Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When a plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the best place to land is in the arms of a younger man…

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable – and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B+

This second book in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series is an opposites-attract, May/December romance in which the protagonists find themselves making a major reassessment of their lives and goals in the wake of a life-threatening accident. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of this author and narrator, so I had high hopes – and I’m pleased to report that Arctic Wild more than lived up to my expectations.

Corporate lawyer Reuben Graham and a couple of friends are due to fly to Alaska for an exclusive one-week wilderness experience when a last minute change sees him heading off on his own. He’d honestly prefer to have cancelled, but when his friend implies that Reuben isn’t the outdoorsy type (he isn’t) and might not cope easily with the challenges the trip is likely to present, Reuben finds he dislikes the insinuation and decides to prove him wrong. As he heads to catch his flight, he just hopes that his tour guide is a grizzled – and most importantly, taciturn – mountain man-type who is likely to leave him mostly alone and won’t notice or worry if Reuben spends a lot of the trip buried in the work he’s brought along.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

Rating: B+

Arctic Wild, book two in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, is a gently moving, slow-burn romance between two very different men who find themselves re-evaluating their lives following an almost fatal accident.  There are places where perhaps the pacing could have been a little faster and the focus a little sharper, but I really liked the way the romance developed and how the author explored the dynamics between the leads and the secondary characters/family members who also appear in the story.

Workaholic corporate lawyer Reuben Graham has been persuaded to take a long-overdue vacation with a couple of friends when a last minute change sees him heading off to Alaska on his own.  He’d much rather just have cancelled, but was pretty much guilted into going and anyway, he’s got plenty of work with him so when there’s no decent  internet connection he’ll just hunker down and read all that paperwork he’s got piled up.  With any luck, his guide will be some “grizzled old mountain man pilot”  who is disinclined to talk and will leave Reuben to work in peace.  But he’s out of luck in that department and is instead greeted by a gorgeously attractive, vivacious, younger (too young for him, anyway) man who definitely doesn’t seem as though he’s the strong silent type.

Pilot and tour guide Toby Kooly (whom we met briefly in the previous book, Arctic Sun) is very good at what he does. Personable, informative and fun, he genuinely enjoys making sure his clients are having a good time and doing whatever he can to help them make the most of what is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   But on meeting Reuben Graham he instantly senses the man is going to prove something of a challenge; he obviously isn’t particularly enthusiastic about being there and seems resistant to enjoying himself.  And he presents another sort of challenge, too; older guys don’t normally do it for Toby, but something about this tall, distinguished silver fox – no, silver bear – with the broad shoulders and the commanding presence most definitely turns his crank. But hooking up with clients isn’t something he makes a habit of, so he pushes temptation aside and concentrates on doing his job, determined to win Reuben over and get him to enjoy himself.

And over their first couple of days and tour stops Reuben does gradually start to unwind and even finds himself opening up a little about himself, chatting casually with Toby in a way he can’t remember really doing with anyone, especially not someone he’s known for so short a time.  Both men are aware of the hum of an attraction between them, but before they can do anything about it, the trip takes a swift turn into hell when a freak storm blows in while they’re in the air and despite Toby’s best efforts, the plane crashes. Having sustained some serious injuries, Toby is pretty helpless and it’s down to Reuben to get them to safety while they wait for the rescue team to arrive.

This near death experience has big ramifications for both men, who find themselves having to make some major reassessments and adjustments in their lives.  Toby, who has been the main provider for his family (an invalid father and two sisters at college) for over a decade, is unable to work due to a broken arm and broken leg, and is immediately swamped by money worries, while the event gives Reuben the push he needs to start rethinking his life.  At forty-eight, he’s too young to retire, but his firm is restructuring and has offered him a buyout package, which he hasn’t really had the time and inclination to think about so far.  Now, however, he realises he’s been given an opportunity to make the sorts of changes he hadn’t realised he needed to make, which includes spending more time with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Amelia.  He’s missed out on a lot of her life and is determined to do better by her, and when he discovers the extent of Toby’s injuries (and knowing that he can’t possibly afford rehabilitative care) Reuben offers to rent a place that Toby can share with him and Amelia, who is coming to spend the Summer with him.

[On a side note, reading about how much Toby worries about his medical bills makes me so thankful for the NHS!]

The principal conflict in the story arises because Toby doesn’t find it easy to ask for and accept help.  As Reuben falls in love with Alaska, and the two men fall in love with each other, Toby’s stubbornness on that point and his deep-seated fear of dependence threaten to derail things between them.  He’s convinced that Reuben deserves someone as rich and sophisticated as he is and that whatever is happening with them can only be a short-lived thing – which isn’t helped by his father’s obvious disapproval of Reuben (he’s too old and too rich) and his constant insistence that a man must take care of his own shit and not rely on anyone else.  It’s a mantra that Toby has been brought up with, and it’s hard for him to shake so many years of conditioning and admit to himself that he likes being taken care of for a change. Reuben freely admits that he enjoys taking care of others, but that gives rise to other doubts.  Is Toby just some sort of ‘project’ to fulfil Reuben’s desire to feel useful and needed ?  And given the feelings he’s no longer able to deny he has for Reuben, how will he cope when summer ends and they go back to their old lives?

While I admit that Toby’s reluctance to ask for and accept help did perhaps go on a little too long, and I had a few issues with how easily he was able to get around with a broken arm and leg (I’ve been wheelchair-bound and the kitchen counters were just about eye-level, so no way would I have been able to cook like Toby does!), I enjoyed everything else about the story very much.  I could easily understand Reuben’s desire to make big changes in his life and I loved the slow-burning but sizzling attraction between the two men, which eventually culminates in some sensual love scenes.  Ms. Albert takes her time developing their romance and she does it beautifully, showing them growing closer and their connection deepening as they spend more time talking and enjoying each other’s company.

Reuben’s daughter appears in a large chunk of the book, and comes across as a typical fourteen-year-old, wanting to be ‘grown up’ but isn’t quite yet.  Ms. Albert captures that aspect of her character really well, and skilfully shows her gradually reconnecting with Reuben and recapturing some of the optimism and youthful enthusiasm she’d lost.  The other secondary characters – Toby’s dad and sister, Nell (who befriends Amelia) – are well-drawn, and as in Arctic Sun, the Alaskan landscapes are vividly and tantalisingly described.

Arctic Wild earns a strong recommendation in spite of my few reservations, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next in the series, Arctic Heat, when it comes out later this year.

Arctic Sun (Frozen Hearts #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

He’s built a quiet life for himself in Alaska. But it doesn’t stand a chance against the unrelenting pull of a man who’s everything he shouldn’t want.

Ex-military mountain man Griffin Barrett likes his solitude. It keeps him from falling back into old habits. Bad habits. He’s fought too hard for his sobriety to lose control now. However, his gig as a wildlife guide presents a new kind of temptation in super-hot supermodel River Vale. Nothing the Alaskan wilderness has to offer has ever called to Griffin so badly. That can only lead to trouble….

River has his own methods for coping. Chasing adventure means always moving forward. Nobody’s ever made him want to stand still – until Griffin. The rugged bush pilot is the very best kind of distraction, but the emotions he stirs up in River feel anything but casual, and he’s in no position to stay put.

With temptation lurking in close quarters, keeping even a shred of distance is a challenge neither’s willing to meet. And the closer Griffin gets to River, the easier it is to ignore every last reason he should run.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B

Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series put her on my “must read/listen” list, and I’ve picked up several of her backlist titles in audio over the past few weeks while I waited for the first in her new Frozen Hearts series, set in the wilds of Alaska, to come out.  Arctic Sun is that book, and it tells the story of Griffin Barrett, who, after leaving the military, returned home to Alaska in search of peace, quiet and somewhere to put his past mistakes behind him, and River Vale, a former supermodel who has authored a hugely successful travel book, and who is now researching his next project.

Griffin works for his family’s photography/ tour-guiding business, but not usually as an actual guide; he’s not naturally outgoing and finds it difficult being the centre of attention, but when his uncle, who usually handles the tour groups, has to go into hospital, Griffin’s mother asks him to step in at the last minute to take charge of a group of five – two married couples and one solo traveller – and while his first instinct is to refuse, his family needs him and he can’t let them down.

Learning one of the group is – or was –  a supermodel, Griffin immediately jumps to conclusions, expecting a superficial, flamboyant individual with cotton-wool for brains.  Instead, River Vale confounds those expectations, clearly being an experienced traveller and a talented photographer – and while Griffin had expected him to be good-looking, he’s completely unprepared for the reality of the funny, charming and easy-going man behind the beautiful face.  It’s been a long time since Griffin has been so strongly attracted to anyone – in fact, he doesn’t even know how he really feels about sex seeing as most of the time he had it when he was wasted – but he certainly isn’t about to hook-up with a client, and very definitely rebuffs the other man’s attempts to flirt with and charm him.

But River won’t take no for an answer and continues to pursue Griffin – and I have to admit I wasn’t quite comfortable with his you’ll-give-in-eventually attitude: Oh, he was going to get Griffin in bed before the end of the trip, and that was just a fact. But when he did, Griff would come willingly, and it wouldn’t be because River had made a pest of himself. Pushy wasn’t part of River’s MO. And I’d have to say that River IS rather pushy, even though he’s right about Griffin’s interest in him.

Anyway.  It’s not a spoiler to say that the guys do eventually hook up (this is a romance after all!), and although they’re opposites and their relationship progresses quickly, I nonetheless felt that the author did a good job of exploring the things they had in common, and that they had potential as a couple in spite of their differences.  But after the trip ends, those differences become more pronounced as each man returns to his normal life and milieu.  They agree that neither of them is ready to say goodbye and that they’ll see each other again when and where they can, which results in a return visit to Alaska for River, and a trip to Vancouver for Griff… which doesn’t go particularly well, thanks to some crass behaviour from River’s rather insensitive and unsupportive friends.

Both men are battling their own demons every day.  Griff is a recovering alcoholic, who, while sober and doing fairly well, mostly deals with his addiction by completely avoiding temptation rather than learning how to live with it.  His reclusive lifestyle provides him the ideal opportunity to do this, even though he’s lonely at times, but he has no desire to live anywhere else.  River has spent a good proportion of his life being looked at and every single imperfection noticed and criticised; he has a difficult and complicated relationship with food and is recovering from an eating disorder – and his coping mechanism is the complete opposite of Griff’s – he keeps moving and doesn’t even have has his own place any longer, instead staying with friends whenever he’s not off travelling and researching for his next book.

Having never suffered either of those things, I claim no expertise whatsoever, but it seemed to me that Ms. Albert handled both of these issues very well, especially River’s eating disorder.  He’s clearly not quite as far along the road to recovery as he thinks he is, although by the end of the book, he’s taken some very positive steps – as has Griff – so I came away from the story hopeful for their future.  Griff and River are complex characters who still have a lot to work out individually and as a couple, but I liked them together, and in particular, the way they felt able to open up to one another about their problems and be vulnerable with each other.

A lot of the reviews I’ve seen have talked about the pacing of the book being too slow, but I have to say I didn’t feel that way at all, which  I suspect  may have something to do with the fact that I listened to the audiobook version  rather than reading the book.  Cooper North’s narration is very good indeed and kept me engaged from start to finish; all the characters are clearly differentiated and the different pitches and timbres he adopts to portray the principals work really well to delineate them as characters and as distinct from one another.  His pacing is good, his enunciation clear and he does a good job with the female voices and different accents (one of the couples on the trip is a lesbian couple from the Netherlands); in addition Mr. North injects the more emotional moments with just the right degree of expression and performs the love scenes confidently and without going over the top.

I can’t end this review without mentioning the other character in the book, which is Alaska itself.  The descriptions of the scenery and the wildlife are superb and incredibly vivid, and as I can’t see myself ever getting to go there, I’ll have to live vicariously through them!  I enjoyed both the story and narration in Arctic Sun and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

Trust With a Chaser (Rainbow Cove #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Marc Bachmann and Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

One hot cop. One bar owner out for redemption. One smoking-hot summer fling destined to leave scorch marks…

Mason Hanks has returned to Rainbow Cove, Oregon with one goal in mind: turn the struggling coastal community into a thriving LGBTQ tourism destination. Step one is transforming an old bar and grill into a gay-friendly eatery. Step two? Don’t piss off Nash Flint, the very hot, very stern chief of police who’s not so sure he’s on board with Mason’s big plans.

Nash Flint just wants to keep his community safe and enjoy the occasional burger in peace. He’s not big on change nor is he a fan of Mason’s troublemaking family, especially his rowdy older brothers. But Mason slowly wins him over with fantastic cooking and the sort of friendship Nash has been starving for.

When their unlikely friendship takes a turn for the sexy, both men try to steer clear of trouble. Nash believes he’s too set in his ways for Mason, and Mason worries that his family’s reputation will ruin any future with Nash.

Burning up the sheets in secret is a surefire way to crash and burn, and discovery forces a heart-wrenching decision – is love worth the risk of losing everything?

Rating: Narration – B/A : Content – B+

Having really enjoyed Annabeth Albert’s recently concluded Out of Uniform series, I’ve been seeking out her backlist titles in audio (my preferred way of playing catch-up!), and decided to try Trust with a Chaser, the story of a guy who returns to his home town to set up a business, and his under-the-radar romance with the Mr. Grumpy-Pants local police chief. The fact that Iggy Toma – who has quickly become a firm favourite – is one of the narrators certainly factored into my decision, although I haven’t listened to Marc Bachmann before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on that score. I did have a few niggles about his performance in the end, but it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of what proved to be a tender, sexy romance with a May/December (or maybe June/October!) vibe.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rough Terrain (Out of Uniform #7) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The camping trip from hell may be the first stop on the road to happily-ever-after.

Navy SEAL Renzo Bianchi has a soft spot for Canaan Finley, and not only because the man makes a mean smoothie. He’s the first guy to get Renzo’s motor revving in a long time. But when he agrees to Canaan’s insane charade—one all-access fake boyfriend, coming right up—he never expects more than a fling.

Creating a hot Italian SEAL boyfriend to save face seemed like a good idea…until his friends called Canaan’s bluff. Now he’s setting off into the woods with the very man who inspired his deception, and Canaan is not the outdoorsy type. The sparks are already flying when a flash flood separates them from their group, leaving Renzo and Canaan very much trapped…very much alone in the wilderness.

Working together to come up with a plan for survival is sexier than either of them expects. But back in the real world, being a couple is bringing its own set of hazards…

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Rough Terrain is the seventh and final book in Annabeth Albert’s consistently entertaining Out of Uniform series. It’s always hard to say goodbye to favourite characters and the worlds they inhabit, but it’s a series I revisit regularly in audio as all the books are excellently performed, making it well worth investing the extra time needed to listen as opposed to read them.

We met Renzo “Rooster” (he hates the stupid nickname!) Bianchi in earlier books in the series, and if you’ve read or listened to any of them, you’ll remember he makes fitness videos which have gained him a large online following. He’s good-looking, super fit (well, he’s a SEAL, so I suppose he’d have to be!) and comes from a large, close-knit Italian-American family he loves very much and misses a lot; to that end, he’s recently applied for a posting nearer home, but doesn’t really expect it to happen. His family members all accept his bisexuality, although he knows his mother secretly hopes that when he does eventually settle down it’ll be with a woman so he can get started on giving her (yet more) grandchildren.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

One hard-nosed military police officer. One overly enthusiastic elf. One poorly timed snowstorm.

Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?

Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho ho ho.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting – Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful, and too nice for a one-night stand.

The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B+

Better Not Pout is a charming, sexy, May/December romance set during the holiday season, in which a hard-boiled military police officer playing Santa for charity gets stuck in a snowstorm with a too enthusiastic, far too temptingly attractive elf… and discovers that perhaps the best laid plans aren’t necessarily the best plans after all.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki has spent pretty much his entire adult life in the military, and after twenty-eight years of service, his retirement is fast approaching. He’s spending the final months of his service at the base at Fort End in upstate New York, and as he embarks on his last few weeks, he’s starting to feel somewhat superfluous to requirements; his duties are light and it’s painfully obvious just how easily life at Fort End will go on without him. He really doesn’t want to retire but staying on isn’t an option, so he’s decided to go into partnership with a friend and former colleague who now runs a small business chartering boat trips for tourists in Florida. Right from the off, it’s fairly clear Nick’s heart really isn’t in it – despite his enthusiasm for the warmer weather – but a promise is a promise and he’s never ever gone back on his word… and he has to do something after retirement, so it might as well be this.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

One hard-nosed military police officer.

One overly enthusiastic elf.

One poorly timed snowstorm.

Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?

Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho-ho-ho.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting—Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful and too nice for a one-night stand.

The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.

Rating: B+

I’m one of those people who doesn’t start feeling Christmassy until a couple of weeks beforehand.  I hate the fact that the cards and decorations start appearing in the shops at the end of August; I won’t listen to a Christmas song until well into December if I can avoid it, and it’s not time for It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge or The Muppet Christmas Carol until at least the second week of the month. The same holds true for Christmas-themed books; I don’t tend to pick them up until well into December, but I made an exception for Annabeth Albert’s Better Not Pout because the premise sounded so damn cute – a hard-boiled military police officer playing Santa for charity gets stranded in a snowstorm with a too enthusiastic (and too attractive) elf and realises that perhaps his life needn’t be so regimented after all.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki has spent twenty-eight years as a military police officer, and now, aged forty-six, is a month short of his retirement.  Truth be told, he doesn’t want to retire – but he isn’t being given the choice.  The military has been his family and his life for the entirety of his adulthood and it suits him.  He likes the structure, he likes the work, the thought that he’s serving his fellow personnel and his country – and the prospect of no longer having all that is a daunting one.  After he leaves the military, he plans to join a friend and former colleague in Florida who now runs a small business chartering boat trips for tourists; it’s pretty clear from the outset that this is unlikely to be a particularly good fit for Nick, but he figures he has to something with the rest of his life – and it might as well be this, right?  He’s made a firm commitment to his friend, and Nick never reneges on his promises; as the clock ticks down to his last weeks and days in the service, he tries to find some enthusiasm for the future…  but his heart just isn’t in it.

He’s in something of a state of limbo as regards his job, too.  It’s his last month on the base at Fort End in upstate New York, but in many ways it seems everyone around him has already moved past his leaving and he feels as though he’s somewhat superfluous to requirements.  So he’s not in the best frame of mind when his commanding officer asks a favour of him.  The local small town of Mineral Springs has a thriving charity centre called the Helping Hand, and her husband usually dons a Santa suit around this time of year to support the drive to generate funds and gifts for families in need.  But he’s unwell and is unable to participate this year – and Nick is asked to take his place.  Nick is far from enthusiastic but doesn’t feel he can say no, so he heads off to the Helping Hand Resource Center – where he is greeted by an extremely chatty and almost sickeningly upbeat young man dressed as an elf, who turns out to be the director of the charity and the centre.

Born and bred in Mineral Springs, Teddy MacNally absolutely loves his job and is dedicated to helping those in need, and runs the centre with efficiency and good humour.  He takes one look at his grumpy Santa and is determined to at the very least make sure he has a good day, maybe even get him to raise a smile.  But Nick is guarded and stonewalls Teddy’s good-natured attempts at flirtation; clearly getting the guy to let down his guard is going to require a bit of effort on his part.  But that’s just fine by Teddy; after all, the things most worth having in life always take a little work.

In spite of Teddy’s warnings about the worsening weather, Nick opts to return to base at the end of the day.  Teddy is altogether too attractive, too tempting – and, at twenty-eight, too young for him, but the weather – and the fates – are conspiring against Nick when he ends up getting lost and runs his truck into a snow-covered ditch.   Nick tramps back to the road, relieved to see a car making its way slowly towards him… and is not so relieved when he recognises the car as belonging to Teddy.

There’s nothing for it but to head back to Teddy’s place for the night, and they end up spending a surprisingly good evening together, chatting, playing board-games and generally hanging out. Teddy makes clear his interest in taking things further, but he leaves it up to Nick to make a move – and Nick can’t resist any longer.  Even though he thinks he’s too old for Teddy, and that Teddy deserves some hot young thing who can keep up with him, Nick decides to indulge himself – both of them – for the night.  After all, he’s leaving in a month and this isn’t the time to start anything – but it quickly becomes apparent to both men that one night isn’t enough, and they agree to a casual fling until Nick leaves for Florida.

The chemistry between the pair simply crackles, and the attraction that burns between them is palpable.  Teddy is completely adorable; funny, kind, and just brimming with life and vitality, and I loved the way he wormed his way under Nick’s skin and into his heart by simply being him.  They know their time together is finite and to that end are determined to make the most of it while also – somehow – avoiding becoming too deeply involved. (Heh – good luck with that, guys!)  Nick spends Thanksgiving with Teddy’s large, boisterous and loving family, who accept him (and almost adopt him!) and Teddy is Nick’s date to his retirement ceremony.  The bumps along the way to true love are fairly minimal, it’s true, consisting mostly of Nick’s unwillingness to break a promise to a friend and his inability to believe that he’s right for Teddy, simply because his last relationship was with someone younger than he was who eventually left him.  But Teddy’s risk-averse nature has a part to play, too. Unwilling to put pressure on Nick and ruin their short time together, Teddy fails to see that perhaps he needs to stop playing it safe and be more proactive instead of just sitting back and letting the best thing that’s ever happened to him just walk away.

Better Not Pout is a lovely, feel-good story about two people who are perfect for each other but need just a bit of Christmas magic to help them to see it. Maybe  grumpy-older-guy meets perky-younger-one is a bit of a cliché, but they’re such well-drawn characters, and I had such a great time with the story that I honestly didn’t care.  The relationship between Nick and Teddy is really well developed and the sex scenes are guaranteed to turn up the heat on the coldest winter evening ;). I teared up a bit near the end, and then closed the book with a happy sigh and a smile on my face, which is never a bad thing.