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.

 

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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.

Seventeen Days by Linda Griffin

What do you do when the man you’ve just started developing a romantic connection with is suspected of a grisly murder? Do you cut your losses, or do you stand by your man?

What’s it About? 

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Divorcee Jenna Scott moves to a quiet California fishing village during the first Gulf War to make a new life in a house inherited from her grandfather. Her next-door neighbor recommends widowed handyman Rick Alvarez to fix her leaky roof. Jenna is intimidated by his good looks and annoyed by his self-assurance, but disarmed by his affection for his young son. She is still hurting from her ex-husband’s betrayal and resists the attraction between them.

Rick has lived in the village for only three years and is still an outsider, friendly but not sharing his past with anyone. When an attractive vacationer is murdered, local gossip says he is the killer, and rumors spread about his wife’s death as well. Jenna is determined not to believe the gossip, but will she ever be able to trust Rick with her wounded heart?

First Impressions

Surprisingly, the main focus of this novel wasn’t so much about the murder which happened in this sleepy coastal town, but rather the fallout of it. While we see the closeness that can develop between neighbors in a small town, we are also witness to the darker side of town gossip that can overtake a community shocked by tragedy. It was definitely an interesting focus highlighting the prejudice which can be placed towards the supposed “outsiders” in such a close knit community. While it was a fascinating and rather sad glimpse at the dangers of wildfire rumors, I do wish we had focused a bit more on the mystery of the murder. I was expecting it to be more front and center, but instead it’s sort of pushed to the side as an unfortunate incident that we’ll figure out the solution to just when it happens to come about. It’s not like Jenna and Rick team up to find the actual killer in order to clear his name or anything. They just kind of sit by as observers to the drama which unfolds around them.

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17 Days of Love and War

The Seventeen Days title of this romance was certainly clever, as it not only tracks the burgeoning romance between Rick and Jenna, but also tracks the first few tumultuous days of the Gulf War. At the start of every chapter we get a count to what day of the war it is, as well as a brief news announcement to how the war is progressing. Now, I must say I was slightly confused as to why the novel was set during that particular time period. It didn’t really play a big enough of a role to truly feel relevant, which made it come across as a rather unnecessary detail. It’s not like either of our lead characters had a military connection, or really any of the characters in the book for that matter. One character expressed an interest in joining up, but again it simply wasn’t a big enough part of the story to really tie everything together. It’s just this event that’s referenced as going on in the background of their lives.

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I realize this is going to sound slightly weird in hindsight considering the title was in reference to two different things, but you kind of forget about it as the novel progresses. Only at the very end when Jenna makes a reference to it having been 17 days since she first met Rick was I like, ohhhhh, riiiiight. A different approach which could have been an interesting twist would have been to have a 17 day countdown rather than counting up. It would have helped build suspense in reference to the murder story line especially, wondering what might happen when we get to that final day countdown of day 0. And then once it was all over we could have a final chapter entitled day 1, which could symbolize the true beginning of Rick and Jenna starting out on an official relationship with each other once the drama of the novel had concluded. Just a thought!

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Missed Connection

When all was said and done I feel like we missed a bit of an emotional connection with our lead characters. Rick always remains a bit of a quiet, surly dude who only shows minor glimpses of sensitivity when interacting with his son, and some romantic sentiments towards the end with Jenna. I mean, it’s kind of understandable he’d be in a sour mood with his entire town suspecting him of multiple murders and everything. However, the conversations where Rick and Jenna get to know each other are almost too reminiscent of an interview with rapid fire questions where they want to know as many details about each other in as short amount of time as possible. A few more scenes shining a light on the softer, emotional side of Rick’s personality would have been great.

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As for Jenna, she was also a bit of a strange duck. Half the time I couldn’t tell if she wanted to go off on a tirade against Rick for having the gall to show up to work on her house when she wasn’t ready for him, or if she wanted to push him up against a wall to ravish him. It was a weird back and forth that continues throughout the story where she’ll ask a very point blank question as though she’s accusing him of something, but then brush it off with a kiss. And then the most bizarre aspect of all is when she does decide to take the next step in their relationship. To quote Rick, “You didn’t like me at all until you thought I killed her.” Seems kind of…bizarre, no? However the more I thought about it the more I read into what I’m hoping is a more romantic way of looking at the situation.

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Since meeting Rick, Jenna hasn’t really known what to make of him, but he’s constantly on her mind. And then the unthinkable happens, a gruesome murder in their small town, and Rick is the primary suspect among the town gossips. This is when Jenna is forced to decide whether or not she can place her trust in this man she barely knows. She has no reason to trust him, especially considering everyone around her is convinced of his guilt. And yet, her gut is telling her he’s someone she can trust. I can see the romance there. Right? The only hiccup here is that even after they sleep together it seems like she does still contemplate whether or not he’s guilty. Hmmm, maybe the threat of danger is something she finds titillating?

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: I think Rick’s son, Danny, was my favorite character of the book, and I wish he’d been featured a bit more prominently. Overall I think we may have had one too many story lines going on here. From the burgeoning romance between Jenna and Rick, to the murder of a visiting tourist, to the Gulf War starting. We needed to either drop the war aspect and have the murder featured more prominently to build suspense, or we should have had more of a military focus on the war, with soldiers going off to war or something. Lastly, a few more revealing emotional moments between our lead characters could have helped us warm up to their characters earlier on.

Smut Level: Rick and Jenna go for a few roles in the bedroom, but the scenes are pretty clean.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 132 Pages.

My African Craving by Audrey Flynn

Erica has gone from hailing cabs and dodging traffic in New York City to dodging fires and poachers in the African safari. Not sure I’d be up to the task honestly!

What’s it About?

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When Erica Knight arrives in Lebombo Game Reserve for her first African safari she has no idea that her life is about to be changed forever. As an executive for a mining company she believes that negotiating the mining rights for the Lebombo Reserve will be a slam-dunk, but she didn’t count on locking horns with the reserve’s enigmatic owner, Jean-Luc de Graaf.

In the heart of a wild African landscape full of beauty and danger, Erica and Jean-Luc both stubborn and passionate find themselves on opposite sides of an escalating conflict. With the Reserve threatened by vicious poachers and runaway fires, they are thrown together unable to contain the scorching attraction between them.

Far away from the rat race of New York Erica feels the stirring of a different drum, ancient and irresistible. But surrendering to the wild would mean she would have to submit to the powerful attraction to Jean-Luc and she isn’t ready to give up control just yet…

First Impression

Full disclosure here folks. The concept of going on an African safari has never really been very high up on my bucket list. I tried to think of why that is, and honestly it was kind of difficult to pinpoint the exact reason. I love animals, and ever since watching the Lion King as a kid my adoration for lions, giraffes, and most other African safari mammals was cemented. Maybe it’s because deep down I like to think of myself as a city girl through and through, so a real-life safari seems a bit too hot and sweaty for my tastes? However, this short novel does a rather fantastic job of demonstrating the almost transcendental experience an African safari can be for some people. I think the fact that our heroine is also a city girl (and one who loves Cabernet Sauvignon on top of it!) made it easier for me to connect with her appreciation for this beautiful landscape brimming with life. The scenes where we see Erica stare straight into the black depths of these big cats’ eyes provides us with just a small glimpse at how special and ethereal that connection with nature is. Maybe I’ll have to move an African safari just a bit higher up on my bucket list after all 😉

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Business or Pleasure?

Erica’s purpose in traveling to Africa isn’t solely to go on safari. She’s actually there in an attempt to establish a mining venture in the heart of this magical Game Reserve. This brings her up close and personal with the dedicated owner, Jean-Luc. These two are seemingly enemies on opposite sides of the table. He insists that eco-tourism and maintaining the beauty of this landscape will bring more stability to the region than a big mining company ever could. Not to mention his insistence that preserving the Reserve is crucial to ensuring the safety of the animals. She on the other hand won’t give up on the argument that big business means lots of money and success for the people of the land. There is one crucial feature though which connects these two, even if it seems like it divides them on the surface.

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Erica and Jean-Luc are fighters. They fight for what they believe in. They fight to protect those they care about. She grew up in the city, while he grew up in the plains of Africa. She worked two jobs to support her family and herself through college. He came from wealth and a family of privilege. So different on the outside, but they’ve both been taught to take care of themselves. Jean-Luc’s father was supportive, yet always taught him to work hard, and that in the bush you have to take care of yourself. You won’t always have someone to come to your rescue. As for Erica, her father abandoned her mother, sister and herself when she was young. While she didn’t have the constant support of a father-figure, his departure was perhaps the greatest life lesson she’d ever received. She learned to take care of her family through her own hard work and dedication. She couldn’t wait around hoping he’d come back. This inner determination makes it hard for either Erica or Jean-Luc to back down on what they’re fighting for, but they both recognize and appreciate that fight in the other.

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Moments of Silence

This novel certainly packs a punch in just 138 short pages. We have the arguments over the mining establishment, the constant threat of poachers to the tranquility of the Reserve, not to mention an approaching bush fire that might just destroy the entire region. And in the midst of it all there’s a budding romance between these supposed enemies. There’s a lot going on, but each subplot really does play an important role to the overall story. The drama involving the mines establishes the initial animosity and distrust between our two lead characters, but the hazards of hunters and flames demonstrate a crucial softer-side to both Erica and Jean-Luc.

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Ironically enough, the most exciting moments for me were not the ones involving a dramatic retreat from a bush fire, or a showdown with poachers. No, instead it was the few scenes where we find Erica and Jean-Luc finding a moment of peace and alone time together. It’s almost like the whole world stands still, and they’re able to connect in their own solitary bubble, even if they both know that they only have limited moments together before that tranquility is interrupted. Whether it be a quiet picnic next to a secluded lake, or a passionate embrace in the shower, Erica and Jean-Luc can find a few precious moments where they don’t just put their differences aside, but their differences practically disappear completely. Hands down, my favorite scenes of the book.

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

Series: Stand-alone. I’d really love to see a continuation where different characters might find their own serenity and romance in the midst of the Lebombo Reserve.

Final Impression: There’s definitely a lot going on in this short novel, and while you can’t really remove any subplot without the overall story feeling slightly broken, I do think adding just a few more chapters could have provided us with more depth to these side dramas. I did sort of guess one part of the big final reveal in regards to the poachers, but honestly I was expecting more sabotage than what we got. Ultimately I’m happy my inkling was incorrect as it would have been pretty heartbreaking, but the actual climax was still slightly predictable. I did enjoy seeing Erica and Jean-Luc find their few moments of tenderness and solitude in the midst of all the difficulties they’re dealing with in life. They’ve both put up walls in an attempt to protect themselves from the hurt of Erica’s eventual return to the US, but as they get through these dangers together their walls start to fall down, and in the end they’re left with each other.

Smut Level: These two slowly explore each other in a shower. But not just any shower. An outdoor shower!!! Definitely upping the details of this sexcapade locale.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Inkspell Publishing LLC. 138 Pages.

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The Artisan Heart by Dean Mayes

Dr. Hayden Lushcombe is a dedicated pediatrician, a loving (albeit preoccupied) husband, and he certainly knows how to handle his wood! For…woodworking…that is. Sorry, was that not clear?

What’s it About?

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Hayden Luschcombe is a brilliant paediatrician living in Adelaide with his wife Bernadette, an ambitious event planner. His life consists of soul-wrenching days at the hospital and tedious evenings attending the lavish parties organized by Bernadette. When an act of betrayal coincides with a traumatic confrontation, Hayden flees Adelaide, his life in ruins. His destination is Walhalla, nestled in Australia’s southern mountains, where he finds his childhood home falling apart. With nothing to return to, he stays, and begins to pick up the pieces of his life by fixing up the house his parents left behind.

A chance encounter with a precocious and deaf young girl introduces Hayden to Isabelle Sampi, a struggling artisan baker. While single-handedly raising her daughter, and trying to resurrect a bakery, Isabelle has no time for matters of the heart. Yet the presence of the handsome doctor challenges her resolve. Likewise, Hayden, protective of his own fractured heart, finds something in Isabelle that awakens dormant feelings of his own. As their attraction grows, and the past threatens their chance at happiness, both Hayden and Isabelle will have to confront long-buried truths if they are ever to embrace a future.

First Impression

For the first few chapters, it was kind of hard to connect with the story as we witness the disintegration of a marriage. It makes it difficult to want to pick it up and read when you know the inevitable split is just around the corner! In the end though, it was definitely a necessary introduction, as all of the seemingly inconspicuous details of the beginning come back full circle in the end. The story truly comes alive though once Hayden travels to his childhood country home in Walhalla. It might be a small town, but it’s brimming with personality and memories from Hayden’s past, both good and tragic. It’s the one place he can escape to, and ultimately he is re-enveloped in its charm.

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While the town of Walhalla was charming, it’s residents were a pure delight. This is one of those small towns where everybody knows everybody, which also means that it doesn’t take long before they all know Hayden’s business. But rather than sit back and judge, or gossip away in the shadows (which can be common of small town novels), instead we see an incredibly supportive group of townsfolk. I wouldn’t necessarily say they pity him, but rather they are saddened that something traumatic has impacted one of their own. Especially considering they all know about the sad fate which befell his parents, whom they all knew and loved.

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Mothers and Fathers

Apart from the romantic aspect of the novel, we see that parental relationships are another key feature of the story. Hayden had always been close with his mother, but when he couldn’t make it home in time to say goodbye before she died of cancer, it ultimately strained his relationship with his father. Just three years later his father died of a broken heart. Hayden has been able to push aside the tragic details of his parent’s deaths by hiding away in Adelaide with his wife. However, upon his return to Walhalla he discovers he must inevitably confront the past, and try to remedy his relationship with his father even though he’s passed away. It’s a sad, yet touching exploration of the last few years between a father and son. Hayden doesn’t come to the eventual realization on his own though that his father loved him until the end. Isabelle and the other townsfolk help him realize it as well.

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The other unique parental interactions we’re presented with in this book revolve around Isabelle and her daughter Genevieve. Whenever we have a romance where one of the lead characters has a kid, I get slightly nervous since the tendency is often to push them to the background. What I loved about this read though was that Genevieve was incorporated perfectly front and center. She’s an adorably curious child who manages to stay upbeat in spite of being deaf. Her mother was her savior, as they escaped from an abusive situation with Isabelle’s husband. They fled to the small town of Walhalla where they were greeted with open arms by the townsfolk who have become their family. When Hayden rolls into town he is wary at first of the headstrong lass playing with stuffed bears in his tool shed, but he eventually takes her under his wing. The fact his own mother was deaf means he is well versed in Auslan, and doesn’t shy away from actually speaking with Genevieve. In a way he becomes a pseudo father figure, which draws him and Isabelle together even more.

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Full Circle

What’s clearly evident in this read is that every detail serves a purpose to the story, and we’re presented with an extremely well thought-out sequence of events. We start with the end of a marriage, then see Hayden become reacquainted with his home town, followed by a romance with Isabelle, a suspenseful encounter with her ex-husband Mitchell, and finally the drama with his wife comes back full circle. There’s a little bit of everything! When the shady characters of Isabelle and Hayden’s pasts come to town, we question if these outside forces will succeed in breaking apart this new family we’ve come to love.

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I will say the culmination of events at the end was slightly predictable, but I appreciated that the suspense was drawn out over a few intense chapters rather than having a quick, two-page glimpse of drama at the end. What’s truly commendable though is that we once again see this community rally together to safeguard one of their own. Rather than it feeling contrived or cheesy, their instinct to protect felt completely natural. As an adult I’ve always striven to live in a big city with a lot of people, but this was definitely the idyllic representation of a small town I’d love to live in!

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

Series: A fantastic stand-alone!

Final Impression: The novel had a bit of a rocky start as Hayden’s relationship with his wife Bernadette slowly dissolved before ending in a fiery crash and burn situation. Once he escapes to his hometown though this is when the novel truly comes alive and becomes something special. It’s a great read, with a perfect combination of romance, suspense, and starting life over after hitting rock bottom. We see this for both Hayden and Isabelle, and what makes them such strong and lovable characters was their ability to bounce back and rise up in the face of adversity. They’re admirable individuals, but as a family unit with Isabelle’s daughter, Genevieve, they are unbreakable. A great beach read for sure once you push through the somewhat depressing start.

Smut Level: The great thing about a supportive small town? Babysitters at the ready who are willing to keep Genevieve over for a sleepover so that Hayden and Isabelle can have some more intimate time together. Nothing too graphic, but we do get the delectable detail of Isabelle drawing Hayden’s boxers down with her toe. That’s talent right there.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. Central Avenue Publishing. 384 Pages.

 

Another Five Minutes by Destiny Booze

Do you know how many times this book almost made me late for work because I couldn’t put it down?! Ok…only once. I started it one night before bed and finished it the next night at about 2:00am, but you get my point!

What’s it About?

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Loving him is easy.

Fearing him is necessary.

Trusting him could be a deadly mistake.

Born deaf and living with an anxiety disorder, Brooke Hartley manages life in five-minute intervals. It’s all she can do to get out of bed each morning. She’s hidden inside her sister’s apartment for over a year. Everything changes when Brooke’s sister goes missing. Her fragile world crashes. She is desperate to find her, and she’ll need help.

Haunted by a past he needs to forget, Scott Derrico keeps to himself until his gallery manager, Autumn Hartley, suddenly disappears. He is forced out of his isolation to help a woman that needs him with a terrifying intensity. Scott tries to deny his attraction to Brooke. He doesn’t want to get emotionally involved but he craves her like nothing else. And, for her, he is a dark and sexy diversion to overcome her fear.

With a genuinely flawed and relatable heroine and a mysterious and protective hero, you won’t want this love story to end. You’ll beg…for another five minutes…

First Impression

This book quite literally pulls you in from the opening bell, and doesn’t let you go until you cross the finish line. This is the perfect definition of a beach read, because it’s one you’ll want to finish in one sitting when you have nowhere else to be. There’s a continual sense of anticipation and suspense throughout the majority of the book which is highlighted by the fact that almost every chapter ends on a mini cliffhanger. Normally this technique gets on my nerves, but I must say it was executed quite well with this one. Our characters are so intriguing that just when you think you’ll be able to take a break at the end of the chapter, you’ll find yourself being pulled into the next one.

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Suffering through the Panic

Another aspect which heightens the intensity level of the book is Brooke’s own anxiety. This is a troubled, deaf woman who has survived both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her brother throughout her entire childhood. The prologue provides us with a minor glimpse at what she suffered, and I must say just these first few pages were difficult to get through. Imagining Brooke having to endure such torture for years with no reprieve is truly heartbreaking. Because of this abuse she suffers from extreme anxiety as an adult, including debilitating panic attacks, constantly needing her back to be at a wall to minimize the likelihood of surprise, and an intense fear of ever leaving the apartment she shares with her sister, Autumn. Her twin has been her one solace and companion in life, and when Autumn mysteriously disappears one day without a trace, we are right there with Brooke as her entire world spins out of control.

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One feature of the novel that I wish had been incorporated a bit more fully was the “five minute” element. The concept of getting through one day is often too overwhelming for Brooke to take in all at once. Instead, she tries to just get through the next five minutes. When Autumn goes missing, the number of times that Brooke has to calm herself down through just another five minutes increases about tenfold. It was definitely an interesting concept, but I just wish there was a way that we as the audience could have felt the pressure of those five minute countdowns even more. Definitely easier said than done, and I still haven’t completely determined how I would have liked to see it play out.

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If it were a movie, I can definitely see a countdown timer in my head, almost like 24. In written form it’s a bit more difficult, but maybe when one of those panic attacks happened we could have started out a chapter with a “five minute” heading at the top. Two pages later we get “four minutes”, and so on and so on until we end the chapter with what’s happening in that final minute. Instead it seemed like we were presented with a rushed 5 minutes in just a few paragraphs. Overall, a really fascinating concept that was executed well, but if it had been pushed just a bit more I think it really could have been something super special and unique.

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Nowhere to Turn

We have this woman who is deaf and suddenly alone in the world, her sister nowhere to be found. Brooke finds there is only one man she can turn to, and that’s Scott, Autumn’s boss. Scott has a troubled past of his own, and lives every day feeling guilty and unable to escape from the tragedies of his past. But when Autumn first introduces him to her sister, Brooke, there is suddenly a light and beauty in his life that he hasn’t seen in years. He’s aware of her anxieties in life, but when Autumn goes missing he becomes her protector, and one of the only people willing to take the time to figure out what she’s saying. The police assume she’s overreacting, or that Autumn simply needed a break from being the caregiver for such a seemingly helpless sister. But Scott recognizes the severity of the situation in this case, and will do anything he can to bring Autumn back safe, and try to keep Brooke calm in the meantime.

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What surprised me here is that the emotional bond between these characters never seemed rushed or ill-timed, even though we’re searching for a missing person here. It felt real, natural, and all encompassing. Neither character can quite explain it or understand it. Brooke herself refuses to believe someone like Scott could ever have true feelings for a “freak” like her. And yet, you can see how naturally comfortable and at peace these two characters are with one another. Brooke finds her anxiety lessen when she’s with Scott, and even being in his apartment surrounds her with a sense of calm. As for Scott, spending more time with Brooke makes him consider leaving the ghosts of his past behind him. It was really quite touching.

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What…Happened?!?!

The mystery component of this novel was very clever. Autumn’s disappearance happens so suddenly and so early on in the book that we as the audience have no possible guess as to what might have happened. Could she have really left her sister behind, fed up with looking after her? Or did something more sinister happen. We uncover the clues right along with Brooke and Scott, and throughout the whole book I was surprised to find I had very little guesses as to what might have happened. The lack of predictability was quite refreshing. As the novel progresses the anticipation continues to increase until the ultimate climactic final act when everything finally comes together.

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I won’t give anything away, but I will say it goes in a surprising direction that I definitely didn’t see coming. Unfortunately, I can’t say it totally came together in a cohesive manner for me. To put this in a way that I think my readers will appreciate, the foreplay was significantly more enjoyable and entertaining than the climax 😉 That’s not to say I didn’t find the ultimate big reveal to be interesting, but rather I think there could have been a few more pages to fully explain why everything played out the way it did. It seemed as though some questions weren’t fully answered as to the why, what, who, how does this all connect exactly?

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

Series: I know this novel is designed as a stand-alone, but my goodness I would absolutely love to see a sequel. I have zero clue what the story concept would be, but I was just so drawn in by Brooke and Scott that I want to see more from them.

Final Impression: This novel reminded me of a jigsaw puzzle. I had an absolute blast piecing it all together, and while I wasn’t sure what the final image would be, you simply can’t walk away until it’s complete. While there may have been a missing piece or two when all was said and done, in the end you can’t help but feel as though you finished something that was unique, and one-of-a kind. Mkay, that’s about all I can get out of my puzzle metaphor there. While the mystery of Autumn’s disappearance is the catalyst for the plot, I found that what kept me turning the pages one after the other was Brooke and Scott. Their connection was electrifying, and you keep your fingers crossed that they’ll be able to make it through this drama together.

Smut Level: Brooke doesn’t believe that she’s good enough, or enticing enough, for a man like Scott. He’ll do anything he can to demonstrate that she has become an ultimate shining light in his life. We don’t get an inordinate amount of detail to their love scenes, which I think was appropriate considering all the other stuff going on in their lives right now.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 187 Pages.

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Hard by Eve Jagger

Cassie will do anything she can to make sure she doesn’t lose her home to pay off her brother’s debts. Even if it means she has to spend every day working for an intimidating, sexy bastard.

What’s it About?

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Strong. Arrogant. Hard. Ryder Cole is the King of Atlanta’s nightlife — and the one man who can erase my past. I’m running from secrets that could destroy me and there’s no room in my life for someone like him: too damn cocky, and sexy as hell. I should keep my distance, but smart goes out the window the minute he looks my way. And when he puts his hands on me…? A girl could forget her own name. But what happens when the past catches up with me, and all the things I’m hiding from tear our lives apart again? I can’t keep running forever, and Ryder always wins. He’s not the kind of guy to let me go gently, Ryder will give it to me hard.

First Impression

Cassie has just moved back to the United States after leaving an abusive relationship behind in England. She’s looking to escape from the drama in her life, but instead she walks into even more drama than what she was expecting. She’s fast asleep one night when she’s jerked awake by a devilishly handsome and muscled man named Ryder who is looking for her brother, Jamie. As well as the $10,000 Jamie owes him. When Cassie discovers her brother put their house up as collateral, she finds she has no choice but to start working off her brother’s debt by managing the account books for Ryder’s business. Her goal in working for this man is to untangle both herself and her brother from Ryder, but as Cassie spends more time in his world she finds herself ensnared by his passionate stare and sexual magnetism.

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All in all, I kind of wish Cassie and Ryder had met differently. Not necessarily in regards to her brother owing Ryder a debt. That part was definitely an interesting impetus for them coming together! I just wish their first meeting hadn’t involved Ryder and his thugs kicking her door in one night looking for Jamie and his 10k. Even if Ryder did mistakenly assume he was walking in on Jamie that night instead of Cassie. I guess I found it a bit hard to believe that after being shaken awake in the middle of the night by a muscle bulging, tatted stranger, she’d be able to fall for him so quickly. I feel like I’d be shaking from shock for the better part of a year after such a rude awakening. But I treasure my sleep, so anyone who interrupts it immediately rises to the top of my enemy list. Has anyone seen my list by the way?

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She Gives as Good as She Gets

I absolutely loved the verbal chess match which plays out between these two. You never know who will put forward the most sass, and have the foresight to checkmate with just the right hint of sexual innuendo. Sometimes there is no clear winner. Ryder isn’t afraid to take what he wants when it comes to Cassie, which I understand sounds a bit…forceful, but believe me when I say Cassie is fully prepared, and desires to take everything Ryder is putting out there. What I love even more than the delightful physical element to their relationship though is when we get to see a softer side to Ryder’s character. He initially comes across as such a hard-ass bastard. The title of the book and series alone says it all!

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We are presented with this muscled, tatted, badass who is all intimidating businessman on the outside, but there’s more to this man. There’s a scene where Ryder explains to Cassie how he first got into fighting, and we discover that in spite of his tough exterior, at the heart of this man is someone who is willing to stand up for those who can’t defend themselves. He looks out for others, and cares deeply for the people in his life. It was probably my favorite scene in the whole book. While Ryder lets his shield down a bit by letting Cassie take a glimpse into his past, unfortunately we see that Cassie isn’t necessarily as forthcoming with her own past.

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Keeping Secrets, or Withholding Details

Cassie chooses to keep the abusive aspect of her previous relationship from Ryder. Let’s face it, we all know that just means it will eventually come to light anyway, and Ryder will undoubtedly be very pissed that she kept it from him. And sure enough, it happens. Now, this ultimate reveal evoked some interesting reactions for me. Normally when we come across something like this in a romance novel, I get frustrated with the lead character for keeping such a large secret from their love interest. However, in this instance I can’t say I really fault Cassie for not revealing this aspect of her life to Ryder. She just met this man. Their relationship up to this point has been primarily physical, and they haven’t really defined their relationship. It’s definitely implied they’re exclusive, but they haven’t even been out on a date yet.

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Ok, yes, ideally she would have told Ryder she was still married. But this past with her ex, Sebastian, was one that was both mentally and physically abusive. I think even Cassie is trying to sort it all out for herself. She’s taken such a big risk by leaving Sebastian behind in England, only to arrive back home to find her brother owes a massive debt. Cassie is not even at the point where she’s admitted the truth of this broken relationship to her own family, let alone to some dude she just met that she’s sleeping with. So, in this regard, I get why she didn’t divulge the details to Ryder. Yes, he opened up about his past, how he defended a helpless classmate from the hands of a bully, as well as the deatils about his cheating ex. But in my opinion it’s a bit different than the emotional torment which Cassie has been suffering with for the last two years all by herself.

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Sebastian Comes To Town

That…being…said. Once the truth of her marriage does come to light, and we are presented with a scene where Ryder, Sebastian and Cassie are all in a mini face-off circle, I do kind of judge Cassie for not shouting out the truth of the matter at the top of her lungs. When Sebastian introduces himself to Ryder as Cassie’s husband, and that she’ll be going back with him to England, I don’t understand why she didn’t interject, “um, f*ck that! This dick hole beat me, and I’m not going anywhere with him.” Instead, she tries to persuade Ryder to leave him be, and insists that Sebastian is just leaving. Come on girl, stand up for yourself!

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I am happy to say though that my frustration didn’t last too long. Rather than let Ryder sulk, Cassie doesn’t hesitate in going after him. She still kind of tries to keep the darker  details of their relationship a secret, but eventually Ryder gets the truth out of her. Even better though is that when we build-up to the eventual final climactic finish where Cassie needs to confront Sebastian, my girl does not disappoint! We have an exciting finish where we finally see Cassie stand up to her abusive ex. The theme of giving back as good as she gets comes to light in her final confrontation with him too.

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Series: Sexy Bastard, book 1. I loved the introduction of all of Ryder’s business partners, as well as the female friends in their lives. I’m excited to see what comes next, as each character really has a personality all their own.

Final Impression: There was actually more depth and plot to this story than I was expecting. The details of Cassie’s past with Sebastian were dark and full of turmoil, but also added an element of suspense and anticipation to the plot. In addition, I enjoyed the scenes where we were able to see Ryder be more vulnerable with Cassie, and open up about his own past. Unfortunately I also feel that the story didn’t 100% come full circle for me in regards to Cassie’s brother, Jamie, and the debt he owed to Ryder. I would have liked to see more scenes between Cassie and Jamie especially, but for the majority of the novel Jamie is really reserved to the background. When he does finally reemerge, it’s to quickly hand over a bag of cash paying off his debt. Seeing as this debt was the impetus for the whole book, I felt that it’s resolution was thrown together a bit too quickly.

Smut Level: Holy crap. I can’t remember the last time I read a romance novel where a male lead was so eager to get his head between a woman’s legs.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Eve Jagger Books. 260 Pages.