Rating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

Archie Arandale is young, just graduated from university, and unhappy with his life. He was born into wealth and privilege, but Archie hates the way his family views money. And he’s never said out loud that he’s gay. Archie wants something different, but he doesn’t feel like he has the backbone to go after it.

Cal Turner is working class, but a lottery win gave him enough money to buy a house, pay off his mother’s mortgage, give to charity, and have enough left over to invest. Which is why he finds himself with an invite to the posh holiday party the investment firm is throwing. Cal doesn’t want to go, but his best friend dares him, and when he meets Archie, he’s glad he went. Cal’s attracted to Archie’s shy innocence just as much as Archie is drawn to Cal’s bad boy looks. The two men hit it off, hook up, and when they realize they don’t want to say goodbye, agree to meet up again.

Neither man is looking for commitment, but they enjoy each other, so they keep getting together. But feelings quickly surface, so Archie and Cal agree to try for more without putting a label on it or moving too quickly. But Archie is in the closet, and Cal doesn’t want to go back into hiding. It’ll take some work, and some solid communication, before these two men get the happily ever after they deserve.

A holiday story by Jay Northcote? Sign me up. I knew this one would be a good read because of the author and the subject matter, and Northcote didn’t let me down. There was a moment toward the end that got pretty predictable, but I was expecting nothing less considering the story and where it was leading. Northcote excels at characterization, and his MCs always make me fall in love with them. Archie and Cal were no exception.

The author did a great job with Archie in particular. The man is shy, has no backbone, and has let his family walk all over him for his entire life. So it’s really no surprise that this unsure man has no idea how to go about getting what he wants out of life. I think Northcote did well at showing us Archie’s true self. How he wanted more and had no idea how to get it, but also how he’d become complacent and, dare I say it, comfortable in his role. But slowly Archie realizes that if he wants things to change, he’s going to have to get over his fear and take the leap. Being with Cal is a catalyst for that in some ways, but Archie does the work on his own.

What I loved most about Cal is how utterly charmed by Archie he was. He saw Archie’s true self behind the shy exterior and only coaxed as far as Archie was comfortable with. He’s a good man with a big heart, and he showed Archie, and therefore the reader, all sides of him. Both men said they didn’t want a relationship, and we romance readers know exactly how things are going to end up when those words are uttered. But this story felt organic and natural, and Northcote does an exceedingly good job at showing how well Cal and Archie fit together and why their feelings would change. I adored this romance for all the things it was.

There are some heavy themes here, but the author handles them with a deft hand and nothing gets too deep or too overly angsty. And that works perfectly in this story. Northcote makes it work from beginning to end. The pace is great and the story unfolds in a wonderful way. Yes, there is that moment near the end that pulls the MCs apart, but fortunately, neither man does anything rash or stupid, and while I would have liked to see them talk it out before walking way, I was grateful that things didn’t drag on too long and that the talk did happen.

Christmas is a theme throughout the story, but it doesn’t take up too much space. This is more about two men finding each other at the right time, and one of them deciding it’s time to make changes in his life so he can be truly happy. When all is said and done, we have a lovely romance that simply works. It’s an easy recommendation.

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