Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
This anthology is a collection of fifteen short stories all set in the UK. Now, I’ll admit to being a tiny bit of an Anglophile, so I was excited to pick this one up. There was a wonderfully diverse collection of stories included inside, and I greatly enjoyed them. There was a really great mix of different stories and, though a few missed the mark a little for me, on the whole, it was a lovely collection.
Ninety-Nine Problems by Becky Black
The Catteneos and the Bianchis have been rivals for forty years, both families owning ice cream firms. Rob has taken over the Catteneo Empire, and he’s slowly making changes to make the business even more profitable. When he runs into Chez Bianchi at a funeral, attraction flairs between them. Chez has recently taken over as the head of the Bianchi ice cream firm, but Bianchi’s is flailing and he’s not very good at running the business. Rob tries to help, giving Chez advice. Even though Chez has to stay in the closet, the two men begin a relationship. And it might possibly turn into something more, if the men can figure out how to sell a business merger to their families.
This was a really cute story. I felt for Chez, floundering as the head of his business, not really being cut out for the work, and for his need to hide his sexuality from his traditional Italian family. Rob is a great guy, with a sound head on his shoulders, and his earnest and honest approach win Chez over, both professionally and personally. Though it ended HFN, it was perfect for the story.
Bread and Butter Pudding by Jules Jones
Trevor thinks that a day off would be the perfect opportunity to make a loaf of bread by hand. He has no idea that one of his flatmates is working from home until Ben shows up in the kitchen wearing nothing but a black silk dressing gown. Trevor has always thought the man was attractive, if a bit of a recluse. When Ben turns on the innuendo, Trevor realizes that the man is just shy. But that doesn’t stop him from offering to act on their mutual attraction.
Short, sweet, and to the point. This story is really just the very beginning of a relationship. What I really liked about it is what a good sense of both characters we get in such a short amount of time. It was steamy and sweet, and I liked it a lot.
Chanctonbury Ring by Sarah Madison
American Denny Roberts spent the summer of his eighteenth year in England with his grandparents. Twelve years later, and with the passing of his grandfather, Denny is back. Heading back to the Chanctobury Ring, where he spent much of that long ago summer, he remembers the boy that was one of the reasons he loved that summer so much. Tarquin was beautiful and wonderful and Denny has never forgotten him. When a rider comes barreling into the Ring, Denny is surprised to see that it’s Tarq. But the reception from his old lover is colder than Denny ever expected. A sudden rainstorm drives them to Tarq’s nearby home, and the two men hash out what happened after Denny left to go back to the US. The connection between them is still strong, and they need to figure out if they can have their own happily ever after.
Ah, I love a good reunion romance, and Madison gives us that in spades. I really enjoyed this one. Denny has such a deep sense of longing, for both England that seems like home in a way that nothing else ever has, and for Tarq the boy that stole his heart and never gave it back. While this story was a bit predictable, it was wonderfully and satisfyingly written.
Wrong Number by Megan Reddaway
Connor is drunk, horny, and miserable. He tries to call his best friend to complain and bursts out with explicit sexual frustration. Only then does he discover he called one of his bosses instead. Gary tells Connor to forget about it, but of course, Connor can’t. When they see each other at the office, they both ignore what happened. When a merger means that Connor has to work one Saturday until late, he leaves his wallet and keys on his desk. Stranded outside the office with no way of getting home, Gary is the one that comes to his rescue. Gary takes Connor back to his place, admits that he’s always noticed Connor, and that Connor’s late night phone call turned him on.
I adored this one. Connor was completely adorable, and I loved being in his head with his embarrassment and his emotions throughout the story. I thought it was a great addition that Gary, who is powerful and in command at work, is actually shy and has always noticed Connor. And I loved it when the shyness dropped away, and the two men got together. This one was one of my favorites.
In the Doghouse by Chris Quinton
Jerry Thorne finds himself in a predicament. With a possibly drugged racing greyhound in his backseat, Jerry is on the run from those who want to break his kneecaps and take the dog. Right now, all he knows is that he needs to keep himself and Spot safe. When he finds himself heading south, one name keeps popping into his head: Mike Brown. They used to be friends but an ill-fated kiss one night broke that. But he knows Mike is a cop, and can keep them safe until Jerry’s uncle can sort out the trouble. Mike doesn’t seem too happy to hear from Jerry, but eventually they sort out their attraction and feelings. Longing for each other has never gone away, and now they seem perfectly poised to start their happily ever after.
I really, really liked this one. It had action, and a lot of feelings packed into a short story. Quinton did a fantastic job of really letting us see the characters in such a short space, and the writing and plot drew me in from the beginning. Though it was a perfect little story all on its own, I would have loved to see it longer, just so I could spend more time with these guys and the tale. For me, it was one of the best in the collection.
The Benefits of Hindsight by MA Ford
Racecar driver Chris Bryant loves his boyfriend, fellow racer Charlie Stebbins, but he’s afraid of the consequences of coming out. His career could be at risk. When Charlie gives Chris an ultimatum—be out about their relationship or it’s over—Chris thinks that it’s the end of what they have. He knows he can’t live with the scrutiny or the rumors. When Chris crashes his car, he wakes up to a very different time. Though things are fuzzy, it’s clear that he’s in an RAF field hospital during World War II. The Charlie of that time is adamant about hiding; it’s illegal, and they would get discharged and imprisoned. When Chris wakes again to the present, and having gotten a taste of what it would have been like for him and Charlie had they lived sixty years ago, he knows he’s ready to live his life with Charlie out loud.
This was a good story that dealt with some real feelings. As an athlete, Chris has valid concerns and fears. Charlie doesn’t care what the general population thinks about them, but Chris knows he’s not ready for that. The plot here was good, but it fell just a tiny bit flat in execution for me. Chris’s turn around, even with the flashback to the past, felt just a little too sudden and all encompassing. Still, it was well done and I liked it.
Misadventures of Mislaid Men by Penny Hudson
Gavin is a solicitor sent out to a small Welsh town to see if he can find a missing heir. It’s a crap assignment, mad even crappier by the fact that a cow has decided to take a nap on his car. Eventually the owner of the pub, Llewellyn, comes outside, convinces the bovine to move, and invites Gavin up for a drink and some conversation. One thing leads to another, and the men wind up in bed. After a round of great sex, Gavin realizes that Llewellyn just might be the man he’s looking for, in more ways than one.
Cute, funny, and sweet. That’s how I would sum up this story. There’s nothing surprising here, but it was incredibly entertaining. I loved Gavin’s confidence in himself, and the way he grumbled about small town living. And Llewellyn was just a treat. Though there was just a tiny bit of head hopping that confused me for a second, it was a great little story.
Best Vacation Ever by Rob Rosen
John is on vacation in Ireland, but it isn’t agreeing with him at all. He doesn’t appreciate the landscape or the crumbing castles and the food is making him sick to his stomach. When a wizened old local sends him to a forest park, John finds things looking decidedly up. The grounds are beautiful, the hedge maze is inviting, and the man working there, Conan, has John’s interest. When he gets lost in the maze, Conan comes to his rescue and the attraction flares out of control.
There wasn’t much to the story except a vacation fling, and for that it was done really well. The interaction between John and Conan was hot and fun, but I have to admit I felt it was a little lacking. I would have liked to see just a tiny bit more connection between the characters. But this story was classic Rosen and great for what it was.
Rough Tackle by Annabelle Jacobs
Alex is completely drunk on the night of his twenty-third birthday, when he sees a great looking man across the bar. Determined and on a mission, he makes his way over to the man, only to promptly fall asleep on his shoulder. Then next day, completely hung over, Alex has little recollection of the night before. His friends harass him, and even though he’s a bit of a mess, drag him to play football. And Number Nine for the other team is none other than his object of infatuation from the night before. They both flirt a bit during the game, but when Alex tackles the man a little harder than necessary, he learns that his name is Josh and his ankle is now hurt. Later, after Alex gets Josh’s number from his friend, he texts him to find out how he’s doing. The attraction is mutual, and Josh comes over to Alex’s. The two men quickly learn that they want the same thing, and this might be the beginning of something really good.
Oh, this one was really cute. I just loved Alex, all bumbling drunk and grumbling hung over. I liked his affection for his friends, and his slight insecurities in pursuing Josh. Since this was told from Alex’s POV, we didn’t get quire the same sense of Josh, but what we did learn was sweet to see. Just a fun story.
Illumination by Sam Evans
Josef Sivok is standing in the cold, weathering a raging storm, waiting for the representative to come and take away his beloved building. They Lyceum Theater has been in his family for years and he has been taking care of the building for a very long time. He loves the building and hates the idea of giving it up. But when Maxwell Bond finally shows up, nearly an hour late, the man is not what Jo expected at all. Max is a force of nature himself, and he’s come to restore the building to its former glory, while offering Jo a place with his team to help.
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this one. The writing was rich and descriptive, and I felt drawn in. But it also seemed that there was a lack of explanation about Max’s motivations. He jumped around a bit in his explanation, and I felt a bit lost. And then there was a time jump to two years in the future. As a romance, it lacked spark. But as a well-crafted tale of the love a man has for a building and the emotions behind it, it was very fulfilling.
The Jacobite by Bette Browne
Having traveled from Australia to England for his grandfather’s funeral, Jon decides to make the best of his time and sightsee after he pays his respects. As part of his journey, he books passage on the steam train, The Jacobite. His seatmate for the trip, Colin, is fun and funny and engaging. They hit it off and strike up a friendship. They hang out together during a stop, but laughter and pints at the pub cause them to miss getting back on the train. But they’ve both figured out they are attracted to one another, and neither minds the delay too much.
This one just made me smile. It was one of the shorter ones, but Browne packs a lot of cute and amusing into the short space. I enjoyed the journey and liked watching these guys connect. I really liked the addition of a train journey, and thought it was a great way to get these two men to meet and talk. Really nice story.
Wag, Not a Dog by Theo Fenraven
Wag creates computer viruses to release on the unsuspecting populace so that the anti-virus company he works for can keep making money. It’s not that he likes to be mean, but he likes the challenge of creating something difficult. When a new employee shows up—and has to use half of Wag’s office—Wag doesn’t know quite what to do. Silver is beautiful and forward. The two men fall into an easy relationship. But when Silver discovers what Wag does, he leaves, incensed. That’s just the motivation Wag needs to quit as well. It’s only after Silver discovers why that he comes back.
Oh, I loved this one. Wag is just a great character. His head is in the code, and he’s focused on doing his job, but he’s such a sweetheart that I just adored him. Silver breezing into his office, full of life and vigor, is exactly what Wag needs. I’m a fan of Fenraven’s writing, and this is just another example as to why. Great story told with an economy of words.
Tops Down, Bottoms Up by Jay Northcote
Rowan doesn’t want to be at the festival, but his best friend Jez convinced him that spending the weekend selling trinkets at a booth would be a good idea. He’s a bit grumpy, but he’s dealing. When he and Jez go to the beer tent to get a pint, and he’s sees that morris dancers are on the program, he gives a loud rant to the idiocy of them, only to discover that the group nearby are the morris dancers and one of the men had caught his eye. Rowan apologizes and learns the man’s name is Seth. To attempt to make amends, Rowan goes to the workshop to learn how to morris dance, and then gets roped into putting on a performance that night. With Seth as his dancing partner, innuendos fly. The two men find a common attraction and spend the night together. But it’s clearly just the beginning.
I couldn’t keep the smile off my face while reading this one. Rowan is just so disgruntled, and I had to cringe when he had his rant, just knowing that it was going to backfire spectacularly. It did, but it was wonderfully done, and Seth was understanding even as he couldn’t help but goad Rowan a little. This guys sparked off the page, and it was a satisfying little story. I would love to see more of them.
First Contact by Rhidian Brenig Jones
Will is an American that is spending a year working in his company’s European branch. He decides to take a trip to Wales to find the gravestones of his great grandparents. He gets lost and ends up at a small pub. The owner offers his son Ceri as a guide, as well as one of their rooms for the night. Will takes him up on the offer, though Ceri doesn’t seem too happy about it. Ceri isn’t out to his family and his boyfriend broke up with him when he wouldn’t tell his parents about them. Will is understanding of the situation, and though he wants Ceri, he tries to be the honorable man. Ceri isn’t having any of that though; he wants Will and he’s going to get him.
I liked this story and I really liked Will and the way he handled Ceri, but there was something just a little bit lacking for me. Perhaps I just didn’t feel as connected to Ceri as I should have. I liked the connection between Will and Ceri, but it felt more like a more experienced man supporting a younger man through his first heartbreak. It was a good story, but I needed to feel a little more chemistry to make it feel believable to me.
Apollo, Heathcliff, and Hercules by S.A. Garcia
Charneil is downright angry that his boyfriend Simon won’t even consider his choice for their holiday destination. They argue, and pissed off, Char books the getaway at the pig farm anyway. When Simon confesses his fear of pigs, Char feels bad. But he knows that they desperately need to reconnect or they are going to fall apart. Simon relents and they go together. After encountering a zealous bigot on their way, they are both shaken and very relieved to arrive at their destination, only to be confronted with the gorgeous owner of the farm, Tom. Tom is pleasant and genial, and both Char and Simon admire him. Several days in, Char and Simon have reestablished their bond and had the difficult talk. As a celebration, and because Charneil has never experienced it, they decide to invite Tom to play.
I have to admit, with the way this story began, I wasn’t sure what I was getting with it. But it turned into a really lovely story about two men reconnecting and reaffirming their love. I really enjoyed watching them go from partially broken to something much stronger. I liked that in the beginning, I didn’t understand why Charneil loved Simon, but then it all became clear as the two men worked on what they had and talked to each other. Really lovely story.
Cover: I just really adored the sweet simplicity of this cover.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.