‘AS YOU WISH’ An M/M Romance novella By ISOBEL STARLING

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‘As You Wish’, the novella I wrote for the Good Reads ‘Love is an Open Road’ event has now been published. I cannot find the words to express what a wonderful experience working with the M/M Romance group #DRITC team has been. The editor I worked with, Barb, and the proof readers have been amazing and I have learned so much from them.

This was the first time I had ever written from a story prompt. I had always shied away from it before because I didn’t want to be limited by the remit of the prompt. But the prompt photo, featuring two men in Highland dress, and the accompanying letter, requesting that their story be told…and must be FUNNY, grabbed my attention.

The day before i saw the prompt, I had what i call a ‘flash dream’- I have these regularly.  They are basically a scene popping into my head.  I could be out shopping, or doing the laundry or out on a walk, and I see the scene so clearly I have to rush home and write it down. The scene I wrote the day before, became the opening scene in the airport in ‘As You Wish’ where my characters Sam and Declan met for the first time..and the rest of the book wrote itself . I’m guessing divine inspiration was at play here! I was amazed. I still am amazed by the fact that a prompt inspired such an enjoyable, funny, sexy love story, AND has spawned what i hope to be a series.  I love the characters of Sam and Declan like they are old friends. I want to share what happens next, so bad…#am writing

Blurb

1 wedding, 2 best men, one hell of a love story!
Declan Ramsay’s brother Oliver was marrying Annabelle Aiken at a fairy tale Castle on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland. The bride and groom decided, so that he didn’t feel left out, Annabelle’s gay younger brother Sam Should share the best man duties with Declan.
Declan had never met the kid who was to be his joint best man.
Sam Aiken was abroad, working as an interpreter and finishing his studies. He wouldn’t meet Declan until a few days before the wedding, so the best men communicated and planned their speech by email for more than a year.
But on meeting Sam Aiken, Declan is surprised to realise the kid isn’t a kid at all, but a tall, blond and athletic young man. Declan is sure he’s straight, so he’s alarmed by the ferocious attraction he feels for Sam. And as the attraction is reciprocated, the events at Dunloch Castle change everything Declan has ever believed about himself.

But is Samuel Aiken all that he appears to be?

Here’s a short excerpt

“Sam watched as the kilt was secured around Declan’s waist. Fuck Braveheart… Declan’s sex appeal just went through the roof, in Sam’s mind. Sam didn’t know what it was about the donning of a kilt that made him want to launch himself at Declan and pin him to the floor. He bit his own knuckle to mute his desire. “Nice skirt,” Sam jested, his eyes sparkling with laughter. “Are ye lookin’ for a slapped arse?” Declan spat defensively. “Now… there’s a thought!” Sam snickered, dodging Declan’s lunge and heading to the wardrobe to retrieve his own kilt. “Seriously, never call it a skirt. I’ve known many men to get their arses kicked for sayin’ that—” Declan warned. “—and ye have such a lovely arse, I’m no done with it yet!” he added affectionately.”

You can download a FREE copy of ‘As You Wish’ from the m/m romance group website: http://www.mmromancegroup.com/as-you-wish-by-isobel-starling/

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‘IRREGULARS’-An Anthology by Nicole Kimberling, Josh lanyon, Astrid Amara and Ginn Hale

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*review contains one spoiler*

Over all this anthology is a mixed bag! But lots of fun.

Cherries worth Getting, by Nicole Kimberling
Irregulars Agent Keith Curry is set to work on a case with his ex-fuck buddy and Goblin expert Günter Heartman. The case is about finding who is committing murders and serving up human flesh on their restaurant menu.
The connection between Keith and Günter is just adorable, and as the case develops, so do the feelings that both men have been keeping at bay. I really enjoyed this story. 3 stars

Green Glass Beads, by Josh Lanyon
Who knew the fae had glitter spunk? What a revelation! LOL. This fun story revolved around Archer Green, a half –fae curator at a secret museum for magical artefacts, who was supposed to work in conjunction with the Irregulars, whenever a rare artefact was located. His greatest passion was in searching for a string of green Glass Beads, that held a power known only to Archer. However the new irregular Commander, named Rake has own ideas about what Archer gets up to and believes it is anything but legal. As the story develops we see that Rake has his own agenda when it comes to Archer Green, it was very personal! Great fun sex scene! Gorgeous ending. 3stars

No Life But This, by Astrid Amara
To begin with I was really enjoying Astrid’s story. I thought the characters of Irregulars Agent Hawk and Aztaw expert/consultant Deven held a lot of promise. However, then the back story of the realm of Aztaw kicked in, and boy it was just so ludicrous.

*spoiler* Deven was a human who had been taken as a child to the magical realm of Aztaw by his crazy father- a realm that had NOT ONE endearing feature. The land was in perpetual darkness, the Aztaw were hideous monsters that used human sacrifice to fuel their magic, and had a busy little industry in human slavery and murder. So why Deven was endeared to the place I could not, for the life of me, figure out. There was no sexual connection between him and the ‘lord’ he has served as assassin in Aztaw, so why was he so loyal to a realm that saw him as a tool when alive, or otherwise…meat?

Back in the real world Deven seemed to be a likeable guy, with interesting magical talents, and the romantic fission between him and Hawk was intriguing. However, the constant clumsy repetition and adding to the whacky tales of Aztaw crushed the life out of any good things about the story for me. Disappointing. 2 stars

Things Unseen and Deadly, by Ginn Hale
This was so good! I love Ginn’s writing, and in this story we meet Half Dead Henry, a character that was mentioned as an aside in Nicole Kimberling’s story. I loved how Hale incorporated so many of Kimberling’s characters and remained consistent with the descriptions of the Irregulars headquarters, agents, weapons, and methods. Everything fitted so perfectly. The story concerned a young man who had, years before witnessed his father’s brutal murder. Jason Shamir saw things…things that no one else saw, and it wasn’t until he stumbled into an Irregulars stakeout that he realised that what he saw was in-fact real. Jason is put under the protection of an Agent known as Half Dead Henry, (for reasons we discover later!) and from there the story unfolds. I loved both characters and I loved how their connection developed into something fantastically life affirming.
A delight 4 stars

REVIEW: ‘Charmed and Dangerous’: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy

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ARC supplied by author for an honest review.

Generally, I’m not drawn to anthologies, because when it comes to books, the bigger, the better! I love long, twisty, layered stories. I love finding out about characters histories and how the affect their present. And I get frustrated when a short story terminates, and I can feel it’s got the legs to keep going. And so I approached these ten tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy knowing I was going to be to be tantalized, and possibly left wanting. I was not disappointed.

The author line up is fantastic, for starters, and the diversity of the stories-ranging from urban fantasy, to historical, fantastical and contemporary, has a little something for everyone…witches, wizards, warlocks, vamps, goblins and humans. I think the best way to deal with a review of ten individual stories is by it’s best to giving a brief review of each story and then my feelings on the anthology as a whole.

The anthology kicks off with the spirited ‘Dim Sum Asylum’ by Rhys Ford.
Starting with an all action chase through a Blade Runner style Chinatown, by Detective Roku of the Arcane crimes squad. Dragon eggs have been stolen and he is on the case. The story really clicks into gear when Roku meets his new partner Trent Leonard. “he was good looking, in a thunder god kind of way and my unruly dick was more than happy to make his acquaintance.”I really enjoyed this story. It was well written, pacey, funny and hot.

Story 2 ‘Swift and the black dog’ by Ginn Hale.
Wizard and revolutionary poster boy Jack Swift is out for revenge against his former comrade, Peter Tyber, a wizard who, after the revolution, has eased his way into the ruling class and mishandled his power. This mission leads to Jack meeting Finch and with that fated meeting, finding more than he bargained for. I love Ginn Hale’s work and once again she delivers with a story was just wonderful. The characters were so enticing and the story was brimming with fantastic world building detail, and a crackling romance. It was frustrating that it was short, as I would definitely read a novel about Jack and Finch.

Story 3 ‘A Queer Trade’ by K.J Charles.
In this wonderful historical, an Apprentice magician is alarmed to arrive at the home of his master to find out he has died, and his house contents are in the process of being swiftly stripped and sold on. His alarm increases when he realises that papers of a ‘dangerous nature’ were sold on to a waste merchant, papers he must retrieve at all costs. This is a wonderful historical romp, set in old Victorian London, with many laugh out loud moments and wizardly shenanigans. It also has an adorable multi-cultural romance thrown in.

Story 4-‘Magically Delicious’- Nicole Kimberling.
I was previously unfamiliar with Nicole Kimberling, but this was a really well written, fun twist on the law enforcement/ paranormal storyline. This time, with pesky leprechauns and pixies getting up to all kinds of law breaking shenanigans. NIAC agents are being targeted in pixie dust attacks and, when agent Keith Curry’s partner is attacked, he is hot on the case. Another funny, entertaining read.

Story 5: ‘Everyone’s Afraid of Clowns’-Jordan Castillo Price.
Yes, the title is correct, clowns freak me out and I’m not mad into ghost stories either, so I approached this story with caution! But there was no need to be afraid. Psycop Victor Bayne and his partner Jacob take a little detour on the way to a Halloween party and end up doing a Scooby Doo, and searching for a Clown ghost in an old movie theatre. Naturally, this was well written and great fun.

Story 6: ‘The Thirteenth Hex’- Jordan L Hawk.
As one would expect with Jordan L Hawk, ‘The Thirteenth Hex is a quirky historical, but set in magical old New York. Dominic Kopecky is working as a Hex-man for the Metropolitan Witch Police. He is asked by a police ‘familiar’, named Rook, a tall dark handsome man who can shift into a crow, for his hex-pertize on solving a case. During the investigation sparks fly, and Dominic learns the truth about himself. I loved this story; I love Hawk’s beautiful language, the tender connection between Dominic and Rook, and the heart-warming end. An absolute delight.

Story 7: ‘The Soldati Prince’ by Charlie Cochet.
Charlie Cochet plays an absolute blinder with her story ‘The Soldati Prince’. Barista Riley Murrough has no idea he is fated to be claimed as the mate of a king who lives ‘beyond the veil’. So when demons enter the café he works in and try to kill him he is, naturally alarmed. His rescuers come in the form of tigers, who, when shifted back in to human form realise how special Riley is. I loved this story, Charlie’s characters always appeal to my irreverent sense of humour, and in this story it was no different. She made me laugh, and cry and laugh again…please don’t let the ending be the end!

Story 8: ‘One hex too many’- Lou Harper.
Again, another author I am unfamiliar with, and now suitably impressed. Extramundane Crimes agent Mike Mulligan believes he comes with a curse, so has been flying solo since his last partner’s unfortunate accident. Then his boss lands with rookie named agent Fox and a case… I really enjoyed this story. It was a well-written, solid, magical cop based adventure…and the ending was super- hot!

Story 9: ‘Josh of the Damned vs. the Bathroom of Doom’ by Andrea Speed.
Doug works nights at a Quik- Mart that caters for all kinds of paranormal customers-vamps, necromancers, zombies, werewolves…But his night gets a little tricky after he is inundated with zombie hamsters, and then gets a visit from a rogue vampire with an agenda. The goofy style of this story was different from the rest of the anthology, and it contained little romance. To be honest, it was not the kind of story I would generally choose, however, it was still an entertaining read.

Story 10: ‘The Trouble with Hexes’: Astrid Amara
This story ends the anthology on such a high-note. A Hex-breaker named  Vincent  gets a visit from his Private Investigator ex-boyfriend Tim, who is in a whole heap of trouble. He has been hexed and they have to find out the whom, why, and where the hex root is, before the effects kill Tim. A really fantastic, thrilling story, riddled with angst of lost love, misunderstandings and a beautiful heart warming ending.

Well, I am delighted to have read this impressive anthology. There were authors whose work I knew well and some I did not, and the quality of writing did not wane at all. If I had to choose my favourites they would be Ginn Hale, Jordan L. Hawk and Charlie Cochet and Astrid Amara- who I really hope write novels about these characters. A fantastic collection of Gay Paranormal and fantasy stories.
Good job everyone. Highly recommended.

REVIEW: ‘Sutphin Boulevard’ (Five Boroughs # 1) By Santino Hassell

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*Contains Spoilers*

AUTHOR SUPPLIED AN ARC FOR AN HONEST REVIEW

I approach this book as a great admirer of Santino Hassell’s work, and digging into his first his first solo Contemporary M/M Romance away from the ICoS world was a scary and enthralling prospect. ‘Sutphin Boulevard’ is the first book in his new ‘Five Boroughs’ series. The books will be interconnected standalones featuring a diverse group of gay friends living in NYC. ‘Sutphin Boulevard’ sings of the Author’s love/hate relationship with his home of New York, marrying the abrasiveness of the city with the multi-layered relationship between Puerto Rican Michael Rodriguez and Sicilian Nunzio Medici. A shorter read than Hassell’s past epic works at 90k Words/265 pages. And unlike his previous work, there are no shoot outs and the only explosions happen between the sheets!

The focus of the story is primarily on Michael Rodriguez, a High School History teacher in his early thirties and Nunzio Medici, his best friend of twenty years. The men bonded in their teens while escaping their dysfunctional families in the NYC Borough of Queens, and Nunzio followed his best friend through college to end up teaching in the same school. The story initially sets itself up as a shallow affair of hedonistic thirty something gay men indulging in a very hot porno style rebound sex. I can say without a doubt that Santino writes great sex scenes, but don’t let that scene fool you; this story deeper than sex and anything but dirty, light and breezy.

As the layers of Michael’s story reveal themselves we are shown a deeply flawed character, a man who tries to do right by everyone, but his life is not his own. Outwardly Michael is the strong dependable son in the Rodriguez family, the one who got himself an Education and a proper job, yet he lives his life as a ‘functioning’ alcoholic, reaching for booze or Amphetamines as his go-to coping mechanisms. He tries to hold the threads of his personal life and remaining family together foregoing his own needs and happiness in the process. In places the story reads as being semi-autobiographical, the Author drawing on experiences from his own life as a Teacher in New York and coping with substance abuse issues, therefore the character of Michael comes across as fucked up and very believable.

Michael’s best friend Nunzio is the rock in his life. A hot Sicilian with baby Blue ‘Sinatra’ eyes, amazing body and veracious sexual appetite. He is Michael’s constant playmate, support and comfort. They have enjoyed a platonic friendship for two decades. However, their supposed platonic relationship, to me is anything but, their connection speaking of a deeper intimacy neither will admit to, the boundaries between friends and lovers having been blurred a long time ago.

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This intimacy makes Michael’s surprise when they do ‘fool around’ baffling. I mean, the man must have been blind for 20 years to have Nunzio in front of his eyes to never consider him an option! But when these two do get together the chemistry is incendiary.

I have to mention one thing that did bother me. There are multiple occurrences of unprotected sex. Generally I love reading about bareback in the context of a committed relationship. But Michael and Nunzio are on /off casual. I understand these men trust each other and have known each other since childhood, but they both have long histories of banging around. In my opinion, if you are going to go there with someone, get to the  clinic and get tested so you are not putting yourself or your lover at risk. The repeated occurrence stunned and baffled me; I don’t think I’m the only reader who will have an issue with it.

The book is a challenging read, the threads of the blossoming Romance story being weighted with many very heavy themes: Identity, family, grief, addiction, friendship and the restorative power of Love. Santino writes Michael’s self destructive spiral into the gutter as if he lived it so the exploration of Michael’s fall from grace and subsequent epiphanies come across as authentic and compelling. However, during these chapters the Romance theme takes a back seat. No matter what Michael puts him through, Nunzio remains the ever present constant source of hope in Michael’s life. The resolution to the story was a little abrupt, but satisfyingly life affirming. As a whole, ‘Sutphin Boulevard’ comes across as a very personal work grounded with life experience and authenticity. It wasn’t what I expected, but I’m impressed that Santino has many strings to his bow. Highly recommended.

‘Deaths Ink Black Shadow’ (More Heat than the Sun) Book 6 By John Wiltshire

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*CONTAIN’S SPOILERS*

“Hello, Benjamin.” Once again Nikolas Mikklesen had me at Hello! Those simple words of greeting always hide layers of malevolence, possession, Love…sexy and creepy at the same time!

‘Deaths Ink black Shadow” wasn’t the ‘in your face’ bloodbath I was expecting. The contents were not as horrific as past books and I see more as book 5.1 rather than book 6. It was another prelude. Nikolas Mikklesen wasn’t in full kill mode. Nikolas Mikklesen was waiting, biding his time, playing a game of chess.

The story is layered with subtle manoeuvrings and strategies that will take a second read to fully get my head around. A lot went on behind the scenes, between the lines. Nik was attempting to clear his chess board so that there were no targets left for his enemies to take out. So most of his focus was on pushing the love of his life away. Some of the things he did were shocking, for instance raping Ben. Some may argue that it was just rough sex, (and Nik believes consent can never be revoked) yet Ben stated that he withdrew his consent and Nik still had rough dry sex with him. I was horrified.

And then the ‘cheating’ episode! My heart broke for Ben and Nik. Ben, because his world fell apart and he believed his heart had been stamped on, and Nik because he believed that the ‘cheating set up’, the worst thing he could ever do, was necessary to protect the one he loved. Nik would rather Ben hated him than be dead. So, weighed down with love and fear Nikolas Mikklesen was never at his full strength in this book. He wore the façade of night and day. The loving, generous partner, whose life had been altered by love, and then the secretive, cold blooded, remote Nikolas from the past, who would do anything to protect those he loved.

I found it curious that Nik surrounded himself with children- Molly, Emillia and  the adorable Miles Toogoode, as if they were the barrier between his true dark heart and the world. I loved that Nik couldn’t help but love Ben’s daughter Molly and encouraged Ben to bond with her. And yet he couldn’t feel the same love for his long lost son. In Stefan he saw the reflection of his dead brother and knew in his heart the boy had been tainted by association- tainted by the fact the man who had abuse him as a child and passed him around like a fuck toy was his son’s grandfather. Stefan had no chance. Stefan’s demise was hilariously morbid. I could not help myself laughing out loud.

I adore John Wiltshire’s writing style. I love the way he weaves prose and the sweetest of sex scenes into one ‘mind fuck’ of a story. I loved how he snuck in the explanation for the title of the book into a sex scene. Beautifully done.

“Nikolas murmured ‘Did you know that pound for pound the human body gives out more heat than the sun? We burn, Benjamin.”   Ben flipped them, now on top, friction increasing the burn. ‘We always have.’ ”

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But most of all I love that Nik and Ben are a couple who have endured 10 years together…been to hell and back, found moments of love, peace and perfection in the spaces between. No matter how much pain and loss, still these men find their way back to each other; still they burn for each other. There are scenes in this book of blistering sex and tenderness, where the language is just breathtaking. Moments of incredible sweetness between two men who, at their cores are trained killers with a trail of bodies behind them.

I was pleased that eventually Nik realised he underestimated Ben. Throughout the book I felt Nik had lost sight of Benjamin.  He saw Ben as a vain, pretty, trophy boyfriend, someone who needed to be protected. But Ben turned the tables on Nik and Nikolas saw that Ben was actually the weapon he needed. He remembered the man he had fallen in love with and that when they combine their skills they are unstoppable.

As per usual with this series, there were so many unanswered questions. I for one don’t believe the true enemy has been seen yet. So to me there is more to come…this book was the shadow, the prelude to something darker and in the next book Nik’s true enemy will step out into the light. And Nik and Ben will face it together.

Evenfall: Volume 2: Director’s Cut (In the Company of Shadows, #1 part #2)Santino Hassell and Ais

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This review considers the new version of Evenfall, Vol 1 and 2 as a whole. I am a huge fan of the original version of this book. Hands down this series is one of the most enthralling i’ve ever read.  Which made it all the more difficult to deal with the cuts.  A massive 100K was cut from the original and after completing the two volumes of the new Director’s Cut version  I believe that amount of cutting was over zealous. In my opinion the only cuts that needed to be made were- a *little* less of Boyd’s repetitive introspection, a *little* less pointless banter in the meetings with General Carhart etc, less detail of Jessica’s uncomfortable infatuation with Sin/ her attempt at seduction, and a general clean up/spell check. So while the original was a diamond in the rough with a few issues that were fixable, the new version has developed more issues, but ones that do a disservice to the story, the relationship between Hsin and Boyd and the talent of the wonderful Authors.

I don’t know what the motivation was behind cutting most of Boyd’s back story from the early part of Volume 1. In the DC version Boyd as a character became shallower and one dimensional because the reader wasn’t given the insights to his home life and psychological state before the Agency. We needed to be with him, to see how broken and tragic Boyd was to understand the progression of his character and how he eventually, slowly began to feel again. That slow and awkward back and forth of attraction, angst and confusion between Boyd and Hsin in the original version was, in my mind, pivotal to understanding the depth of their eventual relationship.

Sin was also stripped back, loosing a lot of his scowling, cockiness, confusion and angst. He didn’t come across as a man who had, at 28 never had feelings for anyone, let alone reciprocated feelings. And then when it came to sex, Sin’s confusion, self loathing and denial in the original book made the eventual surrender to Boyd all the more powerful. In this version he didn’t read like he’d never had sex and needed to be taught by Boyd. It just didn’t feel like as far of a fall or as great a surrender. It made me kind of sad.

The good things were:

-The rewriting of Paris, making the distinction between what Boyd felt for Thierry and what he felt for Sin much clearer.

-The removal of the dalliance with Jessica in Monterrey was a welcome relief, thank you Sonny and Ais! The original scenes where she made a pass at Sin made my stomach turn. It was re-written to be clear enough that Jessica was into Sin. And then  she just needed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was glad there was less of her and less of the club.

-The sex scenes between Sin and Boyd were rewritten and WAY hotter, but again, cuts were made that dumbed down their frustration, anxiety and confusion at being stuck in the one roomed apartment together. It felt like there was less sex and less intimacy in Vol 2 (I would have liked an extra sex scene before they went on their mission at the convention centre, after all, it was to be their last time together for some time, you would have thought they would want one more memory.)

I need to have a moan now about the use of Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish and so whenever it was used I had no idea what was being said. Adding pages of translations at THE END of the book was pointless. I would rather footnotes on each page or the translations in bracket so I can assimilate them with the story.

Boyd Beaulieu has always been my favourite ICoS character, but I actually missed him reading the DC. Where has his personality gone? I missed his angst and musings. I missed the descriptions of Boyd’s body. I wanted to know about his long sensual limbs and sharp narrow hips and blonde hair. We didn’t even find out he had tattoos until Monterrey! I wanted the constant reminder that he obsessively covered up his torso, and I wanted to know why earlier in the proceedings, just like in the original.

My lasting feeling after finishing the two volumes is ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.

‘Evenfall’ was never broken.

It was a little bruised and scratched and just needed a little TLC. The removal of Boyd’s back story and personality feels more like a limb has been amputated.

I know the series is a WIP, but I hope that one day when time and money allow, a super Editor will come into Sonny and Ais’s lives and want to edit the original from the beginning again.

I will sing my praises about this Series from the highest rooftops. BUT would encourage new readers to read the ORIGINAL version of ‘Evenfall’ rather than the Directors Cut versions. It is a mind-blowing enthralling and emotional read.

In The Absence of Light by Adrienne Wilder

My Rating 5 stars

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What an absolute GEM of a book.  I was lost in this story of Grant, a criminal on the run from the FBI hiding in plain sight in a small remote backwater. From the moment he walked into the Diner and saw the strange beautiful young Morgan, could not put this book down. I am in awe of the characterisation of Morgan. It is rare for me to give a book 5 stars but for ‘In the absence of light’ It is richly deserved. I was hooked from the first paragraph and fell in love with beautiful, blonde, Autistic and brilliant Morgan by the end of the first chapter. I was wonderful to read how Grant lost himself and untimately found himself in loving Morgan. Having a ‘special needs’ gay character who is so obviously in control of his body and what he desires was refreshing to read. The sex scenes were hot and beautifully written. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I want more of these guys!