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I am so in love with Sebastian and Wesley

Proper Scoundrels CoverProper Scoundrels by Allie Therin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely adored Allie’s Magic in Manhattan Collection: Spellbound / Starcrossed / Wonderstruck with its 20s setting and a unique system of paranormal abilities and its Film Noir evoking mystery.

But this spin-off? OMG this spin-off is EVERYTHING. I am so in love with Sebastian and Wesley Collins aka Lord Fine.

Both men have been through some serious traumas and are dealing with the fall out. Sebastian was kept for three years as a prisoner through the use of blood magic and forced to use his abilities to harm others, he’s suffering with serious PTSD (accurately referred to as Shell Shock here in this world) that he can’t even acknowledge.

Wes was an officer during the War and a sharpshooter, he’s done things, and ordered his men to do them, that he cannot forget.

On top of that, Wes was dumped by his lover Arthur (see Spellbound) for an antiquarian half his age (Rory you are utterly delightful) and he’s only the Viscount Fine because his older brother was killed in the conflict.

He’s prickly, rude, entitled, snobbish and oh so very much in need of someone to love.

Thrown together almost by accident, these two former “villains” of the previous series both feel like they can never atone – in Wes’ case he really doesn’t want to atone for kissing Arthur in front of Rory either 😁 ) but both will find that fate has other ideas in store.

Allie takes the reader to my part of the world – beautiful Yorkshire, York and its imposing Gothic Minster firmly on the horizon – and then leads them into a high-paced, tension-filled ride of an adventure which also brings some old faces along with it.

It was lovely to see Jade and Zhang too, both as committed to each other as they were in the previous books, and we get to catch up with Seb’s cousin Isabel and her lover Molly, now both ensconced in Paris for the World’s Fair.

The villain is truly villainous, his sidekick is mad as a box of frogs, and I loved how Allie took a mythology which has a very strong Yorkshire connection – that of Dracula – and made it into the basis for a twisted paranormal’s very deadly power.

I won’t spoiler anything about the actual plot itself, only to say that it had everything I want to read in a romantic suspense, and the relationship element of this book is even stronger than Arthur and Rory’s.

It’s also more steamy and I was so grateful for that. My one criticism of the previous series had been how the intimacy between Arthur and Rory was never seen on page, other than odd kisses and the beginnings of their amorous encounters, before fading to black.

Here we not only get some of the best UST I’ve read in a long time, but Wes is also a bit of a secret Dominant (not in a true kink way though, but he has a very powerful personality and a need to “take care” of someone) and Sebastian is all for giving himself over to someone else to make decisions for him.

Wes is an arse, he’ll tell you that quite proudly, but his growth and change once he meets Sebastian is a wonderful thing to read. He doesn’t change FOR him but BECAUSE of him.

Sebastian is the biggest (and most dangerous) cinnamon bun with a marshmallow soul, he’s so desperate to atone for things which were beyond his control that you want to wrap him up in a fluffy blanket and never let the world hurt him any more.

The first time they finally kiss is stunningly effective in the narrative. It’s an understandable slow burn but oh my lord, is it worth the wait! There aren’t loads of sex scenes, the story doesn’t really need it, but when they happen, they’re beautifully written.

As you can tell, I absolutely adored this book. Allie has such a grasp on her plots that before you can blink, you’ve read half the book and it’s gone midnight 🤣 I did not want to put this one down from the minute I started reading it and that’s the mark of a wonderful writer.

I hope this isn’t the end of this wonderful world Allie has created. I would happily while away more hours with this bunch of disparate people time and time again.

#ARC kindly received from the author via Carina Press on NetGalley in return for an honest and unbiased review

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Release Tour: The Best Gift by Eli Easton

The Best Gift | Eli Easton

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Release Date: November 16th, 2021

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Blurb

With help from a Christmas miracle, two bruised hearts find joy again.

Greg Cabot is the third generation to run Cabot’s Christmas Wonderland and tree farm in rural Vermont. But this year will be his last. Since the death of his son, Sam, in Afghanistan, Greg no longer has the heart to run a business based on holiday cheer. When he picks up a hitchhiking soldier on a snowy night, he finds the help he needs to get his farm through the holidays—and maybe much more.

Sergeant Robbie Sparks doesn’t have much to be thankful for this holiday season. Badly wounded in Afghanistan, he’s spent the last eight months in recovery and was discharged after ten years of service. When fate lands him at Cabot’s tree farm, he feels like he’s fallen into a snow globe reality. Friendly people, gorgeous trees, lots of Christmas kitsch… and Greg Cabot.

Greg believes he’s too heartbroken for romance, but those we love never truly leave us. A little nudge from heaven may help build a bridge for these two men trying to heal. If only they are willing to take that first step.

This stand-alone, long novella is a small town, Christmas cornucopia, May-December, hurt/comfort , ex-military romance stuffed full of family and holiday feels.

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Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

December 1, 2017

Greg

“Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” the one with the glorious trumpets, was playing over the PA system when I looked around for the next customer. There wasn’t one. I couldn’t believe it at first, walking from the baler, where I netted Christmas trees, down a row of Scotch pine, Douglas fir, and Norway spruce, and back around to the central clearing and the Cabot’s Christmas Wonderland store. But the crowds had cleared out. Only a few customers lingered among the rows.

Something wet landed on my cheek. They were numb from being outdoors all day, but I felt the damp. I glanced up. Fat flakes floated down from the late afternoon sky like a million tiny parachutes.

I smiled at the sight and, for just a moment, indulged myself, continuing to stare up at the leaden pink sky and the descending slow-motion avalanche.

“It wasn’t supposed to snow.”

I looked down to see Tori standing next to me, hands on her hips, face tilted up. Her shiny black hair, which fell straight to her shoulders, collected snowflakes like the fur of a black cat. Her short, plump figure was clad in a black puffer coat and, over it, a red and green Cabot’s apron.

“Sure wasn’t in the forecast,” I agreed.

“And this ain’t no light stuff. These goose feathers’ll pile up fast.”

“Yup.” A thought occurred to me. “Damn it. I was gonna make a trip to the bank today.”

“Well you’d best go and do it before the roads get bad.”

“I can’t leave you and Roscoe and Lucy here alone. What if there’s another rush?”

Tori gave me a look. “It’s a Friday, and it’s only December first. No one’s desperate enough to come out in this weather. It’s already cleared out, in case you haven’t noticed.”

I looked around again. She was right. The parking lot only had a few cars in it. How long had it been snowing, and I’d not even noticed? I glanced down. The ground under my feet had a good inch already.

Since Sam’s death, last February, I lost things sometimes. Long minutes. Whole hours. I’d been netting trees and carrying them out to cars on autopilot for God knew how long. A wave of guilt swamped me. Had I even said two words to my customers? They didn’t come all the way to Cabot’s, home of holiday cheer, to be served by a morose robot.

Tori laid a hand on my arm and spoke gently. “Do the bank run, boss. Me and Roscoe and Lucy’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” I said, because my chest was tight, and I suddenly wanted to get out of there so I could breathe. But the thing about escaping was, I always had to come back. All roads led to Cabot’s for me. At least for now. “Hey, if it’s still snowing like this by the time I get back, we’ll close early so you guys can get home.”

“Sure, boss. I’ll start tidying up.”

I went into the store. There were only two customers browsing the ornaments, lights, wreaths, and other assorted Christmas paraphernalia. I greeted Roscoe, a good man in his 40s who’d worked for Cabot’s for twenty years. His sweet smile and eagerness to please more than made up for his intellectual disability. He ran the till in the store every day we were open and loved to tell customers about the different ornaments we carried.

“Did you see it’s snowing, Greg?” Roscoe asked me, looking between me and windows at the front of the store.

“I sure did. Heavy too. I’m gonna run to the bank, and then maybe we’ll close early.”

“‘Cause the roads get bad when it snows a lot. And it’s not good to drive on ’em.”

“That’s right. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Okay! Watch out for the snow.”

“You know to call me if you need any help, right?” I reminded him.

“Your number is in my phone. But you shouldn’t talk on the phone when you’re driving, Greg.”

I gave Roscoe a little smile. “I promise I’ll pull over. Just let me know if you run into any problems.”

I knew they wouldn’t. Tori and Roscoe were both as dependable as the sunrise in Vermont, the leaves in the fall, or the snow in the wintertime. But, like my father and grandfather before me, it was in my nature to worry about Cabot’s. Though soon, it wouldn’t be any longer.

The thought sent icy prickles through my blood as I took off my Cabot’s apron and hung it up in the employee’s kitchen, grabbed the past few days receipts from the small office safe, then left through the side door.

Fresh snow, marred only by my boots, was already thick on the long sidewalk that went around a stand of American Holly to the house, and on the cement steps to the side entry. The way was so familiar—trodden a million times in the course of my forty-three years—that I knew every crack and bump even when it was buried in white.

Inside the house, I turned up the heat. It would be nice to come back to a warm house. I thought about changing from my sheepskin-lined wool work coat, which was always dotted with pine needles and tree sap, but decided against it. I didn’t care how I looked, hadn’t bothered to cut my shoulder-length dark hair in over a year, and the beard I’d let grow rampant was more about depression than fashion. I just brushed sawdust off my jeans in the mud room and stomped snow off my boots as best I could. Then I went through the kitchen, grabbing my keys, and down the hall to the front door.

I opened it and froze. On the braided doormat, safe under the porch overhang, was a package. The postman must have dropped it off, but I couldn’t think of anything I’d ordered. I bent to pick it up, then sucked in a sharp breath. The package was the size of a large book, wrapped in plain brown paper. My name and address was written on the front in a familiar hand.

The pain struck so hard I bent all the way over and laid a hand on the porch floor to keep from falling. I squeezed my eyes shut and took deep breaths. I was still learning the contours of this grief for Sam. I’d grieved when my grandparents died, and then my parents. But the grief of losing my only child was a monstrous thing. Even ten months on, it lurked like a malevolent bird, never far away, and swooped in to tear into my guts or heart when I least expected it.

Pull it together. Sam wouldn’t want this.

A low moan sounded from somewhere, probably me, and I steeled myself. I opened my eyes and picked up the package. It was from Sam. Why had it taken so long to arrive? But mail was strange, especially when it involved the military. Maybe it had gotten lost. Maybe Sam had addressed it, and it had been mislaid and never mailed until someone found it recently and sent it. Anything was possible.

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About the Author

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Coming from a background in computer game design, Eli has written over 50 books in m/m romance since 2013. The Mating of Michael (2014) and A Second Harvest (2016) both won The William Neale Award for Best Gay Contemporary Romance, and Eli’s books have won many awards from the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s Reader’s Choice Awards.

She is best known for her Christmas romances, the Howl at the Moon series of rom coms featuring dog shifters, and the Nerds Vs Jocks series, co-written with Tara Lain.

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www.elieaston.com

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Twitter: @elieaston

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To celebrate the release of The Best Gift, Eli’s giving you a chance to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card

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One of her absolute best festive romances imho

The Best Gift CoverThe Best Gift by Eli Easton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was lucky to beta read this beautiful festive romance from Eli who is, imho, one of the absolute best at writing them.

I’ve adored every single Christmas romance she’s ever written and this one was no exception. It’s a slow burn-y, small age gap, hurt/co.
mfort story with a hint of mystery and perhaps an element of deliberate intervention to set up the meeting between Greg and Robbie.

As my lovely friend Dani says, the astute reader will pick up what’s at the heart of this novel – the connection between Greg and Robbie that only one of them is aware of.

It’s a quiet and sweet story, it slowly builds up the friendship first between two men who are both not only grieving a loss but who are also dealing with their own extra pain and complications.

it’s a story about hope, about love, about not missing out on a chance that’s given to you when you think all is lost. It’s about traditions, family, moving on and it’s just perfect for a festive read.

Although it’s only a novella, Eli manages, as she always does, to craft a fully fleshed out story with characters who burst off the page in their realness.

#ARC kindly received from the author via GRR Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review

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