Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a compelling contemporary M/M romance from Tal Bauer. INTERLUDE: FIRST NOEL is a sweet and touching love story between the President of the US and his former Secret Service protector. This is the second book in a series, and I think people who read ENEMIES OF THE STATE would love it.
Catch the extended excerpt below and enter to win a book in the giveaway!
Step back to Jack and Ethan’s first Christmas season and the tentative early months of their relationship under the world’s spotlight.
Three months into Ethan’s transfer-in-exile in Des Moines, Iowa, the pressures of dating Jack, the president of the United States, start to wear Ethan down. His weeks are measured by the days he works in Iowa, chasing counterfeiters and financial crimes, and the weekends he manages to steal with Jack back in DC. The media stalks his every move, he’s isolated by his coworkers, and loneliness hammers at his heart.
In DC, Jack tries to piece together a global alliance to take down the Caliphate, while the world seems focused on tearing apart his personal life. Hostility surrounds him from all corners of the globe, but a surprise offer from President Sergey Puchkov may pave the way for a tentative alliance…and perhaps the beginning of a friendship.
As Ethan finds himself in the middle of an investigation that rubs too deeply against his soul and Jack tries to balance leading the free world and keeping his and Ethan’s relationship going, the two men must face what their love has become…and where they are heading together.
How about a taste?
From the most prestigious posting in the Secret Service―protecting the president of the United States―to puzzling through counterfeiting investigations out of a tiny field office in the Midwest. And giving those investigations up to another agent, a junior agent, and running from the media.
He waited at the stoplight downtown, just before the turn into the Federal Building’s garage, listening to his wipers scrape snow off the window. The red traffic light blurred through the slush on his glass, tinting the inside of his sedan a dark crimson. Christmas lights stretched overhead, arching over the streets and between the buildings. Evergreen garlands clung to the streetlights, and LED wreaths hung at every intersection. Over the weekend, Christmas had descended, just days after Thanksgiving.
If he knew then what he knew now, would he do it all again? Make the same choices? Take the same risks? Kiss Jack―the president, his sworn duty, his job―and throw caution to the wind, going against his very bones, his dedication to his career and the Secret Service?
The wipers slid against the glass again, squeaking, and the light turned green. His tires slipped on the snow, skidding out briefly, but he slogged across the intersection and turned into the underground parking garage.
Of course he would. Those forty-eight hours each week with Jack made everything else worth it. Made bearable the isolation, the intrusive media, the sidelong glares and bitten off conversations that abruptly stopped in his presence.
How his toes would curl as they kissed. Jack’s smile, and the way his eyes lit up for Ethan alone. How Jack had looked at him when he burst into the Oval Office, gunfire cracking the air, taking out Jeff Gottschalk and Black Fox’s operatives. Like Ethan was his whole world, the sun rising in the sky just for him.
Ethan had never loved anyone like he loved Jack. And he’d never been loved by anyone the way Jack loved him. It was still new, just six months old, but that love had remade Ethan’s entire world. So far, he’d put up with anything. Everything. As long as Jack kept looking at him like that. Kept loving him like that.
But, it had been over two weeks since he’d last been with Jack. ‘Every weekend’ had turned into something else. Loneliness scratched at the base of his heart, and whispers of fear snaked down his bones.
Ethan wound through the underground garage and pulled into his assigned space, in the corner beneath the leaking air compressor and next to the dumpster that always smelled like stale piss.
Shepherd’s car was still in his space. Great. He’d probably already seen the news footage of him, playing over and over on the local stations before being picked up by the national news for prime-time replay. He’d be pissed. More than pissed.
Sighing, Ethan badged into the building and onto the elevator, punching the button for the Secret Service’s floor. When the elevator spat him out, he gave Agent Gibson a tight smile as he passed him.
Gibson didn’t smile back.
Ethan badged into the backdoor of the office, heading for his cube and his gym bag. On the way, he passed Shepherd’s open office door.
The TV hanging on the wall in his office was on, images of Ethan driving out of the motel parking lot playing on repeat as the news anchor droned on about how evasive he’d been, how he hadn’t answered any questions. About what his presence at the crime scene might mean. And, of course, wondering why he hadn’t been seen with the president, or in DC, in weeks. They were America’s most scandalous couple, perhaps the world’s. The question had been blaring from every radio, every gossip magazine, every late night talk show host, almost from the moment they’d been photographed kissing on the North Lawn. Were they still together?
Of course, the questions had gotten louder these past few weeks.
Shepherd’s glare fixed on Ethan. Shepherd pursed his lips as he perched on the edge of his desk, arms crossed over his slight pudge, a beer gut in the making. His tie was undone, the first few buttons loose.
Ethan grabbed his gym bag, slung it over his shoulder, and trudged to Shepherd’s door. “Sir, I left as soon as they arrived. She chased me down. I wasn’t trying to get in front of the cameras.”
Shepherd pinched the bridge of his nose. “What did I do to deserve you?”
Ethan stayed silent.
“Thanks to this―” Shepherd gestured to the TV. “—the US Attorney is going to have to answer a million questions about you from the whatever defense these guys cobble together. What you were doing there. Why you were involved.”
“I put the case together―”
“And then it was given to Becker. All of it. The entire thing. Your fingerprints were stripped from it.” Shepherd sighed again. “I don’t want some criminal defense attorney trying to drag the president into one of our cases. Asking about what kind of special favors you get, or what the president is interested in, or how you don’t play by the rules. We have to prove everything you do is one hundred and ten percent above board.”
“Everything I’ve done here has been completely legal―”
“It’s what you did before you got here.” Shepherd fixed Ethan with another hard glare. “It’s your character. The kinds of rules you break. A good defense attorney would rip you to shreds on the stand.”
Ethan’s chest felt like it caved in. “I have never compromised an investigation for any reason.”
“No.” Shepherd snorted. “You just compromised the president.”
“Get out of here.” Shepherd waved Ethan away, dismissing him as he stood. “I don’t know what’s going on with you and the president, and I don’t want to know.” His hand cut through the air, before Ethan spoke. He jerked his chin to the TV, and the reporter musing about Ethan and Jack’s relationship being on the rocks, or worse. “But you’ve gotten grumpier these past few weeks. And that’s saying something.” Shepherd squinted at him. “Go do something about that. If the media is going to hound you everywhere, you don’t want them thinking you’re a half breath away from snapping. Don’t add fuel to the fire.”
Clearing his throat, Ethan nodded once while Shepherd shuffled papers on his desk, dropping a stack of manila folders into his drawer. “Sir, I have a question for you.”
Shepherd arched his eyebrows and grunted.
“I submitted my vacation request for the holidays, but you haven’t approved it yet. Is there a problem?” Ethan had lost vacation time in his demotion, and had used up what he did have flying back and forth to DC. He was scrapping the last days he had to put together a trip back east over Christmas. It wasn’t as long as he wanted, but it was what he had.
Shepherd barked out a harsh laugh, slamming a stack of papers down on his desk. “Why do you do this?”
“Why do you pretend like you follow the rules? Like they even matter to you? You can break every rule we have and nothing will happen to you.”
“That’s not who I am,” Ethan growled. “I don’t act that way.”
“That’s exactly who you are. And exactly how you acted.”
Ethan’s frown deepened, turning to a scowl. “Sir, I don’t get any special treatment―”
“Of course you do!” Shepherd cried. His hands rose, and then he was shouting, pointing at Ethan as his face turned red. “Why do you even bother coming in? Why do you put up the pretense of being an agent? You’d make it easier for everyone if you just stopped pretending!”
“I’m not pretending!” Ethan roared. “I’m doing my job!”
Shepherd laughed, long and loud. “You stopped doing your job the moment you compromised yourself and the president!”
“I am still an agent―” Ethan seethed.
“You’re a Goddamn pain in my ass.” Shepherd cut him off. “And I have no clue why you’re still an agent. You shouldn’t be. You should have been forced to turn in your badge and your gun and got kicked out of the Service.”
Ethan’s jaw snapped shut, his teeth clicking together.
“Let me be perfectly clear. I don’t give a shit what you do. Come to work. Don’t come to work. Go on vacation for the entire month of December. Run away with the president and get drunk on some beach. I don’t give a shit. Just stop wasting my time, okay?”
Ethan nodded once. “Sir.”
“Get out of my office.”
His hand clenched around the strap of his duffel, and his teeth ground together, but he strode out of Shepherd’s office with his chin held high. Rage roared through him, deep in his veins.
There had better not be anyone in the gym downstairs. He had to get this out, pound it out into a punching bag until his knuckles split and he vomited in the corner. He had to get this out, because in three hours, Jack was going to call him on his computer, and he couldn’t face Jack like this. Not about to fly apart, quaking with too much fury and raw shame. It hurt, God, it hurt. But Jack couldn’t see that. He couldn’t ever see it.
This is the second-ish book in a series and likely best enjoyed when read in order.
Ethan Reichenbach is a secret serviceman who had the Presidential detail for Jack Spiers when he was a leading candidate on the campaign trail. Spiers, a long-time widower, didn’t have relationships anymore, but he and Ethan developed a friendship that turned into something more as the election wore on and Jack won. They began a clandestine relationship that was passionate and sweet for both of these lonely men. The previous book describes terrorist plots to assassinate President, foiled by Ethan, and a dramatic back-from-the-dead rescue which ended in the President outing himself on the White House lawn, kissing Ethan in full view.
This book picks up with Ethan and Jack and their developing relationship. Ethan’s breach of ethical conduct resulted in a demotion, and reassignment to Des Moines to investigate financial crimes. Jack, being the president, is on the road for diplomatic missions, and he’s determined to take down the Caliphate terrorist forces in the Middle East that nearly killed both himself and Ethan–as well as taking responsibility for lots of other attacks in Europe and worldwide in the past decade. He needs to marshal international support, and is stunned to find the Russian Federation’s President Pushkin is a possible ally.
As a president, Jack’s facing lots of homophobic backlash from Congress and fellow world leaders, but he’s totally gone for Ethan, so he bears it all with strained patience. Jack lives for his weekends of private loving in the Residence. Ethan, too. He struggles with his reduced role in investigations, especially as he’s a pariah in his Iowa office and hounded by media wherever he goes. Ethan gets side eye and backhand comments all the time, which sucks because their attempts at keeping a low profile foments speculation that he and Jack are on the outs.
While Jack is busy planning an invasion to eradicate the Caliphate, Ethan’s counterfeiting investigation intersects with a murder/mafia human trafficking FBI investigation–and those guys don’t want Ethan’s help, either. Still, he’s determined to do his job to the best of his ability. He’s a man of character and integrity, no matter what people think of his romance with Jack.
As for their romance, it’s hawt. Whenever these guys connect, it’s a supernova of sex and tenderness. They are still exploring each other, and Ethan’s overwhelmed with his deep love for Jack, not forgetting that Jack’s new to same-sex relations, and almost stunned by positive Jack’s physical response to his masculinity. Jack is really amorous, and that’s heady and humbling for Ethan, who’s long been a bit self-conscious. I really felt their connection through the pages, and also grew melancholy whenever one of their weekends was set to end. It’s such a difficult time for them, with the holidays, and political intrigue, and work problems, but Jack and Ethan carve out a sensual and lovely time for each other at Christmas. Seriously, these guys need to get married, toot-sweet. I want them to wake up in each others’ arms every single day.
I haven’t read ENEMIES OF THE STATE, but I gathered enough of that story from the references that I was able to enjoy this one. I think I would have liked INTERLUDE even more had I read it in order, but that’s not saying much, as I really enjoyed this book on its own. The growing pains for Ethan and Jack’s relationship were so well described, and I didn’t feel it was angsty. They have real roadblocks to overcome, but they are all external. People and opinions getting in the way, yet Jack and Ethan remain determined to be the fantastic men they were before anyone discovered their secret love. I loved how being true to themselves yielded them unlikely allies and new opportunities. There isn’t a lot of action in the book. No dramatic car chases, life-changing events, or rescues, just a quiet, lovely romance. I’m fully expecting a proposal in the next book, and can’t wait for the first Presidential wedding.
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Good luck and keep reading my friends!
About the Author:
Tal Bauer writes LGBT fiction and romance, bringing together a career in law enforcement, trauma medicine, and international humanitarian and disaster relief work to create dynamic, strong characters, intriguing plots, and unique, exotic locations. Tal’s stories weave together pulse-pounding adventure, cunning intrigue, and sweeping romance. Tal is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America.