Under My Skin

WARNING! Valentine Reviews often have spoilers. I just spew what I think and feel about what I read and sometimes that means I give away parts of the story. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for anyone by saying that the main characters have a HEA because the whole fricken world knows I don’t read anything unless it has a HEA. That being said, read the review at your own risk!

I’ve been on an M. L. Rhodes kick lately. I’ve read four of hers and this review is about two of them. Under My Skin and Under My Skin II is about a bookstore owner who sees himself as a nerd. He’s come out of several bad relationships where he was used for his brains or his money with the idea that he’s just a geek and most guys wouldn’t want him. His last relationship was the worst. His boyfriend moved out, took all his stuff, all his money and maxed out his credit cards. Our hero probably could have handled that but then the asshole left him a Dear John letter that struck at all of his insecurities.

A year and a half later enter our second hero. He’s got tattoos like the last boyfriend. He has a motorcycle like the last boyfriend. He’s hotter than Hades and our bookstore nerd is in lust. Fortunately for him, the tattoo parlor owner is hot for the nerd as well. In fact, he doesn’t even see the guy as a nerd.

These two novellas, the first one all about how Sebastian (the bookstore owner) and Dylan (the tattoo parlor owner) get together and it leaves the reader with a HFN and the notion that these two do get their HEA eventually. The second novella is how they work out their problems and get their real HEA. The first one is hot as Hades. The second one is very emotional. Okay, it’s hot too but it’s the emotions that get ya.

Honestly, I really loved the first two M.L. Rhodes books I read (Passion, Satisfaction) but these two guys are better. Maybe it’s that I identified with them better being a bit of a nerd myself and having a thing about bad boys in leather and tattoos. Maybe it’s the lickable cover art. 😉

At any rate, LOVED these two novellas. They go on my must re-read over and over list even though they aren’t long, deep angsty literary works. They’re just two little novellas filled with a bit of angst, a lot of lust and some serious falling in love without a lot of trappings. Easy, fun, hot and emotional.

If you like hot gay men with tattoos who have hearts of gold and hide their sensitive side, these two books are for you. You will fall in love with Sebastian and Dylan just like I did. The pair together score 5 Valentines from me. Thank you, M.L. Rhodes!

Fair Game

Standard Lex Warning: I often spew spoilers in my enthusiasm.

I’ve decided that my cure for pain isn’t painkillers but books. However, I totally empathized with Elliot Mills, the hero of Fair Game. Elliot is a former FBI agent who had his knee blown away in a shoot out some eighteen months or so before the opening of this novel. I may not have been shot, but the damage to my knees was more like having been shot out of a cannon at 60 mph into the dashboard of my car. On a good day, I limp. On a bad day, I stay in bed and cry. For the past couple of nights which were bad, very bad nights, I read Josh Lanyon’s newest offering.

As a dyed in the wool fan of Josh Lanyon books, I look upon his new releases the way a child does Christmas morning or a birthday. Pressie for me? Oh, yum! And I had been waiting for this book ever since seeing a snippet of it on a Yahoo group. Waiting for Josh is like waiting for dessert and the first bite sends you into an orgasm of delight…and you’re so incredibly happy that your wait is now over.

Fair Game’s hero is a wounded hero. Elliot’s bad knee is like a character in and of itself because of how it impacts so very much in the book. The knee led to his break up with his lover Tucker Lance, another FBI agent, after he was shot. And the knee is the catalyst that puts him right back into Tucker’s arms when the two meet up again over the disappearance of a gay student at the university where Elliot now teaches. The knee is the best inanimate character ever and I could feel every twinge and pull and pop and throb and bone melting stab of agony that Elliot had. Not so much because I have plenty of that pain myself, but because Josh sure does know how to describe it right down to how you have sex when your knee feels like a zeppelin.

I don’t want to go into the missing student-murder mystery part of the book. For one, suspense isn’t my preferred genre and I only read a very select few authors who write it. For another, with my propensity for spoilers, I’ll ruin the book for you. What I do want to talk about are Josh Lanyon’s characters.

Elliot Mills is razor sharp to me. Far more cerebral than the characters of Dangerous Ground and far more macho and physical than the characters of The Dickens With Love. Elliot the professor is still finding his way around academia while trying to put his old life as an FBI agent behind him. The fact that he becomes so intensely drawn into the missing student investigation is a testament to how much he misses his former life and how good at it he was.

When Elliot comes face to face with his former life via his ex-lover Special Agent Tucker Lance, everything he loved most about that life is brought sharply into focus, yanked there from his pain-fuzzed memories.  The pain of his knee is nothing compared to the pain he determinedly hides over the loss of that former life. Elliot lies to himself about that pain and loss through much of the book and it’s not spelled out in so many words for the reader either. You have to be as much of a detective as Elliot is to figure it out. But it’s there in what he refuses to think about and how he focuses on the mystery rather than his emotions and Tucker’s.

The most surprising part of this book for me is Tucker Lance. Elliot is a true hero. You love him almost immediately. Josh draws him with a fine nibbed pen and you can’t help but be in love with such beautiful lines. Tucker is about as far from that as you can imagine. He’s gruff and rude and the reader isn’t sympathetic to him at first because of course, you’re already in love with Elliot and if you love Elliot then you have to hate Tucker because he hurt Elliot.  Right?

I’ve never been a fan of the red-headed, freckled faced man. Makes me think of  Tom Sawyer or something.  But Josh and his way with words has me lusting for the redheaded Tucker. The man grows on you throughout the book. Probably because slowly but surely, Tucker’s emotions come to light. And man, does this guy FEEL. You get more of his emotions than you do Elliot’s.

With a profound sense of shock, you discover that Tucker tried to apologize for his behavior after Elliot’s knee was shot. He sent letters, emails, and called only to be turned away. (The reader goes awwww because it totally smacks of begging.) You find out that fear fueled his rough unsympathetic actions at the time of Elliot’s injury. It’s Tucker who offers Elliot whatever he wants when they land in bed together again. He gives to Elliot sexually and emotionally and it’s our hero who holds back in the emotion department.

Tucker reveals how much he cares when he saves Elliot from sniper fire. He confesses straight up that he wants them to live together. His eyes are bright with tears and emotion and his face is pale when he finds Elliot passed out and injured after catching the bad guy.  He treats Elliot far more gently than our hero treats him. And best of all, Tucker says the L word first. Big, bad superhero FBI agent who can be the worst kind of asshole is a sucker for the man he loves.

There is something about an author who can draw tears from you without both heroes getting downright mushy. These men retain their Alpha masculinity and yet you feel their emotions very keenly even when they aren’t admitting them or are hiding them. The sex scenes are not detailed like the kind I write, yet they are blazingly hot. The sexual tension is exceptional. The emotions will wring you out.

Josh Lanyon does not waste a single word. Every word he writes has a purpose and serves to make you love these characters. I didn’t think he could top The Dickens With Love as far as I was concerned. Sedge’s simple acceptance of love in that book seemed to be the zenith for me. But oh, no. Never underestimate Josh’s talent with the written word. Elliot and Tucker are my new favorite heroes.

“If you even try to die, I’ll kill you myself.”

Tucker’s words hit home for a romance fan like myself. I cried. Really. And that in a nutshell gives Fair Game five Valentines.  Buy it. Read it. Immerse yourself in the most amazing prose and let Josh Lanyon take you away far better than any ole box of Calgon.

Now, if he would just revisit these two like he did Will and Taylor of Dangerous Ground, I would be in 7th Heaven.

5 Valentines

Fair Game

Carina Press

Novel

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Blurb:

A crippling knee injury forced Elliot Mills to trade in his FBI badge for dusty chalkboards and bored college students. Now a history professor at Puget Sound university, the former agent has put his old life behind him—but it seems his old life isn’t finished with him.

A young man has gone missing from campus—and as a favor to a family friend, Elliot agrees to do a little sniffing around. His investigations bring him face-to-face with his former lover, Tucker Lance, the special agent handling the case.

Things ended badly with Tucker, and neither man is ready to back down on the fight that drove them apart. But they have to figure out a way to move beyond their past and work together as more men go missing and Elliot becomes the target in a killer’s obsessive game…

Project Alpha

Again, I’m bringing you a series rather than a single book. And yet again, this is sci fi rom. If you’re a regular here and at Sunlight Sucks, you’ll know that the sci fi rom is my newest favorite thing to read. As usual, if you don’t want any spoilers at all, don’t read my reviews! I try not to give everything away, but I always seem to say too much.

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The Project Alpha series by N.J. Walters is a futuristic story with an Armageddon storyline. In these three books, Earth has gone through the “Great Change” and much of the world is contaminated, polluted, and basically destroyed. On the part of the planet where the series takes place, the rich and powerful created an inner city behind the Gate where the air is pure, flowers and grass grow and everything is pristine…on the surface. However, the underpinnings of this society are corrupt and evil.

In the outer city, the air is polluted and often smoggy and foggy like the London of Jack the Ripper’s day. Buildings are in ruins and the trappings of the 21st century society litter the rubble…burned out cars, televisions, etc. The people who live outside the Gate are desperate to survive which can make them dangerous.

The plot of all the books in this series is similar. Thirty years before, the rulers of the inner city had scientists create the perfect soldier. The Piedmont Corporation created genetically enhanced men with microcomputers in their brains.  These men were called Alphas. Midway through the project, most of the Alphas were destroyed for various reasons – they weren’t developing fast enough, they botched their assignments, etc. When the remaining two Alphas figured out how to bypass some of their programming, they were slated for execution too, but they escaped.

The corrupt General who runs the inner city seeks to destroy these two Alphas while the Alphas, in turn, seek to destroy General Caruthers and the Ruling Council. They believe clean air and plentiful fresh food should be available for everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

In the first book, Embracing Silence, a tracker for the Resistance trails a strange man through the outer city. The strange man is Tienan, Alpha One, and he knows he’s being tracked. Eventually, he decides to capture his tracker and is surprised to find that it’s a woman.

Silence is an orphan who was named by her adopted brother Adrian when he rescued her at age twelve. She’s smart and resourceful, but no match for an Alpha. Tienan is shocked by his instantaneous sexual attraction to Silence. He keeps her locked up for several days as the sexual tension between them grows.  When this couple finally comes together it’s explosive.

What happens afterward isn’t exactly what the reader expects yet it’s not unexpected either. Betrayal, overwhelming sexual attraction, undeniable love, sacrifice, and the unveiling of long held secrets all lead to the HEA shared by Tienan and Silence. It also leads to an ending where the reader knows more in this world is coming.  General Caruthers is still after them. The Resistance is on the move. And there’s another Alpha – Tienan’s friend Logan known as Alpha Two – still out there.

The second book, Have Mercy, takes up the story by following Logan as he is pursued by the security police from the inner city. Unfortunately, he’s shot by them and although he eludes them, he passes out in a shack. He’s found by two teenagers who take him to a woman healer.

Logan awakens tied to a bed but bullet free with his wounds neatly stitched up. His attraction to the healer, Mercy Dockins, is instantaneous and mutual. The two share a quick, incendiary encounter in a pantry, setting up the rest of the story in a similar manner to Embracing Silence. Lust turns to love almost immediately with Logan’s Alpha genes telling him right away that Mercy belongs to him.

Logan discovers that Mercy lives in a community beyond the northern border of the outer city. Her house is filled with orphans from the city. Their community is walled in and they have animals and vegetable gardens.  Logan’s longing to belong and Mercy’s longing for a family dovetail as each realizes how much they want to be together and how impossible that would be.

The ending of Have Mercy is a little more surprising than the end of Embracing Silence.  How Logan and Mercy get their HEA isn’t that predictable. But it also sets up the reader for the third story in this series that leads to the battle against the inner city and General Caruthers’ forces. There is yet another Alpha who needs a HEA, after all.

In Sweet Charity, the third Alpha is Adrian whose secret (that he’s an Alpha) is revealed in Embracing Silence. In Have Mercy, we discover that he’s actually Alpha Ten. Here in his own story, we find him matched with his enemy’s daughter.

Abused both mentally and physically by her father, Charity has spent her life as the General’s pawn. She knows nothing of love and affection from men, yet when she meets Adrian, that changes. Escaping from the inner city, risking her life to take a dying man’s message to Adrian, Charity takes control of her destiny for the first time. And the instant Adrian lays eyes on her, he knows she belongs to him.

There are some twists and turns to the battle that ends this book. They are all related to the General, his machinations, Charity and Adrian. I’ve probably given enough spoilers about this series so I’m not going to divulge anything about the battle. You’re all smart enough to know that Adrian and Charity survive otherwise we’d have no HEA. However, I’m not about to tell you the how.

What I will tell you is that this book is a timeless tale of an abused woman who risks torture and death for the man she’s come to love. It’s a journey from her past filled with pain and fear to her present where she takes control of her life by offering it up to save another while facing down the biggest demon she has…her father.

Sweet Charity has all the elements any reader of romance could ever want. It will make you bite your nails, ache with tears, and laugh along with the characters as they find happiness at last. It leaves you with the promise of love everlasting as the hero and heroine truly do conquer all.

The theme of good versus evil, illustrated by a beautiful city that seems so perfect but is actually more polluted than the one outside it’s gates is a compelling one. The evil underpinnings of the inner city make it more ugly than the ruins that comprise the outer city where good souls just seek to survive. The theme of steadfast love that grows quickly and strongly in the harsh environment of fear and betrayal parallels the two cities. And over all lies the notion that this could be humanity’s fate if our society continues to leech our planet of its resources.

This is a gritty series, but the passion between each set of lovers is intense. I preferred Embracing Silence slightly over the others if only because of the climax between Tienan and Silence when she thinks he does not care about her and thinks her adopted brother doesn’t trust her. I’m a sucker for a heroine who lifts her chin and puts one foot in front of the other despite being ravaged by heartbreak and the overwhelming sense of being alone and unloved. N.J. Walters does this really well and that ending gives Embracing Silence 5 Valentines.  Sweet Charity with it’s gripping battle and the answers to so many questions raised in the first two books comes in next with 4.75 Valentines. Have Mercy may only rate 4.5 Valentines, but it’s still an amazing story, sexy and incredibly sweet. The series as a whole rates a 5 from me. If you like sci fi rom, you should read these.

5 Valentines

Project Alpha: Embracing Silence

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Blurb:

Earth 2133

Tienan is an Alpha—an assassin who has been genetically and computer enhanced. He has escaped from the lab that created him and the Ruling Council that controlled him. He is now outside the Gate—a high-tech shield that protects the enclosed city from the contaminated and lawless land outside. Tienan must constantly evade security forces sent to eliminate him, his only goal to destroy his former masters.

Silence is a tracker with the Resistance on the trail of a dangerous stranger. The hunter becomes the hunted and when Tienan kidnaps her, she thinks her life is over. But both captor and captive are enthralled with one another. Desire and need ignite each time they touch. Enemies become lovers.

Treachery and mistrust drive them apart. But nothing can diminish the sexual heat smoldering between them. With enemies all around, they must confront each other one final time. With time running out, sexual longing and trust battle with betrayal for supremacy.

4.5 Valentines

Project Alpha: Have Mercy

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Blurb:

Earth 2133

Logan is an Alpha—a genetically enhanced assassin—who has escaped from the lab that created him. He is now outside the Gate, a high-tech shield that protects the enclosed city from the contaminated and lawless land outside. Shot while evading security forces sent to eliminate him, Logan’s only goal is survival.

Mercy Dockins is a healer. Her world is shaken to its foundations when a stranger is brought to her near death. As she heals him, her body and soul respond to him, overwhelming her with sexual desire. With little more than a look and a touch, passion flares out of control, consuming them both.

But this stranger is dangerous to not only her well-being, but also to the safety of everyone she loves. And he has brought the security forces right to her door.

4.75 Valentines

Project Alpha: Sweet Charity

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Blurb:

Earth 2133

Adrian is an Alpha—a genetically enhanced assassin—thought dead by the people who created him. Living outside the Gate, a high tech shield that protects the enclosed city from the contaminated and lawless land outside, he is the leader of the Resistance, living only to bring down the Gate and the people who sought to kill him.

Charity Caruthers is the daughter of one of the most powerful and brutal men in the inner city—the General. She risks everything sneaking outside the Gate to get a message to Adrian.

Passion explodes, ripping apart the foundations of both their lives. Charity begins to understand true sexual desire as Adrian teaches her the passion to be found in dark fantasies. Loyalties are tested and trust pushed to the limits as the final confrontation is at hand. Some will die. Some will live. And Adrian and Charity’s fragile relationship could be the final casualty in this war of retribution and freedom.

Cyborg Seduction

In the past few months, I wrote a couple of review like posts about books I’d read that I enjoyed.  Last Christmas, I wrote a post here about all the Christmas books I liked.  Lately, in some of my loop discussions, I’ve talked about books that I liked. It dawned on me that I have the perfect forum right here for talking about books.

The blog on this site is meant to be about writing, books, and publishing. Why shouldn’t I just do mini reviews of the stuff I’ve read and enjoyed? I talked about Neil Placky’s Gaylife.com on Sunlight Sucks. I talked about Kim Knox’s Breaking Chance on Flirty Author Bitches. And when I talked about The Dickens with Love and The Christmas She Rules here, I thought of it in a more promotional light rather than what it truly was…a review.

So while that Christmas post was a review, this shall serve as my first official “Valentine Review.” As such, I’m going to break the mold a bit.   I will try not to give spoilers, but I have to admit that may be tough for me. Also, I may mention some grammatical or structural stuff from time to time, but the main thrust of a Valentine Review will always be positive because, to be frank, I don’t want to come on here and talk about BAD books. I don’t want to give bad books unwarranted attention. There are other review sites out there who are happy to do that in their own snarky way. They get a lot of traffic from rubberneckers with a reality show mentality who thrive on seeing train wrecks. Sorry, folks. Move along. No train wrecks to be seen here. Only the stuff I like will have the privilege of a Valentine Review.

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For my first official forage into this area I’ll be telling you mostly about one book, but also a little about the other two in the series. Laurann Dohner’s Cyborg Seduction series at Ellora’s Cave may not be a comfortable fit for a modern woman who only wants to read about enlightened societies where women have true equality to men. There are some shades of the old romance bodice rippers with forced seduction themes in these books.  That’s not to say that the heroines aren’t fiesty. They’re far from submissive, but the societies in this series dictate the circumstances they find themselves in where they have to bargain to the lesser of two evils. The lesser usually being that they have to submit to sex with a cyborg.  Like those old romances where the pirate captures the lady and seduces her into loving him, these heroines fall for the cyborgs. But it’s not pretty at first and readers who aren’t a fan of this type of storyline had best just steer clear.

My most recent read, and the most recent release in this series, was Melting Iron. In the first two books, Burning Up Flint and Kissing Steel, the hero of Melting Iron is a total and complete asshole and you pretty much hate him.  However, what I noticed most about Melting Iron is that the author really has learned how to take a cold, nasty cyborg and turn him into a true hero that the reader adores.

As a reader, I didn’t like Flint all that much and it truly takes the entire book for him to get to the hero point and show that he loves the heroine. Steel, in the second book, warmed up a lot quicker. In the third book, Iron shows he is the hero almost from the beginning. Which is amazing considering how horrid he was as a secondary character in the first two books.  This growth in the author as a writer gives me a lot of hope that if she does further stories in this series and world (yes, please! I’d like Ice’s and Coal’s stories!) that I’ll be able to identify with the heroes right from the start.

The world Ms. Dohner has built is a harsh one. Humans created the cyborgs on Earth and when they realized they couldn’t control them and use them, they tried to have them all exterminated. Since the cyborgs had enhanced intelligence, they escaped and found a new world to colonize, Garden. On Garden, men outnumber women by quite a bit because the majority of the cyborg females were lost during escape from Earth. Because of the unequal numbers, laws are put into place to ensure that breeding occurs and the cyborg race is continued. The laws become a huge problem when love enters the mix.

In the first two books of the series you discover that the lost cyborg women have been found. This creates a shift in numbers that affects the laws and helps to ease the path of true love between the human females and cyborg males of the series. Sure, it’s a plot device but it’s an acceptable one, and as a reader, I mostly sat on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen with the laws to help the poor heroes and heroines achieve their monogamous HEAs.

I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, but I loved the third one which is weird because I didn’t expect to like Iron AT ALL. In Melting Iron you have a fiesty red-headed female mechanic (human) pitted against a cold, almost brutal cyborg male with a long red braid. The red hair is a key factor in this story and I’m not going to go into the nuts and bolts of it, but I will say that the heroine’s utter fascination with seeing Iron’s long hair turned  loose hit a special nerve with me. (I beg Rott to let his long curly hair loose too.)

Dawn, the heroine, is a woman I can identify with much more than the first two heroines. Her mercurial moods and Irish temper are a lot closer to my own personality and the fact that she’s techie and works as a mechanic is also way more like me. So, I could totally identify with her.  Dawn’s evolution from captive slave to Iron’s family unit (it’s kinda like being married) follows an arc I can empathize with.  But it’s still the development of Iron’s character that shows how the author’s skills have grown as this series has gone along.

It’s here in this third book that the reader discovers why Iron is so harsh in the first two books. Learning his background through Dawn’s eyes puts his prior behavior into perspective finally. And this book comes across much more richly in terms of the emotions of the hero and heroine than the others did. The detail with which their emotions are drawn suck you right in, something I applaud.

I noticed more telling and structural issues in the first two books, not enough for me to dislike them, but enough that I wouldn’t give either top marks. Melting Iron, however, is deserving of the top spot. The Cyborg Seduction series as a whole is deserving of top marks and is definitely a series I would recommend to those who like or are interested in reading sci fi rom.  If you don’t believe me, just read em yourself and decide.

5 Valentines

Melting Iron: Cyborg Seduction Book 3

Laurann Dohner

Ellora’s Cave

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Blurb:

Being a female mechanic on a space station for eight years has taught Dawn a lot of tough life lessons that have hardened her heart. She’s got a temper and a mouth to match her red hair and has never backed away from a challenge. Then she’s kidnapped and blackmailed into agreeing to be a cyborg’s personal sex slave.

Iron is one big bastard with long, fiery red hair, intense, dark blue eyes and a stubborn streak as thick as his dense muscles. If Iron thinks he can tame her, he’s about to learn that “meek” is not in Dawn’s vocabulary. But with that handsome face, a body to die for, a wickedly talented tongue and those magical hands, the guy just doesn’t fight fair.

Dawn is intent on melting Iron’s icy resolve to never fall in love with a human. He’s winning her heart and she’s determined to win his right back. These two redheads have just met their matches. Let the battle for love begin.

Reader Advisory: The big cyborg using his “research” on his new captive during a smoking-hot bondage scene. Woot!