The Elizas by Sara Shepard ~ Sarah A’s Review

When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional—isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins…

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I often get caught in such a loop of romance novels I forget how much enjoy a true psychological thriller.  The Elizas was quite the mindfuck, and I’m still not sure what was real, what was fiction (within fiction), and what was completely imagined.  I’m certain this is one book I will be thinking about for some time.

The Elizas is a standalone novel.  This is a psychological thriller with minimal romance, for those of you who are used to me reviewing romances.  The Elizas is written in two different styles, Eliza’a narration is in first-person perspective, and her novel, The Dots, is written in third-person limited perspective.

I loved how this novel was delivered, the book within a book format, and reading the book Eliza is about to have published as we are getting her story.  The play back and forth between Eliza and Dot was fascinating.  Sarah Shepard did a sublime job of building up two different plots in order to tell the incredibly riveting story of a fickle girl.

The story within a story aspect of this book was ingenious.  I found myself completely caught up in both stories so much; it eventually became difficult – for Eliza and me – to delineate where she stopped, and Dot started.  Between the fluidity between Dot and Eliza, Dot’s aunt Dorothy and Stella, and the shadowy figure Eliza continually glimpses, the security of self and the identity of those we think we know was constantly changing and in question.  It was enthralling.

By the time I finished the novel, there wasn’t a single person I hadn’t questioned the intentions of.  The characters, no matter the time they spent on the page, were highly developed and unique.  It seemed as if each and every one of them was hiding things.  From Eliza, from each other, from the reader.  Such is the intention of an unreliable narrator, and Ms. Shepard gave us a great one in Eliza.

Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars series fascinated me, and I was ecstatic to get the chance to check out her foray into adult fiction.  She delivered a multi-faceted and engaging story, full of fascinating characters with dubious intentions.  I was wholly invested in figuring out the intricacies of Eliza’s world and was left reeling by the time the novel finished.  Ms. Shepard is truly a fantastic author with an incredible knack for weaving a quirky, intense, psychological thriller.

Sara Shepard is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Pretty Little Liars series. She has also written other Young Adult series and novels, including The Lying GameThe Heiresses, and The Perfectionists. Sara now lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

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Such Dark Things by Courtney Evan Tate ~ Excerpt & Blog Tour

From New York Times bestseller Courtney Cole, writing as Courtney Evan Tate, comes the psychological thriller that will keep readers up turning pages long into the night, SUCH DARK THINGS! “Written in breathless style, this page-turner relies on quick thrills, surprise twists…[for] readers seeking a fast entertaining tale…”(Publishers Weekly).Grab your copy of SUCH DARK THINGS today!

I thought I knew him. He thought he knew me. We were both wrong…

Dr. Corinne Cabot is living the American dream. She’s a successful ER physician in Chicago who’s married to a handsome husband. Together they live in a charming house in the suburbs. But appearances can be deceiving—and what no one can see is Corinne’s dark past. Troubling gaps in her memory mean she recalls little about a haunting event in her life years ago that changed everything.

She remembers only being in the house the night two people were found murdered. Her father was there, too. Now her father is in prison; she hasn’t been in contact in years. Repressing that terrifying memory has caused Corinne moments of paranoia and panic. Sometimes she thinks she sees things that aren’t there, hears words that haven’t been spoken. Or have they? She fears she may be losing her mind, unable to determine what’s real and what’s not.

So when she senses her husband’s growing distance, she thinks she’s imagining things. She writes her suspicions off to fatigue, overwork, anything to explain what she can’t accept—that her life really isn’t what it seems.

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I scan through my texts.

None from Corinne. I’m oddly disappointed, even though she never texts me during the day. The ER keeps her too busy. But still. I thought she might text after this morning’s sex.

One from Michel.

How are you doing?

And several from a number I don’t recognize.

Hi there. It’s Zoe from Vilma’s.

Damn it.

I swallow, and I read her other texts.

You left your credit card at the café this morning.

Do you want to meet me so you can have it back ASAP?

I feel a jolt. First, fuck. I left my card someplace? I can’t even remember the last time I did that. How irresponsible. I practically don’t have a credit limit, so a thief could have a field day with it.

Second, how weird that she’s texting me. So weird.

I can just pick it up from Vilma in the morning, I answer. Thanks for letting me know.

I see the three bubbles on my text screen signifying that she is answering. So I wait without putting my phone down. The idea of who is on the other end of the phone gives me a jolt, a thrill, even though my initial thoughts about the girl weren’t flattering. She might have clear daddy issues, but she has an ass you could bounce a quarter off of. It strokes my ego that she’s texting me.

I actually have the card with me. I didn’t want anything to happen to it. I’m in town running errands. I could meet you for lunch?

Another jolt.

She wants to meet for lunch? Is this for real?

What a kind offer, I answer and my heart literally pounds. But I would never impose on you like that. If you’re working tomorrow, I’ll pick it up then.

There are three bubbles. She’s typing.

But nothing comes through.

I wait.

The three bubbles are still there, then they disappear.

Still nothing.

I can’t help but picture her in her overly-tight waitress uniform. The bright blue complemented her skin tone, and her tits were busting out of the top. The skirt was short, and it’s quite possible that she made it that way on purpose.

For a minute, being a red-blooded man, I picture that ass bent over a chair, her uniform skirt hitched up to her hips. Her lacy panties would be shoved to the side…and I think she’d be shaved.

I indulge for just a second, then I push the images out of my head. It’s a fantasy. That’s all.

I’m normal.

I love my wife.

I miss my wife.

Corinne is my world.

I jam my phone into my pocket as my door opens with my next patient.

“Mr. Ford,” I greet the elderly man in front of me, the one with OCD who is at this very moment wiping his feet on the carpet as he walks to wipe away all germs from his shoes. He does it a thousand times a day. “I’m so glad to see you. How have you been?”

He takes a seat in the chair across from me, careful to keep his right foot crossed over the left, and for the next hour, I’m immersed in the world of an obsessive man. This week, his new habit is stepping on a particular stair-step on his porch precisely four times every time he goes home.

We discuss coping mechanisms, and the chemical reasons that OCD could be at play in his brain, and when we’re nearly done, I find him staring at the portrait of Corinne and me sitting on my desk.

“You’re a lucky man,” he tells me, and his cloudy eyes are pensive. “I lost my Helen a decade ago. I haven’t been the same since.”

No, he hasn’t. His OCD emerged that year, when he was lost in grief.

“I am lucky,” I agree. “My wife is a brilliant woman.”

“She’s a looker, too,” Mr. Ford observes, and I try to see the picture through the fresh eyes of a stranger.

Corinne’s eyes are bright and blue, her hair long and blond. She’s thin, she’s trim, she’s tall. Her legs are long, her smile bright.

She is a looker. Sometimes I forget that.

Probably because I haven’t seen her in days and days.

I hide my stress. My patients don’t get to hear my very real and very human problems.

We finish our session and Mr. Ford leaves, and I wrap up my notes. When I’m finished, I’m surprised to realize that it’s lunchtime.

Ginny pokes her head in. “Hey, boss. I’m going out for lunch. Should I bring you something back?”

I could meet you for lunch?

Unbidden, the texted words flash through my mind, and guiltily, I push them away. Fuck, man. Not cool.

“I’m good,” I tell Ginny, and I think my words have a double meaning. I’m good. I don’t have straying thoughts about a woman who isn’t my wife. Not real straying thoughts.

Ginny leaves, and I grab my jacket, and as I do, my phone buzzes, and I think my wife might’ve texted me back.

I’m startled when I see that I’m wrong.

It’s not Corinne.

It’s a picture.

Of Zoe.

I was right. She’s shaved.

My heart thuds as I stare at the nude picture.

Her tits are big and full and her thumb is brushing her nipple, her other hand caressing her shaved vagina. Her eyes are big and turned to the camera in a sultry gaze, and she’s completely and absolutely naked.

Are you freaking kidding me?

I swallow hard, and it’s not like I haven’t been hit on before. I have. But this is different. It’s so blatant, so outrageous, and frankly, in some hidden and shameful spot, it turns me on.

Fuck, man.

I’m sorry, I’m married, I reply, typing with shocked wooden fingers.

Because I’m good. The stiffness in my crotch doesn’t count.

Three bubbles.

That’s fine, she answers. Do you want a girlfriend?

Sweet Jesus.

She can’t be serious. Is her generation so blatant and direct?

No, I answer. Sorry.

Three bubbles.

Hmm. We’ll see.

 

Courtney Cole is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist who would eat mythology for breakfast if she could.

She has a degree in Business, but has since discovered that corporate America is not nearly as fun to live in as fictional worlds.

Courtney was born and raised in rural Kansas, but has since migrated south. She now lives in Florida and writes beneath palm trees.

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Sever by Mary Elizabeth ~ Sarah A’s Review

Misery overstayed its welcome.

But fate will not be so easily swayed.

Gabriella Mason and Teller Reddy have walked a thin line between affection and hostility for years. The intensity that once set them on fire has ended their engagement and separated them by more than just miles.

Forced together by circumstances they never saw coming, Gabriella and Teller have no choice but to face the past that brought them together and ultimately severed them apart.

Wrecked and Damaged have collided.

This is what happens when they try to pick up the pieces.

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FREAKING FINALLY!  I have been waiting for this book for FOREVER!  Or it seems like that, at least.  It was really not quite 18 months, but I’m impatient.  Totally worth the wait.  I will tell you, if you have any doubts about your retention of the events of Closer, you should definitely do a reread, I started this book thinking it would come back to me and I was completely wrong.

Sever is the second book in Mary Elizabeth’s Closer duet.  It is NOT a standalone; it is imperative that Closer is read beforehand.  Sever jumps right in where Closer left off, with no rehashing of the events of the previous novel.  Sever is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Teller and Ella.

I still hate Ella and Teller, but I think I understand them better after reading Sever.  They are both deeply broken and volatile, each because of the neglect of a parent who was far more concerned with themselves than they were their children.  When they were together, it was a powder keg waiting for the tiniest of sparks.  They were explosive, in all ways, their love was intense, their hatred all-consuming, their destructive behaviors could devastate a small country

Teller redeemed himself a little in this book; he showed himself to have the ability to be level-headed and considerate.  Ella, however, was far more erratic and mean.  I did appreciate how Teller attempted to soothe her mind, body, and soul throughout the story.  Their relationship may have been highly unhealthy, but there was never any question about how passionately they felt toward one another.

Sever was, much like its predecessor, highly compelling.  It kept me glued to the pages; I felt uncomfortable each time I had to set it down.  It never fell into a comfortable place where I was okay with not knowing what was going to happen next.  Sever was angst-filled and didn’t give any satisfaction for a good portion of the novel.  Even in the final few chapters, there was some question as to the fate of the characters.  Those chapters made the story feel real because real-life is never filled with magical healing and happily ever afters.  Life is work, relationships are hard, and if you don’t feed them and care for them, they will disintegrate.  I’m glad every character involved was willing to put in the effort to keep their relationships whole and healthy.

Mary Elizabeth is proving herself to be a powerful wordsmith.  Both of these books made me feel EVERYTHING and feel it everywhere.  Nothing was on the surface in this series; both books were raw and real and difficult.  I love a book that makes me work for it, and these did that.  After the wild ride that was the Closer series, I can’t wait to see what Mary Elizabeth has in store for her readers.

“So,” Mili starts not-so-subtly. “Teller tells me you’re selling your dad’s house up north.”

“My realtor called me yesterday and said we received an offer. I accepted this morning.” There’s no point in hiding the disappointment that burns my eyes.

“That was fast,” she replies. Her caring, motherly tone leaves me uncomfortable. Mili Reddy has never treated me like anything less than a member of the family, but even after all this time, I can’t fully accept maternal affection. Dysfunction forced on me by my absentee mother fills the empty spaces with awkwardness and strain. “Did you think it was going to sell that quickly?”

“No,” I answer.

She nods her head. “Did you want to sell the house, Ella?”

“No,” I say. It’s the first time I’ve admitted the truth to anyone, let alone myself. My decision to return to St. Helena and sell the house was rash, and one I made without thinking. “But it’s probably for the best.”

“I heard you saw your mom,” she says thoughtfully.

A gunshot of disappointment and grief blasts through me, leaving me full of holes that expose my every fear. I’m taken back to the moment I saw the woman who brought me into the world for the first time since she abandoned her family. She looked the same but rougher around the edges. My mother, Karen Mason, has more gray hair than brown, which used to match my own. There are lines around her eyes and a filter on her face that all former drug addicts wear.

For years, I thought about what I would say if I ever saw her again, but when the moment came, I was wordless. Time stood still, and the only thought that crossed my mind as I stopped face-to-face with the past was that I wanted Teller.

“That won’t happen again now that the house sold. I won’t go back there,” I say.

Mili takes my hand, amplifying my level of freaking out. I could open the car door, jump, and run for the sake of my state of mind.

I’m messed up.

How broken does a person need to be to risk road rash than face emotional honesty?

“I can’t begin to imagine how painful that was for you, sweet girl. But do you think a conversation with her might give you closure?”

“Can I ask you a question?” I ask.

She squeezes my hand. “Yes.”

“How does a mother leave her kids?” That’s what it comes down to. I don’t have kids, and I don’t know if I can bring myself to have them after what I’ve been through, but from what I know, it’s a crime against nature to abandon the lives a person forces into the world. I didn’t ask to be born, and I didn’t ask for abandonment. I’m a victim of circumstance, and it royally screwed me up.

“Well,” she starts, letting go of my hand and returning hers to the steering wheel. “As a mother, I don’t know if I can give you the answer you’re looking for. My children are complicated beings, and I don’t always like them, but I will always love them. They could never do anything to change my mind about being their mom despite their complications.”

We come to a slow stop at a red light, and I chuckle because said complications are the understatement of the century. Maby is mad, and Teller is layered.

“I am not a perfect parent,” she continues. “I’ve contributed to the people they’ve grown to be, and I have a lot of guilt every time Maby locks herself in her room for a week at a time, or when my son chases the girl of his dreams across the state when all she wants is to be left alone.”

I scoff, and she smiles.

“There have been plenty of times when I wonder if they’d be better off without me. I understand your mother’s thought process.” Mili parks the car in front of Maby’s place. “All parents think about running away from their families during the hard times. What I don’t understand is how she decided to do it. I can’t even begin to imagine how she felt about herself to truly believe you would be better without her influence.”

“She was on drugs,” I say. “She wanted her habit more than she wanted Em and me.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” Mili takes my face in her hands. “But don’t ever question her love for you, Ella. Love for a child is not something a mother can turn off. You’re loved by so many, and I, for one, am thankful to have you in my life. I’ve watched you grow into a caring, intelligent woman who loves so hard and completely you don’t know what to do with it. That’s not a bad thing, Ella.”

“I don’t know how you can say that.” My tears run through her fingers. “With everything Teller and I have been through—”

Mili tilts her head back and laughs in the same exact way her son did earlier tonight. “Honey, my kid means the world to me, but that boy will drive the sanest person insane. I don’t think anyone blames you for slapping him around sometimes.”

“You can’t be serious.” I roll my tear-filled eyes.

She unbuckles her seat belt and opens the car door, letting in the cold night’s air. With one foot on the pavement, she looks over her shoulder and says, “I’m only half-serious. You guys drive me wild. Get it together.”

We spend the rest of the night in a blur of exfoliations and girl talk. I cringe when Nic gossips about her sex life with Emerson and swoon with Mili when she reminisces romantic moments with Theodore, who’s normally a hard ass. As they talk about how much they adore the men in their lives, substantial longing lodges my heart into my throat. It drowns out our conversation to a low hum, and I am restless.

Mili pats my thigh and whispers, “Are you okay?”

Nodding slightly, I’m claustrophobic under my charcoal face mask and blocked between Maby and her mom.

“I’ll be right back.” I grab my cell phone from the coffee table in front of me, knocking over my champagne flute, and escape to the backyard.

I can breathe under the stars, but I can’t escape the reality of what I’ve done: overreacted. Teller should’ve been honest with me, but I shouldn’t have destroyed the life we were only beginning to create together. If there’s one thing Teller has given me since the first moment we met, it’s unconditional devotion. In return, I accepted him no matter what.

Until I didn’t.

My hands tremble as I pull up his number, and my heart doubles, triples in size as it rings.

And it completely stops when he doesn’t answer.

Gabriella Mason is damaged.

Teller Reddy is wrecked.

Misery loves company, and that’s exactly what Ella gets the afternoon her path crosses with Teller’s: the misunderstood premed student who instantly becomes her lifeline when she moves to Los Angeles, an attempt at escaping her heartbreaking past.

In the beginning, Lonely and Defensive complete each other. But in the end, their relationship is like broken glass—cutthroat and jagged.

Calling it off before they kill each other, Ella and Teller decide to “just be friends” despite the intensity that binds them together. It’s a delicate foundation rocked by tragedy, effectively destroying the illusion they’ve so carefully built.

Unable to deny what’s between them any longer, this is what happens when wrecked and damaged collide and close is still not close enough.

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Mary Elizabeth is an up and coming author who finds words in chaos, writing stories about the skeletons hanging in your closets.

Mary was born and raised in Southern California. She is a wife, mother of four beautiful children, and dog tamer to one enthusiastic Pit Bull and a prissy Chihuahua. She’s a hairstylist by day but contemporary fiction, new adult author by night. Mary can often be found finger twirling her hair and chewing on a stick of licorice while writing and rewriting a sentence over and over until it’s perfect. She discovered her talent for tale-telling accidentally, but literature is in her chokehold. And she’s not letting go until every story is told.

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Close Cover by Lexi Blake ~ Sarah A’s Review

Remy Guidry doesn’t do relationships. He tried the marriage thing once, back in Louisiana, and learned the hard way that all he really needs in life is a cold beer, some good friends, and the occasional hookup. His job as a bodyguard with McKay-Taggart gives him purpose and lovely perks, like access to Sanctum. The last thing he needs in his life is a woman with stars in her eyes and babies in her future.

Lisa Daley’s life is finally going in the right direction. She has finally graduated from college after years of putting herself through school. She’s got a new job at an accounting firm and she’s finished her Sanctum training. Finally on her own and having fun, her life seems pretty perfect. Except she’s lonely and the one man she wants won’t give her a second look.

There is one other little glitch. Apparently, her new firm is really a front for the mob and now they want her dead. Assassins can really ruin a fun girls’ night out. Suddenly strapped to the very same six-foot-five-inch hunk of a bodyguard who makes her heart pound, Lisa can’t decide if this situation is a blessing or a curse.

As the mob closes in, Remy takes his tempting new charge back to the safest place he knows—his home in the bayou. Surrounded by his past, he can’t help wondering if Lisa is his future. To answer that question, he just has to keep her alive.

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It’s no secret I love Lexi Blake. I’d been looking forward to this crossover event and her book, in particular, for some time. By any other standard this book would be excellent, by the standard set by Lexi in this and other series, however, it just didn’t quite live up to what I’ve come to expect from her.

Close Cover is the sixteenth book in Lexi Blake’s Masters and Mercenaries series. This book can be read as a standalone, there are characters from previous books in that series, and it does touch on the other couples from the Masters and Mercenaries crossover event, but nothing that takes away from the understanding of this novel. Close Cover is the only full-length novel in the Masters and Mercenaries crossover. This book is written in third-person semi-omniscient perspective, alternatively following Lisa and Remy’s thoughts.

Secret keeping, misinformation, lying by omission. One of the more frustrating tropes in romance and this book was rife with it. From Remy and Lisa’s first meaningful interaction to the greatest conflict of their relationship. While I did understand Remy’s motivations in both situations, you could feel they were headed for disaster because he wasn’t forthright with Lisa about his feelings about her and the reason for his reentry to her life.

I was rooting for Lisa and Remy, I continually had mixed feelings about them – for myriad reasons – but they were pretty adorable together. I especially loved how reverently he spoke of, and to, her. The suspension scene was sublime; his poetry transcended the beauty of the rest of the scene. Lisa sometimes felt beyond awkward when they were together, the crux of their connection definitely rested on Remy’s massive shoulders.

Close Cover was well-paced. I never felt like there was a lull in the forward momentum of the book. It did have a little less action than I’ve come to expect from the Masters and Mercenaries series, and most of the tension was developed with speculation and revelations of coincidental past events. Lexi Blake did a great job of feeding her readers enough crumbs of information to feel invested in the plot without giving so much that the entirety of the plot was predictable.

I wish I would have felt more connected to the characters in this book. I’m not sure what was lacking, but I didn’t feel the deep emotional tie to these characters that I usually do when reading Ms. Blake’s stories. They fell a little flat for me, Lisa more so than Remy; he felt more well-developed than she did.

Lexi Blake is one of my favorite authors. She always develops interesting and suspenseful plots, with sympathetic characters. She writes strong heroines, who’s best qualities are complemented by their life partners. This book, while not my favorite of hers, carried those traits and was a great way to conclude the Masters and Mercenaries crossover series.

The light in his face blocked out the view of the man interrogating him. Remy blinked in the glare and sighed. He should have known this wouldn’t go the way he’d hoped it would. He’d come back to Dallas as a courtesy and now he had to worry that maybe he wouldn’t make it out of this office again.

He should have filed his report and run the other way, but the truth was this had been his team and it was in ruins now. Well, what some would call ruins. They had been a fully cohesive unit and then the last few weeks had played out the way they had and their ranks had been decimated.

One by one they’d fallen…

The team he’d known so well these last few years was gone and it wouldn’t be the same again.

“I want to know what happened,” a deep voice said.

Remy sat back. He wasn’t about to let that bastard know for a second that he was mildly intimidated. Besides, after everything that had happened in the past few weeks, the asshole probably had a right to take a chunk out of his hide. “It’s all in my report.”

There was the sound of shuffling and then his report slid across the desk and bounced into his lap.

“You mean this? This tells me nothing.”

“It tells you everything you need to know about what happened in Papillon. I’ve documented everything thoroughly, including all the bloody parts and where I buried the bodies in case you need them for anything. Of course, given where I was at the time, those bodies might not last long. The bayou tends to take everything it can from a man if he’s not moving. Sometimes even when he is.”

As his brother had learned. God, he hoped his brother forgave him one day. Of everything that had happened in Louisiana, his brother’s pain was the one thing he truly regretted.

Remy picked up the report he’d submitted only last week when he’d done all his exit paperwork. He thought he’d been extremely thorough in his mission report. His final report.

“Tell me what else you need from me, Tag.”

It was his last report because he wouldn’t be back here again. Not to work. After what had happened that wasn’t possible. He was needed somewhere else.

After a difficult childhood and a turbulent stint in the military, Declan Burke finally got his act together. Now he’s a battle-hardened professional bodyguard who takes his job at McKay-Taggart seriously and his playtime – and his playmates – just as seriously. One thing he never does, however, is mix business with pleasure. But when the mysterious, gorgeous Suzanne D’Angelo needs his protection from a stalker, his desire for her burns out of control, tempting him to break all the rules…even as he’s drawn into a dark, dangerous world he didn’t know existed. 

Suzanne is an earthbound angel on her critical first mission: protecting Declan from an emerging supernatural threat at all costs. To keep him close, she hires him as her bodyguard. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she’s in over her head, defenseless against this devastatingly sexy human who makes her crave his forbidden touch. 

Together they’ll have to draw on every ounce of their collective training to resist each other as the enemy closes in, but soon it becomes apparent that nothing could have prepared them for the menace to their lives…or their hearts.

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McKay-Taggart operative Riley Blade has no intention of returning to Los Angeles after his brief stint as a consultant on mega-star Lyle Tarpin’s latest action flick. Not even for Natasha Black, Tarpin’s sexy personal assistant who’d gotten under his skin. Why would he, when Tasha made it absolutely clear that—attraction or not—she wasn’t interested in a fling, much less a relationship. 

But when Riley learns that someone is stalking her, he races to her side. Determined to not only protect her, but to convince her that—no matter what has hurt her in the past—he’s not only going to fight for her, he’s going to win her heart. Forever.

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I’ve had two goals my entire life: 

  1. Make it big in country music.
  2. Get the hell out of Bell Buckle.

I was doing it. I was on my way, until Cooper Townsend landed backstage at my show in Dallas. 

This gorgeous, rugged, man of few words was one cowboy I couldn’t afford to let distract me. But with his slow smile and rough hands, I just couldn’t keep away. 

Now, there are outside forces conspiring against us. Maybe we should’ve known better? Maybe not. Even with the protection from Wade Rycroft, bodyguard for McKay-Taggart, I still don’t feel safe. I won’t let him get hurt because of me. All I know is that I want to hold on, but know the right thing to do is to let go…

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Talia Shaw has spent her adult life working as a scientist for a big pharmaceutical company. She’s focused on saving lives, not living life. When her lab is broken into and it’s clear someone is after the top-secret formula she’s working on, she turns to the one man she can trust. The same irresistible man she turned away years earlier because she was too young and naive to believe a sexy guy like Shane Landon could want her.

Shane Landon’s bodyguard work for McKay-Taggart is the one thing that brings him satisfaction in his life. Relationships come in second to the job. Always. Then little brainiac Talia Shaw shows up in his backyard, frightened and on the run, and his world is turned upside down. And not just because she’s found him naked in his outdoor shower, either.

With Talia’s life in danger, Shane has to get her out of town and to her eccentric, hermit mentor who has the final piece of the formula she’s been working on, while keeping her safe from the men who are after her. Guarding Talia’s body certainly isn’t any hardship, but he never expects to fall hard and fast for his best friend’s little sister and the only woman who’s ever really gotten under his skin.

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Sadie Jennings was used to being protected. As the niece of Sean Taggart, and the receptionist at McKay-Taggart Group, she was constantly surrounded by Alpha men more than capable, and willing, to lay down their life for her. But when she visits her friend in San Antonio, and acts on suspicious activity at Milena’s workplace, Sadie puts both of them in the crosshairs of a madman. After several harrowing weeks, her friend is now safe, but for Sadie, the repercussions of her rash act linger on.

Chase Jackson, no stranger to dangerous situations as a captain in the US Army, has volunteered himself as Sadie’s bodyguard. He fell head over heels for the beautiful woman the first time he laid eyes on her. With a Delta Force team at his back, he reassures the Taggart’s that Sadie will be safe. But when the situation in San Antonio catches up with her, Chase has to use everything he’s learned over his career to keep his promise…and to keep Sadie alive long enough to officially make her his.

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NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Lexi Blake lives in North Texas with her husband, three kids, and the laziest rescue dog int eh world. She began writing at a young age, concentrating on plays and journalism. It wasn’t until she started writing romance and urban fantasy that she found the stories of her heart. She likes to find humor in the strangest places and believes in happy endings no matter how odd the couple, threesome, or foursome may seem.

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His to Protect by Carly Phillips ~ Sarah A’s Review

Talia Shaw has spent her adult life working as a scientist for a big pharmaceutical company. She’s focused on saving lives, not living life. When her lab is broken into and it’s clear someone is after the top-secret formula she’s working on, she turns to the one man she can trust. The same irresistible man she turned away years earlier because she was too young and naive to believe a sexy guy like Shane Landon could want her.

Shane Landon’s bodyguard work for McKay-Taggart is the one thing that brings him satisfaction in his life. Relationships come in second to the job. Always. Then little brainiac Talia Shaw shows up in his backyard, frightened and on the run, and his world is turned upside down. And not just because she’s found him naked in his outdoor shower, either.

With Talia’s life in danger, Shane has to get her out of town and to her eccentric, hermit mentor who has the final piece of the formula she’s been working on, while keeping her safe from the men who are after her. Guarding Talia’s body certainly isn’t any hardship, but he never expects to fall hard and fast for his best friend’s little sister and the only woman who’s ever really gotten under his skin.

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THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I HOPED FOR FROM THIS CROSSOVER EVENT! (Yes, shouty capitals!) This is my favorite of the novellas in this series. It felt like a complete story, I didn’t feel like I was missing a ton of information about the series I wasn’t familiar with, and it included the McKay-Taggart world in a meaningful way.

His to Protect is listed as book 2.5 in Carly Phillips’ Bodyguard Bad Boys series and falls in the same timeline as the sixteenth book in Lexi Blake’s Masters and Mercenaries series. This book can be read as a complete standalone. His to Protect is written in third-person semi-omniscient perspective, alternatively following Talia and Shane’s thoughts.

I freaking loved Talia and Shane. They were both so strong, so independent, so confident in who they were. Having two characters who are completely comfortable in their own skin and lot in life seems rare in the world of romance and having two characters like that find one another made me giddy. I loved that they wanted the same things in life and were both completely honest with the fact they weren’t in a place where they thought a relationship was important or feasible.

Though this book was a novella, it didn’t feel rushed or lacking in any way. The plot moved quickly and, while the action was intense, I felt like plenty of time was spent on building the connection between Talia and Shane. In a novella that can be a hard balance to find and Ms. Phillips did an amazing job of striking it.

This is my first time reading Carly Phillips, and if this is indicative of her normal writing, I’m a huge fan. Her prose was engaging and exact. I loved that she didn’t include a bunch of superfluous information for the sake of filling pages. I was wholly impressed with every part of this book, from characterization to plot to style, and look forward to reading more of Ms. Phillips’ work.

Remy Guidry doesn’t do relationships. He tried the marriage thing once, back in Louisiana, and learned the hard way that all he really needs in life is a cold beer, some good friends, and the occasional hookup. His job as a bodyguard with McKay-Taggart gives him purpose and lovely perks, like access to Sanctum. The last thing he needs in his life is a woman with stars in her eyes and babies in her future.

Lisa Daley’s life is finally going in the right direction. She has finally graduated from college after years of putting herself through school. She’s got a new job at an accounting firm and she’s finished her Sanctum training. Finally on her own and having fun, her life seems pretty perfect. Except she’s lonely and the one man she wants won’t give her a second look.

There is one other little glitch. Apparently, her new firm is really a front for the mob and now they want her dead. Assassins can really ruin a fun girls’ night out. Suddenly strapped to the very same six-foot-five-inch hunk of a bodyguard who makes her heart pound, Lisa can’t decide if this situation is a blessing or a curse.

As the mob closes in, Remy takes his tempting new charge back to the safest place he knows—his home in the bayou. Surrounded by his past, he can’t help wondering if Lisa is his future. To answer that question, he just has to keep her alive.

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After a difficult childhood and a turbulent stint in the military, Declan Burke finally got his act together. Now he’s a battle-hardened professional bodyguard who takes his job at McKay-Taggart seriously and his playtime – and his playmates – just as seriously. One thing he never does, however, is mix business with pleasure. But when the mysterious, gorgeous Suzanne D’Angelo needs his protection from a stalker, his desire for her burns out of control, tempting him to break all the rules…even as he’s drawn into a dark, dangerous world he didn’t know existed. 

Suzanne is an earthbound angel on her critical first mission: protecting Declan from an emerging supernatural threat at all costs. To keep him close, she hires him as her bodyguard. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she’s in over her head, defenseless against this devastatingly sexy human who makes her crave his forbidden touch. 

Together they’ll have to draw on every ounce of their collective training to resist each other as the enemy closes in, but soon it becomes apparent that nothing could have prepared them for the menace to their lives…or their hearts.

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McKay-Taggart operative Riley Blade has no intention of returning to Los Angeles after his brief stint as a consultant on mega-star Lyle Tarpin’s latest action flick. Not even for Natasha Black, Tarpin’s sexy personal assistant who’d gotten under his skin. Why would he, when Tasha made it absolutely clear that—attraction or not—she wasn’t interested in a fling, much less a relationship. 

But when Riley learns that someone is stalking her, he races to her side. Determined to not only protect her, but to convince her that—no matter what has hurt her in the past—he’s not only going to fight for her, he’s going to win her heart. Forever.

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I’ve had two goals my entire life: 

  1. Make it big in country music.
  2. Get the hell out of Bell Buckle.

I was doing it. I was on my way, until Cooper Townsend landed backstage at my show in Dallas. 

This gorgeous, rugged, man of few words was one cowboy I couldn’t afford to let distract me. But with his slow smile and rough hands, I just couldn’t keep away. 

Now, there are outside forces conspiring against us. Maybe we should’ve known better? Maybe not. Even with the protection from Wade Rycroft, bodyguard for McKay-Taggart, I still don’t feel safe. I won’t let him get hurt because of me. All I know is that I want to hold on, but know the right thing to do is to let go…

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Sadie Jennings was used to being protected. As the niece of Sean Taggart, and the receptionist at McKay-Taggart Group, she was constantly surrounded by Alpha men more than capable, and willing, to lay down their life for her. But when she visits her friend in San Antonio, and acts on suspicious activity at Milena’s workplace, Sadie puts both of them in the crosshairs of a madman. After several harrowing weeks, her friend is now safe, but for Sadie, the repercussions of her rash act linger on.

Chase Jackson, no stranger to dangerous situations as a captain in the US Army, has volunteered himself as Sadie’s bodyguard. He fell head over heels for the beautiful woman the first time he laid eyes on her. With a Delta Force team at his back, he reassures the Taggart’s that Sadie will be safe. But when the situation in San Antonio catches up with her, Chase has to use everything he’s learned over his career to keep his promise…and to keep Sadie alive long enough to officially make her his.

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Carly Phillips is the NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of over 50 sexy contemporary romance novels, including the Indie published, Dare to Love Series. She is happily married to her college sweetheart, the mother of two nearly adult daughters and three crazy dogs. Carly loves social media and is always around to interact with her readers.

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Say You Won’t Let Go by Corinne Michaels ~ Sarah A’s Review

I’ve had two goals my entire life: 

  1. Make it big in country music.
  2. Get the hell out of Bell Buckle.

I was doing it. I was on my way, until Cooper Townsend landed backstage at my show in Dallas. 

This gorgeous, rugged, man of few words was one cowboy I couldn’t afford to let distract me. But with his slow smile and rough hands, I just couldn’t keep away. 

Now, there are outside forces conspiring against us. Maybe we should’ve known better? Maybe not. Even with the protection from Wade Rycroft, bodyguard for McKay-Taggart, I still don’t feel safe. I won’t let him get hurt because of me. All I know is that I want to hold on, but know the right thing to do is to let go…

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Say You Won’t Let Go is the reason I found Lexi Blake.  I heard about this crossover last year and wanted to have an understanding of the Masters and Mercenaries world, so I picked up my first Lexi Blake book, and my obsession began.  I’ve loved Corinne Michaels’ writing for a while, and I knew Cooped needed his story told and I’m happy to have finally experienced his happy ending.

Say You Won’t Let Go is book 3.5 in Corinne Michaels’ Return to Me series and falls along the same timeline as Lexi Blakes sixteenth book in her Masters and Mercenaries series.  This novella can be read as a standalone.  Say You Won’t Let Go is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Emily and Cooper.

I’m so happy that Cooper finally found happiness of his own.  For so long he’d been living with whatever situation he’d been forced into and, because he is such a stand-up guy, he shouldered the responsibility and made sure everyone else was taken care of as best he could.  Him finally taking the reins, shirking an iota of duty, and going after what he wanted was sublime.

I loved Cooper and Emily together.  Having seen them throughout the other books in Ms. Michaels’ series gave me added insight into who they were and what their chemistry was like, and I’m thankful for that.  I appreciated their quick jump into love more because I knew them better than I had the other characters in this crossover.

The plot of Say You Won’t Let Go was intense and compelling; both in terms of building Emily and Cooper’s relationship and the situation for which Emily required a bodyguard.  I needed to know how far her stalker would go, why he was so obsessed, and who he was.  At one point I was sure I’d figured it out but was completely off base.

My biggest wish for this book is that it had been more inclusive of Lexi Blake’s world.  The character from her series is a great supporting character, where I would have loved to have seen him be a main character.  We barely got to know him at all and, except for being employed by McKay-Taggart, the ties to that world were tenuous at best.  I was also left without much closure on one of the major storylines and wish it had been fully fleshed out.

Corinne Michaels is one of my go-to authors.  I’ve read all of her published work and love her writing style.  She stories are always emotionally charged and include real-life issues.  It’s because of inclusion of those issues I feel like her books are always relatable.  Not everything is always sunshine and roses, and her writing reflects the real world pain people have to deal with.

Remy Guidry doesn’t do relationships. He tried the marriage thing once, back in Louisiana, and learned the hard way that all he really needs in life is a cold beer, some good friends, and the occasional hookup. His job as a bodyguard with McKay-Taggart gives him purpose and lovely perks, like access to Sanctum. The last thing he needs in his life is a woman with stars in her eyes and babies in her future.

Lisa Daley’s life is finally going in the right direction. She has finally graduated from college after years of putting herself through school. She’s got a new job at an accounting firm and she’s finished her Sanctum training. Finally on her own and having fun, her life seems pretty perfect. Except she’s lonely and the one man she wants won’t give her a second look.

There is one other little glitch. Apparently, her new firm is really a front for the mob and now they want her dead. Assassins can really ruin a fun girls’ night out. Suddenly strapped to the very same six-foot-five-inch hunk of a bodyguard who makes her heart pound, Lisa can’t decide if this situation is a blessing or a curse.

As the mob closes in, Remy takes his tempting new charge back to the safest place he knows—his home in the bayou. Surrounded by his past, he can’t help wondering if Lisa is his future. To answer that question, he just has to keep her alive.

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After a difficult childhood and a turbulent stint in the military, Declan Burke finally got his act together. Now he’s a battle-hardened professional bodyguard who takes his job at McKay-Taggart seriously and his playtime – and his playmates – just as seriously. One thing he never does, however, is mix business with pleasure. But when the mysterious, gorgeous Suzanne D’Angelo needs his protection from a stalker, his desire for her burns out of control, tempting him to break all the rules…even as he’s drawn into a dark, dangerous world he didn’t know existed. 

Suzanne is an earthbound angel on her critical first mission: protecting Declan from an emerging supernatural threat at all costs. To keep him close, she hires him as her bodyguard. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she’s in over her head, defenseless against this devastatingly sexy human who makes her crave his forbidden touch. 

Together they’ll have to draw on every ounce of their collective training to resist each other as the enemy closes in, but soon it becomes apparent that nothing could have prepared them for the menace to their lives…or their hearts.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

McKay-Taggart operative Riley Blade has no intention of returning to Los Angeles after his brief stint as a consultant on mega-star Lyle Tarpin’s latest action flick. Not even for Natasha Black, Tarpin’s sexy personal assistant who’d gotten under his skin. Why would he, when Tasha made it absolutely clear that—attraction or not—she wasn’t interested in a fling, much less a relationship. 

But when Riley learns that someone is stalking her, he races to her side. Determined to not only protect her, but to convince her that—no matter what has hurt her in the past—he’s not only going to fight for her, he’s going to win her heart. Forever.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

Talia Shaw has spent her adult life working as a scientist for a big pharmaceutical company. She’s focused on saving lives, not living life. When her lab is broken into and it’s clear someone is after the top-secret formula she’s working on, she turns to the one man she can trust. The same irresistible man she turned away years earlier because she was too young and naive to believe a sexy guy like Shane Landon could want her.

Shane Landon’s bodyguard work for McKay-Taggart is the one thing that brings him satisfaction in his life. Relationships come in second to the job. Always. Then little brainiac Talia Shaw shows up in his backyard, frightened and on the run, and his world is turned upside down. And not just because she’s found him naked in his outdoor shower, either.

With Talia’s life in danger, Shane has to get her out of town and to her eccentric, hermit mentor who has the final piece of the formula she’s been working on, while keeping her safe from the men who are after her. Guarding Talia’s body certainly isn’t any hardship, but he never expects to fall hard and fast for his best friend’s little sister and the only woman who’s ever really gotten under his skin.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

Sadie Jennings was used to being protected. As the niece of Sean Taggart, and the receptionist at McKay-Taggart Group, she was constantly surrounded by Alpha men more than capable, and willing, to lay down their life for her. But when she visits her friend in San Antonio, and acts on suspicious activity at Milena’s workplace, Sadie puts both of them in the crosshairs of a madman. After several harrowing weeks, her friend is now safe, but for Sadie, the repercussions of her rash act linger on.

Chase Jackson, no stranger to dangerous situations as a captain in the US Army, has volunteered himself as Sadie’s bodyguard. He fell head over heels for the beautiful woman the first time he laid eyes on her. With a Delta Force team at his back, he reassures the Taggart’s that Sadie will be safe. But when the situation in San Antonio catches up with her, Chase has to use everything he’s learned over his career to keep his promise…and to keep Sadie alive long enough to officially make her his.

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New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Corinne Michaels is the author of nine romance novels. She’s an emotional, witty, sarcastic, and fun loving mom of two beautiful children. Corinne is happily married to the man of her dreams and is a former Navy wife.

After spending months away from her husband while he was deployed, reading and writing was her escape from the loneliness. She enjoys putting her characters through intense heartbreak and finding a way to heal them through their struggles. Her stories are chock full of emotion, humor, and unrelenting love.

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Justify Me by J Kenner ~ Sarah A’s Review

McKay-Taggart operative Riley Blade has no intention of returning to Los Angeles after his brief stint as a consultant on mega-star Lyle Tarpin’s latest action flick. Not even for Natasha Black, Tarpin’s sexy personal assistant who’d gotten under his skin. Why would he, when Tasha made it absolutely clear that—attraction or not—she wasn’t interested in a fling, much less a relationship. 

But when Riley learns that someone is stalking her, he races to her side. Determined to not only protect her, but to convince her that—no matter what has hurt her in the past—he’s not only going to fight for her, he’s going to win her heart. Forever.

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Quick, quick read.  This is the third book I’ve read in the Masters and Mercenaries crossover collection, and it is the shortest, thus far.  The story did not suffer for its brevity, though who wouldn’t want every story they read to be full-length?  I’m a pretty greedy reader, and I always want more of the books I enjoy and this fit that bill.

Justify Me is listed as book 4.5 in J. Kenner’s Stark Trilogy (wait, aren’t trilogies supposed to be three books long?), and, like the other books in this crossover collection, occurs along the same timeline as Lexi Blake’s Masters and Mercenaries series book 16.  Justify Me can be read as a standalone from all other series it’s involved in.  Justify Me is written in two different voices, Natasha’s chapters are written in first-person, and Riley’s are in third-person semi-omniscient.

Justify Me moves fast.  There isn’t much time to really settle into a comfortable rhythm of reading because something is always happening.  There are no lulls in the action or the forward movement of the relationship.  Thankfully there weren’t so many moving parts to keep track of.  It was great pacing for the style of novel.

Much of Natasha and Riley’s connection is predicated on their past.  I’m glad we got to know the broad strokes because it made their connection much more understandable.  Had this been a full-length novel, I’m sure I would have appreciated all they’d been through more, but as is I knew enough to love them together and be happy they’d finally moved past their history and gave in to the connection they always felt.

My biggest issue with this book was a glaring continuity issue.  At one point, Riley speaks of how Big Tag (Ian Taggart) went above his expectations to set up a meeting with the head of security for a club Riley wanted more info on, then a few chapters later Big Tag calls him and wants to know why he isn’t on vacation as if he hadn’t just spoken to him a day or two prior.  Otherwise, my only wish for the book is that it wasn’t a novella but instead a full-length novel, again, because I’m a greedy reader.

J. Kenner is another author I have just discovered because of this crossover collection. Lexi Blake did an amazing job of finding authors to invite into her world, and I’ve found another author who I’ll be looking at more. The little glimpse into the Stark world made me want to know more, and I’ll be checking out the rest of the not-exactly-a-trilogy trilogy ASAP!

Remy Guidry doesn’t do relationships. He tried the marriage thing once, back in Louisiana, and learned the hard way that all he really needs in life is a cold beer, some good friends, and the occasional hookup. His job as a bodyguard with McKay-Taggart gives him purpose and lovely perks, like access to Sanctum. The last thing he needs in his life is a woman with stars in her eyes and babies in her future.

Lisa Daley’s life is finally going in the right direction. She has finally graduated from college after years of putting herself through school. She’s got a new job at an accounting firm and she’s finished her Sanctum training. Finally on her own and having fun, her life seems pretty perfect. Except she’s lonely and the one man she wants won’t give her a second look.

There is one other little glitch. Apparently, her new firm is really a front for the mob and now they want her dead. Assassins can really ruin a fun girls’ night out. Suddenly strapped to the very same six-foot-five-inch hunk of a bodyguard who makes her heart pound, Lisa can’t decide if this situation is a blessing or a curse.

As the mob closes in, Remy takes his tempting new charge back to the safest place he knows—his home in the bayou. Surrounded by his past, he can’t help wondering if Lisa is his future. To answer that question, he just has to keep her alive.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

After a difficult childhood and a turbulent stint in the military, Declan Burke finally got his act together. Now he’s a battle-hardened professional bodyguard who takes his job at McKay-Taggart seriously and his playtime – and his playmates – just as seriously. One thing he never does, however, is mix business with pleasure. But when the mysterious, gorgeous Suzanne D’Angelo needs his protection from a stalker, his desire for her burns out of control, tempting him to break all the rules…even as he’s drawn into a dark, dangerous world he didn’t know existed. 

Suzanne is an earthbound angel on her critical first mission: protecting Declan from an emerging supernatural threat at all costs. To keep him close, she hires him as her bodyguard. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she’s in over her head, defenseless against this devastatingly sexy human who makes her crave his forbidden touch. 

Together they’ll have to draw on every ounce of their collective training to resist each other as the enemy closes in, but soon it becomes apparent that nothing could have prepared them for the menace to their lives…or their hearts.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

I’ve had two goals my entire life: 

  1. Make it big in country music.
  2. Get the hell out of Bell Buckle.

I was doing it. I was on my way, until Cooper Townsend landed backstage at my show in Dallas. 

This gorgeous, rugged, man of few words was one cowboy I couldn’t afford to let distract me. But with his slow smile and rough hands, I just couldn’t keep away. 

Now, there are outside forces conspiring against us. Maybe we should’ve known better? Maybe not. Even with the protection from Wade Rycroft, bodyguard for McKay-Taggart, I still don’t feel safe. I won’t let him get hurt because of me. All I know is that I want to hold on, but know the right thing to do is to let go…

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

Talia Shaw has spent her adult life working as a scientist for a big pharmaceutical company. She’s focused on saving lives, not living life. When her lab is broken into and it’s clear someone is after the top-secret formula she’s working on, she turns to the one man she can trust. The same irresistible man she turned away years earlier because she was too young and naive to believe a sexy guy like Shane Landon could want her.

Shane Landon’s bodyguard work for McKay-Taggart is the one thing that brings him satisfaction in his life. Relationships come in second to the job. Always. Then little brainiac Talia Shaw shows up in his backyard, frightened and on the run, and his world is turned upside down. And not just because she’s found him naked in his outdoor shower, either.

With Talia’s life in danger, Shane has to get her out of town and to her eccentric, hermit mentor who has the final piece of the formula she’s been working on, while keeping her safe from the men who are after her. Guarding Talia’s body certainly isn’t any hardship, but he never expects to fall hard and fast for his best friend’s little sister and the only woman who’s ever really gotten under his skin.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

Sadie Jennings was used to being protected. As the niece of Sean Taggart, and the receptionist at McKay-Taggart Group, she was constantly surrounded by Alpha men more than capable, and willing, to lay down their life for her. But when she visits her friend in San Antonio, and acts on suspicious activity at Milena’s workplace, Sadie puts both of them in the crosshairs of a madman. After several harrowing weeks, her friend is now safe, but for Sadie, the repercussions of her rash act linger on.

Chase Jackson, no stranger to dangerous situations as a captain in the US Army, has volunteered himself as Sadie’s bodyguard. He fell head over heels for the beautiful woman the first time he laid eyes on her. With a Delta Force team at his back, he reassures the Taggart’s that Sadie will be safe. But when the situation in San Antonio catches up with her, Chase has to use everything he’s learned over his career to keep his promise…and to keep Sadie alive long enough to officially make her his.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

 

Julie Kenner (aka J. Kenner and J.K. Beck) is the New York TimesUSA TodayPublishers Weekly, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over forty novels, novellas and short stories in a variety of genres.

Praised by Publishers Weekly as an author with a “flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations,” J.K. writes a range of stories including super sexy romances, paranormal romance, chick lit suspense and paranormal mommy lit. Her foray into the latter, Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner, is in development as a feature film with 1492 Pictures.

Her most recent trilogy of erotic romances, The Stark Trilogy (as J. Kenner), reached as high as #2 on the New York Times list and is published in over twenty countries.

J.K. lives in Central Texas, with her husband, two daughters, and several cats.

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Her Guardian Angel by Larisssa Ione ~ Sarah A’s Review

After a difficult childhood and a turbulent stint in the military, Declan Burke finally got his act together. Now he’s a battle-hardened professional bodyguard who takes his job at McKay-Taggart seriously and his playtime – and his playmates – just as seriously. One thing he never does, however, is mix business with pleasure. But when the mysterious, gorgeous Suzanne D’Angelo needs his protection from a stalker, his desire for her burns out of control, tempting him to break all the rules…even as he’s drawn into a dark, dangerous world he didn’t know existed. 

Suzanne is an earthbound angel on her critical first mission: protecting Declan from an emerging supernatural threat at all costs. To keep him close, she hires him as her bodyguard. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she’s in over her head, defenseless against this devastatingly sexy human who makes her crave his forbidden touch. 

Together they’ll have to draw on every ounce of their collective training to resist each other as the enemy closes in, but soon it becomes apparent that nothing could have prepared them for the menace to their lives…or their hearts.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay

This is kind of what I was afraid of when I heard about this Masters and Mercenaries crossover, a world outside of McKay-Taggart that just didn’t fit right with the overarching tone I’ve come to know and love in that series.  I’m no stranger to the world of PNR and angels and demons are one of my favorite subgenres in that realm.  However, there are so many moving pieces in those worlds it’s hard to jump into it, especially in the context of a world that thus far has been devoid of otherworldly entities, and make it feel coherent.

Her Guardian Angel is the sixth book in Larissa Ione’s Demonica Underworld series, book seventeen in her Demonica series, and falls around the same timeline as Lexi Blake’s sixteenth Masters and Mercenaries book.  From the perspective of Masters and Mercenaries, this can be read as a standalone, but I think having previous knowledge of the Demonica world would have helped with my understanding and enjoyment of this novella.  Her Guardian Angel is written in third-person semi-omniscient perspective, alternatively following Suzanne and Declan, with one chapter thrown in following different characters from the Demonica world.

For me, the cheese factor was pretty high in this book.  Perhaps because I wasn’t feeling Suzanne’s angel powers, or possibly because throwing my McKay-Taggart boys into the middle of a demonic attack was too much for me to get behind, maybe a little of both.  Along with all the cramming of the information, we needed about Ms. Ione’s world to understand the plot, and it just didn’t work for me.

I didn’t feel the connection between Suzanne and Declan, either; probably because I was spending so much of my energy on trying to discern the intricacies of this new world and reconcile them with the Masters and Mercenaries world.  There were very few scenes to explore their dynamic in a meaningful way.  Having more of just the two of them together getting to know one another on a personal level, without all the angels and demons undercurrents, would have gone a long way to helping me get on board with them as a couple.

Larissa Ione is a new to me author.  I love crossovers because I get to know a little more about authors I likely wouldn’t have read otherwise, but this one didn’t give me the desire to explore Ms. Ione’s backlist.  As previously stated, angels and demons are one of my favorite PNR tropes but this world was just too convoluted for me.

“I already said I’m not taking that job,” Declan sighed.

 “And you didn’t say why.”

 “Am I required to?”

 “You know you’re not.” Tag stopped in front of him, his blond hair ruffling in the stiflingly hot breeze. “But this is right up your alley. You grew up in D.C. You know the people. You know the politics. You know the money.”

 Yeah, Declan knew all of that way too intimately. “I said no.”

 “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think you were the best person for the job.”

 Swearing silently, Declan looked up at the evening sky until he could reliably talk to his boss without losing his temper.

 Finally, he looked back at his boss. “I left that cesspool when I was seventeen, and I haven’t looked back. I’m sorry, Ian. I respect the hell out of you, and if you need me for anything else,   

 I’ll do it, no questions asked. But not this. Fire me if you need to.”

 Tag let out an exasperated curse. “You’d seriously rather take the mission in the jungle that’ll probably get you killed than work with Senator McRory and his aide on some routine security issues?”

 Okay, Tag was exaggerating the risk of the South American job, but even if he weren’t… “I can’t even count all the ways I could say yes to that.”

 “Fine,” Tag said, “but at least think about it. Your plane doesn’t leave until tomorrow night.”

 “Yeah, sure,” Declan offered, knowing he wasn’t going to think about it at all. Not for a single second. As far as he was concerned, the topic of the D.C. job was a dead thread.

 “Thanks, man.” Taggart clapped Declan on the shoulder and headed toward the parking lot.

 Declan hung out for another minute, trying to decide what to do now. Going home to an empty, depressing apartment didn’t appeal to him, but neither did hitting a noisy club, not when he’d been getting so many headaches in recent months. Besides, he wasn’t the most social person on the planet and he hated the bar scene. He only put up with it because lately he’d been restless when he was alone.

 Maybe he needed a girlfriend. Or at the very least, he needed to get laid.

Remy Guidry doesn’t do relationships. He tried the marriage thing once, back in Louisiana, and learned the hard way that all he really needs in life is a cold beer, some good friends, and the occasional hookup. His job as a bodyguard with McKay-Taggart gives him purpose and lovely perks, like access to Sanctum. The last thing he needs in his life is a woman with stars in her eyes and babies in her future.

Lisa Daley’s life is finally going in the right direction. She has finally graduated from college after years of putting herself through school. She’s got a new job at an accounting firm and she’s finished her Sanctum training. Finally on her own and having fun, her life seems pretty perfect. Except she’s lonely and the one man she wants won’t give her a second look.

There is one other little glitch. Apparently, her new firm is really a front for the mob and now they want her dead. Assassins can really ruin a fun girls’ night out. Suddenly strapped to the very same six-foot-five-inch hunk of a bodyguard who makes her heart pound, Lisa can’t decide if this situation is a blessing or a curse.

As the mob closes in, Remy takes his tempting new charge back to the safest place he knows—his home in the bayou. Surrounded by his past, he can’t help wondering if Lisa is his future. To answer that question, he just has to keep her alive.

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McKay-Taggart operative Riley Blade has no intention of returning to Los Angeles after his brief stint as a consultant on mega-star Lyle Tarpin’s latest action flick. Not even for Natasha Black, Tarpin’s sexy personal assistant who’d gotten under his skin. Why would he, when Tasha made it absolutely clear that—attraction or not—she wasn’t interested in a fling, much less a relationship. 

But when Riley learns that someone is stalking her, he races to her side. Determined to not only protect her, but to convince her that—no matter what has hurt her in the past—he’s not only going to fight for her, he’s going to win her heart. Forever.

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I’ve had two goals my entire life: 

  1. Make it big in country music.
  2. Get the hell out of Bell Buckle.

I was doing it. I was on my way, until Cooper Townsend landed backstage at my show in Dallas. 

This gorgeous, rugged, man of few words was one cowboy I couldn’t afford to let distract me. But with his slow smile and rough hands, I just couldn’t keep away. 

Now, there are outside forces conspiring against us. Maybe we should’ve known better? Maybe not. Even with the protection from Wade Rycroft, bodyguard for McKay-Taggart, I still don’t feel safe. I won’t let him get hurt because of me. All I know is that I want to hold on, but know the right thing to do is to let go…

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Talia Shaw has spent her adult life working as a scientist for a big pharmaceutical company. She’s focused on saving lives, not living life. When her lab is broken into and it’s clear someone is after the top-secret formula she’s working on, she turns to the one man she can trust. The same irresistible man she turned away years earlier because she was too young and naive to believe a sexy guy like Shane Landon could want her.

Shane Landon’s bodyguard work for McKay-Taggart is the one thing that brings him satisfaction in his life. Relationships come in second to the job. Always. Then little brainiac Talia Shaw shows up in his backyard, frightened and on the run, and his world is turned upside down. And not just because she’s found him naked in his outdoor shower, either.

With Talia’s life in danger, Shane has to get her out of town and to her eccentric, hermit mentor who has the final piece of the formula she’s been working on, while keeping her safe from the men who are after her. Guarding Talia’s body certainly isn’t any hardship, but he never expects to fall hard and fast for his best friend’s little sister and the only woman who’s ever really gotten under his skin.

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Sadie Jennings was used to being protected. As the niece of Sean Taggart, and the receptionist at McKay-Taggart Group, she was constantly surrounded by Alpha men more than capable, and willing, to lay down their life for her. But when she visits her friend in San Antonio, and acts on suspicious activity at Milena’s workplace, Sadie puts both of them in the crosshairs of a madman. After several harrowing weeks, her friend is now safe, but for Sadie, the repercussions of her rash act linger on.

Chase Jackson, no stranger to dangerous situations as a captain in the US Army, has volunteered himself as Sadie’s bodyguard. He fell head over heels for the beautiful woman the first time he laid eyes on her. With a Delta Force team at his back, he reassures the Taggart’s that Sadie will be safe. But when the situation in San Antonio catches up with her, Chase has to use everything he’s learned over his career to keep his promise…and to keep Sadie alive long enough to officially make her his.

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Larissa Ione is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. An Air Force veteran, she traded in a career as a meteorologist to pursue her passion of writing. She now spends her days in pajamas with her computer, strong coffee, and supernatural worlds. She believes in celebrating everything, and would never be caught without a bottle of Champagne chilling in the fridge…just in case. She currently lives in Wisconsin with her U.S. Coast Guard husband, her teenage son, a rescue cat named Vegas, and her very own hellhound, a King Shepherd named Hexe.

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Recuing Sadie by Susan Stoker ~ Sarah A’s Review

Sadie Jennings was used to being protected. As the niece of Sean Taggart, and the receptionist at McKay-Taggart Group, she was constantly surrounded by Alpha men more than capable, and willing, to lay down their life for her. But when she visits her friend in San Antonio, and acts on suspicious activity at Milena’s workplace, Sadie puts both of them in the crosshairs of a madman. After several harrowing weeks, her friend is now safe, but for Sadie, the repercussions of her rash act linger on.

Chase Jackson, no stranger to dangerous situations as a captain in the US Army, has volunteered himself as Sadie’s bodyguard. He fell head over heels for the beautiful woman the first time he laid eyes on her. With a Delta Force team at his back, he reassures the Taggart’s that Sadie will be safe. But when the situation in San Antonio catches up with her, Chase has to use everything he’s learned over his career to keep his promise…and to keep Sadie alive long enough to officially make her his.

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When I heard Lexi Blake was inviting other authors to come and add stories to her Masters & Mercenaries series I was stoked, but also a little worried.  I’d read a few of the authors, but most of them were new to me.  What better way to discover a new favorite than in a world you already know and love?

Rescuing Sadie is a novella, it’s marked as book 7.5 in Susan Stoker’s Delta Force series, and would fall around the same timeline as book 16 in Lexi Blake’s Masters & Mercenaries series.  This book borrows characters from both worlds but is primarily set in the Delta Force world.  It is not necessary to read any books from either series before this book, but I do feel like I would have had a better understanding of Sadie’s situation had I read Justice for Milena, which is a book from another of Ms. Stoker’s series.  Rescuing Sadie is written in third-person semi-omniscient perspective, it alternatively follows Sadie and Chase’s thoughts.

When I started Rescuing Sadie, I was a little lost; I felt like I’d been dropped in the middle of a scene.  Once I got a grasp on what was going on the story was captivating and kept me engaged until the end.  Sure, I would have loved to have had the complete backstory, but there was enough information given in Rescuing Sadie to satisfy my curiosity as far as Sadie and Chase were involved and also make me want to pick up Milena’s book to get the entire thing.  Which is a good portion of the reason these types of crossovers exist.

Rescuing Sadie felt a little insta-lovey for me, but a good portion of that is because of the history they already had.  Otherwise, I felt like they had a great dynamic and were a fascinating couple.  They’re both so headstrong, and their back and forth when they disagreed was wonderful.  I appreciated how they didn’t back down but also considered one another’s opinions.

My only wish for this novella would be that was a full-length novel, but that would be contrary to the very idea of this collection.  I would have loved to have spent more time with Sadie and Chase.  Because of the length of the book and the timeline, it only covers a single day; it felt a little rushed.

I thought I had read Susan Stoker before but looking back through my books and my Goodreads tells me I haven’t.  I felt very comfortable with her writing style, it felt much like Lexi Blake’s – which I absolutely love.  This book gave me just enough insight to characters from her Delta Force series to want to check it out, as well as picking up Justice from Milena from her Badge of Honor: Texas Heroes series, too.

Sadie faced the man in front of her without trepidation.

Sean Taggart might know twenty ways to kill without making a sound thanks to his time as a Green Beret, but to her, he was just Uncle Sean. She’d only known him for six years, ever since Aunt Grace got married, but he’d always supported her no matter what she wanted to do and treated her and her aunt Grace like princesses.

Not this time.

“Uncle Sean, this is ridiculous.”

Sean crossed his arms, giving her what she knew was his “displeased” face. Brows drawn, lips pressed together, eyes narrowed. “It’s not and you know it.”

“Why can’t I just go back up to Dallas with you?”

Her uncle sighed. They’d been over this before, but Sadie couldn’t let it go.

“Because Jonathan is still missing. Captain Jackson said he’d continue to look after you until he’s caught.”

Sadie shook her head. “But if I came home, you could keep me safe.”

Sean looked down at her with love in his eyes. His voice gentled. “I could, you’re right. But I think we both know that you wouldn’t like my kind of protection. Or Ian’s. Or anyone else we could find.”

She knew what he meant without him coming right out and saying it. Sean was overprotective. As was Ian, and probably most of the other men who worked for McKay-Taggart. She could handle their overprotectiveness and bossiness…but only to a point. If she had to endure it twenty-four seven, it could damage their relationship. And that was the last thing she wanted.

“I can go stay with Milena’s parents again,” Sadie volunteered almost desperately. Maybe she’d even make it in time for Milena’s surprise engagement party. She might not want to become one of McKay-Taggart’s overprotected clients, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to be in close quarters with Chase Jackson anymore either.

From the second she’d laid eyes on the man, she’d wanted him. It was as if her body had said, This is it. This is the man I want.

Unfortunately, he’d been in the middle of rescuing her from a crazed, perverted pedophile at the time, and now she was afraid he felt responsible for her, rather than wanting her back.

Remy Guidry doesn’t do relationships. He tried the marriage thing once, back in Louisiana, and learned the hard way that all he really needs in life is a cold beer, some good friends, and the occasional hookup. His job as a bodyguard with McKay-Taggart gives him purpose and lovely perks, like access to Sanctum. The last thing he needs in his life is a woman with stars in her eyes and babies in her future.

Lisa Daley’s life is finally going in the right direction. She has finally graduated from college after years of putting herself through school. She’s got a new job at an accounting firm and she’s finished her Sanctum training. Finally on her own and having fun, her life seems pretty perfect. Except she’s lonely and the one man she wants won’t give her a second look.

There is one other little glitch. Apparently, her new firm is really a front for the mob and now they want her dead. Assassins can really ruin a fun girls’ night out. Suddenly strapped to the very same six-foot-five-inch hunk of a bodyguard who makes her heart pound, Lisa can’t decide if this situation is a blessing or a curse.

As the mob closes in, Remy takes his tempting new charge back to the safest place he knows—his home in the bayou. Surrounded by his past, he can’t help wondering if Lisa is his future. To answer that question, he just has to keep her alive.

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After a difficult childhood and a turbulent stint in the military, Declan Burke finally got his act together. Now he’s a battle-hardened professional bodyguard who takes his job at McKay-Taggart seriously and his playtime – and his playmates – just as seriously. One thing he never does, however, is mix business with pleasure. But when the mysterious, gorgeous Suzanne D’Angelo needs his protection from a stalker, his desire for her burns out of control, tempting him to break all the rules…even as he’s drawn into a dark, dangerous world he didn’t know existed. 

Suzanne is an earthbound angel on her critical first mission: protecting Declan from an emerging supernatural threat at all costs. To keep him close, she hires him as her bodyguard. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she’s in over her head, defenseless against this devastatingly sexy human who makes her crave his forbidden touch. 

Together they’ll have to draw on every ounce of their collective training to resist each other as the enemy closes in, but soon it becomes apparent that nothing could have prepared them for the menace to their lives…or their hearts.

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McKay-Taggart operative Riley Blade has no intention of returning to Los Angeles after his brief stint as a consultant on mega-star Lyle Tarpin’s latest action flick. Not even for Natasha Black, Tarpin’s sexy personal assistant who’d gotten under his skin. Why would he, when Tasha made it absolutely clear that—attraction or not—she wasn’t interested in a fling, much less a relationship. 

But when Riley learns that someone is stalking her, he races to her side. Determined to not only protect her, but to convince her that—no matter what has hurt her in the past—he’s not only going to fight for her, he’s going to win her heart. Forever.

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I’ve had two goals my entire life: 

  1. Make it big in country music.
  2. Get the hell out of Bell Buckle.

I was doing it. I was on my way, until Cooper Townsend landed backstage at my show in Dallas. 

This gorgeous, rugged, man of few words was one cowboy I couldn’t afford to let distract me. But with his slow smile and rough hands, I just couldn’t keep away. 

Now, there are outside forces conspiring against us. Maybe we should’ve known better? Maybe not. Even with the protection from Wade Rycroft, bodyguard for McKay-Taggart, I still don’t feel safe. I won’t let him get hurt because of me. All I know is that I want to hold on, but know the right thing to do is to let go…

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Talia Shaw has spent her adult life working as a scientist for a big pharmaceutical company. She’s focused on saving lives, not living life. When her lab is broken into and it’s clear someone is after the top-secret formula she’s working on, she turns to the one man she can trust. The same irresistible man she turned away years earlier because she was too young and naive to believe a sexy guy like Shane Landon could want her.

Shane Landon’s bodyguard work for McKay-Taggart is the one thing that brings him satisfaction in his life. Relationships come in second to the job. Always. Then little brainiac Talia Shaw shows up in his backyard, frightened and on the run, and his world is turned upside down. And not just because she’s found him naked in his outdoor shower, either.

With Talia’s life in danger, Shane has to get her out of town and to her eccentric, hermit mentor who has the final piece of the formula she’s been working on, while keeping her safe from the men who are after her. Guarding Talia’s body certainly isn’t any hardship, but he never expects to fall hard and fast for his best friend’s little sister and the only woman who’s ever really gotten under his skin.

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New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author, Susan Stoker has a heart as big as the state of Texas where she lives, but this all American girl has also spent the last fourteen years living in Missouri, California, Colorado, and Indiana. She’s married to a retired Army man who now gets to follow her around the country.

She debuted her first series in 2014 and quickly followed that up with the SEAL of Protection Series, which solidified her love of writing and creating stories readers can get lost in.

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Rebel Heir by Vi Keeland & Penelope Ward ~ Sarah A’s Review

How to kick off a great summer in the Hamptons:

Snag a gorgeous rental on the beach. Check.

Get a job at a trendy summer haunt. Check.

How to screw up a great summer in the Hamptons:

Fall for the one guy with a dark leather jacket, scruff on his face, and intense eyes that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the tony looking crowd.  A guy you can’t have when you’ll be leaving at the end of the season.

Check. Check. Check.

I should add—especially when the guy is your sexy, tattooed God of a boss.

Especially when he not only owns your place of employment but inherited half of the town.

Especially when he’s mean to you.

Or so I thought.

Until one night when he demanded I get in his car so he could drive me home because he didn’t want me walking in the dark.

That was sort of how it all started with Rush.

And then little by little, some of the walls of this hardass man started to come down.

I never expected that the two of us, seemingly opposites from the outside, would grow so close.

I wasn’t supposed to fall for the rebel heir, especially when he made it clear he didn’t want to cross the line with me.

As the temperature turned cooler, the nights became hotter.  My summer became a lot more interesting—and complicated.

All good things must come to an end, right?

Except our ending was one I didn’t see coming.

Rebel Heir is the first book in the Rush Series Duet.  Book Two, Rebel Heart, will release six weeks later on May, 22, 2018.

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Wow. I did not see that ending coming. And I need Rebel Heart NOW! Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward completely blew all their past work out of the water with this book. I’ve read a few of their other collaborations, and they don’t hold a candle to the magic they achieved in Rebel Heir. I love every second of this book.

Rebel Heir is the first book in Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward’s Rush series duet. The book does end with unanswered questions, but book two, Rebel Heart, is scheduled for release on May 22, so the wait isn’t unbearable. The story is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Gia and Rush.

First, I have to tell you how much I loved Gia. Is it possible to describe a person as both outspoken and reserved? Because I felt Gia exhibited both traits. She was quite a quandary, with Rush she felt so much freer than she did when left to her own devices. From the off, she had a special dynamic with him, and it seemed to boost her confidence in a fantastic way. Regardless of what came at her, however, the girl was tough, she took whatever was thrown at her, dealt with it, and pushed through.

Rush was a study in not judging a book by its cover. The face – dare I say mask – he wore for the world belied who he was behind that carefully constructed façade. While I did love his gruff, bad boy persona, the man his mother raised – his true self – was exceptional. His loyalty and protective nature were endearing, and it was easy to understand exactly what Gia saw in him. Side note, I absolutely adored his mother and hope we get to see more of her in Rebel Heart.

Now, I’ve read a ton of romance novels, and it’s rare to find a book that includes something I haven’t read before, but the twist in Rebel Heir is not something I’ve read before, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. Given the information we have, it could either go really poorly or amazingly well. I am on tenterhooks waiting for the next book as I can’t wait to see how things play out with the added wrinkle to their already complex situation.

I love Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, both the work they do together and their solo projects. Their stories are consistently compelling and consuming, with interesting dynamics and wonderful characterizations. I love both of their writing styles and continually attempt to decipher who wrote which chapters on their co-writing projects, it adds an extra layer of intrigue for me.

 

Rebel Heart: book 2 ~ Releases May 22
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Penelope Ward

Penelope Ward is a New York Times, USA Today, and #1 Wall Street Journal Bestselling author of thirteen novels. With over a million books sold, her titles have placed on the New York Times Bestseller list seventeen times. She is the proud mother of a beautiful 12-year-old girl with autism (the inspiration for the character Callie in Gemini) and a 10-year-old boy. Penelope, her husband, and kids reside in Rhode Island.

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 Vi Keeland

Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author. With more than a million books sold, her titles have appeared in over fifty Bestseller lists and are currently translated in fourteen languages. She lives in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.

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