After an emergency forces Ashton Sellers from his apartment, all he wants for Christmas is new lipgloss, zero contact from his abusive family, and a place to stay for the holidays. Cue his business partner begrudgingly taking him in.
Walker’s a fuddy-duddy with no sense of fun, but he does have a safe, warm home with four adorable dogs and delicious food on the table.
If it turns out Walker’s also a secret softy with a tender side and a hot body beneath his endless parade of golf shirts? Great, good, cool. And if Walker wants Ashton to pretend to be his boyfriend for his sister’s Christmas-themed wedding? Awesome, amazing.
Could Walker be the safe haven Ashton missed out on as a child? Could they be falling in love for real?
But when Ashton uncovers a painful mistake in Walker’s past, it hits too close to home. As the jingle bells quiet and the snow settles, will Ashton be able to forgive Walker, or will their relationship be over before it ever truly begins?
Mr. Jingle Bells is a gay Christmas story by Leta Blake featuring forced proximity, opposites attract, fake dating, office romance, steamy scenes, and a taffy-sweet happy ending. It’s set in the Home for the Holidays universe, which began with Mr. Frosty Pants, but can be read as a standalone.
Content warnings for childhood abuse, past addiction issues, PTSD episodes, and gambling
“Walker, was this your idea?”
Walker realized that he’d let Ashton take control of the presentation, and he lifted his chin confidently. “It was. I thought of it last night, and I think we can pull it off. And even if we can’t, even if people suspect that it’s all for show and that I’m paying him to escort me, or even just pretending to be dating him like his post suggested, that’ll be fuel enough for gossip, right? Like why would I do that? People will have a lot to say either way. And none of it about you, Tom, Morgan, or the kids.”
“And Mom and Dad?”
“There should be nothing shameful in their son bringing a beautiful man to your wedding.”
Evelyn looked between him and Ashton and then down at their joined hands. Her mouth twitched up at the corner again, and she turned to Tom. “Let’s talk in private for a minute? In the hotel lobby? We’ll be right back.”
Walker thought Ashton would let go of his hand as soon as Evelyn and Tom left, but he didn’t. Instead he traced Walker’s knuckles with his thumb, saying, “I can’t believe they think I can’t do this. I mean, I could absolutely make anyone believe I’m in love with you. It wouldn’t even be hard.”
“But what about me?” Walker asked gruffly. “Maybe I’m not as great an actor.”
Ashton looked up at him, his green eyes shining in the candlelight. He searched Walker’s face and grinned. “Ah, no, just look at me like that! And everyone will believe we’re madly in love! That’s perfect, Walker. You’re a really good actor already, see?”
Walker almost gaped. He wasn’t acting right now? And he wasn’t in love? He was just…impressed by how much he’d missed about Ashton before. By focusing on all the ways Ashton was different from him, by feeling uncomfortable with Ashton’s dissimilarities instead of appreciating them, he’d almost missed out on a really cool person.
Ashton sighed happily, gazing up at him. “Man, the person you look at like that for real? They’re gonna be so lucky.” Then he released Walker’s hand and took up his drink.
Walker’s skin tingled where Ashton had been touching him, and he wanted to wrap their fingers together again. But he lifted his bourbon and sipped it instead. Weird how lines got so easily blurred when a person was lonely. He needed to keep that in mind.
Tom and Evelyn returned from the lobby, Evelyn with a grin spread across her face like Christmas-come-early, and Tom with a smirk directed at Walker that he didn’t quite know how to interpret.
“We’re in,” Evelyn said. “Right, Tom?”
Tom nodded, his eyes on Walker. “Yup. We’re good to go with this plan. Initiate Operation Fake Boyfriend.”
Ashton squirmed with excitement next to Walker. “Fantastic! Now we just need to decide on the details.”
Immediately, Ashton and Evelyn began to plot. Tom kept sneaking indecipherable looks at Walker but saying nothing. It wasn’t long before they all needed another round of drinks.
“Okay, so like how crazy can I go?” Ashton asked, leaning forward over the table toward Evelyn, hand to his chest. “I assure you I don’t ever want to take attention away from you as the bride—”
“No, please do!”
“Okay, I could wear this for example? To the wedding?” Ashton flipped his phone around and displayed a picture of himself in the most flamboyant suit Walker had ever seen. It was a sky-blue skinny tuxedo with orange and white koi fish printed all over it. Why did Ashton even own this atrocity? And why did Walker suspect that Ashton would actually look smoking hot in it?
“God, that’s perfect. Perfect,” Evelyn cooed. “Oh, Tom, just think of everyone’s faces. Your Uncle Dave will shit a brick.”
“Or maybe this one?” Ashton turned the phone around again, flipped through some of his photos, and then found what he was looking for. “Too much? Or just right?”
“Oh God, it’s great, but almost not enough.”
How could it not be enough? In the photo, Ashton wore a fitted, burgundy suit that was so tight through the legs and ass that it made Walker feel a little…well, a little aroused and tingly, and he wasn’t sure that was what he wanted to feel on his sister’s wedding day.
Nor did he think he wanted to feel that way about Ashton at all. Though it seemed to keep happening. Like the other night when he’d been unable to tear his eyes away from Ashton’s collarbones, or when he’d had to shift around as he’d massaged his feet to keep from getting hard.
“I have another more exciting option,” Ashton said. When he presented the next photo, Walker’s legs went numb and a cold sweat broke out in the small of his back. Fuck. That suit was some kind of high-fashion bondage gear combination. How had Ashton even afforded these pieces? They all looked like they were incredibly pricey. Plus, was Ashton into that? Bondage and all that went with it? Because Walker absolutely wasn’t.
Why did it matter? They were just friends! What was going on in his head?
Not gonna lie…when I saw how many pages this book was, I was a bit intimidated. Lately long books have taken me at least two weeks to read, and my expectation was that it would take me at least that or more for Mr. Jingle Bells. Nope! Three days, and it flew by. I couldn’t put this book down! I loved both these characters, the side characters, and especially the dogs. 🙂
Ashton was so unapologetically himself, and I loved that for him. He had a bad childhood, one that few people really understand the depths of, even when reading it. He worked hard to get where he was, even with little to show for it monetarily, because of his trust in the wrong person. He knew where his boundaries were, and didn’t allow others to cross into it, even if it hurt him. He was strong from the inside, and someone any of us would be proud to be friends with.
With Walker, he had his own boundaries but still managed to have a huge heart and would do almost anything for someone he cared about…or even someone he barely knew, when he took in Ashton.
There was so much going on in this book, it could have been difficult to keep everything straight, but it absolutely was not. Everything was weaved together seamlessly. Ashton’s moments of pain, one after another. Walker being there to pick up the pieces. Evelyn and Tom’s upcoming wedding. Even down to Walker’s grandfather, as a bit of a catalyst. It was so well written, that as the story wound through one portion then another, it flowed through each storyline, building upon itself.
There were a few pieces I didn’t understand. How did Ashton and Walker end up in business together if they really didn’t know each other at all, not something I could see doing. I also didn’t quite see how their idea of trolling people at Evelyn’s wedding would pay off in the end. It came together, but still wasn’t something I couldn’t quite grasp for myself. However, those were small issues, and did not take away from the story at all.
This book was not just about two men falling in love, but the redemption and changes they both needed in their lives. For themselves, and then for each other. And the sticky sweet ending will have you wondering why we can’t have Christmas books all year long. It was sigh worthy. (But also bring a few tissues to the reading of the book…you’ll need them in a few places, for sure.)
In the end, I think I loved this book even more than the previous two in this series, and that’s saying a lot, because I loved them as well. So well done, and you won’t regret a minute of sitting down, reading this, and ignoring all the other things you “should” be doing, for the thing you want to be doing. 🙂
4.5 pieces of eye candy
Author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.
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