In the bustling restaurants, shops, and cafés of Portland, Oregon, things really heat up for the hard-working men behind the scenes when the holidays come into town . . .
For a stationery store owner, the holidays are great for business. But for Hollis Alcott, Christmas reminds him of the tragic events of three years past, and the last thing he wants to do is take part in Portland’s over-abundance of festive cheer. But Sawyer Murphy, a hunky gift shop owner whose brother is married to Hollis’s sister, has made it his mission to pluck Hollis out of his holiday blues. And his plan is beginning to work. Wrapped in the warm glow of newfound passion, the former business rivals hit up Portland’s finest holiday traditions—and Hollis’s icy attitude begins to melt like snowflakes on his tongue. But he isn’t sure he can trust anyone with the only gift he has—his heart—without breaking it like an antique ornament. Unless he can find the courage to take a leap with the one lover he never expected . . .
Praise for the Portland Heat series
“Tremendously charming and sexy.” —RT Book Reviews on Served Hot
“A really enjoyable story.” —Joyfully Jay on Baked Fresh
“Sometimes an author just gets everything right…Absolutely perfect.” —Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews on Delivered Fast
About the Author
Annabeth can be found online at annabethalbert.com, @annabethalbert on Twitter, and Facebook.com/annabethalbert.
Read an Excerpt
By Annabeth Albert
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Annabeth Albert
All rights reserved.
"Don't forget the holiday decorating contest begins next week."
Even my piping-hot mint tea wasn't enough to warm me at Ron Atkinson's words. Holiday. Decorating. Contest. Dear lord, what was the business association thinking?
"Are there guidelines?" someone closer to the head of the table blessedly asked so I didn't have to. The Alberta Street business owners were meeting at the People's Cup coffee house on the Thursday evening before Thanksgiving. This was our monthly meeting, ostensibly to discuss making our tiny business district more welcoming to customers, but usually more of a social hour except when, like today, a special event was in the offing. I hated the special events.
"No guidelines this year other than the theme 'Magic of the Holidays!' so you can have fun decorating your windows and storefronts in whatever way that theme speaks to you." Ron had a bushy mustache and a booming voice better suited for a minister or a politician than the owner of an upscale pet supply store. He was our unofficial leader — sent out reminder emails about the meetings and set the agendas and worked tirelessly on the special events.
The holiday season held no magic for me, especially not for the past two years, and I doubted "crushing grief" made a good decorating scheme, so I didn't join in the excited murmurs that started up as people shared their plans, many of which sounded months in that making.
"Does anyone have a pen? I want to write some of this down." Ah. Sawyer Murphy had come late and unprepared as usual. He'd squeezed in between Mary Anne, the florist, and Ev, the yarn shop owner, balancing his coffee drink and agenda in one hand. He wore a hoodie advertising some video game. His unruly brown hair and several days' worth of stubble made him look more like a student at the nearby community college than part owner of a chain of gift stores, including the one in our neighborhood.
Ev passed him a simple ballpoint, one with his store's logo on it. Good. Saved me having to offer the Kaweco Sport in my jacket pocket. I carried it not for advertising my stationery store but because it was a damn fine portable fountain pen, one of my personal favorites.
"Anything else we need to discuss?" Ron asked.
This was my chance, the reason I'd come to the meeting in the first place, and I pulled out the thick stationery-stock note card where I'd jotted down my thoughts on retailers encroaching onto sidewalk space. Namely Sawyer sprawling out of the front of his store with all manner of trinkets. But in the time it took me to get my card out, people were murmuring "no" and already starting the gossip hour part of the meeting, talking in small groups, no longer paying attention to the agenda or Ron.
Just like that, there went my chance. I didn't have the bravery required to lift my voice above the din. Indeed, my hand shook getting the card out of my jacket's breast pocket. Not today.
I took a sip of my now tepid, almost-gone tea. Ugh. The good barista was on duty, the one who went with Ev from the knitting store and who always happily made my tea with the same care he did the fancy coffee drinks. I left the group, happy to have the excuse of needing a refill, but as I stood in line, Mary Anne joined me.
"Hollis Alcott, we almost never see you at these things!" Her voice seemed to ring out above the din. "Will you be participating in the contest this year?"
"I doubt it. My fall display is already set." I tried not to sound too dour — she always had the best houseplants and had custom-ordered the rare fern I'd wanted.
"Ah, well, that's too bad. You let me know if you change your mind. I'd be happy to lend you some poinsettias or other decor. I know you could do a splendid, tasteful window."
It was my turn to order, so I gave her a smile as a reply before handing Brady my stainless-steel tumbler for tea and ordering a scone to go. I had to wait down at the other end of the bar for my order, and as I was waiting, Sawyer came loping over, a smile on his boyish face. His wide shoulders stretched the hoodie in distracting ways.
"Hollis! Did I hear you say you're not decorating?"
He frowned. "I know how much you hate the holidays, but I bet you'd get an uptick in sales if you decorated. I heard Mary Anne offer to help. I could, too. I've got gobs of lights."
"Thank you but no." Truth be told, I could use the increase in sales, but it wasn't enough of a motivator to get me ready for the onslaught of red and green.
Sawyer's head tilted, considering. Oh no. I knew that look too well. A Sawyer who was scheming was downright dangerous. "We should bet, you and I."
"No," I said firmly. I stepped away from the coffee bar to let Mary Anne and others wait for their orders, but Sawyer kept step with me, effectively pinning me in between two tables on my path to the door. I sighed and repeated my objection. "No. The last time we bet, I believe you cracked a wrist."
Sawyer waved a hand, dismissing my concern. "We were fifteen. We've had other bets since then."
We had, but there was one in particular I was determined not to remember right at that moment. This was the peril of having known someone for almost two decades. "How precisely would one even bet on this?"
I let my inner musings escape before I could rein them in, and Sawyer smiled. He knew he had me. Whatever nervousness and shyness captured my tongue around large groups did not, unfortunately, extend to Sawyer. "Well, I was thinking whichever of us makes it into the top three is the winner of our bet, and then the loser has to do whatever the winner wants for an evening."
Oh, I did not like this. "Anything?"
"That wasn't a no." Sawyer's grin showed the sort of charm that made him so darn popular. "And I wasn't thinking of something kinky. Trust me here, Hols."
"Don't call me that." And I most certainly did not trust him. I was pretty sure the always-affable Sawyer didn't have a kinky bone in his body, but that didn't mean he wasn't up to something. "But I could get you to do any task of my choosing?"
See, the thing about me that Sawyer knew was that I have a very hard time resisting a bet. Always have, hence the aforementioned bet freshman year of high school about jumping over auditorium seats during drama class. I'm also notoriously cheap. And as it turned out, I did have a job for him.
He nodded. "Anything."
"I have a bathroom I want painted at my store. Including the trim."
Sawyer, to his credit, didn't look remotely pained. "That's fine. I'm good at painting."
"And you? What would you want?" I had no idea why I was asking. I certainly wasn't planning on agreeing to this ridiculous plan.
"A surprise." He winked at me.
"I don't like those."
"I know. Which is why you need one. But if it makes you feel better, I'll specify no sex or nudity involved." Sawyer had mercifully dropped his deep, clear voice to softer tones. I still bristled at the thought of anyone overhearing this.
"Or humiliation, public or otherwise."
"Oh, Hollis, you know me better than that." He held up his hands. They were big, capable hands, and I had to blink to get my eyes to look away. "Now, come on. I dare you. Bet me."
"I suppose I could muster some sort of decor. Something simple. Tasteful."
"I wouldn't expect anything less." He put out a hand for me to shake.
I took it, reluctantly, knowing that his firm clasp would send the same jolt up my arm it always did. "All right. I suppose I'll call you if I win."
"But I'll see you before that, right?" Sawyer didn't seem in any hurry to part, lounging against an empty table. I knew exactly what was coming next, but good manners kept me from rushing out the door. "Aren't you coming to Thanksgiving? My mom's looking forward to seeing you."
"I sent her my regrets the other day. I have plans."
"You do?" Sawyer blinked.
"I do." It didn't matter if those plans were a movie marathon for me and a turkey breast for Benedict and me, they were my own.
"More than just hanging out with your cat?" Oh, Sawyer knew me a bit too well, which was one of the many reasons I strove to avoid him as much as possible.
"Yes," I lied with absolute confidence. Rewatching Sherlock totally counted as more.
"Char and Tucker will be disappointed, too, I'm sure. And Aria." Sawyer threw out the three cards most likely to get me to waver, but I stood firm.
"Just because my sister married your brother doesn't mean I need adopting by your family really. I'm quite content with my life." It had been bad enough that Char had been best friends with Sawyer all through high school. Then she had to go and marry Tucker, who was Sawyer's twin, making Sawyer practically family, something I still wasn't reconciled with.
"Oh, Hollis," Sawyer groaned. "I swear to God, I'm going to find you some holiday spirit this year if it kills me."
Whatever small modicum of holiday spirit I had had died almost three years ago and we both knew it. All I really wanted from the holidays was a quietly forgettable month — it was the most I could hope for really. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get going."
"Okay. Just don't forget our bet!"
As if I could. I cursed my impetuousness the whole walk back to my place, pulling my coat tighter against the late November chill.CHAPTER 2
"That is the most Charlie Brown–looking Christmas tree I've ever seen." Char's voice interrupted my work in the front window of Paper, my store. It was an old-fashioned space with a large front window — the building had been a haberdashery in a previous life and I'd kept the bare wood floors, classic glass cases, and large display window with a raised platform.
"That's because it's not a Christmas tree." I crawled out of the window to give my sister a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. She had Aria with her in her bright orange stroller. Her I gave a big smile to and a high five. She loved handing those out.
"It's not?" Char's nose wrinkled up.
"This is a seasonal branch," I explained, gesturing to the bare stick. "It symbolizes the austereness of winter, while the red ball is merely a touch of whimsy."
"Whimsy." She didn't look convinced. "And the single candle is for solstice, then? Is that your theme?"
"Not really. Just giving a nod to the season really."
My sister had celebrated solstice since her hippie college days at Reed. And ever since they'd had Aria, she was firmly in the all-holidays-matter camp and celebrated from Thanksgiving through the Epiphany, hitting Hanukkah, Christmas, with a nod to Kwanzaa, too. Not all of us reacted to the sheer awfulness of December in the same way. I hunkered down and hibernated. Char celebrated like they might be handing out medals for it. Indeed, today she had on a tunic stretched across her pregnant belly with turkeys made out of handprints, and Aria had a matching T-shirt with the year on it. They also had matching riotous mops of curly dark brown hair.
"Well, it's more than you have the last few years." She chewed the corner of her glossy lip — no doubt there was homemade beeswax balm coming in the holiday presents this year. "So you're coming for Thanksgiving tomorrow, then?"
"No. I sent my regrets, as I'm sure you heard."
"Oh." Her face fell, and I had to look away, concentrating on untangling the single strand of white lights that would be the final touch for my window. "It's not healthy for you and that cat to be alone so much."
"Bun — Benedict and I get along just fine. We'll have a nice day," I assured her, patting her arm before I climbed back into the window area.
"Bunny and you. It's okay to admit that your cat only comes to the name Bunny." Char's laugh removed most of her disappointed look. Her usually pale skin had a rosy glow to it. We had the same coloring — dark hair, light blue eyes, skin that refused to tan — but Char was so ... animated that it was often challenging to remember that we'd once shared a womb.
"Regardless, I'll get along fine." I busied myself artfully draping the strand of lights.
"But I'm making a mince pie. Could I drop a slice or two off for you after?" she asked.
"If there's any left. Don't hold some back on my account." I crawled back out and dusted off my pant legs before returning to her and Aria.
"Hollis. You're my brother. You matter." She leaned in and gave me an awkward hug. "For what it's worth, I miss them, too. I know my pie's not as good as Mom's, and Christine's turkey isn't like Dad's, but they're good people, Hollis. They'd love to have you."
My throat got thick as it always did when she mentioned our parents, gone three years in December. She could talk so much more easily about memories than I could. Just thinking about Dad's turkey had me resolving to do a Cornish hen instead for Benedict and me. "I know Christine and Phillip mean well. I'm just not up to the full family right now."
Sawyer's family — now Char's in-laws — was huge. Christine and Phillip had separated a decade ago, yet somehow they managed to spend holidays together with their new partners, as if it was no big deal that their family was more blended than a French Impressionist watercolor with stepparents and stepsiblings along with the usual assortment of grandparents and aunts and uncles. A forty-person holiday meal wasn't out of the ordinary.
"Mama! Out!" Aria demanded, kicking her heels against the stroller.
"No, no, darling. Uncle Hollis has too many pretties for you to break." To me, she said, "You know, you could let me set up a little corner of the store with a few playthings for those customers who have kids — that way they can browse while the kids play and —"
"No," I said with a shudder. "Few of my customers have kids anyway." Finishing with the lights, I went behind the register to dig around in the low shelves beneath it. "Ah, here it is."
I came back around the register to kneel in front of Aria. "Here, sweetheart, Uncle Hollis has something for you." I held out the small paper parcel.
"No s-u-g-a-r," Char spelled out as Aria tore open the wrapper.
"Trust," I told her in exactly the same tone Sawyer had used on me the night before. Aria revealed a little board book I'd picked up down the street for her, one of those wordless books with imaginative drawings. I'd been drawn to it instantly.
"Her birthday's in a few weeks," Char chided. "You spoil her so."
"She's my only niece."
"For now." She patted her round belly. "Can't wait until February gets here and we find out what these two are."
"Healthy babies, we hope." I stayed at stroller height, turning pages for Aria. As a twin who'd married a twin, Char had been convinced she'd have twins, too, the first time around. Trust Char to get her way eventually, though. I really wasn't one to speculate on genders or names with her, but I was unmistakably besotted with Aria and had no doubt this new duo would similarly make me way mushier than I was comfortable with.
"Did I tell you my friend Jeannie's having twins, too? Later next year. It'll be just like the Murphy and Alcott twins, growing up together," she crowed, and I winced.
"Congrats to her." Much as I could enjoy the quieter company of Tucker, the extroverted pair of Char and Sawyer had made my high school experience very ... loud. And I hadn't exactly enjoyed going through school as "the twins," something made much more ... challenging when Sawyer had exuberantly come out our junior year of high school. More than ten years later, I'd finally worked up some forgiveness for Char's blurting to Tucker, "Now we both have a gay twin!" Some of us preferred not to have our private lives be the subject of public speculation. There were reasons I'd gone east for college. Not that I'd ever tell any of them that.
"All done!" Aria threw the book to the polished concrete floor, and I retrieved it.
"We're going to walk and look at all the new windows. Won't you join us?" Char made a begging face. "You can hang your 'Back in Ten Minutes' sign."
I mainly used that sign for my lunch break, but I could tell Char and Aria would have a big pout if I declined, so I sighed and went in the back to grab my coat, scarf, and gloves.
"Goodness, Hollis. We're just going down the street. Not to the arctic."
Excerpted from Wrapped Together by Annabeth Albert. Copyright © 2016 Annabeth Albert. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I always enjoy the Christmas/winter themed romance novels that come out this time of year! I always prefer dual POV’s so while this was still good, I would have loved having Sawyer’s side. I think it really would have helped developed his character as a settled, changing man. Albert still does a great job of showing Saywer’s growth and I believe him when he says he’ll stick, but seeing his inner thoughts would have made that stronger. I really liked Sawyer — he’s always happy and excited and ready to embrace everything in life and enjoy it all. He was a good match to bring Hollis out of his funk and to also keep him from completely sinking into loneliness. Hollis is very British in a somewhat stereotypical way with his proper mannerisms and speech and his love of tea and paper/pen products. He’s a huge introvert and his social anxiety reminded me of someone I know. It was interesting to see because Annabeth Albert does a really good job of showing how crushing those feelings can be for someone. Hollis’s concern about gossip and crowds and what people will think could have come across and juvenile and silly but instead Albert handles it well and it comes across as a genuine problem that some people have to deal with. I also liked that though Hollis lets go of some of his grief and embraces a relationship with Sawyer, his core character personality doesn’t change; he doesn’t suddenly become this extroverted person. I always hate when author’s do that in novels because it’s just not real. But no worries here, because Hollis is still his normal introverted self.
Oh, this was just WONDERFUL! The perfect mix of cute and Christmassy but with the right amount of darker emotions to keep it grounded without being bogged down in them. Also, a ton of character development packed into a very short space. Definitely going to check out the rest of the series, which look to all be novellas, which should be a nice way to mix things up as I go through them throughout the year.
Excellent addition to the Portland Heat series. Hollis has buried himself in grief for so long that he doesn't know how to escape it. I love all the little things that Sawyer does to bring Hollis out into life again. There is a bit of very light BDSM and a fair amount of spice but it's the revelations and changes that these two go through that really make the story. Old friends make an appearance and I'm certainly looking forward to the next book in the series. Adult read
This delightful friends to lovers romance is the latest in the Portland Heat series and is a truly wonderful Christmas story. Hollis and Sawyer have been friends for years, but lately have been more estranged, with Hollis still grieving the deaths of his parents. Sawyer takes it upon himself to show Hollis how to live again. The contrast between these two character really makes the story come alive. Hollis’s grief is a real presence and not to be brushed aside. But I loved how his memories of his parents and the holidays they spent together become less tinged with grief and more filled with the warmth of remembrance, helped by Sawyer’s indomitable spirit. Sawyer doesn’t seek to negate Hollis’s grief, but to draw him out to be with his family and friends who miss him, and to show him that life is meant to be lived. Sawyer’s delight in getting Hollis to smile again and banter with him causes a chain reaction in Hollis who is warmed by Sawyer’s generosity and unfailing friendship, though at first he is resistant to changing the status quo. But it’s not just about friendship between these two. The spark of attraction has existed for a long time, but one thing or another always held them back. Now though, it’s in full force and with neither being in a relationship with someone else, they have their chance to see where things can go. The result is some very sexy, surprisingly kinky scenes as they discover they are compatible in some unexpected ways. Hollis's main concern with getting involved in a sexual relationship with Sawyer has always been what would happen when Sawyer tired of him and moved on, so he'd held himself back from showing his attraction. Now though, their chemistry is too strong to be put aside so easily. There are some really cute scenes with Aria, Char and Tucker's adorable young daughter (and therefore Sawyer and Hollis's niece) that make for some of the lighthearted moments in the story as Sawyer and Hollis compete in friendly uncle fashion for her attention. Combined with the sweetness of seeing Hollis and Sawyer falling in love, this romance is really just a delight from beginning to end. Highly recommended and definitely a new Christmas favorite.
You'll love Spending the Holidays with Hollis! > > Judging a Book by it's Cover > Looking Deeper 4.5 if I could ========================== ⭐ ⭐ **** Disclosure of Material: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the Author/Publisher with the hope that I will leave my Unbiased Opinion. I was not required nor asked to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that... My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising". ***** ⭐ ⭐
A lovely and heartwarming holiday read! Sawyer and Hollis have known each other their whole lives. Both have twin siblings and being the only two sets of twins in the community they were always hanging out together. The older they got the more the two started drifting apart but when their siblings get married they are thrown back together into each other’s lives. Hollis has always had a crush on Sawyer even though he would never admit it. Now he owns his own high end stationary store. Everyone loves him and he gets along with most people but there is something about Sawyer that rubs him. As Christmas approaches Hollis becomes closed off to everyone, he wants nothing to do with the holiday after tragically losing his parents a few years’ prior at Christmas. Sawyer has secretly been in love with Hollis for years. He knew he needed to get his head on straight on grow up before he could ever try to make his move to prove how good they could be together. He finds that opportunity when the local business association decides to hold a contest for best holiday window display. Sawyer bets Hollis that his window display will beat Hollis’s in the chamber’s contest knowing Hollis can’t pass up the bet. When Sawyer’s display wins, he takes Hollis all over town reminding him how great Christmas is and it starts the two on a path to finding their HEA. I enjoyed these two characters and their love for each other was truly beautiful. Great story and look forward to reading more by this author. I received an eARC of this book compliments of the publisher in exchange for my honest review and opinion. All ratings and opinions stated are my own.
I can't get enough of this series! I have loved all of the books in the Portland Heat series and Wrapped Together is a perfect addition and a perfect holiday story. Hollis and Sawyer have known each other forever. Hollis is a twin, so is Sawyer, and Hollis’ sister is married to Sawyer’s brother. Hollis has always been more reserved and Sawyer not so much. Hollis doesn’t care for the holidays since his parents died and Sawyer is determined to help him feel some holiday cheer. Their friendly (?) competition soon turns to something more and the sparks begin to fly. Annabeth Albert’s stories always leave me satisfied and yet I always want more because I just can’t bear the thought that I won’t be reading more about her wonderful characters. That’s what I love about this series; the stories are connected and yet stand alone. When I read a new Portland Heat story I feel like I’m revisiting old friends while at the same time meeting new ones. The heat between Hollis and Sawyer is delicious and reading how Sawyer gradually turns Hollis from a Scrooge-like character into someone who learns to enjoy Christmas again makes this one of my favorite holiday novellas ever; the friends to lovers aspect just added more icing to the cake. Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. Review will be posted to xtreme-delusions dot com on or soon after release date.
This is the perfect holiday love story! Hollis Alcott has a really hard time during the holidays and that’s why he avoids any kind of Christmas cheer at all costs but that changes when he makes a bet with Sawyer and loses, so now he has to take part in the Christmas activities Sawyer has prepared for him, and in all that Christmas cheer the attraction these two have towards each other is hard to ignore. Wrapped Together was the perfect combination of holiday fun and romance, the writing made me swoon time and time again. I loved Holli’s grumpy ways and Sawyer’s cheer and never give up attitude. If you are looking for a Christmas romance and a feel good book to read during your holidays look no further!