Zeb Seasons is a 28-year old living in his small Pennsylvania town of Kringle’s Crossing. Zeb was raised into adulthood by his elder brother, Gabe, who inherited the Seasons craft shop and catered banquet space when their parents died suddenly. Zed is a professional gamer, with a loyal following. He does well enough to make ends meet, though he also works with/for Gabe hosting events at Seasons, and sometimes helping in the gift shop. Gabe thinks he’s helping Zeb out with extra cash, but it’s really Zeb’s generosity that’s helping to keep Seasons afloat.
This holiday season proves to be extra hectic because Gabe’s wife is pregnant with twins, and it’s a precarious pregnancy. She usually helps a lot, but as she is not able, Gabe is super grateful that his long-time best friend, Atlas Orion, is able to take some overdue leave from the Navy and pitch in between Thanksgiving and New Years. Zeb is kind of stoked about this prospect, since Atlas was his childhood crush, and he has to stay with Zeb since there is no room at Gabe’s house with the babies on the way, and his mother-in-law–Atlas’ aunt–living there full time, too.
Atlas is rather stunned with how grown up Zeb is. He’s oddly attracted, because he has never fallen for a man. Not that he’s ever fallen for a woman either. At 35, Atlas really hasn’t put a lot of energy into relationships, because his childhood was rather rootless and his adulthood in the navy is much the same. But being so close to Zeb, day and day out, has opened his curiosity. It doesn’t hurt that Zeb is so kind and compassionate, filling gaps in his life that Atlas, a master planner and logistics specialist, hasn’t noticed having.
It’s a sweet time of intimacy and discovery, as Atlas allows himself to absorb all the camaraderie and compassion Zeb is willing to give him. With Atlas having five more years of service stationed in Virginia, and Zeb tethered to Kringle’s Crossing by Seasons and the only family he has left, it seems like their connection is destined to be short-lived. Gabe is so overwhelmed with the medical situation and running Seasons that both Zeb and Atlas feel compelled to step up helping out, while also keeping their fling a secret. However, both men know that they want to press the pause button and hold onto one another long after New Year’s passes.
This is a brother’s best friend, small-town, holiday romance. Zeb is a great guy, who really works hard to take care of himself. He’s proud of his success as a game player/vlogger, and a little hurt that his brother thinks he’s still a “kid” just messing around with video games. Atlas sees the growth in Zeb, and values him as a friend and confidante. Their sexual explorations are a revelation for Atlas, who’s been let down by intimacy in the past. I loved the joy Zeb and Atlas experienced together, and how they were willing to sacrifice to make each other happy. I also liked seeing some characters and entities from previous books dipping into this story; I had some snort-chuckles when Zeb was talking about playing Space Villager from the Gaymers books. Easter eggs like those are so fun for regular readers.
For me, this was definitely a breezy read, which I think was fine as it’s holiday. It ticked all the feels boxes, even if it felt a little rushed at times. I liked the resolution, which was entirely practical and reasonable and still swoony. I’d have loved to have more time with these guys, so maybe we’ll see them in another holiday story cameo.