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

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

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

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

How about a little taste?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Boy, you buy one new sport suit—”

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

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

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

Dinner arrived and Philip dropped his hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Great.” He rolled his eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What does it feel like I’m doing?”

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

“Then I stop.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****GIVEAWAY****

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

****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.

Precarious Love ROCKING THE BOAT–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary sports romance from C Koehler. ROCKING THE BOAT is the first book in his CalPac Crew series, which features a dedicated coach for the varsity men’s crew team at a small college falling for one of his rowers.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Nick Bedford coaches the men’s rowing team at California Pacific College, a small liberal arts school in Sacramento. He’s quiet, dedicated—and closeted. He struggles with professional ethics and NCAA rules as he denies his attraction for Morgan Estrada, one of his rowers. While they may not be far apart in age, the difference between coach and athlete leads Nick to worry about exploitation.

But Morgan has desires and a mind of his own, and what he wants is his coach. As the spring racing season advances, Morgan feels his coach’s eyes on him. Morgan may be gay, and while he’s not out to team, he hasn’t hidden it, either. It may be a coach’s job to check out an athlete’s form, but Morgan hopes Nick’s interested in more than his technique.

Morgan corners Nick in the boathouse, and Nick admits that while he wants Morgan he can’t have him. Morgan laughingly points out that he’s not bound by any of those rules and he wants Nick. Nick and Morgan start a relationship, but Nick worries whenever they’re in public: what if someone sees? An anonymous complaint from a rower to the athletics director sends Nick’s worries into overdrive just as the crew prepares for the make-or-break race of the year.

How about a little taste?

Coach Nick Bedford watched the eight men—his athletes, sweaty and pushed to the edge, their sides heaving like thoroughbreds—do their best to beat each other on the boathouse ergometers. The ergs, specialized rowing machines that duplicated the rowing stroke almost exactly, were his rowers’ best friends and worst enemies, building their conditioning and strength but also devouring everything they had to give and demanding more. He often shared their workouts, but not today. Today he walked around each athlete’s erg, looking for flaws in his technique. The crew’s coxswain helped him, but he was still the coach. It was his job to get them in shape.

They were a small crew, and California Pacific College was a small school. A former college rower himself, Nick was a graduate student working on his master’s degree in exercise physiology at a not-too-distant state university, and around the boathouse, he did it all. He was the resident expert on bodies in motion, guiding each athlete through workouts on land and water, each designed to make the boat go faster. He was the dietician, trying to keep a group whose natural prey was pizza and beer on the nutritional straight and narrow to build muscle and fuel recovery. He was their sport psychologist, helping them through losses and guiding the young men through the shoals of school, rowing, and life. He spent his free time immersed in exercise science literature, reading, reading, reading—anything to give his men that extra edge.

He even rigged the boats, adjusting the hardware and making minor repairs.

Eight varsity athletes, eight seats in the varsity boat. Nick was lucky they were so competitive, even with each other. Posting their erg scores meant someone would be pulling harder next time. He also had a standing offer to the junior varsity rowers: any JV athlete who beat a varsity rower on the ergs could challenge him for a seat in the boat. He’d only had to make good once. Each of his eight rowers put the “I” in team, each determined to beat the others. For a small program, it was ideal. For eye candy, it was unbeatable.

“What’d you think, Coach?” his coxswain asked, coming to stand next to him.

Nick was lucky. Stuart Cochrane had coxed in high school, and the junior premed major was as skilled as they came. “There’s room to improve,” Nick said, never taking his eyes off his athletes. “Look at Sundstrom. He’s hunching his shoulders. On the ergs, it’ll hurt, but on the water, it’ll strain his muscles and make it hard for him to stay in synch.”

“He’s never going to catch Morgan without fixing his technique, either. I’m on it,” Stuart said. He walked over and knelt next to the large rower, watching intently for a few strokes before correcting him. Stuart returned, his coxswain’s strut even more pronounced.

Nick had to smile. The best coxswains were small and light, so they didn’t slow the boat with weight that wasn’t pulling an oar, and they had Napoleon complexes. Stuart fitted the bill: short and cocky and determined to win. “That worked.”

“Of course, it did.” Stuart smirked. “Keep your eye on Estrada. Have you noticed how he speeds up just a bit during the last two k? That’s part of how he keeps beating Brad.”

“I like a nice, friendly rivalry.” Nick grinned. “It keeps the erg times fast.”

“I’m not sure how friendly it is. Brad was the fastest until Morgan joined the team and hasn’t taken kindly to being beaten,” Stuart added quietly, his voice just loud enough to reach Nick’s ears over the sounds of the ergs. “And some of the other guys are beating him too.”

“Then Brad needs to up his game.” Nick didn’t want to know about rivalries like that. He’d seen crews torn apart by such distractions. So long as his rowers left their differences on the dock when they rowed, he didn’t care. As he’d told Stuart, a rivalry on the ergs would move the boat faster.

Nick returned his focus to the ergs. He’d kept an eye on Morgan Estrada, all right. It was hard not to. Collegiate rowers were in fantastic shape, but something about Morgan drew his eye. He was tall, taller than Nick (who, at six feet, wasn’t short), but then, rowing selected for tall men and turned them into muscular ones. Sweat dripped from one wavy brown lock, running down his cheek, but Morgan ignored it.

Nick noticed it, however. It defined Morgan’s cheek, flushed red with effort, but normally very fair. There was more conquistador than conquered in Morgan Estrada’s background. All Nick’s men were good looking in one way or another, but something about Morgan pulled him in, something that threatened to swallow him whole.

Eye candy was a perk of his job, but Nick tried not to stare too much. They were his boys; he was their coach. There was a trust there, and he took that trust very seriously.

Still, watching Morgan strain, sweaty and grunting and red, made Nick think of crossing that line.

My Review:
Coach Nick Bedford is happy with is life. He’s in a graduate program for exercise science and he’s the head coach of the men’s crew team at California Pacific University. In his late 20s this is a decent living. He tried finance and didn’t like it, and he’s much happier helping his athletes find their best skills and abilities. He’d like a steady boyfriend, but he’s also pretty securely in the closet with his job, so it’s not a hardship that he doesn’t have a significant other.

What is particularly grating, however, is his keen awareness of one of his athletes, Morgan Estrada. Morgan is just 21 and a junior at Cal Pacific. He’s tall and lean, like all the rowers on the team, and the attraction Nick is feeling is definitely more than he truly wants to acknowledge. There are lots of regulations barring sexual relations between coaches and athletes, so Nick knows that his attraction to Morgan is absolutely out of bounds. Beside that, Nick doesn’t want to come out and perhaps face accusations of macking on his rowers. And, he doesn’t even know if Morgan is gay–he is not out with the team either. Nick highly suspects that the coxswain, Stuart, is gay but no one really discusses these personal details openly.

The more Nick notices Morgan, the more Morgan picks up on it. Morgan has had a low-key attraction for Coach Bedford since his freshman year, but always thought it would be unrequited. And, how cliche, to crush on his coach, right? Morgan doesn’t see his infatuation as a problem; he’s a grown man now, and Coach has never been inappropriate. In fact, Coach Bedford had been the epitome of honorable, conscientious and driven. His devotion to the team had inspired to step up his training and make the varsity team as a sophomore. Now, when it seems like Coach might be less than straight, and possibly interested, Morgan wants to test those waters as soon as possible. He’s frustrated when Nick lies about his attraction–and makes an unreasonable request of his own best friend to act as a decoy to Morgan.

This is a bit of a taboo romance due to the coach-athlete connection. That said, these two do dance around their mutual attraction for a bit. Nick’s bestie, Drew, is a great foil and sounding board as Nick moves through the season with all this personal conflict. I loved how Drew let Nick have it after being conned into asking Morgan out–and the aftermath of that scenario follows Nick for a good third of the book. Stuart is quick to tear into his coach, too, because he’s had a crush on Morgan for years, and as a close friend to Morgan, saw how Nick hurt him by setting him up with Drew. The fact is, these guys really do see a future with one another, their connection, once it happens, is not simply lust-slaking. It’s instead world-changing for them, and it’s hard to keep that a secret. And the added conflict of a rower discovering their secret nearly capsizes their budding romance.

There is a fair amount of angst here, mostly for Nick who truly bears all the responsibility and consequences that will undoubtedly ensue should Nick and Morgan go public. There is a reckoning, and believable reconciliation. And. the end is happy, with a glimpse at the next couple to be featured in this series. Nice sexytimes, but they don’t take over the story.

Interested? You can find ROCKING THE BOAT 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.