Unexpected Horrors THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary LGBTQ YA thriller with romantic elements from Damian Serbu. THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET features a teen boy who sees ghosts battling it out with the malevolent spirit haunting his family homestead.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jaret Bachmann travels with his family to his beloved grandfather’s funeral with a heavy heart and, more troubling, premonitions of something evil lurking at the Bachmann ancestral home. But no one believes that he sees ghosts.

Grappling with his sexuality, a ghost that wants him out of the way, and the loss of his grandfather, Jaret must protect his family and come to terms with powers hidden deep within himself.

How about a little taste?

I trembled at the thought of returning to Nebraska for my grandpa’s funeral.

Even he told me not to return.

Of course, you can’t explain the situation to your parents, or say your concerns out loud to anyone, without the world thinking you’d gone bonkers.

Still, after my uncle called Dad to tell us Grandpa died, Gramps tried for the past day to keep me at home.

Yeah, my dead grandpa warned me not to go to Fremont, which meant no way I wanted to go either. I trusted him dead as much as I trusted him with all my heart when he lived.

But what Gramps and I wanted did not matter. Because we all planned to get into Dad’s Blazer and drive back to Fremont, to the big Victorian house that had comforted me so much my entire life as the embodiment of Gramps’s love, to the small town we’d left behind years ago.

Unfortunately, none of these dreadful thoughts took me away from the reason I shut my eyes a moment ago and worked with all my power to keep them closed.

Sitting on my bed next to my suitcase and hugging my knees close to my body, I knew Gramps still stood in the corner with a frown. His ghost was upset, and his agitation had to do with my going to his funeral.

Keeping my eyes shut, I reached over next to me, at least comforted by the presence of my dog.

Then my mind played a fucked-up trick on me, as I giggled at my thoughts. I wished for a support group. Hi, I’m Jaret, and I see dead people. Like the frickin’ movie, with what’s-his-name acting in it. The Die Hard guy. Not that I ever wanted to see ghosts. Nope, never did. But ever since I was a kid, as early as I could remember, I saw them. And I learned pretty quickly to keep my mouth shut about my visions, no matter how many times I saw them. People would look at me like I went nutso if I told them such stuff. The other high school kids would freak. My own parents signed me up for the shrink farm when I was in third grade because I told them about the old man ghost in my classroom who made mean faces at me when I got an answer wrong. But could I blame them? My story sounded bonkers and scared the shit out of them. For all I know, the ghost sightings proved once and for all I am nuts.

Back to my senses, I took a deep breath and peeked over at the corner. Still there. Gramps shook his head, the way I remembered from when he wanted to teach me a lesson when I was little. The love had sparkled in his eyes even as he’d reprimanded me, and his ghost form adopted the same demeanor, despite his displeasure with my insistence on traveling to Nebraska.

I almost tricked myself into believing he still lived, except I had watched him materialize out of nowhere in my bedroom. One minute I stared at my hot picture of Captain America, the next Gramps blocked the poster from view as he appeared to me.

“Gramps,” I whispered. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” My head pounded with a headache, always a sign the dead had arrived for a visit. “Please help me. I don’t know what you want. Or how I’m supposed to do it. I’m not in charge around here! You know I have no power.”

He shook his head again, and the word “no” echoed through my skull.

“I got your message!” I yelled as a jolt of pain crashed through my brain. “You don’t want me to go back to Fremont. But I can’t not go. What would I tell my parents?” They’d scold me about making stuff up about ghosts again. Or could I even mention the episode to Jenn and Lincoln, my sister and brother? Too embarrassing. “Gramps, I’m sorry. I have to go. Please understand.”

Again Gramps shook his head, but then began to fade away.

“No. Please. I miss you—”

He disappeared, and Darth whined next to me, her ears back, her big brown eyes worried. At least my head returned to normal, except my stomach turned over in knots. A very, very bad force lurked in Fremont, bad enough Gramps’s spirit left his house to warn me.

I pulled Darth into a tight hug, so she pushed her snout into me. Even she tried to keep me from packing. She listened to Gramps’s warning and took his plea to heart. Yeah, I’m a strange case. I bond with dead people and dogs. I petted her and she whined again. “Don’t be sad. You get to go too.” Of course, I figured my assurance might make the fear worse for her.

I sighed as I stood, Darth mimicking me, and then grabbed my suitcase and headed upstairs, Darth on my heels.

“Look at the bright side,” I told her. “First we have a long car ride through Nebraska! And—Dad informed us no one can take a cell phone. How cool, right? No contact with the real world the whole time!” While Dad often flipped out about our being on our phones too much, he’d lost it with total abandon today. He forbade any phones on the trip, whatsoever. We all caved, though, because, well, first the order came from our dad. We never won those battles. And I think we all figured the phone rage related to his grief.

Darth tilted her head at me, trying hard to understand my words. “Plus, Gramps doesn’t even have a computer!”

We always dealt with the old-world nature of visiting Gramps, but we needed to bury him, which made the whole thing feel like total bullshit. No phones. No computer. Like 1890 all over again. Not to mention the ghosts fucking with me more than usual.

All these dreadful thoughts continued to float through my head as one cornfield after another flew by on the trip to Fremont. I stared out the window the entire time. But my mind kept reminding me we hurried toward a black hole, with nothing good at the other end.

I stifled another inappropriate giggle. The latest horror movie, starring Jaret! The dark stairs seemed foreboding, so I headed right down them! The evil monster ran into the woods. I charged in there alone after the beast! Every movie watcher screamed to go the other way, but the idiot actor plodded right into the danger. Except I became the idiot. Fuck me.

Plus, my head hurt like I got it smashed between two elevator doors. No way to forget the bad premonitions when your head reminded you of them every second.

Thankfully, we all stayed pretty quiet for the entire trip, given the grief of the moment.

My Review:
Jaret Bachmann is a closeted high school senior with an even bigger secret than his sexuality: he can see ghosts. He’s been able to his whole life, but it’s particularly poignant now that his dear Gramp’s spirit is popping into his bedroom in Colorado to warn him against returning to the family homestead in Fremont, Nebraska. Jaret would love to be able to stop his family from returning there, but he doesn’t have that power, and he’s afraid if he tells his parents about his sight they’ll commit him; previous experience did land him in counseling until he recanted.

In Fremont, the entire family is staying in the ancestral home, Jaret’s family, and that of his dad’s brother as well. THey have decided they want to sell the house instead of keeping it, because his aunt is terrified of the ghosts that live there. No one has actually seen a ghost, okay, no one by Jaret and he ain’t telling. Still there’s a lot of weirdness. Jaret’s dad and uncle agree selling the house is a decent plan, but not before they locate the precious heirloom jewelry that Gramps had usually kept in some arcane spot under the floorboards–which is now empty. Everyone agrees that the jewels must be in the attic, because that the one place no one has looked–and the door is unable to be unlocked. It’s also the spot that Gramps’ ghost keeps warning Jaret away from…and he’s stuggling to keep it together until the funeral.

One good thing about returning to Fremont is meeting Steve, a football player who is inexplicably drawn to Jaret on the night they meet as Jaret walks his dog (and comfort animal), Vader. Vader has been a super ally for Jaret, barking her head off whenever malevolent spirits amble past. Steve is a nice distraction, but his interest seemed way too quick, considering he’s never found dudes that interesting, even ones related to the owner of the town’s famous haunted house. The interest is enough to give Jaret some courage, however, and he finally confides his big gay secret to more than just Vader.

This story is centrally about Jaret coming out about this powers to talk with the dead, (and more) and his sexuality. There is a deeply held family secret at the heart and root of Jaret’s abilities and if the family will only just listen and believe, he might just save the day. I thought Jaret’s deductions about his powers, and how gaining access to the sacred family gems revealed even more power that Jaret was able to harness. The story behind the ghost haunting the Bachmann family is rather sad, and has led to innocents dying in the past. The ghost is sure that homosexuality is a perversion that must be eradicated from the family, but the WHY of that conviction is pretty melancholy. Jaret’s a quick thinker, and great improviser, so he fakes it until he can make it–and that spunk made him more interesting.

On the whole, the language of the book was a bit lackluster, with lots of f-bombs and tired repetition of scenes giving the impression of laziness, instead of detail. How many times is the ghost going to accost Jaret? Or, send his mom to find him while he’s canoodling with Steve? Spoiler: all the times. The pace could have been tighter, but Jaret did read like and immature kid, so there’s bonus points for that. There were some weird plot situations that made little sense, like why Jaret’s dad would ban cell phones on this trip? What parent does this? Also, I got WAY tired of the autocratic dad thing, with Jaret’s dad and uncle making completely ludicrous plans and everyone going along because they were the “men”. I was glad Jaret finally grew a spine, and his ingenuity in taking care of the ghost was cool. The way he and Steve fell into “deep love” in a matter of days was less cool.

In all, it was a cool ghost story, with a teen finding powers deep within himself that enable him to stop the horror his family had been suffering for a few generations. The writing wasn’t as tight as I’m used to for YA, and the instalove was nearly more unbelievable than the paranormal magic thriller that served as a backdrop.

Interested? You can find THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press. The Bachmann Family Secret is (clearly) now available.

Keep up to date with him on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about a little taste?

Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hadn’t his father worn Old Spice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To what end?

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Living Through Tragedy THE SECRETS WE KEEP- Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE SECRETS WE KEEP features two grieving men connecting at the funeral of a woman they both loved and lost. It’s an odd-couple romance, and the age and wealth gap pose interesting conflicts. If you liked LEGALLY WED, or THE PERILS OF INTIMACY you’ll like this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jasper Warren is a happy-go-lucky young man in spite of the tragedy that’s marred his life. He’s on a road to nowhere with his roommate, Lacy, whom he adores, and a dead-end retail job in Chicago.

And then everything changes in a single night. Though Jasper doesn’t know it, his road is going somewhere after all. This time when tragedy strikes, it brings with it Lacy’s older, wealthy, sexy uncle Rob. Despite the heart-wrenching circumstances, an immediate connection forms between the two men.

But the secrets between them test their attraction. Will their revelations destroy the bloom of new love… or encourage it to grow?

How about a little taste?

Prologue
“Hey! I don’t think you should go through that,” Rob said, barely audible because he didn’t want his fear to show. He sucked in a breath and clutched his suitcase close to him, as though it were a child—or a flotation device. Or a boy he loved and didn’t want to lose…

The water spread out on the road under the overpass like a black mirror. It could have been a few inches deep or a few feet. From just a visual, there was no way to gauge how deep it was. No person with any sense would drive into it.

His Uber driver, a sallow-complexioned man in his forties wearing a black baseball cap, gave out a low whistle. “We’ll be okay,” he said cheerfully, with a confidence Rob simply didn’t have. “Just sit back and let me worry. We’ll be fine.”

Rob wished he had the nerve to speak up, to command, “No! Don’t! Just turn around.” After all, this driver was putting them both in danger. But he felt like protesting would make him seem insane or, at the very least, silly. So what’s worse, he wondered, seeming crazy or drowning? He cursed himself for the ridiculous lengths he went to so as to avoid confrontation.

A thunderclap as loud as an explosion sounded then, and Rob swore the black Lincoln Continental shuddered under its vibration. Lightning turned the dark, cloud-choked dawn skies bright white for an instant, as though day had peeked in, seen the weather, and then ducked back out.

“This baby can get through it,” the driver said, giving the car a little more gas.

Rob tightened his lips to a single line and furrowed his brows as his driver set off into the small lake stretching out before them. As the driver moved completely under the overpass, the drumming sound of the rain on the roof suddenly ceased, and the silence was like the intake of a breath.

“C’mon, c’mon,” the driver urged almost under his breath as he sallied farther into the water, giving the car more gas.

Even before the engine started to whine in protest, Rob knew they were in trouble by the way the water parted to admit the Lincoln. Waves sloshed by on either side.

Rob thought again he should speak up—like maybe to suggest that the driver could attempt to back up—but held his tongue. The guy was a professional, right? He knew what he was doing.

They’d be okay.

And the driver continued, deeper and deeper into the water standing so treacherously beneath the overpass.

The engine made a lowing sound, like a cow’s moo, as the flood rose up the sides of the vehicle.

Rob gasped as brackish, foul-smelling water covered his loafered feet, pouring in through the small spaces around the doors.

The driver eyed him in the rearview mirror. There was a defeat in his voice as he said, “You better open your door and get out while you can.”

Rob wondered, for only a moment, why he would want to. Then it struck him with the adrenaline-fueled clarity born of panic that if he didn’t open his door now, he might never get another chance. The rising water and its pressure would make it impossible to open the door.

If it wasn’t already too late…

Rob leaned over and pressed against the door. The engine stalled at that moment, and his driver reached for his own door handle up front.

For a brief moment that caused his heart to drum fast, Rob feared his door wouldn’t open. He slid over and leaned against it with his shoulder pressed against the black leather, grunting.

The door held and then suddenly gave way.

Granted access, water rushed into the vehicle. The icy current rose up, covering his ankles and his calves. It was almost over his knees when he managed to slide from the Lincoln.

Outside the car, he stood. The water rose up almost to his neck. He felt nothing, only a kind of numbness and wonder. His driver was already sloshing forward toward the pearly light at the other side of the overpass. He didn’t give Rob so much as a backward glance.

Rob started moving against the water, wondering what might be swimming in it.

Thunder grumbled and then cracked again. The lightning flared, brilliant white, once more. And the rain poured down even harder.

He looked back for a moment at the Lincoln Continental, thinking about his TUMI bag on the seat. There was no hope for that now!

He slogged through the water and progressed steadily forward, feeling like a refugee in some third-world country, bound for freedom. In his head he heard the swell of inspirational music.

After what seemed like an hour, but was really only about five minutes, Rob reached dry land at the end of the overpass, where the entrance ramp veered upward toward the highway. Cars whizzed by, sending up sprays of water, the motorists oblivious.

His driver eyed him but said nothing. He was out of breath.

Rob stood in the rain and remembered his iPhone in the front pocket of his khakis. He pulled it out, thinking to call for help. But when he pressed the Home button, the screen briefly illuminated and then blinked out, the picture of an ocean wave crashing toward the shore first skewing weirdly, then vanishing.

“Shit,” he whispered and then replaced the phone in his soaking-wet pants pocket.

He needn’t have worried about calling for help, however, because it seemed the universe had done it for him. On the other side of the overpass, a fire truck, lights on but no siren, pulled up to the water’s edge. Then two police cruisers. And finally, surprisingly, a news van with a satellite antenna on top brought up the rear.

The rest was kind of a blur. Through a bullhorn, one of the firemen advised them to come back toward them but to use the median instead of slogging through the flood. The concrete divider was only a few inches above the sloshing water.

Somehow, Rob and his driver managed a tightrope walk across the lake the underpass had become, balancing on the concrete divider.

When they reached the other side, one of the newscasters, a guy in a red rain slicker, stuck a microphone in his face and asked him to tell him what happened. Was he afraid? Stunned, Rob shook his head and moved toward the cop cars. Behind him, he could hear the driver talking to the reporter.

At the first police car, a uniformed officer got out from behind the steering wheel. She shut the door behind her and held a hand above the bill of her cap to further shield her from the rain. She was young, maybe midtwenties, with short black hair and a stout and sturdy build.

“You okay, sir?”

Rob nodded. “Yeah, I guess.” He smiled. “Didn’t expect a swim this early in the morning.”

The officer didn’t laugh. “Where were you headed? We might be able to take you, or at the very least, we can summon a taxi for you.”

And Rob opened his mouth to say, “To the airport” and then shut it again.

One thought stood out in his head. I could have drowned. He looked toward the Lincoln, which was filled now with water up to the middle of the windshield.

“Sir? You need us to get you somewhere?”

Rob debated, thinking of a young man, perhaps out in this same rain, getting almost as drenched as he was. He opened his mouth again to speak, unsure of how he could or should answer her question.

What he said now could very well determine the course of the rest of his life.

My Review:
Jasper and Lacy are the best of friends living in a vintage courtyard one bedroom apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. They both work retail jobs, and they adore one another, but Jasper is openly gay, and Lacy is his subtlely enamored wingwoman. Jasper and Lacy make up each other’s “chosen family” since Jasper’s emotionally-closed father hardly calls to talk; his pregnant mother and younger sister were murdered when Jasper was a young child and his father never crawled past his grief. Lacy says her family are a bunch of liars and she wants nothing to do with them, so they support one another and have done so for the past few years as roomies and friends. Jasper knows Lacy wants a sexual relationship with him, but its beyond his ability, and he’s comfortable being her best friend anyway.

They are out for drinks one night and Jasper hangs out later than usual, hoping to find a sexy man for the night, but he gives up and goes home alone, where Lacy convinces him to cuddle with her following a bad dream. Jasper awakes in his own bed the next morning, unsure how he got there and unsettled by the stillness of the apartment. Lacy should have been up long ago, and his morbid curiosity leads him to find Lacy in her bed, cold and past saving.

Jasper is wrecked. Lacy was his lifeline, and he’s unable to do more than visit the funeral home where her detested parents have the wake arranged. “Lacy” was her chosen name, and he doesn’t recognize the goth girl he knew in the brown-haired pink-dressed Heather who fills Lacy’s coffin. Jasper is intercepted by Lacy/Heather’s uncle, Rob, a 40ish silver fox who seems desperate to know something of Heather’s life over the past five years, since she’d broken off all contact with her family. Lacy’d urged Jasper to move on, and not wonder about the darkness of her family, and how they broke her spirit, but he’s willing to console Rob for a bit.

The secrets of Lacy/Heather’s family begin to unravel in ways that Jasper couldn’t have expected. Turns out Rob is a famous mystery/suspense author that Jasper has been a fan of for years–and Lacy never shared that secret. Rob convinces Jasper to correspond with him via text and email, to keep Lacy alive between the two of them, and Jasper is reticent, but determined to share the truth of his dearest friend. This tentative communication begins to build more of a bond between the two men, and Jasper is kind of shell shocked. He’s never sought out older men, or fancied himself a gold digger, yet he’s difinitely attracted to Rob who is nearly 20 years older, and wealthier than God. This inequality is unsettling and a big barrier for the growing intimacy that Jasper and Rob are developing. It’s not until Jasper finally accepts Rob’s request to come visit his Palm Springs mansion that Jasper learns the true nature of Rob’s place in Lacy’s life–the huge secret that cut Lacy’s ties to her family.

This story had a lot of spooky-ish moments that seemed like sinister foreshadowing, but turned out to be more introspective than at first glance. I didn’t really know what to expect about the tragedies Jasper has faced, and I was sad for his losses. He’s a decent guy, but not nearly as happy-go-lucky as the blurb indicates. Losing Lacy really exposes Jasper’s depression, and he’s not sure he’s worthy of love, in many ways. It obstructs his ability to build strong relationships, but he works through his grief, and his confusion about Rob–who has his own secrets to share and grief to survive.

The end is truly a happy one, however, with Rob and Jasper living honestly, and supporting one another emotionally. I liked how Jasper repaired his relationship with his father, and made the effort to connect with Rob, who really needs a loving partner. The harrowing moments didn’t result in further tragedy, but there were certainly enough breadcrumbs out there to keep me on edge for the next shoe to drop.

I liked the story and enjoyed watching the love that grew through patience, honesty and communication between Jasper and Rob. They each deserved a caring lover, and they helped each other grieve and move on from the pain that first united them.

Interested? You can find THE SECRETS WE KEEP on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Coming to Terms With THE PERILS OF INTIMACY–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE PERILS OF INTIMACY features two unlikely men making a connection–and realizing their history goes far deeper than a diner meet-cute. It’s an odd-couple romance, for sure, especially viewed through the lens of addiction, recovery and forgiveness. If you liked LEGALLY WED, you’ll like this one, too.

About the book:
Mark believes he’s meeting Jimmy for the first time in the diner where he works, but he’s wrong. Mark has no recollection of their original encounter because the wholesome Jimmy of today couldn’t be more different than he was two years ago. Back then, Jimmy sported multiple piercings and facial hair. He was painfully skinny—and a meth addict. The drug transformed him into a lying, conniving thief.

Mark doesn’t associate the memory of a hookup gone wrong with this fresh-faced twenty-something… but Jimmy knows. Can Mark see Jimmy for the man he is now and not the addict he was? The answers depend on whether true love holds enough light to shine through the darkness of past mistakes.

My Review:
Mark and Jimmy meet for the second time at Becky’s Diner in Seattle. Jimmy is the cute 23 year old waiter, and Mark is the 40-something flirtatious customer. They feel a spark, and set a date for a date. Jimmy has a sense of deja vu regarding this man, which is unsettling. Jimmy is a recovering meth addict and he hurt himself and a lot of other people when he was using. He’s been sober two years now, and is rebuilding his life. His intuition bears out when Jimmy remembers…Mark was a man he robbed during a meth-fueled hook-up shortly before Jimmy hit rock bottom and sought recovery.

Now, Jimmy is a whole different man. He lives with a fellow recovering addict and makes his meetings. He’s really got a spark with Mark, and he doesn’t want to lose out on the possibility of something good just because he was out of control years before. Mark hasn’t forgotten the violation of Jimmy’s theft. What he’d taken wasn’t that expensive, but the sense of violation was far more destructive for Mark. It makes him skittish around new lovers, and particularly when he connects the dots back to that terrible night. Sure, Jimmy has his life together at this moment, but what guarantee could he make to Mark not to hurt him again? What if he goes back to using? Can he really ever trust this Jimmy–knowing what he does about Jimmy’s past?

This story really hit home for me, having close family members who struggle with, and have overcome, addiction. Jimmy can only accept the responsibility for his actions, and continue to demonstrate how much he has changed in his sobriety. This situation with Mark is definitely stressful, and Jimmy reaches out to his supports to keep him from using when he feels triggered. Mark has to decide: can he forgive Jimmy for the man he was, and accept him for the man he is? They have a shot at getting a happy ending, but only if they are both able to be honest and trust one another.

I liked the compressed time frame of this story, that they connect on a Monday and their lives intersect several times in the course of a tumultuous week. This gave a lot of space to a deep dive into the character’s mindsets and struggles. Neither Jimmy nor Mark are simple men–even if they truly want something simple: a steady life and a loving partner. There’s a little bit of mystic running in here, too, especially for Jimmy who seems in tune with his past, present and future in the way of heightened awareness. This comes through in glimpses, with the deja vu, intuition, conversations with trusted “spirits” and the call to assist people–from junkies cleaning up, to Mark in the heat of a bad moment.

I really liked this one, with its messages of forgiveness–of both self and others–of redemption, and finding the right partner at the right time in one’s life. It stuck with me long after I turned the last page. The romance was low-key, but solidly based in connection of spirit and emotion.

Interested? You can find THE PERILS OF INTIMACY on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books.

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!