Finding Marnie by MV Ellis

Just when I thought I had Marnie all figured out, this book comes along and turns my opinion completely on its head.

What’s it About? 

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He is everything I want but know I can never have. Every fiber of my being has ached for Luke from the very first moment we met. However, with my parents’ legacy of toxic obsession woven into my DNA, I know love is pain and should be avoided at all costs. I’m unloved and unlovable. Still, in moments of weakness, I allow myself to imagine what it would be like if I was the kind of woman who deserved the love of a man like him.

She is hiding in plain sight, waiting for me to find her. Marnie has had my heart from day one, and always will. It’s just a shame I couldn’t muster the words to tell her so when we first locked eyes. It’s a failing I will live to regret for years to come. However, I’m determined to make things right, even if it takes me a lifetime. I need her to know she is enough. In fact, she is more than that. She is everything.

First Impressions

There are two surefire ways to win me over to a story. First, it must evoke some kind of emotion, whether it be sympathy, happiness, or even anger as it relates to our main characters. Second, if it can manage to change my opinion, or presuppositions surrounding a certain character, then we’ve really got something to talk about. This book manages to succeed in both endeavors. After reading the first three novels in this series, I was under the assumption that I knew everything there was to know about Marnie. A woman who I thought was in love with our rock star Arlo, yet was willing to settle for a f*ck buddy relationship with him.

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When he called off this physical connection with her in favor of pursuing a meaningful relationship with London, it seemed like Marnie spiraled into a drunken depression. And then there’s Arlo’s twin, Luke, who is obviously in love with his brother’s long time lover, but whose sentiments have never been, and possibly never will be reciprocated. Imagine my surprise to discover within the first chapter of this fourth book that the only assumption I had correct in this drama was that Luke was desperately in love with Marnie. You know what they say happens when you assume! As we go along throughout the rest of this post, I’ll be highlighting the assumptions I had about both Marnie and Luke which were presented throughout the series, and then discuss how this fourth installment successfully manages to twist those assumptions on their head.

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A Different Point of View

When it comes to any novel, we must always ask ourselves one important question. Who is telling the story? Up until this point in the Heartless Few series, we’ve seen events play out through two key characters: Arlo and London. Their viewpoints and opinions have influenced how we’ve seen the events of the story carry out, and have also had a profound impact on our assumptions when it comes to certain characters. This has especially been true for how we’ve viewed Marnie, which has primarily been negative. We’ve taken what Arlo and London have thought about her as pure fact, for the simple reason that we’ve never had any reason to doubt their version of things. London has always seen Marnie as competition vying for the attention of Arlo. She’s always been portrayed as a jilted lover who’s constantly wanted more from her relationship with Arlo, and goes into a jealous rage when Arlo’s dedication to London becomes public knowledge. Little did we know that Arlo and London’s interpretation of Marnie’s actions and affections have been completely wrong.

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In this fourth installment, we finally get to see the story play out from the points of view of our supplementary characters: Marnie and Luke. For the first time, Arlo and London have been reduced to the role of background characters, and the entire novel is told from Marnie and Luke’s alternating viewpoints. This allows us to finally see the truth in regards to how Marnie saw her relationship with Arlo, and that there’s actually another Jones brother she’s desired since the beginning. Another unique feature of seeing things told from different characters is that we move away from Arlo being the center of all the drama. Even Marnie and Luke discover that for the longest time they have allowed Arlo to dictate certain aspects of their lives. This is especially true for Luke, who has been living and performing in Arlo’s shadow for years. You can’t help but appreciate the ironic symmetry of what can happen when our secondary characters, and even we as the reader, don’t see Arlo as the center of the story.

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Who is Marnie? 

Every character has a backstory that influences who they are on the page, and this novel finally allows us to discover how the events of Marnie’s past have influenced who she is today. The story opens with Marnie as a teenager, and the tragedy that brought her into Luke and Arlo’s lives. One sad day, Marnie discovered that her parents committed suicide by drug overdose. They were fed up with life, and their love for each other was stronger to go out at the same time than it was to stay alive and care for Marnie. After the death of her parents, Marnie went to live with her grandmother, who happened to live in the same neighborhood where Luke and Arlo grew up. We then see how Luke became her one an only true friend in this new environment.

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So how did Arlo come to be her f*ck buddy? Well, after witnessing the tragic downfall of her parents, and how their love was so over the top, Marnie vowed that she would never put herself in a position where she’d have such strong feelings for another person. When Arlo came on the scene, she recognized a similar soul, someone who didn’t want an emotional connection with someone else, but was more than happy to share a physical one. He was a “safe” choice. She knew that Arlo would never be someone who wanted to cuddle after sex, or who would ask what she was thinking/feeling at any given moment. London, Luke, and everyone else in their lives assumed that Arlo and Marnie had such a longstanding sexual relationship because one or both of them felt some kind of love for the other. They refused to believe Arlo and Marnie’s insistence that it was a matter of convenience rather than one of emotion. For Marnie, her parent’s downfall made her seek out a relationship that would forever protect her heart from being broken, and Arlo fulfilled that need. An even bigger surprise than discovering that Marnie never felt true love for Arlo was that she actually felt something stronger for Luke all along.

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Love Unattainable

For the first three novels in the series, we knew without a doubt that Luke was in love with Marnie. We just assumed that Marnie actually had her sights set on Arlo, and that perhaps we’d need some big event to help Marnie open her eyes to the Jones brother that has been in love with her from the start. Imagine my surprise to discover fairly early on in this fourth story that Marnie’s feelings for Luke were just as strong from the first moment they met all those years ago. I thought Luke would have a major struggle on his hands to win over Marnie’s affections, and while he does have his work cut out for him in convincing Marnie to give a chance to their relationship, there has always been an underlying desire and love which Marnie has felt for Luke. Which begs to question, if Marnie has always desired Luke, and for Luke it was love at first sight, what exactly was preventing them from getting together?

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Simple, Marnie’s past. As we’ve already discussed, Marnie wanted to protect her heart from ever feeling the same kind of hurt and tragedy which befell her parents. When she first meets Luke after moving in with her grandmother, she immediately recognizes that he’s someone she could fall head over heels in love with. Rather than having this draw them together, Marnie uses it as a reason to pull away. She refuses to end up like her parents, so in her mind she must distance herself from the one man who evokes any kind of feeling behind the walls she’s trying to erect. In addition, the suicide of her parents left some additional emotional and physical scars to Marnie which she believes are indicators that Luke deserves someone better. When Luke tries to convince her that they’re meant to be together, Marnie attempts to use the horrors of her past as a deterrent for Luke to continue pursuing her. Little does she realize that Luke sees these trials that she’s managed to overcome as strengths to her character. They’ve made her the strong person she is today. She might be trying to push him away, but it’s actually drawing him closer to her.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Heartless Few, Book 4. I must say, there’s a few other members of this band that I’d love to get to know.

Final Impressions: I really enjoyed this read! While I initially questioned if this book would succeed in making me warm up to Marnie, I was shocked that from the opening chapter you’re rooting for her to find happiness. It was fascinating to see some of the same events from the first few books retold in a different light now that they’re shown from Marnie and Luke’s viewpoint. The love story between Arlo and London captured our hearts, but dare I say I might have fallen in love with Marnie and Luke even more. Arlo and London struggled for a few months to find their happily ever after, but these two have been secretly desiring each other for years. We finally understand the full depth of their feelings, and hope that Marnie will realize she’s worthy of a life filled with all the happiness and love that Luke wants to provide her with.

Smut Level: Even though we’re dealing with the other Jones twin, there is one common theme that gets their blood pumping, and that would be a heated argument. There’s something about a verbal argument with the love of their life that sparks within them a desire to copulate on the nearest available flat surface.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $1.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 342 Pages.

 

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Pushing Arlo by MV Ellis

Well, we all knew Arlo and London’s time together in the sun couldn’t last forever. I just didn’t expect the inevitable fallout to come so soon!

What’s it About? 

pushing arloHe thought he had it all, until he met her. They say you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, but for notorious womanizer Arlo Jones, it’s a case of not knowing what you want ’til it’s standing in front of you. The moment he meets London, he realizes she’s the piece of the puzzle he never knew was missing, but can’t live without. He does everything he can to get her, but just as he thinks she’s finally ready to give in to her feelings, he’s reminded how empty his life was without her in it.

She thought she had a plan, until she met him. They say the best-laid plans often go awry, and for aspiring photographer London Llwellyn, that’s definitely the case when she falls for Arlo. That was never part of her plan. She tries her best to avoid being pulled into his vortex, but he manages to turn her head upside down and her heart inside out. Just as she thinks she’s ready to commit to forever, she’s reminded of the reasons she resisted him for so long. He’s pulling her closer. How long can she keep pushing him away?

First Impressions

This book pretty much picks up right where book one left off, with a gallery premier of the coffee table book which London photographed of Arlo and his band’s most recent world tour. Things are seemingly off to a good start, with a decent shag before the premier, an awkward introduction to Arlo’s family afterwards, and an agreement for London to move in with Arlo. Such big steps in their relationship which all immediately come down the morning after when there’s a bit of scandal in the tabloids surrounding Arlo. And what else could it be when it comes to a former man-whoring reckless rock star like Arlo, but a sex tape? And who knew that it would cause a complete and total halt to Arlo and London’s relationship, not to mention her fleeing to the other side of the world to get away from him? Well, there’s some method to her madness which actually requires a closer look. Come along and let’s observe!

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Why Sex Tapes are Never a Good Idea

Just when Arlo and London’s relationship appears to be at it’s peak, a crushing blow comes in the form of a sex tape that tears our two lovebirds apart. It also serves to sever the long-term friendship and f*ck-buddy status between Arlo and his childhood friend, Marnie. She appears to have filmed the two of them having sex almost six months prior, and allegedly leaked it to the press after Arlo publicly dismissed Marnie’s advances at the recent gallery showing. For Arlo, it’s a stab in the back from a supposed friend, but one that he’s initially not too concerned about. After all, he’s used to being in the public spotlight for his sexual exploits. What’s one more? Especially when he has London in his bed. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for London to push aside. When an unknown person sends the sex video directly to London’s phone, it’s an invasion of privacy that she’s simply not used to, and it sparks within her an intense desire to flee. Which is just what she does.

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Arlo is shocked that the leaking of this sexual encounter, an affair which occurred before he even met London, could signal an end to their relationship. He thought London trusted him, and yet she now seems to question when exactly this tape was recorded. How could a sexual act which held such little meaning to him have such a profound influence on his relationship with London? Eventually, after a lot of discussions with his fellow band-mates, he has a eureka moment which helps him understand what was going through London’s mind at the time. Arlo and his band have been in the spotlight of fame and paparazzi scandal for years. To quote Arlo’s insight, “This shit has been our ‘normal’ for so long that it can be easy to forget how overwhelming it can all be if you’re not used it.”

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Ironically, I think it has almost become a ‘normal’ for us romance readers as well. Following London’s desertion of Arlo after the release of the sex tape, I too questioned if she was overreacting just a bit. But let’s face it, any rock star romance is basically guaranteed to feature some kind of misunderstanding with a paparazzi scandal. We as readers, just like Arlo, become almost numb to it. But to see it through London’s eyes, to see the invasion of privacy by having a stranger send such a shocking video to her own phone, signals that the likelihood of she and Arlo ever having a peaceful relationship with no intrusion is unlikely to the extreme. When we consider it in this regard, London’s instinct to flee makes more sense.

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From New York to Australia

Following London’s flight to Australia, we see what I identify as both a major strength and weakness to the story. Let’s start with the strength. Firstly, the entire novel is told from Arlo’s point of view, which is an interesting departure from book one. The short sequel of this series was also told from Arlo’s point of view, but to have an entire full-length novel told through the eyes of the rock star was rather enlightening. Hands down my favorite aspect of this book was that it allowed us to see Arlo’s growing maturity during London’s absence. He realizes that if he has any chance of winning her back, he has to change his ways to the point where London will never have reason to question his actions.

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This means no more partying, drugs, copious amounts of alcohol, etc., and instead taking a more active role in his business ventures and music production. He’s determined to clean up his act to prove himself worthy of London’s love, and the band mates who have become like brothers to him are there every step of the way. The connection that Arlo has with these men was a primary feature of the book, and one that draws you in from the get-go. You also see how far one man is willing to go for love. Before London, music was always his escape, and something which saved him from the possibility of going down a violent road as a youngster. And now that he’s an adult, London is saving him yet again, but this time from himself and his rock star lifestyle of excessive partying. London has a profound impact on Arlo’s life, even when she’s on the other side of the world.

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But alas, this brings us to the noticeable downside of the story. Ummm…where the heck is London? She’s missing for over fifty percent of the story. While having the novel told from Arlo’s point of view was a benefit in seeing him grow as a person and develop an even stronger connection with his band, it was also a detriment in that during this entire time we never know what is going through London’s mind. It results in a one-sided story which could have benefited greatly from an additional scene or two where we see what’s happening with London on the other side of the world. We get the briefest of recaps upon London’s return to New York of conversations she had with her parents, but I wanted a closer look at what was going through her mind during that time away from Arlo.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Heartless Few, book 3. I’m excited to proceed with book 4 in the series, which will revolve around Arlo’s brother, Luke, and his long-time infatuation with Marnie. Can’t wait to see what might happen between those two.

Final Impressions: Similar to the sequel, this novel really highlights the transformation of the infamous Arlo Jones from a partying rock star into a caring lover who recognizes when it’s time to grow up. I especially loved any scene which highlighted the strong camaraderie between Arlo and his fellow musicians. The main downside to the story was that London was absent for such a large portion of it. While you can’t deny the importance of seeing Arlo take the necessary steps to clean up his life, as well as see his devotion to London cemented in her absence, I would have liked to see how London’s feelings towards Arlo may have changed during their time apart.

Smut Level: Considering that London is in another country for over half of the novel, this read isn’t quite as steamy as the first book in the series. That being said, Arlo and London do still have their sexy moments together upon her return. She continues to question whether or not she wants to let Arlo fully back into her life, but she can’t deny their physical chemistry.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 280 Pages.

Escaping Mortality by Sara Dobie Bauer

Witness the exciting conclusion to the Escape Trilogy! Will vampire Andrew and his beloved sailor love each other for all eternity? Or will a vampire Elder come between them?

What’s it About? 

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Their ocean journey was successful, and Andrew and Edmund found an Elder just in time. As they wished, Edmund is now a vampire like Andrew. They have eternity together, but first, they must visit Edmund’s ailing mother in the English countryside with their flock of immortals, including the Elder, who has taken an ominous liking to his new creation.

When they arrive at Edmund’s family estate, his sick mother and her loathsome best friend await them. While ducking religious curses, Edmund struggles to harness an unexpected power gifted him by the Elder. Andrew fears for his beloved as Edmund becomes more and more monstrous—but vampires have always been monsters, haven’t they?

A battle is coming, for Edmund’s heart and his soul, and Andrew will lose neither. He escaped island exile and a near tragedy at sea to be with Edmund, the beautiful young sailor he loves. Andrew will do anything to keep Edmund by his side, but his most dangerous adversary may be Edmund himself.

First Impressions

Book three in the Escape Trilogy picks up right where book two left off, with Andrew and Edmund locating a vampire Elder in the hopes that he’ll be able to turn Edmund into an immortal before he succumbs to illness. Mini spoiler alert (although not really a spoiler considering it’s in the synopsis), the two are successful! We’ve been wondering for the entire series whether or not Edmund would ever turn into a vampire like Andrew, and at long last our question is answered. Enter Brien, an ancient vampire who manages to save Edmund’s life…by taking it from him. Following his transformation, Edmund acquires some vampiric abilities that I’m sure we’re all used to at this point. Immense strength, blood lust, a pair of fangs that like to descend with little warning. You know, the usual. And yet we slowly discover that Brien has passed on some additional abilities to Edmund which make him unlike his fellow vampire friends and lover. Will his new abilities, not to mention this new connection with Brien, draw a wedge between him and Andrew?

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A Journey to the Past

Edmund doesn’t have too much time to get used to his new abilities as a vampire, as he and Andrew must make a quick dash to England to meet with Edmund’s sickly mother before she passes away. You can’t help but appreciate the irony of seeing Edmund return to his birthplace immediately following his rebirth as a vampire. We’ve seen Andrew and Edmund confront such stark differences in terms of society and locations throughout this entire series. In book one we saw them connect on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. In the sequel they immersed themselves in the fast paced and sin-filled city of New Orleans. And then in this final piece of the trilogy we explore an entirely different locale by visiting the uppity upper class of English society, and the slow-paced ennui of the countryside. With each change in setting we wonder if Edmund and Andrew will make it through the transition and changes of a different world, especially in this instance when we see Edmund confront his past.

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He’s trying to find some semblance of peace with his mother before she passes, and reconcile their differences upon his departure all those years ago, not to mention the particulars of his love-life. She’s gone mad in his absence, which he can’t help but feel slightly guilty for. It’s rather shocking to see how our quick-witted and flirtatious Edmund collapse into himself upon going back to his childhood home. It forces him to confront the pains of his past, as well as the changes which have occurred in his absence. He practically becomes a quiet shell of his former self, and it was such a fascinating, yet heartbreaking transition. In these broken moments we have to wonder who will succeed in pulling Edmund out of his melancholy. Will it be Andrew, the man who has vowed to love him throughout all eternity? Or will it be Brien, the new mysterious Elder who gave him the gift of immortality?

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An Elder of Mystery

Ohhh Brien the Elder. His entire being is steeped in mystery. We are all immediately intrigued by his quiet presence, especially considering he remains primarily in the background of the novel as an observer of Edmund and Andrew’s relationship. The whole time we are sort of wondering what his game is, as does Andrew. Brien is clearly infatuated with Edmund, and the two have a strong bond as creator and…child? But there’s also an attraction there. Will Brien come to share a bed with both Edmund and Andrew? After all, they’ve been known to share lovers in the past, but with their newfound commitment to monogamy it also seems out of the question.

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Or are his motives perhaps more underhanded? At one point, Edmund astutely points out that Brien is the most powerful creature in existence. If he wanted, he could probably rule completely over both man and supernatural beings. And yet he’s choosing to stick around with Edmund and Andrew’s friends as they traverse the English countryside. What’s he really plotting as he silently observes the group’s activities? While I was definitely drawn to the enigma that was Brien, I was also slightly disappointed that we didn’t get more from him. It’s easy to forget about him at times considering his quiet nature, and it really isn’t until the very final climax of the novel that some of our questions are answered about him. And even then, I felt like I still had more questions than answers about our mysterious Elder.

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One and Only

In books one and two we saw Andrew and Edmund declare their undying love for each other, and they vowed that it would last forever. That’s all well and good when they knew that Edmund’s time on this Earth was limited, but what happens now that he is an immortal just like Andrew? You have to question if monogamy is really a possibility when it’s for eternity, and yet what I absolutely adored from our couple is that it’s really never a question for them. Their connection and bond is so strong they never doubt the reality that they’ll remain devoted to each other forever. Through all the difficulties and trials that Edmund faces in his transition, as well as with confronting his past life in London, Andrew remains the one calming presence in his life. And yet, he also has an undeniable connection with Brien, his creator. Brien did take his soul after all. And this is a connection which creates an almost inconsolable type of jealousy with Andrew. True, Andrew holds Edmund’s heart, but can he compete with someone who holds the soul of his beloved?

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Unleashing the Beast

While the connection between Edmund and Andrew has been a delight throughout this entire series, I will say there was one disturbing scene presented in this novel that I could have done without. Upon returning to his homestead to discover the unhealthy mental state of his mother, Edmund goes out on a solo drinking binge. He returns to Andrew looking for a fight, spurring him on in an attempt to draw out the dark beast hiding within Andrew. Unfortunately, he pushes a bit too hard where the beast takes control, smacking Edmund around and attempting to rape him. Only through Edmund’s new powers as a vampire is he able to fight off Andrew and bring him back to his senses. Andrew is understandably horrified at his behavior, but it was just pretty disturbing to see him lose control to the point where he was about to take Edmund against his will. Eventually they are able to move past it and forgive each other for their erratic behavior, but it wasn’t my favorite scene. Edmund and Andrew have been so loving and caring of each other since their island exile that it seemed out of character for them to behave in such a manner.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: The Escape Trilogy, book 3. So sad to see this series come to an end! I’m keeping my fingers crossed we get some kind of spin-off involving the other vampires in Edmund and Andrew’s world.

Final Impressions: I love this couple. There, I said it! It’s been such a tumultuous journey we’ve traversed with them since book one, and we clearly saw the strength of their physical connection in book two. This final chapter highlights the emotional bond between the two, and it’s one that we know has the ability to last for all eternity. If I had to find one fault with the close to the trilogy, it would be that Brien the Elder should have been featured just a bit more prominently throughout the book. I understand that this is meant to be Edmund and Andrew’s story, and that we don’t want to stray too far from that considering it’s what makes the series so special. However, an additional scene or two involving Brien’s interactions with our lead couple could have provided more of a glimpse into who this character is.

Smut Level: Edmund and Andrew have always been a passionate couple, and this theme definitely carries over into our conclusion. That being said, considering how Edmund is going through a bit of an identity crisis as a new vampire, as well as with confronting his past, the two don’t spend as much time in the bedroom as they did in book two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. NineStar Press. 127 Pages

Wicked Ties by Shayla Black

What’s the one thing that every hunting cabin in the middle of a Louisiana swamp needs? A playroom of course!

What’s it About? 

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She didn’t know what she wanted…

Morgan O’Malley has seen a lot of kinky things as the hostess of a cable sex talk show. But she’s never met a man like Jack Cole before. A self-proclaimed dominant, he’s as alpha as a male can get—and good for Morgan to have around when an obsessed stalker ratchets up his attempts to get to her.

Until he made her beg for it.

Though Jack is a bodyguard, Morgan feels anything but safe in his presence because, slowly and seductively, Jack is bringing her deepest fantasies to the surface. And when he bends her to his will, what’s more shocking than her surrender is how much she enjoys it—and starts to crave his masterful touch. A willing player in Jack’s games, Morgan knows that his motives aren’t pure, but she has no idea how personal they are…

First Impressions

How to pass the time when you’re stuck in a cabin deep in the bayou of Louisiana after fleeing a stalker with the propensity for murder? Gee, I don’t know. Play cards? Work on a puzzle? Nope! In this novel our female lead decides that a good way to get her mind off the drama of a stalker drawing ever closer to killing her is to explore a d/s relationship with the dominant bodyguard stuck in the cabin with her. Oh, and did I mention that she just met this guy for the first time one day earlier? Sure…seems like a great distraction.

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An Absent Stalker

The impetus for Morgan and Jack to go off in their cabin of lustful seclusion was a stalker closing in our female lead, even making the bold mood of shooting at her in broad daylight. Thankfully she just happened to be interviewing a professional bodyguard at the time to learn more about the intricacies of BDSM for her sex-talk cable show. This stalker story line definitely provided us with a bang-filled start, but unfortunately after Morgan and Jack hide away in his swamp cabin, stalker drama is essentially absent for a large portion of the book.

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Sure, they keep mentioning it here and there as a reason why Morgan can’t leave the overbearing dominant who seems determined to open her mind to a new kind of sexual experience. After the attempted shooting to eliminate her, we get no further contact between her and her stalker. No phone calls, no letters, no carrier pigeons. Nada. I was so convinced in my mind I knew who the perpetrator was, not to mention I was so determined to be disappointed that the drama was seemingly resolving itself in the background away from our two lovers. However, I will admit I exclaimed aloud in surprise when we eventually see this story line come back at the ultimate end of the novel. I’ll be the first to tip my hat in appreciation at the clever way this resolution sneaks up on you. Much like the stalker himself! Or herself? Mua ha ha ha.

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A Deceptive Meeting

Morgan’s first meeting with Jack the bodyguard initially seemed entirely linked to her cable show, and her attempt to learn more about the world of BDSM to ultimately share with viewers. In addition, this allows her to satisfy her own curiosity about a sexual lifestyle which has intrigued her for years, and was the source of her previous relationship falling apart. When Morgan’s stalker attempts to end her life, Jack is determined to protect her, and hide her away in the middle of a Louisiana swamp where nobody will be able to harm her. The fact he was able to satisfy his own lust by tying her down and having her submit to him initially seemed like a serendipitous added bonus. There’s just one rather major problem with this whole scenario. Jack ensured that he was the dominant Morgan sought out, because he had an ulterior motive of his own which was to get her in his playroom from day one.

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Jack’s initial draw to Morgan was actually to use her as a source of revenge against her half-brother, Brandon, who is somehow responsible for wreaking havoc on Jack’s life. We’re not exactly sure what the cause of animosity is between these two men in the beginning, but Morgan is clearly caught between them as Jack mistakenly assumes that Morgan and Brandon are a couple. To quote an inner musing of Jack himself, “He lured her in to fuck her as payback”. That’s just…disturbing. By satiating his own lust for Morgan, he’s essentially killing two birds with one stone by also destroying what he assumed was a romantic relationship between Morgan and Brandon. I think we’re supposed to be placated by the fact that Jack is genuinely attracted to Morgan, but I couldn’t help but feel disconcerted that Jack intended to use Morgan as a pawn in his chess match against Brandon. The fact he even went so far as to send a sex tape of Morgan and himself to Brandon as proof of his conquest was too close to a form of revenge porn for my liking.

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An Irresponsible Dominant

A crucial aspect of this novel is to look at the d/s relationship between Morgan and Jack. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to BDSM. To be honest, I’m not usually a huge fan of romances which feature it, but I try to read them every once in a while to try and further understand the appeal of a relationship which can initially come across as rather demeaning and abusive. Upon meeting Morgan, Jack quickly realizes that she’s a natural submissive who simply hasn’t had the opportunity to explore her fascination with the BDSM lifestyle, and he is drawn to her so completely that he’s more than willing to show her the…ropes. Yeah, BDSM pun absolutely intended right there.

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While Morgan is definitely intrigued by and interested in engaging in a d/s sexual relationship, she’s not exactly well-versed in the rules of BDSM. And I must say, Jack is a pretty poor teacher. Just because he knows she’s a natural submissive doesn’t mean he can skip over the instructions related to their new relationship. She’s new to the lifestyle, and obviously has a lot of questions and concerns. Not to mention, a lot of other stressful shit is going on in her life right now! It’s inevitable she’d wonder what the heck he was intending to do when he demanded she kneel naked on the bed, bend forward, and stretch her arms towards the headboard. And yet Jack felt it was within his “right” to dole out punishment to her for questioning what would happen next, and not placing her full trust in him. It’s almost like he was reprimanding her for not feeling 100% safe with him during a scene. DUDE! She’s known you one day, and recently had a crazy stalker shoot at her in broad daylight. Frankly, I’d be concerned if she didn’t ask what the hell you were gonna do with those velvet ropes of yours.

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An “F” for “Effort”

Even though Morgan has always had a secret desire to explore a BDSM relationship, she’s hesitant to fully engage in one seeing as admitting this fantasy of hers was the cause for her ex-fiance to leave her. The time she spends with Jack in the swamp cabin makes her realize just explosive this kind of relationship can be, yet admitting this to herself scares her to death. Therefore, she asks if Jack wouldn’t mind trying to have “traditional” sex with her that doesn’t involve all the spanking, punishment, and bondage.

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I must say, their attempt at “traditional vanilla” sex was beyond frustrating. When she asks him to accommodate her request he smirks knowingly, having predetermined that he’s going to twist her request against her. Which…come one dude, don’t be a dick. Jack clearly isn’t into it, and really doesn’t forth much of an effort into pleasing Morgan. Just because it’s missionary doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of dirty talk, or maybe grip her hips with passion rather than a soft caress? After this sad display at a “traditional” sex scene, Morgan whole-heartedly admits that he was right, she was wrong, and demands he take her to his playroom. Let’s face it, this is what he wanted all along, and he knew that by putting forth as little effort as possible into her request for vanilla sex that she’d end up in his playroom where she belonged.

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Compromise, or Incompatibility? 

Later on we see another moment of incompatibility between these two when it comes to Morgan admitting her deepest desire of having a menage with two men. It’s clearly evident to Morgan, to us as the reader, hell to all the creatures hanging out in the swamp, that this is something Jack really doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t want to share her, and is terrified of losing her to another man. And yet, we see that he eventually gives into her desire, saying it’s his job to make all of her sexual fantasies come true. So…he’s willing to put his full effort behind this request of hers, but put a half-assed attempt behind her previous request for “traditional” sex. Why is willing to give in to this request?

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Personally, I think it’s because at least this is a request which falls in his wheelhouse, and he still has the opportunity to steer the scene with total and absolute control. While I agree that it’s great Jack is able to help Morgan finally explore her deepest desires, I can’t help but question if they’re actually compatible with each other and showing what it means to compromise in a relationship, or if they’re simply settling with each other. Perhaps they are so thrilled to find someone who engages in their kind of lifestyle that they’re willing to overlook the fact they’re both finding themselves in sexual scenarios that they aren’t entirely comfortable with. Jack put up with sharing Morgan with another man, even though it was one of his biggest fears. Morgan puts up with being tied down and denied sexual gratification for lengthy periods even though it frustrates the hell out of her to the point where she stares daggers at Jack…and the other man in the room.

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Series: Wicked Lovers, book 1. I might continue with this series. There are some interesting secondary characters I’m intrigued to learn about.

Final Impressions: While the resolution involving  Morgan’s stalker was a huge surprise, I wish it had been featured more prominently throughout the bulk of the novel. Instead we see more of a focus on Morgan admitting her true desires to herself, and Jack seeking out his revenge against her half-brother. These two definitely have a strong physical connection with each other, but I couldn’t help but wonder at times if they were choosing to ignore key aspects of their relationship which made them uncomfortable. After all, they’ve only known each other for about three days at this point. Maybe they don’t know each other as well as they think they do.

Smut Level: There’s definitely some sensual aspects to this novel, including menage, bondage, dirty talk, and anal play. I will say though compared to other BDSM romances I’ve read it’s not necessarily an outlandish level of sexploration.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 354 Pages.

 

Cold, Hard, & Heartless by MV Ellis

An insightful look at our rock star’s point of view when it came to the events which played out in Catching London. See how immediate his infatuation with London truly was, as well as how he’d do just about anything to keep her in his life. Even if it involves…a hostile takeover?

What’s it About?

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Cold. Hard. Heartless. If I don’t rise, I can’t fall. If I don’t give, I can’t take. If I don’t love, I can’t lose. If I don’t break, I can’t heal. If I don’t care, I can’t hurt. And if I don’t expose my heart, it can’t get broken.

As a boy, Arlo Jones learned that hearts could literally be broken. His shattered into a thousand tiny pieces when his dad died, and he vowed to never let that happen again. He had to be cold, hard, and heartless. As a man, he has his shtick with chicks. He’s never been in love, or even in lust. He gets horny, fucks, and sends them on their way. Rinse. Repeat. It ain’t broke, so no need to fix it. Until London. Meeting her is the start of something big, like the first bump of coke or hit of the pipe. From day one, the only way forward is deeper in, and there is no easy way out. If this is love, he’s never going to be the same again.

First Impressions

I’m always hesitant to read a sequel or prequel of a novel which focuses on the same story from book one being retold from another character’s point of view. After all, we’ve basically already seen how this story plays out, what more could we possibly stand to gain from seeing it a second time. As it turns out, there are several reasons why this particular retelling came across as insightful rather than repetitive. First of all, we don’t simply get a rehash of the entire first book. Thank goodness!

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Whereas the first book was almost 400 pages, this sequel is a quick read at just 120 pages, providing us a brief snippet if you will into Arlo’s growing need for London. We don’t see the entire span of their relationship play out in this book, but instead focus on what was truly key. That first moment that Arlo looks upon London and realizes she’s provoking feelings in him he’s never felt for another woman before, as well as the progression of how he admits to himself that he’s not willing to give up on her. This sequel ends with the scene where Arlo implores upon London to go on tour with him and his band mates as their behind-the-scenes photographer, whereas in book one we saw how the entire tour carried out and concluded.

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Arlo is Arlo

Another feature of this brief retelling that I particularly appreciated was the fact that while we do get to see a softer side of Arlo, his personality doesn’t undergo some sort of transformation into full-blown romantic simply because we are seeing things from his point of view. I feel like this is a trap that many authors can fall into, as though providing insight into the male psyche will make you forget, or even forgive, any flaws that the female lead focused on in the first book. Not the case here! Let’s be completely honest, at times Arlo can be selfish, kind of a dick, and quite the horn dog. Yes, we do see him admit to himself that what he feels for London is something new and different that he doesn’t quite know how to deal with, but it’s not like we suddenly see him fall in love at first sight.

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Honestly, I think in the beginning Arlo did question what his ultimate endgame was in regards to London. Was it simply to get her into bed and fulfill his lust for her? Or did he want to explore a more meaningful relationship? It was enlightening to see the transition throughout this sequel as the initial need for sexual gratification did eventually turn into the desire for something more, but I think it was true to Arlo’s character that we see him struggle with this admission for the possibility of an emotional connection with London. If we’d suddenly seen him declare right off the bat that he knew he wanted to one day marry London and have a bunch of babies with her, I think I would have questioned who this impostor was from the character we grew to know in book one. Definitely refreshing to see Arlo’s personality and character hold firm, including the good and the bad.

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The Brotherhood

Something we do see more of a focus on in this novel which was pretty absent from book one was the connection which Arlo had with his band mates, as well as his twin brother Luke. In the first book we saw that the majority of their interactions were pretty heated, especially when it came time for them to tour. Arlo’s infatuation with London on tour was something his band mates weren’t familiar with, and at times it was a cause of animosity in terms of how he would abandon them on stage to go search for London in the wings of the concert venue. However, the high point of this book for me was when we saw Arlo’s ability to open up with his band and his brother about these newfound feelings for London, and how he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with them.

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In those moments, we saw how close these men are to each other, and it’s often the few times that Arlo can just be himself. He doesn’t have to be the lead singer of the Heartless Few when he’s with them, he can simply be Arlo, the man seeking advice on how to steal the heart of the girl who has captured his attention. The one area that I think could have benefited from more attention was specifically in Arlo’s relationship with his twin, Luke. We do get a few scenes following his initial meeting with London where Luke basically berates Arlo for being a sex fiend. However, I think it would have been fascinating to see an additional confrontation or two between these twins when Arlo realizes that Luke seems to be making more progress than he is at connecting with London. In my opinion, this was the sole area of the book that was lacking for me.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Heartless Few, Book 2. I’m excited to see what’s in store for Arlo and London following the conclusion of their world tour together. Will they manage to stay together considering all the drama and heartache that fame must undoubtedly bring? We’ll just have to see!

Final Impressions: A quick, enlightening read. I enjoyed that this wasn’t a rehash from start to finish of everything we saw go down in book 1. The fact this sequel concludes at basically the halfway point of the first novel was a stroke of genius. I was worried at first if entering the mind of Arlo would soften the bad boy we’d come to know previously to a point where we wouldn’t recognize him anymore. I’m happy to say that Arlo does remain Arlo in every sense, but here we truly get to see all of his personal struggles and frustrations when it comes to pursuing London.

Smut Level: Oh to be inside the male mind. Overall we saw more sex scenes in book one, but I’d say we definitely see more sexual musings in this one.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 120 Pages.

A Shimmer of Heat by Christy Shields

This relationship might start off as a ruse, but it doesn’t take long before our lead characters feel the underlying heat of a connection between them.

What’s it About? 

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When a beautiful young widow catches the attention of a vicious Denver drug lord, her only hope is the tough owner of Resolution Security. Alessia Lowell has no idea what kind of trouble she is getting into when she agrees to a simple dinner. Matt Heynes has no desire to get involved with anyone, let alone a widow with three teenage daughters, but when he sees Alessia on a date with a major Denver drug player, he knows he has to intervene before her life, and that of her daughters, is torn apart.

When Matt insists on acting as a decoy, he hadn’t expected it to be so hard to keep their fake relationship…well…fake. Alessia Lowell is everything he hadn’t wanted in a woman and fighting his growing attraction to her is proving to be the one challenge he can’t overcome. Stefan Dawes might have moved from Alessia, but that doesn’t mean he has gotten over Matt’s role in losing her and it is only a matter of time before he takes his revenge on Matt. But no one expects him to strike where he does…

First Impression

The premise of this novel is 100% spot on. There’s nothing quite like a middle-aged widow finally deciding to get back out there in the dating world, and finding out that one of her initial dates is a key player in the Denver drug scene. And I thought I had some bad first date experiences! Thankfully, Alessia has an ally in her corner. Matt, head of Resolution Security, and a handsome hunk all in his own right. The idea is simple, Alessia and Matt will pretend to be interested in each other, go out on a few dates, and send a clear message to Mr. drug lord that Alessia isn’t interested. However, it doesn’t take long before Alessia and Matt are no longer pretending, and their passion for each other comes to the forefront.

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The drama with this drug lord was especially intriguing and suspenseful at the start of the novel, particularly when we realize the mere presence of Matt won’t be enough to deter this mad man. Matt and Alessia are going to have to up their game, and get a little touchy feely with each other. Then there’s the heart-stopping moment when this criminal chooses to go after Matt’s loved ones as a form of retaliation. It certainly pushes Matt to enter caveman protection mode, and undergo any means necessary to ensure that those closest to him, including Alessia, will forever be safe from this unrelenting foe. Matt isn’t going into battle alone though, and has some backup to help him with his plan. The bad-ass ex-military hotties who make up his security team. Gotta love when a group of sexy alpha males decide they’re not going to put up with anymore bull sh*t from Mr. drug lord.

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A Diverse Cast of Characters

We have an unbelievably unique and lovable group of characters in this novel. The fact that both Matt and Alessia have been married before, and have teenage daughters means that they’re not the usually 20-somethings we see featured in a romance novel. Beyond this though, we see characters representative of different countries, races, and even those with physical imperfections. I’ve certainly come across romantic suspense novels before which feature private security firms full of hunky ex-military men, and more often than not it seems like each member of the team is a muscled clone of the man standing next to him. You can’t help but appreciate the diversity we see represented here, as well as the natural camaraderie which connects them all. None of it seemed forced.

Some get more focus than others, but all are delightfully entertaining, and you can tell that each has their own story to tell. Within this rag-tag group of men you can easily tell that each has his own distinct personality, and hopefully we’ll see a subsequent book for every one of them. We get an introduction of some potential love interests for a few of the characters in this first book, and I must say I am particularly intrigued by Chess, who seems to be Matt’s right-hand man, and a dead ringer for Idriss Elba based on his physical characteristics and sexy-as-hell British accent. There also seems to be an implied infatuation between Chess and one of Matt’s sisters, so if that happens to be the focus of a future novel I am 100% going to be reading it.

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A Widow on the Dating Scene

Matt is the first man that Alessia has been with since the death of her husband. Her attraction and feelings for Matt are clearly evident, but I wish we could have delved deeper into the dichotomy between her previous relationship with her husband and her current dalliance with Matt. It’s merely brushed upon ever so briefly that her feelings for Matt are so much stronger than they ever were for the husband with whom she was simply going through the motions of life, marriage and parenthood. I think we could have explored her mindset over this realization more closely, as well as the influence it might have on her daughters for them to realize she might love Matt more than she loved their father. Instead it’s sort of brushed to the side to focus on another unexpected relationship which was burgeoning on the sidelines of this story.

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From Matt and Alessia to Al and Liv

Towards the middle of the novel things take an unexpected turn when we switch focus to one of Matt’s team members, Al, and his growing infatuation with their new office administrator, Liv, who has a dark and secretive past of her own. This was undoubtedly a fascinating story in it’s own right, but it made it feel as though we were dealing with two separate story lines, essentially two separate books which were rolled into one. It diverts attention away from our primary couple, and at one point they’re absent for a large portion of the story as we witness the complicated start of a friendship between Al and Liv.

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Alessia especially sort of takes a back seat to the plot at this point in the story. Instead we see the focus switch to this secondary relationship, as well as take a closer look at Matt’s relationship with his family and his team of compatriots. In addition, towards the latter half of the novel the drama with the drug lord is resolved rather quickly, almost effortlessly in a way, and then brushed aside to the point where I almost forgot that it was the impetus for our love birds coming together in the first place. While I was intrigued to find out more about this back and forth struggle between Al and Liv, it certainly attributed to a sense of an uneven balance of focus to the overall plot. Also, their story ended on a cliffhanger, which really made me question why we had such a focus on it if we weren’t going to get a cohesive resolution to it.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Resolution Security, book 1. I’ll continue with this series for sure! Hopefully going forward we’ll have each book revolve around one specific couple rather than trying to weave two or more tales together into one. I understand how the goal here was to peak our interest into the lives of each of our characters, but sometimes less can be more.

Final Impression: This is definitely a tale of romantic suspense, but it’s also one of family. Not only in regards to our primary couple’s relationship with their daughters, but also Matt’s security teammates who have truly become brothers throughout the years. Yes, the story could have been balanced slightly differently with more of a focus on Alessia and Matt, and just a hint at the complicated relationship between Al and Liv. Instead it seemed like we had two books rolled into one, with neither story receiving the full attention they deserved. I’m still in love with all of these characters though, and can’t wait to see what’s in store for all of them in the future!

Smut Level: We might be dealing with some mature characters, but my goodness do they know how to get down and naughtyyyy! These two certainly haven’t lost their sexual libido over the years.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 433 Pages.

Catching London by MV Ellis

There’s getting caught red-handed, and then there’s getting caught completely nude by your employer in his shower.

What’s it About? 

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He’s not looking to change his bad boy ways.

Arlo Jones is a bad boy billionaire rock star with the world at his feet. He lives the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle to the max, and believes in working hard and playing harder. He’s a man who always gets what he wants, especially when it comes to women. Until he meets London.

She’s a damaged dancer not looking to fall.

All London Llwellyn wants is to rebuild her life following the tragic car accident that robbed her of her fiancé, and ended her career as a professional ballet dancer. She’s working two jobs to scrape together the cash to set up her own studio, and reinvent herself as a photographer. The last thing she wants is to get involved. Arlo promises to always be there to catch her, but can London trust him enough to let herself fall?

First Impressions

My goodness are we presented with one hell of a meet cute! Nothing quite like our rock star lead, Arlo, catching London naked in his shower in her attempt to rid herself of a slew of spiders she encountered while cleaning his house. Arlo is the embodiment of an alpha male. He’s used to getting what he wants, and he wants London. At times he does cross the line of being too alpha. There was one scene in particular in which Arlo has publicly poured his heart out to London, and she doesn’t necessarily reciprocate in the way he was hoping for. He’s understandably upset, especially considering he’s never voiced such feelings of love for someone else before, and it results in him throwing a chair against a mirror in anger. While his frustration is clearly evident, it was almost too violent of a scene for my liking. That being said, London also manages to bring out the softer side in this rock star with such a tough exterior.

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Let’s Get Physical

Sex is an important part of their relationship, whether it’s present in bringing them together, or absent entirely. Upon first meeting, there’s an obvious physical connection. They both want each other…badly. However, London is determined to distance herself from this man who has completely overwhelmed her. She hasn’t considered intimacy with anyone since the death of her fiancé, so her sudden feelings of lust and passion for Arlo are entirely overwhelming. She tries to leave him in the dust, but what Arlo wants, Arlo gets. He does everything he can to bring London back into his life, and it’s not long before their chemistry reaches a boiling point. They both admit the best strategy is to give into their passion, and just do the deed already.

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But we all know these two are more than a simple one and done. I mean, does that seriously ever work? After they have a taste for each other, they find it difficult to separate. However, once Arlo proposes that London shadow him to photograph his band’s tour, London insists they need to draw a line in the sand that can’t be crossed. No sex between them on tour. As a matter of fact, she writes it into her contract before taking on the job. Again, we all know this no-sex clause isn’t going to last, but I must say I really appreciated when it was in place. It allows them to focus on a relationship that extends beyond the physical. They actually have a chance to get to know each other, and share some deep and intimate details of their pasts with each other.

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An Expression of Love Through Art

At the start of their physical relationship, neither Arlo nor London are too keen to voice their true feelings for the other. It’s a source of vulnerability for them both. These two are artists who find it easier to proclaim love utilizing their own respective art forms. For Arlo, it’s through song. While we can’t hear the melody, we can see the poetry of his words on the page, and his love for London is more than evident. When it comes to London, she is much more hesitant to give into her feelings of love for Arlo. At first it’s definitely a source of frustration for us as the reader. He demonstrates in multiple ways that he’s serious and wants to commit to just her, even declaring his love in a public forum. And yet, she can’t admit to him even though she can admit to herself that she’s come to love this alpha rock star.

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But then in a moment of clarity, London heart-breakingly admits her fear of loving Arlo in case things don’t eventually work out between them. She’s already lost one love of her life when her fiancé, Danny, tragically died. The thought of losing Arlo is another loss she’s not sure she could survive. It was an admission that gave us a window into London’s hesitancy to move on with someone else in her life. After shadowing Arlo on tour to produce a coffee table book of behind-the-scenes photos, London’s photography is what ultimately highlights her true love for Arlo. The only problem with this is that unlike a song where we can at least view the words, we don’t get enough of a description of her photography to allow us as the reader to truly appreciate her love for him. We see mention from multiple people that her photos clearly demonstrate her love for him, but more detail about what these photos entailed could have let us feel her love more clearly like we could through Arlo’s song.

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A Trapeze Routine and Keeping Distance

Arlo may have started out in this read as a bit of a man-whore who would sleep with any woman on two legs, but in my opinion there were two moments which truly highlighted his love for London that went beyond their sexual relationship. During one of their first chats, London admits that while her focus growing up was constantly on ballet, her true desire as a youngster was to become a trapeze artist. This initially seemed like such a throwaway comment, and I’ll admit even I let this little detail slip from my mind. Yet, in the midst of the craziness of Arlo’s world tour, he manages to set aside time for the two of them in Paris to meet with an actual trapeze artist to teach them both a routine to perform with each other. He literally made one of her childhood dreams come true, and it was such a sweet and vulnerable moment that first made me realize Arlo isn’t just sticking around London for the sex. He truly cares about her, and wasn’t afraid to set aside his bad boy image to fly around on trapeze with the woman he’s come to love.

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The second moment that demonstrates Arlo’s softer side came about at the end of their world tour together. It’s been an intense ride, and both Arlo and London know they’re in love with the other. We hope, as does Arlo, that the end of this tour can signal the start to an actual relationship between them. Unfortunately, the opposite happens. London feels that she and Arlo have been so close during this tour that she ultimately needs some space from him so she can focus on herself, and discover where this relationship can go. When she admits this to our alpha rock star, I was convinced it was either going to be the end of the two of them, or Arlo would ignore her request entirely to convince her they belong together. Imagine my utter shock when Arlo actually agrees to give her the space she asks for. He acknowledges that his instinct is to never let her go, but realizes that if he pushes too hard he could push her right out of his life. He might not be happy about it, but he places his faith in the connection between him and London, praying that eventually she’ll realize they’re meant to be together. The fact Arlo could put aside his inner alpha tendencies demonstrated that his character had truly grown and matured throughout the novel.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Heartless Few, book 1. I’m excited to see what’s in store next for Arlo and London, as well as some of the other characters we’re introduced to in this preliminary novel.

Final Impression: There’s an interesting give and take with these characters. In the beginning you can’t decide if you wanna slap Arlo, or push him up against a wall for ravishing. Eventually you see him open up with London, and admit feelings he’s never had for anyone else before. While London is clearly struggling with her feelings for a man other than her deceased fiancé, at times her acts of distancing herself and her emotions from Arlo are somewhat selfish. At the start it’s definitely an understandable defense mechanism where she’s trying to protect herself from hurt, but once Arlo’s true feelings are evident, you feel a sense of sadness that his attempts to wear his heart on his sleeve are brushed aside so abruptly by London. Two imperfect characters for sure, but you’ll definitely root for them to be together.

Smut Level: Arlo is every inch the dirty talking, pushy, alpha rock star you could ever hope for. We get a plethora of delectably delicious erotic scenes, and these two have the act of multiple orgasms down to an art form!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 387 Pages.