Friday, August 18, 2017

An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League #1) by Alyssa Cole

* * * *

As the Civil War rages between the states, a courageous pair of spies plunge fearlessly into a maelstrom of ignorance, deceit, and danger, combining their unique skills to alter the course of history and break the chains of the past . . .

Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South—to spy for the Union Army.

Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton's Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet—risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia.

Two undercover agents who share a common cause—and an undeniable attraction—Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy's favor. Caught in a tightening web of wartime intrigue, and fighting a fiery and forbidden love, Malcolm and Elle must make their boldest move to preserve the Union at any cost—even if it means losing each other . . .




"Man's inhumanity to man wasn't solely regulated to skin color, although it did allow its practitioners to choose their targets more easily." ~ Elle, p.44

An Extraordinary Union was added to my wish list when I saw the Twitterverse raving about it. When I attended the Kensington panel at RT17 back in May, my fellow Bibliojunkies watched me race my way up to the table to snag myself a copy of it. I was ecstatic!

A freed slave turned spy for the Union is an intriguing concept and one that I wanted to learn about. My knowledge of the Civil War is quite limited and as part of my self-education on it I want to be sure to learn about the stories that don't get as much attention. This is one of them. Elle herself is an impressive woman: she's always been able to memorize and recall information, an ability that's vital in the war effort to fight the Rebels. Too often though her skills are underestimated simply because she is a woman, and of colour. Yet, this is also an advantage to any spy, especially that of the Loyal League. Since she is given little regard by her employers, she can fly under the radar gathering information from conversations she overhears and things she sees. It's amazing the things people divulge when they're ignoring you because they feel you're beneath them. Malcolm's appearance makes things harder. He's also a spy for the Loyal League and they have to work together. Malcolm has always found slavery to be a contemptible practice but he knows that not everyone shares his progressive attitude. As part of his cover, he plays nice and woos and flirts with the society women and banters effortlessly with the gentlemen of the South, all the while using his charm to gain their confidence and wean information from them. Two spies with special gifts in a dangerous situation, made even more risky by their growing attraction to each other. In all of this they must not lose sight of their mission.

There's a tinge of suspense that penetrates the entire story due to the tension and danger that come across strongly. The risk of being caught or double-crossed is always a probability especially in those secretive moments. I know this will sound a bit strange but I found the romance to be a bit distracting at a couple of times. I did like the verbal sparring that went on between Elle and Malcolm - they're both equally up to the challenge - and I loved that he delighted in her outspokenness. I think I was just so focused on the spying and infiltrating of the enemy's lair. 



"..., but it galled him that Elle's effectiveness was partially rooted in society inherently seeing her as inferior." ~ Malcolm, p.55



What's most striking are the cringe-worthy moments exposing mankind's ugly side. We all know that slaves were maligned and mistreated (which sadly is a gross understatement) but it's still shocking to see them referred to as "darkies" and thought of lacking in any intelligence. Men would comment on Elle as an object to be toyed with and worse. One character who is absolutely reprehensible is that of Susie, a high society daughter. She's a vile, insipid character who thinks nothing of how she treats anyone much less slaves. Hats off to Cole though for injecting half an ounce of empathy for her as a Southern Belle who is pushed by her mother to make a good marriage, but even that doesn't erase her disgusting personality. For me, the highlights of the book come with Elle and Malcolm's insights into human nature and that of the circumstances they witness. On the surface of it, Malcolm represents everything she should fear and detest. He's a white man, a part of the group that has forcefully uprooted, enslaved and persecuted her people. Yet he harbours none of that despicable behaviour towards her or her kind. Malcolm sees a young woman possessed of incredible intellect, bravery and beauty. The difference in skin colour has no bearing on who he cares for or falls in love with even though he know's most of society will not be accepting of them.

An Extraordinary Union is moving, suspenseful and romantic. Not only did I learn something from it, I came away with a profound new respect for those who simply wanted to live free of fear and subjugation, and those who risked their lives to make that happen.

~ Bel


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Irresistible You (Chicago Rebels #1) by Kate Meader

* * * 1/2


Three estranged sisters inherit their late father’s failing hockey franchise and are forced to confront a man’s world, their family’s demons, and the battle-hardened ice warriors skating into their hearts.

Harper Chase has just become the most powerful woman in the NHL after the death of her father Clifford Chase, maverick owner of the Chicago Rebels. But the team is a hot mess—underfunded, overweight, and close to tapping out of the league. Hell-bent on turning the luckless franchise around, Harper won’t let anything stand in her way. Not her gender, not her sisters, and especially not a veteran player with an attitude problem and a smoldering gaze designed to melt her ice-compacted defenses.

Veteran center Remy “Jinx” DuPre is on the downside of a career that’s seen him win big sponsorships, fans’ hearts, and more than a few notches on his stick. Only one goal has eluded him: the Stanley Cup. Sure, he’s been labeled as the unluckiest guy in the league, but with his recent streak of good play, he knows this is his year. So why the hell is he being shunted off to a failing hockey franchise run by a ball-buster in heels? And is she seriously expecting him to lead her band of misfit losers to a coveted spot in the playoffs?

He’d have a better chance of leading Harper on a merry skate to his bed…


Source: e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review


All right, folks. There's a plethora of hockey romances out there so what makes this one different? Answer: a little Cajun spice.

Remy or "Jinx" has his peers call him is on the brink of retirement but first he needs to do one more thing before that happens: win the Stanley Cup. And he thinks it'll happen with his current team. But a certain, newly-minted owner of the Chicago Rebels has other ideas. She trades for him to join the Rebels hoping that his work ethic and experience will fire up her team and take them from Loserville to hoisting that much sought-after piece of hardware. It looks great on paper but in real life it's going to require a great amount of effort on Harper's part to convince Remy that this is a good move. She even strikes a bargain with him without informing her half-sisters, who are the other co-owners of the Rebels, about this. While Remy may be resistant to the trade it doesn't mean he is impervious to the hotness that is his new boss, Harper Chase. The woman has a confident, don't-mess-with-me-or-I'll-knee-you-in-the-balls vibe and that only makes Remy hungry to get closer to her. As the new owner of the Rebels, Harper has much to prove in a little amount of time. Not only does she need to get her organization running smoothly again but she and her sisters have to fulfill the terms of her late father's will in order to keep control of it. Everyone from the media to the public to other organizations is looking to see them fail, Harper especially. So she won't let a little inconvenient attraction to her team's latest acquisition sideline her momentum. The boss can't mess around with one of her employees because that would be unprofessional and hurt her credibility but ...

Firstly, there's a lot of heat throughout most of this book. Remy is an imposing figure, all masculinity and charm. It helps that he drops those lovely French phrases and terms of endearment regularly. I was pleasantly surprised by his backstory and what his anticipated plans are for after his retirement. His line of thinking was not something I was expecting from a pro-athlete who has it all from luxuries to women thrown at his feet. I did get a kick out of how he started to bond with his teammates. Some of them don't have quite the finesse he has but he seemed to take to his role of being a leader seriously. Secondly, I felt for Harper. Like most females in the workplace, she's in a precarious position. Meader provides plenty of Harper's backstory and examines how any woman taking on a leadership role within a company faces skepticism from her counterparts about her worthiness or effectiveness at her job. A woman has to work 10 times harder to prove her detractors wrong. I personally had reservations about her and Remy hooking up but then there wouldn't be a story if they didn't. And because their relationship is forbidden it only makes their "magic time" hotter. Let me tell you, that stroll down a New Orleans street was quite something memorable!  

I had a great time reading Irresistible You. It's naughty, fun and I mentioned naughty, yes? Allow Remy to add some spice to your reading list :)

~ Bel



P.S. I got to meet Kate Meader at RT17 back in May and she was so delightful and sweet. I had to share this pic of us! It was taken after a very taxing and loud trivia game but it was oh so much fun ;)


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chief's Mess by L.A. Witt

***

From Riptide:


Anthony Talbot is in Anchor Point to visit family, but after two days of strife, he needs a break. A local gay bar is calling his name.
When Chief Noah Jackson sees that red head stroll into the club, he immediately wants him. They’re perfectly matched, and before long, they’re burning up the sheets. Noah can’t get enough. Anthony can’t stay in Oregon for long, but as soon as he leaves, he’s counting down the days until he can fly back for more. And between his increasingly frequent visits, there’s always phone sex, sexting, webcams . . . anything they can get.
But Noah’s got a carefully crafted façade, and Anthony can’t help noticing the slowly forming cracks. The scent of alcohol in the middle of the day. The extra drinks at dinner. The hint of red in his eyes. Anthony knows what it means. He doesn’t want to believe it, but he’s seen this before, and there’s no denying it. If Noah doesn’t get his downward spiral under control, he’s going to lose both his career and the first man he’s ever really loved.
Source:  Advance electronic copy in exchange for an honest review.  
When the story starts, you think Anthony is going to be the one to bring the angst, but once he gets over his anger at Clint (yes!  You get to visit with Clint and Travis from Afraid to Fly!), it's Noah and his addiction that makes you feel all the feelings - the whole emotional spectrum.  

L.A. Witt writes amazing stories of addicts and recovery.  They are often difficult to read, but amazing stories.  In Afraid to Fly, Witt dealt with Clint's recovery as an alcoholic, in Chief's Mess, she writes Noah's life as a functioning alcoholic and his path to acknowledging his problem and seeking help.  Despite Anthony's problems with Clint, he goes to Clint for help and advice on how to help Noah.  It's touch and go for a while, but I promise, you will be smiling by the end of the book.  

Don't worry, you only have to wait until September for Book 4, Rank & File!  

~Shel

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell Review and Release Day Blitz

Ladies and gentlemen, we are so happy that Illegal Contact is finally here!  




St. Martin's Press sent us an excerpt for you below.  Unfortunately, my overtired mind couldn't get the graphic they sent to work, but we've still have the excerpt! 

If you haven't read a Santino Hassell book yet, you are seriously missing out.  He does great angst and jerkface characters we hate to love.  And let's not forget the steamy, messy sex that will have you all:



I mean, just check out this cover:




...

Sorry, lost my train of thought there for a minute.  Phew.  Ok, back to it.  Santino Hassell's Illegal Contact.  It's here.  You should read it.  Preferrably on a beautiful day by the lake, like I did.



Illegal Contact definitely falls into a top 10 sport's romance spot for me.  Gavin is a total dick, but you love him anyway.  Noah is great.  The two together just work.  But for the totally unfiltered review, I thought it would be fun to show you messages sent to fellow BiblioJunkie Nat after she finished reading Illegal Contact.


Ok, so maybe I'm a little hung up on what a jackass Gavin is, but honestly, I like my men a little surly.  Nat and I then discussed how Illegal Contact wasn't quite as filthy as Santino's books usually are and how his editor at Intermix (ignore that I had the wrong publisher in the message) must have made him tone down some of his trademark dirty sex...



  








I'm giving Illegal Contact 4 stars, because, as I said above, I just love these characters and want to hang out with them.  Illegal Contact gave me the warm fuzzies, made me laugh, made me drool, and gave me great fantasies about being a fourth with Gavin, Simeon, and Marcus.  😉  I hope you all grab Illegal Contact today, because we need more Baron's books!  If you've read it, tell us your thoughts!  If you haven't, check out the excerpt below - it will hook you!

~Shel
***

Gavin

Somewhere in the past couple of weeks, right around the time I’d watched Noah’s face light up as he threw himself into philanthropic planning schemes and he’d warned me about Joe being a nosy scumbag, I’d lost my mind. Evidence? Me wanting to smack my closest friend for putting the moves on him.

At first I’d thought I was being overprotective. Not even a week ago, I’d had this whole talk with Noah about him feeling safe, and I’d taken it seriously. As a foster kid, I’d never felt safe. Especially in the homes of people who’d temporarily taken me in. I’d been constantly reminded of my precarious position in their houses, and how they could put in a thirty-day notice with my social worker at any point. And they’d used that leverage against me.

I wasn’t about to step into the shoes of bastards who’d worked hard to ensure I would end up distrusting and despising people for the rest of my life.

He was my employee. I was his boss. He obviously didn’t trust me but had agreed to shack up in my house for two reasons only—money to help his father and to catch up on his debt. He didn’t really want to be here, but he had to be. The least I could do was respect his wishes. The same for my friends, but Simeon was laying it on thick.

As he’d run his hands all over Noah, I’d justified each jolt of discomfort by saying Simeon was shitting all over my promise. But Noah agreeing to fan day and whatever else? That had turned discomfort into outright jealousy. Especially since he hadn’t even known my damn name after meeting me at the interview, but he knew all sorts of random facts about Simeon. Simeon, who was in full-throttle, charming superstar QB mode. I was over it.

Regardless, my jealousy was a complete anomaly. Had never happened before. But it was happening right the fuck now, and I was furious with myself. Who cared if Noah was cute and a smartass who wasn’t afraid to tell me to go fuck myself? And so what if that turned me on? Who cared if he was proving to be helpful and loyal enough to warn me about Joe? He was still my employee. I wasn’t supposed to care that he was more interested in my best friend.

Fuck. Whose idea had it been for me to be someone’s boss? I had zero clue what I was doing. Why had I ever listened to Joe?

I returned to the game room and paced the mostly empty space. I’d just seen that anger-management person a few days ago, and every tip and suggestion had flown out of my mind. All I could think about was how pissed I was at myself, and how I needed to go down to the gym and beat the shit out of a punching bag to work it out of my system. The last time I’d been this mad at myself had been when I’d trusted a journalist who’d invented a fake backstory for himself to get me to respond to his prying questions. Then he’d blasted my childhood across the front page of the newspaper.
Gavin Brawley Blames His Out of Control Temper on Hardscrabble Past.
Every word out of context. Bits and pieces of my identity twisted to fit the story he’d wanted. After that, I’d vowed to never talk to a reporter again. I hadn’t expected my emotional thermometer to blast through to enraged over Simeon coming on to Noah. And now I had nothing to use as an outlet. I could work out from morning to night, but after a while it was monotonous. Energy being expended but not going anywhere, and I felt like it circled the air and absorbed right back into my shoulders every goddamn night.

“You’re being real extra right now.”
Marcus’ calm voice did nothing to settle me down. “Shut up.”
“Nah.” Marcus yawned and plopped onto one of the sofas. “Fuck, dude, I’m ready for nap time. Your cagey, jealous shit is ruining the vibe.”

“Who says I’m jealous?”
“Your white ass gets so flushed when you’re mad that it would be impossible to miss. I thought you
were going to jump Simeon when he made that comment about giving ole boy a ride.”
“Yeah, well, what can I say?” I stopped pacing. “I didn’t invite you assholes over here to give my employee a hard time.”

“Your employee.” Marcus threw his muscular legs up onto the couch and stretched out. “Don’t even front like you don’t want to smash him.”

“I don’t.”
“Bullshit. You were staring them down the whole time we were downstairs. I mean, hey, no judgment. He just looks like a typical white-boy hipster to me, but whatever floats your boat, man. You may want to lay it down for Simeon if you’re serious, though. He most definitely wants to tap that ass.”

I ground my teeth together and tried to remember the last time I’d felt possessive over anyone, but I came up short. Then again, I didn’t normally hang out with the people I had sex with for more than ten minutes after we both came.

“I don’t want Simeon fucking him, and it has nothing to do with me being jealous.”
“Oh yeah? What’s it got to do with?”
“Him not pissing off the only person I can stand to have in my house for six months,” I snarled.  “Simeon can stick his dick in someone else until Noah is finished here.”
“And then you’d be cool with it?”
“Yeah, then I’d be cool with it.”
Marcus snickered. He knew I was full of shit.
“Let me ask you a question, Gav.”
“Is that a question or a warning about the fact that I can’t stop you from asking even if I wanted to?”
“Probably the last one.” Marcus propped his feet up on the arm of the couch, making himself nice and comfy. “If you’re having jealous temper tantrums over this kid after a month, how the fuck are you gonna act in another two or three? He’s gonna be here all the time, dude. Showering in your bathroom, sleeping in your guest room, jacking it in bed a few thousand square feet away . . .”

“For fuck’s sake, Marcus.” 

“Am I right or am I right, though?”

He was right. But I refused to admit it.
“I already told you I’m not jealous. Do we get along? Yeah. We do. And you know that’s a miracle when it comes to me. Half the Barons can’t stand my ass because I won’t laugh at their stupid jokes, but at least they respect me. Most people think I’m a piece of shit.”

“And your boy?” Marcus pressed, looking truly intrigued. “What’s he like?”
“He’s . . .” How was he? What was it about him that had even clicked with me enough to make me want to guarantee he not walk out of the oversized front door and not come back? To become desperate and throw in that huge bonus so he wouldn’t have to keep commuting? “He’s a smartass, but he’s a good person. And he gets me.”

Marcus raised an eyebrow. “How’s he get you? He doesn’t even like football.”
The disgusted tone drew a smile out of me. I plopped down in one of the armchairs and tilted my head back. “He didn’t grow up like me, but . . . he gets it. And he’s not phony. He’s straight up with his opinions and isn’t afraid to tell me them.”

“So he’s not scared to say . . . ‘Gavin, you’re being a dickhead.’”
“Basically. He talks almost as much trash as I do, which is probably why we managed to get along. Also, he keeps trying to make me look good to Mel. Gave me credit for all this shit that he came up with.  I don’t get it, since I was a total douchebag to him, but I appreciate it. He’s a good dude.”
“Huh.” Marcus slowly nodded, analyzing me with his big dark eyes. “Aiight, I’ll talk to Simeon.” 

“About what?”

“Him keeping his greedy hands off your boy.” Marcus winked. “But if you’re keeping on with this whole I’m-trying-to-hold-on-to-my-employee bullshit, I’d recommend getting laid. From where I’m sitting, you just look like a jealous, horny bastard.”

“Done.”

Marcus rolled off the sofa and sprang to his feet. He arched his back with a jaw-cracking yawn. “You mind if I catch some sleep, dude? I’ve been having nightmares every night for the past few days.”

“What kind of nightmares?”
“Eh. Stress shit. Getting injured before the season even starts. Moe getting hurt messed me up, man.” 

“You spoke to him?”

“Yeah.” Marcus sobered. “His agent isn’t feeling too good about his contract since this is his last year, and he’s had four fucking surgeries during the life of it. Remember what I said earlier? About them saying he was injury-prone? I wasn’t making it up. His career may be over, man. Or maybe they’ll trade him to some douchebag team like the Predators.”

The Predators were infamous dickholes. It seemed to be a requirement for signing with them. Even their cheerleaders were mean as fuck. The Slytherin of the NFL. The only time I could play a game without everyone mentioning my shitty reputation was if we were playing the Predators. They, as a whole, had a shittier reputation than me.

“You won’t get hurt.”
Marcus arched a brow. “You a prophet now?”
“Yeah. And I prophesize your ass winning the Super Bowl this year.”
“Without you and Moe? Nope.”
I scoffed. “Yeah, right.”
“For real, man. I love Phil, but he’s no Brawley. He’s small and lean enough to run circles around Dmen after a reception, but he has none of your force or bulk. They’re changing everything to account for you and Moe not being there. Fucking sucks.”

It did suck. Even more so because I was now facing the reality that my team was short not one but two starters. If I’d controlled myself better, I’d be there to support them. All of this stress and anxiety about how the season would roll out wouldn’t be on their shoulders, although in my opinion Moe was more of an asset to the team. He was one of the best wide receivers in the league. Even so, I wanted to be there to step up. But I was stuck. Because of my need to escalate shit five times past where it could have ended.

“All right, bud. I’m gonna go talk to Simeon, and you figure out how to get laid.”
I nodded, watching him go, and actually listened to the tip. Between Simeon and Noah, the shit about Moe, and now the news that my replacement wasn’t rising to the occasion of starting for the Barons? I needed an outlet. It was either time to get in a monstrous fistfight or take out the brimming frustration on someone’s ass.
I went for the latter.

Making It by Christine d'Abo

****

From Riptide:


Devan knows exactly what he wants from life: a good career, a husband who loves him, and a child to call his own. He’s working at the perfect job, and has found the man of his dreams in Eli. That only leaves one box left to tick. When his friend offers to be a surrogate mother for Devan and Eli, he’s convinced all his dreams have come true.
Eli has been fighting his entire life. Fighting to keep his sick mother safe, fighting his frustration, and fighting daily as an up-and-coming MMA star. The one thing he can’t fight is the feeling that he’s made a terrible mistake agreeing to be a father with Devan. On the worst night of their lives, Eli knows Devan is better off without him, and leaves.
When Eli returns three years later, he comes face-to-face with Devan and a son who might be his. Devan has moved on with his life, but seeing Eli once again reignites forgotten passion. Yet if Eli wants to make it work with Devan, he must decide if he’s ready for the biggest fight of his life.

Source:  Advance electronic copy in exchange for an honest review.

Eli's a messed up dude.  His past has completely wrecked him, leaving him no ability to deal with emotions.  Couple that with living deep in the closet as an MMA fighter and he is just a mess.  Devan's actually got his life together, but sometimes ignores what others want or need when he's focused on his goals.  When Eli leaves him without warning, he's devastated.  When Eli suddenly comes back to town, he's conflicted.  

Devan has to figure out if he can move on from the past and Eli has to figure out what he's willing to do for love and family.  Making It has d'Abo's signature smoking hot sex, a sexy fighter, and a baby!  What more could you ask for?

Making It is the third in the Ringside Romance series, each featuring a different friend - Zack, Max, and Eli grew up together training at Ringside.  Now they are re-opening Ringside and finding love.  Book 1, Working It, is my favorite of the series, but all three are well worth the read.  

~Shel

Monday, August 14, 2017

In His Hands Spotlight & Giveaway

* * * 1/2


He is Her Salvation

Abby Merkley has been a member of the Church of the Apocalyptic Faith since she was a child, and there's no way out―except death. She will fight the odds to survive, but there's no one in the world she can trust, nowhere she can run that the cult can't find her...until her handsome, brooding neighbor takes her into the safety of his arms.

Luc Stanek craves a quiet life. But he doesn't hesitate when a desperate woman lands, bloodied and branded on his doorstep. Soon he finds himself drawn into her chaotic world, caught in the center of an apocalyptic war...and determined to save the fierce beauty no matter the cost.
 


Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review




:: :: Review :: :: 


The third installment in the Blank Canvas series is perhaps its most disturbing. There's always a degree of apprehension when I read about something to do with a cult and this was no exception.

Abby has led a sheltered life with her mother at the church compound where she has been raised. She was married off at a young age but her husband has since passed away, and with his passing her place in her community is less secure. What she does know is that she doesn't want this life anymore where her fate is decided by the male church elders. Neither does she want to be married off again and expected to submit to another husband. She has hatched a plan involving the neighbour bordering the church's property. She's been watching him discreetly, noticing that he works alone picking the grapes from their vines. Perhaps she'll offer to help him and he'll pay her and she can save the money to run away. Luc is startled when she comes upon him out of nowhere. He prefers his solitude and doesn't need her help so he turns her away. Abby refuses to give up and returns again, this time he agrees to hire her only to make sure that he's done harvesting the grapes before the bad weather rolls in. Neither of them is expecting to grow fond of each other's company and actually look forward to it. Luc hesitantly asks her about her life at the compound and she feeds him bits and pieces which he puts together. He knows enough that she hasn't had an easy life, that she's afraid and needs to get out. All these years that his property has bordered the compound, he's never questioned or interfered with their comings and goings. Everything has changed now that Abby has infiltrated his life and become important to him. He doesn't realize that helping her puts him and his land firmly in the crosshairs of the church's strict leaders.


Anders knows how to write wounded souls and bring their emotions to the forefront. Out of all the characters in this series, I think Abby and Luc being loners are the most vulnerable. Abby has lived a wretched life so far, having been cut off from the outside that she's naive about so much yet there's this resilience in her that can't be underestimated. Luc left his heritage and family behind in France. Feeling dejected and unworthy, he came to Blackwood hoping to find peace and his own purpose in the grand scheme of things. He didn't imagine that this strange, beautiful girl would come into his life making him want more out of it. I liked that Anders broadened the series by introducing two new people that hadn't been mentioned previously. It added an new element to the town of Blackwood and its community. If you've read By Her Touch, you'll be happy to know that both George and Clay do make appearances though.


I have fallen in love with the entire Black Canvas series. Even though the stories have centered on people who have been dealt cruel blows, they're all fighters working hard to reclaim themselves. They're survivors and they're inspirational. I had already decided after her first book that Anders is a must-read author for me and In His Hands' theme of compassion and forgiveness makes this another heart-achingly beautiful story from her that shouldn't be missed.


~ Bel



:: :: Excerpt :: :: 



“You don’t smile,” she said.
He stopped pruning so abruptly that Abby almost ran right into him.
“No?”
Shaking her head, she looked at his face and mirrored his frown before saying a purse-lipped, “Non,” in imitation of his accent.
And there, miracle of miracles, the man did it. His lips curved up. Or almost. One side of his mouth lifted—the side with the scar—and, oh goodness, it was a dimple. What kind of trick was it that this big, burly man had to suffer through the indignity of a dimple?
And much, much worse was her having to suffer through that smile.
She wanted to touch it, the divot in his cheek. Or those lips, or that thick, rough-looking neck, which was more cleanly shaven than the first time she’d come here.
Did he do that for me? she wondered as she turned away, reaching for…anything to stop herself. Branches.
Those would do. Pull, throw, wait—red face averted—and move on.
They’d finished the row without speaking and moved on to the next by the time Abby could breathe normally again. Surprise, surprise, he was the one to finally break the silence.
“Besides no cap, what else do you wish for?”
She didn’t hesitate before saying, “A place of my own.”
“Yes?”
“Nothing big, just a…a room. Where I could listen to music, maybe?”
“You can’t do that there?”
“Oh, we sing all right. Best part of the Church is the singing.”
“What do you sing?”
“Hymns.”
“I don’t know any.”
Without thinking it through, she sang a verse from one of her favorites. “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all.”
When she met his eye, Luc was…not quite smiling, but close. His eyes were warm, his expression…admiring, maybe? Abby blushed with the realization of what she’d just done.
He said one word: “Pretty.” But something about the way he said it, his eyes eating up her face, made her cheeks burn hotter and breath come faster. To hide it, she turned quickly back to work.
Changing the topic, she cleared her throat and asked, “So, how much is a place to rent?”
“What?”
“A room to live in. How much money do I need for that?”
He shrugged. “Depends. Big cities, it’s a lot, I think. Around here? I don’t know. Maybe a few hundred a month?”
“Good Lord, that is a lot.”
“Life is expensive.” He shrugged and cut, the movement lifting shoulders massive enough to carry the weight of the world.
“Right. So…you have to pay for food, right? And what else you gotta pay for?”
“Electricity. Um, water and gas, things like that.”
“Gas for the car?”
“For your car and for your stove or heat.”
“Oh. So…I’d need a lot. To start a life.”
“A good amount, yes. You need to pay a guarantee as well, I think, if it’s like France. And references for the landlord.” He glanced at her. “This makes you unhappy?”
“Guess I thought… I thought I could work for you for a couple weeks and have enough to start a life.”
“It’s hard, Abby.” His eyes on her were steady and full of a new softness that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with, like he’d taken off a layer of her skin to speak to her insides.
“Blue jeans, too,” she said, forcing a touch of flippancy to her tone.
“What?”
“Jeans. I’d like to wear jeans with snaps and a zipper, like a normal person.”
“Like a slim?” The word came out with two Es in the middle: sleem. She shook her head, not understanding.
“Um, skinny jeans?” he clarified.
“Goodness, no!” She laughed. “I’d need time to adjust to just trousers first, but…” Letting her gaze rest on the valley before them, she thought of the hundreds—no, thousands—of women who walked around every day wearing practical clothing instead of these stiff cotton skirts and modest drawers she had to fight her way out of. “I’d like to look normal when I go into town, to feel free. Just a T-shirt and jeans. Those sneaker shoes to
walk in. Maybe some—”
She stopped, hating how her current thought embarrassed her. It wasn’t the wish so much as the fantasy surrounding it.
“Some?”
“Boots. Cowboy boots, you know? The kind you stomp around in.” Except stomping wasn’t what she envisioned when she said it. In her mind’s eye, she pictured herself in jeans by all rights tighter than she should want to wear them; a cute shirt—maybe something sparkly, but not too fancy, since part of her just wanted a plain T-shirt; and those boots with their small heel and slightly pointed toe. And all of this dancing on the arm of a man. This man, truth be told. It was this man in her fantasy, which sent a new wash of heat prickling against
the cold air, from her chest to her forehead and well into her hairline.
“I can’t imagine you stomping.”
“No? I’d be good at it.”
Their eyes met as he said, “I don’t doubt it.” The words, silly and inconsequential as they were, sent blood rushing right down her body to where it didn’t belong. Somehow that blood weighed her down, made her lids heavy, and sent her mouth to drooping in a way she was sure he could see.
And then she knew he could, because his eyes strayed there, lingering before one thick, rough-hewn hand followed.
A single knuckle swiped her bottom lip in a gesture not so much affectionate as…curious? Compulsive?
Like a baby who couldn’t help but touch a ball or stuff it in his mouth. To taste. To feel. To know.
It was over too soon, that swipe. And yet, somehow, it lasted forever. Suspended here on the mountain, in their thick cloud of burning vine and sparks, the cold melted away by more than just the fire.
After that long hitch in time, Abby inhaled and let the air out in hiccups—the shaky kind you couldn’t help making after a good, hard sob. But rather than the release of a big cry, his knuckle to her lip screwed everything up tight, made her insides overflow with whatever this was.
She was sure she’d pop. She had to.
Because Lord only knew what she’d do if this pressure didn’t release sometime soon.

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:: :: About Adriana Anders :: :: 




Adriana Anders has acted and sung, slung cocktails and corrected copy. She’s worked for start-ups, multinationals and small nonprofits, but it wasn’t until she returned to her first love—writing romance—that she finally felt like she’d come home. Today, she resides with her tall French husband, two small children and fat French cat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she writes the dark, gritty, emotional love stories of her heart.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Faking It by Christine D'Abo

***


From Riptide:


Max Tremblay should be happy. His nightclub, Frantic, is one of the most popular gay clubs in Toronto, and his childhood refuge, Ringside Gym, is well on the way to reopening. But when he finds yet another drunk in the alley beside the bar, Max isn’t sure this is the life he truly wants.
Grady Barnes has it all. He’s rich, famous, and wants for nothing. Well, nothing but a good relationship with his father. When he discovers that his father is going to force him into an arranged marriage, Grady has had enough. He tracks down Max, the man who got him to safety after a night of overindulgence, and makes him a proposal: pretend to be his fiancé for two weeks and he’ll invest in Ringside Gym.
When the pair travel to Vancouver to attend a family wedding, the flames of their mutual attraction ignite, and they discover that the only difference between pretend and reality is how well they can fake it.
Source:  Advance electronic copy in exchange for an honest review.

Faking It is a fun fake fiance story.  I love these stories - the couples in question are always to clueless and while the stories are often predictable, I find comfort in them.  And their silliness.  I hadn't read Working It, when I grabbed Faking It, but they can be read as standalones.  Max and Grady come together at a time when they are both are examining their lives and finding them wanting.  Grady's got some angst, but together he and Max find something worth fighting for.  

Faking It is an entertaining story.  It's not my favorite in the Ringside Series, but definitely enjoyable.  Making It is my favorite.  I love that book so much.  Book 3 - Making It released last week, you should check it out while you are at it.  

~ Shel