Tag: Smutty

Deadly Intent by Pamela Clare

Deadly Intent by Pamela ClareDeadly Intent by Pamela Clare
Series: I-Team, #8
Published by Pamela Clare on February 21st 2018
Pages: 238
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four-stars

Secrets buried in the sand…

Former US Army Captain Mia Starr has built a new life for herself in Denver, far away from camel spiders and sand—and the terrible secrets of her first deployment to Iraq. She isn’t looking for a relationship, especially not with an intrusive photojournalist. Joaquin Ramirez might be sexy, but in her experience, photojournalists only want to make a buck off other people’s suffering. Still, the universe must have a sick sense of humor because it keeps throwing her together with Joaquin, making the desire she feels for him harder and harder to resist.

An undeniable attraction…

As a Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer, Joaquin has everything a single straight guy could want—except the right woman. When he meets Mia while shooting a crime scene, he immediately sees beyond her cold exterior to the vulnerable woman beneath. Though the police consider her a suspect, he’s sure she’s innocent. Someone is killing soldiers—and trying to pin the blame on her. Unable to resist the pull between them, Joaquin stands by her only to find himself snared in the killer’s net as well.

A twisted soul hungry for revenge…

Mia can’t help it when the heat between her and Joaquin melts away her preconceptions. As their passion explodes, danger draws ever closer. When it becomes clear that Mia is the killer’s true target, she must trust Joaquin with a secret that could ruin her … or risk losing the love of a lifetime.

‘Deadly Intent’ is a reminder of how much I’ve missed Pamela Clare’s I-Team series, or rather the kind of romantic suspense that I’ve always associated Clare with, given the sharp ring of authenticity that comes from the author’s own journalistic background.

A bit of a confession here: it did take me a while to warm up to the idea of Joaquin Ramirez having his own story—I’d frankly forgotten about him after Zach/Natalie’s book—but Clare has a way of shaping him into a romantic hero that I championed wholly by the first quarter of the story.

And how far he’d come since then.

As a photojournalist, Joaquin broke some moulds which won me over quickly: instead of the gun-toting alpha male with bulging muscles who was ex-military (nor did he occupy expensive real estate in a security company while running around jaded and cynical), we got red-hot salsa moves and an impressive amount of heart he had for people around him. For that alone, I was sold on this very compelling protagonist whom I knew needed someone special to see him for who he was.

For all the heroines I’d ever imagined for Joaquin, I never expected the idea of a former military Captain as his other half but had no problem falling straight into this pairing hook, line and sinker once their relationship progressed beyond their rocky start. Much of their story was riveting enough—from their first dance that had me fanning myself to the seamless buildup and their crackling chemistry—that I got through ‘Deadly Intent’ in a matter of hours, then itched immediately to go back and re-read it.

The writing style is a little different here but ‘Deadly Intent’ is an excellent example of a more straight-forward RS read, not quite carrying the same complexity or unpredictability (plot-wise) as a few of Clare’s other I-team books, yet still well-paced with multifaceted protagonists whom I knew I could cheer for. It also bears the hallmarks of Clare’s collaborative efforts with another RS writer Kaylea Cross (another author whom I follow) and consequently, has a different feel to it, carrying a mesh of styles and subject-matter, along with the darker overtones of sexual assault and harassment of women in the military resonating deeply in the wake of the #MeToo hashtag dominating the media of late.

All things considered, I thought this was still a fabulous read. Revisiting the I-Team simply reminded me how much I liked Marc/Julian’s bromance and while catching up with Clare’s other couples was a hoot, I’m hoping that even with Joaquin/Mia’s iron-clad HEA, Clare has more in the works to come.

four-stars

Crossing Promises by Kimberly Kincaid

Crossing Promises by Kimberly KincaidCrossing Promises by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Cross Creek #3
Published by Kimberly Kincaid Romance on March 5th 2018
Pages: 273
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one-star

For Owen Cross, the only thing that matters more than family is farming. As the oldest Cross brother, the land is his legacy, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make Cross Creek a success—including hiring local widow Cate McAllister to manage the bookkeeping tasks that are growing in his office like weeds. Cate’s as pragmatic as she is pretty, and she rattles his hard-fought composure at every turn.

Cate had known a lot of things about her husband before he died three years ago in a car accident, but how much debt he’d gotten them into wasn’t one of them. She needs her job at Cross Creek, even if her boss is both gruff and gorgeous. But Owen’s a family man, through and through, and the last thing Cate is interested in is anything—or anyone—with strings attached.

As Owen and Cate join forces to right the farm, they discover there’s more to the other than the surfaces shows, and that passion can be found in unexpected places. Can Cate heal from the loss of one family to gain the love of her life? Or will the past prove too much for the promise of the future?

I’ve always been interested in Kimberly Kincaid’s ‘Cross Creek’ series, for its 3 brothers so wildly different that it was almost a guarantee you’d get very different stories out of them. ‘Crossing Promises’ is Owen Cross’s story— the pain-in-the-arse grump, the responsible brother, the long-suffering (and not too silent) chump and it wasn’t hard to develop a soft spot for the own who bore things on his shoulders and carried on for everyone else because he needed to.

Unfortunately, this particular book disappointed me more than the rest in the series, more so because I was looking forward to Owen’s story. But my dislike stemmed from my inability to get on with this pairing, with a ‘heroine’ I found more annoying than sympathetic and one who looked as though she needed to be treated with kid-gloves lest her sensibilities be offended.

As work partners, Cate and Owen were fabulous. Their synchronised way of running Cross Creek was a marvel to behold and for most part, it was enjoyable to see Owen happy and settled. I empathised with Cate from the start, seeing her struggle with the memories and as well as with how she found it hard to get back on her feet.

But ultimately, Cate wasn’t a protagonist I could get on board with at all. While I understood how she wanted to move on with her life as her own person, I never quite got past the idea that she remained fragile as glass, turning to frenzied baking as a way to deal with her unsettled state of mind. That she also kept something fairly monumental from Owen until the end put her straight in the ‘stupid’ category for me and I thought that the fault could be roundly laid at Cate’s door for that. To use children (or the lack of them) a method to ‘rein’ someone in or as a way of shaping a particular lifestyle however, is an idea I absolutely despised and while I hated how it’d been done to Cate, I hated it even more when she’d unconsciously held it over Owen later without even realising it.

The definition of the family/family legacy (and the issue of children) was made out to be a problematic one here and that eventually, did become an issue here for me as well. What I didn’t like was Cate’s lack of compromise at the end with the conflict that came up—both Owen and Cate were entitled to their own wishes—but I was fairly unhappy with the rushed ending that had Owen bending backwards for Cate who essentially, used the bitter lessons from her past against Owen.

For Cate not giving Owen’s view on family any consideration at all killed it for me and while picking sides isn’t exactly that I want to do in a romance, and the ending of ‘Crossing Promises’ somehow did that for me. In fact, I thought the story ended in a way (with Owen’s grovelling that really felt like forced repentance after a talk with Marley) that never suggested Cate had merely thought about what she’d wanted, then selfishly held those up to Owen as a checklist to see if he would be with her in spite of it.

I definitely wished I could have given this a better rating because I’ve always liked Kincaid’s writing. But because I could barely tolerate Cate as someone for Owen, ‘Crossing Promises’ simply went south too unexpectedly for me.

one-star

Watching You by Leslie A. Kelly

Watching You by Leslie A. KellyWatching You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #1
Published by Forever Yours on March 13th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

In the shadows, someone is always watchingAspiring screenwriter Jessica Jensen grew up on movies starring heartthrob Reece Winchester, the eldest brother of a Hollywood dynasty. She never thought she'd meet the man in person, though. Actor, director, millionaire, and gorgeous mystery man-he's every woman's fantasy.

Reece wants Jessica the moment he sees her, and he's a man who always gets what he wants. At first he was only after a night in her bed, but as he comes to know the smart, confident woman beneath the stunning exterior, he realizes once will never be enough.

Unfortunately, Jessica's real-life Cinderella story is about to take a deadly turn...

Reece's world is filled with fierce ambition and dark family secrets the Winchesters desperately want to hide. But he and his brothers aren't the only ones who know those secrets. Someone else is out there, waiting to strike. Waiting-and always watching.

When danger finally steps out of the shadows, Reece will have to face his past. And Jessica will have to decide just how far she can trust the man she loves with her heart...and her life.

‘Watching You’ reads like the establishing book of a series that it is: there’s a big back story kept under lock and key for ages, loose hanging threads that don’t necessarily come together, multiple POVs that aren’t confined to the male/female protagonists and possibly a cliffhanger which no one’s fond of.

And it’s tricky business, I understand, because the first book always needs to get the narrative arc just right without compromising the romance while leaving too many loose ends. A little of the Cinderella story is also written into this by nature of the plot (top director with an unknown, aspiring screenwriter), though Leslie A. Kelly’s version of Hollywood is one that’s filled with backstabbing nasties, sudden danger, numerous characters with their own less-than-noble agendas and the putrid stink of catty insincerity.

The start was admittedly a hard one for me, and made me question the ‘legitimacy’ of the pairing, so to speak. I found it difficult to understand Reece’s sudden, inexplicable obsession over a woman whom he’d first seen through security cameras, let alone his setting up a first meeting in such a calculated way that it simply came out as creepy.

Love at first sight seemed a rather mild way of putting what felt like a stalkerish situation, given the manipulatively controlling manner that Reece used to manoeuvre Jessica into his planned seduction. I was mollified however, as the author acknowledged this misstep of his and then later rectified it with several twists in the story that sort of helped tilt my worldview upright again. Kudos as well, to a heroine who pushed back and called Reeces out for behaviour that can’t and shouldn’t be excused.

I found myself absorbed nonetheless, as the story came slowly (maybe a little too slowly) together. There were many loose, hanging threads, multiple POVs that came in later in the book, which merely expanded the puzzle that I thought would have started coming together by the three-quarter-mark of the story. What I also thought of as interlinked incidents turned out to be somewhat entirely separate issues and not tied together in the greater mystery of Reece’s shady past that Kelly had been constantly hinting at, and that was somewhat disconcerting given the build-up. It did however, come out as a flood of revelations at the end worthy of a Hollywood climax, though it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock considering what has been dominating the celebrity-world headlines in the past few months.

As the first book in the series, ‘Watching You’ is more than a decent read. There were parts I couldn’t totally get on board with, but there is a goodly amount of suspense, intrigue and mystery to keep me past my bedtime, and Kelly has sunk the 3 Winchester brothers deep enough in my book psyche for me to be wanting the rest of their stories.

three-stars

Hot Response by Shannon Stacey

Hot Response by Shannon StaceyHot Response by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire #4
Published by Carina Press on April 24th 2018
Pages: 285
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four-stars

Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are exactly his type, and he’s comfortable with that. Working with a gorgeous EMT isn’t going to change who he is.

The last thing Cait Tasker needs in her personal life is a firefighter whose challenges on-scene have been a thorn in her side from minute one. Her plate’s too full for a man anyway. Back in her childhood home to help her family cope with an unexpected tragedy, she’s got enough to handle without throwing a hot, testosterone-laden fireman into the mix.

As long days on the job lead to long nights together, Gavin and Cait will discover how far temptation can take them—and what happens when the one you thought was all wrong for you turns out to be the person you can’t live without.

Shannon Stacey’s firefighters are always fantastic entertainment but I think ‘Hot Response’ has so far, knocked this series out of the park as a firefighter and an EMT get off on the wrong foot due to a small series of unintended misunderstandings.

Gavin Boudreau and Cait Tasker didn’t seem like the kind of characters who would have worked out based on the blurb, but the story that Stacey tells turned out to be quite a different one. I never quite even got the idea that Gavin was only up for a good time, and that he tuned out to be an absolute prize—all about family, thoughtful and considerate—surprised me pleasantly, as much as how into the relationship with Cait when that finally took off. That their relationship was hampered by a large issue in Cait’s life was going to be a conflict that I saw coming from afar, though I was glad to see that resolved relatively quickly (though a little abruptly).

What stood out however, was the progression of their relationship; none of it felt forced nor boring, as I was engrossed in the day-to-day routines of them working as first responders and how their jobs intersected from time to time. The episodes with their own families did made me cringe at times, as were the very relatable struggles that both faced, particularly Cait’s, though I could understand Gavin’s own position on Cait’s reluctance to move on.

In any case, ‘Hot Response’ made a perfect weekend read for me: there was a comfortable mix of angst, action and banter and I loved reading about the interactions between the whole fire crew. My only tiny complaint is the rather abrupt resolution and end to the book, though it’s not something I should be nitpicking about because there’s clearly more of this beloved crew to come.

four-stars

The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton

The Love Coupon by Ainslie PatonThe Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton
Series: Stubborn Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on March 9th 2018
Pages: 253
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three-stars

Can you fall in love if you have the right coupon?

Tom O’Connell had a problem. His temporary roommate, Flick Dalgetty was noisy, messy, made of bees and had enough energy to power an amusement park. The problem was he shouldn’t have kissed her.

Flick Dalgetty had a problem. Her landlord, Tom O’Connell was made of granite. He was a big, repressed anti-social ogre, but the man knew how to kiss. The problem was he felt guilty about hooking up and she wanted more.

Until Flick’s gift of thirty coupons, each entitling Tom to one guilt and obligation free activity, from bowling and bubble bathing to morning delight and lingerie buying, removed all the guesswork of being incompatible partners and temporary roommates.

Now the only problem was Flick had to leave and Tom needed to stay and they might be falling in love—and there wasn’t a coupon for that.

Love can be a sexy game until it becomes the only one your stubborn heart wants to play.

Quirk is the order of the day each time I read an Ainslie Paton novel, from the (sometimes hilarious) descriptions of her characters to the even odder situations that they find themselves in. But these can also be a refreshing change from the monotony of encountering variants of the same type of plots that have been reworked in so many ways.

Paton’s style however, does take getting used to—from metaphors that never quite occur to you make regular occurrences to odd, long dialogues to hyperboles that give you pause—and I suspect it might put some readers in one camp or the other. ‘The Love Coupon’ safe to say, follows this kind of pattern in what’s essentially, a roommates to lovers story based on Flick Dalgetty pulling Tom O’Connell out of his comfort zone in every direction he’d never anticipated.

Make no mistake, Flick Dalgetty came in with a bang. True to her name (like a fly you want to flick off), Flick was already made out to be a circus-act protagonist who went at everything like the Duracell Bunny and then some—just to read in third person about her was exhausting. As a character who seemed to exist to poke the conservative, routine-based Tom out of his comfort zone, I couldn’t help but at times find her pesky, needy and almost petulantly acting up when it came to the long-suffering Tom—essentially rubbing me the wrong way because she didn’t know how to leave things alone. There were parts about her family though, that made her vulnerably relatable and those were the bits that I enjoyed reading the most.

What I found odd was that the love coupon part of the story didn’t come in until at least half the story later, the first of which felt like long dialogues and Tom/Flick rather quickly feeling their way around each other, at parts literally. I did however, appreciate Paton establishing their odd relationship first, before the coupon idea came in, which definitely helped solidify this weird bond that they had going by then.

Still, while I’m sold on the premise of the story, Tom/Flick felt like a batty idea that I couldn’t quite shake by the end of their tearful declarations that they couldn’t live without each other. There was overall, still an oddity about ‘The Love Coupon’ that felt a tad ‘off’ to me—this is obviously just me—as Tom/Flick abruptly and impulsively rode off into their (Washington) sunset before the credits rolled. It’s definitely rom-com worthy though, so if that’s your sort of thing, ‘The Love Coupon’ is a perfect bet.

three-stars

Forget You by Nina Crespo

Forget You by Nina CrespoForget You by Nina Crespo
Series: The Kingman Brothers #1
Published by Pocket Star on April 16th 2018
Pages: 200
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one-star

Sophie Jordan dreams about hooking up with Nicolas “King” Kingman—the gorgeous CEO of her company—but as her boss, he’ll always remain out of reach. King knows he isn’t built for happily-ever-afters and only indulges in brief romantic encounters. But when Sophie agrees to fill in as his last-minute date to a charity gala, an unexpected discovery quickly escalates their platonic relationship to one of passion.

King is determined to ignore their attraction and, feeling betrayed, Sophie severs ties with him and the company. Everything changes, however, when he’s injured in an accident, and Sophie agrees to help until he closes a major deal. Unfortunately, he’s developed amnesia, and although he doesn’t remember their night together, desire binds them in ways they can’t resist.

Time is running out on closing the deal, as well as Sophie moving on to her new career. Will King deny love in favor of winning and lose Sophie forever?

I’d expected a romcom going into this, because a disgruntled assistant being forced to stay on in her job after a one-nighter with the boss gone wrong…sounded like a fantastic premise that promised lots of laughs. That alone made me want to know how Sophie got on with a difficult boss who’d conveniently forgotten he’d been an arse.

Unfortunately, ‘Forget You’ was the kind of read that worked me up into a fit and that mostly had to do with the main characters who not only needed to grow some sense, but conformed to the stereotypical H/hr in contemporary romance that I couldn’t do anything but roll my eyes at every turn.

I couldn’t warm up to King, who seemed like the usual arse of the rich businessman who thought that commitment wasn’t in his DNA as the perfect excuse for the way he lived his philandering life while becoming a clone of his womanising father. Scheduling another hookup straight after his one-night stand with Sophie however, made him a special breed of bastard.

There have been sufficient rants in my reviews throughout the years about numerous stock characters like King who take the easy way out, so lighting into King is probably a useless endeavour. Or perhaps my frustration has to do with the writing of characters that don’t go beyond this stereotype to explore the grey areas of people who have had bad examples of commitment in their childhood. Of course this colours King’s entire life as he easily uses it as an excuse to stack women back to back without even evaluating why. In this same manner, Sophie joined the ranks of other numerous female protagonists who know exactly what they aren’t being offered, yet go in laughingly believing they could enjoy themselves and settle for what they can get. Of course, it never works out that way. Of course they can’t call this short-term fling as just sex anymore. And of course they end up getting hurt.

Apart from having expected too much of King and Sophie—my own big mistake—I think the other big issue was that I just couldn’t find any hilarity in this, unless I really missed something here.

Simply put, ‘Forget You’ started out and continued with angsty drama rather than the humour I was expecting. I wavered between feeling sorry for the delusional Sophie, who really thought that King would have given her more than he would, and rolling my eyes at her delusional state for seriously believing that she was going to be more than another notch on his bedpost, then behaving hurt and pissed when he didn’t. Her willingness to bend over backwards for him post-accident was nonetheless inexplicable; her listening to someone else to enjoy the ride (pun intended) on her own terms just made it seem sillier when she went against her own good sense to move on instead of playing with fire and getting burned.

The final grovelling scene didn’t match the crime as well—a few pages of mere words didn’t seem to fit what King had done to Sophie, untested as King was as a newly minted committed guy—and I had a hard time believing that this was a pairing that could go beyond a happy-for-now ending. That it had to take a bad accident and amnesia for King to change his outlook just felt like a last ditch effort in reforming an unrepentant womaniser which simply didn’t feel like an achievement to crow about.

I wished I could have liked this better, but seeing as how I finished the story having lost every bit of zen I had, it’s pretty obvious ‘Forget You’ isn’t my kind of read.

one-star

Smoke and Mirrors by Julie Rowe

Smoke and Mirrors by Julie RoweSmoke and Mirrors by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force #2
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on February 26th 2018
Pages: 402
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Someone scratched a death threat in the paint of CDC nurse Kini Kerek’s rental car. She’s in Utah researching Hantavirus, but damaging rumors about the CDC have left residents suspicious and uncooperative. Thank goodness for hot, sexy, former soldier Smoke, a man of few words, who’s assigned to protect and help her navigate the isolated desert town as she races to identify a deadly virus before more people die.

Memories from the combat zone leave ex-Special Forces soldier Lyle Smoke in a constant state of battle readiness, and he finds no solace, even after returning home to Small Blind. When he meets Kini Kerek, he discovers his heart isn’t entirely dead. But, that might not last long, because this outbreak is no mistake, and he’ll need to use all his survival skills gleaned from the military and his Native American upbringing to keep him and the beautiful, but secretive, Kini alive.

Romantic fiction that brings biological warfare to the forefront is rare and Julie Rowe’s suspense series about soldiers, invisible but scary threats and doctors/nurses fighting to stop an outbreak always stood out because of their unique subject matter. Well, that and how the first few chapters of her recent books actually have the ability to tip the reader straight into a mystery waiting to be solved and a thrilling ride that pulls together conspiracy theory, medical science and law enforcement.

From the very start when Smoke first glided into the series as a mysterious, near-silent soldier, I knew I wanted his story. Yet Smoke barely lost his enigmatic cover and with a tragic past that was only briefly mentioned, ’Smoke and Mirrors’ started out as a straight up terse, tension-filled ride as Smoke and Kini rushed to uncover how widespread an infection had become in a claustrophobic and hostile small town. Still, a potent, deadly mix of hysteria and confusion that eventually turned into bloodlust made for engrossing reading, and like Kini and Smoke, the confusion and apparent connections between the seemingly unrelated incidents in town didn’t come together for me until the very end when the true monsters emerge. While I liked the action however, it seemed inconceivable that the crazy, superstitious town people leaped to any kind of conclusion (inexplicably ending up with fingers pointed at Smoke) like medieval folk to the point where it almost didn’t make logical sense.

There’s no doubt that Rowe handled the suspense superbly and the twists and turns in the narrative were sufficient hooks to keep the pages turning. The connection between Kini and Smoke however, was harder to get into (with some instalove going on as everything took place within a few days), despite the huge zing of attraction that Rowe wrote into the very bizarre first scene of them waking up together in bed. How believable is it for someone to climb into bed not noticing another person already in it? In any case, with a romance built on this weird foundation and growing too quickly in a short time—Kini and Smoke literally spent the whole time changing vehicles, zipping from place to place—the pairing looked like an incidental feature of the suspense, and the sex that happened down in the bare, hard dirt when Kini was badly injured and fatigued to the point of passing out felt more far-fetched than bedsheet-scorching (there weren’t even any).

That said, I did like both protagonists however; Kini was, quite literally, a ball-buster and Smoke was so cool and deadly—who catnaps in jail after being falsely convicted of murder?—that they could have been a solid pair if they’d been given more time for the burn between them to sizzle apart from the constant flurry of action that gave no one any time to literally breathe.

‘Smoke and Mirrors’, like the rest of Rowe’s books, is only loosely connected to the rest of the series, and functions perfectly as a standalone. I did miss seeing the other couples who’d found their HEA in previous books though, despite some familiar characters turning up, but there really little for me to stand on here, especially when Rowe always leaves me dazzled but chilled by the end of her story.