Wrap-Up | November

Reading… I haven’t read much at all. My mum passed away on the 16th, the days leading up to her passing, we spent in the hospital, and the days after… I haven’t been in the mood to either read or write.

But I have read a couple of stories this month. Both of them are stories I feel everyone but me has read, and I’ve owned them a long time, I’ve just never got around to reading them.

The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish

I’ve had this book for a few years now, the cover is pretty, but I never read it. Why didn’t you tell me they were bakers?! You know I have a thing for bakers, and you know I don’t read blurbs, a little nudge would’ve been nice. Just kidding, I take responsibility for my reading and lack of knowledge about what books I own 😆
This is beautiful, magical without being paranormal.

the remaking of corbin waleLast month, Alex Barrow’s whole life imploded—partner, home, job, all gone in forty-eight hours. But sometimes when everything falls apart, better things appear almost like magic. Now, he’s back in his Michigan hometown, finally opening the bakery he’s always dreamed of. But the pleasure of opening day is nothing compared to the lonely and beautiful man who bewitches Alex before he even orders.

Corbin Wale is a weirdo. At least, that’s what he’s heard his whole life. He knows he’s often in a fantasy world, but the things he feels are very real. And so is the reason why he can never, ever be with Alex Barrow. Even if Alex is everything he’s always fantasized about. Even if maybe, just maybe, Corbin is Alex’s fantasy too.

When Corbin begins working at the bakery, he and Alex can’t deny their connection any longer. As the holiday season works its magic, Alex yearns for the man who seems out of reach. But to be with Alex, Corbin will have to challenge every truth he’s ever known. If his holiday risk pays off, two men from different worlds will get the love they’ve always longed for.


Mr. Frosty Pants by Leta Blake

Another one I’ve had for a few years but haven’t read. I was in the mood for some Christmas cosiness. This is not my normal kind of story. I’m not a fan of young adult and new adult. I have this… did you know that your brain doesn’t mature until you’re 25 years old? So below 25, they’re children, and I’m over forty. The icky-ness level is quite high for me. I also have this aversion to reading about virgins, but since I don’t read blurbs, I didn’t know it was a virgin story until it was too late 😆

This is a lovely story, and I really liked Joel. He won me over right from the start. I wanted to strangle Casey’s family and wished he’d just cut them off.  Also, love the demi representation. If you haven’t read it and want some holiday feeling, give it a go.

Mr. Frosty PantsFrosty former friends get a steamy second chance in this Christmas gay romance!

Can true love warm his frozen heart?

When Casey Stevens went away to college four years ago, he ghosted on his straight best friend, Joel Vreeland. He hoped time and distance would lessen the unrequited affection he felt, but all it did was make him miss Joel more. Home for the holidays, Casey hopes they might find a way to be friends again. But Joel’s frosty reception reminds Casey of just how hard he had to fight to be Joel’s friend in the first place. It’s going to take a Christmas miracle to get past that cool façade again.

Joel isn’t as straight as Casey believes, and his years of pining for Casey have left him hurting and alone, caring for his abusive father and struggling to get by. Unable to trust anyone except his rescue dog—and with no reason to believe Casey is interested in him for more than a holiday fling—Joel’s icy heart might shatter before it can thaw.

Can Casey and Joel’s love overcome mistrust, parental rejection, class differences, and four long years apart?

Mr. Frosty Pants is a stand-alone, Christmas gay romance by Leta Blake featuring a virgin hero, childhood friends-to-lovers, second chance romance, and romantically steamy scenes.


Just Like Santa by J.L. Merrow

I forgot I read this one too. It was a night in the hospital when it was ‘my shift’ and my siblings were sleeping. I wasn’t quite awake enough to read something longer and thought a hot flash might work. It did. I even chuckled a little. It’s short, and there isn’t a lot of time to get to know the characters – we’re talking a 4k story, people, don’t go in expecting a novel – but it’s cute.

Just like santaJason loves working at the Bright Eyes nursery, but he’s not so keen on what happens at the kids’ Christmas party. As if having to don an ancient, tacky Santa costume isn’t bad enough, he’s mortified when he suffers a costume malfunction. Especially as it happens right in front of the hot — and impeccably dressed — Alec, a single dad he’s fancied for ages.

But when Alec’s daughter Poppy invites Jason round for tea, he finds Alec was only too pleased to get a glimpse of Jason’s naff underwear. In fact, he’d like to see a whole lot more of it. A Christmas miracle? Maybe … but there’s one more embarrassment in store for Jason next morning.


Release Day | The Setup

It’s release day!!! 🥳

Normally, at this moment in the process, I’ve been posting about my upcoming release all over social media, I’ve written blog posts, both for my blog and other blogs where I talk about it, I’ve sent out ARCs and kept track of ranking on Amazon etc.

I haven’t done any of that this time. My mother passed away a few days ago, and in the days leading up to her passing, I spent in her room at the hospital. I didn’t turn on my computer for days, didn’t check my email or log into any social media.

But now we’re here, and this story is just what I need. Both because it forces me to focus on something other than grief, and because it’s short and it’s fluffy.

I wrote it back in July – I think it was July – because all Christmas stories had an early deadline, so when the edits came, I’d almost forgotten it. I hadn’t forgotten the story as such, but I’d forgotten that Ellis makes me laugh, and I needed to laugh.

We’re back in Nortown, though considering there is a snowstorm and Ellis and Dax are trapped in Dax’s cabin, we don’t see much of the town filled with queer lumberjacks 😆

Neither Dax nor Ellis wants to date. Dax because he doesn’t want to be in a relationship, Ellis because he’s drowning in work and doesn’t have the time. Their friends don’t listen, and when Dax and Ellis realise they’ve been set up, they plan their revenge.

I had so much fun writing this one, and who doesn’t love a snowed-in kind of story??

Below you can read the first chapter.

The Setup

the setupThree years ago, Dax Howard got out of a bad relationship and swore never to date again. He loves his picturesque cabin outside Nortown and is looking forward to three weeks of quiet over the holidays. He hadn’t foreseen a stranger turning in on his driveway in the middle of a snowstorm, claiming he’s there for a date.

Ellis Rush has risked his neck driving in a snowstorm to meet his friend Daniel and his boyfriend Dom for a double date he agreed to go on as a favor. Reaching the destination, he can’t see Daniel’s car anywhere, and when the mountain of a man opening the door says he’s never agreed to go on a double date, Ellis realizes he’s been played.

The more Ellis explains the situation, the more annoyed Dax gets. Dom is one of his closest friends, and he does not appreciate the setup, no matter how intrigued he is by Ellis. Since the roads are undrivable, Dax invites Ellis to stay, and together they plot their revenge. Cooking for Ellis, kissing Ellis, and sleeping next to Ellis isn’t the same thing as dating, is it?

Buy links

Contemporary Gay Romance: 14,382 words

JMS Books :: Amazon

Chapter 1

Ellis Rush tightened his hold on the steering wheel. He was gonna strangle Daniel, and then right before he died, he was gonna let up a fraction, so he could breathe for a second, only to then strangle him again. His brain painted a vivid image of his face turning blue. It didn’t look anything like how he assumed people being strangled looked, more like Daniel had become a member of the Blue Man Group.
The point was Daniel being blue and Ellis being pissed off as hell.
He was in the middle of fucking nowhere, not seeing more than a couple of feet ahead, and the snow was coming down in fast-falling, cracker-sized flakes. How the hell would he get home again?
Had he passed Nortown? Maybe he had. Daniel said it wasn’t more than a blip on the map. He’d gotten off the highway by the first sign to Nortown, as Daniel had told him to, but all he could see was snow.
He should turn around. Go home. Daniel would understand. Double dates weren’t something they did, and he sure as hell didn’t do blind dates. If Daniel wanted to date some small-town god, then he could do it without involving Ellis.
Fuck, this was stupid.
A knot formed in his gut. He’d been too focused on not getting stuck in the snow or driving off the road to think about the date. He had wine. Daniel claimed he was in charge of drinks, which was unfair. Why should he supply wine for four people, two of whom he didn’t know. He didn’t know if they liked wine. He’d bought both red and white since Daniel had failed to inform him what they were eating, and then he’d grabbed a few beers too since Daniel’s new obsession was a mountain man. Sasquatch. Daniel claimed he worked in a sawmill, but Ellis got serious Bigfoot vibes—he hadn’t met him, but he could sense these things. Demond was clearly a made-up name. No one in their right mind named their kid Demond… unless they were demons.
He had it all wrong. Daniel’s new boyfriend wasn’t Bigfoot. He was a demon.
Sighing, he slowed. He couldn’t see the road for all the snow and crept forward. If he had an accident and died, he’d haunt Daniel for an eternity.
Reaching for his phone in the cup holder, he growled. There was no reception. That settled it. He was gonna die. Being out of reception only happened in movies, not in real life. And when it happened in movies, there would either be a serial killer or a monster. Bigfoot and his friend would have him for dinner. Crap! He’d brought the wine, so they had something to wash him down with.
Squinting ahead, he believed there was a light flickering, maybe. He didn’t dare look away from the road long enough to make sure, but with luck, he was here.
He wished he could stop and double-check on his phone, but he’d have to live with the embarrassment if he was in the wrong place instead. Turning in at the driveway, he yelped at how his car sank into the deep snow. When they came running for him with forks at the ready, wanting to eat him, there was no way he’d be able to drive out of here. He didn’t think Bigfoots—Bigfeet?—would stop and allow him to shovel his car out of the snow before they attacked.
For a few seconds, he rested his forehead against the steering wheel. If Daniel wasn’t dead already, he’d kill him.
With a deep breath, he opened the door and looked down at the snow. It was knee deep, if not deeper, and he wore sneakers and his good jeans. He might not want to be on this date, but he never went on one without making sure his ass looked divine.
Better bring the bottles at once so he wouldn’t have to walk back through the snow to get them if he was at the right place.

* * * *

Dax Howard watched some idiot in a car turn in on his driveway. He hadn’t shoveled it. The snow was coming down hard. It had started snowing while he’d still been at work, but it was a Friday night, and he’d be off for the coming three weeks. He hadn’t planned on going anywhere for a few days and wouldn’t be shoveling anything until it had stopped snowing.
What kind of halfwit drove in weather like this?
For a moment, he considered going out on the landing and waving him away, but it was already too late. He’d already buried half his car in the snow.
Dax sighed and went to put on his rubber boots. It was knee deep out there. He grabbed his jacket and put on gloves. The snow shovel was out on the landing, leaning against the wall, and he had another in the garage. Though he wasn’t looking forward to trudging through the snow to get there. If someone was stupid enough to drive in this weather, surely they had a snow shovel in their car.
He yanked the door open only to draw back since the man standing there had a hand raised to knock, and Dax had been punched enough times to know he wasn’t in the mood to get a fist in his face.
“Oh, shit, I’m sorry.” The man moved back so fast Dax reached for him. He didn’t touch him, but it was instinctive to try to halt his fall. He didn’t fall, but he balanced on the edge of the landing for a few seconds.
“It’s okay. You need help out of here.” He didn’t make it a question, since it wasn’t one.
“Erm… Daniel isn’t here, is he?”
Daniel? Dax didn’t know any Daniel. “No.”
The man’s shoulders slumped. “Do you know how to get to…” It clinked as he put the plastic bag down in the snow. Glass bottles, wine most likely, Dax recognized the sound. The man grabbed his phone from his pocket and held it up to Dax. “There.” He sighed. “I’m to go there, but there is no reception, so my dot hasn’t moved on the map for the last half hour or so. I hoped I was in the right place.”
Dax frowned. It was his house on the map. “Are you sure you typed in the right address?”
“Is this some kind of practical joke?” The anger glinting in the man’s eyes made Dax look at the phone again.
“It’s my address, but I don’t know any Daniel. Was he supposed to meet you here?” It better not be a joke. He didn’t want to be part of a joke. And if it was a joke, it was at his expense as much as it was at the guy’s.
“You don’t know a Daniel?”
Dax shook his head. “I’ll help shovel your car free of the snow so you can go.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “But this is the address!”
Seconds went by as Dax watched him. “There is no Daniel here, and you shouldn’t be driving in this kind of weather. It’s gonna snow all night. I suggest we get your car free, so you can go home. It’s the safest thing to do.”
The man looked at his car. “Don’t you think I can put it in reverse and back out?”
Dax shrugged. He didn’t think so, but if he didn’t have to shovel, no one would be happier than him.
“Right. Sorry for disturbing you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Dax didn’t move as the man grabbed his bag of bottles and went down the stairs. Hopefully, he’d make it home okay. It wasn’t a night anyone should be out driving, but he was a grown man. He could take care of himself.
It was evident he didn’t have a lick of sense. He wore sneakers in a snowstorm. He was out driving in a snowstorm. He had no gloves and his jacket was way too thin. He drove a red Toyota Yaris. It was a miracle he’d made it as far as he had. He kept his mouth shut, though. The sooner the idiot left, the sooner he could go back to his quiet night in front of the TV.
“Fucking Bigfoot.” The man hopped between his previous footsteps, making the bottles clank in the bag. Dax hadn’t studied his feet, but considering he was a head, if not more, shorter than Dax, he didn’t think he had big feet.
“If the prints are big, it should be easier to step into them.”
The man stared at him over his shoulder. “Huh?”
“Big feet. It’s good with big feet when walking in snow.”
He nodded slowly. “I meant the man Daniel is dating.”
Dax nodded, only to then shake his head, and the man groaned. “He met this mountain man, but I don’t think he’s a mountain man at all. I think he’s Bigfoot. Oh, we’re queer, unless you’d figured it out by now. It’s not contagious. No need to kill me and bury me in the woods. You know what they say about big feet, and who can have bigger feet than Bigfoot? Anyway, Daniel and Yeti—”
“Bigfoot and Yeti aren’t the same.” Dax took a deep breath. He wasn’t surprised by the queer comment. Normally, he couldn’t tell when it came to people. Sometimes there was that spark. You met someone’s gaze, and you knew they were the same, but in general, Dax had been born without a gaydar. This man, Dax would’ve been surprised if he’d said he was straight.
“No, I know, Mr. Know-it-all, but Yeti is a nicer name than Sasquatch.”
Dax fought a grin at the exasperated tone. “You didn’t say Sasquatch, you said Bigfoot.”
“It’s the same thing!”
“I know, but it wasn’t the word you used.”
The man groaned. “I know which word I used.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Are you making fun of me? Why is everyone making fun of me today?”
Dax hadn’t been, but he couldn’t help but smile.
“It doesn’t matter. Daniel has turned into a necromancer and has summoned a demon.”
Dax was quiet for several seconds. “You didn’t have an accident on the way over here, did you?”
The man widened his eyes. “No.”
His car looked unscratched. “Didn’t get out of the car to have a look around and slip on some ice underneath the snow? Hit your head?”
The man wiggled his fingers at him. “Ah, I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to be nice about calling me insane.”
Dax scowled. “No. I think you might have a concussion, is all. I never meant to imply you were permanently insane.”
He huffed.
“Look, what’s your name?” Dax hoped he wasn’t hurt.
“Ellis Rush, chocolatier extraordinaire.” He bowed.
“The universe’s gift to humans.”
Was being a chocolatier a real job? There was a chocolatier in Whiteport. He’d never been there, but he’d heard people gush about it. “In Whiteport?”
“Ah, you’ve heard of me.”
“Not you specifically, but I’ve heard the… erm… salted caramel fudge, or whatever, is divine.”
“I’m divine.”
Dax laughed. “I’m sure you are. Now, let’s get you out of here so I can get back to my divine life.”

* * * *

Ellis winced. He always talked too much when he was nervous, and while he didn’t think he’d found a mountain man, he’d sure found a mountain of a man, a god of the forest, and it made him weak in the knees. “What’s your name?”
The forest god studied him for several long seconds, and Ellis almost whimpered—he was pathetic that way.
“Dax Howard.”
Dax. Ellis gave a dreamy sigh. It’d look good doodled in a heart. It would fit on a chocolate truffle.
“Are you all right?”
Ellis jumped; having forgotten he was in the presence of a god. “Yes, sure, why wouldn’t I be?”
“You looked like you were spacing out, and I’m still not convinced you’re not suffering from a concussion.”
“Because of Bigfoot?” He took the last few steps until he could reach the handle of the car door. He could see how he hadn’t made the best first impression.
“Among other things.”
Should he be offended? “No concussion. I was born this way.”
“Fascinating.” The tone was dry, but there was a sparkle of amusement in Dax’s eyes.
“I think it is.” He hesitated before opening the car door. “You don’t have a working phone, do you? I should call Daniel.”
“The necromancer?”
Ellis nodded.
“I have a landline.” He gestured toward the house, which looked plucked from a postcard from the Alps.
“Wow, you’re some kind of ancient vampire, aren’t you?”
Dax breathed in deep. “About the head injury—”
“It’s not an injury.”
Ellis huffed. “Can I use your ancient device or not?”
“You can use it.”
“I didn’t mean it in a dirty way.”
Dax’s eyebrows climbed his forehead. “What? Dirty how?”
“Your ancient device. I figured you’re a good bit older than me, ancient even, and when I mentioned your device, I didn’t mean your cock.”
Dax didn’t move a muscle for several seconds, and it wasn’t until the world spun around him, Ellis remembered to breathe.
“I’m not sure how to unpack that.”
“No! No need for you to unpack it.” Ellis widened his eyes but couldn’t stop himself from dropping his gaze to Dax’s crotch. Sadly, it was hidden underneath a bulky jacket.
“Jesus, I should take you to a hospital.” Dax eyed Ellis’s car as if he was thinking about commandeering it and drive to a hospital, then he gestured at the house. “Please, go inside and call your friend.”

Release Day | The Ruby Tooth


It’s release day!!! The Ruby Tooth is released today, and it just so happens that there is a holiday sale over at JMS Books, so you can grab it for 40% off 🥳

I’m sure many of you are too busy today to read blogs, I know I am – when this post goes live, I’m at a birthday party since my sister knows nothing about planning babies. She had her first daughter on the 25th of December and her second on the 22nd – such a newbie mistake! I did much better and had my first on December 9th and my fourth on January 8th… 😆 And our dad’s birthday is on December 7th. So if you think December is hectic with the ordinary holiday crap, add a truckload of birthdays in the mix. Luckily, my nieces are still in the pink and glitter phase, so prezzies are pretty easy to buy 🥰

Anyway, the sale ends tomorrow, so if you don’t have time to do any shopping today, maybe you have a few minutes over tomorrow.

The Ruby Tooth is a short paranormal Christmas story I wrote for JMS Books’ in-house call Naughty or Nice. We were to pick one or the other, and I picked Nice. Ilya is a nice person, so nice that when he comes to The Ruby Tooth, a nightclub, the veritas at the door takes one look at his soul and shows him to the left side of the club.

Good people go to the left and bad to the right – just like with politics 😉

I don’t know if you remember, but back in… erm… June (had to check) I wrote a blog post about character names, and I didn’t have any with names starting with I, U, X or Y. So that was pretty much the goal with this story LOL

No, not only that, of course, but when it came to naming the characters, I decided to go with names starting with I and U, so Ilya and Ulric.

Ilya is a nice guy, as we established since Nice was the call, and Ulric thinks he is nice, but every time he visits The Ruby Tooth, he’s shown to the right side.

I had a great time writing this story, and I thought I’d leave you with the first chapter below.

Merry Christmas 🎄


therubytoothIlya Lewis is gonna kill his best friend Vera. She not only persuaded him off his couch and into the creepiest nightclub in the city, she also didn’t show. When Ilya learns the bar is split into two halves, and he’s been let into the wrong side, it doesn’t make things any better. Once the doorman determines which half to let you into, he won’t let you into the other.  

Ulric Moon hates the Ruby Tooth. But as a bounty hunter, he must go where the trails lead him, and tonight it’s landed him in the worst nightclub in the universe. All he wants is to catch the vampire he’s hunting, but despite trying to convince the veritas doorman examining his soul that he needs to be let into the good side of the club, he’s shown to the bad. As if that wasn’t enough, his destined mate somehow manages to sneak into the bad side where he doesn’t belong. Ilya finds a way to the other side of the bar, but one look at the patrons there has him regretting ever leaving his apartment. When he tries to leave, a scary-looking man who does nothing but growl follows him.  

Ulric knows he’s freaking Ilya out, but Ilya has inadvertently caught the interest of the vampire Ulric is hunting, and he has to protect him. How will Ulric keep Ilya safe when he doesn’t believe Ulric is a bounty hunter? And how do you tell someone they’re your mate when they don’t believe you’re a werewolf? 

Buy links: 

Gay Paranormal Romance: 11,834 words 

JMS Books :: Amazon :: books2read.com/TheRubyTooth 

Chapter 1

Ulric Moon cut the line in front of a drunk human woman barely old enough to be out after dark. He hated The Ruby Tooth, for not only did it have the most ridiculous name a nightclub could have, but it was also the only bar where all species under the sky were allowed to mix. Insane.

There were several nightclubs named The Ruby Tooth spread over the country, and they always smelled of disaster. Nothing good ever came of interspecies hook-ups. Especially since most humans believed they were the only species going to nightclubs on this crumbling planet.

If a shifter and a vamp wanted to get their rocks off together, Ulric had no problems with that—though he should have since vampires… But to throw humans in the mix? Begging for trouble was what it was.

He neared the veritas working the door. Creepy creatures. They took one look at your soul and decided if you were good or bad—no gray areas in their world. Ulric did bad things for a good cause; that made him good in his book.

“To the right.” The veritas, a large, heavily tattooed male, gestured for him to go to the right. Bad people were shown to the right. It was the reason the council had approved a mixed clientele. The veritas owning the chain had argued no innocent would be harmed since the patrons would be divided. Good people didn’t kill each other, no matter what species they were—or that was their argument, anyhow.

Ulric didn’t agree. Most murders were accidents.

Not the kind he was trying to put a stop to—those were deliberate, but to believe it couldn’t happen simply because the people mingling had good souls was naive.

“I need to go to the left today. Work purposes.” He hated this place. It didn’t matter in what city he was; he hated The Ruby Tooth.

The man shook his head. “To the right.”

Ulric sighed. There was no getting around a veritas when they’d decided in what direction someone should go.

“Look.” He didn’t want to reveal what he did for a living, but considering who he was talking to… “I’m hunting an evil guy. I can allow that I’m mildly bad at times, but the man I’m looking for is epically bad.”

“Then he went to the right.” The veritas gestured toward the hidden door to the right again.

“Point, but he preys on the pure, so he’ll be hunting on the other side.”

The veritas didn’t speak, he only stared at Ulric with an impassive face.

Fucking waste of time.

He pushed through the door and wrinkled his nose as the scent of shifters, vampires, and magic users washed over him. The bar was so dark a human would have a hard time walking around without bumping into things, but then, there weren’t too many humans here.

When someone called his name, he raised his hand in greeting without checking who it was. There was no one he wanted to speak to anyway.

It was the downside of having a job leading you to your hometown—people recognized you. On the other hand, he planned on sleeping in his own bed tonight, and it had been a couple of weeks since he did, so he was looking forward to it.

If he could find this fucker and end it, he could sleep in his bed for several nights, weeks even, before he needed to take on another job.

He made it to the bar, nodded to the wolf shifter working there, and ordered a whiskey. The poor bastard wore a Santa hat. When he placed the tumbler on the spotless surface, Ulric raised a questioning eyebrow and gave a slight nod at the hat.

“Dress-up night.”

“Fuck.” Ulric looked around. The woman next to him—human—he couldn’t pick up any scent of magic, but he assumed she had some or the poor girl wouldn’t survive long on this side of the club—wore a skimpy Mrs. Santa suit. Or it was more like Santa’s dirty little secret than Mrs. Santa, but that was most likely the point. He grimaced and turned back to the bartender.

“Calm night?”

He shrugged. “Many hours to go and most humans haven’t shown yet. The trouble usually doesn’t start until the humans have had a few drinks.”

Too true. Then the vampires would get hungry, the shifters frisky, and the humans obnoxious. Ulric wanted to go home. He wanted away from all the people, wanted to be in his remote cabin where nothing but the sound of the wind rustling through the trees imposed on the calm.

He pushed away from the bar and went to find a dark corner to observe as the night escalated.

* * * *

Ilya Lewis was gonna kill Vera. First, she’d forced him to come to this creepy place. On dress-up night. Wearing a costume she’d picked. Then she didn’t show.

He’d circled the place three times, but she was nowhere to be seen.

The way the doorman had made them go in one at a time, only to stare at them for several seconds, still had Ilya shuddering. He wanted to complain, needed to tell Vera she’d been wrong about this being a nice club.

It wasn’t nice.

Everything seemed staged. It could have been because everyone was walking around dressed up as Santa or a reindeer, and a couple of women had Christmas tree dresses. No elves.

He grabbed his phone, which wasn’t easy considering he was wearing an elf suit—leggings didn’t have pockets, so he’d put his phone in a passport holder he had around his neck, hidden underneath the moss green tunic.

It rang several times and he was about to hang up when there was a crackling.

“Ilya, if you’re calling to cancel, I’m coming there, and I will be dragging you out by your balls, you hear?”

Ilya blinked. “Vera?”

“There is no one I know here. They said at work they’d all come.” She sighed.

“I’m here, but I can’t find you.”

She was silent for a few seconds. “I can’t see you. It’s really fucking dark in here.”

Ilya tilted his head toward the ceiling—several light fixtures were giving the room a soft but comfortable glow. “It’s light where I am.”

“You’re at The Ruby Tooth, right? You didn’t go somewhere else?”

He sighed. “I’m here, but—”

“I can’t see you.”

“I’m right next to the bar.” He took three steps to the right so he wasn’t lying.

“I’m at the bar. Sitting on a stool with a drink I didn’t ask for.”

In his experience, she never turned down a drink. “Isn’t it good?”

His gaze swept over the bar, there were no stools. It was a large, curved bar with two bartenders behind it, both wearing Santa hats and both smiling and nodding to the club goers.

“There are no stools at this bar.”

Vera went quiet. “There must be two bars then.”

Relieved laughter escaped Ilya. There were two bars—of course there were. “I’ll come find you, stay by the bar.”

“Will do, darling.”

He winced at her dragged-out darling and hung up before putting the phone back in the passport holder and getting it to look good underneath the tunic. He looked like he had a starring role in Lord of the Rings rather than a creature from Santa’s workshop. Vera had found it highly amusing. A fairy suit for the fairy.

He’d stopped being offended a long time ago.

They’d been friends for an eternity. When the mean kids in school had picked on him, Vera had beaten them to a pulp—an exaggeration, but there had been a nosebleed, and from that day on, she’d been feared.

He didn’t know what she saw in him—she mostly complained about how boring he was—but when her world fell apart, which happened to her more often than anyone else he knew, she came to him. She slept on his couch for a few nights, drank way too much booze, and cursed the world. She never cried. He was the one who cried. When his mother had died, when Anthony had left him, when he’d had to put Mr. Snuggles down three months ago… he cried, she cursed, but she held him until he didn’t have any tears left.

And that was what this dreadful night was all about. Other than to go to work, he hadn’t left his cramped apartment since Mr. Snuggles had died. Vera had finally lost her patience and nagged and threatened until he’d agreed to come.

With a sigh, he walked toward the entrance. The creepy doorman had shown him to the left, but maybe there was a room on the other side.

As soon as he neared the door, another doorman stepped out of the shadows.


“Ah… eh… no, I’m looking for my friend.”

The doorman gave him a blank look and gestured toward the bar. A chill slithered down Ilya’s spine. There was something off with the doormen. Maybe they were on drugs.

“Eh… restroom?”

The doorman gestured in the opposite direction from the bar.

“Thank you.” Ilya pretended to head in the direction of the restroom, but as soon as the doorman focused on someone else, he veered off closer to the bar again. There had to be another room somewhere.

When there was a gap at the bar, he stepped forward and waited until the bartender focused on him.

“What can I get you?”

“I, eh… mineral water, please.”

The man smiled. “Lemon?”

“Please.” He had a nice smile, and Ilya found himself smiling back. “Hey, I’m meeting a friend here, but she’s at the other bar. How do I get there?”

The bartender froze. “You don’t. They divide you at the entrance.”

What the hell? Unease spread in his gut, but he did his best not to let it show. “Yes, I know, but I need to get to her.”

The bartender bit his lip and guilt swamped Ilya. He hated lying.

“They won’t let you in, but the kitchen has doors to both sides. You’re not supposed to go in there, though.”

Ilya nodded. “No, I understand. Thank you.”

The bartender smiled. “So, you’re here all alone?”

Ilya tried not to let his frown show. “No, I’m… My friend is here.”

The bartender’s smile dimmed some. “Oh, of course. I should have known a man like you wouldn’t be alone.”

A man like him? Ilya smiled, he couldn’t think of anything else to do, took his glass of mineral water, and edged away.

The kitchen, how would he get into the kitchen?