Review: The Chosen by J.R. Ward

Format: E-bookthechosen.jpg
Read with: Kindle Paperwhite
Length: Novel
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood, #15
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Hero: Xcor
Heroine: Layla
Sensuality: 3.5
Date of Publication: April 04, 2017
Started On: February 28, 2018
Finished On: March 03, 2018

At long last, JR Ward presents readers with the story of Xcor, the leader of the Band of Bastards, the traitor who tried to assassinate Wrath, the King of the Vampire race to take the throne for himself. However, along the course of his desire for the throne, Xcor’s destiny takes a turn; his meeting with Layla, the Chosen. Their story is one that has kept me enamored throughout, waiting on tenterhooks for any and every glimpse of the formidable warrior and Layla, the equally gentle and when it needs be, and fierce in her own right, Layla. And I am pretty certain that I would have not been the only one.

At the same time, what took place seems to have pissed off a few of the die-hard fans, especially in light of the turn that Vishous took when it came to his relationship with Jane. I will get to that later, but right now, I just want to soak in the thousand and one feels that still courses through me whenever I think about Xcor and Layla, together at last. Nothing is going to take away the warm fuzzies owing to that happy fact and its going to stay that way!

The Chosen kicks off a couple of weeks from when The Beast finishes, with Xcor in captivity under the watch of the Brothers, and Tohr itching to take his life as was promised by Wrath that it would be rightfully his for the taking when the time came. But Xcor had come to them incapacitated and in a coma from the blow to his head, and days pass before events finally come to a point where Layla confesses to Qhuinn, the father of her twins that it was Xcor and their parting that was putting a huge damper on Layla’s emotions, enough to plunge her into deep depression.

Qhuinn’s reaction was by far, one of the “assholiest” reactions I have come across in the series towards any turn of events. Filled to the brim with casting stones on Layla and her behavior, and I am like, yeah, nice one to talk Qhuinn, plus the fact that Qhuinn let his anger get the better of him, going into a fit of rage that could have done serious harm to the mother of his kids and the twins themselves was unforgivable. I can understand becoming unhinged to a point because from Qhuinn’s viewpoint, Layla had been with the enemy, possibly putting herself in danger, and in the process the twins.

But, the total lack of disregard to Layla as a person in her own right, and not just a womb to carry their children, that was what rankled. I expected better from Qhuinn, someone who had never had family to belong to, an outcast on his own right, and while Layla was cut from different cloth, she had had the same kind of loneliness hound her for a long time. Layla and Qhuinn’s bond had been forged out of that loneliness, and the decision Qhuinn had taken to service Layla in her needing had been one he had taken knowing the ramifications of what it would bring – that theirs would always remain a bond strengthened through the birth of their children.

Right about the same time, which coincides with the anniversary of Wellsie’s brutal death at the hand of lessers, which has Tohr itching to get his hands on Xcor to teach him a thing or two, or to take his frustrations out on something other than his mere existence and the unfairness in life when it came to taking his Wellsie away from him, Xcor finally wakes up.

Tohr and Wellsie’s story is another point of contention with me when it comes to couples in the series. I actually thought that Tohr having gone through all that he did during his and Autumn’s story, where they both had grief that had to be dealt with before they could be together, would have actually made him better able to deal with a lot of things. But with the issue of Trez and his beloved Selena fresh on his mind, Tohr is ready to slide back into a place of darkness once again.

I guess I would never fully be able to understand the bonded male and their connection to their mates. But, I always feel like Autumn holds the short end of the stick when it comes to Tohr and his love. She does not seem to come even as the second, but sort of like a mere afterthought and that rankles in so many ways. But then again, Autumn is a big girl, tough in a way that she is able to see right through Tohr, to understand him on a level that I suppose I never would be able to. But I hope that one day, Ward writes about them in a way that makes better sense out of their relationship – perhaps time and unconditional love from Autumn would change the direction of Tohr’s tormented mind that takes a turn for the worse when things get too much for him.

In the end, Xcor’s “savior” comes in the form of the Brother that is the least likely to give into the sentimental stuff, i.e. Vishous. Though Vishous believes he does it more out of that calculating mentality of his which always lets him plan ahead and keep a cooler head than the rest of the Brothers, it is also partly owing to the strange feelings that have of late taken over Vishous in terms of his relationship with Dr. Jane.

The missing elements between him and Jane, that feeling of being left adrift while the rest seem to be anchored in a way he has never been; all this and more leads Vishous down a path that most readers would have found problems with. But I understood it. Vishous is highly intelligent, is the son of a deity, and his emotions aren’t that of the average Vampire, or even a Brother. Plus, growing up at the merciless hands of the Bloodletter and his mummy issues has left Vishous in a place that is far different from the rest and it is an often dangerous trajectory that his wisdom takes him on and I believe that plays a huge role in his decision making as well.

While people often say there is no excuse for cheating, sometimes it is not owing to one, but rather because of the place one finds themselves at – as hard as it might be for most to fathom. There is no excuse to be had for any type for bad behavior that reflects badly on the other person, or hurts other people, but there you have it. It is often part and parcel of human nature, and I guess we would encounter cheating spouses/partners till the end of times.

For me, the best part of the story hands down, was how Layla and Xcor finally got together. Their union was that much more precious because Xcor waited all that time, first because he didn’t believe himself to be worthy of someone like Layla, and secondly because she was pregnant throughout a huge part of their “courtship” – as strange as the application of that word might be in their context. So when they finally did get together; a whole lot of fireworks, gentleness, and then the strength that is Xcor unleashed on the woman who holds his heart and soul in her hands. I loved every single moment of it.

I loved Wrath for having the foresight of the leader that he has turned into. He could have asked any of the Brothers to take down Xcor, and could have been shitty towards Layla because she had consorted with the enemy. But Wrath is the King, elected or otherwise, for a reason. He has to lead people, and often the issues that come up are not going to be easy to wade through. For that, one requires level headed thinking.

Xcor was a traitor – there are no two ways about it. Even though he is my second favorite character in the series, I am honest enough to admit that. But Wrath being who he is, decided to get down to business and talk it out with him, a chance he gives Xcor only because of Layla and the entangled web their lives had become. Imagine the consequences of the hatred that would have been born out of the tragedy had Wrath given into his baser instincts and ordered that Xcor be tortured and killed? Now that would have taken centuries to right and led to infighting, which would not have solved anything. The vampires have enough enemies on the outside, so it is prudent that you do not go around making new enemies of the people who are closest to you. Period.

Throe and his inner psychology was also a bit more closely revealed in this book, through Xcor’s reasoning on how he came to be. How Xcor’s own mother had abhorred him and only put up with him because Xcor’s father promised to seek her out if she harms him, until the day she receives the news that Xcor’s father had no need for Xcor as an heir and that his mahmen was finally free of him.

The fact that she left him in the wilderness, chained like a dog, without any means to defend himself; that speaks volumes of the kind of mother she was. Xcor had survived, against all odds, and even went through the training at the Bloodletter’s camp, believing the Bloodletter when he had lied to Xcor about being his father.

In Xcor’s grief over Throe and what he had become, Xcor believes that the same humiliation that Throe had been subjected to at Xcor’s hands had rendered him psychologically to take a different path – a more destructive path in the future where his ambitions had found an outlet with the dark arts and the havoc that could potentially cause the Brothers in their fight to keep the race and their King safe from harm.

Ultimately, the story leaves one with a lot of questions regarding Throe and his ambitions; whether the Omega has any hand in it is one of the most prominent ones. There is also the fact that Lassiter is the new “Scribe Virgin” – there has got to be a new title for the position because calling someone as virile as Lassiter a “virgin” just seems all wrong somehow.

Interesting times ahead (not that there is any period of time that lapses into boredom when you are reading about the Black Dagger Brotherhood), but the way Ward keeps the twists and turns coming? That is number one reason why I would pick up a BDB book over any other, any day.

Recommended!

Final Verdict: The Chosen is a book that has been anticipated for a long while; the story of the Chosen Layla and Xcor. Their love is fiery and gentle at the same time, a love like no other that I fell for in every single sense. There is a beauty to Xcor’s character that can only be found in the the deeply scarred and wounded.

Favorite Quotes

When he finally broke the contact, he smoothed his palm down her hair. “May I enter your bedroom, female?”
His eyes were so beautiful, shining and hot, the deep navy blue nearly black from the lust he had for her. And to her, his face was handsome, everything that was strong and masculine and powerful, the defect in his upper lip not anything she noticed or dwelled on. In fact, it was the whole of him that appealed to her, his power and his vulnerability, his savage nature and the polite effort he was making, the warrior in him and the protector who came out for her.
“Yes,” she whispered.

Except when his pelvis came back down to hers, he still had his sweatpants on.
His arousal had been freed, however. And her eyes fluttered shut as his blunt head brushed against her.
“I’m trying to go slowly,” he said through gritted teeth.
“You don’t have to.”
With that, she shoved her hands down, found his thick, hard length, and brought it to her in just the right place. Digging a heel into the duvet, she moved herself up—
He slid into her and the fit was perfection. It was home and it was the whole galaxy at once, and she was so overwhelmed, tears speared into her eyes—because she knew he was equally affected: Xcor orgasmed the second he was fully inside of her, his warrior’s body beginning to empty into her—and yet he recoiled, his head jerking back, alarm marking his face even as his body continued to release.

“Layla,” he begged.
One by one, she sucked at his fingers, loosening his hold on his erection, making him so weak that his hands fell away from his sex not because he willed them as such, but because he lacked the strength in his arms to do aught else.
Freed from constraint, his cock jutted straight out from his hips, the water from the shower making the proud length glisten. Fates, he wanted her to do what she was about to, craved the feel of her lips on his head, his shaft, wanted the suction and the—
“Fuck,” he groaned as her mouth captured him.

Xcor lunged at her, moving so fast he wasn’t aware of making the decision to get on her. And he was rough, shoving her hand out of the way and sealing his mouth on her sex, taking what he wanted, what she had teased him with.
Now she was the one throwing hands out, looking to keep herself in some semblance of physical order. But he was having none of that. He yanked her down flat on the tile, slapped his palms on the inside of her thighs, and butterflied her open, going in deep with his tongue, consuming her.
She came hard against his face, her hands spearing into his damp hair, pulling at it until it hurt. Not that he gave a shit. All he cared about was getting into her, making her say his name, marking her with his lips and tongue.

He pulled out at the last minute, rising above her, his shoulders blocking the spray of the shower. Grabbing his erection, he was even more brutal with himself than he had been with her, yanking at his sex, making himself come.
So that he covered her.
It was the marking of a bonded male, a practice done so that any other male in her presence would be fully warned that if he approached her, he had best beware.
She was another’s.
Not as property. But as something far too precious for others to toy with.

Sitting himself next to her, he took a piece of toast off the stack and began the buttering process.
“I can do that,” she muttered. “I should like to serve you.”
Then drop your pants, she thought as she eyed the huge thighs that strained the seams of the black nylon sweats he was wearing. And then there was the way the bottom of the sleeve of his T-shirt struggled to hold the thick circumference of his bicep. And the shadow of beard growth that darkened his jaw.
Sinking her nails into her knees, she looked at his mouth. “Xcor.”
“Hmm?” he asked as he moved a mathematically precise layer of butter over the toast with a knife.
“Enough with the food.”
“I’m almost finished here.”
And I’m totally finished over here, she thought.

“Honey,” he murmured. “I think it would be rather good indeed.” Layla looked at the honey pot. “I believe you’re right.” Reaching forward, she picked the thing up and arched her back. “Honey is good on a lot of things.”
Swirling the dipper, she took the thing out and held it over her breast, and as the honey spooled and fell, her nipple caught the sweetness. The tickle made her bite her lip, and then more of the amber glow dripped onto her skin, a river of it easing down to her abdomen.
“Xcor …?”
“Yes—”
When he glanced over at her, he did a double take—and dropped the toast on the tray. Which was a relief because, really, if she couldn’t win a competition with carbohydrates for his attention she was seriously in trouble.
His navy blue eyes were instantly hot and very, very locked on the way the honey slowly, tantalizingly hit her breast drop by drop and meandered down, down … down.
“I wonder,” she said in a husky voice, “whether honey is sweeter than me?”

With rough hands, he freed his sex and then he was inside of her, pumping while he kissed her, their bodies finding a rhythm that was so rough the sofa itself rocked and banged against the wall.
Harder, faster, deeper, until they couldn’t keep their mouths together anymore. Reaching up, she held onto his surging shoulders, the muscles under his smooth skin like an ocean that was storming—
Pleasure broke like a lightning strike, but also made her whole—and then he found his own release, pouring himself into her.
And Xcor didn’t stop.
Or slow down.

In spite of his injuries, he pulled her into his lap and wrapped his arms around her. And then he was kissing her collarbone. And her throat … and her lips.
That now-familiar heat rose again, and when he eased her up and over his hips, she split her thighs to straddle him and was glad the partition was up for their privacy.
Shifting around awkwardly, she took one side of her leggings down and moved her panties out of the way as he pulled up the hem of his hospital gown.
“I’ll be careful,” she said as he grimaced from pain.
“I won’t feel anything but you.”
Xcor stood his erection with his hand and she slowly slid herself onto it.
“My love,” he breathed as his head fell back and his eyes closed. “Oh, you make me whole.”

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes

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ARC Review: A Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson

Format: E-bookacolddarkpromise.jpg
Read with: iBooks for iPad
Length: Novella
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Cold Justice, #8.5
Publisher: Self-Published
Hero: Alex Parker
Heroine: Mallory Rooney
Sensuality: 3
Date of Publication: November 14, 2017
Started On: November 15, 2017
Finished On: November 24, 2017

A Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson is a novella that fans of the Cold Justice series would adore. One reason being that this novella brings to readers the wedding of Alex Parker and FBI Agent Mallory Rooney, the main protagonists from the debut book of the series.

Alex’s character was one of the main reasons why I fell in love with the Cold Justice series initially. Toni Anderson’s way of putting a story together is another, and there was ruthless edge to the story that made me think of Anne Stuart’s books as well, which I obviously adored. Having come a long way since, A Cold Dark Promise takes place with a 27 week pregnant Mallory, getting ready to tie the knot with Alex, in order to celebrate their love, and make things official before the baby were to arrive.

However, a member from Alex’s dark past comes calling, and even though Alex wants to turn away from the plea put forth by a grieving mother, he finds that he is not as ruthless as he thinks himself to be, which is how Alex finds himself in the south of France, where a mission that he had thought would be simple, turns out to be anything but.

I absolutely adored this novella. I am mostly never a fan of short length novels, because though they rarely serve their purpose, and they usually fail to deliver just enough to satisfy readers. But I had no such complains with this little number and I believe that Toni has done a remarkably impressive job out of delivering a well rounded story that readers can sink their teeth into.

I loved Alex and Mallory’s shared moments as described in the story. There is a normalcy to their whole relationship that makes their love that much more real and relatable. There is no dramatic flair to it, but yet it is deep and as meaningful as they come, which is why I adored the bits of their lives that Toni brought to light in this story.

Moments of truth like Mallory grappling with the fact that she doesn’t particularly like it when Alex might be in the line of danger while she herself wants the independence to put herself on the line when it comes to her work as an FBI agent; those are the things that struck me the most in the story.

I also enjoy how Toni brings together the cast from various other stories in the series. I sometimes have a problem with how some authors seem to have too many cooks spoiling the broth so to say, when too many protagonists from other stories seem to become the centre stage of the story. Toni also does an impressive job of portraying male friendships; rather than making them sappy in a way some authors tend to do, or go overboard trying to generate the whole “bro” vibe, I think Toni’s understated way of handling things works beautifully.

The mini secondary romance tucked into the story was just the icing on the cake – Reilly being a wonderful, wonderful hero that I fell in love with, just as hard and just as fast.

Definitely looking forward to more in the series. Toni sometimes describes her imagination as being dark – but I love just how dark it can get, with the possibility of there always been more.

Recommended!

Final Verdict: Warm fuzzies is not what I would normally associate with a Toni Anderson, but this little number does it!

Favorite Quotes

Licks of pleasure spiraled into a cyclone of lust. His fingers dipped between her thighs and she moaned. Finding her ready, he turned her away from him, arranging a pillow beneath her baby bump and another cushioning her head. This was her favorite position now she was pregnant and he knew it. Alex moved behind her and slid deep inside and she came with a deep shudder. He leaned up, squeezed her nipple even as he thrust slowly in and out. She could lie like this for hours, days, it felt so good. She shook with pleasure, and she couldn’t bear for it to change but…
“More, Alex. Deeper.” It was a private joke between them, but the hoarseness of her voice took her by surprise. He got to her every single time.

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes

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Review: The Jade Temptress by Jeannie Lin

Format: E-bookthejadetemptress
Read with: Kindle for iPad
Length: Novel
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: The Pingkang Li Mysteries, #2
Publisher: Harlequin
Hero: Wu Kaifeng
Heroine: Sun Mingyu
Sensuality: 3.5
Date of Publication: February 18, 2014
Started On: September 26, 2016
Finished On: October 02, 2016

The Jade Temptress is the second book in The Pingkang Li Mysteries, and tells the story of Mingyu, the most celebrated courtesan at The Lotus Palace. Even though this book can be read as a standalone, to experience the wide range of emotions the unfolding story exposes the reader to, I would recommend reading the series in order.

Wu Kaifeng, known as Constable Wu is a man of serious demeanor, having never shown an interest in her, unlike men of the caliber that Mingyu usually spends her time with. But the murder of Mingyu’s long term patron General Deng Zhi brings Wu and Mingyu together in a way that deepens the awareness that had sizzled to life between them from almost the beginning. of their acquaintance, though neither had acknowledged the fact at first.

While Mingyu is beauty personified with every man who comes to The Lotus Palace enamored by her presence, Wu is the opposite of what one would call “handsome” in the classical sense. But his strong presence, his demeanor, the way he holds himself, his strong sense of seeing justice through, and the way he is helplessly ensnared by the strength of character that Mingyu hides from most; all that and more makes Wu a formidable character, one that I fell head over heels in love with from the minute I came across him in the first book.

Mingyu’s past, the way she had become the most sought after courtesan at The Lotus Palace is one that grabs the emotions of the reader. Similar is how Wu grew up, his character even then one that was different from most children. How Jeannie Lin creates such beauty in a world where murder, jealousy, and traversing the treacherous waters of Chinese imperial politics is one that continues to amaze me. I would always come back for more because similar to authors like Sherry Thomas, Jeannie Lin is one of a kind and there is no giving up on that.

I absolutely loved the story that unfolded in The Jade Temptress, more so than the first book in the series. I have a thing for strong and silent heroes, and Constable Wu personifies all that and more. Mingyu is not the average heroine material that you encounter in most romance books, but she is endearing in so many ways that I fell for her just as hard when it came right down to it.

As the story reached its ultimate conclusion, I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty and utter perfection that Jeannie Lin created with the characters, the story, and the ending. I loved the way Kaifeng bought the one thing that mattered most to Mingyu, and yet, waited patiently, biding his time until Mingyu came to him on her own volition. That was profound in a way I cannot describe, because for a woman such as Mingyu, that was a gift that was priceless. I loved the tidbits that showed the struggles both of them go through to make a different life for themselves together – and that in essence clinched the deal for me.

This is one of Jeannie Lin’s best works, and comes highly recommended for fans of beautifully crafted romance novels.

Final Verdict: Magical in a way that only Jeannie Lin can pull off, The Jade Temptress is worth a sleepless night or two!

Favorite Quotes

“I’m ill-mannered,” he continued. “Unsightly. Nothing to anyone that matters.”
Her breathing quickened as he bent to her and he could see her pupils growing wide and dark. The effect was strikingly sensual. Mingyu raised her hand to his face. Her fingers trembled as she touched the hard line of his jaw.
“It’s not true,” she murmured. “You’re not really like that.”
He smiled crookedly at her. “Not ugly?”
“Not…nothing.”
Her face was tilted toward him. She regarded him from beneath her lashes, her cheeks flushed, and there was nothing he could do but kiss her.

“Are we truly supposed to forget?” he asked quietly.
There was no need to mention what he spoke of.
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“Then it did happen.”
He reached for her, but went no farther than the edge of her sleeve. He let the silk slip along his fingertips before releasing it. Mingyu followed his every movement with her eyes.

“Say something to me that isn’t about the investigation,” she implored.
She could see the thoughts flickering in his eyes as he searched for something suitable. It was endearing, if anything about Wu Kaifeng could ever be considered endearing.
“I knew ahead of time,” he began reluctantly. “That this was the day you usually go to see your sister.”
Mingyu’s grin spread so wide she had to place a hand over her mouth to hide it. Warmth bloomed in her chest, spreading out to every part of her until even her fingertips tingled.
“Farewell, Constable,” she said, still smiling.
Wu breathed deep, as if to regain himself. “Farewell, Mingyu.”

“I want you to remember this,” he said as he slid a finger deep within her. Her damp flesh closed around him and a shudder racked her body.
“I will,” she gasped.
Her eyes were black with desire, caught between pleasure and agony, as she struggled to catch her breath. He was going to make love to her as many times that night as he could manage, if only to see that look.
There was no elegance to her now as her hips rose to demand more of his touch. She was talented and treasured and sought after and she was writhing beneath him on the wooden slats of his bed.

Reaching between the crush of their bodies, he strained to find the center of her sex once more. His fingers rasped over the tiny bud as he moved inside her. All at once, Mingyu tightened around him. With a strangled cry, she pressed her face against the crook of his neck as her body shuddered, lost. He followed her, thrusting without grace or skill until sensation overwhelmed him. His very essence poured out of him and into her.
With that rush of sensation, the fog of emotion drained away and his mind cleared. He wasn’t blind. Mingyu was using him, and using him well indeed. Yet every instinct in him wanted to sink his head onto Mingyu’s shoulder, to taste the salt on her skin and to stay for as long as she let him.

He found her sash and looped the length of silk around her wrists to secure her arms overhead, but the gesture was only symbolic. Almost poetic, for someone untrained in poetry. He couldn’t tie her there, he couldn’t keep her.
Unable to reach for him, all Mingyu could do was receive and accept. As Kaifeng lowered himself between her knees, as she felt his long fingers parting her, she stopped thinking of what would come in the next days, or even in the next hours.
Sometimes the answers were simple.
Mingyu held her breath and it seemed like forever before the tip of his tongue touched her, swirling gently and sending her to heaven.

Kaifeng crushed his mouth over hers to claim everything. She wrapped her legs around him, her thighs clasping his hips while the throb of pleasure built until she was floating, surrounded by the scent of sweat and skin and by the unending rhythm of Kaifeng over her, inside her.
Suddenly he took hold of the back of her neck and his rhythm changed, his hips grinding against her to sharpen the sensation. Demanding her release. Mingyu gasped as his organ filled her the same moment his teeth bit into her neck. She cried out incoherently as her release took her. It might have been his name she cried at the height of her climax.

He was the one claiming her this time. There was no doubt of it as his hands gripped her hips, lifting her and then pulling her onto him, driving her closer to climax. Watching her the entire time.
She tried to hold on to his gaze for as long as she could, but the sensations overwhelmed her. She had to close her eyes to block out everything but the feel of him taking her.
“Give in.” His voice was rough and thick with desire as he spoke against her ear, filling her with the sound of him as well as with his flesh. “Just this once, surrender.”
And she did surrender. Her knees weakened as she shuddered uncontrollably around him. Kaifeng held her throughout, kissing her mouth, taking every last breath and gasp that came from her as his own release came upon him.

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes

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Review: Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

Format: E-bookdukeofmidnight
Read with: iBooks for iPad
Length: Novel
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Maiden Lane, #6
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Hero: Maximus Batten, the Duke of Wakefield
Heroine: Artemis Greaves
Sensuality: 4
Date of Publication: October 15, 2013
Started On: June 27, 2016
Finished On: June 28, 2016

Duke of Midnight is the 6th book in the Maiden Lane series and by far my most favorite. Towards the end of Lord of Darkness, the 5th book, once again Elizabeth Hoyt makes a startling revelation, perhaps the most astonishing one at that since the series began. The identity of the 3rd Ghost of St. Giles, this time someone who is more driven by his own personal vengeance against those that had done him and his family wrong, a member of the nobility, not to mention a member of the Parliament itself; Maximus Batten, the Duke of Wakefield.

Readers who have had their run ins with Maximus in previous books in the series would have been hard pressed not to be intrigued by all that he is. Projecting a cold and formidable front, the Duke of Wakefield is someone who seems to be as straitlaced as they come, his utter dislike or perhaps even hatred for gin and makers of gin something that is known all over the country. While Maximus works hard to push through relevant laws that could tackle with gin making, something which he believes most passionately is the core reason behind the decay of society, at night, Maximus dons the mask and costume of the Ghost and traipses through the worst of slums in London, in the hopes of finding clues that would lead him to the villain he has been pretty much searching for a major part of his adult life.

Artemis Greaves is a character that came into prominence through the introduction of her beautiful cousin Lady Penelope Chadwicke into series, for whom Artemis is companion to. Lady Penelope is someone who wants nothing but the best for herself. Thus, determined to have Maximus as her husband, Penelope embarks upon the quest with much fervor, which does earn her the attention of Maximus in his usual cool, aloof and calculated manner. There is no joy in a transaction which Maximus believes suites him rather well. There is no fire that burns in him to possess Lady Penelope, unlike Artemis her companion who makes him want to go into hiding with her by his side and forget the whole world.

Artemis gets under his skin without Maximus knowing of it, their interludes during the quiet hours of the morning on his estate grounds something that pricks and prods at him until his emotions are tangled up in need for none but Artemis. But Artemis is one with her own agenda to push forward. Someone who is ready to do anything for the freedom of the one man for whom she would lay down her whole life for, even if it means enlisting, bribing or even coercing the help of the powerful Duke himself to do so.

There are multiple reasons why Duke of Midnight ended up being my favorite of the series. For anyone who knows of my reading tastes, I am someone who is drawn to dark characters, a bit ruthless and driven by needs that they cannot control when it comes to the heroine in question, no matter how hard they may try. Maximus was that hero for me from the Maiden Lane series. Brought up to take his rightful role as the Duke, the responsibilities of being one are thrust upon him at a tender age when both his parents get killed. Maximus has to grow up overnight without having time to properly grow into the duties required of him. Thus makes Maximus a hard man, a man who is principled, a man who often times comes off as cold, aloof and removed from the rest of the world, an image that serves him well most times.

Maximus is also the only Ghost of St. Giles who actively continues his training for the role, having turned part of his home into a training facility where he subjects himself to grueling hours of training so that he is one lethal machine of brawn, intelligence and strong will, focused on getting to the truth behind the murders of his beloved parents and making those responsible pay.

That strong ironclad will of Maximus was something that I admired and bemoaned over in equal doses. There is something quite alluring about a man who knows his own mind, well, for that matter I love a woman who knows her own mind as well – but with Maximus, him being my favorite hero in the series, I am allowed to be a little biased. The fact that his attraction and want for Artemis clouds all his senses does not make him give up on what he has planned for his life, but rather, he wants Artemis on his terms, as hard headed and stubborn it makes him. But the beauty of it when it comes to heroes who are strong minded comes in their submission to the greater force of love for the heroine, which is an aspect I enjoyed in Duke of Midnight. The moments of jealousy which overtakes Maximus during the heady encounters with Artemis, the ones that makes him go all “mine” with sheer possessiveness – those were the moments I reveled in.

Artemis is a heroine who shone equally bright in the story. With a future that looked bleak, with nothing to her name but the goodwill of an uncle who took her in, Artemis’s determination to work against the odds nevertheless, to prove the innocence of her brother was something that resonated deep within me. Even her burgeoning feelings for the Duke is something Artemis is willing to sacrifice in order to see to it that her beloved brother is removed from Bedlam, where he is rotting away into an existence that would prove to be the death of him, sooner rather than later.

I believe that Artemis is the best fit for someone with such powerful emotions and desires as Maximus. She is able to get through to him in a way that no one else can, her ability to read him so effectively being a quality of utmost importance given how easily he can don on a mask that would show to to the rest of the world that nothing touches him, when in fact things deeply do. Artemis dares him to show to her that side of his that few would ever see – the one without the artifice that society dictates he wears whenever he goes out and about. That for me, was the beauty behind the union between Artemis and Maximus when all was said and done.

Loved it all, which is why I would recommend this book with the whole of my heart!

Final Verdict: Earthy & evocative, with just the right touch of erotic; scorches the pages & moves the heart.

Favorite Quotes

A shrill whistle rent the air. Percy, who had been trotting along beside them, lifted his head alertly before racing to Wakefield’s side. Bon Bon scrambled on short little legs to keep up with his new friend.
Artemis watched the dogs go and found herself staring at the duke. He was looking in her direction, and even at this distance he was commanding, almost as if he were demanding something of her.
She felt light-headed.
Then Penelope tapped him on the arm and he turned to the other woman to smile and make some comment.
Artemis shivered despite the bright sunshine.

Something quickened in him, rising, hardening, reaching eagerly for the challenge. She was no soft society lady. She might disguise herself thus, but he knew better: she was a goddess, wild and free and dangerous.
And a most suitable opponent.
He picked up Lady Penelope’s gloves and, unsmiling, saluted Miss Greaves with them. She bowed to him, equally grave.
Maximus turned to the house, thinking. He had no idea how he would do it yet, but he meant to best her. He’d show her that he was the master, and when she’d admitted his victory… well, then he’d have her. And he’d hold her, by God. His huntress.
His goddess.

Ridiculously, he thought he could feel his heart beat faster. Despite their antagonism, despite her threats to his equilibrium, he wanted to see her, and right now he wouldn’t examine why.
In another few steps he made the clearing with the pond and looked about. He could see the dogs milling a quarter way around the pond—even Bon Bon was there—but he couldn’t yet see her on the path.
And then he did see her and arousal went straight to his cock.
Artemis Greaves was in the pond, as graceful as a naiad, her skirts bound up at her waist, standing thigh deep in the sparkling water.
How dare she.

Maximus glanced away so she couldn’t examine too closely the expression on his face. “Who was he?”
“Thomas Stone. The son of the town’s doctor.”
He sneered. “Beneath you.”
Her gaze hardened. “As you so kindly pointed out, my father was notorious for his flights of fancy. Too, I had no dowry to speak of. I couldn’t very well be choosy. Besides”—her tone softened—“Thomas was quite sweet. He used to bring me daisies and violets.”
He stared, incredulous. What sort of imbecile brought such common flowers to a goddess? Were it him, he’d shower her with hothouse lilies, peonies overflowing with perfumed bloom, roses in every shade.
Bah, violets.

“What”—he turned and seized both her arms—“has gotten into you?”
“He’s dying,” she whispered furiously, trembling within his grasp. “I didn’t receive the letter until almost noon—because Penelope didn’t think it important enough to give it to me earlier. Apollo is lying in that hellhole dying.”
His jaw set as he searched her face. “I can have a carriage readied for you to return to London within the hour. If the roads are—”
She slapped him, quick and hard.
His head turned slightly with the blow, but other than that his only reaction was the narrowing of his eyes.
Her chest was heaving as if she were running. “No! You must go to London. You must get him out. You must save my brother because if you don’t, I swear upon everything I hold holy that I’ll ruin both you and your illustrious name. I’ll—”
“Little bitch,” he breathed, his face turned fiery red, and he slammed his mouth against hers.

“You come to a bachelor’s rooms—bedroom—well after dark all by yourself to give him a trinket you could just as easily hand him in the morning.” His voice was mocking. He wanted to break her suddenly. To make her feel the rage he did at the situation they had been placed in. Were it not for her history—and his—he might’ve courted this woman. Might’ve made her his wife. “Have you no care for your reputation?”
She stepped toward him until she was so close he fancied he breathed the same air as she and when she tilted her face up to look at him he saw that she wasn’t nearly as calm as he’d imagined.
“No,” she murmured, her voice a siren’s song, “none at all.”
“Then I’ll be damned if I will,” he muttered and kissed her.

He pulled back, his chest heaving, and looked at her angrily. “Don’t start something you mean to stop.”
She met his gaze squarely. “I don’t mean to stop.”
His eyes narrowed. “I cannot give you marriage.”
She’d known. She’d never thought he could—she would’ve sworn so had she been asked a minute earlier—but his blunt words were an arrow of pain piercing her heart nonetheless. She bared her teeth in a smile. “Have I asked you to?”
“No.”
“And I never shall,” she vowed.

She shivered.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten when your fichu slipped from your dress,” he murmured. “Strange, for I’ve seen more immodest décolletages at every ball I’ve ever attended, yet I’ve been entirely unable to remove the thought of your breasts from my mind.” His gaze flicked up to hers, dark and enigmatic. “Your breasts and other parts of you. Perhaps it’s the very fact that you usually cover yourself so modestly in public that makes the unveiling that more anticipated. Or perhaps”—he bent and whispered in her ear—“it’s you. Merely you.”

He slid his thumb between her folds and found that nub at the top, pressing down as he watched her face. She arched involuntarily, the sensation singing through her limbs.
A muscle ticked on his jaw, his face stern and ruthless, as he pressed again, his finger finding her entrance and slipping in.
She bit her lip, staring back at him, refusing to break their gaze, wanting him to continue.
“God,” he whispered. His nostrils flared suddenly, and seemingly against his will, he kissed her.

She held her breath.
His eyes flicked open to look at her. “Be brave.”
She raised an eyebrow, waiting.
He grinned.
There was a pinch, a growing pressure. She tensed. It hurt. He was so big and she felt suddenly small and fragile. Was this truly meant to be?
He leaned down and brushed his lips against her nose. “Sweet Diana.”
Then he shoved hard.
She inhaled. It burned, but that didn’t matter. She was called Artemis, and a huntress could withstand pain.

“Diana,” he whispered. “My Diana.”
She touched the corner of his lips, and he opened, taking her thumb into his mouth, biting tenderly on her flesh.
She felt his belly rubbing against hers, the wet slide of his hard flesh in hers, the brush of his chest against her nipples, and she liked it. There was no pain now, only a feeling of closeness. Of animal intimacy. Perhaps she’d been wrong: perhaps this was the moment a woman was nearest to the wild animal: when she was without constraints or thought, no society telling her what she must do and what she must not. Free from civilization.
They were bound together in this primitive act.

She opened her eyes to find him watching her like a predator. Calculating, waiting.
He held her gaze, and she saw a faint smirk curl one corner of his mouth. The rug was suddenly gone from her lap, and then she felt the slide of her skirts up her legs.
“Do you remember that morning?” he asked, his voice impossibly deep. “You emerged from the pond like a goddess triumphant. You’d flaunted your ankles the day before”—he brushed warm fingers over her left ankle, making her shiver—“but that morning I saw the tender curve of your inner thigh, the sweet bend of your knee, the shy sweep of your calf. You revealed them as coyly as a siren singing a man to his ecstatic death—and you didn’t even know it, did you? By the time you reached the shore I was hard as iron.”

His thumbs rubbed slow circles on her hipbones as if to gentle her or maybe to keep her relaxed. Although if that were his purpose, it wasn’t working. She still held his gaze in defiance, but her breath was quickening as if she were climbing a staircase.
Abruptly he looked down.
He stilled, simply staring at her. He made no movement, but there was a wild possessiveness in his eyes that made something inside her stretch and purr in response. He wanted her. Wanted this part of her. She was suddenly jealous of any other woman he’d ever looked at like this. He hadn’t the right—they hadn’t the right. This look, his expression, this moment was only between them and no one else.
They were a universe of two.

His movements were sharp and abrupt as he drove himself into her again and again. He was nothing like the sophisticated aristocrat he was in front of others. One corner of his mouth twisted in a sneer, his eyes a glaring furnace. He used her body for his own pleasure, for his own need, working her up and down on his cock. He was little more than an animal now.
And she gloried in it. She—she—had driven him to this. Had made a man who captured kings and foreign diplomats with the surety of his eloquence quite simply lose his mind.
He pushed up with all his might, shoved to the hilt within her, and froze, head thrown back in an agony of pleasure.
She leaned forward and delicately licked the salt sweat from his lips as his seed flooded her.

He lay on top of her, his upper body braced on his arms but his hips and legs weighing her down. Trapping and holding her.
“You’re mine,” he said, laying his cheek against hers. “Mine and no one else’s.”
“Maximus,” she warned.
“Yield, Diana,” he whispered, parting her legs. She could feel the thick heat of his cock pressed hard on her bottom. “Yield, warrior maiden.”
“I’m not a maiden. You took that.”
“And I would again,” he growled. “I’d steal you away and keep you in a castle far from here. Far from any other man. I’d guard you jealously and every night come to your bed and put my cock into your cunny and fuck you until dawn.”

“Do you want that, Diana?” he muttered into her ear, his breath humid on her skin. “Do you want to be mine and only mine, away from this cursed world, in a place inhabited by just we two?”
“Oh, yes,” she said, her voice fierce.
He levered himself up. “I’d go a-hunting in the day and kill a fine stag. I’d bring it back to our hidden castle and dress it and cook it over a fire and then I’d sit you on my lap and feed you, morsel by morsel. All your sustenance would be by my hand and mine alone.”
She laughed then, for she knew he didn’t truly want such a biddable doll. She squirmed and turned in a sudden movement so that she lay facing him.
“No, I’d hunt with you by your side,” she said as she reached up to pull his face down to hers. “I am your equal, my lord. Your equal and mate.”
“So you are,” he breathed, and bit her lip.

 “Diana,” he murmured in her ear, licking. “Diana, you are everything I’ve ever wanted and shall never have.”
Tears pricked at her eyes and she opened her mouth to sob.
“That’s it,” he said. “Weep for me. Bear my pain. Take my come. For I can give you nothing else.”
And he thrust into her in hard, sharp punches, each movement striking against that place within her. She gritted her teeth and bowed her head into the pillow. It was too much. Too little. A continual assault against her senses.

He opened his eyes. “Never leave me.”
She shook her head, breaking free from his rein and rising like the huntress she was. She let his poor cock slip to the very mouth of her before slamming herself back down. She rode him. Her thighs were strong and lithe, her brows drawn down in resolute purpose, and her lips were parted wide in something very like wonder.
It was the last that made him move. Dear God, if he couldn’t have anything “else, if she was determined to hollow him out and leave him a husk, then he would remember this:
Artemis riding him like the goddess of the hunt.

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Review: Going the Distance by Julianna Keyes

Format: E-bookgoingthedistance
Read with: iBooks for iPad
Length: Novel
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Standalone
Publisher: Omnific Publishing
Hero: Jarek Andrew McLean
Heroine: Olivia Clarke
Sensuality: 4
Date of Publication: January 27, 2015
Started On: May 19, 2016
Finished On: May 20, 2016

Julianna Keyes has wormed her way into my heart as an author who can deliver on all fronts, especially with the sort of characters that I love and can relate to. There are no magic solutions to problems that exists between the characters in her stories. Which is perhaps why I find it all so very realistic and convincing. Real life seldom sends your way the variety of men who one tends to encounter in most modern romances. Some of the heroes I encounter makes me want to take out a bodice ripper just so that I can read about a hero who might be an asshole, but still maintain some of those characteristics that are inherently male and yet so difficult to come across in stories of today. Which is why Julianna has become an author who is that much more precious to me. Because writers who stay true to where their characters take them are so hard to find now.

Going the Distance is a novel mostly set in the rural Chinese town of Lazhou and is told in the third person. Olivia Clark moves to the small rural town where she is practically a stranger as a kindergarten teacher. Olivia, while she craves the anonymity her position in a foreign land offers where few of the locals if ever can speak a word of English, the loneliness that she feels is a bone deep one. However, it was a step crucial to maintain her sanity from the recent past that had hurt her in a way she never thought possible. Her sole contact with people she can at least have a full conversation with comes from the crew of the Brant Construction site, which is how her path crosses that of Jarek Andrew McLean’s.

Jarek is a man who prefers to keep to himself. His previous occupation as an interrogator makes him more so, his childhood mired in violence that had left its mark on him making him taciturn at best. However, no matter how hard Jarek might try to stay away from Olivia, it turns out to be a lost cause as he becomes intrigued by the woman who does not seem to play by the rules that Jarek wants her to. Competing with the memory of an ex fiancé with whom Olivia had been with for more than half of her life is something that Jarek does not want to do, but finds himself dealing with the kind of emotions that he has never had problems with before.

As Jarek and Olivia enter into an affair which they both loosely agree would be done when their time in China comes to an end, both finds in the other the kind of healing that they didn’t believe they needed, but was exactly what their parched souls had been craving for. None of it comes easy, as it rightly should not. Real life is not made up of rainbows and unicorns and happily ever afters as we would like to think. It is messy, difficult and at times tiring, making you want to give up on the things that makes your life hellish. That is exactly what Going the Distance brings to readers, the ups and downs, the highs and lows and the beauty that emerges from all that chaos.

Julianna has a way of delivering just the right touch of angst that makes me such a diehard fan of her novels. This was such a beautiful story in the way it was told. There is no magic formula that stops the hero from becoming better, from conquering the shackles of his past that still binds him to it, nor is there one for the heroine to get over the loneliness, heartache and feeling of having being betrayed by those who should never have done so in the first place. 

On the surface, both Jarek and Olivia might seem to be your average hero and heroine. He is taciturn and rude at times making you want to shake him up, sexy and commanding in a way that is subtle yet vivid. I’m finding that Julianna is a mastermind in creating heroes with just the right touch and I find Jarek to be no exception. While Olivia is beautiful and smart, there is a loneliness deep within her that she tries to hide from, the best she can. Meeting Jarek and feeling the spark of want for the first time in a year has her taking a chance on a man who panics the moment she kisses him. Yes, she takes the chance and does so. But Jarek has so many demons hounding him, he breaks out in sheer panic every single time he believes that he and Olivia are becoming close. One night stands are how he likes his women, informal transactions at best to scratch an itch from which he can walk away the moment he chooses to.

Jarek and Olivia’s “non-relationship” relationship is one that is filled with a lot of potholes which is the reason why it was such a swell read. I love angst of the kind delivered right and I believe that there are too few books these days that hits the right combination when it comes to it. I loved the fact that Jarek was the asshole of the year at first and gave Olivia such a hard time. And yet at the same time how he couldn’t help but be concerned about hurting her and trying to think up of ways to make amends. From the onset, he is smitten, yet unable to accept the truth. Which was realistic because he has never been in a position to offer anything more to a woman and never had he been tempted to, until Olivia.

The whole setup in China, living in a remote area of China not to say the least, where you don’t know of anyone, where people mostly just treat you to a polite hello and nothing more was driven home in the story. I visited China just once, and had the fortune of visiting some places mentioned in the story. While China got into my blood in a way I never would have thought possible and would love to revisit one day, I think it would take a lot of courage on the part of anyone to make such a bold decision and move to practically the middle of nowhere and start afresh. While I would have loved to see Olivia continue her tenure in the school where she eventually won the hearts and minds of the adorable kids she was teaching, I understood her decision to leave them behind even had it been a difficult one. 

My message to Julianna is to never stop writing her characters as they are. Never give into the ‘accepted’ mold of the hero and heroine that is turning this beautiful genre into a mushy fest which sometimes I have a hard time not gagging over. But authors like Julianna makes me hopeful that there still exists a couple of authors out there who do the genre justice. 

Absolutely recommended!

Final Verdict: Going the Distance is yet another masterpiece in the way it’s so well thought out and crafted. Jarek and Olivia’s story is definitely one that is worth giving up a corner of your heart for.

Favorite Quotes

“You’re so hard,” she murmured in his ear. “So big. I want to feel you come in my hand, Jarek.”
“Fuck.” He ran his free hand over his eyes, as though he could block her out.
To be honest, Olivia was surprised to hear herself say the words. She’d never talked dirty with Chris; never really wanted to. But something told her Jarek wanted to hear it, wanted the okay to sully her hand with his release, to know he hadn’t talked her into doing something she didn’t want to do.
She kissed the shell of his ear, bit on the lobe. “What are you waiting for?” She squeezed her hand tighter than she thought he’d like and he came, back arching, teeth gritted, a pained sound dragged from his throat.

He gripped her hips, pulled out and shoved back in, too hard. Her breath hitched and she winced, and he kissed the corner of her mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“Do it again.”
So he did. She held onto the desk and later onto his shoulders, and he held her hips and pounded into her with all the zealousness of a man possessed, and none of the finesse she’d probably gotten from her ex. He could feel her and smell her and hear her, and in no time at all she fit him.

“What’s your favorite movie?”
“Alien.”
“Ugh.” Then, “Jarek.” Not a sigh. An order.
“I’m going to fuck you, Olivia.”
“Good.”
“Hard.”
“Good.”
“Harder than before. As hard as I want to.”

He kicked her knees apart and held her in place as he fitted his cock to her glistening folds, then rammed inside, deep and hard, making her cry out.
He didn’t ease up. He didn’t take it easy. He fucked her, like he hadn’t really done before. He gave her everything, rough and hard, like he’d been wanting to and worried she couldn’t handle. She groaned and moaned and clawed the mattress, writhing like she was trying to get away and get closer, but he didn’t let her go anywhere. He held her down with one hand and gripped her hip hard with the other, knowing he’d leave marks on her tan skin and not giving a fuck.

She straddled him as he freed his cock and rolled on a condom, then dragged her down where he needed her most. Her eyes sank shut and she bit her bottom lip, taking him deep. He watched her face, stroking her neck and her back, eyes settling on their joining bodies. He heard her breath hitch and looked up to see her flushed cheeks as she watched him watch them. She smiled and he kissed her, thinking that he’d been doing a lot of kissing this past month. Maybe more than he’d ever done in his whole life, all combined.

He curled over her, moving his hands to squeeze her slim shoulders as he pounded inside, pouring out his release with a groan, burying his forehead in her neck. When their breathing slowed, she lifted a hand to stroke his hair, soothing him, as though she somehow knew he needed it. Letting him know without words that he could trust her, too.

“I was hoping your first time sleeping over would alleviate your fear of spending the night when you realized nothing terrible would happen.”
His laugh was pained, muffled by her skin. “It’s the opposite of terrible, Liv. You feel so fucking good. All over. You’re the best thing I’ve ever felt.”
She ran her fingers through his curls, letting them tangle. “You’re sappy in the morning. Is that why you avoid staying over?”
“Guilty.” He rocked against her, his pubic bone hitting her clit and sending her over the edge. He followed, lips fastened to her neck, hard enough that she knew she’d have her first hickey in years.

She squirmed and complained and he ignored her, pressing into the soles of her feet with his mean, awful fingers, dragging them up her calves, finding muscles she didn’t know she had. “Please,” she gasped when she was about to combust. “Stop. But don’t stop. Please.”
Her eyes flew open when he sat beside her, back resting against the padded headboard. He dragged her onto his lap so she straddled his muscled thighs, and she waited, quaking, as he rolled on a condom. She suspected he was suffering as much as she was, but it wasn’t confirmed until he held her hips and guided his cock inside her that he cursed furiously and pressed his head back as though in agony.

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Review: In Her Defense by Julianna Keyes

Format: E-booktimeserved
Read with: iBooks for iPad
Length: Novel
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Time Served, #2
Publisher: Carina Press
Hero: Elijah Grant
Heroine: Caitlin Dufresne
Sensuality: 4
Date of Publication: September 7, 2015
Started On: May 17, 2016
Finished On: May 19, 2016

One cannot read the first book in the Time Served series and not be intrigued by the “villain” in the novel, aka Caitlin Dufresne, especially when Julianna decided to write Caitlin’s book as the second installment in the series. In Her Defense is an appropriate title for the book, showing Caitlin from various different perspectives, bringing to the readers a side of her we would never have seen or even being bothered to look for otherwise.

Caitlin is riding the high from the recent big win of the famous Fowler case and is focused on reaching the top, where her focus has always been since a very young age. While people see her as the lawyer that would screw over everyone else to get to the top, or even sleep her way to the top, Caitlin is in fact more than that. While her affair with one of the partners of the firm and a married one at that, has left colleagues with a less than stellar impression of her, not to mention the fact that Caitlin’s ambitions does not make her a team player, helps foster and maintain the less than favorable view of her around the firm.

However, Caitlin’s rapid ascent to the top is mired by one fatal mistake – too much work, too little rest and the high of too many Red Bulls consumed, and Caitlin finds herself forced to take leave from work, the very last thing that she wants or needs. Or so she thinks. Which is how Caitlin’s path crosses with that of Elijah Grant, the head of IT at the firm.

Though the first encounter between Caitlin and Eli leaves a lot to be desired, starting from the second coincidental meeting between them, Eli shows Caitlin that when it comes to that particular type of men she usually goes for, with Eli being the antithesis of all those requirements; even then, Eli manages to get her blood humming, her senses singing, with just a well worded command issued from his mouth.

Thus Eli and Caitlin find themselves embarking on an affair that scorches through the sheets, the stairways, the walls and any position they can find. Even though Caitlin’s prior relationships have all being about the physical aspects of more than the emotional, with Eli she finds that he is way too intuitive and in tune with her feelings to be brushed off that easily. However, for both of them to have anything meaningful and long-term between them, both Eli and Caitlin will have to let go of the shackles of their past and own up to what they are to each other, even if it means leaving themselves open and vulnerable to each other in a way they never have before.

Though told only from Caitlin’s perspective in the first person, the one thing that resonated deep within me as I read along was just how hard and fast I fell in love Eli. Before I was even halfway through the story, I realized and accepted the truth that Eli was one hell of a hero and that I would be hard pressed to find anyone else who would live up to the impression he had made on me. The fact that Julianna crafted Eli in a way that she didn’t have to continually talk about his looks, how sexy he was; basically how understated it all was, and yet every time he took the reins in the affair that was ongoing, I was ready to lie down and surrender myself to him spoke volumes. I swear that every time he said “now!” in an authoritative way, I just about lost it. And I thought Dean Barclay was the only man who could wow me in that sense. Dean was intense in a lot of ways, you can’t read his book and not be enslaved. Eli is a whole different sort of intense – you will just have to read it to find it because it is at times a bit hard to describe just how into his character I was from the minute he turned up in the story. 

If ever there is a master at storytelling, it is an author who can make hatred or intense dislike turn into love. Caitlin is a character who invokes a lot of intense feelings of the negative kind in book 1 of the series. All that however changes, the minute you pick this up to read. Trust me on that. At first I was also a bit hesitant to read Caitlin’s story because I guess I truly didn’t understand or believe in the wealth of magic that Julianna holds in her fingertips when it comes to romance writing.

What drew me in when it came to to Caitlin’s character was how Julianna laid out the details of her life; where she comes from, her familial background; all of it putting together the picture of a highly ambitious woman who is not afraid to work hard and play it dirty to get to the very top. Because that’s where she has always told herself that she would be, at the top, even though it might be the loneliest place to be, but nevertheless the top it is for her.

The forced vacation could not have come at a more opportune time however, even though Caitlin might believe otherwise at first. Work had been her life and life had been all about work and nothing else when she had been forced to do so. And in being forced into taking one, she finds it in her to slow down, learn to work as a team member, even if it kills her to do so. Because that’s what Caitlin does. She works at something until she is good at it, until she is the best. 

The changes that Eli brings to her life are quite significant. But that does not mean that she loses the drive that makes her essentially who she is. She is not afraid to follow her dreams, and hold her head up high in doing so, even when her heart is broken into pieces. I was glad that Julianna didn’t try to shove Caitlin’s character down the acceptable feminist mold where one sees everything as a challenge, where life is a constant battlefield where the heroine refuses to change, remains so stubborn because that is what the mold dictates.Some authors try so hard to project this image of the ultimate free spirit who itches at the very thought of settling down, who breaks out into hives at even the mere whisper of a long term relationship. Women like that for me are quite trying and tiring at times. Which is why I am so very glad that Caitlin turned out to be different. Yes, she is independent, feisty, able to hold her own and charter her own course towards the unknown. But she is also vulnerable, able to feel deeply and falls like a ton of bricks for the man who finally sees her. The real her. Even though they both make mistakes, they do come out as the winning team at the end. The angst was no less heavy in this book than the previous one in the series. But it was just as good, and the ending, just as warmth inducing. 

The sex was off the charts hot. There was a Skype session in the story that would never have me look at the camera on a laptop the same way, ever again. Eli’s confidence and playful nature in bed and out of it makes him such a turn on. I soaked up and reveled in every single aspect of Eli there was to indulge in. Goes to show that heroes don’t have to have a degree in dirty talking and call every heroine they come across every term of endearment there is and constantly use phrases like “pussy” or “cunt” in order to be sexy, sound sexy and do it dirty!

The only downside to the story would have to be the fact that the story is told entirely from Caitlin’s point of view. I would have loved to see Eli’s view of things, even be it towards the end. Nevertheless, Julianna has done a stellar job in creating both Caitlin and Eli and giving readers a story they would not forget for a long while.

Final Verdict: Julianna continues to woo, wow and amaze me with her sexy and feel good romances. Recommended!

Favorite Quotes

“Want to know what I thought about you?”
“You told me already, remember? Coldhearted bitch? She-devil? And I’m sure you saw my picture on the website.”
A smirk. “I saw your picture on the cover of Chicago’s Finest.”
I seldom blush, but I do now. I’d had copies delivered to everyone on staff. “Whatever.”
“And when I saw you ripping into Todd I thought, Holy shit. She’s the hottest, meanest woman I’ve ever seen.”
I snicker, torn between feeling chastised and flattered. “Well,” I offer, “at least I didn’t fuck your friend.”

I can’t look away from the intensity of his stare. I’m not a wallflower; I’ve been with plenty of men. Nowhere near the hundreds my reputation suggests, but plenty. And Eli’s nothing like the practiced, smooth men I’ve been with. The slightly older, more experienced, more predictable men. He’s not wearing a three-piece suit with a car and driver waiting out front; this isn’t a five-star restaurant with a thousand-dollar bottle of wine resting on the table. This is a man in khakis, in the corner booth of some ancient pub, sitting at a table littered with shot glasses and a melting banana split. I know better than to ask questions I don’t know the answer to, but even though I have no idea what Eli will say or do tonight, tomorrow, or next week, all I know is that right here, right now, I want him. And I like it.

I give a startled, slightly pained cry at the pressure, and Eli lowers his mouth to mine, providing a distraction as he slowly stretches me, stroking somewhere deep inside that makes my stomach muscles flutter. And then I forget all about the fingers and the ache as something builds and builds, though every time I get close to coming he stops what he’s doing and does something else. The darkness and the weight of him is like a cocoon, and everything is swirled into one big, pulsing ball of need. He traces the seam of my mouth with his tongue and bites my bottom lip until I open, then he pushes inside and kisses me, wet and dark and dirty, like few have ever dared.

“Best fuck of my life, Caitlin Dufresne,” he says, reaching down to open the back door.
The streetlights here are brighter, and the muted glow from nearby buildings illuminates everything. I study his face for hidden meaning, but though the words might be crude, there’s nothing but sincerity in his gaze. “Me, too,” I tell him.
“That so?”
I slide into the backseat and look up at him, pressing my index finger to my lips, the universal sign for “Don’t tell anyone.”

“What do you need?” he asks, trailing his tongue along my jaw.
“I need you to fuck me. Don’t hold back.”
“Why?”
“Wha—Why?”
“Yeah. Why?”
“I just do.”
He grunts and pushes up over me so he’s sitting back on his knees for leverage, my legs spread over his. He leans in and presses his hands to the mattress on either side of my waist and watches my face carefully as he shoves in deep and hard.
“Yes,” I breathe, as everything inside spasms around him. “Just like that.”

He stops laughing. “Caitlin. I appreciate having my dick sucked. I appreciate seeing your head in my lap. I appreciate feeling your hair in my fingers and your hands on my balls and hearing the little slurping sounds you make when you swallow me. I appreciated the fuck out of that blow job.”
Well. A little thrill skitters through me. Apparently Eli has no problem talking dirty at work.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“The problem is I don’t like things to be one-sided. I like symmetry. If I come, I want you to come.”

“Are you jerking yourself off?” I ask softly. I cross and recross my legs, but it does nothing to relieve the throbbing pressure between my thighs.
“No,” Eli replies. “That’s your job.” His voice is suddenly controlled, and it amps up my arousal a thousand notches. “Are you wearing a skirt?”
I finger the hem, the fabric soft and smooth. “Yes.”
“Good. Take off your panties and meet me in the stairwell in five minutes.”
My breath catches. “Eli, I can’t—”
His rough laugh stops me. “Caitlin. You can and you will.”
Then he hangs up.”

“You told someone—”
He fixes his pants, and comes forward to smooth a strand of wayward hair behind my ear. “I told him to stop anyone from getting within ten feet of the door,” he says.
“Did he ask why?”
“Of course he did.”
“What did you tell him?”
He presses a kiss to my temple. “I told him I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says softly. “Just that I didn’t want to stop.”

“Think you can come?” he asks, uttering the words right against my clit.
“Yes!”
“Aw. Good. Let me feel it.”
“I’m close.”
“Let me hear it.”
“Eli…”
“Let me taste it.”
And then I lose it.

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ARC Review: Time Served by Julianna Keyes

Format: E-booktimeserved
Read with: Adobe Reader for iPad
Length: Novel
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Time Served, #1
Publisher: Carina Press
Hero: Dean Barclay
Heroine: Rachel Moser
Sensuality: 4
Date of Publication: March 23, 2015
Started On: November 18, 2015
Finished On: November 21, 2015

Time Served by Julianna Keyes is a book that I will treasure among the hordes of books that are published today. All because Julianna dared to write a hero that might not be well received by certain readers because he doesn’t turn into a “girl” the minute the heroine re-enters his life. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but I seriously find it absurd when heroes who are described as formidable, reticent, and especially not to mention if they have a bone of contention with the heroine so to speak, that turns sappy once the heroine turns up; I feel like throwing the book at the wall when that happens. The fact that writers like Julianna Keyes are rare makes me want to treasure this gem some more. Because God knows when I would be able to read a hero like Dean Barclay.

Rachel Moser is an upcoming lawyer at one of them prestigious firms that has three names to its title. Rachel works hard, works night and day to make her dreams come true. That dream being one that doesn’t include looking back at the past that she had walked out on, the life she had left behind, including Dean, the man she had loved and who had loved her in return. While Rachel would rather cut off a body part than admit that something is amiss in her life even as she climbs the ladder of ambition one by one, there is that teeny tiny part of her that wants something more.

Dean has done his time and is trying to sort out his life. The only thing he wants when he encounters Rachel after all that time that has passed is to fuck her and this time be the one to walk away from her, no questions asked. But every touch and every kiss that burns hotter and wilder than the one before proves one thing – that Dean isn’t immune to the woman who held his heart, body and soul in her hands before she had walked away without a word or a backward glance and that she still has the power to bring him down to his very knees.

Time Served is written in first person from Rachel’s point of view. There is no part of the story that is written to show Dean’s point of view and that somehow made this book more alluring for me. To gauge Dean’s reactions through Rachel’s eyes, to see him react in ways that might seem ungentlemanly to some, were actually the bits that I loved. The bits that I found brought out honest reactions from a man that had been hurt and hurt bad when the woman he had loved with all his heart had left him. The fact that he was possessive to the extent that made me breathless from wanting, the way he could take a scene from zero to hundred just like that; those were the bits that made me fall, and fall hard for him.

Like I said at the start of the novel, Dean is not the type of hero who becomes apologetic for who he is, or does a 360 degree turn on his character, all because of the heroine. Dean is very much his own man and he proves that every single time he walks into a scene. Dean and Rachel had been born into shitty lives through no fault of their own. Rachel had had ambitions even back then which had made it possible for her to walk away. But neither Rachel nor Dean had ever gotten over each other which is evident once the ball gets rolling.

There are multiple facets to both Rachel and Dean that makes it easy to fall for them both. They have both made mistakes – they are both human. That was the most relatable factor for me as I was reading this book. Not to mention the panty-melting variety of scorching passion that Dean brings to the picture – and man, can he bring it on! The cover on this book doesn’t cheat, let me promise you that – it delivers every ounce of what it promises and then some!

The epilogue proved to be the icing on the cake for me when it came to Time Served. After all that Rachel and Dean go through to come out victorious in the end, the epilogue made my heart smile – because they both deserved the happiness that was so evident when it all came to its ultimate conclusion.

I see that there is a second book in the series out already, and that too the lead being the nemesis of Rachel in Time Served. I am definitely going to take a look because I can’t wait to see how Julianna makes the heroine someone worthy of the reader’s time.

Most highly recommended!

And, Dear Julianna, please never stop writing characters who are true to themselves. You are a rare breed in the world of romance today. Love, me!

Final Verdict: Dark & edgy with a twist of emotion & the bite of scorching heat. Dean Barclay is the man!

Favorite Quotes

“And your life?”
“What about it?”
“You like that too?”
My eyes fly open, struggling to focus on the gleaming blades of grass in front of me. It’s unnerving how he’s managed to ask the one question I’ve been avoiding asking myself these past few months.
“Of course,” I lie.
“What do you do for fun?”
“I don’t have a lot of free time.”
“Humor me.”
I turn the question around. “What do you do for fun?”
I feel him shrug, muscles shifting against my back. “Box. Run. Hang out. Fuck.”

I knock again, just to make the trip worthwhile, and I’ve given up and taken two steps down the hall—one relieved, one disappointed—when the lock turns and the door swings open. I freeze and look over my shoulder, unable to do more than watch as Dean sticks his head out and peers around, first right and then left, spotting me.
His surprise is evident but he doesn’t speak, and I turn awkwardly, suddenly feeling as foolish and stupid as I knew I would if I came here. I open my mouth to apologize—again—or make up an excuse, but already one of those big hands is reaching out the door, gripping my wrist and yanking me inside.

“Nice,” Dean says, nipping my ass cheek briefly as he straightens behind me. “Even better in person.”
I close my eyes at the thought of him picturing me like this, skirt hoisted over my hips, shiny with arousal, anxiously awaiting his next move. He pushes one thick finger back inside, stroking roughly as his other hand kneads my ass, thrusting his cock against my back. I can feel the smooth fabric of his shorts on my heated skin and the sensation makes me moan.
“You like that?” he whispers, biting my earlobe lightly.
“Yes,” I groan.
“How about this?” Without warning, he slips his finger out of my pussy and pushes the drenched digit hard and deep into my ass.

His left hand has been alternately fondling my breasts and fisting in my hair, and now it jerks my head back to expose my throat to his teeth before sliding down my torso to the slippery place where our bodies are joined. He spreads out his fingers to feel himself fucking into me, then positions his palm so he’s rubbing my clit, hard.
I come.
I come with a sound I’ve never heard myself make before, one I cut off by slapping a hand over my mouth. My pussy clamps down on Dean’s hard length, momentarily slowing his thrusts, milking him tight enough that he buries his face in my hair and groans as if he’s in pain.

“Fuck,” he moans. “Fuck. Fuck.”
I stroke his back, his sweat-damp hair, the side of his face. He feels so different from how I remember. Not just bigger, but harder too. The planes of his face are sharper, his jaw more defined, lips made more sensual because of it. And then, without planning to, I kiss him.
Dean jerks as though I’ve shot him in the heart, yanking his head back and staring at me through wide, stunned eyes. And for once he’s not hot and cold, he’s not angry and intimidating, he’s the old Dean, the one who laid himself bare for me and lost his heart in the process.
“Fuck,” he mutters again. “No.” But he’s not talking to me, he’s talking to himself, and obviously losing the argument. His fingers tangle in my hair, holding me in place as he slants his lips over mine and dominates my mouth, forcing his tongue between my lips and teeth, tasting every inch of me.

“Dean,” I moan when I can’t take any more. I try to swat his hand away from my too-sensitive clit but he pins it down at my side and hunches over, sweat dripping from his temples onto my breasts. He hammers into me, leg still pressed over his shoulder, my body as wide open as he could possibly need.
I reach up a weak arm and wrap it around his neck, spreading my fingers over his skull like I used to do when he had long hair. Now I feel the coarse rasp of his buzz cut on my palm and look up just in time to catch the second he starts to come, eyes locked on mine, unguarded. It only lasts a moment, a split second of weakness in his impenetrable coat of armor, then he drops his head and groans, pounding into me with his vicious release.

“You wet?”
“No.”
“Come over here so I can fix that.”
Without so much as looking at me, Dean reaches over and snags my upper arm, pulling me toward him. At the same time he moves so one of his legs rests along the back of the couch, the other still on the floor, which results in my back being pressed flush to his strong chest. And his erection digging into my ass.
“Don’t play hard to get,” he whispers, biting my earlobe. “I don’t have time for games.” One of his hands strums absently along the top of the couch while the other cups my breast through the T-shirt. “I’m going to get you wet, then if you don’t mind, you’re going to turn around and sit on my cock and fuck me while I watch the movie.”
“When’d you get to be so romantic?”
He twists my nipple, hard. “In prison.”

I catch the server’s eye and signal for the check.
“Let me get this,” I say when he reaches for his wallet.
“Fuck no.” The words are flat and unyielding, cold enough to make me pause.
“Dean, it’s just dinner.”
“Don’t push on this, Rachel. I know you’re an evolved feminist and all that now—”
“What?”
“But I’m old-fashioned. I fuck you, I buy you dinner, I teach you how to beat up the coworkers who give you trouble.” I fold my arms in front of me, unimpressed but also amused.
“What do I do?”
Dean sets down a few bills and stands, looming over the table to kiss me in clear view of anyone who might bother to look. “Just show up.”

“Dean!” I cry, the word sounding hollow in my ringing ears. My pussy clamps down on his cock like a vise, holding him inside and wringing out his orgasm. He swears furiously as he spills into me, slapping a hand onto the window over my head as he jerks against my hips, my body demanding the last of his release with its final clenching pulls.
Dean collapses over me, breathing hard in my ear, one arm clasped around my stomach, squeezing us together. Sweat fuses my back to his chest and I feel his heart thunder against my spine, and even when the room grows cool and the position uncomfortable, neither one of us moves.

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