Welcome to our month-long celebrations for the amazing
In our first post, we're looking at EJ's standalone titles - Clickbait, Mystic Man, For A Good Time, Call, and The Probability of Mistletoe, plus EJ's favorite things. There's also a chance to win one of her books.
First up, Clickbait
After the disastrous ending of his first serious relationship, Gideon Wallace cultivated a protective—but fabulously shiny—outer shell to shield himself from Heartbreak 2.0. Besides, romance is so not a priority for him right now. All his web design prospects have inexplicably evaporated, and to save his fledgling business, he’s been compelled to take a hands-on hardware project—as in, his hands on screwdrivers, soldering irons, and needle-nosed pliers. God. Failure could actually be an option.
Journeyman electrician Alex Henning is ready to leave Gideon twisting in the wind after their run-ins both on and off the construction site. Except, like a fool, he takes pity on the guy and offers to help. Never mind that between coping with his dad’s dementia and clocking all the overtime he can finagle, he has zero room in his life for more complications.
Apparently, an office build-out can lay the foundation for a new relationship. Who knew? But before Alex can trust Gideon with the truth about his fragile family, he has to believe that Gideon’s capable of caring about more than appearances. And Gideon must learn that when it comes to the heart, it’s content—not presentation—that matters.
Manny snorted and checked his clipboard. “Haynes finally suckered some poor bastard into taking the contract IT job. Started tonight, so you oughta be able to get rolling on the cat-five wiring soon. Guy’s name is— Shit, where’d I put it?” Manny scrabbled through his notes. “Here it is. Wallace.”
Wallace. Alex’s stomach dropped like a stone. Can’t be. Can it? “That his first name or his last?”
“How the fuck should I know? Find him and ask him. And when you do, tell him to get you the network diagram yesterday.”
“Sure.” I’ll get right on that. Or not, if the contractor really was Gideon. Alex didn’t need any more attitude on the jobsite than he got already.
He picked up a spool of cat-five cable, nodded to Manny, and threaded his way through the forest of bare metal studs and exposed insulation. When he neared the spot in the far corner that’d be the server room someday, he heard a voice— the same voice that had threatened him this morning—and his nerve failed.
Although the voice was clear, its owner was blocked from sight by a stack of Sheetrock. Alex hustled over and mounted a ladder under a gap in the drop ceiling. Masked from the waist up, he could pretend to work on the wiring while checking out the server space through a couple of missing ceiling tiles. His mom would have given him so much grief about eavesdropping, but screw it.
Gideon—yep, it was definitely him—paced under the makeshift peephole, and Alex nearly fell off the ladder.
Holy fucking shit. Gideon was wearing a tool belt. A leather one, slung low on his hips over tight, yellow jeans. The pants were decorated with a weird brown pattern, like battling bacteria, but even so he was still hotter than hell.
Gideon dodged a spool of cable, his cell phone pressed to his ear, obviously pissed as all get-out. “Not everyone appreciates your sense of humor, Charles.” Ah. He must be talking to the other roommate. The insanely smart one. “When I asked you to bring me work clothes, I didn’t expect you to delve quite so far back in my closet. God, I should have burned these pants years ago as a crime against nature.”
From this angle, Alex could see a smear of dirt arced across Gideon’s cheek. His dark hair was dimmed with drywall dust and stuck up in sweaty spikes.
For some reason, that only made him hotter, and Alex licked his lips. He’d had daydreams of getting sweaty with Gideon, although there’d been less fiberglass and more skin in his fantasy. But they were working in the same place, right? This was Alex’s chance to get to know the guy, and it was too good to pass up. It wouldn’t be hard to engineer a few not-so-accidental meetings in the hall, or share a couple of jokes by the coffeepot. Suggest a post-shift get-together. Hey, what say we grab a beer? Maybe dinner? Or, you know, have sex?
Alex’s jeans grew uncomfortably tight. Yikes. Not the thing when your lower half is on display at eye level. Gideon couldn’t see him behind the screen of drywall, but the other guys on the crew could wander by anytime. He forced himself to think about baseball. Didn’t help. Don’t think about balls. Sardines. Smurfs. GOP debates. Yeah, that did the trick.
Get the book:
Secondly today, Mystic Man
When a series of personal crises prompt risk-averse research librarian Aaron Templeton to apply for a job on the other side of the country, nobody is more surprised than he is. He nearly runs home before the final interview except for one little problem: he has no home anymore. He put his condo on the market before he left California and it’s already sold. Only an encounter with free-spirited Connecticut native Cody Brown at the Mystic Seaport Museum staves off Aaron’s incipient panic attack.
Cody loves nothing better than introducing newcomers to the great features of his beloved home state, and when the newbie in question is a rumpled professorial type with the saddest blue eyes on the planet? Score! The attraction between the two men deepens as they explore Cody’s favorite spots, but when difficulties arise and Aaron’s insecurities threaten to overwhelm him, will Cody’s love be enough to keep him in Mystic?
“You love that boat, don’t you?”
Cody turned to Aaron, a glint of mischief in his eyes. “Don’t let anyone hear you call it a ‘boat.’ It’s a ship. There’s a difference.”
“You want the easy answer?” When Aaron nodded, Cody pointed to the whaleboat suspended above the Morgan’s rails. “Size. A ship can carry a boat, but a boat can’t carry a ship.”
Aaron’s breathing started to even out. He gestured to the side of the Morgan. “Where’s the spot you scraped and painted?”
Cody studied the ship, his head tilted to one side. “It’s on the port side, so you can’t see it, but it’s in line with the mizzenmast. My one square yard of the Charles W. Morgan.” His face took on a dreamy, unfocused expression. “The day they launched her, after the restoration was complete, was the most amazing day. I’d have given anything to have sailed on the thirty-eighth voyage.”
Chills chased down Aaron’s spine. “You wanted to go on the ocean? In that?” The thought of such a precious cargo at the mercy of the elements nearly sent Aaron into tachycardia.
“Sure. It survived its whaling voyages with way less technology and support. And it didn’t exactly cross the briny deep, you know. All the ports of call were along the eastern seaboard.”
“That doesn’t always mean anything. Margaret Fuller drowned less than a hundred yards from shore, lost along with her husband, her baby, and the only copy of her book on the Italian revolution.”
A smile quivered on Cody’s lips. “I’m not laughing at you, I promise. But did you specialize in the history of death and untold destruction? Surely there must be some cheerful history tales.”
Aaron scrubbed his face with both hands. “God. There are. I even used to know some of them.” With all the upheaval in his life, he’d apparently gone completely over to the dark side.
“Then tell me something good. Some historical event that makes you smile.”
Of course, as soon as Cody said that, all Aaron could think of were more depressing stories. Richard the Third at Bosworth. Joan of Arc at the stake. The Spanish Inquisition. The Salem witch trials. The purposeful decimation of the indigenous North and South American populations by the invading Europeans.
Maybe happy people were too busy being happy to advertise their fates. Maybe humans were hardwired for drama, as if focusing on the misfortunes of others made your own life look better by comparison.
Or maybe we’re just a race of ghouls.
“Having trouble coming up with something?”
“Sadly, yes. Give me a while to think about it, though, and I’ll get back to you.”
Cody grinned. “I’ll hold you to that.” He gazed at the Morgan again. “You know, the Morgan is a pretty sizable vessel, when it comes down to it. My round-the-world sail was on a ship more like that.” He pointed to a passing boat no longer than Aaron’s living room.
“You sailed around the world? On something that small?”
“Sure. It was awesome.”
“How old were you?”
“Twenty. Twenty-one. I celebrated my twenty-first birthday at sea.”
“Why on earth would you want to do that?” Just the thought of being adrift on the ocean, no sight of land, with who knew what kind of dangers lurking below—assuming the water didn’t kill you first—made Aaron’s belly attempt a reverse swan dive onto his shoes.
Get the book:
Third in the line-up, For A Good Time, Call (written with Anne Tenino)
Thirty-seven-year-old Nate Albano’s second relationship ever ended three years ago, and since he’s grace—gray asexual—he doesn’t anticipate beating the odds to find a third. Still, he’s got his dog, his hobbies, and his job as a special effects technician on Wolf’s Landing, so he can’t complain—much.
Seth Larson, umpteenth generation Bluewater Bay, is the quintessential good-time guy, content with tending bar and being his grandmother’s handyman. The night they meet, Seth’s looking for some recreational sex to escape family drama. But for Nate, romantic attraction comes before sexual attraction, so while Seth thinks they’re hooking up, Nate just wants to talk . . . genealogy?
So they declare a “just friends” truce. Then Seth asks for Nate’s help investigating a sinister Larson family secret, and their feelings start edging way beyond platonic. But Nate may want more than Seth can give him, and Seth may not be able to leave his good-time image behind. Unless they can find a way to merge carefree with commitment, they could miss out on true love—the best time of all.
As they cleaned up, putting dishes in the dishwasher and leftovers in the refrigerator, he got it—the movie that fit his mood for the day. “Have you ever seen Big Eden?”
“Don’t think so. Is it sci-fi?”
Nate huffed out a laugh. “Hardly. Although some people might argue that it’s fantasy. It’s a really sweet gay love story where the people in a small town aren’t all bigoted, homophobic assholes.”
“Nate.” Seth singsonged his name, giving it about six syllables. “Are you a closet romantic?”
Heat rushed up Nate’s throat. “I—”
“Hey.” Seth gripped Nate’s shoulders and met his gaze. “I’m just giving you shit. There’s nothing wrong with a little romance. I mean, I can’t say I’ve had a lot of experience with it myself, but I don’t have anything against it.”
Good to know. “It’s, you know, a relationship story.”
“And for you, the relationship is the reason, not the result. I get it. Sounds awesome.”
“I like the actor who plays Henry, the lead. He was a friend of my mother’s—they’d done a couple of shows together, so I knew him when I was a kid. He’s a quirky-looking guy, really interesting performer. I love how Pike, the other lead, hides what he’s doing, how he’s taking care of Henry.” Actually, Nate suspected Pike might be grace, like him, but that could be wishful thinking—him looking for some kind of cinematic affirmation of his own personality. “Besides, there’s a dog in it, and I think Tarkus has a crush on her.”
“Excellent. I’m always up for new things. Let’s go for it.”
Seth poured them each one of his magic concoctions and wandered over to the sofa while Nate grabbed the remote.
As soon as Nate sat down, Tarkus got up and trotted over, staring balefully at Seth and heaving a huge doggy sigh.
“You’re in his spot. That’s why there’s a blanket on that cushion, and why your butt is now probably covered in dog fur.” He spread his hands out in surrender. “Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who allows their pets to sit on the furniture.” Because frankly, he liked the closeness and the company.
“Guess I’d better move, then. The chair or . . .?” Seth glanced pointedly at the middle cushion, eyebrows raised.
When Nate nodded, he scooted over.
Nate pulled the movie up on Netflix, and as soon as the first post-title shot appeared, Seth tapped Nate’s knee excitedly.
“Hey, I recognize that guy. He played a serial killer on Criminal Minds.”
Nate smiled at him, at the enthusiasm that was such an integral part of Seth. “He played a killer—or at least a potential killer—in Minority Report too, which is really weird, because he’s the sweetest guy. This movie is a lot more like I remember him.”
Nate leaned back as the scene played out, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to throw his arm across Seth’s shoulders.
After one startled glance, Seth smiled and snuggled in to Nate’s side, Tarkus’s head on his knee.
Nate couldn’t remember ever enjoying a movie more.
Get the book:
And finally, our fourth book today, The Probability Of Mistletoe
When software engineer Keith Trainor decides to start his own company, he knows exactly who he wants as his partner: Parker Mulvaney, his best friend from high school. But in the ten years since graduation, their contact has dwindled to nothing, and it’s all Keith’s fault. If he hadn’t tried to kiss Parker under the mistletoe at the winter formal their senior year, Parker wouldn’t have bolted. At their ten-year reunion, Keith intends to do everything in his geeky power to make amends.
Parker should have known that scheduling the reunion the day before Christmas Eve was a recipe for a headache of monster proportions. But when Keith sends a text that he’ll be attending, the evening doesn’t look so bleak. Can an unnecessary makeover, a nostalgic breakfast, an abortive shopping trip, and a whole lot of mistletoe culminate in a long-overdue first kiss?
This novella was part of the 2017 Dreamspinner Press Stocking Stuffers anthology.
After they paid, Keith held the door for Parker. “I can’t believe you’re making me go to the mall. On Christmas Eve. Jesus, Parker, if you hate me that much, you could have just ripped my fingernails out.”
“Oh, stop whining. You’re a natural at this. You’ve always given the best presents.”
“Me? You’re the one who kills at gift-giving.” Their junior year, Parker’s Christmas gift to Keith was a CD of the entire Nutcracker Suite—as whistled by Parker and produced by his DJ father. Every time Keith listened to it, he imagined what Parker’s lips must have looked like, plush and puckered. He was probably the only guy on the planet who had to take a cold shower every time he heard “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” “Can you at least give me an idea of the scope here? Who are you—”
“You mean ‘we.’” Parker’s smirk was entirely too alluring.
“Fine. Who are we shopping for?” A shiver of alarm skated down Keith’s spine as the car doors unlocked themselves. “Not… not your whole family? You wouldn’t have waited this long for something that order of magnitude?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I started in October so I could spread the cash outlay over several months. I’ve only got two left on the list—my nieces, Rae and Whitney.”
Keith settled himself behind the wheel as Parker climbed in. “They’re Jen’s kids, right? How old are they now?”
“Thirteen and fifteen.”
Keith blinked. “Wow.”
“I know, right? Kids are like a yardstick for the passage of time.”
“I gotta tell you, though, I know the square root of nothing about teenage girls.”
Parker leaned against the door, his body angled toward Keith. “What if I tell you that Rae’s won her science fair prize two years running, and that the clutter in Whitney’s room is an even split between makeup and robotics components?”
Keith laughed. “Seriously?”
“Cross my heart. They’ve guilted Jen into taking them to GeekGirlCon every year since Rae was ten, and they’re making serious noises about the San Diego Comic-Con.”
An idea bloomed in Keith’s brain. Even if it didn’t win Parker’s favor, any kid who loved science deserved to be cherished. With American culture containing so many self-confidence landmines for tech-curious girls especially, Keith couldn’t pass up the chance to do his bit.
“Are they gamers?”
Parker snorted. “You have to ask? Jen uses game deprivation as a disciplinary technique since they actually enjoy being grounded. Gives them more time to level up.” He fastened his seat belt. “But if you’re going to suggest that I buy them a game, they probably already own it or have rejected it as beneath them.”
“Nah. Packaged commercial games won’t win you any favorite uncle points.” Keith started the car and switched on the turn signal before piloting the car into the street. Jesus, he needed a tugboat for this thing. “But here’s the deal. GWF is tough.”
“Gaming while female. If I remember Jen correctly, I’m betting she won’t let them join some of the more offensively aggressive online communities. But trolls are everywhere.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Parker murmured.
Get the book:
EJ's favorite things:
A tie between Steven Smith’s #18 (British Brunch) and Harney & Sons’ Malachi McCormick. Both of them include Assam and Keemun, so apparently I have a predictable tea profile!
Favorite modern movie:
Favorite classic movie:
Singin’ in the Rain
Oregon strawberries. Mmmmm. Sadly, the season is short—late May until (if we’re lucky) early July
Diana Wynne Jones
Favorite time of day:
Morning, between about eight and eleven (especially just before the equinoxes)
Reading; watching my sons dance
Favorite TV show:
Favorite ice cream:
Baskin Robbins’ peppermint (don’t judge…)
Fine Cooking’s deep chocolate olive oil cake (dusted with powdered sugar—no frosting necessary!)
Lemon-and-mustard marinated fish kebabs (my Curmudgeonly Husband’s recipe) with onions and peppers, served over rice pilaf
Favorite Jane Austen novel:
Favorite Star Trek character:
Mr. Spock (obviously)
Favorite TV theme song:
Maverick (Yeah, probably most of you won’t ever have heard it, but check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tfz5tv_dfLA)
The Empire of Light, II by Rene Magritte (The one at MoMA: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78456)
Favorite Marx Brother:
About EJ Russell:
E.J. Russell—certified geek, mother of three, recovering actor—holds a BA and an MFA in theater, so naturally she’s spent the last three decades as a financial manager, database designer, and business intelligence consultant (as one does). She’s recently abandoned data wrangling, however, and spends her days wrestling words.
E.J. is married to Curmudgeonly Husband, a man who cares even less about sports than she does. Luckily, CH loves to cook, or all three of their children (Lovely Daughter and Darling Sons A and B) would have survived on nothing but Cheerios, beef jerky, and satsuma mandarins (the extent of E.J.’s culinary skill set). E.J. lives in rural Oregon, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
Sign up for E.J.’s newsletter, or find her online at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
Thank you for celebrating this fabulous author with us. Come back next week for more of EJ's books, five little-known facts, and one more chance to win.
Until then, happy reading!