Review: Hundreds (Dollar, #3), by Pepper Winters

Hundreds (Dollar, #3)Hundreds by Pepper Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you follow my reviews, you know that I love dark, twisted romance. So, it should come as no big surprise that I’m a big fan of Pepper Winters. She has a way of drawing me in and doing dirty, dirty things to my mind. This series is no exception.

The third book in the series, ‘Hundreds’ shows more character development and evolution than previous books. Pim really begins to come out of her shell, pushing her boundaries and defying Alrik’s conditioning. Elder also reveals a more personal side, finally sharing details about his past and opening up to Pim.

Aside from their personal growth, ‘Hundreds’ also spotlighted the evolution of Pim and Elder’s relationship. From the guilt and hurt that the last book left off with, they grew stronger. In fact, their biggest challenge was how strong their attraction was this time around. It seems that once Pim comes to realize that she wants Elder as much as he wants her, the tables turn.

While most of the book focused on Elder and Pim’s relationship, Elder’s past also plays an important role. His secrets are finally brought to light. The consequences of his past actions come back to haunt him. He is a hunted man.

In addition to the people from his past that want revenge for the perceived wrongs of Elder, Elder is also fighting his inner demons. He knows that every moment he spends with Pim increases the risk of danger to her. He wants to protect her from those that would harm her — most importantly, himself.

Like earlier books in the series, ‘Hundreds’ ends with quite an upset. Ms. Winters really knows how to keep you anxiously awaiting the next book. Of course, I’ve already pre-ordered the next one because I know I won’t want to wait a minute longer than necessary to see what she has in store for Pim and Elder.

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Review: Irreparable Damage (Irreparable, #1), by Sam Mariano

Irreparable Damage (Irreparable, #1)Irreparable Damage by Sam Mariano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was dark, taboo and offensive. Accordingly, I thought that it was a fantastic read! Not the best dark captivity story out there, but definitely not the worst either. If you enjoy darker stories and don’t shy away from controversial subject matter, then ‘Irreparable Damage’ is worth a read.

The first in a series, this book tells the story of Willow Kensington. Willow is abducted right after her 18th birthday by sex traffickers. Her father is a powerful Mafioso and her captors think that they can use her to get at her father. Innocent Willow is caught in the crosshairs, despite having almost no interaction with her father.

While undercover trying to locate another missing girl, private investigator Ethan Wilde runs across another girl whose picture recently came his way. He hadn’t accepted Willow’s case yet, but fate has their paths crossing. Unfortunately, to maintain his cover he must harm Willow before he can save her.

Following Willow’s rescue, she struggles with the after-effects of her captive experience. Her healing is only made more difficult by the fact that she will not discuss everything that happened to her at the hands of her captors. She is torn by the fact that her rescuer was also the man who committed the worst crimes against her. She won’t condemn him, but she can’t cope either.

Returning to his wife and children, Ethan faces his own demons following his most recent case. He cannot stop thinking about the girl that he assaulted. He wonders how she is doing and whether she hates him. He waits to be held accountable for his crimes, but with each day that passes it becomes increasingly clear that Willow isn’t going to turn him in – no matter how much he deserves it.

Ethan’s guilt transforms into an obsession, masked as concern. Before long, he’s stalking the teen online and “checking up on her”. The lies begin to pile up and he is drifting away from his wife.

Of course, Ethan isn’t the only one that can’t get Willow’s trauma in captivity off their mind. Willow is finding that her nightmares surrounding her assault are turning increasingly erotic. Yep, she’s fantasizing about her assailant. (This is smutty, dark erotica, not non-fiction after all! Know that what you’re signing up for isn’t a harrowing, true-to-life account.)

Willow and Ethan begin meeting up to vent and discuss their feelings about what transpired. It seems that they are the only two people that can relate to one another. Admittedly, I rolled my eyes at the idea of the victim actually consoling the attacker and vice versa. However, even as I was rolling my eyes I was anxiously flipping pages to see where the story would go.

This story was pure, smutty goodness! It was definitely a “guilty pleasure” type of read for me. It was unbelievable, taboo and hot. Clearly, this isn’t a book that you choose for intellectual enlightenment. It was dirty, sexy and fun.

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Review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and DivorcedI Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As you can tell from the title, this book focuses on a very disturbing topic – child abuse. Unfortunately, the forced marriage of young girls to older men is an all too common occurrence in many areas of the world. Nujood is only one such victim. This book tells her story.

Essentially sold by her deadbeat father to a man more than three times her age, Nujood’s childhood comes to an abrupt end. At ten years old, she is repeatedly beaten and raped by her new husband. She is also moved to a remote village where she further isolated from anyone that might be able to help her.

Eventually, she is able to go to visit family in the city. After her own parents fail to help her, she is able to get some guidance from one of her father’s other wives. Then, this incredibly brave little girl sets out for the courthouse to ask for a divorce.

I could not get over how courageous this ten year-old little girl had to be. What she did would be intimidating in any country, much less in a country where women are extremely oppressed and viewed as property. Yet, this little girl was brave enough to walk into a courthouse and demand to see a judge and ask for a divorce. I was in awe of this young girl.

Thankfully, the judges decide to take up Nujood’s cause. She is given a “safe haven” of sorts while the case is brought before the court. Since Nujood was younger than the legal age for marriage in Yemen, her father and husband were brought up on charges.

From there on out, the court proceedings turned into a bit of a circus. Nujood’s case made international news and she became a sort of poster-child for women’s rights and child abuse organizations. Meanwhile, her father and husband alternated between placing blame on the other and trying to plead ignorance and innocence on their own part. It was pathetic.

Eventually, the men responsible paid a small fine and Nujood was granted her divorce. While the divorce was unheard of and paved the way for other young girls in the Middle East to speak out, the forced marriage of young girls is still a huge problem. Of course, that is only one manifestation of a much larger problem. Nonetheless, in a place where women and children have virtually no rights, this was a remarkable case.

From start to finish, I was taken in by Nujood’s story. My heart broke for this young girl, who was the same age as my oldest daughter. I can’t even begin to imagine maltreatment that girls like Nujood are forced to endure. Once again, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have been born in a region of the world where women have rights. As the mother of two young girls, this is something that is never far from my mind.

Although this didn’t prove to be the in-depth expose that I had hoped for, it was definitely a worthwhile read. At less than 200 pages, or around 2 hours of listening time, Nujood’s story serves to raise awareness of a very important topic. While this isn’t the type of story that you read for enjoyment, it is the type that you read for enlightenment. It is painful, but necessary to read stories like Nujood’s.

I won’t pretend that everything worked out like I would’ve liked. The granting of her divorce was only one triumph, in a world of defeats for women. Nujood was ultimately returned to the very person that sold her in the first place. Where is the logic in that? I can’t help but wonder where Nujood is now, nine years later. I can’t help but wonder if her notoriety has turned her into a cash cow for the very father that shared responsibility for her abuse in the first place.

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Review: The Club (Colombian Cartel, #1), by Suzanne Steele

The Club (Colombian Cartel # 1)The Club by Suzanne Steele
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m having a hard time deciding how to rate/review this one. On the one hand, I liked that the author didn’t shy away from dark content. On the other, the author didn’t necessarily weave said content into the story in a logical manner.

Antonio Ramirez is a crime boss of sorts. He owns strip club(s) and rules them with an iron fist. Although the full extent of his criminal dealings isn’t really revealed, it is clear that he is a guy that is feared and respected. His brother is Ricardo Ramirez, an even scarier guy.

Roxanne is a cage fighter. Along with her best friend, she has profited from throwing matches. When they get caught trying to scam Ricardo, he takes the women as payment. Roxanne is shipped off to marry Antonio, a gift from his brother. Meanwhile, her best friend is forced to marry Ricardo.

Of course, Roxanne is a virgin and is extremely surprised to be attracted to Antonio. That explains the pleasure and orgasms that she has while enduring the gentlest rape in history. Did I mention that she’s a closet masochist that ends up enjoying his sadistic tastes? (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

One night is all it takes and he’s in love. She holds out a little longer, but can’t fight the attraction that she feels for Antonio while trying to maintain her righteous hate for her new husband. Eventually, she admits what was apparent from the start and quits trying to escape Antonio…or his spankings.

More often than not, this story left me feeling confused and wondering if I’d missed a few pages somewhere to explain exactly how the story arrived at a certain point. The characters’ emotional responses seemed contrived, rushed and, at times, ridiculous given the situation. It was hard to connect with the story when you can’t believe the responses of the characters to the given situations.

For example, with little more than a flip of the page, the hero goes from loathing the heroine that has been forced upon him by his brother to being completely obsessed and in love with her. Hmm… A few more conversations between the two might’ve helped to sell that a little better. It just didn’t work for me.

The short length of this story is a large part of the problem. There was way to much going on to cover in a short novella. If this novella had been fleshed out and made into a full-length novel, it would have been much better and wouldn’t have felt so forced.

Captivity, forced marriages, dubious consent and other dark themes are amongst my favorites…but they take time to craft into a story that is believable. It takes a lot of build-up to illustrate the gradual evolution of those relationships in order to sell it to the reader. That didn’t happen with this story. Instead, it felt forced and a bit “smutty”, lacking the emotional depth and connection that a story like this usually evokes.

Overall, I give this one 2 1/2 stars. It had potential, but was poorly executed. Instead of being a dark captivity story that tugs at your heart and makes you squirm in your seat, this story will make your eyes roll and might even make you laugh.

I’m slightly curious about the best friend and brother’s story, but probably won’t go there because I’m worried it’ll end up being just like this one. Maybe I’ll try another one of this author’s works sometime in the future. For now, this author’s style just doesn’t seem to match up with my tastes.

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Review: Blackbird (Redemption, #1), by Molly McAdams

Blackbird (Redemption Book 1)Blackbird by Molly McAdams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Blackbird’ is the first book in Molly McAdams ‘Redemption’ series and is a lot darker than her previous works. I have enjoyed just about every book that I’ve read by Ms. McAdams and as a lover of dark romance, I was very excited to hear that she was trying her hand at writing “darker” romance. While not as dark as I was hoping for, ‘Blackbird’ proves to be a captivating read.

The story centers on Briar Chapman, a young lady that comes from a wealthy family. She is finishing up college and is engaged to Kyle Armstrong, the son of the Georgia governor. Much to her family’s disappointment, she chooses to make her own way, waiting tables while going to school.

One day she picks up a shift for a coworker and her life is forever changed. Just outside of the restaurant, she is kidnapped. The next thing she knows, she’s been sold at auction to a wealthy man.

Briar finds herself in a helpless situation. She is at the mercy of a man that says he owns her. He has no intention of ever letting her go and he refuses to entertain her pleas.

In time, Briar finds herself growing attached to her captor. Before long, she is questioning her own sanity and whether or not she really wants to return to her real life. Eventually, she has to face the fact that she has fallen in love with the man that she should hate.

While this story has many things in common with other captivity-themed romances, it also stands out from the rest in many ways. For starters, the man that purchased Briar, Lucas Holt, is not what he seems. The “world” that Lucas is a part of is also unlike any other that I’ve read about. The setting and circumstances were really quite unique. These differences were enough to make ‘Blackbird’ stand out from the rest.

There were quite a few twists and turns along the way. If you enjoy a bit of danger and action, this book delivers it in spades. In fact, ‘Blackbird’ was every bit as much of an organized crime romance as it was a captivity-themed romance.

My only gripe is that it wasn’t dark enough for my tastes. There were quite a few scenes that were heading into some very dark territory, but then something would happen right at the last moment and Briar would be saved. Lucas couldn’t ever really commit to do what he set out to do because he couldn’t stand the thought of hurting his blackbird.

While I can appreciate the sentiment, it was kind of a letdown for me. I love disturbing, dark stories and the strong emotional response that they elicit. This book was like a big tease in that sense.

I’m of the mindset that if you want to go dark, then go dark. Don’t skirt the edges of the forbidden territory while being too afraid to take that leap. This seems to be pretty common among authors that want to write “dark” content. I’m not sure if it is because they are afraid of the backlash that will come with delving into truly dark content, or what. However, for a fan of darker reads, this can be very frustrating.

Otherwise, this was a fantastic story. I would’ve liked it to be darker, but it was certainly much darker than anything that I’ve read by this author before. Even though it wasn’t as depraved as I would have liked, it was still a highly enjoyable read for me.

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Review: Blaire (Blaire, #1), by Anita Gray

BlaireBlaire by Anita Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read the blurb for ‘Blaire’, I was intrigued. I love nothing like a deliciously dark story that pushes my boundaries and makes me wriggle in nervous anticipation of what will come with the next turn of the page. Luckily for me, ‘Blaire’ did not disappoint. This book held my attention from start to finish.

Blaire was taken at a young age and subjected to horrific abuse. She was brainwashed and conditioned, both physically and mentally, to be the a slave for Maksim. Over time, she became his fiercest protector and most treasured possession. Despite her petite frame, she is more lethal than men twice her size.

When a rival crime boss, Charlie, enters the scene, it is clear that he is different. He doesn’t fear Maksim the way that others do. In fact, Maksim seems to be afraid of this newcomer. Their actions hint at a complicated history and it seems that Maksim may have betrayed Charlie in the past.

As repayment for past transgressions, Charlie asks to borrow Blaire from Maksim. He is in need of her expert hacking skills for a job that he has planned. Although, his keen interest in Blaire makes it clear that he is interested in far more than her computer skills.

To Blaire’s astonishment, Maksim agrees to Charile’s terms. Before she can voice her protest, she is drugged and taken to be Charlie’s captive. Soon, she is forced to feel things that she’s never experienced before and everything she knows is called into question.

Little by little, Blaire and Charlie’s relationship evolves into something entirely new to Blaire. Charlie treats her with kindness, which she had never experienced before. She battles between the feelings that she has and those that her conditioning tell her that she should have. She is beginning to fall for Charlie, but knows that this is the ultimate betrayal of Maksim, the man she has been groomed to protect and cherish.

Eventually, Blaire and Charlie must face the light. Blaire’s time with Charlie comes to an end. Betrayals and their consequences come to pass. Things go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.

Reading Blaire’s story, I found myself enjoying this atypical captivity story quite a bit. Blaire wasn’t weak or even innocent, by any stretch of the imagination. She was a conditioned, hardened killer. Yet, she was vulnerable at the same time.

If dark stories with abuse do not appeal to you, then this is one that you’ll want to steer clear of. There are graphic accounts of sexual, physical and mental abuse in this book. Heed the warning in the book’s disclaimer.

If you enjoy dark stories, like I do, then ‘Blaire’ might prove to be just the book that you’re looking for. It is different from the plethora of other captivity-themed books out there. I enjoyed it quite a lot and will be reading the next book in the series when it is released.

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Review: Rebel (Dead Man’s Ink, #1), by Callie Hart

Rebel (Dead Man's Ink, #1)Rebel by Callie Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since reading the ‘Blood & Roses’ series, I’ve wanted to get the full story of Alexis, Sloane’s kidnapped sister. Finally, I got around to reading ‘Rebel’ after having it sit on my shelf for a while. Although it wasn’t exactly what I expected, it was a fantastic story.

Despite my initial impression from the ‘Blood & Roses’ series, Alexis wasn’t in the possession of the human traffickers for long. Kidnapped after witnessing a murder, she is auctioned off quickly. Luckily, she is purchased by the nephew of the man that she saw murdered. Her decision to try and help a stranger may have placed her in danger, but ultimately, it saved her also.

For most of this book, Alexis (aka Sophia) is trying to stay alive. She doesn’t fully understand what it is that her latest captor wants from her. She just knows that she needs to keep her family safe, which means keeping her real identity a secret.

Once she figures out that her new “owner”, Rebel, isn’t going to rape her or pimp her out, she begins to get to know him. Despite her best efforts, she cannot deny that she has a strong attraction to the outlaw biker. Eventually, they act on their attraction.

Although I already knew many of the facts surrounding Alexis and Rebel’s story from the ‘Blood & Roses’ series, this book began to fill in the details. My perception of Alexis changed drastically after reading this book. No longer, do I view her as a selfish, spoiled and uncaring person, as I did before. This book made me look at her actions from a different vantage point.

Overall, this was a great story! It did end with a big cliffhanger, so brace yourself. I listened to the audible version and the next book has not been released in that format yet. As soon as it is out, I’ll be continuing this series.

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Review: Enslaved by the Ocean (Criminals of the Ocean, #1), by Bella Jewel

Enslaved by the Ocean (Criminals of the Ocean, #1)Enslaved by the Ocean by Bella Jewel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve read several books by Bella Jewel that I’ve really enjoyed. Unfortunately, ‘Enslaved by the Ocean’ was not one of them. It just didn’t work for me, although I didn’t have any issues with the narration. It was the story itself that didn’t appeal to me.

This was one of those stories that I just never could connect to. The entire “pirate” idea, as it was presented, was just ridiculous and unbelievable. Yes, I realize that there are real, modern-day pirates out there, terrorizing people on the seas. However, this story just seemed preposterous.

One of my biggest gripes about this story was that it seemed to switch back and forth a lot. It was almost like she couldn’t decide if she wanted to write a pirate story based in present time or one that took place 200 years ago. The end result is a story that is supposed to be set in present time, with pirates armed with swords and sailing around in a huge wooden ship. Really? I just didn’t buy it.

I was listening to the Audible version of the book and the dialect seemed to change a lot also. It seemed to me that this wasn’t a problem with the narration, as much as the written dialogue. Sometimes, it was all “Aye, matey” and other times it was like they talked normal and even mocked the “pirate talk”.

There were also plenty of far-fetched twists and revelations. More than one character had to go on the run after murdering somebody…in self-defense, of course. It seems that it is a small world, because a surprisingly high number of people have turned to life on the high-seas as a pirate. Is it really such a highly sought-out lifestyle? Not to mention the disastrous rescue and implausible events that follow. It was just absurd.

Since I couldn’t relate to the story, I never formed any sort of attachment to the characters either. I just didn’t care one way or the other. Everything was over-the-top and comical, at best.

If I had it to do over again, I would not have wasted my time with this story. In fact, if I didn’t have a compulsive need to finish every book I start, I would’ve DNF’d this one. It just lacked appeal for me.

That being said, if you’re in the mood for something smutty and kind of ridiculous, you might like this one. It is certainly different if you’re looking for a change. It wasn’t for me, but this is an author that I will continue to follow. I’ve enjoyed many of her books, but won’t be continuing this series.

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Review: Razing Grace: Razing Grace Part 1 (The Devil’s Own, #3), by Amo Jones

Razing Grace: Razing Grace Part 1Razing Grace: Razing Grace Part 1 by Amo Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow! Where do I even start with this one? As my friend Alicia said, this book was a hot mess.

I told myself I would read this one last book in ‘The Devil’s Own’ series, since I was so curious about how things worked out for Millie at the end of book two. This author has a way of hooking me with an ending that leaves me wanting more…even after reading a book that is mediocre, at best. It is quite incredible really.

Not this time though. Despite the huge cliffhanger at the end of this book that left me with unanswered questions and a mild curiosity, I refused to get sucked back in again. I’m hanging it up!

If you’ve read ‘Hellraiser’, then you know that Melissa’s sister, Millie, has been kidnapped by The Army. That is where this book picks up. Sweet Millie, the nun, is being held captive. She doesn’t know why they want her, or to what end, but she adjusts to her captivity pretty quickly.

Tripp, aka Raze, aka Executioner, aka 000, is in charge of “breaking’ her, along with five or six of his Army friends. Every day they show up wearing their assigned Halloween mask and torment Millie…with pleasure, of course! Yes, Millie has been abducted by assassin/gigilos who aim to please!

Tripp allows his friends, at multiple points in the story, to use and molest Millie. Yet, despite that, we’re supposed to believe that he has some sort of protective, possessive claim on her. Say what? It just didn’t ring true to me.

Top that off with the fact that he takes Millie to his house, only to have her cohabitate with his “two” girlfriends. Wow! That’s romantic. What a stand-up guy! He actually flaunts his sex with his play thing in front of Millie’s face at every opportunity. Can you say, true love?

Believe it or not, I could actually overlook some of that. I’m that disturbed individual that loves an asshole in my stories. As long as he grovels, I can forgive just about anything. In fact, the more horrible he is, the better! I love a hero that can rip my heart out and then has to spend some time atoning for his sins.

What I couldn’t overlook were the plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon…or the obvious lack of basic research…or the ridiculous, over-the-top scenarios. For example, the setting is in the Las Vegas area. At one point, Millie is looking out the window at Tripp’s yard. She describes the green grass and trees that don’t require landscaping. It’s been a few years since I went to Vegas, but grass and deciduous trees are not part of the natural topography. Just sayin’. Sandbox is more like it, dotted with mesquite bushes and cacti.

The lack of attention to detail was apparent throughout the book. Tripp and Millie’s first sex scene was one of the worst. Her hands were handcuffed behind her back…you know, above her ass. Then, while cuffed, he stands her up, bends her over and tells her to grab her ankles. Even worse, the author acknowledges that her hands are cuffed and tries to somehow explain that “I didn’t realize just how flexible I am until my fingers are wrapping around my ankles with ease”. That I’d love to see! Did she dislocate both shoulders and swing them around over her head?

Perhaps the biggest plot hole is the fact that all of the events in the preceding book were completely ignored. It was as if Tripp and his buddies didn’t beat Millie’s sister nearly to death when they kidnapped Millie. Nope. It is like it never even happened.

In fact, when Tripp requests a meeting with The Devil’s Own members, they are happy to oblige. No hard feelings. Not even a mention of the fact that he had put Hella’s old lady into a coma. It was like they were all one big, happy, criminal family. I couldn’t believe how absurd it was!

Like the earlier books in the series, this one ends in a manner that has made me wonder what is going to happen next. However, I refused to get sucked in again. I’m not spending any more money or time on this series.

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Review: Empire (Cartel, #3), by Lili St. Germain

Empire (Cartel, #3)Empire by Lili St. Germain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! This book blew me away! I am still trying to wrap my mind around everything that transpired between the covers of this book. It was brilliant, dark, gory…and I loved every damn minute!

After finishing ‘The Gypsy Brothers’ series, I was not ready to let go of the characters that I had grown to love or those that I had grown to hate. I wanted more. I needed answers.

Dornan, especially, was intriguing. How did he get to be such a sadistic, deranged killer? What happens to a person to turn them into that kind of monster? Lili St. Germain did a spectacular job of providing brief glimpses of Dornan’s conscience, hinting at some underlying humanity, while not taking away from the fact that he was a really bad guy. Despite the fact that he was a brutal murderer, there was something about him that called to me.

Beginning the ‘Cartel’ series, I tried to distance myself from Mariana and John. After all, I knew how things were going to work out in the end. That was a given, if you read ‘The Gypsy Brothers’ first.

This is not a story with a happy ending. It is tragic. It is raw. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I knew this at the onset, but I couldn’t help but be devastated when it all came to pass, just as I knew it would.

The final book in the ‘Cartel’ series, ‘Empire’ illustrates Dornan’s descent into madness. While we were introduced to Dornan’s dark side in ‘Kingpin’, this book submerses us in his darkness. There is no coming back for him and Mariana must face the fact that the man she loves doesn’t exist any longer.

Even knowing how things would end, I found myself wanted Dornan to redeem himself. I wanted something…anything…to make it alright. I was devastated as I watched him literally transform into the cold, depraved killer that I knew from ‘The Gypsy Brothers’. It was inevitable, but it still crushed me.

After everything, I was still taken aback by Dornan’s vulnerability. Although he became a monster, embracing his darkness at the expense of his humanity, there was still a small part of him that was tender and loving. I was mesmerized by his thoughts and contradictory actions. He definitely had more than his fair share of daddy issues and his desire to please his father ruined his world.

If you’re a fan of dark romance/erotica, then I highly recommend that your read ‘The Gypsy Brothers’ series, followed by the ‘Cartel’ series. These books are not for everyone, as they contain plentiful and graphic accounts of abuse of every variety. However, if you like raw, gritty, dark stories then you can’t go wrong with these series. I am blown away by the disturbing, twisted content that Lili St. Germain produces. Take the disclaimers seriously…and buckle up! This story will rip your heart out and leave you rocking yourself in a corner.

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