The Comfort and Joy anthology is a fabulous collection of holiday stories from a stellar group of authors: Joanna Chambers, Harper Fox, L.B. Gregg, and Josh Lanyon. Each story focuses on romance during the holidays, with a nice mix of styles and relationships. It is rare that I read an anthology where all the stories are of this high a caliber. I will say that my favorites are the contributions by Chambers and Fox, but all of these are so good, and as a collection, really excellent.
Rest and Be Thankful by Joanna Chambers
The broken boiler may just be the last straw for Cameron McMorrow. After moving to a small Scottish town and starting Glen Coe Adventures, he is finding his business is not heating up until the summer. In the meantime, Cam is broke and with bills looming things are looking pretty desperate. Owning an outdoor adventure company seemed like a dream come true, but now he is broke and the town outcast after a public fight with cafe owner, Rob Armstrong. When Cam’s sister gets him tickets to a club for Hogmanay, Cam is thrilled he will have the chance to cut loose and have some fun and put his messy life on hold for a bit. But when the weather conspires against him, he instead ends up stranded outside Rob’s house. Cam expects going to Rob for help will be a disaster, but it may just be the best thing to ever happen to him.
Oh, what a great start to the anthology! I just loved Cam and Rob as two lonely souls who find each other on a snowy winter’s night. This story has a nice touch of enemies to lovers (a trope I love), as Rob and Cam had a big blowup months before. Both men regret their behavior but both have been too nervous to smooth things over. Unfortunately for Cam, with his reserved personality and being a newcomer to the town, the public fight has left him even less a part of the small community. For his part, Rob has been lonely for years after losing his partner and is just getting back onto his feet. So we have two men, kept apart by misunderstanding, who are both lonely and in need of companionship. This story is warm and romantic with a really nice sexy undercurrent as the more submissive Cam finally gets the nerve to really ask for what he wants with Rob. I totally loved it and adored seeing these guys find happiness together. Just a great kick off story.
Out by Harper Fox
Cosmo Grant is the chief housekeeper at one of Edinburg’s finest hotels, the Royal Barlinney. He is excellent at his job and excels in providing the high level of service the guests have come to expect. Unfortunately, his boss George Brace is a jerk who keeps Cosmo under his thumb, taking advantage of Cosmo’s need to stay within the confines of the hotel due to his agoraphobia. When Renton Vaudrey checks in on Christmas Eve and Brace sends Cosmo to Ren’s room, Cosmo thinks he knows what Brace is suggesting. But as it turns out, Ren needs Cosmo’s help and Cosmo is one of the few people who can give it. As the men spend more time together, there is definitely an attraction building between them. Ren is kind and understanding about Cosmo’s agoraphobia, and for the first time, Cosmo begins to see hope he might move past his condition and be able to resume his life again. But as trouble heats up in the hotel, Ren and Cosmo’s safety is on the line and they must make it out of the crisis before they can be together.
Another fabulous story that kept me totally fascinated from the start. Fox has such a way with the pacing, each chapter ending in a way that kept me frantically turning pages to find out what was going to happen next. There is a nice suspense thread woven through this story, a bit of a mystery and investigation that drives the action and unfolds really cleverly. At the same time, we are learning more about Cosmo, what happened to cause his agoraphobia, and what his life is like now. I felt for him, trapped in this hotel and under the thumb of his horrible boss. I loved the way Ren is so gentle and kind, this big strong guy who is so caring and sweet with Cosmo. And I totally adored Cosmo and cheered for him as he began to finally see some hope for his future. These guys are just at the start of their relationship, but this story is very romantic and sweet with a nice undercurrent of suspense and excitement.
Waiting for Winter by L.B. Gregg
It has been six months since Luke has seen his ex-boyfriend Winter Kendrick. They broke up when Winter took a job oversees, never bothering to discuss it with or involve Luke. Now Winter has returned to Vermont on business and wants to see Luke again. As much as Luke is still angry about Winter leaving, he hasn’t been the same since the break up, and he can’t resist a night with his hot ex. When it is over, however, things between them are back to distant and another six months go by before Winter returns home again for the holidays. Luke has no intention of getting snowed in with Winter at the family cabin, but unfortunately that is just what happens. With the guys alone together and snowbound, they finally talk and share their real feelings about the relationship and the breakup. If they are honest with each other, they may just be able to rekindle the love between them.
This is a sweet story about two lovers reunited after a year apart. We are in Luke’s POV and it is clear right away that he still cares for Winter (not to mention still finds him incredibly hot). We learn how hard the past year has been, how he has basically just been surviving. We can feel his pain at being abandoned by Winter for his career, but it is clear that the feelings are still there on Luke’s end. As the story continues, we learn more about their relationship and what went wrong, and ultimately get to see them rebuild things. What I liked here is that I could really believe these guys were going to work it out. They were honest about their feelings and the issues they faced seems surmountable. I did find myself a little confused as to how things totally resolved in terms of their jobs when we got to the ending chapter, but overall I found this story all came together really nicely. The emotions between these guys felt real and their sexual chemistry is amazing and hot.
Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon
It has been two months since Jesse has spoken to Rocky. They had been friends for half their lives, but their attempt to take their relationship further was a total disaster and now even their friendship seems to be gone. On a snowy Christmas Eve, Jesse shows up to Rocky’s mountain cabin, ostensibly to cook dinner for Rocky and a mystery date. When things go awry, Jesse rolls with it, figuring it is just another sign that things are not meant to be between them. But the feelings Jesse and Rocky have for one another never really died, and if they can both open up about their feelings and what went wrong, there maybe hope for them after all.
I loved the set up to this lovers reunited story. Jesse is a food blogger and part of cooking royalty with a grandfather and mother who are famous chefs. Rocky has worked in the family restaurants and cooking shows and is now a famous TV chef of his own. When Jesse shows up to cook for Rocky and his date, it is the first time since their breakup that the two have spoken. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the set up, but what is really happening slowly unravels over the course of the story. I will admit at times I found myself confused about what was really going on, though that is probably at least partially on purpose. I did go back and reread a bit as I was going along to try to orient myself, but the payoff was worth it as I really loved the kind of quirky plot here. Not to mention some delicious food porn as Jesse is cooking dinner. Lanyon does a great job with that aspect and I could practically smell and taste the delicacies. My only real reservations here is that both guys still end the story kind of confused by exactly what went wrong when they first dated, making me wonder how they were going to get past it the second time around. They are more honest now, and have their past experiences to fall back on, but I wish I saw more to make me believe this time they can make it. Still, this is a fun holiday story with some a nice foodie element and a sweet ending.
So overall I think this is an excellent anthology and a must for all you holiday story fans. The collection has four great stories in diverse styles, each warm and romantic. I definitely recommend Comfort and Joy.