Hi there! I’m sharing some love for a series of novellas that have been steadily filling up my “read books” list. The Portland Heat series by Annabeth Albert is a contemporary M/M romance series featuring men, from all different backgrounds and stations in life, finding real love. The books all center on working men, who own or manage artisan-style cafes, you know those staples of foodie goodness. And I find the stories to be just as delicious.
About the series:
Portland, Oregon, aka Hotlandia, where the coffee shops, restaurants, and bakeries are ready to serve everything piping hot, fresh, and ready to go—like the hard-working, hard-bodied men behind the counters—with no reservations…
About Served Hot:
Robby is a self-employed barista with a busy coffee cart, a warm smile, and a major crush on one of his customers. David is a handsome finance director who works nearby, eats lunch by himself, and expects nothing but “the usual”—small vanilla latte—from the cute guy in the cart. But when David shows up for his first Portland Pride festival, Robby works up the nerve to take their slow-brewing relationship to the next level. David, however, is newly out and single, still grieving the loss of his longtime lover, and unsure if he’s ready to date again. Yet with every fresh latte, sweet exchange—and near hook-up—David and Robby go from simmering to steaming to piping hot. The question is: Will someone get burned?
Robby is a biracial Korean-American out gay man in Portland. He owns his own coffee cart and works very hard to support himself. He has a bit of a crush on one of his regulars, David (vanilla latte at 11:50 precisely).
David’s a tall, well-built man, a bookish sort, and Robby would love to make a move, but Robby’s not that sort. He’s also rather shy, and can’t get a definite read on David. It seems he’s got a curious eye on Robby, but is he gay? Robby’s very nervous, but finally makes a move, discussing the upcoming Pride festival. David’s non-committal, but surprises Robby there–revealing his attraction, and overwhelming grief.
Turns out, David had been in a long-term closeted relationship for years, until his partner died–inadvertently “outing” both David and himself in their rural Idaho community. David’s never had a true boyfriend–he and his lover never lived together, never went out as a couple, and experiencing the gay scene in Portland is a serious culture shock.
Robby had been with a closeted man before, and he doesn’t relish repeating the experience. David is out, but very quiet, very tentative, and still seeking grief counseling for his partner’s loss. Robby wants a real relationship, but it seems David is so used to being a filthy secret, he has no skills at being with an out man. Robby’s patience is long, and he really has to dig out his courage and force himself to be a more assertive partner.
It’s an excellent slow burn, with Robby and David having fits and starts, and exploring their relationship both physically and through conversation. There’s a bit of steam, but the focus is always on the relationship. These two are a good couple, and I enjoyed their sweet and tender story.
About Baked Fresh:
Vic Degrassi is a baker on the rise, and it’s all thanks to his rare ability to make—and keep—his New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s losing weight, giving up smoking, or graduating from culinary school, Vic goes after what he wants—and gets it. This year? He wants Robin Dawson, the sweet-hearted hottie who volunteers with him at the local homeless shelter.
When he learns that Robin is suddenly single after being unceremoniously dumped, Vic is more than happy to offer a shoulder to cry on—or at least a fresh-baked pastry to bite into. But it’s been a long time since Vic’s gone on a date, and he’s nervous about risking his friendship with Robin. So when their flirtation turns into a steamy night together, Vic and Robin have to figure out if they’re friends with benefits or lovers in the making, and if Robin is ready for something more than just a rebound. There’s only one way to find out: turn up the heat…
Vic is a 33 y/o baker who’s had a lot of loss in his life. He is father, uncle and cousin all died young to heart disease, so Vic had gastric bypass surgery a year ago. Since then he’s watched his diet, exercised and shed 110 pounds. He feels good, but his self-consciousness lingers. Vic does a lot of volunteer work helping to distribute day-olds from the bakery to a local homeless shelter, where he enjoys some repartee with Robin, a former shelter inhabitant who now volunteers there part-time. Vic’s had his eye on Robin for a couple of years now, but never approached him, well, because Robin is a young, beautiful man. And Robin’s also had a boyfriend…until recently.
In fact, Robin doesn’t want another boyfriend. He’s had a not-so-great past that included running away from home as a teen, doing drugs and turning tricks to survive. Sober for the past three years, he has difficulty with penetrative sex, and feels he’s “damaged goods” anyway. That the beefy baker, Vic, has any interest in Robin is a bit mindblowing.
Vic proceeds slowly with Robin, trying to gain any part of his attention. They agree to a fling, no commitments–because this is what Robin can tolerate and Vic will take any scrap Robin with throw him, but it ends up being supremely tender. Vic wants, more than anything, to reveal his deep attraction to Robin, but he’s afraid that will push Robin away, so he shows Robin in all the other ways how special he is. I really enjoyed watching these two build into a couple.
Robin is astounded at Vic’s patience and consideration as a lover. But, real life exists. Robin’s involvement at the shelter brings him into contact with kids who make the same choices he had. He feels as if not saving these kids, as Robin himself had been saved, is a personal failure, and it cuts deep. Vic wants to be there for Robin, but Robin’s emotions are everywhere. There’s a blow up, breakdown, and big love in this book. It’s sexy and somber, and whimsical and tender, by turns. For a novella there’s a whole lotta story, and enough sexytimes to remind us that dudes like it hot and ready.
About Delivered Fast:
Sure, Chris O’Neal has problems. His restaurant is still co-owned by his ex. His flannel-and-tattoos style is making him accidentally trendy. He can’t remember the last time he went out and had fun. But he’s not lonely, he’s driven. And the hot bakery delivery boy is not his problem, no matter how sweet his buns.
Chris is old enough to know Lance Degrassi’s sculpted good looks and clever double entendres spell nothing but trouble. Lance is still in college—he should be hitting the clubs and the books, chasing guys his own age, not pursuing some gruff motorcycle-riding workaholic. Especially when he’ll be leaving for grad school in a few months. But Lance keeps hanging around, lending a hand, charming Chris to distraction. Maybe some steaming hot no-strings indulgence won’t hurt.
Then again, maybe it will…
Chris O’Neal is part owner of an independent coffee shop in Portland. His new bakery delivery man, Lance, is beautiful, young, and virile. And Lance is really into Chris, despite his beard, flannel and the ~15 year age gap. Chris really can’t fathom the attraction, plus, he’s not up for being hurt again. His previous boyfriend still owns part of his coffee shop, and Chris rather resents it. Also, Lance is really just too beautiful to be involved with such a broody bear. Or is he?
Lance makes no bones about what he needs–he wants a guy who will be casual, but not with anyone else. Lance is finishing college and applying for grad school. He works two jobs and helps out his family and friends all the time. He is focused and driven, but wants an occasional partner, and is sure that mature Chris can be that for the next several months. He cajoles Chris into it, but Chris balks continuously, always fearing that he’ll get attached and Lance will hurt him.
I loved the dynamic here. Lance really is a social butterfly and the shiniest gem in the jewelry box, yet he’s kind, selfless and generous. He sweet talks cantankerous Chris with ease, and aplomb. Chris tells this story, so we are caught in his self-torture over Lance’s age and inexperience. We see all Chris’ relationship regret and know why he chooses to hurt Lance rather than risk Lance reworking his future to include Chris. It’s all very O. Henry, and still reasonable and approachable.
I liked both of these guys, but I must say I liked Lance more. I was so glad that Chris got over his hang-ups, and liked the side characters who popped in. Will Barista Brady get his book next? This book is far seamier than the two previous, likely because of the friends-with-benefits strategy Lance employs to lure Chris in. Steam? Get ready to sweat! Yummy and engaging. A delicious love story.
About the Author:
Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.
Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two toddlers.
Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!