Author: Annabeth Albert
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Release Date: April 13th, 2015
From its famous coffee to the mouthwatering fare at its cafés, restaurants, and bakeries, Portland, Oregon, has a lot to whet the appetite, including the hard-working men who serve it all up—hot, fresh, and ready to go—with no reservations…
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…
“So, what’s your plan this year?” Cliff asked as we unloaded pallets of food for Victory Mission. The stinging December wind whipped through the loading dock, howling against the concrete walls. I had to strain to hear Cliff’s booming voice. “Sky diving? Marathon? How you gonna top last year, Vic?”
“Dunno.” I hefted a box of tomato sauce cans. That’s what everyone wanted to know—how I was going to top last year’s resolution to lose a hundred pounds. Truth was, I was pretty good at resolutions. Four years ago, I’d resolved to go to culinary school. Three years ago, I gave up smoking. And last year I lost 111 pounds. But this year I had a smaller, simpler goal in mind.
“Thought I might try dating.”
“Dating? As in a boyfriend?” Cliff snorted, a dry sound that echoed off the metal loading bay doors. “I’d go with a marathon.”
My stomach churned as I grabbed another box of rolls. I had my own doubts. I was hardly a prize catch. I hadn’t dated anyone in the four years I’d been working for Cliff. Never had a boyfriend beyond the rare three-peat hookup. ’Course, Cliff didn’t know about my hookups, but I hadn’t even had one of those in eight long months. Up until a few months ago, I hadn’t realized what I was missing. Ever since then, this weird, restless longing had plagued me. New Year’s was the perfect excuse to do something about it. Get out there.
“You guys done out here? Whole stack of boxes waiting inside. We don’t have all day.” Robin bustled out onto the dock, bringing a shit-ton of bad mood with him. A far cry from the sunny, talkative guy who made me think crazy thoughts, like that maybe dating wasn’t a terrible idea. He was gone before either Cliff or I could reply.
“What’s up with him?” I asked Cliff once I heard the pantry door shut inside.
“Melissa said Paul broke up with him.” Cliff always found the gossip. The food bank volunteers were like bored high schoolers, passing rumors around their shifts like joints at a party.
“Finally.” I didn’t realize I’d said the word aloud until Cliff laughed.
“Aha! On second thought, I highly approve of your resolution. I’m gonna have to get a bet going with Trish about whether or not you can land your man. Talk about aiming high though, kid.”
“Didn’t say anything about dating Robin,” I mumbled into a sack of rice. The last time Robin was single, I had spent months thinking about him. Wondering if he was out of my league. Knowing he was out of my league but trying to work up the courage to ask him out anyway. Coming to volunteer more often just to be around him. Then Paul swooped in like a star pitcher and sent me back to the minor leagues, where I belonged.
I readjusted my grip on the sack so I wouldn’t accidentally tear the darn thing in two. No, I wasn’t stupid enough to make a resolution to date Robin. I just wanted to get out there. Give myself a chance to maybe meet a nice guy who wouldn’t care about my food issues and my loose skin and my bald-by-choice look.
But now that Cliff had planted the dating-Robin idea in my brain, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Which irked the hell out of me. I’d worked hard to deep-six my crush on him. Finding out he was single was a stupid reason to unearth it. Robin was the nice guy of my fantasies. And fucking gorgeous. He was sex walking around in KEENs and hipster T-shirts. He was everything I wanted and everything I wasn’t ever going to have.
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Having enjoyed the first of the series, Portland’s finest really did impress me this time. While I thought the previous story seemed too short-simply because I wished to have more of the guys- Baked Fresh was just the right pace and the right length. Longer than its predecessor, but still much shorter than my preferred format, not once have I felt rushed or unsatisfied in the end. The issues that were handled were dealt with care, and they blended in with Vic and Robin’s own stories so well. Everything had a start and an end which is what usually worries me in novellas with a substance. Thankfully, Annabeth did a bang up job reflecting the harsh yet rewarding life these men and women lead, along with delivering a damn good romance.
Maybe I’m going through an especially emotional phase in my life, but this story had me near tears again. This keeps happening to me lately, though here we had a touching background for how Vic and Robin met and what they did and achieved together. I absolutely loved hearing Vic’s voice throughout the story. He was the imperfect perfect guy, a very real person with whom you could find at least one thing in common I’m sure. He was kind, charming and thoughtful, qualities that you know your hero should have. And Robin was the right kind of match for him, an emotionally scarred, true survivor who I could learn a thing or two from. Setting aside the romance and the hot sex-and there was some smokin’ action going on that left me frustrated- what I loved about the two of them was that they healed together, with each other as two strong people. That kind of bonding and trust is hard to find these days, and it’s definitely something to admire.
I’m adding five spoonfuls of this story into my hodgepodge. This story was just the right amount of sweet and sexy and real. I had great pleasure to be back to Portland this time, and I can’t wait for my next trip.
Top Five Things Annabeth Can’t Live Without
1. Coffee. Like my heroes in #PortlandHeat series, I am fueled by coffee drinks. My usual poison of choice? Brewing one of Oregon’s own Dutch Brothers k-cups over ice on the largest setting on my keurig, sweetening with stevia and adding a splash of half and half. Heaven.
2. Skype/Messenger. Being a writer is actually a very lonely occupation. The ability to connect with my writer pals via instant message keeps me sane throughout the day. A good critique partner/sounding board is worth her/his weight in gold.
3. Leggings. My default “uniform” is a tunic/dress over leggings. What’s yours? I swear, I simply write better in leggings 😉
4. Spotify. The ability to make a soundtrack for each book I write is priceless. I write to music, and I listen to the whims of my characters as to what genre they want.
5. Sea Salt Caramel Ice Cream. Specifically, I can’t live without the occasional trek to Portland’s famed Salt & Straw for their Sea Salt Caramel Ice Cream.
What can’t YOU live without?
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.
(Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency)
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