Don’t miss the Writing Of and Reading Sample below!
Over a decade ago, bear shifter, Dash Hawthorn, tragically lost his mate near Valentine’s Day. Alone ever since, he shuns the lover’s holiday to keep his fragile heart from breaking. With a new business venture under construction near Bear Creek, Dash prepares to leave painful memories behind and embrace a different kind of life. He doesn’t know it will include an intriguing human his bear can’t resist.
Aiden Romero’s world revolved around Delicious, his popular downtown chocolate shop. While he loved most holidays, Valentine’s only reminded him that his desire for a shifter mate remained unfulfilled. When the town’s newest resident stops by the shop, their instant attraction begins a complicated romance neither man expected.
As their attraction grows, Delicious experiences a wave of attacks that leave Aiden shaken and his business at risk. Despite Dash’s inner doubts, he does everything possible to protect the human he knows is his mate. In the process, and with the help of Dash’s bear, they begin to see a future full of possibilities.
Can two lonely hearts overcome the past and embrace a new Valentine’s Day together? See what Cupid’s been up to in this hot and angsty romance with a guaranteed happy ending! (Book 2 of the Holiday Mates series. Contains steamy M/M content.)
See what readers are saying!
“I was expecting lighthearted Valentines Day fluff, but got way more than I bargained for! The story was surprisingly rich, deep and very engaging. Looking forward to the next holiday!”
“Elliott is all about the details, making his stories believable. The characters are fully fleshed out & the story is exciting, fun & sexy. Loved this book!
“You can’t go wrong with this book. The story had everything you’d ever want—wonderful characters, romance, humor, great world building, drama, and a touch of excitement. I thoroughly enjoyed it!”
“This story has so much more than your typical Hallmark confection, with drama, heartache, laughter, and tears. Elliott is a masterful storyteller who builds his worlds with the care of an architect and describes them with a powerful command of the language. I’m already anxiously awaiting another trip to Bear Creek!”
The Writing of Bear Creek Valentine
Every book requires research, even simple things like finding synonyms for common words or terms. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for authors to tell realistic stories before the computer age, where information is always at your fingertips. For this story, I spent a good deal of time researching marketing and sales, candy-making, construction, PA tourism, mental health, Scranton neighborhoods, amphitheaters, water parks, classic older homes, wedding vows & ceremonies, history of Valentine’s Day, glass/window repair, the how and why of arson, insurance policies, apple orchards, bee-keeping, community college programs, and live-edge furniture making, to name a few. For some things, I was able to draw on personal experiences or past employment to fill in the blanks.
The great thing about it is how much I’ve learned about various subjects along the way. All of it is either interesting, fun, (or both), but my favorite topic for the Holiday Mates series is black bears. What fascinating animals they are, though originally I expected them to be slow, bumbling, uninteresting critters who slept all day. They are nothing of the sort, and my shifters reflect many characteristics of real bear behavior.
I began writing this story in September, expecting to finish by December but encountered delays and problems from the start. Part of that was being physically weary from my full-time job and lack of sleep, but wrong assumptions about the story I wanted to tell produced frustration and backtracking. As a result, I missed my writing deadline by eight weeks (ten days after Valentine’s) amid the realization that I was suffering from burnout and desperately needed a break.
Even so, I determined to finish writing and publish the book no matter how long it took. Though it felt like a personal failure, it was only after the fact that I understood what went wrong and cut myself some slack. Between the need for more in-depth world-building and a slew of new characters, the story ended up being much longer than expected and therefore took longer to write. Had I known this from the beginning, I probably would have shelved the book until the following year and picked a different project to work on.
Another taxing challenge was the nature of Valentine’s itself. Unlike the Christmas season, the holiday of love is only a single day. There’s no way to build any kind of decent romance on a one-off like that, so I plotted the story over the course of an entire year, beginning and ending (like bookends) with Valentine’s. While I didn’t enjoy the long journey for my MCs, it enabled me to fit in all the information needed for future books.
Tricky plot threads
I have found that plots are very fluid things, and no matter how much planning you do up front, they often need drastic changes as the story comes together. There were at least two plot threads that produced head-scratching heartburn and lost time. One was the manner of Harv’s death. I knew Dash’s first mate was going to die; it had to be tragic, unexpected, and leave Dash traumatized but functional. The idea I used came from articles I had read about black bears being declared a nuisance, tranquilized, and moved to a different territory. It worked wonderfully for the overall story, but it took months to work it out in my head.
Another difficult situation was figuring out Aiden’s enemy—backstory, motivation, method, and timing of the attack. When it came to the climax of trouble, I had to explain how she set the fire, got away, and later perished. Originally, she was to be caught and taken away by her family after Aiden decided not to press charges. I couldn’t do it, though. He needed complete closure, and there was only one way to make that happen. While I am somewhat predictable about disposing of bad guys in my books, this time it served an even greater purpose.
The fun stuff
If I had to choose a favorite new character, Serena would definitely be near the top of the list. Even though surrounded by men, she had no trouble holding her own, and her bold personality, creativity, and sense of humor made me smile.
I really enjoyed Dash’s odd mix of personality traits—vulnerable and tender, growly and protective, forceful and clueless, submissive and dominant. I can see why Aiden loved him so much because I did too.
Planning two very different weddings was a fun challenge, though the second one was almost an afterthought—and as close to a Hallmark moment as I care to get. It’s probably best not to allow a bear shifter to plan a Valentine-themed wedding, though Dash could easily blame it on Harv!
As a chocolate lover myself, I had a blast creating the various confections that appeared on Delicious’ shelves. I’m no expert on candy-making or running a shop, but I tried to make it all sound realistic. One of my beta readers complained that she had chocolate cravings every time the shop was mentioned, so I must have done something right!
One of the pleasures of writing is naming characters after people I know. In this book, Michael, the judge who officiated at the weddings, is named after a dear friend and beta reader (see the book’s dedication). Another was the tuxedo cat, Baxter, who belongs to my BFF. I think every book I’ve written includes a nod to someone who is or has been a part of my life along the way. I only ever use their first name, and usually change some personal characteristics. For the most part, and for my own safety, family members get a pass!
It was very fulfilling to watch Aiden and Dash come to life, find one another, overcome their painful pasts, and build a new life together. Their interaction with characters from book one, and the addition of many new ones, kept things interesting as I wrote. I laughed and cried right along with them, even though I didn’t always know how things would work out. One thing I knew from the beginning, and never changed, was that my MCs were getting a happy ever after—and they did.
When I began the Holiday Mates series, I hadn’t counted on the holiday itself influencing the story. Each one has its own personality and requirements that color the events, dictate how things unfold, and demand how the characters interact as the romance develops. So far, I have written about winter holidays, and I’m eager to jump into some warm-weather romances.
In the world I’ve created, bear shifters all share certain characteristics or abilities, but no two are the same. That leaves room to play with their personalities, habits, and quirks, while still accounting for their status as a forest or city bear. Pairing them with a human mate makes for some interesting courtships!
Despite all the troubles with the writing of this book, it was a pleasure telling Dash and Aiden’s story. The longer timeline allowed them to come together on their own terms, and heal the past hurts as a mutually supportive couple. The introduction of new characters also gives me leeway to create romances for future books, and I envision at least two more in the Holiday Mates series.
February 7th, downtown Bear Creek
“Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, ladies. Thanks for stopping in.”
Aiden Romero handed over the distinctive lime-green and brown bags with a saucy wink, provoking embarrassed giggles from both young women on their way out of the shop. So far, this had been the busiest February since Delicious opened its doors, though nothing like the overwhelming Christmas season a couple of months back. With only a week to go until the Holiday of Love, he’d struggled to keep up with demand. Of course, it wasn’t the only thing on his mind this time of year.
Truthfully, he didn’t like Valentine’s Day. Never had. He wasn’t averse to making money off the holiday, but if it weren’t for that, he’d ignore the thing altogether. With its overarching themes of love and romance, it only heightened Aiden’s loneliness. While helping others celebrate the special day had its merits, he wanted to experience it personally. That, of course, required someone to love and come home to every night, and Aiden’s heart was set on mating with a shifter.
Oh, he had friends here in Bear Creek, and a crush that went nowhere, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t enough. Until something changed, most of his time would be spent growing his business, which left no opportunity for social interaction or the chance of meeting someone special. Ruminating on that catch-22 wasn’t particularly encouraging, and he distracted himself with some routine cleaning while Blanche Kramer printed off the latest batch of online orders.
Now retired, Blanche worked part-time to keep busy and supplement her income. She enjoyed helping Aiden whenever he needed her—especially while Toby Finch was in school. She and the high school senior were both hard-working, quick to learn, and good with customers, enabling him to focus on the production side of things. Even with their help, it meant coming in early, staying late, and skipping his days off. The Christmas season had brought in a slew of new customers, now hooked on his creations and hungry for more. It was a good problem to have, though he’d be looking to add additional employees as soon as he could.
Blanche’s sudden gusty sigh amid the unexpected silence roused Aiden from his ruminations. It took a moment to realize there were no customers in the shop, and the phone wasn’t ringing. She turned away from the computer, facing him with a weary smile.
“Goodness! It’s been non-stop today. If you don’t mind, I’ll take a quick break and get off my feet.”
Aiden looked at his watch and grimaced.
“Go! If we’re lucky, we have about fifteen minutes before the lunch crowd shows up. I left some sandwiches in the cooler and a plate of lemon Zig-Zag Bars. Help yourself.”
The chances of a fifteen-minute lull were slim, and the pair wasted no time using the restroom and grabbing a bite to eat. Having been a teacher for over forty years, Blanche required hot java to function properly and made use of the new pod-style coffeemaker Aiden recently purchased. Meanwhile, he nibbled on a sandwich between trips out front to reload the display cases. He hadn’t quite finished before the bell above the door began its incessant jangling, and Blanche hurried up front to join him.
The passage of time went unnoticed until Toby arrived for his shift around three-fifteen, taking over cashier duties while Aiden got busy in the kitchen. Today’s sales had seriously depleted his supply of Nut Bombs and Swirls—a new white chocolate and fruit confection that was not only tasty, but looked beautiful beside the dark chocolate treats. Each required several steps, numerous ingredients, and time in the walk-in cooler to set properly. After an hour or so, Toby leaned into the kitchen to deliver an ominous warning.
“Sorry, Aiden, but the dipped strawberries are running low. We’re gonna need all three varieties pretty soon.”
Aiden thought for a minute before issuing instructions.
“Limit the number to six per customer for now and tell Blanche to skip any online orders that include them. I’ll get the dips ready, and then you and I can switch places.”
Toby’s eyes widened.
“Really? Wouldn’t you be faster?”
Aiden just shook his head and smiled.
“Maybe, but you’re good at it and haven’t been in the kitchen for a while. I’ll let you know when things are ready.”
Toby returned to the register with a wide grin, and Aiden watched him go, chuckling to himself. He actively sought opportunities for the timid teen to shine or take on new tasks—slowly building his self-confidence and skills. Aiden wasn’t sure if Toby intended to stay on after starting his college classes in the fall, but he hoped so. The young man had talent and a great work ethic—rare commodities these days.
Aiden carried a stack of sheet trays into the cooler to chill and removed the strawberries so they could warm a bit. Next, he gathered the supplies for white, milk, and dark chocolate dips. Once they were mixed, the only concern was keeping them at the right temperature. When all was ready, Aiden went out front to fetch his helper.
“All set, Toby. You already know what to do, but I’ll be right here if you have questions, okay? Oh, and don’t be afraid to experiment a bit.”
Toby nodded enthusiastically.
“You got it. This is going to be fun!”
Blanche called out a finished order and approached the register with one of the heart-shaped deluxe assortment boxes, festooned with a bright red bow. She handed it to Aiden, leaning in for a quiet word.
“Toby is really blossoming. It does my heart good to see it.”
Despite their attempts to ration, the remaining strawberries sold out in a flash. Aiden let the customers know that more was coming if they were willing to wait a few minutes, while silently urging Toby to bring them out. Relinquishing control to someone else was difficult for him, and he resisted the urge to check on the young man.
Finally, his triumphant helper appeared carrying an entire tray of the luscious berries, prompting the crowd to applaud and cheer. Toby smiled, waved, and hurried back to the kitchen to make more. He brought out creative varieties in due time, including those dusted with cocoa or chocolate shavings, double-dipped berries, or bi-colored tuxedos. Unsurprisingly, the customers snapped them up first, despite the extra cost, and Aiden made a mental note to offer the fancy ones regularly.
Near suppertime, after the crowd thinned, Aiden called in a takeout order, and they each enjoyed a short meal break in shifts. While the shop closed at seven, they knew the crowds would return, making for a busy evening. Before things got too hectic, Aiden was pleased to see Mayor Tillman enter the shop and head in his direction.
“Hello, DeeDee. What can I get for you?”
“Aiden! Good to see you. It’s Monday, and I need more Bear Brownies—a dozen for home and another box for Sunny at the store.”
While Aiden worked on the order, DeeDee chatted him up from the other side of the counter.
“Things are changing so fast around here that my head is spinning. All the media attention from Christmas really put us back on the map. Home sales are up, and we’ve had a lot of interest in new business opportunities, too. Parking is already a headache, but the council is working on the problem before next winter. I’ve also heard from Bear Claw Holdings—the company responsible for the new resort down in Blakeslee. The owner has some great ideas that should help us benefit from all the tourists. And did you know they’ve asked Knox McCoy to do some custom work for them?”
DeeDee caught Aiden off guard, and he had to recount the brownies before boxing them up. The Honorable Mayor was obviously excited, and for good reason, but there was an awful lot in that verbal barrage to unpack.
“Wow. I didn’t know so much was going on, and I haven’t seen Knox lately. There’s no doubt Delicious is doing a tremendous business, and I’ll be adding new employees this year. I’m also thinking about expanding if I can figure out where.”
Aiden carried the heavy boxes to the register and slid them across the counter. DeeDee continued talking while she swiped her debit card.
“Glad to hear it, my friend. I’m watching the real estate situation carefully, and you’ll be the first to know if I get wind of something. Delicious is already one of Bear Creek’s finest, and we want you around for a long time.”
A few days later, Allentown, PA
Dashiell (Dash) Hawthorn leaned back in the office chair with a weary growl, his thickset bear-shifter body sinking into the padded leather with creaks of protest. He wasn’t supposed to be here at this late date, and the added emotional baggage at this time of year wasn’t helping him stay on task. But if he’d learned anything at all in his business dealings, it was that delays were inevitable. This time, unfortunately, it hurt.
The sale of his hotel had hit a minor snag, holding up the deal by an additional month. The original plan called for him to be living in Bear Creek by the middle of January, thus avoiding another year in Allentown near the anniversary of his beloved’s death. Perhaps it was better this way, as he’d have nearly a year in his new place before facing another Valentine’s Day and the fresh reminder that his precious mate of eleven years was dead. Gone. Never to return. And Dash was alone.
He pushed away from the desk and stood to resume packing up the last of his personal effects, purposely tucking away the pain so he could face the future. By tomorrow, he would be completely moved out of the comfortable offices of Bear Paw Holdings, located on the first floor of the hotel that would shortly belong to someone else. Apparently, the new owner intended to rip all this out and expand the restaurant, but he no longer cared. He had a brand new, exciting business to run—and to distract him.
Though still under construction, the Pocono Ridge Resort and Golf Course was well on its way to completion. Dash’s Executive Assistant, Ryder Sinclair, brought the ailing properties to his attention as an investment possibility two years ago. Located near Blakeslee, the site held a small ski lodge that had gone out of business and a financially struggling golf course. One look was all Dash needed to see the potential for so much more, along with the chance to reboot his life by leaving Allentown, and its associated memories, behind.
An additional jewel in the crown was the nearby town of Bear Creek, only fifteen miles north of the resort. Dash generously supported the shifter community at large, and he envisioned a mutually beneficial relationship with the place. That it was run by a savvy bear shifter only sweetened the deal, and his refreshingly frank conversations with DeeDee Tillman convinced him they would work well together. He and Ryder had also thoroughly enjoyed their clandestine visit during the Christmas season, blown away by the public entertainment, unique shops, and the easygoing vibe of the townsfolk.
While he’d reasonably expected to live near the resort, his realtor found the perfect place on the outskirts of Bear Creek instead. The location would require more driving for work, but it was ideal for him and his bear. Tucked into the woods and unseen from the road, the property was bordered on one side by a meandering stretch of Bear Creek. Opposite the property was a large nature preserve and a quaint spot to stop and stretch your legs called Buttermilk Falls.
Because of its age, the house itself needed attention, and the work was completed by the end of December. Except for a few select pieces of furniture, the place was ready for move-in, and Dash looked forward to making the house his home. There, at least, he would see no daily reminders of his mate and the too-brief life they shared.
The thought both comforted and frightened him, as it marked the beginning of something new and untried. Letting go sounded all well and good until you realized you didn’t know precisely how, and then felt guilty for wanting to in the first place. His thoughts stopped abruptly when he got a whiff of Ryder’s scent. As always, the man rapped on the door with his signature double-knock and waited for Dash’s permission to enter.
“Come in, Ry.”
The door opened to reveal one of the most intimidating shifters Dash had ever met. Ryder Sinclair, tall for a bear shifter and ebony-skinned like his human father, moved gracefully despite his impressive form. Ryder’s handsome, clean-shaven face gave away only what the man chose to reveal, though he could also be charming and playful when the mood struck. The title of Executive Assistant was appropriate for work, but to Dash, Ryder was a close friend, discreet confidant, and trusted business advisor.
“Good afternoon, Dash. I have some interesting news if this is a good time.”
Dash waved away his concern and pointed to a chair.
“Sit. For you, I always have time.”
Ryder rarely consulted written notes when they discussed business, pulling all the relevant information from his formidable brain at will. Dash supposed it came from his years as a skilled attorney, but it always impressed him.
“I met with the construction foreman this morning, followed by a trip to Bear Creek and a check of the new house. He tells me they’re on schedule and only slightly over budget. Knox McCoy has already started on the lobby’s front desk, and the design looks fantastic. He has some ideas for our shifter accommodations as well, but I’ll share those later. The house is secure, and nearly all the furniture deliveries have been made. I’ll assemble a small crew to get everything in place before you move.
“Our realtor called to tell me the offers we made on three commercial properties have been accepted, and we’re waiting for word on two others. If those come through, it would max us out on the number of downtown locations owned by one person or entity. There are no restrictions in other areas of town if we see something that looks like a good investment.
“I also met with Mayor Tillman, and we have all the permits needed to begin construction on the amphitheater. The town council is excited about replacing the outdoor stage with something designed for music and entertainment year-round. DeeDee also asked me to relay her thanks on behalf of Bear Creek for gifting the structure and related improvements to the town. She also expects to meet you in person as soon as you’re settled in.”
Dash growled, amused by DeeDee’s insistence on a face-to-face meeting. She was the first shifter politician he’d encountered and found her both formidable and typically outspoken.
“I’m hoping the amphitheater demonstrates our goodwill and that Bear Claw Holdings is not trying to take over the town. They may not realize it, but I have other things I’d like to do for Bear Creek through our philanthropic arm. And whatever the good Mayor might think, I’m not purposely avoiding her. You, however, are going with me when we meet. I might need your protection.”
They enjoyed an easy laugh together, and then Dash asked about Ryder’s search for housing.
“Have you found anything yet?”
Ryder offered a single nod and a small smile.
“I’ve signed a lease on a rental house along the Lehigh River, just north of the resort. I don’t want to take on a mortgage until I’ve found a nice piece of property to build on. And before you say anything, I think it’s past time to give you some space and let you live your life without a shadow.”
Dash didn’t completely agree with the statement, though he knew there was some truth to it.
“Just so you know, I’ve never felt that way. Maybe this move will be good for both of us.”
Ryder stood to go and placed a meaty hand on Dash’s shoulder.
“I think it will be, my friend.”