Big Bend Texas Rangers: Never Stay Gone – Tal Bauer
Six bodies in a single grave… in the same West Texas country where Dakota left everything behind.
Every beat of my heart belongs to you.
Thirteen years ago, Dakota Jennings thought he’d found his forever when he fell in love with Shane Carson. But one afternoon shattered their love story, and both Dakota and Shane left Rustler, Texas, with broken hearts. Even now, Dakota is still feeling the agony of losing Shane. Sure, he’s a Texas Ranger, but that’s not how he wanted to live his life. All he ever wanted was to love Shane.
Loving you is the only time I feel alive.
Shane’s life was supposed to be different than this. There’d been a plan, ever since he was knee-high to his father. But falling for Dakota spun Shane’s world upside down, and for years, Shane has had nothing but the memories of all that he lost: Dakota’s gentle touch, and the sweetness of his lips, and the star-strewn nights they spent wrapped in each other’s arms.
West of the Pecos, there is no law.
When the Rangers get the call about six bodies being pulled out of a mass grave in West Texas, the governor sends Dakota to run the investigation. Dakota heads back to his hometown and comes face-to-face with the last man he ever expected to see again: only now, he’s Deputy Shane Carson… Dakota’s local partner assigned to the case.
There’s nothing Dakota wants more than a second chance with Shane, but so much is stacked against them: six corpses, a murderer on the loose, and history that refuses to stay buried. And the bodies keep piling up as Dakota and Shane try to run the killer down across the West Texas plains.
In a moment, everything changes: the hunters become the hunted, the past fractures, and all Dakota thought he knew comes tumbling down. Secrets break wide open as Dakota remembers–
This is West Texas, and out here, nothing is as it seems.
Big Bend County is a place of beauty and desolation, of secrets and small towns. Where the past and the present collide, and where nothing stays hidden forever.
This MM romantic suspense is the first in the new Big Bend Texas Rangers series. Come along for the West Texas sunsets, the heart-pounding thrills, and the hard-won Happy Ever Afters.
Never Stay Gone is the first book of the romantic suspense, police procedural series, Big Bend Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers are the badass officers who patrol the West Texas desert areas up to the border.
The story opens with Deputy Sheriff Shane Carson stumbling upon a grave of six women in various stages of decomposition. With talks of a serial killer being bandied about, the Texas governor tasks ex-military Texas Ranger and, also her personal guard, Dakota Jennings to investigate.
Shane and Dakota were friends turned secret boyfriends back in high school. Shane broke things off because of pressure from his over-bearing dad just when Dakota was about to tell him of his plans after they graduated. With his world crashing down around him, Dakota disappeared. After 13 years, he’s back in Big Bend, a changed man but somehow still in love with the same boy.
This book has all the hallmarks of what I have come to recognize as the Tal Bauer style. There’s the thrilling suspense, the twisty-turny plot, people in high places with the dirtiest secrets, the swoony second chance romance, the mysterious pivotal event the characters agonize over but would turn out to be different from what their internal monologue seem to convey. Let’s not forget the amazing John Solo emoting the heck out of everything.
I loved how it was done in The Murder Between Us and The Night Of. Both of these were rated 5 stars. Here, it took me a while to get into the story. The opening chapters weren’t hooking me as much as I wanted them to. Descriptions of landscapes tend to make my eyes gloss over from boredom. I was propelled by John Solo’s performance. I’m glad I stuck around because things picked up once the investigation started.
Drama was on an all-time high, with many highly emotional scenes. And when the tears came, they kept on coming. This is quite possibly, the weepiest MM romance I’ve ever read! Waterworks from manly men could be deeply moving but very annoying when they start bawling at every other scene. Shane, in particular, was very weepy. The guy had it rough but jeez!
Shane was the golden boy, the quarterback, and his dad’s only hope of reclaiming the family legacy. He lived under his father’s thumb, his entire life already planned out by the older man. His only act of rebellion was his relationship with Dakota.
After his football career fizzled out, Shane worked as the deputy sheriff. This is where he is at his best. He’s a bit green when it comes to murder investigations, but he knows how to connect with people. He’s always ready to share a kind word.
Dakota was the cowboy son of drifters Shane befriended during high school football tryouts. Since then, the two were inseparable, mutually pining after one another until Shane struck up the courage to make a move.
If there was ever one guy made to be a book boyfriend, Dakota’s your man. He was completely devoted to Shane then, he’s still devoted now. Even as a teenager, he planned his whole life on how to support Shane’s dream of becoming a pro football player. As an adult, he built a house for his man. With his own hands.
I’ll never forget that flashback to their last day in senior year where he presented his meager budget for his and Shane’s living expenses, a.k.a. his heart on a plate, with all the earnestness of a youth in love, only to have it handed back. It was one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever! The sensation of falling and shattering to pieces was palpable. My chest hurt for Dakota. I nearly started sobbing myself.
The reconciliation scene? Hooboy, people were flayed raw! That’s how intense it was. I was glad the book is written in 3rd person dual POV. The emotional impact of a 1st person POV would have been too much.
I was super happy they grabbed that second chance and made the most of it. But then I got paranoid that the author might pull another plot twist and pull the rug out from everyone’s feet. This was still halfway through the book and I don’t think I could bear any more relationship drama.
I got so anxious about it I stopped reading. It wasn’t until I read a review saying things went well for the couple after that reunion that I breathed a sigh of relief and picked it up again. The rest of the story focused on the mystery.
I’d like to say the mystery was predictable. In hindsight, it followed the usual pattern of the author. But I was the gullible fool who fell for the red herring, suspecting the loner who was actually going above and beyond his duty. So good job on that nice bit of redirection!
When I thought about it, Never Stay Gone is written like Shane and Dakota’s favorite country songs. Full of lonely cowboys, small-town life, first kisses, devastating heartbreaks, and sappy love declarations that make you cringe and make you smile too. This is truly a book that doesn’t pull its emotional punches. They hit you, hard, straight in the kokoro. It’s not my favorite, but it will stay with me for a long time.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
This book comes with an official soundtrack. Check out the songs from the CD Dakota gave to Shane. Because he’s dorky like that.
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The series follows the same vein as Necessary Evils, where hired killers go on vigilante missions to right the wrongs. The first book, Bad Habits, set the stage through young hacker, Caspian, who has a bad crush on Jonah, the hitman who rescued and took him in from the streets. After being separated for six years, the two were reunited when a hit was called on Caspian.
The aftermath of the big showdown in Book 1 resulted in a dead pool. Assassins were invited to join. Among them, Jonah’s found family/friends, Madigan, Sadie, Ronan, retired killer Soren, and two other assassins they know by reputation. The rest of the books picked up the thread.
Below is a succinct a.k.a. can’t be arsed review of Book 1, Bad Habits, which can also be found here. I rated it 4-stars.
A sweet and steamy bad boys do right action suspense that made me want to eat pancakes.
This is a full review of the second and third book.
Wages Of Sin: Play Dirty – Onley James & Neve Wilder
“When you talk, chaos follows and I forget who I am.”
Madigan has spent his life indulging in the world’s most hedonistic pursuits, his skills as a sharpshooting killer-for-hire paying his way.
Azrael, an assassin referred to as the angel of death, is a chemist and a loner, his poisons as lethal as they are undetectable.
A chance encounter leads to a passionate night and a heated rivalry that spans years, but after they’re both offered a chance at big money by taking out elite targets on a mysterious hitlist, they find themselves once again in each other’s way. And then in each other’s arms.
Trust doesn’t come easily for either of them, but no matter how far they stray, fate always seems to pull them back together. In a profession where your partner is just as likely to kill you as kiss you, maybe trust is as close to love as they get?
Play Dirty is a steamy, action-packed thrill ride of a romance with a HEA and no cliffhangers. It features two stubborn rival assassins who can’t seem to stop tempting each other, a bit of knife play, a Die Hard-style Christmas, plenty of dark humor, and true love. Because even assassins deserve their soulmates. This is book 2 in the Wages of Sin series. Each book will follow a new couple.
Play Dirty was the book I was looking forward to the least because I didn’t like Madigan in Book 1. He and Jonah had a friends-with-benefits thing in the past. He’s a sneaky bastard who said mean things to Caspian. He made the young man run away from Jonah for six years. So I was pleasantly surprised that his book turned out to be my favorite.
Madigan and Azrael are bitter rivals. They had an ongoing competition where one tries to take down the other’s mark before the other got to them. Madigan is a sharpshooter, while Azrael specializes in poison and close combat.
The two met at a bar, scoping each other out because they were after the same mark. They went somewhere private, using names both of them knew full well were fakes. Then Madigan woke up the next day with Az gone, all his ammo taken and his mark dead. And that was the start of their little game.
What made this the best book was how CRAZY GOOD Maddie and Az were together. The way their connection formed and deepened was a brilliant execution of the enemies-to-lovers trope. It’s very apt that for a story about a chemist, the chemistry was perfect! Maddie and Az were fire and gasoline! Murder Husbands for the win!!!!!
I loved how the authors blended all the different aspects of the story. While giving us a deliciously intense romance, the plot is equally solid and hella engaging, moving things fast and suspenseful enough to keep the adrenaline pumping.
I’m tickled pink every time Az calls Maddie, “motek“. I plan to give the audiobook another go just to hear it again
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
Wages Of Sin: Head Games – Onley James & Neve Wilder
“You’re a vigilante in an argyle sweater.”
Straight-laced psychologist Tobias is an expert in the deviant behavior of others but a novice when it comes to his latest endeavor: serial killer.
After years of high-profile kills and mentoring numerous other assassins, laid-back Soren lives his life in a state of semi-permanent vacation. He comes out of an early retirement to help out a friend, only to set off sparks with the renowned psychologist when they discover they’re hunting the same man.
One shaky truce and a whole lot of blood later, Soren has a new mentee in Tobias.
Soren finds Tobias and his dark impulses fascinating. Tobias finds Soren’s relaxed attitude infuriating. They have nothing in common except their ability to kill and chemistry neither can deny. But a kill list, a rage room, the Irish mob and the ghosts of their past all stand in the way of their happily ever after.
Head Games is a steamy, thrill ride of a romance with a HEA and no cliffhangers. It features an uptight, sweater-loving psychologist with a taste for blood and a soft spot for his murderous yorkie, the most zen contract killer to ever mosey the earth, plenty of dark humor, and true love. Because even bad dudes deserve their soulmates. This is book 3 in the Wages of Sin series. Each book follows a different couple.
Head Games was the book I was looking forward to the most because I was super intrigued by the premise. Tobias, a psychiatrist specializing in psychopaths, decides to take justice into his own hands by indulging his psychopathic side. That is, try his hand at serial killing his patients. On his first attempt, he crosses paths with veteran killer, Soren, who is immediately drawn to the rookie.
Soren is a retired hitman and mentor of Jonah, Maddie, and Ronan. He comes out of retirement once in a while. He decides to show Toby the ropes and, in the process, proceeds to effortlessly fit himself into Toby’s carefully planned life.
Soren was compared to the main character in The Big Lebowski. And just like the movie where I enjoyed the story but didn’t like the MC, I wasn’t a fan of Soren. I didn’t feel his feelings towards Toby. His character was too one-dimensional. Also, he was described as not too keen on his hygiene which is blech!
I love the idea of Toby as a character. He was compared to Hannibal Lecter. Although, he would have stood out more strongly to me if his character was fully explored. And if his connection with Soren was more convincing.
Overall, I felt this book lacked a certain depth. The plot wasn’t as focused as the other books. It could have been going for an episodic, one kill per character growth thing while the romance develops, but the execution was flat. What kept me going was that I loved the rest of the boys. I only perked up at the appearance of my favorite Murder Husbands and Jonah and Cas.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
Two out of three hits for me so I still recommend this series. You can skip the 3rd book if you like. I’m hoping Ronan gets his own story.
Wages of Sin is best read in order because this found family of hired killers is a package deal. Start by finding out how good deeds turn into bad habits and vice versa, in Book 1, Bad Habits.
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Seasons Of The Lukoi: Winter Of The Owl – Iris Foxglove
Sava has the best house in all of Lukos. He built it himself, dreaming of the day when he and Milan, the man he loved, could live there and brave the harsh winters of Lukos together—only to be devastated when Milan was found dead in the spring. Fraught with grief, Sava resigns himself to spending his winters alone.
Then a stranger appears on his doorstep, and everything changes.
Victor is a scholar from Gerakia, a land known for its long summers and vibrant history, and he has never been more unprepared in his life. Abandoned on the inhospitable island of Lukos after a disastrous relationship, Victor has to adapt quickly to survive. It helps, of course, that he’s taken in by Sava, who has the biggest heart of any man Victor has ever known. Victor and Sava start to make a home together, growing close as snow falls outside, but the true danger of a Lukos winter is closer than they suspect…
Winter Of The Owl is the first book of the fantasy series, Seasons of the Lukoi. It is also my first from author duo, Iris Foxglove. I couldn’t have picked a better book to start with because I couldn’t get enough of the Cozy Husbands!
The series is set in the Starian world. Even if I haven’t read the other books, world-building is effortless and intuitive. It was easy to picture the cold, frigid island with its survivalist community.
Lukos is an island way up north. Not much is known about it by the rest of the world. It was built by exiles who established laws that helped them survive the harsh territory.
The Lukoi has a strong sense of community and family. They have their own unique culture heavily influenced by their environment. They are welcoming to those who were abandoned. They mate for life and are fiercely protective of children. Despite the toughness of their living conditions, I found Lukos almost like a utopia the way the Lukoi thrived and flourished.
Like the related series, Seasons of the Lukoi also has its people born as either dominant or submissive. Sava, being a dominant, is responsible for providing all the best that he can give to his potential mate, Milan. He did it so well, his house was considered the best house in Lukos.
But then, Milan died and he was left all alone in his very nice abode. One day, the kuvar, their leader, drags in a scholar they found on the beach and requests Sava to house the poor man. Thus begins a sweet and achingly tender love story built on mutual care and trust.
Victor is from sunny Gerakia. He is a beautiful, pure-hearted soul, a veritable “sweet summer child”. Cast aside by an abusive lover and left for dead, he still found joy and wonder everywhere he looked. I could practically see him lighting up at the sight of the first snowfall. His enthusiasm for learning is boundless.
Sava was so kind, attentive, and patient with Victor from the very beginning. He teaches him skills to survive winter. The man is a total sweetheart. He’s a selfless gentle giant who gives the adorkable scholar a ride on his back whenever the clumsy dork had a hard time navigating rocky paths.
I loved how they comfort each other and prop each other up whenever one is beset by insecurities. They helped the other rediscover their self-worth and find closure. Victor had to process the betrayal and the mean things his ex did. Sava had to deal with guilt over Milan’s death.
One of the best moments for me was when Sava, first time to see eyeglasses, asked Victor what those are for. “To make your pretty eyes look bigger?” Then, later in the story, noticing how Victor complains about them slipping, quietly ties a ribbon to keep them in place. The megane moe is strong!!! I love it! Especially when it was revealed Victor’s ex hated his glasses.
Sava and Victor are just too adorable!!! Then they adopted Speedy, the snowcat, who stole the show. I died from fluff overload!
There are some BDSM elements present. The authors wisely deployed them at a minimum. It kept the story’s vibe cozy and wholesome in harmony with Sava and Victor’s dynamics.
I loved how the book was written. It’s detailed yet easy to read. The characters were fully fleshed out. The relationships were given time to develop properly. The plot is deceptively straightforward, almost conflict-free. Most of it is Sava and Victor getting to know each other, enveloped in domestic bliss.
Far from feeling nothing is happening, we see Lukos coming alive through Victor’s fresh eyes. His openness and curiosity were contagious. He made me want to visit the island. It has a rich culture and a chockful of intriguing characters I’d love to know more.
The book has mentions of suicide and cultural misunderstanding of mental illness so take note of the CWs if they are triggering for you. This is in connection with Milan, which leads to a not-so-surprising twist and the suspenseful climax. The book nicely wraps up with Victor’s ex getting his comeuppance. I think they let him off too easily. They should’ve just dropped him in the sea.
Winter of the Owl is a feel-good, forced proximity story filled with kindness and affection. It’s about finding joy in the mundane and looking at the world with wonder. It’s about seeing the good in other people and rediscovering self-worth. Immersive, compelling, and hella squee-tastic, it may be set in the dead of winter but it certainly warms the heart.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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Life Lesson – Kaje Harper
Mac’s three goals: keep Tony safe, catch the killer, don’t come out.
Tony Hart’s a dedicated teacher, though he’s not much older than his high-school students. Between his profession, a few good friends, and plenty of books, he’s content with his quiet life. Then the murdered body of another teacher falls into the elevator at his feet, and Tony’s life becomes all too exciting.
Jared MacLean is a homicide detective, widowed father to a young daughter, and deeply in the closet. But from the moment he meets Tony’s blue eyes in that high school hallway, Mac can’t help wanting this man in his life. Mac’s not out ― can’t afford to be out ― but Tony makes him want the impossible.
Mac isn’t the only one with their eyes on Tony, though. As the murderer tries to cover their tracks, Mac has to work fast or lose Tony, permanently.
(This is a rerelease of the 2011 original with light editing.)
I’ve seen Kaje Harper around ever since I started reading MM romance back in 2016. This is the first time I’ve read her books. Life Lessons is a great introduction to her works. The book kicks off the series of the same name.
Young high school teacher, Tony Hart, was about to step out of the elevator when the body of another teacher crashes into him with a knife sticking out of its chest. Police were called and along comes Detective Jared Maclean and his teammates to investigate.
Mac is deep in the closet for fear of losing his 4-year-old daughter, Anna. His resolve to stay there was tested by the attractive and openly gay teacher who was also a person of interest. Mac found himself finding reasons to see the younger man. Tony is ready to have the detective if only the older man would let himself. Then, the killer made another move. This time, Tony was the target.
This is a police procedural. But unlike most procedurals where the MC is the lead detective and seems to do all the work, Mac’s partner, Oliver, is the lead. The detectives worked as a team and the others were shown taking an active part in the investigation. I liked this a lot because it felt more realistic.
The mystery wasn’t anything mindboggling. You can tell who the bad guy is the minute they went on-page. Still, it’s intriguing enough for me to feel invested and complicated enough to make following the investigation worthwhile and enjoyable.
The plot seamlessly interweaves the mystery and the romance. I really liked how this was done. It brought Mac and Tony together in a way that felt organic to both the case and their budding relationship. It’s a slow-burn, hurt-comfort romance with an ever-patient Tony encouraging Mac to enjoy life a little more even if it’s only from his closet.
I loved that we get characters who are just regular joes going about their daily lives. Mac and Tony felt real and relatable. They make a compelling couple. I especially loved how they were working hard to make it work. I also greatly appreciated how they avoided the usual drama, something that could have easily happened given the closeted cop premise. And yet, even without the dramatics, this was an emotional story.
I wasn’t sure at first if I would enjoy a gay romance where one of the MCs is deeply closeted throughout several books in the series. I thought I would feel negative about Mac for hiding his relationship with Tony, but the story did a good job making you feel for the guy. I totally got where he was coming from and that he was making the effort. Seeing his character grow bit by bit as the story progressed made me root hard for him. Someday, Mac. Someday.
Tony was super understanding. I felt sad he had to make sacrifices, a bit too much IMHO, but it was pretty clear that Mac’s heading in the right direction in that HFN ending. He’s definitely worth the wait!
The author found the perfect audiobook narrator in J.F. Harding. He brought the story to life in such an engaging way I was glued to my earbuds right to the end.
Life Lessons was published in 2011. They did a good job with the slight re-editing because the story still felt current. It’s not without flaws and it features frequently-used tropes, but it’s so well-written, it still comes across as fresh and exciting. All in all, this teacher/cop romance with extra-curricular murder mystery gets a grade of 4.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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This is a round up of the rest of the books I read this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.
Necessary Evils: Psycho – Onley James
August Mulvaney has always been exceptional. As the genius son of an eccentric billionaire, his off-putting behavior is often blamed on his high IQ. They say there’s a thin line between genius and madness. August is both—a brilliant professor loved by his students and a ruthless, obsessive killer tasked with righting the wrongs of a failing justice system. And he’s just found his latest obsession: Lucas Blackwell.
Lucas Blackwell was once the golden child of the FBI, using his secret talent as a clairvoyant to help put away society’s worst. Until, with a touch, he discovers his co-worker is a killer and his life falls apart. Now, the world thinks he’s crazy and that co-worker wants him dead. He seeks refuge at a small college, hoping to rebuild his life and his reputation. But then he runs into August Mulvaney. Literally.
August is immediately intrigued with Lucas and his backstory. He doesn’t believe in psychics, but there’s no missing the terror in his eyes when they collide in the hallway. Now, August has a problem. Lucas knows his secret, and August knows he wants Lucas. And August always gets what he wants.
Can he convince Lucas that not all killers are created equal and that having a psychopath in his corner—and in his life—might be just what he needs?
Psycho is a fast-paced, thrill ride of a romance with an HEA and no cliffhangers. It features a psychopath hell-bent on romance and a disgraced FBI agent attempting to redeem himself. As always, there’s gratuitous violence, very dark humor, and scenes so hot it will melt your kindle. This is book 2 in the Necessary Evils series. Each book follows a different couple.
August is freakin’ AWESOME!!!
We first meet August Mulvaney in Unhinged, Book 1 of Unnecessary Evils. The series is about a family of psychopaths raised by eccentric billionaire and psychiatric genius, Thomas Mulvaney. Atticus, August, Aiden, Archer, Asa, Avi, and Adam, were handpicked for their special psychological profiles, adopted, and trained to be secret vigilante killers. Each is equally talented in other fields, with carefully cultivated public personas that helped them pass as normal.
August is the second oldest son. He loves music and enjoys the gruesome wetwork that even some of his brothers find distasteful. He doesn’t like the screaming though, hence the music. Publicly, he is a tenured theoretical physics professor, much loved by his students and well-respected by peers. It says a lot about him that he is dubbed as the weirdest psycho in the family of psychopaths. And decisive man that he is, it took only 7 seconds for him to decide that Lucas Blackwell, adjunct professor, disgraced FBI agent, and psychic, was the one.
I loved this book so much! The cast is fantastic! I loved all the Mulvaneys. Every one of them is outstanding and gorgeous so it’s pretty hard to pick a favorite. But August could just be it. His characterization was brilliant. He is a very fascinating, complex person who always has an interesting side waiting to be discovered.
He might be a genius with the IQ of Einstein and Hawking, but he was utterly clueless about relationships. So it was beyond endearing how he was so determined to make his relationship with Lucas work, he asked his family for help and even read five books on relationships.
“What you are is mine. It’s my job to make you happy. I lack the capacity to do so on my own. I can’t love. I can’t feel guilt or empathy or remorse, any of the things that might help me understand what you need. All I have is research and context clues, which I’m not very good at interpreting. But I can give you what you need. I’ll do whatever it takes. But I can’t do it without help. Testing my theories is all I know.”
Damn, these Mulvaney boys really know how to sweep somebody off their feet!
Lucas is equally fantastic as well. He has a soft vulnerability that made August want to protect him. He spent some time in a mental health facility after he was ridiculed for identifying a co-worker as a serial killer through his psychic powers. The same killer making young girls disappear and taunting him about it.
He immediately knew August was also one, after accidentally crashing into the professor. He was scared at first, but soon, he recognized August wasn’t the enemy. I loved how he accepted August’s quirks and how he fits. As August declared with absolute certainty within hours of meeting the man, “he’s perfect for me“. I wholeheartedly agree because he always brings out in best in August.
Lucas crossed the room and pulled something from his pocket. August’s air pods. “I saw them in the center console and figured you could use them. I know the screaming bothers you.”
August wrapped his arms around Lucas, dragging him in for a deep kiss, swallowing his cry of surprise. Kohn grunted in disgust.
“It’s just headphones,” Lucas said.
August shook his head. “It’s not just headphones. I don’t know what love feels like, but I imagine it’s like feeling I’m having right now.”
Lucas’s face went soft, his smile radiant. “That’s the sweetest thing anybody’s ever said to me after cutting off another man’s nipple.”
My favorite Lucas moment was at the epilogue, where he surprised August at lunch. Then he went on to relay the wild gossip about them circulating on campus. I LOLed at the part where he teased August about running away with his millions with the pool boy. They don’t even have a pool. It didn’t stop August from being adorably possessive and growly.
Usually, when I get to the smexy parts, I stop reading or skim because I find them boring. August and Lucas are so amazing together and I loved them so much, I even enjoyed their love scenes. They are one of my all-time favorite couples!
Like its predecessor, Psycho tackles very dark subjects. The mystery was super intriguing. It was a case of trying to pin down the killer who was also the federal agent assigned to solve the crimes he committed. When it was revealed what they were doing to the victims, it wasn’t anything too graphic but it did churn my stomach a bit. There are also scenes with torture, where pain was inflicted with glee. I highly recommend proceeding with caution.
At its core, Psycho is a story of a man who found his person, fell in love for the first time, and wanted to do everything to make them happy. Only that man happened to be a cold-blooded serial killer and his person happened to have another serial killer hunting him. Looking past the blood and gore, it’s actually a very schmoopy, swoony book with some of the most quotable squee-tastic lines ever! All coming from an individual who cannot love.
“Is it true you remember every word ever said to you?”
“Did Noah tell you that?” August asked,
“He said you always wear headphones to drown out the noise. I’ve never seen you wear them.”
August brushed his hair aside, removing the tiny earbuds from his ears. “They’re not on. I don’t wear them around you.”
August frowned in confusion. “Because I want to remember every word you say to me.”
You don’t need to be psychic to know, this one’s a keeper!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
I always say, you meet one Mulvaney, you love ’em all. Start with the youngest, Adam the supermodel serial killer, and his feisty person, Noah, in Unhinged,.
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The Former Assassin’s Guide to Snagging a Reluctant Boyfriend – Alice Winters
When I gave up life as a hitman, I thought everything was going to be better. I was going to become a PI, help people, and live normally… and then I met Jeremy, the most perfect man to have ever saved my life (I mean, he might be the only one who has saved my life, but he’s still the best at it). From that point on, it was all over for me—I knew we were meant to be. The issue is that he doesn’t… quite seem to realize that. But when he’s targeted by criminals (literally, someone just shot at his head), he needs to rely on someone, so why not me? He might not know about my past as a hitman or that I don’t need to be protected, but I’m prepared to do everything I can to save the day.
When my past comes back with a vengeance, I’ve never felt so alone and out of my element. That is, until Cassel offers me information that I desperately need, forcing me to drag him straight into danger. The issue is that he’s too sweet and innocent for this world and I’m not sure that I’m strong enough to protect him, but I can’t bring myself to push him away. As truths come to light, I realize that maybe Cassel isn’t quite who I thought he was, and maybe we’re not so different after all.
While you can read The Former Assassin’s Guide on its own, you’ll get maximum enjoyment by reading The Hitman’s Guide series first. This book contains speedy car chases and not-so-speedy ATV rides, a wager Cassel is determined to win even if it kills him, and way-too-tight sparkly spandex suits.
The wacka-doodle gang of reformed hitmen is back!
The Former Assassin’s Guide to Snagging a Reluctant Boyfriend is the spin-off of The Hitman’s Guide series. We have Cassel, short, highly skilled, and hopelessly in love with a policeman. We first met him as Leland’s housekeeper, also, as a former protégé of Leland’s dead mentor.
Cassel has been flirting like mad with Jeremy, the officer who saved his life in the previous books, but the man seemed oblivious to his signals. Then one day, Jeremy was almost shot. Cassel takes it upon himself to help Jeremy find out who’s after him. And, hopefully, win his guy’s heart along the way.
I was immediately drawn to Cassel. He’s similar to Leland but more insecure and definitely less exhausting. It makes him an easier character to get along with, both for the readers and the other cast. He has an inferiority complex when it comes to Leland, having been told again and again by their mentor how good the hitman was. In truth, Cassel is just as deadly. He certainly lived up to his assassin name, Reaper.
Jeremy is perfectly likable. He keeps a low profile because of a secret past that now comes biting him in the ass. The thing with him is that, while it is his past that drives the story forward, Jeremy tends to take a backseat in many scenes. More often than not, he ends up getting saved or just standing by. He even pointed it out. He might be under-utilized but what I appreciated most about him was that he recognized how amazing Cassel was, even under Leland’s more dominating presence.
I loved the first parts of the story the most. It felt more focused. From the halfway point, it sort of meandered. The plot became a convoluted mess. The gang was going around in circles.
To make matters worse, there was too much Leland bulldozing his way through the scenes. I love this guy, but, he should be deployed in small doses. Also, there’s the inclusion of tiresome gags for gag’s sake that did nothing for me. This is par for course for this author. Although, she toned it down a bit compared to the original series.
The romance was also sadly under-developed. I loved the pining and the way the story brought Jeremy and Cassel together. However, there was too much focus on solving the mystery, which was a long-drawn-out affair that could have been executed better. I spent most of it skimming, not caring too much about the big reveal. But I did enjoy the OTT action scenes. Expect a lot of things going BANG!
In the end, what kept me reading was my love for these dysfunctional characters. Husbands Jackson and Leland are always a welcome sight, no matter how Leland-y Leland gets. But again, small doses, yeah? Police chief and group daddy Henry is a delight as always.
And I might loved Cassel juust a bit more than Leland probably because he felt more relatable. Even Jeremy completely won me over at that last part where he had all these dates lined up to make up for the years of normalcy he and Cassel missed.
The Former Assassin’s Guide to Snagging a Reluctant Boyfriend may have held out on the romance but, it readily delivered more of our beloved characters, some mystery, ridiculous antics, and gun-slinging action. All in all, it did not blow my mind but, it scored some hits
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it
Truth be told, I only read The Hitman’s Guide to Making Friends and Finding Love because I found its sequel repetitive. I highly recommend the moony meeting between Jackson and Leland here.
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Fog City: Silent Knight – Layla Reyne
I won’t let anything happen to you.
Fourteen years ago, Braxton Kane’s feelings were forbidden.
As an officer, he couldn’t fall for an enlisted… no matter how much he longed for Holt Madigan.
Now—as a police chief in love with a digital assassin—his promise to always protect Holt is becoming harder to keep.
I’ll protect you.
Holt doesn’t understand why his best friend has been pushing him away for months.
But when Brax’s life and career are threatened, Holt refuses to allow the distance any longer.
The Madigans protect their own, and Brax is family, whether he believes it or not.
I won’t let anything happen to you either.
Forced together, Holt realizes his feelings for his best friend have changed.
His desire to explore the promise their single night together held is undeniable.
His resolve to protect the man who has always protected him is unshakable.
But if Holt wants a future with Brax, he’ll have to search and destroy the person who attacked him—before Brax activates the kill switch and sacrifices himself.
Love and devotion. Friendship and trust. Family. It all comes down to this. Holt and Kane, together at last, in the final book of the Fog City romantic suspense series.
Saving the last for the best Madigan of ’em all!
Silent Knight is the most awaited finale of Fog City, a series about the notorious Madigans. I’ve been waiting for Lil H’s story ever since he and Brax had those moments in the Hawes’ Fog City trilogy.
Holt Madigan, hacker, ex-soldier, dad, and all-around sweetheart, had had it worse in the first books when his wife, Emilia, turned out to be a traitor in their midst. His best friend, Police Chief Braxton Kane, has been his rock for decades. Now, Brax’s life is in danger, and Holt will do anything to save the person who saved his life.
Their story started 14 years ago when they were in the military. Then-captain Brax first set eyes on the young private stepping off the plane and immediately fell in love. He promised himself he would do everything to make sure that soldier would board the plane home alive.
Due to military regulations, a relationship was forbidden, and Brax kept his feelings for Holt under lock and key. However, the two became best friends. Their bond remained strong even after returning to civilian life and Brax learning the truth about Holt’s family.
The first half is told in flashbacks from Brax’s POV. This part made my chest hurt. The pining alone was worth 5-stars. Poor Cap had it bad for the Private. So bad that he forced his way into a mission to protect the young soldier, helped him transition back to civilian life while he’s still halfway across the world, forced to silently endure Holt getting married to another person, moved across the country to live in the same city as him, risk his career to protect him and his family of assassins. Never once letting his best friend know how he truly felt for him. Not even that night he helped the pan/demisexual Holt lose his virginity. Damn the man and his military discipline!
The second half covers the present and is told from Holt’s POV. This is where most of the mystery and the suspense came in. All the Madigans rallied to Brax’s side to uncover who was behind the threats. I loved how everyone considered him family and pretty much already assumed he and Holt were a given. The only one who needed to realize this was Holt.
This part lost me at some points. The mystery wasn’t as riveting as it was supposed to be. There was a big to-do with the investigations, where I danced with glee at the cameos from Jamie, Aiden, Mel, and Nic, characters from Agents Irish and Whiskey and Trouble Brewing. There were also some attempts at plot twists. But at the end of it all, everything still came down to the default bad guy. So there weren’t any major surprises. The big showdown, while fitting Holt’s character, also felt anti-climactic.
The suspense bit might not have been strongly delivered but the rest of the story, and the romance, in particular, was what made this book my favorite in the series. It is a beautifully rendered love story about falling for one’s best friend and a deeply rewarding requiting of a silent and unconditional love. And the way this book was written, which felt more intense and angstier than the rest, hit me harder in the kokoro.
There is a strong sense of family that ties everyone together, from the Madigan siblings to their significant others to their organization members, and their friends. It is these characters and their bonds that kept me returning to Fog City and its sister series time and time again
The epilogue wasn’t what I was looking for, not enough Brax and Holt. But it left an opening for possibly another spinoff. And it looks like Brax is going to play a big part here too!
Overall, Silent Knight might not be as flashy as Hawes’ books or as bombastic as Helena’s, but it is the one that spoke the loudest and the most heartfelt.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Silent Knight is best experienced after the Fog City trilogy and Queen’s Ransom. The Madigans wouldn’t have it any other way.
While you’re at it, pick up the equally fantastic partners-to-lovers romance between FBI agents, Aiden Talley and Jameson Walker, in Agents Irish and Whiskey.
Because these guys are a tight-knit bunch, also check out Aiden’s sorta-ex-turned-friend, US Attorney Dominic Price, and Nic’s partner, FBI Agent Cameron Byrne in Trouble Brewing
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The Night Of – Tal Bauer
You’ve heard this story before: a guy supposedly kills himself, but his best friend can’t accept it. He calls in an investigator he knows to take a second look, certain there’s more going on.
I’m the investigator. Secret Service Agent Sean Avery. The guy who called me? My ex, Vice President Jonathan Sharp. And the guy he doesn’t believe put a bullet in his brain?
That was President Steven Baker.
The deeper I dig, the more things fall apart. I’ve got a dead president inside a locked room. A hidden note. A secret gun. A missing CIA officer.
And no one I can trust.
Now Jonathan’s in the crosshairs, and if I don’t figure out what really happened that night at Camp David, the love of my life might be the next president to die.
***This M/M romantic suspense features smoldering forbidden love and a May/December second chance romance that ignites your pages.
I’m not too keen on politicians as the love interest but the premise for The Night Of intrigued me right away. Secret Service Agent Sean Avery is doing night patrols at the G8 Summit. All while trying really hard not to think about that fateful night exactly one year ago. The night he spent with Jonathan Sharp, the VPOTUS.
It was a drunken night he barely remembered, but Sean was convinced he fucked up so bad he really should be in jail. His angsting was interrupted by a gunshot and a dead president. The next thing he knew, he was called by the VPOTUS, now POTUS, to investigate if it was indeed suicide or murder.
The case was a locked door mystery and a damn good one. Sean’s investigation had him involved in federal pissing contests and unearthed evidence that cast him and Jonathan in a suspicious light,
The book had one heck of a twisty turny plot that kept me on the edge of my seat. Although I had my suspicions regarding a certain well-placed individual, it kept me guessing until the third act. This was when Sean’s spidey senses started tingling around this person as well.
The WHO might be relatively easy to suss out but the WHY and the HOW was what made the mystery so clever. Things came to a head, in the Oval Office no less. It was such a super intense, super suspenseful climactic scene, I held my breath the entire time.
The book deals with a lot of heightened emotions that jumped off the page. The grief was almost unbearable. The way the writing and narrator John Solo brilliantly portrayed it, I deeply felt how devastated Jonathan and the First Widow were.
The aga-gap, second chance romance between Sean and Jonathan was beautiful and tender. I loved how the two men were both strong and vulnerable. Sean may smart-mouth his way around his colleagues, but it’s easy to see how badly shaken he was to have a president die under his watch. It was also easy to see how much he loves Jonathan.
Jonathan making Sean coffee exactly the way he likes, even after That Night!, slayed Sean. Jonathan, stoic ex-military general and new POTUS, giving his trust, his heart, himself to Sean, slayed me! ♡✧。 (◍＞◡＜◍⋈)。✧♡
My favorite part was Sean counting how many times he could make the famously unsmiling Jonathan smile.
Almost no one could make him smile, but damn it, I had. I’d felt like the biggest man in the whole damn world the first time I’d teased a smile out of him. It was the first time my heart had stutter-stepped, too, the first time I’d realized I was fucked. But not as fucked as that night, when—
This part had the reader guessing about that night a year ago. Why is Sean beating himself up over it? What exactly did he do that he feels guilty Jonathan was still so nice to him after all this time?
For their confrontation scene alone, I highly recommend experiencing this story as an audiobook. John Solo is a narrator who takes you inside the story and his portrayal of this particular scene was sublime!
The way he emoted Sean’s self-flagellation with such rawness, the way he voiced Jonathan’s response with such vulnerability, that scene felt so real. It was like I was there in the Oval Office with them. And the way he portrayed the love scenes, lowering his voice to a whisper, he gave them an intimacy most narrators don’t bother to do. I was struck with the odd feeling of wanting to give them privacy.
The Night Of is Tal Bauer doing what he does best, gripping romantic suspense that breaks the heart into pieces and puts it back together again. The audiobook is the perfect marriage of writing and narration. All in all, an experience worthy of the Presidential Seal of Approval.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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Hostile Takeover – Lucy Lennox
It was supposed to be a prank. A silly frat boy dare.
One hot moment in a hidden storage closet. One kiss. No consequences.
But if you get that close to a man with fire in his eyes, you’re gonna get burned, and I was no exception. One taste of Grey Blackwood ruined me for life.
The way Grey sees it, I was the one who did the ruining. I humiliated him. Wrecked his life. Destroyed his future.
Doesn’t matter that he’s clawed his way back and then some. Doesn’t matter that he’s already top of the Wall Street food chain. The man’s ruthless. Heartless. And he likes his revenge served cold.
Now he’s taking down the companies owned by every frat boy who did him wrong. And when he comes for my family’s company, the quiet life I’ve built for myself far away from Manhattan comes crumbling down, too.
But when Grey’s standing in our boardroom, threatening a hostile takeover and demanding I negotiate on behalf of my family, I don’t see an enemy. I see the chance I’ve been waiting for.
The chance for another night in his arms, and hopefully a whole lot more.
Let the negotiations begin.
Hostile Takeover is a full-length, standalone novel.
The blurb for this book grabbed me immediately. Hostile Takeover promised all sorts of vengeful enemies to lovers goodness. I am happy to report that it made good on its promise.
It started with a drunken dare at the country club. Ellison York was egged on by fellow elite frat boys to do something naughty in the closet with the first person who entered the room. To the supposedly straight Ellison’s shock, in comes Grey Blackwood, the server, sometimes caddy, and scholarship student in their university. Also, his super-secret crush.
To Ellison’s surprise, Grey was very willing to kiss him. He had no clue he was Grey’s super-secret crush too. They would have done more if not for Ellison’s dad and the rest of the frat boys walking in on them. Grey was promptly fired, lost his internships, lost most of his connections, and almost lost his standing as a student. Ellison stood silently by as it all happened.
Fifteen years later, Grey, now a billionaire venture capitalist, takes over York Capital as revenge. He demanded Ellison work as his PA. He intends to make the most of this cold dish and this is where the real fun starts.
Grey got more than he bargained for with Ellison. For one, he (and I) didn’t expect present-day Ellison to be such a cheeky bastard, Grey was so prepared to make the other man’s life miserable but it’s hard to hate on Ellison when he made things fun. He even managed to negotiate a deal to win some of the York properties back. He’s also very determined to launch his own takeover of Grey’s heart.
Ellison’s very, very sorry for being too cowardly to speak up that he was the one who initiated the kiss with Grey all those years ago. Unknown to Grey, this had led Ellison to create his passion project, a boarding school for underprivileged students. This, in turn, led to my favorite part, the scene where Grey learned how much he meant to Ellison ever since the beginning, I was as blown away as Grey.
This book is tight and intense, with the kind of electric chemistry that crackles through the pages. I loved the secret crush connection they had in the past, even if it was ruined by scandal. It’s a delight to see the sparks reigniting even as they antagonized each other. The fake boyfriend plus bisexual awakening made the USTs even more explosive.
Grey realized Ellison wasn’t the spoiled rich boy he thought he was. Ellison slowly but surely earned Grey’s trust. I loved how the transition from enemies to lovers was executed, especially the way it was built up so effortlessly and flawlessly. It was very satisfying watching these two men go from dancing around each other to finally acknowledging that they fit perfectly.
It’s not a Lucy Lennox book without some nasty bad guys and high drama. The bad guy comes in the form of Ellison’s evil dad, a manipulative, scheming man. He blackmailed Ellison into working as York Capital’s corporate lawyer, a job he knows his son hates. This man is also responsible for putting, yet again, a wedge between Grey and Ellison.
I’m not a fan of the misunderstanding trope. I felt that the conflict in the third arc could have gone differently instead of the miscommunication and separation route. However, it paved the way for my favorite scene mentioned earlier and for some desperate, heartfelt groveling.
Hostile Takeover is a fun page-turner that has you rooting for Grey and Ellison and occasionally wanting to smack their heads together. It’s a delicious combination of second chance romance, enemies-to-lovers, bisexual awakening, and fake boyfriends tropes. I dare say it’s one of Lucy Lennox‘s best books.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
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