I was making a TikTok video (Yes, I’m on TikTok now 😆) with some of my small-town romance titles – in other words, my Up North titles – and thought I’d do a #WhatToReadWednesday post about it. Not about my stories (though I’ll mention a few at the bottom of the post) but some titles for you to check if small towns are your jam.
Promises by Marie Sexton
It’s been many, many years since I read this one, but I remember liking it. A small Colorado town, loneliness, and hope.
Can a man who loves his small hometown trust it to love him back?
Jared Thomas has lived in the mountain town of Coda, Colorado, his whole life. He’s never hidden his homosexuality, but he’s never exactly flaunted it either. He never had reason to. The only other gay man in town is twice his age and used to be his teacher, so staying single seemed like Jared’s only option.
Then police officer Matt Richards moves to town.
Matt claims he isn’t into guys, but he doesn’t care that Jared is. A summer camping and mountain biking together cements their friendship, but in a town as close-knit as Coda, it doesn’t take long for rumors to start. Facing small-town gossip, Matt’s affair with a local woman, his disapproving family, and harassment from Matt’s coworkers, Jared fears they’ll never find a way to be together… assuming he can even convince Matt to try.
Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan
Being on a ranch pretty much ensures it’s a small-town romance, right? It’s a bit lite cheating, but I saw this on a list of small-town romances, so… kinky cowboys, anyone?
Love will grow through the cracks you leave open.
Ranch hand Roe Davis absolutely never mixes business with pleasure—until he runs into his boss, Travis Loving, at the only gay bar within two hundred miles.
Getting involved with the ranch owner is a bad idea, but Roe’s and Travis’s bedroom kinks line up against one another like a pair of custom-cut rails. As long as they’re both clear this is sex on the side, no relationship, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.
Shut out by his family years ago, Roe survived by steadfastly refusing to settle into so much as a post office box. As his affair with Travis grows into more than just sex, Roe’s past catches up with him, threatening the thin ray of happiness he’s found, reminding him it’s well past time he went on his way.
But even a loner gets lonely, and at this point, there’s nowhere left to run. The shame and sorrow of what he’s lost will stay with Roe wherever he goes—until he’s ready to let love lead him home.
Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk
How big is Widdershins? Small town? Medium-sized town? It has some of that small-town feeling and cool monsters.
A reclusive scholar. A private detective. And a book of spells that could destroy the world.
Love is dangerous. Ever since the tragic death of the friend he adored, Percival Endicott Whyborne has ruthlessly suppressed any desire for another man. Instead, he spends his days studying dead languages at the museum where he works. So when handsome ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty approaches him to translate a mysterious book, Whyborne wants to finish the job and get rid of the detective as quickly as possible.
Griffin left the Pinkertons after the death of his partner. Now in business for himself, he must investigate the murder of a wealthy young man. His only clue: an encrypted book that once belonged to the victim.
As the investigation draws them closer, Griffin’s rakish charm threatens to shatter Whyborne’s iron control. But when they uncover evidence of a powerful cult determined to rule the world, Whyborne must choose: to remain safely alone, or to risk everything for the man he loves.
Widdershins is the first novel in the Whyborne & Griffin series, where magic, mystery, and m/m romance collide with Victorian era America. Buy it today and join the adventure.
Rattlesnake by Kim Fielding
If you’re in the mood for a small town, look no further.
A drifter since his teens, Jimmy Dorsett has no home and no hope. What he does have is a duffel bag, a lot of stories, and a junker car. Then one cold desert night he picks up a hitchhiker and ends up with something more: a letter from a dying man to the son he hasn’t seen in years.
On a quest to deliver the letter, Jimmy travels to Rattlesnake, a small town nestled in the foothills of the California Sierras. The centerpiece of the town is the Rattlesnake Inn, where the bartender is handsome former cowboy Shane Little. Sparks fly, and when Jimmy’s car gives up the ghost, Shane gets him a job as handyman at the inn.
Both within the community of Rattlesnake and in Shane’s arms, Jimmy finds an unaccustomed peace. But it can’t be a lasting thing. The open road continues to call, and surely Shane—a strong, proud man with a painful past and a difficult present—deserves better than a lying vagabond who can’t stay put for long.
Coming Home by M.J. O’Shea
I reread this some time ago, and it has the whole coming back to the hometown you tried to escape thing going.
It’s not always easy to start over where everyone knows you… especially when the hottest guy you’ve ever seen already hates your guts.
Tallis Carrington ruled Rock Bay with his gang of jocks and an iron fist – until a scandal destroyed his family’s name. Ten years later, Tallis is dead broke, newly homeless, and on the walk of shame to end all walks of shame. Rock Bay is the only home he knows, but the people in town haven’t forgotten him – or the antics of a spoiled brat who’d had everything handed to him.
The only person in town willing to overlook his past is Lex, the new coffee shop owner, who offers Tally a job even though he appears to despise Tally on repuation alone. When Tally discovers his gorgeous boss is the kid he tortured back in school, his ice cold routine finally makes sense. Now, Tally has to pull out all the stops to prove he was never really the jerk he seemed to be.
After all, if he can win Lex’s heart, the rest of town should be a piece of coffee cake.
Once Upon a Haunted Moor by Harper Fox
Creepy things on the moor. This is a missing-child mystery with a psychic and a small-town cop.
Gideon Frayne has spent his whole working life as a policeman in the village of Dark on Bodmin Moor. It’s not life in the fast lane, but he takes it very seriously, and his first missing-child case is eating him alive. When his own boss sends in a psychic to help with the case, he’s gutted – he’s a level-headed copper who doesn’t believe in such things, and he can’t help but think that the arrival of clairvoyant Lee Tyack is a comment on his failure to find the little girl.
But Lee is hard to hate, no matter how Gideon tries. At first Lee’s insights into the case make no sense, but he seems to have a window straight into Gideon’s heart. Son of a Methodist minister, raised in a tiny Cornish village, Gideon has hidden his sexuality for years. It’s cost him one lover, and he can’t believe it when this green-eyed newcomer stirs up old feelings and starts to exert a powerful force of attraction.
Gideon and Lee begin to work together on the case. But there are malignant forces at work in the sleepy little village of Dark, and not only human ones – Gideon is starting to wonder, against all common sense, if there might be some truth in the terrifying legend of the Bodmin Beast after all. As a misty Halloween night consumes the moor, Gideon must race against time to save not only the lost child but the man who’s begun to restore his faith in his own heart.
When All the World Sleeps by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock
This has a darker tone than the ones I’ve mentioned above, though Widdershins isn’t exactly light-hearted, but here we have murder and bullying and nightmares.
Daniel Whitlock is terrified of going to sleep. And rightly so: he sleepwalks, with no awareness or memory of his actions. Including burning down Kenny Cooper’s house—with Kenny inside it—after Kenny brutally beat him for being gay. Back in the tiny town of Logan after serving his prison sentence, Daniel isolates himself in a cabin in the woods and chains himself to his bed at night.
Like the rest of Logan, local cop Joe Belman doesn’t believe Daniel’s absurd defense. But when Bel saves Daniel from a retaliatory fire, he discovers that Daniel might not be what everyone thinks: killer, liar, tweaker, freak. Bel agrees to control Daniel at night—for the sake of the other townsfolk. Daniel’s fascinating, but Bel’s not going there.
Yet as he’s drawn further into Daniel’s dark world, Bel finds that he likes being in charge. And submitting to Bel gives Daniel the only peace he’s ever known. But Daniel’s demons won’t leave him alone, and he’ll need Bel’s help to slay them once and for all—assuming Bel is willing to risk everything to stand by him.
Whitetail Rock by Anne Tenino
This is a freebie, and I don’t remember all that much about it to be honest, but I love Too Stupid to Live which is the third and last story in this series, because who doesn’t love to play highlander with their boyfriend? Sam 🥰
Nikhil “Nik” Larson is a snarky, dark-skinned adoptee from India who grew up in the Whitest Town in America. Back to visit his parents Nik meets Trooper Jurgen Dammerung, a blond, butch motorcycle cop who’s so hot he leaves a con trail wherever he goes.
Jurgen is the epitome of everything Nik hated about growing up the lone Indian boy among a town of white people. But Jurgen surprises him rather (ahem) pleasantly, in spite of — or because of — Nik’s attempts to needle him. By the end of his visit, Nik realizes he likes Jurgen. But Jurgen’s so not the relationship type.
Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson
This is a YA/NA book, and I don’t read a lot of those, but this has a special place in my heart, though it’s many years since I read it.
Howie gets a job at Artie Kraft’s Arts ‘N Crafts hoping to score with his lady coworkers. After all, girls love a sensitive guy, and what’s more sensitive than dedicating your life to selling yarn and … stuff? (Okay, so maybe it’d be a good idea to actually learn what one sells at an arts ‘n crafts store.) But things don’t go exactly according to plan. Coworker #1 is Kristy: blonde, bubbly, unattainable perfection. Coworker #2 is Cora: tiny, much-pierced, and way too fierce to screw with in any sense. And Coworker #3 is, well, Arthur. It goes without saying that he’s not an option. Right?
Yeah, Howie’s life just got straight up confusing.
In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish
This story has a lot of small-town charm… and other qualities 😁
Daniel Mulligan is tough, snarky, and tattooed, hiding his self-consciousness behind sarcasm. Daniel has never fit in—not at home in Philadelphia with his auto mechanic father and brothers, and not at school where his Ivy League classmates looked down on him. Now, Daniel’s relieved to have a job at a small college in Holiday, Northern Michigan, but he’s a city boy through and through, and it’s clear that this small town is one more place he won’t fit in.
Rex Vale clings to routine to keep loneliness at bay: honing his muscular body, perfecting his recipes, and making custom furniture. Rex has lived in Holiday for years, but his shyness and imposing size have kept him from connecting with people.
When the two men meet, their chemistry is explosive, but Rex fears Daniel will be another in a long line of people to leave him, and Daniel has learned that letting anyone in can be a fatal weakness. Just as they begin to break down the walls keeping them apart, Daniel is called home to Philadelphia, where he discovers a secret that changes the way he understands everything.
Murder at Pirate’s Cove by Josh Lanyon
Cosy mystery? By the sea? If that’s not enough, I’ll up the stakes and mention that our main character owns a bookshop.
Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!
Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.
Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.
**This story contains NO on-screen sex or violence.
Spirited Situation by Louisa Masters
Ghosts! I’ve been meaning to read the second book in this series, and now I saw there is a third coming. I always fail with series. Sigh.
When you can talk to ghosts, things are bound to get spirited.
The ghosts have been there since before I can remember. When I was a kid, they doted on me, but as I got older, they got more demanding. I’ve spent my whole life seeing and talking to dead people and trying to pretend I’m not, because the living just don’t understand. Nobody wants to be around the freak who claims to see ghosts.
Until I go to Mannix Estate.
Once a private country home, then a posh hotel, it was closed after a suspicious incident but is now an immersive historic experience. It’s also haunted AF, and everyone knows it. Finally, I’ve found a place to work and live where I can be useful. Where I’m actually wanted.
There are only two problems: I spent a hot, sweaty, satisfying night with Ewan the blacksmith before I knew we’d have to work together. Everyone knows sex with colleagues is a bad idea, right? Even if he’s the world’s most ripped cinnamon roll.
Plus, the ghosts are keeping secrets. There’s something going on that’s not normal, even for a haunted estate. And I suspect that when the truth comes out, I’m the one who’ll have to deal with it… and it won’t be good.
Into This River I Drown by T.J. Klune
I cried my eyes out when I read this the first time, I don’t think I’d be able to read it now. A lot of grief here, but also a tiny town.
Five years ago, Benji Green lost his beloved father, Big Eddie, who drowned when his truck crashed into a river. All called it an accident, but Benji thought it more. However, even years later, he is buried deep in his grief, throwing himself into taking over Big Eddie’s convenience store in the small town of Roseland, Oregon. Surrounded by his mother and three aunts, he lives day by day, struggling to keep his head above water.
But Roseland is no ordinary place.
With ever-increasing dreams of his father’s death and waking visions of feathers on the surface of a river, Benji’s definition of reality is starting to bend. He thinks himself haunted, but whether by ghosts or memories, he can no longer tell. It’s not until the impossible happens and a man falls from the sky and leaves the burning imprint of wings on the ground that he begins to understand that the world around him is more mysterious than he could have possibly imagined. It’s also more dangerous, as forces beyond anyone’s control are descending on Roseland, revealing long hidden truths about friends, family, and the man named Calliel who Benji is finding he can no longer live without.
My Small-Town Romances
Not all, because as I mentioned above, a big chunk of my catalogue is small-town romances. Pretty much all of them, actually, but the Up North stories are tiny tiny towns 😊
Oswald Sattle has been sleeping in his Toyota Camry for the last 273 days, the exact number of days since he discovered his fiancé cheating on him. Now, out of money and out of options, he’s on his way to Nortown. Aiden, an acquaintance from his past, has offered him a job opportunity he can’t turn down, no matter how much he’d like to.
Joshua Roth moved to Nortown four years ago, and he has everything he needs — a job, friends, peace and quiet. He’s not looking for a boyfriend; no one even knows he’s gay, and he’d like it to stay that way. Everything changes when he offers Oswald a place to stay, though.
Oswald looks like he wants to run away, and Josh finds himself suggesting things that will make him stay. All he wants is for Oswald to smile. Oswald doesn’t want to overstay his welcome, but nothing soothes his nerves like being with Joshua in his cabin.
How long can Oswald stay before it’s time to move on again? Can Joshua have Oswald staying with him without the whole town talking about them? Probably not, but does he care?
In an attempt to run from his past, John Welsh has spent the last few years building walls around himself. He knows the best way to stay safe is to keep people at arm’s length and preferably out of sight. During weak moments, he might wish he had someone, but he’s not ready. After all, it takes seven years for the body to replace all its cells. He has four years to go before he’s new.
Zachary Fane is always on the move, always on his way to somewhere. He’s going from job to job, from country to country. Contrary to what people might think, he wants nothing more than to find a place to call home, and he knows just where. This time, he is ready. This time, he will stay in Nortown. This time, things will be different. But when he arrives to buy the log cabin he believed would be his, he finds it inhabited. When he goes to talk to the new owner, he is met by the most beautiful green eyes followed by a door slammed in his face.
John should’ve known the peace he’s found in Nortown wouldn’t last. One day everything is fine, the next a mountain of a man shows up wherever he goes. All Zachary wants is to be close to the quiet man who has moved into his cabin. If following him around is the only way, then so be it. Sooner or later, John will get used to having him there … at least, if Zachary hangs around long enough.
Includes the short story, “Honey Baked.”
Abe Cooper is starting over. For fifteen years he’s lived the life that was expected of him, but not anymore. He’s packed up his things, bought himself a cabin in Northfield, and managed to secure a job at the local high school teaching gym and coaching the football team. But his new beginning didn’t include running into Crazy Joe on his first trip to the grocery store.
Jonas Raghnall has everything he needs — good friends and a job he loves. He’s worked hard to get over what happened sixteen years ago, but one run-in with his past and all the memories come flooding back. Seeing Abe Cooper, The Abe Cooper, sets everything out of balance.
Abe had pictured a fresh start with no ties to his past, but now that Jonas is there, he wants nothing more than to be close to the man who had butterflies filling his belly when he was in high school. Jonas doesn’t want to come face to face with his past, but if he sees Abe every day, it’s not really meeting up with your past, is it? It’s more like a date with your future.