TBR Challenge: Mr. Warren’s Profession by Sebastian Nothwell

mr. warren's profession

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lindsey Althorp, the only son of a wealthy baronet, has never worked a day in his life. Aubrey Warren was born in a workhouse and hasn’t stopped working since.

When Lindsey wins a textile mill in a game of cards, he falls at first sight for the assistant clerk, Aubrey. Lindsey is certain that Aubrey is the Achilles to his Patroclus, the David to his Jonathan. Yet Aubrey, unaccustomed to affection, refuses to be a kept man-though he isn’t immune to Lindsey’s considerable charm.

Buoyed by Lindsey’s optimism and fuelled by Aubrey’s industry, the two men strive to overcome the class gulf between them. But a horrific accident reveals a betrayal that threatens to tear them apart forever.

Rating: B+

For the Tales of Old prompt, I went for the obvious and picked up an historical romance I’ve been meaning to read for ages.  Mr. Warren’s Profession is set at the end of the nineteenth century and is as much about the difficulties of two people from very different ends of the social spectrum being together as it is about the problems inherent in a relationship between two men at that time.  It’s well written – despite a few Americanisms – and obviously well-researched, the wealth of background detail carefully integrated into the story in order to create a wonderfully strong sense of time and place.

Aubrey Warren works as a clerk at a textile mill in Manchester.  He’s very good at his job, extremely diligent and hard-working – and used to doing the work of two since the other office clerk is lazy and only has the job because of his family connections.  But Aubrey is at least content – and doesn’t expect happiness.  He’s come from nothing – he was brought up in the workhouse – to a responsible position that provides him with income enough to live decently, if not well, and has dreams of one day becoming an engineer. His quiet and unassuming life is suddenly blown apart by the appearance of Lindsey Althorp, the son of a baronet, who has won the mill in a card game, and who actually takes an interest in the place, much to Aubrey’s surprise.

Lindsey had no idea of becoming involved in the business of the mill, but that changes the moment he lays eyes on the beautiful, dark-eyed clerk sitting at a desk in the office and is immediately smitten.  It’s a defining moment for Lindsey;  for the first time in his life, he feels a true and strong desire for another person, and like a bolt from the blue, it crystallises the truth – that he is, and always has been, attracted to men.  He’s well aware that’s something that must be hidden, but in the first flush of infatuation, in his overwhelming desire to see and spend time with Aubrey, Lindsey behaves less than discreetly – requesting several tours of the factory and anything else he can think of that will put him into Aubrey’s company.

While Aubrey is every bit as attracted to Lindsey as Lindsey is to him, he tries hard to distance himself, and it’s easy to understand why. He knows full well that Lindsey’s marked attention to him could have serious repercussions and knows how easy it would be for him to lose even the little he has should anyone suspect where his interest lies.  The precariousness of his situation as someone of lower social standing, without family or other support system is well articulated and well-contrasted with Lindsey’s; a relationship with another man would be risky for both of them, but Lindsey has the ‘safety net’ of family, wealth and title that Aubrey does not.  But Lindsey’s warmth, enthusiasm and sheer joy in their connection are hard to resist; it’s been a long time since he’s allowed himself to feel just about anything – and before long, Aubrey can’t find it in him to deny himself the happiness he longs for.

While Aubrey and Lindsey get together somewhat quickly, there’s still plenty of relationship development going on and there’s no denying the strength of the love and affection they find in each other.  They’re from completely different worlds, but Lindsey is so wonderfully supportive of Aubrey and wants the world for him; and Aubrey, once he allows himself to love Lindsey, does so with his whole heart.  As I said at the beginning, the historical context here is well-done, with full acknowledgement of the risks of pursuing a homosexual relationship at this time, and the class difference between the two principals just makes things even more difficult. Men of equal status spending time together in public would not have been looked at askance, but a baronet’s son and a lowly clerk?  Very suspicious indeed.

So there are, of course, a lot of obstacles in the way of their HEA, from interfering and well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) friends, to a jealous and ill-intentioned colleague to a villainous blackmail plot.  There’s loss and heartbreak, but the author pulls everything together with great skill to reach a very satisfying conclusion in which Aubrey and Lindsey get their well-deserved HEA (and the villain gets his equally deserved comeuppance!)

There’s a strongly characterised secondary cast and lots of fascinating historical detail, ranging from the Cleveland Street Scandal and the Post Office boys, to advances in engineering, the work of the mill and incipient worker’s rights, in such a way that it never feels didactic or info-dump-y. However, there were a few things that stretched my credulity a bit –  for example, Lindsey’s father and sister realising he was an ‘invert’ before he did and his father’s plan to ‘protect’ him from that knowledge by not sending him off to Eton, and his sister’s habit of employing handsome, similarly inclined footmen so Lindsey could, er, sow his wild oats discreetly!  Then there’s the ease and frequency with which the characters travel between London and Manchester by train, seemingly just to spend the day there (Google tells me it takes between two and two-and-a-half hours now, but it must have been more than that back then?) and not only that, but surely Aubrey couldn’t have afforded to travel between Manchester and London and Wiltshire (where Lindsey owns a house) so often.

In the end, however, those are fairly minor concerns, more ‘things I noticed’ than ‘things that spoiled the book for me’.  Mr. Warren’s Profession is an enjoyable historical romance filled with interesting period detail, and Aubrey and Lindsey are a likeable couple who are easy to root for.  I really enjoyed their growth as characters and as a couple, together with the story’s focus on their deepening emotional connection and how they surmount the obstacles on their path to happiness.  If you’ve enjoyed books by KJ Charles and Joanna Chambers, I’d definitely suggest giving this one a try.

TBR Challenge: Galaxies and Oceans by N.R. Walker

galaxies and oceans

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Seizing his one chance to escape, Ethan Hosking leaves his violent ex-boyfriend, leaves his entire life, and walks into the path of a raging bushfire. Desperate to start over, a new man named Aubrey Hobbs walks out of the fire-ravaged forest, alive and alone. With no ID and no money, nothing but his grandfather’s telescope, he goes where the Southern Cross leads him.

Patrick Carney is the resident lighthouse keeper in Hadley Cove, a small town on the remote Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. After the tragic death of his lover four years ago, he lives a solitary life; just him, a tabby cat, the Indian and Southern Oceans, and a whole lot of loneliness. He’s content with his life until a stranger shows up in town and turns Patrick’s head.

Patrick never expected to be interested in anyone else. Aubrey never expected to be happy. Between Aubrey’s love of the stars and Patrick’s love of the ocean, these two fragile hearts must navigate new waters. If they can weather the storm of their pasts, they could very well have a love that eclipses everything.

Rating: B+

N.R. Walker’s Galaxies and Oceans is a gently moving May/December romance between two damaged, lonely people who have good reason to be wary of falling in love.  It’s one of those books where, honestly, not very much happens apart from a couple of emotionally bruised people finding and falling for each other, but it’s so beautifully done, the chemistry between them so compelling that I was engrossed in the story from start to finish and blew through the book in just a couple of sittings.

I chose it for this month’s prompt because it’s set at the other end of the world – to me, anyway – on Kangaroo Island off the southern coast of Australia, and actually, it fits the prompt twice over.  Not only is the story set in a remote and unusual location, one of the leads is a lighthouse keeper, and although he doesn’t live IN the lighthouse (his house is just next door), several key scenes take place there and it plays a significant role in the story.

Twenty-seven-year-old Ethan Hosking has been in a relationship with his boyfriend Anton – Canberra’s only openly gay politican – for four years.  For the last two of those, Ethan has been subjected to violence and abuse on a regular basis, but he has no family or friends to turn to, no way to escape Anton’s controlling behaviour.  When the book begins, they’ve just arrived at the remote cabin Anton takes Ethan to each time he’s beaten him up – so nobody will see the damage – and then Anton just leaves him there while he goes back to the city.  Two days later, however, a massive bush fire laying waste to the national parks west of Canberra provides Ethan with a stark choice – stay where he is and end his misery that way… or make a run for it, make Anton believe he died in the fire and make a new life for himself somewhere far, far away.

Hadley Cove is a small town – population sixty-three – on the southwest tip of Kangaroo Island, South Australia, and Patrick Carney has been the lighthouse keeper there for the past six years.  Since the death of his lover Scott four years before, he’s lived a solitary life with just his cat and the ocean for company, occasionally venturing out to watch the penguins or the seals.  Like everyone else in Hadley, he can’t fail to register the arrival of a stranger, a young man who is staying at the run-down caravan park and looking for work.  Noticing the lonely figure clad only in jeans and a hoodie (neither warm enough to withstand the wind and the cold) staring out to sea, Patrick approaches him and strikes up a conversation – and immediately recognises the deep pain in his eyes.  They part soon after – Patrick realising he doesn’t know the other man’s name – and later that day, he heads out to the caravan park to see if he can talk the owner into giving the newcomer some work.  But it appears that’s already been taken care of;  Patrick arrives to find him already hard at work and learns his name is Aubrey Hobbs.

The romance between Patrick and Aubrey (Ethan adopted his beloved grandfather’s name when he reinvented himself) is a gorgeous slow-burn as they take baby-steps towards healing and love.  Patrick never thought or wanted to find love again – and feels guilty at the prospect – but something about Aubrey draws him in; it’s very clear the younger man has had a tough time of it, but Patrick never pushes for information Aubrey isn’t ready or willing to give.  And even though he can’t tell Patrick the whole truth – he wants to, but worries about dragging Patrick into a legal minefield – Aubrey is as honest as possible and very real when he talks about his life, his fears and his passion for astronomy.  Their connection is made quickly, but trust and deeper feelings are allowed plenty of time to develop, through shared meals (Patrick is an excellent cook!), visits to the ocean to watch the penguins come ashore or see the seal colony, picnics and stargazing (the one thing Aubrey took with him when he walked away from his old life was his grandfather’s telescope) at the top of the lighthouse.

The small secondary cast adds depth to the story and the setting is brought so vividly to life – the stormy skies, the biting wind, the fierceness and unpredictability of the ocean – that you can feel and see it all.  The writing is smooth and assured and lyrical, and I particularly liked the way Scott is present in the story, as someone who will always be important to Patrick and would want him to be happy; Patrick’s imaginary conversations with him are funny and poignant, but he never overwhelms the story and encourages Patrick to live his life.  I loved that Patrick, the lighthouse keeper, becomes the beacon who guides Aubrey to safety, and the idea of Aubrey being led to Patrick by the stars is one of the most romantic things I’ve read recently;  lost in the bush after the fire, he remembers his grandfather’s words about the Southern Cross – “the tail points south, always”.

“The Southern Cross is what brought me here.  The constellation.  I followed it, here, to this island.  To you.”

My quibbles with the story are small ones. The ending feels a bit rushed, and maybe Patrick holds on to his guilt over moving on for a tad too long, but those are the only things that didn’t quite work for me.

Heartfelt, sensual , touching and uplifting, Galaxies and Oceans is a gloriously romantic character-driven story about overcoming adversity and finding home.

TBR Challenge: The Dating Experiment (Better With You #2) by Briar Prescott

the dating experiiment

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Jamie:
Three years ago, I sold my soul to the devil.
Also known as my boss. Same thing.
Here’s the deal. Connor Quinn is arrogant, impossible to please, cold as ice, and prone to find flaws in everything.
Since that fatal day three years ago, many a murder plan have been made and many a weapon considered.
Until…
I accidentally get to know him better, which is unfortunate, since it turns out that underneath Connor’s icy exterior, there’s a man shaped by past hurts and difficult life lessons.
Which means I’m in a bit of a pickle since it also turns out I might kind of like the bastard…

Connor:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve chased calm. I’m the exact opposite of an adrenaline junkie with my pursuit of peace and quiet.
My rules are simple. I don’t make terrible decisions. I don’t make mistakes. And I don’t do chaos.
Until Jamie.
He’s an anomaly. A glitch in the system. Unpredictable. Distracting. Confusing.
But now I’ve accidentally gotten to know him better, and it turns out he’s also warm. And funny. And interesting. And with him, the world gets just a tiny bit quieter.
And I fit just a tiny bit better.

Rating: B

After reading and enjoying Briar Prescott’s The Happy List, I jumped straight into book two in her Better With You series, The Dating Experiment.  It sounded like it would be right up my alley – a grumpy boss and his snarky assistant who start falling in love while chatting online without knowing who they’re chatting with.  I love epistolary novels (I suppose chatting on apps and texts is the modern-day equivalent!) and The Shop Around the Corner is one of my favourite films; I enjoyed the author’s writing style and the humour and banter in The Happy List, so I was anticipating a great read when I started The Dating Experiment.

Workaholic lawyer Connor Quinn is the older brother of Gray from The Happy List, and in that book, he came across as something of an arsehole.  He brought Gray up after their parents died, and was probably more father than brother (Gray was twelve, Connor was in his early twenties); he seemed demanding and intractable, although he began to thaw somewhat towards the end and there were glimpses of a better relationship for the two brothers on the horizon.

When I started The Dating Experiment, I thought I might be reading a carbon copy of my favourite Lily Morton book, Rule Breaker.  The premise and character-types are identical – cantankerous boss and cheeky assistant who secretly pine for each other and communicate through the sort of high-level uber-snark that bewilders everyone around them – but it’s an oft-used trope and the banter is genuinely funny, so I was able to get past the similarities.

At the beginning of the story, Con’s PA Jamie receives a package containing an old mobile phone and a letter from his recently deceased grandfather.  He used to play Words With Friends regularly, and in the note, asks Jamie to get in touch with his regular partner Seb to make it clear he didn’t concede their final game – “Tell him fate intervened.  Maybe play a game in my honor.”

Jamie does as asked, and finds himself enjoying what proves to be an unexpectedly entertaining conversation with Seb, whose directness and deadpan humour make him smile.  Seb and Jamie chat for a while, then Seb challenges Jamie to a game – and before long, chatting with Seb about everything and nothing and playing Words With Friends becomes Jamie’s favourite part of the day and something to be looked forward to.  After a few weeks, Jamie starts to realise that there’s something going on that’s more than just a couple of guys idly chatting or playing an online game.  Even though they’ve never met, he’s attracted to Seb and is pretty sure the attraction is mutual.

When Jamie suggests to Seb that they should meet, he’s disappointed when the other man turns him down – but Jamie really feels as though they could have something special and, a few days later, decides to go for it.  “I dare you to have lunch with me.”

Of course, Jamie is shocked to see his boss walk into the diner and sit in the booth at which he’s arranged to meet Seb.  How the hell can Connor Quinn, the most “aggressively normal” – nay boring – man on the planet possibly be the warm, funny guy he’s been getting to know over the last few weeks?

The set-up is my catnip, and I really liked reading Connor and Jamie’s text exchanges; I loved watching them getting to know each other as the people they really are rather than their office personas, and enjoyed the way the author reveals so much about them through these conversations, which are real and funny and warm – and I was totally Here For It.  After they discover the truth (Sebastian is Con’s middle name, btw), their relationship becomes somewhat strained, but mostly as the result of the sheer overload of the sexual tension thrumming between them.  As any romance reader will know, that amount of UST isn’t going to stay “U” for very long; an explosive sexual encounter puts paid to any thoughts they might have had of things going back to the way they were, and Jamie decides to head off the ‘it was a mistake and we can’t do this again’ speech from Con by suggesting the titular dating experiment.  They won’t date; instead they’ll be two guys who hang out and do date-like stuff, but they won’t call it anything ‘official’ and will just go with the flow.

Okay, so I couldn’t honestly see how that was all that much different to actually dating, but I was enjoying the book so much, I went with it.  But then author goes on to tell us how Con and Jamie spend the next few weeks hanging out, going on not-dates, having lots of hot sex and spending whole nights together; however we get to see very little of it – we’re told – and that was disappointing.

Still, Con and Jamie have terrific chemistry and I really liked them as a couple; Jamie makes Con feel truly seen for probably the first time in his life and makes him want to come out of his protective shell a little, and Con encourages Jamie to pursue his own dreams.  The only real conflict in the story comes near the end when an old flame of Con’s appears to cause a bit of mischief that needn’t have been mischief at all – I could have smacked Con at that point.  I also had problems with the ending;  I’m not a fan of the public Grand Gesture, and even though I know Con was trying to be more spontaneous/less boring, it still felt completely out of character.

A couple of other niggles.  Jamie’s two friends Max and Anders (who star in books three and four in the series) don’t have very distinctive voices; not only do they sound like each other, they sound like Jamie, which made the few scenes in which they all appear a bit… samey.  Also, I didn’t really understand the author’s decision to have practically the entire first half of the book in Jamie’s PoV.  Con’s voice IS distinctive, so much so that it’s obvious he’s also Seb from the minute he and Jamie start messaging, so having some chapters from Con earlier wouldn’t have spoiled anything.

In the end though, I’m putting The Dating Experiment in the ‘win’ column, because more about it worked for me than didn’t, and honestly, most of the issues I’ve mentioned didn’t really impact on my enjoyment while I was reading; they just struck me afterwards!  If you’re in the market for a sexy, funny low-angst read, you could do worse than check this one out.

TBR Challenge: The Winter Spirit by Indra Vaughn

the winter spirit

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Nathaniel O’Donnelly likes his life quiet, his guests happy, and his ghosts well-behaved.

Although a boyfriend wouldn’t go amiss. Someone to share his beautiful B&B with, even if it is in the middle of nowhere and he’s long past the wrong side of thirty. Problem is, Nathaniel’s living with a ghost who thinks he’s cupid, and whose arrows fly a little too straight.

Gabriel Wickfield had the unfortunate luck of dying before his time, and now he’s stuck trying to make romance happen to earn his right to move along. Not that he’s bored in the meantime—Nathaniel is just too easy to tease. And also a little bit scrumptious…

With the curse reaching its expiration date, Gabriel needs to make a final match this Christmas. Without it, nothing but darkness awaits.

Love can conquer all, but can it beat death?

Rating: B+

I’m not the Bah!Humbug! type, but I’m also not one to seek out Christmassy romances just because they’re set in and around the festive season, although  if I like the sound of a story and it happens to be set around Christmas then I might give it a go.  And if I do pick up a Christmas story, then I don’t want one that could be set at any time of the year, I want one that makes good use of the wintry setting and that maybe has just a little bit of Christmas magic – and Indra Vaughn’s The Winter Spirit does just that.  This little gem clocks in at under 100 pages, but it hit me right in the feels in the best possible way.

When Nathaniel O’Donnelly inherited his uncle’s worse-for-wear hotel in rural Michigan twelve years earlier, he also inherited its resident ghost, Gabriel Wickfield, who can only be seen in mirrors or highly polished surfaces, and who takes delight in needling Nate and causing mischief.  After making extensive renovations to the place, Nate re-opened it as a B&B which he now runs with the help of his long-time friend and employee Elisa Brown. With Christmas approaching, things are fairly quiet; there are only two guests staying currently, but Nate is expecting a third, who happens to be an old school friend – and Nate’s first crush – Owen Ashurst.  He and Nate haven’t kept in touch so Nate has no idea of how Owen’s life has turned out, but he can’t deny he’s just a little bit excited at the idea of seeing Owen again. He’s not looking to start something (well, not really) although he can’t deny he’s just a teeny bit interested in seeing if there might be the potential for something between them.

When Owen arrives, he’s as good-looking and charming he ever was, and he’s pleased to see Nate, too.  They talk, they share a meal and Owen makes clear his interest in Nate, but Nate isn’t feeling it – although he’s not best pleased later that night when Gabriel appears and tells him he doesn’t like Owen and doesn’t think he’s being completely honest.

The next night when Nate returns to his room, it’s to find Gabriel actually sitting in one of the rocking chairs by the window.  Gabriel has never manifested like this before – as a solid, living (and gorgeous) man – and he quietly explains to Nate that he’s able to appear outside the mirrors for short periods of time around this time of year – but doesn’t tell him any more.  Nate finds himself looking for Gabriel and wanting to spend time with him at every opportunity, and with only a couple of days left until Christmas and with what lies beyond it uncertain, Nate realises that, unlikely though it may be, he’s fallen in love with a ghost – and that he’s loved in return.  Will a once-a-year thing be enough for them, if it’s even possible?  Or is Gabriel running out of time?

The author packs quite an emotional punch into the short page-count – I freely admit to several sniffles when all seemed lost – and even though there were a few things I wish had been more detailed, I was completely captivated by the characters, the gentle humour and the intense longing that permeates the romance.  (I’m a sucker for well-done pining!)  Nate is a lovely guy who had a crappy childhood, but who has risen above that to make a good life and run a successful business. He’s a decent, kind, hard-working man possessed of an attractive quiet strength, but he’s lonely, and worries that perhaps he’s destined to remain that way.  He’s over thirty, a bit overweight (and self-conscious about it), and hasn’t had many – if any – opportunities for love and romance come his way.  He’s so very real and relatable, and it’s easy to root for him to find the love and happiness he richly deserves.  As Nate is the sole narrator we only see Gabriel through his eyes, but I enjoyed his humour and the author does a great job of showing us his obvious love for Nate.  His backstory is truly heart-breaking.

It’s hard to talk about the things I wanted more of without giving away spoilers, so instead, I’ll just say that there’s a fair bit of hand-waving at the end and no real explanation for how it works out – BUT I was so invested in the characters and their relationship that I was able to go with ‘eh, magic’ and ignore that little bit of frustration at not having all the pieces to put together.  I also didn’t quite see the need for the Owen plotline – it didn’t really serve to galvanise Nate or Gabriel into realising how they felt about each other, and I wish the page-count devoted to it had been spent developing the ending and epilogue a bit more.

But I loved the story despite its flaws – any author who can make me run the gamut of emotions in a matter of eighty-one pages deserves all the kudos.  The Winter Spirit is charming and tender and poignant and magical… and just lovely.

TBR Challenge: Tiny House, Big Love (Love Unscripted #2) by Olivia Dade

tiny house big love

This title may be purchsed from Amazon

On camera. Up close. In denial–but not for much longer…

After a relationship gone bad, Lucy Finch is leaving everything behind. Her old home, her old job, her old insecurities. Even Sebastián Castillo, her protective but intensely private friend of almost twenty years. Before she moves halfway across the country, though, she has one last request for Seb: She wants him to help her choose a tiny house on cable television. And maybe during the filming process, she can discover once and for all whether his feelings for her are more than platonic…

Sebastián would rather do anything than appear on HATV. But Lucy needs him, and he can’t say no. Not when she’s about to leave, taking his heart with her. Hiding how he feels with a television crew watching their every move will prove difficult, though–especially when that crew is doing their sneaky best to transform two longtime friends into a couple.

Tiny spaces. Hidden emotions. The heat generated by decades of desire and denial. A week spent on camera might just turn Lucy and Seb’s relationship from family-friendly to viewer discretion advised…

Rating: B+

Tiny House, Big Love is the second of Olivia Dade’s Love Unscripted books, both of which feature contestants taking part in different reality TV shows.  In this story, the show is Tiny House Trackers, in which the participants are looking to buy – you guessed it! – a Tiny House.  I have to stop here to confess that I had no idea a Tiny House was something other than “a very small house”, and had to look it up so I could understand what the heroine was actually looking for!  It’s a quick and entertaining read, the two leads are endearing and the mutual longing they feel for each other just leaps off the page, although the short page-count left me wanting to know about more of both their backstories.

Massage therapist Lucy Finch is about to take a promotion which will require her to move around the country a fair bit, and rather than finding temporary accommodation each time she moves, she’s decided to buy a Tiny Home that she can take with her wherever she goes.  Her friend, Allie, a real estate agent, encouraged her to apply to appear on the show and she’ll be the one finding Lucy three homes to view – with the expectation being that she’ll choose to buy one of them at the end of it.  Lucy asks her best friend of over twenty years, Sebastián Castillo, to be on the show, too, to help her make her choice.

It’s clear from the off that Sebastián and Lucy have long had feelings stronger than friendship for each other, but have never acknowledged the fact or acted on them.  They’ve been friends since high-school, when Sebastián, bullied because he was small for his age and because he was an immigrant, not only faced off his own bullies, but hers as well.  They kept in touch after Sebastián  moved away, exchanging loads of letters, postcards and emails; but now he’s back in Marysburg, Lucy is about to leave, and she’s wondering, somewhat wistfully, if they could ever have been more to each other than friends.

Sebastián would rather have teeth pulled without anaesthetic than appear on television, but he can’t refuse Lucy’s request for help, and agrees to appear with her on Tiny House Trackers.  He’s an intensely private person and years of bullying have left him scared to let himself be vulnerable and with a thick outer shell of implacability.  He keeps his emotions buried and under lock and key – but because he buries them doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel them deeply;  he’s determined not to give anything away in front of the cameras – or Lucy – as to the truth of his feelings for her, because he doesn’t want to influence her decision to move away – and because he doesn’t think he could handle rejection.  He’s the strong, silent type, but he shows his affection for Lucy in a hundred little ways and he’s a lovely hero – caring, protective and supportive with every bone in his body.

Lucy’s last boyfriend was a douchebag who knocked her confidence in her own judgement, and she’s still second-guessing herself more than she used to.  She’s strongly attracted to Sebastián, but his inscrutability gives her no clue as to whether he feels the same, and she doesn’t want to risk making a move and ruining the most important relationship in her life.  Sometimes she thinks he’s attracted to her, but then whatever she sees in his face is gone, leaving her wondering.

Lucy and Sebastián are likeable and endearing and make an adorable couple – although I admit I did sometimes want to shake some sense into Sebastián and tell him to wise up (but he more than makes up for his reticence in the end.)  They’re real people with real problems who struggle, but grow and learn how to make things work.  Their move from friends to lovers doesn’t feel rushed, and the aforementioned longing and UST is incredibly well done. The scenes they film for the show as they tour the houses on offer are a hoot –

The last thing she needed was either a deep-woods pot shack, a dick-festooned bus, or an Oregon Trail enthusiast’s fever dream.

– and I loved that we’re shown Lucy slowly re-learning to assert herself as she works through the selection process and reaches her decision.  I also liked the way the main story is framed with chapters from the PoVs of two of the production assistants (who really deserve their own story, because there are serious sparks there!)

Tiny House, Big Love is a delightful contemporary romance with lots of gentle humour and awesome friends-to-lovers pining.  It’s short, sweet, sexy and well worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.

TBR Challenge: Marked by Fire by Mia West

marked by fireThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Eighteen-year-old Arthur burns for two things: a warrior’s ink, and Bedwyr, his older brother’s shieldmate.

Though the warlord’s son is beyond his reach, a Saxon incursion finally brings Arthur’s chance at the tattoo that will brand him a fighter.

But when he abandons his training in the heat of battle, his reckless ambition costs Bedwyr his sword hand.

Once, Bedwyr trusted in two things: he was a warrior, and the presumed heir of Uthyr.

Now, reeling from injury and sent away by his father, he’s lost everything. The last person he wants to see is the cub who ignited his disastrous instinct to protect.

Especially when he arrives with Bedwyr’s armor and a dangerously hopeful scheme to restore him to his rightful place.

Rating: B-

I really had to wrack my brains to recall if I already had a book that would fit this month’s prompt of “unusual”, and I was coming up with a big blank – until I found Mia West’s Marked by Fire, book one in her Sons of Britain series, and decided that an m/m romance set in sixth century Wales definitely fit the bill!

Ms. West has mined Arthurian legends and given them a new slant, so that while the characters are mostly familiar, they don’t always fit the roles we may be used to seeing them in – for instance, Arthur isn’t the son of Uther Pendragon (or Uthyr, the Pen y Ddraig) and Bedwyr, who is often related to the sidelines in the myths, has a central role – and given there are so many legends and so many variations on them, I had no problem with that.  This is certainly not the Camelot of chivalric legend and the Lady of the Lake; no, this is the Dark Ages, mere decades since the Romans departed Britain, and life is tough and brutal.  The author does an excellent job capturing the feel of the period – it’s dark and gritty and very real – and of setting up the network of relationships that will populate her version of the story.

Eighteen-year-old Arthur ap Matthias is restless, hotheaded and eager to prove himself in battle and impress not only his leader, Uthyr, but also Uthyr’s son Bedwyr, who Arthur has watched and longed for from afar for years.  His chance comes when a small band of Saxons is spotted advancing into Cymru, but he fails to heed instructions and his recklessness has dire consequences – and in trying to defend him Bedwyr loses a hand.  His survival is in doubt, but Matthias – who is the village healer – is able to save him. (The author doesn’t sugarcoat the treatment he undergoes, so there are some scenes that might not be for the squeamish!). Arthur is distraught and desperate to beg Bedwyr’s forgiveness, but Bedwyr point blank refuses to see him.  Of course he’s furious with Arthur for costing him his sword hand, but he’s fearful, too – what use is a warrior who cannot fight?  Bedwyr’s worst fears come true when his father banishes him to a small shepherd’s hut outside the village.

Uthyr summons Arthur and makes it clear he expects Arthur to pay a price for causing Bedwyr’s injury.  Arthur at first thinks Uthyr is going to take his own right hand, and is shocked when Uthyr tells him to take his and Bedwyr’s armour to the hut and that he’s going to retrain Bedwyr to fight with his left hand – and that he must not, under any circumstances, tell Bedwyr that Uthyr sent him.  Relieved and pleased to have a chance to make amends, but worried Bedwyr will refuse to see him, Arthur nonetheless sets out for the hut, determined to do whatever it takes.

Bedwyr has pretty much given up and succumbed to self-pity when Arthur turns up, and he wants nothing to do with him.  But Arthur is stubborn and determined, and – begrudgingly – Bedwyr starts to acknowledge him and then to take an interest in what he’s come there to do.  A tentative friendship forms, and as the days pass, Bedwyr begins to pull himself out of his funk and to become the man – and warrior – he has always been meant to be, while Arthur’s remorse and desire to do right by Bedwyr engenders a new maturity and self-control.  And as Bedwyr comes to know Arthur as a man and not just as his best friend’s foolhardy younger brother, he takes his first step towards accepting the truth of his desires.  (Although the fact he has a bit of a crush on Matthias at the beginning of the book made his growing interest in Arthur a bit… ick?  I had to blank that out!)

Marked by Fire is a well-paced and enjoyable story with a strong setting and engaging, flawed characters who are both trying to learn from their mistakes and have undergone considerable growth by the end.  The romance between Arthur and Bedwyr is a slow-burn, and I enjoyed their progress from awkwardness to dawning friendship, playfulness and trust as their attraction to one another strengthens.  They have strong chemistry and the love scenes are nicely steamy, but I’d like there to have been a little more depth to their relationship overall.  That said, their story continues in book two (Bound by Blood); this one ends on an HFN (with a final scene that is a bit of a cliffhanger) so there is clearly more to come and I’m intrigued enough to want to know what happens next, so I’ll be reading that at some point.

TBR Challenge: The Murder Between Us (A Noah & Cole Thriller #1) by Tal Bauer

the murder between us

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It was just one night.
It was just one mistake.

FBI Agent Noah Downing had questions about his sexuality that a single night in Vegas should have answered. But dawn finds him on a plane back to Iowa, back on the trail of a vicious serial killer who disappeared six years ago and has suddenly resurfaced. There’s nothing like a murder investigation to escape an existential crisis.

FBI profiler Cole Kennedy is still reeling after finding a heart-stopping connection with a seemingly perfect man, only for him to vanish. When he’s sent to Iowa to profile the killer terrorizing America’s heartland, he finds more questions than answers – both about the murderer and about Noah, the last man he ever expected to see again.

A twisted secret stretches between Cole and Noah, tangled with questions they both have about each other. But now, thrown together, they’ll have to unravel the killer’s profile and follow his trail… back to the very beginning, to where everyone’s questions are answered once and for all.

Rating: B+

With a prompt like “Secrets and Lies”, my mind immediately flew to romantic suspense and a book I’ve wanted to read for a while but, as usual, haven’t managed to squeeze in yet.  Tal Bauer’s The Murder Between Us boasts a couple of well-drawn and engaging protagonists, an intriguing plot and provides the sort of balance between romance and plot I’ve been missing in so many of the m/f romantic suspense titles I’ve read recently.

Special Agent Noah Downing has been struggling with his sexual identity for many years.  He thinks he’s gay but has never felt able to explore that side of himself and has instead filled his life with work and, since his divorce, looking after his teenaged daughter Katie, who has recently come to live with him.  When the book opens, he’s decided it’s finally time to give himself permission to be himself, even if it’s just for one night;  he ventures to the bar of the hotel he’s staying in with a view to… well, he doesn’t really know what, and is about to leave when his eye is caught by an attractive blond man who makes his way over and offers to buy him a drink.  He introduces himself as Cole, they start chatting and Noah is surprised at how comfortable he feels and how much he enjoys Cole’s company.  There’s a lot of chemistry and a definite sense of connection between them right from the start, and after the best evening out Noah has had in a long time – maybe ever –  they spend a wonderful, passionate night together that answers all Noah’s questions about his sexuality.

They arrange to have dinner together the next night, but not long after Noah gets back to his room in the morning, he’s called back home to Des Moines and he leaves straight away – without stopping to call Cole and tell him why he can’t make their dinner date.

The reason for Noah’s abrupt departure is the brutal murder of the Sherrif of Boone County and his daughter by the same person believed responsible for the deaths of a number of bright, accomplished young female college and university students several years before.  Noah led the task force charged with apprehending the Coed Killer, but whoever it was took care to leave no clues and no forensics –  then disappeared without a trace and was never caught.  But it appears that after a gap of six years, the Coed Killer is back – and this time, not only is he targeting young female college students, he’s killing their fathers too.  Noah makes his way to the home of Bart Olsen and his daughter Jessie, where it appears Jessie was strangled and then her father was killed as he tried to intervene.  As if the murder of a fellow LEO isn’t bad enough, the Olsens aren’t the only victims of the newly returned serial killer.  Three months earlier, another young woman was strangled in her home, and although at the time, it was believed her obsessive boyfriend was responsible, Noah now believes her to have been another victim of the Coed Killer.  He knows the pressure to catch them is going to be intense – his boss instructs him to get a task force up and running and Noah asks him to request a profiler form the BAU – “the best profiler they’ve got.”

Dr. Cole Kennedy is still smarting over Noah’s non-appearance the day after their fantastic night together, and is starting to think that maybe the intensity of the desire he’d seen in Noah’s eyes had been more for the experience Cole offered him than for Cole himself.  It’s been quite some time since a guy has got so under his skin so quickly and he’d really wanted the chance to explore their connection further – even if it had been just dinner and no more.  But Noah made his feelings quite clear by blowing him off so rudely, and Cole has to forget him.  Which only makes the irony of his being headed to join a task force in Noah’s home state that much richer.

Well, yes, we all knew where this was going, but the ‘oh, shit’ moment is nicely done.

Both men have to work to hide their shock when Cole walks into the conference room where Noah’s team is assembled.  Noah is obviously scared of being outed and does everything he can to keep Cole at a distance, and while Cole realises why Noah is being so stand-offish,  he’s also angry at the way Noah treated him, and wants answers – and I can’t say that I blamed him.

Fortunately however, this stalemate doesn’t last for too long, and the men manage to find the opportunity to talk about what happened.  Noah doesn’t have a great reason for not calling Cole the day he left, but they talk it out, and decide they’d like to try to see more of each other while Cole is in town, but they’ll take it slow and maybe Cole can help Noah through coming out if that’s what he wants to do.

I liked the fact that the book focuses on the relationship before the suspense plot comes into play, as it really helps the reader to get a handle on Noah’s character in particular. His yearning to be able to live as his true self is palpable, but the reasons hemming him in aren’t easily dealt with, from his concern that he could lose custody of his daughter to worry about how his colleagues would treat him if they knew he was gay.  He’s a bag of nerves and a bit highly-strung at times (!), but thankfully Cole is there to ground him; he knows who he is and is secure in himself both personally and professionally, he’s kind and perceptive and it’s clear from the start that he really cares about Noah and wants him to be happy.  If I have a criticism about the romance it’s that it’s a bit reliant on insta-love in the way these two fall head-over-heels for each other so quickly, but somehow the author makes it work.

The suspense plot is tense and well-paced, with plenty of twists and turns and a bit of gruesome detail here and there (no worse than you’ll find in most novels of this type, though).  As with the romance, I had a niggle or two – at one point I did have to wonder if Cole really was “the best profiler” the FBI had because he missed something I thought was obvious (and I’m rubbish at working out whodunit!) – but even so, I was completely hooked by the story as a whole and couldn’t put the book down, so I’m inclined to be forgiving 😉

The Murder Between Us delivered pretty much everything I want in a romantic suspense novel; an  interesting mystery, strongly characterised protagonists and a romance with plenty of sparks and sexual chemistry.  Yes, there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me, but overall, it was a compelling read, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the sequel, The Grave Between Us, as soon as I can.

TBR Challenge – Whiteout (Seasons of Love #1) by Elyse Springer

whiteout springer

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Noah Landers wakes up one day with a headache and no memory of where — or who — he is. Jason, the man taking care of him, tries to fill in some of the blanks: they’re in a cabin in Colorado on vacation, and Noah slipped on ice and hit his head. But even with amnesia, Noah knows Jason is leaving out something important.

Jason O’Reilly is sexy as hell, treats Noah like he’s precious, and seems determined to make this the romantic getaway they’d apparently dreamed of together. But Noah’s more concerned that he’s trapped alone with Jason in the middle of a blizzard while his slowly returning memories bring hints of secrets and betrayal.

Noah’s not sure what’s the truth and what’s a lie. But as he learns who he is — and who Jason is to him — he’s forced to reevaluate everything he believes about himself, about loyalty . . . and about love.

Rating: B

My One Word Title read is very much a book of two halves, one of which I enjoyed considerably more than the other.  The first half of Whiteout revolves around an amnesia plot, and the second around the resulting fallout; the first half is tense and terrific, but the second loses momentum and the principals are separated for most of it.  I understand why, but having your leads apart for almost half a book isn’t a great idea in a romance.

When the book opens, Noah Landers is waking up with one helluva headache – and no idea of where –or who – he is.  There’s a man speaking to him – a man who clearly knows him and has been taking care of him – who explains that they’re a couple, they’re holidaying at a cabin in the Colorado mountains for Christmas, and that Noah slipped on the ice and hit his head. Noah doesn’t recognise the man – Jason O’Reilly – although he does recognise that Jason is uneasy and holding something back – and that although he doesn’t know who he is, the name Noah feels… wrong somehow.  Jason explains that because of the remoteness of the cabin and the bad weather conditions, it hasn’t been possible to get Noah to a hospital, but he’s speaking with a doctor regularly on the phone, and their advice about the amnesia has been not to tell Noah too much about himself and to let his memories return in their own time.

Over the next few days, Jason shows himself to be a kind and compassionate person; he’s clearly terribly upset at what happened to Noah and does everything he possibly can to ensure his comfort and aid his recovery.  He’s very affectionate and loving, too, wearing his feelings for Noah on his sleeve and taking every opportunity to touch him – a hand at his elbow or his back, a touch to his face – but as random memories start to trickle back, Noah starts to see small things about the other man’s behaviour that don’t quite make sense.  He begins to doubt what Jason is telling him about the doctor, and when Noah finds his cellphone buried under a pile of clothes in a drawer and listens to the messages that call him by a different name, he starts to think that something is very, very  wrong.

We only get Noah’s PoV in this book, and the author uses the limited perspective brilliantly, creating a strong sense of menace and uncertainty and conveying Noah’s palpable fear and growing paranoia in a way that cleverly plays with our expectations.   Unfortunately, however, the single PoV isn’t so effective in the second half – which it’s difficult to talk about without revealing too much, but here goes.

Jason and Noah leave Colorado separately, and the story follows Noah as he returns to his life and career in NYC.  But he can’t forget Jason or what happened between them, and this part of the story focuses on Noah’s desire to win Jason back as well as on his personal growth as he learns to properly examine his motivations for his actions and then works out what he wants and how to go for it.  For the most part, I continued to be fully invested in the story; Noah’s longing for Jason is palpable and permeates the pages, although I can’t deny that some of my raison d’être for reading so quickly was because I was eager to reach the reconciliation!  There are definitely some emotional moments here as Noah is knocked back and perseveres, but this part of the story would perhaps have worked better had it included Jason’s PoV.  He’s not all that well fleshed out even when he’s a presence on the page; we know he’s handsome, rich and successful and that his long-term partner died and he was devastated.  It’s clear that this relationship has a bearing on the one he forms with Noah, but it only gets some brief mentions and is never really addressed. And other than his professions of love for Noah, we know nothing further about his feelings.  I can’t help feeling that a different king of structure  – maybe interspersing the story of how Noah pursues Jason with flashbacks telling the story of how they got to that point – might have been a better way to maintain a consistent level of tension and interest.

So… while I would still recommend Whiteout, my final grade is a compromise.  The first half is DIK-worthy while the second is… not.  It isn’t horrible by any means, but I can’t deny it was something of an anti-climax coming after such a fantastic beginning.

TBR Challenge – Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray

briarley

This title may be purchased from Amazon

During a chance summer shower, an English country parson takes refuge in a country house. The house seems deserted, yet the table is laid with a sumptuous banquet such as the parson has not seen since before war rationing.

Unnerved by the uncanny house, he flees, but stops to pluck a single perfect rose from the garden for his daughter – only for the master of the house to appear, breathing fire with rage. Literally.

At first, the parson can’t stand this dragon-man. But slowly, he begins to feel the injustice of the curse that holds the dragon captive. What can break this vengeful curse?

Grade: B+

I’m not a big fan of fairytale retellings, so I struggled a to come up with something for this month’s Challenge prompt and was almost at the point of just picking up a random book instead.  But then I remembered Aster Glenn Gray’s Briarley – an m/m version of  Beauty and the Beast – that I’d come across at the end of last year after enjoying Honeytrap. Problem solved!

This version of the story is set in the English countryside during World War II, and the exquisite writing and the author’s gift for language and tone sucked me in from the very first page:

There once was a country parson with a game leg from the Somme, who lived in a honey-colored parsonage with his daughter, the most beautiful girl in the world.

Others might have quibbled that Rose was not the most beautiful girl in the world, or even the prettiest girl in the village of Lesser Innsley. But to the parson she was all loveliness, all the more so because his wife died when their Rose was still very young, and so Rose was all he had left to love in this world.

Rose is home on leave from her work as a nurse, and when the parson (as he is usually called) has to go to a meeting in town regarding the evacuation of London’s children, she reminds him to bring her back a rose, something he’s done habitually whenever he returned from a trip away from home.  As he’s cycling back, he somehow takes a wrong turn, and with his bad leg aching and the weather worsening, he decides to take refuge in a grand, seemingly abandoned house, hoping perhaps to use the phone to get a message to Rose that he’s been delayed.  His knocks go unanswered, so he tries pushing the door… and is surprised when it opens.  Inside, he finds a dining room with a crackling fire and a sumptuous feast laid out – one that must have put an incredible strain on the owner’s ration books! – but an eerie chill, despite the fire, will not leave him and he makes his way outside intending to continue his journey home.  The house is surrounded by plentiful rose bushes and, remembering his promise to take one home, he cuts one using his penknife, and is about to leave when a booming voice yells “Thief!”  from somewhere overhead – and a creature with wings and a large, scaly snout drops from the sky, gathers him in its arms and flies up into the air and onto the roof of the mansion.

The terrified parson tries to apologise to the dragon-man for stealing his rose, but the dragon will not hear his apology and says he will let him go – if he will send his daughter to take his place.

The author preserves the basic elements of the tale, but from here on in, she makes a number of significant changes while still very much preserving the spirit of the original.  The parson’s refusal to bring his daughter to the house flips the story on its head, and his response to the dragon’s somewhat petulant reaction to his refusal:

“If the Luftwaffe gets you, it will be the only good work they ever did,”

Sets the tone for the gently adversarial relationship that develops between them.

And it’s clear this is going to be a very different sort of retelling when, in response to learning of the dragon’s dilemma, the parson suggests he should get a dog:

“The curse says you must learn to love and be loved, does it not? Those are the only conditions?” The dragon nodded, his head still buried in his hands. The parson broke a piece off a roll and buttered it. “Then I suggest you get a puppy,” he said.

At first glance it seems dismissive, but he then goes on to explain how he’s seen shell-shocked soldiers make huge progress when put in charge of a dog’s welfare – showing he’s already got a good read on the situation and is genuinely trying to find a practical solution to undoing the curse.

Briarley is fairly short (novella-length), but where so many shorter romances fall into the insta-love trap, this doesn’t and actually feels like a slow-burn as the parson and the dragon (as they’re usually called) start spending time together while the parson muses on the nature of love and its many forms and the dragon starts to let down his guard and become… more human.

The characters are well drawn – the dragon haughty, impulsive and entitled, the parson insightful with a nice sense of irony –  and the author does an excellent job of showing their antagonistic relationship developing into a true friendship, and then taking a more romantic turn.  The parson’s deep affection for the dragon permeates the pages as the story progresses, as does his understanding and compassion for the thoughtless young man he’d once been.

The setting of rural wartime England is superbly and subtly evoked; the location in the enchanted house spares the characters most of the real hardships endured by so many, but the war is never far away; it’s in the talk of rationing, of children being evacuated from the cities, of young people being called up to fight and watching the raids by the Lutfwaffe and the aerial dogfights between them and the RAF.

My only complaint – which is kind of a big one for a book labelled a romance – is that the love story is under-developed and could have used a few more pages/chapters to be more fully fleshed-out.  The deep affection and the friendship between the parson and the dragon are strongly present and thoroughly convincing, but not so much the romantic love, which is disappointing.  But even so, Briarley is funny and thought-provoking, the dialogue is clever, the writing is superb and the whole thing is utterly charming.  In spite of the low-key romance, it’s still well worth reading and if you’re a fan of fairytale retellings, it should be on your radar.

TBR Challenge: Served Hot (Portland Heat #1) by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

In Portland, Oregon, the only thing hotter than the coffee shops, restaurants, and bakeries are the hard-working men who serve it up—hot, fresh, and ready to go—with no reservations… Robby is a self-employed barista with a busy coffee cart, a warm smile, and a major crush on one of his customers. David is a handsome finance director who works nearby, eats lunch by himself, and expects nothing but “the usual”—small vanilla latte—from the cute guy in the cart. But when David shows up for his first Portland Pride festival, Robby works up the nerve to take their slow-brewing relationship to the next level. David, however, is newly out and single, still grieving the loss of his longtime lover, and unsure if he’s ready to date again. Yet with every fresh latte, sweet exchange—and near hook-up—David and Robby go from simmering to steaming to piping hot. The question is: Will someone get burned?

Rating: B

I was a bit pushed for reading time this month (too many new releases to review!) and I was actively looking for a fairly short read to fulfil this month’s prompt, so I was pleased when I came across Served Hot on my Kindle. I’m a big fan of Annabeth Albert’s books, but I’m still playing catch-up with her backlist; Served Hot dates from 2015 and is the first book in her six-part  Portland Heat series of novella-length stories featuring guys who work in the restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and bars of the city.  It’s short, sweet and sexy and the author packs a decent amount of character and relationship development and a lot of heart into the limited page count.

Self-employed barista Robby Edwards enjoys working his busy coffee cart in the Old Emerson building in Portland, and the highlight of his day is the arrival of David Gregory, an attractive, well-dressed guy who always buys a vanilla latte and sits at one of the nearby tables to eat his (obviously home-made) lunch, alone.  They don’t do much more than exchange pleasantries or talk about the weather, and even though Robby doesn’t know if David is gay, he has a major crush – but no idea how to go about striking up an actual conversation and maybe even flirting a little bit.

When Robby decides to go for it and mentions he’s going to Portland Pride that weekend, he can’t help being a bit disappointed when David doesn’t react and seems to withdraw a little. He wonders if he’d have been better not to have said anything at all.  So he’s absolutely delighted when David shows up after all and makes it clear he’s there for Robby.  They spend a little time talking and share a sweet (but not quite chaste) kiss before they part having arranged to see each other again soon.

The next time we see David and Robby, they’ve been dating for about six weeks… and Robby is starting to get a little frustrated.  Not just sexually (although he’s that, too) but because he’s falling hard for David and isn’t sure where he stands with him.  He’s wary of pushing too hard and scaring him off – while David is clearly not quite sure how to be in an openly out relationship.  He’s not closeted – not any more – and when we learn his backstory, his inability to move forward is easy to understand, although that doesn’t excuse the fact that he doesn’t always treat Robby fairly.

Despite that however, David is a very sympathetic character and it’s easy to root for him to be able to get past his issues so that he can be with Robby, because there’s no question these two belong together.  Robby is smart and funny and a bit insecure, and I liked that he recognises his flaws and owns them.  He’s very well fleshed-out considering this is such a short book and I enjoyed spending time in his head.  And although we don’t get David’s perspective, Ms. Albert does a terrific job of bringing him to life through Robby’s eyes; he’s shy and endearing, and his backstory is heartbreakingly realistic.  And in fact, I loved how real this story was –  Robby and David aren’t stunningly handsome billionaries; they have normal jobs, and they talk about normal things like money and food and friends and family.

The story is told in four sections that take place over just under a year, so there are time jumps, but the format works. One criticism I often make of novellas is that the romance is rushed, but that’s not the case here as we get to see the different stages of Robby and David’s relationship as they both navigate unfamiliar waters and learn – together – what a healthy relationship looks like and how to deal with fears and problems just like every couple has to.

Served Hot is a charming read, a warm, feel-good story with just the right amount of angst (and steam!) featuring two likeable characters, and I’m looking forward to reading more in the Portland Heat series.