More Than Friends? LEARNED REACTIONS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M contemporary romance from Jayce Ellis. LEARNED REACTIONS is the second book in her Higher Education series that feature professional men of color finding both success and love. We get a friends-to-lovers story here that really burned up the pages. Check out my review of LEARNED BEHAVIORS for another great read, with connected characters.

About the book:
Carlton Monroe is finally getting his groove back. After a year playing dad to his nephew and sending him safely off to college, it’s back to his bachelor ways. But when his teenaged niece shows up on his doorstep looking for a permanent home, his plan comes to a screeching halt. Family is everything, and in the eyes of social services, a couple makes a better adoptive family than an overworked bachelor father. A fake relationship with his closest friend is the best way to keep his family together.

If things between him and Deion are complicated, well, it only needs to last until the end of the semester.

Living with Carlton is a heartbreak waiting to happen, and once the adoption goes through, Deion’s out. He’s waited two decades for Carlton to realize they’re meant for each other, and he’s done. It’s time to make a clean break. But it’s hard to think of moving away when keeping up the act includes some very real perks like kissing, cuddling and sharing a bed.

Even the best charades must come to an end, though. As the holidays and Deion’s departure date loom, the two men must decide whether playing house is enough for them—or if there’s any chance they could be a family for real.

My Review:
Carlton Monroe is a financial aid officer at Howard University in DC. He’s been there a long time, and he works hard. He’s an out gay black man whose “traditional” (read: bigoted and austere) parents are not really talking with him–mostly on account of him being gay. He’d always had a conflicted relationship with his parents, though, even before he came out. Once he did though, they mostly disowned him. He had a good relationship with his sister, whom his parents idealized as the golden child of their family, but she and her husband died a few years ago leaving their children, Trey and Olivia, orphaned. Carlton’s parents took custody of the kids, but Trey, who may be genderqueer, soon turned up on his doorstep–after too many fights with his stifling grandparents. Carlton took him in with no qualms, and helped him graduate high school and enter college.

So, now Carlton is a free man! No responsibilities and looking forward to spending some time with his longtime best friend, and former college roomie, Deion Jones. Professor Jones is taking a sabbatical, and has agreed to visit Carlton for a bit.

Thing is, Deion has literally been in love with Carlton for…ever. Since freshman year of college, for sure. Deion is a beautiful, virile Black gay man, and he’s always wanted a loving partner and family. He’s a little jealous that Carlton, who always professed to never wanting kids himself, has become an uncle-dad to his nephew. While Deion’s visiting Carlton Olivia turns up on the doorstep, crying and wanting to be free of her domineering grandparents. Olivia wants to wrestle on her high school team, against the boys–and Grams was having none of it. But it was also how her grandparents cut her off from communicating with Trey and Uncle Carlton that messed things up with Olivia. Deion is happy to help co-parent, for the time he’s meant to be in DC, but Carlton–with the help and advice of his friend Lawrence–is moving to formally adopt Olivia. To protect her from the toxic homelife he’d narrowly escaped with his folks. And, the social worker helping to facilitate the adoption mistakes Carlton and Deion as cohabitating partners.

It’s then that Carlton suggests that Deion extend his stay, stop sleeping on his couch, and move himself into Carlton’s plush bed. And, if they can add benefits to their friendship, all the better. Because Carlton’s been low key in love with Deion all along. He’s just been too afraid to chance anything more, because Deion’s the only constant and healthy relationship Carlton has maintained in his adult life. He might make himself out to be a Grindr fan and freewheeling bachelor, but he isn’t really that guy. He’s a homebody who thrives on late-night check-ins with Deion, whose relationships haven’t really panned out either on account of his pining for Carlton.

Their extended cohabitation and more-than-friends sexytimes are blurring the lines, however, and with Deion’s sabbatical coming to an end there are realities that need to be faced and discussed. Shame Carlton’s so tongue-tied with his affections. At first. It’s a bittersweet break, because Trey and Olivia LOVE Uncle Deion as much as he does them. His dream of being a dad is nearly complete, if only Carlton truly loved him as a partner, as a potential husband, not a pseudo-temporary-boyfriend just to finalize the adoption. Can he live without Carlton, even as a friend? Because it might kill their friendship if he does what he needs to do to protect his heart. Once Carlton gets a handle on his life without Deion in it on the day-to-day he realizes his family dysfunctions have set him up for a lifetime of happiness. It’s difficult for each of these men to change their habits, but a happy ending is on the horizon, if only they can break the patterns that have bound them in misery the past 16 years (or so).

Loved this one!! Carlton’s hot mess of a life is so chaotic, but his love for Deion is clear, even if he can’t speak to it. Their sexytimes are amazing, so steamy, and yet playful. They have been friends too long for much awkwardness, even in the bedroom. I loved the grand gesture that Carlton plans, and it was awesome to see their happy ending on the page. Deion’s future had looked so bleak, but he’s more than happy to be a dad, even to a teen girl wrestler. There are fun interactions with Jaq and Lawrence who we met in the first book of this series. Lawrence, especially, got good page time as very successful Black lawyer who happens to be a father many times over and a divorced pansexual man. I’m sure we’ll see this “daddy” find himself a partner in the next book. I absolutely look forward to it.

Interested? You can find LEARNED REACTIONS on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jayce Ellis is an author and an attorney. You can connect with her on twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Workplace Confrontations LEARNED BEHAVIORS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M contemporary romance from Jayce Ellis. LEARNED BEHAVIORS is the first book in her Higher Education series that feature men of color finding professional success and love. Here it’s an office romance that shouldn’t happen. Check out my review of ANDRE and JEREMIAH other great reads by this author.

About the book:
Two single dads meet at the office where it’s hate at first sight in this new series from acclaimed author Jayce Ellis.

Sending his daughter off to college is the proudest day of single dad JaQuan Reynolds’ life. Everything took a back seat to raising her—including his career. He has no idea what comes next, but his newfound freedom is quickly curtailed by a crash deadline at work and the uptight, hovering presence of consultant Matthew Donaldson. He’s surly and insufferably sexy, and Jaq’s ready to check him out and write him off—right up until a work assignment forces them together.

Every day. From now until Thanksgiving.

Work and fatherhood have been Matt’s whole world for years now, ever since his marriage ended. His eldest son is getting hitched over Thanksgiving weekend, and he’s not going to let a work deadline get in the way of celebrating with his family—not this time. The hours aren’t a problem, but the executive assistant on the project might be. Jaq’s sexy voice makes Matt yearn for things he let go of a long time ago.

Lust isn’t on the schedule, and neither is longing. But as the weeks go by, Matt and Jaq are forced to reevaluate their plans…and discover that even the most tight-knit of families can make room for one more.

My Review:
JaQuan “Jaq” Reynolds is a single, Black, gay dad with a college-aged daughter, Tanisha, leaving for her first semester. He’s so into his daughter and loves that she’s finding her wings. While he is helping her move in to the dorms at Howard, he makes the acquaintance of a couple of other out Black men raising college-aged kids, Carlton and Lawrence. He doesn’t have a lot of community, so he’s happy to build some new friendships. Jaq is the right-hand man to eccentric Patricia Kingsley, owner and head designer of Kingsley Enterprises, a home furnishings design company. They had a bid to design a line of products for Bernhardt’s stores. They hadn’t heard back, but suddenly the company wants designs for a Black Friday surge, and it’s all hands on deck for the next few months to meet the ridiculous deadlines. Jaq is not pleased to work closely with Matthew Donaldson as they bring Patricia’s designs to market–mostly because Matthew is pompous and his attitude is beyond the pale. Even if he is one fine man…

Matthew Donaldson is a Bernhardt’s analyst who usually takes nine months to a year with his new accounts to help them acclimate to the Bernhardt’s process, and ensure a successful partnership. This unexpected account with Kingsley designs is breaking all the patterns for his usual project management. He’s worked for the Bernhardt’s for two decades, to the chagrin of his ex-wife and grown children. They all have had their fill of his excuses for ignoring them on behalf of work. Matthew’s female boss has made it clear that she only trust his with this roll out because management is looking for reasons to axe either of them. As a Black bisexual man, he’s definitely outside the white culture of management at Bernhardt’s and failing to meet deadlines on this rushed project could be the end of Matthew’s tenure at Bernhardt’s. Add to that his eldest son is about to get married at Thanskgiving–the day before Black Friday, and his youngest daughter is having struggles at Howard. So, he’s not interested in Jaq’s excuses for Patricia’s seeming flightiness. Even if Jaq is a delicious-looking dude…

Thing is, the more these two work together the more they recognize that their animosity is fueled by frustrated attraction. Maybe if they take a little “professional” break they could get some clarity and also some sexual satisfaction. Interestingly, they only get more taken with one another–because they finally start to appreciate the struggles the other has faced. They are the hardest workers in the office and their commitment to the project is common ground. Also, it turns out Tanisha and Matthew’s daughter are acquainted–although this causes some conflict when Jaq recognizes that Matthew’s daughter kinda broke her heart. That said, they can’t shake the other man, so they decide to go for it. It seems to be developing well, until the wedding, to which Matthew has invited Jaq as his guest. If they bust their humps they should be able to relax at the occasion. Unfortunately, it’s a total mess. Why? Because Matthew can’t turn off work, as per his usual. And, because Tanisha has an emergency that increases the conflict.

This is a fantastic and delicious romance between two determined, driven and strong Black men. Their personalities were so strong on the page, and their dedication and responsibility was honored and celebrated in the most poignant ways. Matthew has a long way to go to make amends to his family, and to Jaq for his recent behavior. Matthew is used to being autonomous, and his struggles to include people and be vulnerable are interesting. Jaq has been a caregiver for his whole adult life. it’s hard for him to be independent, but he grows his wings once Tanisha leaves home, encouraged by his loving mother. This story has a strong theme of family and self-sacrifice, which both men need to overcome. I really loved it, and I loved Carlton and Lawrence and their absolutely stone cold, but loving, advice for Jaq. I’m glad that we will see these characters in future stories. A happy ending and a strong recommendation from me.

Interested? You can find LEARNED BEHAVIOR on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jayce Ellis is an author and an attorney. You can connect with her on twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Recognizing the Possibilities TODAY–Audiobook Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from RJ Scott. TODAY is the second book in the Single Dads series, and features a gay man with emotional issues raising his orphaned niece and nephew, and falling for the sexy firefighter who doesn’t see him as broken. We met both of these MCs in the first book of the series, SINGLE, but this story is really all about them.

About the book:
When the world labels a man and judges them blindly, is it possible to ever find love?
Firefighter Eric is on the front line, battling the threat of nature’s destruction in the California grasslands alongside his CalFire team. Focused and calm, even in the direst of situations, he has a strong affection for his fire truck, loves his career, and has best friends he can rely on. All he needs now is love, but that seems to be impossible to find. At his friend’s wedding. Eric falls in lust at first sight with the shy, slim and sexy Brady, even if Brady isn’t the type of guy he usually goes for. What Eric longs for is an equal in his bed, not a smaller guy who might want Eric to role-play big strong firefighter every time they have sex. He wants to find someone he can be vulnerable with, someone who will love him for his soft heart and quiet ways.

Brady’s life plans grind to a halt when his niece and nephew lose their parents in a tragic accident, and he becomes a dad overnight. His Developmental Coordination Disorder rules his life, but he fights both DCD and the fears that chase him every day, to give Maddie and Lucas a home. Agreeing to go to a friend’s wedding is a decision he regrets long before he even gets there. But, he refuses to give in to his fear, even if he might do something that makes him a target for people’s comments and laughter. Meeting Eric, a huge man with a gentle voice and a flair for chivalry, he falls hard. Now, if only he can let himself get past his panic that Eric would never want someone like him, then maybe he could fall in love for real.

My Review:
I am sharing a review of the audiobook, narrated by Sean Crisden, which lasts just about 4.5 hours.

Eric Lester-Hythe is a firefighter in the San Diego crews who prefers to keep a low profile–so folks don’t associate him with his father, a senator from California. Not that he doesn’t love his dad–de totally does–he just wants people to like him for who he is, not as some part of a power brokerage. Eric lives with his two childhood best friends, Sean Roberts an ER doc and Leo Byrne a cop, but the day this story opens, Sean is marrying the love of his life, their next-door neighbor Ash. So, Eric will be down a roommate, but up a surrogate niece as he loves Ash’s daughter Mia just as much as her daddies, and Leo.

At the wedding ceremony, Ash asks Eric to watch his online friend, Brady, who has arrived with his own niece and nephew to help support Ash in his new married life. Eric is all too happy to agree, because he finds Brady to be very attractive, and he wants to ensure that Ash’s friend has a good visit. Ash and Brady met as part of an online support group for single gay dads, and Ash knows that Brody is not comfortable in public spaces, or while surrounded by strangers. Turns out Brady has Developmental Coordination Disorder, as well as anxiety. This means he’s sometimes unable to interact with coordinated movements, and he trips or drops things suddenly, and this condition is exacerbated when he’s nervous. He is almost ready to bolt before the ceremony kicks off, but Eric is there, and his bulk and sexyiness unexpectedly calm Brady. In fact, Brady is so keyed up he falls over, trips, and feels generally mortified–but follows his instincts to kiss Eric with perfect coordination.

Eric is smitten, actually. He’s tired of partners who want him to take charge all the time. Brady’s forwardness is a huge turn on, and get Eric tracking Brady to his home to deepen their connection. Brady is a self-described hot mess,

This audiobook is really a great listen. Narrator Sean Crisden has a great range for the many male characters in the story. The angst that Brady feels is clearly translated, as is Eric’s exhaustion with his challenging job. I loved how these men supported and complimented one another. Eric is sweet with Brady’s kids, and helps him see that he’s truly a father to those kids, who really loved him dearly. They are so endearingly protective of Brady. Brady grows a lot, finding the steadfast love of such a good man as Eric gives his the confidence to trust in himself in a way that he hasn’t before. The dual narration is successful for allowing listeners to drop into the mindscape of each character.

There are a few sexytimes, and they are nice and steamy. Brady is nearly reckless with his attraction to Eric, and that was fun to experience.

Interested? You can find TODAY on Goodreads and is available to Kindle Unlimited members on Amazon. I listened to the audiobook from Audible.

About the Author:
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

Catch RJ on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, twitter and LibraryThing.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Now Available! PROMISE Audiobook by RJ Scott

Hi there! Today I’m spreading the work for a newly released audiobook for a M/M romance from RJ Scott. PROMISE is the third book the Single Dads series, and features an ex-con trying to save his daughter from druglords while also falling hard for the cop that comes to his rescue. You know I loved SINGLE, so I kept on with this series.

About the book:
Leo Byrne is a cop, Jason Banks is an ex-con. Even after one stolen kiss, something has to give before Leo can convince Jason that falling in love is even an option.

Adopted at a young age, Leo is part of the sprawling Byrnes family. With his dog Cap, three siblings and a whole mess of nieces and nephews, he is never lonely, and his life is full. Love is the last item on his to-do list, but seeing his best friends Sean and Eric happy and making new families makes him want things he doesn’t think is possible. Kissing Jason at an event to honor his bravery was one thing, but anything other than that is off limits. Until Jason has no one left to turn to, and it’s Leo who helps him at his lowest. Taking Jason and his daughter into his home is one thing, but falling for the ex-con is something else altogether.

Jason made a deal to keep his daughter safe and spent years behind bars as a result. Volunteering as a convict firefighter was as much about helping the community as saving his sanity, but now that he’s out, he doesn’t even have that. He’s lost his future, his self-respect, and has no friends or a place to call home. Worst of all, even after rescuing his daughter he still can’t keep her safe from the man who wants to use her as a bargaining chip for money. Meeting Leo might give Jason a way to keep Daisy safe, but falling for the stubborn cop means the truth has to be revealed, and he could lose everything all over again.

I’m nearly finished with the audiobook, so you can expect a review soon.

Interested? You can find PROMISE on Goodreads, Amazon and Audible.

About the Author:
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

Catch RJ on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, twitter and LibraryThing.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Coping With Fatherhood SINGLE–Audiobook Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from RJ Scott. SINGLE kicks off the Single Dads series, and features a gay man raising his surrogate daughter and unexpectedly falling for his sexy new neighbor.

About the book:
Reeling from the painful rejection of a man he thought he loved, Asher is left holding the baby.

Ash wants a family, and is determined to continue with a surrogacy he’d begun with his ex. Bringing baby Mia home, he vows that he will be the best father he can be. Nothing in this world matters more to him than caring for his daughter, not even accidentally falling in lust with the doctor next door. Challenged by his growing attraction to Sean, and confronted by painful memories of his family, Ash has to learn that love is all that matters.

When ER doctor Sean moves in with his friends next door to sexy single father Ash, he falls so quickly it takes his breath away. The sex they have is hot, but Ash is adamant
his heart is too full with love for his daughter to let anyone else in. Why is Sean the only one who sees how scared Ash is, and how can he prove to his new lover that he desperately wants the three of them to become a family?

My Review:
I am sharing a review of the audiobook, narrated by Sean Crisden which lasts just over 4.5 hours.

Asher Haynes is a 31 year-old freelance computer web designer living in the San Diego suburbs who’s just become a father. He’s gay, and he began a surrogacy route with his former partner, Darius, long before Darius took a hard look at their life and hit the road. So, Ash still wanted to be a daddy and he fathered baby Mia on his own. He spent the first few weeks of Mia’s life at his twin sister Siobhan’s home learning the finer points of baby care. He’s recently returned to his one home, and thoroughly exhausted after finally getting Mia to sleep when his drunk neighbor Eric nearly knocks his door down by mistake. Eric’s bestie and housemate Sean soon arrives to chaperone Eric to their next-door house.

Sean Roberts is an ER doctor who lives with Eric–a firefighter–and Leo–a cop–in what was once known as the “party house” because of their awesome patio and in-ground pool. Sean is really, really attracted to Ash, and he’s super happy to learn that Ash is single and gay. He’s also happy to help out Ash when Mia seems to be sick, but it’s a situational error. Ash is a mess, fearing that he’s messing up all the time and wanting so desperately to be a great father. His own relationships have been a struggle–with a deceased father and a mother who barely speaks to him on account of him being out and proud. Ash has a LOT of mommy issues, but this book gives them time to reconcile in the best way.

Sean’s so excited to get to know Ash, he orchestrates a couple of “inadvertent” run-ins with Ash and Mia while out on their walks. And it isn’t long before Ash finds Sean’s help to be important and essential, despite the bad timing.

This audiobook is really a great listen. Narrator Sean Crisden has a great range for the many male characters and the few female characters in the story. The angst and exhaustion that Ash feels over his nascent fatherhood is well-voiced. Sean’s no-nonsense timbre underlays his labors in self-deprecation and medical expertise. The story has a LOT of daddy time, as Ash works through his struggles in single fatherhood with online and in-person support groups. Though the story has dual-narration, it really feels mostly like Ash’s story.

There are a couple bits of sexytimes, and a happily ever after that unites the neighbors in a way that ignites interest in the couple that will find love in the next book.

Interested? You can find SINGLE on Goodreads and was recently marked FREE for Prime members on Amazon. I listened to the audiobook from Audible.

About the Author:
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

Catch RJ on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, twitter and LibraryThing.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Submitting For Real DRIVE–Review and Giveaway!


Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M New Adult coming out romance from Courtney Maguire. DRIVE features a young mechanic in East Texas fighting to raise his sister and make ends meet. Help seems to come from from unexpected allies. It’s a pseudo single-dad story, and I really liked it.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
In the conservative East Texas town of Black Creek, you’re either old money or you work for them. Redmond Cole is the latter. The long hours he spends fixing fancy cars in the local garage are barely enough to support himself, let alone his sixteen-year-old half-sister, Katie. All he wants is a better life for the both of them, one that’s easy and real, but he has a secret. One that could blow up the meager existence he’s worked so hard to maintain.

Red is gay.

He doesn’t want to lie, especially to Katie, but Black Creek isn’t the most hospitable environment to those who are different. His secrets keep them safe. He’s all but resigned to a life in the closet until he’s propositioned by the dashing, wealthy Victor Itachi. What follows is a secret and intense sexual relationship that challenges everything Red believes about himself. But when Victor’s craving for dominance starts to affect his submissive partner’s real-life relationships, Red must decide what’s more important: his power or his secrets.

How about a little taste?

Under the hood of a car, everything makes sense. Gears and wires. Oil and grease. All the parts fit together and just work. Each piece has its own function, a logic. Completely predictable even when damaged. Won’t turn over? Check the battery, the wiring, the alternator. Find the broken piece and the whole thing comes alive again, purring and growling and shrugging itself back into action.

I pulled my head out of the engine compartment of a Nissan Altima and flexed my back with a satisfying crack. The owner brought it in complaining of overheating. The repair was a simple one. Just a few hoses needed replacing. I wiped my grease-coated hands and folded my tall frame into the driver’s seat. I flicked the key, and the engine turned over easily. I tapped the accelerator and the temperature needle climbed before stopping at normal. I smiled and gave the dash an affectionate pat.

“Good girl.”

“Red!” I jumped at a sharp voice from inside the shop. I shut off the Nissan and stepped out to find my boss, Bo, poking his square head into the garage, gesturing for me to join him. Visible through a bank of windows behind him stood a neatly dressed man with long, ink-black hair and a troubled expression. I’d seen him before. Many times, in fact. He drove a silver BMW 5 series sedan, a fine machine and well-suited to a man like him, and he brought it in monthly for regular maintenance.

I always noticed. Not only the car, but the man. How the air changed with his appearance. How, like now, the gears in my head locked up and stopped moving, and all I could do was stare, mesmerized by the flow of his hair around his shoulders, the bow of his lips, his olive skin. He was nothing like the rednecks here in Black Creek. I struggled for a word to describe him. Pretty was what he was. Not in a feminine sense. More in the way you think of a Ferrari 458 as pretty. Sleek and stylish with a touch of ferocity lurking just beneath the shiny topcoat.

“Redmond!”

I jumped again, my eyes jerking back to Bo’s irritated face.

“What the hell are you doing? Get in here!”

Face hot, I slammed the car door behind me. I straightened my collar, immediately feeling ridiculous for doing so, and made my way into the shop.

“Mister Itachi,” he announced as I stepped through the door, “this is Redmond Cole. He’s our finest mechanic. I can assure you he’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

I nodded without raising my eyes, dirty hands shoved in my pockets. Mr. Itachi. Victor. I knew his name already, had seen it on intake forms and receipts, but unlike the other countless names I encountered daily this one stuck. He shifted nervously, his shiny leather shoes scraping across the shop floor. I lifted my eyes just enough to see his lips curl downward and lowered my head to hide my flush.

“I have a very important meeting in Longview, tomorrow,” he said, each word crisp and carefully formed. “It is absolutely imperative it’s ready by first thing in the morning.”

“Yessir.” My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, making the words thick.

“Trust me,” Bo assured him, slapping me roughly on the back with a meaty hand. “He’ll have it ready if he has to work all night.”

I frowned and swallowed hard as he gave my shoulder a tight, warning squeeze.

Mr. Itachi clenched and unclenched his hands at his waist, and he released a long sigh. “I guess I’ll leave it to you then.”

My tongue frozen in place, I nodded again. Bo released his grip on my shoulder and ushered the gentleman out in a fog of reassurances, each one laced with a subtle threat pointed at me.

Heart pounding, palms sweating, I retreated into the garage. I leaned heavily against the Nissan I’d just been working on. My coworker, Lawrence, squinted at me from underneath a Mazda 3, and I pulled myself up straight.

Goddammit, Red, get a hold of yourself.

“What is it with that guy?” he said in his three-pack-a-day voice, jabbing his wrench toward the windows.

My stomach clenched. “What do you mean?”

“Bo can’t seem to jump high enough when he comes around.”

I released a nervous laugh and shrugged. “Money talks, I guess.”

Lawrence snorted, disappearing back under the Mazda. Here in Black Creek, there were two classes of people: the obscenely wealthy and everyone else barely scraping by. Like every other East Texas town, we were founded on lumber and natural gas. Those who got in early prospered. Those who didn’t worked for them. Generations of people whose fate was determined by the luck of their great-great-grandfathers, though something told me Mr. Itachi’s story was different. The silver BMW pulled into the bay next to me, and I peered at it over the Nissan’s roof.

“What’s wrong with you?” I whispered to myself.

My Review:
Red Cole is a 25 y/o closeted single gay man living in a conservative East Texas small town. He’s working as a mechanic, barely making ends meet as he raises his 16 y/o half-sister Katie; she a bit of a troublemaker, and ran to Red when escaping from their abusive father three years ago.

Red does a great job fixing a custom Beemer for wealthy lawyer Victor Itachi, and hesitantly accepts Victor’s invitation for a drink. It’s a big step for Red, even if it’s not a date. It’s weird that Victor can see through Red’s het facade, and even more weird that he’s inviting Red to some debauched playhouse for discreet “like-minded” folk. Red refuses, but his curiosity is piqued.

A few days later, Red is calling Victor for more information. And, the playhouse is a trip. What Victor likes is a D/s variation based on pet play. He wants a pet to take care of, in the playhouse and in real life. Red is ashamed at how turned on he is by submission. It must say something crappy about his masculinity–like his worthless father always said.

Red has also semi-befriended an out gay man called Sean, who is the town pariah. He was shipped off to schooling in Austin by his bigoted father and only returned to town when his dad died a couple of years ago. And, he desperately needs a friend. They meet because Sean’s car has been vandalized with paint by a homophobe, and Red agrees to dab off as much paint as he can–even after his homophobic boss tries to deny the business. When Sean’s mother dies, Red is as big a comfort as he can manage, while still firmly lodged within the closet.

But in the playhouse with Victor, Red is quickly growing accustomed to Victor’s Dominant play, he’s even jealous that Victor’s other pet, Toby, gets to spend time with his Master. It’s a really confusing time, emotionally, for Red, as Victor does more and more caretaking outside of the playhouse. And, the more time that Red spends with Sean, the more he thinks maybe coming out is the best option after all.

This is an interesting story with a few bigger twists that kept the story moving. Red’s relationships with Katie and Sean are safe, because neither knows of Red’s gay secret. He’s able to grow a bit with his playtime with Victor, and see that he needs more than just to “heel” when his phone begins to bark. The D/s is a curveball, with unexpected struggles–Red hasn’t had to fight to keep a man to himself before–not that he’s ever wanted to. And, the power plays with Victor and Toby have real life ramifications–as Red learns when Toby shows up at his job. This is all overlayed by the toxic masculinity mindset that permeates this Texas town–and creates a sanctimonious backdrop that allows aggressive homophobia to flourish. Red’s “upstanding” boss isn’t too “upstanding” to gouge Sean for the work Red mostly did on his lunch breaks. And, he’s clearly perturbed that Red would even do such work where his “upstanding” customers could witness it. Victor’s unwilling to have any physical contact with Red that isn’t locked behind playhouse doors or half a state away in his Galveston beach house.

But, Red’s new experiences teach him what’s most important. Sure, he can be Victor’s pet, but is that a way to live? Toby’s example was a big wake-up call, I think. Red needs to stand up for himself, take care of his sister (even when she makes life so difficult) and find the courage to live his life with a lover that finds him worthy. Thankfully, he does this before the books ends. There are a few scenes of D/s play, but I wouldn’t call them especially romantic. Victor and Red take some time away, and this brings the first real intimacy of the story–it is also near the end…and serves as a stark counterpoint to how different a loving relationship would look, by comparison.

The climax brings the disparate parts of Red’s life into close proximity. The fallout is a bit explosive, but it provides the proper reorientation for Red to get his life ordered. The ending is a strong Happy for Now, with definite glints of an HEA. I really liked the layers of character and plot, which had many points of resonance. I’d be eager to read on, and see what happens with Red, and even Victor and Toby.

Interested? You can find DRIVE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords.

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

About the Author:
Courtney Maguire is a University of Texas graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas. Drawn to Austin by a voracious appetite for music, she spent most of her young adult life in dark, divey venues nursing a love for the sublimely weird. A self-proclaimed fangirl with a press pass, she combined her love of music and writing as the primary contributor for Japanese music and culture blog, Project: Lixx, interviewing Japanese rock and roll icons and providing live event coverage for appearances across the country. Her first novel, Wounded Martyr, is a 2019 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist in the Contemporary Romance: Short Category.

You can catch up with Courtney on her website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Will Love Help Them STAY LUCKY? A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a contemporary M/M romance from Leta Blake. STAY LUCKY is a standalone single dad and second-chance romance set in a small town. This was originally published in Ms. Blake’s pen name (Halsey Harlow), but is now being re-released in her own name.

About the book
A second chance to build the family of their dreams…

Grant long ago gave up on a relationship with Leo Garner. After all Leo left him for a movie star, and who can compete with that? But now, Leo’s back with his adorable, genius daughter in tow, leaving Grant consumed by three important questions:

1) Did Leo come home looking for a fresh start without the movie star?
2) Does he want a do-over with Grant too?
3) Why else would Leo be hanging around Grant’s hospital so much anyway?

The attraction between Grant and Leo is undeniable, and soon their affection reignites as well. But will their luck hold out through health scares and family drama so they can find their happy ending at last?

My Review:
Dr. Grant Anderson has a bad bedside manner and even worse personal temperament. He’s moody, mean and delights in making nurses and underlings cry–because he’s a surgeon, and plainly put, an asshole. He’s never really had any lasting relationships, and he’s not about to start up with the last man who touched his heart, Leo Garner. Six years ago, Grant and Leo were really starting to get serious, but then Leo’s high school sweetheart Curtis Banks swooped in from Hollywood and convinced Leo to give him another chance. Grant won’t admit it to anyone, let alone himself, but he was heart-broken.

It wasn’t hard to keep up with Leo’s escapades with Curtis–they were all over the tabloids. Including Leo’s heart transplant a couple of years ago, and what looks to be a permanent separation. Finding that Leo and his daughter-niece Lucky have relocated back to tiny Blountville, North Carolina is frustrating to Grant. But, learning that Leo’s on dialysis for transplant-related kidney failure gets Grant all charged up again. Leo’s tentative about reconnecting; he’s not sure how long he has left even though he’s barely thirty. He adopted Lucky from his younger sister Hannah–who happens to be both a flighty drug addict, and a perfect match as a kidney donor. If only she could be coaxed into donation.

This story is told in a series of flashbacks over the course of several months, from the night prior to the surgery to the point of Grant and Leo’s reconnection: ten months before surgery. Grant’s caustic personality causes precocious 6 year-old Lucky to take him to task for making nurses cry. Grant’s intrigued by the fearless girl, even before he finds out she’s Leo’s. Lucky’s got a well-tuned BS meter, and she can tell that blunt and brash Dr. Anderson will be brutally honest, no matter what. Their rapport grows from this understanding, and Grant takes to spending time teaching Lucky to play chess while waits for Leo’s dialysis appointments. While Curtis doesn’t want to let Leo and Lucky go, he’s never been the emotional support Leo needed–and their sex life was mutually unsatisfying.

With Grant, Leo’s able to find not only peace but satisfaction. Yet, as Leo’s health continues to fail, Grant’s need to fix his lover becomes consuming. Leo’s extended family is on the case, too, tracking down Hannah and helping her get clean and sober so she can help her dear brother. There are plenty of setbacks and moments of extreme pain. And, I’m not talking about the kink Grant and Leo get up to!

I liked this one, though it’s not my fave book from this author. Grant’s obnoxious bedside manner reminds me a lot of Dr. Patrick McCloud of the Will and Patrick series, and there are some other parallels to that set of stories. Lucky is more cute than I expected, given the author’s notes. The romance is cautious on Leo’s side, given his history and health issues. Grant’s far less tentative than I expected him to be, and he’s got all the right answers for Leo’s sexytimes needs, which surprised me. His history seems more than a bit murky, and I could see this character being a precursor to Patrick, for that reason. Patrick had a lot more page time to reveal his secrets to the reader–and was a lot more complex, as a result. Grant comes off as a jerk for so much of this story, it’s hard to remember that he’s been wounded by Leo before.

Without question, however, I was charmed by the reconnection romance, and I was glad to find the happy ending is solid and strong. Grant was definitely all-in from the moment he relaxed and let Lucky sneak into his heart–to join Leo–and his tenacity and passion are given without reserve. It’s sweet, a bit spicy and has tons of feels for Leo, Grant and Lucky.

Interested? You can find STAY LUCKY on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Leta Blake is the author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.

You can find out more on her website, Patreon, Facebook and twitter.