Fortunes Found on THE HOLIDAY DETOUR–A Review

Hi there! I’ve read a bunch of holiday romances and want to share some thoughts on those over the next few weeks, so please bear with me. Today I’m excited to share a review for a contemporary holiday F/F romance from Jane Kolven. THE HOLIDAY DETOUR features a down-on-her-luck Jewish lesbian struggling to make it home to her elderly grandma for the holidays.

About the book:
Sometimes it takes everything going wrong to make you see how right things are.

Dana Gottfried is a stressed-out Jewish lesbian who’s just quit her job and wants to get home to see her grandmother. When her car breaks down in Indiana on Christmas Eve, Dana is stranded—until she’s rescued by Charlie, a pig farmer who doesn’t identify as male or female. Although they come from different worlds, Dana is intrigued by Charlie’s sense of humor and kindness. Despite her better judgment, Dana says yes when Charlie offers a ride.

But the journey home is paved with detours. From car accidents to scheming ex-girlfriends to a snowy and deserted Chicago Loop, everything that could go wrong on their road trip does, but it leads Dana on a path of self-discovery that just might end in love.

My Review:
Dana Gottfried is a 32 year old lesbian Jewish woman who’s just given notice at her job–before she could get fired. She’s driving from Cleveland to the Chicago suburbs to spend the holiday with her 85 y/o grandma, her only remaining family. Her car breaks down in Indiana, though, and she’s picked up by a cute genderqueer person, Charlie whose rusted out truck barely seems roadworthy. Charlie says their family lives in an adjacent suburb to Dana’s grandma’s and they would be willing to drive her all the way.

Dana is thrilled, especially since she’s a bit intrigued with Charlie. It’s going kinda well. But Dana is a little neurotic, and she’s always second guessing if Charlie is telling the truth. And, they get into scrapes on the journey, like when a jerk gives Charlie guff for using the Ladies’ bathroom, or when they are acting as Good Samaritans and the truck gets towed.

This is a bit of a madcap connection story. Charlie is a decent and kind person, and Dana is attracted, but also wary. She’s actually a hot mess, worried about her lonely grandma, her dwindling finances, and now concerned how to get to her childhood home when help is dependent on Charlie’s jealous ex-girlfriend. It’s a little mish-mash of Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets a rom-com and it’s sweet and silly by turns. Dana runs hot and cold, which makes her less appealing than Charlie, but they do figure out that they are a match. I liked that they did “get” one another, and their futures have enough flexibility to accommodate a new/first relationship.

I liked the story, and I liked that Dana calmed the heck down and stopped talking herself out of any and everything that could possibly be good. Charlie really also came a long way, repairing relationships with friends on their way through this adventure. As a Chicagoan, and a person who’s made those drives across I80 and into and out of the Chicago traffic, I could fully sympathize with Dana and Charlie and their experiences.

Interested? You can find THE HOLIDAY DETOUR on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jane Kolven is an author of contemporary, fun LGBTQ romances. She is proud to create stories that show a variety of LGBTQ people finding happiness—because everyone deserves love. Jane currently lives in Michigan with her wife and their pets.

You can find Jane on her website, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Attraction Across Millennia LOVE LOGAN–Excerpt and Review

Hi there! Happy New Year, all! Today I’m sharing an excerpt and review for a M/M futuristic-world, dystopian romance from Tilly Keyes. LOVE LOGAN features a human in the year 4021 attempting to achieve respect and glory via a teleportation device, but everything goes wrong when his premier showing results in drawing a time traveler from 2021 through his device–ruining his tech, and his life.

About the book:
Zero’s teleportation machine is the talk of the town, but opening night it fails, leaving him a laughingstock. However, unknowingly, the machine pulls someone from the twentieth century and spits them out in Zero’s time.

Logan has strange, dull clothing and bland hair, and when he opens his mouth, it gets worse. He’s afraid of everything, but worst of all, his talk of love grates on Zero’s nerves.

He vows to fix the machine and send Logan home no matter what. Zero’s best friend, Honey, has other ideas. Despite Logan being terrified of her and labeling her a cat-person, she finds his talk of love enlightening.

With Logan about to go home, Zero needs to realize there’s more to life than going down in history before it’s too late.

How about a little taste?

Each shuffle of clothing and stomp of impatient feet increased Zero’s thumping heart. The curtain muffled the words of the audience, but they increased in volume until a unified grumble shook Zero’s bones. Being ten minutes late was part of his plan to build anticipation, but he hadn’t envisioned the wait would have him close to fainting from nerves.

Zero pursed his lips and exhaled slowly. He brushed his sweat-soaked palms on his suit, then removed his top hat and wiped his brow on his sleeve. He wanted to wear something more flamboyant with tassels and twinkling lights, but he softened his look and chose a stripped black-and-silver suit, and his trusty black top hat. The night was all about his invention, and he dressed down to put all emphasis on it.

“This is such a bad idea.”

Honey’s words pulled him from his thoughts, and he turned to her, widening his eyes.

“You’re here for support, not to further my anxiety.”

Zero could see her normal ellipse shaped pupils had narrowed to a line of black, splitting her lime irises in two. She was afraid for him, and he couldn’t deny that fear when his heart tried to escape his chest.

“If—If only you’d tested the machine.”

Zero pushed his hat firmly on his head. “I have tested it.”

“But never like this. You haven’t done this with a living thing—”

“It will work,” Zero said.

Honey gripped his arm. “But what if it doesn’t?”

He frowned and glanced at her paw that gripped his arm. She blinked then retracted her claws with a softly spoken apology.

“This is my moment. I can feel it in my bones. My life is about to change.”

“Dying is life changing, life ending,” she replied.

Zero shook his head. “I won’t die—hopefully I won’t die, and if I do, I hope it will be quick.”

“What if you walk through and only half of you appears on the other side?”

Zero lifted his hand and tilted it one way and then the other. “Well, if that happens, I’ll die quickly, so it’s not so bad.”

Honey hissed and flattened her ears. “Don’t make jokes.”

“I wasn’t joking,” he said, turning to face her. “If it goes wrong and I die, then you know I died doing what meant the most to me. Besides, I couldn’t live with the shame of a failure, so let’s hope it is either roaring success and I appear in the opposite arch or it’s unable to put my atoms back together and I die instantly.”

Honey shut her eyes and bowed forward. Zero rubbed at her arms, but she didn’t straighten to look at him. She sagged further.

“I can’t go out there until I see your smile,” he whispered.

She sniffled and shook her head. “I don’t feel like smiling.”

“Please Honey, for me. I need to see it. You’re my lucky charm.”

“Fine,” she said with a huff. “But you better not die.”

Zero thought better than making that promise. It was a strong possibility, not that he admitted it to her.

Honey lifted her head and twitched her cheeks. Her nose rose, and two daggered teeth showed through her narrow lips.

“Thank you,” Zero said.

The second the words left him, her smile dropped, and she breathed heavily through her nose.

“Right,” he said and clutched his lapels. “Here I go.”

My Review:
Zero is a human living in the underground world of Earth in the fourth millenium. He’s a handy guy, a picker-fixer who aspires to be an inventor. In this world, no one lives above ground, as the atmosphere was destroyed by nuclear war time out of mind ago. Along with humans in this subterranean existence are Furists and Cold-Blooded. This means they are humanoid fur-covered beings, like giant cats, or scaly ambulatory snake-like people. These are not mutants, their ancestors arrived from other planets looking for shelter as their home worlds died. The social structure in this time is not family-groups. Children may be raised by their parents until they are 10, but are then turned loose within the “islands” of population where they are expected to manufacture a living from whatever skills they possess. If they show themselves to be industrious, these foundlings can earn a basic apartment and token credits to get food. If anyone from this time stops earning and runs out of the tokens or food to sustain themselves they will be shipped out to another planet, likely to scrape an existence from the recycling dumps they have made of other worlds.

Zero wants to be more than a simple technician for fruit pickers. He has been building a teleportation device using scavenged parts for nearly ten years. He scrimped and saved his tokens to buy a theater in which to demonstrate his device for the wealthy Elite, who live in a hovering island above the rabble of commoners below. One of these Elite is Apollo, A former Lover of Zero’s who took his design ideas for improving hovercars and made himself an Elite, abandoning Zero. Apollo never stays away from Zero for long, relishing the power he has over him as and Elite, and enjoying any slights and suffering Zero experiences. Instead of teleporting Zero, this device brings a man from they year 2021 into his own time. Zero doesn’t know this, at first. He thinks this plain and unusual “Logan” person was paid by Apollo to ruin his device, and humiliate him in front of his audience. Zero is bitter and furious, and leaves Logan in the care of his best friend and assistant, a Furian called Honey.

It is Honey that determines Logan must have come from somewhere else, because he’s terrified by “cat-people” and his reactions prompt Zero to investigate. He’s not happy to discover his teleporter is a time machine. he can’t use that for any social or monetary currency in his world. If anyone discovered Logan’s origin, he’d be studied or killed, and Zero’s too wound up in his own disgrace to really care that Logan is a man out of time. It is only more irritating that Logan’s ancient sensibilities, like “love” and “family ties”, are somehow resonating with Honey. She convinces Zero to fix the machine to send Logan back, but this will take time and tokens, two things Zero is running short on–especially once Logan’s ineptitude costs Zero his day job.

Meanwhile, as Zero endeavors to repair his device, he’s unwillingly charmed by Logan’s card tricks and “magic”, another unfamiliar concept. It turns out that Logan’s father was a successful magician in his time, and Logan often studied as his assistant. The magic he performs seems much like what Zero would like to produce scientifically, and the rapport grows between them. This is dangerous, naturally, because Logan is meant to return to his own time, but also, the unfamiliar feelings associated with that love concept are interfering with Zero’s ability to provide for himself and Logan. Apollo’s lurking on the edges, hoping to exploit Zero’s vulnerabilities, as well.

This is a magical and intriguing dystopian love story, with two great MCs finding love in the most unexpected way. Logan is so out of his element, he’s quaint and trite in the most basic sense of wishing both for a return home and also for true love building between himself and Zero. For his part, Zero is a selfish man–because that is the prime directive of his society. Sex is sex, and work is currency in his world. He could trade himself for sex to earn the tokens he needs to manage his life and help Logan, but doing so will alienate Logan, who’s rather puritanical about the situation.

I adored the world-building here, and the love story as it developed. There were great moments of tension, especially as Zero built the device that would take his one true love far away to the past. His own impending bankruptcy and inevitable removal from society is also a great emotional hurdle, promising hurt on top of hurt before the climax. I loved Zero myself long before he solved his problems and found his happily ever after. Highly recommend!

Interested? You can find LOVE LOGAN on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

About the Author:
Tilly lives in a small village in the UK, surrounded by fields, and meadows.
By day, she’s looks after her two lively boys, but by night…she’s usually asleep, too exhausted to write, but sometimes she gets lucky, sometimes she settles down with a nice cup of tea and sinks into a story.
She hopes you enjoy them. Let her know by sending her an email.

A Whole New Life SETTLING THE SCORE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Long time no post, I know. I’ve been without a working computer for a couple weeks–plus I needed to make a huge push to get teaching and grading done for my students in the fall semester, so I needed time to recuperate. Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from C Koehler. <a href="SETTLING THE SCORE is the fourth book in his CalPac Crew series. This installment tracks the former CalPac coxswain and the elder brother of a former crew member. I’ve enjoyed ROCKING THE BOAT, TIPPING THE BALANCE, and BURNING IT DOWN and enjoyed seeing the characters from those books return to advise our new couple.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Stuart Cochrane and Philip Sundstrom are very busy men. Stuart, freshly graduated from California Pacific, works as much as he can to save money for medical school. Philip, now in charge of the family home-construction company, works long hours to save the company from his father’s blunders and back-stabbing cronies. A chance encounter brings them together and the attraction is fierce and instant. While neither has time for a relationship, they can’t keep away from each other.

When the National Team recruits Stuart to cox, only Philip understands that Stuart’s sick of rowing and wants nothing more than to start medical school. When Philip’s board of directors plots to remove him from his own company, Stuart helps him scheme and strategize. Despite their emotional and sexual chemistry, Stuart’s hang-ups about money and rich people doom their fledgling relationship. But after a personal tragedy, Stuart must overcome his prejudices and accept Philip’s help. Can Philip set aside his broken heart to help Stuart in his hour of greatest need and, dare he hope, a family?

How about a little taste?

The waiter held Philip’s eye a moment too long. Philip knew what that meant and flushed from the starched collar of his shirt all the way up to the gelled magnificence of his golden bangs. Left to its own devices, his hair flopped down to cover his eyes, and right then, Philip kind of wished it could. Instead, he’d styled his hair like he always did, parting it on the left and then the bulk of the bangs were up up and away! in a truly stupendous flight of fancy that was probably on the wrong side of metrosexual for a corporate CEO. When he was by himself, he played the game, but c’mon, dude. He was here with his girlfriend. What kind of trash did he think Philip was? It meant he had to cut the waiter. The cut direct wasn’t his style, but Philip felt like he didn’t have a choice. Angie was his priority.

“The waiter’s certainly attentive this evening,” Angie commented.

Philip cocked one eyebrow. “Sweetheart, did you get a good look at yourself? You’re stunning.”

“You think so?” she said, smiling sweetly. “Thank you, Philip. It’s always nice to be noticed.”

“I always notice you,” he said, smiling back. He raised his wine glass in a salute. “Notice and appreciate.”

Angie touched her glass to his in an almost-silent toast. “Charmer. Half the time I feel upstaged by you. Is that a new suit? You look amazing.” Then she glanced at the waiter. “I get the feeling I’m not the only one who thinks your tailor is a god among men.”

“Boy, you buy one new sport suit—”

“A week,” Angie interrupted, her eyes merry. She was enjoying herself.

“—one new suit, and people accuse you of being a dandy.” Philip sighed theatrically. “Memo to self: return the ascot and waistcoat ASAP,” he said in a stage whisper.

They shared a quiet laugh. Philip reached across the table to caress her cheek, and Angie leaned into his touch. Her beauty struck him once again, and that evening, she’d gone all out, every bit his match in an ivory satin gown with the back down to here and her auburn hair done with seed pearls as it cascaded down her back. She even wore a simple cameo around her neck, an antique Wedgwood piece he’d given her for Valentine’s Day the year before. Then he noticed she’d mounted it on a mauve ribbon that clashed horribly with her auburn hair. What on earth had she been thinking? He’d given it to her on a cream ribbon for a reason—

Dinner arrived and Philip dropped his hand.

He tried to ignore the argument going in his mind about the colors, but it was hard. He’d always had an overdeveloped sense of aesthetics, and at times growing up with Brad and Randall had been nothing but torment. Builders’ houses were always one of two types: ramshackle and about to fall over, or palatial monuments to every architectural innovation and new concept to show up in the design rags. The Sundstrom home was one of the latter type, if poorly decorated, and no sooner had he shoved Randall off stage and into the hands of the police than he called in the cavalry to remove the worst of his father’s excesses and atrocities. Gone were the putti pissing into fountains and faux-antique tapestries and superfluous televisions, and there were no more—Philip jerked his thoughts back to the here and now. He sat across the table from a beautiful woman at a posh restaurant. His aesthetic hang-ups could wait.

Philip genuinely enjoyed Angie’s company. They might not live together—yet—but they certainly spent a lot of time in each other’s company, mostly at her condo. She found his house “creepy, like a funeral home,” even with Randall out of there and every room but his mother’s old sitting room and her library redone. Not that he blamed her—it was large and foreboding, and maybe it was time to sell it. When he’d called to invite her out to dinner earlier in the week, she’d been overjoyed, even more so than usual. It made him wonder if he weren’t missing something, but a thorough search of his day planner by both himself and Suresh revealed nothing.

After gnawing his guts out for a while, he’d finally given up, and when it came time to pick her up, he gave in and let himself enjoy the evening. “Are you ready to go home?”

“Yes, I think so,” Angie said. Was that a tightening around her eyes?

Philip signaled the waiter, who promptly brought him the check. When Philip put a black Amex card down, the man’s eyes widened. It would have been comical, but Philip found it hard to believe no one at this restaurant had ever seen American Express’s Centurion Card before.

“Here you are, Mr. Sundstrom,” the waiter said when he returned, placing the receipt before Philip and then departing. Philip signed it, including a generous tip.

Philip held Angie’s chair for her and then waited patiently while she wrapped her shawl around her shoulders. As they walked out of the restaurant, Philip smiled at their waiter. “Thank you. We had a lovely evening.”

But it was only as they waited for his car to be brought around that he noticed the waiter had written a number—presumably his—on the back of the credit card slip, but lightly and in pencil so it didn’t show from the front. Classy. Philip crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

“They’re staring at you out here too,” Angie whispered.

Philip blushed. “I think you mean they’re looking at you.”

“Some of them, maybe.” She laughed. “A few, the straight ones.”

But they weren’t all straight, he could tell that right off the bat. Sorry, boys. He played, but never when he was in a committed relationship.

“Remind me not to come back here. This is very embarrassing.”

She hooked her arm on his. “I think it’s hilarious, and you blush very prettily.”

“Great.” He rolled his eyes.

It made him uncomfortable, that regard, even if he understood it. Thanks to the last year at SunHo, he knew how to project an air of authority, and a lot of people found that attractive. It wasn’t quite a matter of “do the opposite of Randall.” After all, his father had run SunHo with an air of power, but in Philip’s estimation, that power was based on fear. Employees in SunHo’s corporate offices had feared for their jobs, at least when Randall stomped and blustered. But authority? That was something different. Philip knew when he spoke, he would be listened to. He might be young for a CEO, but by and large, he was respected. He wasn’t sure Randall could’ve said that, or even appreciated the difference.

In his early thirties, Philip was young, fit, and, based on the evidence at dinner, handsome; he was very well situated financially, and the waiter and valets could tell that from the credit card and his car. He loved his Merc, a sleek sports car, the six-figure kind with the spoiler to prevent it from taking flight. At least he assumed that’s why they stared. Or maybe he had spinach stuck between his teeth, he thought ruefully, the perils of being a vegetarian there to keep him humble.

They drove back to Angie’s condo in silence, insulated from the sounds of the city by the Merc, but what, Philip wondered, isolated them from each other? He bore responsibility for that, the lion’s share, at least. He felt bad for neglecting Angie in favor of SunHo. It wasn’t that he preferred SunHo per se, but it seemed so much more immediate to him. More…real, he realized guiltily, but that’s not how he wanted his life to be. Angie always understood—or acted as if she did. She got that he’d taken over the family business, even if she didn’t know the particulars of how that had come about. As far as he was concerned, she didn’t need to either.

But simply because Philip had chosen this life, it didn’t stand to reason that Angie was happy with it. He knew she’d prefer to be living the high life, preferably in San Francisco. Angie cared for him, so no gold digger, she, but he didn’t fool himself on that score either. She enjoyed the life his money afforded them. Buying Brad out a few years ago might’ve set him back, but SunHo grew and expanded, despite the recession and building slowdown. Philip was loaded, and Angie knew it.

He glanced over at Angie as he drove, her face turned away from him, inscrutable in the passing lights. He knew what he wanted from the next step in life, but was it what Angie wanted?

Unable to decipher his uncharacteristically enigmatic girlfriend, Philip retreated into his thoughts, pretending he was in the cockpit of a spaceship instead of a luxury car, because damn, the onboard computer was almost that complicated. He liked Mercedes for the same reason he liked Macs. They both embodied high performance and elegant design and didn’t bother him with a lot of irritating details. Sure, BMW made amazing cars, but they always seemed to want his input on some matter or other, and he got enough of that at work. As for PCs, Philip was sure there was an elegant and highly functional one somewhere, he’d just never heard of it. But really, they’d gone from a charming dinner together full of conversation and laughter to him retreating into his imagination. Again. He’d been doing that more and more lately.

If he were to be honest with himself, it couldn’t be a good sign, but they looked good together, and she was someone to hold on cold, dark nights. Angie was someone to cling to when he’d spent too much time reading the Existentialists and felt too alone in an uncaring universe. But was that really a reason to stay in a relationship with someone? On the whole, Philip reasoned, there were worse ones, but it would only be fair if she felt the same way, and he knew for a fact she had no patience for what she called his “navel-gazing.” This raised the question of why on Earth he was with someone who so easily dismissed his interests and the things he valued. On the other hand, he didn’t remember his parents sharing that many interests. So many puzzles.

The keypad at the entrance to the parking lot under Angie’s condo tower saved Philip from further omphaloskepsis. After he parked in her designated guest space and opened the door for her, Angie again laughed and flirted in the elevator.

“Dinner was great, but tomorrow night I want to go clubbing in the city,” she said, moving in close, breathing in his ear, hand roaming south of his belt.

“What’re you doing?” Philip gasped at the sudden assault.

“What does it feel like I’m doing?”

He looked down at her, amazed at her audacity. “Groping me. What if someone comes in?”

“Then I stop.”

My Review:
This is the fourth book in a series, but it can be enjoyed as a standalone. We have met both of these characters in previous books, but this is their story.

Philip Sundstrom is the eldest of the Sundstrom brothers, with Brad being the younger. Brad was the MC of the second book in this series, and we have seen him in the other stories as well. Philip was the enigmatic brother who seemed kowtowed to their domineering and homophobic father, but we are now seeing the truth behind that facade.

Philip was the beleaguered son, “learning” the business of Sundstrom while really being shut out of any and every real decision, but Philip played a long game, acquiring knowledge and allies as he awaited his shady father’s downfall. It happened to come at the cost of Brad’s boyfriend, Drew, who was bashed by Daddy’s cronies. Philip found out and had his abusive, snaky father incarcerated–and he also got full ownership of the company, in the process. Philip wants to root out the board members who were loyal to his dad–and might be actively sabotaging his CEO position–and he’s also mature enough he wants a secure relationship instead of rattling around his big, empty childhood home. Unfortunately, his long-term girlfriend hadn’t got the memo that they were exclusive, and that was the end of that. Philip is bisexual, not that he’s made any overtures to a man in a long time. That’s why it’s a bit shocking that he’s so turned on by the ginger bagger at the specialty grocer, Stuart.

Stuart Cochrane has just graduated college from CalPac University and is due to matriculate into medical school at UC-Davis in August. He shares an apartment with his boyfriend and a fellow crew member, Jeremy, whose highborn English mother has been an unpleasant advent in his life. Stuart grew up in rural Pennsylvania, with parents who take “Jesus Freak” as a badge of honor. He literally ran away to Sacramento to attend college on the scholarship for crew, where he was a champion coxswain. Stuart is diminutive in size, but not opinion or voice, and he’s quite tired of Jeremy’s callous and wasteful immaturity. Being nearly destitute has trained Stuart to be incredibly frugal, and shun charity. So, when Jeremy makes an ultimatum that would cost him thousands, Stuart is happy to see him head off for England on a summer break that ends their relationship. And, that’s when he meets Philip.

Philip is a fixer, but while he has money he is sensible about it–for the most part. And he’s sensitive enough to Stuart’s pride that he doesn’t try to press his financial advantage, at least at first. They end up dating, which causes a little conflagration as Philip comes out, but much less than one might expect. The book is set in the time period around 2013 when marriage equality was still a fight in the courts, and not the rule of the country at large. Stuart has never really considered being married, because it hasn’t been accessible to him as such, and he’s still young with big plans for his career. Meanwhile, Philip is going all in on Stuart, and on the people he suspects of conniving against his leadership at work. There are several issues at risk, including a development that seems to have been built in an area rife with toxic waste. The legal ramifications are high, and as all of this is percolating to a head Stuart’s phobia of wealth and privilege get stuck with. He’s prideful to a dangerous and self-destructive degree, but once Philip arrives–thanks to mutual friends who reach out–Stuart is more than sorry for his earlier scorn. These guys are so used to being on their own it’s hard to lean on one another, but Stuart has need to lean more frequently, and this bring shim shame. He’d already had a pretty low self-esteem thanks to his parents, but his money struggles only reveal the deep-seated class prejudices Stuart has. And, what he has to get over if he’s going to salvage what is left of his battered family.

I really enjoyed this story, though I felt it kind of took a long time to get to the larger action moments. What I mean is, Philip was investigating his board in June, and doesn’t resolve anything there until January–despite constant machinations and discovery of damning evidence. Over the nearly 6 months of their acquaintance Stuart’s growing loathing of financial security seems excessive and childish. He has no capacity to manage his exponential debts, and hates that Philip is not only able, but willing, to wipe it all away just to ensure Stuart isn’t burdened. Every one of Stuart’s friends tell him he’s being unreasonable and childish–and he’s also considering this himself–but he cannot stop turning into a giant ridiculous brat when Philip pays for these rare and extenuating extravagances. It was almost pathological, honestly, and I was overjoyed that he FINALLY got down from his high horse in time to save his family and his relationship.

This is the fourth story in the series, but there is plenty of detail to fill-in any gaps for readers picking it up out of sequence. It will be a bit of a spoiler though, if one wants to go back in time, as the previous love stories have some level of exposure in this book. I’m always a little thrown by the deep references I encounter in this series, considering how well-read that I am, but it’s always fun to learn a new 78-point Scrabble word, or two. The younger characters read as way older, and sometimes Philip and Stuart read as way younger–but it was fun that they acknowledged this as demonstration of their infatuation. There are some dark moments, and the death of several secondary characters leading up to the final crisis. In all, I’d read on if another book comes out.

Interested? You can find SETTLING THE SCORE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Christopher Koehler always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he wanted to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged that, especially his long-suffering husband of twenty-nine years and counting.

He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.
While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly.

Christopher is approaching the tenth anniversary of publication and has been fortunate to be recognized for his writing, including by the American Library Association, which named Poz a 2016 Recommended Title, and an Honorable Mention for “Transformation,” in Innovation, Volume 6 of Queer Sci Fi’s Flash Fiction Anthology.

You can catch up with Christopher on Facebook, and twitter.

Big Changes After Being STRANDED WITH DESIRE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a newly re-released M/M contemporary romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed and a writing partner, Vivian Dean. STRANDED WITH DESIRE features a boss and assistant stranded after a plane crash finally admitting their hidden desires for each other. If you liked THE PERILS OF INTIMACY, LEGALLY WED, or THE SECRETS WE KEEP you’ll likely enjoy this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
CEO Maine Braxton and his invaluable assistant, Colby, don’t realize they share a deep secret: they’re in love—with each other. That secret may have never come to light but for a terrifying plane crash in the Cascade Mountains that changes everything.

In a struggle for survival, they brave bears, storms, and a life-threatening flood to make it out of the wilderness alive. The proximity to death makes them realize the importance of love over propriety. Confessions emerge. Passions ignite. They escape the wilds renewed and openly in love.

When they return to civilization, though, forces are already plotting to snuff out their short-lived romance and ruin everything both have worked so hard to achieve.

How about a little taste?

Prologue
Colby LaSalle never dreamed his life would end in a plane crash over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. But here he was, whispering fevered petitions to the Lord as the plane screamed, plunging downward…faster, faster.

Out the windows, all he could see was white. And the only outcome he could imagine was that once that white cleared, the last thing he’d take in would be towering pine trees and the cold side of a mountain hurtling toward him. It was almost too horrific to comprehend.

In those few moments, as Colby braced himself in his seat, head down near his knees, he found himself thinking what a loss this was. The man across from him, his boss, Maine Braxton, would never know the most important thing about Colby. And that thing was not his proficiency as an administrative assistant, keeping Maine on track and on schedule in all his business affairs, but that Colby was passionately—and secretly—in love with him. With all his heart and soul.

That fact, and the unspoken words that hid it, seemed tragic to Colby, maybe even more tragic than the life he was about to lose. What kind of life, Colby wondered, did you really have if you’d never truly loved and been loved in return?

Colby, at twenty-eight, had never been in love before. And now it looked as though he would never have the chance to act on his desire, on that feeling that made his heart flutter whenever Maine walked by his desk. Was love like a tree falling in the forest? If the object of that love never knew of it, did it really exist?

Colby looked up for a moment, maybe to have a final look at Maine, but was distracted by the view through the cockpit window of the six-seater plane they were traveling in—a Beechcraft Bonanza. The opaque fog of white cleared for a moment, and Colby could see, to his horror, that his imagination was correct.

They were hurtling toward the side of a mountain. The view was surreal. Shock kept him from thinking it was anything other than a very vivid nightmare.

He then looked over at Maine and saw he had slid from his seat to the floor. The strong, powerful man cowered there, hands over his head. His lips moved in what Colby could only assume was silent prayer.

Colby longed to slide over, to cover Maine with his own body and shield him from the impact, but he was paralyzed, a butterfly pinned to a board, and could only add his own whispered prayers to those of his boss.

“Please, God, help us get out of this alive. Let Maine know how very much I love him. Give me that chance.”

The private pilot, a blustery, gruff man named Gus Pangborn but whom everyone just called Rooster, shouted, “We’re gonna try and go up! We’re gonna try and go up!”

Colby didn’t know if he was talking to him, Maine, or himself, but the desperation in the pilot’s gravelly voice was clear. The despair in Rooster’s words communicated one thing to Colby and one thing only—he had no hope.

Colby squeezed his eyes shut tight and placed his head back down toward his knees again, covering it with his hands, although he wondered how much good it would do once the plane crashed, once it was consumed by a giant fireball.

What Colby LaSalle didn’t realize, though, was that the plane crash would signal not the end of his life, but the beginning.

My Review:
Colby LaSalle is an out gay man in his mid 20s. He’s the executive assistant to Maine Braxton, CEO of Braxton Enterprises, a sexy engaged man in his late 30s. Despite Maine being engaged to a beautiful woman, Colby pines a bit for Maine. Their few years of close acquaintance has kindled a burning flame Colby can’t put out. They are in Seattle for a business trip when Maine is warned about some espionage being planned back in Chicago. He instructs Colby to make plans to immediately return home, using their corporate jet, but to not tell anyone.

When the plane goes down in the Cascades a couple of hours later Colby and Maine believe they are truly alone, with no one knowing they need a rescue. Two days on a mountainside with heavy rains and little food or shelter is all Maine needs to confess his closeted sexuality and deep love for Colby—who’s both excited and agonized. While he’s overjoyed that his affection is returned, Colby is less than convinced that Maine will both break off his engagement and come out of the closet.

And, with the threat of exposure further compromising Maine’s stewardship of his family business, Colby is sure his only options might be as a secret side piece. But, Maine’s a decent man, and he knows that Colby is worth loving out loud. I liked the tension that existed between these two positions, especially when we get to meet Maine’s fiancé, who truly is a great lady. Maine and Colby are both so sweet, and good men. It was easy to root for them connecting and making a path forward together, especially following the danger of their ordeal in the mountains.

I liked this story a lot. I had a few issues with continuity, which I think may stem from two thing. First, I’m a native Chicagoan and have lots of experience with the commutes in and around O’Hare—a bit of the driving stuff made me shake my head. Second, I wondered about some details of time being a bit off, in terms of word choice, where it seemed Colby’s employment was only two…or a few…years, give or take. Beyond that, it’s an engaging survival romance, with a sassy coming out storyline. Happy endings all around.

Interested? You can find STRANDED WITH DESIRE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read or Audible.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Vivien Dean has had a lifetime love affair with stories. A multi-published author, her books have been EPPIE finalists, Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Nominees, and readers favorites. After spending her twenties and early thirties traveling, she has finally settled down and currently resides in Northern California with her British husband and two children.

Catch up with Vivian on Facebook and Twitter.

Meeting His Match DRAGON LESSON–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M paranormal YA romance from Mell Eight. DRAGON LESSON is the sixth book in the Supernatural Consultant series, which features a dragon, a demigod and a passel of maturing dragon kits. Finally we get to see the mixed-magic kit Lumie grow up and find his mate. I fell into the previous titles DRAGON CONSULTANT, DRAGON DECEPTION, DRAGON DILEMMA, DRAGON DETECTIVE, and DRAGON ADVENTURES, and have loved watching these characters grow and evolve in each story. Lumie’s known his mate for all long time, but now they’re grown and in college–and trying to keep trouble at bay.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
All Lumie wants to see is Goldie’s beautiful smile, but the only ee wants to see is Goldie’s beautiful smile, but the only expression he ever shows Lumie is tears. When Goldie asks him for a favor, Lumie leaps at the chance to finally see Goldie happy.

Goldie wants to live a life free of the fear that has chained him for so long, but breaking free once and for all may come with a higher price than he and Lumie are prepared to pay.xpression he ever shows Lumie is tears. When Goldie asks him for a favor, Lumie leaps at the chance to finally see Goldie happy.

Goldie wants to live a life free of the fear that has chained him for so long, but breaking free once and for all may come with a higher price than he and Lumie are prepared to pay.

How about a little taste?

The first time Lumie had seen Goldie in the flesh was one of the oddest moments of Lumie’s life. Lumie knew Goldie. He knew that shining golden hair, rosy in the sun like the gold was touched by fire. And those big golden eyes surrounded by dark-gold lashes were something Lumie had seen in his mind’s eye for years and years. He knew the moment when Goldie would come into his life, when Dane and Mercury would rescue him, but Lumie hadn’t understood what five years of captivity with the enemy would do to Goldie. Lumie had been lucky. He had barely been a day out of his egg when Mercury had come for him. Goldie had been held captive for far too long, and it had destroyed something inside of him.

Lumie had tagged along with Mercury, his daddy, when Mercury went to check on a mother dragon that had been rescued along with Goldie. When Mercury went into the house where the mother was staying with her new eggs, Goldie had snuck out the back door.

Looking back on that moment years later, Lumie realized Goldie was shaking in utter fear, but at the time, all Lumie had seen was the boy from his waking dreams.

“Hi!” Lumie had chirped happily. Goldie, on the other hand, had let out a shriek. He had stumbled back from Lumie, holding up his hands as if warding off a blow. Mercury and Martha, an air dragon in charge of the village, had come hurrying outside, and together they had coaxed Goldie back into the house. Goldie wouldn’t look at Lumie even once as he hurried up the stairs.

The encounter had left Lumie horribly confused for years. He knew what Goldie’s eyes looked like when he was smiling at Lumie: shining and bright. He had foreseen that happiness, but only in a dream rather than real life. Lumie didn’t understand the fear he saw inside Goldie. For the next thirteen years, Lumie had visited the village at least once a week and made a point of saying hello to Goldie. Eventually, Goldie stopped screaming and running from Lumie, but his fear never vanished.

Lumie had yet to see Goldie’s smile in person.

“Which wire?” Alloy hissed. From the slightly frantic tone of his voice, Lumie realized it wasn’t the first time Alloy had spoken. Lumie took his eyes from the gleaming gold-colored plate he had pulled off the security alarm, got his thoughts back to the present, and focused on the two different wires Alloy had pulled out of the guts of the alarm.

“It doesn’t matter which wire,” Lumie replied with a shrug. “Just heat them both really fast, then cool them off suddenly. Total wire failure won’t set off that sort of alarm.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Mercury snapped from behind them. The overhead light flickered on, bringing the foyer of the house Mercury owned with Dane into focus. Mercury had bronze-colored hair that fell just below his ears, and his bronze-colored eyes were sharp as he glared at Lumie and Alloy. He was angry. Lumie looked at the alarm box they had stripped and were about to destroy, and then back at Mercury’s glaring face.

Oh, he was mad about the alarm thing.

“I was just teaching.” Lumie grumbled. He held out the gold-colored plate, and Mercury yanked it from his hands.

“A, you’re both nineteen and should know better. B, you both promised me a thesis statement for the essay you have to write and one page from your algebra workbook before bedtime. You can teach Alloy about alarm systems when you’re not supposed to be doing other things.” Mercury growled. Magic flashed through the air, and the gold plate flew back into place on the alarm. The four screws Alloy had dropped to the floor flew into their slots and twisted until they were in place. “Plus,” Mercury continued in a softer tone, “you both left fingerprints all over the alarm system. Eventually someone would have noticed your tampering, and you both would have been caught.” He pulled one sleeve down over his palm and wiped at the gold plate before reaching out to snap the outer housing with all the buttons back onto the frame.

Alloy bounded off, and Lumie reluctantly followed. He had actually finished the math, but he hated essays. It would only take ten minutes to scrape together the one-sentence thesis statement, but he didn’t want to. At all. He had taken the damn test Mercury had wanted him to. His results weren’t back yet, but he had thought he was done with school with the damned GED out of the way. Mercury having the tutor continue to pile on more homework was ridiculous.

Instead of following Alloy upstairs, Lumie headed to the kitchen. He deserved a cinnamon bomb before having to go do his work.

Dane was already in the kitchen when Lumie walked in. He was on the phone, though, so he couldn’t speak up to stop Lumie from raiding the candy basket on top of the fridge. The happiest day of Lumie’s life was the day he realized he had finally grown tall enough to get to his candy on his own. Somehow Lumie thought that might have also been Dane’s unhappiest day, but he tried not to dwell on trivialities like that. Dane was super special in the magic world. Whatever. So was Lumie. That wasn’t even arrogance talking. Dane was the son of a god and a crazy lady from across the pond. Grandma came to visit every once in a while. Lately she had started bringing along her spell books. Those were interesting to read. Lumie had nicked a few since they were so much more interesting than the books Mercury had him reading.

Lumie’s powers, on the other hand, were… Well, he didn’t really have a way to define what he could do. As far as he knew, no one could explain why his magic was so odd. He was a fire dragon, so playing with fire was his favorite pastime—he liked it even better than tormenting Dane—but sometimes he saw things he shouldn’t, he could travel in ways a fire dragon shouldn’t be able, and he generally confounded Dane with the things he could do. That was part of the fun, really, and Lumie tried not to dwell on things that weren’t fun.

With his long blond hair pulled back into a tail at the base of his skull, Dane looked severe. His blue eyes glared pointedly at Lumie, so Lumie picked up the cinnamon bomb wrapper from where he had dropped it on the counter and put it in the trash. Taking care of the wrapper now was better than Dane’s magic yanking him back into the kitchen to do it later. Plus, if Lumie left too many wrappers lying around, the basket suddenly had a dearth of cinnamon bombs for a few days. It was punishment that Lumie did not enjoy.

Dane hung up the phone before Lumie could escape.

“That was the new secretary of defense,” Dane said. He was frowning down at the screen of his phone as he spoke, but he looked up at Lumie, and Lumie couldn’t help freezing in place.

He had seen this before. Daydreamed it, really. In the kitchen with Dane looking so serious. Dane was about to tell him something that would change his life forever.

Lumie didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to know. He liked his life right now. He was comfortable living in Dane’s home and eating the food Daisy, their caretaker, prepared for them. Nickel, Lumie’s adoptive brother, liked living away from home in the house he shared with his boyfriend, Platinum. All Lumie liked about that was since Nickel and Platinum had moved out, he had been allowed to take their bedroom for himself. Not having to share with Chrome any longer—not living in the constant mess Chrome was unable to ever properly clean—was amazing.

“He offered you a full scholarship to the college of your choice with the caveat that you come work for one of the defense agencies under his purview,” Dane continued before Lumie could stop him. “He apparently has an issue only someone of your skills can handle and is willing to do just about anything to get you to sign on.”

“He doesn’t know I’m available to hire through your consulting firm?” Lumie asked grumpily, used to speaking clearly around the cinnamon bomb stretching out one of his cheeks. It was too late; he had already heard what Dane had to say. His life was irrevocably changed. All he could do was try to keep the things he liked best safe when the turmoil hit.

“He wants to take out the middleman,” Dane explained with a shrug. “It will probably also cost them less overall to pay for your college and provide a steady work salary than to hire you through me.”

That didn’t surprise Lumie. Dane made the government pay through the nose. It allowed him to give people with fewer means the same service at a much more affordable price.

“Lumie, this is big for you. Your grades aren’t anything to laud, and you took an extra year to finish high school. Plus, a lot of colleges might discriminate against you because you’re a dragon. They’ll think you’ll wash out within a semester and not want to put any time or effort into accepting you.”

Everything Dane was saying was true. Dragons were one of the most uneducated creatures in the world—not because they were stupid or lacked the mental capacity for it, but because they didn’t have access to education in the wild where the majority of them lived. When they did venture into human civilization, their ignorance often caused someone to get hurt. Having someone from the secretary of defense’s office step in on Lumie’s behalf meant that none of those issues would be in his way, but Lumie had never been interested in college. He had taken his GED test only because Mercury and Dane had literally dragged him across the finish line. He didn’t even know if he had actually passed it yet.

“Alloy wants to go to college,” Lumie stated. He wasn’t sure if he was voicing a complaint that they hadn’t approached Alloy instead—even though Alloy lacked the specialized skills that made Lumie so distinctive—or whether he was grumpy that they thought they could buy him so easily.

“So we ask the secretary if he can get two college entrance letters,” Dane replied with an easy shrug. “Alloy might also have to agree to a few years working with the government too.”

“But he’s always liked what Daddy does and would apply to work for the SupFeds in a heartbeat if he could,” Lumie finished.

Mercury worked as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Supernatural Investigations, which investigated issues that stemmed from the supernatural world. Dane worked with them often in his capacity as a private contractor with his Supernatural Consulting Firm, and Alloy had always wanted to join Mercury. Again, something Lumie wasn’t interested in. He liked his independence—and his laziness, to be perfectly honest. He picked the jobs he wanted to do whenever he felt like doing them. Getting tied down with an agency would end all that freedom.

“Let me think about it,” Lumie finally said after a few moments of silence.

Dane nodded. His smile was completely understanding. “You know Mercury and I only want you to be happy. If college isn’t for you, we can probably still work something out. Let me know what you think. Don’t take too long,” he added. “I don’t think this offer is indefinite, so we need to call the secretary back by Friday afternoon.”

Lumie nodded and rushed to escape the kitchen. He went upstairs to his private bedroom and flopped facedown on the bed.

It was too good an opportunity to pass up. College would suck, but it would make Mercury so happy. Afterward Lumie was guaranteed to have a good job where he could use his special skills to their fullest. It really was an amazing opportunity, but it meant the end of his simple and easy life.

And there was also Alloy to think about. Alloy, who was running down the very long driveway—over two miles long—every afternoon to check the mailbox to see whether his GED scores had arrived. As soon as he had his official letter, he was going to start applying to colleges. How would Lumie feel every time Alloy got a rejection letter from a school, and Lumie knew he could have saved Alloy from that pain?

Lumie snorted in disgust at himself. Was throwing away his freedom worth it for Alloy’s happiness? Probably, damn it, but it wasn’t fair.

He threw his body off his bed and twisted his magic around him in a way no other dragon could. His bedroom vanished from view, and he reappeared just outside a small town. The nearest house was just across the street. Lumie quickly rounded the building to get to the backyard.

The flash of golden hair in the sunlight caught Lumie’s attention first, and he eagerly hurried forward to Goldie’s side. Goldie wouldn’t have the answer Lumie wanted, but just being by his side for a few minutes helped soothe his roiling thoughts.

My Review:
This is the sixth book in the Supernatural Consultant series and likely best enjoyed when read in order–but can be enjoyed on its own.

Lumie (short for Aluminum) is an 18 year old fire dragon kit, just maturing enough to be striking out on his own, but he’s not really keen on it. It’s nice living home with his foster fathers, Dane and Mercury. Dane is a half-god who controls the supernatural creature realm in the northeast US, and Mercury is a precious copper dragon with magic of his own. Lumie was experimented on in the egg, and maybe as a hatchling, but he was soon rescued by Mercury and later they were all picked up by Dane, as Mercury had fallen ill and couldn’t care for his six rescued kits. Over the years Dane and Mercury have made a cozy family–one determined to shut down dragon experimentation for good. Lumie’s magic is far different from a normal fire dragon, he can teleport, and walk through even Dane’s impenetrable wards. And, he’s prescient, with an uncanny ability to see the future. And Lumie know that his future is tied to Goldie.

Goldie is a precious gold dragon, which has more innate magic than ordinary element dragons. He was kept in a human lab for years before he was rescued, and the pain and terror of those days walks with him still, despite being 19. For near on a decade, Goldie has watched Lumie hang about the edges of his life in the quiet household where Goldie was adopted, as Lumie visits nearly every week. Lumie has flashes of Goldie smiling at him with love, but that’s a premonition; Goldie’s hardly ever even spoken to Lumie in all their time together. It’s funny that Lumie has almost verbal diarrhea around Goldie, who listens closely and wishes for half the fearlessness of Lumie. Lumie has big news for Goldie, though–he’s been offered a guaranteed admission and full scholarship to any college of his choice, if only he will agree to work for the Supernatural Federation, a government agency tasked with managing the well-being of supes and humans alike. Lumie has no interest in college, but his dear brother Alloy really wants to go, and Lumie suspects that Goldie does as well–he’s extremely into their schoolwork, though Lumie doesn’t know why. Lumie sees the promise in this offer, though, and promptly negotiates acceptances for Alloy and Goldie, once they agree.

Ultimately, Lumie sees the college path as a way to get Goldie to move in together, and maybe he’ll get to see that love-filled smile. It’s actually not too long before Goldie and Lumie are learning a whole lot about themselves and one another. Their college has all sorts of magic theory classes, and Lumie finally learns the source of his unusual magic powers. Goldie also learns how to shut out the emotions of those around him–and use his unexpected gift to waylay bad guys. And, just in time too, because they are now on assignment to track down some dudes who’ve been kidnapping supes and forcing them into bloodsport for gambling rings. Lumie had never expected his magic would fail him, but his new education helps him see a way past his captors, and right into Goldie’s arms forever.

This is a YA paranormal romance with innocent first kisses and dreams built on a vision of the future. It’s sweet and entertaining, with just the right amount of action to balance the romance. I love how Lumie had to really grow beyond his lackadaisical life, and skills, to become capable of being responsible for himself and Goldie. And Goldie’s growth from timid and shattered to fierce enough to defend his life-mate? So engaging. The more of these stories I read, the more I can’t wait to read another. I wonder if Alloy will find his mate in the next installment!

Interested? You can find DRAGON LESSON on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.

You can catch up with Mell on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Connected at Christmas ANGELS IN THE CITY–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M Christmas romance from Garrett Leigh. ANGELS IN THE CITY features a young entrepreneur meeting an app developer in a broken lift, and somehow turning a fake boyfriend into a real one

Scroll down for more information and to enter the giveaway!
About the book:
A fake relationship with a stranger. An office romance with doughnuts and white knights. An addictive arrangement—friends with benefits—fast turns to love.

Jonah Gray is rich, successful, and the most eligible bachelor in the city, according to his mother, at least. But the truth is, despite her efforts to pair him off, he’s fine on his own. All he needs is a date to the Christmas ball.

Sacha Ivanov is a lone wolf, content in the cycle of long days, late nights, and anonymous hook ups, but when a chance encounter in a broken-down lift brings a gorgeous copper-haired CEO into his life, everything begins to change.

As Christmas fast approaches, a favour for a stranger blooms into something more. He doesn’t do second dates or relationships. But for kind-hearted Jonah, his angel in the city, he might just change his mind.

Angels in the City is a Christmas themed MM friends-to-lovers, forced proximity, office romance. Expect fraught days, steamy nights, and true love built around festive snacks and Christmas trees.

My Review:
Jonah Grey is a 26 year old businessman running a successful advertising company. He’s grown up with wealth and privilege, and loving parents who would love to see him settled with a quality man. But Jonah works too much and too hard to bother looking for a date, let alone a true partner. Late for his parents holiday fundraiser gala that he hates attending, Jonah is only more frustrated that he gets trapped in the lift of his building. There he meets Sacha, the new hire at the tech company which shares the top floor with Jonah’s company.

It’s Sacha’s first day on the job, in a place he is certain is filled with idiots, and he’s not happy to be trapped in a lift. Well, until he gets a look at Jonah. Both men could form a mutual admiration society, and they aren’t shy about letting the other know. Jonah’s stress levels are high and Sacha settles him, even offering to attend the gala as a fake date—-never dreaming sexy ginger Jonah would accept such a preposterous offer. But he does, if only to keep one of his demons at bay.

Their night is a bit of a hit, and it doesn’t end when the gala does. Sacha takes Jonah home and manhandles him in all the right ways. For Jonah, he’d love a reprise, but Sacha is a one-night only guy…usually. Thing is their chemistry is amazing and while both men have issues and conflicts at work, they also know not to let a good thing pass by. They try friendship with benefits, and are a little surprised how lovely it works. And, how the friendship actually grows between them. But Christmas is around the corner, and Jonah’s mum is hoping he’ll bring Sacha to their country estate for the holiday. Sacha has his own demons regarding wealthy folks and loving families, so he’s a bit spooked by the idea.

I really liked this one. Interesting and diverse characters with solid backstory and relatable conflicts. Sacha’s do,estimated issues come to a head, unexpectedly, while Jonah learns to really dig deep and put himself out there for a man he’s starting to care for deeply. While there’s a hint of separation, part of this is the language and culture barriers, with Sacha being native Russian and having completely different sensibilities compared to Jonah. His tenderness is definitely present, but we only get glimpses, enough for Jonah to stake his happiness on it, anyway. I loved to peeks of vulnerability we got to see, and how caring both men are, especially behind the scenes. A solid romance, and a good use of the ‘fake boyfriend’ trope, with everything figured out in time for Christmas Eve.

Interested? You can find ANGELS IN THE CITY on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win and ebook of HOMETOWN CHRISTMAS.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Garrett Leigh is an award-winning British writer, cover artist, and book designer. Her debut novel, Slide, won Best Bisexual Debut at the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards, and her polyamorous novel, Misfits was a finalist in the 2016 LAMBDA awards, and was again a finalist in 2017 with Rented Heart.

In 2017, she won the EPIC award in contemporary romance with her military novel, Between Ghosts, and the contemporary romance category in the Bisexual Book Awards with her novel What Remains.

When not writing, Garrett can generally be found procrastinating on Twitter, cooking up a storm, or sitting on her behind doing as little as possible, all the while shouting at her menagerie of children and animals and attempting to tame her unruly and wonderful FOX.

Garrett is also an award winning cover artist, taking the silver medal at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards in 2016. She designs for various publishing houses and independent authors at blackjazzdesign.com, and co-owns the specialist stock site moonstockphotography.com with photographer Dan Burgess. Bonus Material available for all books on Garrett’s Patreon account. Includes short stories from Misfits, Slide, Strays, What Remains, Dream, and much more.

You can find Garrett on her website, twitter, Facebook and Patreon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Now Available OPERATION FAKE RELATIONSHIP–A Holiday Book Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M Christmas romance from Jay Northcote. OPERATION FAKE RELATIONSHIP features best friends doing one another a favor…and falling hard in love.

About the book:
Can a fake relationship between best friends turn into the real thing?

After years of estrangement from his parents, Nick is finally going home for Christmas, but not without backup. He wants moral support, so his best friend and flatmate, Jackson, agrees to pretend to be his partner so he can go with him.

It’s easy for Jackson to be convincing when his feelings for Nick are as genuine as ever. He put his crush on the back burner long ago, but acting out a role he’d love to play for real is harder than he imagined. Holding hands, kissing under the mistletoe, even sharing a bed for the sake of the charade… He can’t help wondering what he’s let himself in for, and whether his heart can take it.

Emotions run high as Nick grapples with family issues, and the sexual tension between him and his best friend becomes difficult to ignore. But if he and Jackson give into the temptation to be fake boyfriends with benefits over the holiday, what will it mean for their future as friends once Christmas is over?

Contains: best friends to lovers, pretend boyfriends, daddy issues, mistletoe, and a happy ending—of course.

Interested? You can find OPERATION FAKE BOYFRIEND on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

You can find Jay on his website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

signal boost

Conversation and Commitments: CATCH A FALLING SNOWFLAKE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from Ava Kelly. CATCH A FALLING SNOWFLAKE is the fourth book in her Snow Globes series. This book features a couple finding the next step in their relationship–and if that means cohabitation, and adoption…or something less commitment-y. I haven’t read the previous titles, but I caught on quickly to the continuing storyline.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
The previous winter, Leon followed his twin sister Sara to a new town where she could be with her partner, Amber. There, Leon’s boyfriend Nick, friends Jeff and Daniel, and their nine-year-old daughter Abby, swiftly swept him up into their lives, a newfound family.

After a year of growing their relationship, Leon is ready to take it to the next level. Nick, however, has been stalling. When Ben, Abby’s best friend, is suddenly abandoned, Leon is excited to finally care for the children he’s always wanted. Haunted by the mistakes of his past, Nick attempts to reconcile his feelings of inadequacy as a parent with Leon’s wishes.

Against the backdrop of winter holidays filled with traditions from around the world, it is up to Leon to decide if he’s willing to stand by Nick, or if he should find his happiness elsewhere.

Catch a Falling Snowflake, the fourth story in the Snow Globes holiday series, can be read as a stand-alone, but greater enjoyment will come with reading about these characters in the order written.

How about a little taste?

The community center was quiet for a Thursday. With vacation and beckoning winter celebrations a day away, Nick expected the ebb of youthful visitors to slow down. Besides, early afternoon was always the calmest, no matter the day. Perhaps that was why he’d chosen this particular time for the support group. Sure, it served those who worked nights, unlike most of the other meetings usually held in the evenings, but Dr. Mahler had had a few requests to organize one during the day, and that was where Nick came in.

He’d been back in his hometown for two years, and soon after settling in, he’d started attending one of the grief support groups. Not that his loss was still fresh, not after years, but as a check-in with himself. As an example for others that, yes, survival was possible. He’d made friends with the local therapist; she was supportive, and he’d booked a session or two when he needed an objective ear. He was doing well.

With a smile to himself, Nick checked on the coffee thermos on the side table, then made sure the heaters underneath the windows of the meeting room were turned on. Outside, snow fell in sparse flakes. Not enough to settle and disrupt activity, but enough to give the air that chilling bite of winter.

Beyond the hills on which the town stretched, the mountains rose toward the gray sky, covered in thick pine forests. He’d missed the view. Missed the people, the smells, the buildings.

He was back to stay. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t leave again. He’d made sure to have some safety nets this time around, just in case. Volunteering for the center, for one, running this group for another, and Dr. Mahler, whom Nick had grown to trust after two years.

Nothing, however, was more important than the people in his life.

Footsteps and voices from the corridor pulled Nick from his musings. He turned to greet the two people walking in, and then another, and another, until six strangers sat in the circle of folding chairs, staring at him. Nick cleared his throat.

“I guess we should start,” he said. “Hello, everyone. My name is Nick, and I’ll be your group leader here. I’d like to remind you that this is not a therapy session, but only a space to talk. If you feel like you need more, Dr. Mahler is here.”

He gestured then, to the side, where a small office was nestled behind glass windows, door closed. The doc waved at them from her desk, legs kicked up casually onto it, crossed at the ankles, an open book in her hand. She grinned and gave them all a thumbs-up.

Around Nick, a couple of people nodded, someone waved back, and the youth with their nose in the collar of their hoodie snorted. Nick made a mental note to check later on their age.

“Doc will be here until tonight, so if you wanna sneak back after we’re finished…”

That, at least, earned him some chuckles. Nick tried not to read too much into it. He’d been to meetings full of strangers before. This would be no different. Determination reinforced, he took a deep breath.

“We’re here to talk, but don’t feel like you have to. You can just listen, if that works. But I’d like to remind everyone to be mindful and respect the privacy of these meetings.”

All nodded, and Nick copied the gesture with a thank-you.

“Has anyone been to one of these meetings before?”

Headshakes and muttered noes.

“Well.” Nick shifted. “We talk about those we’ve lost. We talk about us. The weather. Sports. Music. That movie last week with all the sword fighting.”

“And blatant disregard for proper archery,” a woman said.

“That too.”

“Does it help?”

Heads swiveled to the person in the hoodie.

“It can,” Nick said. “Sometimes it helps to just be around people who’ve been through similar things. Not everyone processes in the same way, though, so it might not be as useful.”

“Have you— Did—” Hoodie shook themself into silence, and Nick nodded anyway.

“I’ve been there. Actually, this week marks a sort of anniversary for me, so I wanted to start by telling you my story if you’d like to hear it.”

That got him their attention. Curiosity and wariness, too, but it was to be expected. First time could be scary, especially under the strain of mourning. Nick remembered with clarity his first visit to an informal support group. His first group session, though, was hazy around the edges. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and clasped his hands together.

“I was born here. With the exception of college, I’ve lived here for twenty-six years. I had a wife and a best friend and a baby on the way.”

He’d had Lauren and Jeff, twins he’d known since childhood. Through shenanigans and quiet moments and major decisions, they’d always been there. Nick and Lauren had gotten married right after college, and four years later—

“My wife died during childbirth. I watched it happen, and it’s not an image I can ever unsee. It broke me enough that my immediate thoughts were harmful toward myself and the baby. A girl. Innocent and frail, and not at fault at all. I left before I even held her once, and then spent the next seven years healing. Wasn’t pretty. Hurt a lot.”

Nick swallowed and shifted, pausing to collect his thoughts.

“What happened to her?” Hoodie asked.

“My wife’s twin brother adopted her. He was also my best friend.”

Not anymore. Jeff had a new bestie. When Nick first met Amber, he hadn’t paid much attention. It had been a brief interaction as it was, two years back, when she’d provided a ride to Jeff’s place. Amber was tall and sometimes moved like she wanted to make herself smaller. Less visible. Quiet too. Later, Nick learned she kept most people at a distance. Not in any way that might’ve been rude or hostile, but more along the lines of hiding behind a hard, thick shell. Kinda like Nick used to be, way back.

A deep breath.

“I hurt both him and the kid,” Nick continued, “because I stayed away for a long time. No contact whatsoever.”

“You suck,” Hoodie commented, but Nick fully agreed.

“Yes. Grief can make us hurt others, even when we don’t want to. It’s not excusable, though it can be explainable. Still, being mindful of those I loved was a hard-learned lesson for me.”

“But now you’re back.”

Nick nodded. “We’re working on me making up for it.”

“How?” The question came from the side, a woman with a drawn face, hugging her middle with both arms. Nick recognized that look. Guilt.

“I returned two years ago,” Nick said. “Found my friend and the kid happy. There was even a second parent involved—my friend’s life partner. Instead of being reasonable, I blew it by being an ass to them. Said mean things, made threats. Friend’s partner made me see logic. I’m grateful for him being there. They got married this summer.”

He offered a quick grin, blinking back the sting behind his eyes. Daniel was someone Nick respected through and through. He was good for Jeff and Abby.

“I don’t understand why they forgave me for being such an ass, but they did. As for my long absence… That’s the part with more serious repercussions and has been a lot harder to work through. Friend is letting me though. He’s willing, but I had to take the first step. Say that first apology—” He looked at the woman who’d asked directly. “—and not expect it to be accepted.”

“Harsh.”

“Yes, but we make mistakes, and we must bear the consequences. The best we can do after hurting others is to allow them the space they need, and understand if they can’t forgive.” With a long exhale, Nick straightened. “It’s not that grim. Sure, in the wake of what you—we’ve all been through, it might seem that what comes ahead is insurmountable. Sometimes it is, in which case you either dig through or go around, or choose a whole different path. It might also be a long, drawn-out, tiresome battle. Grief is not easy. But it’s survivable.”

And that was the whole point. That was why Nick was there, opening himself up over and over again.

“My journey is in a good place right now. I’m an uncle for the kid, her parents are my friends, and hey, I even have a boyfriend. Accidental acquisition, it was very rom-com.”

Faces perked up with undisguised interest, and Nick offered them a small smile. He got it. After Lauren, when the pain had still been so fresh he could taste it, he’d latched on to happy tales as distractions on the good days. On the bad ones, not so much. Looking around the room, it seemed his current audience wanted to hear this part of his story.

The previous year, they’d spent part of the holidays on a training retreat with Abby’s elementary school chess club, along with other third graders from all around. Daniel and Amber had chaperoned, with Nick and Jeff trailing along.

“Last winter vacation we went to this resort in the Alps. It involved a lot of children, chess, and snow—more like yelling on the slopes, actually—but it was fun. First time I met him, he threw line after line of quips while I stood there, all coherence gone. In retrospect, I should’ve realized it, but you know”—he gestured—“I was unaccustomed to someone catching my interest so suddenly.”

Nick had replayed that particular moment in his head over and over again. Leon smirking, stupid green hat over curls poking out in tiny swirls at his temples.

“And then we found out we had to share a room. You’ll never guess—”

“There was only one bed,” said Hoodie with a groan.

“Yep! We had a connection during that short vacation, but we parted ways, and I thought that would be that. Only, after I’d gotten home, I figured I didn’t want it to end. I had no idea he was coming here for New Year’s, so on December 31st, he found me in the park, brooding over lost chances.”

A few half smiles twitched around the room. Hoodie gave a thumbs-up.

“So your anniversary is coming up,” an old man to the left commented.

“Indeed. Speaking of, friend and partner’s anniversary is on the thirtieth. Seems to be a trend with us.”

Not to mention Sara and Amber had gotten together around Christmas, too, as far as Nick could tell, but those two had several anniversaries they celebrated during the year, and Nick was unclear on which was what.

The old man nodded pensively. “Martha and I, we had it on Halloween. We celebrated the day before and the day after. She said we couldn’t let candy steal all our fun, though she loved giving it out.”

With that, the others started pitching in, and Nick gave himself an inner pat on the back.

My Review:
This is the fourth novella in a series, but it can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Leon is a trans-man who fell hard for Nick about a year ago. Nick has more baggage than he can carry on most days, but he’s been working toward it. He was married to a woman who died in childbirth and he didn’t cope well. He essentially abandoned his daughter to his best friend, Jeff, his wife’s twin brother and grieving uncle to young Abby. In previous novels in this series Nick returned to his old town, to check in on Jeff and Abby, and made a bit of a hash of it. Jeff is married to Daniel, a child psychologist and math teacher. They have a loving home with Abby, and they have embraced Nick and Leon. Leon’s twin sister Sara is Jeff’s current bestie–and her wife, Amber, is trying to conceive so they can have a child.

Leon has asked Nick to move in, and Nick has refused to answer. Nick still struggles with his self-worth, though medication and therapy have helped. He has a need for silent time, even though he and Leon are almost always sleeping together. Leon, who also teachers, gets a call to help out with a domestic issue. Ben, who is ten, is best pals with Abby–and well-known to the extended crew of Jeff and Daniel’s friends. Ben was in the foster care of his deceased mother’s sibling, who is married. This couple never intended to adopt him, and now that one of them has a new job opportunity, they’ve decided to leave him and Child Protective Services with a suitcase while they move across the country days before Christmas. Ben is heartbroken, as much as he will let on. He’s glued to Nick, as he’s a man whom he recognizes from all the time they’ve both spent with Abby at Jeff’s home.

Leon is a prime candidate for fostering Ben, so he claims him immediately to keep Ben in familiar surroundings. Leon would adopt him in a heartbeat, if he knew Nick was on board. But, Nick…well, he’s already failed at fatherhood once. And’ he’s not keen on trying again. It’s the holidays and Leon fells like Nick is slipping from his grasp. It’s a bittersweet moment of perhaps having his heart’s desire, in a new home, stable relationship and raising a child with a loving partner, knowing these dreams might not include Nick.

There’s a lot going on with all the different characters and their story lines. Thing is, I was able to tumble into this complicated and loving cadre of folks who really are the sweetest and most tender and loving of people. There is a happy ending, but not with the sparkling tinsel bow one might expect of a Christmas-themed romance. That said, Ben was taken in by loving folks, Abby displayed keen insight into her bio dad’s issues and Leon and Nick came out stronger and better than ever.

Interested? You can find CATCH A FALLING SNOWFLAKE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own.

You can catch up with Ava on her website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

New Connections CHECKED BAGGAGE–a TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a M/M contemporary romance from Valentine Wheeler. CHECKED BAGGAGE is a Thanksgiving-based novella that features two men on separate personal missions unexpectedly meeting someone they can connect with.

About the book:
When Faris has to take a trip back to his family’s home in Lebanon to handle his grandmother’s estate, he finds himself caught between the world he left as a child and the world he’s built himself in the United States. After an exhausting stay with his boisterous extended family, all he wants is a quiet trip home before Thanksgiving with his parents in Massachusetts. But the weather has different plans for him.

Charlie’s father left when he was a toddler, and he’s never gotten the chance to connect with his paternal roots. A trip to the village his family left in the 1930s gave him the facts, but left him yearning for a history he still didn’t feel.

When both men are stuck in Beirut for the night unexpectedly, can they find the connection they’re missing and make it home by Thanksgiving?

My Review:
Faris is a Lebonese man doing his family duty to travel back to the homeland in the wake of his grandmother’s death. She had passed away a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and Faris’ parents are unable to travel back to manage her estate. He’s just finished all of these tasks and is at the Beirut airport to fly back to Boston, for Thanksgiving with his family, when his flights are cancelled. He’s stranded and unwilling to contact his relations for another night’s stay–they’re crowded into their homes and he’s all peopled out. While waiting to re-book for the next day, he meets Charlie, a sexy American whose flight is also cancelled.

They think they get reservations for rooms at a nearby hotel, and share a cab there, but it turns out the rooms were all booked up, and only one remains. So, Faris, with his better Arabic, makes a deal to book it–and offers Charlie the room to share. There’s only one queen bed, but as the night wears on these men share a lot of truth, developing camaraderie. Faris is bisexual, having had relationships with men, women and non-binary people back in Boston. He’s certainly attracted to Charlie, but believes he’s straight. Charlie offers to sleep on the floor, and while Faris starts out with this idea he eventually caves to offer Charlie half the queen bed.

Their intimacy deepens as the night wears on. And it leads to some sexytimes. The next morning is awkward–made worse when Faris calls for a clean break. Faris kicks himself over and over for his shortsightedness, and wishes he could have kept contact with Charlie, but a lucky break reuinites them, just in time for turkey dinner. It’s short and bittersweet, with a fun and charming ending. I liked how Faris was a bit of curmudgeon, and he had several changes of heart in the course of about two days. In the end, it’s super sweet and happy with Charlie bringing much needed lightness into Faris’ sheltered world.

Interested? You can find CHECKED BAGGAGE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

About the Author:
Valentine (she/her) lives in Boston, where she goes by Lis and spends her time citing obscure postal regulations and arguing with a preschooler. She writes queer joy, often with a speculative twist, and always full of bisexuals.

She serves as Logistics and Fiction Editor for Wizards in Space Literary Magazine, and her work can be found at The Future Fire and Ninestar Press

You can catch up with Lis on her website and twitter.

Scorched By Love BURNING IT DOWN–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from C Koehler. <a href="BURNING IT DOWN is the third book in his CalPac Crew series. This book features a mature, but injured, fire battalion chief winning the broken heart of a man on the run from his abusive partner. I’ve enjoyed ROCKING THE BOATand TIPPING THE BALANCE, and enjoyed seeing the characters from those books return to advise our new couple.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Owen Douglas, Sacramento’s first out battalion chief, is grievously injured in the line of duty. When Brad Sundstrom finds out that Owen’s been noncompliant with his physical therapy due to depression, he pushes Owen into the Capital City Rowing Club’s adaptive rowing program.

Adam Lennox, a former collegiate rower, escapes an abusive relationship and makes his way to CCRC and quickly finds himself dragooned into helping out with adaptive rowing.

Owen, much to his surprise, finds both rowing and Adam much to his liking. When he realizes that Adam returns his interest, the sparks fly and they start a relationship. But even Eden has its snake, and Adam’s ex, Jordan, comes looking for him, willing to do anything to make Adam and Owen pay.

How about a little taste?

Late summer, approximately a year and a half after the start of Rocking the Boat.

Four months into his new job as battalion chief for Sacramento City Fire’s second battalion and Owen Douglas still couldn’t sit still. Sure, he knew the job from a theoretical standpoint, and every day he learned more from a practical standpoint, but he couldn’t ignore the niggling discomfort he felt when he saw those bugles on his collar. Like his new uniform didn’t fit quite right, and perhaps from a certain point of view, it didn’t. No matter how he squinted or how many times he turned it this way or that, he couldn’t see all that much light between his investigation into the arson at the Bayard House at the beginning of the year and his promotion to battalion chief. More to the point, neither could the men and women under his command.

Not to mention every time he opened his mouth, unicorns crapping glitter and rainbows popped out. At least, that was what people seemed to be waiting for. He liked to think he was discreet, that nothing at work proclaimed him Big Gay Owen, no snapshots of boyfriends, no photos of him shaking his ass on a Mardi Gras float, no matter how much fun he’d had in Sydney, just a subtle rainbow on his battered 4Runner, a bar no bigger than the head of a toothbrush. He tried not to play the gay card, but he was the first out battalion chief in the fire department’s history, and well he knew it. More to the point, the people under his command knew it. Maybe he was just making too big a deal out of it or felt guilty for being promoted over the heads of more senior firefighters.

His intercom buzzed with his secretary on the other end. “Yes?” Owen said.

“Prissy Morrain to see you.”

“Oh! Send her in, please.” He dashed to his office door. He didn’t expect her until tomorrow.

Owen routinely left his office door open, but he quickly got out from behind his desk to greet his visitor, and not just because she outranked him.

“Chief Morrain! I’m so sorry! I must’ve made a mistake in my calendar. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow—”

Prissy Morrain waved a manicured hand. “Retired Chief, and I’m a day early. We both have better things to do than make small talk over hors d’oeuvres over at some white-tablecloth restaurant. Did you bring your lunch today?”

Owen nodded. Since he was a “first” for the department, he’d sought out the advice of another “first,” the first woman battalion chief, now retired from active firefighting and promoted off to one side to do something less dangerous involving paperwork. “I’ll grab it out of the fridge. There’s a nice park a block away. We can eat there.”

“That’ll do fine.”

Prissy Morrain was a handsome woman, Owen thought; really, she could’ve been one of those older models, the ones with silver hair and flawless skin who pitched vitamins to women of a certain age. Her wrinkles weren’t so much age lines scoring her face with years but delicate lines of character radiating out from her eyes and around her mouth to accentuate a ready smile. How she’d managed that with a career spent fighting fires and sexism, he’d never know.

He spent the short walk to the park rehearsing what he wanted to say, but when Prissy asked, “So what’s the problem?” Owen could only blurt, “I’m just not clicking with the people under me. This station, sure. My office is here, but the other stations in this battalion not so much, and there’s one station that when I walk in everything stops for a few minutes while I walk back to talk to the captain on duty, and that’s just creepy.”

“Have you talked to human resources?”

“Don’t be absurd” slipped out before he could stop it.

Prissy laughed. “Smart man. You don’t want this on your record.”

And that was why he’d contacted her. “Team-building exercises aren’t my thing at this point and are just a waste of time. I’m not in a burning building with these guys. They simply need to function with each other and work in coordinated groups, and they do. But I don’t like getting the stink eye either.”

“Look, hearts of gold, most of these guys, but it’s a conservative profession. The younger ones are yours,” Prissy said, arching one eyebrow, “maybe even literally. There’s more than one gay man among the recruits, and you’re a fine-looking specimen yourself.” She peered over the rims of her mirrored sunglasses, holding up one hand when Owen opened his mouth to interrupt. “Of course, you know better than that, but you know what I mean. It’s the ones who’ve been around a few years, the ones who’re your age and older, you may have to prove yourself to, the ones who might’ve even been up for your job. They’re the ones thinking ‘fag’ behind their smiles.”

“Or not, some of them,” Owen grumbled. “A few of them don’t even bother to smile.”

Prissy chuckled. “They’ll soon learn the stupidity of that. They may be comfortable for A or B shift, but if they’re dumb enough to piss in the battalion chief’s Wheaties, then they’ll have plenty of time to learn the errors of their ways on C shift, or better yet, transfer to someone else’s command. Too bad for them you’ve got just about the best battalion in town.”

It was true. Since he’d captained one of the downtown stations, when he’d been promoted, the fire department put him into an entirely different battalion so he wouldn’t be in immediate charge of his old buddies. The open battalion encompassed Midtown, East Sac, and part of the Pocket, named for the land inscribed within a bend in the Sacramento River. Sometimes he wondered if it was a coincidence that the city’s first out battalion chief also oversaw the gayborhood. He shrugged mentally. Oh well, easier relations during fire inspections, right? “That just seems so petty.”

“And the frat boy antics aren’t?”

Owen sighed. “True enough.”

“It’s not something you want to do often, because you will hear from their union reps about that, and about anything else if they develop an axe to grind,” Prissy said, “but used strategically, it can make your point quite nicely, and the best part is, it’s hard to prove.”

Owen nodded his head slowly. “One hundred and sixty-eight hours in a week, and five stations to staff twenty-four seven in three shifts.”

“Exactly. If you need to, you can always find something miserable for someone to do for a shift or two.” She ate some of her sandwich while she thought. “One more thing, and I hesitate even to mention it, but it was something a few—a very few—of my own firefighters used against me.” At his quizzical look, she said, “Sexual harassment.”

Owen sat back, tossing his own sandwich down. “Oh, that’s just what I need.”

Prissy patted his hand. “Don’t go borrowing trouble. It hasn’t happened yet, but you need to be aware of the possibility. You’re an out gay man, and you supervise a lot of men, some of whom are, by your own admission, not very happy right now. If they can’t pin anything else on you, they may try that.”

“Did that happen to you?” Owen asked, no longer hungry.

“Oh yes. I was a by-the-book chief, and when they couldn’t come up with anything else, some union rep had the bright idea of sexual harassment. Male firefighters, female chief. It was a situation rife with possibilities. Too bad for them and their credibility none of it was true, which quickly emerged when it came to a hearing. The judge laughed them out of court. It may be the same with you. You’ll be a by-the-book battalion chief, but some of them won’t like you just because you’re you, and the only thing they’ll come up with is that you ‘looked at ’em funny’.” She snorted. “Like you’d go for their stringy asses.” She stood up. “You know how to reach me, so do it if you need to. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sculling. One of the advantages of seniority and a desk job is that you can take off more or less at will and no one will miss you. Of course, that’s one of the disadvantages too.”

Rowing. Brad. “Does everyone in this town row?”

“Only the best people. You should come check it out. The Capital City Rowing Club’s adult learn-to-row camps are about done for the summer, but there are still learn-to-scull lessons available.”

“Thanks for the talk. I really appreciate you taking the time,” Owen said, remembering a time he had been anything but by-the-book. The Bayard House. The second floor. Brad. He shivered at the thought of what they’d done. Unprofessional as it had been, it had also been damn hot.

And just the kind of thing people looking to take him down would eat up with a spoon. Fortunately, Brad didn’t seem like the kind to tell tales out of school. He was just too nice a guy. Brad had spent their one encounter thinking of someone else, someone who’d dumped him, and still the big sweetheart had pined for that other guy, even with Owen’s lips wrapped around his cock, and hadn’t that ever done wonders for his ego.

Owen wanted that, wanted that kind of devotion, he thought, sitting there in the leafy green silence of the park. Instead, like that time in the still-smoldering Bayard House, he was just the hookup. He got Brad off and sent him home and then followed up to make sure Brad called whatshisname. He liked to think he was more honorable than most, always the nice guy, always finishing last.

Then he heard the sirens and that was it, no more lunch. That was fine. He’d parted company with his appetite around the time Prissy had mentioned sexual harassment. The park was barely two blocks from the station, but he jogged back. “What’s going on?” Owen asked the dispatcher when he got back.

“A small grass fire at Cal Expo, sir. It doesn’t sound like anything to get excited over.”

Yet. In Owen’s experience, all fires were worth getting excited over, at least until proven otherwise. But maybe that was why he was a firefighter. He liked suiting up in his turnouts and racing to a fire in an engine running hot. He shook his head to clear the rising tide of adrenaline. He’d given some of that up to become battalion chief.

Then the radio went off. He picked it up. “Douglas.”

“I need four more alarms. This thing’s bigger than we were told. Much bigger, and it’s heading for structures.”

“On our way.” He put the radio down. “You heard Captain Chin. Get those trucks moving and notify Arden-Arcade,” he told the dispatcher.

“Beaufort!” he yelled for his driver as he ran for his office and his turnouts. A huge grass fire at Cal Expo that’s heading for the pavilions, and the state fair in less than a month. Why do I always end up involved in political fires?

He wore his turnout pants over his uniform. Sure, he’d sweat like a thoroughbred in moments in the heat once they arrived at the fire. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. The rest he chucked in the backseat of the command SUV with the communications equipment. Then he checked his watch as he climbed into the passenger seat. Less than five minutes. Not ideal, but at least he beat his driver.

Beaufort came running up seconds later. “Damn, sir. How do you do that?”

“Because I’m a firefighter.”

“Ha ha,” Beaufort replied, climbing behind the wheel and flicking the sirens and lights on. But it was true. After earning his bachelor’s in biological sciences at UC Davis, Owen had gone to the Fire Academy at Sierra College. Beaufort studied communications and joined the department in that capacity, along with driving Owen’s now important executive-level ass to big fires.

Owen glanced out of Beaufort’s side of the SUV. “Look—!”

All he could tell was that it wasn’t one of his, and then the enormous fire truck smashed into them, tossing the SUV aside like a rag doll. He lost consciousness as the airbags deployed with a thunderclap.

My Review:
This is the third book in a series, but it can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Owen Douglas is the first out fire battalion chief in the Sacramento Fire Department. He’s in his early 40s and a little sad that he’s always the hook-up never the boyfriend. He’s responding to a fire when he’s involved in a fatal crash with an engine truck. He survives, though badly injured, and is upset that his young driver is killed. He’s despondent about his recovery, shying away from the necessary PT he needs to learn to walk again. His physical therapist is adamant that activity is necessary and pushes Owen toward adaptive rowing. Owen’s once hook-up Brad Sundstrom is a former collegiate rower, and he’s a coach on the open men’s rowing club that supports the adaptive rowers. Brad makes it a mission to get Owen to the water’s edge.

Adam Lennox is a veterinarian, and a man hiding in plain sight. After enduring more than a decade of an abusive relationship, Adam has changed his name and licensure and moved to Davis to restart his life. He’s learning to reintegrate with people outside of the watchful eye of his abuser, his college sweetheart named Jordan. Adam had been a collegiate rower and he joins the open men’s rowing club headed by Brad and his former college coach, Nick Bedford. (Both Brad and Nick were MCs in the previous stories.) Nick taps Adam to be a pair rower with Owen, when he turns up for adaptive rowing, and the chemistry is instant.

Both Adam and Owen suffer PTSD from their respective traumas. They are immediately attracted to one another, but neither feels whole. While they begin a tentative connection, Adam is living in fear that Jordan will return–and his hallmarks are appearing again. Owen’s got a pal on the police force, but it seems he might not be able to intervene until Jordan, who is both wealthy and wily as all get-out, is caught confronting or abusing Adam. Owen’s recuperation is put on hold when he’s mysteriously attacked, and Adam is sure that Jordan is involved. It could be someone for the fire department, though, as Owen’s position is pretty tenuous. He’s reinstated for active duty, but grudgingly and with a disability hearing that could bounce him out of the service he’s been a part of for two decades. With both their lives in flux, Owen isn’t willing to let Adam shut him out–not when he’s finally found a man worth loving and fighting to keep. Meanwhile, Adam’s just fighting to stay alive.

This story has some graphic bits of violence, and descriptions of violence against animals. There is a definite sense of the victim’s mentality, of feeling that pain and potential death at the hands of person he loved is simply inevitable. Owen’s strong and fearless love gave Adam hope in his times of complete distress. Owen needed to take charge of his own life in a way he had not, before getting the time his recuperation allowed him to invest in himself. These men finding such a deep love that satisfies on a soul-deep level was so sweet and bittersweet. It rides a fine line between romance and romantic suspense. I really enjoyed the tenderness, and the conflict, and of course the happy ending.

Interested? You can find BURNING IT DOWN on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

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About the Author:
Christopher Koehler always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he wanted to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged that, especially his long-suffering husband of twenty-nine years and counting.

He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.
While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly.

Christopher is approaching the tenth anniversary of publication and has been fortunate to be recognized for his writing, including by the American Library Association, which named Poz a 2016 Recommended Title, and an Honorable Mention for “Transformation,” in Innovation, Volume 6 of Queer Sci Fi’s Flash Fiction Anthology.

You can catch up with Christopher on Facebook, and twitter.