New Connections CHECKED BAGGAGE–a TBT Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scorched By Love BURNING IT DOWN–Review and Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

How about a little taste?

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

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

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

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

“Prissy Morrain to see you.”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’ll do fine.”

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

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

“Have you talked to human resources?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the frat boy antics aren’t?”

Owen sighed. “True enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because I’m a firefighter.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****GIVEAWAY****

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

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

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

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

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

Now Available CHRISTMAS CRACKERS–A Holiday Book Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M Christmas romance collection from Jay Northcote. CHRISTMAS CRACKERS features three sweet and sexy novels that all have super happy endings.

About the book:
When two friends pose as boyfriends, could what happens at Christmas turn into something more?
Justin is recently and unhappily single. Christmas is coming, and he doesn’t want to face his ex alone at their office party. So Sean—Justin’s best mate and long-time secret crush—volunteers to go with him and pretend to be his new flame.

Sean has always lusted after Justin from afar, but there’s never been a good opportunity to ask him for more than friendship. Posing as Justin’s boyfriend isn’t a chore, and if Justin wants to rebound onto him, Sean’s more than willing. At the party pretence and reality blur, and a kiss on the dance floor leads to a night of passion.

In the aftermath, they both assume it was a one-time thing until fate intervenes. Stuck together in London over the holidays, they give in to temptation again. But what happens at Christmas stays at Christmas… right?

Zac never had a family of his own, but Rudy has enough to share.
Shy, inexperienced Rudy has a crush on Zac from the moment his new colleague walks through the door. On an office night out before Christmas, Rudy finds the courage to make a move, and they form a tentative bond. When he discovers Zac will be alone at Christmas, he invites Zac to come home with him.

Zac prefers to keep people at arm’s length. Yet when Rudy offers him a family Christmas it’s impossible to resist. With no parents of his own, Zac is pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by Rudy’s. The only drawback is that everyone assumes they’re a couple. Unwilling to disappoint Rudy’s mum and make Christmas awkward, they decide not to deny it.

It’s not a chore for Zac to pose as Rudy’s boyfriend, but the pretence makes him want things that scare him—things like a real relationship with Rudy. Zac’s suffered enough rejection in his life already and is afraid to risk his heart. If he can get over his past rejection and let Rudy inside his armour, he might get more for Christmas than he ever imagined.

Best friends snowed in together. When the heat rises, will they get cold feet?
Getting snowed in at a remote cottage in Wales with someone he’d fancied for ages isn’t exactly how Sam expected to spend Christmas. His feelings for Ryan are pointless. Ryan’s straight—or so he thought.

Until now, Ryan’s kept his feelings for Sam buried. Why ruin a friendship over what might only be gay experimentation? Playing it cool seems safer, until a cold snap makes sharing body heat vital. In their Welsh safe haven, anything seems possible.

As Ryan’s reserve melts away, Sam wants more than stolen kisses under the mistletoe. But a sudden thaw means making decisions. They could face the New Year together—unless one of them gets cold feet.
My Review:
A FAMILY FOR CHRISTMAS:
Rudy is a 24 year old out gay man working at an LGBTQ charity in Bristol. Rudy’s a painfully shy man, yet intrigued by his new co-worker Zac. Zac keeps to himself, and likes it that way. He’s been hurt before, and doesn’t want to build friendships that would only fade. That said, Zac notices how Rudy quietly tracks him through the office.

Out for a work pub night to celebrate Christmas, Rudy and Zac spend a lot of time talking. They get along, especially as they’re both well-lubricated by tequila. After one excellent kiss Rudy’s overcome by the drink, pukes, and Zac kindly offers to walk him home. Too late to get a cab back to his own place, Zac accepts Rudy’s offer to share his bed. Platonically. Their nighttime conversation alerts Rudy that Zac is planning to spend Christmas alone, because he has no family. Rudy can’t help inviting Zac to join him on a visit to his family’s large farmhouse for a cozy holiday.

I really loved the patient unfolding of this romance. Zac has been on his own for years now. He feels unlovable, and is a bit overwhelmed by the sweet and open affection he experiences from Rudy and his family. I really loved how Rudy and Zac took time to make the other comfortable. Rudy’s family is blissfully clueless, and mistakes Zac to be Rudy’s boyfriend. Thing is, Rudy’s never had a boyfriend before, and his sexual experience is severely limited. To save face, and keep the happy going, Zac offers to pose as Rudy’s boyfriend for the duration of their trip.

For Zac, falling for Rudy is immeasurably difficult to prevent. Rudy’s earnest and giving and compassionate and loving, and his family is more of the same. Not having his own family, Zac basks in their generosity. Plus, it’s no secret that Rudy’d be down for more than friendship. In fact, that’s what Zac proposes–a fling to bolster the image of their “relationship.” That’s dangerous terrain, however, because Zac’s afraid that he’ll cling to Rudy out of a misplaced desire to truly be part of his loving family, and not just on his own merit. Zac’s never had a boyfriend either; he’s scared of getting hurt–precisely why he’s never hooked up with a man he’s known before. Anonymous sex is all he’s ever allowed himself, until Rudy.

The vulnerability for both men is really high. It’s really tender and completely fraught with tension of the best kind. I couldn’t get through the pages fast enough. There’s kisses, and big firsts, and kitten rescues, and love. Lots and lots of love. The secondary characters are all really awesome, people I’d love to spend a holiday with, in any case. And, the end is a solid HEA.

COLD FEET:
Sam and Ryan are best friends and housemates at university in Brighton. They head out to Wales for a mini-getaway with another housemate Jon and his girlfriend, but plans go awry when Jon’s car breaks down and a freak snowstorm leaves Sam and Ryan mainly trapped in Jon’s parents’ cold cottage. San is out gay, and single. He’s had a longstanding secret crush on Ryan, whom he believes is straight, but Ryan…isn’t. He’s never been with a man, but he’s realized over the past year that he’s intensely curious about Sam, about maybe being gay, and wondering if he’s a creep for crushing on Sam.

Beyond a fireplace, the house is barely heated, and as Sam and Ryan tuck in for a far longer visit than they had planned they end up all in one another’s business–and beds–to keep warm. Mistletoe and cheap wine break the seal on Ryan’s true feelings, but he’s afraid to come out and ruin things in his life is Sam isn’t really into him. Sam, thinking Ryan only wants him for a bit of experimentation, is reluctant to let his true feelings show, too. They spend an idyllic Christmas together, meeting a neighbor willing to share her Christmas feast, and each man longs for more isolated time to continue their explorations. Unfortunately, life intrudes and they have to head home sooner than either would like, by that point.

It’s so sweet, and I really loved both Sam and Ryan who have some awkwardness when they reunite at their lodgings. It’s New Year’s Eve and both of them acknowledge they need to make some changes. I liked how they got their communication sorted just in time.

WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS:
This is an adorable friends-to-lovers romance.

Justin and Sean have been friends since they were seven years old. Justin came out early–mostly because everyone assumed he was gay anyhow–But Sean only came out a couple of years ago. Justin felt betrayed when he learned Sean was gay, because he’d fancied Sean for ages and felt he would have been a safe harbor, plus he would have loved to experiment with him when they were close together.

Well, it’s Christmas time and Justin is newly single–what with that cheater Andy revealing all two weeks ago. He’s about to call off his plans to attend the company Christmas party when Sean arrives and offers to go as his pretend boyfriend–to make Andy jealous. Sean has just returned from a 9 month trip, and he’s camping on Justin’s sofa until he gets a job and a flat. That said, he’s not unhappy about the close quarters. He’s wanted Justin for years, but Justin was always dating a bloke and the timing was never right.

Their time is close and friendly, with each man surreptitiously checking out the other, and their date is, well, super extra hot. All that closeness, and dancing and snogging…leads to more. But, can Justin and Sean turn the one night of passion into a relationship?

I loved the realistic feel to this one. These guys are so conscious of their friendship, and don’t want to harm it in any way. They are totally gone for each other, and hold back and hold back and hold back–until they just cannot hold back any longer. Each is afraid he loves the other more than he is loved, and each is completely and totally wrong. It’s the perfect twist and the best Christmas for each of them.

Also, HAWT. They coulda lit up the Christmas tree with their passion. This is a fast read, but doesn’t skimp on the feels.

Interested? You can find CHRISTMAS CRACKERS on Amazon US and UK.

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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Trussed up and Rubbed Down by a STABLE HAND–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a new M/M/M heavy kink romance from A.E. Lister. STABLE HAND is the first book in the Braided Crop Ranch series and is deliciously naughty and funny and a great beginning.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
The Braided Crop Ranch is looking for stable hands. But this is no ordinary horse ranch. They cater to men with a certain interest. An interest involving harnesses, tails, and trainers.

Managed and expertly run by registered psychologist, Adam Marsland, the Ranch is a safe place for the expression of sex positive and kink positive needs and fantasies.

Jensen Moriarty is desperate for a job. He can handle horses. In fact, he’s a pro at it. Too bad the BCR doesn’t deal with real horses. But they do have “ponies”.

If Jensen can wrap his head around what the BCR actually stands for, he may have the opportunity to expand his resumé and experience something completely unexpected in the process.

How about a little taste?

Horses. They were what I knew. What I’d grown up knowing, riding, grooming, tacking in the small Alberta town where I’d lived.

I missed small-town life. Ottawa wasn’t a huge city, but it was big enough, crowded enough, it made me crave the peace and quiet of a smaller life.

My friend Mitchell hadn’t told me much about the Braided Crop Ranch except to say the place was secluded deep in the heart of the Muskokas in Northern Ontario, which turned out to be an understatement.

From my calculations I was only about twenty minutes away, but the brush had thickened, and the GPS wasn’t making sense. There wasn’t even a proper road. Out of desperation, I pulled my car over to the gravel on the side of the dirt track. I left the car on, air conditioner blasting, while I looked up the name of the man who’d interviewed me over the phone: a Mr. Adam Marsland. I found the number quickly in my contacts and hit call.

“BCR, Connor speaking,” a chipper male voice announced after a few rings.

The voice didn’t belong to Mr. Marsland.

“Uh,” I hesitated. “Hi. I’m trying to reach Adam Marsland?”

“Who’s calling, please?”

I cleared my throat, feeling like an idiot. Nothing like starting a new job and not being able to find the place. “This is Jensen Moriarty. I’m supposed to be there at noon, but I—”

“Oh, hi, Jensen. I’m Mr. Marsland’s personal assistant. Would you like me to get him for you?”

“I just need directions. My GPS isn’t making sense.”

Connor laughed. “He should have told you not to rely on the GPS. You should be using the map from the email.”

Email? “What email?”

There was a pause. “You didn’t get the welcome email? The one outlining our policies and practices? I’m sure I sent the form to you a few days ago…”

I wracked my brain but didn’t remember seeing an email. Unless the message had gone into my spam folder. “No, I didn’t get it. A map would be…helpful.”

“Sure, yeah, let me text the map to you. Hold on a second.”

“You might as well text me the other info as well.”

Connor cleared his throat. “Yes, well, I’ll let Mr. Marsland explain everything when you get here.”

I heard a notification and saw the map had come through. I opened the file quickly and had a look.

“Looks like I’m not too far.”

“Okay, come to the main building when you get here. You’ll see the BCR sign on the wall.”

“BCR?” I asked, wiping a crushed mosquito off the dash.

“The Braided Crop Ranch. That is where you’re trying to get to, right?”

“Yes. I just— Yes, that’s where I’m headed.” God, could I make a worse first impression?

“I’ll make sure Adam is here to greet you.”

“Thanks,” I said.

As I’d suspected, I wasn’t far out. If I followed this dirt road and turned onto another called Rattler’s Revenge in about three miles, I’d be there.

Would they put me to work right away, cleaning stalls and looking after the horses? Mr. Marsland hadn’t described my exact duties during our phone interview, but Mitchell had said they were looking for a stable hand.

Marsland had seemed like a nice guy. He’d appeared more interested in the kind of person I was rather than in any experience I’d had. I’d explained I needed a job that would give me some direction along with a decent salary so I could pay off my student loans.

The business degree had been a waste of money, no matter what my parents said. Turned out I hated accounting. Yeah, I was good with numbers, but working with them all day and night was too much to ask.

I needed to be outside. I needed to be interacting with other beings, human or animal. I needed hard work and adventure.

Now I had no idea what I wanted to do. Except for horses. I wanted to work with horses. Living on a ranch with a bunch of other cowboys wouldn’t be so bad either. Even if they didn’t share my orientation, the eye candy would be heavenly.

I’d been surprised when Adam told me the salary I’d be earning. The level was high for a stable hand. He’d also mentioned something about the special stock at the BCR so maybe they only housed Arabians or something. That would be a treat. I’d never seen a full-blood Arabian horse up close.

After following the serpentine curve of Rattler’s Revenge for about fifteen minutes, the brush thinned, and I emerged into a large clearing with the impressive outline of the ranch spread before me. The path took me to a set of steel black gates with BCR in big iron letters affixed to the bars.

A black intercom box perched on the stone wall to the left of the gates. I pulled in close, lowered my window, and pressed the button.

There was a crackle and then Connor’s voice. “Name please.”

“Jensen Moriarty. We spoke on the phone.”

“Awesome. I’ll buzz you in.”

An electrical humming noise sounded as the gates unlocked and slowly swung open.

“Welcome to the BCR, Jensen,” Connor said.

I drove forward and rolled up the window to keep the heat out.

An array of bright red and brown buildings crowded the far distance. In front of me stood an imposing clapboarded farmhouse with these words, painted in black, spanning the wall:

THE BRAIDED CROP RANCH STABLES

~ Pony shows every month ~

Pony shows every month, huh? Looked like I’d have my work cut out for me.

I parked in the small lot to the left of the front door and turned the car off. I wondered if driving all the way out here had been the right thing to do. At any rate, the job provided a new beginning and somewhere to spend the summer. If I enjoyed the work and found the people to be friendly and helpful, maybe I’d stay for a while.

My Review:
Jensen Moriatry is a 25 year old college graduate in business, but that wasn’t his choice of study or career. He’s gay and out, but not too experienced in the world. Despite living in Ottawa, Jensen craves the small town life like he grew up in, and caring for horses like on his family ranch. Since his folks want him to make something of himself, he doesn’t feel cool about heading back home. That’s why he takes a friend’s advice and applies for a summer position as a stable hand at the Braided Crop Ranch. Unfortunately, his friend has deliberately neglected to tell Jensen that the “ponies” at BCR are human.

BCR is a kink retreat where members can block 6 weeks of pony play with BDSM-trained handlers and voyeuristic guests stay in luxury accommodations with the opportunity to watch some training and performances at pony shows. Jensen is floored. All his plans to calm his worries by grooming horses and mucking stalls are blown. But, the BCR still needs a steady hand, and Jensen isn’t creeped out by the kink. He agrees to stay as a trial…and he’s a bit captivated by the situation. Meanwhile all the “ponies” are more than a little interested in Jensen, as hes a bona fide cowboy, and they want him to massage and ride them all into the sunset. 😉 Stable hands are common sexual outlets for the ponyboys–as with each other–because they can’t have any sexual relations with their trainers, or guests at the ranch.

This is a fun and engaging triad romance for Jensen who is quickly cornered by the most unruly and beautiful of all the ponyboys, Luke. Luke’s always acting out, and his trainers have a hard time corralling him, but Luke and Jensen mesh immediately, and Luke admits he has another liaison with a ponyboy named Noah–whom Luke would be willing to share if Jensen is nice enough. It’s another mindblow for poor Jensen, but he’s doing alright using his horse taming techniques on these sexy sexy men.

I was hooked from the start and I loved the whole thing. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out with the Luke and Noah and Jensen, but they are really sweet and sassy together. Noah is smaller and more femme, but thrills in the ponyplay. He absolutely loves to preform and earn rewards from his service. Jensen’s “stable” hand gets a whole lot of work as he tends to the needs of the ponyboys in his care. We get a look into the psyche of Luke and Noah, and why they relish ponyplay to manage their anxieties and everyday struggles. The inside look at a fetish camp is interesting and engaging without being prurient. The six weeks of their residence flies past and Jensen is sad thinking Luke and Noah be gone from his life forever, but an arrangement is made and it leaves everyone in what seems to be a Happy For Now arrangement. I’m interested to see what a sequel brings!

Interested? You can find STABLE HAND 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:
AE Lister/Elizabeth Lister is a Canadian non-binary author with a vivid imagination and a head full of unique and interesting characters. They have published many other books, one of which (Beyond the Edge) received an Honorable Mention from the National Leather Association–International for excellence in SM/Leather/Fetish writing.

You can catch up with A.E. online on their website, Facebook, and twitter.

Rescuing Himself While RESTRICTED–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a new M/M space opera adventure romance from A.C. Thomas. RESTRICTED is the first book in The Verge adventure series and I loved it LOTS!

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Dr. Aristotle Campbell is a desperate man. His twin brother has been abducted, and Ari will do anything to find him. Forced out of the comfortable solitude of his laboratory, Ari must leave their home world of Britannia and search the farthest reaches of space for his other half. He hastily equips himself with a flawlessly tied cravat, a handful of clues, and his small science vessel. Now, all he needs is a pilot to get him across the Verge, a barrier separating the civilized world from ungoverned space.

Pilot Orin Stone is a desperate man. No ship, no pay, no prospects. He spends his days barely scraping by in the rough colonies lining the Verge interior. When he gets an offer from a frantic, upper-crust professor in need of a pilot, he has no choice but to take the job. He just can’t believe it when the professor turns out to be the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen and that his offer includes a ship of Orin’s own. If Orin can keep his heart (and other portions of his anatomy) from leaping every time sweet, innocent Dr. Campbell looks at him, this should be his easiest job yet.

Rugged Orin and aristocratic Ari work together to navigate the lawless areas of space beyond the Verge, soon discovering that they work well together in all areas. Their immediate and intense attraction to one another is an obstacle to their plans that neither saw coming. More than sparks will fly when they break through the force field and enter restricted space, all alone together for the perilous journey, leaving barriers to their growing attachment far behind.

In their search across the stars, can two desperate men find their home in one another?

How about a little taste?

Chapter One
“You want me to do what?”

Ari straightened his shoulders, hands folded together on the table between them, suppressing a wince as his skin stuck unpleasantly to a thick smear of residue best left uninvestigated.

Somewhere behind him the sound of glass breaking was followed by a bowel-shaking roar, a meaty impact, scuffling sounds, and hearty guffaws.

Definitively best left uninvestigated.

He sniffed quietly, regretting the action as the odor of stale beer and unwashed bodies assaulted his senses. Forcing himself to meet his companion’s bored regard, he cleared his throat before speaking in as firm a tone as he could manage.

“In the interest of saving both of our time, I’ll cut to the chase. I require a pilot capable of navigating uncharted areas with immediate availability and a willingness to negotiate a flexible pay schedule.”

Mr. “Call me Orin, honey” Stone slumped back in his seat with careless, sprawling grace, the edge of one enormous scuffed leather boot sliding across the floor to rest a millimeter away from the polished black toes of Ari’s spats.

“So, just so we’re clear— You’re asking me to find you a pilot ready to jump right across the Verge into the deepest, slimiest dark, for—and this is the bit that really sticks in my throat, pumpkin— You want me to find you some sap willing to do all that for, apparently, no pay.”

Keen bourbon eyes swept Ari from head to toe, that restless boot finally edging just close enough to touch.

“You’re cute, sugar. But you’re off your rocker.”

Ari’s chair scraped against the floor as he jolted forward in his seat, one hand closing around the fraying cuff of Orin’s greatcoat.

“This is a matter of utmost urgency. My brother is—” He paused to clear his throat after an embarrassing crack in his voice. “My brother is missing; he has been abducted by an Outlier fiend, and I am utilizing every resource at my disposal to ensure his safe return. My inquiries led me to you, with the assurance you could facilitate a jump with immediate effect. Now I demand that you either provide said assistance, or you cease wasting my time.”

Orin fixated on the white-knuckled grip holding his sleeve. The coiled strength of his thick forearm underscored Ari’s awareness that he could break free at a moment’s notice with very little energy expended.

“What kind of resources are we talking, here?” Orin’s eyes narrowed under a heavy brow, the sweep of space-black lashes unexpectedly elegant against his brutish visage.

Ari drew a long breath, attempting to steady his resolve.

“I possess a three-year-old Xalanthe Explorer model 953V. It is in exemplary condition, and I am prepared to offer it as payment upon my brother’s safe return to our home on Britannia.”

Before he finished speaking, Orin sat up in his chair, the full extent of his imposing size suddenly evident even while seated. He turned his hand in Ari’s grip, long fingers wrapping easily around his thin wrist.

“You’re trading your ship. A brand-new ship. To any asshole willing to fly it? Just to finish a little game of hide-and-seek with your brother who—no offense, Red—sounds like he ran off with a bit of strange?”

Aristotle bristled, slim shoulders rising to his ears as the heat of an angry flush spread from the unfortunate ginger of his precisely parted hairline down to the white of his starched collar points.

“He did not ‘run off’! He was abducted. I have no more time to waste with your nonsense, sir. Are you able to assist in my endeavor, or shall I continue pursuing a pilot on my own?”

A lopsided grin spread across his companion’s face, revealing a hint of prominent canine and a surprisingly charming set of dimples. Orin gave another insolent sweep of his gaze, ticking to the length of Ari’s throat rising above his cravat. The rumble of his voice dropped low enough that Ari had to strain to hear him above the surrounding chaos.

“Hmm, that depends, Red. That blush go all the way down?”

The clatter of the cheap aluminum chair against the cracking concrete floor was lost in the cacophony of raucous laughter, clinking glasses, and blaring synth music that characterized drinking establishments on the rough ring of colonies lining the Verge. Ari wrenched his arm away as he stood, breaking free.

He turned his back, adjusting his waistcoat with trembling fingers as he wracked his brain for alternative solutions. He had only taken a half step away from the table when a firm grip on his coattails wrenched him backward. He swung around, fists in a pugilist’s stance, raised to the smiling face of Mr. Stone.

“Whoa now, slow up there, professor. If you’re wanting to trade a whole damn ship for the temporary services of some sleazy sack of shit with a pilot’s license, I got just the guy you need.”

Knees weak with relief, Ari nearly attempted to sit before remembering he had overturned his chair, which was now likely glued to the filthy floor of the saloon.

“Excellent. Where can I find this person?”

That lopsided grin opened up into a full-blown smile, revealing rows of white, uneven teeth. “You’re looking at him, sweetheart.”

Ari twitched at the endearment, unaccustomed to the way they seemed to drip from the pilot’s every phrase like butter melting off the plate.

He turned fully to face him, coattails twining around his narrow hips as Orin maintained his grip, tugging once with a waggle of thick brows at Ari’s resulting unintentional pelvic thrust before releasing him with a flourish.

Orin pushed off from the table, broad shoulders rising up and up to just above Ari’s line of sight. Ari swallowed an obvious comment on the pilot’s intimidating height, realizing how much he’d underestimated the man’s size.

Ari stared straight ahead at the hollow of Mr. Stone’s throat, bronze skin left exposed by the open vee of his collarless shirt. A few dark, curling hairs peeked out of the opening, inches from Aristotle’s nose. A strange fluttering sensation swept through his abdomen at the sight.

Recognizing the sensation as inappropriate at best and disastrous at worst, Ari turned on stiff legs and led the way out of the saloon, doing his utmost to avoid brushing up against the rough clientele. Heads swiveled to follow Ari even as they ignored the much larger figure of Mr. Stone following close behind his every step.

Ari ducked his head as they emerged into the daylight, squinting against the intrusive brightness before heading off toward the nearest dry dock, zeroing in on his ship after a few minutes’ walk. Mr. Stone was a silent shadow at his back, footsteps shockingly light for a man of his size.

The small exploratory vessel stood out among the busted-up freighters and speeders cluttering the dock. Clean panels of riveted steel shaped the subtle curves framing the centerpiece—a large frontal view screen. The only unnecessary ornament was that of the exaggerated dorsal fin, the sight of which had caused Aristotle’s brother to laugh out loud when they first purchased the ship.

Ari’s back stiffened at a low whistle, two familiar notes usually directed with prurient interest.

Mr. Orin Stone was circling his ship, one hand, large and square as a shovel head, trailing long fingers over the surface with surprising reverence.

“What’s your name, beautiful?”

He directed his inquiry to the ship but turned to Aristotle as though expecting an answer.

Ari cleared his throat. “As I have previously mentioned, it is a Xalanthe—”

Orin cut him off with a rude sound pushed between full lips. “She.”

Ari opened his mouth to reply, mistaking a brief pause for the conclusion of the pilot’s statements.

“Ship’s a she. And she’s a pretty little thing, deserves a name. If you don’t have one for her yet, I can think of something fancy to call her. Something with a bit of glitter to it. Little lady like this one deserves to shine.”

His eyes in turn glittered at Ari, sparkling with amusement and apparent satisfaction upon viewing the small science vessel.

Without looking away, he spat into one rough palm before holding it out to Aristotle as if to shake.

“You’ve got yourself a deal, Red.”

Ari recoiled from the offered hand, curling his own into protective fists at the notion of sealing a verbal contract with an exchange of bodily fluids.

“That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.”

Orin’s throaty laughter rang out against the polished metal panels of the ship exterior, echoing across the shipyard.

“Is it now? Well, stick with me, sugar; I could really expand your horizons.”

My Review:
Dr. Aristotle Campbell is a resident of Brittania, one of the Core planets stuck within the Verge, a force field that prevents marauders from attacking the main planets. He’s an introverted geological scientist, who is dedicated to his outgoing twin brother Dr. Theo Campbell, which is why Ari is now frantic. Theo has been kidnapped by a ruffian from the Restricted Section beyond the Verge. Ari screws up all his gumption and pledges his own spaceship to a Verge pilot, Orin Stone, who promises he can get Ari out to the Restricted sector.

Orin Stone is a “Verge trash” man who happens to be a huge and imposing person, compared to lithe and delicate Ari. He’s so uninhibited and coarse, and shocking in his open desire for Ari, whom Orin finds to be completely appealing–even more so because Ari is a complete innocent.

This is a unique and engaging world that’s a bit of a mix with Victorian sensibilities and the space exploration tech. Ari and Orin develop a sweet friendship, that Orin is quick to offer more. Ari is so tentative, and concerned about his lack of experience, and his fears surrounding Theo. Ari thinks he’s a fraidy cat, especially since he’s always allowed outgoing Theo to lead the way. Orin believes Ari to be so brave, though, and his constant reassurances give Ari the confidence to take what he wants, for himself.

I really loved the story, and the originality of the plot twists. It was such a fun and engaging adventure, watching Ari develop his inner strength, and fall head over heels for Orin, who doesn’t believe himself worthy. This is a dual-narrated story, so we do get into Orin’s head a bit, and that was so sweet, because we can easily see how captivated he is by Ari, and the admiration he has for the ship–that he names Delilah. His bawdy humor cracks through Ari’s refined persona and really settles Ari’s nerves by his sheer confidence and competency as a pilot. It’s a fun love story for these mismatched lovers, but they are both dreading crossing into the Restricted Space–because Ari’s plan is to leave Orin and the ship, to save Theo himself. The resolution is so joyful, when Ari and Theo reunite and Orin finds that he’s not surplus to the situation. I cannot WAIT for Theo’s love story…

Interested? You can find RESTRICTED 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:
A.C. Thomas left the glamorous world of teaching preschool for the even more glamorous world of staying home with her toddler. Between the diaper changes and tea parties, she escapes into fantastical worlds, reading every romance available and even writing a few herself.

She devours books of every flavor—science fiction, historical, fantasy—but always with a touch of romance because she believes there is nothing more fantastical than the transformative power of love.

You can catch up with A.C. online on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Haunted By His Past HIS DARK REFLECTION–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. HIS DARK REFLECTION features a cop with domestic problems and a former FBI agent, now disgraced and rotting away in WITSEC witness protection. This is the third book in the Heart and Haven series and probably best enjoyed if you’ve at least read the first story, HITTING BLACK ICE where we meet Nick as a bad guy in sheep’s clothing. Nick was also in SEND LAWYERS, GUNS, AND ROSES, just a bit, where we begin to see his turnaround as a character.

Catch the review, excerpt and enter to win a $10 GC below.
About the book:
Disgraced FBI agent Nick Truman failed to save his sister, who was held hostage by a drug cartel until he could give them Alex Crow, who eluded him. His epic downfall lands him in witness protection, where he plays by the rules and keeps to himself. But the murder of his neighbor brings danger to his door. He unexpectedly finds himself the champion of innocents and helplessly attracted to the homicide detective in charge of the case. Nick knows it won’t end well.

Homicide Detective Hank Axelrod is good at digging out secrets, maybe because he hides a big one of his own. He also suspects his husband has one foot out of the door of their marriage and the specter of single life looms unpleasantly on the horizon.

A murder resembling a previous one brings Nick into his world, a man who claims to be a mystery writer looking for a real-life resource. Hank’s instincts say he’s more than that, and he’s rarely wrong.

Torn between the errant soon-to-be-ex husband and the distracting, sexy stranger, Hank needs to focus all his attention on his murder case before he becomes the next victim

How about a little taste?

Hank rattled the keys in a one-handed grip to shake loose the house key from the rest. No lights on in the house and beyond late for dinner—starving and sleep deprived too. In his other hand, he held a thick file of case notes because the night wasn’t over for him yet. At least Len had left the porch light on.

After letting himself into the house, he placed the file on the end table, keys on top, and toed off his shoes. The windbreaker he shrugged out of hadn’t done much to keep the spring cold off.

The rocking chair in the living room creaked. Hank spun around, hand going to his holster.

“Easy, cowboy.” Len yawned. He snapped on the table lamp beside him. “I fell asleep. What time is it?”

“Jesus, Len. It’s two in the damn morning. Let me put this away.” At the bottom of the closet, the gun safe sat on a shelf. He knelt, spun the dial, and tucked the gun away. When he turned, Len stood, arms across his chest, brown hair tousled. Another yawn stretched his mouth wide. Hank, tired to the marrow, pulled Len into a bone-crunching hug, and Len laughed against his shoulder.

Relief tickled through him. On the drive home from the station, he’d feared the house would be empty. He inhaled the scent of Len’s pricey shampoo—vanilla and sweet tobacco with a hint of whiskey. His heart twisted with anxiety.

“I’m sorry. I—”

“You got caught up, I know. ’Sokay.” Len yawned again. “But I’m beat. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed wants me in bright and early tomorrow, so…” He stepped away from Hank’s embrace. Hank let him go with reluctance. “There’s lasagna and meatballs in the fridge. Or maybe you’re ready for bacon and eggs?”

“Neither. Both. I’ll figure dinner out while I read the case notes again. I need to make sure this guy doesn’t walk.”

Len turned around. “Hon? I know. You’ll be great. You always are. Night.”

“Night,” Hank responded as he picked up the paperwork. He sat in the rocker Len had vacated with the file in his lap and fell asleep with the first page between his fingers.

He awoke with a snort, thinking he’d heard Len’s muffled laughter and smiled. When he glanced at his watch, twenty minutes had passed since he’d first sat down. He’d sleep in tomorrow, but he still wouldn’t have caught up on all the sleep he’d lost over this one. Hank stood and stretched his aching muscles, contemplating a shower, but his deepening desire for bed and maybe sex to relax him led him into the bedroom and not the kitchen. Len’s nightstand lamp glowed, and his side of the bed rumpled but empty. Len’s soft giggle came from the other side of the bathroom door.

Hank rapped his knuckles against the oak. “Hey, babe?”

The toilet flushed. “I’m washing up! Be right there.”

A cold weight settled into Hank’s belly at his husband’s rushed, edge of guilty tone, slithery and with pointed scales brushing against his tender insides—a too-familiar feeling tilting the world on its axis. The bathroom door opened, and Len came out wreathed in the scent of mouthwash and minty toothpaste. “All yours.” He smiled but wouldn’t meet Hank’s eyes, making it all the harder for Hank to dislodge the sick feeling in his stomach.

“Who were you talking to?”

Len turned away from Hank. “One of the new interns drunk-dialed me. She’s a hoot, so we talked. Come to bed, Hank. You must be wiped out.” He slid between the sheets and pulled on the covers on Hank’s side.

Liar, the serpent in his belly whispered.

“I fell asleep in the rocker, so yeah, I guess I am.” Too tired to fight, he gathered up pajama bottoms and a T-shirt and headed into the bathroom. When he came out, Len lay facing away from Hank, his breathing even. Maybe asleep. Hank doubted it as he climbed into bed turned away from Len, his eyes wide in the darkness.

*

Hank slept later than usual, exhaustion stealing any memory of dreams he might have had. When he awoke, Len had already gone to work. What had Hank been so afraid of last night?

He went into the kitchen and started up the coffee. Not the first time one of Len’s friends had called drunk or upset. Len had a lot of friends. They helped him through Hank’s late nights. Although their marriage went to hell last spring, in the end, love forced them to work things out. Hank believed in Len, still believed the tearful, heartfelt promises of renewed fidelity.

He shoved a bagel into the toaster oven. But—he plopped down on a kitchen chair as if his bones had untied themselves—why did he have such a weird feeling last night? A couple of weird feelings, actually.

He’d believed Len when he returned to him and promised fidelity. Yet, he spent too much time with liars, thieves, cheats, and murderers, so maybe the distrust had rubbed off on him?

Or should he stick with his gut feeling Len had more to hide? It wouldn’t be the first time…but he’d hoped they’d done with the past. Ugh, second-guessing himself again. He couldn’t afford the drain on his confidence today.

The toaster oven tinged. With a fork, he dragged out the bagel. He loaded it with butter and the homemade strawberry jam his mother had made.

He didn’t trust much of humanity, long before he’d become a cop. Hank didn’t want the scum bleeding into their relationship. Distrust bred more distrust. He often found it tough to leave the hard-guy persona behind at the office, to let his softer side out around Len. It’d been difficult when they first met, but Len had been patient. Well, Hank would be patient too. What if a family issue had set off Hank’s alarms, a secret Len didn’t want to share yet?

He’d demolished the bagel as the wheels turned in his head. Sucking on his sticky-sweet fingers of one hand, he opened the fridge with the other for a second bagel. Last night’s dinner sat wrapped in cellophane on the shelf.

He had to talk to Len. But first, where did he leave the damn file?

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

Hank Axelrod is a homocide detective in a small New England town. He’s struggling to keep his marriage together to his husband, Len, who had walked out to be with at least one other man in the past year. Len promises that he’s not messing around, but Hank is rightfully suspicious. And, he’s gone a lot. Now occupied with a John Doe case of extreme beating which seems to match a new homocide, a young father down on his luck at work who may have been part of an illegal fight club.

Nick St. Cloud is the alias Nick Truman uses to guard his identity. He’s in WITSEC, grudgingly guarded by the FBI of which he had been an agent. But that was years ago when Nick had worked intel on a motorcycle gang. Before Nick was coerced to murder his own partner to try and snuff out a witness–in order to protect his sister who’d been kidnapped by the gang’s leader. Nick can’t forgive himself for Jordan’s death, or for killing a good agent–and he doesn’t want to. He wants to forget life happens, and go on day by day with as much sex and booze as possible. His neighbor being beaten to death causes Nick’s path to cross with Hank’s who’s seeking info about the motive of death. Hank has a fire in his eye and problems to solve, and Nick is reluctantly captivated.

The key witness in the case seems to be the comatose boyfriend of a stripper, Johnny Lee, who Nick has taken under his wing. The murder of his neighbor’s wife–orphaning their year old daughter–spurs Nick back into investigator mode, trying to protect Johnny Lee from his own murder. And, that keeps Nick in close contact with Hank. Hank, who is crumbling from his own personal problems. Nick doesn’t want to be attracted to Hank, and he knows Hank is too good for a loser/murderer, like himself, but that spark of living has already been kindled, and Nick isn’t able to stay away when Hank needs him–sexually, emotionally, and eventually mortally.

This story is Nick’s redemption tale, and he plays the part of guilty penitent well. Hank has his own secrets about his personal life, and he’s sure that there is a connection between he and Nick, even as he’s not sure what is going on behind Nick’s haunted look. Their romance is a struggle and a hurricane, overpowering their better senses, but it’s growth enables the connection Hank needs when he’s in mortal danger. For me I think this one ends with a Happy For Now ending, and both Nick and Hank are satisfied with that. I fully expect we will see these two in further stories, and that Nick’s past will stop defining his future. There are some spicy sexytimes and lots of bittersweet moments, as Hank and Len quarrel, and Nick makes all the right moves to protect Johnny Lee and his own heart, but takes on the mantle of hero that he’s not quite lost even as his previous choices had dubious motives.

Interested? You can find HIS DARK REFLECTION 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: NICE CATCHING YOU–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a holiday M/M contemporary romance from life- and writing-partners Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood. NICE CATCHING YOU features a closeted top college hockey player falling hard for a law student he meets by chance. I really liked WHAT HE REALLY NEEDS and TOO CLOSE TO THE FLAME and was excited to see some old characters help out in this book.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the giveaway for a $25 GC.
About the book:
What happens when the No. 1 college hockey star in the country falls in love—with a man?
Nick Johnson, a top prospect for a pro hockey team, has a secret: he’s gay. Tired of living in the
closet for the sport he loves, he sees no way out.
Jacob Meyer’s string of bad boyfriends left him cynical about love. Instead, he focuses on his
studies as a third-year law student. With a new job waiting for him, he’s eager to graduate and
move on.

On a school-sponsored trip, Nick and Jacob meet in a most unexpected way. When Nick tells
Jacob his secret, they decide to hang out, just as friends. But their attraction is too strong to
ignore, and they soon begin dating.

Since Nick is a big man on campus, it doesn’t take long for people to notice his attachment to
Jacob. All hell breaks loose when the relationship gets out. As the national media descends,
university officials try to figure out how to solve their “problem.” Their efforts divide Nick’s
team, inflame fans, and put Nick and Jacob’s futures in jeopardy. Will the men be able to
survive a plot to destroy them without derailing both their careers?

Nice Catching You is an out-for-you romance featuring a lot of love, exciting hockey, and a
beautiful holiday. There’s also plenty of steam and a very happy ending.

How about a little taste?

JACOB
Sunday, December 4

I haven’t been on many buses, but I was starting to think I might die on this one. The snow began falling before we left Whiteface Mountain early in the afternoon, not unusual for one of the top ski resorts in the Northeast. We were due in Syracuse before six, and I hoped the weather didn’t delay us much. The last week of classes would start the next day, and I had work to do.

The snow was coming down hard, and by the time we reached I-87, I could see very little out the window. Many of the cars had pulled over to the side, and others were creeping along with their hazards flashing. Our bus joined the traffic and immediately began slipping all over the road.

With fifty-odd college students on the trip, there had been a lot of noise when we left the resort, but nerves had soon taken over, and people were mostly quiet now. I sat alone, three rows from the back of the bus, trying to read a case for Federal Courts. With only one more semester of law school to go, I needed to do well. A big firm in Boston offered me a job right before Thanksgiving, contingent on my maintaining a 3.8 GPA. Pulling a C in Fed Courts would bring me slightly under the requirement. Although I had high hopes for a job in DC, I couldn’t risk losing the Boston offer.

Between the bus sliding in the snow and the constant chatter from the guys in the seat behind me, I couldn’t concentrate at all. They were hockey players, and they kept up a conversation about the game, other players, cars, and whatever else dumb undergrad jocks talk about. They were the only people behind me except for their friend, who was passed out on a seat in the back.

Whoa! The rear end of the bus lurched violently into the left lane. I tried to grab something to hold onto, but I was already airborne by the time I dropped the heavy casebook. Hands grabbed my shoulders but didn’t slow my momentum. Dreading the impact with the seat across the aisle, I screwed my eyes shut and held my breath. All at once, something stopped me. Rather, someone stopped me, and that someone had brawny arms and a hard body. He’d caught me in midair.

“You all right?”

“What?” On my back in the man’s arms, facing the top of the bus, I couldn’t see much. I turned my head, trying to find out who had hold of me.

“Everything okay?”

I craned my neck in the other direction just as he leaned over, and it was—shit!—one of the hockey guys who’d been sitting behind me. I’d seen him over the weekend with his buddies, at least one of whom had laughed at me the whole time. Now they’d laugh even harder, and I’d be known as the skinny little runt who couldn’t even stay in his seat—the twit who had to be rescued by a real man.

My Review:
This book is loosely connected to previous books by these authors, but fully enjoyable as a standalone.

Nick Johnson is a college senior and captain of the men’s hockey team and Univ of New York in Syracuse. He’s a closeted player, unwilling to risk his scholarship and the potential homophobia of his teammates, but he’s in a rather grim place right now. He spent Thanksgiving alone, pondering if remaining closeted was worth the deep isolation and guilt he felt over lying about his sexuality and never allowing himself to really pursue a relationship. He’s on a road trip

Jacob Meyer is a smallish out-gay third year law student at UNY. He’s fastidious and tenacious, having had to be fierce in the face of extreme bullying as a teen. He’s planned a trip with his ex for a ski weekend, before they were exes, and refused to give up his ticket thinking a weekend away might help him clear the funk of another bad breakup.

While on the way back from a ski weekend, the blizzard conditions cause the bus to pull into a hotel for an additional night. Jacob is seated in front of Nick and two of his less-courteous teammates, who are also on the trip. Jacob is tossed from his seat when the bus fishtails, and Nick is there to grab him before he falls and does himself damage. As the only two un-partnered attendees Jacob and Nick end up being put into a room together–with only a single bed. One of Nick’s homophobic teammates razzes him, but Nick shuts it down. And, he’s secretly thrilled to have some forced time in seclusion with Jacob, whom he finds to be stunning. Jacob is leery of the night, but Nick wins him over talking about how he’s accepted to law school at Georgetown. They develop a bit of camaraderie and Nick confesses his big gay secret, hoping that he and Jacob can be friends, or maybe more…

I liked how these guys take a bit of a slow turn into a relationship. Nick swears to Jacob that he wants to come out, but Jacob wants him to wait, thinking that the potential backlash would sour any relationship they begin to build, before they can even get anywhere. Thing is, they develop feelings rather quickly, and people are noticing superstar Nick’s new acquaintance. It’s not long before some of the more homophobic elements in Nick’s circle begin to make trouble, and Nick’s spot on the team–as well as his enrollment–is in jeopardy. There are some serious machinations here on the part of the university, and Jacob has the wherewithal and legal knowledge to recognize when they have suddenly slipped beyond the the shallow end of consequences. He thankfully has some contacts with Devin Macadam–cousin to Liam Macadam, both of whom are civil rights lawyers at a firm Jacob has made the hiring short-list for post graduation. Liam and Devin have been MCs in previous books from these authors, so it was fun to see them back in action helping Jacob and Nick weather their personal hurricane.

It’s a sweet story with a bit of sexytimes and a lot of both law and hockey, which made a nice change from the previous legal-romantic suspense stories. The allies in this story are truly fierce and provide a lot of great characters to look for in future stories. This book didn’t quite fit the bill of a holiday romance, for me, because the holidays were so secondary to the main plot themes of coming out, gay athletes, and fighting the good fight against prejudiced bigots. There aren’t any of those “desperate to find the most amazing gift” thoughts or moments. The story was set in December, and there was a closing scene with them opening Christmas presents, but it was not really a main focus of the story, at all. That said, it’s clear that this book will spin a hockey series while also linking with the legal romances this writing team have already produced. I’m looking forward to more books in both genres.

Interested? You can find NICE CATCHING YOU on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

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!

Amateur Sleuthing When MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD–A TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M mystery from Josh Lanyon. MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD is a standalone murder mystery with romantic elements featuring a librarian on a tour of Scotland who finds himself discovering more than adventure.

About the book:
A librarian finds himself in a plot right out of one of his favorite mystery novels…

Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.

Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. As unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst—but who?

My Review:
Carter Matheson is a librarian on a mission to enjoy his first trip abroad–visiting sites in Scotland incorporated into the mystery-thrillers of his favorite author Vanessa Rayburn–even if he has to spend it with his ex, Trevor, and his ex’s new boyfriend. Carter considers this the trip of his lifetime, and the way the intrigue unfolds it might just be his last.

Carter is one of few uncoupled people on the tour, and due to the Trevor fiasco he’s sharing his room with an unknown man, John Knight, who is pithy and mysterious in his own right. Carter is nearly killed by a shove into traffic, and later his room is trashed, presumably by someone with a vendetta. Thing is, the mischief maker must be someone on the tour, because who else would be perfectly positioned to strike? It’s a busload of middle-aged mystery buffs, so everyone had a theory, and they aren’t all that quiet about sharing them. Plus, Trevor’s really laying it on trying to work a jealousy angle–or maybe win Carter back. Carter’s confused, and not just about his relationships. He’s got an eye on John, whose behavior isn’t bordering odd–it’s downright fishy at times. But, Carter’s also a bit attracted to the man, and he’s not sure if John’s staging all the trouble, or the target of it.

I loved the way Carter thinks, and analyzes the situations. He’s not super intrepid, but he does strive for logic, which is a departure from some of his tour mates. He’s quick to see through Trevor’s shenanigans and note the idiosyncrasies of the people he meets in his travel party. He and John become allies of a sort, and they do connect in that bump and grind way without a whole lot of preamble. This is more of a mystery than a romance, and there’s just enough of a flavor for these guys to add a further complication. I liked how there was more than one set of nefarious activities happening and that put Carter and John at cross purposes, at least for a little while. The descriptions of the Scottish countryside, travels and manor homes are just intriguing enough to tempt a would-be traveler. The end is super fast paced, with Carter figuring out the big murder mystery and John being in the right place at the right time to make the ending happy. For strangers on a European tour, the resolution provides a glimmer that these guys have more than a vacation fling. Fun, engaging, fast-paced and with lots of blind ends and hair pin curves, I really liked this one.

Interested? You can find MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Josh Lanyon is the author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance.

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan’s annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place). The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the 20,000+ Goodreads M/M Group. Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), an Edgar nominee and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and lives in Southern California. Catch up with Josh’s new on her website, Facebook or twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Reconnected So They FEEL THE FIRE –A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new contemporary M/M hotshot fireman romance from Annabeth Albert. FEEL THE FIRE is the third book in her brand-new Hot Shots series that feature rural firefighters who live on the edge of danger. I really enjoyed BURN ZONE and HIGH HEAT, so I was excited to read on in this series.

About the book:
Annabeth Albert’s Hotshots series continues—the emotions and intensity of Chicago Fire with the raw, natural elements of Man vs. Wild. Danger lurks everywhere for Central Oregon’s fire crews, but the biggest risk of all might be losing their hearts…

When their career paths bring two high school sweethearts together again, the forest isn’t the only thing ablaze…

Fire behavior specialist Luis Riviera goes where his job takes him. But when he’s assigned to an arson investigation in Central Oregon—the place he left his broken heart twenty years ago—he’s afraid of being burned all over again.

Tucker Ryland had planned to join his first love, Luis, in LA after high school graduation, but life got in the way. Now a fire management expert and a divorced father of teen twins, Tucker’s thrown for a loop when he finds himself working side by side with his Luis, now all grown up and more intriguing than ever.

Though consumed by a grueling fire season and family responsibilities, the two men discover their bond has never truly broken. Tentative kisses turn to passionate nights. But smoking sheets aside, old hurts and new truths stand in the way of this time being the start of forever.

My Review:
Luis Rivera came to Painter’s Ridge Oregon when he was in elementary school. The youngest son in his family he felt a bit stifled in the remote location, but he made a really great friend, Tucker, who eventually became the love of his youth. Luis was a bit shattered when his dad was transferred back to LA, even though it brought him near to his extended family. Because Luis did not want to leave Tucker behind. They were juniors in high school and promises were made for Tucker to leave Oregon and join Luis in California for college and a life together. Unfortunately, Tucker’s dad had a heart attack in his senior year and Tucker was pressed to help run his family ranch–and he had to give up the dream of building an out and loving life with Luis–who didn’t want to wait any longer for his life to get started. Both Luis and Tucker had aspirations to be hotshot firefighters in the forestry service, and they did follow those dreams–in separate states.

Luis is an arson specialist working for the Forest Service and he’s unhappily single, now that his closeted partner was killed fighting a wildfire. As an unattached person, however, Luis’ superiors lean on him to make trips to other localities that need his expertise. So, he’s frustrated to again uproot himself for a temporary assignment. He’s incensed, however, when he learns that this assignment is centered in the Bend area, a short drive to Painter’s Ridge–and that his main contact will be Tucker, the boy who abandoned him twenty years before.

Tucker Ryland is a fire management expert working with the hotshot crews in central Oregon to maintain forest and minimize fire damage. He’s lived in Painter’s Ridge Oregon his whole life, but the small town isn’t feeling as homey as it had when he was married raising in his twin sons. He still co-parents living a few blocks from his ex-wife and her new husband, sharing meals with them and the teen boys, Walker and Wade a couple of nights a week. Tucker long ago came to terms with his demisexuality, and he and Heidi split amicable, but he’s getting lonely knowing that his sons will graduate from high school in a matter of months and their plans will likely take them far from their subdivision.

Tucker is melancholy over the loss of his relationship with Luis. He has only truly connected with Luis in his life; his marriage wasn’t planned and he and Heidi, his then-good friend, made the best of a tough situation. It was through her assistance that Tucker began to understand his sexuality, and both he and Heidi have been positive and open about it with their sons.

Luis has longstanding feelings of resentment, thinking that Tucker hid his sexuality and married Heidi as a beard and a way to remain hidden in his homophobic family. His misconceptions had caused him to hate Tucker, but being around him now reveals the truth, that Tucker is a good and honest man, and that Luis’ juvenile fears and hurt clouded a situation that could have been less fraught way back when. They are meeting again as grown men who’ve had some time, perspective, and unexpected patience to temper their feelings–and allow for a rekindling of their original friendship. For each man, the attraction is intense, and Tucker is ecstatic to have a more than platonic relationship to grow. There are the usual hiccups with the kids interfering. The boys aren’t necessarily trying to cockblock their dad. Actually, free-spirited Wade is digging the idea of Dad getting a boyfriend, while Walker, always the ruminator, is sure that his dad finding a partner will upset his own plans to stay behind in Painter’s Ridge with his girlfriend. I liked how both Luis and Tucker had great conversations with these kids, which clarified and solidified their growing bond.

The arson investigations that brought Luis to Oregon are nearly enough to keep him at Tucker’s side, but he’s not sure he wants to give up his city life for the country–again. And that gets Tucker thinking about what he wants for himself, a luxury he hasn’t had since before his dad’s heart attack in his high school days. This is a mature romance with some delicious sexytimes and a reunion of high school sweethearts that burns up the sheets. I really enjoyed it, and am hopeful we’ll see more of this setting in future stories.

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

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!

Realty, Renovation and Romance TIPPING THE BALANCE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from C Koehler. <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55217708-rocking-the-boat” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>TIPPING THE BALANCE is the second book in his CalPac Crew series, which features a determined businessman chasing and catching the burly college graduate who could be his ideal partner…if only he wasn’t straight. This is a sequel to ROCKING THE BOAT with those MC characters weighing in on the love lives of a dear friend, and a former crew team member.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
The boys from ROCKING THE BOAT are back in TIPPING THE BALANCE. Nick Bedford’s best friend Drew St. Charles is a man with a dream. He wants to move from selling real estate and flipping houses on the side into renovating houses. Ideally, he’d find the houses and his boyfriend would flip them. Not that he has a boyfriend.

Brad Sundstrom, fresh out of college and working for his father in the family construction business, never believed he could dream of more…until he met Drew. When Drew wins a contract to restore the historic Bayard Mansion, they become the solution to each other’s problems. Drew needs someone to oversee the renovation and offers Brad, who wants out from under his father’s thumb, the job of project foreman.

Working in close contact makes the sparks between the two men burst into flame, and Brad takes his first hesitant steps out of the closet. Before long, spending the day together at work leads to nights spent together. It looks as if Drew’s dream is coming true, but then he is savagely attacked in a hate crime, and Brad panics.

Brad faces a crucial test. Will he overcome his fears and take his place at Drew’s side? Or will he retreat to the stifling familiarity of the closet?

How about a little taste?

“Are you sure you can’t get a general contractor’s license?” Drew wiped the sweat out of his eyes.

“Did you just whine?” Nick grunted as he muscled a cherrywood cabinet into place. “Besides, what about the one you already work with?”

“Shut up. Bob’s great, but I’m getting tired of hiring an outside contractor so this work passes inspection, and anyway, you’d be cheaper.” Drew set a level on the cabinet Nick had just installed and squinted at it as the bubbles moved sluggishly in the yellow fluid. “It’s not…quite…plumb.”

“How come you don’t have a contractor’s license?” Nick squatted down to tap a shim into place under the cabinet. Sweat soaked his shirt, as portable fans cooled the kitchen in theory only, but with the HVAC unit out, fans were all they could get in the summer heat.

Drew looked up from the level, struck once again by just how attractive his best friend was. Coaching the men’s crew at California Pacific College certainly encouraged Nick to keep himself fit—that, and his smokin’ hot boyfriend, Morgan. Some coaches let themselves go, but not Nick. Not for the first time, Drew found himself wishing they could’ve worked out, but they’d given that a whirl as undergraduates and both agreed they made better friends than lovers.

And what friends they were, pulling each other through hard times and celebrating the good. Drew had helped Nick win and keep Morgan. Nick worked like a dog all summer for Drew’s home renovation business. He was one of the few people Drew trusted besides himself to supervise each project from start to finish, the only other person whose eye for detail and quality touches matched his own. Nick treated the jobs done by St. Charles Renovations like it was his own name on the line, not Drew’s.

“Because getting my real estate license took all my time and money when I was younger, and now selling houses takes all my time.” Drew sighed. “The flipping was just a sideline, and now reno work for other people? It’s killing me, I tell you.”

“A sideline.” Nick snorted. “The best home flip in the area. Isn’t that what Sacramento Magazine named you this year? Spend the time on this it deserves, and the St. Charles property empire could grow by leaps and bounds.”

“It still will. I like a challenge.” Drew grinned wolfishly. “Besides, sleep is for sissies.”

“You would know from sissies.” Nick watched Drew carefully to gauge the reaction, faintly disappointed when Drew barely even rolled his eyes. “Is it level?”

“Yes.” Drew straightened.

“Good, now you can use those over-gymmed muscles for something besides filling a polo shirt and help me hang the next cabinet. That’ll be the last of the uppers on this side of the kitchen. The guys can help me hang the rest later.”

“I can’t get too sweaty. I have to show houses this afternoon,” Drew said.

“Don’t worry, princess, you’ll still be the prettiest girl in the room.” Nick laughed. “I just need someone to steady it and hold it while I get it bolted to the cleats. The pilot holes have already been drilled.”

“Seriously, Nick, how am I going to replace you?” Drew asked. “You’ll go back to coaching and your grad work all too soon, and I’ll lose my best crew leader.”

“I’m your only crew leader,” Nick pointed out.

Drew made a face. “Don’t remind me.”

“You and Renochuck have me for another two months, so make the most of it,” Nick said, “because after that I go back to just being your friend.”

“Renochuck?”

“That’s what Octavio and the guys call it.”

“Some of them barely speak English, and they still came up with Renochuck.” Drew shook his head. He wiped a speck of dirt off the rich red wood.

Nick eyed Drew askance as he bent over. “Bend from the hips, not your lower back.”

“Yes, Coach,” Drew sighed.

“Did you enjoy throwing your back out last fall?”

Drew smirked. “Oh hell yes, I had a fabulous time. It was the event of the season.”

Nick didn’t reply. He just glared at Drew, warm brown eyes to merry blue ones. “Did you enjoy the aftermath? No? Then do it my way. I do know something about bodies in motion, thank you very much.”

“Yeah, that’s what Morgan tells me.”

“Hands on.” Nick loftily ignored his friend. He squatted down and put one hand under the cabinet and used the other on top to steady it. “In three. One, two, and up!”

“Now I know,” Drew grunted out, “where that coxswain of yours gets his abrasive tone from.”

“No, that’s totally Stuart’s,” Nick said. “Besides, we’re crew. We’re not real bright, but we can lift heavy objects. Now, put those muscles to some use, Muscle Mary, and hold this steady while I drill it.”

“I’m sure you’re very good at drilling, seeing how much practice you’ve been getting.” The muscles of Drew’s arms and back strained to hold the cabinet in place as Nick hurried to secure it to the wall. Then he noticed something. “Why is the taller of the two of us the one who’s not holding this up?”

Nick grinned at him. “Because I’m the drilling expert, remember? There,” he said as he put the last bolt in. “That’ll hold it while I finish up. You can let go.”

Drew lowered his arms. “Seriously, how’s it going with you and Morgan?”

He pretended to listen as Nick rattled off a list of his boyfriend’s virtues, but Nick’s syrupy smile answered the question well enough. “I’m sorry, what’d you just say?”

“I asked if you were going to be around this weekend,” Nick said. “I’m meeting his parents for the first time, and I’m scared shitless. I’m hoping you’ll be around so I can send panicked text messages from the bathroom.”

“Meeting the parents? It must be serious.” Drew smiled.

“You know it. He’s it, the only one I’ll ever want.”

“Some of us might like the chance to find that for ourselves, you know.” Drew pretended to be very interested in a small pile of loose screws.

“Aww, jeez, not Brad Sundstrom again. I keep telling you he’s straight.”

“Just his phone—”

Nick put the drill down. “Look, Drew. You know I can’t give out his information without his permission. It’s a confidentiality issue, among other things. I was his coach, technically a college official. I can’t just hand out phone numbers like that.”

Drew knew all about Nick’s scruples, having listened to him endlessly gnaw his guts out about his interest in Morgan. He supposed he ought to be grateful to Morgan for taking matters into his own hands, if not because Morgan made Nick happy, then because it shut Nick up. “Then will you at least give him my number if he asks for it?”

“Drew—”

“C’mon, Nick. It’s a fair question. Don’t I at least deserve the chance to get shot down?”

“I just don’t want to see you hurt,” Nick said quietly.

“I’m a big boy, babydoll. I can take care of myself.”

“I know, and yeah, if he asks, I’ll pass your number on.”

Drew looked at his watch. “Shit, it can’t be that late, can it?”

“It can be, yes. Late for the showings?” Nick asked.

“Just about. Everything looks great so far, but keep in touch, and let me know if you hear from the counter fabricators, will you?” Drew said, already heading for his car.

“Of course.” Nick picked up his drill.

Drew tried to mop the sweat off his brow as he rushed for his car but only succeeded in pushing it up into his brown locks. He had just enough time to run home and shower before he showed the first of the homes to his clients. Yeah, rummaging around in the dirt and sawdust probably wasn’t the best idea, but he couldn’t give up fixing up homes, he just couldn’t. What he hadn’t told Nick was that some days, he felt like he’d made a huge mistake in getting a real estate license instead of going directly into repair and improvement. Working his way through the building trades might’ve seemed strange after getting his bachelor’s degree in business, but it would’ve been handy when he got a contractor’s license. While he’d never wanted to be a designer, there was something almost magical about watching a dump of a home rise from the depths to become a showplace, limited only by budget and imagination. The cabinets with their reeded glass inserts, the soapstone counters that were supposed to have arrived last week, the reclaimed Indonesian teak floors covered with marine varnish to repel water, the lighting, all of the pieces fitted together like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle only he could solve—that was why he couldn’t keep out of it.

But how—oh how—was he going to replace Nick?

My Review:
Drew St. Charles is a realtor and home renovator in the Sacramento area. He has been flipping houses for years, but ir only now really focusing of home renovations. He doesn’t have a contractor license, however, and his main contractor is retired–only coming on to the job sites near their final inspection to ensure everything is up to code. Drew’s also routinely enlisted his college bestie, Nick Bedford, to run his construction crews in the summer when Nick doesn’t have classes or coaching responsibilities, but Nick has made it clear this is the last summer he can do it. Nick and his boyfriend/fiance Morgan are planning to move for graduate studies, once Morgan graduates next spring, and Drew is frustrated for a couple of reasons. First, Drew wants a partner in love and business. He’s a little melancholy that he and Nick never worked out, and that Nick is deliriously in love with Morgan. And, he also needs to get a good, solid contractor who will help him in his business plans. Beyond that, Drew has a hankering for a former member of Nick’s crew team, Brad Sunderstrom, who just graduated from CalPac College, and Nick won’t give over Brad’s number.

Brad is a hot mess of a big lug. He’d met Drew St. Charles at a few of the crew meets last season and knew there was something special about him–despite him being gay. Drew was smart, classy and successful in real estate, which is what Brad would hope to be. He had thought he was getting a job building homes in his father’s real estate development company, but instead he’s been saddled with selling an inferiorly-developed suburban tract that is sure to be bankrupt as NO ONE wants a home there. He spends his days in solitary confinement at the housing sales center with nary a visitor or a call. Brad’s been told his whole life that he’s stupid and a waste of space by his father, and he pretty much believes this. If he could “make something” of himself, he’d get the trust his mother had bequeathed him and be able to move out of his abusive dad’s home, which is why Brad initially reaches out to Drew for advice in selling the homes of his development.

Drew is elated to hear from Brad, even if he has to give Brad the terrible news that his development homes are substandard and overpriced–two huge reasons they aren’t selling. Their lunch meeting does yield fruit in that Drew learns Brad’s been building homes for his dad’s company since high school, and has the necessary skills to make a crew foreman. And, with a bit more training could qualify for a contractor’s license. Drew’s attraction hasn’t faded a bit, but Brad’s definitely straight. That’s not a reason for them to stay apart, though, especially when Drew offers Brad the crew foreman job and gets him to sign on to the huge renovation bid he’s planning on Bayard House, a derelict state landmark home that should be the Sacramento mayor’s residence but needs significant restoration to be livable. Brad is jazzed and even cuts his hours on his dad’s development project to accommodate this opportunity, something that really rubs his old man the wrong way. And, it’s not long before Brad has another opportunity: assistant coach for CalPac men’s crew, now that their team has tripled in size since Brad and the crew won the west coast championships the previous spring.

The more time that Drew and Brad spend, the more than Brad begins to admire Drew, and this admiration is accompanied by sexual attraction for a man for the first time in Brad’s experience. It’s stunning, and scary for Brad, who has lived with his father’s casual homophobia his whole life. And, yet, Drew is a man who believes him intelligent and capable and it’s the first time Brad has felt cared for since his beloved mother died. This leads to some small explorations, mainly kissing and cuddling, that prove the arousal for both men–and Drew is at first happy with this. The closer they become, the more Brad is willing to explore his attraction for Drew sexually, but he is loath to even consider himself bisexual, and especially not gay, no matter how far these explorations extend in terms of sex. Brad’s repeated denials of his same-sex attraction are wearing on his own esteem, and Drew’s last nerve. Drew fought hard to break free of the closet, and Brad’s unwillingness to consider coming out, or be seen in public with Drew, is eventually too much to overcome.

Naturally, there are outside challenges to the situation. The renovations were going pretty well until Drew is gay bashed one night. The aftermath results in a long separation, and the surety that both Drew and Brad had love in their futures before this tragedy. The situation is also complicated by bad communication and hurt feelings on both sides, but Brad is not a man to let down his love twice, and he finally picks up the pieces of his shattered self-esteem and does what is required to win back Drew’s love and affection. This, by the way, happens only after Brad acknowledges his gay attraction–aided by a burly fire chief on an arson investigation.

There are issues with this story, regarding realities of life in construction projects that seemed a bit beyond reasonable, and long periods of not a lot happening when ti seemed A LOT should be happening. But it was super fun watching Brad figure his life out. He seemed to be such a horrible guy in the first book in this series, but he recognized his problems then and tried to fix them, and works doubly hard in this story to make amends for past mistakes. Drew has a hard road to recovery, and he’s really about to give up on his dreams by the time Brad reappears in his life–with better news than he could have ever dreamed for. The long separation certainly did make these hearts fonder, and Brad’s hard work during that time bridged the gap that had opened in their lives. He and Drew make a happily ever after, and their realty and renovation business isn’t only the business partnership they build together; their private life is a masterwork of craftsmanship that they aren’t keeping on the down-low any longer.

Interested? You can find ROCKING THE BOAT on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

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

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

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

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