Working Toward a COMMON GOAL–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand-new M/M contemporary hockey romance from Rachel Reid. GAME CHANGER is the fourth book in her Game Changers series, which features two rival hockey players finding love with each other. All the books in the Game Changers series are standalone romances. Check out my reviews for GAME CHANGER, HEATED RIVALRY, TOUGH GUY, to catch up with other yummy stories.

About the book:
New York Admirals goalie Eric never thought his friends-with-benefits arrangement with much-younger Kyle would leave them both wanting more…

Veteran goaltender Eric Bennett has faced down some of the toughest shooters on the ice, but nothing prepared him for his latest challenge—life after hockey. It’s time to make some big changes, starting with finally dating men for the first time.

Graduate student Kyle Swift moved to New York nursing a broken heart. He’d sworn to find someone his own age to crush on (for once). Until he meets a gorgeous, distinguished silver fox hockey player. Despite their intense physical attraction, Kyle has no intention of getting emotionally involved. He’ll teach Eric a few tricks, have some mutually consensual fun, then walk away.

Eric is more than happy to learn anything Kyle brings to the table. And Kyle never expected their friends-with-benefits arrangement to leave him wanting more. Happily-ever-after might be staring them in the face, but it won’t happen if they’re too stubborn to come clean about their feelings.

Everything they both want is within reach… They just have to be brave enough to grab it.

My Review:
Eric Bennett is a tall, broad silver fox looking retirement from professional hockey in the face. He’s bisexual, but not really out, though he’s wanting to experiment with men for the first time ever. He’s a bit shy, and not really into the meat market approach to finding a partner. He has met Kyle, a young, sexy bartender, several times because he works at the same bar where Eric’s teammate’s new fiance, Kip, has been employed. Turns out that Kyle is a graduate student in ancient art and architecture, and Eric is an art connoisseur and collector. They seem to have more in common than a mutual friend, and that leads Kyle–who is always attracted to Mr. Wrong–to impulsively offer to teach Eric the ways and means of sexytimes with men.

Kyle has had a long-time crush on his friend, Kip, and seeing him happily engaged only spotlights Kyle’s loneliness. Kyle decide to really focus on his schooling, but he’s still more than willing to give sex lessons to Eric, and their chemistry could melt glaciers–let alone hockey rinks. They also get along out of the bedroom, with Kyle admiring and appreciative of Eric’s sense of style and his intelligence. Who knew Harvard graduated hockey gods? The more time they spend, the more they each begin to fall, but there’s a big age gap that unsettles Eric. And, he’s totally afraid he’s taking advantage of Kyle’s youth and winsomeness, especially when he learns of Kyle’s history of being used by older men.

Their happily ever after seems to be in jeopardy until Eric comes to his senses, realizing that losing Kyle to his own insecurities is not the way he should approach his new, and empty, life after hockey. It’s a very sweet reunion, and the sexytimes are fun and playful throughout. I loved the resolution here, and I look forward to more of these delicious hockey romances in the future.

Interested? You can find COMMON GOAL on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Rachel Reid is the pen name of Rachelle Goguen. She chose it because it is much easier to say, spell and remember than Rachelle Goguen!

Rachel writes cute, romantic smut, mostly about hockey players.
Rachelle co-hosts a comic book podcast called Living Between Wednesdays.

Rachel/Rachelle lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. She has always lived there, and it’s looking like she probably always will. She has two boring degrees and two interesting kids.

The first two books in her Game Changers m/m hockey romance series, Game Changer and Heated Rivalry, are both available now from Carina Press. Book five is coming soon!

You can catch up with Ms. Reid on her website, Goodreads, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Captivated by the Danger THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share an excerpt and giveaway for a newly re-released M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR features a caring and lonely 20-something man caught up in lust and intrigue with his new and mysterious neighbors. 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:
Jeremy Booth leads a simple life, scraping by in the gay neighborhood of Seattle, never letting his lack of material things get him down. But the one thing he really wants—someone to love—seems elusive. Until the couple next door moves in and Jeremy sees the man of his dreams, Shane McCallister, pushed down the stairs by a brute named Cole.

Jeremy would never go after another man’s boyfriend, so he reaches out to Shane in friendship while suppressing his feelings of attraction. But the feeling of something being off only begins with Cole being a hard-fisted bully—it ends with him seeming to be different people at different times. Some days, Cole is the mild-mannered John and then, one night in a bar, he’s the sassy and vivacious drag queen Vera.

So how can Jeremy rescue the man of his dreams from a situation that seems to get crazier and more dangerous by the day? By getting close to the couple next door, Jeremy not only puts a potential love in jeopardy, but eventually his very life.

How about a little taste?

How many disappointing dates will I endure before I just give up?

I mean, here I am, a perfectly attractive, fit, self-sufficient thirty-year-old, and I’m still waiting to meet the man of my dreams. Mr. Right. Hell, tonight I’d even settle for that character who seems to come along on dates for most of us, the all-too-common Mr. Right Now. But even he isn’t on the seat beside me. In fact, I strongly doubt he’s anywhere in the vicinity of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle where I live.

Believe me, I’ve looked.

Mr. First Date pulls his Ford Fusion up to the curb in front of my apartment building on Aloha Avenue. We sit in awkward silence for several long moments, listening as the engine ticks down as it cools. I can feel him looking at me. As he’s done most of the evening, he waits for me to speak. I turn my head and, in the dark, give him a weak smile. The date, dinner at a little sushi place on Broadway, had not gone well, full of uncomfortable silences, awkward pauses, and desperate looks around for avenues of escape—on both our parts.

Do I need to say we just didn’t click?

I didn’t think so.

So what he says now surprises me.

“Do you want me to come up?”

Really? We’ve just spent an hour and a half of agony together, trying to find a snippet of common ground that doesn’t exist, and he’s wondering if I want him to come up, which we all know is code for “Shall we make the beast with two backs?”

Seriously? The most irksome thing is, I’m considering it. I mean, he’s cute in spite of our lack of social connection. He’s a games developer for a software company here in town and looks it, with a sort of hipster/geek vibe going on. He has red hair, which I love. He has a beard, which I love. He wears retro glasses, which make him look paradoxically goofy and sexy—which I love.

Would it be so terrible to sleep with him? I mean, it’s been at least two weeks since I’ve enjoyed the charms of anyone other than Mr. Thumb and his four sons, so at least in terms of a release, maybe I should just say “Sure” and open the car door. If things go like some of my dates in the past, he’d follow me upstairs to my apartment and be back in his car in, like, fifteen minutes.

No, I tell myself. And then I tell him, shaking my head, looking sad, and saying the words countless heartbreakers have used over the years to stop ardent passion in its errant tracks.

“I’m sorry, Neil. But I have to get up early.” Lamely, I pat his hand. “Maybe another time.”

I don’t need to be psychic to know that we both know another time ain’t gonna happen.

Neil seems relieved as he restarts his car. He shrugs. “It’s okay. Club Z’s just a couple minutes away, right? Down Broadway and a right on Pike—easy.”

He grins at me, and I wonder if he expects me to laugh. Club Z is one of Seattle’s filthiest bathhouses, and yes, it’s only a few minutes away. He doesn’t seem to need directions.

It’s my turn to be relieved that I didn’t actually succumb to the temptation of inviting this jerk upstairs. Wordlessly, I get out of the car and slam the door behind me.

Neil roars off into the damp and still night.

I pause and sigh, staring up at the building in which I’ve lived for the past five years. It’s an okay place, an old redbrick three story with none of the modern amenities—no stainless steel, granite countertops, or gas fireplaces. My apartment is homey. It even has the original tile, sink, and claw-foot tub in its single bathroom. The living room is large, with three big windows that look out on Aloha and let in lots of light—on the days when we have sun in Seattle (that means usually summer days). The floors are scuffed original hardwood. The kitchen actually has a pantry and built-in china hutch. I’ve painted the place a cheery, soft yellow.

Upstairs, the TV, with its DVRed episodes of at-odds Sons of Anarchy and Downton Abbey, awaits. Upstairs, there’s the gelato I love from Whole Foods in the freezer—hazelnut dark chocolate.

Such is my life. Comfortable and a little lonely.

Sometimes I wonder, like Peggy Lee, if that’s all there is.

I head toward the glass-paned front door. I grope in my jeans for my keys. The mail had not yet arrived before I left for my date, and I wonder if there will be any surprises in the vestibule mailbox. You know, like an actual letter from someone, standing out from the usual assortment of bills and solicitations by the cursive spelling out of my name—Jeremy Booth.

My problem is I always have hope, even when there’s little reason.

I open the front door, and that’s when everything changes. My life turns upside down. I go from bored discontent to panic in a split second.

The first thing I hear is someone shouting “No!” in an anguished voice. I look up from the lobby to see two figures on the staircase above, on the second-floor landing. One is a guy who looks menacing and so butch he could pose for a Tom of Finland poster. An aura of danger radiates from him. Aside from his imposing and muscular frame, he’s even wearing the right clothes—tight, rolled jeans and a black leather biker jacket with a chain snaking out from beneath one of the epaulets. His high- and tight-buzzed hair gives him a military—and mean—air. He has his hands on the shoulders of a guy who looks a bit younger and much slighter, making me want to call up the stairs, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” The smaller guy, blond and clad only in a pair of pajama bottoms, struggles with his attacker, looking terrified. Their movements, clumsy and rough, would be comical if they weren’t so scary. The smaller guy is panting and batting ineffectually at the bigger one.

“Please! No! Don’t!” the smaller guy manages to get out, his voice close to hysteria.

I have never seen either of these men before. In fact, the whole scene has the quality of the surreal, a dream. The danger and conflict pulsing down the stairs makes my own heart rate and respiration accelerate, causing feelings of panic to rise within me.

And then the worst happens. The big butch guy shoves the smaller one hard, and all at once he’s tumbling heavily down the stairs toward me.

The fall is graceless, and it looks like it hurts. It’s over so fast that I’m left gasping.

I look up to see the leather-jacket guy sneer down at his mate, lying crumpled and crying at my feet, and then turn sharply on his heel to go back into a second-floor apartment that had been vacant yesterday. He slams the door. The sound of the deadbolt sliding into place is like the report of a shotgun. Both slam and lock resound like thunderclaps, echoing in the tile lobby, punctuation to the drama and trauma of this short scene.

I switch into Good Samaritan mode and drop to my knees at the sniveling, crumpled mess of a man lying practically at my feet.

“Are you okay?” I ask and reach out to lightly touch his shoulder.

He jerks away and, wincing, pulls himself up into an awkward sitting position. He stares at me with clear blue eyes for a moment, almost as though he’s trying to place me. He finally looks away.

“My ankle is throbbing. It hurts like hell. Maybe I twisted it.”

I don’t know what to say, other than to ask, “Would you like to try and stand? Test it out?”

He nods.

I lean over to grip him under the arms—it’s damp there, and I can smell the ripe aroma of body odor, probably inspired by fear or panic—and pull. He comes up with me and then stumbles, wincing and crying out.

“Damn. I might have sprained it when I fell.” His eyes are so appealing, in both senses of the word, as he stares at me, as though seeking direction for what to do next. He leans on me, taking his weight off the injured ankle.

I keep my arm around him, and together we limp over to a bench set beneath the bank of common mailboxes. We sit.

“What do you want to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know. I think Cole may have locked me out for the night.”

My Review:
Jeremy is An out-gay man living in Seattle in his mid-20s. His squalid apartment is all he can afford as he works days cleaning other people’s homes and imagining he will finally write the next great American novel. His love life is lackluster and he’s normally not even willing to settle fo Mr. Right Now…unless he’s super hard up.

Jeremy comes home from yet another spectacular failure of a date and find his newest next-door neighbors fighting in the gangway. He witnesses one of the men being brutally knocked down the staircase and is really upset by the situation. This poor man is 100% gorgeous and Jeremy is afraid to get himself involved in what seems to be a domestic drama. However he cannot forget the young man who has caught his eye.

Jeremy, as a child, helped his mother a victim of domestic violence cope with the batterings that his father doled out. This situation is a huge trigger for him. The man who is tossed on the stairs, Shane McAlester, is his next-door neighbor. And Jeremy will not abandon him. He helps Shane escape from his attacker a person who seems to be called “Cole.” Yeah Shane says he lives with a man named John. And chain seems to be reciprocating Jeremy’s attraction. This is all very confusing for Jeremy who does not like cheaters or people who are dishonest.

Shane stories for his past and also his experience with John and perhaps Cole seem very flimsy and also a partially dishonest. This is upsetting for Jeremy whose attraction seems to grow the more he assists Shane. He tries to step away from the situation, but he keeps getting embroiled deeper and deeper despite his best efforts to stay away.

This is a interesting romantic thriller as we learn the depths of John/Cole’s situation and how Shane is involved. Jeremy cannot truly stay away, due to his caretaking history with his mother’s battery. He wishes that he could’ve helped her more even though he was just a child. Now that he is a grown man he feels a need to protect Shane from his affection is continually growing. Shane reciprocates these feelings. And it’s a big huge conundrum about how to escape what seems to be a very violent streak in John/Cole.

There is a lot of danger here, but there is also happiness satisfaction and a happy ending. Jeremy and Shane do match up quite well and they overcome the handicaps of Shane’s acquaintance with John. It seems as though the worst is going to happen however, John Jeremy will not allow his happiness to be ruined by another brutal man in the his life. Expect drama, and Shane to hide John’s nature, and John to pull unexpected shenanigans to keep Shane from finding happiness with anyone besides himself. I won’t say more because I might give away the most important parts, and I don’t want to spoil the story. I really enjoyed this book, and recommend it for readers of romantic suspense and contemporary suspense thrillers with a dash of romance.

Interested? You can find THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR 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.

Dark Side of THE BRIGHT LANDS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ story for new-to-me author John Fram. THE BRIGHT LANDS pulls an out gay man back to his conservative east Texas hometown in search of his teen brother, the star quarterback of the high schoo who’s recently gone missing.

About the book:
The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

My Review:
Okay, when I picked up this story, it DIDN’T sound like anything paranormal or supernatural was going to happen from the blurb. That is NOT the case, y’all.

Joel Whitley escaped Bentley, Texas right after high school and he’s hardly looked back–not for his mama or his younger half-brother, Dylan. They chat on the phone and stuff, but Joel hates that place, where he was pretty much attacked for being gay, and ohoto evidence of his “depravity” was circulated widely. But, a weird phone call from Dylan rouses Joel from his free-wheeling, occasionally substance-fueled life in Manhattan. And, it gets Joel on a plane to figure out what might be wrong.

In that space, Joel senses the darkness of the town and is frustrated by the lack of assistance when it turns out that Dylan is missing in action, a “fishing trip” to the coast being a ruse for way more dangerous activities. The team seems to have a pact set to confound and confuse any investigations, but the behavior of some of Dylan’s teammates is nothing short of bizarre–if not possessed. Joel’s old friend Starsha, who happens to be a Sheriff’s Deputy is interested in getting to the bottom of this mystery, and her professional duty is rivaled by personal interest–her own brother disappeared in much the same way as Dylan years before.

I will be honest and say this book was not my cuppa. There were a LOT of points-of-view and their points of intersection did not always overlap. That, and the supernatural element was slow to develop, so I couldn’t tell if the heebie-jeebies Joel was sensing were just his own misapprehension, or something “other”. I do not want to spoil wants happening in the story, but I will say that I felt the actual situation in the story seemed to vilify homosexual behavior. That giving in to those “base” urges led to feeding the malevolence that has been growing in influence and power for decades. I get that this is a thriller, but the resolution ended up being violent and unsatisfying for me–again because there was so much negativity that was tied into what was seen by the characters as deviant behavior. Dylan’s story does not end well, and Joel takes it badly–which I did understand. He was sad for his brother and felt guilty for not helping out more. And the whole thing ended sadly and negatively for my understanding.

For people who like horror, thrillers and supernatural reads, this might be the right story for you. Just, do not expect a happy ending.

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

About the Author:
John Fram is a lapsed Texan and debut author of the supernatural thriller THE BRIGHT LANDS, due out in July 2020 from Hanover Square Press. Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box, describes it as “absolutely enthralling,” Christopher Golden calls it “compelling as hell,” and Edmund White (the one and only) calls it “Gothic, Faulkernian…and very, very sexy.” He’s just grateful a childhood spent playing video games and sweating in tall grass resulted in something worthwhile.

An accidental Manhattanite, he spends his free time practicing yoga, sweating on stationary bikes and gasping in movie theaters. He writes, meditates and reads every day, in that order. Follow his Instagram to see screenshots from old movies and excited posts about whatever book he’s currently loving. Follow my Twitter because apparently we still need one of those. And go to my website, where you can sign up for a monthly newsletter about old movies and exciting books, some of which he’s written.

Catch up to John on his website, Instagram, and Twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Connected by THE LITTLE LIBRARY–A TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M romance from Kim Fielding. THE LITTLE LIBRARY connects a lonely historian with a cop on the mend. I enjoyed A SECOND HARVEST and LOVE CAN’T CONQUER, and I’m a big fan of Ms. Fielding.

About the book:
Elliott Thompson was once a historian with a promising academic future, but his involvement in a scandal meant a lost job, public shame, and a ruined love life. He took shelter in his rural California hometown, where he teaches online classes, hoards books, and despairs of his future.

Simon Odisho has lost a job as well—to a bullet that sidelined his career in law enforcement. While his shattered knee recovers, he rethinks his job prospects and searches for the courage to come out to his close-knit but conservative extended family.

In an attempt to manage his overflowing book collection, Elliott builds a miniature neighborhood library in his front yard. The project puts him in touch with his neighbors—for better and worse—and introduces him to handsome, charming Simon. While romance blooms quickly between them, Elliott’s not willing to live in the closet, and his best career prospects might take him far away. His books have plenty to tell him about history, but they give him no clues about a future with Simon.

My Review:
History professor Elliott Thompson is licking his wounds following the disastrous end of his most recent relationship. His ex is a criminal, and though Elliott was found innocent of conspiring with him, his university decided it would be best if they made clean break. So, he’s returned to his small California hometown, teaching online courses and masking his hurt feelings with an addiction to purchasing books online–particularly paperbacks. His home, however, has only so much physical space to contain these books, so Elliott’s solution to his book hoarding is to build a little library that he posts in his front yard. Elliott’s home is near a popular footpath, so his neighbors are a bit thrilled with the advent of free books just for their own pleasure. Well, mostly. He does have one homophobic jerk who makes more than a stink over it. Elliott takes great pleasure curating his library selection and seeing what books get taken–and what new ones are replaced by other readers!

Simon Odisho is a first generation American, born to Assyrian immigrants. His family is boisterous and caring, but also conservative, and Simon has kept his sexuality secret from them, and the members of the police force–while he was employed there. Unfortunately, a bullet in the line of duty has ruined Simon’s knee and his prospects in law enforcement. He walks the trail near Elliott’s home for his physical therapy, and he admires Elliott’s running on the trail and his little library.

The attraction between Elliott and Simon is mutual, despite the difficulties of their lives. Simon still wants to remain closeted, and Elliott is considering job offers that could take him away from this small town respite. In consideration of these conflicts, they decide to try something low-key and no strings, but that’s a sure-fire way to find the love you’d been seeking all along. There’s a little bit of steam and a little bit of humor–especially the first date scene which is laugh out loud. Through the growth of these characters we get to see how a community of supporters can change the bleakest of moments and experiences. And how books can change all our lives for the better. When I first read this one, I thought the bigoted neighbor was over-the-top and a bit of a caricature, but seeing this character in light of the way some folks are behaving in real life, regarding the pandemic, and racial injustice and being just uncivil in the highest degree, I could fully envision this character anew and recognize him for the danger he poses in our world today.

That said, it’s a pretty low angst romance with a bit of steam and a believable HEA for Simon and Elliott. It was an enjoyable read back when it came out, and again when I delved back for a TBT.

Interested? You can find THE LITTLE LIBRARY on Goodreads, Amazon, and Apple Books. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Kim Fielding lives in California and travels as often as she can manage. A professor by day, at night she rushes into a phone booth to change into her author costume (which involves comfy clothes instead of Spandex and is, sadly, lacking a cape). Her superpowers include the ability to write nearly anywhere, often while simultaneously doling out assistance to her family. Her favorite word to describe herself is “eclectic” and she finally got that fourth tattoo.

Catch up to Kim on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Beating the Storm SEND LAWYERS, GUNS AND ROSES–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing an excerpt, review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance suspense novel newly re-released from Heloise West. SEND LAWYERS, GUNS, AND ROSES is the sequel to HITTING BLACK ICE, and really should be read in order.

Catch the review, excerpt and enter to win a $10 GC below.
About the book:
When Hunter and Alex are given the vacation of a lifetime, it’s a chance for them to pay attention to romance and get out of the path of danger. The tiny Caribbean island of Saba is gorgeous, the first to have marriage equality, and the Sabans are the nicest people on earth.

There’s lots of rum poolside for relaxing and a room with a mirror on the ceiling for passion. Hot karaoke nights, cold beer, and new friends.

But their new friends Orfeo and Max, and Max’s sister Talisha, share a troubling secret. Alex and Hunter want to help. As a hurricane bears down on them, a dead body surfaces, and a purple backpack loaded with stolen jewels leads a pair of dangerous men to the island.

Alex would rather poke his own eyes out with a pointy stick than call on his old enemy Nick Truman for help; he’d also do anything to keep Hunter out of danger. But even his nemesis can’t reach them now.

Once again, they only have each other to depend on as their paradise is about to become hell on earth.

How about a little taste?

Alex
The door closed behind the last customer, and the noisy bar returned to silence, a booze-fumed, tacky-underfoot silence where the small noises Alex made seemed twice as loud. His ears rang as he picked up the broom to sweep out the crap on the floor behind the bar.

The front door opened again, and his shoulders tensed. He cursed himself for not locking it when he’d shoved out the last drunk patron, distracted by the e-mail he’d received. A rookie mistake. He groped under the bar for the bat the owner had urged him to use if he suspected he needed to.

“Excuse me,” the man in the doorway said. He’d been in the bar earlier, an Asian man along with a rather bland, nondescript white guy.

Alex looked closer, not letting go of the bat. “We’re closed. Need me to call a cab for you?”

The man appeared innocuous, but innocuous-looking people could still be trouble. The instincts Alex had honed all those months on the run had stayed with him. Director Flint’s warnings about retaliation flashed through his mind.

The guy opened his mouth to answer Alex’s question, but someone shoved him from behind before he could speak, and he stumbled. Alex grabbed the neck of the bat.

“Didja ask him? Is it him?” The pushy friend pressed himself forward a few steps, far drunker than his buddy.

“We’re. Closed.” Alex threw some menace behind the authority in his voice and revealed the bat. The Asian man flinched and grabbed at his friend, who fished in his pocket for something.

“It’s him. You. Boy Blue,” the drunk man burbled.

Alex froze, shifting gears. He tightened his grip on the bat. Anger fueled his ass up and over the bar to land a few feet in front of the drunk who pulled out a phone, aimed it in his direction, and blinded him with the flash.

“You fucker!” Alex reached out to slap the phone away—too late, because the man had thrust it back into his pocket. Alex smacked the bat against the tiles on the floor. It made a sharp, solid noise, and they both looked at him with drunken, slow-motion surprise. “Get out before I call the cops!”

“Asshole!” The first guy grabbed his friend again, shoved him out the door, and slammed it shut behind him.

Alex locked it this time and leaned against it, heart racing. When it began to slow, he took a deep breath and another, and his temper faded. He had a date tonight, and if he didn’t move his ass, he’d be late. Cranking up Dropkick Murphys to exorcise the intruders, Alex cleaned the place out in record time. Once done, he grabbed his phone and clicked on the video text. Happy Birthday! The handmade sign filled the screen. Alex smiled.

Bare feet on their unmade bed. Hunter wiggled his toes, and Alex laughed. The phone camera traveled along Hunter’s shins to his knees, all dusted with brown and copper-tinged hair, and as he bent his left knee, the sheet fell from his muscular thigh. Hey, the pointed birthday hat covered his… Hunter stretched like a big cat, and the tip of the hat rocked as he adjusted his hips. Alex swallowed hard, mesmerized as the camera swept across Hunter’s hips and flat belly, up the opposite side of his body, past an erect pink nipple, the tattoo, and the hairy armpit, along his biceps, which he flexed, then forearm to wrist and the silver bracelet around it. Alex’s heart gave a little lurch, beating faster. His boyfriend had handcuffed himself naked to the bed for his birthday.

Oh, honey. Alex groaned, grabbed his wallet and keys from the cash register, and ran for the door.

He jogged out into the warm June night, the sky clear and sparkling over Delingham as he jumped into the car. He hoped to get home without wrecking the care while Hunter’s video replayed in his head. His blood boiled for Hunter.

He drove through the quiet streets. Alex hadn’t wanted to come back to Delingham at all, but Hunter’s family had made sure the rent got paid on his apartment. At least they had a safe place to go to when Hunter recovered from Dale Markham’s accidental gunshot wound. Dale Markham, former FBI agent, rotting in jail—someplace hot, Alex hoped, good practice for when he got to hell. Nick Truman, too, but a big black hole existed where he’d once been. Maybe they had put him in Witness Protection like Nick had hoped. The case against the two men who had murdered Alex’s uncle had become a nonissue, since before they could be taken into custody, someone had killed them.

Nothing like thinking about those things to defeat his raging hard-on, so he blasted out Dropkick Murphys again to fuel up the testosterone.

“Here I come, baby,” he murmured.

Not finding a parking spot near the apartment building set him seething and grinding his teeth. His lot in life had improved, but not his temper. He dropped the keys twice on the front stairs and made it through the door before he considered alerting Hunter. Alex texted—coming up now—and smiled to think again of Hunter there, waiting, naked, and handcuffed to the bed. They’d talked about playing like this but hadn’t got around to it yet. In the video, Hunter had kept the wounded leg covered; he hated the scar, the asymmetry where they’d taken part of the muscle during surgery. Doing better after a pretty deep depression before his physical therapist motivated him on the road to getting back in shape.

Yeah, we’re doing good.

Alex kicked away his shoes and whipped off his socks. “It’s me!” In the bedroom, both the music and the lights were low. Alex opened the door, grinning from ear to ear. Hunter grinned back at him, naked on the bed, the party hat on his head tipped at a rakish angle. A second set of cuffs dangled off the tips of his fingers. Alex pulled his shirt up and over his head, wrecking his hair, but he didn’t care. Hunter’s eyes were on him; Alex wanted Hunter drinking him in as much as Alex drank in Hunter. Alex had set himself up with a rigorous workout schedule to prep for the physical part of the special agent application process. He didn’t know for sure if he’d get accepted, but the real payoff lay in Hunter’s eyes.

Alex worked the zipper of his jeans. “Have you been waiting long?” He stripped off his jeans and underwear.

“I’m fine. Come and have your birthday cake.” Hunter laughed, the sexy, dirty laugh Alex loved. Hunter’s whole body moved in a sinuous, inviting wiggle, and the cuffs rattled. Alex’s cock and heart led him right into the bed like the needle on a compass pointing true north. He straddled Hunter, their legs tangling together in the sheets. He ran his hands over Hunter’s bulging biceps; he and Hunter had been working out together.

Hunter, his dream of love, impossible, unreachable. His selfishness for staying with Hunter kept him awake at night, tossing and turning, his head filled with fear. Vargas or Truman would take Hunter from him, from the world, and he’d be left to live out his days without Hunter, knowing he had been the one to cause his death.

Alex kissed Hunter to burn away his fears. When he put his hand down on the bed to brace himself, he touched the second set of cuffs. “I can’t believe you did this for me.”

“I guess you liked the video?”

Alex froze for a moment, like he had in the bar when the drunk guy had called him Boy Blue. Looking around, he found the webcam on the nightstand beside Hunter’s laptop and moved it into the top drawer.

“Ah,” Hunter said. “I thought you might want to make a sex tape, you know, for us?” He smiled cute and sexy, but Alex shook his head.

“I want my cake.” He nibbled Hunter’s neck.

“Did something happen in the bar tonight?” Hunter’s eyes were so light blue they appeared gray, but this close they were dark with concern. “You looked worried there for a minute.”

“Nothing to worry about,” Alex assured him, hoping he spoke the truth.

“Okay?” Hunter bucked his hips under his. “Come on, baby. Let’s go. I’ve been lying here thinking about you and all the things you’re going to do to me when you get home.”

My Review:
This is the second book in a series and is best enjoyed when read in order.

Alex and Hunter are two men healing from a tragic event. (Alex had been wanted by the FBI due to fabricated charges and double-agent shenanigans. Hunter was shot in the kerfuffle, and is still recuperating.) They met when Alex was working at a busy, urban hospital emergency room together. Hunter is a Physician’s Assistant, though he hasn’t worked in six months due to recovery from his injury. Alex had his graduate school dreams derailed by the FBI manhunt and has since found a new purpose: joining the FBI to help root out bad agents, if he gets accepted.

In the meantime, they accept a trip to the isolated Caribbean isle of Saba to spend time with old friends of Alex’s mothers. Reunited with a childhood friend, Orfeo, Alex’s budding Feeb senses begin to tingle–particularly when Orfeo’s partner Max and his sister Talisha seem to get freaked out by Alex’s desire to join the FBI. Hunter can’t help noticing how agitated they become, too, so it’s not only Alex getting worried about his friend’s welfare. This is not an exaggeration; the island’s first murder in a decade occurs a few days later, and the subject was a PI staying at Orfeo’s hotel. Despite their worries, Alex and Hunter make a lot of headway into their own sexytimes–and Hunter considers making some serious declarations…of the marital type. If he can muster the nerve, that is.

As a hurricane bears down on Saba the whole mystery becomes infinitely more deadly. And not just because of the weather. Max and Talisha have Really Bad Guys on their tail who are probably only the tip of the gargantuan iceberg of their problems. Expect a lot of hiding, scrabbling for incriminating details, and sexytimes. Oh, also, a hurricane, two desperate chases, dangerous criminals, and collaboration with known felons to hopefully make it out alive. It’s an intriguing romantic suspense, and I’m sure we’ll see more of Hunter and Alex in another book, likely set in Quantico, VA!

Interested? You can find SEND LAWYERS, GUNS, AND ROSES on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Heloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mayhem, dreams about moving to a villa in Tuscany. She loves history, mysteries, and romance of all flavors. She travels and gardens with her partner of 10 years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine.

You can find Heloise on her blog, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr and Goodreads.

Now Available M4M–Excerpt and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share an excerpt and giveaway for a newly re-released M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. M4M explores the darker side of dating in the gay world, with apps and images attempting to connect lonely souls. 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:
Three great stories. One great love.
VGL Male Seeks Same

Poor Ethan Schwartz. It seems like he will never find that special someone. At age forty-two, he’s still alone, his bed still empty, and his 42-inch HDTV overworked. He’s tried the bars and other places where gay men are supposed to find one another, but for Ethan, it never works out. He wonders if it ever will. Should he get a cat?

But all of that is about to change…

NEG UB2

Poor Ethan Schwartz. He’s just had the most shocking news a gay man can get—he’s been diagnosed HIV positive. Up until today, he thought his life was on a perfect course. He had a job he loved and something else he thought he’d never have: Brian, a new man, one whom Ethan thought of as “the one.” The one who would complete him, who would take his life from a lonely existence to a place filled with laughter, hot sex, and romance.

But along with the fateful diagnosis comes another shock—is Brian who he thinks he is?

Status Updates

Ethan finds himself alone once more and wonders if life is worth living, even one with a cat. Via a Facebook friend request, an old nemesis appears, wanting to be friends. Ethan is suspicious but intrigued because it seems this old acquaintance has turned his life around…and the changes just might hold the key to Ethan getting a new lease on life…and love.

How about a little taste?

Ethan Schwartz was alone. At forty-two, the state of being alone was almost like having another person by his side, a person he was growing to know more and more intimately with each passing night in his too-big-for-one bed. In fact, Ethan sometimes wondered if being alone was his natural state of being. Perhaps it was simply his fate to spend his evenings in front of his brand-new forty-two-inch Toshiba HDTV, watching classic 1940s movies from an endless queue at Netflix.

He wondered if his life would ever change. Maybe he would continue to go to work at his job as a publicist for several Chicago theater companies, come home about seven o’clock, nuke a Lean Cuisine, fall asleep in front of the TV, and repeat the routine until he expired.

He had thought, as he tossed in bed at night, in those endlessly stretching hours slogging their way toward dawn, of getting a dog or even a cat. He envisioned himself walking into his apartment door at night, greeted by a French bulldog’s grin or the slightly harlotish leg rub of a Maine coon. But an animal just didn’t seem like—well, it just didn’t seem like enough.

In the above scenario, he also imagined a man coming in the same door minutes later and Ethan getting the four-legged companion riled up by saying “Daddy’s home!” No, Ethan knew—in his heart of hearts—he wanted an animal of the two-legged variety, one who would talk back to him, one he could spend long autumn weekends in Door County with, one he could take out to dinner parties and bring home to his family at Christmas. He wanted an animal that wouldn’t shed and would need little housebreaking. Well, at least not much. At forty-two, Ethan had lowered expectations.

He also dreaded the thought of subjecting some poor tabby or Boston terrier to a solitary existence much like his own. After all, the stand-in-for-a-boyfriend pet would spend most of its time roaming the apartment by his or her lonesome and staring mournfully out the window because of Ethan’s long hours at work.

He knew from experience that subjecting an unsuspecting animal to an existence akin to his own would be cause for calling out the SPCA.

So Ethan would have to go on dreaming of meeting Mr. Right in human form and continue to watch as those dreams faded into wispy gossamer as the years relentlessly marched toward old age. Already Ethan found it necessary to use a moisturizer on his face and a depilatory on his back. His dark brown hair he kept buzzed close to his skull in an effort to minimize its traitorous thinning. Starting at around age thirty-two, every year he’d added a pound or two to his five-foot-ten-inch frame, and every year that pound or two became harder and harder to lose, in spite of long, sweaty hours on the treadmill or a diet consisting chiefly of the frozen culinary delights of the people at Smart Choice, Lean Cuisine, or South Beach Diet.

Heading toward middle age sucked…especially when you were doing it alone.

Tonight Ethan dug in the Doritos bag for one remaining chip of decent size while glued to the adventures of Ugly Betty. Why couldn’t he at least find a nice nerd, as Betty once had? Why couldn’t he at least have a little drama at work, like the Mexican magazine assistant faced every single day of her charmed life? Ethan’s days were spent trying to chat up theater critics in hopes of persuading them to write a review or feature on whatever play he was pushing that week. Or he holed up in his cube and wrote the same press release over and over, with only the titles, venues, and dates changed. When he had taken the job ten years ago, he’d thought the free nights out at the theater would be a great way to get dates. He’d assumed he would meet lots of handsome actors, and they would all want to cozy up to the publicist who could get them so much press.

He’d thought wrong.

Ethan got up and shut off the TV and threw his Doritos bag in the trash. He stretched and looked out the window. His move to this North Side Chicago neighborhood had been another misguided romantic maneuver, one that started full of hope and confidence and had been dashed by cold reality. He felt even more isolated and alone as he looked down from his studio apartment on Halsted Street, the blocks between Belmont and Addison that Chicagoans referred to as Boystown. When he had rented the little studio above a gay bookstore a decade ago, he had reasoned that wrangling a date would be no more difficult than hanging out his third story window with a smoldering gaze and a come-hither pout.

He had reasoned wrong.

Shortly after Ethan had moved in and hung his first Herb Ritts poster, Boystown had begun quickly gentrifying itself. Most of the gays moved farther north to Andersonville or even Rogers Park. Sure, gay bars still lined the street, and the teeming throngs continued to taunt him with luscious examples of masculinity on the prowl, but it had been a long time since one of the minions had made his way up the creaking stairs to Ethan’s studio.

Oh, he supposed he could throw on some jeans, T-shirt, and his Asics and run across the street to Roscoe’s or any of the other watering holes lining the rainbow-pyloned avenue, but he had been to that dry well too many times to even consider it. Every year, it seemed, there was a new crop of gorgeous twentysomethings laughing and drinking…and practiced in the art of ignoring nice but nondescript men like Ethan. One could only endure so long the hours of standing against a wall, Stella Artois in hand, trying to look approachable and then never being approached. It didn’t do much for the ego.

And it didn’t do much for the wallet. Or the self-esteem. Or certainly the romantic, or even sex, life.

No, the bars had long ago lost their allure, becoming more and more an exclusive club for younger gays looking to hook up, or dance, or text message each other…or whatever other ways they found these days to make Ethan feel old. Besides, Ethan hoped for a more meaningful connection.

And with each gray hair, each crow’s-foot and laugh line stamped upon his features, he despaired of ever finding it.

He padded into the little bathroom and gasped as a cockroach beat a hasty retreat into a crack between the baseboard and linoleum-tiled floor. He shook his head and thought that even the bugs wanted nothing to do with him.

He looked at his tired face in the mirror and laughed. “Jesus,” he said to his reflection, “you’re pathetic.” He held his aging mug up to the light cast by the overhead fixture and said, “What’s wrong with everybody? You’re not so old. You’re not so bad.” And indeed, Ethan spoke the truth. He looked every bit of his forty-two years, but that was still pretty young, wasn’t it? Didn’t somebody at the office just yesterday say something about forty being the new thirty? And his face, while certainly not Brad Pitt sexy, was pleasing, with a nice cleft in his chin, a strong nose, and deep blue eyes framed by long black lashes. His lips were a bit thin—a gift from his German father—and he could probably use some sun to give his pasty complexion a little pizzazz, but all in all, it wasn’t a face one would run from, screaming into the night. It was every bit as cute as a Tom Hanks or Will Ferrell.

Ethan pulled his toothbrush from the medicine cabinet and decorated its bristles with orange gel—when had toothpaste gone orange?—and gave his teeth a savage brushing, even though his dentist always admonished him about that, telling him a slow, gentle course was the way, lest he wanted to erode his gums entirely away. But Ethan had never been able to dissuade himself from the idea that the harder the brush, the whiter the teeth.

He spit and wiped his mouth on the hand towel and headed back into the common area to pull out his queen-size—hush!—futon for another night of lonely slumber.

Tomorrow, he thought, he had to do something about his depressing state. And he did not mean moving out of Illinois. Somewhere there had to be a companion for him, just waiting. His dream man wasn’t in all the places he had fruitlessly checked, like the bars, backstage, and in his office. But he was out there, and like Ethan, he too was pulling the covers up by himself and thinking the answer to the riddle of how to escape a solitary existence was just within reach.

Just before he fell asleep, he wondered if his mystery man also cynically told himself the same thing every night.

“Shut up!” Ethan cried into the darkness. And then whispered, muffled into his pillow, “Tomorrow will be different. I just know it.”

I won’t be reviewing this, because I’m too strapped for time with teaching remotely, and getting my little ones on the remote learning cycle, but I would have if I could have!!

Interested? You can find M4M 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.

Making That Connection BETTER THAN PEOPLE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Roan Parrish. BETTER THAN PEOPLE features a temporary invalid with a pack of rescue animals and the deeply introverted man whose assistance with cat feeding and dog walking melts his icy heart. Previous books I’ve enjoyed from this author include RIVEN and REND and RAZE, all rock romances, so they were very different to this sweet and tender story.

About the book:
It’s not long before their pet-centric arrangement sparks a person-centric desire…

Simon Burke has always preferred animals to people. When the countdown to adopting his own dog is unexpectedly put on hold, Simon turns to the PetShare app to find the fluffy TLC he’s been missing. Meeting a grumpy children’s book illustrator who needs a dog walker isn’t easy for the man whose persistent anxiety has colored his whole life, but Jack Matheson’s menagerie is just what Simon needs.

Four dogs, three cats and counting. Jack’s pack of rescue pets is the only company he needs. But when a bad fall leaves him with a broken leg, Jack is forced to admit he needs help. That the help comes in the form of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen is a complicated, glorious surprise.

Being with Jack—talking, walking, making out—is a game changer for Simon. And Simon’s company certainly eases the pain of recovery for Jack. But making a real relationship work once Jack’s cast comes off will mean compromise, understanding, and lots of love.

My Review:
Jack Matheson is an introverted illustrator of children’s books. He lives alone with his pack of rescued animals–dogs and cats alike, near his older brother Charlie in rural Wyoming. Jack met a man in college, a Davis, who became a friend. Knowing Jack was a good artist, Davis asked him to illustrate a school project, then a story to celebrate his sister’s baby. And, that developed into a partnership after college. Unfortunately, Davis took Jack’s idea for a story and shopped it as his own, and Jack’s been in a depression- and rage-fueled block that has robbed him of his lifelong passion of art for almost the past year.

One night Jack’s out walking his dog pack when skittish shenanigans leave Jack in the bottom of a ditch with a badly broken leg. He can’t manage his animals’ care while in a cast on crutches, so Jack seeks help via an app called PetShare, and that’s when Jack’s life starts to turn around.

Simon Burke is beautiful. Like an angel almost in Jack’s opinion. But Simon has troubles with his intense shyness. A single man, he lives as a companion to his recently widowed grandma, and owns his own graphic design business. When he agrees to assist Jack in the care of his cats and dogs, Simon is almost unable to even knock at Jack’s door he’s so scared. But the animals love Simon. And Simon finds that he is able to talk to them as surrogates for people. Simon finds Jack to be utterly sexy, not that he’s able to say so. Yet, the needs of the animals put Jack and Simon into close proximity twice daily, and with exposure comes bravery, on Simon’s part—and Jack seems to find him a muse worth sketching. Their conversation is a battle, almost, to see if they can find common ground enough to confess their attraction, and Jack makes a key choice to have Simon text him when he’s too overwhelmed to speak, even if they are sitting side by side on Jack’s couch.

The close they become, the more intense Simon’s shyness—because Jack’s healing and he soon won’t need Simon around. And why would such a sexy man want a shy, recluse of a partner anyway?

This really is a special story with two men who’ve been emotionally wounded by some of the people who should have most cared for them. Jack’s relationship with Charlie is so key, He really loves his elder brother who became his guardian when their parents died. And as close as they are, it takes this big setback for Jack to challenge himself to get to know Charlie, who has become a rather solitary man. Was that because of his duties to his brother? And how can Jack show Simon how much he loves him, if Simon wants to shut him out to protect his fragile heart.

They are some very yummy sexy times, as Jack teaches Simon all he can about pleasing a partner. I really loved both Jack and Simon, and all their crazy fur-babies. They had such cute personalities, especially Pirate the cat who thinks she’s the leader of the dogs. I think she may have inspired sweet Simon to stretch himself into social situations he was barely able to manage. I loved how both Simon and Jack grew in this story. Jack learned to trust both himself and others again, and he also stretched himself both personally and professionally in very new ways. And, Simon gets way more than his first kiss from Jack, who truly loves him properly. It’s delightful and endearing. Highly recommend!

Interested? You can find BETTER THAN PEOPLE on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia, where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.

When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique. She is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.

You can find Roan online on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

New Beginnings in TRADE DEADLINE–A Review

Hi there! Today, I’m sharing a review for a new M/M contemporary hockey romance from the writing team of Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn. TRADE DEADLINE featuers a veteran hockey player whose tranfer to a failing team doesn’t bring the professional results he was looking for, but does reconnect him to his childhood love. I really enjoyed PERMANENT INK and OFF THE ICE by this team and I wasn’t let down with this new story.

About the book:
It’s a reunion to remember…

Daniel “Bellzie” Bellamy should be on top of the world—a Stanley Cup is the perfect topper to his fourteen-year NHL career. But despite the post-win high, something’s missing. When the chance to play for his hometown team, the Miami Thunder, comes along, he’s open to it. And when he runs into an old friend from his past soon after he makes the move, he wonders if it might be kismet.

Micah Kelly never thought he’d see his childhood crush—and first kiss—again. Danny Bellamy moved on to bigger and better things when they were teenagers, and the idea that Micah’s relationship with the professional hockey player could be anything more than one-sided Instagram thirst seems too good to be true.

Maybe too good to be true is the new reality, though. As the season goes on, Micah teaches Daniel to surf, and Daniel introduces Micah to his lovable pack of rescue dogs and the world of being a hockey boyfriend. Life is good. But when things on the ice don’t go as planned, they’ll have to decide if their rediscovered romance is built to last.

My Review:
Daniel Bellamy is the captain of the Stanley Cup winning Atlanta Venom, and he’s evaluating his life and career goals. Though he’s satisfied, he’s not sure that he’s truly happy. He’s in his mid 30s, recently amicably divorced, and feeling a bit unsettled–especially as he’s really beginning to embrace his bisexual side. He has two young kids, and his ex-wife is beautiful and lovely, but really she’s his best friend after all these years together.

Daniel is presented with an opportunity to move from the Venom to his childhood hometown of Miami, to play for the Thunder, a perennial cellar-dwelling team. For Daniel, it would bring him close to his retired parents, and allow him to share his experience on a top team with guys who are struggling to make it to the playoffs. His ex is willing to relocate her home, too, so they can continue to co-parent their kids. She likes the idea of having the grandparents nearby, and they all dote on Daniel’s rescued dogs–of which there are many.

So, they all make the move. And…Daniel’s new team is a challenge. There are interpersonal issues with his new captain–who thinks Daniel is there to take over the team. The stands are either empty or filled with fans of the opposing team, and the coaching staff seems to be on autopilot. In short, Daniel is having the worst season of hockey ever–even if his personal stats aren’t horrible. One bright spot, however, is the reconnection he makes with his childhood best friend, Micah Kelly. Daniel had a fierce crush on Micah as a teen, but he moved to Chicago to play juniors hockey, and he’s not been back too often since. They lost touch, and Micah blamed himself for taking a chance and kissing Daniel just before he left.

Micah is gay, and was disowned by his parents in high school when he was outed. He worked hard to complete high school while couch surfing, and paid his way through both college and grad school to become a marine biologist. He currently manages a refuge and rescue aquarium where sea animals injured in the wild get brought for treatment and rehabilitation, or permanent care if they can’t be safely returned to the wild. Micah has struggled to find a steady relationship, because he works long hours and his partners weren’t always respectful of that. And, he’s kinda always had a residual crush on Daniel, who he’s been able to keep tabs on via social media. Their reconnection was a bit of kismet–Daniel seeing him in the nearly empty stands of a game–and their friendship picks up easily. Almost too easily.

Micah has abandonment issues–because of his family abandoning him. He doesn’t want to get too close to Daniel, only to have him get traded, or worse: return to his family. It takes a bit of convincing, actually for Micah to take Daniel’s interest and attraction seriously. Daniel is not a player, in the sexual sense. He craves stability and a long-standing love. He will always love his ex-wife, they both agree it will only be platonic. And, the career move may be a reality–with the Thunder still having chemistry and play issues, they might trade Daniel to another team for financial or player considerations. So, while Daniel’s personal life seems to be soaring, his professional life is a hard slog. The one saving grace there is an entry into pee-wee hockey, which his 5 y/o daughter seems to love. And, the juniors team is really hoping to meet Daniel and gain insight into getting into hockey as a career.

This is a really sweet reconnection romance for Daniel and Micah. They have insecurities and vulnerabilities, and they do the hard work of discussing them, once their fling shapes up to be something quite more permanent. I loved watching this blended family share experiences and holidays together. Micah really fits Daniel’s life and friend spheres, as well. Daniel’s decision-making, as the trade deadline approaches, is the main focus of the conflict, but Micah has a big decision t make, too. Will he be happy having Daniel in his life even part-time, if a trade takes him far from their home in Miami? There’s a lot of good people in this story, and some yummy sexytimes, as Micah shares his own expertise in the art of loving a man. I enjoyed this story, and couldn’t stop turning the pages, thoroughly charmed by the low angst and total sweetness of these men falling in love. The epilogue is as delicious an HEA as I’ve recently read.

If you like hockey romance, this might be a good pick for you.

Interested? You can find TRADE DEADLINE on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

About the Authors:
Avon Gale lives in a liberal Midwestern college town, where she spends her days getting heavily invested in everything from craft projects to video games. She likes road trips by car, rock concerts, thunderstorms, IPAs, Kentucky bourbon and tattoos. As a queer author, Avon is committed to providing happy endings for all and loves to tell stories that focus on found families, strong and open communication, and friendship. She loves writing about quirky people who might not be perfect, but always find a place where they belong. In her former life, Avon wrote fanfiction at her desk while ostensibly doing work in non-profit fundraising for public radio and women’s liberal arts education, and worked on her books in between haircuts and highlights as a stylist. Now she’s a full-time writer, delighted to be able to tell stories for a living.

Avon is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.

You can find Avon on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest or sign up for her newsletter.

Piper Vaughn is a queer Latinx author and longtime romance reader. Since writing their first love story at age eleven, they’ve known writing in some form was exactly what they wanted to do. A reader to the core, Piper loves nothing more than getting lost in a great book.

Piper grew up in a diverse neighborhood in Chicago and loves putting faces and characters of every ethnicity in their stories, making their fictional worlds as colorful as the real one. Above all, Piper believes there’s no one way to have an HEA, and every person deserves to see themselves reflected on the page.

You can find Piper online on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Necessary Upheaval for THE ASSISTANT–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from John Tristan. THE ASSISTANT features a down-on-his-luck veteran of Hawaiian descent making life simultaneously more comfortable and more difficult for his new boss, a wealthy trans-man with fibromyalgia.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Burned out ex-soldier Nick Kurosawa has drifted from job to job since he lost his family in a car crash. Lately, he’s been working on and off as a bouncer, barely managing to cover his bills; an opportunity for steady, well-paying work is just what he needs to get his life back in order.

Jacob Umber, a secretive philanthropist, gives him that opportunity. Umber has fibromyalgia and needs a personal assistant to help him with the tasks of daily living—someone strong, adaptable, and, most of all, willing to let Umber take the lead.

It seems a perfect opportunity for Nick. More than anything, he craves guidance and a purpose, and Umber gives him that in spades. When Nick starts craving more, it seems an impossible complication, but even the reserved Umber can’t deny Nick’s talent—and need—for following his orders. But Umber’s shadowy past holds secrets that could undo their fragile new relationship and any hope Nick has of a normal life.

How about a little taste?

It was a clear autumn night, with the moon low and yellow above the city. Between its fullness and the lights, only a few stars could be made out, pinpoints in the raw black silk of the night. Nick stood with his fists balled above the man breathing hard in the gutter. A trickle of spilled beer ran into his hair, foaming like shampoo. He smelled sour, of sweat and fear.

“Jesus, man!” The man’s companion—a skinny young guy with a circular Band-Aid over one eye, like a discount pirate—crouched beside him. “Somebody call an ambulance! Call the cops!”

“By all means,” Nick said. He forced himself to take a step back, unclench his fists. “Let’s call the cops and tell them the whole story.”

Discount Pirate slit his eye at him and helped his companion to his feet. The man was dazed but seemed unhurt. Still—he could easily have a concussion.

Nick hesitated. “Maybe we should call an ambulance—”

“Forget it,” the man said thickly and spat into the gutter. In the neon and moonlight, the blood in his mouth looked black. His eyes met Nick’s, and this was the worst part: they understood each other perfectly. He’d wanted to start a fight, and Nick had taken the bait. Another night, it would have fallen out differently.

“Let’s get out of here,” Discount Pirate said, putting a proprietary arm around his companion’s waist and dragging him off into the darkness.

Nick let out a shaky breath. The street was empty, now; if he was lucky, this wouldn’t get back to Merritt, who owned the Hellhole. He hadn’t hired Nick to start fights but to stop them as gently as possible—de-escalation, not macho bullshit. The Hellhole was the only gay bar in Westerley, which meant it drew both the occasional snickering asshole and its share of ex-boyfriend drama. Merrick wouldn’t thank him for bad publicity.

“Jesus, Nick.”

Fuck. This was the last thing he needed. He turned toward the familiar voice. “Hey, Alex.”

Alexander Finn—his friend, once-upon-a-time fuck-buddy, and self-appointed social worker—had come up out of the Hellhole at just the wrong time. Sweat was still beaded on his pale forehead, cooling rapidly in the night air. “What happened?”

“Didn’t know you were down here tonight,” Nick said, affecting a breezy tone. “Must have been here before my shift started.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “I know you’re not jealous, so you’re trying to deflect. What happened?” He took out his cigarette case—silver, engraved—and popped one into his bow-lipped mouth, then offered one to Nick.

He reached for it, then hesitated. “Haven’t smoked in months.”

Alex gave him a skeptical look. “Come on.”

“Vaping doesn’t count.”

He laughed softly. “I’ll give you that one.” He snapped the case closed and tucked it away. “Talk.”

“I don’t know.” Nick ran his hands through his hair. “The guy just. Got under my skin. It’s like he knew how to push my buttons.”

“You’re not supposed to have buttons while you’re on the door.”

“Fuck you. Give me a cigarette.”

He did; they smoked together in the neon-lit dark.

“This job…” Alex chewed on his thoughts for a moment. “It’s not good for you. This isn’t the first time you’ve let someone…push your buttons.”

Alex was right—he’d never let himself take it this far before, but there were more than a few times over the last few weeks when a sneer or a snicker or a muttered insult had gotten under his skin and launched him right in someone’s face, teeth bared, eyes glittering. His fuse frayed shorter every week he was out here. He took a long, slow draw from the cigarette and laughed bitterly. “Well. I still need the rent paid.”

“How long until your shift is over?”

Nick grinned sideways at Alex. “Why, you want to take me home?”

He sighed and shook his head, but it had raised a smile. “Just think you could do with a good night’s sleep. After that…” Alex hesitated a moment. “Can you take the next few days off?”

“I’m not back on shift until Monday evening.”

Alex nodded and took a card out of his pocket—his business card, Nick recognized—and then fished out a pen. “Turn around,” he said.

Nick did. Alex leaned on him, using his back as a desk to write on. He could feel the scratch of the pen through his shirt.

When Alex was done, he handed him the card. Nick frowned at it. There was an address on it, a place in the financial district, and a name: Jacob Umber. “What’s this?”

“Someone—someone I know is looking to hire. I thought…well, you already have a job, and I had someone else lined up, but—”

“You always have someone lined up for something, don’t you?” There was a slight edge of bitterness to Nick’s words. Alex networked—he always had a side hustle lined up for someone, for the washouts and burnouts, the ex-cops and ex-military, the bikers and drifters he seemed to draw into his orbit. His type: like Nick. “Is this meant to be charity? Because you can pass it on to one of your other tricks. I don’t need it.”

“Call it what you will. And you’re not a trick, Nicholas.” Alex leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, chastely. “You’re my friend.”

Nick swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and stuffed the card in the back pocket of his jeans. “Yeah, all right, fine. There’s no number on the card—am I meant to just show up?”

“I wrote hours on there,” Alex said. “Nine to three. Weekdays.”

“Right.”

“Nick…” He seemed to be struggling with his words. “This isn’t a guaranteed job. I can get you a way in, but you’ll have to impress.”

“Come on, Alex.” Nick flashed a smile. “Don’t you think I can pull out the stops when I need to?”

He laughed and shook his head. “I know you can. Good luck, Nick.”

“Thanks. No, really…thank you.”

He nodded and left him on the empty street. Nick took his vape out of his pocket and sucked down a nicotine cloud; he noticed his hands were shaking. There was a subtle ache in his knuckles, where they’d collided with the man’s cheekbone. He felt a tiredness deeper than exhaustion, something like lead in his bones, and on top of that, a thin hot skin of queasy arousal. He didn’t know if he wanted to sleep for a year or get fucked up against the wall of the nearest alley. Well, he told himself, right now it’s going to be neither. He smoked until his hands stopped shaking and then waited for the sky to lighten—for his shift to be over—so he could go home.

My Review:
Nick Kurosawa is a former army man, trying to maintain his cool despite his inner trauma. He still suffers the loss of his family, even though it’s been several years. He is working as a bouncer at a gay bar, and is bored to tears–and also struggling to make sure he doesn’t get too physical with the troublemakers he encounters.

Nick’s friend and some-time sexual partner Alex recommends making contact with Mr. Jacob Umber, a wealthy curiosity shop owner who needs a personal assistant. Mr. Umber is older, but not elderly. Fastidious and formal, it’s the fibromyalgia that’s slowing this feisty transman down. Nick, who hasn’t had any real spark with a sexual partner in a while, is slowly finding an inordinate attraction to Mr. Umber’s commanding nature and uncanny sense of knowing. It’s clear early on that Mr. Umber has secrets buried in his past, and astute Nick isn’t even surprised when an FBI agent comes a-knocking.

The mystery of Mr. Umber is tantalizing, and his commanding presence moves easily from the workspace to the bedroom–once these lonely men find their way through some difficult but frank discussions. Nick is reticent to ask for his needs to be met, and Jacob needs to pry these stipulations from Nick before he will engage. Their affair might be short-lived, however, if the FBI won’t back down.

This story is quiet, yet enthralling. It had the hallmarks of a good suspense thriller, without all the gore. I really enjoyed how things unfolded, with Nick being the faithful attendant and Jacob his one true connection to fading humanity, for a bit. There is some conflict, naturally, but it is the kind that really pushes the MC–Nick–to grow in new and exciting ways. It was good to see Nick’s life change for the better when he learns to live without the hangups of depression by seeking proper treatment for perhaps the first time in his life. Though he’s unsettled by the situation with Jacob, he’s one hundred percent invested in sticking by his man. The end has a nice little twist, and it’s a definite HEA situation, but again in a quiet way. There are some sexytimes in the story but they are mild and mostly more about the domination that Nick craves than hot and heavy moments.

Interested? You can find THE ASSISTANT 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:
John Tristan is a multinational gay nerd, currently living in Manchester, UK. When he’s not writing, he works in the voluntary sector; when he’s not doing either, he’s probably playing video games or tabletop RPGs. After his mother banned books at the table during mealtimes, he read the backs of sauce bottles. His stories are sometimes romantic, sometimes erotic, often speculative, and always queer.

You can catch up with John on his website and twitter.

Rebuilding Lives ON THE SQUARE–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and giveaway for a F/F contemporary romance from Brenda Murphy. ON THE SQUARE features single mom who’s been burned by lovers in the past trying hard to not fall for her newest contracting client…the single, superstar chef sleeping in her basement.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the giveaway!
About the book:
Dropped from her television show after a very public split with her cheating ex, celebrity chef Mai Li wants nothing more than to reopen her parents’ shuttered restaurant and make a fresh start in her former hometown. So what if twenty years of neglect has left the building in need of a major renovation?

Seduced by Mai’s charm and determination, hard-edged contractor Dale Miller agrees to take on her renovation project.

After a spring storm causes significant damage to the building and renovation costs exceed Mai’s budget, Dale offers her a deal, but is it a price Mai is willing to pay?

How about a little taste?

Dale filled her coffee thermos. The scent of the dark brew had her wanting to linger over another cup. She tightened the lid. “You riding the bus today?”

“Nah, Chip’s coming to pick me up. We have a cross-country team meeting.” Noah slid the omelet he was cooking onto the plate. “You sure you don’t have time? You can have this one, Mom. I’ll cook another for me.” His round face and solemn dark-brown eyes were fixed on her face. He lifted the plate and waved it in her direction.

Delicately browned, perfectly cooked. The aroma of melted cheddar cheese and butter filled the small kitchen. The omelet tempted Dale even more than the coffee had. She sighed and cursed herself for agreeing to an early morning appointment for an estimate. Dale grimaced. Cowed by the insistence of the woman who called for the estimate, her oldest, Seth, had made the appointment outside of business hours. Afraid to turn down work. Knows we need the money. If it works out.

Dale tucked two peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches into her cooler, wrapped an apple in a napkin, and placed three battered and scruffy water bottles around the sides, spacing them evenly. She shut the lid and bungeed the ancient metal relic of a cooler shut. Please let it work out.

“What, Mom?”

The concern in Noah’s voice drew Dale from her thoughts. “Nothing. I wish your brother would’ve talked to me before he scheduled this. I hate to talk to people before I’ve had my coffee. And who the hell needs to meet at six in the morning for an estimate?” She peered out of the window at the sky, barely pink.

“Someone in a hurry? Like maybe you should be. Or you’re gonna be late.” Noah smirked as he shoved aside stacks of paper and clutter before he placed his plate on the table. He pulled a chair out, sat down, and flipped his napkin out with a flourish.

“Damn.” Dale took two steps over to Noah and mashed a quick kiss to his forehead. “Don’t forget to tell Thomas to pick up Grandad’s prescription and have a good day at school.”

Noah scrubbed his hand over his mouth. “I will.”

Dale snatched her thermos and her lunch cooler off the counter as she bolted for the door.

*

The large black pickup truck roared into the parking lot, kicking up a fine spray of dust and small gravel. Mai ended the call she had been ready to make to cancel the estimate appointment and shoved her phone back into her pocket. She frowned as a layer of gray dust settled over her polished black wingtips. Tinted windows prevented her from seeing inside the truck. With a snap of her wrist she straightened her collar, leaned back against her car, and crossed her arms over her chest. She tapped her foot and pursed her lips as she contemplated how much she was going to enjoy telling the yahoo in the truck what she thought of their driving skills. A warm-up for what she was preparing to tell the contractor who didn’t think her time was valuable. She didn’t do business with people who were not punctual. This town has not changed a bit. Still on country time. She snorted thinking about the ridiculous lengths she had to go to get the idiot on the phone to agree to a timely appointment.

The scuff of boots on gravel on the opposite side of the truck made her look up.

“Sorry I’m late.” A tall woman in faded jeans and work boots rounded the front of the truck. A thick tan work belt with a multitool pouch clipped to it held her jeans up over her curvy hips. She tucked a metal clipboard under her arm and stuck her hand out to shake.

“Who are you?” Mai didn’t take the woman’s hand. “I had an appointment with a general contractor for an estimate. Dale Miller?”

“That’s me.” A flash of irritation flew across Dale’s face as she withdrew her hand and stuck it into her rear pocket.

“You’re late.” Mai studied the unapologetic woman in front of her. Thick honey-blonde hair streaked with gray brushed her shoulders. A head taller than Mai, she had broad shoulders and a trim waist. Her pale-blue undershirt set off her golden-brown eyes. The sleeves of her flannel overshirt were rolled back and displayed well-muscled forearms.

Dale rocked back on her heels and glanced skyward before bringing her gaze back to Mai’s face. “I am. And I apologized. This is outside of our normal hours for estimates.”

“And I wasn’t…”

Dale cut her off. “And you weren’t expecting a woman.” She swept her hand through her hair. “You know what. I’m not certain I’m the best person for this job.” She turned on her heel and walked away from Mai, head high and shoulders rigid.

“Wait.”

Dale turned and rested her hand on the hood of the truck. “Why? You’ve made your mind up. I’m not going to waste my time. Or yours. Good luck with your project.”

Mai looked down at her shoes before returning her gaze to Dale’s face. “That’s not what I was going to say.”

“Right.” Dale arched an eyebrow. “I’ve been in this business too long to be scolded for being late. I don’t schedule appointments this early because I don’t like talking to anyone at this unholy hour.”

Mai laughed. “How have you stayed in business?”

Dale walked back over and stepped close to Mai, invading her space. “Because most people in this town recognize business hours are business hours and don’t expect special favors.”

Mai held her ground. “Special favors? I asked for an early appointment. It’s not my fault whoever answered the phone doesn’t know your hours.”

Dale clenched her fists. “My son knows the hours perfectly well. He was trying to be nice. He said yes to accommodate your schedule. Which, apparently, is way more important than mine. Good day.” She spun on her heel and stomped back to the truck.

Mai chewed her lip as she desperately tried to ignore how much she liked the way Dale’s ass looked in her jeans and failed. “Hey, wait.”

Dale yanked the truck door open and tossed her clipboard inside.

Mai sprinted around the truck and her shoes skidded on the gravel lot. She caught herself on the truck hood and narrowly avoided bumping into Dale. “Hey, please stay. I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot. I’ve had too many folks be rude to me because I wasn’t what they expected. Please. I’d like you to at least look at the project.”

Dale turned to her and the delicate scent of lemon verbena wafted from her, undermining Mai’s determination to keep to the business at hand.

A rueful grin crossed Dale’s face. “No. I’m sorry. You’d think I didn’t want the work. I’d like to see what you want done.” She tilted her head and met Mai’s gaze. “Do you mind if we have coffee first?”

Mai held out her hand and Dale shook it. “Bring your thermos.” She tilted her head toward the silver flask. “Come on. We don’t have to talk until you’ve had another cup.”

My Review:
Dale Miller is a single woman in her 40s raising her three nearly grown sons. She runs a contracting business which is only the 4th thing that was worthwhile from her deadbeat husband who walked out nearly ten years before. And, she’s still got a hard time thinking about dating again after her last girlfriend who abused her boys and left with thousands of dollars that nearly bankrupted Dale.

She’s been working 12 and 14-hour days since that gal took off, trying to built up the business, so she didn’t lose her own home. So, when sexy, butch celebrity chef Mai Li wants to hire Dale to rebuild the ruin of her parents’ restaurant in their small Ohio town, Dale knows she can’t mess this up. It’s the kind of job that would put her squarely in the black. But, Mai is an unknown quantity, and she could stiff Dale just like everyone else seems to–even if she’s cute. And sexy, and living in Dale’s basement? Yes, to save funds for the rehab, Mai was sleeping in the shell of her derelict building–until the roof caved in. So, Dale offered her spare room which morphed into her living room couch when one of her kids has to move back due to a bad breakup. And Mai and Dale are way past attracted to one another. Mai’s ex also spent her money like water, while not recognizing the issues she faces with daily racism. In short, neither of them wants to get burned.

It’s a bit of a slow burn, and the interplay between Mai and Dale’s protective sons and father is nice. Mai isn’t built for casual and Dale is afraid to commit, but they find a way to make a life plan together.

Interested? You can find ON THE SQUARE on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Brenda Murphy (she/her) writes erotic romance. Her most recent novel, Double Six, is the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society winner for Erotic Novels, and Knotted Legacy, the third book in the Rowan House series, made the 2018 The Lesbian Review’s Top 100 Vacation Reads list. You can catch her musings on writing, books, and living with wicked ADHD on her blog Writing While Distracted. She loves sideshows and tattoos and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local library, she wrangles twins, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. For a free short story, information on book signings, appearances, work in progress snippets, previews and sneak-peeks, sign up for my email list.

Catch up with Brenda on her website and Facebook and Instagram.