The Venetian And The Rum Runner – L.A. Witt
New York City, 1924
Once their paths cross, their worlds will never be the same.
Danny Moore and his crew only meant to rob the hotel suites of rich guests. He wasn’t supposed to find himself in gangster Ricky il Sacchi’s room. And il Sacchi wasn’t supposed to wind up dead. Now Danny has the attention of another notorious gangster.
Carmine Battaglia is intrigued by the Irish thieves who would have made off with a huge score if not for il Sacchi’s death. They’re cunning, careful, and exactly what he needs for his rum running operation. But Danny’s already lost two brothers to the violence between New York’s Irish and Sicilian gangs, and he’s not about to sell his soul to Carmine.
With a gangster’s blood on his hands, Danny needs protection, whether he likes it or not. And that’s to say nothing of the generous pay, which promises to pull him and his crew—not to mention their families—out of destitution.
Working together brings Danny and Carmine to a détente, then to something so intense neither can ignore it. Something nearly enough to make them both forget the brutal tensions between their countrymen.
But the death of Ricky il Sacchi hasn’t been forgotten. And someone is determined to make Danny bleed for it.
The Venetian and the Rum Runner is a 144,000-word gay historical romantic suspense novel set during Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties.
CW: graphic violence, PTSD
The Venetian and the Rum Runner is a historical mafia novel set in the Prohibition era. This is different from L.A. Witt‘s usual contemporary offerings but it has her trademark style of making the MCs go through hoops of fire before giving them their very hard-earned happy endings.
The story brings together two men who were traditionally enemies. Danny Moore, leader of a gang of Irish thieves, found himself a wanted man when he inadvertently killed an Italian mobster. Having heard of the incident and duly impressed with the gang’s ingenuity in pulling off their heist (also grateful for reasons later revealed) Carmine Battaglia sought out the gang to hire them for rum running in exchange for his protection.
Understandably, Danny and his gang wanted nothing to do with it at first. Italian mobsters were the reason Danny’s brothers were dead. Until pressing needs forced his hand and he reluctantly accepted the job. And so begins a very profitable business relationship and a simmering attraction that neither men expected.
This is a long book. It took me a while to get into the first few chapters of the story but the rich atmosphere and the authentic vibe kept me hooked. I loved the 1920s setting. The writing effortlessly took me to that glamorous era of smoky speakeasies and creative alcohol consumption.
There was a whole lot of black market items being moved around because people were thirsty and thirsty people were desperate. Alcohol was prescribed as “medicine”. People disguise the stuff in tea cups. Hidden compartments and escape hatches were at the ready in case of a raid. These parts alone were super interesting. It was pretty well-researched. The rich historical details really made the 1920s come alive.
I had fun reading about the various clever schemes Danny and his gang came up with for their rum running activities. The story did a good job providing ample page-time for the lads. Although I must say that the best character is Danny’s bestfriend, James the priest. He gave the most sensible advise I’ve ever heard from a priest. There’s also a twist involving him that I never, ever expected. I hope he gets his own story because this holy man has a lot to tell.
The romance was a slow, slow burning flame, full of longing looks and heated gazes that you can FEEL from across the room. In an age of secrecy and circumspection, the two would be like, “am I just seeing what I wanted to see?“. And I wanted to scream, yes, he IS looking at you like that!
Danny and Carmine kept it strictly business for most of their interactions. But the tension between them was so palpable, had there been a third person in the room, they would certainly have no doubts about what these two men wanted.
This had dual POV but I felt it was more Danny’s story than Carmine’s. Carmine spent most of the time in his office. He had no qualms doing business with Irishmen. He was also accepting of his attraction to Danny from the get go. There wasn’t much development to his character but I liked him all the same.
It was Danny who had the most progression. He had to deal with his remaining brother who disapproved of his chosen path. He had to fight his attraction to an Italian. He had to reconcile with his core beliefs. When he did, he made the first move. That scene! I had to hold my breath because it was a beautiful wordless declaration done so excruciatingly slow and careful and gentle and sweet.
Later on, the story took a tragic turn and stakes were raised even higher. This is what I loved most about L.A. Witt. She always creates these no way out scenarios that seem virtually impossible for her boys to get out of, much more, have a happy ending. Then she would have them pull off these daring, deadly maneuvers where they escape by the skin of their teeth.
Danny and Carmine did just that and even found a way to be together. Although I wasn’t as satisfied with the resolution as I would have liked. It was a realistic HFN, given the time period and the situation but I couldn’t help wishing for something different, perhaps something with less goodbyes.
According to the author, The Venetian and The Rum Runner was inspired by a conversation with Michael Ferraiuolo. He’s also the one who narrated it. He is my all time favorite narrator and he really poured all his talents in bringing the characters and their accents to life! His bad guy voices were especially nastily good. I definitely recommend experiencing this fabulous intoxicating historical in audiobook form.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Double Trouble: Double Or Nothing – Cari Z & L.A. Witt
Rich Cody joined the U.S. Marshals to hunt down bad guys, not babysit witnesses. Orders are orders, though, and now he’s protecting a hacker with ties to the Albanian and Sicilian mobs. It’s just another exciting day in WITSEC.
Leotrim Nicolosi was born into a world of crime and bloodshed. When that bloodshed hits too close to home, taking down Leo’s boyfriend—the son of a notorious mob boss—Leo is determined to destroy the Grimaldi family. He’s got evidence that will send every last Grimaldi to prison, he’s got the family’s wealth in an electronic chokehold, and he’s got a vendetta that can only be settled with the blood of the man who killed his lover.
When a routine transfer to a safehouse goes horribly wrong, Rich and Leo narrowly escape with their lives. With the Marshals compromised and Leo being framed for murder, he and Rich are on the run from criminals and law enforcement alike. They have no one to trust except each other, and nowhere to go that their enemies can’t reach.
And the only way out might mean making a deal with the Devil.
This novel is approximately 77,000 words.
How far will you go to keep a witness safe?
Rich Cody found out exactly how far the hard way when he was assigned Leotrim Nicolosi, a hacker holding information that will bring mafia families down. His transfer to a safehouse went to shit and the Marshal and his witness found themselves on the run from not only the Albanian and Sicilian mob but from several law enforcement agencies as well. There was no one they can trust, not the police nor the US Marshals, nor the FBI. The mob has a long reach.
Double Or Nothing hit the ground running with a shootout that set the fast-paced action/suspense vibe throughout the book. There was no rest for the weary, Rich and Leo were constantly on the move, driving from one point of the American heartland to the opposite end. The only downtime they had was in the missile silo/bunker when they asked Rich’s marine buddy for help.
I loved how the authors kept several levels of tension going. The book was very effective in the giving off that constant sense of danger hanging like the Sword of Damocles over Rich and Leo’s heads. Meanwhile, the sexual tension was a simmering slow burn that went nuclear in the missile silo.
Beyond their romantic connection, there was Rich’s unwavering loyalty to his witness and his duty as a Marshal. I loved his dogged determination to see things through to the end. Grieving the loss of his lover, Leo is equally determined to bring down his killers. The two men took on an entire mob. They didn’t hold anything back.
The book would make a great action movie. There’s a lot of explosions and gunfights and car chases that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There were twists and turns, double crosses and close calls. It was one heck of a mission.
There was one scene at the end, where they both just went through hell and Rich thought he lost Leo. That part where he was hugging him while shaking with shock and exhaustion was one of the most poignant moments. You can really feel his heart exploding with emotions. Mine did just that.
So just how far will you go to keep a witness safe? For US Marshall Rich Cody, all the way.
Double Trouble is a duology and best read when you already have both books in hand. Double Or Nothing ends with a cliffhanger. Rich and Leo’s mission continues in Doubling Down.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Hitman Vs Hitman – Cari Z & L.A. Witt
Ricardo Torralba and August Morrison don’t agree on much besides the fact that they hate each other. According to Ricardo, August is a spoiled brat who really needs to knock off the sass once in a while. August insists that Ricardo needs a sense of humor, a good lay, or a well-placed bullet. Maybe all three.
Fortunately, the assassin’s profession is a solitary one, and they can go about their lives without getting in each other’s way.
When a contracted hit turns out to be a setup for both of them, they narrowly escape with their lives. Now, even if they don’t like it (spoiler: they don’t), August and Ricardo have to work together if they want a shot at survival.
In between firefights and questionable interrogation methods as they hunt down their would-be killer, the cranky assassins discover that under all that mutual loathing is a spark of chemistry they can’t ignore. They want to ignore it, they probably should ignore it, but August can’t help flirting to annoy Ricardo, and Ricardo can think of at least one way to shut him up for a while.
But they need to focus, damn it, and figure out who’s gunning for them and why.
Assuming they don’t kill each other first.
Hitman vs Hitman is a standalone gay romantic suspense featuring two men who’d rather chew glass than fall for each other, a whole lot of inappropriate comments, and some buttons that will need resewing.
L.A. Witt and Cari Z had wowed me with their awesomely co-written series, Bad Behavior. Their latest book, Hitman Vs Hitman is a fun, explosive romp oozing with USTs between two hired guns who were contracted to take on an assignment that was set up to get them both killed.
Hitmen all over the world are ranked in a website called Rate My Hit. It’s where clients post reviews worded as satirical comments.
The #1 hitman according to the website is Ricardo Torralba. He’s a born planner who has a trunk full of props and costumes that lets him slip through security. He’s of Spanish descent but he can change his accent when undercover. He’s a grumpy, taciturn fellow with a drawer filled with burner phones.
And #2 on the chart is August Morrison, an unlikely person for such occupation. He is publicly known as the son of a billionaire. His mansion is built like Bruce Wayne’s. He loves clothes. Wears designer suits to his assignments. And jeeesus, when is he going to shut up?!
This book moved fast, much like the way Ricardo and August were constantly on the run from whoever had them in their crosshairs. They paused long enough to come up with a plan to turn things around. Along the way, their combustible combination finally combusted and they discovered, that despite their very obvious differences, they’re really good together in more ways than they expected.
The chemistry is off the charts! The sexual tension adding piquancy to the already strained interactions of two men on edge. I love the way these two threw off fireworks while constantly bickering. And that they took time before jumping each other’s bones.
I do think the way their backstories were presented could have been stronger. While we get a good picture of Ricardo’s and August’s personalities, I felt their pasts could have been explored further. We learn more about August and his quirks. Also him with his famous billionaire face, going about his secret missions sans disguise and not recognized is stretching it.
Majority of the book is spent uncovering the identity of the person who set them up. The mystery wasn’t hardcore mindboggling and you can kind of expect who the bad guy was. Still, it was an intriguing enough plotline.
We get an HFN that left some things open in case the authors decide to give us a sequel. I wish they would because that conclusion certainly felt like the start of events that will shake up the charts. I liked that Ricardo and August did not retire as is usually the case when assassins are given their happy endings.
Overall, Hitman Vs Hitman is light, humorous, suspenseful with OTT stunts and a lot of ridiculousness, mostly from August. It might not be a bullseye but it still hit its target.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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