Review: Taken by the Russian, by Alexa Riley

Taken by the RussianTaken by the Russian by Alexa Riley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve finally read my first Alexa Riley book! I know I’m pretty late to the game…but it was good. I give it a solid 3.5 stars. I’m still trying to decide exactly how I feel about it, so my rating might change in the future.

I always struggle with how to rate quick, smutty reads like this one. I can’t rate it against other full-length books, because that isn’t the type of story that this is. Instead, my rating is based upon other comparable, short, smutty reads — if that makes any sense.

The story is very short and progresses quickly. There wasn’t a lot of character development and things just seemed to kind of happen without much build-up. That being said, I was surprised with the amount of development that was there, given the small number of pages.

Anya is a young girl, on the brink of her eighteenth birthday, at the onset of the story. She has been sheltered for most of her life, but is headed off to college. Her long-time bodyguard, Sasha, is supposed to deliver her to school, but he has other plans.

Sasha has worked for Anya’s father for several years. In exchange for bringing his family to America, he agreed to serve as Anya’s bodyguard for an agreed upon number of years. During that time, one of his primary responsibilities was making sure that she remained pure and untouched. That task proved to be almost unbearable for Sasha, who has lusted after her for years. Taking her to college is his last assigned duty before his time is up.

The huge age difference between Anya and Sasha definitely adds to the taboo nature of this story. Add to that the fact that Sasha had been fantasizing about Anya for years, since the time she was middle-school aged, and it is enough to make you pretty damn uncomfortable. Of course, that is the appeal.

Needless to say, Anya and Sasha eventually cross the line and their relationship morphs into something entirely new…and dirty. I’m pretty drawn to taboo and forbidden stories, but this was pretty over-the-top. I enjoyed it, but it was the kind of smutty entertainment that I just can’t take too seriously. Some of it was incredibly hot. Other parts were kind of disturbing.

All in all, I thought that it was a pretty good, smutty read. I can definitely see what the appeal is, now that I’ve read my first Alexa Riley book. Usually, I prefer a lot more build-up and development in my stories, but this is a great choice if you’re looking for a quick, dirty and hot type of read. This is definitely a “guilty pleasure” type of story.

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Review: The Iron Tiara, by Beth Flynn

The Iron TiaraThe Iron Tiara by Beth Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved ‘Nine Minutes’. So, when I saw that Beth Flynn had published a spin-off, I was all over it. No way was I going to miss anything remotely related to Grizz and Ginny!

‘The Iron Tiara’ is the story of Anthony Bear and Christy Chapman. If you’ve read ‘Nine Minutes’, you’ll remember Anthony as the leader of the “rival” biker gang on Florida’s west coast and Grizz’s best friend. This book shows a softer side to the intimidating biker.

Like Grizz and Ginny, Anthony and Christy’s relationship began with an abduction and captivity by the leader of a dangerous biker gang. That is where the similarities end though. Christy was an adult at the time she was taken. Anthony’s motives were also much different than Grizz’s.

While Grizz stole Ginny because he wanted her and had every intention of claiming her as his woman, Anthony did not set out to possess Christy. In fact, he loathed her initially. Their relationship evolved as Anthony watched her and came to realize that his preconceived notions about who she was were entirely unfounded.

Anthony took Christy as leverage. Her step-father owed Anthony a lot of money and Anthony planned to hold her hostage until he paid up. Unfortunately, Christy wasn’t the cherished princess that Anthony had envisioned. In fact, her relationship with her step-father was probably worse than Anthony’s relationship with him was.

After Christy’s step-father, Van, skips town, Anthony continues to keep Christy as his prisoner. As the reality that he isn’t coming back begins to dawn on him, he decides to keep her for entirely different reasons. He wants her, whether he is ready to admit it to himself or not.

Meanwhile, it becomes evident that Anthony isn’t the only one looking for Christy. Her step-father’s careless spending placed her on the radar of some very dangerous people. It is then that her captor transitions to the role of protector.

Despite the captivity theme, the relationship between Anthony and Christy develops over time. Anthony woos Christy gradually, even though he recognizes his feelings pretty early-on. Don’t expect any type of sex slave scenarios to play out here.

I enjoyed the slow burn of their relationship. Likewise, the glimpses of Grizz and Ginny’s story, told from a new POV, were a nice touch. Seeing the worlds of these characters intersect and putting the pieces together to form a more robust history was really nice.

That being said, I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as ‘Nine Minutes’. Don’t misunderstand me, it was great. ‘Nine Minutes’ is a tough act to follow.

In the end, I though that this was a wonderful spin-off. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m still dying to get my hands on the next book in the ‘Nine Minutes’ series and this book provided some extra background and paved the way for what is to come. I cannot wait!

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Review: The Secret Wife, by Gill Paul

The Secret WifeThe Secret Wife by Gill Paul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘The Secret Wife’ was a nice, enjoyable historical fiction/romance. Although it lacked the “wow” factor, I found it to be a good story overall. It was interesting and I enjoyed the details related to the time period. However, given the subject matter, the book lacked the suspense that I would have expected.

The story alternates timeframes, as well as locations. In 2016, Kitty Fisher discovers that her husband is having an affair. She has recently inherited a cabin in the United States from a great-grandfather that she never knew existed. Given the recent revelations about her marriage, she packs her bags and leaves her home in London, setting out for the cabin at Lake Akanabee.

Soon after her arrival, Kitty discovers some old writings in the cabin. She becomes consumed with uncovering the story of her great-grandfather, Dmitri Malama. The more she unearths, the more apparent it becomes that Dmitri’s life was anything but unremarkable.

Through the writings, a new look at Russia in 1914 and the downfall of the Romanov family is offered. Unlike many other stories centered on the Romanov family, which tend to speculate about Anastasia’s fate, this book focuses on Tatiana Romanov. I found this part of the story to be fascinating and highly entertaining. I lavished in every detail of this era in Russian history.

Dmitri was a cavalry officer who meets Tatiana when he is injured. Tatiana volunteers at the hospital where he is sent for treatment. The two fall in love, only to be separated thereafter by the overthrow of the Russian Tsar and the subsequent restrictions placed on the Romanov family.

Even after the reported murder of the Romanovs, Dmitri holds out hope that Tatiana is alive. Eventually, he gives up hope. He goes on to start a family of his own and relocates to America.

However, things aren’t always what they seem. When fate thrusts Tatiana back into his life, Dmitri is forced to make some very hard choices. Can he reconcile his love for Tatiana with the new life that he has made for himself and the wife that has stuck by his side throughout the years?

All things considered, I expected this to be a much more emotional read. Instead, it felt sweet and maybe even a little sad. Even with Tatiana’s reappearance, the story failed to elicit the tremendous emotional highs and lows that I expected. Things just fell together too perfectly.

Dmitri’s wife was just too accepting and almost complacent. I even felt the same way about how things worked out for Kitty and her husband. It was like these characters had been given a heavy dose of a sedative. Where was the anger and sense of betrayal?

Overall, it ended up being a good but not great type of story for me. It had a lot of unrealized potential. I needed more emotion and a stronger connection to the characters. It felt kind of “flat” to me, for lack of a better descriptor.

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Review: Yasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival, by Jean Sasson

Yasmeena's Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and SurvivalYasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival by Jean Sasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in Kuwait, ‘Yasmeena’s Choice’ is a graphic account of war crimes committed by Iraqi soldiers. The focus of Ms. Sasson’s work is the lives of women in the Middle East. Accordingly, this book is centered on the experience of Yasmeena, a young Lebanese woman that is in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion. After surviving a harrowing experience, she tells her story, bringing these atrocities to light.

Yasmeena is a flight attendant and it is only by chance that she finds herself in Kuwait on the day that Iraq invades it’s much smaller and more peaceful neighbor. She had agreed to trade shifts with a coworker. It’s funny how sometimes the small, seemingly mundane events in our lives often have the ability to set off a chain of events that is unforeseeable. This small act of kindness toward a coworker ends up being the most significant decision of Yasmeena’s life.

When the Iraqis invade, Yasmeena finds herself stranded in besieged country. She runs into a family friend, who invites her to stay with him and his family at their home while they wait out the Iraqis. At this point, everyone is sure that the invasion will be very short-term. Nobody could have predicted that the occupation would have gone on for so long before other nations intervened.

Stopped at a road block, Yasmeena is arrested and sent to a prison of sorts. However, this prison houses only female prisoners and their sole purpose is to satisfy the sexual urges of the Iraqi soldiers. Nothing was off-limits. When a soldier tired of his chosen victim, he just killed her and took another one. It was despicable.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly difficult story to read. The author did not hold back. This book is meant to upset and outrage readers and it certainly hit it’s mark. Yasmeena’s accounts of life as a female prisoner for her and the other girls under the Iraqi soldiers was horrifying.

This book serves to raise awareness and shine a light on one of the brutal realities of war — the crimes against women and children. The torture and rape of civilians, particularly women and children, is not something unique to Iraqi soldiers or this particular war. Yet, it is a topic that few dare to address. It is the worst kept “dirty little secret” of war that nobody wants to discuss. However, if it continues to be hidden away and ignored, then there is no hope for change.

Despite the brutality of this story, I think that it was an important book. It is a call to action, forcing readers to think about the plight of women in this war-torn region of the world. More importantly, it exposes the human side of these crimes and the emotional impact on the victims, making it harder to dehumanize them. Books like this one are painful, but necessary.

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Review: Undeserving (Undeniable, #5), by Madeline Sheehan

Undeserving (Undeniable, #5)Undeserving by Madeline Sheehan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Madeline Sheehan has done it again! If you’re like me, you’ve been waiting a long time for the next book in the ‘Undeniable’ series. This series is probably my favorite biker series of all of them, and there are plenty of them to choose from. And let me tell you, this book was worth the wait!

When I first saw that the book was going to center on Preacher, I have to admit that I didn’t expect to love it. After all, he was Eva’s father and was already kind of old in ‘Undeniable’. For some reason, I had envisioned a present-day romance with an elderly Preacher and some new love interest. Before you succumb to the fit of nausea those thoughts will leave you with, know that I was completely wrong. Thank God for that!

Although the story does feature a present-day Preacher, along with Eva and other characters that we’ve grown to love over the course of this series, the actual love story takes place in the past. Dying, Preacher finally opens up to Eva about his one true love. He has plenty of secrets to share and the truth about her mother will shatter Eva’s ideas about who her mother was.

Everything that Preacher told Eva about her mother, was a lie. She wasn’t a junkie. She didn’t walk out on Eva…at least not in the way that she thought. These were all lies. The truth was so much more – more beautiful, more loving, and far more painful. Sometimes it is too hard to face the truth.

Preacher’s love story was heartfelt and incredibly tragic. I could not put this book down. Start to finish, I was hooked.

He first meets Eva’s mom, Debbie Reynolds, aka “Wheels”, when she tries to steal his wallet. From that point forward, the two form an unlikely friendship. Preacher is fresh out of prison and uncertain about the direction of his life, especially where his father’s motorcycle club is concerned. He recognizes the desperation and resilience in the beautiful, young runaway that tries to best him.

This book is a beautiful and highly emotional. Your heart will melt, and it will break. This story made me feel elated and also completely devastated. There was so much tragedy in Preacher’s past, but also so much love and happiness.

I won’t give too much away, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I’ll just say that this is one book that you don’t want to miss if you’re a fan of this series. It is phenomenal!

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Review: The King (Masterpiece Duet, #1), by Skye Warren

The King (Masterpiece Duet, #1)The King by Skye Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been dying to get my hands on Damon Scott’s story ever since he was introduced in ‘The Pawn’. He was just so sexy and dangerous that I couldn’t help but be drawn to his character. At the same time, it was clear that he wasn’t entirely “bad”. He had an underlying protective, even kind, nature that would sometimes shine through. When Penny was later introduced, the obvious tension and history between the two piqued my interests even more. I had to have this book.

Thankfully, I can say that this book did not disappoint. The Damon and Penny’s story was absolutely captivating. It was a story of youthful innocence against the backdrop of the city’s gritty criminal underbelly. It was also a story of innocence lost, addiction, betrayal and other unspeakable acts. There were so many facets of this story and I loved every single one.

Penny first meets Damon when she is a young girl. Living on the streets to try and escape his crazy father, a teenaged Damon grows fond of the bold little girl from the trailer park near the woods where he was camped. Left on their own as Penny’s father leaves her for days at a time to feed his gambling addiction, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. In many ways, Damon becomes an older brother type of figure in her life, although it is apparent that some of his feelings aren’t very brotherly.

Eventually, the two lose contact, but neither one forgets about the other. Penny grows into a teenager, struggling to make ends meet while her father continues to gamble away every bit of her money that she earned waiting tables. Meanwhile, Damon rises up from the back alleys to become a king of sorts in the criminal underground, his power surpassing even his own father’s.

When Penny’s father’s addiction places her in grave danger again, she finds herself in the crosshairs of Jonathan Scott. Knowing that his son cares about Penny only makes her an irresistible temptation for Damon’s deranged father. While Damon works hard to try and free Penny from the situation that her own father placed her in, Jonathan Scott sets out to harm Damon and he plans to use Penny as the tool to do so.

If you’ve read the ‘Endgame’ series, then you’re already aware of the outcome for Jonathan Scott and the state that Penny was left in. This book provides the backstory that was not provided in that series. It details the events leading up to Penny’s horrible attack and provides far more details about the events that followed. Some of the timeline overlaps with the ‘Endgame’ series, but most of it does not.

This book leaves off with a lot of questions unanswered, which is no big surprise since there is another book expected in this series. I am dying to see how Damon and Penny will move forward. I’m not even humoring the thought that they won’t be moving forward together at this point. It just isn’t going to happen. No way!

I will certainly be reading the next book as soon as it is released. There is no way that I would miss it. If you are a fan of the ‘Endgame’ series, you don’t want to miss this spin-off series. If you haven’t read the ‘Endgame’ series, I would recommend that you start there. You could certainly read this series as a standalone, but you’ll miss a lot of the backstory and details that are provided in that series. They’re both wonderful though, so enjoy!

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Review: The Knight (The Stolen Duet, #2), by B. B. Reid

The Knight (Stolen Duet #2)The Knight by B.B. Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much like the first book in the series, ‘The Knight’ continues to provide plenty of emotional turmoil and action. While ‘The Bandit’ draws you into the mysterious workings of Angel’s crime family and leaves you with plenty to ponder, ‘The Knight’ is full of revelations — about both the criminal organization and the personal lives of the characters.

When the extent of Angel’s duplicity is revealed, Mian must face the fact that she never really knew the man that she thought she loved at all. Even I was surprised by the lengths that he had gone to and just how deceptive he had been. Suddenly, I had to look at all of his subsequent actions through a new lens. No longer did he even have the slightest claim to being a victim.

While there was a tremendous shift in the overall “feel” of the book that followed some of these shocking revelations, it still proved to be a captivating read. It was every bit as sexy as the first book, with plenty of tension between characters. Despite his horrible actions, Mian couldn’t completely freeze Angel out.

Thankfully, Mian actually makes Angel pay for his crimes. There is nothing that I hate more than when a heroine forgives the hero after he does something atrocious with little more than an insincere apology. The need to make the hero suffer a little for his crimes is something that this author understands well. While Angel doesn’t come off as weak or sappy, he definitely has to pay for his crimes and work hard to try and win Mian over again.

My only major complaint about this book is that, like the first book, the editing was horrible. This book is littered with simple grammatical mistakes that will drive many readers nuts. These errors were frequent and should have been caught easily, because they were so “basic”. Sometimes there were multiple errors on a single page. I frequently found myself having to stop and re-read a sentence, making the corrections in my mind for what should have been written. It wasn’t so bad that you couldn’t figure out what the author meant to say, but it disrupted the flow of the story in a big way. This was a huge draw back and did take away from the reading experience.

That being said, the story itself was still pretty good. It had just enough mystery to keep me wondering about what would be around the next corner. Meanwhile, it was very erotic and even emotional at times.

If there is an audiobook version available, that might be a better way to experience this story. A lot of times the narrator will “fix” many of these editing errors as they read the story, in my experience. Otherwise, I’d only recommend this series to individuals that have a great deal of patience when it comes to these types of errors.

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Review: The Bandit (The Stolen Duet, #1), by B. B. Reid

The Bandit (The Stolen Duet, #1)The Bandit by B.B. Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Bandit’ has been sitting on my TBR list for quite some time now. At last, I got around to reading it. It didn’t disappoint. This was one steamy read with plenty of push and pull between the main characters.

The heroine, Mian Ross, has known a lot of tragedy in her young life. She’s survived the death of her mother, only to be orphaned when her father is incarcerated for murder. To make matters worse, the man that her father killed was her father’s best friend and like a second father to her. His murder left Mian completely isolated from anyone that had ever cared about her.

With no other options, Mian is taken from the home where she had spent her adolescence being taken care of by the son of her father’s victim. She is sent to live with a distant aunt and uncle, that could care less about her welfare. This is made very clear when they throw her out after she becomes pregnant as a teenager, following another tragic event.

After losing her latest job waiting tables, Mian is desperate. She will do anything to keep her young baby fed, even if it means risking her own life. She decides to burglarize Angeles Knight, aka “Angel”, the boy that raised her. Only, Angel is no longer a boy. He has grown into a very dangerous man and has stepped up to take his father’s place at the head of his family’s criminal enterprise.

When Mian is caught stealing from Angel, he returns the favor. He spent his youth lusting after the forbidden, and much younger, Mian. Now, he finally has her where he wants her. He knows that she will do anything for her infant son. Angel takes her son and Mian plays right into his hand, just like he knew that she would.

What follows is a dark-ish story, with a lot of push and pull between the two main characters. Angel’s two best friends also play a crucial role in this book, as Angel shares a lot with his friends. Angel has to balance his desire for revenge with his lust for Mian. The result was a deliciously steamy and angsty read.

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this story quite a bit, it wasn’t without problems. Mainly, the editing was horrendous. I mean, REALLY BAD. I was pretty surprised by that, since this book has been out for a long time and is pretty popular. Incorrect words and misspellings were frequent, as were elementary grammatical errors. For example, using the word “then” when it should have been “than”, etc.

Overall, I give this one 3.5 stars. It was still pretty good, but the editing needs some serious work. The number of mistakes was very distracting and did take away from the story. If you’re a stickler for editing, this one will drive you insane. If you can overlook some serious grammatical issues, then you might consider giving this one a try. I am still curious about where their story is headed, so I’ll be reading the next book immediately.

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Review: When It’s Real, by Erin Watt

When It's RealWhen It’s Real by Erin Watt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I picked up ‘When It’s Real’, I wanted something that was sweet and heartwarming. I loved ‘Paper Princess’ by Erin Watt, so when I started seeing this book pop up on friends’ pages, I knew that I’d want to read it. I was not disappointed.

This book was everything that I had wanted. It was the kind of light and fluffy read that puts a smile on your face and leaves you feeling contented. Although it was predictable and not particularly original, it was still a highly entertaining read. After all, who doesn’t love a modern-day, rags-to-riches love story?

The story centers on the “fake” romantic relationship between Vaughn Bennett and Oakley Ford. Essentially, their relationship is a publicity stunt concocted by Oakley’s management team to revamp his bad-boy image. Oakley is a famous singer. Vaughn is the everyday, girl next door teenager.

While Oakley is accustomed to a life surrounded by admirers, he is lonely. He has no doubt that if the fame were to go, so would everyone that claims to care about him. All the booze, drugs and women that fill his time cannot fill the void within him.

Worst of all, Oakley has been in a rut. He hasn’t written anything new in a while and everything is sounding the same to him. It’s like he’s lost his magic.

More than anything, he wants to work with a famous producer that is known for his ability to produce the best hits. However, Oakley’s irresponsible shenanigans have gotten in the way. The producer doesn’t believe that Oakley is a serious artist and is refusing to work with him until he proves himself.

Vaughn needs for their fake relationship to be as believable as Oakley does. Her family is depending on her. She knows that she will never be able to earn this type of money any other way and she desperately needs the money. Her “real” boyfriend will just have to understand.

Along the way there is plenty of humor, as Oakley and Vaughn banter back and forth. They kind of start off on the wrong foot and their relationship begins with a healthy rivalry. Of course, the more time these two spend together, the more they start to develop real feelings for one another.

There are a few bumps along the way, but nothing too surprising. It was pretty predictable, but a sweet and fun read. I listened to the Audible version and the narration was terrific as well. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a light-hearted, feel good type of love story. It is a standalone, so you won’t be left hanging. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a spin-off featuring Oakley’s bodyguard and Vaughn’s sister. I’ll be looking forward to reading that one also if it comes to light.

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Review: Ruckus (Sinners of Saint, #2), by L. J. Shen

Ruckus (Sinners of Saint, #2)Ruckus by L.J. Shen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in the ‘Sinners of Saint’ series, ‘Ruckus’ tells the story of Dean Cole and Rosie LeBlanc. I was a little weary going into this book because of Dean’s history with Rosie’s older sister. I wasn’t sure that was something that I was going to be able to get past. Fortunately, I did.

Dean Cole is a hard-partying, manwhore. He is one of the hotholes and is used to getting everything he wants. If he was a spoiled rich kid in high school, he has only gotten worse as a grown man. His life is one of excess to the extreme.

Yet, the one thing that he wants most is the one thing that continues to allude him — Rosie, aka “little LeBlanc”. Dean knows that he irreparably damaged his chances with Rosie when he dated her sister in high school. He knew all along that he was with the wrong sister, but didn’t do anything about it before it was too late. Now, he’s hell-bent on proving himself to Rosie.

No matter how hard Rosie tries to live a “normal” life, she cannot forget that she is seriously ill. Growing up with Cystic Fibrosis, her entire life revolves around her medical care, as do the lives of everyone in her family. It has been a long time since she felt like she was a real person and not just her diagnosis.

As much as Rosie wants to be “normal”, she is perfectly aware of her prognosis. She will die young and will most likely never bear children. For these reasons, she pushes others away before they get too close. She doesn’t want to begin a relationship that is doomed from the start, leaving heartache in her wake.

Rosie has perfected the art of shutting others out. She tells herself it is for their own good and she’s never regretted it. The only exception is Dean Cole, the guy she has always fantasized about but could never have.

Rosie and Dean have a long history of taboo flirtation and stolen moments. She loves her sister, but she felt like Dean was hers from the first time she laid eyes on him. When he chose her sister, it broke her heart. Even though her sister has moved on, marrying one of Dean’s best friends, Rosie feels like crossing that line would be a betrayal.

Now, Rosie and Dean are both grown and living in New York City. To make matters more complicated, Rosie lives in Dean’s building and witnesses his sexual exploits first-hand. Of course, he plans to use his position as her landlord to bend Rosie to his will.

When the two travel home for Vicious and Emilia’s wedding, the sexual frustration is at an all-time high between these two. Over the course of a few weeks, their relationship grows far more intimate and they become inseparable. Despite everything working against them, they decide to give a relationship a shot.

However, their relationship is anything but smooth sailing. Dean has some major demons that he’s fighting. Rosie’s health poses it’s own set of risks. Both of them have a lot of work to do on themselves before they can make a relationship work.

All in all, I thought that this was a great read. Rosie and Dean were perfect for one another, despite his past with her sister. I expected it to be a much bigger deal in this book than it ended up being. Although that seemed to be a little inconsistent with his reaction to Emilia and Vicious’ relationship in the first book, I just went with it. This story was hot and with just enough angst to keep me emotionally engaged.

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