Tough Guy (Game Changers #3) by Rachel Reid


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They have nothing in common—so why does Ryan feel most like himself whenever he’s with Fabian?

Pro hockey star Ryan Price may be an enforcer, but off the ice he struggles with anxiety. Recently traded to the Toronto Guardians, he’s determined to make a fresh start in the city’s dynamic LGBTQ Village. The last thing he expects to stumble upon in his new neighborhood is a blast from his past in the fabulous form of Fabian Salah.

Aspiring musician Fabian loathes hockey. But that doesn’t stop him from being attracted to a certain burly, ginger-bearded defenseman. He hasn’t forgotten the kiss they almost shared back in high school, and it’s clear the chemistry between them has only intensified.

Fabian is more than happy to be Ryan’s guide to the gay scene in Toronto. Between dance clubs and art exhibits—and the most amazing sex—Ryan’s starting to feel something he hasn’t experienced in a long time: joy. But playing the role of the heavy on the ice has taken its toll on his body and mind, and a future with Fabian may mean hanging up his skates for good.

Rating: B

Tough Guy is book three in Rachel Reid’s Game Changers series, set in the world of professional hockey. While I wasn’t as utterly caught up in the romance here as I was in the previous book (Heated Rivalry – which made my Best of 2019 list), I nonetheless enjoyed the novel, and appreciated the way the author flips the stereotype of the confident, ripped jock so often found in sports romances (both m/f and m/m) and creates instead an endearing, gentle-giant-type character with severe self-esteem issues who struggles to reconcile the person he truly is with the one he’s expected to be on the ice.

At six-feet-seven inches, with a build like a bulldozer, Ryan Price knows how to intimidate.  On the ice, he’s an enforcer, someone other players actually aspire to fight with – especially rookies, for whom “paying the Price” is something of a rite of passage.  But it’s an image and a job that Ryan wrestles with, and which has been weighing down on him more and more as the years have passed, because that’s not who he is at all.  When the story begins, Ryan has just been traded – yet again – this time to the Toronto Guardians, and is being urged – ordered, really – by his coach to be more of a team player both on and off the ice, and unsubtly quizzed about his mental health.  Anxiety, self-esteem issues and finding social situations hard to deal with mean Ryan has always found it difficult to connect personally and professionally, and a well-publicised “freak out” the previous season (a panic attack) has made him even more self-conscious. This is the ninth team Ryan has played for in almost as many years; he’s never played anywhere long enough to put down roots or make any real friends, but this time he’s determined to change that, and finds himself an apartment in the vibrant, LGBTQ part of town.  Ryan is openly – albeit quietly – gay but that’s never been an issue, partly, he suspects, because he’s moved too often for anyone to really notice or care, and with a few other players – notably Scott Hunter (Game Changer) – coming out recently, it hasn’t seemed necessary to hide it. Sex hasn’t often been a positive experience for him; he  hasn’t had many partners, and those he has had haven’t really been interested in him as a person, or been able to see past his size or their own preconceptions of what he should like and want.  He’s lonely, the medication he’s on is screwing up his libido and… it sucks.

When Ryan enters  a local pharmacy in order to get a prescription filled, he’s surprised to see Fabian Salah working there.  When Ryan was seventeen, he’d been billeted with the Salahs, a Lebanese family who lived and breathed hockey and whose daughter was a rising hockey star, but whose son, a hugely talented musician, seemed hardly to merit their notice.  Even then, Ryan thought Fabian was beautiful and had a mad crush on him – which he suppressed, having quickly learned that Fabian despised everything to do with hockey.  Over the year Ryan lived with Salahs, Fabian’s attitude changed and they became friends, but they haven’t seen each other since Ryan made the NHL.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon

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Cosmo Saville adores his new husband but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring their fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls..

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: B-

I Buried a Witch is the middle book in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks trilogy, a series of fantasy/mystery/romance novels set in and around San Francisco and featuring witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville and his husband, John Joseph Galbraith, the Commissioner of Police.

The books don’t really stand alone as there’s an overarching storyline, (and the previous book raised more questions than it answered!) so if you haven’t read book one, Mainly by Moonlight, then you’ll be a bit lost if you start here; and it also means there will be spoilers in this review.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced readers to the world of the Craft (as Cosmo and his fellow witches refer to themselves) and its hierarchy; Cosmo is pretty high up in the pecking order, being the son of the witch next in line to be Crone (chief witch!), the Duchesse d’Abracadantès.  Cosmo is preparing to marry the man he’s fallen head-over-heels in love with in just a few short weeks, and to say that the duchesse is not at all happy about her son’s decision to marry an ordinary mortal would be a massive understatement.  She drops a bombshell when she tells Cosmo that John is under a love-spell; Cosmo is furious and insists that the spell be lifted immediately, even if it does mean that there’s a chance he’ll lose the love of his life.

While Cosmo is looking for signs that John is falling out of love with him, he’s also dealing with a number of troubling incidents ranging from the murder of a business rival to the sudden disappearance of one of his oldest friends, to another close friend being put into a coma following a hit-and-run, and to top it all, discovers the existence of a secret organisation whose activities threaten the entire Craft.  As the day of the wedding draws closer, Cosmo is relieved to discover that John doesn’t want to call it off, even though Cosmo can’t ignore the subtle changes that have started to take place in their relationship.  He’s so deeply in love that he carelessly ignores the warning signs that perhaps entering into marriage without having told John the truth about himself is not the best idea.

At the beginning of I Buried a Witch, Cosmo and John return home from their honeymoon in Scotland and are starting to settle into their new home.  Sadly, however, it’s not long before things between the newlyweds become strained and Cosmo is forced to admit that he has no-one but himself to blame for the tension between them.  When he discovers that several members of the local Wiccan community have been murdered in various gruesome ways, Cosmo wants to be allowed to help with the investigation; his knowledge of Wiccan customs, together with his witchy insight and understanding of possible motives surely make him the person best placed to provide the sort of information the police will need, but John makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want Cosmo going anywhere near the investigation.  Cosmo, of course, is having none of it, and the shit hits the fan when, during an argument, he tells John the truth about himself.

John, utterly stunned and furious at the deception, packs his bags and leaves that night.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

The Secret She Keeps (Whitaker Island #2) by HelenKay Dimon

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No matter where you run to…

Connor Rye seeks solace on remote Whitaker Island. When his first quiet evening ends with a blow to the head, it’s clear that nothing—and no one—is as it seems. Still haunted by his sister’s murder, he’s buried himself in work while trying to hold his family together. Now, when he has a minute to breathe, he knows better than to get involved with a stranger, but it might be too late to keep his distance.

Desire will find you…

For years she’s pretended to be someone else, but Maddie Rhine is done living in the shadows. Old habits are hard to kick however, and when her past follows her to Whitaker she’s forced to hide once more. Except with Connor. Effortlessly sexy Connor makes it difficult to ignore him. He sees right through her…and senses her fear.

Someone is watching her. And waiting for the right moment to strike. This time Connor vows to be ready.

Rating: B

The Secret She Keeps is the second book in HelenKay Dimon’s new series of romantic suspense novels set on the small, privately owned Whitaker Island, located somewhere off the Washington coast.  It’s an entertaining, and intriguing read featuring a couple of appealing protagonists and a well-drawn secondary cast, and although I hadn’t read the previous book, I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything, so this one works perfectly well as a standalone.

When Connor Rye’s family fell apart after his sister was murdered, it was Connor who picked up the pieces and held the family and their business together;  and in doing so, was deprived of the chance to grieve properly.  He threw himself into work and learned to wall off his emotions in order to get through each day; and he’s been doing that for so long that it’s become second nature to him. Now, two years later, Connor, who has been working himself so hard that it’s started to affect his health, has been pretty much ordered to take some vacation time by his family. He has borrowed the cabin belonging to his brother Hansen (hero of book one, Her Other Secret) and taken himself off to Whitaker Island for a few weeks.

Maddie Rhine has lived on the island for a couple of years and keeps a low profile.  She works as an answering service for the (until recently) one-man police department and other local business, and counts police officer Ben Clifford and hotel owner Sylvia Sussex as friends, but she doesn’t socialise and generally keeps herself to herself.  It becomes clear quickly that Maddie is in hiding – but from what or whom isn’t made clear right away – and that something from her past has come back to haunt her.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

His Countess for a Week by Sarah Mallory

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A pretend marriage to the Earl

Sharing everything—except a bed…

To uncover a ruthless killer, Arabella Roffey masquerades as the Countess of Westray—never expecting her ‘husband’ suddenly to appear! He could expose her, but instead he agrees to continue her ruse for a week. Randolph is brooding, handsome, and Bella likes him more than she should. Pretending to be his wife, she shares everything with him—except a bed—but the temptation to do so is becoming all too real…

Rating: C+

Sarah Mallory’s His Countess for a Week is a mix of mystery and romance featuring an appealing hero who, when the book opens, has just returned to England after having been pardoned of the crime for which he was transported to Australia six years earlier. Randolph Kirkster, the new Earl of Westray (who originally appeared in the author’s Pursued for the Viscount’s Vengeance),has endured much and has emerged as a better man for it, one who is determined to make up for the idleness of his youth and to fulfil his responsibilities to those dependent upon him.   Sadly, however, his heroine is far less interesting and engaging, which made it difficult to become invested in the romance.

After arriving in Portsmouth, Randolph (mostly shortened to Ran, which I really didn’t like), decides to visit one of his smaller estates, Beaumont Hall in Devon, before making his way to his principal seat in Oxfordshire.  Accompanied by his manservant, Joseph Miller – really his best friend  – whom Ran credits with saving his life on more than one occasion – Ran arrives at Beaumont and is surprised when the housekeeper informs him that his countess – who has been in residence for the past two weeks – is out for the evening and is staying the night at neighbouring Meon House.

Curious to discover both the identity of the lady masquerading as his wife and her reasons for doing so, Ran makes his way to Meon House, and is immediately conveyed to his ‘wife’ – who promptly faints at the sight of him.

When she’d hatched her scheme to find the person responsible for the death of her husband George, Arabella Roffey had believed the Earl of Westray to be far, far away and that there was no chance of her deception being exposed.  When told her husband had arrived, for a brief second, Arabella had expected to see her beloved George, not an austerely handsome stranger – but knowing the game is up, she does not attempt to excuse her behaviour or deceive him as to her purpose and explains she has reason to suspect that something happened to her husband on his most recent visit to Meon House.  Realising she was unlikely to learn anything as plain Mrs. Roffey, she decided the best way to gain entrée to the circles George was moving in was to pretend to hold a title – and this evening was her first opportunity to meet some of the people in attendance at the house at the time of George’s last visit.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

The Inconvenient Elmswood Marriage (Penniless Brides of Convenience #4) by Marguerite Kaye

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Their marriage was a solution…

Until passion turns it into a problem!

Lord and Lady Elmswood’s convenient marriage has allowed them to live separate lives for years. Until larger-than-life Daniel almost dies and Kate must nurse the husband she barely knows back to health…and discover how maddeningly attractive he is! With the clock ticking on his departure, they disagree on everything – except the impossibility of resisting each other!

Rating: B+

When I read The Earl’s Countess of Convenience, the first book in Marguerite Kaye’s Penniless Brides of Convenience series, I was instantly intrigued by the character of Kate, Lady Elmswood, guardian to the three young women – her nieces by marriage – who were the heroines of the other novels in the series.  In that book, we learned that Kate and her husband Daniel had been married for over a decade, but that theirs is a marriage in name only and they haven’t seen each other since they wed as Daniel spends his time travelling the world.

In the prologue, we meet Kate and Daniel a decade earlier, at a point when Kate, the daughter of Elmswood Manor’s steward, has actually been managing the estate for the past couple of years owing to her father’s deteriorating health.  When the old earl dies, Kate, concerned for her future and that of the estate and its tenants, and needing to provide and care for her ailing father, conceives a daring plan as a way of doing all those things, as well as continuing to manage and improve the estate which is the only home she’s ever known.  Daniel Fairfax – the new Earl of Elmswood – has no intention of settling in England and plans to return to his travels abroad as soon as his father’s estate is settled, and Kate seizes the opportunity to propose her audacious scheme; that they marry.  This will enable Kate to all the things she wants to do and will benefit Daniel as he will be able to leave Elmswood knowing it is in good hands.

In the intervening decade, Kate became guardian to her husband’s three nieces (his sister’s children), all of whom have now found love and are making families of their own – and Kate is, for the first time in a long time, without a purpose and feeling a little adrift.  The estate is running so well that it doesn’t really need her any more, and she is trying to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life when she receives news that Daniel is seriously ill, and that she must travel to Cyprus in order to bring him home.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

First Impressions (Auckland Med. #1) by Jay Hogan

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Michael:

Two years ago, I made a mistake, a big one. Then I added a couple more just for good measure. I screwed up my life, but I survived. Now I have the opportunity for a fresh start. Two years in NZ. Away from the LA gossip, a chance to breathe, to rebuild my life. But I’m taking a new set of rules with me.

I don’t do relationships.

I don’t do commitment.

I don’t do white picket fences.

And I especially don’t do arrogant, holier-than-thou, smoking hot K9 officers who walk into my ER and rock my world.

Josh:

One thing for certain, Dr. Michael Oliver is an arrogant, untrustworthy player, and I barely survived the last one of those. He might be gorgeous, but my daughter takes number one priority. I won’t risk her being hurt, again. I’m a solo dad, a K9 cop and a son to pain-in-the-ass parents.

I don’t have time for games.

I don’t have time for taking chances.

I don’t have time for more complications in my life.

And I sure as hell don’t have time for the infuriating Dr. Michael Oliver, however damn sexy he is.

Rating: B

Having really enjoyed Jay Hogan’s Digging Deep when I read it last summer, I was eager to read more of her work.  First Impressions – the first in her Auckland Med. series – is her début novel (recently republished), an enjoyable enemies-to-lovers romance with an element of suspense/crime drama thrown in.  The central characters are engaging and strongly drawn but flawed, and the chemistry between them is fantastic; plus there’s a nicely rounded-out secondary cast, and I thoroughly appreciated the vibrant, laid-back New Zealand setting, which made a refreshing change.

After a tragic event which sent him into a downward spiral of drink and depression, Los Angeles-based ER doctor Michael Oliver took the opportunity to relocate to Auckland as part of a two year exchange program.  He’s been in New Zealand for six months and he loves it; he loves his work, he’s made some really good friends and is more than happy with his revolving door of bed-partners.  His personal life went tits up around the same time his professional life imploded, making Michael more certain than ever that relationships aren’t his thing.  We first meet him when he’s out cruising, making his move on the hot guy he’s decided is going to be his for the night, when his plans are interrupted by a raid on the club and he’s confronted by six-foot-four of scorching hot, snarky cop, an ansty German Shepherd glued to his side.

K-9 officer Josh Rawlins doesn’t have time for the mouthy, arrogant guy obviously checking him out, and has shut down his attempts to flirt when all hell breaks loose and shots are fired.  While Josh and his dog, Paris, are involved in the fight to stop the shooters from escaping, Michael jumps in to help an officer who has been shot, keeping him alive until the paramedics arrive.

Josh and Michael take an instant dislike to each other and Michael takes a particular delight in deliberately needling Josh by attempting to flirt with him.  But Josh is having none of it. His priority is his eleven-year-old daughter, and what he wants most is to make a loving home and family for her – but following his last long-term relationship, which ended after Josh discovered his partner had been cheating on him throughout, Josh has been wary of getting involved again. He certainly isn’t prepared to put himself and his heart on the line for someone like Michael who, Josh thinks, has impermanence written all over him, no matter how tempted he may be.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Princess Plan (Royal Weddings #1) by Julia London

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London’s high society loves nothing more than a scandal. And when the personal secretary of the visiting Prince Sebastian of Alucia is found murdered, it’s all anyone can talk about, including Eliza Tricklebank. Her unapologetic gossip gazette has benefited from an anonymous tip off about the crime, forcing Sebastian to ask for her help in his quest to find his friend’s killer.

With a trade deal on the line and mounting pressure to secure a noble bride, there’s nothing more dangerous than a prince socialising with a commoner. Sebastian finds Eliza’s contrary manner as frustrating as it is seductive, but they’ll have to work together if they’re going to catch the culprit. And soon, as temptation becomes harder to ignore, it’s the prince who’ll have to decide what comes first—his country or his heart.

Rating: D+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Julia London’s books in the past, so I thought I’d give her latest title a try.  The Princess Plan is billed as a mixture of mystery and romance, in which a visiting prince teams up with a lively spinster to solve a murder and falls in love along the way.  It seemed as though it might be an enjoyable romp, but sadly wasn’t.  The mystery wasn’t mysterious, the romantic development was non-existent, it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t a romp.  Unless you define a romp as pages of inane chatter and un-funny attempts at banter that seem to exist only as a way of padding out the page count.

Miss Eliza Tricklebank is twenty-eight years of age, and a spinster who keeps house for her father, a Justice of the Queen’s Bench (who has recently lost his sight) and mends clocks to earn a little something on the side.  Her sister Hollis is a widow who inherited a publishing business from her late husband and now publishes Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies, and her best friend Lady Caroline Hawke is a debutante (well, she’s described as such, but if she’s the same age as Hollis or Eliza then she’s quite an elderly debutante!), and together the three of them spend lots of time chattering about nothing in particular while also deciding what to put in the next edition of the Gazette.  Under discussion when the book opens, is the visit to London by a delegation from the small (fictional) country of Alucia, in London in order to negotiate a new trade agreement at the behest of its crown prince, who is rumoured to be in search of a bride.

Caroline – who, we’re told, knows everybody in London – is able to secure invitations to the masked ball held in honour of the visit for herself and her friends, and it’s here that Eliza, quietly getting tipsy on the rum punch, makes the acquaintance of a gentleman she later realises is none other than Crown Prince Sebastian.

You’re shocked, I can tell.

Flirting and silliness ensure until Sebastian has to go to put in an appearance at the meet and greet portion of the evening, after which he finds himself a woman for the night.  This means Sebastian never does go to meet with his secretary and dear friend Matous, who had told him he needed to see him as a matter of urgency.

And who turns up dead the next morning, his throat cut.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.