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#RomBkLove August: Week 1: Summer Reading

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 This week I would love to hear from everyone if they read more or less in the summer, what they read (and if it is different than what they reading the rest of the year).  What books do you most associate with summer or holiday reading? What makes something a beach read? What are you favorite summer romances?

I am a teacher-librarian so while I read voraciously all-year round, I do have more time in the summer for reading and writing. I don't really change my reading for the summer. Other than having way more time, which results in more binge reads.  

So far this summer I've started making a dent in my ARC TBR, including a couple like Not Another Rock Star by Amber Belldene and  Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai, whose release dates I missed.  Rai's Hate to Want You is a good example of a book that is a perfect summer read for me. While some might want to read light fluffy stuff, I am better able to deal with emotionally intense books in the summer. I had to put down HTWY when I first picked it up in May because it was too overwhelmed with life and work (I was juggling work deadlines and the first incarnation for #RomBkLove) to read it with abandon. That wasn't a problem at all when picked it up last week and I read it in less than a day and I was as baffled as my friend Jessica was when she asked me how I had ever put it down.

As a reviewer I am also starting to receive a lot of the Fall and Winter releases. I actually have a Christmas anthology already in my queue, but I am not really ready to start reading it. I usually end up some diving into some of the RITA awards winners that I missed the first time around. However what I am currently reading is Ilona Andrew's Innkeeper Chronicles, which are set in an inn in Texas that serves intergalactic travelers.

So what have you been reading this summer?

I will be looking for your answers on #RomBkLove  and I would love it if you'd join us on Saturday Aug 5th at 4pm EST for the #readRchat about Summer Reading.

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Hate to Want You (Forbidden Hearts #1) by Alisha Rai

29422692Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler were a golden couple, heirs to a growing and successful grocery store chain founded by their grandfathers, until tragic car accident exposed secrets and a stolen inheritance tore their families apart.  In the decade since Livvy and Nicholas have only seen each other 9 times, meeting for a secret yearly hookup. For one night, they express only the lust and need they still feel for each other before locking away all their feelings for each other again.  On her 30th birthday, Livvy breaks the pattern, never sending the inciting text to Nicholas. and she then returns to their hometown of Rockville, NY after 10 years of nomadic living as professional guest tattoo artist.  Even though their families would explode if they knew, Nicholas can't stay away.

"Talking's not usually what we do when we're together"

I loved this book. It is intense, affirming, full of sexiness and humor. One of my favorite things about this romance was that Livvy and Nico have to acknowledge the underlying reasons for why they fell apart the way they did. They had been young and passionate but they hadn't known each other as fully as they have aught to.  At the end I wanted to do a little victory lap for Livvy and Nicholas for finally having the hard conversations necessary to build real trust and intimacy, not just with each other but with their families.  Those family relationships are not magically restored and made perfect and serious obstacles remain but they have started doing the hard work they need to do build a life together despite their ugly family history.

All the secondary characters in this amazingly inclusive cast with the exception of Nicholas' villainous father Brendan were fascinatingly well-rounded. I was incredibly happy to discover that Livvy's best-friend and widowed sister-in-law, Sadia, a Pakistani-American single-mother would the heroine in the next book, Wrong to Need You, particularly after learning who her hero is going to be. I also loved Tani Oka and Maile Kane's unexpected friendship, which could have come come off as "Odd Couple"-like due to their contrasting demeanors, but instead showcased empathy, compassion and complexity.  Through out the novel Nicholas and Livvy have to face that they didn't understand their parents marriages and relationships the way they thought they did, and that they might have to rethink livelong assumptions about their intertwined pasts. To that end I hope we see more of Nicholas's grandfather John, in future books, he provided needed perspective and was interesting figure, driven by his desire to do right by his old friend, dismayed by his son and hurting for his grand-children

"He'd tried binging on her in secret, stolen, isolated bites, telling himself that the small hit of excitement was enough.

It wasn't now."

I loved that Rai gives both Nicholas and Livvy serious yet distinct expressions to their emotional baggage. They respond to their familial traumas differently. While Livvy and Tani's depression and anxiety are front and center, Nicholas suffers more subtly, sublimating his emotions into over-exercising, self-denial and hints of disordered eating.  I wish Nicholas's issues were given more direct attention but Rai does have him start addressing the root issues to his behavior in a way that felt genuine.

I can't wait to get my hands on the next book and I am delighted that Rai's highly-anticipated Avon debut is as sexy and passionate as its gorgeous cover.  If you haven't read any of Rai's previous novels this new series is a fantastic place to start.

 

I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Hate to Want You was Published July 25th.

 


These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (Alastair-Audley 1)

Heyer_These_Old_ShadesThese Old Shades was delightful. I really didn’t know what to make of it when I first started reading.  I love foppish heroes that are deceptive, perspective and dangerous and it was clear from the first page Justin Alastair would be all three.

“He walked mincingly, for the red heels of his shoes were very high. A long purple cloak, rose-lines, hung from his shoulders and was allowed to fall carelessly back from his dress, revealing a full-skirted coat of purple satin, heavily laced with gold; a waistcoat of flowered silk; faultless small clothes; and a lavish sprinkling of jewels on his cravat and breast. A three-cornered hat, point-edged, was set upon his powdered wig and in his hand he carried a long beribboned cane.”

The book opens with Justin, the Duke of Avon buying a young man from his abusive older brother to turn him into his page.  The boy, Léon, is slavishly grateful, to the consternation of everyone but the Duke. The Duke of Avon is known to all as Satanas, He has a terrible reputation for heartlessness and selfishness.  In his youth he recklessly lost one fortune and won another and since then has cut a swath through polite society, careening from one scandal to another. He is untouchable, crowds part for him, and he floats through parties being coldly superior. He does have one good friend, Hugh Davenant, who is both kind and sober and hints that Justin is redeemable hero, but even he is concerned about what Justin might be up to with the boy.  

Of course, Léon does turns out to be Léonie. I am not actually a fan of most “girls in boys pants” books. Too often the books end up having homophobic or transphobic passages where the hero is discomfited by his increasing attraction to the young-man/heroine or angry at being mislead. However this is not just a girl-running-around-in boys-clothes-for-a-lark story.  Léonie has been living as as boy for all of her adolescence and is loathe to return to being a girl. Although she changes her clothes and grows out her hair, she never quite let go of her boyishness. And Avon never goes around objectifying her when she wears her trousers. Although she is much admired as Léon the page, it is accepted as a matter of course that one’s page should be decorative.  It is only Rupert, Avon’s clumsy and sometimes boorish brother that ever makes an overt comment about Léonie figure in her trousers. Img_4807

I did love how Léonie’s “boyish habits” are marked contrasts to Avon. Her impulsive physical responses, her blood-thirstiness contrast against Avon’s cold planning and reserve.  She is forever threatening people with guns or chasing them around with rapiers, while he defeats the villain not by physically overpowering him but by outmaneuvering him through insinuation and storytelling. Léonie is forever chasing or running and Avon is just there at the right time and place looking completely unruffled, his only weapon, his fan. He is masterful and powerful without the over-used masculine signifiers.

I was  amused and a bit surprised by the blatancy of the D/s dynamic in play in Justin and Léon’s interactions. Their is not merely a master-servant relationship as Heyer loves to contrast how Avon’s employee’s respond to him versus how Léon does. No other servant thirst for Avon’s approbation in the same way and he certainly does not pet them.  Maybe it is all the BDSM themed novels I read in the last few years talking, but I couldn’t unsee once I did.  

(Sidenote: Heyer does a fabulous job humanizing the servants both in their scenes below stairs and in their reactions to the many ridiculous tasks they are asked achieve and I particularly like the subtle ways Léon/Léonie interacts with them)

51iKLd8g-CL._AA300_I was worried early on that Heyer wouldn’t address the very real power-differential between them so I could accept Léonie’s ability to fully consent, since he had literally bought her but she managed to do while not abandoning their dynamic. Instead it morphs, Léonie becomes his ward, he informally adopts her and refers to her as his Infant. Thankfully she never calls him Daddy or Papa, Justin is always her “Monseigneur”.  Avon largely removes himself from Léonie’s life, sending her to stay in his country estate and  entrusting her to care of his sister and cousin. Under this arrangement Léonie grows in confidence, and tests out her assertiveness.  While she was Léon, the page,  Avon had already given her more leave to question and be contrary than he did with the rest of his employees, but as his ward, she test out her power against her new guardians, Avon’s sister Fanny, her poor duenna and Rupert.

14456161609Avon delights in spoiling Léonie, and letting her have her way, and she delights in provoking him into chastising her. His friends and family don’t fail to notice the dynamic is as much romantic as it is paternal and they debate whether the 20 year age gap in their ages is a pro or a con.  Avon persists in thinking of himself as unworthy of her because of those tarnished years till the end but for Léonie all younger men seem to be merely boys at play, when she only has eyes for him, her protector and provider.

I didn’t grow up re-reading dog-eared hand-me down copies of Heyer novels but I have really grown to love her wit and love for understatements to show the depth of emotion. The “Not entirely’, he said, and forgot to drawl.”  nearly killed me in that climatic scene, his cool demeanor collapsing as he tries convince Léonie she shouldn’t waste her love on him.

I also continue to be enchanted with her narrative voice as it is both indulgent & lightly sarcastic and her ability to creates a crowded yet vibrant cast of secondary characters. In this novel I particularly loved the little solo scenes she gives to the Marlings and Merivales. Their relationships are incredibly different than Léonie and Avon’s, but they are no less loving.  And best of all when I finished These Old Shades I had to immediately re-open Devil's cub and re-read that first chapter again, now that I know who all those people are.

INVITATION:

Every year in Aug Not-a-Book-Club (#notabc) reads a Heyer novel.  I was not a founding member of this book club but I crashed their discussion of Venetia that first year and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since. Our pick for this Aug is These Old Shades, if you have read this novel and want to discuss it please join us on Aug 20th (8PM EST) when we will discuss it on Twitter.


Spectred Isle (Green Men 1) by K.J. Charles

51MgWXJAakL._SY346_In Spectred Isle, the porous veil that separates the mundane from the magical worlds was almost completely shredded by the terrible choices magic users made during the war. Unusual magical phenomena is more common than it was before the war, and there are less skilled occultists around, since many like Simon Feximal (from Charles’s The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal) were lost or went missing during the war.

Saul Lazenby is a talented archaeologist whose career and life have been derailed by a dishonorable discharge from the army. The only job he can find is as secretary for a man obsessed with finding sites of magical significance.  Although skeptical he dutifully follows his employer's whims and fancies, tracking down these allegedly magical sites throughout London, till disturbing things begin occurring in alarming regularity. He is particularly disturbed to keep running into Randolph Gylde, who he suspects knows more than he is letting on.

Randolph Glyde is the arrogant and sly scion of a magical house devastated by the war. He is desperately trying to fulfill the duties his family has kept for generations, while ignoring his deep grief at their catastrophic and preventable loss during the war. He is at first suspicious of and then grows increasingly concerned for Saul safety as he persist in blundering into situations he has no preparation to face.

This series is a sequel of sorts to The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, set in the same world but not directly picking where the Casebook left off. Instead The Green Men series is set in the interwar period immediately after World War I. This is  the fragile yet glittering era of the Bright Young Things, where a war scarred generation tries to pick up the pieces in a world that has been radically changed by the war.  Although Sam Caldwell, Feximal’s adopted son is one of the supporting characters and the bureaucratic Shadow Ministry also returns to serve as Randolph’s nemesis in this novel, you don’t actually have to have read The Casebook in order to follow the story.

I enjoyed how Charles wove together history, elements of horror stories and folklore together to create incredibly menacing situations for Saul and Glyde to encounter. I also loved how Saul's Green Man magic worked, and how despite Randolph's magical pedigree he is really bumbling about since he is  trying to take over the roles left vacant by his family for which he has no training.

Both Randolph and Saul are vulnerable and lost in their own ways. Saul is deeply ashamed about what he has done in search of love before and Randolph has a lot of unresolved grief to deal with. I loved that Randolph and Saul are deeply suspicious of each other for incredibly legitimate reasons.  And I loved that they both long for yet struggle to picture what a lasting gay relationship would look like. They have take chances and be brave and name what they want, and let go what they have understood before. 

The supporting characters all need fleshing out, there where too many scenes with Green Men (the independent  occultists, ghost hunters and magic users, Glyde has aligned himself with in order to oppose the Shadow Ministry) where I couldn’t tell one from another. The only exception was Sam who by virtue of being a returning character, has an established history and his own distinct trauma. I look forward to reading the Green Men's individual stories but they are largely ciphers with dark backstories at this point. It was still very interesting, engaging start to a series that is sure to grow in intensity and depth.


I received a ARC for review consideration from the author, K.J. Charles

Expected Publication date Aug 3, 2017


Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne (The Spymaster Series)

51ed+EIhtsL Severine de Cabrillac is a "retired" spy, cultivating a reputation as untouchable spinster who uses her clandestine skills as private inquiry agent. Although surrounded by family and loyal retainers she is haunted by the dark choices she made in the service of Military Intelligence during the wars in Spain.

Like Severine, Raoul Deverney bears the scars of his years in Spain and the consequences of the risky and youthful choices he made there during the wars. He needs Severine's help to find his late wife's child, Pilar, missing since her mother's murder. However he does not approach Severine as a client would instead confronting her in the dark of her bedroom, because he knows exactly how dangerous she is, she nearly cost him his life in a incident she claims to not remember.

Severine becomes intrigued by the case, determined to find Sanchia's killer and the missing child but she is also frustratingly captivated by the mysterious Raoul. Their courtship is all biting mistrustful flirtations, and unspoken feelings. They spar and get more and more entangled in each other as they grudgingly work to unravel why his estranged wife was killed and why Pilar would carve Severine's name before disappearing. 

"She used  light words that didn't say what she was thinking. He was doing the same. They leaned on each other and everything important between them went unsaid."

Raoul like her Papa Doyle and her brother-in-law Adrian Hawkhurst, respects her skills and talents. He is dangerous and skilled himself and able to taunt her in ways few others can, but he recognizes and values her sharp mind and the connections she can make and never attempts to diminish her. 

"One did not, he suspected, write poems to Severine's eyebrows. One slew dragons for her, or stood slightly to the left, holding her spare lance and buckler, while she did they slaying."

I adore the slightly off-kilter dynamics of the Bourne's families. Although Severine has been cultivating a deliberately "sensible, useful, careful life" since her return from Spain, and her family knows that everything is far from right with her. they trust her to heal and give the time to do so. They all  know she is made for more and they trust that she will want to live fully again someday.  So while Doyle and Hawker might want to shelter, protect her and even fuss over her they know better than to try. They just love her in wordless but powerful ways.

"At least she's armed,"
"A cogent summation of the women of my family."

I loved Pilar, yet another in a long line of children who find unlikely refuge and champions in these novels.  So many people hate children in romance novels but Bourne excels at creating sharply-smart vulnerable children surviving in dangerous situations. Severine was such a child before Doyle and Marguerite made room for her in their family.  Bourne never forgets that however remarkable they are, they are children.

Spymaster Series by Joanna Bourne is one of romance's modern classics and one of my all-time favorite series. The series is beautifully written, darkly suspenseful and incredibly romantic, and this highly anticipated installment does not disappoint.   

While Bourne's novels benefit from re-reading, you don't need to re-read or even read any of  the previous novels in order to love Sevie and Raoul's story. Everything you need to follow their courtship and become fascinated with the mystery of Pilar's disappearance and the missing Deverney locket is in this novel.  But I guarantee that you will want to find all the previous novels when you are done, especially Doyle, Hawker and Pax's stories. I suggest when you do go looking, you start with The Forbidden Rose, which I consider the narrative heart of the series.

 

I received an ARC for review consideration from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley.

Expected date of Publication is Aug 1, 2017 and it will be available at all the usual places in audio, print and ebook.

 


Not Another Rock Star (Hot Under Her Collar #3) by Amber Belldene

51qVm7EJsDL._SY346_Suzannah's first year as a priest is off to a rocky start. The foodbank project her church called her to spearhead has run into unexpected opposition, she is putting in too many early morning and late nights working on her sermons and worst yet some of her parishioners have noticed. When her organist, Peggy, breaks her arm in the weeks leading up to Easter it is a stress she doesn't need, but the replacement, Peggy's former star pupil, Rush Perez, a troubled rock star, might just the thing that makes her break.

Rush is hiding out in SF, trying to sort through treatment options. Losing his hearing and battling vertigo might not be life-threatening but they are career threatening. His worry and frustration has isolated him from his friends, too worried about the possibility of life without music that he rather let them think he is struggling with addition than tell them the truth about his prognosis. 

I really love Belldene's Hot Under Her Collar Series. First because they are so familiar and feel so right. My husband was a pastor for 15 years, and I find myself nodding along, as her priests tackle church politics, difficult parishioners and crises of confidence. Her priest are smart and passionate, with genuine faith and calling and, so often in romance and fiction in general characters are either one or the other. I believe in Suze's distracting attraction to the brooding rockstar just as much as I believe in her desire to serve God in her community.

I really enjoyed the progression of Rush and Suze's relationship, from antagonistic and prickly to wary and hopeful. They both carry a lot of baggage when it comes to music, faith and how they handle peoples expectations and  work pressure. Their relationship becomes believably unbalanced as Suze tackles her fears and insecurities, trusting in Rush to listen and provide good advice. While Rush comes to trust Suze with his struggles, opening up about his pain, he almost unable to trust himself to let her care for him. I cried big fat tears when Rush finally comes to realize almost too late that the barriers to their relationship's success are almost exclusively of his own making. Those are some of my favorite kinds of resolutions, when a character realizes that they are the ones that need to change, that they need to bend, and that all the external conflicts are secondary and endurable together.

If you like me are hungry for more romance where spirituality, and faith are not antithetical to sexual desire and passion, where couples struggle to be truly vulnerable and intimate with each other, and do a wonderful job at portraying friendships and community give this series by Belldene a try.  The books standalone quite well, so you can start with any of them, but they are all worth reading.

 

I received a ARC via Netgalley from the author.


Wildfire (Hidden Legacy Book 3) by Ilona Andrews

51dzRcjNU0LI am a long-time fan of Ilona Andrews's urban fantasy series. Their books have a great mix of action, humor and often feature hard-working, fiercely independent heroines facing terrible odds.

In the Hidden Legacy series, Nevada Baylor is private investigator, desperately trying to hold on to her family's firm. She lives and works in magic-dominated Houston, while hiding her family's own magical talents. She takes difficult cases, and works with her quirky but loving family. Over the course of the series she has fallen in love with Connor "Mad" Rogan, the hugely powerful telekinetic head of House Rogan, feared by the vast majority of the magical community. 

The relationship between Nevada and Connor is difficult, sweet and romantic, as they try to balance Nevada's need for independence and autonomy against Connor's need to protect her from the very dangerous people who are gunning for them both.

In Wildfire, the Baylors and Connor are still trying to track down the members of a dangerous magical conspiracy determined to undermine the current political structure and install their "Caesar"as supreme ruler. The Baylors are also under threat from their powerful and vicious paternal grandmother, who has been looking for them for decades and to complicate matters further Nevada has just been hired by Connor's ex-fiancee to help track down her missing husband.

The Andrews continue to craft stories with multiple-levels of threat, but hang together as a cohesive story line

In this chapter of Nevada and Rogan's romance I loved seeing how their love is maturing. They are learning to trust each other, even as romantic rivals and family obligations place greater pressure on their relationship.  Both of them are putting in the effort to bend for each other and the sexual tension and desire continues to hotter than fire.  

I love this family but I love this world a ton and I hope we continue to see more stories set in this world, with or without Nevada and Rogan at the center.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss +

Expected Publication Date July 25, 2017


Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas

Sight-unseen-b-small-2-377x600Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, Erin Satie, Emma Barry and J.A. Rock contributed to this anthology/guessing game. I have read multiple books by 4 out of these 5 authors, so it was an easy decision to pick up this book.  Even not knowing who wrote which story, I could count on enjoying the anthology as whole.

The stories cover a gamut of sub-genres, from fantasy to historical. These stories are clearly experiments by the authors to write outside their usual niches and play with settings and tropes they aren't know for exploring and push the boundaries of the genre.

The book opens with "Lost That Feeling" about rebel witch who has erased 7 years of her life & needs to figure next step when she is rescued by her former rebel leaders. I loved the depiction of magic in this story and how it played with the amnesia trope within a magic fantasy setting. Alma is a living "what if" moment, and is conscious of the possibilities, while confused about the reasons that led her to that moment.  I would characterize this story as fantasy with romantic elements because the romance takes a far back seat to the philosophical questions of how to end injustice.

In "A Clear View of You", I adored the angry and cynical fake-psychic grad-student heroine, drowning in college debt. Harmony "Kate" Marsh is estranged from her hippie-magic obsessed mother, Pangaea.  North needs Kate's help to retrieve a magical orb in Pangaea's possession.  It is a fantastic story about truth, trust and family. I loved the interaction between North and Kate, and how he challenges her entrenched beliefs without forcing or coercing.  It had a lot of fun banter and humor through out.

In "Free," Brad is a timid accountant who finally builds up the courage to confront an oblivious biker princess, Wren Masters, about her father's biker club's drug dealing. It is a small town romance about unrequited crushes, growing up and moving on.  Of the novellas this was probably the most conventional in tone and style. The subversion is in how it reworks the the typical Biker romance, rejecting slut-shaming tropes, and elevating the law-abiding hero over well-hung arrogant biker.  I loved Wren was the sexual instigator and that her motivations are not simple or easy.

It is 1983, and CJ Crespo's band DonJon is falling apart. Donny, her creative but not romantic partner of a ten-years, has exchanged the excesses of the road for the strictures of religious conversion. Their careers are disintegrating but they are finally reaching toward each other. "Chariot of Desire" jumped forward and backward in time and it left me feeling pensive about passion & purpose & not terribly hopeful for CJ and Donny.

"The Heart is a Universe", the final novella is epic science fiction/romantic myth. Vitalis and Eleian are heroes to their planets.  Vitalis is the Chosen One, the brightest of her generation, chosen by her people as a child to face a deadly task that assures their ability to remain on their planet.  Eleian pulled his planet from the brink of chaos, facing off against a tyrant and helping them restore democracy, before retreating from public life. What most don't know is that he has been ill since birth, and only experiences brief moments of health and vitality.  He uses one of them to orchestrate a meeting with his hero and inspiration Vitalis.  I cried a lot reading this story, sympathetic frustrated tears, mostly as these two, struggled with anger, duty and doubt.  

As a whole this anthology was very interesting and ambitious. As a guessing game despite having read 4 out of the 5 authors and knowing for sure who wrote one of the stories, I don't feel any confidence in my authorial guesses but it was fun to read a set of stories without knowing who authored what. As a discovery tool, I will definitely try more books by the one author I had not read previously, J.A. Rock.


The Bridesmaid and The Hurricane: A Capital Kisses story by Kelly Maher

30ish White man in white button up shirt and loose tie. Cover for Kelly Maher's The Bridesmaid and the Hurricane About a year and half-ago I spent a whole day reading novellas while keeping my youngest daughter company.  One of the novellas was Maher's Blizzard Bliss.  I found it quite charming and I was intrigued by a lot of the supporting characters.  One of the characters I wanted to know more about was Radhika O'Leary, Rory's older sister who was stranded at downtown hotel during the whole of Blizzard Bliss.

Turns out Radhika had a blizzard fling of her own with Malcolm "Colm" Jones, a national weather reporter in town to cover the storm. Eighteen months have passed with no contact but Colm is about to blow right back into Radhika's life and complicate it in ways neither of them expected.

When I asked for Radhika's story, it didn't expect this one, but that isn't a complaint.  Maher delivered a story about workplace politics, toxic co-workers, relationship baggage and the necessity to taking emotional risks.  I really liked the romance between Colm and Radhika, especially her wariness at getting involved with him, despite how much she liked and still likes him. Neither of these characters are perfect, but they are both trying very hard and they have friends and family to push them the right direction when they screw up.  

One of the things I really appreciate about Maher is her attention to detail and her strong sense of place however there were a few scenes that could have been tighter, as the pacing of the story slowed to accommodate the detail. That is a small nitpick in what was a fresh and interesting take on the return of a rebound two-night stand. 

I received ARC for review consideration from the author.