Carina has definitely got their holiday sweater and antlers on for the month of December (or in this case, their sexy holiday red underwear), turning out one great anthology after another. As usual, Angela James assembles three terrific erotic romance writers giving us a great value with her buffet of holiday treats.
Kudos to her for including a male/male romance in this grouping. I think there are a lot of female readers who would never try m/m romance, even if they have read about its growing popularity among heterosexual women, so if you’ve had reservations, this could be a nice way to sample the genre.
Right off the bat, the first thing I notice is the terrific cover. Not just your typical tangled bodies shot, this one has a sexy couple (the female model is actual biting her lip – mrrrroooww) and the lit red candle, in case you’re missing the overall symbolism! The ornaments and subtle holiday ribbon take the holiday theme home and it manages to be both simultaneously erotic and elegant.
Jonas and Evan have been together for two years and things are going great until Jonas finds a set of wedding rings in Evan’s desk along with tickets to Manhattan for New Years’ Eve. The thought of spending the rest of his life with Evan sends Jonas unto a total panic attack as he has a bucket list of sexual to-do items, and at the top of his list is BDSM, which he’s always been drawn to but never tried. He even writes a sexual wishlist down while at Evan’s family’s house for Christmas, but can’t bring himself to tell Evan what he really wants. What if Evan looks at him in disgust, or worse, disappointment because he can’t give Jonas what he needs?
Evan finds Jonas’ list and cannot believe what he was reading. Evan left the BDSM lifestyle because he was possessive in relationships and realized the only way having a sub would work for him would be if there was an emotional connection. The idea of having that with Jonah, who Evan truly loves, is arousing beyond belief, but Jonah needs to tell him first what he wants.
I meant it when I said that this would be a great first male/male story for someone thinking about trying out the genre. Evan and Jonah are obviously in love and the sex between them is both hot and very emotional. I thought the lack of communication between them completely typical for two men and clearly they both need a lesson in talking about things rather than letting them fester. *choking both heroes slightly* The scenes in Evan’s family home for the holiday were especially well-written and I loved how Evan’s cousin’s breakup fueled Jonah’s emotional spiral.
The only piece I was really uncomfortable with was Jonah’s back and forth with the BDSM guy who posted on his online dating page. Yes, Evan addressed it and was pissed off about it, but Jonah never told him about the private messaging that had taken place and that felt creepy and cheating-ish to me. I know they were solid at the end of this story, so I’m just going to guess that he confessed all after the awesome New Year’s Eve sex since I really loved this story. Even the BDSM part was pretty mild and handled very well (I always sigh when it emerges in a story since it’s not something that interests me and it seems to be everywhere since Fifty Shades of Grey), with plenty of love and concern for the sub’s pleasure factored into the encounter. This is a terrific story on all levels and I’m going to enjoy reading more of K. A. Mitchell’s work now that I know she’s such an excellent writer.
Ryan and Megan have dated since college, but their relationship has been long-distance for a while now. Her dream was to become a Mountie while a car accident left him the guardian of his younger siblings who are finally ready to take flight. When Meg flies in from the arctic to spend the holiday with Ryan, she is ready to admire all his latest artwork. But they each have a surprise for the other for Christmas.
There is no way to read this wonderful novella and not think of O. Henry‘s “Gift of the Magi.” Ryan is a hunky sculptor, who welds and chisels, but he’s always wanted Meg in his life, even when circumstances were beyond their control and he’s made arrangements to leave his family and friends to move himself and his studio to the arctic to be with her. Meg has loved being a Mountie, but she knows in her heart that she’s lived her dream for a while and she can now transition to being a cop near Ryan so he can have his career and be near his family. Both are planning to spring the news on each other at Christmas, but there are people who are unhappy about the situation who try to spoil the surprise.
Braemel does a great job with this heart-warming erotic tale. The heat between Meg and Ryan is off the charts but it’s so grounded in a long-standing and abiding love that it ends up being extremely tender. The domination piece of their relationship is very mild, mostly just involving Meg being restrained, so even readers not 100% comfortable with a BDSM scene would not find this aspect of their relationship unpalatable. It was no worse than the Regency heroes and heroines using the ubiquitous silk scarf to tie their loved one to the bedpost! I’ve read a few Braemel stories and enjoyed them, but the talent she evinces in showing such grounded, lengthy relationship which still flares with passion has me thinking about buying a few more of her books.
Thea Moretti moved to New York from Ohio to get away from painful memories. Her husband died in a car accident six years ago around Thanksgiving and ever since then she’s been dark and cold inside. Using loud music in her ears and divorcing herself from life has been a coping strategy, but almost a year ago she picked up an unbelievably sexy fireman for a sweaty anonymous encounter. It was so good that she and Ronan O’Rourke have made it a regular event, but now he’s hinting that he wants to get to know her better, that he might be ready for something more.
Ronan is an alpha male of infinite patience. He lost both his uncle in 9/11 and his best friend a couple of years ago, par for the course for a New York firefighter, but an extremely painful one, nevertheless. It means he knows all about grief, though, and he understands more than anyone what he sees in Thea’s shadowed eyes. She says she’s gone cold inside, but Ronan knows the truth. Thea is so busy tamping down feeling anything that she is deliberately not letting herself feel what already exists between them.
Ronan begins pushing the envelope, gently suggesting they go places and then reminding her of the connection between them with hot sex afterward. When Thea suggests a menage with his friend and fellow firefighter Tim, Ronan knows that she’s testing that she wouldn’t feel this way for someone else and he’s happy to go along. Will she be able to let go of her demons and finally embrace life again, life with Ronan?
In Angela James’ letter at the start of this anthology she makes a point that this is a highly emotional tale and it lives up to her description. Thea is filled with pain, fighting life with all she has lest the renewal of her living again dishonor the memory of the love she had for her husband. Ronan is the perfect man for her – understanding and patient – but naturally with his job she can imagine losing him somewhere down the road and it’s terrifying. His relentless and strategic assault, which was so carefully and respectfully done, held a brilliant understanding of what Thea was feeling. Not only was the sex fantastic between them, but I admired each of them – Thea never lies about what she wants their relationship to be (or that she’s struggling) and Ronan has too much respect for himself to hide the fact that he deserves more from Thea.
Red Hot Holiday as a whole impressed me, not for it’s amazing heat content which you’d expect from an erotic romance anthology, but for the sweet, emotional content of the writing. Each author does an amazing job demonstrating what love looks like at different stages – a two-year relationship in the case of Jonas and Evan, Ryan and Meg’s long-term relationship, and Thea and Ronan who are just moving from sex into something much deeper and more profound. This quality makes this the perfect anthology for the holidays as the miracle of Christmas is, at its heart, a profound act of love. Many thanks to K. A. Mitchell, Leah Braemel and Anne Calhoun for using their prodigious talent to help us feel that love which is at the center of a wonderful, and red hot, holiday.