What the Heart Needs: THERE ARE THINGS I CAN’T TELL YOU–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary Boys Love manga/graphic novel from Edako Mofumofu. THERE ARE THINGS I CAN’T TELL YOU features two young Japanese men who’d been lifelong friends, but drift apart because they can’t admit their love for one another.

About the book:
Kasumi and Kyousuke are polar opposites when it comes to personality. Kasumi is reserved, soft-spoken and shy; Kyousuke is energetic and has always been popular among their peers. As the saying goes though, opposites have a tendency to attract, and these two have been fast friends since elementary school.
To Kasumi, Kyousuke has always been a hero to look up to, someone who supports him and saves him from the bullies. But now, school is over; their relationship suddenly becomes a lot less simple to describe. Facing the world — and one another — as adults, both men find there are things they struggle to say out loud, even to each other.

My Review:
This is my first Boys Love manga/graphic novel, and I must say, I really liked it. Kasumi and Kyousuke are two Japanese men who met in grade school. Kasumi comes from a home of loneliness and neglect, and he’s withdrawn as a result. Kyousuke is a popular and active kid whose excellence in drawing and design is denigrated by his father, an accomplished graphic designer. They both have wounds, and each is glad to make the acquaintance of the other in school.

Once they graduate they drift apart, however. Kasumi doesn’t know why, and it leads him into unsatisfactory relationships. Kyousuke was a child when he recognized his unnatural attraction to men, and he’s long since internalized his father’s homophobia. He doesn’t want to ruin Kasumi’s life by latching onto him like a pervert, so he pulls back, thinking it will set Kasumi up for finding the “right” (heterosexual) path. Learning his absence has hurt Kasumi is a big turning point for Kyousuke–and amends are made.

(C) Edako Mofumofu. Panel from THERE ARE THINGS I CAN’T TELL YOU published by TokyoPop

The art was evocative and approachable with little touches of body humor. It’s was realistic, not representational, and the sexytimes were not shy. I had no trouble feeling in the moment with these characters, whether the scenes were mundane or intimate. Kasumi is the dark-haired one in glasses, and Kyousuke has light hair. Their opposite looks mirror their opposite temperment, with Kasumi hiding behind his hair and glasses, while Kyousuke is only satisfied when he’s winning attention. He works hard for the right kind of attention, and Kasumi idolizes him, loves him, because Kyousuke was the only person in his life who really cared if he lived or died.

Their struggles as a couple are dramatically rendered, and adequately resolved. At least between them. I didn’t see any public acknowledgement of their love, but that may be normal and excepted both culturally and within this format.

Interested?You can find THERE ARE THINGS I CAN’T TELL YOU on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Christmas in July! BETTER NOT POUT–Sale and Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M Christmas romance from Annabeth Albert. I read BETTER NOT POUT a WHILE back, but never had a chance to post a review. Now, it’s on sale for $1.99, so I figured I’d share the sweet and sexy Christmas love…

About the book:
One hard-nosed military police officer.
One overly enthusiastic elf.
One poorly timed snowstorm.
Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?

Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho-ho-ho.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting—Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful and too nice for a one-night stand.

The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.

My Review:
It’s the week before Thanksgiving and Sergeant Major Nick Nowicki is dressed in an ill-fitting Santa suit on his way for a PR shoot in Mineral Spirits, a timy hamlet in upstate NY. His CO at Fort End’s hubby usually does the Santa gig, but he’s suffered a heart attack and Nick doesn’t have to asked twice for this favor. He likes Commander Grace–even as he hates this final post of his military career; he has one month left in his 28-year enlistment now that the army has decided not to renew his commitment. Nick isn’t close with his family, due to a tragedy that broke his parent’s marriage and his mother’s many years of alcoholism. In his life and career, he’s been mainly solitary, with only one long-term boyfriend who hit the road while he was deployed. A native of Phoenix, Nick has virtually no experience in driving the harsh winter storms that are a part of life near Fort End, and he can’t wait to retire to Florida where he plans to open a fishing charter with an old army friend.

Teddy MacNally is a small town boy through-and-through, and at 28 he’s made good for himself he’s made good for himself. Always been a compassionate one, he got a masters in social work and came back to Mineral Spirits–where half the town is one relation or another–to run the Helping Hands Resource center. He raises funds that help folks with basic needs and right now he’s dressed as an elf for the Where’s Santa? photo spread that the local paper publishes to drum up donations for the center’s Giving Tree, a Christmas present for needy kids-type of thing. And, Saint Nick is sure a grumpy Santa. But Teddy sees a loneliness in Nick that he empathizes with–he’s pretty isolated in Mineral Spirits. Not counting the sleazy, married men on his Grindr, there aren’t any male companions in a reasonable distance.

Nick doesn’t want to form any attachments to Mineral Spirits, or Teddy and his loving, oversharing, family because he’s leaving in a month–but a bad snow storm lands Nick in Teddy’s home for a night and their attraction grows irresistible. And, due to on-going Santa duties and Nick’s current car trouble, he’s reliant upon Teddy for a few more carpool situations. So, he can’t really turn down the many invites he gets, from Teddy his sister and brother, to attend the MacNally Thanksgiving. And, when his CO gives him leave for the entire holiday weekend…well, Nick may want to protect his heart, but he understands the logic of finding some sexy solace with Teddy, even if the sexy elf is nearly 18 years younger than himself.

But, man, those nights they spend are real nice. And, well, Teddy is a grown man–not a kid, no matter his baby face. Being around the MacNally’s, who are about as non-dysfunctional as any family Nick has ever met, helps Nick see that his sad life experience isn’t the only one out there. And, As Teddy hopes, Nick can envision himself in a place where he has a real community, and maybe a true love to boot. If only Nick didn’t have these plans to relocate to Florida…

This is a sweet and sexy age-gap romance in a picturesque small town with two engaging leading men. I liked how they found both comfort and a confidante within their arrangement for camaraderie. Their progression from acquaintance to more follows a quick but acceptable path, due to each man being rather lonely, and finding a chemistry and kinship that suited. The age gap was a big problem for Nick, but Teddy’s assertiveness and independence kept chipping away at Nick’s preconceived notions about young guys wanting young partners. They are a special couple, and I enjoyed watching them fall in love.

Interested? You can find BETTER NOT POUT on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

About the Author:
Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.

Find Annabeth online on her website, Goodreads, twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

A Pointed Partnership VARIABLE ONSET–A Review

Hi there! I’m sharing a review for a newly released M/M contemporary romance from Layla Reyne. VARIABLE ONSET features an introverted FBI instructor and analyst, now on the case of the serial killer he’s studied for more than a decade, while also pairing off with the most frustrating academy student as his partner. While their chemistry might be explosive, their timing is not helpful. Not with a clock on the

About the book:
To catch a killer, a special agent and his former student will need to get close—to their target, and each other. Layla Reyne returns with a stand-alone romantic mystery.

When the serial killer known as Dr. Fear seemingly reemerges after a cooling-off period, Special Agent Lincoln Monroe wants on the case. He knows his research on the calculating criminal, who targets couples and uses their worst fears to kill them, could prove invaluable. But nothing can prepare Lincoln for the agent waiting for him in Apex, Virginia: a brash and cocky former student. Carter Warren is everything Lincoln is not, and somehow everything he wants. And they’ll be going undercover. As newlyweds.

For Carter, seeing Lincoln again—and flustered to boot—pokes his raging bear of a crush something fierce. He thinks posing as lovers will provide the perfect bait for Dr. Fear. But pretending to be married forces them to confront fears of their own…like giving in to the very real chemistry between them.

With evidence pointing to the possibility of a copycat killer, Lincoln and Carter will have to race to separate truth from fiction. But when another couple goes missing, finding the killer will test every ounce of their training, skills and the strength of their bond like never before.

My Review:
FBI Academy forensic genealogy professor and Agent Lincoln Monroe is an out bisexual caregiver for his teen daughter. He has a great relationship with his ex-wife, a globe-trotting state department employee and his sister who babysits his daughter if he goes on assignment. Lincoln’s thesis work was profiling Dr. Fear, a serial killer that captured random couples and subjected them to their worst fears for 40 hours, or until they died–which they all had. He’s been active for 25 years, and never caught, but now it seems a copy cat has kidnapped a senator’s daughter and partner, and Lincoln is pressed into active duty. The senator, a former agent, was Lincoln’s mentor and the former lead investigator of the Dr. Fear crimes.

Lincoln is an introvert and suffers intense stage fright and fear of fire. He’s awkward and goofy, and not ready to be paired with a former Academy student who pushed all his buttons in class eight years ago, Special Agent Carter Warren. Carter was in the western Virginia mountains looking up old wrecks to find his missing birth parents when he found a connection to the Dr. Fear victims. He’s arranged a cover story for himself and Lincoln in winter wonderland Apex, Virginia, where they will have unimpeded access to police and genealogical records to help find not only the copy cat, but also the true Dr. Fear. But, uh, they are posing as husbands, much to Lincoln’s discomfort.

Carter has had a crush on his former professor since that very first class, and he’s not beyond having some liberties, if time allows. Not that it really does, with the clock ticking on the missing couple. Their endeavors are hampered by lack of familiarity with the small town folks, oh, and being attacked by crazies and the police department getting firebombed. While one case gets wrapped, two more pop up and the spotlight seems to shine on either the former, or current, police chief–who happen to be lifelong Apex residents…and brothers. When local residents are kidnapped, it’s up to some amazing detective work, involving the bells and whistles of forensic science and good ol’ library research, to bring this killer to justice.

This is a fantastic romantic suspense, with two MCs that have both tremendous respect and attraction for the other. Lincoln and Carter are great guys, who make the best of the tension, but never let their professionalism slide. It’s a total slow burn on the romance, while these men devote themselves to overcoming all the obstacles to find the killers at-large. There were moments of levity, especially regarding Lincoln’s self-deprecating humor and Carter’s mooning over his crush. And those also brought some nice tender moments, as these men bonded over their deep-seated insecurities. It’s a standalone romance, but I’d read another book with these two if it came available.

Interested? You can find VARIABLE ONSET on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

About the Author:
Layla Reyne is the author of the Fog City, Agents Irish and Whiskey, Trouble Brewing, and Changing Lanes series. A Carolina Tar Heel who now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home, Layla enjoys weaving her bi-coastal experiences into her stories, along with adrenaline-fueled suspense and heart pounding romance.

Catch up with Layla Reyne on her website, Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Goodreads, or sign up for her newsletter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Now Available! THE TROUBLE WITH WANTING

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary romance form Jillian Liota. THE TROUBLE WITH WANTING pairs two strangers who meet on a plane and find the emotional “home” they’ve been missing for years.


About the book:
Ruby Roberts is heading to Cedar Point to connect with the father who left her behind. Easy conversation with the handsome man sitting next to her isn’t what she’s expecting from her cross-country flight, but it’s not something she’s complaining about, that’s for sure.
Boyd Mitchell is flying home for some end-of-summer relaxation and time with his favorite people – his family. A talkative seat-mate that pulls him out of his shell is the last thing he wants, but he can’t seem to resist her charm.

When Boyd and Ruby end up in the same lakeside town, their banter and flirtation quickly become a steamy fling that leaves them both breathless. Neither of them are expecting to find a romance that has them both reconsidering everything they used to believe about love.
As their time in Cedar Point comes to an end, the two will have to decide whether they want their connection to turn into a real-world relationship, or whether wanting more is nothing but trouble.

How about a little taste?

“Sorry for rambling,” I say, giving him another smile. “It’s way too early in the morning to be debating something so highbrow. So, how ’bout them Sox, huh?”
Boyd looks at me with a twinkle in his eyes, a kind of friendly charm I wasn’t expecting from him, regardless of how well we got on with our chat.
What I wouldn’t give to look at that kind of handsome joy every day for the rest of my life.
A stupid thought, sure, but still true.
“I bet you ten dollars you can’t name a single player on the team this year.”
I narrow my eyes, trying to hide my smile as I shake my head. “I’m not a gambling girl.”
“You’d gamble if you knew you were probably going to win.” His response is as quick as lightning. “People only choose not to gamble when they’re afraid they’ll lose.”
“That is so not true.” I giggle. “Some of us poor folk don’t gamble because we can’t take the risk. Not all of us are first class aficionados with money to throw around willy-nilly.”
“Nobody says willy-nilly anymore.”
I snort. “Clearly that’s false, because I just did.”
He bites his lip and shakes his head, and I can’t help the little thing that keeps bouncing around in my chest.
We like him, it tells me. We like him a lot.
Is this flirting? We are definitely flirting, right? I hope so, because it has been far too long since I’ve enjoyed a good flirt sesh with someone as handsome as Boyd.
That’s a lie.
I’ve never flirted with someone as handsome as Boyd. He is in a league of his own.
Before I can say anything else, the plane lurches forward, and it feels like my stomach is going to fall out of my body.
My eyes slam shut and my throat closes up, my hands gripping the armrests for dear life as the plane barrels down the runway, all the good feelings from my talk with Boyd rushing out of me with a surreal quickness.
It’s going to be okay.
It’s going to be okay.
It’s going to be okay.
I’m like that for who knows how long before I feel a hand on top of mine, the warmth and roughness surprising me enough that my eyes fly open, taking in the man sitting next to me.
He lifts my hand and twists his fingers in mine, the sensation robbing me of my voice—and maybe my sanity.
For the rest of my life, I’ll remember exactly what he says to me. Not just the words, but the soothing tone of his voice and the earnest caring in his eyes, so surprising from someone I was expecting to ignore me for the entire flight.
“It’s okay to be afraid,” he says. “I can’t take that feeling away from you, but I can hold your hand until it’s over so you know you’re not alone.”

Interested?You can find THE TROUBLE WITH WANTING on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jillian Liota is a new author writing contemporary romance and new adult fiction. She lives in Kailua, Hawaii with her amazing husband, 2 cats, and 3-legged pup.
She is the author of the new adult romance novel The Keeper, which focuses on a female college soccer goalie, as well as the follow up novella, Keep Away. Her newest release, Like You Mean It, is in the contemporary romance genre and has a more mature voice, as it follows a pregnant mother finding love in a new town. The next novel in the Like You Series, Like You Want It, will be published in Spring 2019
She has a master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs, and she is passionate about all things improvement, development and organization.
She’s also a big fan of taking walks with her husband and dog Maia, reading romance (obviously), watching a handful of horrible reality TV shows, and exploring the island she calls home. Check out her Contact page for more information on how to connect.

Connect with Jillian on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Sinister Specter: THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a near-historical M/M thriller with romantic elements from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE explores the darker side of human nature, and features connections between lonely souls and a serial killer. If you liked THE PERILS OF INTIMACY or THE SECRETS WE KEEP you’ll like this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
It’s the summer of 1991 and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has been arrested. His monstrous crimes inspire dread around the globe. But not so much for Emory Hughes, a closeted young man in Chicago who sees in the cannibal killer a kindred spirit, someone who fights against the dark side of his own nature, as Emory does. He reaches out to Dahmer in prison via letters.

The letters become an escape—from Emory’s mother dying from AIDS, from his uncaring sister, from his dead-end job in downtown Chicago, but most of all, from his own self-hatred.

Dahmer isn’t Emory’s only lifeline as he begins a tentative relationship with Tyler Kay. He falls for him and, just like Dahmer, wonders how he can get Tyler to stay. Emory’s desire for love leads him to confront his own grip on reality. For Tyler, the threat of the mild-mannered Emory seems inconsequential, but not taking the threat seriously is at his own peril.

Can Emory discover the roots of his own madness before it’s too late and he finds himself following in the footsteps of the man from Milwaukee?

How about a little taste?

Headlines

Dahmer appeared before you in a five o’clock edition, stubbled dumb countenance surrounded by the crispness of a white shirt with pale-blue stripes. His handsome face, multiplied by the presses, swept down upon Chicago and all of America, to the depths of the most out-of-the-way villages, in castles and cabins, revealing to the mirthless bourgeois that their daily lives are grazed by enchanting murderers, cunningly elevated to their sleep, which they will cross by some back stairway that has abetted them by not creaking. Beneath his picture burst the dawn of his crimes: details too horrific to be credible in a novel of horror: tales of cannibalism, sexual perversity, and agonizing death, all bespeaking his secret history and preparing his future glory.

Emory Hughes stared at the picture of Jeffrey Dahmer on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, the man in Milwaukee who had confessed to “drugging and strangling his victims, then dismembering them.” The picture was grainy, showing a young man who looked timid and tired. Not someone you’d expect to be a serial killer.

Emory took in the details as the L swung around a bend: lank pale hair, looking dirty and as if someone had taken a comb to it just before the photograph was snapped, heavy eyelids, the smirk, as if Dahmer had no understanding of what was happening to him, blinded suddenly by notoriety, the stubble, at least three days old, growing on his face. Emory even noticed the way a small curl topped his shirt’s white collar. The L twisted, suddenly a ride from Six Flags, and Emory almost dropped the newspaper, clutching for the metal pole to keep from falling. The train’s dizzying pace, taking the curves too fast, made Emory’s stomach churn.

Or was it the details of the story that were making the nausea in him grow and blossom? Details like how Dahmer had boiled some of his victim’s skulls to preserve them…

Milwaukee Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen said authorities had recovered five full skeletons from Dahmer’s apartment and partial remains of six others. They’d discovered four severed heads in his kitchen. Emory read that the killer had also admitted to cannibalism.

“Sick, huh?” Emory jumped at a voice behind him. A pudgy man, face florid with sweat and heat, pressed close. The bulge of the man’s stomach nudged against the small of Emory’s back.

Emory hugged the newspaper to his chest, wishing there was somewhere else he could go. But the L at rush hour was crowded with commuters, moist from the heat, wearing identical expressions of boredom.

“Hard to believe some of the things that guy did.” The man continued, undaunted by Emory’s refusal to meet his eyes. “He’s a queer. They all want to give the queers special privileges and act like there’s nothing wrong with them. And then look what happens.” The guy snorted. “Nothing wrong with them…right.”

Emory wished the man would move away. The sour odor of the man’s sweat mingled with cheap cologne, something like Old Spice.

Hadn’t his father worn Old Spice?

Emory gripped the pole until his knuckles whitened, staring down at the newspaper he had found abandoned on a seat at the Belmont stop. Maybe if he sees I’m reading, he’ll shut up. Every time the man spoke, his accent broad and twangy, his voice nasal, Emory felt like someone was raking a metal-toothed comb across the soft pink surface of his brain.

Neighbors had complained off and on for more than a year about a putrid stench from Dahmer’s apartment. He told them his refrigerator was broken and meat in it had spoiled. Others reported hearing hand and power saws buzzing in the apartment at odd hours.

“Yeah, this guy Dahmer… You hear what he did to some of these guys?”

Emory turned at last. He was trembling, and the muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched. He knew his voice was coming out high, and that because of this, the man might think he was queer, but he had to make him stop.

“Listen, sir, I really have no use for your opinions. I ask you now, very sincerely, to let me be so that I might finish reading my newspaper.”

The guy sucked in some air. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled.

Emory looked down once more at the picture of Dahmer, trying to delve into the dots that made up the serial killer’s eyes. Perhaps somewhere in the dark orbs, he could find evidence of madness. Perhaps the pixels would coalesce to explain the atrocities this bland-looking young man had perpetrated, the pain and suffering he’d caused.

To what end?

“Granville next. Granville will be the next stop.” The voice, garbled and cloaked in static, alerted Emory that his stop was coming up.

As the train slowed, Emory let the newspaper, never really his own, slip from his fingers. The train stopped with a lurch, and Emory looked out at the familiar green sign reading Granville. With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat from his brow and prepared to step off the train.

Then an image assailed him: Dahmer’s face, lying on the brown, grimy floor of the L, being trampled.

Emory turned back, bumping into commuters who were trying to get off the train, and stooped to snatch the newspaper up from the gritty floor.

Tenderly, he brushed dirt from Dahmer’s picture and stuck the newspaper under his arm.

*

Kenmore Avenue sagged under the weight of the humidity as Emory trudged home, white cotton shirt sticking to his back, face moist. At the end of the block, a Loyola University building stood sentinel—gray and solid against a wilted sky devoid of color, sucking in July’s heat and moisture like a sponge.

Emory fitted his key into the lock of the redbrick high-rise he shared with his mother and sister, Mary Helen. Behind him, a car grumbled by, muffler dragging, transmission moaning. A group of four children, Hispanic complexions darkened even more by the sun, quarreled as one of them held a huge red ball under his arm protectively.

As always, the vestibule smelled of garlic and cooking cabbage, and as always, Emory wondered from which apartment these smells, grown stale over the years he and his family had lived in the building, had originally emanated.

In the mailbox was a booklet of coupons from Jewel, a Commonwealth Edison bill, and a newsletter from Test Positive Aware. Emory shoved the mail under his arm and headed up the creaking stairs to the third floor.

My Review:
The book opens in 1991, Chicago and is mainly centered on the life and times of Emory Hughes, a closeted gay man living in the north side with his mother and deadbeat sister, Mary Helen. Emory’s mother is dying of AIDS contracted from a tainted blood transfusion. She’s near death at the beginning of the book, lost in dementia and tearing her tiny family apart. Mary Helen has emotionally sealed herself off from her mother, barely caring for her at all while Emory works full-time to support all of them. He comes home at night and begins the arduous task of cleaning his emaciated mother and trying to feed her. It’s heartbreaking and lonely work, but he can’t let his dear mother down.

Emory sees his homosexual attraction as a deviance, and his sexual encounters have all been anonymous, and often a bit brutal. They are something he wants to hide from the world, and would wish to be without, if he could. It’s a personal failure to Emory when need brings him back to the adult bookstore peep shows for strangers to manhandle. It is around this time that the horrors of serial killer Jefferey Dahmer are revealed, his sensational case of murdering, dismembering and cannibalizing many gay men being headline news for days on end. Emory senses that Dahmer did not relish killing men, but was compelled by forces he couldn’t contain, much like Emory’s own internal conflict with his physical attractions and needs.

Tyler Kay is a fresh college grad from the north suburbs taking a job at the insurance analysis company where Emory has worked for the past 8 years. Emory is tasked with showing Tyler the ropes, and Tyler, who is out and proud, senses a kinship with Emory, a fellow who likes fellows, but mostly he senses Emory’s deep loneliness, and desire to connect with another human. He invites Emory out and makes no secret of his sexuality or attraction, and doesn’t let himself get bothered when Emory staunchly denies his own sexuality. He’s known many closet cases. Still, when Emory’s mom finally dies, Tyler’s attention lights something up inside Emory–and a tenuous friendship builds. This feels momentous, and caught in both grief and the novel sensation of being seen as a man, Emory begins a magnanimous effort to write letters to Jeffrey Dahmer in prison. Through these letters, Emory is able to reveal his true feelings and desires. He’s elated to receive letters in return that show a softer side of the ‘Milwaukee Monster’ one who encourages Emory to live his best life, and keep Tyler by his side.

Okay, to be clear, Emory is mentally ill. His lifelong loneliness has facilitated a delusional mindscape that shields and scares him by turns. Tyler is a wonderful friend, and he really wants to be a lover to Emory, but he gets scared off by Emory’s fascination with Dahmer, especially after witnessing a psychotic break following what had been some tender intimacy between them. Tyler’s retreat gives way to a whole new level of psychoses that trigger violence and self-flagellation. All the while the letters go out and new ones come back–with Emory missing time from his days and nights.

A random outing reconnects Tyler and Emory some months later, and Emory is in a prime state to ensure Tyler–whom he believes to be his soul mate–will stay with him forever. Emory has learned from studying Dahmer, who was obsessed with having a man stay–even if it was only in pieces.

I’m not going to go into more detail, but this story was really poignant and thrilling. The downward spiral of Emory’s mental state was revealed progressively, and his desire to love and be loved was gut-wrenching. He’s a man who has felt unloved and unlovable for many years, and his grief, his torment over his sexuality, and his loss of the only friend and lover he ever had when Tyler runs out on him, all become more than he can cope with. His sister, who has been selfish and self-serving to shield herself from the pain of their mother’s disease and death, is barely able to maintain any relationship with Emory, but it is her intervention that ensures Emory doesn’t make a complete psychotic break. We have hints of the brutal turns Emory has taken, and Tyler definitely suffers before the end. I was glad that the story continued into the future a few years to give closure to all the affected parties.

This story has some romantic elements, but it’s not a romance. Tyler and Emory have a spark, but Emory’s mental state is an impediment to true intimacy. I always love stories set in Chicago, and Reed’s attention to detail–taking the Metra versus the L, describing the city neighborhoods, the vicious weather, and popular haunts of gay men in the 90s–is as superb as ever. Growing up in suburban Chicagoland, I remember the heated fascination over Dahmer’s case during those brief years. I was a junior in HS when he was arrested, and a senior when he was sentenced. The gruesome spectacle in Milwaukee was routinely compared to the crimes of John Wayne Gacy, a near-Chicago suburban man who’d murdered dozens of Chicago-area men just two decades before–and our news media certainly pushed those connection stories. So I could really sense and relate to the history, as well as the emotions of this fictional thriller.

When one has such dark themes, it’s easy to envision a canned resolution. The extended scenes were inspired and inspiring, demonstrating the power of forgiveness at relieving the guilt and grief of bad decisions. At it’s core, this story is one of connection to humanity, and how people who are disconnected from humanity will make choices that temporarily assuage the pain their isolation engenders. These choices are usually not in their best interest, be they drugs, alcohol or violence, and Reed never left Emory to the winds of fate, or silenced his pain artificially. The ending, for that reason, was tender and loving even if there was no romance.

Interested? You can find THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****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.

Mama Drama in a DRAGON DILEMMA–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M paranormal romance from Mell Eight. DRAGON DILEMMA is the third book in the Supernatural Consultant series, which features a dragon, a demigod and a passel of rambunctious dragon kits. You already know I enjoyed both previous stories, DRAGON CONSULTANT and DRAGON DECEPTION, so I jumped at the chance to read on in this series.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Dane hasn’t spoken with his mother in years and he’s never met his father. But somehow his mother finds out about Mercury and the kits anyway, and it’s difficult to throw one’s mother out when she happens to be a powerful, dangerous witch.

She isn’t the only uninvited guest, and the others are even less likely to take no for an answer—and much more likely to leave everyone dead if they don’t get what they want.

How about a little taste?

Saturday-morning breakfast was always chaotic. With seven kits running around, it was inevitable, and Daisy—the babysitter/housekeeper who helped to look after the kits—had weekends off. Daisy somehow managed to corral all the kits into line for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and got them to their lessons with their tutor on time. Dane, on the other hand, was lucky he still had a standing kitchen.

Lumie and Alloy were chasing each other in circles around the kitchen island, yelling excitedly about something. Their words were too garbled for Dane to catch. Lumie’s red hair kept flashing by, followed by Alloy’s mix of blue-and-red hair. Copper and Zinc were yelling at each other from opposite sides of the island. Their argument stemmed from something that had gotten spilled in the bathroom, which might also explain why Copper smelled particularly flowery this morning. Copper would probably smell like that for days; as a fire dragon, he avoided proper baths as much as possible. Even though he was eight years older than his youngest siblings—much too old to be skipping baths—his hair was the same shade of red as Lumie’s and Alloy’s. Zinc was an air dragon the same age as Copper. Her hair was white and she kept it in one long braid down her back to avoid getting it tangled in her magic.

Chrome and ’Ron were also arguing—this time about frogs. Why? Dane couldn’t even fathom a guess. The answer might scar him for life. Over the last year, ’Ron had cut her brown hair into long spikes and had traded frilly dresses for sparkly pairs of jeans. She was still cleaner and more put together than Chrome, whose brown hair was actually longer than hers and usually contained a few sticks and leaves tangled in his curls, but she was more willing to go frog hunting now. Or frog dissecting. Again, Dane really didn’t want to know.

Luckily, Mercury was at the stove calmly flipping pancakes on the electric griddle. His bronze hair was long on his collar and still sleep mussed. Dane had to hide a grin because he knew exactly what had caused Mercury to look so disheveled this morning, and it wasn’t a kit-friendly topic.

“Kits who aren’t sitting quietly don’t get pancakes.” Mercury didn’t say it loudly, but he didn’t have to. Copper, Zinc, Chrome, and ’Ron immediately shut up and took their seats around the island. Lumie stopped by the spice drawer to pull out the extra-large bottle of cinnamon before he and Alloy also settled quietly into their places.

The threat of being denied pancakes was a serious one. Dane went to the pantry to grab the syrup—another extra-large bottle, because dragons were sugar fiends—and set it in front of his seat as he took his own spot at the island.

“I’m going to have to shovel the driveway this morning,” Dane said into the quiet kitchen. “I’d appreciate everyone’s help.” Copper, Lumie, and Alloy looked immediately interested—they could melt the snow with their fire magic as long as they didn’t leave puddles of water that would eventually turn the driveway into a skating rink. Nickel, the only kit who had been sitting quietly the entire time, nodded to tell Dane he was in too. He liked playing with frozen water just as much as unfrozen. Nickel was the only full water dragon living under Dane’s roof, his blue hair and bright blue eyes a stark contrast to the other kits’. Alloy had been genetically altered in the egg to have both fire and water magic, but he spent most of his time with Copper and Lumie, so fire was his preferred method of choice.

None of the kits made a peep of agreement or disagreement. The pancake rule was still in effect, apparently, but at least Dane wouldn’t be shoveling his driveway on his own.

Mercury brought the plate over and the steaming scent of buttery pancakes enveloped the table. Chrome was actually drooling, Dane thought, but he didn’t look too closely. There was a sudden popping noise and a sealed envelope appeared directly on top of the stack.

Dane knew that spell. Hell, he knew the handwriting on the envelope, just as he also knew that the sender had chosen to have it materialize on the food on purpose. Mercury pulled it from the stack of pancakes and read Dane’s name on the front, then held it out for Dane to take with a quizzical look on his face. Dane’s hand wasn’t shaking when he forced it to reach out and take the envelope from Mercury. It wasn’t, he reassured himself, but he wasn’t breathing either.

“I’m starving!” Chrome moaned. Mercury smiled at him and grabbed a fork to begin filling everyone’s plates. The syrup disappeared with alarming quickness while Dane was staring at the cramped cursive. That handwriting was so familiar and so damned frightening.

“Who is the letter from, Dane?” Mercury asked.

Dane looked up just in time to see Lumie liberally coat his syrup-drenched pancakes in cinnamon. Copper and Alloy each had their turn with the cinnamon before Dane remembered that Mercury had asked him a question.

“It’s from my mother,” Dane said as unemotionally as he could. If he didn’t suppress what he was feeling, he might start screaming or crying.

Mercury put his fork down on his plate, which was just as drenched in syrup as his kits’, and stared at Dane with his bronze eyes. “The one who’s a god?” he asked. Dane was the child of a god, something he had told Mercury before they became mates, but Dane had never gone into specifics. Mercury had seemed to sense that it was a difficult topic for Dane and had never asked for more detail.

“No,” Dane replied. “My mother is one of the few witches in the world strong enough to summon a god, though.” At Mercury’s blank look, Dane sighed. “The Isle Crone?”

Mercury’s jaw dropped. “Your mother is the Isle Crone?” he gasped.

“Who’s that?” Zinc asked curiously.

“We have a grandma?” ’Ron added. She bounced in her seat with excitement. Mercury’s lips tightened and Dane had to hide a wince. It wasn’t Mercury’s fault that dragons in the wild had to abandon their kits so they didn’t inadvertently end up killing them over a territory dispute. Mercury didn’t have the first idea of where to find his parents or any of his siblings. Dane had a mother who was the Isle Crone and a father he had never met and probably never would.

“She’s not the cookie-baking type,” Dane tried to explain to ’Ron. She was more of the biblical-smiting type. She was the territory leader of the British Isles, and she ran her territory with an iron fist. No one dared to challenge her because she was that powerful and that ruthless. For all that, she wasn’t evil. Mostly she was controlling, and no one was allowed to live their lives outside of how she dictated. It made her one of the more well-known territory leaders in the world.

Dane had left her house as soon as he was old enough to get away. Actually, escaped her house was probably a more accurate description. He had traveled all the way across the ocean to flee from her, but that hadn’t been nearly far enough, thanks to the more modern and less taxing innovations to basic transportation magic. Luckily, she wasn’t more powerful than Dane, so she couldn’t force him to return with her magic, but she had made her displeasure known many times since then.

His favorite instance was when she had instructed the largest witch coven in England to curse him. He had managed to counter it before he found out what exactly it was supposed to do to him, but the end result, according to his mother, was supposed to have been him crawling back to her for help and falling under her thumb again. She had sent a letter much like the one he was holding to tell him how disappointed she was that he had managed to avoid that fate.

That, along with a number of other difficulties she had caused throughout the years, was why he hadn’t spoken to her in at least a decade and had hoped to go a few decades more before having to even think about her again.

“What’d she write?” Chrome asked through a mouthful of food.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Mercury immediately scolded. Chrome frowned but obediently shut his mouth.

My Review:
This is the third story in a series, and best enjoyed when read in series.

Dane, a demigod, and his husband Mercury, a precious dragon shifter, have been diligently assisting dragons in need for the past five years, while also raising their clutch of mis-matched and genetically-modified kits.

In this episode, Dane is startled to receive a letter from his mother, a very powerful witch in the UK, announcing she’ll make a visit to her grandkits. Tomorrow. Except, he’s used to his mother’s machinations and isn’t even surprised when she turns up incognito on the day her letter arrives. And her prejudice against dragons is immediately apparent–and quickly disarmed the more she interacts with the kits, who are extremely engaging.

Meanwhile, the supernatural beings that control the territories adjacent to Dane’s are banging at his wards, convinced that Dane has been surreptitiously making strikes into their areas. It’s a dicey situation, as they are prepared to fight and strip Dane of his power. Two of these beings aren’t strong enough to do it, but the third, whose inclined to believe he was summoned on false pretenses, is immensely powerful. He’s also intrigued by this dragon family, and the dragon village Dane and Mercury have cultivated in his territory. Turns out, someone was playing a long game, trying to wrest the kits from Dane and Mercury, and it’s up to the kits and grandma to save the day.

I think the pacing got a little slow in the middle, with the mundane interactions of the kits and their quirky family taking center-stage. I like the kits, and I did understand why their behavior became so important, eventually. There is a nice bit of conflict leading up to the climax, and Dane’s allies are growing in number and power, compared to his enemies, who continue to reveal themselves. One thing is for sure, Dane and Mercury are rock solid to their commitment to each other, their kits, and dragons in need.

Interested? You can find DRAGON DILEMMA 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.

Cover Reveal for TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a cover reveal for a M/M contemporary romance from life- and writing-partners Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood. TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME is a legal eagles romance between a battered man and the loving new partner his finds. I really liked WHAT HE REALLY NEEDS, so I’m excited about this new release.

About the book:
Can he ever learn to trust again?
Brandon Weber’s old boyfriend almost beat him to death. Brandon survived, but still bears the emotional scars. Eighteen months later, he has withdrawn into himself, convinced he’ll never be able to trust another man.

Devin Macadam, fresh out of law school, has an exciting new job. He is also on the lookout for just the right guy, someone to take care of and love.

When Devin shows up for the first day of work at his new office, he meets Brandon, a legal assistant there. Sparks fly, but Brandon is paralyzed by fear and isn’t about to give another man the power to hurt him again. Devin, never one to give up easily, doesn’t want to take no for an answer. Both men feel the magic, but can their relationship ever get past the friend zone?

Too Close to the Flame is a dark-to-light, sweet romance featuring out and proud gay men, lots of feels, steamy love scenes, and a wonderful happy ending.

Trigger Warning: Too Close to the Flame contains specific memories of physical abuse.

Interested? You can find TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME on Goodreads and pre-order on Amazon. The book will be available on July 31st.

About the Authors:
Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood met in law school and were married in 2017. They live in a suburb of Washington, DC, and enjoy travel, friends, dogs, and advocating for causes dear to their hearts. Josh and Ryan love writing, and the romance they were so lucky to find with each other inspires their stories about love between out and proud men.

You can catch up with Ryan and Joshua on their website, Goodreads, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Managing a DRAGON DECEPTION–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M paranormal romance from Mell Eight. DRAGON DECEPTION features a couple of supernatural men raising a passel of dragon kits. I really enjoyed DRAGON CONSULTANT, which describes how demi-god Dane and precious dragon Mercury meet and fall for one another, so I couldn’t wait to read on in this series.

About the book:
A life full of children and mysteries to solve doesn’t leave much time for relaxation or each other, something Lumie wants to help fix for Dane and Mercury by way of arranging a picnic. But good intentions and life rarely cooperate, and Dane knows it’s only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose.

Hell turns out to be someone using Quicksilver’s name to destroy buildings, but there’s no way to tell whether the enemy is an impostor or a trap. Hopefully it won’t mean missing the picnic

My Review:
Dane is a demigod who shares his life and home with Mercury, an adult dragon. Mercury was destroying secret labs humans built to experiment on dragon kits and eggs–he adopted several orphaned and genetically engineered kits and Dane is raising them all as a family for the past five years. Each of the Kits has some special magical tricks, and Mercury has some powerful magic himself, being a precious Copper dragon. They have a loud and love-filled home, and Dane has established a small sanctuary dragon village within his domain of protection. There are lots of prejudices about dragons, because they have been traditionally considered wild and untrainable. Mercury and Dane have started to prove otherwise.

Mercury is an analyst for the SupFeds, but today he’s being paired with an impatient and surly female agent, Valerie, to investigate a suspected arson committed by Quicksilver–the alias Mercury himself developed when he was smashing dragon labs to bits. So, he knows this is a copy-cat situation, as he hasn’t destroyed any labs in roughly 5 years. Valerie is used to getting stonewalled and having to work double-hard for no acclaim, so she’d not enthused to be paired with Mercury, but Mercury is sure Valerie is sincere in her wish to hunt down the dragon torturers. The crime scene becomes a trap, as Mercury anticipated, and both Dane and the kit Lumie have to remove the tainted curse and save Mercury from a bad scene.

Valerie’s frustration melts a bit, learning how committed Mercury and Dane are to their cause to save dragons–and this includes her kit-sitting when Dane and Mercury head off to round up a female and her kits who barely escaped capture in Dane’s territory only a few days before. Turns out these two story lines interweave, as the arson perpetrator is hoping to catch a bunch of dragons for experiments.

This continuing love story highlights the partnership between Mercury and Dane, and how their quirky-odd family keeps everyone safe and well. Little Lumie steals the spotlight often, and his magic would be a fearsome as Dane’s if it wasn’t so quixotic. As with the first story, there are only glimpses at the physical relationship, but these are plentiful. It’s really a solid paranormal-adventure series with some romantic elements. I’m a fan of Dane and Mercury, and want to see the kits grow into their powers, soon.

Interested? You can find DRAGON DECEPTION on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

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.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Best Friends SEE THE LIGHT of Love–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M romance from Kate McMurray. SEE THE LIGHT features two lifelong friends finally connecting in the way one of them had always hoped.

About the book:
Up-and-coming Broadway actor Jeremy was given two days to get up and get out. Dumped by his long-term boyfriend and suddenly homeless, he needs a sofa and a sympathetic ear, stat.

Enter Max, aspiring makeup artist and Jeremy’s BFF and former roommate.

Max has been in love with his best friend forever. Now that Jeremy is back in his home, his old feelings are back, too. He’s happy to help his friend, but this time…it’s complicated.

When Jeremy gets his big break in a new show, the message of the play hits home. “Live life to the fullest” means recognizing how he really feels about Max, and that’s not complicated at all. Jeremy’s in love, and wants to move full steam ahead.

But Max has waited too long for Jeremy to look at him this way, and he doesn’t want to risk his heart. If this is just a rebound fling, or if Jeremy is only interested in Max because he’s convenient, it will not only shatter him—it will ruin the best friendship he’s ever known

My Review:
Jeremy has returned to New York from a stint acting up in Boston to find his boyfriend of the past few years has decided to shack up with someone else, and he has two days to remove his belongings from their shared apartment. He’s mad, really mad, with this whole situation. He puts most of his stuff into storage and calls up his oldest and dearest friend, Max, to see if he can spend the next few weeks on Max’s couch while he hunts for a new permanent residence and auditions for new roles.

Max, who has been in love with Jeremy since….ever agrees, knowing he’s risking falling hard and getting hurt. Max is a makeup artist and runs a modest studio for stage performers in the NYC theater scene. He also does drag makeup for his ex-boyfriend and other baby queens being shepharded by his ex. Right now, it’s not ideal for Jer to be staying with him, because he has a lot of design work in the pipeline, but he’d never refuse Jeremy’s needs–except when Jeremy begins making motions like he’s coming on to Max–because that is surely the road to heartbreak.

For Jeremy, being in Max’s apartment is like coming home. They’d been roommates for years until Jeremy was spending more nights with his now-ex and Max suggested he wanted a single place of his own. Truth was, Max was dying, seeing Jeremy fall for another man. With that distance, and his new role in a liberating LGBTQ-positive production, Jeremy is waking up to not only the deep feelings of love and attraction he has for Max, he’s also realizing that he inadvertently broke Max’s heart–and he’s ready to make amends.

This was a really engaging friends-to-lovers romance that imparted a lot of cool info about the Broadway scene, as well as how young struggling actors and artists go to battle each day to make their dreams reality. Max is a sweet soul, hiding in plain sight and offering the safe harbor fabulous Jeremy needs. When it comes to their dilemma of not being friends–because becoming lovers could mess this up–they have a break, by Max’s choice. He needs to trust the Jer will be by his side forever, and Jeremy definitely gives him the confidence to act on faith. The drag queen moments were fun, and I loved having both points of view giving me insight into this developing relationship. Sweet and uplifting, with a moderate amount of angst.

Interested? You can find SEE THE LIGHT on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Kate McMurray writes smart romantic fiction. She likes creating stories that are brainy, funny, and of course sexy, with regular guy characters and urban sensibilities. She advocates for romance stories by and for everyone. When she’s not writing, she edits textbooks, watches baseball, plays violin, crafts things out of yarn, and wears a lot of cute dresses. She’s active in Romance Writers of America, serving for two years on the board of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter, and three—including two as president—on the board of the New York City chapter. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with two cats and too many books.

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Embracing Love in THE SCHOLAR’S HEART–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M fantasy romance from Antonia Aquilante. THE SCHOLAR’S HEART is the third story in her Chronicles of Tournai series. I really enjoyed THE PRINCE’S CONSORT, and THE ARTIST’S MASQUERADE, so I was eager to read Etan’s love story.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Though he is the youngest son of a royal duke, Etan is a scholar at heart, happiest in a library surrounded by his books. He contentedly juggles his work for the prince’s government with his studies of the history and legends of Tournai, a subject of particular interest to him because he shares the secret magical Talent that runs in the royal bloodline. However, Etan’s peaceful world turns upside down when his best friend—the man he secretly loves—unexpectedly marries someone else.

Tristan is the oldest son of a wealthy merchant, raised to shoulder responsibility for the family business one day. That day comes far sooner than anticipated, and he makes a deathbed promise to his father to marry the woman his father chose and become head of the company and family. Tristan values his friendship with Etan and has always been attracted to him, but he can’t forsake his duty to his father, even if it means giving up the possibility of having Etan as a lover.

A year later, Tristan is a widower with an infant daughter and a mother who demands he marry again quickly—something Tristan resists. Circumstances throw Etan and Tristan together again, but even as they succumb to the desires they’ve always harbored, Etan battles his feelings, wary of being cast aside once more. When the unimaginable happens, Etan and Tristan must come together and support each other through the ordeal…and maybe beyond.

How about a yummy taste?

Prologue
One year earlier

“There you are!”

Tristan’s musical voice made the simple sentence something special, or perhaps Etan’s feelings made it seem so. Etan smiled as he looked up from his book, a glow of warmth and welcome lighting him up inside.

Tristan strode into the small room Etan had claimed for his own in the palace’s labyrinthine library. He had a desk in the university library as well, but these days, out of necessity and preference both, he conducted most of his work in this cozy little room. Obscure history books filled the shelves lining the walls. The table in the center of the room held Etan’s notes on his studies and projects, all neatly organized so he could find anything he wanted quickly. But this morning he slouched on the comfortable couch instead, book propped in his lap.

He sat there, book forgotten as he watched Tristan, the morning sun streaming in through the window and glinting off Tristan’s bright gold hair. Tristan seemed to bring the sunshine into the room with him, brightening what had been an ordinary morning until that moment.

“Good morning, Tristan.”

“Good morning to you.” Tristan sent a flirtatious smile in his direction and skirted the table, coming closer.

“It’s good to see you.” He probably sounded ridiculous, but he hadn’t seen Tristan in a few days and, well, he’d missed him.

Tristan’s smile warmed, turning a bit softer. “You too.”

Etan frowned as Tristan flopped on the couch at Etan’s side. Not at the action, but at the look in Tristan’s eyes. The brilliant blue seemed shadowed somehow. “Everything all right?”

“Fine. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. You just seem a little…” Etan shrugged. He couldn’t quite put a word to it, and he couldn’t very well say he didn’t think Tristan’s eyes sparkled as much as they usually did. “Troubled, maybe.”

Tristan was quiet for a moment and then scooted closer and rested his head on Etan’s shoulder. “I’m fine. A little tired. What are you up to?”

“Doing some reading.”

“For work or pleasure?”

Etan suppressed a shiver at the way Tristan’s voice shaped the word pleasure. Certainly, it had to be unconscious on Tristan’s part, but it put ideas into Etan’s head he didn’t want there, not yet, not when he and Tristan hadn’t spoken of feelings between them beyond friendship. But he could see those feelings were there. Perhaps he should just come right out and kiss Tristan. Tristan seemed to be over what feelings he’d had for Amory, Tristan’s lifelong friend who was now married to Etan’s cousin. Etan didn’t see any of the emotion or longing he used to in the glances Tristan sent Amory’s way. Maybe Etan had waited long enough.

He’d certainly paused long enough before answering. “A bit of both. Want me to read to you?”

He’d read to Tristan before, many times, sometimes with Tristan sitting as he was now, snuggled up against Etan’s side, sometimes with Tristan lying with his head in Etan’s lap. Tristan seemed to like when Etan read to him, seemed to enjoy the legends and histories Etan habitually occupied himself with, seemed to even enjoy when Etan forgot himself and ran his fingers through Tristan’s soft hair as he read. Etan hadn’t read to anyone before except for his youngest sister, Meriall, but reading to Tristan was a far different experience from reading bedtime stories. He liked it, liked having Tristan close and hearing Tristan’s comments and reactions.

“I’m not sure I can sit still today. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.” He’d realized early on in their friendship Tristan was an athletic person who enjoyed being active and outdoors. Etan came to treasure the moments of stillness and quiet, when he saw Tristan’s intellectual side and his softer side in equal measure, but he enjoyed sharing the other more active times with Tristan too. Tristan always made the rides through the countryside and the hikes along the cliffs and the rambles over the beach fun. “What would you like to do?”

“Will you go for a ride with me?”

He thought briefly of the work awaiting him in the office he shared with Cathal, of his plans to spend the morning with his books and his studies before he returned to that work. And tossed it all aside with one glance into Tristan’s eyes. As he always did. His books would still be there when he returned to them later.

And he wasn’t convinced Tristan really was all right.

“Of course. Shall we go now?”

When Tristan agreed, Etan set his book aside and tidied away a few papers. On the way to the stables, they stopped in Etan’s suite so he could change into riding boots, but they didn’t dally otherwise. Stable hands saddled their horses quickly, and they mounted up. They rode together out of the palace gates and through the city, an easy conversation flowing between them. Once they left the city, Etan let Tristan lead. When Tristan took the road leading out to the cliffs, Etan knew his suspicions about Tristan’s state of mind were correct. Tristan seemed to prefer a gallop along the cliffs when he felt he needed to escape something, some pressure in his life. He talked to Etan about it sometimes, at least a little, but only after the ride.

As Etan expected, Tristan veered off the road as they neared the cliffs. The path he chose wound through some trees until it ended in the meadows overlooking the sea. Once they were through the trees, the view opened up before them, with fields dotted with wildflowers and a rocky precipice tumbling down to the vivid blue of the sea. The area was one of Etan’s favorites. He’d rather walk along the cliffs or picnic at the top so he could better appreciate the view, but riding was exhilarating too. Well, any ride with Tristan was. Tristan was a skilled and fearless horseman, who ended each ride flushed and smiling. Etan always wanted to grab him close and kiss him when he saw Tristan that way, to see if he could make Tristan breathless for another reason entirely.

Maybe today he would.

He put the thought out of his head as best he could for the moment as Tristan urged his horse into a gallop and took off parallel to the cliff edge. Etan hurried to follow. If he thought about it too much, he risked falling off his horse, which would certainly end any chance of kissing Tristan today.

Instead he concentrated his thoughts outward to the sea- and flower-scented wind blowing in his face, to the sunlight warming his skin. The day was perfect for spring, a little cool early in the morning but pleasant as the sun climbed. The sky was clear, the sea calm. There would be fishermen out in their boats, working to bring in the day’s catch. But they weren’t close; no one was close enough to intrude on his solitude with Tristan.

He watched Tristan, slightly ahead of him. Tristan really did ride well, better than Etan did, but then Tristan had probably spent most of his childhood trying to get on a horse while Etan had spent his sneaking off to the library. Or using his Talent to change himself into a cat and climbing trees. But, most often, the library. And given where Tristan had found him this morning, not much had changed. But he did come out when Tristan asked. Unlike when he was a child and his brothers would come and pounce on him and drag him from the room.

If Tristan wanted to pounce on him, it would be another story entirely.

After a while, Tristan began to slow his horse, and Etan followed. Upon reaching the point, they paused to take in the view and then turned back for home, riding side by side at a much more leisurely pace. Etan expected Tristan to be more relaxed, even laughing, after the long gallop as he so often was, but if anything, he seemed more pensive.

Etan let Tristan have his silence, even though it pained him to do so. He wanted to help, to make whatever it was right again. Tristan had cheered him up often enough, and they’d bolstered each other’s strength through bad times. But Tristan had to speak in his own time, and he’d never actually ask for help even when he did.

Tristan didn’t speak until they were almost all the way back to Jumelle. “My father wants me to marry.”

Etan’s brain stuttered. He had to have heard wrong. He whipped around to look at Tristan, but Tristan was still staring straight ahead. “What? Did you say he wants you to marry?”

“He’s dying, Etan,” Tristan said in a small, quiet voice that made Etan hurt.

“Tristan. I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you.” Tristan glanced up at the sky for a moment, and Etan gave him his privacy to pull himself together, or what passed for privacy when they were riding side by side. “He wants me settled, since I’m to run the business when he’s gone. He wants the business settled too.”

Tristan’s family business was the largest shipping concern in Tournai, and as Tournai was a country rich in trade, owing in part to a quirk of geography, the business was a prosperous one. Etan could understand somewhat Tristan’s father wanting him to be settled down if he was to be both the head of the business and the head of the family. Old-fashioned, perhaps, but there was probably some real concern for Tristan in his father’s desire too.

Etan worked himself up to suggest perhaps the two of them could wed. Not right away, but they could make an agreement and use a betrothal period to see if they would suit. Etan believed they would, but he was already thinking of ways to convince Tristan and Tristan’s father, if necessary. Etan’s own father would be difficult, he was sure—as a duke, his father would want Etan to make a more advantageous marriage to a lady of noble birth—but he could deal with Father later.

But all those thoughts—all the hope that came with them—screeched to a halt when Tristan spoke. “I’m to marry a daughter of a friend of Father’s, Dariela. They think it will be good for the business.”

“You already know—you’re marrying a woman? That woman?”

Etan had no idea who she was—she might be a perfectly lovely person—but he couldn’t understand Tristan marrying her, or marrying any woman. Tristan preferred men, the same as Etan did. Etan had hoped Tristan might just plain prefer him.

“Father thinks it’s best. For the family and the business.”

“Yes, but—what about you? What do you think?”

Tristan shrugged. “I must live up to my responsibilities to the family and the business. I have to run everything as Father would want. He shouldn’t be dying so young.”

“I know he shouldn’t. It’s awful.” Etan scrubbed a hand over his face. “He’s been to see the healers? I’m sure Jadis would see him if I asked.”

“He has, and Amory already had Jadis examine him. This illness has gone on too long undetected and untreated. His heart is too weak now.”

“I am so very sorry, Tristan.” He wanted to pull Tristan into a hug, to hold him and try to bear some of the pain and grief for him, but they were on horses. And Tristan was about to marry someone else. “Are you sure about this marriage though?”

“I don’t see a reason not to marry her. Do you?”

The statement was a stab of pain to his gut. He had to bite back a gasp, it seemed so real, so physical. He managed to murmur something that might have been an agreement, because what else could he do? If Tristan didn’t see a reason not to marry this woman, Etan could hardly give him one.

By the time Etan arrived back at the palace, he felt as if a yawning, empty hole had opened inside him. His head was buzzing, and he couldn’t seem to think quite straight. His feet carried him to his office. But when he walked into the empty room, he just dropped down into his chair and stared at the polished top of his desk, clean of papers since he’d tidied up yesterday.

Tristan was getting married.

He and Tristan would never be anything other than friends, and Tristan obviously wanted it so, was fine with it. Perhaps Etan had been wrong about Tristan’s feelings all this time.

“Etan?”

Etan looked up, but it took him a moment to understand what he was seeing. He hadn’t even heard the door open. “Cathal.”

Panic, an emotion he seldom saw in his stoic older brother, flooded Cathal’s face. “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Tristan is marrying.” Pain spasmed through him as he said the words, but he had to say them, had to get used to hearing them. Tristan was marrying, and all chance Etan might have had with him was gone.

My Review:
This is the third book in a fantasy series, and likely best enjoyed when read in sequence, though it can be read as a standalone.

Etan is a cousin to Philip, the Crown Prince of Tournai, a small but well-situated country with a bustling trade port in its capital city of Jumelle. Etan lives in the palace with Philip his consort-husband Amory and Etan’s brother Cathal who is married to Flavian, an artist who escaped the emperor of Ardunn’s plots to enslave him for his Talent. Etan and Cathal are ministers (of a sort) in the governance of Tournai, indispensable to both Philip and Amory–with whom they are both family and close friends.

Two years ago Etan fell hard for Amory’s childhood friend Tristan, and he thought his love was reciprocated, though they had no physical demonstrations. Etan is a shy man, a noted scholar at the university in addition to his duties to the crown. He didn’t quite know how to approach Tristan with his desire for intimacy, especially because he was sensitive to Tristan’s heartbreak when Amory married the Prince. Over their acquaintance, Etan–who is usually best at home in his library–makes time to spend with Tristan socially. He was about to propose marriage when Tristan stuns Etan by deciding to marry a woman, and their friendship essentially disintegrates. A year has gone by and Tristan’s wife has just died in the process of childbirth. And duties to Tristan’s place as Amory’s oldest friend necessitate bringing Tristan and Etan back together.

Tristan never loved his wife. He preferred men, as his father knew, but Tristan felt pressured to marry a woman to create heirs for the shipping company he now runs. As the eldest of the family, Tristan runs the business since his father died shortly after his wedding. That was the reason to marry with haste, after all. He didn’t hate his wife, but they were more cordial acquaintances than lovers, and he’s mourning the loss of her in his baby daughter Bria’s life. Tristan is furious that his high-handed mother sent the Prince’s chief healer away during the birth because his healing Talent could have saved his wife–and he’s appalled that his mother has plans to take his infant to her own home to raise. No, he will not allow this, but his mother is sneaky. If she can’t raise the baby herself she’s going to pressure Tristan into another marriage to a woman who can raise the baby. It’s a problem.

Tristan is happy to welcome Etan back into his life, but he’s quick to notice that Etan is not the same close friend anymore. He’s reserved and their relations are strained. Tristan doesn’t understand, and he’s shocked when Etan sends his an evil eye one night when their paths cross, because Etan witnesses Tristan leaving teh gathering with intent to bed a man he picked up there. Etan has never gotten over the hurt he felt when Tristan married, but he’s never spoken about the depth of his feelings with anyone, let alone Tristan. Some hard truths have to come out if these men are going to salvage thier friendship, and plan for a future together.

As with the previous books, there is court intrigue and troubles both within and abroad. Tristan’s troubles are all domestic, and he’s pitted against his own mother for the right to live his adult life as he sees fit. He’s a doting father, and his love for Bria grows by the day. It is in contrast to the machinations of his mother that Tristan begins to see Etan in a new light. And, he’s eager to pursue a lasting liaison if Etan is willing. Etan, for his part, saw Tristan as his forever person, and he’s afraid to let himself love him again and get his heart obliterated. Still, he follows the counsel of Cathal, begining a physical relationship with Tristan if they can remain monogamous. He still keeps his emotions separate, for a time–even when Tristan is all in. And, when Etan finally decides to give his whole heart back to Tristan, it’s at the exact moment Tristan needs his unconditional love the most, because Bria is in danger this daddy is a hot mess.

I really liked the story, and how Etan and Tristan navigate their paths to reconnection. Their previous friendship was a solid foundation, but Tristan soon realized he was more selfish in that arrangement, never seeing or comprehending the lengths that Etan went to to allow their friendship to flourish. His awakening to these situations has come at a hard cost, but he strives every day to do it better, and be a better man. He regrets the compromises he made that shut Etan out of his life, but his love for Bria is a boon. The love story grew reliably and equally this second time around. Expect some real courting, lots of court business, and scholars getting a handle on new and exciting information. Tristan makes the big leap for love, and Etan is not long in following him.

Not sure where this series is going, but there are plenty of royal cousins who could get the happily Ever Afters in the service of Tournai.

Interested? You can find THE SCHOLAR’S HEART on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

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About the Author:
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

Catch up with Antonia on Facebook, and twitter.