Gabriel Martin is a journalism student interning at the local paper. He is hoping for a hard-hitting investigative piece, but so far the only story he has been assigned to cover is the Elk’s Lodge annual holiday charity dinner. Gabe isn’t thrilled at the puff piece, but when he learns that their Santa Claus is a mystery man and no one knows his identity, Gabe figures he may be able to make something out of the story after all.
One night, Gabe ends up attending a university wresting match with his friend Jonah, whose boyfriend Owen is on the team. There Gabe sees Mac “The Mountain” McDonall, the school’s enormous, hulking, 6’10” star wrestler. Gabe is immediately drawn to Mac and can’t take his eyes off that humongous body. When the two get introduced courtesy of Jonah and Owen, Gabe realizes he is attracted to Mac’s personality as well as his appearance. But when Gabe mentions his upcoming story, Mac bristles at the idea of outing Santa and things turn cold between them.
As the guys encounter each other again, they begin to form a friendship. Gabe gets to know more about Mac and his past, beginning to understand some of his issues with trust. The guys take it slowly, but there is definitely something blooming between them. But as the charity dinner grows closer, Gabe must figure out how he is going to manage his story and keep the heart of the guy he is definitely falling for this Christmas.
I am a huge Eli Easton fan and I really enjoyed this sweet holiday story. Gabe and Mac are totally likable guys and I was rooting for them from the start. There is a slow bloom here to their relationship, but the connection between the pair is wonderful and they are both super likable.
I loved the way Gabe is instantly bowled over when he sees Mac. Mac is enormous, a true “mountain” of a man, and Gabe’s tongue practically rolls out of his mouth when he sees him. What I loved most here, though, is that it doesn’t take long before these guys are getting to know each other and Gabe is finding how much he really likes Mac and how they are so compatible. So while the story starts out as lust at first sight, it very quickly becomes much more than that. Like I said, it is a kind of a slow burn as while the guys are definitely hot for one another, they take things pretty slowly. Mac has somewhat of a troubled past and learning to trust is hard for him. I was actually wondering how the ending would bring them together enough for an HEA, and while I did find it a little bit of a jump to all in for the guys, I really enjoyed the romantic way it all comes together in the end.
The conflict here is based on Gabe’s article and his need to find something more hard hitting than just fluff about the dinner. His boss is eager for the story on the mystery Santa, and on top of that, Gabe needs an investigative piece for his final class project. His friends all think it is a bad idea, and Mac seems particularly upset about it, but Gabe doesn’t understand why. I do like that Gabe takes the issue seriously and does some reflection on whether writing it is the right thing to do, what it means for his journalistic integrity to drop the story, etc. In the end, Gabe must figure out whether to go forward with the story and what it means for his relationship with Mac if he does. The conflict reveal here isn’t much of a mystery and I think most readers will figure out what is going on way before Gabe does. But I do think it adds a nice bit of tension to the story. We also get some sweet scenes of the kids from the children’s home interacting with Mac and Gabe, as well as some holiday cheer as they celebrate at the dinner.
I’ll also note that Jonah and Owen from Easton’s story Superhero have a big role here as side characters. Gabe and Jonah are friends, and Owen is Mac’s teammate, and the guys get a lot of page time. This is officially a standalone, and plotwise it is not a sequel. If you haven’t read the other book, the guys are just interesting friends of our MCs and I had no trouble following along not having read Superhero. But for fans of that story, you will get a chance to reconnect with Jonah and Owen here and find out more about their lives in college.
I really enjoyed this one, particularly the dynamic between Gabe and Mac. I liked how the physical attraction that starts things off builds into something real between them, and the ending is definitely rewarding. So if you are looking for a romantic and sweet holiday story, with a bit of fun in the form of a sexy man mountain thrown in, definitely check this one out.