Embracing Love in THE SCHOLAR’S HEART–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M fantasy romance from Antonia Aquilante. THE SCHOLAR’S HEART is the third story in her Chronicles of Tournai series. I really enjoyed THE PRINCE’S CONSORT, and THE ARTIST’S MASQUERADE, so I was eager to read Etan’s love story.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Though he is the youngest son of a royal duke, Etan is a scholar at heart, happiest in a library surrounded by his books. He contentedly juggles his work for the prince’s government with his studies of the history and legends of Tournai, a subject of particular interest to him because he shares the secret magical Talent that runs in the royal bloodline. However, Etan’s peaceful world turns upside down when his best friend—the man he secretly loves—unexpectedly marries someone else.

Tristan is the oldest son of a wealthy merchant, raised to shoulder responsibility for the family business one day. That day comes far sooner than anticipated, and he makes a deathbed promise to his father to marry the woman his father chose and become head of the company and family. Tristan values his friendship with Etan and has always been attracted to him, but he can’t forsake his duty to his father, even if it means giving up the possibility of having Etan as a lover.

A year later, Tristan is a widower with an infant daughter and a mother who demands he marry again quickly—something Tristan resists. Circumstances throw Etan and Tristan together again, but even as they succumb to the desires they’ve always harbored, Etan battles his feelings, wary of being cast aside once more. When the unimaginable happens, Etan and Tristan must come together and support each other through the ordeal…and maybe beyond.

How about a yummy taste?

Prologue
One year earlier

“There you are!”

Tristan’s musical voice made the simple sentence something special, or perhaps Etan’s feelings made it seem so. Etan smiled as he looked up from his book, a glow of warmth and welcome lighting him up inside.

Tristan strode into the small room Etan had claimed for his own in the palace’s labyrinthine library. He had a desk in the university library as well, but these days, out of necessity and preference both, he conducted most of his work in this cozy little room. Obscure history books filled the shelves lining the walls. The table in the center of the room held Etan’s notes on his studies and projects, all neatly organized so he could find anything he wanted quickly. But this morning he slouched on the comfortable couch instead, book propped in his lap.

He sat there, book forgotten as he watched Tristan, the morning sun streaming in through the window and glinting off Tristan’s bright gold hair. Tristan seemed to bring the sunshine into the room with him, brightening what had been an ordinary morning until that moment.

“Good morning, Tristan.”

“Good morning to you.” Tristan sent a flirtatious smile in his direction and skirted the table, coming closer.

“It’s good to see you.” He probably sounded ridiculous, but he hadn’t seen Tristan in a few days and, well, he’d missed him.

Tristan’s smile warmed, turning a bit softer. “You too.”

Etan frowned as Tristan flopped on the couch at Etan’s side. Not at the action, but at the look in Tristan’s eyes. The brilliant blue seemed shadowed somehow. “Everything all right?”

“Fine. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. You just seem a little…” Etan shrugged. He couldn’t quite put a word to it, and he couldn’t very well say he didn’t think Tristan’s eyes sparkled as much as they usually did. “Troubled, maybe.”

Tristan was quiet for a moment and then scooted closer and rested his head on Etan’s shoulder. “I’m fine. A little tired. What are you up to?”

“Doing some reading.”

“For work or pleasure?”

Etan suppressed a shiver at the way Tristan’s voice shaped the word pleasure. Certainly, it had to be unconscious on Tristan’s part, but it put ideas into Etan’s head he didn’t want there, not yet, not when he and Tristan hadn’t spoken of feelings between them beyond friendship. But he could see those feelings were there. Perhaps he should just come right out and kiss Tristan. Tristan seemed to be over what feelings he’d had for Amory, Tristan’s lifelong friend who was now married to Etan’s cousin. Etan didn’t see any of the emotion or longing he used to in the glances Tristan sent Amory’s way. Maybe Etan had waited long enough.

He’d certainly paused long enough before answering. “A bit of both. Want me to read to you?”

He’d read to Tristan before, many times, sometimes with Tristan sitting as he was now, snuggled up against Etan’s side, sometimes with Tristan lying with his head in Etan’s lap. Tristan seemed to like when Etan read to him, seemed to enjoy the legends and histories Etan habitually occupied himself with, seemed to even enjoy when Etan forgot himself and ran his fingers through Tristan’s soft hair as he read. Etan hadn’t read to anyone before except for his youngest sister, Meriall, but reading to Tristan was a far different experience from reading bedtime stories. He liked it, liked having Tristan close and hearing Tristan’s comments and reactions.

“I’m not sure I can sit still today. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.” He’d realized early on in their friendship Tristan was an athletic person who enjoyed being active and outdoors. Etan came to treasure the moments of stillness and quiet, when he saw Tristan’s intellectual side and his softer side in equal measure, but he enjoyed sharing the other more active times with Tristan too. Tristan always made the rides through the countryside and the hikes along the cliffs and the rambles over the beach fun. “What would you like to do?”

“Will you go for a ride with me?”

He thought briefly of the work awaiting him in the office he shared with Cathal, of his plans to spend the morning with his books and his studies before he returned to that work. And tossed it all aside with one glance into Tristan’s eyes. As he always did. His books would still be there when he returned to them later.

And he wasn’t convinced Tristan really was all right.

“Of course. Shall we go now?”

When Tristan agreed, Etan set his book aside and tidied away a few papers. On the way to the stables, they stopped in Etan’s suite so he could change into riding boots, but they didn’t dally otherwise. Stable hands saddled their horses quickly, and they mounted up. They rode together out of the palace gates and through the city, an easy conversation flowing between them. Once they left the city, Etan let Tristan lead. When Tristan took the road leading out to the cliffs, Etan knew his suspicions about Tristan’s state of mind were correct. Tristan seemed to prefer a gallop along the cliffs when he felt he needed to escape something, some pressure in his life. He talked to Etan about it sometimes, at least a little, but only after the ride.

As Etan expected, Tristan veered off the road as they neared the cliffs. The path he chose wound through some trees until it ended in the meadows overlooking the sea. Once they were through the trees, the view opened up before them, with fields dotted with wildflowers and a rocky precipice tumbling down to the vivid blue of the sea. The area was one of Etan’s favorites. He’d rather walk along the cliffs or picnic at the top so he could better appreciate the view, but riding was exhilarating too. Well, any ride with Tristan was. Tristan was a skilled and fearless horseman, who ended each ride flushed and smiling. Etan always wanted to grab him close and kiss him when he saw Tristan that way, to see if he could make Tristan breathless for another reason entirely.

Maybe today he would.

He put the thought out of his head as best he could for the moment as Tristan urged his horse into a gallop and took off parallel to the cliff edge. Etan hurried to follow. If he thought about it too much, he risked falling off his horse, which would certainly end any chance of kissing Tristan today.

Instead he concentrated his thoughts outward to the sea- and flower-scented wind blowing in his face, to the sunlight warming his skin. The day was perfect for spring, a little cool early in the morning but pleasant as the sun climbed. The sky was clear, the sea calm. There would be fishermen out in their boats, working to bring in the day’s catch. But they weren’t close; no one was close enough to intrude on his solitude with Tristan.

He watched Tristan, slightly ahead of him. Tristan really did ride well, better than Etan did, but then Tristan had probably spent most of his childhood trying to get on a horse while Etan had spent his sneaking off to the library. Or using his Talent to change himself into a cat and climbing trees. But, most often, the library. And given where Tristan had found him this morning, not much had changed. But he did come out when Tristan asked. Unlike when he was a child and his brothers would come and pounce on him and drag him from the room.

If Tristan wanted to pounce on him, it would be another story entirely.

After a while, Tristan began to slow his horse, and Etan followed. Upon reaching the point, they paused to take in the view and then turned back for home, riding side by side at a much more leisurely pace. Etan expected Tristan to be more relaxed, even laughing, after the long gallop as he so often was, but if anything, he seemed more pensive.

Etan let Tristan have his silence, even though it pained him to do so. He wanted to help, to make whatever it was right again. Tristan had cheered him up often enough, and they’d bolstered each other’s strength through bad times. But Tristan had to speak in his own time, and he’d never actually ask for help even when he did.

Tristan didn’t speak until they were almost all the way back to Jumelle. “My father wants me to marry.”

Etan’s brain stuttered. He had to have heard wrong. He whipped around to look at Tristan, but Tristan was still staring straight ahead. “What? Did you say he wants you to marry?”

“He’s dying, Etan,” Tristan said in a small, quiet voice that made Etan hurt.

“Tristan. I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you.” Tristan glanced up at the sky for a moment, and Etan gave him his privacy to pull himself together, or what passed for privacy when they were riding side by side. “He wants me settled, since I’m to run the business when he’s gone. He wants the business settled too.”

Tristan’s family business was the largest shipping concern in Tournai, and as Tournai was a country rich in trade, owing in part to a quirk of geography, the business was a prosperous one. Etan could understand somewhat Tristan’s father wanting him to be settled down if he was to be both the head of the business and the head of the family. Old-fashioned, perhaps, but there was probably some real concern for Tristan in his father’s desire too.

Etan worked himself up to suggest perhaps the two of them could wed. Not right away, but they could make an agreement and use a betrothal period to see if they would suit. Etan believed they would, but he was already thinking of ways to convince Tristan and Tristan’s father, if necessary. Etan’s own father would be difficult, he was sure—as a duke, his father would want Etan to make a more advantageous marriage to a lady of noble birth—but he could deal with Father later.

But all those thoughts—all the hope that came with them—screeched to a halt when Tristan spoke. “I’m to marry a daughter of a friend of Father’s, Dariela. They think it will be good for the business.”

“You already know—you’re marrying a woman? That woman?”

Etan had no idea who she was—she might be a perfectly lovely person—but he couldn’t understand Tristan marrying her, or marrying any woman. Tristan preferred men, the same as Etan did. Etan had hoped Tristan might just plain prefer him.

“Father thinks it’s best. For the family and the business.”

“Yes, but—what about you? What do you think?”

Tristan shrugged. “I must live up to my responsibilities to the family and the business. I have to run everything as Father would want. He shouldn’t be dying so young.”

“I know he shouldn’t. It’s awful.” Etan scrubbed a hand over his face. “He’s been to see the healers? I’m sure Jadis would see him if I asked.”

“He has, and Amory already had Jadis examine him. This illness has gone on too long undetected and untreated. His heart is too weak now.”

“I am so very sorry, Tristan.” He wanted to pull Tristan into a hug, to hold him and try to bear some of the pain and grief for him, but they were on horses. And Tristan was about to marry someone else. “Are you sure about this marriage though?”

“I don’t see a reason not to marry her. Do you?”

The statement was a stab of pain to his gut. He had to bite back a gasp, it seemed so real, so physical. He managed to murmur something that might have been an agreement, because what else could he do? If Tristan didn’t see a reason not to marry this woman, Etan could hardly give him one.

By the time Etan arrived back at the palace, he felt as if a yawning, empty hole had opened inside him. His head was buzzing, and he couldn’t seem to think quite straight. His feet carried him to his office. But when he walked into the empty room, he just dropped down into his chair and stared at the polished top of his desk, clean of papers since he’d tidied up yesterday.

Tristan was getting married.

He and Tristan would never be anything other than friends, and Tristan obviously wanted it so, was fine with it. Perhaps Etan had been wrong about Tristan’s feelings all this time.

“Etan?”

Etan looked up, but it took him a moment to understand what he was seeing. He hadn’t even heard the door open. “Cathal.”

Panic, an emotion he seldom saw in his stoic older brother, flooded Cathal’s face. “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Tristan is marrying.” Pain spasmed through him as he said the words, but he had to say them, had to get used to hearing them. Tristan was marrying, and all chance Etan might have had with him was gone.

My Review:
This is the third book in a fantasy series, and likely best enjoyed when read in sequence, though it can be read as a standalone.

Etan is a cousin to Philip, the Crown Prince of Tournai, a small but well-situated country with a bustling trade port in its capital city of Jumelle. Etan lives in the palace with Philip his consort-husband Amory and Etan’s brother Cathal who is married to Flavian, an artist who escaped the emperor of Ardunn’s plots to enslave him for his Talent. Etan and Cathal are ministers (of a sort) in the governance of Tournai, indispensable to both Philip and Amory–with whom they are both family and close friends.

Two years ago Etan fell hard for Amory’s childhood friend Tristan, and he thought his love was reciprocated, though they had no physical demonstrations. Etan is a shy man, a noted scholar at the university in addition to his duties to the crown. He didn’t quite know how to approach Tristan with his desire for intimacy, especially because he was sensitive to Tristan’s heartbreak when Amory married the Prince. Over their acquaintance, Etan–who is usually best at home in his library–makes time to spend with Tristan socially. He was about to propose marriage when Tristan stuns Etan by deciding to marry a woman, and their friendship essentially disintegrates. A year has gone by and Tristan’s wife has just died in the process of childbirth. And duties to Tristan’s place as Amory’s oldest friend necessitate bringing Tristan and Etan back together.

Tristan never loved his wife. He preferred men, as his father knew, but Tristan felt pressured to marry a woman to create heirs for the shipping company he now runs. As the eldest of the family, Tristan runs the business since his father died shortly after his wedding. That was the reason to marry with haste, after all. He didn’t hate his wife, but they were more cordial acquaintances than lovers, and he’s mourning the loss of her in his baby daughter Bria’s life. Tristan is furious that his high-handed mother sent the Prince’s chief healer away during the birth because his healing Talent could have saved his wife–and he’s appalled that his mother has plans to take his infant to her own home to raise. No, he will not allow this, but his mother is sneaky. If she can’t raise the baby herself she’s going to pressure Tristan into another marriage to a woman who can raise the baby. It’s a problem.

Tristan is happy to welcome Etan back into his life, but he’s quick to notice that Etan is not the same close friend anymore. He’s reserved and their relations are strained. Tristan doesn’t understand, and he’s shocked when Etan sends his an evil eye one night when their paths cross, because Etan witnesses Tristan leaving teh gathering with intent to bed a man he picked up there. Etan has never gotten over the hurt he felt when Tristan married, but he’s never spoken about the depth of his feelings with anyone, let alone Tristan. Some hard truths have to come out if these men are going to salvage thier friendship, and plan for a future together.

As with the previous books, there is court intrigue and troubles both within and abroad. Tristan’s troubles are all domestic, and he’s pitted against his own mother for the right to live his adult life as he sees fit. He’s a doting father, and his love for Bria grows by the day. It is in contrast to the machinations of his mother that Tristan begins to see Etan in a new light. And, he’s eager to pursue a lasting liaison if Etan is willing. Etan, for his part, saw Tristan as his forever person, and he’s afraid to let himself love him again and get his heart obliterated. Still, he follows the counsel of Cathal, begining a physical relationship with Tristan if they can remain monogamous. He still keeps his emotions separate, for a time–even when Tristan is all in. And, when Etan finally decides to give his whole heart back to Tristan, it’s at the exact moment Tristan needs his unconditional love the most, because Bria is in danger this daddy is a hot mess.

I really liked the story, and how Etan and Tristan navigate their paths to reconnection. Their previous friendship was a solid foundation, but Tristan soon realized he was more selfish in that arrangement, never seeing or comprehending the lengths that Etan went to to allow their friendship to flourish. His awakening to these situations has come at a hard cost, but he strives every day to do it better, and be a better man. He regrets the compromises he made that shut Etan out of his life, but his love for Bria is a boon. The love story grew reliably and equally this second time around. Expect some real courting, lots of court business, and scholars getting a handle on new and exciting information. Tristan makes the big leap for love, and Etan is not long in following him.

Not sure where this series is going, but there are plenty of royal cousins who could get the happily Ever Afters in the service of Tournai.

Interested? You can find THE SCHOLAR’S HEART on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

Catch up with Antonia on Facebook, and twitter.

Truly Heroic PRINCE OF AIR AND DARKNESS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M fantasy romance from M. A. Grant. PRINCE OF AIR AND DARKNESS is the first book in her Darkest Court series.

About the book:
Phineas Smith has been cursed with a power no one could control.
Roark Lyne is his worst enemy and his only hope.

The only human student at Mather’s School of Magick, Phineas Smith has a target on his back. Born with the rare ability to tap into unlimited magick, he finds both Faerie Courts want his allegiance—and will do anything to get it.

They don’t realize he can’t levitate a feather, much less defend the Faerie Realm as it slips into civil war.

Unseelie Prince Roark Lyne, Phineas’s roommate—and self-proclaimed arch nemesis—is beautiful and brave and a pain in the ass. Phineas can’t begin to sort through their six years of sexual tension masquerading as mutual dislike. But Roark is also the only one able to help Finn tame his magick.

Trusting Roark’s mysterious motives may be foolish; not accepting his temporary protection would be deadly.

Caught in the middle of the impending war, Phineas and Roark forge a dangerous alliance. And as the walls between them crumble, Phineas realizes that Roark isn’t the monster he’d imagined. But their growing intimacy threatens to expose a secret that could either turn the tide of the war…or destroy them both.

My Review:
Phineas Smith is the only human at Mather’s School for Magick. He doesn’t have magick, per se, instead he can pull the magick of ley lines through the earth, a rare and dangerous talent. No one can remember the last human who could do so, and its universally acknowledged that Finn is the oldest living human to wield this power. All previous persons died young due to lack of control–not that Finn’s really controlling things. And, he has to call upon the ley lines to rescue himself time and again from beings bent on capturing him and using him as a power conduit of their own. One of these beings is the Unseelie Queen, who happens to be his roommate Roark’s mother.

Prince Roark Lyne is the Unseelie liaison on campus. He’s gruff and challenging, especially to Finn, but they share an undercurrent of sexula tension that belies all of their interactions. Roark is centuries old, and powerful but it seems that he and Finn have a bit of synergy and symbiosis that allow their powers to mend in ways that could turn the tide of the oncoming Fae war. Their partnership could dissolve if Finn can’t handle the secret that Roark is hiding from him.

The sexual dynamic seems to hover between fated mates and enemies-to-lovers, what with the longstanding animosity, the constant rescues and challenges, and the secret nature of their budding relationship. I thought the fantasy elements were fresh and interesting, and there are lots of cool chararcters to round out the fantasy. It was cool to see the parent-child dynamic here, with its inherent imbalance in power, as Roark brushes against and battles with his mother’s controlling ways to benefit Finn.

This is the first story in the series so, while there is some wrap-up and a resolution to the romance question, we still have a lot of intrigue and tension due to the impending Fae war. Pacing was a bit slow to begin, but really picked up as we approached the climax, and I found myself reading late into the night to get to the end. Finn and Roark do find their happiness, sometimes with explosive results, and their power issues seem to be settled for the moment. I liked the story and would definitely read on in the series.

Interested? You can find PRINCE OF AIR AND DARKNESS on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and and Kobo.

About the Author:
M.A. Grant has always loved reading and writing, but fell in love with the romance genre when she started working at an independent bookstore in high school. After meeting her husband in college, they began a steady northward migration and are now happily living in the rugged beauty of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. When she’s not calling out to passing ravens or making a cup of tea, she’s writing dark and moving stories.

Catch up with Ms. Grant on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Unexpected Connections A HARMONY OF FIRE AND EARTH–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a M/M fantasy romance from Antonia Aquilante. A HARMONY OF FIRE AND EARTH is the second story in her Elemental Magicae series. I really enjoyed THE PRINCE’S CONSORT and THE ARTIST’S MASQUERADE, so I thought I’d try this one.

About the book:
Prince Edmund of Thalassa and Prince Arden of Aither are eagerly anticipating their upcoming wedding, but the danger to their kingdom hasn’t lessened. They have a plan, but they won’t be able to carry it out alone: they need a strong wielder of each Element, whom they can trust implicitly, to carry out the magic.

Rhys is a commoner and wielder of Earth magic. He and his sister have made a living from the use of their magic for years and have become highly respected in scholarly circles, though he prefers a more simple life with his plants. When a message from Prince Arden reaches them asking for their help, they don’t hesitate. They stop only to request that Gaz, a strong Fire wielder and the man Rhys has long been enamored of, accompany them on the journey to Thalassa’s royal palace.

What no one knows is that Gaz was once known as Prince Gareth of Thalassa and is Edmund’s younger brother, long believed dead. He fled his home after his Fire Affinity made itself known and put him in danger, and he had no intention of ever going back. But he can’t keep himself from going to his brother’s aid, despite the risk of discovery and of the weight of his secrets potentially crushing his fledgling relationship with Rhys.

Working against time, they must find a way to come together in a magical working the likes of which none of them has ever imagined, or their homelands will surely burn.

My Review:
This is the second book in a fantasy series, and likely best enjoyed when read in sequence, though I read it as a standalone and had minimal trouble following the complete story arc. There may be spoilers for the first story in here.

Prince Edmund of Thalassa, a water wielder, and Prince Arden of Aither, an air wielder, met in the first book because Edmund had been betrothed to Arden’s Elder sister, Queen Hollis. THis was a way to unite the fractious nations and stave off war. There is a lot of intrigue, some attempts at assassination, and it seems the culprits–backed by the grasping rulers of neighboring Tycen escape, and Edmund and Arden have retreated to Thalassa where now their marriage is part of a treaty to halt escalating tensions between Thalassa and Aither. Tycen’s fire-wielding agents have been creating conflicts at the borders of both nations to incite violence that will weaken these countries to make an advantage for Tycen’s forces to attack. While the marriage is a political alliance, Arden and Edmund are very much in love with one another, and determined to manage the growing threat of Tycen’s plots side by side and hand in hand.

Arden, a scholar in magic, has determined that the way to stop the fire attacks by Tycen’s agents is to shore up their borders using a complex combination of the magic of all four elements. He’s a strong air wielder, and he sends for a strong earth wielder, Briallen, who travels with her brother Rhys, also an earth wielder. It’s trickier to find a fire wielder, especially in Thalassa, where the water-wielding King Torin has made the practice illegal. His second son, Gareth, barely escaped Thalassa with his life once his Talent for fire became known in his puberty. Briallen and Rhys do know Gaz, a reclusive fire wielder who resides in a cottage inside the borders of Aither, where fire wielding isn’t illegal. They invite Gaz to come with them on Arden’s request to bring any fire wielder they might trust. They don’t know that Gaz is really Prince Gareth living in exile with his bodyguard.

Gaz knows that he should refuse Briallen’s quest, but he can’t resist the possibility of helping safeguard the kingdom of his birth. He doesn’t know he’ll see his brother again, but he is in fear of discovery. The disguises his bodyguard fashions are pretty good, though. And the growing attraction between Gaz and Rhys is also a balm. Gaz has lived in near solitude for the better part of a decade and he’s…burning (ha!) for some affection. The journey unites Rhys and Gaz, but Gaz’s true identity becomes a secret that divides them. When the reunion comes, Gaz fears Edmund will send him away–or worse imprison him, but his need to reconnect makes him reckless–with the best possible result. In fact, it is connection that will power the big magic Arden has planned, so Rhys must get past his (kinda unreasonable) hurt that Gaz concealed his true name from him.

This is a quest story, considering the bigger picture, but also a romance for Rhys and Gareth/Gaz, as well as a reunion of brothers/family as Gareth connects with both Edmund and his younger sister. There are many points of view in the story, but I found it easier to follow than I expected. The sexytimes are on the down low–less graphic and more emotional connection, which made sense given the objectives of the story and the needs of the character–particularly Gaz. Rhys, as an earth wielder and low-key healer, is a nurturer by nature, and he’s more than willing to care for reclusive and attractive Gaz, but thinks he isn’t worthy of a prince–despite these two identities describing the same man. It takes a bit of magic to get his mind turned around, but that’s all to the good.

Danger lurks throughout the book, and even up to the end the potential for surprise and disruption are lurking. The location the magic must be performed is close to the borders and sites of incursion, and Thalassan guards could still arrest Gareth, if he’s recognized. The climax does bring more battle than expected, but also a better sense of closure, with it. This book ends the duology–leaving the reader satisfied that peace will reign and happiness will follow our stalwart heroes. I liked the book, and would recommend for folks who enjoy fantasy, magical realism and quest stories with a side of romance.

Interested? You can find A HARMONY OF FIRE AND EARTH on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo.

About the Author:
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

Catch up with Antonia on Facebook, and twitter.

Falling For THE VIRGIN KING–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M royal erotic romance from John Michael Curlovich. THE VIRGIN KING features a city-slicking playboy who get yanked to a random eastern European country where he meets and later falls for the newly installed virgin king of Bulvania.

Scroll down to open the link for a copy of THE VIRGIN KING in a giveaway!
About the book:Something is rotten in Bulvania. When the old king dies mysteriously, a young monk named Raymond is called to take his place.

On the other side of the world, Logan, a handsome photographer, is pulled away from his charmed life to assist his father–Bulvania’s newest American ambassador.

As Raymond struggles to balance the weight of his new crown and the dark past adorning it, he must also struggle with his new love for Logan, who may already have his hands full with a variety of strapping military men.

My Review:
The king of Bulvania has died in a tragic industrial accident. Though his widow wants to ascend to the head of state, but there is a distant cousin of the king that still lives–Brother Juniper is a sheltered monk in one of the remote mountain monateries. The Royal Guard, consisting of a cadre of extremely fit and sexually agile men, collect Juniper for his coronation as King Raymond XL. He’s about 20, and completely naive to court and it’s deadly intrigue.

Logan Bockwein is an unapologetic single gay man who’s always looking for his next good time. He’s an accomplished photographer, and has recently had an exhibition of erotic art at a renown D.C. gay art gallery. Then had some fun multipartner action including his ex, a State dept undersecretary. Logan’s dad is PT Bockwein, president and CEO of Zinc, Inc–a tin and zinc mining company. The Bockweins have some Bulvanian heritage–which is rather uncommon as Bulvania is a really small eastern European nation and nearly no one has heard of it. The biggest export of Bulvania is cuckoo clocks, but the country also has a large unmined resource of tin. And, PT Bockwein, as the only influential American with Bulvanian heritage, has just been named as the US Ambassador. He’s insisting Logan come along. And, Logan is NOT happy about it.

Logan is less than impressed with the monk-king, who still dons his shabby robe and hasn’t cut his beard or hair….ever. But Raymond/Juniper is captivated by the cultured, young, and sexy Logan. The king’s guards make for way better playmates, in Logan’s opinion, but Alex, the captain of the guard convinces Logan to become a friend to the king, who is in grave danger from the same folks who likely murdered his royal cousin.

This book is truly a romp into the erotic, with Logan literally having sex with virtually any and every man who is not the virgin king for the first 90% of the book. Alex sees that Raymond’s attraction is growing desperate, and he wants to facilitate a relationship that would benefit Raymond and Bulvania. The grand plan is an absence makes the heart grow fonder situation, with Logan in forced celibacy while the new king tours Europe. It’s really a funny bit that Logan–who has unparalleled powers of attracting bemates can’t get anyone to sleep with him for more than a month. And, when Raymond returns, well, Logan is more than fond of the made-over king.

If you are into kinky, gay erotica that has a strong sense of knowing its plot is silly and a little ludicrous, then you will smirk along like I did at Logan’s tale of love. I liked it, taking the humor and puns and outlandish situations in the style of Monty Python meets a gay bath house. There’s some plotting and evil folks, and lots of dudes getting it on. And, in the end, Raymond finds peace in his new roles as both King and lover.

Interested? You can find THE VIRGIN KING on Goodreads, Riverdale Avenue Books, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this link and enter for your chance to win a copy of THE VIRGIN KING, courtesy of the Erie Gay News!
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
John Michael Curlovich also writes under pseudonyms: Michael Paine and J.M.C. Blair.

Daring Escape in THE ARTIST’S MASQUERADE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M fantasy romance from Antonia Aquilante. THE ARTIST’S MASQUERADE is the second story in her Chronicles of Tournai series. I really enjoyed THE PRINCE’S CONSORT, so I was eager to read this sequel.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
As the first-born son of a royal duke and cousin to the prince, Cathal has always put his duty to family and country first, even when it conflicts with his own wishes. When Cathal’s father arranges a marriage between him and Velia, cousin to the emperor of Ardunn, without consulting him, he sees no alternative but to go along with his plans for the good of Tournai. But it’s Velia’s companion, Flavia, who fascinates Cathal from the moment he first sets eyes on her. Cathal doesn’t know Flavia is really Flavian, an artist masquerading as a woman to escape Ardunn, a restrictive and repressive place where Flavian’s preference for men is forbidden.

Even when Cathal discovers Flavian’s identity, even as he struggles with his obligations and duty, he cannot fight his attraction to the sharp-tongued artist. Flavian is intrigued by him as well, but Cathal is still betrothed to Velia, and Flavian worries he is more taken with the feminine illusion Flavian presents than the man beneath it. He came to Tournai to start a new life—a safe one—as an artist, and an inconvenient attraction to his friend’s betrothed, a man who happens to be a member of the royal family, is not a part of his plans. While both men battle their longings for each other, spies from Ardunn infiltrate the capital, attempting to uncover Tournai’s weaknesses and secrets. They are also searching for Flavian, who possesses a magical Talent giving him the ability to see the truth of a person just by painting their portrait—something that would be invaluable to Ardunn’s emperor.

How about a yummy taste?

“It’s time you took a wife.”

Cathal managed to keep his surprise hidden with some difficulty. That blunt statement was not what he’d expected when he received the summons to his father’s office. A discussion of family business, perhaps, or questions about happenings at the palace, even a diatribe about one of his cousin’s choices—since Father seemed to hate every one of them since the prince’s marriage to Amory—was what usually precipitated a call to Father’s presence.

He’d never imagined Father would bring up marriage. Cathal had seen no indication Father was even thinking in such a direction. Father had said plenty as he’d pushed the prince to marry, and plenty more when Philip had married a man of his choosing instead of the woman Father would have chosen, but he’d never said a word about his own sons’ need to marry.

Cathal probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. He was twenty-five years old and his father’s heir, and Father was a royal duke and dynastically minded. Producing an heir for the dukedom was Cathal’s duty, despite the existence of his younger brothers. He’d always known it, and he would never think of shirking that duty.

“Yes, Father.” He wasn’t interested in anyone in particular, but there were plenty of women who would make him a suitable wife in Father’s eyes. He was certain he could find someone who wouldn’t make the duty a chore. “I will begin looking for a wife immediately.”

“No need. It’s all arranged.” Father returned his attention to the papers on his desk, as if what he’d just said was of no particular consequence. As if he hadn’t just told Cathal his entire life was about to change and taken Cathal’s last bit of choice away at the same time.

Cathal snapped his mouth shut when he realized it was hanging open. “It is?”

“Of course.”

Of course it was. Cathal should have expected that as well. Father would never leave such an important choice—a family alliance, a mother for future dukes—up to Cathal. He should have done so, or at least he should have asked for Cathal’s opinion. Cathal was of age and had proven himself trustworthy time and again, or he thought he had. It left a sour taste in his mouth to think Father respected him so little.

“May I ask whom I will be marrying?” He immediately regretted his tone as Father arched a single brow.

When Cathal didn’t jump to apologize quickly enough, Father let out a huff that expressed his disappointment more eloquently than a hundred words would have, but he answered anyway. “She’s a cousin of the emperor of Ardunn. Velia is her name. Beautiful, by all accounts, and accomplished, but the connections are the important part.”

Cathal hardly heard anything after Ardunn. Cousin to the emperor of Ardunn? What was Father thinking? And how had he even managed it?

Father looked up again, and this time his huff held more than a little annoyance. “Why are you staring at me that way?”

Cathal didn’t know how he was looking at his father. Usually he had more control, but incredulity seemed to have obliterated it. “Ardunn, Father? I don’t understand. Why—?”

“Don’t be stupid. If your cousin isn’t going to do his duty and marry for the good of this country, then it falls to you to take up where Prince Philip failed.”

And that statement made even less sense. “But, Father, you negotiated a marriage contract with the emperor of Ardunn. Does Philip know?”

His cousin couldn’t know. Cathal had damaged their relationship and weakened the trust Philip had in him—he knew and regretted it—but Philip wasn’t vindictive enough to keep something so big from Cathal, especially considering the prince’s hatred of arranged marriages. Though how a prince came by such a view, Cathal would never know. Nevertheless, Philip would have said something, which meant Father had been negotiating with someone in Ardunn without Philip’s knowledge or consent.

Father scoffed. “He’ll know soon enough.”

“But, Father, negotiating with Ardunn…what did you—?”

“Are you questioning my ability to negotiate a marriage for my son?” Father snapped.

“No, sir.” Just the prudence of doing so with a powerful foreign emperor without the knowledge of their own ruler. “But—”

“This is the marriage your cousin should have negotiated for himself, but since he wouldn’t do his duty, we have to do it for him. For the good of Tournai and this family.”

“But, Father—”

“No more.” Father slapped a hand down on the wooden surface of the desk. “It’s done, and when she arrives next month, you will marry this woman. We’re finished discussing it.”

Cathal gritted his teeth against further protests and gave a sharp nod.

A few moments later, dismissed by his father, Cathal dragged in a lungful of crisp air. Spring was taking hold, but the mornings were still cool. At the moment, he was thankful for the gulp of bracing air.

That had been unexpected.

He shook his head and strode down the steps into the garden. The home where Cathal had grown up was probably the largest in the city. Constructed generations ago of pale-gray stone, the house had three stories surrounding the inner courtyard and the garden it contained. He’d played in the garden as a child with his brothers and cousin, chasing each other, hiding among the statuary and bushes. As he grew older, he’d come here when he needed a moment of peace. These days, he spent most of his time at the palace, and the garden was the domain of his mother and younger sisters, who often sat on the benches near the central fountain to do their needlework.

He didn’t linger, couldn’t have if he wanted to. Cathal couldn’t even go up to the palace and inform Philip of the betrothal, because he was due at the port to inspect improvements to the harbor defenses. Taking the most direct route from Father’s office to the front of the house, he strode through the garden and ducked inside again and then made for the entrance hall without slowing.

His sister’s melodic laugh and the quiet murmur of his mother’s voice floated back to him. Smiling, he stepped from the corridor into the grand room. His mother and sister stood at the polished table in the center of the large room. At his first step onto the red marble floor, both women looked up from where they were arranging early spring flowers in a large vase. Identical smiles of welcome lit their faces. His youngest sister looked remarkably like Mother, though Meriall was just fourteen. She was the only one of them to inherit Mother’s golden-brown hair and not Father’s much darker locks.

Each time he saw Meriall, he was surprised at how grown up she was becoming. It seemed just yesterday she was trailing after their brother Etan and getting into scrapes and jumping on her brothers whenever she saw them. Now she was a young lady. The oldest of his three younger sisters was married, and his second sister was nearly seventeen. Cathal might have expected, if he’d thought of the subject at all, Father to be negotiating a marriage for Ottilie, not for himself.

Meriall and Mother were still smiling at him, and they left off fussing with the flowers and greenery as he approached. When she was younger, Meriall would have flung herself at him. She’d learned more appropriate behavior since then, but a part of him missed her enthusiasm. Then again, she would probably still throw herself at Etan. They’d always been closer.

“Cathal.” Mother held out her hands to him and tilted her head for his kiss to her cheek. “I didn’t know you were here.”

He brushed a kiss over Meriall’s cheek as well. “Father wanted to meet with me.”

Because he was watching, he saw the flash of concern in Mother’s warm-brown eyes. Did she know her husband’s plans for Cathal? “Is everything all right?”

No, he didn’t think she knew. He doubted Father would have consulted her anyway. He flicked his glance at his sister, wondering if he should speak in front of her, but everyone would know soon enough. “Father wants me to marry.”

Mother blinked, once, twice, the only sign of surprise in a serene face. “I didn’t realize, but you are getting to be of an age to. There are many lovely girls you could meet and consider. Perhaps we can have a party and invite some of them.”

“Actually, Father has it all arranged already.”

“Oh. Well.” Mother fussed with the flowers before dropping her hands to smooth her skirt. “I didn’t realize you and your father had chosen someone. I wish you’d told me.” The statement wasn’t much of a rebuke, not the way she said it, but from his gentle mother, it was still censure.

“I wish he’d told me.” He bit back impatience. His ignorance of Father’s actions wasn’t Mother’s doing. “I only just found out myself, Mother. She arrives in a month. I assume we’ll all meet her then.”

“Arrives? From where? Who is she?”

He didn’t blame Mother for her bewilderment. “Father says her name is Velia. I only know she’s a cousin to the emperor of Ardunn.”

“The emperor? Does His Highness know?” Mother had been the wife of a royal duke for nearly thirty years. She could see the implications as well as he could.

“It doesn’t appear so.” He glanced from Mother, who was admirably controlling her surprise and concern, to Meriall and her avid, undisguised curiosity. Well, he shouldn’t be talking about Philip’s lack of knowledge of Father’s actions anyway. “You’ll have to ask Father for more information. I don’t know anything else.”

Mother frowned. “Will you tell your cousin?”

“I can’t now. I’m due at the port, and I may be tied up there for most of the day.” And he didn’t want to put this information in a note. Still, someone needed to tell Philip, and Cathal wasn’t sure when Father would. “I’ll tell him when I return to the palace later.”

She nodded. “I’ll speak with your father. We’ll see you soon?”

“Of course.” He took his leave of his mother and sister and strode out through the large front doors into the morning sunlight again. A servant appeared immediately with his horse. He mounted up and guided the horse out through the imposing gate, open in anticipation of his departure. He needed to hurry if he was going to be on time for his appointment, and he refused to be late. He would sort out the rest afterward, including informing the prince.

Philip was not going to be pleased.

My Review:
This is the second book in a fantasy series, and likely best enjoyed when read in sequence, though it can be read as a standalone.

Cathal is the eldest son of a Grand Duke in Tournai, a small but wealthy country with a bustling port in the capital city of Jumelle. Cathal’s cousin is the Crown Prince Philip, and Cathal is his advisor and personal secretary. Cathal is 25 and is startled to learn that his father has arranged a marriage for him, to a cousin of the Emperor of Ardunn. This marriage proposal was arranged without both Cathal, or Philip’s, knowledge or consent. Politically, this was a huge overstep by Cathal’s father, because Ardunn is a warring nation bent on conquest, and offending the Emperor by breaking this betrothal could be an encitement to war. Also, emotionally, Cathal has been a dutiful and respectful son, though his father laments his “lack of ambition”. His father has recently created some large protocol offenses regarding Philip’s marriage to his husband and consort Amory. Philip is concerned his uncle is hatching some power play for the control of Tournai.

Flavian is an Ardunnian artist with the Talent to read the heart of any person that he draws in a portrait. The Emperor, who trusts few of his advisors or court, planned to make ample use of Flavian’s magic, and Flavian knew he could not live in that capacity. Also, matches between men are illegal in Ardunn, and a man cannot make his own way in the country until he is 30 years old, so for all these reasons Flavian decided to run from Ardunn. He is a good friend to Velia, the woman betrothed to Cathal–and they hatch a plan to transport Flavian to Tournai, disguised as a female companion to Velia, when she leaves to Tournai. It’s upsetting and humiliating for Flavian to masquerade as Lady Flavia for the three-week boat journey. He cannot wait to escape as soon as they make land. However, Flavian’s plans are scuttled when their party is not lodged in a house in Jumelle, but is instead welcomed by Princess Elodie, Philip’s younger sister, and taken to the palace to stay. Escaping the palace is not easy trick and Lady Flavia is expected to accompany Lady Velia to all of her attendant parties and excursions in the palace. It’s especially hard for Flavian to continue his ruse under the scrutiny of Cathal–who develops and unwanted attraction to the mysterious Lady Flavia.

So, it’s a mismatch, and an intrigue. Philip and Cathal are hunting Ardunnian spies, and a chance encounter first puts Lady Flavia in their sights. Even Cathal’s growing attraction would not save Flavian if he were a spy–which he is not. Flavian is nearly consumed with jealousy for the acceptance of male-male pairings in Tournai, and wants to find a loving partner, and to get his life back as soon as possible. Because of the intrigue, he must continue his masquerade, but Cathal’s love grows and shelters Flavian in many ways.

Cathal wants out of his betrothal, and Philip is working to find out the specifics of the marriage agreement to see how he can disentangle his dear cousin from Velia–who seems to be a decent woman, but not one that Cathal truly loves. She’s aloof and Cathal’s attempts to develop a rapport are shut down with courtly manners and meaningless flirtations. While Velia is the perfect partner for Cathal–in his father’s eyes–Cathal is almost despairing what he feels will be a loveless marriage–and for what reason? He’s a grown man, and his father has never respected him as a man–and even less in his duties for Prince Philip.

I really liked the comparisons between Flavian and Cathal’s circumstances. These men are near each other in age, but have less common experiences. Flavian knows that he will be summarily despised in Ardunn for just being himself, and is willing to take drastic steps to find a way to live his life in freedom. Cathal has been duty-bound since birth to be an advisor to his Prince, and to raise heirs for the dukedom. Yet, when he falls for Flavian he isn’t put off by his masculinity. Cathal has had two years of observing the close and loving relationship between Philip and Amory, both of whom he respects quite keenly. He was prepared to sacrifice his personal happiness for his father’s ideals, but not once he developed such a strong bond for Flavian–and not when he cannot really bear his betrothed. Cathal is prepared to abandon his life, and build a new one, when fate intercedes.

There are a lot of nice relationship and world-building elements in this story–with a bit of magic and some shifter activity, though it is a small part of the story. Court intrigue and spies are big parts of the conflict here. The physical attraction for Cathal and Flavian picks up at their first meeting. They develop a more intimate friendship than is proper for their difference in station and circumstances. We have a front row seat to Cathal’s growth as a man. He has to value himself above his father’s opinion, and he has to reorganize his thinking about the attractions he’s had toward men–and always Suppressed. Flavian is sure that Cathal only likes him in women’s clothes, and that his attraction is sure to be short-lived. What man of Cathal’s position could truly love an asylum-seeker with a regrettable Talent that could bring the ire of Ardunn’s emperor. And, Velia’s taunts later reinforce Flavian’s doubts.

There are certainly a lot of twists, though I kind of expected the biggest one. The climax is appropriately thrilling, and the love story for Cathal and Flavian is difficult, due to circumstances being less than ideal. They have frantic assignations, and use secret passageways to maintain their secret trysts. The bond between them grows out beyond attraction into affection and eventually love. The whole story takes place over a couple of months–but the passage of time was a little hard to gauge at times. The end is definitely happy and resolved in a way that we can accept Cathal and Flavian are building a future together. I have enjoyed both books in this series, and am hopeful there will be another.

Interested? You can find THE ARTIST’S MASQUERADE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Kobo.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

Catch up with Antonia on Facebook, and twitter.

Beginning Life As THE PRINCE’S CONSORT–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new paranormal M/M romance from Antonia Aquilante. THE PRINCE’S CONSORT is the first story in her Chronicles of Tournai series, and it’s off to a great start!

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Legends tell of large cats defending the principality of Tournai, but such creatures are only myth.
Or are they?

Prince Philip inherited the throne of Tournai at a young age, and since then his life has centered around ruling his country and resisting those pressuring him to do as they want both in matters of governance and those more personal. He’s become isolated and lonely. Amory is the second son of a wealthy merchant who has never approved of anything about him or had any use for him. Until now.

When kind-hearted Amory is offered to the prince in exchange for more time for Amory’s merchant father to complete a commission, both Philip and Amory are horrified. But Philip agrees to keep Amory at the palace, where they gradually become friends, then lovers. For the first time in his life, Philip is free to share not only his heart, but the magical shape-shifting ability that runs in the royal bloodline—something the royal family has kept secret from all but those closest to them for generations.

Neither Amory nor Philip imagined falling in love, and they certainly don’t expect what those who oppose their relationship will do to keep them apart—maybe even resorting to murder.

How about a yummy taste?

He didn’t know what to think about what they’d done. He’d enjoyed it, but the uncomfortable feeling still plagued him. Before he could begin to analyze it, Tristan was chuckling, low at first, quiet in Amory’s ear, his body shaking against Amory’s chest. Tristan pulled back enough to look at him. His eyes sparkled with happiness, and Amory’s laughter bubbled up to join his friend’s.

The laughter eased the way as they fumbled for handkerchiefs, cleaned themselves up, and neatened their clothes again. Then they leaned against each other and the tree, still laughing a little. It was Amory who moved for another kiss. Both of them were grinning when their lips met, and they couldn’t seem to stop laughing as they kissed, as they kept kissing. But the laughter was soft and light, like the kisses, and Amory relaxed into them, wrapping his arms around Tristan. Telling himself he would think about everything later.

“Good afternoon, brother.”

The unexpected voice and its snide tone had Amory jerking away from the kiss. The back of his head thunked into the tree trunk behind him. Tristan jumped back, separating them much more effectively. Amory almost wished he hadn’t. The short distance between them seemed like a vast gulf, and Amory felt very alone as he straightened away from the tree and turned to face his older brother.

Alban’s handsome face was twisted in a sneer even more disgusted than the one he habitually wore when looking at Amory. He studied Amory and Tristan in silence while Amory struggled not to squirm. No use saying anything to Alban, he knew from bitter experience.

“Now I know why you wanted no part of that pretty little maid last week.” Disdain dripped from Alban’s every word. “You’re more of a disappointment than I thought. Worthless. How are you even my brother?”

With a shake of his head, Alban turned and strode away, likely heading directly for the house. Amory remained frozen for a long moment, not even blinking.

“He’s going to tell your father.” Tristan’s voice was flat, so different from its usual exuberant, almost musical quality. The shock of it broke Amory’s paralysis, and Amory turned to face him. Tristan still stared at the spot where Alban had stood.

“Yes, he is.” Amory ran a shaking hand through his hair and slumped back against the tree. Alban hadn’t hit him, which was a pleasant surprise, but the consequences were still going to be bad. How would Father react? With disappointment, certainly, but that was nothing new. Most likely with anger as well. However disgusted Alban was, their father would be ten times more so.

“Do you think they’ll tell my father?” Tristan turned fear-filled blue eyes on Amory.

“Tris.” Amory reached out. He couldn’t bear seeing him so afraid, and though he couldn’t say much to reassure him, he couldn’t stand by while Tristan was upset either.

But he stepped out of Amory’s reach. “Do you?”

Amory tried to hold back a flinch. “I don’t know.”

Tristan groaned and scrubbed his hands over his face. “He can’t. I don’t know what my father will do if he finds out I prefer men. I’m his oldest son. I’m supposed to take over for him in the business, get married. Have sons to take over the family business after me.”

“You still can. All right, the children part would be difficult if you don’t marry someone who can carry them, but you can still take over the family business.” He didn’t bother mentioning that Tristan had four younger brothers and a younger sister. Surely at least one of them would have children someday who could inherit the family’s business if Tristan never had any of his own and his father insisted on an heir of their blood. But Tristan took his responsibilities as first son seriously. Too seriously. He wouldn’t want to hear that at the moment.

“Not if he disowns me.”

“Now you’re being dramatic. Preferring men is not illegal. It’s not wrong. Your father loves you. He’s proud of you, and you’ll be the same son he’s proud of after he finds out.”

“You don’t know that, Amory.”

No, he didn’t. But Tristan had a better chance of everything working out fine than Amory did. Tristan’s father was proud of his accomplishments, which was more than Amory could say.

“I may not, but I believe it will be all right. Don’t borrow trouble. My father and brother might be too busy killing me to remember to tell your father.”

Tristan huffed out a half laugh and whacked him on the shoulder. “Don’t joke about that.”

“Who’s joking?” Amory smiled crookedly. “Seriously, though, I do think everything will be all right with your father.” He took Tristan’s hand and squeezed and then let go before Tristan could pull away.

“Maybe. I need to go.”

“All right. I’ll see you soon.”

“See you.” Tristan slipped out of their little corner of the garden and was gone before Amory could get another word out. He tried not to think about how unsure Tristan’s parting words sounded. He didn’t want to lose Tristan. Not when he would likely need his friend more than ever.

He didn’t think Father would kill him, but he couldn’t rule out Father hitting him. It was partly why he was so surprised Alban hadn’t—his older brother was a perfect replica of their father in every way. But even without actual murder, Father could make Amory’s life miserable, and Amory wouldn’t be able to do anything until he came of age next week. A week seemed like a short time but was long enough for his father to…

He needed to think about his options. Father would never accept his preferences. Once his father knew, Amory’s time in his family’s house was limited. He hated to leave his younger siblings, especially Adeline, but he doubted he would have much of a choice. It might be best to leave before he was thrown out.

Sighing, he pushed himself away from the tree and started for the house. He hoped he could avoid Father long enough to spend a little time with Adeline and make some plans. And to get his hands to stop shaking.

My Review:
Amory is the second son of a prominent glassmaker, and a consummate failure in his father’s eyes. He prefers men, and is caught having a liaison with his oldest friend, Tristan, by his older and abusive brother at the opening of the story. Amory is sure he’ll be cast out of his family and is bewildered why he is not. It turns out, that his conniving father has deeper plans, offering Amory’s virginity to the crown prince of Tournai, Philip.

Philip detests the glassmaker, and is frustrated that his commissioned piece is late, but he’s intrigued by the offer of Amory–not for his virginity but for his wholesomeness. Philip is a lonely man–young to his rule, he’s given everything he has for his subjects, and he desires a partner. A prince can have a lover in the palace, even a male one, and innocent Amory seems like he could become a friend and a lover. Amory’s own feelings are of shame, at first. He’s ashamed to be bartered like a discount, but he sees a beautiful, lonely prince offering far more than a single night and he jumps at the chance to build a friendship and a relationship. HE immediately moves into the palace as the prince’s lover, and they begin to get to know one another–keeping it barely phsyical while they develop a true rapport.

Philip find the confidante he needs, enough so that within weeks he’s able to share his deepest-held secret: he’s able to shift into a big black jaguar as are many of his immediate family. It’s a latent Talent of the royal family, and Amory is enchanted by the magic of it. Amory has a healing Talent that Philip helps him develop with the royal healers. Months go by, and Amory’s familiar at court, having fully bonded with Philip, and sad because of the pressure Philip seems to be constantly under to marry and produce an heir. Philip finally agrees to marry–Amory. It seems a ludicrous choice, but it’s the only one to make Philip and Amory is convinced by Philip’s dedicated wooing to accept the proposal. Amory has some biological secrets that may pan out in the heir-making department, but only if he makes it to the wedding. It seems there’s a plot to remove the prince’s beloved lover before he can become the official husband and consort.

I really liked all the relationship building that happens here. We see Amory and Philip slowly develop their initial attraction by constant steps toward intimacy. Philip has the right to take what he first desires, but he’s methodical and just in his personal life, as well as in his professional station. He’s a doting elder brother, and his compassion is something that really wins over Amory–who cannot believe his good fortune. I really enjoyed getting to know these characters and their quirky/scheming family members. There was good misdirection regarding the source of danger for Amory, and I was glad to say it took me some time to figure out the hidden villain. The shifter and healer Talents gave and interesting twist into the fantasy realm, and allowed for magic to be a part of the everyday life of this story, as well as being available at the climax. I really liked how it all turned out, and look forward to reading on in this series.

Interested? You can find THE PRINCE’S CONSORT on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

Catch up with Antonia on Facebook, and twitter.

Royal Romance for THIRD DAUGHTER–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a YA fantasy/adventure/romance that I just adore from Susan Kaye Quinn. THIRD DAUGHTER is the first book in a series that follows the path of a young princess who’s determined to save her country from war, and marry the love of her heart. It’s a sweet series and, with THIRD DAUGHTER currently FREE in ebook form on Amazon, it’s a great way to get started. I’ve read and LOVED both SECOND DAUGHTER and FIRST DAUGHTER, which continue this adventure and love story to completion.

third-daughterAbout the book:
Sneaking out of the palace wasn’t one of Aniri’s best ideas.
But she’s the Third Daughter of the Queen of Dharia—zero responsibilities and zero royal duties. She’s just the backup daughter, in case her older sisters’ arranged marriages—to take the crown or broker an alliance—don’t quite work out. But once Aniri reaches her 18th birthday, she’ll be truly free, and then she can marry the charming fencing instructor she meets for fevered kisses in the forest.

But then the impossible happens—a marriage proposal. From a barbarian prince in the north, no less. And if Aniri refuses, the threat of their new flying weapon might bring war.

So she agrees to the young prince’s proposal, but only as a subterfuge to spy on him, find the weapon, and hopefully avoid both war and an arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t love. But once she arrives in the sweeping mountains of the north, she discovers the prince has his own secrets… and saving her country may end up breaking her heart.

This Bollywood-style royal romance takes you to an alternate East Indian world filled with skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue.

How about a little taste?

“I love you, Aniri,” Devesh whispered.

When he pulled back, she smiled. “I hate to tell you this, Dev, but I already knew that.”

“If you go off with this Prince Malik, and anything happens to you, the Queen may dispense an army to come after you, but I will beat them there.”

Aniri drew in a shaky breath. Prince Malik said he would allow her a lover, even though arranged marriages were expected to be true marriages, especially among royalty. But could she live that kind of life? A secret love on the side while performing the duties of Queen in a foreign land? The idea made her shudder. It pained her every day her love for Devesh was kept hidden. She couldn’t imagine a lifetime of it. Nor could she picture Devesh, with his love of the court and all things political, banished to the frozen wastelands of the north simply to be her consort.

He must have seen the emotions warring across her face. “Tell him no, Aniri. Refuse him and come away with me. We could leave today.”

“Dev—”

He cut her off with a kiss. “We could return to Samir,” he whispered against her lips. “We won’t be rich, but we could travel anywhere you wished, all the places your father would have taken you. We would have all the time in the world. To be together. To learn the truth about your father’s killers. To make a family of our own.”

It was precisely what they had planned. Now it all seemed like a hopeless fantasy. “Dev, I can’t simply abandon my country. If I refuse Malik, and there is war to pay, I cannot just run away… Is this the confidence you wanted to tell me?”

Devesh looked torn, like there was something more he wanted to say but was holding it back. “I cannot offer you a Queendom, Aniri. My love is all I can promise. I hope it is enough to convince you to refuse Prince Malik’s offer.”

He stepped back, and with clasped hands and a short bow, he turned and strode away. Her heart tried to beat its way out of her chest to follow him. If she accepted Prince Malik’s offer, she would lose the man she loved.

Unlike the Jungali prince, she wasn’t sure that was a price she was willing to pay.

My Review:
If you had to marry for love or marry for peace, what would you choose? That’s the question facing Princess Aniri, Third Daughter to the Queen of Dharia.

It’s two weeks until Aniri turns eighteen and can choose to marry her beau–Devesh, a courtesan and emissary from Samir, a neighboring nation and trade partner. Her two older sisters have already married men that complement their station, even when love is not present, and Aniri is determined to follow her heart, not her duty.

Especially when her duty involves marrying Prince Malik, heir to the throne of the barbarous northern Jungali provinces. No. No! NO!

Except, Aniri knows she can’t decline outright–and rumors of a Jungali airship weapon are serious indeed. If Aniri accepts the prince’s proposal she can get close enough to find out if the airship is real–and maybe she can help her homeland and her mother’s Queendom figure out how to avoid a war.

Prince Malik makes it easy on Aniri–he tells her their marriage would be one of business. That she could (discreetly) take a lover if she wished. Hmm… And her mother, the Queen, assures her that the choice is hers.

Aniri does what she must–becomes a spy. I loved her reactions to the “barbarians” she encounters on her journey north! Oh, how sweet to have her realize, “Hey, they’re pretty awesome in their own way!” Then Devesh shows up and tells her the airship is a ruse–a trick to get her to marry Malik. After which she will be killed and her beloved country Dharia overrun by Samir and Jungali. Aniri doesn’t know whom to believe, and espionage is not her strong suit. The political intrigue is high and Aniri barely escapes an attempt on her life.

The tension is fierce throughout. Each new chapter brings Aniri closer to either love, or death. We get a fantastic steampunk world, with an East Indian flair, and a strong female main character who picks up the ball and runs her hardest. Even when she fumbles, Aniri is worthy of cheers because she learns from her mistakes and never quits.

What I hadn’t expected, and thoroughly adored, was Malik’s assistance. He realizes his only shot at peace is this marriage, and he’s willing to trust a confessed spy with the biggest military secret of his country. Aniri could never have learned what was necessary to save her people without Malik earning her forever trust. And Devesh? Well, perhaps an on-the-side lover isn’t the best place for him in the Jungali court. In the end, Aniri does choose her own husband. And she chooses very well indeed.

Three words to describe this Third Daughter? Indomitable. Passionate. Resourceful. She’s my kind of heroine.

And, can I say the cover is exquisite? The internal art (chapter headings and section breaks) is just as lovely, and speaks volumes about the care that went into making this book. I absolutely LOVED it, and would recommend it to any YA reader. Its smidgen of passion–some swoony kisses–won’t make you blush, but will get your heart beating.

Interested? You can find THIRD DAUGHTER at Goodreads, it’s currently FREE on Amazon, and on paperback through Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:
Susan Kaye Quinn is a rocket scientist turned speculative fiction author who now uses her PhD to invent cool stuff in books. Her works range from young adult science fiction to adult future-noir, with side trips into steampunk and middle grade fantasy. Her bestselling novels and short stories have been optioned for Virtual Reality, translated into German, and featured in several anthologies.

She writes full-time from Chicago, inventing mind powers and dreaming of the Singularity. You can find out what she’s up to by subscribing to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!).

Catch up with Susan on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Now Available: ROYALLY SCREWED!

rs-fb-now-ad-2Hi there! Just getting out the word on a new contemporary romance from bestselling author Emma Chase. I absolutely loved TANGLED, and ROYALLY SCREWED sounds like the great start to a sexy-funny series.

royally-screwed-for-webAbout the book:
Emma Chase, New York Times bestselling author of the Tangled Series & Legal Briefs Series, returns with the first of three sizzling standalone books about a family of racy, irresistible Royals.
Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward Pembrook, Crowned Prince of Wessco, aka “His Royal Hotness”, is wickedly charming, devastatingly handsome, and unabashedly arrogant—hard not to be when people are constantly bowing down to you.

Then, one snowy night in Manhattan, the prince meets a dark haired beauty who doesn’t bow down. Instead, she throws a pie in his face. Nicholas wants to find out if she tastes as good as her pie, and this heir apparent is used to getting what he wants.

Dating a prince isn’t what waitress Olivia Hammond ever imagined it would be.

There’s a disapproving queen, a wildly inappropriate spare heir, relentless paparazzi, and brutal public scrutiny. While they’ve traded in horse drawn carriages for Rolls Royces and haven’t chopped anyone’s head off lately—the royals are far from accepting of this commoner.

But to Olivia—Nicholas is worth it.

Nicholas grew up with the whole world watching, and now Marriage Watch is in full force. In the end, Nicholas has to decide who he is, but more importantly, who he wants to be: a King… or the man who gets to love Olivia forever.

How about a little taste?

“I have a plan.”

We’re in the library of the suite. Nicholas is behind the desk, his hair falling still damp over his forehead from a recent shower, while James and Tommy stand near the windows.

“Take off your clothes,” I say, dropping a stuffed backpack at my feet.

He stands, giving me a curious, dimple-flashing smile that makes my stomach tingle.

“I like this plan.”

He pulls his shirt over his head—and at the sight of that gorgeous chest and ripped abs, I have to close my mouth to stop the flow of drool.

“Should I send the lads to their room?” he asks.

I toss him a Beastie Boys T-shirt and ripped jeans from the backpack. “They can stay—I’ll get to them in a second.”

Nicholas puts on the outfit, his disguise for the day. I hold up a thick gold chain with a dangling cross, and he dips his head so I can loop it over his neck. Then I squirt gel into my hand and reach up on tiptoes to rub it through his hair—mussing it at the top and slicking the sides.

Perfect.

“Do you know how to drive a motorcycle?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent.” I pull a helmet with a full, tinted face shield out of the backpack and hold it up. “Marty’s bike is downstairs. He said to tell you: break it, you bought…a Ducati.”

Logan steps into the room from where he was stationed just outside the door, lifting his hand, like a traffic cop. “Hold on, now—”

Nicholas takes the helmet. “It’ll be fine, Logan.”

“And,” I say cautiously, turning to the three big, strong, probably-have-a-license-to-kill boys. “I want Nicholas and me to go on this outing alone. You guys stay here.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” Tommy says.

James makes the sign of the cross.

Logan takes another route. “No fuckin’ way. Not possible.”

But the look on Nicholas’s face says it’s definitely possible.

“No,” Logan insists again, his voice straining with a faint hint of desperation.

“I have an itinerary.” I take the sealed envelope out of the backpack and hand it to Logan. “I wrote everything down for you, just in case—exactly where we’ll be, every minute.” When he starts to tear it open I put my hand on his. “You can’t open it until after we’re gone—it’ll ruin the surprise. But I promise it will be all right. I swear on my life.”

My eyes drift from Logan to Nicholas. “Trust me.”

And I want him to—so much. I want to do this for him, give him something he hasn’t had. Something he’ll remember always: freedom.

Nicholas looks at the helmet, then at Logan. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Ah…you could get assassinated and the three of us will hang for treason.”

“Don’t be silly,” Nicholas scoffs. “We haven’t hung anyone in years.” He smacks Logan’s back. “It’d be the firing squad.”

This one sure sounds yummy!

Swoon!!
Interested? You can find ROYALLY SCREWED on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Audible, and IndieBound.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About the Author:
Emma Chase is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the hot and hilarious Tangled series and The Legal Briefs series. Emma lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children and two naughty (but really cute) dogs. She has a long-standing love/hate relationship with caffeine.

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!
InkSlinger PR Blogger Banner - New

Reality Bites in HIS ROYAL FAVORITE-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a fabulous contemporary M/M royalty romance from Lilah Pace. HIS ROYAL FAVORITE is the sequel to HIS ROYAL SECRET, but I found it easy to enjoy despite not having read the first book.

His Royal Favorite (His Royal Secret, #2)About the book:

The conclusion of Lilah Pace’s racy, romantic male/male duology following His Royal Secret…

James, Prince of Wales, is making history. He’s decided to come out to his subjects—and the world. However, telling the truth means exposing his relationship with lone-wolf reporter Benjamin Dahan. Although Ben never wanted commitment, the unexpected depth of his feelings leads him to join James in the media’s harsh spotlight.

When the news story explodes across the globe, Ben can endure the mockery and dirty jokes. But after his tragic past is cruelly revealed, his life begins to implode. Can even his love for James be worth this?

James has it no easier. His revelation divides the country and sparks turmoil within the royal family. He must struggle to defend not only himself and Ben, but also his younger sister, who hovers on the brink of a breakdown that could endanger her life.

Is Ben strong enough to survive the onslaught and stand by James’ side? And will James have to make a choice between Ben and the crown?

My Review: 

Ben and James met in Kenya, nearly six months ago. Ben is a financial reporter who has traveled the world and seen a lot, but suffered the deaths of his parents when he was young, and also the cruel manipulations of a much elder lover when he was just a boy. James is the Prince of Wales, next in  line for the throne. They reconnect in London, and their clandestine relationship has grown to the point of love. To risk a spoiler of the first book, James is now the Price Regent, leading the monarchy as his grandfather ails. His uncle, Prince Richard, is none-too-pleased to learn of James sexuality, and certainly sees how he can use this to his own benefit.

James has decided that he can no longer live in the closet, and he’s given Ben the opportunity to walk away–but both men feel a love deeper than either expected, and Ben agrees to come out by James’ side. And it’s horrible.

Yep. The tabloids. The royal in-fighting. Ben’s personal insecurities about all the beautiful young gay men being foisted at James, men more suitable partners for their aristocratic blood and genteel manners. Plus, Ben’s job is a source of stress, as a leak seems to be spilling into the papers, there. James is heartsick for all the Ben has lost, but joyous that he can love his man openly.

There are many bumps in this road, and not all of them are relationship based. James’ sister, Princess Amelia, is unwell, and has been since their parents died. Her self-harm is at the crisis stage, and James knows that once his “reign” ends, he’ll have no power to get her the psychiatric help she needs; the rest of their family would never institutionalize her for fear of the scandal. And, Richard’s been very chatty with the Archbishop regarding the impossibility of an openly gay man becoming the Governor of the Church of England, as James will, when his grandfather dies and he continues in succession. A grand objection from the church would nullify James’ coronation, and he’d not fight for the crown, if it came to that.

Beyond the political, the love story is one that simmers and boils. There are many questions for each man to face, and it’s new to each of them. Neither has had a stable adult relationship before, and they are terrifyingly in love, but is it enough to overcome all the stumbling blocks? Ben is an intensely private man, and he’s being plastered all over the tabloids. He’s fiercely independent, and the security needs relegate him to giving up his flat and essentially moving in with James. His job? Oh man, that’s the worst part.

So, it’s an HEA, but in a very realistic way. Life does not go back to “normal” as it cannot, but there are new expectations of normal, and new paths to forge, together. Ben must adapt to life in the spotlight, at least for now, and he gets assistance from some unlikely partners. I really liked how that part worked, because I wanted to see a bridge built between Ben and James’ friends. There is so much bittersweet going on, but the undercurrent of honest love and affection is the most delicious bit. The Epilogue sweeps up nicely all the leftover bits, and helps the reader know that this is a real and true happiness that lasts, not simply the giddiness of first love. No, we can expect that James and Ben make a life together.

The whole pomp and circumstance of the Royals is not really my thing, but this book gave it more than just a fantasy role. It’s hard work, and constant pressure, and a whole lot of protocol that keeps it all in order. While I hadn’t much interest previously, I definitely gained a larger appreciation for the institution and I surely loved James for all his selflessness in executing his duties. Ben did, too, and was a giant support when James needed him. Their tenderness was so beautiful, but their sexytimes were tons of fun, too.

Interested? You can find HIS ROYAL FAVORITE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:

Lilah Pace is a pseudonym for a New York Times bestselling author, so she can’t give away too much about herself here, but she has lived everywhere from Italy to the United Kingdom before putting down roots in the American South.

She’s addicted to Diet Coke, loves her dog, and daydreams about several British movie stars (though usually no more than two at a time).

And while it took her a long while to get up the courage to write books, now she hopes she’ll never stop.

Catch up with Lilah online on her website, twitter, and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!