New Vocations by TA Chase

New Vocations by TA Chase
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (52 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Two men who believe in second chances meet and their lives are never the same again.

Layne Daly comes to participate in the American Royal. He’s there to show off the abilities of the retired thoroughbreds he adopts straight off the track. He wants people to know these animals can do so much more than race. He has three horses there to do exhibitions in reining, barrel racing and cutting. When his usual groom gets sick, he has to hire someone fast.

Carl Stewartson used to love coming to Kansas City for the rodeo. He’d ride broncs and hang out with his friends. But since his career-ending injury early in the year, Carl has been spinning his wheels, trying to find something to do with his life now that he can’t rodeo anymore. He runs into Layne and offers to help him with his horses.

Together, they have to deal with not only the stress of the event, but also starting a new relationship. Second chances are what Layne does best and he’s more than willing to give Carl the opportunity.

A nice, hot short story.

I know the work of TA Chase will be fantastic, so I was excited to read this. I’ve read others by this author and haven’t been let down. This story is no different.

Two men, hot for each other, but unsure the attraction is mutual. Great trope. I liked Carl being a little wary of Layne. He knows he attracted, but hey, things might not work out. Throw in the need to work together with the horses and there’s great tension. Layne isn’t looking for anyone, but when opportunity strikes, he won’t shirk his duty.

This is a good story for anyone wanting to dip their toes into reading the M/M genre. It’s a hot, quick lunchtime read you won’t want to miss.

Secret Valentine by Cherry Christensen

Secret Valentine by Cherry Christensen
Publisher: EsKape Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Inspirational
Length: Short story (77 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Professor Hannah Wagganer spends her days teaching and her nights dating Glen Arbor’s new mail carrier, Jasper Morgan. Not only does he spark Hannah’s heart, but he has become best friends with her cat, Jingles.

As Hannah prepares for the church Valentine’s Day potluck and makes cards for local veterans, her relationship with Jasper takes a detour when a snowstorm hits town and she seeks refuge at his cottage. While there, Jasper is a warm and gracious host, but at the same time, he’s turned as cold as the February wind. Doubt creeps in, leaving Hannah worrying that she’ll end up spending another holiday alone.

Once again, blessings and suspicions abound when an anonymous donor pays to have the church pipes repaired and other locals suddenly find solutions to their problems. Is it coincidental or the work of a secret valentine?

Hannah is in love with Jasper and is willing to keep his secret past from the rest of Glen Arbor. Valentine’s Day is approaching and she wants to make it a day for them to remember.

As with all good romances there is some misunderstanding which brings doubt to Hannah regarding Jasper’s feelings for her.

The book is definitely inspirational, although I usually enjoy inspirational books I found the references and phrases from the Bible tended to take over the story and these interrupted the flow to the point where it became irritating. On the whole this was a nice tale of love and belief which could be a really good inspirational book had it been just a little less heavy handed.

The storyline is good and their evolving love for each other is well handled as is the developing attachment of their two best friends. The characters are well rounded and Jingles the cat adds a bit of humor to the story.

Jayden’s Innocence by Sue Perkins

Jayden’s Innocence by Sue Perkins
Publisher: Caishel Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Short story (77 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Life is hard when Jayden is released from prison.

No one wants to employ him and his family want nothing to do with an ex-con. He retreats to a quiet village with no amenities to hide from the world.

Jayden decides the only option is to clear his name. He did not embezzle the money from his employers but knows all prisoners swear they are innocent.

Will anyone believe him?

Sophie lives in the same village and is willing to help him prove his innocence plus she has the skills to do the investigation.

Their quest draws them closer but danger follows every move they make.

Will their search make things worse for Jayden or will they clear his name?

Newly released from jail, Jayden is trying to figure out how to go on with his life. Wrongly convicted for fraud he couldn’t revert back to his old job in finance. With his family refusing to acknowledge him and no one from the local village willing to take a chance and hire him, Jayden quickly starts to lose all hope. Knowing he needed to clear his name to start his life again, Jayden is determined to prove his innocence.

I enjoyed this sweet story – it had the feel of an old-style romance novel. I was a little intrigued by how stand-off-ish the local villagers were. Initially I was quite skeptical – since I know in a small town the comings and goings of other residents is usually frightfully important and talked about endlessly – but it was the reluctant attraction that Jayden felt towards a pretty neighbor, Sophie, that sold me on this story. At first Sophie’s character seemed quite simple to me – a pretty, nice and sweet local village girl. But just like the other residents of the village neither Sophie – nor any of them – are exactly what they seem at first.

With an interesting plot and a few subtle mysteries that unravel at a deliciously slow pace I found this to be a fun and character-driven sweet mystery/romance. Between the plot of who framed Jayden and sent him to jail for embezzling money that he never touched, to what exactly is going on in that strange little village I slowly found myself getting more and more thoroughly invested in both the small town and particularly the characters of Sophie, Jayden and Jayden’s elderly neighbor, Geoffrey. While the story isn’t precisely realistic (Sophie’s occupation and the other villagers’ secret were a little too coincidental/serendipitous for my liking), I did find both the plot and characters to be excellently written and I personally really enjoyed the slower pace of the story as a whole. The romance unfolds slowly and I thought it was very sweet – just a few kisses right near the end of the story – and honestly the mystery and characters were what captured my attention, the extremely light romance was just a bonus, not a main factor of the story to my mind.

Readers wanting a light and well-written mystery with strong characterisation and just a hint of romance should find this as satisfying as I did.

Please Be My Valentine by Jennifer Wenn

Please Be My Valentine by Jennifer Wenn
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short story (77 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Benjamin Emerson is determined to honor the dying Mrs. Brody’s last wish, that her granddaughter shall not spend Valentine’s Day alone. But as the special day is closing in, he still doesn’t know how to reach the stiff, correct librarian.

Broken by her psychopathic former fiancée, Leonore Brody moves back into her empty childhood home in Barnesville, numbly taking one day at a time. When Ben asks her to help his daughter, she can’t refuse, knowing how much he meant to her grandmother.

Caught at the Emerson Farm by a snow storm, Leonore finds herself drawn to the charismatic Ben. But the scars from her past are deep – can she ever trust a man again?

After being dumped almost at the alter by her long-term fiancé, Leonore knows that her mood is volatile and that she’s far too easily irritated. She knows that her Granny would hate the snappish, waspish woman Leonore had become, but Leonore just can’t seem to help herself. Even Ben – whom she’d known since childhood – wasn’t safe from her temper and annoyance. When Ben comes to the library to get a book explaining about puberty in females – his almost-teenaged daughter suddenly mystifying him – Leonore a can’t help but try and help the humble, shy man and his delightful no-longer-little girl.

This is a lovely and mostly sweet story about a very hurt woman trying to find herself again and in the process helping a caring and loving young man raise his teenage daughter. I found it to be full of heart-warming emotion and definitely with that “small town” type of feeling. I sympathized with Leonore and her initially crabby mood – she’d been harshly treated by her ex and hadn’t really healed from the painful break up. While I felt for her, I didn’t really particularly *like* her in the first half of the book. Leonore’s actions – her anger and cynicism – were completely understandable, but I didn’t feel as connected to her or like her as much as I would have hoped. Ben, however, I felt smitten with almost instantly. A shy, sweet, humble farmer who simply wants to do hard work, love and raise his family and keep his nose clean – he was absolutely hero material to my mind and I was eager for him to receive his (well deserved – in my opinion) happy ending.

I found this story to be a very interesting, if character-based, plot. Again with a “small-town” kind of feel Ben’s relationship as a single father with his almost-teenaged daughter, and then the growing friendship/relationship with Leonore was definitely central to the storyline. Readers who want an action filled, fast-paced style of story might not find this as satisfying as I did. But I honestly feel sometimes everyone needs to sit back with a slower paced story, with vibrant, relatable and believable characters and read something a little sweeter and in those respects this book completely exceeded my expectations. While I admit a part of me would have been ecstatic had I found Leonore more appealing as a heroine, she was real. She had a temper, she was hurt and needed to complete her healing process. I might not have enjoyed her as a heroine as much as I could have – but I could certainly respect her and understand where she was coming from.

This is definitely a slow-moving romance story. Leonore takes quite a bit of the book emotionally healing from her ex and I wasn’t keen how she compared so much of who Ben was to what her ex had been like. I found for me, personally, that got old pretty quickly, but again it was understandable and realistic. When Ben comes clean on his promise to Leonore’s Granny and Leonore finally starts to look at Ben with romantic interest their relationship really starts to build. While they became intimate fairly promptly after this, I didn’t find the singular sex scene graphic – the bedroom door wasn’t “closed” as such but it absolutely wasn’t drawn out or described in explicit detail. I would think most romance readers who enjoy a bit of spice (but not erotic levels of it) in their romance should find this satisfying without being overly graphic. There are only a few passionate kisses and the one sex scene – so really to my mind the majority of the story revolves around the characters and their growing relationship to each other – not the physical and intimate side of the romance.

Readers looking for a story with a whole bunch of characterization, realism and good, warm-fuzzy type of feelings, this is a great story to kick back and relax with. While absolutely not perfect, it is a great read and one I fully intend to enjoy again in the future.

Totem Poles by Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker

Totem Poles by Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (25 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The saucer aliens are here. They’re healing the planet. They’ve got to be stopped.

At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Are these aliens truly friendly, or is there a darker purpose to all of the kind things they’re doing for humanity?

Mr. Sterling and Mr. Rucker are both talented writers. They have writing styles that are simultaneously poetic and conversational. There were several times when I needed to stop, chuckle, and reread a sentence not because I didn’t understand it the first time but because I wanted the pleasure of reading it again.

I would have liked to see this story go into far more detail about why Kalinin, one of the main characters, was so certain that the aliens were cleaning up the pollution on Earth for nefarious purposes. He leapt to that conclusion without having any evidence to support it. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the plot, it didn’t make sense to me to be this paranoid about cleaning up the environment when the aliens had given the humans absolutely no reason to assume that they meant harm to anyone.

The paranormal elements of the plot weren’t something I was expecting to find at all. Ghosts and flying saucers aren’t generally included in the same storyline in this genre from what I’ve observed, but I was pleased with how the authors combined those two ideas. It ended up making perfect sense for them to coexist in this particular universe because of how much effort was put into showing all of the ways they intersected.

It was confusing to switch between the perspectives of so many different characters due to how short this story was in general. I was never able to get to know any of them well. As soon as I began to form an impression of their personalities, a different narrator would take over in the next scene and I’d have to readjust to other characters all over again.

The final scene tied up all of the loose ends of the plot nicely. While it was something I saw coming in advance, it was still interesting to see if my predictions would turn out to be correct and how the characters would react to what their futures held. I was quite satisfied with the ending when it was all said and done.

If the thought of an alien invasion fills you with a quiet sense of foreboding, Totem Poles may be right up your alley.

Second Go-Round by Lynn Burke

Second Go-Round by Lynn Burke
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short story (88 pages)
Other: M/F, BDSM (very light), Toys, Anal Play, Voyeurism/Exhibitionism
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Christine Gemberling doesn’t enjoy breaking hearts, but she has yet to find a man who knows how to handle the package between his legs well enough to satisfy her needs. No man has held her interest beyond a second date—much less her love.

Until one sultry night with an Elite Escort rocks her world like never before.

Professional escort Jarod Zimmerman has a strict code when working with clients—no emotional attachments. But the beer-drinking, football loving Christine and her curves push beyond his control, until the guarded playboy finds himself craving another go-round with the only woman intriguing enough to make him break his own code.

With her defenses stronger than his favorite football team, it will take more than Jarod’s talents in bed to change her stance on relationships. He’ll have to sacrifice his heart when the unexpected circumstance thrown their way threatens to rip them apart forever.

Christine is sick of boring, unfulfilling hook ups, men who simply don’t – or can’t – use their physical gifts to help her get a similar level of sexual satisfaction they do. She’s tired of it but doesn’t know how to change her luck. And then a friend finally comes through with payment on a previously made deal, and Christine is set up with Elite Escort Jarod. She finds him to be a delicious hunk whom she hopes can fulfill all her fantasies. Will Jarod live up to his hype?

I found this to be a fun and sexy short story. Christine is a modern woman who knows exactly what she wants sexually and is hungry and eager to get it. There’s no sweet “getting-to-know-you” phase to this story and considering Christine hired Jarod for a night of fulfilling sex I can’t really blame either of them. I enjoyed the chemistry and sexual tension between them both and wasn’t at all surprised at some of the kinky games the two played together. The story has a cracking pace and is definitely heavy on the sex and erotic desires of both main characters. Most of the plot centers on Christine and Jarod’s sexual needs and the building of their romantic relationship. Some of the sex is kinky – but I didn’t find it too dark or deep and feel most erotica readers shouldn’t struggle with anything raised in the sex scenes. There’s plenty of consensual play and a bit of kinky spice – but nothing that I found outrageous or too envelope pushing.

The chapters shift from Christine’s point of view to Jarod’s perspective. Since the story is written in the first person I found this really helped me connect well with both characters and so I thought that was skillful writing on the author’s part. I personally find first-person writing sometimes leaves me not feeling as attached to the characters but thankfully with the shifting perspectives this wasn’t an issue for me with this story. I particularly liked seeing how much Jarod was affected by Christine and how he struggled to try and retain his usual arms-length, professional escort emotional detachment. That made their chemistry and romance a lot more believable to me than if they’d both just taken one look at each other, had sex and fallen in insta-love. It helped sell the realism and emotional depth of the story to me.

For a hot and heavily-sexed short story this was a great quick read with interesting characters and plenty of steam for a quiet night in.

First Time by Lynn Burke

First Time by Lynn Burke
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short story (90 pages)
Other: BDSM, M/F, Toys, Spanking/Flogging/Caning
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Daniel Cooney loves to tie women up and is nicely compensated for his services as an Elite escort. He’s no sadist, however, but a gentle dominate who longs for a woman of his own, one who won’t be intimidated by his size and ropes.

Becky Eaton bends over backwards to help her boyfriend work through his mental problems, but her submissive nature enables his sick desires to turn vicious. His plans to exploit her for his pleasure backfires … Becky experiences desire—and a climax—for the first time beneath another man’s command. Master Cooney’s tender touch awakens her in ways she never expected.

Beaten and broken, Becky’s tattered heart yearns for what could be, and while Daniel’s strength proves a pillar of support, she must find the courage within to escape a murderous monster—before it’s too late.

Daniel was paid very well at Elite Escorts to tie willing women up and fulfill their bondage fantasies, but deep down he yearns for more. Daniel wishes there was a willing woman, a sub, who wasn’t put off and scared by his large body and dominant demeanor. Someone willing to get to know him and even love him. Becky is in an abusive relationship but is too cowed to do anything about it, until she meets Daniel and he takes the time to show her how special she truly is.

I struggled to really get into this story. Becky is very clearly being physically, sexually and emotionally abused and trodden-down by her partner, Stephen. This abusive relationship honestly made most of this story difficult for me to read. In one respect that’s a huge compliment to the realism and extensive emotion the author has put in the story and characters, but I’m personally the sort of reader who likes to escape the nasties of life when I’m reading. I could easily believe that a number of the scenes – particularly at the start and end of the story might be a trigger for some readers. Stephen at a number of stages is outright abusive to Becky and while there’s no pretense of caring or love in the abuse (it’s not written to be enticing or titillating, but just as a part of the plot) that didn’t make it any more palatable to me. Personally I found everything related to the Becky/Stephen plot exceedingly difficult to read. That said; I found this story to have a huge depth of emotion to it. Daniel through his bondage, and particularly his rope-play, opens up a whole new vista of emotions and feelings inside Becky, things she had secretly yearned for but never experienced for herself.

At times I found Becky’s character quite frustrating for naïve and “too stupid to live” style of behaviors, but I have to admit that it seemed a genuine part of her character as an abused and downtrodden woman. Abused women frequently return time and time again to their abusers, thinking they will change, that it’s their (the woman’s) fault that the abuser had lashed out particularly harshly. While I can appreciate the realism of all this – I just can’t say with honesty that I enjoyed this aspect of the storyline. I think to be honest it was just a little too gritty and realistic for me, personally. A little too confronting. The author has done an amazing job writing the story – but it was all just was real and detailed enough that I ended up feeling more uncomfortable than anything else while reading it.

Overall I truly think this is the style of story readers will either love or hate – I can’t imagine anyone reading this and being ambivalent. With realistic and excellent characters this is a vastly different story to the kind I usually read. I feel this would be a great story for readers looking to expand their horizons or read a truly different kind of tale. Gritty, almost too realistic and definitely not for the faint of heart, this is an emotional and confronting story.

Another Kind of Hero by Lynn Hesse

Another Kind of Hero by Lynn Hesse
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (114 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

At forty Helen Kendall is divorced, full-figured, and big-haired. She enjoys working at the Pick’n Pay and running the show until sleazy David Hoffman becomes the assistant manager. Helen’s plan to get David fired includes her older sister’s help. Mavis says, “No,” because the last fiasco infuriated her husband and tarnished her reputation at church. Mavis resists until her best friend, Wanda, communicates from the beyond concerned about her godson’s push-animal parties and a drug-related murder.

Unbeknownst to the Kendall sisters, undercover DEA Agent Dewey Blackmon is investigating the drug pipeline running through Forsyth off I-75. Dewey suspects David is laundering drug money through the Pick’n Pay.

These two events converge when a casket of money and drugs at the Pick’n Pay storeroom makes the body count rise. The loyalty and love between family, friends, and partners in small-town America is threatened when two strangers carrying guns come to Forsyth…

An interesting book, some told from the point of view of the dear departed (now a ghost) and other interesting characters of the human type. I had a difficult time getting started in this book. Truthfully, I couldn’t figure out which character was which. A new name would come up and I caught myself thinking “well, now, who is this? “

As I read on, the book seemed to move a little better, the ghost added a little humor and the plot became clearer. It may be that the plot was not clear until the characters became better developed and I began to identify with Helen and Wanda and the ghostly Mavis, the love interest Dewey, and many others. Those are of course the names of some of the good guys. Who remembers the names of the bad guys? Although, there were some true villains in this story. The other possibility of my feeling of confusion at first may be because this book is full of subplots. There were many crimes being committed by different crooks, everyone trying to cheat the other guy. That being said, what started out slowly may be the very type of book many people like to read.

Once the story sort of fell into alignment and I had the characters sorted, it piqued my interest and began to flow well. It became a book I was anxious to finish reading to discover who won. Lynn Hesse has another book and both of these have good reviews. I would suggest checking both books out.

The Rancher’s Nanny by Sam Crescent

The Rancher’s Nanny by Sam Crescent
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short story (106 Pages)
Other: BDSM, M/F, Anal Play, Spanking
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Tulip

Caleb Pole has sworn off women. After his completely selfish wife, who wanted nothing to do with his ranch or their daughter, divorced him, he truly believes there is no woman out there for him. But his little girl is getting older, and he can’t keep relying on his mother. There’s only one solution … a nanny.

After her fiancé left her at the alter in favor of her sister, Madeline Lennox has sworn off men and romance. The books are all lies. There is no man out there for her. Still, working at the Pole Ranch as a nanny is a dream come true. She adores the little girl, and of course, Caleb looks like one of the heroes has stepped right out of the books she loves so much.

The chemistry between her and Caleb is intense, but neither of them expect to fall in love. Nor do they expect to plan a future with both of them in the starring roles.

It’s time for Caleb to prove to Maddie—and himself—that not only does love exist, but he’s her leading man.

This is the second book in The Nannies series by the fabulous as ever Sam Crescent.

I really enjoyed the heartwarming part of this plot. I loved Maddie and couldn’t have been any happier that she found a new family and home with Caleb and his daughter Paige. That was the sweetest aspect of what was a sexy as sin romance. Sam Crescent always creates the most alpha male heroes and she didn’t let me down with Caleb. He was awesome and stood by Maddie the whole way concerning her really nasty sister. I always love the way Sam Crescent is able to pull me into her stories and get me so invested in the characters. In my mind I’m watching it all unfold and cheering my favorite characters on instead of just reading along with a story.

This book was a pleasure to read because of the great characters, sweet romance, and the scorching sex. The story flowed by with ease and had me wishing for more, and as usual, there was a happy ever after epilogue for Maddie and Caleb and their family. I would recommend this lovely short romance to anyone.

Coywolf by Gale Stanley

Coywolf by Gale Stanley
Published by Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (34 pgs)
Other: M/M, Masturbation, Anal Sex
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

In a world where reproduction is the number one priority, a gay wolf shifter could never be an alpha. So Logan hides his secret from the pack and resigns himself to a life without love.

Then one night, he finds his true mate and he’s forced to make a choice that will change his life forever.

Action-packed and quick, this story satisfies.

I’ve read other books by Gale Stanley and haven’t been steered wrong yet. This book was no exception. The writing flowed well and drew me in from the first page. I had to know what would happen. It’s a short story, but the characters are well-rounded. I rooted for them to get together.

Rory is a coywolf – part coyote, part wolf. Interesting. I hadn’t read a coywolf story, so this was new and good for me. He’s shy, rough around the edges and a little beaten down. I liked his determination and growth through the story.

Logan, the alpha, hasn’t come out. He loves being the alpha, but has reservations. I understood him. He’s been thrust into a job he’s not sure he can handle. His growth was nice, too. ort

There is an instalove component to the story, but it worked. The steamy scenes are just that, steamy. The chemistry was great, too.

If you’re looking for a short read that will singe the screen, then this is the story you’ve been looking for.