial of water that had been inside the box for about as long.

Lapin?” Luc said, nervous.

“Trust me.” Curtis uncorked the bottle, and dipped his pinky finger into the liquid. He took Luc’s hand, and—Luc gritting his teeth—he let the drop fall onto Luc’s open palm.

It froze the moment it touched his skin, bouncing off like a single piece of hail.

“Ta-da,” Curtis said.

“The ring freezes holy water?” Luc said.

“Yep. Matthew and Mackenzie helped me with it. It won’t work forever, the magic will be used up a little bit every time it does its thing, but I can keep an eye on it and buff it back up. Just let me know if you end up using it.”

“That is a wonderful gift,” Luc said. It wasn’t like he encountered holy water on a daily basis, but they’d recently seen just how effective holy water could be. It wasn’t an experience Luc ever hoped to endure.

While Curtis put the bottle away, Anders found a box for himself, and by the time Curtis was sitting again, he’d pulled out the peculiarly knitted toque. It was orange and yellow and red, had a pom-pom and ear-flaps.

It took Luc a moment to recognize it. “Oh,” he said. “Cunning.”

Anders pulled it on. “Big damn hero,” he said. Coupled with the dress shirt, the hat didn’t quite suit, but that was hardly the point.

“I love that you both have become one with the ‘verse,” Curtis said. He reached under the tree. “Here’s the other half.”

Anders all but shredded the package, and when he pulled out the brown leather jacket, the scent of the leather was strong enough to make Luc force air into his lungs. Leather reminded him of many things, most of them good.

Anders put the jacket on—if one ignored the hat, the combination of the jacket and the shirt was a lovely coincidence of sartorial perfection. Anders cocked his head, frowning.

“It’s… warm,” the demon said.

“I enchanted the liner,” Curtis said. “Just make sure you leave it in the sun when you’re not wearing it, and it’ll stay warm for hours after. I know how much you hate being cold.”

“Best fucking jacket ever.”

Curtis grinned, and Anders wrapped him up in both arms, squeezing the smaller man.

“Okay,” Anders said. “My gifts.” He handed Curtis and Luc their gift bags—both were stuffed with tissue paper without much care—with a wide grin.

Luc pulled out the tissue, and eyed the item in the bag for a long moment.

“Well?” Anders said.

Luc glanced at Curtis. Curtis had received a similar gift, it seemed. The wizard was holding the dildo with a hard-to-read expression. It might have been because the dildo Anders had chosen for the younger man was such a…vibrant…shade of green.

Luc’s own was a more traditional pink. He pulled it out of the bag.

“Watch this,” Anders said. He got up and went to the wall. When he clicked off the light, Curtis’s sex toy revealed the unexpected ability to glow in the dark.

“Mine doesn’t light up, I take it?” Luc said.

“No, yours takes batteries.” Luc could hear the amusement in the demon’s voice. “It wiggles.”

“Well,” Curtis said. “Thank you.”

“N’uh-uh,” Anders said. “Don’t forget the rules.”

“Pardon?” Luc said.

Anders turned the light back on. His smile was wolfish, and he was unbuttoning his new shirt. “Fair’s fair. You gotta try them on.”

Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful

It snowed last night, so we woke up to a white world of winter. There was, in our household, one individual who was very pleased about this: the dog.

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I am so happy!

Coach, our husky, isn’t a particularly typical husky in many ways. We think some of that must be to his puppyhood prior to rescue, but for one: he’s almost always silent. He howls only when there are sirens or when we sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ and the only time he comes close to barking is when something startles him (like the lady who tosses flyers onto our doorstep with a sudden thunk, which he despises).

He doesn’t run away, either. He likes to lead (that’s a pretty typical husky thing) and he will walk off-leash quite a number of steps ahead, but at a certain visual radius, he’s always turning to check.

You still there?

“You’re good, buddy.”

Okay.

Then he’s off again.

When it snows, Coach is so recharged it’s insane. He’s eight-going-on-nine, and yet today he was dashing around in the snow like a puppy seeing it for the first time. He runs massive circles around me, then runs as fast as he can further down the forest path, only to hit that radius that makes him check in with me and turn around and come racing right back at full speed so he can skid to a halt at my feet long enough for a head-rub and he’s off again.

The sheer joy that dog has in the snow is single-handedly responsible for any of my own pleasure in Winter. Prior to Coach, my husband and I basically hibernated,  bemoaning any and all necessary trips outside in the winter. But now, seeing the way the dog stares out the window at the snow and wags his tail he moment he realizes we’re finally going out into it?

It’s almost enough to make you love a Canadian winter.

Almost.