Dominic by L.A. Casey

Pet names can be an adorable feature of any relationship. Honey bunny. Sweetie pie. Snuggle muffin. The list goes on and on. The pet name that Dominic quickly developed for Bronagh was “pretty girl”. Throughout the development of their relationship though he also threw out several references to her being a slut, bitch, and fat ass. Soooooo…yeah. There’s that.

What’s it About?

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After a car accident killed her parents when she was a child, Bronagh Murphy chose to box herself off from people in an effort to keep herself from future hurt. If she doesn’t befriend people, talk to them or acknowledge them in any way they leave her alone just like she wants.

When Dominic Slater enters her life, ignoring him is all she has to do to get his attention. Dominic is used to attention, and when he and his brothers move to Dublin, Ireland for family business, he gets nothing but attention. Attention from everyone except the beautiful brunette with a sharp tongue.

Dominic wants Bronagh and the only way he can get to her, is by dragging her from the boxed off corner she has herself trapped in the only way he knows how…by force. Dominic wants her, and what Dominic wants, Dominic gets.

First Impressions

Alright, let’s kick things off right away by saying that this is an unhealthy relationship filled with both verbal and physical abuse. It’s a high school romance, meaning that it’s full of some pretty eye rolling moments of high school-level petty drama, but we have the added bonus of an underground fighting component built in. The fact this is a new adult romance in a high school setting prompted me many times to hope that no adolescent teen boys decided to pick up this book for a quick perusal. Or any teen girls for that matter.

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It basically highlights that a girl can tell you in as many ways possible that she wants you to leave her alone, from screaming that she hates you, to literally crying and pleading for you to leave her alone, throwing things at you, even slapping you as hard as she can because of your teasing words, and vowing that she’s not interested in you. But! Don’t worry. You keep at it young man. If you persist long enough, weasel your way in slyly enough, and essentially beat to a pulp and threaten death upon any other guy who shows an interest in her, you’ll succeed in winning her over. Honestly, it was a fairly uncomfortable read and progression of a relationship. I kept hoping that at some point in the book these two would realize they’re just not meant for each other and go their separate ways.

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Where No Means Maybe

The entire first half of this novel shows us how Bronagh detests Dominic’s presence in her life with every fiber of her being. She adamantly articulates how she hates and loathes him. They exchange verbal insults, with him calling her a bitch and slut, to her calling him a faggot and an arsehole. She tries to get him out of her mind by going on a date with someone else, which causes him to crash their outing and beat her date to a pulp. While Dominic never physically hurts her (on purpose), Bronagh slaps him on multiple occasions when he says something particularly insulting, and even throws objects at him to the point where they break. And yet, underneath it all we see glimpses of lust and desire between them.

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Sure, he might call her a bitch in one scene, but then he’ll stake his claim by calling her his woman in another. It was such a whiplash of emotion I couldn’t help but wonder “wait…are we supposed to think this is an awwwwww cute moment?” Now, sure, I have reviewed several romances here before where I commend the verbal sparring matches between a couple that eventually result in a passionate kiss or sexual escapade. Those delightful moments when you can tell two people try to push each other away, but are then reduced to two burning forces of need where they have no choice but to end an argument by pushing each other up against a wall and tearing their clothes off. However, this book takes those verbal arguments to the extreme, where it doesn’t seem like foreplay or flirtation anymore, but rather actual animosity.

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Ripping Her Out of the Shell

Bronagh has always kept herself closed off from letting people in. This hearkens back to the death of her parents when she was just a little girl. It made her understand the fragility of life, and that at any point people can be ripped away from you. The only person she’s ever connected with and openly trusts is her sister. But when Dominic comes onto the scene, things change. After so many years of being quiet and reserved, Dominic has managed to spark an emotional reaction from her, and it results in Bronagh finally starting to open up to people. Even her sister recognizes this change, and uses it as a reason to push Dominic and Bronagh together. Here’s the problem with that logic though. The emotional reaction he sparks within her is essentially hatred.

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Yes, she’s finally interacting with someone, but her primary interactions with Dominic involve shouting, taunting, and even some physical slaps and punches from Bronagh.
Once they get all that initial violent and hate-filled…foreplay?….out of the way what’s left is physical yearning and lust. It was kind of worrying to me with one scene in particular where Bronagh allows Dominic to get her off in a public space (even though she told him to stop a few times), and while she internally admits that it was an action that was out of character for her, she equated it as a demonstration of how much she must trust him. That…isn’t trust. That’s just someone who is really convincing at seduction, and instead highlights how lust can be confused with emotional connection. I understand how some would see it as a positive thing that someone has finally managed to get Bronagh to come out of her shell, but it just didn’t seem like the most healthy way to do it. It’s basically like Dominic came along and was determined to crack open that shell under any means necessary, and he wanted to rip her out of it so he could keep her all for himself.

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Series: Slater Brothers, book 1. While the romance depicted in this first book wasn’t my favorite, I won’t be giving up on this series quite yet. There are a number of interesting Slater brothers who will be the focus of future books, and I must say I’m intrigued by some of them.

Final Impressions: The first half or so of this book is all about the dynamic between Bronagh and Dominic, and how they toy with both their dislike yet attraction for each other. Personally I think it pushed the whole idea of foreplay bickering a bit too far, and was indicative of an unhealthy relationship.

Smut Level: Technically they only have sex once, but they do plenty of other experimental things in the interim!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.51 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 343 Pages

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Dirty English by Ilsa Madden-Mills

A man who can analyze the themes and characters of Pride and Prejudice? Hell yeah!

What’s it About?

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A scarred fighter.
A girl with rules.
One night of unbridled passion.
There are three things you need to know about Elizabeth Bennett: she’s smart as a whip, always in control, and lives by a set of carefully crafted rules. She’s learned the hard way that people you love the most always hurt you in the end. But then she meets Declan Blay, the new neighbor at her apartment complex.

A tattooed British street fighter, he’s the campus bad boy she’s supposed to avoid, but when he saves her from a frat party gone bad, all her rules about sex and love fly out the window. She gives him one night of unbridled passion, but he longs for more. With only a cardboard-thin wall separating their bedrooms, he dreams of possessing the vulnerable girl next door forever. One night. Two damaged hearts. The passion of a lifetime.

First Impressions 

Our opening scene presents us with waking up the morning after a night of sex. Unfortunately it’s not the post orgasmic bliss we’d hope to see at the start of a romance novel. Instead we see Elizabeth wake up the night after prom to the realization she’s been assaulted and raped by her boyfriend, Colby. She blames herself for the events of that night, for being drunk and not saying no to whatever drugs and alcohol Colby pushed on her. Fast-forward two years, and we find Elizabeth in college. She admits to herself that the events of that night didn’t ruin her sexuality, but rather impacted her trust of men. She’s established rules since then involving how she interacts with men. Elizabeth isn’t afraid to hook up with men for a one-night stand, but she vows to never hook up with popular, rich, or hot guys. She has to make the first move, and she has to be on top. Essentially we see that she’s built walls around her heart to keep it from breaking again, and has established rules to keep most men at a distance. But rules, as they say, are meant to be broken. Will a bad boy Brit convince her to throw her rule book out the window?

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The Sentimental Fighter

At first glance, Declan is entirely wrong for Elizabeth. He’s smolderingly sexy, he’s a fighter, and he’s well-known on campus. The two are neighbors, and also happen to be in a Pride and Prejudice class together, which means try as she might Elizabeth can’t ignore him for long. There’s a link drawing them together, and as she gets to know him more than the fighter he is on the outside, Elizabeth discovers there’s a sentimental and kind-hearted man lying beneath the surface. Declan might be a fighter, but he can’t fight the pull that’s continually putting him and Elizabeth in the same path. He knows she has her rules, and he slowly starts to put the pieces of her past together to realize someone hurt her emotionally and physically to be so distrustful of others. Maybe he can convince her that he’s worth taking a chance on.

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I definitely enjoyed the initial back and forth between Elizabeth and Declan as they warred with their mutual desire for each other. In the beginning they both try to fight their attraction, and this is more so on Elizabeth’s side since she worries about how much Declan could hurt her if she opens her hear to him. As a fighter Declan insists he doesn’t need a distraction to his focus like Elizabeth. Eventually they can resist no longer, and after having sex (on the mats of his gym no less!) there’s further debate between them over whether or not their relationship will continue beyond that one night. Personally, I think this is when their back and forth started to feel too repetitive, and the story dragged on for a bit too long.

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Needless Repetition

Declan is seemingly dead set on making things work between them, whereas Elizabeth insists on keeping to her rules of one and done. This is compounded by the fact that Declan’s ex keeps sniffing around trying to insert herself back into his life. It raises all of Elizabeth’s insecurities, and she tries to convince Declan that she doesn’t feel anything for him other than lust. This understandably makes him a bit…moody. But then the back and forth begins where Elizabeth tries to make amends, Declan tries to show that he’s moved on, and then when he realizes she was making an effort he tries to get her back. But then she remembers how he said no so she turns away from him, which makes him get all snippy again. I mean my God people just rip off your clothes and have sex with each other already. Play time is over, you both like each other, let’s move on from all this petty high school drama.

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You can definitely understand each person’s hesitancies. Elizabeth is overcoming a lot of shit in her life, from a crappy mom with a slew of endless boyfriends, to the tragic events in high school at the hands of someone she thought she loved and trusted. We can’t fault her for putting up walls around her heart. As for Declan, he’s putting himself out there as much as he can, but in the constant face of rejection from Elizabeth he wonders if she’ll ever be able to overcome her past, or if she truly feels nothing on an emotional level for him. Look, I get it! But having this constant back and forth where neither was on the same page at the same time turned it into a repetitive circle of misunderstandings and snippy comments like, “well what do you care anyway?”Again, too high school for me.

Coming Forward

“Why had I let a mere boy destroy me?” One of our main goals with this read, other than to see Declan and Elizabeth find a happily ever after together, is for Elizabeth to bring her ex, Colby, to justice for what he did to her all those years ago after prom. This little douche monkey can’t possibly get away with what he did to her. At several points in the story it seems like the decision to open up about Colby’s past transgressions might be taken out of Elizabeth’s hands entirely. Her deadbeat mother and her mother’s boyfriend of the month are desperate for money, so they come up with a plot to blackmail Colby’s senator father.

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They’re convinced that he’ll be willing to pay big bucks to prevent them from revealing to the press what his son did all those years ago. In this moment we are presented with such an interesting dichotomy because while he want Colby to pay for his crimes, we don’t want it to happen in this way. It has to be on Elizabeth’s terms. It has to be her story to tell. Not theirs. However, Elizabeth seems so determined to keep the events from that night buried deep in her past. Surely the sick weasel won’t get off scot-free? Eventually Elizabeth can’t ignore that night anymore, especially when she realizes Colby is transferring to her school.

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Series: British Bad Boys, book 1. Declan’s brother Max was probably my favorite character in the whole book. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for him next!

Final Impressions: A sad initial start, but this story definitely had a strong overall beginning. The connection between Declan and Elizabeth is undeniable, and you’re rooting for Elizabeth to overcome her past trauma to let love back into her life. Towards the halfway point though the book started to fizzle and drag for a bit as our couple constantly danced around their feelings for each other.

Smut Level: Dirty English indeed. He’s quite adamant about…licking her up clean.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Little Dove Publishing. 272 Pages.

Craving-Heart Christmas by Mariah J. Roberts

An untimely homecoming brings back painful memories for Mariah, but a chance meeting with her high school hero changes everything.

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James rescued Mariah from the worst moment of her life, but that night still affects her life ten years later. After what happened to Mariah that night she’ll never be whole again, and she has to keep moving. Then the hero who saved her walks back into her life and she agrees to couch surf at his place during the holidays. Sparks ignite, winter heats up, lust roars and cravings bloom but both her career and her past demons drive her to keep moving; if she’s never still, she’ll never get hurt… so how can she stay?

First Impressions

Mariah has returned to Indiana to care for her sick father, and shortly after arriving back into town she runs into a man who she hasn’t seen in years. A man who changed her life. A man she’s never had the chance to thank…until now. Years before, James rescued Mariah from a traumatic rape at the end of their high school careers. After that fateful night she fled this small town for the wide open roads of the country where nobody knew the troubles of her past. She’s avoided coming home for years. There’s simply too many painful memories of that night, not to mention an unloving father who doesn’t seem to give a damn about her.

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She’s always remembered James as the man who rescued her, and he’s always thought of her in the back of his mind as well. Seeing each other again after so many years, James has some initial difficulty placing this young woman who seems so familiar to him for some reason, and then the event comes flooding back into his memory. His instinct to protect and care for Mariah comes back full force, especially when he discovers she’s only in town for a short time, and living out of the van she travels around the country in. Will he be able to convince her to spend the rest of her visit in the safety of his home, and will he have enough time to show her that she really belongs in his bed?

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A Slow Burn

The connection between Mariah and James is strong and immediate, but they are surprisingly slow to cross the line into a physical relationship. You’d think that James’ invitation for Mariah to stay with him in his apartment for the rest of her visit would have quickly resulted in a tumble under the sheets. James can’t deny that he’s drawn to her, but he’s insistent that they not take things too far too quickly to a point where she’s no longer comfortable with him. After all, Mariah has never been intimate with another man before, and the only physical experience she’s encountered in her past was an extremely traumatic one. That last thing he wants to do is scare her off. That being said, the prospect of taking that next step with Mariah fills James with excitement, and he desires to teach her all there is to know about pleasure. He’s also determined to show her how he likes to be touched, stroked…and even sucked.

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From the Hospital to the Bedroom

Surprisingly, the thing that sort of kick-starts their physical relationship into high gear was the continuously failing health of Mariah’s father. The two have never had a strong or loving relationship, and it’s in those moments when he is so near death that Mariah wants to find a way to celebrate life. In her mind, the best way to do that is to develop a physical bond with James. I will admit it was kind of shocking to see a sad hospital scene followed so closely by a sex scene filled with some rather explicit dirty talk. It’s sort of an emotional whiplash to go from crazy sad to crazy sexy so quickly, but in a bizarre way you can kind of understand it in the same vein.

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While neither necessarily admits to themselves that this is just a passing fancy or one-week fling, in the beginning they both sort of agree to just live in the moment. To be with each other and have fun. Yet again, we see that Mariah’s father has an unexpected influence on changing the outlook of their relationship. It’s in the moment when James is first introduced to this gruff and unloving father of hers that he realizes how important Mariah is to him, and that he wants to be her protector from now on. He’s falling for her, and he wants to keep her in his life from here on out. There’s just one major problem with his plan of a happily ever after. Mariah is a traveling musician. Her life is one on the road, and her time in Indiana is limited, which means that her time in his life has a fast-approaching expiration date.

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On the Road

I do wish we had learned more about Mariah’s pursuit of a musical career. Apparently back in high school she was more artistically driven in terms of drawing. She always carried around a sketchbook that she’d constantly pull in and out of her backpack. The night when James rescued her she left her backpack and drawings behind after fleeing the pain of that night. When James sees her again all these years later she’s suddenly a musician, and has apparently given up drawing. That’s pretty much the end of the discussion, and I just wish we could have brought things back around to that switch from drawing to singing. Especially considering that James had found and kept her backpack of sketches from that sad night. If we could have seen him reunite her with that sketchbook again? My goodness I would have died!! This area, and a few others as well, could have used an added layer of depth and exploration to bring the story fully to life.

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When James ultimately discovers that Mariah intends to leave town right after the New Year he is desperate to try and change her mind into staying with him. In his mind the best way to do that is to give her as many orgasms as possible. He assumes that by keeping her pleasantly satiated she won’t want to leave him. As his best friend so intelligently tells him though, women don’t think like that. James doesn’t want her to leave, but the last thing he wants is to prevent her from following her dreams to be a musician. How can he support her career aspirations, yet also convince her to stay with him at the same time? A puzzling conundrum to be sure, and you can’t help but admire that he simultaneously wants to keep Mariah in his life, but still encourage her to follow her dreams.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This is a quick holiday romance between two lovers who come together years after a traumatic event. I appreciated how James never pressured Mariah to move their physical intimacy at a speed she was uncomfortable with. Normally I love when a book alternates between the male and female points of view, but surprisingly enough I think I almost would have preferred if we’d only had James as our storyteller. His scenes often provided more of a struggle between his inner desires and how he wanted to act in front of Mariah. He was a captivating narrator, and at times I even wondered if his physical urges would override his common sense. I do wish we could have brought certain elements from their high school interaction back full circle into their time together as adults. Perhaps we could have seen an added exploration into the immediate aftermath of how they dealt with such a jarring and frightening experience. It could have helped to add one more layer of depth to their relationship.

Smut Level: They may have taken their sweet time before finally deciding to engage in a physical relationship, but once they do? Holy crap, let’s just say Mariah is a fast learner, and James is an avid teacher. He also has a dirty little mouth on him 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price or $6.95 Audible Price. Eminent Press. 140 Pages or 2hr 20mins Audiobook.

Crash Into Me by K.M. Scott

This novel teaches us a very important lesson. If you’re about to sign a 6 month contract to work for a mysterious billionaire, make sure you read the thing in full!

What’s it About? 51+VRHCWTvL

What would you give up for everything? Tristan Stone was powerful, commanding, sex incarnate. And he wore it all so well. From the moment his mesmerizing gaze met mine, I had no choice but surrender to everything he was. His power. His decadence. His passion. He was all I never knew I needed. He wanted to possess me, and I wanted to be his everything. All I had to do was accept what he offered. But everything has a price. The world he gave me fulfilled my wildest dreams, but would that be enough when the past crashed into the present?

First Impressions

This novel definitely has an intriguing start. Nina is a young artist, putting in some grunt work at a small art gallery in the big city. She’s paying her dues in the hopes that sooner or later she’ll make the connections necessary to open her own gallery or become a professional curator. One night a handsome billionaire approaches her after a gallery showing, and it appears he’s willing to offer her everything she’s ever hoped for. There’s a hint of secrecy around his intentions, and we know that he’s not telling the whole story when it comes to his pursuit of her skills. When Tristan offers her a 6 month contract to select art for his high-end hotels, as well as an impressive salary on top of it, Nina can’t refuse this supposedly amazing opportunity. Only after putting pen to paper does she discover there were some aspects of that contract she glossed over a bit too quickly, such as the fact that she must spend the entire six months living with Tristan in his country home. It makes us wonder what else Tristan might have sneaked into that massive contract of his.

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An Interesting Start 

While we are definitely presented with an intriguing premise of how these two characters came together, I must say things do fall flat rather quickly after that contract is signed. It doesn’t take long for Tristan and Nina to begin a sexual relationship, declare their love for each other, and vow to spend the rest of their lives together. I was surprised that Nina was so quick to push aside the mystery surrounding why Tristan singled her out in the beginning. Instead she focuses more attention on trying to hold his interest as a lover, constantly worried that eventually he’ll come to realize she’s not quite at the same level as he is in terms of sophistication or financial security.

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Throughout the whole thing I kept thinking, ummm there’s probably something else you need to be worried about here. Nina was never really one to go back and question what Tristan’s motives were in pursuing her to begin with. In my opinion, the basic reason for his pursuit was rather evident, as it’s hinted at multiple times throughout the book before being pushed aside to instead focus on their developing relationship. Eventually this feature does come back into play at the very end of the novel, and it does reintroduce that element of intrigue and surprise from the beginning, but it took a bit too long for the story to get back on track and come around full circle. The fact that the signs were rather clear to us as the readers, but Nina chose to ignore or push aside those signs to instead put all of her attention on keeping Tristan in her life was rather frustrating.

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The Deadline Looms

There are two rather fascinating aspects of Tristan and Nina’s relationship which remain prevalent from start to finish. The first revolves around time. The contract that Nina signed is for six months. Practically from the moment she writes her name on the dotted line she immediately starts to question what will happen when those six months are up. It’s a looming deadline, and we really have no idea what it might portend. They both want their relationship to succeed, but they’re both fearful to be too open in admitting that to each other. For Nina, she’s drawn in by Tristan’s charismatic and protective nature. She wants their relationship to succeed, but fears that if she appears too eager, or pries too much into why he sought her out in the first place, it will break whatever it is they’re building together. Perhaps there’s a limit of six months because Tristan intends to toss her out at the end of it. Eventually we see that the opposite is true.

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If anything, Tristan fears the end of those 6 months even more than Nina. He wants her forever, but doesn’t want to scare her away with his devotion, which is why he suggested six months to begin with. He didn’t want her to feel too overwhelmed. So far everyone he’s ever loved throughout his life has left him, and his greatest fear is that Nina will leave him as well. This six month timeline also adds another interesting element to their relationship in that they are both trying to cram in as much of a relationship as they can within those six months. Everything is sped up, and it’s not long before they’re both stating how much they love each other. However, with this escalation to their relationship, we simultaneously realize that it doesn’t allow them to develop a level of trust which is truly necessary for success. They have a mutual jealousy whenever someone of the opposite sex seems to get too close to the other, even if it’s a completely innocent situation in which resentment really wasn’t necessary. In my opinion their intense jealousy didn’t really signify the depth of their admiration for each other, but instead highlighted the infancy and rush of their relationship.

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He’s Got Money Honey

In addition to time, money was also a very important aspect of Tristan and Nina’s relationship. While Nina wasn’t necessarily broke at the start of the novel, Tristan’s offer of a position with a generous salary was definitely something she couldn’t pass up. In a way, we see that money was sort of the underlying linchpin which signaled the start to their relationship. It’s also an aspect which causes Nina to look upon Tristan more favorably in certain situations. If Nina or one of her friends is ever in a bind, Tristan’s instinct is to resolve the matter in some way that requires money. While it would have been easy for Nina to assume that Tristan could only throw money at a problem to make it go away, instead she viewed it as his attempt to take care of her and her loved ones.

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As Nina does more work for Tristan in his hotels, she also starts to realize that more money is being put in her bank account than what they initially agreed upon. When considered in combination with the quickly approaching end to her six month contract, she assumes that he must be trying to placate her financially so that when the six months are up she has no reason to complain. As it turns out, Tristan’s motives were much more heartfelt. He was actually trying to demonstrate that he thinks she’s worth more than the amount which had been set out in her initial contract. Money is all that Tristan has ever had to give anyone that’s meant anything to him, and it’s what he constantly falls back on as a solution. His vulnerability, and almost adolescent response to the prospect of Nina leaving him behind was incredibly captivating. It made me want to learn even more about him. In the epilogue of the novel we finally switch to Tristan’s point of view, and honestly it was probably the strongest point of the book!

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Series: Heart of Stone, book 1. The epilogue of the novel definitely provides a set up for the continuation of Tristan and Nina’s story in the next book. While this first novel had some hits and misses, the ending was intriguing enough that my interest is peaked to continue on with the series. I hope going forward we’ll get to see some of the second book told from Tristan’s point of view, as it was such a strong feature of the epilogue of this novel.

Final Impressions: We definitely see a strong start and finish to the story, but it fell sort of flat after the signing of the contract. Nina was so concerned that Tristan would tire of her and throw her by the wayside that it resulted in her keeping quiet about why Tristan specifically sought her out in the beginning to work for him. It was a frustrating oversight, and when it is reintroduced at the end of the novel, by that point you sort of want to say, well…duh! All in all I think the story could have been pushed one step further.

Smut Level: Tristan and Nina’s sexual relationship sort of straddled the line between over-the-top, and your pretty standard romance novel sexual scenario. We get a bit of dirty talk, some bubble bath time, going down on each other. You know, the usual. But at one point near the start of the novel Tristan brings another couple back to his country home to have sex as he and Nina watch on from behind a one-way glass viewing room so she can paint what their coupling makes them feel. It just felt sort of out of place when we look at their other sexual scenes, and again provided the sense that things either should have been pushed one step further, or the scene should have been eliminated entirely.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Copper Key Media, LLC. 326 Pages

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Confess by Colleen Hoover

I don’t know how I feel about books that start off with a rather depressing opening scene. Maybe it’s because I tend to start new books either right before bed, or I begin new audio books during my walk to work. They simply don’t bode well for a good night’s sleep or a pleasant start to my day!

What’s it About? 

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At age twenty-one, Auburn Reed has already lost everything important to her. In her fight to rebuild her shattered life, she has her goals in sight and there is no room for mistakes. But when she walks into a Dallas art studio in search of a job, she doesn’t expect to find a deep attraction to the enigmatic artist who works there, Owen Gentry.

For once, Auburn takes a chance and puts her heart in control, only to discover that Owen is keeping a major secret from coming out. The magnitude of his past threatens to destroy everything important to Auburn, and the only way to get her life back on track is to cut Owen out of it. To save their relationship, all Owen needs to do is confess. But in this case, the confession could be much more destructive than the actual sin.

First Impressions

There’s nothing to pull your attention into a novel quite like two teens in love being separated as the one is lying on his death bed, and the other is being forced to return to her home because everyone views their love as a passing teen obsession that will quickly disappear. A tear-filled scene as Auburn and Adam hope to spend just a few more moments in each other’s arms before they say their final goodbye. Forever. My god does anybody have a freakin’ box of tissues around?! Flash toward 5 years and we see one half of our former teenage couple, Auburn, still living a life filled with sadness and the unfortunate influence of Adam’s mother and brother. There’s an aspect of the story I don’t want to give away, but let’s just say she’s constantly desperate to stay in their good graces, and will give up certain freedoms in her life in order to please them.

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Auburn has been mourning Adam since his death, but one day as she walks through Dallas everything changes. She comes across a one-of-a-kind art gallery in need of an assistant for the next show taking place that same evening, and the artist, Owen, just happens to be a dashing and charismatic young man who makes Auburn feel something for the first time since Adam’s death. Their connection is immediate, and as the evening progresses neither really wants their time together to end. One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the unique nature of Owen’s artwork. The inspiration for his pieces are people’s confessions which he receives anonymously through a slot by his front door. He manages to bring beauty to some rather dark and personal confessions, and while we don’t see any images on the page we can picture them clearly in our minds. Even though Owen makes a living by painting other people’s confessions, he simultaneously acknowledges that some things are worth keeping secret. Including the fact that he somehow already knows who Auburn is.

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A Lack of Confessing

The irony of the title can’t be lost on us. Here is a guy who makes his living based on others providing him with the most intimate of private and anonymous confessions. Yet when it comes to the interactions between Auburn and Owen, both are pretty adamant about keeping the important details of their life a secret from the other. Owen is perhaps keeping a few more whoppers than Auburn is, such as why he missed his first official date with Auburn after the night of the art gallery show. Oh…and the fact that he somehow already knows her from something which happened in their past. At first it seems kind of silly that they are both so close-lipped about such critical details of their lives, and the few times where they seem poised to confess the secrets they’ve been keeping, they are of course interrupted in some way from letting the truth come out.

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However, when you actually think about the fact that they’ve only known each other for a period of two days, it makes a bit more sense why they wouldn’t have been so forthcoming with the most intimate and emotion-packed details of their lives. Sure, their connection is immediate, and they feel a sense of intimacy for each other that they’ve never felt with another person before. That doesn’t mean they’re willing to let down all their walls in such a short period of time. As for us as the reader, I must admit that some of the secrets they were keeping were pretty evident, including some of the repercussions of Auburn’s former relationship with Adam, as well as why Owen missed his first date with Auburn. The one secret that remains a big question mark throughout the majority of the story is how exactly Owen recognizes Auburn, yet as far as she knows this is the first time they ever met.

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Not to be Taken Seriously

Everyone has always belittled Auburn’s relationships with the men in her life. When it came to Adam, others saw their teenage love as something which would be fleeting, and in the long run a small blip in her life. How could two sixteen-year-olds possibly know what true love is? The fact that Adam’s time on this Earth was limited also implied to those witnessing their love story that they were feeling more for each other than they would have had it just been a typical tale of romance between two teens. Nobody could understand how strong their connection was, and they chose to dismiss it for what it was. It sort of makes you question how old someone must be in order for their feelings of love to be taking seriously.

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When it comes to her feelings for Owen, everyone just looks at who they think he is on the outside. A problematic young man who they think is bad news. They don’t try to get to know who he really is, or understand the troubling details of his relationship with his father, as well as the tragic details surrounding his past. In a way, by keeping the details of his past, not to mention the more complicated details of his present, a secret from Auburn she is able to get to know the real him. At one point Owen is on the brink of confessing everything to Auburn, but she asks that he keep everything to himself so that her view of him isn’t tainted by the outside factors of his life that he might not be able to control.

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Unfortunately, some of the secrets which Owen’s been keeping do eventually come to light. Even though those secrets don’t change how Auburn feels about Owen, they both realize that those details can still prevent them from finding happiness with each other because for the people in Auburn’s life those secrets are unforgivable acts. They present a black mark on Owen’s character. Auburn’s ability to look past them are not seen as a positive, but rather is viewed as a slight when it comes to her choices in life. In turn, these secrets of Owen’s result in even more secrets, as Auburn must keep her true feelings for Owen hidden from those who hold such power over her life. If they were ever to discover that Auburn still holds a flame for Owen, and has been seeing him without their knowledge, the repercussions could be disastrous for Auburn to ever find a glimmer of independence.

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From Start to Finish

The true beauty of this book is how everything comes full circle. It takes a while for us to get there, but eventually we get a flashback to the moment which explains how Owen knows Auburn. It’s a moment we almost didn’t get, as Owen muses how he would never confess to Auburn the truth of how he knows her, since it was actually Adam’s confession to tell. I almost thought the book was going to end on that note, and I was on the verge of a “oh HELL no” expletive. However, our book ends with a flashback for us as the audience to witness, even if Auburn will never know the truth. Which I can’t say I fully agree with, but what do I know?

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As we could all probably guess at this point, Owen’s memory of Auburn has to do with the time she was visiting Adam in the hospital when they were all teens. What I wasn’t expecting though was the symmetry of seeing the book open and close with the same scene, with Auburn saying goodbye for the last time to Adam in the hospital before he dies as their families insist she return back home. At the start we saw the scene play out from Auburn’s point of view, but shockingly at the end we see it from Owen’s. It’s a heart-breakingly beautiful scene, and all the more poignant seeing everything that Owen and Auburn have suffered through separately and together since this first moment. To see how it was the impetus for Owen’s artwork, as well as the inspiration for the confessions tied to his pieces, well it freakin’ brought me to tears. Ugly tears. I’m talking quivering chin-lip action with gasping breaths here.

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Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: Owen and Auburn’s relationship is a struggle, and when you think about the book as a whole it’s surprising to realize they’ve only spent a grand total of 7 days together in each other’s company. The rest is spent separated from each other by the drama of their lives, but they’re still constantly thinking about each other during that time apart. Our story comes to a climactic and strong finish as we see Auburn finally stand up for herself, and the flashback scene of Owen and Auburn from 5 years prior provided an emotionally charged ending. I do think the story dragged a bit too long in the beginning, as it attempted to build suspense and mystery surrounding Auburn and Owen’s respective secrets. Unfortunately, because these secrets were fairly predictable it seemed like an unnecessary way to draw out the tale. I think I would have preferred a few more scenes of Auburn and Owen together rather than seeing them lament over the time they were separated.

Smut Level: Nothing too steamy all things considered. Love scenes are filled more with an emotional connection than passionate desire

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $9.99 Kindle Price. Atria Books. 321 Pages

Hearts Abroad by Skye McNeil

This might just be the crème de la crème of nanny gigs. Not only does Londyn get to spend the summer having fun with two precocious girls in a beautiful Colorado mountain town, but she also gets to flirt with their sexy father. Oh, did I mention he has a British accent? Again, best nanny job ever.

What’s it About?

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Taking a break from screenwriting in New York City, Londyn Bellerose takes a nannying job in Colorado to get away from the hubbub. A summer to live without regrets is all she wants. While her boss is British, gorgeous, and a millionaire, he has no clue how to have fun. Determined to mend the relationship between father and daughters, Londyn doesn’t expect to fall for the museum curator.

Londyn is American and everything Callum Archer swore to never fall for again. With her carefree spirit and energetic smile, she’s perfect to nanny Callum’s two daughters. The problem is she’s also perfect for him. She’s sassy, musical, and tends to speak her mind more than she means to. When old history and new dreams threaten her happily ever after, will Londyn and Callum’s love survive?

First Impressions

Londyn needs to get away from New York City. As a struggling playwright she’s tired of encountering nothing but rejection, not to mention the lack of a love-life. What better way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city than to escape to…Iowa. Yeah, that lasts for about a week before Londyn realizes she needs to once again get away, this time from her aunt who just so happens to have a more active love life than Londyn. Lucky for her, she finds a job posting for a nanny to two adorable young girls in Colorado. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Until she meets their sexy father of course. Callum is clearly a loving father, but is often traveling for work, hence the necessity for a nanny. There’s a clear attraction between Callum and Londyn, and both can acknowledge the benefit of having a summer romance fling that has a definite end date. Let off some steam, and all of that. However, they also can’t ignore some definite red flags when it comes to crossing the line of professionalism. In addition, Londyn’s carefree attitude and struggling career choice reminds Callum a bit too much of his ex, who left him and their daughters behind to pursue a modeling career. Will Callum and Londyn give in to the temptation which continuously draws them together, or will their reservations keep them from experiencing what might possibly be the greatest love they’ve ever known?

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Delayed Gratification

It’s almost a cliche when you think about it, the nanny and the single father. However, I must say I sincerely appreciated that Callum and Londyn didn’t rush into anything physical too soon. If anything, they take things pretty slowly considering they’re clearly attracted to each other. Even when Callum decides he wants to see where things might go with Londyn in terms of a relationship, he doesn’t immediately push her up against a wall to ravish her. Not this British gentleman! Instead he’s determined to woo her. Things start off with some flirty suggestions, soft touches, and the briefest of kisses.

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When Londyn returns his affections, again they don’t rush into bed together. They get to know each other, even going so far as to share the details of their past relationships and heartbreaks. I was shocked that towards the 3/4 point of the novel they even confess their love to each other, and yet they still haven’t had sex. It’s honestly quite refreshing to see them focus on developing an emotional connection first, especially when you consider they both acknowledge their time together is limited. You’d think they’d be spending as much time beneath the sheets as possible before their time together ends, but they realize sharing the little moments together, watching a movie with the girls, or simply holding each other in bed, is romance enough. Pardon me whilst I sigh from the sweet and beautiful love story taking place on the page.

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One Minor Reality Check

While I adamantly love the premise we’re presented with by having a carefree nanny fall in love with a rather uptight Brit, I do sort of have to question the reality of the situation. After all, we are dealing with a wealthy family here, and a strict grandmother who seems to be the epitome of British prim and proper in charge of the nanny hiring process. The fact they would hire a nanny for just two brief summer months rather than having one come on full time year-round seemed a bit out of the ordinary for this group. Plus the fact they were fine with Londyn coming on when she didn’t have like, a PhD in early childhood development was kind of odd. An out-of-work playwright just seems like a rather unlikely choice, especially when Londyn seems determined to abandon the structured summer of piano lessons and French tutoring which was initially planned out for the girls, and instead just have a summer filled with fun and play. Umm…how exactly did she get past the first interview?

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An Absent Yet Loving Father

Aside from the sweet romance developing between Callum and Londyn, I must say my absolute favorite feature of this novel was the portrayal of work-life balance, and how Londyn wasn’t afraid to stand up to Callum when he was putting his work above his daughters. Londyn lost both of her parents at a young age, and she’s never stopped missing them. She can’t but feel heartbroken every time she sees Callum depart for yet another work trip, and willingly leave his adorable daughters behind. This is his time to be with them, to see them grow up, and yet Callum spends more time on the road than he does playing with his girls. It’s an absence that Londyn is extremely passionate about resolving, and you have to admire that she essentially puts her job on the line every time she points out that he’s missing out on time with his children.

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What makes this read special though is that Callum isn’t some grumpy ole curmudgeon who doesn’t want to spend time with his kids. When he actually is present in the same time zone as his daughters, it’s evident to everyone that he’s a dedicated and loving father. He’s trying to care for them the only way he knows how, which for Callum translates into working as tirelessly as possible to provide for them. The fact he’s such a loving father makes his numerous absences all the more painful for his daughters, and this is what Londyn draws his attention to. She expends her energy trying to bring this family closer together, rather than complaining that he’s spending so much time away from her specifically. It really demonstrates the selfless nature that is Londyn. As the summer progresses, and Callum makes more of an effort to spend time at home with his daughters, we see how Londyn starts to become a part of their family unit as well. Again, time for me to sigh.

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

Series: Atlas, book 1. I’ll continue with this series for sure.

Final Impressions: This is an adorably sweet read. The connection between Callum and Londyn is immediately palpable, and I admired the fact that the author didn’t make the story solely about them. Callum’s daughters are featured perfectly, where they’re obviously an important feature of the story, yet there’s still some time after hours for Callum and Londyn to spend quality time together. Throughout the second-half of the novel, I was constantly wondering when the other shoe would drop. Surely something is going to put a damper on the growing connection between our lovebirds, especially after they admit to loving each other and wanting to give a long-term relationship a chance. Will Callum’s ex come back into the picture? Will one of Londyn’s plays get picked up by a Broadway big-wig? Turns out, both! Slightly predictable in that regard, but overall still an enjoyable read.

Smut Level: We have to wait quite a while before we get it, but once we do…hot damn! This sexy Brit might be prim and proper for work, but in the bedroom he’s not afraid to let his tie loose.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $1.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 344 Pages.

Temptation by Ivy Smoak

Full disclosure. I’ve never been a huge fan when a review begins with the warning, “prepare yourself for a rant”. It always makes me roll my eyes a bit in annoyance, wondering how someone couldn’t possibly find at least one redeeming quality. Well…I hate to say it, but…prepare yourself for a rant.

What’s it About? 

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When Penny Taylor runs into a handsome stranger in a coffee shop, she believes her luck has finally changed. After having her confidence unwound by her ex, she falls hard for a true gentleman. But once she realizes that her crush is her communications professor, her world is turned upside down.

Haunted by dreams of the alluring Professor Hunter, Penny can’t seem to dismiss her fantasies and the temptation to have him grows deeper. Will the excitement, danger, and mystery surrounding Professor Hunter bring her to her knees?

First Impressions

Here’s the thing with this book that made it rather difficult to sympathize or even root for our lead characters to succeed. They were both playing the game, and they both knew they were playing it. You’re telling me this professor really put his number in a student’s phone with the innocent intention of having her call him whenever she ever needed a “ride”? I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s more than willing to give her a “ride”, just not one in his car. Actually…now that I think about it, they do get rather hot and heavy at one point in his automobile.

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Or how about when Penny discloses her obvious forbidden attraction to him during her speeches in class, but veils it in a way where the other students don’t know she’s talking about their professor even though he’s clearly aware of her flirtations? Another indicator that this relationship felt more like a game rather than actual love was that throughout Penny’s personal musings, as well as during her physical encounters with James she constantly referred to him as “Professor Hunter”. The fact she rarely referenced him by his first name made it feel like she was more enthralled with the idea of him as her teacher rather than as a legitimate source of romance. They both were playing the game to get close to the other, intrigued by the inappropriateness of a relationship between them, and poking each other with a proverbial stick to get a lust-filled reaction out of the other. Any excuse of, “oh we couldn’t fight our love” is a bit of BS in my opinion.

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The Married Professor

The contrived drama surrounding James’ previous marriage was beyond infuriating. After one night of lovemaking Penny is utterly wrecked when she discovers a wedding band hidden away in James’ bedroom nightstand. Rather than confront him directly, she flees in distress and chooses to ignore his repeated texts and phone calls asking if she’s alright. If it were up to Penny, she probably would have ignored him forever, but ultimately decides she wants to apologize to him. Not for running away without an explanation, oh no! She wants to apologize for tempting him away from his wife. Good…God! Even if he was actually cheating on his wife, you shouldn’t be the one to apologize!!

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As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, when Penny does ultimately confront him after class it’s merely to walk up and tauntingly say “I knowwwww”, and “I know your secret” without actually stating what it is she thinks she knows. When James stares back at her with utter confusion she berates him for the fact he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and once again runs from him without just going, “Yo, I found your wedding ring, explain yourself”. I couldn’t help but imagine what my response would be if someone I was dating walked up and menacingly said “I know your secret”. There’s just…so much to choose from :).  James is obviously annoyed and hurt, so he starts snapping at students in class, to which Penny’s reaction is that the only time she’s ever seen him angry like that was when it was directed at her in private. For the love of God there are so many things wrong with this scenario I can’t take it!!!

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The Friend-Zone

Another rather disturbing feature of this entire breakdown in communication is that Penny runs right into the arms of a “friend” of hers, Tyler, who she knows is smitten like a kitten when it comes to her. Now, don’t get me wrong, Tyler is far from perfect. He has trouble understanding the meaning of the word “no”, and in spite of Penny’s repeated declarations that she just wants to be friends with him, he’s pretty unrelenting in his pursuit of something more. But it’s still troubling that Penny uses Tyler as a way of trying to get over Professor Hunter, and to make him jealous. Again, she’s playing a game with the emotions of these two men, and it brings her immaturity to the forefront.

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At one point she even admits to herself that the main reason she decided to get together with Tyler even though she still had feelings for Professor Hunter was because she wanted to have a “back-up” in case things with Professor Hunter fell through for good. It’s pretty evident that she never really considered Tyler a serious dating option, and he was basically an epitome of “rebound” and “payback”. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy, even though his constant pursuit of Penny and behavior towards her at the beginning of the book was inappropriate to the n’th degree and rather grating on the nerves. Again, it’s quite a challenge to like any of the characters in this tale.

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A Difference in Age

Another key feature of my dislike for these characters was the entire drama revolving around Penny’s age. James mistakes her age because she was taking his class that is usually full of seniors when in reality she’s just a sophomore. Ok, first of all, sophomore, senior, doesn’t matter. She’s a student, you shouldn’t be touching her thong, or laying her out on your desk until after graduation at the earliest. Second, you…are…a…teacher. Her student information is literally at your fingertips, don’t tell me you didn’t take the time to look it up. Third, Penny is a pot calling the kettle black. She’s so quick to judge James for his faults, and berate him for not being open and honest with her about the details of his marriage, and yet she keeps her true age a secret from him throughout the entirety of the book. Don’t get me wrong, James’ propensity for secrecy is certainly well deserved criticism, but you can’t deny the hypocrisy of her keeping such a big secret herself.

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My Sarcastic Bright Side

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you were headed to your college professor’s office after class one day to ask him a question about something that happened in class, and you opened his office door to find him naked and 69’ing with one of your classmates on his desk. Wouldn’t that be…shocking?! While that doesn’t exactly happen in this novel in terms of the untimely discovery, we do get to witness a professor 69’ing with a student from his class on his work desk. It’s undoubtedly a rather heinous breach of ethics, but you gotta give it to them. That is one hell of an impressive balancing act. And to keep trucking along as the wood of the desk digs into your back, or knees, not to mention the possibility of an errant pencil getting stuck in a rather unsavory orifice? I’m simultaneously judging, yet also carrying out an appreciative golf clap.

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Series: The Hunted, book 1. Unfortunately I don’t really see myself continuing on with this series.

Final Impression: All in all, it’s hard to find anyone to root for in this novel. Any time something bad happened, or if there was a misunderstanding in terms of lack of communication, my gut response always seemed to be “well, you’re getting what you deserve”. Penny’s lack of maturity, and James’ demands for privacy in multiple aspects of his relationship with Penny didn’t result in them being the most like-able of characters. Lastly, because of their lack of communication when it came to age, marriage, etc. it’s clear that the basic foundation of their relationship, the glue keeping them together, revolves entirely around sex. Yet another reason I found it difficult to have an emotional connection to these characters.

Smut Level: My goodness, the easier question might be where did these two not have sex? We’ve got some up against a tree, in the ocean, and a classic elevator locale. The most outlandish though would have to be when she secretly sucked him off from under his desk while he was talking to a colleague in his office.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 353 Pages.