Just Business (Takeover #2) by Anna Zabo (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

just business

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Justin White may not look like an up-and-coming corporate superstar, but his new boss knows that he has the smarts, grit, and determination to succeed. Now he just has to convince his company’s CFO, Eli Ovadia. Unfortunately, Justin can’t seem to keep his cool around the domineering Eli, and soon he finds himself taking their heat from the boardroom into the bedroom.

Still haunted by a tragic accident that left him with a wounded leg and broken heart, Eli has a need to be in control. But his desire for Justin makes him want to lose that control and push them both far beyond their limits. Will his need to dominate Justin drive him away, or will Eli find a way to be the man he needs for both of them?

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

Anna Zabo is a new-to-me author, and I picked up Just Business (book two in the Takeover series) because I’m on a narrator glom (and it was in the Audible Romance Package). It’s a steamy, BDSM-themed romance, and to be honest, isn’t something I’d likely have chosen to read or listen to had it not been for the fact that I’d happily listen to Iggy Toma announcing arrivals and departures at Waterloo station.

Justin White is a clever, ambitious young man studying for his MBA and working as a barista in order to make ends meet. One of his regular customers is Sam Anderson, the CEO of a small but dynamic consulting firm – and Justin has overheard him talking with his friend and colleague, Eli Ovadia, about the fact that he needs to hire a new assistant. Justin is barely keeping his head above water financially, between helping his family, his tuition and living expenses, and he really wants the job; he has the right education and experience and knows he could do a lot worse than learn how to run a business from Sam Anderson – so he gathers his courage and hands Sam the application he’s prepared. He’s invited for an interview and gets the job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Love will grow through the cracks you leave open.

Ranch hand Roe Davis absolutely never mixes business with pleasure – until he runs into his boss, Travis Loving, at the only gay bar within 200 miles.

Getting involved with the ranch owner is a bad idea, but Roe’s and Travis’s bedroom kinks line up against one another like a pair of custom-cut rails. As long as they’re both clear this is sex on the side, no relationship, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.

Shut out by his family years ago, Roe survived by steadfastly refusing to settle into so much as a post office box. As his affair with Travis grows into more than just sex, Roe’s past catches up with him, threatening the thin ray of happiness he’s found, reminding him it’s well past time he went on his way.

Even a loner gets lonely, and at this point, there’s nowhere left to run. The shame and sorrow of what he’s lost will stay with Roe wherever he goes – until he’s ready to let love lead him home.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – A-

I’ve been on another narrator glom recently, and as Iggy Toma has recorded a number of books by Heidi Cullinan, I’ve been on a bit of an author glom, too! Originally published in 2015, Nowhere Ranch is a standalone romance featuring a strong element of BDSM that, I admit, isn’t normally my cup of tea; but I’ve come to trust this author and this narrator and so I decided to pick it up. While there were a couple of things that pushed me just a bit outside my comfort zone, I’m glad I listened to it, because at heart, this is an intense, deeply romantic and poignant love story about two lonely men who find something fundamental to their happiness in one another.

The opening line just about says it all:

My name is Monroe Davis, and this is the story of how I found home.

Roe grew up on the family farm in Algona, Iowa, but left after his mother found his stash of gay porn and his conservative, religious family wanted him to get counselling from the local pastor, date girls and… basically stop being gay. After that, Roe ran around town for a while getting into trouble and ended up doing a few months behind bars. After he got out of prison, he left Algona and has drifted around, finding work here and there on a few ranches throughout the Midwest, finally making his way to the aptly named Nowhere Ranch in north western Nebraska, a small ‘hobby’ ranch the size of a large farm that’s owned by divorced former mathematics professor Travis Loving.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Mastering the Marquess by Lavinia Kent

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One night of fierce passion and unbound pleasure leaves two strangers craving much more in Lavinia Kent’s sumptuous novel of sensual discovery.

The time has come for the widow Louisa, Lady Brookingston, to move on, but she refuses to remarry at the cost of shaming her late husband’s memory. Their six years together were wedded bliss—even if a war injury prevented him from fulfilling his marital duties. Only one woman can help Louisa: Madame Rouge, the discreet proprietress of a club where London’s elite explore their wildest fantasies.

Geoffrey, the Marquess of Swanston, has no intention of agreeing to deflower an anonymous virgin. But when Madame Rouge tempts him with the absolute power he’ll have over a woman who knows nothing of carnal delights, he’s intrigued. Control is the one thing he cannot resist—and control is what he loses during his night with the blindfolded beauty. He longs to take her further, to leave his mark upon her perfect behind, but the mystery woman refuses to see him again. Instead Geoffrey reluctantly agrees to take a wife, the widow of his dear friend, Lord Brookingston—fating them both to a wicked surprise.

Rating: B-

Mastering the Marquess is an erotic historical romance (strictly M/F) in which a young widow’s sexual awakening at the hands (and other body parts!) of a man who values control in all aspects of his life proves to him that maybe allowing someone get close to him isn’t such a bad thing.

Lady Louisa Brookingston is that rare thing – a virgin widow. Her late husband – her childhood sweetheart – was badly injured in the war, so badly that he was left unable to perform his husbandly duties. Louisa is still young enough to have a family of her own and wants to remarry, but doesn’t want to tarnish her husband’s reputation by going to her second husband in her untried state. She seeks help from a discreet madam – Madame Rouge – whose select, high-class brothel she knew her husband had visited regularly during their marriage. Louisa wants to divest herself of her maidenhead, and wants to do so discreetly before she begins to look about her for a suitable husband.

Madame has just the man – one she knows will be considerate and sure to give the virginal Louisa the best night of her life. Geoffrey Danser, Marquess of Swanston, is a man who exerts an iron control over all facets of his life – and especially enjoys doing so in the bedroom. At first, he is disinclined to deflower a virgin but Madame entices him by reminding him of how much he enjoys instructing his partners in the delights of bedsport, and by suggesting how much more exciting he will find it to initiate a partner who has no idea of what is “normal” and what isn’t.

The assignation is arranged. Neither party will be made privy to the other’s identity, and will be masked or blindfolded during their encounter in order to ensure their anonymity. After her initial nervousness, Louisa realises the inability to see her partner is strangely freeing, and finds herself at last able to indulge her sexual curiosity. Geoffrey finds himself responding to her in a way he hadn’t anticipated and the pair discovers a completely unexpected companionship which leaves them unable to forget their night together.

Louisa can now embark upon her search for a husband in earnest and Geoffrey can go back to his highly controlled life and his discreet sexual liaisons – except for the fact that his father’s latest ridiculous scheme sees him needing to find a large sum of money quickly if he is to avert disaster – and the only way he can lay his hands on a fortune that fast is to marry one.

Geoffrey has the reputation in society of being starchily proper, exceedingly dull and not at all good with women, so when he takes an interest in Lady Brookingston, nobody – and certainly not Louisa, to whom he shows nothing but the strictest propriety – expects him to make her an offer of marriage. When he does, he is completely honest as to his motivations, and Louisa, who realises that admiring a man’s honesty and good-looks is probably not the best way to select a husband, finds herself so drawn to him that she accepts him nonetheless.

This is an erotic romance, so there is obviously an emphasis on the sexual encounters that take place between the hero and heroine. These are well written and definitely hot, but the author has also placed great importance on the emotional side of the story, so that the reader is not just faced with a string of sex scenes linked by very little plot. She develops the romance between Geoffrey and Louisa well, beginning on their very first night together, and continuing as they navigate through the early days of their marriage.

I confess that I haven’t read a large number of erotic romances, but it seems that an historical one is unavoidably going to bring modern sensibilities to the sexual aspects of the story. Most young women at this period were kept largely in ignorance of sexual matters, and other than the “lie back and think of England” speech on their wedding day, such things were not discussed. Louisa is one such woman, although she is clearly open-minded and very curious about what goes on between a man and a woman. That said, I wasn’t completely convinced she would have been so eager to understand why her husband visited a brothel when they were married, and to understand Geoffrey’s desire – his need – for control. Fortunately for her, Geoffrey is a man who is willing to talk about such things, which is another aspect of the book I enjoyed. He is a man who keeps the truth about himself very much under wraps – so much so that even his family isn’t sure he’s ever had a sexual relationship! – and for him to be so honest with Louisa is another indication of the strength of the connection between them.

The book is divided into three parts, and is well-paced overall. The first sexual encounter is romantic as well as steamy, and Ms Kent keeps the emotional connection between the protagonists to the fore of the story. Their meetings in society, when they can see each other but know little about each other, make for an interesting parallel to their earlier intimate encounter, when they could not see, but began to know each other on the inside. The early days of their marriage suffer from a serious lack of communication, but as things begin to improve, the author throws a spanner into the works in the form of the somewhat deranged Countess Ormonde, a former lover of Swanston’s who hasn’t forgiven him for discarding her when her sexual proclivities and penchant for violence went too far for his tastes. And you know what they say about a woman scorned…

Mastering the Marquess is an enjoyable read featuring two well-drawn and well-matched central characters. I would probably have rated it slightly higher had the final part of the book not thrown itself off a cliff into the sea of melodrama, but if you can get past that, and fancy a steamy story in which there is as much of an emphasis on the romance as the sex, you could do worse than give this a try.

TBR Challenge: Tempting a Sinner (Sinners Club #2) by Kate Pearce

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Cold Calculation

Within the circles of British intelligence, Benedict, Lord Keyes, is known for his cold brilliance and strict military demeanor. Yet this icy exterior masks a man of smoldering passion and scorching sexuality who will do anything to keep his past a secret. . .

Sultry Satisfaction

Miss Malinda Keyes refuses to be intimidated by Lord Keyes. In fact, she enjoys a good battle, especially one of erotic wiles and carnal cunning. Determined to expose his lordship’s past, she will use every wanton weapon in her arsenal to tease and tempt this sinner into the ultimate sensual surrender. . .

Rating: B

I’m not normally one for reading erotic romance. I have nothing against the genre – I’ve just tended to leave it to one side as I had the impression that the majority of the books given that label contained wall-to-wall sex and no plot. I have no objection to wall-to-wall-and-other-flat-surfaces – sex; but I like books to have a decent story as well, so I’ve tended to give the more erotic tales a wide berth.

But August’s TBR prompt is Luscious Love Scenes – erotica or a sensual read. The majority of the books I read contain sex scenes, but this is a reading challenge, so I decided to step outside my comfort zone and try an erotic romance. The problem is that I don’t own any – but a recent browse through NetGalley brought me Tempting a Sinner by Kate Pearce, which seemed like just the ticket.

It’s the second full-length novel (there’s also a prequel novella) in Ms Pearce’s Sinners’ Club series, so called because the club itself, while operating as a gentleman’s club – which, unsually, allows female members – also provides a discreet environment for those employed by the government in sensitive positions to blow off steam, and to “explore their sexuality” (probably in other ‘sensitive positions’! And oh, God, it’s going to be difficult to write this review without indulging in double-entendres and “ooh, matron!” jokes!)

First things first then – there is plenty of sex in the book of various persuasions. M/F, F/F, M/M, M/F/M, F/M/F, sex toys, voyeurism, group sex, a bit of light bondage… something for everyone! It’s well-written, and it’s hot; and it fortunately stays the right side of the thin line that runs between “hawt” and “funny”, which can be quite a difficult thing to do, so kudos to the author for that. Props to her, too, for not having her protagonists have sex at stupid times; there’s none of this – “we’re being chased by the bad guys, but we must shag, NOW!” nonsense.

The story centres around Lord Benedict Keyes and his estranged wife, who haven’t seen each other in the eighteen years since their youthful marriage. Both were “army brats”, although from opposite sides of the tracks.

Benedict is the son of a marquess while Malinda’s father was a common soldier, but the pair more or less grew up together because both families followed the drum. I always enjoy a story where the central couple are friends before they become romantically involved, and while we don’t see much of them as children and adolescents, an undercurrent of deep friendship permeates the book, and the reader gets a very strong sense of the fact that here are two people who knew each other very well – so much so that even though they have both changed in the intervening years, they are still able to discern the other’s thoughts and emotions. It’s that deep connection between the two protagonists which surprised me most about the book, because I really hadn’t expected to find something like that in the pages of an erotic romance.

Benedict and Malinda’s marriage was a hasty one following the sudden death of her father while on assignment in Spain. They are very much in love, but the marquess is furious that his son has married a “nobody” and immediately separates the pair by telling Malinda a whopping great lie that has her haring off the day after the wedding. He lies to Benedict, too, telling him that Malinda has accepted money in return for agreeing to an annulment – as a way to ensure that he will never seek her out.

Both characters are therefore starting from points of extreme suspicion and distrust when they finally meet again, and Ms Pearce does a very good job in portraying those emotions and in breaking down their barriers gradually, so that their eventual reconciliation happens at a realistic pace. Because this is an erotic romance, the fact that Benedict and Mally are conflicted about their feelings for each other doesn’t prevent them from jumping into bed frequently, but the author very clearly establishes the difference between the physical and the emotional. Both characters at some point, use sex as a means of manipulation and in order to gain the upper hand, but there are also some very tender, intimate moments that provide real insight into their relationship and are, in a way, far sexier than any amount of bonking could ever be. For example, in this scene, after Benedict has brought Malinda back to London from the country and they have been discussing the plan of action for dealing with Benedict’s father, who they suspect may be behind a plot to harm Malinda, they are preparing for bed like any other long-married couple.

He sat to remove his boots and took off his breeches then his shirt. His body gleamed so enticingly in the candlelight that Malinda had to look away. He climbed into bed beside her and blew out the candle.

“Tomorrow, we should look for a maid for you.”

“Are you tired of having to deal with my corset?”

“No, I can’t say that will ever become a chore.”

She stared up at the canopy above their heads. “I cannot afford a maid.”

He sighed. “Let’s not argue about this again. You sought my protection and I need you to look respectable. Having me as your ladies’ maid will not suffice.”

“I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself.”

“I know that. But you aren’t used to London society.”

She snorted. “You’re afraid I’ll show you up.”

He moved so suddenly that she found herself underneath him. “Your inferiority complex is showing.”

“Which is why we never would have succeeded as a married couple. Society will never accept a peer married to a common sergeant’s daughter.”

“Good Lord, you sound just like my father.” He gave her a tiny shake. “Peers have married actresses and known whores. The entire royal family is a scandal. No one would give a damn. The only person who cares about it is you.”

“Go away, Benedict.”

[…]

She flopped onto her back. “Are you ever going to stop talking?”

“Probably not. I do some of my best thinking just before I fall asleep.”

“This isn’t ‘thinking’; it’s rambling.”

There is a strong sense of connection between them outside the bedroom, too, as they work together to solve an eighteen year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a valuable military shipment which is closely linked to both families. Both principals are strongly characterised, even during the sex scenes when they don’t suddenly have personality transplants and become different people. They tease, they jibe, they fight – they treat each other out of bed in much the same way as they do in it. I will admit to sometimes thinking that their sexual preferences seemed a little at odds with the way I was starting to see them, however. Benedict, for example, is a man with a sterling reputation for loyalty and honour, as well as one who is utterly ruthless and dedicated to his work. He’s handsome (naturally!), can be very charming and has a softer side that he allows nobody to see, and I couldn’t quite reconcile that man with the one who ties his wife to a chair and then uses sex toys to stimulate himself while he masturbates in front of her!

But this is an erotic romance, so I’m prepared to go with the flow on things like that! 😛

I enjoyed the book and may read others by this author at some point. I don’t think I’m going to go hunting out erotic romances by the bucket-load, as I suspect I’ve been lucky with finding one with a satisfyingly complex plot in addition to well-drawn characters, lots of hot sex and a convincing second-chance romance. If you enjoy a good mystery combined with some down ‘n’ dirty lovin’, then Tempting a Sinner is definitely worth a look.