Forbidden Fraternization in WHEELS UP-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary M/M military romance from Annabeth Albert. WHEELS UP is the fourth book in her Out of Uniform series that features romances for SEALS stationed in Coronado, California. Having read and loved OFF BASE, AT ATTENTION and ON POINT I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into this new one–and what a bittersweet love story it was!

About the book:
Their love is forbidden, but their hearts aren’t listening to rules and regulations.
Lieutenant Dustin Strauss is a reformed man. No longer a twentysomething hell-raiser, he’s his SEAL team’s new XO-and a man with a secret. Or seven. He’s kept his bisexual identity under wraps for years, along with his kinky side and a fondness for the military-themed semianonymous hookup website Joe4Joe. His latest chat buddy is more than a sexy online distraction-they’re taking their very not-safe-for-work relationship into real time.

Petty Officer Wes Lowe has a smart mouth, a take-charge attitude and an uncanny ability for making things go boom. The life of an enlisted man isn’t always enough to satisfy him, but one wild, no-questions-asked weekend with his online love comes close. When a transfer order comes in, Wes feels ready and centered. He’ll make a good impression on his new SEAL team and keep his growing feelings for Dustin on the down low.

But as they log more time online and some very real emotions surface, Dustin and Wes struggle to pretend they’re just a harmless fling. And when his commander introduces Dustin to his team’s newest member, they’re in for the shock of a lifetime…and a crushing disappointment: their difference in ranks means even a friendship without sexual contact could end their navy careers for good.

With their hearts on the line, Dustin and Wes may not survive their next mission, let alone find a way toward a future together.

My Review:
Lieutenant Dustin Strauss has known for a long time that he’s attracted to men. He’s never been with a man, though he knows his family likely won’t be too upset if he were to come out–his younger brother Dylan is about to marry Dustin’s best friend Apollo–you may remember them from book two AT ATTENTION. Still, Dustin’s father has been fixated on Dustin marrying a woman and having kids, neither of which truly appeals. The idea of remaining a lone appeals even less–all his friends are coupled up and Dustin feels very much like a third wheel. Not only is he nervous about his sexuality, he’s ashamed that he’s really turned on by submission. Yet, he’s found a cyber pal via the Joe4Joe app that has filled his long lonely nights with exactly the kind of interactions that push his buttons.

They meet one night when Dustin is visiting the DC area. And it’s the best night of Dustin’s adult life. He and Wes really get along, and their sex is amazeballs–for each. Wes is especially adept at getting into Dustin’s headspace and working through his insecurities. Neither Wes nor Dustin has confided that they are SEALs, and they expect this is only one night. Until Petty Officer Wes Lowe is shipped out to Coronado to fill the demolitions expert position open on Dustin’s 16 man team, of which he’s the second in command.

Now, Wes is under Dustin’s direct command, and it’s wholly awkward. Not to mention completely prohibited. If anyone discovers that they’ve been intimate both Dustin and Wes could be subject to court martial.

They know this. And yet their connection is so strong, so necessary. Wes has a stressful life, constantly awaiting for bad news about his young sister’s failing heart. He’s plagued by insomnia, and finds comfort in his time with Dustin–virtual or in person. Wes is also the only person with whom Dustin can be his whole self, gay and kinky, and feel safe. No matter how many times they say they need to stop, they just can’t quit one another. And, they want more. They want the whole package of companionship and comfort–not just sex. It’s quite telling that neither of them really sought out partners before, and would remain celibate before looking for a suitable partner.

In the course of duty, Dustin and Wes both know their connection is too strong to be healthy, or safe. Dustin feels as if he’s constantly distracted, and this adds to his general dissatisfaction with his commission. He doesn’t get along with his commanding officer, and he’s less and less enthused with command. He’s got friends who’ve left the service, and are all the happier. Could he be? Would he and Wes be able to make a true life together if Dustin made this choice?

This was a really compassionate and bittersweet look into this complex world of military rules and regs. Both Dustin and Wes are great guys who want to be loved for who they are, and have the joy of open companionship. They have real struggles, and it’s heartbreaking to see them leave each other time and time again believing this is the “last time” or “never again.” I found myself wanting to yell at the book, tell the navy to make things better, dang it! And that was telling, for me, how very invested I got into these guys and their developing love story. The end is quiet, but lovely. No giant grand gestures here, because doing so could upset the very complex plan they have in place for eventual forever love. Their patience and understanding was enormous, and I found that to be engaging too. Likewise, their considerate treatment in the steamy bits–the vulnerability and the dirtiness were magic together, and I loved how in-tune both Dustin and Wes were with their needs, and those of the other. It’s a book I won’t soon forget.

Interested? You can find WHEELS UP on Goodreads and , Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, GooglePlay, Kobo.

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

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

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

Manning Up–TRUST WITH A CHASER, Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a release day review and giveaway for a new contemporary romance from Annabeth Albert. TRUST WITH A CHASER is a May/December romance that’s almost a Romeo-and-Julian read, too, if these guys were teens, that is. As it stands, Mason and Nash are two grown men on opposites sides of…a lot. I’ve loved the Portland Heat books, the musical romances (TREBLE MAKER, LOVE ME TENOR, and ALL NOTE LONG) her #gaymer romances (Status Update, Beta Test and Connection Error) and her SEALs stories (OFF BASE, AT ATTENTION, and ON POINT) but TRUST felt like a very different book, for me. And I relished every second of it.

Catch the excerpt from Chapter One below, and be sure to enter the $20 Amazon GC giveaway, too!
About the book:
One hot cop. One bar owner out for redemption. One smoking-hot summer fling destined to leave scorch marks…
Mason Hanks has returned to Rainbow Cove, Oregon with one goal in mind: turn the struggling coastal community into a thriving LGBTQ tourism destination. Step one is transforming an old bar and grill into a gay-friendly eatery. Step two? Don’t piss off Nash Flint, the very hot, very stern chief of police who’s not so sure he’s on board with Mason’s big plans.

Nash Flint just wants to keep his community safe and enjoy the occasional burger in peace. He’s not big on change nor is he a fan of Mason’s troublemaking family, especially his rowdy older brothers. But Mason slowly wins him over with fantastic cooking and the sort of friendship Nash has been starving for.

When their unlikely friendship takes a turn for the sexy, both men try to steer clear of trouble. Nash believes he’s too set in his ways for Mason, and Mason worries that his family’s reputation will ruin any future with Nash. Burning up the sheets in secret is a surefire way to crash and burn, and discovery forces a heart-wrenching decision—is love worth the risk of losing everything?

Trust with a Chaser is a 75,000 word stand-alone gay romance with a May/December theme, a hot law-enforcement hero, opposites attract, plenty of sexy times, and one hard-fought, guaranteed happy ending with no cliffhangers.

How about a yummy taste?

When Adam stepped inside the glorified closet I was using as an office, eyes all twitchy and hands wringing a bar towel, I knew I wasn’t going to like what came out of his mouth.

“Sheriff Sexy just walked in. He’s your problem.”

Fuck. I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath. “Please don’t call Police Chief Flint that. He might hear, and I’m pretty sure he’d find a citation for you. And I am not bailing your ass out.”

“You’re just worried that one of these days you’re going to slip up and call him that.” Adam grinned at me. This was an old argument—he’d been calling Flint that stupid nickname since we were in high school. The hard-nosed cop wasn’t one to cut teen drivers any slack—especially if they were in any way associated with the name “Hanks.” “Anyway, you know he freaks me out. I’ve got no idea what he wants—all our permits are in order, right?”

“Of course.” Standing, I grabbed the folder with the permitting paperwork. I prided myself in the organization I was bringing to the bar and grill that I co-owned with Adam and our friend, Logan. Flint wouldn’t find anything to complain about, not with me in charge. “I’ll go deal with him. You go back to the bar in case we get a rush.”

Adam snorted. Despite it being opening weekend, traffic had been embarrassingly light. We’d worked for weeks transforming the old tavern—a Rainbow Cove institution for decades—into the newly renamed Rainbow Tavern. The gay-friendly bar and grill was our vision for pulling our sleepy little coastal town into the twenty-first century. Logan had crafted a new menu of upscale bar food ready to go, and Adam had innovative drinks specials at the ready. All we needed were customers. And to not run afoul of Nash Flint on our first day of operation.

Flint was a Rainbow Cove institution himself—born and raised here, same as Adam and me, but unlike me, he’d never left, sliding into his father’s shoes as police chief and apparently fitting the role as easily as a pair of broken-in jeans. He’d been Officer Flint last time I’d seen him, almost ten years prior.

Guess I could have seen him had I come down for Freddy’s trial, something I still felt niggles of guilt over, and I told myself that was why my stomach fluttered on my way out to the tavern’s dining room. Unlike Adam, I’d never found Flint particularly…

Sexy. All my thoughts fled as I took in the man sitting in front of the plate-glass window. He dwarfed the small wooden chair, one of dozens that Adam and I had painted bright colors. Broad shoulders stretched the confines of his uniform shirt, biceps bulging under the short sleeves. His cut-glass jaw was firm as ever, as were those hard hazel eyes. But what had been frankly terrifying to my teenaged self made my twenty-seven-year-old libido sit up and take serious notice.

Flint blinked as I approached, head tilting to one side. I’d been getting a lot of that since I’d been back in town. “Mason…Hanks?”

“The one and only.” I stuck out my hand. “What can I do for you, Chief Flint?”

He returned my handshake with a sure grip, only a moment’s hesitation. I guessed he wasn’t all that used to shaking hands with a Hanks. Oh well. I was out to prove to the whole damn town that I wasn’t like my father and brothers, and if I had to start with Flint, so be it.

“Nice place you’ve got here.” His eyes swept around the renovated room—restored antique bar on the far wall where Adam wasn’t bothering to conceal his nosiness, dance floor beyond that, colorful tables and chairs in the front of the bar, only a handful occupied despite the dinner hour.

“Thanks. Our permits are all in order.” I held out my folder. “Liquor license is on top.”

He waved the folder off. “Not worried about that.”

No? Then why the heck was Flint in my establishment? “Good. We’re on the up-and-up. You won’t have trouble from us—”

“Glad to hear it,” he said levelly, eyes skeptical, reminding me that I was, after all, nothing more than a Hanks. “Cheeseburger?”

“Pardon?”

“That Ringer kid didn’t see fit to give me a menu, but I’m trusting you all offer something approximating a burger? Salad, no fries, and an iced tea.”

“You want to order?” I was still struggling to keep up with him.

“This is a food establishment, right?” He shook his head as if he hadn’t expected more from me, and that rankled.

“Of course.” I crossed the room in long strides, grabbed an order pad from the bar, ignoring Adam’s gaping. As soon as I returned to Flint’s table, I added, “Anything you want. On the house.”

“None of that.” He sighed like my very existence was tiring. “Got my meals from the old tavern for years. They kept a tab open for me.”

“We can do the same—”

“Let’s see if you can cook first,” he said, voice drier than yesterday’s toast. “I thought I’d come by, check the place out.”

“Appreciated,” I said and meant it. Business, any business, was good, but people in Rainbow Cove trusted Flint. If he gave us the seal of approval, more locals might give us a try, make us less dependent on the tourist trade that we were going after. Tourism took a while to build, and our grand plans of making Rainbow Cove an LGBTQ travel destination weren’t going to happen overnight. We needed every customer we could get, Flint included, even if he was the unlikeliest of allies.

“You still haven’t brought me a menu.” He shook his head. “But whatever you’ve got passing for a burger is fine. Nothing vegan though.”

“We’ve got local grass-fed beef, third-pound patty on a brioche bun with a pesto mayo and local gouda. Or—”

“I reckon that will do fine.” Flint always had a bit more country than coastal in his voice. Not Southern, but you could tell he was rural Oregon through and through, and I liked the slow, deep rumble of his words. What I didn’t like, however, was the implication in his tone that he wasn’t expecting much from us.

“Sure you don’t want fries? We have hand-cut sweet potato as an option with a chipotle dipping sauce. As far as salads, I’ve got side, Caesar, spring berry and pecan—”

“I’m on duty here. Kind of pressed for time. The burger and a side salad are fine. I don’t need anything fancy.”

Yeah, well, maybe I want to give it to you. I quashed that thought, same as I had the one about how hot he looked in his uniform. Wanting to impress Nash Flint wasn’t going to get me anywhere.

“I’ll put a rush on it.” I made a note on the order pad, not that it was really needed since Logan hardly had a packed house to worry about.

As I walked over to the window to put in Flint’s order, I noticed more than one table giving him curious glances. Hell, maybe I was wrong about any business being good business. Last thing I needed was Flint scaring away what few customers we had. Not that he was known as a gossip or anything like that, but he was awfully…old school. Traditional. The last kind of guy you’d expect to find at a gay bar, that was for sure, and even though we were attempting to attract a mixed clientele, he stood out.

My Review:
Mason Hanks is a 28 y/o out-gay man with a mission to help revive his hometown of Rainbow Cove. He and two friends have re-opened a tavern there (with a gay-friendly theme) to serve upscale nosh and drinks for tourists. The grand plan also involves investors who are considering renovating a derelict oceanside resort for gay-friendly guests. But first, Mason’s bar has to show some level of success.

Mason’s not sure if Police Chief Nash Flint becoming a regular customer is good thing, or not. Well, they could certainly use the business, but Mason, as the youngest child in the criminally-troubled Hanks family, certainly has mixed feelings about the close-proximity of law enforcement. And, he’s even more nervous about the startling attraction he’s feeling for the well put-together older man.

Not that Nash is feeling any less conflicted. Even though he arrested Mason’s eldest brother for criminal mischief–and knowing he’s had more than a dozen run-ins with Hanks trouble over the years–Nash can certainly appreciate what a bright spark Mason is. It’s not just the delicious food that brings him to Mason’s bar almost daily. Pushing forty, Nash has kept a tight rein on his sexuality for his entire life, knowing his family–his town–would hardly approve of a gay police chief. He’s always kept his liaisons on the super-down-low, but, maybe, if Mason were interested in him…couldn’t they (perhaps) have a little fun under cover(s)?

I’m not going to be coy about it: Mason is VERY interested. But, it’s difficult. Mason’s family has been at odds with the Flints since Nash’s father was police chief. Hanks’ have always been ne’er-do-wells but Mason’s broken that mold. He’s kind and compassionate, committed to bringing tourism and tourist money to this dying hamlet. Mason’s family issues include bringing his destitute father and brother restaurant left-overs, and assisting in the care of his seven year old niece, too, and he does this with an open heart–even though he’s frustrated with his brother’s lack of direction/parental skills. Nash sees all of this, and it only makes Mason that much more irresistible. Mason’s compassion–and cooking–lures Nash to secret “cooking lessons” at Mason’s home in which food is prepared but they mostly consume each other. This hidden romance is tenuous and tender, as each man recognizes the importance of their connection, and how troubling it would be for the world at-large to learn of it.

Still, Mason’s not happy being relegated to acquaintance in public, even though he knows his family would rail against the relationship. And Nash’s mother pretty-much thinks Nash ought to be celibate, or hide his sexuality forever, which has become a tiresome existence for Nash. I loved how they worked through this, though it comes with some rotten heartbreak-y moments. The white-hot attraction tempers into a smooth and tasty love before too long, which, when the lid pops, leads to some challenging moments and big decisions. I felt like this was handled in a realistic and admirable way, for both characters. The book is a careful back-and-forth, and having both Mason and Nash narrate the story helps us see how complex and complicated their worlds are, and how much they both risk and sacrifice to find love with one another. I really enjoyed this one, and look forward to new stories in Rainbow Cove. There are at least three of Mason’s dear friends who remain unattached, so I’m sure we’ll experience these guys finding love in the near future. I, for one, can’t wait!

Interested? You can find TRUST WITH A CHASER on Goodreads and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $20 GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

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.
IndiGo

Friends to Lovers ON POINT–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a release day review for a new contemporary M/M military romance from Annabeth Albert. ON POINT is the third book in her Out of Uniform series and features two Navy SEALs who are teammates, roommates and best friends, with more on the horizon. I really loved OFF BASE and AT ATTENTION so there was no way I’d miss out on this one!

Drop down to check out the excerpt, my review and get in on the $20 Amazon GC giveaway, too!
About the book:
Never fall for your best friend…
Pushing thirty, with his reenlistment looming, decorated navy sniper Maddox Horvat is taking a long look at what he really wants in life. And what he wants is Ben Tovey. It isn’t smart, falling for his best friend and fellow SEAL, but ten years with Ben has forged a bond so intimate Maddox can’t ignore it. He needs Ben by his side forever—heart and soul.

Ben admits he likes what he’s seen—his friend’s full lower lip and the perfect muscles of his ass have proved distracting more than once. But Ben’s still reeling from a relationship gone to hell, and he’s not about to screw up his friendship with Maddox, too.
Until their next mission throws Ben and Maddox closer together than ever before, with only each other to depend on.

Now, in the lonely, desperate hours awaiting rescue, the real challenge—confronting themselves, their future and their desires—begins. Man to man, friend to friend, lover to lover.

How about a little taste?

The rain pelted down as he made his way up the ridge, thick sheets that obscured his vision and made the terrain slippery and treacherous. Overhead, a large black bird with a colorful beak swooped in, almost sending Ben skidding into a ravine.

He whistled low, a deliberate pattern, one of the team’s signals. He repeated the sound as he approached where Maddox was supposed to be. An answering signal came from a dense thicket of green vegetation.

“It’s me. Hold your fire,” Ben called as he slipped into the mass of trees and roots. The plants here were nothing like the ones back home—giant heart-shaped leaves and bright rubbery flowers that almost looked bird- or insect-like. The trees had massive, visible roots covered with moss, and were connected by thick vines that could easily be mistaken for a deadly snake.

Below him, he could see the encampment, SEALs scurrying around. The injured hostage and Issacson, their wounded radio man, were carried out, which had to mean the chopper was close. Time to haul ass. “Maddox?”

“Here.” Maddox slid out of the shadows, rifle at the ready, just as Ben had expected. “Com’s down for you guys too?”

“Yup. Chopper’s coming in. LT sent me to bring you in. No time to waste. Issacson took a bullet, but he’s stable, and one of the hostages is in bad shape. Possible hostiles escaped, but Rogers and company are hunting them down.”

“Got it. Lead the way.” Maddox let Ben take point as they made their way down the ridge. They had to skirt the edge of a steep drop, every muddy step cautious even as they needed to make haste.

Crack.

Whoosh.

Two things happened at the same instant—gunfire broke out above them and a chopper approached, engine noise making it hard to track the source of the shots. But Maddox was already on it, crouching low, rifle ready. Another shot whistled over their heads and Maddox returned fire. They both left the trail and headed into the brush, intent on finding the hostiles.

The chopper circled low, then went back up. Fuck. The chopper was struggling to land in the encampment clearing, which meant the next pass was critical. Still staying low and gun ready, he inched forward. No more gunfire had followed Maddox’s, but that didn’t mean he could let his guard down for a second.

The chopper circled again, but the terrain had shifted and Ben could no longer see the encampment beneath them.

“Fuck.” Maddox never cursed, so Ben whipped his head around just in time to see Maddox slipping off the poor excuse for a trail.

Ben scrambled on his stomach, stretching out an arm, trying to catch Maddox. “Grab on.”

“No. Don’t—” Maddox didn’t get the sentence out before they were both tumbling down the muddy incline, heading straight for the ravine that lay between them and the encampment. Ben tried to slow their descent but his attempt to grab at some vines only resulted in the foliage following them down.

Maddox screamed, a legitimate yell that chilled Ben to his boots because Maddox never lost composure. Ever. Ben had once watched Wizard put sutures in Maddox’s scalp while Maddox hummed, never dropping his tune.

Ben grabbed for him again and— Pop. Ben’s arm pulled at an unnatural angle, caught up in a tree root and not Maddox’s strong grip as he’d intended. He wrenched loose but the damage was already done, and still he slid, mud carrying him faster, rocks and vegetation raining down after them.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” Ben’s arm and shoulder were on fire and he was still moving, sliding, nothing working—

Boom. The bottom of the ravine arrived without warning, a muddy bog that sucked him down, but it was hardly a soft landing, rocks and plants poking at him. His arm had him cursing, eyes watering. He’d seen Rogers dislocate a shoulder last year in the grinder obstacle course, and at the time he’d rolled his eyes at how Rogers had carried on. He had a sick feeling that he’d done the same or worse to his shoulder, and he got the urge to cry and howl.

“Oh fuck.” His stomach heaved and he barely made it to his side before he threw up from the pain. He turned his head and almost lost his guts again. Maddox lay a few feet from him, leg at an unnatural angle, blood dripping from his head, helmet nowhere to be seen. Not talking or cursing.

Clawing at the rocks with his good arm, Ben pulled himself closer, looking for the telltale rise and fall of Maddox’s chest—and not seeing it.

“You are not fucking with me,” Ben growled. “Mad? Come on, man.”

Still nothing, not even a ghost of movement across Maddox’s pale lips. Terror, nothing Ben had ever known before, froze his veins, made him lightheaded from more than just the fall. He refused, utterly refused to live in a world where Maddox wasn’t okay.

“Maddox. Horvat.” He shook his shoulder, cursing under his breath. No, no, no.

Whoosh. A chopper—the chopper—flew overhead, much too far to spot them down this ravine, and heading away from them.

Sputter. Maddox let out a mighty cough. It might have been the most beautiful sound Ben had ever heard, because it meant Maddox was here, that he was fighting, and Ben started to laugh with relief until Maddox spoke. “Heck. They’re leaving us.”

My Review:
Maddox Horvat and Ben Tovey have been friends and teammates as Navy SEALS since they completed BUD/S training ten years ago. They have always had each others’ backs, but Maddox has wanted more for a long time, now. Especially since the past two years when Ben has lived in his apartment, after his nasty divorce from Trey. Ben’s been a man-about-town, never banging the same guy twice, since Trey disappeared, not that he didn’t get around bunches what with their very open marriage. But Maddox wants Ben all to himself, and struggles to hide his desires in order to maintain their close friendship.

It’s time for Maddox to re-up with the SEALs, and he’s not sure he wants to. He’s got some money saved, and has been working on his baking for years now. Even if his dream comes to pass and he and Ben become a couple, they couldn’t stay on the same team any longer. Besides, the reason Maddox got into the service in the first place was to prove to his homophobic family that he was just as much a man as any other, no matter who he loved. Knowing that they will never accept him as he is, even if he should die for his country? Well, kinda takes the impetus away for proving one’s self.

While out on a dangerous mission, Ben and Maddox get temporarily left behind, and it brings their world together into extreme focus for both men. Maddox is seriously injured, and Ben is tasked with keeping off the enemy and keeping Maddox alive until they can be rescued. During those stressful hours Ben recognizes that he needs Maddox in his life, no matter what. And the peculiar feelings he’s been having–about him and Maddox together for real–are banging through his concussed head.

Stateside, their healing isn’t only of the physical. Maddox and Ben need to be near one another to feel whole, and their time in the hospital brings clarity for Ben: he needs to try to love Maddox they way he needs to be loved–because Ben can’t exist in a world where Maddox isn’t by his side. Maybe, Ben thinks, if he seduces Maddox, then Maddox won’t leave the SEALs; won’t leave him, as his mother and husband did…

I really enjoyed the slow burn as these two felt their way toward a loving, intimate relationship. They have always been each other’s best friend, and they’ve had a deep intimacy in terms of knowing one another, but the step into lovers hasn’t been easy. Maddox has very defined ideas about monogamy, thoughts Ben hasn’t had in years now, but for Maddox he’d give up a whole lot. Maddox knows Ben wants him on his team, in the trenches, and in bed–behind closed doors–but Maddox is beyond doing what other people want. He needs to do for himself, and if Ben walks away, well it’ll hurt deep, but Maddox will weather that storm and find a man who can love him for who he is, not what he does. Maddox wants a settled life, and he wants Ben in it, but Ben has to choose him. And, well, I’ll just say that Ben makes the right choice.

This one is hot and steamy and sexy and sentimental and fabulous. I could hang out in Maddox’s kitchen all day and half the night. Ben is a grouch, but the kind of grouch that is endearing. He grows a lot during the time of the story, and makes the right decisions, eventually, to find his own happiness. I liked how he made things right within his family, and opened himself up to forgiving people who’d hurt him. I highly recommend this one!

Interested? You can find ON POINT on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. I received a review copy via NetGalley.
Be sure to check out my reviews for OFF BASE and AT ATTENTION, the previous titles in this series. While you don’t have to read the books in order, they are fabulous, too!

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $20 GC to Amazon.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

Annabeth Albert avatarAbout 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. Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency.

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

Feeling the Love: DANCED CLOSE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a recently released contemporary M/M romance form Annabeth Albert. DANCED CLOSE is the 6th book in her Portland Heat series, and I’ve enjoyed each of these standalone romances including WRAPPED TOGETHER and KNIT TIGHT. This romance features a wedding planner in a bind, and a baker with hidden talents–and dark secrets.

About the book:
Portland, Oregon, is one of the hottest cities in America. Just ask all the hard-working men sweating it up behind the counters of the restaurants, boutiques, and cafés all over town …

Newly clean and sober, Todd’s taken a shine to his job at Portland’s most talked about bakery. It’s not just the delicious desserts they sell, but the tasty treats who keep walking through the door. That certainly includes Kendall Rose, a wedding planner with eyes the color of brown sugar and skin to match. Todd doesn’t try to hide his attraction to Kendall’s elegant confidence and unique style, even as he worries about exposing the secrets of his past.

For Kendall, the attention is just part of the anything-goes Portland he’s grown to love. But he’s still looking for that special someone who will embrace all of him—including his gender fluidity. So he takes a chance and asks Todd to be his partner in a dance class leading to a fundraiser. When the music starts and he takes Todd in his arms, Kendall is shocked at how good it feels. Turns out taking the lead for once isn’t a mistake. In fact, it might be time to take the next step and follow his heart …

My Review:
Todd is a twenty-two year old starting his life over again. He’d struggled with weight issues, and addiction in his childhood, but he’s clean and sober, now. Still, it’s not easy to make his way in the world. A former runaway/homeless teen, he’d seen the worst of life on the streets. He doesn’t have a fancy degree–or even and unfancy one–but he’s a true blue spirit, willing to go the extra mile and work twice as hard as the next guy. He’s currently working in an upscale bakery, and that’s where he meets Kendall.

Kendall is a genderqueer man who is definitely gay, but unhappy in his usual “role” due to his feminine-leaning fashion and slighter stature. He’s met Todd on several occasions when he brings wedding-planning clients to the bakery. And, there’s a spark, for sure. Todd has old-fashioned manners, and treats Kendall with respect. When Kendall’s partner for ballroom dancing classes cancels, he asks Todd to stand in–delighted to learn that Todd was a champion dancer in his early childhood. Todd isn’t a spotlight kind of guy–not anymore–but he agrees to be a partner to Kendall when he learns it’s all part of a benefit for the homeless shelter that rescued Todd from the streets.

I really liked the slower pace of this romance, because Todd’s history isn’t like those of the men Kendall usually dates. Todd wants a partnership, more than a casual partner. They have dinners together, and talk, and dance, and have some shenanigans. But that’s only after some very frank and honest discussions about risk. Because those conversations are necessary for these guys. I also really liked the way that Todd accepted Kendall’s genderqueer identity. Kendall has had many experiences of being belittled for his outre habits, yet, Todd admires him earnestly. This is a sweet tale, and the love story spoke to me–for all of it’s challenges.

For series fans we get a little bit of Vic from BAKED FRESH, as Todd works in his bakery. I liked how close Todd was with his Gran, and how hard he works to remain sober. It’s interesting at the beginning when Kendall teases Todd about his age, and Todd thinks about how aged he is for such a “young” person. He’s a guy who thought his life was mostly over before it had even begun, and considers himself unworthy of love. But, Kendall’s insecurities fit him–they fit each other in the right ways. They are able to support one another emotionally, and that means a lot to these two guys who really do want a solid love. It was an interesting and engaging read in this novella series, and I devoured it in one night-time gulp.

Interested? You can find DANCED CLOSE on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Annabeth Albert avatarAbout 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. Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency.

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

Finding Love AT ATTENTION–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Wow, long time no see! Busy busy back to school, even when I had a break… Still, I really excited to share a review and giveaway for a new contemporary military M/M romance from Annabeth Albert. AT ATTENTION is the second book in her Out of Uniform series, and really enjoyed OFF BASE, so I couldn’t wait to read this one. It’s a new romance that pairs a younger man with the heartbroken widower he’d fallen for years before–when he comes to help out with childcare over the summer.

Catch an excerpt below, and be sure to enter the $20 Amazon GC giveaway, too!
About the book:
Lieutenant Apollo Floros can ace tactical training missions, but being a single dad to his twin daughters is more than he can handle. He needs live-in help, and he’s lucky a friend’s younger brother needs a place to stay. He’s surprised to see Dylan all grown up with a college degree…and a college athlete’s body. Apollo’s widowed heart may still be broken, but Dylan has his blood heating up.

It’s been eight years since the teenage Dylan followed Apollo around like a lovesick puppy, and it’s time he showed Lieutenant Hard-to-Please that he’s all man now—an adult who’s fully capable of choosing responsibility over lust. He can handle Apollo’s muscular sex appeal, but Apollo the caring father? Dylan can’t afford to fall for that guy. He’s determined to hold out for someone who’s able to love him back, not someone who only sees him as a kid brother.

Apollo is shocked by the intensity of his attraction to Dylan. Maybe some no-strings summer fun will bring this former SEAL back to life. But the combination of scorching desire and warm affection is more than he’d expected, and the emotion between them scares him senseless. No fling lasts forever, and Apollo will need to decide what’s more important—his past or his future—if he wants to keep Dylan in his life.

How about a little taste?

Hamburger. Onions. Pickles. Ketchup. Buns. Buns.

Well, hello, there. Possibly the most perfect specimen Apollo had ever seen was bent over in the bakery aisle at Sprouts, looking at a rack of organic cookies. High. Tight. Round. Attached to muscular legs poking out of board shorts, the kind of legs that suggested a serious investment in a sport or fitness. He wasn’t going to do more than look, but even when he’d been with Neal, he hadn’t been blind, and it was nice to know perfection like this guy existed in the world.

It was like swimming by a perfect coral reef on a dive or the blue of a cloudless sky right before a jump—

Wink. Fuck. The guy straightened before Apollo could look away and caught Apollo staring, and instead of blushing or serving him with the angry glare he deserved, he gave Apollo a saucy wink. It was the sort of wink that a decade ago would have had Apollo crossing the shiny linoleum and getting the guy’s number, but those days were long gone.

Instead he grabbed the closest twelve pack of hamburger buns and one of hot dog buns and headed to the next aisle. Those were the only kind of buns he had any business letting himself be distracted by. He was a father for crying out loud, not some single guy out treating the natural grocery store like his own personal pickup joint. Reflexively, he rubbed his ring with the side of his pinky, making it spin on his ring finger. Yeah. No more looking.

“Apollo! How are you?” Bridget from down the street almost ran her cart into his as he navigated the aisles. Her red-haired toddler waved at him from the basket.

Hell. He knew he should have brought at least one of the girls shopping. Then Bridget could have focused on the kids, and not his least favorite question in the universe.

“Hanging in there.” Apollo gave her a practiced a smile. “Good” would be a lie and no one wanted to hear “same as yesterday,” which was closer to the truth. But what the Bridgets of the world all wanted to hear was that Apollo was moving on—like time was the magic cure for the hole in his heart. “Having some people over for a barbecue later. Apologies if anyone parks in front of your place.”

“Oh, no worries.” Bridget patted his arm. “Having friends is so important.”

“Yeah, it is,” Apollo agreed because Bridget was a nice person, but inwardly his teeth gnashed together. He was so tired of well-meaning people telling him what was good for him when not a damn one of their suggestions would bring Neal back. “I better get on with my list.”

“You do that. And be sure and let us know if you need anything.”

Apollo nodded. Two years. It had been two years of neighbors and friends stopping him like this, making kind offers, but none of them able to do the one thing he wanted more than anything.

Fuck. Snap out of it, Lieutenant. No one wants your mopey ass around on this sunny May weekend. And it was an absolutely gorgeous day, perfect for playing with the girls outside and kicking back a few beers with his friends. He wasn’t on duty and had three consecutive days off for the first time in a long time. No sense dwelling on sad shit. Time to get stuff done.

Find something else to focus on.

Like that perfect ass?

No. Absolutely not that. Like…pickles. Lots and lots of pickles.

He saw Mr. Perfect Butt again in the juice aisle, and it was damn hard to keep his resolution to stick to shopping. The guy was model cute—curly hair falling just so over his forehead, sparkling eyes, chiseled jaw, and a tight T-shirt advertising a British soccer team showing off a defined chest and tight stomach. The guy smiled at him again and looked like he might want to speak, so Apollo grabbed the juice boxes for the girls and got out of there like he’d just launched a flash bang in the guy’s direction.

At the checkout, Mr. Perfect Butt was ahead of him in the only line that seemed to be moving. Apollo very carefully did not look at his butt again and busied himself grabbing some gum and trying to give off “don’t talk to me” vibes.

But those vibes seemed to be an utter failure as the guy turned, offering another movie-star-worthy grin. “You want to go first?” His voice was husky, like every word was a secret.

“I’m good,” Apollo said.

The man nodded, shy smile teasing the edges of his mouth, making his blue eyes dance. “You know—”

“ID please.” The cashier interrupted whatever flirtation the guy had planned as his six pack of beer went across the scanner.

“Oh, yeah.” A faint red flush spread up the guy’s neck. Oh hell. He wasn’t just younger than Apollo. He was a kid. A kid who still got carded, and rightfully so with that baby face. What the hell had Apollo been thinking, admiring his body?

Apollo focused on unloading his own groceries, making neat rows for the cashier, and making sure the buns wouldn’t get squished.

Buns. Nope. Not going there. The kid hung around after paying for his groceries, mouth moving as if he were debating speaking, but Apollo kept his attention squarely on the cashier.

No more looking. Remember who—what—you are now. When he finally looked up, perfect butt guy was gone, and if Apollo felt a twinge of regret for being a bit on the rude side, he squashed it quickly. Wasn’t like he’d ever see the guy again anyway.

My Review:
Lt Apollo Floros lost his beloved husband Neal two years ago. He’s grieved terribly, while putting up a strong front for his young twin daughters, Chloe and Sophia. His mother lives in his home, and helps with the childcare, but she’s leaving for a two month trip to Greece with her sisters–a lifelong dream she’s saved for years to experience–and Apollo needs help.

His best friend, Dustin, has arranged to get a suitable person to care for Apollo’s girls: his younger brother, Dylan. Dylan’s just graduated college with a degree in childhood education, and wants to manage recreation classes for kids. He’s got a gig teaching at the summer camp Apollo’s girls are attending, and will be an excellent caregiver, if only he can remember not to fall for Apollo. Again. See, Dylan met Apollo years and years ago, when he came to visit Dustin during a leave, and Apollo was the center of all Dylan’s teenaged (and not so teenaged) sexual fantasies. He’s attracted to Apollo the SEAL, but Apollo the Broken-Hearted? Apollo the Loving Father? #GoneBabyGone

Apollo wallows in his burgeoning attraction to Dylan, quelling his lust by reminding himself that Dylan is Dustin’s baby brother–and twelve years younger than himself. Thing is, Dylan is a strong, assertive man who appreciates Apollo’s micromanaging schedules, and does his darnedest to make Apollo’s life easier. Plus he’s fabulous with Chloe and Sophia. Living in Apollo’s home puts Dylan right in the eye of the storm–he hadn’t realized Apollo spent his nights in the guest room where Dylan sleeps–until Apollo confesses how he’s hardly slept in his own bed in the two years since Neal died. It’s a heart wrenching experience, watching Apollo deal–poorly–with his grief, and deny himself any thoughts of finding love again, out of loyalty to the memory of Neal.

Dylan is a great young man. He’s a partner, and a lover, when Apollo needs one desperately. Still, he’s not getting his needs met, not while Apollo insists on keeping Dylan firmly in the role of ‘babysitter’, and Dylan’s smart enough to stand up for himself, especially when Apollo is way out of line.

I loved how tender this was, and how authentically the love story developed. This isn’t an easy love, but it has the possibility of being a great one. Knowing people who never remarried after losing a spouse, I really connected with Apollo’s grief, and I was relieved when he finally connected to it, as well. There’s a lot of healing in the book–some of it sexual healing–and there’s going to be a break up to make up, but it’s really well handled and felt true. Raising twin girls can’t be easy, but they didn’t take over the story.

I loved these guys, and I loved how they found love together.

Interested? You can find AT ATTENTION on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $20 GC to Amazon.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

Annabeth Albert avatarAbout 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. Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency.

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

Coming Clean OFF BASE–Review and Giveaway!

off-base-blitz-bannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a new contemporary M/M military romance from Annabeth Albert. OFF BASE is the first in a new military romance series and features spin-off characters from her #gaymers series. Let’s get ready to meet a closeted Navy SEAL, and the brash math prof who renovates his heart. Also, expect significant input from Josiah and Ryan from CONNECTION ERROR.

Catch the excerpt and review below and be sure to enter the giveaway for a $20 Amazon GC.
off-baseAbout the book:
After trading the barracks for a fixer-upper rental, Navy SEAL Zack Nelson wants peace, not a roommate—especially not Pike, who sees things about Zack he most wants to hide. Pike’s flirting puts virgin Zack on edge. And the questions Pike’s arrival would spark from Zack’s teammates about his own sexuality? Nope. Not going there. But Zack can’t refuse.

Pike Reynolds knows there won’t be a warm welcome in his new home. What can he say? He’s an acquired taste. But he needs this chance to get his life together. Also, teasing the uptight SEAL will be hella fun. Still, Pike has to tread carefully; he’s had his fill of tourists in the past, and he can’t risk his heart on another, not even one as hot, as built—and, okay, yeah, as adorable—as Zack.

Living with Pike crumbles Zack’s restraint and fuels his curiosity. He discovers how well they fit together in bed…in the shower…in the hallway… He needs Pike more than he could have imagined, yet he doesn’t know how to be the man Pike deserves.

How about a little taste?

“What do you mean they’re not coming?” Zack tried hard to sound like the badass navy SEAL he was now. He’d passed all sorts of interrogation training—there was no reason he couldn’t hide that he didn’t particularly like this guy. Or this fancy bar where he and his nontrendy clothes and military haircut were out of place. He’d agreed to go out for drinks with a group. His friend Ryan had promised him a drink for finishing his SEAL qualification training and getting his trident, and Zack had figured dealing with the rest of Ryan’s crowd wouldn’t be horrible. But tolerable was a far cry from being stranded alone with Pike freaking Reynolds without Ryan as a buffer.

“They blew two tires getting out of Santa Monica and are waiting on a repair truck now. Ryan said to have fun without them.” Pike looked harmless enough—shorter than Zack with a lean build and bright red hair and freckles that made him look too young to drink—but Zack knew from experience he was anything but benign. Pike was the type of guy who would flirt with wallpaper, but he seemed to have singled Zack out for special attention ever since their first meeting at a LAN party.

Which was all well and good, but unlike a lot of Ryan’s crowd, Zack wasn’t openly gay. And what Zack hated was that Pike seemed to see through all his “no, really I’m straight” protests and see things Zack refused to even think about. And a whole night with Pike? Torture. And that was coming from someone who’d been tossed into frigid water with his arms and legs bound. Repeatedly.

But he’d happily endure another round of drownproof training if it meant an easy out of this situation.

“Is Landon coming?” Please say it’s not just us. Surely, Pike’s omnipresent sidekick would be there to bail Zack out.

“Nope. He’s doing research at the Hadron Collider for the next few months. Just us, I think.” Pike grinned at him. “Alone at last, right?”

Zack guessed that the Hadron was one of those supersmart things Pike’s crowd just assumed everyone else knew about. He certainly wasn’t about to appear dumb and ask. “You don’t have to stick around on my account,” he said instead.

“Dude.” Pike smacked him on the shoulder. “I’ve had a shit week. Another three interviews for jobs for the fall, another three fuckups on my part. Don’t make me drink alone.”

“I guess I could do a beer.”

“On me, right? We’re all super stoked that you passed SQT.” Pike gave him another of those disarming smiles.

Ba-deep-deep. Zack’s phone chimed. Sure enough, there was a message from Ryan apologizing for bailing. Have fun with Pike, Ryan ended. But whatever you do, don’t let him talk you into shots. He looks scrawny, but he can drink you under the table. Trust me.

Zack shoved his phone away. Nope, no way was he doing shots with Pike. Last thing he needed was to get drunk and forget himself around the guy.

“So what’ll it be? They have a whole selection of craft beers here.” Pike offered him one of the little bar menus artfully strewn around on the huge antique wood bar.

“A Bud’s fine,” Zack said. He’d never developed a taste for the fancy stuff. This whole place was fancier than he was used to, what with the exposed hardwoods everywhere, the prettified bar food emerging from the kitchen, and the painted inspirational quotes behind the bar. Even the name, Mellow, was a far cry from the hole-in-the-wall places he’d drunk at in college or even Big Ted’s, the little sports bar right off base that his fellow SEALs favored.

Pike signaled the burly bartender, who frowned at them after Pike gave their order for a Bud and some fancy-ass beer Zack had never heard of. “Hand stamps, please. Both of you.”

Zack stuck his hand out, showing that the bouncer had indeed checked his ID. Pike put his arm right next to Zack’s—way too close for comfort. “See, look at us, finding things in common.”

“Getting carded is hardly something to be proud of,” Zack mumbled as he pulled his arm away. Back in San Diego, when he went to the bars with his friends, they never got carded anymore. And he liked that—he was twenty-three now, for crying out loud.

“Of course it’s not for you, Muscles.” Pike did that whole standing-too-close thing again, moving over so others could get to the bar.

Zack really shouldn’t like that Pike noticed what the past few months of training had done for his physique. He’d always been lean, but days of log- and boat-carry drills had carved out muscles he hadn’t even been aware he had. Zack accepted his beer from the bartender, then followed Pike to one of the little high-top tables ringing the bar area.

“Seriously, you are jacked now.” Pike winked at him, giving him the sort of once-over Zack’s buddies gave girls in bikinis. “Look at those shoulders. It even makes you look taller.”

Flattery was not going to work on Zack. Not even a bit. Besides, Pike was the short one, probably five seven or so. But Zack was a perfectly respectable five ten. In your boots.

“Truth, man. I just call it like I see it.” Pike shrugged. And that right there was the whole problem with Pike—he had absolutely no filter and a way too keen sense of observation.

My Review:
Navy SEAL Zach Nelson is a closeted gay man being tormented by one of his teammates, Cobb. He’s trying to pass, and mostly does, but he fears even experimenting with a man–because he knows his family will never accept him. And, he’s assured by Cobb that none of the guys in the squad will protect him if they find out he’s gay. Vulnerable, he looks for off-base housing so he can escape Cobb’s relentless haranguing. The senior chief of Zach’s squad has a small three-bedroom house he wants to renovate, and offers Zach free rent if he’ll do the work.

Zach struggles, however, as he’s not a handy guy. His good friends Ryan and Josiah recommend a mutual friend, Pike, to stay and help. Pike had struggled to find a job out of grad school, and has accepted a visiting prof job at a community college in San Diego. He knows Zach’s a sexually-confused man, but he’s not really prepared to teach him the secrets of gay life–no matter how attracted he is to “Muscles,” er, Zach. No. See, Pike got burned falling for a guy who wouldn’t come out before, and he’s not interested in repeating the experience.

Thing is, the more Zach and Pike live together, the more these guys fill needs for the other. Zach cares for Pike’s deranged cats. Pike is the handiest math genius in (perhaps) seventeen states. They get along far better than they had expected. And, there’s sexytimes. Pike stands-in as gay Yoda to Zach, who’s a frustrated, self-loathing virgin. I liked how they progressed from roommates to more, because it happened over the course of weeks-to-months. Zach’s frustration with Cobb’s bullying is palpable and gut-wrenching. His realization that he needs to be a better partner to Pike, when he finally accepts that they are more-than-friends, is really sweet. This is a good man, who’s lived under very constrained personal relationships. His parents are very Southern, and very religious, and very disapproving.

Pike, on the other hand, does all he can to live his truth, without bringing any harm to Zach personally or professionally. He’s a rock and a sweetheart, and a man who volunteers his heart for breaking, because Zach needs him. I really liked these guys, especially when Zach opened up about all the crap he was struggling with, not only to Pike, but to Ryan, and eventually to senior officers. There was some quelling of the homophobic comments on the squad once one of Zach’s teammates suspected his sexuality, and the handling of the bullying seemed to fit the situation. In the end, we get Pike and Zach out as a super solid couple, and I’m expecting gorgeous Lt. Apollo to find new love in one of the coming books. #Swoon.

Interested? You can find OFF BASE on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $20 GC to Amazon.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

Annabeth Albert avatarAbout 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. Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency.

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

Christmas Got Them WRAPPED TOGETHER–Review and Giveaway

wrapped-blitz-bannerHi there! I’m super excited to share a review for a new contemporary M/M romance from Annabeth Albert. WRAPPED TOGETHER is a Christmas story in the Portland Heat series of novellas that features an odd couple friends-to-lovers love story. Expect some cameos from the boys of KNIT TIGHT, too!

Catch the excerpt, my review and get in on the $20 GC giveaway, below.

wrapped-together-coverAbout the book:
In the bustling restaurants, shops, and cafés of Portland, Oregon, things really heat up for the hard-working men behind the scenes when the holidays come into town . . .

For a stationery store owner, the holidays are great for business. But for Hollis Alcott, Christmas reminds him of the tragic events of three years past, and the last thing he wants to do is take part in Portland’s over-abundance of festive cheer. But Sawyer Murphy, a hunky gift shop owner whose brother is married to Hollis’s sister, has made it his mission to pluck Hollis out of his holiday blues. And his plan is beginning to work. Wrapped in the warm glow of newfound passion, the former business rivals hit up Portland’s finest holiday traditions—and Hollis’s icy attitude begins to melt like snowflakes on his tongue. But he isn’t sure he can trust anyone with the only gift he has—his heart—without breaking it like an antique ornament. Unless he can find the courage to take a leap with the one lover he never expected . . .

How about a little taste?

This excerpt comes from chapter one of WRAPPED TOGETHER, when Hollis and his long-time frenemy Sawyer engage in a friendly bet sure to put their holiday cheer to the test!

****

I took a sip of my now tepid, almost-gone tea. Ugh. The good barista was on duty, the one who went with Ev from the knitting store and who always happily made my tea with the same care he did the fancy coffee drinks. I left the group, happy to have the excuse of needing a refill, but as I stood in line, Mary Anne joined me.

“Hollis Alcott, we almost never see you at these things!” Her voice seemed to ring out above the din. “Will you be participating in the contest this year?”

“I doubt it. My fall display is already set.” I tried not to sound too dour—she always had the best houseplants and had custom-ordered the rare fern I’d wanted.

“Ah, well, that’s too bad. You let me know if you change your mind. I’d be happy to lend you some poinsettias or other decor. I know you could do a splendid, tasteful window.”

It was my turn to order, so I gave her a smile as a reply before handing Brady my stainless-steel tumbler for tea and ordering a scone to go. I had to wait down at the other end of the bar for my order, and as I was waiting, Sawyer came loping over, a smile on his boyish face. His wide shoulders stretched the hoodie in distracting ways.

“Hollis! Did I hear you say you’re not decorating?”

“You did.”

He frowned. “I know how much you hate the holidays, but I bet you’d get an uptick in sales if you decorated. I heard Mary Anne offer to help. I could, too. I’ve got gobs of lights.”

“Thank you but no.” Truth be told, I could use the increase in sales, but it wasn’t enough of a motivator to get me ready for the onslaught of red and green.

Sawyer’s head tilted, considering. Oh no. I knew that look too well. A Sawyer who was scheming was downright dangerous. “We should bet, you and I.”

“No,” I said firmly. I stepped away from the coffee bar to let Mary Anne and others wait for their orders, but Sawyer kept step with me, effectively pinning me in between two tables on my path to the door. I sighed and repeated my objection. “No. The last time we bet, I believe you cracked a wrist.”

Sawyer waved a hand, dismissing my concern. “We were fifteen. We’ve had other bets since then.”

We had, but there was one in particular I was determined not to remember right at that moment. This was the peril of having known someone for almost two decades. “How precisely would one even bet on this?”

I let my inner musings escape before I could rein them in, and Sawyer smiled. He knew he had me. Whatever nervousness and shyness captured my tongue around large groups did not, unfortunately, extend to Sawyer. “Well, I was thinking whichever of us makes it into the top three is the winner of our bet, and then the loser has to do whatever the winner wants for an evening.”

Oh, I did not like this. “Anything?”

“That wasn’t a no.” Sawyer’s grin showed the sort of charm that made him so darn popular. “And I wasn’t thinking of something kinky. Trust me here, Hols.”

“Don’t call me that.” And I most certainly did not trust him. I was pretty sure the always-affable Sawyer didn’t have a kinky bone in his body, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t up to something. “But I could get you to do any task of my choosing?”

See, the thing about me that Sawyer knew was that I have a very hard time resisting a bet. Always have, hence the aforementioned bet freshman year of high school about jumping over auditorium seats during drama class. I’m also notoriously cheap. And as it turned out, I did have a job for him.

He nodded. “Anything.”

“I have a bathroom I want painted at my store. Including the trim.”

Sawyer, to his credit, didn’t look remotely pained. “That’s fine. I’m good at painting.”

“And you? What would you want?” I had no idea why I was asking. I certainly wasn’t planning on agreeing to this ridiculous plan.

“A surprise.” He winked at me.

“I don’t like those.”

“I know. Which is why you need one. But if it makes you feel better, I’ll specify no sex or nudity involved.” Sawyer had mercifully dropped his deep, clear voice to softer tones. I still bristled at the thought of anyone overhearing this.

“Or humiliation, public or otherwise.”

“Oh, Hollis, you know me better than that.” He held up his hands. They were big, capable hands, and I had to blink to get my eyes to look away. “Now, come on. I dare you. Bet me.”

My Review:
4.5 stars for this sweet and spicy M/M Christmas friends-to-lovers, odd-couple romance. It’s a part of the Portland Heat series, and easily enjoyed on it’s own.

Hollis Alcott and Sawyer Murphy have known each other since middle school. They are both halves of a twin, and Hollis’ sister Char was besties with Sawyer through high school–and she married Sawyer’s twin, Tucker, several years ago.

Hollis is a serious introvert, very uptight about his public and private life–even if he has none. Sawyer is out and proud, a braggart back in high school when he would casually relate all his exploits to Char, and Hollis, by default. He was too fearless, and too fanciful, for Hollis, even if Hollis couldn’t help being swept away by Sawyer’s gregarious nature. Still, too risky to even come out before he was on the other side of the US, gong to school on the east coast while his family lived in Portland, Oregon.

Three years ago Hollis and Char’s parents died in a skiing accident, and they have dealt with it in their own way. Char’s family lives in her childhood home, growing more offspring and engaging with life while Hollis runs his own carefully-curated craft paper, ink and pen shop. He’s a fussy man, wanting to project the perfect image of perfection, while inside he’s a neurotic wreck. He’s still very much attracted to Sawyer, who runs a card and gift shop in the same Main Street business area as Hollis and pals from KNIT TIGHT, Ev and Brady’s yarn and coffee shops. Hollis is a big fan of Ev’s knitted scarves, and those come in really handy when Sawyer gets his lips on Hollis’ very sensitive neck… #Hickeys!!

But first, the premise: Hollis is always down around the holidays, and their business association is running a window decorating contest to boost sales. Sawyer bets Hollis that his shop will come in top three, and if Hollis’ store wins, he’ll do some manual labor around the shop–but when Sawyer wins, it’s a date night.

Hollis can’t understand why Sawyer wants to play with him, but he’s much too fragile to hand his heart over to a man who’s been notorious for quitting everything. Sure, they’re rolling up on thirty now, but Sawyer’s still too brilliant a light for Hollis to look into often. He’s scared, having little-to-no experience in relationships, yet Sawyer is a patient, and persistent force. Plus, their familial and business connections continue to wrap them together, even when Hollis would rather run for the hills.

That said, Sawyer’s thrilled by the little bit of kink he susses out of Hollis’ reactions. It seems Hollis really likes a bit of dominance, and rope bondage. Oh, and some orgasm denial. Yes, our buttoned-up fusspot Hollis is dirty dirty boy, when he feels safe enough to let himself play with a partner. Their deep connection and the rekindling of their friendship allows Hollis to let go with Sawyer. Sawyer’s so grateful for this kinky peek into a man he’s wanted for years. They get it on for a bit–until Hollis’ complete paranoia regarding Sawyer’s motives finally kicks in.

This is a really sweet book. Lots of hurt/comfort for Hollis, and a heart-to-heart moment with his ghosts, to remember that he’s a good guy who deserves far better than the grief-shrouded, showplace home of a life he’s built for himself. Only when he opens his door to Sawyer’s big love and hearty plans does Hollis recognize that his memories don’t all have to be blanketed in sorrow, and that new experiences can be as lush as the life he once had.

It’s a quick read, with great guys–and nice cameos from Ev, mostly, of KNIT TIGHT. Expect a heartwarming read, with a solid HEA. Also, a nosy cat, and a couple moments that might require a tissue. (Pretty much universal for me and Christmas reads…)

Interested? You can find WRAPPED TOGETHER on Goodreads, Kensington Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble Kobo, iTunes and AllRomance. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

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Annabeth Albert avatarAbout 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. Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency.

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