Heart2Heart is an annual charity anthology featuring stories from a variety of authors. This year, the anthology has been divided into two collections, Contemporary and Paranormal. We are featuring stories from the Contemporary volume today and will be reviewing the Paranormal volume tomorrow. The anthology theme focuses on Cupid helping people find their perfect match. For the Contemporary volume, the matchmaker on the app is CUPID, the Compatible-Unit Partnering Intelligence Databot (and it’s the actual Cupid in the Paranormal volume).
Jay, Michelle, and Kris are teaming up for these reviews. Since we didn’t read every story in the anthology, we are providing ratings for the individual stories we read. The full list of participating authors in this Contemporary set includes: Annabeth Albert, Avril Ashton, Jocelynn Drake, Kelly Fox, Hayden Hall, Fearne Hill, E.M. Lindsey, Leslie McAdam, Jackie North, Charlie Novak, Cora Rose, and K.C. Wells. The collection is edited by Leslie Copeland.
Among Friends by Annabeth Albert (Kris)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Tennessee is back in his hometown for the first time since he was a kid, with a new job and trying his hand at dating with the CUPID app. But the disastrous blind date lands him in the Emergency Department with a broken wrist. Coincidentally, his childhood best friend, Tate, is also there with a matching injury. They reconnect in the waiting room, and Tate offers to help Tennessee out.
However, Tate has bigger plans. Something falls into place meeting Tennessee all grown up, and Tate knows instantly he wants more than just friendship. Tennessee is shy and reserved, but Tate is willing to wait until the man is ready before they start dating. A Palentine’s day outing reveals the truth and they admit their attraction, ready to embark on their new life together.
This short is a glimpse of Albert’s upcoming Mount Hope series, and this story is a sweet and fluffy tale of childhood best friends reconnecting. For such a short story, the author manages to show the MCs’ connection well and it’s clear from the start that they were always meant to be together. They haven’t seen each other since 6th grade, and they’ve grown up a lot since then. What I really liked was that both MCs felt as though they’d been waiting their whole lives for the other one to return, and the author manages to make the reader believe it. There are a few heavier themes mentioned, like parental drug abuse and foster care, but its only a tiny part of the story and gives things a bit of weight. I really liked these two and Albert makes their reconnection and attraction feel real and believable.
A New Thrill by Avril Ashton (Michelle)
Rating: 4.25 stars
Pax is trying to move on from heartbreak. He has spent some time chatting with a new man on the CUPID app and is meeting him for dinner on Valentine’s Day. But Pax’s ex, Jameson, doesn’t want Pax to move on and Pax’s date isn’t exactly who he thought it was going to be either. Jameson wants Pax to forgive him and he is determined to do what is needed to show Pax that his heart will always belong to him.
This is a fun story from Avril Ashton that does a good job of bringing a full story together in a small number of pages. The set up is fun to unravel on your own, so I will say that Pax and Jameson met under unusual circumstances and dated for 6 months and fell in love. Then, when Pax found out some things about Jameson, his heart was broken, his trust was shattered, and he broke it off with Jameson.
Jameson’s family has an uncommon background that fuels this story. He never expected Pax and now that he had him and lost him, Jameson is ready to make big changes in his life. This is a good story of the “bad boy” groveling to get his guy back and live their HEA.
Love in Bloom by Jocelynn Drake (Kris)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Kaylan’s meddling, but well-meaning, boss set him up on the CUPID app because he felt Kaylan needed romance in his life. The only reason Kaylan goes on the date in the first place is because he thinks it would be a jerk move to just ghost Arden. But he’s certain that Arden can’t be what his profile portrayed. The truth is even better, and the physical attraction between the two men sparks from the start.
Arden didn’t expect much from a blind date set up on an app, but he’s pleasantly surprised to meet Kaylan. Even though they have to relocate their date to the conservatory, and their plan is to turn each other off by sharing their worst traits, the two men instantly connect. The more they talk, the more they like each other. And when they finally meet, sparks fly. The passion is thick between them, and they both know that they want more of what they’ve found with each other.
There’s a cuteness to this one that I really enjoyed. The amusing banter drives the story, and I really appreciated the open way the MCs talked to one another. I was impressed with how much emotion Drake managed to pack into this short story, and how strong the connection between the MCs was. It helped that they both had a mutual love of anime and BL stories, but the banter between them really showed a connection that went beyond the physical. Drake had a nice balance between intellectual and physical connection. It was a very fun read.
Skating After You by Hayden Hall (Kris)
Rating: 4.25 stars
After Jaxon became disillusioned with figure skating and trying to make his body into something it wasn’t, he turned to ice ballet instead. After an exhilarating rehearsal, he ends up at the mall where he runs into a man going the wrong way down the escalator. It’s a quick encounter and the man is gone, but Jaxon can’t stop thinking about it. He hasn’t had much of a dating life in a long while, and he hopes that the CUPID app might give him a prospect
Phoenix is done with the dating scene, hanging out in bars and missing cues from men who are interested in him. Which is why he signs up for the CUPID app. Imagine his surprise when he shows up for his blind date only for it to be the man he noticed on his mad dash the wrong way down an escalator. The skating rink the app sent them to is the perfect place for a first date, even though it’s for different reasons. But the men easily fall into fun banter, and the physical attraction is instant. What begins as silliness quickly evolves to more, and the two guys find a connection neither expected.
This story was a little over the top for me in a few places, but there’s a silliness and fun to this one I really liked. It’s the characters and their interaction that drive the story for me, and I particularly liked the way they play off of one another. They’re definitely opposites in some ways, but the parts that matter are the parts that click. I think Hall did a nice job of showing that connection and how it went deeper than just physical. The MCs are in college and trying to find their way, but there was also a depth to them I really liked to see. All in all, this was a fun, if a bit exaggerated at times, story. I finished it with a smile.
Mixed Signals by E.M. Lindsey (Jay)
Rating: 4.25 stars
Nix has always had a hard time dating, his quirks from his autism scaring off a lot of people before they even get to know him. So he’s decided to try Heart2Heart’s CUPID algorithm to see if he can find his ideal match. Maddox has also struggled finding the right guy. After a bad accident left him with a severely damaged leg, most men can’t look past his permanent injury. When both men sign up for blind dates, they are hopeful, but the dates turn out to be disasters. However, it may all be worthwhile as it leads to Nix and Mads meeting and hitting it off together. Their dates may not have worked, but these guys may still find their way to a happy ever after.
This is a sweet and charming story about two men who can’t get people to look past the surface to who they really are inside. Both Nix and Maddox take a chance by putting themselves out there, and in both cases things turn out badly. However their encounter with each other leads them to having a romantic and sexy night together with a chance for more. I loved the set up here, as it gives us a chance to get to know both guys separately, then to see how much chemistry they have together. I would love to read more about this couple, as well as Nix’s brother, Piper, who I found a really interesting side character.
August’s Thief by Fearne Hill (Michelle)
Rating: 3.5 stars
August really wants someone to love and to be loved in return. A childhood accident left his face disfigured and he’s been mostly hiding at his estate ever since. When he decides to give CUPID a chance, August never thinks he will be matched up with the man that fulfills his deepest desires. But when he’s matched up with Dawson, he may have met his most perfect match. Dawson tries to live an honest life, but circumstances have him shoplifting on occasion and, when he gets caught, he never expects August to be the one to bail him out. Dawson is able to look past August’s scars to the man inside and Dawson loves what he sees. It seems that CUPID once again has made a perfect match.
This story opens with August going to the CUPID office and that threw me off a little because the brief synopsis of this collection calls CUPID dating software and I took that to be an app. August does talk about an app as well. But here, August sits in a dark room speaking to a bot, which then somehow sends him to the right guy at exactly the right location, which came across as paranormal elements in the contemporary volume, and I would have liked a little more overall explanation on this system.
August is extremely sad, lonely, and a little desperate. His disfigurement has held him back from everything, but he knows exactly the kind of man that he wants. On first sight, Dawson is that man, even though August has to rescue Dawson from a jail cell.
Dawson has a sad story as well, but he tries to look on the bright side of life. The men fall for each quickly, maybe too quickly for me here, but they are happy in the end. The CUPID dating service didn’t work as well for me here and was more confusing than entertaining and overall this wasn’t a strong story for me.
When CUPID Strikes by Cora Rose (Michelle)
Rating: 4 stars
Araschd likes his life as a librarian and being involved with the community. He doesn’t like that he can’t grow a beard and he also doesn’t like that he can’t connect in his personal life as well as he can in his professional one. He signs up for CUPID hoping that is the answer to finding his man and not having to spend Valentine’s Day alone. When Araschd gets matched up, it seems perfect at first sight, but his date, Alaistair, is expecting to meet a woman and it seems that the app has made a colossal mistake—or has it?
This story opens with Araschd “Ara” getting ready for his date and not liking how he looks. He’s determined to not be alone on Valentine’s Day and accepts the app’s suggestion of a blind date instead of chatting with his match. I didn’t understand why the app chose the waiting room of a doctor’s office for them to meet though. Alaistair is shocked that his match is a man but, since Ara drove across town, he decides to still treat him to dinner. The men hit it off with great conversation and then Alastair tracks Ara down, as he can’t stop thinking about him.
We only are told that Araschd is a “family name” and I would have liked further explanation. This short story between a lawyer and a librarian is cute as the men get to know each other and realize they have met their perfect match.