Review: Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’Connor

Review: Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’ConnorShelter My Heart (Caught Up in Love, #2) by L.G. O'Connor
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Caught Up in Love #2
Pages: 348
Published by Collins-Young Publishing LLC on May 16th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads


Two Weeks. One Life-Changing Proposal.

Devon, an ailing, young CEO-in-training due to inherit his dead father's conglomerate saves the day for Jenny, an engaged young woman on her way home to see her family. To repay his kindness, she agrees to be his date for his family's annual society gala and convince the board that he's healthy and going to marry. Two weeks are all Devon needs, and two weeks are all Jenny can give--until the stakes rise, forcing Jenny to answer the question: How far is she willing to go to save Devon's life?


Shelter My Heart is a Kindle Scout Winner

Contemporary Romantic Women's Fiction - New Adult, Billionaire Romance

My Review:

I picked this book because I absolutely loved what turned out to be the first book in this series. Caught Up in Raine was a terrific younger man/older woman romance, and if you like that trope I recommend it highly.

Although that book was Jillian and Raine’s story, the author decided to continue to follow the women in Jill’s family after Jill found her HEA. Shelter My Heart is her niece Jenny’s story, and the third book in the series will hopefully answer all the questions about whatever happened between Jenny’s mother Kitty (Jill’s sister) and family friend John Henshaw. We’ll see in a couple of weeks, as I’m scheduled to review that book, Surrender My Heart, in a couple of weeks.

But Shelter My Heart is Jenny and Devon’s story, and it’s a doozy.

As this story begins, Jenny is trying to rush all the way across the country to be there for Jillian when she has her baby. And things keep getting in her way. Not just the fight she has with her fiance on her way out the door, but even her airline connections are against her.

Jillian’s been rushed to the hospital, and Jenny is stuck in the middle of nowhere because her incoming flight and her outbound flight missed each other. It happens. But there are no coach seats on any of the remaining flights outbound, and tomorrow might be too late. Jillian’s is a high-risk pregnancy, and there are complications. Jenny needs to be there.

A knight in bespoke suit armor comes to her rescue, paying for her first-class ticket home. And, as it turns out, the seat right beside him. And that’s where our story really begins, with Devon Soames and Jenny Lynch on a plane together, discovering that they each have the ability to take the other one out of themselves, in spite of everything that is going wrong in their lives.

Jenny’s problems, in spite of the current scare over Jillian and her baby, are mostly either of her own making or completely beyond her control. She knows her engagement should be over, she’s just having a difficult time formalizing the ending, both to her family and to the douchebag in question.

She’s also lived through a lot of death. Four people close to her have died in the past few years, one every other year. And even though none of those deaths are remotely her fault, the events that surround the first one have made her feel cosmically responsible for the others.

Devon, on the other hand, is pretty much in the middle of a crap sandwich that isn’t his fault. But that white-knight syndrome of his won’t let him do anything but sacrifice himself and all he has in the hope of making things better for his sister and his invalid mother, if not for himself.

Jenny has the feeling that death is following her around. Devon, on the other hand, is very definitely dying. He survived cancer, but the chemotherapy he needed did a permanent number on his kidneys, and they’re failing fast. He needs a transplant to survive.

The problem is that pretending that he is completely healthy is absolutely required to keep his repulsive half-brother from taking over his late father’s company. And taking over that company is the only way to provide enough money to give his mother the care that she will need for the rest of her life.

Devon feels as if he has no future. And he might not. But meeting Jenny makes him dream about happy endings again – no matter how much he tries to convince himself that they are not for him.

Until they very nearly aren’t. The end. Almost.

Escape Rating B+: This is the kind of melodramatic, soap-opera-ish, angsty romance that you just want to eat up with a spoon. And I very nearly did – I finished in a day. As crazy as some of the situations are, there is a lot of heart in this story and I just could not stop reading until the end.

This is a story where pretty much everything piles on. There are so many points where it is angsty well past the point of melodrama, because just so much happens, and it is all a bit over the top.

And most of it happens to poor Devon.

Jenny did have a tragedy in her past, but it looms bigger in her memory than she is actually responsible for. And while her about-to-be-ex-fiance is a douche, but there’s absolutely nothing stopping Jenny from kicking him to the curb, with or without Devon in the mix.

Devon, on the other hand, seems to have drawn most of the rotten cards out of the deck. He is rich, and that’s the one thing that falls mostly right for him, except his wealth is threatened and may even be temporary.

Devon’s Dad was a real, honest-to-goodness (or make that honest-to-badness) douchecanoe of epic proportions, and it’s those proportions that Devon is dealing with, in addition to caring for his invalid mother, imminent kidney failure, and staving off a corporate takeover.

When Devon, who is not yet 25, was undergoing cancer treatment, douchecanoe daddy changed his will to leave the family corporation to Devon if and only if Devon was pronounced healthy and able to provide an heir to the family on his 25th birthday. If he dies, can’t pass a physical or doesn’t have a sperm count (Devon had testicular cancer, so this is more relevant than it seems), the company will go to his half-brother, who is an even bigger asshat than dear old dad. Which is saying something since said half-brother is the product of daddy’s adulterous affair, not a previous or subsequent marriage.

And oh by the way, this “boys club” arrangement completely disregards the existence of Devon’s twin sister, who is an absolute shark as far as executive material is concerned. She is a better CEO for the company than either Devon or the bastard, a fact which Devon fully acknowledges but that dear old dad refused to admit on account of her gender. Like I said, Daddy was a douche.

There also turns out to be enough corporate skulduggery going on to fill an entire season of a soap opera like Dallas or Dynasty, but it does mostly take a back seat to the romance between Jenny and Devon – even though he refuses to open up about all the shit that’s going down in his life until generally the last possible moments. Over and over again.

In the end, it’s the love story that carries this tale. The reader is caught up in the two of them, as they fall in love, and its the real deal, in spite of how brief a time they’ve known each other and all the crap that they are forced to wade through. You want them to find their HEA, even though Devon is frequently too boneheaded to let Jenny in.

His sister Lettie blames that on a combination of white-knight syndrome and testosterone poisoning, with an emphasis on the testosterone poisoning. She is often the person pushing them together, and definitely the one pushing Devon to reveal all before it’s too late.

Lettie really deserves her own happy ending. She’s earned it. And I hope the series extends long enough for her to get one. But wrap Shelter My Love and it’s story up in a very pretty, neatly tied bow. In spite of the long arm of coincidence, and the octopus tentacles of family greed and corporate shenanigans, this one is like dark chocolate, yummy and gooey with just that touch of bitter to make the sweet really pop!

Review: Off the Leash by M.L. Buchman

Review: Off the Leash by M.L. BuchmanOff the Leash (White House Protection Force #1) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: White House Protection Force #1
Pages: 210
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 26th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

-White House Protection Force Romance #1-

The White House Protection Force Saves the Day! Come meet the behind-the-scenes specialists who keep our White House safe—even while they lose their hearts.

White House Chocolatier Clive Andrews takes pride in the subliminal messages hidden in his State Dinner showstoppers. But there’s more than sensual sweets at risk when his heart begins to melt.

Sergeant Linda Hamlin left the Army after a decade of service. As the newest member of the U.S. Secret Service K-9 Team she expected flak. She didn’t expect to be paired with a misfit mutt named Thor. Together they face down bombers, master spies, and a teenage genius.

All of which might be manageable, if not for the handsome chocolatier who teaches her that a little indulgence can be a very good thing.

My Review:

This was so much fun!

I don’t know what I was expecting when I opened this book, but whatever it was, I was absolutely charmed by the book itself. The opening scenes sucked me right in, where Sergeant Linda Hamlin meets her new dog, Thor, as part of her final exam for the Secret Service K-9 corps.

Linda was just honorably discharged from the Army Rangers K-9 unit after over a decade of very meritorious service. Now she’s a bit burned out and totally at loose ends.

Thor is not what she thought she needed, and neither is White House chocolate chef Clive Andrews.

First there’s poor little Thor. I know it’s difficult to attach the name “Thor” to something little, but this mutt seems to have gotten the name as a very bad joke. He’s a mish-mash of small terrier breeds, and not exactly the prettiest mix of them either. He looks like a purse dog, and he’s not much bigger – maybe 30 pounds. That’s not just small for a police dog, it’s downright tiny.

But he comes with one hell of a training pedigree, if not much of an actual one. Thor and Linda bond instantly, and pass the final exam course with flying colors – much to the chagrin of the exam proctor.

There’s nothing about Clive’s job as a White House chef that should have him watching Linda’s final exam. But when the mysterious Miss Watson, who occupies a hidden office in the White House sub-basement and seems to be on no known org chart whatsoever, says go here and do thus-and-such, people go there and do whatever she said. She “asked” Clive to watch Linda’s final test, so he does.

And he’s instantly captivated.

As Linda gets settled into her new duties as part of the White House Secret Service, she and Thor find themselves in the middle of a case that begins with diplomatic repercussions, but just gets weirder and weirder as it goes along.

It’s possible that two career Japanese diplomats are attempting to smuggle explosives into or near the White House – but that makes no sense whatsoever. And the more that Linda looks into the things that don’t fit about that puzzle, the stranger things seem.

When the likeliest, but oddest, conclusion is that someone is planning to disrupt a state dinner that brings Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian and Philippine diplomats to the table to discuss the real-life situation in the South China Sea, there’s still no clue as to why, who, or what the purpose of the disruption is.

It’s only when Linda, with a bit of help from Thor (and Clive) figures out the who that the why and the what become clear. And in the process, Linda, who has never really felt she belonged anywhere or with anyone, finally realizes that she’s come home.

Escape Rating A-: This was fun. In fact, it was way more fun that I was expecting, and I was certainly expecting good things. This is the second book I’ve received as a member of the M.L. Buchman Special Mission Review Team, and based on the two examples (the other was Big Sky, Loyal Heart) I’m really, really glad I’m in it.

(I received this book in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I loved it!)

Big Sky, Loyal Heart turns out to be the precursor for Off the Leash and the entire White House Protection Force series, of which this is the first book. But many of Buchman’s series are loosely interconnected, from his first series, Night Stalkers, through Firehawks, Delta Force and Henderson’s Ranch, among others. You don’t have to read them all to enjoy any one of them, but they are all terrific.

There are two plot threads going on in Off the Leash. One is the case that Linda finds herself in the middle of, and the other is her unexpected romance with Clive. Well, it’s certainly unexpected to her, if not to the reader after their first meeting.

While I want to say the romance is a bit of “opposites attract” the more I think about it, the less that feels right. Their careers are certainly nothing alike. Linda has gone from the military to the Secret Service, so effectively into yet another protective role that involves a lot of potential danger. Clive’s career is a totally peacetime operation – he’s a chef! But both of them are driven to be the best at what they do, and both of their jobs, in very different ways, are high pressure, high stress and frequently all consuming. They have similar perspectives on their work, even if the work is very different.

They also have entirely different feelings about love and family and well, feelings. While Clive has not exactly been looking for Ms. Right when he meets Linda, he is very aware that love exists and that families are built upon that foundation. Linda, on the other hand, was a poor little rich girl with a nightmare of a family, and is certain that love is merely a hormonal imbalance that will right itself with time. Their differing beliefs on love and even its existence become the shoals on which their relationship nearly crashes and burns.

The case feels just a bit made-for-television. It was a lot of fun to watch Linda figure it all out, but the resolution was just a bit over the top. We don’t really see enough of the villain or his motivations for the crime to make sense in context. Which didn’t make it any less interesting seeing the whole thing come together.

One final note. That secondary character, Miss Watson, absolutely fascinates me. A long time ago, when I read the author’s first book, The Night is Mine, I said then that the story reminded me of some of the best Jack/Sam fanfiction from Stargate SG-1. Miss Watson, on the other hand, reminds me very much of the inimitable character of Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, the mysterious operations manager in NCIS: Los Angeles. Making the character of Miss Watson tall with her hair in a bun feels like the cosmetic equivalent of filing off the serial number. This is a character I am really looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of. She’ll never be the focus of one of the romances, except possibly in flashback, but she certainly is the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma, and I’d love to know more.

I’m also definitely looking forward to seeing more of this series. Off the Leash was both a heartfelt romance and a page-turning bit of romantic suspense. And Thor is a scene-stealer at every turn. I can’t wait for more!

Review: Hell Squad: Levi by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Levi by Anna HackettLevi (Hell Squad, #15) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #15
Pages: 182
Published by Anna Hackett on January 29th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, a bad boy berserker collides with a spunky mechanic on a dangerous sabotage mission.

Levi King has always lived rough. Raised by a biker dad, he fought for everything he had—including being president of the Iron Kings motorcycle club. But when the aliens invaded, he lost it all. Now he wades through the muck with his fellow berserkers, fighting to protect the last of the human survivors. He fights hard and parties harder, and follows no one’s rules but his own. But then he finds himself fascinated by a mouthy, auburn-haired mechanic who isn’t afraid to give him a piece of her mind.

Chrissy Hagan survived months of alien captivity and now she’s found a purpose at the Enclave—as mechanic in charge of the armored Hunter vehicles. She keeps her babies purring…and hates every scratch the soldiers put on them, especially when a certain arrogant, cocky, and annoying biker is responsible. Did she mention annoying? What about tattooed, man-bunned, and far too sexy? Chrissy and Levi do more than strike sparks of each other…they start full blown infernos, and she isn’t afraid to use her wrench on his hard head when required.

But then a vital mission requires Chrissy to step out of the safety of the Enclave, and sabotage and steal an alien vehicle. Working side by side, desire burns white-hot. Levi discovers he will give everything he’s got to keep Chrissy safe and claim her as his…if they both get through the deadly mission alive.

My Review:

OK, we’re now 15 books into the Hell Squad series. And it’s still pretty damn awesome.

This is a post-apocalyptic science fiction romance series that will even work for people who don’t generally like post-apocalyptic science fiction. Like me. In a way, the series is kind of an extended version of the first Independence Day movie. The aliens have landed, and they are determined to wipe out humanity and strip the planet. (Or absorb humanity and strip the planet, as the Gizzida definitely have some Borg-like features).

Unlike the movie, instead of the happy ending where the aliens get kicked off Earth with extreme prejudice happening relatively quickly, and before all of the planetary-wide organization has been wiped out, the Hell Squad series stretches out over a relatively long period of time. At this point in the series we’re definitely a couple of years into the mess, and the human population has been decimated, using something closer to the original meaning of the term. But instead of one person in ten being wiped out, the results of the Gizzida invasion have been more like the other way around – one person in ten has survived.

The series focuses on one group of survivors in Australia. The inhabitants of the Enclave have been taking the fight to the Gizzida, and the aliens are determined to wipe out this last bastion of resistance by any means available. And they are unfortunately very, very inventive at thinking up new ways of targeting the remaining human population.

While all of the books in this series are definitely romances, there is an overarching story about the ongoing resistance to the Gizzida  as well as the neverending search for a way to kick them off our Earth. (I’m really, really looking forward to that story!)

In each story in the series, the romances have featured different people among the resistance. While the original story (Marcus) was all about the romance between one of the soldiers and the squad communications officer, as the series has unfolded the romances have featured every sort of person who would be needed to keep a place like the Enclave running.

In the case of this particular story, the romance is between Levi, one of the members of the Berserker Squad, and Chrissy, an ace mechanic in the equivalent of the motor pool. If it has an engine, Chrissy can fix it, armor it up and keep it running, no matter what.

But as a woman who has always worked in a man’s world, she’s kept her heart to herself. As someone who was once a prisoner of the Gizzida, she also highly values her freedom. That combination has meant that she keeps herself to herself, does her job, and is not impressed by the high-testosterone members of the Squads. Not until Levi breaches her defenses.

As with many books in the series, a situation arises where the noncombatant partner has to go on a mission that will put them directly in harm’s way. In this case, the Gizzida have flooded an area near their Sydney Airport base, and are obviously building something that they don’t want the humans to see. It’s up to Chrissy to help steal one of their amphibious vehicles and help drive it into the underwater compound so that the Berserkers can investigate at close quarters.

And of course the mission goes pear-shaped. Until Chrissy saves the day. And her man.

Escape Rating B+: The first third of this book, while a lot of fun, felt a lot like previous books in the series. A lot of patterns have developed over the course of the series and they are pretty easy to spot. Still fun to read, though.

Howsomever, at about ⅓ of the way in, the book suddenly grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I have no idea why, but once I hit that point, I was all in for the rest of the wild ride.

One of the things that I love about this series is the way that the author keeps expanding the base. It’s not just soldiers, and the women are never damsels in distress. We see all the people who are needed to keep a place like this, and a resistance, up and running and taking it to the enemy. Every single person is busy, and everyone contributes something to the fight.

Chrissy is a terrific heroine for this series. Like many of the women, she’s both strong and vulnerable. That she was a prisoner of the Gizzida and was rescued gives her a different perspective on life in the Enclave. She never mourns what she lost in the invasion – only who she lost. But after her imprisonment, she sees every tiny luxury as a gift to be grateful for. And she is.

I liked Chrissy as a character quite a bit, as was happy to see her find her Happy for Now. All the romances in this series are all HFNs, not for the usual reasons, but because the Now is so precarious.

I hope to see them all become HEAs when the Gizzida get kicked back into space – or into Hell – for good. Hopefully in the not too distant future.

Review: Rogue by Anna Hackett

Review: Rogue by Anna HackettRogue (Galactic Gladiators #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Pages: 202
Published by Anna Hackett on November 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing she expects is to be claimed by a handsome alien rogue. Rogue contains two action-packed novellas in the Galactic Gladiators series.

Information Rogue: arrogant information merchant Zhim doesn’t know what hits him when he collides with feisty human hacker Ryan.

Rescued by the humans and gladiators from the House of Galen, Ryan Nagano is working hard to piece her life back together. Her priorities are conquering her anxiety, recovering from her captivity, and using her exceptional computer skills to help the House of Galen decrypt alien data that could reveal the location of other abducted humans. That’s all she’s focused on. But when she needs help, she finds herself having to work with arrogant genius Zhim…and discovers that the two of them redefine the word explosive.

Zhim thrives on the need to uncover information and ensure his wealthy, carefully constructed life is exactly as he wants it. Then one infuriating menace of a woman blasts into his life. Ryan matches him skill for skill, drives him crazy, and worms her way under his skin. But forced to take her deep into Kor Magma’s shadowy hacker underworld, Zhim soon learns exactly what he’s willing to risk to keep Ryan safe.

Desert Rogue: prickly, independent human Neve doesn’t want or need any help…but a certain cocky desert rogue isn’t taking no for an answer.

Neve Haynes survived her abduction through grit and determination. She’s always made her own way through life, depends on no one, and is determined to achieve her own personal mission. So as she sneaks out of the House of Galen, the last thing she needs is help in the form of a tawny-haired, lean-hipped caravan master with more confidence and swagger than any man she’s met before.

Corsair is a man of the desert and leader of the Corsair Caravan. He listens to his gut and something about Neve draws him in. He can’t let her go off and get herself killed, but she’s the most skittish, strongest woman he’s ever met. As they trek deep into the desert on a dangerous mission to find a map to an infamous desert arena, they will fight side by side and be forced to depend only on each other to survive. And in Carthago’s desert sands, they will uncover a desire that burns hotter than the desert sun

My Review:

Unlike the rest of the Galactic Gladiators series, Rogue consists of two novelettes instead of a single novella. The stories center around a bit of a theme, in that both of the heroes are rogues – as much anti-hero as they are hero, and more in the mold of a rogue-type character in a video game than the gladiators themselves, who are straight-up tanks. Not just tanks, but definitely tanks, big and strong and hard fighters who can take a lot of punishment – even the female gladiators.

But worlds don’t consist entirely of straightforward fighters, not even worlds whose economy is based on old-style gladiatorial contests. Fortunately for the gladiators, these interstellar blood and sand games have lots of very high-tech healing operating in the background.

But the heroes of Rogue are cut from another cloth entirely. The first story features the information merchant and data-hacker Zhim, our second hero is Corsair, leader of the desert caravan that assisted in the rescue of the women re-captured from House Galen by the Srinar.

Zhim, the hero of Information Rogue, has been part of the series almost from its beginning. As Galen discovered that there were more victims from Earth than he first believed, he reached out to Zhim to help him discover who they were, where they were hidden and how best to rescue them. As the series has progressed, Zhim’s services have been in increasing demand, hunting not just for any remaining Earth captives but also for any other people or creatures who have been enslaved and need rescue.

He’s also figured out a way – a very expensive way – for the Earth refugees to “call home” – because they are stuck on the far side of a collapsed wormhole and can’t go home again. He’s been a lifeline in so many ways, and now it’s his turn to find the woman he belongs to, and very much vice versa.

While many of the stories in this series have featured opposites attract romances, Zhim and Ryan have much more in common than they have differences. Both are their own galaxy’s variety of nerds, hackers and info-junkies who lust after the latest hardware almost as much as they discover they lust after each other.

But it takes a lot for two people who both have serious trust issues to give anyone else the cipher key to their hearts.

In Desert Rogue it is Corsair’s turn to find his HEA. Corsair first appeared out of the desert sands at least as early as Champion, if not before. It is his caravan that Galen trusts to help rescue the women who were kidnapped a second time while under his protection. And Corsair keeps coming back to help as the gladiators find themselves returning to the desert over and over to rescue more slaves and break up more underground fight rings.

Neve Haynes is a fascinating choice for Corsair. She’s a very different character from many in the series, because she has a hidden agenda, hiding under yet another hidden agenda, and its hidden agendas pretty much all the way down. She was on the Jupiter Station as a corporate spy, and she’s used to hiding herself in plain sight and operating completely alone.

Now that she’s stuck on Kor Magna, her agenda has shifted. She needs to rescue her sister, who is still in the hands of the slavers. But as much experience as Neve has in operations under all types of deadly conditions, there are no deserts in space. Or in the corporate headquarters she used to prowl. She may want to rescue Ever all on her own, but she needs Corsair’s help to navigate the deadly landscape that is second nature to him.

It takes her a long time to realize that she just needs Corsair, and it takes him every bit as long to convince her of what has become, for him, an unalterable fact.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed both of these stories, but I wish that they had both been a bit longer. Not that I don’t always wish that Anna Hackett’s stories were a bit longer, but that seemed particularly true in this case.

If these were not part of an already well-established series, there wouldn’t be nearly enough setup to make the stories work. As it is, the romances still felt a bit rushed, especially in Desert Rogue. While Zhim and Corsair have both been around for awhile, and Ryan and Zhim have been teasing each other over their version of the interwebs for a bit, Neve was barely introduced in the previous books, and her backstory is so different from everyone else’s that I really wanted to know more of what made her tick and especially about her relationship with her sister, particularly as Ever is set up to be the heroine of one of the future stories in this series.

But I’m always happy to receive a treat from Anna Hackett, and Rogue was no exception. It made for a great Thanksgiving read!

Review: Fury & Darkness by Anna Hackett

Review: Fury & Darkness by Anna HackettFury & Darkness (Warriors of the Wind #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, paranormal romance
Series: Warriors of the Wind #3
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on November 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The Warriors of the Wind are the only thing protecting humans from a centuries-old evil, but with their potential mates, the Aurae, long gone, these alpha warriors are in danger of becoming the very evil they hunt.

Note: Re-release. Fury and Darkness contains two short, sexy novellas. These are re-released stories originally published as Defying by the North Wind and Claiming the East Wind. They have been updated and have new scenes and/or extended scenes added.

Fury: his new personal assistant is hiding more than just dangerous curves under her suit.

Billionaire Luca Venti is CEO of Venti Enterprises and the Warrior of the volatile North Wind. He is used to giving orders and being in charge, and as he hunts a deadly Tempest Wind in the heart of Venice, he refuses to ask for help. But the vice of rage beats within him, and when he discovers his new personal assistant is really a spy, his fury demands to be unleashed.

Rayne Santini was sent to monitor Luca, not to get involved with him and his explosive temper. But as she watches him fight the evil he’s hunting and struggle against his vice, she refuses to stand by and do nothing. But convincing the stubborn Luca to accept her help is the biggest challenge she’s ever faced. Drawn together, their white-hot desire threatens to burn brighter than Luca’s fury…and as his control crumbles, the only thing standing between him and destruction is Rayne.

Darkness: a man on the verge of succumbing to the evil he fights.

Skye Santini has lived her life in the shadows and hiding from the horrors of her past. Tired of always being afraid, she vows that now is her chance to make a difference. She will be the sacrifice to appease Soren Venti, the Warrior of the East Wind, who has succumbed to his vice of greed. The fate of the world rests on her slim shoulders.

Locked away in his villa on Lake Como, Soren has no memory of his identity. He is driven only by the whispers of greed to take, own, and possess…but then one small woman enters his domain. Mesmerized by Skye’s quiet beauty and hidden strength, Soren finds something he wants more than everything else. But a dangerous enemy is bearing down on them. The final Tempest Wind wants Soren to join him and rule the world…and he knows that Skye is the only thing standing in his way

My Review:

Fury & Darkness is the final book in the author’s re-release of her Windkeepers (now titled Warriors of the Wind) series, following Tempest and Storm & Seduction. The stories are all novelette-length, so they are short treats. And that’s a good thing, because this stories are interconnected, and you really do need to read the series in order to get the overall story.

Not that the individual romances in each story aren’t plenty hot and steamy on their own. Also with a bit of sweet. Think of them as lucious, sinful, hot dark cocoa for a cold winter’s night.

That’s a particularly appropriate image for Fury, as that story is all about the Warrior of the cold North wind, Luca, and his nemesis Caecius, the Tempest Wind of the Northeast. Each of Warriors faces a lifelong internal battle to keep the darker side of their nature caged, just as the Tempest Winds themselves spend centuries trapped in the bodies of horses and caged on the island of Isola.

But the Tempest Winds were freed in Tempest, and the subsequent books have been the story of each of the Warriors mastering the darker side of their own natures and re-capturing the Tempest Winds before they can spread their particular version of darkness through the even more susceptible human population.

The power of the Northeast Tempest Wind is anger, and under its relenting onslaught, Luca can barely contain his own. At least, not until Rayne Sinclair, descendant of the Aurae who once aided the Warriors of the Wind, comes to his aid.

Just as her fellow Aurae have aided, and fallen for, Luca’s brothers in the previous stories. Like Luca, Rayne is also a warrior in her own way, fighting both to save Luca and to defy her own mother, the leader of the Aurae. And especially to defend her sister Skye.

Just as each of the Warriors has fought to master their nemeses and protect their own brothers, their fellow Warriors.

It might be best to consider this series a “venti” sized cup of that hot cocoa, as the Warriors of the Wind are the Venti Brothers, Lorenzo (Tempest), Dante (Storm), Antonio (Seduction), Luca (Fury) and Soren (Darkness)

Darkness is Soren’s story as he fights his battle against his own inner demon, Greed. A fight that he nearly loses, until Skye Santini enters his life. They both have their own internal demons to fight. Only together do they have a chance.

And that’s the story of all of the Warriors of the Winds. Only together with their Aurae do they have a chance of fighting those internal (and external) demons. And only together with their brothers do they have a chance of containing the worst of those demons for another century or two.

Mankind has enough trouble fighting off the worst impulses of anger, lust, greed and pride, without having them jacked up by the Tempest Winds.

Escape Rating B: This series is just plain fun. Hot, sweet and naughty fun. They are each little treats, like the most sinful of dark chocolate.

The stories do follow somewhat of a pattern, but that works for things that are this short. They brothers all do resemble each other, not just in looks but also in attitude. That’s not a surprise. After all, they are brothers.

But the women are all delightfully different, and that helps to differentiate the stories. Rayne in Fury is a protector, and she feels like she failed with her sister. (She didn’t) But that sense of failure is what motivates her to defy her mother and help Luca. And it also powers her desire to protect Skye, and Skye’s desire to finally stand on her own feet, that begins Darkness.

If you are looking for a short and naughty treat of a story (or five) start by picking up Tempest and be blown away!

Review: Beast by Anna Hackett

Review: Beast by Anna HackettBeast (Galactic Gladiators #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
Pages: 160
Published by Anna Hackett on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing starship pilot Mia expects is to find herself in the protective, brawny arms of a wild, blue-skinned alien.

Rescued by gladiators on the alien world of Carthago, Mia is working to find other abducted humans who are still lost. But someone else also needs her help—the untamed alien who’s saved her twice. Rescued from vicious fight rings he’s fought in since he was a child, Vek is prone to losing control in aggressive fits of rage…and Mia discovers that she is the only who can calm him. As she finds herself drawn to the man beneath the beast, she knows that with his enhanced senses, Vek can help her find her friends.

For years, all Vek’ker has known is death, darkness, and killing. Despite his newfound freedom, he is struggling to control his rages and withdrawal from the drugs his captors used on him. Only one scent soothes him, one voice calms him, and one woman is his light in the dark. Vek will do anything to protect Mia and make her happy…including vowing to find her friends.

With the gladiators from the House of Galen, Vek and Mia follow mysterious clues into a dangerous part of the desert on the trail of the missing humans. They are drawn closer together but as they enter the deadly Illusion Mountains, they have no idea of the dangers lying in wait for them, or how far they will both be pushed to their limits in order to survive.

My Review:

Whenever I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I can always trust one of Anna Hackett’s action-packed science fiction romances to sweep me away from whatever is going wrong. (She even got me through election night, and that’s seriously saying something!)

So I spent part of one day with a big, blue Beast and the woman who has captured his heart – every bit as much as he’s captured hers.

We met Vek’ker and Mia earlier in the Galactic Gladiators series. Vek’ker and Mia bonded at least somewhat when they were both trapped in the horrific Srinar fight rings. Even high on aggressive fight drugs, Vek protected Mia as best as he could. Once they were rescued by the House of Galen, she helped him begin to adjust. When she and two of her friends were recaptured in Champion and Mia was rescued in Barbarian, it was Vek’s abilities that helped bring Mia back “home”.

But there are still two human women missing, and there have been rumors of a third who doesn’t seem to have been part of the original group captured by the intergalactic slavers. They have a lead, but it’s a slim one. The women have been taken to the Illusion Mountains, and that illusion is no joke.

People see things, people lose things and people lose themselves, way out there where no one dares to go. But they must, if they are to rescue Ryan and Dayna.

And get their revenge on the people who have raided the House of Galen yet again, and killed more of its gladiators in their desire to keep the twisted, underground fight rings running – and to keep the profits from those rings flowing.

It’s a dangerous trek across deserts filled with death borers (think sandworms on steroids with a taste for live meat) into the elusive Illusion Mountains.

And once there, a deadly race to elude the slave traders and rescue their friends. A race that is being streamed live to a galaxy of sick “sports” enthusiasts, and nearly costs Vek and Mia everything they have just barely found.

Escape Rating B+: I love this series. It’s a fascinating set up, and each of the stories exposes more of this side of the galaxy in general and the dangers of the planet Carthago in particular, while still telling a rollicking adventure tale and a sexy romance.

Each of the human women (and one man) who have found themselves on this distant world after the horrors of their capture also reaches for a different kind of future and a different kind of partner. Mia’s talent is in her voice, music that quite literally seems to have charms that soothe the savage beast – and the savage plant as well.

Vek’ker, on the other hand, is about as alien as it gets. The rest of the gladiators, with the exception of Thorin, seem to be more-or-less human. They are larger, and some have some special talents, but one gets the impression that they don’t look much different than the average NFL player in his prime. Vek, on the other hand, is blue. Not sad, although that too, but blue like sky, or like the cover picture.

He’s also just about as lost as Mia is. Mia, at least, knows who she is and where she’s from. She may not be able to get back there, but her identity is solid. Vek’ker was captured by slave traders so young that he has no memories of his home planet. He doesn’t even remember where he’s from.

Vek and Mia save each other, over and over again. At different times and in different ways, but she saves him just as often as he saves her.

And while she may have the security of knowing who she is and where she came from, she’s always felt just a bit inadequate. Her family back home consisted of a bunch of hard-charging, aggressive, ambitious, over-achievers. Mia always felt like she didn’t fit. With Vek she’s finally part of a whole that loves her, needs her and wants her exactly as she is.

She feels the same about him. It’s not his exotic nature that draws her, it’s his essential sweetness and protective nature, hidden under a dangerous persona. They work together, even though on the surface they shouldn’t.

In addition to the basic story, where one romance arrives at its HEA and one more human woman is rescued from something terrible, one final element of each story in this series is that the newly rescued human and one of her rescuers strike some serious sparks from each other in one way or another.

I think that by the end of Beast we saw the opening moves of not one but possibly three future romances. And I can’t wait!

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. Buchman

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. BuchmanWild Justice (Delta Force #3) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance
Series: Delta Force #3
Pages: 313
Published by Buchman Bookworks, Inc. on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

DELTA FORCE
The best counter-terrorism force on the planet.

SERGEANT DUANE JENKINS
• Elite Delta operator—explosives just make him grin •

AGENT SOFIA FORTEZA
• Top Intel Analyst for The Activity—thinks data is sexy•

The team must face their toughest mission yet: take down a massive human-trafficking ring and a corrupt Venezuelan spy agency—without leaving a trace.

Sofia and Duane.
In common: black sheep of extremely wealthy families, renegades against the status quo.
Differences: tactician vs. explosives expert, thinker vs. pure warrior.

Together: fight to keep their team alive, and their love.

My Review:

Wild Justice is a story with layers, like an onion. And also like an onion, some of those layers will make the reader at least sniffle a bit.

Like all of the Delta Force series, this is a story of a crack military team ghosting into someplace where angels fear to tread and governments fear to leave official footprints. Members of “the Unit” go in, they get the job done, and they were never there.

The series, which began with Target Engaged, is about one particular team of Delta operators. Not that they call themselves that. To its members, Delta is just “the Unit”, and they are the best of the best.

As this case begins, they are joined by an intelligence analyst from an equally elite but completely different U.S. Black Ops agency, one known only as “the Activity”.

Sofia Forteza has called in an operational unit to help her take down a Venezuelan military officer who is a local kingpin in the human trafficking cesspool. She’s found her dirtbag, she just needs help with the extraction as well as the rescue of the women and children he is currently holding.

What she gets is Duane Jenkins, nicknamed, of course, The Rock. He may not quite match up to the actor, but he gets damn close. Even more important, when he brings in the rest of his team, he trusts Sofia to have his back, and gives her just enough pointers to help her help him without ever insulting her capabilities or her intelligence.

And he helps her come down from her first field kill without thinking or acting as if she’s weak for any reason whatsoever.

Duane gives her respect, and Sofia is forced to admit that he’s the first man she hasn’t had to prove herself to, over and over and over, even within the top ranks of the elite units – or within her own family.

There’s something between them from the moment they meet, and it’s something that neither of them has ever experienced before. They are fortunate that their coinciding missions give them the chance to explore what it might be.

Even if neither of them believes that love is remotely possible. Not for who they are now, and not for what they came from. But just because neither Sofia nor Duane believes in love, that does not mean that it does not believe in them.

Escape Rating B+: Any reader who loves military romance should pick up the first book in M.L. Buchman’s series of interconnected books, The Night is Mine, and just binge. He starts with an elite SOAR unit, branches some of them off into an elite civilian wildfire fighting operation, and then links others to Delta Force. You don’t have to read all of them to get the sense of any individual book in the series, including this one, but they are all tremendously fun.

And Buchman has a gift for making sure that his female protagonists are every single bit the kick-ass warriors that his male protagonists are. And as they should be under the circumstances. But it’s not something that we see nearly enough.

Wild Justice operates on multiple layers. A big part of the story is the operations that the team takes on to help dent the human trafficking trade in South America. This part of the story is based on very real and very harrowing events. The civilian team they partner with is based on a real organization that works similarly to the way their fictional counterparts are portrayed.

In the middle of the operation, there’s also a romance. Of course there is. Unusual for this series, though, Sofia and Duane are both from similar backgrounds, both, in their own ways “poor little rich kids” who grew up with all the monetary advantages in the world but not much in the way of nurturing or moral support. Sofia had one person who had her back, her grandmother, the powerful owner of a premier wine-making company. However, she also had not merely a narcissistic and nasty mother, but also an abusive older brother.

Duane’s dad is a Coca-Cola executive, his mother is a high-powered attorney, and Duane is a disappointment to both of them. He chose to join the military to try to fix at least a few of the things that can’t be fixed with “a Coke and a smile.” They’ve never forgiven him, not that they ever gave much of a damn about him in the first place.

That both of them grew up as part of the 1% and chose a career in service to make a difference gives them something in common. It also means that Duane is not over-awed by the wealth of Sofia’s family’s winemaking empire – an empire that Sofia will someday inherit.

Although the course of true love never does run smooth, these are two people who plausibly have a chance, and also plausibly have a rocky road ahead of them. It works.

One final note. In the midst of the current #MeToo campaign, one scene early in the book had a tremendous amount of resonance. As part of a training mission, Duane and his Delta team, along with Sofia, take down a cruise ship being “held” by a Black Ops team from another agency. After the operation is over, Duane and Sofia overhear the “losing” team indulging in what is often dismissed as “locker room talk”. They are evaluating the women on the Delta team, including Sofia, by their physical attributes and discussing just how much they want to “punish” the women for beating them. It’s not just disgusting, it’s actual rape talk. Sofia wants to dismiss it. She’s fought this battle all of her life, and it never ends well for her. Her response is one that so many of us often make, that it’s only talk. That it doesn’t really matter. Or most tellingly, that it can’t be fixed.

What makes the scene stand out is the way that the Delta team does indeed “fix” it. As a unit. This is not something they will tolerate, not the men in the unit, and not the women. It’s a joint effort to make these assholes pay.

The physical payback meted out is relatively minor, but the response from the higher ups is stellar. Instead of dismissing the complaint, as we so often fear will happen, because it so often does happen, the perpetrators are punished severely with loss of jobs, loss of promotions, loss of assignments, retraining, black marks in their files. The authorities do what they are supposed to do, and what we always hope they do but frequently don’t. At the same time, there’s the very real world acknowledgement that the worst offenders will go out and offend somewhere else. The powers that be in both agencies can drum these bastards out, and get the word out to all their reputable contacts not to hire them. Which means that, unfortunately but all too likely, the less reputable outfits will hire them. But they have done everything they can reasonably do to pull the rotten apples out of their own barrel.

And that’s still a big win.

Review: Hell Squad: Ash by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Ash by Anna HackettAsh (Hell Squad #14) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #14
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on October 1st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, will the bad boy berserker catch the geeky tech genius?

Computer genius Marin Mitchell is doing her part to help humanity survive the raptor invasion, working tirelessly to decrypt alien data. She spends her days working and drooling over a certain tattooed, biker berserker from Squad Three. But Marin knows the rules: geeks do not snag sexy bad boys. She spends her nights playing her favorite computer game where she is a kick-butt badass, and a match for her mysterious online fight partner, SuperSoldier3.

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Ash Connors knows that whenever he reaches for something good, life slaps him back down. He gave up on his dreams a long time ago, and instead, focused on running his motorcycle club with his best friend. But after the alien invasion, he does what he does best, fight and take down the aliens. When cute, smart, and sweet Marin catches his eye, he tries to steer clear, but can't seem to stay away...online or in real life.

When Marin discovers information about a central alien data hub, her skills are needed to hack into the system. That means a deadly mission deep underground, right into the heart of alien territory. That throws her right into Ash's tattooed arms. As the sexy berserker fights to keep her safe, he also vows to show Marin that while she might follow the rules, he likes to break them.

My (Admittedly Squee-Filled) Review:

I’ve read the entire Hell Squad series so far, and pretty much loved every minute of it. But there’s something about this particular book that really, really worked for me. It took me a while to figure out exactly what made this one special.

It’s Marin, the heroine of the story. She’s a geek girl, and proud of it. She’s a valued member of Noah’s geek squad with a specialty in breaking Gizzida firewalls and hacking their tech. She’s also a girl gamer and one of the champions at the battle game that everyone in the Enclave is playing.

She knows who and what she is, and doesn’t apologize for any it, including the way she completely loses herself in a work the minute she has a new puzzle to solve, and doesn’t come up for air until the problem has been conquered.

She’s also a woman who knows how her world works, and one of the ways that the world works is that geek girls do not end up with hot bad boys. For any of us that grew up listening to Janis Ian’s incredible “At Seventeen”, Marin is a sister. She’s learned the truth that the rest of us have, that “love was meant for beauty queens” and that we aren’t among them.

Some of the heroines of some of the earlier Hell Squad books have been soldiers. While it’s fun to imagine being Claudia or Camryn, and it is fantastic to see them kick Gizzida ass, they are a couple of steps further into the fantasy of it all.

Geek girl Marin is a woman close to my heart. Claudia and Camryn read almost like Wonder Woman, where Marin is someone I could actually imagine wanting to be. It made her incredibly easy to identify with. I really wanted her to get her Happy For Now, but even more than that, I could see myself making some of her choices and also feeling many of her insecurities.

I hadn’t realized quite how much that would mean to my enjoyment of a story until I was in the thick of this one and just felt every step of her journey and loved it.

Escape Rating A-: I’m not going to do a traditional review for this one. If you even think that post-apocalyptic science fiction romance might be your jam, pick up the first book in this series, Marcus, and just dive in. Each individual story is a hot and sexy romance. And, there’s the overall arc of the series, all about the fight against the alien invaders and the need to kick them off Earth – with extreme prejudice to pay for all the death and destruction they’ve caused.

It’s a wild ride from the beginning to where we are now. And where we are now is that I think we’re seeing the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel, and I’m really hoping that it isn’t an oncoming train. It’s time for the Gizzida to go, hopefully with a stand up and cheer, kick their alien asses off our planet big scene just like the first Independence Day movie. Which the Hell Squad series will probably remind you of more than a bit.

I’ll stop squeeing now. Go forth and get ready to go to hell with the Hell Squad. Because the Gizzida devils really, really need an ass-kicking. And it’s all kinds of adventurous, sexy fun to watch the Hell Squad deliver it!

Review: Tramps and Thieves by Rhys Ford

Review: Tramps and Thieves by Rhys FordTramps and Thieves by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, mystery, romantic suspense
Series: Murder and Mayhem #2
Pages: 210
Published by Dreamspinner Press on September 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Whoever said blood was thicker than water never stood in a pool of it.

Retiring from stealing priceless treasures seemed like a surefire way for Rook Stevens to stay on the right side of the law. The only cop in his life should have been his probably-boyfriend, Los Angeles Detective Dante Montoya, but that’s not how life—his life—is turning out. Instead, Rook ends up not only standing in a puddle of his cousin Harold’s blood but also being accused of Harold’s murder…and sleeping with Harold’s wife.

For Dante, loving the former thief means his once-normal life is now a sea of chaos, especially since Rook seems incapable of staying out of trouble—or keeping trouble from following him home. When Rook is tagged as a murder suspect by a narrow-focused West L.A. detective, Dante steps in to pull his lover out of the quagmire Rook’s landed in.

When the complicated investigation twists around on them, the dead begin to stack up, forcing the lovers to work together. Time isn’t on their side, and if they don’t find the killer before another murder, Dante will be visiting Rook in his prison cell—or at his grave.

My Review:

Tramps and Thieves is a terrific follow up to its series opener, Murder and Mayhem. And it gets off to an equally explosive start. Last time it was a shoot out over a misidentified Wookie, this time it’s a prank heist that turns up a real murder, and nearly turns into one as well.

Rook Stevens has been fighting with most of his newly re-discovered family ever since his rich and eccentric grandfather discovered his existence back in the first book. His grandfather’s insistence on Sunday family dinners at his over decorated mansion have kept all the relationships on the boil – and none of them are brewing anything tasty.

So when his slimy cousin Harold winkles a collectible Maltese Falcon out from under Rook’s nose, Rook has to get it back. Being able to exercise his disused skills as a thief is just a bonus. Until Rook finds Harold in a pool of his own blood, with the contested Falcon resting on his corpse.

His killer tries to take Rook out on his way out, but when Rook calls the cops, he gets yet another variation of asshole who is just sure he must have committed the crime, and seems willing to bend the rules to make it stick.

LAPD Detective Dante Montoya rides to his lover’s rescue, and they find themselves in the midst of yet another pissing contest with a bad cop, and another trail of dead bodies that leads right to Rook’s door.

This time the question is whether it’s his own past that has caught up to him, again, or if it’s someone else’s. As Rook gets caught by one close call after another, he retreats to lick his wounds while Dante chases down the villains. Only to discover that it was Rook they were after all along.

And that he might be too late.

Escape Rating A-: If you like your romantic suspense with a heaping helping of chaos and destruction, this series is a winner from that first downed Wookie. In Tramps and Thieves, Rook and Dante are driven from crisis to crisis from the very first page, and the action doesn’t let up until the story winds to its breathtaking conclusion.

Where the first book, Murder and Mayhem, was all about Rook’s past reaching out to grab him, and his final decision to let it go, this second book is all about family. And both birth family and family-of-choice.

We see the influence of family-of-choice in Dante’s police partner’s reactions when Dante decides to investigate Rook’s sudden rash of problems on his own. They are partners, and the man rightfully will not let Dante go it alone, even if it is safer for his career.

Speaking of Dante’s partner, he is the link between this series and the fantastic Cole McGinnis series. And in a roundabout way, Cole almost gets dragged into this case. It’s always nice to hear that old friends are doing well.

But the heart of this case turns out to revolve around the birth family that Rook never knew he had until he stepped out of the shadows of his old life.

There are all sorts of variations on this saying, but the one that applies here is “You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your relatives.” Rook may be the spitting image of his grandfather as a young man, but the family that has gathered around Archie Stevens hoping for a piece of his massive estate hates Rook with nearly every fiber of their collective being – some of them with more reasons than others.

He has stepped into a stew of boiling resentment, one that splatters onto him because no one wants to challenge the old man. And it’s in that stew that the bodies are bubbling. It’s messy from beginning to end, and an absolute page-turner.

I can’t wait to see what kind of chaos finds Rook and Dante next. If you want to get in on their action, there’s a blog tour for Tramps and Thieves going on now, giving away $20 gift certificates at every stop. There’s also a bit of a prequel story being spun out over the course of the tour. Check it out!

Finally, I gift you with an earworm. I have had this damn song running in my head ever since Rhys sent me the eARC for this book. As the song very much fits Rook’s shady background, I had to share, even though I know that no one will thank me later.

Review: Fatal Charm by Blair McDowell

Review: Fatal Charm by Blair McDowellFatal Charm by Blair McDowell
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Pages: 252
Published by The Wild Rose Press on September 8th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful young jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.

With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already sizzling between the two ignite into passion?

My Review:

Like all of Blair McDowell’s marvelous books, Fatal Charm is a non-stop romantic suspense thrill ride from beginning to end. And in addition to the edge-of-your-seat danger that the heroine is dropped into, we have an enchanting love story as well as a great story about the depths of friendship and just how terrific the love of a family-of-choice can be.

Jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy is thrown into a boiling hot mess at the beginning of this story, and doesn’t manage to climb out until the very, very end. And the reader is right in the pot with her the whole time.

Her ex turns up dead. Except he’s not really her ex – not because they never broke it off, as seems usual in this kind of story, but because they never seem to have gotten it on in the first place. Allen Thompson was a friend who seemed to want to be more than that, but Caitlyn just never felt any spark.

Not getting any more deeply involved with Allen was possibly the wisest thing she’s ever done. Which doesn’t stop the man from landing her in the soup as he dies. At which point, Caitlin discovers not just that he’s left her with an epic mess, but also that nothing the man ever told her seems to have had much bearing on the truth.

Caitlin thought Allen was an accountant. From Canada. When in fact, he was a high-end thief, a very wanted man on the run, and from France. And those lies are only the beginning.

Allen left Cait with a very hot piece of jewelry, hidden among her samples and uncut stone. It’s a dragon. And everyone who has ever possessed the thing seems to have found themselves in a whole mess of fiery trouble – ending with Allen and Caitlin and beginning with Marie Antoinette. Allen, really Alain, stole the pretty little firebreather from the Louvre, and it’s been nothing but trouble before and since.

When two mysterious and nasty men steal first Caitlin’s sample case, then break into both her shop and her house, her defenders rally round and the mystery begins to unravel. It’s certainly unraveling Cait, while ravelling both her assistant Aristotle Jones and his professor Colin Stryker into the web.

Aristotle and Cait have been friends for five years. In spite of completely different origins, coming from entirely different places, Aristotle and Cait have become a family of choice. There is never any hint of romance, and there never was and never will be. They are brother-and-sister. But Aristotle is currently a doctoral candidate at Berkeley, and when he brings his mentor Colin Stryker to Cait to see if they can figure out what is going on with the little dragon, well, Colin’s feelings for Cait are anything but brotherly.

Still, both Aristotle and Colin close ranks firmly around Cait as they figure out where the dragon came from, what it is, how it ended up being Cait’s problem, and what they should collectively do about the deadly and disastrous little creature.

All the while dodging two increasingly desperate villains who are determined to get the dragon back and get revenge on anyone who keeps it from them, at any cost.

Escape Rating A-: Just as with all of this author’s work, Fatal Charm kept me going back to its mystery and adventure all day long, until I finally gave in and just finished it. I started at lunch and in spite of work and other annoying interventions, couldn’t stop myself from turning the last page after midnight. I just had to see how it all turned out.

The romantic part of this romantic suspense is both simple and complicated. On the simple side, it’s pretty clear that Colin and Cait fall for each other the minute they meet. On the complicated side, they both resist the pull, and for good and sensible reasons. Colin’s last attempt at real romance went down in flames. Cait, while she managed not to “settle” for Allen, is still left not trusting her own instincts. She never even suspected that he lied about EVERYTHING.

And there are plenty of more mundane factors keeping them apart as well. Colin is nearly 40, and worried that he’s a bit too old for the 20something Cait. But more than that, there’s a geography problem. Colin is only a visiting professor at Berkeley – his home is in Ireland. Cait’s life, reputation and means of making a living, work that she loves, are all in California. Neither of them really believes a long-distance relationship can work, even if they survive the current mess they’ve landed in.

That mess provides the suspense angle for this story, and it’s a pot that keeps boiling from the very beginning until the almost bitter end. The brooch unravels secrets on multiple continents, revealing truths and lies about people that Colin has loved and trusted for decades. In order to solve the mystery, he’ll have to believe that some of his dearest friends have been lying to him, just as Cait discovered that Allen was lying to her.

The danger never lets up, and overtakes them all more than once. But in the end, those tasty just desserts are passed around to those who deserve them, and our heroes finally figure out what might be their best chance at a happy ending. If only they can manage to grab it.

If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell’s work. I found her through a book tour five years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries. From the very first book, Delighting in Your Company, she’s kept me enthralled every single time. My only disappointment is that she takes time writing and researching her books (which is a good thing!) so that I only get one of her gems per year. A treat every single time.