Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Book of the Month: Guardian Spirits by Jordan L Hawk

Psychic medium Vincent Night and his lover Henry Strauss have spent months striving to uncover the dark secret harbored by Vincent’s dead mentor, James Dunne. Their only clue comes from a journal: Dunne was seeking to restore the Grand Harmonium, an artifact meant to breach the walls between life and death.

Fate seems to intervene when Henry and Vincent are offered a job investigating the haunted orphanage where Dunne lived as a youth. But the ghosts of the orphanage don’t rest easily, and the lovers soon find themselves in a battle to locate the Grand Harmonium before it falls into the wrong hands—and unleashes evil upon the world.

After months of searching, Vincent and Lizzie are no closer to discovering what their mentor, James Dunne, was planning prior to his death.  With the aid of Henry and his cousin Jo, the only clue they have is a journal where Dunne mentions the Grand Harmonium but just what that is they have no idea.  When a job comes up, Henry is hoping to take their minds off the lack of progress but will this job be the distraction Henry hoped for or will it take the foursome into the lions den?  Will the love and family unit the four have become be enough to pull them out the other side unharmed or will it be the end?  And will they ever discover what the Grand Harmonium is or the true intentions of James Dunne before its too late?

Guardian Spirits is absolutely amazing!  Quite possibly the best of the trilogy and that's not something one often says.  Series very rarely get better with each entry, not saying they get worse but rarely better.  Spirits' main characters may be Vincent and Henry but Lizzie and Jo are not exactly what I would classify as "secondary", perhaps "main characters with less page time" but not "secondary".  I just love the dynamic between the four, they really have become a family.

As for the mystery well I think you know what I'm about to say: I don't do spoilers and so many small details really do play a part so I'll just say this: WOW and DOUBLE WOW!!!  We finally get to meet the man who set Henry on his path to put science into the worlds of mediums and clairvoyants.  We meet a few new characters, some are good, some are bad, some you just aren't sure of till the moment of pure terror hits but each one definitely has a place in the story.

I will say this: if you haven't read Restless Spirits or Dangerous Spirits then don't start with Guardian first.  In my honest opinion there is just too many tiny(and some not so tiny) details in each installment that plays a part in the journey.  Would you be lost if you started here? Probably not but it just will make more sense and help you understand character motivation to read from the beginning.  I'm sorry to see the end and wished there would be more to come but since this was a trilogy, I can't think of a better way to close it out.

Overall Series 1st Re-read Review June 2018:
Not much I can say in this overall series review that hasn't already been said but as it has been some time between Dangerous Spirits and Guardian Spirits, I decided to re-read books 1 & 2 before Guardian's release.  I won't lie, re-reading them made #3 even better but I hadn't forgotten a single thing of the first two like I thought I might have.  For me, having remembered everything in such detail only goes to speak that much more of the author's talent of storytelling and universe-building.  I loved the paranormal aspect of the series as well as the historical settings but its the diversity of the characters that really make Spirits great.  Such diversity isn't something we often see in this sub-genre of paranormal because Vincent, Henry, Lizzie, & Jo are all human and realistic.  Some might say that the foursome is far-fetched for the setting but the truth is just because they aren't often talked about doesn't mean they didn't exist, so kudos to Jordan L Hawk for creating a great blend of fiction, reality, history, paranormal, mystery, and wrapped it all together in a giant romantic bow.  This may not make my annual re-read list but I will certainly revisit the Spirits universe for years to come.


Chapter 1
The dead man refused to answer.

Vincent rose out of a trance with no foreign taste on his tongue. Only the lingering traces of the cinnamon cachous he used to cleanse his palate of more ghostly flavors. The air against his skin was merely cool, a crisp fall evening, rather than the icy cold indicative of a spirit drawing energy from the atmosphere. Hands gripped his from either side, both firm; if they had succeeded, he would have expected Lizzie’s to tremble.

“I failed,” he said, and opened his eyes.

He sat at the séance table in the upstairs parlor of their little shop. The curtains had been drawn against the gaslights illuminating the Baltimore street outside, leaving them in near-total darkness.

Even so, he felt the presence of the living in the room with him. Elizabeth Devereaux, his fellow medium, held his right hand. Jocelyn Strauss, seventeen years old and a genius when it came to machines and mathematics, sat directly across from him. And Henry Strauss, inventor—and Vincent’s lover—gripped Vincent’s left hand tightly.

“You didn’t fail,” Henry said. “He simply chose not to answer.”

“We could try again,” Lizzie suggested, though she didn’t sound at all pleased at the prospect.

“No.” A weariness more spiritual than physical weighed on Vincent’s bones. “He isn’t going to answer us. Neither of them are.”

“Cowards,” Henry said staunchly. “Jo, could you open the curtains?”

The circle broke apart, and Jo tugged back the curtains while Henry lit the lamps. Warm gaslight soon filled every corner of the slightly shabby room, gleaming off the apparatus Henry insisted on setting up at every séance: Franklin Bells, which would ring when the presence of a spirit charged the air, thermometer, barometer, and even a copper grounding rod should the summoned spirit turn violent. Not to suggest they had expected the spirit they sought tonight to be dangerous, but Henry always insisted on being prepared.

Since Vincent had spent most of his life drifting along with the currents, Henry’s tendency to plan ahead came as an unexpected comfort.

Jo glanced from Vincent to Lizzie, her brown face drawn with worry. “I’m sorry you couldn’t contact your mentor.”

“The spirits are under no obligation to answer us,” Lizzie said. She ran a tired hand over her jaw, frowned slightly as her fingers encountered a trace of stubble. Her shaving and plucking regimen was immaculate, even when it was only the four of them, and her gesture now told Vincent how heavily the situation weighed on her.

“I’d say Dunne damned well owes you an explanation.” Henry folded his arms over his chest.

“Pardon my language, ladies,” he added when Lizzie cast him a stern look, “but it’s true.”

James Dunne hadn’t just been Lizzie and Vincent’s mentor—he’d plucked them from the streets as children and given them the first home in which they’d ever been welcome. Taught them not only how to be mediums, but how to be decent people. By the end of their apprenticeship, he and Lizzie would have done anything for him. Or for Sylvester Ortensi, who had been like a kindly uncle to them.

Bad enough a malevolent spirit had possessed Vincent and used his hands to kill Dunne. But then Ortensi revealed to them that he and Dunne had hidden things from them. They had been  searching for something, and were desperate enough to turn to necromancy to find it. Desperate enough to murder anyone in their way.

Ortensi died before he could give them any answers. Hence the séance to contact the one person who might: Dunne himself.

Henry held out the silver amulet Vincent had entrusted him with at the start of the séance. The amulet guarded against involuntary possession; after his encounter with the dark spirit which had killed Dunne, Vincent seldom went without it. Unfortunately, channeling spirits required temporarily lending them his voice and body, which meant he had to take the amulet off for séances.

“Thank you,” Vincent said, and fastened it around his neck again.

“Is there anything else we can do?” Jo asked. She perched on one of the chairs, her lower lip caught between her teeth as she pondered. “Perhaps if we used the Wimshurst Machine? Added more energy to the air?”

“I don’t think it’s lack of energy that’s the problem,” Lizzie said with a heavy sigh. “Dunne has surely passed on. If he lingered on this side of the veil, perhaps…but he didn’t. And we can’t compel him to come back and give us answers, no matter how badly we might want to.”

“As I said before, the man is a coward.” Henry gave a little sniff, even as he began to clear away his instrumentation from the table. “If he withheld things from you, he should put forth a little effort. Set the record straight, rather than leaving you with such uncertainty.”

“Dunne wasn’t a coward,” Vincent said, almost reflexively. Even knowing what he did, even suspecting what he did, the instinct to defend his mentor still remained.

Lizzie pressed a hand to her forehead. “I don’t know what to think. We’ve tried spirit writing, psychometry, and now channeling, all to no avail.”

“We have to keep looking.” Vincent rose and went to the writing desk against the wall. Pulling open a drawer, he removed the journal they’d found among Ortensi’s things at the hotel in Devil’s Walk, after he’d died. Unfortunately, it had been a relatively new journal, started just before he’d departed Europe for the final time. If they’d had more money in the bank, perhaps they could have traveled to France, where he’d spent the last several years. Maybe his earlier journals were still there and would have yielded answers.

Most of the journal offered nothing beyond the ordinary details of a medium’s life. It confirmed what Ortensi had already told them. The murderous spirit of Devil’s Walk had been summoned by a necromantic talisman. Rather than destroy such an abomination, Ortensi had hoped to take it for himself. The only real clues lay in his final entry, made the day they’d arrived to assist him.

It’s so good to see Lizzie and Vincent again. I still can’t believe James is gone. He understood the operation of the Grand Harmonium far better than I. Vincent’s account of the spirit that killed James troubles me. It wasn’t like James to be taken so unaware. Some spirits conceal their true nature, but those usually have a motive of some sort, even if only to spread chaos and fear. This one slew James and simply…left.

As for James…I try not to mourn him. The impulse is foolish—death is but sleep, and as easy to wake from. I just need a little more time, and I’m sure I’ll be able to recreate the Astral Key. Then the Grand Harmonium will be restored, and James returned to my side. But it is hard not to miss him.

What might our lives have been, if Arabella hadn’t betrayed us? Damn her! We would have made the world a paradise, instead of the mire it is.

No matter. My youth might be gone, but once the Harmonium is restored, surely such things will be of no consequence. James might be temporarily beyond my reach, but at least I still have Vincent and Lizzie. They’re strong.

They passed every test.

They won’t fail the way Arabella failed.

I must separate Vincent from Mr. Strauss. Strauss represents the worst impulses, is possessed of the lowest of natures. He is filled with ambition and greed. If Strauss learned of the Grand Harmonium, he’d wish to take it apart and sell off the pieces for profit. He sees only the parts of a thing, not the wonder of the whole. Vincent’s tendency toward loyalty may prove inconvenient in this instance. I’ll observe them both closely tomorrow, and think on how best to drive a wedge in between.

The entry ended there. Vincent shut the journal with a snap. “What the blazes is the Grand Harmonium?” he asked aloud, just as he had again and again since first reading the words on the train back from Devil’s Walk. “What is the Astral Key he meant to recreate? And who is—or was— Arabella?”

“As for the Grand Harmonium, presumably Ortensi didn’t travel the world in search of the means to perfect a musical instrument.” Henry took off his spectacles and began to clean them with a handkerchief. “I still maintain it sounds like some sort of machine.”

“Ortensi didn’t seem very pleased with our machines,” Jo pointed out. “Or you, Henry.”

“I’m heartbroken to have garnered his disapproval,” Henry said dryly.

“He said it would return Dunne to his side.” The corners of Lizzie’s mouth turned down into a tight frown. “That sounds like necromancy.”

Vincent shook his head. Necromancy—the forced summoning of the unwilling dead—might be wrong, but that hadn’t stopped people from studying it thoroughly. “‘Death is but sleep, and as easy to wake from.’” He’d stared at the journal entry so often he had memorized the phrase. “That doesn’t sound like any necromancy I’ve ever heard of.”

“Besides,” Jo added, “If he meant to simply compel Dunne’s ghost, he could have just used the necromantic talisman he took from Mr. Fitzwilliam in Devil’s Walk.”

“Precisely.” Vincent ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Some other means of contacting the dead, perhaps? A more reliable means than a séance, but without the compulsion of necromancy?”

“We could speculate endlessly,” Henry said. “At least it doesn’t sound like the Grand Harmonium is in a state to be used. Not without this Astral Key, whatever it might be.”

“There must be answers, somewhere,” Lizzie said. “If only Dunne had kept a journal. If we still had his house, or the shop in New York…”

“Well, we don’t,” Vincent said. “And honestly, I doubt it would help even if we did. We lived and worked with him for years and never suspected him of keeping secrets. He wouldn’t have left anything where we had a hope of finding it.”

“There must be something.” Lizzie stared out the window, as though the answers might appear on the glass. “We just have to keep searching.”

Henry frowned at her words. But he only said, “It’s late. We should get some sleep. Take my bed, Lizzie, so you don’t have to walk back to your apartment.”

“The sheets might be a little dusty,” Jo added with a sly grin.

Henry shot her a quelling look. Not that she was wrong. Ever since Vincent had moved into the little room above the workshop out back, he and Henry had shared its bed every night. Henry kept a few things in what had previously been his bedroom, for the sake of space, but for all practicalities he and Vincent lived together.

Which wasn’t something Vincent had ever envisioned for himself. But then, he’d never envisioned meeting someone like Henry, either.

Lizzie hesitated visibly, her gaze going again to the darkness outside the window. It was too late to find a cab, even if they’d had the money to spare, which meant either Vincent or Henry would have to walk her home. “Very well,” she said at last. “I’ll leave at first light, then return for Mrs. Burwell’s spirit writing session tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully her departed mother will be more amenable to contact than Dunne.”

~ * ~ 

Henry followed Vincent across the darkened yard to the workshop. He’d originally used the small building to conduct experiments which needed more space than was available in the store’s back room, or which produced smells that might drive away customers. And he still did; the downstairs was a single open space packed with tables and equipment. He and Vincent had converted the upper floor, however, into a cozy apartment.

They ascended the outside staircase to the apartment’s door. Once inside, Vincent didn’t bother to light the sitting room’s lamp, instead walking straight through to the darkened bedroom. Henry winced—this wasn’t like him. Ordinarily, Vincent would stay up to absurd hours, reading poetry or novels while he lounged on the couch in his oriental robe. Then he’d sleep until noon, before spending another hour choosing his clothing and pomading his hair. For him to retire to bed at such a relatively early time didn’t bode well.

While Henry lit the night candle, Vincent began to disrobe, his movements quick and efficient.

A flash of anger coursed through Henry, directed not at Vincent, but at the accursed Dunne.

When he’d first met Vincent and Lizzie, they’d been desperately trying to save the occult shop that had belonged to their dead mentor. They always spoke of the man in tones not just of affection, but awe. As though he were somehow more—better—than human. Flawless as an angel.

No doubt all of his treatment of them hadn’t been a self-serving lie. But their stint in Devil’s Walk made it clear the man had concealed a great deal. Lied to them about fundamental things.

No wonder they’d both been adrift ever since. Desperate to reconcile the things Ortensi had told them, with the idealized memory of their mentor. They were haunted…though not literally, in this case.

Henry would have some strong words for Dunne, should they ever manage to contact the scoundrel. How dare he put Vincent and Lizzie through such pain? If he had truly cared for them, he should have included them in whatever grand scheme he and Ortensi had worked toward.

But anger wouldn’t help Vincent. Henry pushed it down and stepped behind Vincent, putting his hands lightly at Vincent’s waist. “I’m sorry,” he said. “What can I do?”

For a moment, Vincent held himself stiffly. Then he sagged back, letting Henry take some of his weight. He was the taller of the two, so Henry pressed his cheek into Vincent’s shoulder. The citrus and musk scent of Vincent’s cologne filled his nose, and the warmth and heft of his body quickened Henry’s blood.

“If I knew, I’d tell you,” Vincent said. “You must think us fools, to let ourselves be so obsessed by this.”

“Not at all.” Henry slid his arms around Vincent’s slender waist, pulling him closer. “He was like a father to you. I know how badly losing him hurt.” Henry’s own father had died when he was but a youth, and God knew he still missed the man. At least his memories hadn’t been tainted by post-mortem revelations. “I can only imagine how you must feel now. Afraid you’re being disrespectful of his memory by doubting him, but worried your doubt is justified.”

“Exactly.” Vincent turned to face him, then bent for a kiss. “I’m sick of thinking about it.”

“Shall I give you something else to think about for a while?”

“Yes,” Vincent said fervently, and wound his arms around Henry’s shoulders, hauling him close.

Their kiss began leisurely, before deepening. Vincent’s warm mouth tasted of cinnamon. He’d already removed coat, tie, and vest, so Henry set about unbuttoning his shirt an inch at a time, slowly exposing the sienna skin beneath. Henry paused to make sure he paid Vincent’s dark brown nipples proper attention with his lips and teeth, and was rewarded with a soft groan.

Henry shoved down Vincent’s bracers, then peeled off his shirt, pausing just long enough to carefully hang it up. He’d learned early on that Vincent’s clothing was an armor of sorts. Whites expected an Indian to look a certain way; when confronted with the impeccably dressed Vincent,  they tended to offer more respect than they would have otherwise. It was a bit of stupid thinking Henry had fallen into himself, when they’d first met.

Henry made sure to brush his hand against Vincent’s erection more than strictly necessary as he unbuttoned Vincent’s trousers. Drawers came next, and Henry sank to his knees to take Vincent’s cock in his mouth. His taste, the heavy feel of him against Henry’s tongue, sent a rush of blood to Henry’s own prick, and he moaned as he took his lover to the root.

Vincent’s hands tangled in Henry’s hair, tightened—then pushed at him. “Not like this. I want you to come in my mouth at the same time.”

Henry slid off reluctantly, giving a last lap at the slit as he did so. “Get on the bed.”

Henry undressed quickly, but when he turned back to the bed, he stopped just to admire the sight. Vincent sprawled against the pale sheets, his cock dark with desire, his black eyes shining with lust. God, he was beautiful, all long legs and shapely muscles. He wore his thick black hair cut long, in imitation of the style Oscar Wilde had set on his American tour, and it spread across the pillow in a halo.

Henry in no way deserved him, but was grateful every day to have him anyway.

“I love you,” Henry said.

Vincent’s expression softened. “I love you, too. Now come here and let me show you how much.”

The sensation of Vincent’s bare skin against his never ceased to send a thrill through Henry.

For so long, his only encounters had been of the sort done in back alleys, quick and furtive, removing only as much clothing as necessary. The luxury of having a lover and a bed still felt new and exciting. Vincent’s arms snaked around Henry’s chest, pulling him tight, their thighs and cocks pressed together. Henry kissed Vincent thoroughly, moving his hips in a slow grind, sending slow shocks of pleasure through them both.

Vincent drew back just a bit. “I want you in my mouth.”

“Mmm.” Henry grinned and nuzzled what he knew to be a sensitive spot on Vincent’s neck, drawing a gasp from him. “I’m not going to refuse such an offer.”

He reversed his position on the bed, and they lay on their sides. Henry kissed Vincent’s strong thighs, then caught his cock between his lips once again. The slow, teasing lick of Vincent’s tongue along his own prick made Henry whimper.

“Impatient,” Vincent said, his lips moving against the very tip of Henry’s erection. Then he slid down, engulfing him in wet heat.

They clung to each other, hands roaming across whatever skin they could reach, mouths fastened on one another. Vincent’s tongue was clever with more than words, and soon Henry found himself fighting to hold back. He tried focusing on the prick filling his own mouth, but Vincent’s taste and feel, his little moans, only added to Henry’s arousal. He let out a muffled sound of warning, balls tightening, and Vincent groaned around him as he came.

He tried to keep sucking as he spent, rhythm lost, until Vincent’s thighs trembled and bitterness flooded Henry’s throat in return.

They lay silent for a moment, breath coming in short gasps. Despite the cool night, a light film of sweat slicked their skin. Henry pressed his lips to Vincent’s thigh.

“Come here, Henry,” Vincent murmured sleepily.

Henry didn’t want to move, but he clambered around until he was facing the right way in the bed again. Vincent had rolled onto his back, eyelids already drooping shut. The tension had eased from his handsome features, at least for the moment, and a rush of emotion shook Henry, so strong it threatened to cut off his breath.

“I’d do anything for you,” he whispered.

Vincent’s generous mouth turned up into a smile. “Then salt the door.”

“You just don’t want to get up,” Henry teased. But he rolled out of bed and did as asked.

Vincent hadn’t always slept with a line of salt across the windows and door. But after the malevolent spirit had possessed him and killed Dunne, Vincent feared it was still out there, somewhere. That it might return, despite the passage of time and distance.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most logical of fears, but if pouring salt across the doors and windows each night made Vincent feel safer, that was what Henry would do.

Once finished, Henry blew out the candle, then pillowed his head on Vincent’s chest. Within moments, Vincent had slipped away into sleep. Henry listened to the beat of his lover’s heart beneath his ear. The edge of the silver amulet pressed against his forehead, a silent reminder, along with the salt, of the lingering damage the spirit had done to Vincent’s soul.

Had Dunne known there was something unusual about the poltergeist he’d taken Vincent to confront? Vincent insisted there had been no warning, but Henry was less certain of Dunne’s honesty in the matter.

The man’s other apprentices had died somehow, after all. The ones Dunne had never seen fit to mention to Vincent and Lizzie. They would never have known, if Ortensi hadn’t told them.

They weren’t the first. They were just the ones who had survived.

Assuming Ortensi hadn’t lied to further his own ends. At least they could take the writing in the journal, intended for no one else’s eyes, as honest.

Perhaps it was just as well they’d failed to raise Dunne’s spirit tonight. The idea of never learning the truth irked Henry…but maybe it was time to put all of this behind them. To let go of the fear and guilt and doubt chaining them to the past. To focus instead on the future of their business, of their family.

Vincent and Lizzie needed something to distract them. The only clientele they’d had as of late had been the ordinary sort: weekly séances, some spirit writing, a few people who wanted them to come investigate odd sounds or cold spots in their houses, none of which had turned out to be due to ghosts. There had been nothing to demand their attention for more than an hour or two at a stretch, leaving them with far too much time to brood.

Well, then. Henry would simply have to find something for them. What, he didn’t know, but if he put his mind to it, surely he could come up with some project to allow them to focus their minds and energy, and let go of Dunne once and for all.
Author Bio:
Jordan L. Hawk grew up in the wilds of North Carolina, where she was raised on stories of haints and mountain magic by her bootlegging granny and single mother. After using a silver knife in the light of a full moon to summon her true love, she turned her talents to spinning tales. She weaves together couples who need to fall in love, then throws in some evil sorcerers and undead just to make sure they want it bad enough. In Jordan’s world, love might conquer all, but it just as easily could end up in the grave.


Guardian Spirits #3

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Montana by RJ Scott Part 1

Crooked Tree Ranch #1
When a cowboy meets the guy from the city, he can't know how much things will change.

On the spur of the moment, with his life collapsing around him, Jay Sullivan answers an ad for a business manager with an expertise in marketing, on a dude ranch in Montana. With his sister, Ashley, niece, Kirsten and nephew, Josh, in tow, he moves lock stock and barrel from New York to Montana to start a new life on Crooked Tree Ranch.

Foreman and part owner of the ranch, ex rodeo star Nathaniel 'Nate' Todd has been running the dude ranch, for five years ever since his mentor Marcus Allen became ill. His brothers convince him that he needs to get an expert in to help the business grow. He knows things have to change and but when the new guy turns up, with a troubled family in tow - he just isn't prepared for how much.

The Rancher's Son #2
A man without memories, and the cop who never gave up hope.

When he wakes up in the hospital, the victim of a brutal beating, John Doe has no memories of who he is or who hurt him. The cops can find nothing to identify him and he can't remember anything to help... except the name Ethan and one recurring place from his dreams. Two words, and they're not much, but it's a start: Crooked Tree.

Detective Ethan Allens has never stopped searching for the two boys who vanished. When a report lands on Ethan's desk that may give new leads, he jumps at the chance to follow them up. The man he finds isn't his brother, but it's someone who could maybe help him discover what happened twelve years ago.

What neither man can know is that facing the very real demons of the past could destroy any kind of future they may have together.

A Cowboy's Home #3
One burned and broken man finds his way home. Can he find peace in the arms of a man easy to love?

Justin made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, battling domestic terrorism, never the man he really was, using hate to avenge the death of his best friend. The friend he'd killed.

What he doesn’t count on is getting shot, and if he's going to die he wants it to be on Crooked Tree soil. Home.

Sam is as much a part of Crooked Tree as any of the families, and the offer to buy into the ranch is a dream come true. But falling for a hidden, secretive, injured man isn’t the way to keep his head in the game.

Crooked Tree Ranch #1
Original Review June 2015:
Nate and Jay are so perfect for each other.  Okay they may not exactly be up to Jack and Riley caliber from Ms. Scott's Texas series but boy do they have that push and pull chemistry that had me hooked from beginning to end.  And talk about the end, I didn't want it to ever end.  On the surface it looks like the typical city boy meets cowboy romance but other than Jay's horse riding skills, or lack thereof, those differences don't really play in to the story. Some people may not find there differences not effecting the story very realistic but I speak from personal experience, it does happen.  My mother was the quintessential city girl and my dad was country all the way but Mom took to farming like she was born to it, so it really does happen.  I found not going the way of that cliche quite refreshing.

The secondary characters had me just as intrigued.  Nate's brothers, Jay's sister, niece, and nephew; there were more than a few times that I wanted to shake that niece of his to make her wise up but the truth is, she's a teenager and that's what they do, aggravate and warm your heart all in the same breath.  Definitely a must read and I eagerly await Rancher's Son #2, coming March 24, 2016.

The Rancher's Son #2
Original Review April 2016:
I have to admit that I loved Nate and Jay from Crooked Tree Ranch so deeply that I knew going in that there would be no competition for top spot but boy do Ethan and Adam give them a close chase.  Sometimes young love is just that young but every once in a while young love is everlasting, even when the odds are against them and 12 long years of not knowing whether Adam was alive or dead is definitely having the odds stacked against you.  Ethan never gave up hope and is rewarded for it but is hope enough?  For that answer, you will have to read The Rancher's Son for yourself but just because this is Ethan and Adam's tale, don't think you won't get to see the rest of the crew at Crooked Tree Ranch, after all the ranch is home and home is where the mystery will be revealed.  Do you need to read book one first? Probably not but my honest opinion is that it will read much smoother if it is read in order, if for no other reason than to keep characters straight.  Once again RJ Scott does not disappoint: mystery, romance, drama, humor, love all held together in a well fashioned saddlebag being tended to by an even better fashioned cowboy who knows how to take care of his gear.

A Cowboy's Hand #3
Original Review July 2016:
I eagerly awaited for Justin's story as soon as I finished Adam's story in The Rancher's Son, I was not disappointed.  Sam may not have had a big part in the first two books but it was pretty obvious that Crooked Tree Ranch had become his home and that the people on it his family.  So when his and Justin's paths cross, the connection was explosive if not exactly cordial.  I won't lie, I don't think that I found myself getting as invested in Justin & Sam's story as I did with Adam & Ethan(The Rancher's Son) or Nate & Jay(Crooked Tree Ranch) but that doesn't mean I wasn't completely absorbed once I opened the book.  Who am I kidding?  "Absorbed" doesn't even begin to cover it, I was completely and utterly hungry and I devoured A Cowboy's Home like a starving man who suddenly found an endless buffet at his feet.  Then when I reached the last page expecting it to be the finale of the Montana Trilogy only to discover it's not a trilogy at all and that there will be a book 4(Snow in Montana) tentatively December 2016.  RJ Scott just keeps getting better and better and I can't wait to see what she brings us next.


Crooked Tree Ranch #1
At one point, when he was trying not to stare at the dancing, he spotted Liam across the room and they exchanged heated looks. Nate recalled the young guy bending over for him the last time he was here. Maybe he could get some more of that tonight. Maybe fucking Liam into the mattress would stop the irritating thought that he wanted to fuck Jay instead. Or that he wanted Jay to do the same thing to him.


Jay made it through three tracks of music, and when he made no sign of moving from his place alongside two men, Nate had to make a move. He sucked it up and joined the fray.

Nate was immediately swallowed into the crowd and instinctively began moving to the beat of the song as he walked closer. When he finally made it to Jay’s side, he patted him on the shoulder. Jay spun on his heel and Nate held out a hand to steady him.

“Cowboy!” Jay shouted over the music.

In a sinuous movement, Jay gripped one of Nate’s shoulders and shuffled closer so that very little separated them. The two men dancing with Jay drifted off to face other dancers, and suddenly it seemed like it was just Nate and Jay swaying to the music.

“You need to be careful!” Nate shouted close to his ear.

“Why?” Jay shouted back.

His breath smelled of beer and his body scent was a mix of the infuriating aftershave mingled with sweat and dust. Suddenly Jay became a four-course meal and Nate was very hungry.

“Keep your eyes open,” Nate warned.

As if to make that comment mean nothing, Jay deliberately closed his eyes and moved to the beat of the music. Somewhere along the line, Jay had lost his bottle of beer, or finished it, or whatever. He had both hands free, and he used them to steady himself by gripping hard to Nate’s shoulders. He had closed his eyes and was mouthing the words along with the song. Was he aware it was Nate holding him? He’d said “cowboy,” they’d spoken, but there were a lot of cowboys mixed in with the bikers and the other varied clientele.

“Open your eyes, Jay,” Nate shouted over the music.

Jay did as Nate had asked, and Nate was suddenly seeing brown eyes glazed with emotion. Then Jay smiled and closed his eyes again.

Instinctively Nate steadied Jay and that meant his hands rested on Jay’s hips. The feel of the man beneath his touch was intoxicating and Nate held hard. Jay fit into his arms perfectly: a little shorter, a little slimmer, just the right height, and his lips, damp with sweat or beer—Nate didn’t know—were what he zeroed in on. Jay swayed with the music. The move took them closer and fuck, Jay was hard. Nate gave in to the temptation and pressed them closer still until he was sure Jay could feel how hard he was as well.

All thoughts of impropriety or fears of rejection flew out the window. Nate was lost in the smile of pleasure that curved Jay’s damp lips. What would he taste like? Would Jay return the kiss? Would Jay push him away? How could he risk this? He eased his hold on Jay’s hips and slouched a little so that their groins aligned—suddenly they were frotting firmly and rhythmically to some Eminem mix. There was no way he could stop himself.

“Can I kiss you?” Nate said into Jay’s ear.

Jay smiled at him, but it wasn’t clear that he’d heard what Nate said. Hell, he should kiss Jay and stop all this delay in taking what he really wanted. Someone jostled him from behind and the movement threw him off his spiral of the pros and cons of denial. When the person who jostled them attempted to insinuate themselves between Nate and Jay, abruptly everything was clear.

“Fuck off,” Nate shouted clearly to the interloper, and in a quick move, he got his first taste of the sexy city boy. The press of his lips against Jay’s was intoxicating, and they kissed and swayed to the beat of the music. Their hard cocks pressed together and—finally—the kiss deepened. Jay let him in and Nate took every advantage. Fuck the fact Jay worked for the ranch, fuck that they had absolutely zero in common, forget that Jay had a degree and a life that would take him far away from Nate’s world sometime soon.

The Rancher's Son #2
Ethan must have nodded off at some point, waking to another coffee from Clare and a ten-minute warning that breakfast was about to be brought up to the patients. His neck ached, and he was semi curled up in the hard chair.

“Thought you needed this. If you want to go to the cafeteria, I can keep an eye on Adam.”

“No, I’ll stay here. Thank you, though.”

“I’ll see if I can get someone to bring you up something.”

A quick glance at his watch showed Ethan it was a few minutes after six. He checked his email. He’d only sent the information to Navy Liaison at late last night, but there was already a message back saying all efforts would be made to get the information to Cole Strachan. There was a group joke sent by one of the shift officers back at the precinct, and some spam. Other than that, nothing.

Ethan stood and stretched tall, sipped his hot coffee, and watched the April morning unfold before his eyes. Clare managed to scrounge up some pastries, and he ate them at the window, a hundred thoughts racing through his head.

A nurse disappeared into Adam’s room, and Ethan tensed in expectation. He desperately wanted to go in there, but would Adam even be interested in talking to him?

“Are you Ethan?” the nurse asked. The tray in her hand carried untouched food.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You can go in. He’s asking for you.”

As he started to walk past her, she thrust the tray at him. There was a plate of eggs, and a sorry-looking pancake. “Try to get him to eat some of this,” she said.

He took the tray, because he didn’t really have a choice, and went into Adam’s room, kicking the door shut behind him. There was no one in the bed, but the bathroom door was closed, so Ethan assumed that was where the errant Adam was. He placed the tray on the table and waited, looking out of the same window Adam had been standing at last night. From this angle and at this height, Ethan could see the water of Lake Michigan and watch the hospital parking lot grow busier by the minute.

The bathroom door opened. Ethan instinctively turned and wished he hadn’t, because now he was staring. Not so much at the pajama bottoms that rode low on slim hips, or the broad chest that had a smattering of hair, tapering to a happy trail downward, nor to the muscles in Adam’s arms. No, Ethan was staring at the scars—new ones and some way older by the look of them—bruises purple and yellow and green, and the tattoos.

Tribal tattoos circled Adam’s arms, over his right shoulder, and down onto his pec: big swathes of dark ink with finer detail in curls around muscles. Something that looked like old burns marked his neck. A body that had seen a lot, felt a lot.

“I don’t remember them,” Adam said, his voice lost. He ran his fingers over the tattoos as if touching them would bring back memories. “They must have hurt, don’t you think?”

Ethan thought of the small tattoo over his heart and recalled the discomfort of getting it. His hadn’t hurt; the million tiny pricks into his skin were nothing.

“Maybe,” he offered.

Adam turned a little and checked the tattoos in the mirror, peering close. “I wonder what they mean?”

When he turned, he exposed more marks on his back and the fine lines of a horse standing on his hind legs. Ethan inhaled sharply.

“What?” Adam snapped, attempting to see his back even though he couldn’t get the right angle. “What is it?”

“Your horse.”

Adam frowned. “That is my horse? I want to see that again, the detective took a photo but he didn’t have a copy for me.”

Ethan pulled out his cell and snapped a shot of the beautiful tattoo, then passed the phone to Adam, who stared at the picture.

“Why is it—” Any energy seemed to leave him in the exhalation of a sigh, and he slumped to sit on his bed. “—I remember this is a cell phone, but I don’t recall patterns on my own skin?”

From his research Ethan learned terms like brain centers and retrograde amnesia, alongside traumatic stress, he didn’t understand a lot of it. “I have no idea.”

Adam curled into himself, hunching over his knees, looking utterly defeated.

Compassion welled inside Ethan, and he sat next to his old friend, pushing the tray toward him. “Eat your eggs,” he said gruffly.

Adam side-eyed him and huffed before taking the tray and resting it on the small hospital table. He forked some into his mouth, grimacing as he chewed and swallowed, but at least he ate half of what was there, and one cold, dry pancake.

“I need a proper breakfast,” Adam grumped.

“Like what?”

“Hot fresh bacon,” Adam said immediately, paling at what he was saying. “I think that I love bacon. I’d eat plates of the stuff if you gave them to me.”

“And real pancakes,” Ethan added. He reached over and poked at the sorry excuse for one that had been served. “But not like this one. Fluffy, steaming pancakes.”

Adam nodded and darted his tongue out to collect a small piece of egg resting on his lips. “Maple syrup,” he added softly.

“You always liked maple syrup.”

Adam finished the eggs and grimaced again. “When we get out of here, will you find me bacon?”

“Of course.”

“Real bacon, and pancakes with maple syrup. That sounds just like what I want to eat.”

Ethan’s chest tightened as Adam looked up at him under his eyelashes, his dark eyes holding humor. Adam and Justin had spent their childhoods getting Ethan to do what they wanted: the older brother with money from a part-time job, the one with the car. And he’d done everything they asked.

“I wouldn’t take you anywhere bad,” Ethan said

Adam pushed the tray to one side. “I need a shower, and then we go, right?”


“You should take photos of all my tattoos, so you could maybe find out more about me.”

“I know who you are. The rest will follow when your memories return.” He didn’t want to say that he’d already decided to email the tattoo of the horse to Jen, just in case she could track down where it had been done. It was a beautiful piece of work, and likely whoever did it would have it in a portfolio somewhere. Of course, that was a needle in a haystack. Who knew where Adam had been in the last twelve years? Chicago, where he was now? Or had he traveled from Montana to another city?

Adam looked at him, confused. “You said I disappeared. How old was I when that happened? Fifteen, you said?”

“You were nearly sixteen.”

Adam glanced down at himself, “And I’m twenty-eight now, so what happened in between?” He stood up and half turned. “You should get them all.”

Ethan did as Adam wanted, and pulled all the photos into one email, sending the whole lot to Jen with a particular request about tracking down the artist. Meanwhile, Adam went into the bathroom, closed the door, and left Ethan staring at the wood.

A Cowboy's Hand #3
Chapter One 
Justin’s vision blurred as his head smacked against the wall, but he used the force of the blow, caught his attacker off balance, and pivoted to avoid the gun against his side.

They grappled for dominance, and Justin knew from sparring that he would have to push beyond his skill set to take Saunders down. Fucker wasn’t new to this, and he was a scrappy fighter with nothing to lose.

“No one leaves the team, you know that!” Saunders snapped. “You’ll fuck us all up.”

“You lied to me,” Justin shouted.

In answer, Saunders shoved him, but Justin sidestepped and pressed forward. He wanted Saunders to answer questions. Adam was alive, and Saunders had stolen Justin’s life. He wanted him unconscious on the floor, and then he could think.

Saunders grunted as Justin went limp, and Justin waited for the exact moment when Saunders’s center was extended, and then with the flat of his hand, he jabbed his boss right in the throat. Saunders didn’t go down, he didn’t make a fucking sound, but his focus was knocked for a second. Justin slammed him into the wall, kicking hard at Saunders’s wrist; the gun Saunders had pulled on him to “clean up the Adam mess” fell to the floor.

Saunders didn’t wait to be killed—he was fighting for his life, just as Justin was—but Justin had years of bottled up aggression, and he let it rip with a snarl. Saunders scrambled to get the gun, but as he bent over, Justin kneed him in the face. Dazed, Saunders stumbled back. Then, having control for a moment, Justin shoved him hard, pushed the heavyset man against the wall, and held him tight with his feet off the floor.

“You told me my family was in danger!” Justin shouted right in Saunders’s face.

“They could have been.”

“I was a kid.”

Saunders pushed him, but Justin ignored the frantic scrabbling of Saunders’s nails on his skin. Justin had strength borne from the temper and horror clawing inside him.

Saunders gouged at Justin’s face, snapping free with a slick move. Their foreheads connected and Saunders stumbled; Justin’s hold loosened enough for Saunders to use his weight advantage and slam Justin into the wall, his head taking the brunt of the assault.

Justin shook off the pain, and was up on his toes, forcing Saunders away, then crouched a little and swept out a leg to catch Saunders at the back of the knee. He shouted in pain and fell to one side, giving Justin a better advantage, pushing his knee to Saunders’s throat and levering his body to exert more pressure. For the second time Saunders scrabbled to get free, but Justin wasn’t shifting.

“Stop it, Justin!” Webb shouted over the confusion. The other operative had stayed out of the fight up till then, but he was stepping in as soon as Justin got the upper hand.

Webb’s gun was trained on him, and even as Justin pressed harder on Saunders’s throat, he calculated how he could get the weapon away from Webb.

“You gonna kill me?” Justin snapped at Webb. “What lies did he tell you to get you to do that?”

Saunders was nothing but red tape and rules, even in a unit with allegedly zero accountability. Webb, on the other hand, was another enforcer, the one who’d trained Justin, shown him how easy it was to kill.

Justin pressed harder, and Saunders’s scratching and pawing grew less intense with each passing second. Webb wasn’t shooting, wasn’t pulling Justin off. What did he care?

The scrabbling stopped. Saunders was finally unconscious, and Justin had a split second of knowing that Saunders wasn’t dead, just passed out, but hell, he didn’t want to kill the guy.

A bullet burned its way by his body and thudded into the wall. Webb wasn’t letting him leave the warehouse alive. With no time to assess, and acting on pure instinct, Justin swung round. A second bullet caught him in the thigh even as he tripped Webb and made a calculated grab for the gun.

Saunders jumped him—freaking asshole hadn’t stayed unconscious, but Justin pushed back against him, twisting so Webb’s gun was at chest height. Saunders reflexively pressed the trigger, pumping a bullet into Webb. The O of surprise on Webb’s face was the last expression he made as he fell to the floor with a neat hole in his forehead.

Justin fought for control of the gun. He was next—and that was not how he was going to die. He still had a list to complete.

Saunders tried every trick he knew to take Justin down, but Justin wasn’t playing by the rules. He used every ounce of his killing side to fight dirty until he finally took the gun from the man he’d called the boss.

And then he turned it on Saunders.

“Justin, back off.” Saunders dropped to a crouch, his hands on his knees, his breathing labored.

“You lied to me,” Justin said.

“We had to, Justin, we needed you hungry. Needed men who were willing to die, who didn’t care about themselves.”

Justin didn’t even flinch, that was him in one sentence. But if he’d known Adam was okay, would it have been different? “You should have told me Adam was alive.”

Saunders held up a hand. “Justin, you were in so much pain you were giving up. You wanted to die, and Adam was in witness protection with a head wound and amnesia. Hell, kid, I saved you both.”

Justin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. That was some fucked-up thinking right there. If he’d had known that Adam had survived, maybe that would have just left guilt he could live with. He may not have even started on this journey; not killed his first man in this all-consuming need to pay for his sins, not caring if he lived or died. “The first thing you told me was that Adam was dead. You never even had to think about what to tell me.”

“There was so much confusion at the scene—”

“Bull. Shit.”

“We had to put Adam in WITSEC. The DOJ said they’d keep him safe—”

“And me?”

“I saw something in you when you woke up. You had a fire in your eyes. I gave you purpose, trained you—”

“Turned me into a killer.”

“We gave you purpose when you were ready to give up.”

Justin tapped the gun on his knee. “Fuck you,” he said.

“Think of the lives you saved working on this team.” Saunders near screamed at him. He was losing control, and likewise Justin had to rein back his instinctive need to shoot the son of a bitch.

The team had stolen all those years from him, and whatever good he might have done couldn’t weigh up against losing his family. “We’re going to the ranch, and we’re explaining it all to Adam, to my family.”

“You know that won’t happen. You did this for your country. You tell anyone, and they’ll hunt us all down. You think any of this was sanctioned? Rob will have no option—protocols will kick in. You know they’ll get Rob to kill you, and then he’ll be gone as well.”

Justin didn’t care about any of that. Rob was just another hired assassin, same as him; there was nothing Justin feared from Rob. He crouched next to Saunders, the gun tight in his hand and resolve in his heart. “Do you know how many people I killed for this team?”

“For you, Justin. What about the extra list, huh? The ones you killed for yourself?”

Justin reared back. “They’re not part of this. I’m talking about the unsanctioned ops, the situations we were ordered into.”

“Fuck you, Allens; you were happy to do it. Your fucked-up brain—”

“Let me think,” Justin snapped. He’d seen Adam in Chicago, seen him at Crooked Tree through the trees. Seen with his own eyes that he was alive. There could have been hope for Justin with Adam by his side, maybe he could have pulled himself back from the brink—

Saunders interrupted his thoughts. “For God’s sake, you know what we do. You signed up for the ops, killed to keep your country safe. You knew if we were compromised, we’d be removed. You shot Webb.”

Justin gestured with his gun. “Technically you shot Webb.”

“You think that’s going to go unnoticed?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Justin spat. “I’m out.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Watch me.”

“You’ll have a target painted on your back? You need to come in, and we’ll deal with this appropriately. There are procedures, rules to follow—”

“Suddenly there are rules? What happened to a free license to keep the country safe?” Justin asked.

“You fucked that up as soon as you started on your forays into revenge?”

“As well as getting the job done. I saved lives. No one knew what we’d done. We’re heroes, right?”

Saunders looked uneasy. “Clarke won’t like this—Webb down, you gone rogue. You know what will happen. He’ll ask me to deal with this before it all goes to shit. No one can know what we do.”

“Then explain to me why I shouldn’t take you out now, before you order me killed? It seems to me that without you doing whatever Clarke tells you, I’ll be a hell of a lot safer.”

Saunders must have read the intent in Justin’s eyes because he whimpered and crab-walked back to the wall, one hand in front of him. “Please,” he begged. “Don’t kill me.”

Justin grimaced. “Jesus, Saunders, I’m not going to kill you.” He noticed a lot of tiny details at that moment: Webb’s blood spreading to touch his foot, the scent of death, the way Saunders had a calculating look in his eye even when cowering—he probably had already called Rob for backup.

The team had made Justin into a weapon, and he’d been the good soldier, every minute of his day fueled by anger. He’d done everything to keep his country safe, everything to keep his family and friends from being hurt.

And in the middle of that he’d hunted down four out of the five who’d hurt him and killed Adam, dealt with the collateral damage, boxed away the fallout, and finally he had Saunders—the man who had taken the hate in Justin’s heart and turned him into a killer—begging for his life.

“What will you do?” Saunders asked, his chest heaving, his face bloodless.

Justin had to think. He didn’t know what he was going to do. He wanted to go home, but his head told him that wasn’t right. His heart, however, demanded that he explain, see his family. But that would put them in danger.

Webb was dead. Saunders crouched in front of him, and Rob? Who the hell knew where Rob was. Last Justin knew, Rob had finished the job in the Carolinas. They were an elite team: him, Rob, and Webb the blunt weapons, and Saunders the planner, and above them Clarke, who sat at his cozy Pentagon desk deciding on the order of people’s lives. Who knew who was above that and how far it went?

Justin had never asked, had signed up wholly to the concept that with terrorists on US soil, sometimes corners had to be cut to ensure their country’s citizens were safe. He cast a look at Webb, and something like remorse washed over him.

“If you kill me, Rob will have no choice but to take you out before you kill him.”

Justin chuckled darkly as he focused back in on Saunders. “I know my place, and I’ll eat a bullet before Rob has to kill me and my part in this is over. But you… if I let you live, what does that make me?”

Saunders looked desperate. “Compassionate?”

He kicked out at Justin, caught his knee, and Justin stumbled backward. Everything happened in slow motion: Justin pivoted to get his balance and Saunders reached for an ankle holster, pulling a gun, his movement sharp and desperate. He shot, but Justin had a grip on his arm and the bullet went wide.

“Stop it!” Justin ordered. “I don’t want to kill you—”

“Fuck you!” Saunders shouted and yanked at Justin, lifting the small pistol until it was aimed right at Justin.

Justin acted on instinct. He didn’t have a clear shot as he let his weight shift, falling back as he pulled the trigger. The angle was acute and the bullet ended up off-center in Saunders’s forehead.

Saunders was dead before his body hit the floor.

For a few seconds, Justin stared down at the man, guilt and adrenaline like acid inside him.

“Jesus,” he muttered. He waited for guilt to win, but common sense shoved it out of the way.

He pushed his weapon into his jeans at the base of his spine and scanned the empty warehouse. The place was familiar to him, and he pushed open the first door with a rusting Staff sign, stumbling down corridors until he found the keypad, stopping to catch his breath. The minute he attempted entry, Clarke would know.

He imagined the interior, the steel framework, the desk, and the computer.

After quickly keying in the code and opening the door, he crossed to the office, pushed in the memory stick from his pocket, thankful it hadn’t been smashed in the fight. He dragged everything he could find on the PC onto it. Then he pulled down the container of C4, flipped the catch, packed the explosive around the room, set the timer, and gave himself just enough time to get away.

He needed to run, so he pressed his shirt to the wound in his leg, dragged the belt from his jeans, and used it to keep the shirt in place. Where it had been numb, there was fire in his leg, and he was pretty much fucked if he didn’t get the bullet out soon. He was halfway across the interior of the warehouse when he heard the single word.


Justin stopped. His hand automatically went for his weapon, but it was only Rob, using the ridiculous nickname that had been coined over one tequila too many.

Rob, the one trained killer who knew Justin way too well.

Justin didn’t even bother to take out his gun. If Rob were here to kill him, then he would have been dead already.

He turned. Rob had his weapon in his hand, but held loose at his side, not aimed at him. “Rob.”

“You’re bleeding.” Rob’s tone was steady, dispassionate; no empathy in his expression or in his flat tone.

Justin looked down at his jeans, at the tear in them and the damage the bullet had wrought, at the blood soaking into denim. “Flesh wound,” he dismissed, even though it burned like hell.

That raised a dark chuckle. “That’s what you said in Vancouver, remember? You nearly fucking died.”

Justin forced his hands into his pockets. He didn’t want a walk down a shared memory lane of undercover jobs. “I’m okay.”

Rob tilted his head to the warehouse. “What did you do?”

Justin shrugged. “What I had to do.”

Rob closed his eyes briefly. “Shit, Justin. Who?”

“Saunders, Webb.”

“Both of them?”

“I didn’t have a choice.”


He wasn’t going to explain that it had been Saunders who shot Webb; the technicalities weren’t necessary. Saunders and Webb were dead: the boss, the enforcer… and that just left him and Rob. He couldn’t even think about the pencil pusher above them, Clarke wasn’t important.

So, what should he say? I killed them because they fought back, because they carried on lying? Because they destroyed me, made me into something I was never meant to be?

He kept those words to himself. “It was me or them,” he said instead.

Rob winced. “And just us now.”

“And Clarke, and whoever he reports to,” Justin reminded him.

They’d had this conversation before, wondering how a unit like theirs could survive without someone above Clarke calling the shots.

“There’ll be a price on you now. Whoever the fuck it is, they’ll say you’ve gone rogue, and send me to kill you for what you did. You know too much.”

Justin stepped closer to the man he loosely called friend. “You’re a liability as much as I am. Come with me. We can find somewhere, anywhere, and be something else.”

“Like what? This isn’t some happy-ever-after scenario. We’re trained killers, Justin. We don’t know any different.”

Justin held himself steady, pushing away the insistent press of dizziness. “We could be something else.”

Rob laughed, and when he moved, it was to holster his weapon. Then he looked at Justin with deliberation in his icy green gaze. “You’d better hide well,” he said, and regret flashed in his eyes.

Justin nodded. “I’m done.”

Rob shook his head. “No you’re not; you still have one more on your revenge list. I know you.”

The list that Rob spoke of, the men who had hurt him and killed Adam, named five men—and four were dead. Only one more left to cross off. But his imperative to kill, that Adam was dead, was a lie. So, did that mean Justin had been wrong to end those responsible for Adam’s death? Even if he wanted to hurt them for what they’d done to him? Or, if they wanted to hurt others? A tiny amount of uncertainty pushed its way into his consideration, but it wasn’t enough for him to stop.

“One more.” He didn’t drop his gaze from Rob’s.

“You need to leave that list alone, Cowboy. It’s going to be the end of you.” Rob sighed heavily. “Clarke will send me to take you down after what you’ve done here. What you know, what we’ve done, we could take down the White House.”

“I took an oath….”

“But you’d be running for your life, and I know you as well as you know me. I’ll find you. Don’t make me do this.”

“Just give me some time.” Justin thought of the memory stick in his pocket, all the information he’d gathered about the fifth man on his revenge list.

“Hell, I don’t know how much time I can stall this.”

“I’ll do what needs to be done, and I’ll disappear.”

Rob scrubbed a hand over his face. He looked more than troubled, horrified maybe, almost certainly resigned. “Shit, Justin, this…. You have to drop this, go somewhere I can’t find you.” He shook his head. “Look, leave it, yeah? They’ll know what you’re doing. They’ll send me to track you down. Don’t make me kill you.”

Justin stepped closer, placing a palm on the flat of Rob’s chest. “I won’t make you do it.” He injected some of the familiar cockiness into his voice. “You’re my friend, Rob, as much as we can be in this fucked-up shit.”

“Then just hide, don’t let me find you.”

“Even if you find me, I’ll make sure to take myself out. I won’t let you have that on your conscience.”

Sadness replaced the horror. “Fuck, what did they do to us?”

Justin wished he had an answer. Wordlessly he turned and walked away.

In a sick, twisted way, Rob was the definition of his family, and what Justin had just done had made Rob his enemy.

It’s not like I deserve family.

He made it to his car, not even the noise of the explosion making him falter. With determination, and staying under the speed limit, he made it away from the city. Heading south he switched cars twice to older models he could hot-wire, avoiding cameras as much as he could.

He only stopped when his ability to focus began to fade. His head hurt, his thigh burned, and something was seriously wrong. He was nauseous and dizzy, and wasn’t going to make it much farther.

He wiped the steering wheel clean of the blood and his prints. Any CSI worth their salt would still find DNA in the car, and they would have all the information they needed for a profile, but the man who matched it wasn’t even alive.

Because Justin Allens had died when he was sixteen, and the man he’d become overnight was black ops, hidden so deep he wasn’t even sure he knew who he was anymore.

He closed his eyes as he stood beside the car. He’d driven south by instinct, pulled off the road at a lane that eventually led up into the mountains. Somehow his head told him the place would be safe until the fever broke.

Or until it didn’t.

Twenty miles west of here was where the Crooked Tree land started. The bleeding had stopped, but the pain had reached the point where he couldn’t breathe or move without cursing. The agony in his head was a band of fire, and his thoughts were a muddle of hell and hurt. He’d been slammed him so hard against the wall he likely had a concussion, and it was a miracle he’d driven that far in one piece.

Unless he went to a hospital and got some treatment for the leg wound, he could just bleed out, slowly and agonizingly, his brain swollen and frying in his head.

Maybe from here he could get to Crooked Tree. He crouched with difficulty and cursing to dig at the dirt, holding enough in his hand so he could feel its coldness, smell the dark loam. This was Montana soil, and dying here would work.

He glanced up and down the road. Who would find him? A soccer mom with kids? A man on his way to work? A bus driver minding his own business?

Justin didn’t have a choice. He pulled out his knife and tore at the jeans, sweat beading on his brow. He couldn’t see a fucking thing. The entry hole was small, but who the hell knew how far the bullet had gone?

He ran the blade of the knife across the wound, blood seeped, and he swallowed a scream. Blackness threatened, and he counted in his head, focusing on the numbers until he could look down at the wound.

He poked with the knife, finally finding the bullet, and as if he was doing it to someone else, he dug out the piece of metal, screaming in the safety of his car at the pain. His vision blurred but he was aware enough to ask was the bullet he’d removed intact? Had he got it all? I need to check.

He tightened the belt another notch; the wound was red and raw, but wasn’t bleeding so much. Thank God it appeared no arteries were involved, but there was enough blood that made him think he wasn’t going to make it out alive from this situation. Hell, what did it matter anyway? Even if he managed to get to a hospital, he’d be a dead man as soon as Rob got the order to take him out.

What had happened back at the warehouse was the beginning of the end for the Unit, and he’d broken every unspoken rule. He was dying either way, but he regretted that he may not live to kill the last man on his revenge list. Somehow he needed to find peace with that. He’d wanted so badly to make his revenge complete.

Maybe Jamie Crane would be the one who got away. The one man who’d actually won after what he’d done to Justin and Adam; the one who lived.

His vision dimmed a little and he blinked away the blurriness. He was going to die there on the side of the road.


Finding somewhere on Montana dirt to die wasn’t enough. If Justin was going to let the poison inside him eat away at his flesh, it had to be real and forever, back where it all started.

He wanted to find a small corner of Crooked Tree, and he wanted to die there.

Rob’s voice echoed in his thoughts. “Cowboy, don’t make me kill you.”

Justin wanted to go home.

Author Bio:
RJ’s goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, that hint of a happily ever after.

RJ Scott is the bestselling author of over one hundred romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.


⏳📚⏳Books #1-4 will be available
in Kindle Unlimited starting August 6⏳📚⏳

Crooked Tree Ranch #1

The Rancher's Son #2

A Cowboy's Home #3

Release Day Blitz: Love Me Louder by Christina Lee

Title: Love Me Louder
Author: Christina Lee
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Cover Model: Ryan Harmon
Cover Design: X-Potion Design
Photographer: Eric Battershell
Noah Dixon is damaged goods. After an accident leaves him physically scarred and emotionally vulnerable, dating isn’t in the cards, so he throws himself head-first into his retail job. When he’s obligated to attend his best friend’s engagement party on Fire Island, it dawns on him he’s about to spend yet another weekend feeling totally invisible and alone among a swarm of gorgeous men.

That’s when the idea of an escort comes in.

After Will Crossen was forced to put his theater major on hold in favor of two jobs to tackle his ailing mother’s hospital bills, he tells himself becoming an escort isn’t that big of a deal. It’s just another form of acting, right? He doesn’t expect his newest customer to be the cheery, overconfident sales associate he avoids like the plague at his day job. Talk about awkward.

But what happens on Fire Island stays on Fire Island…especially when a smoldering attraction sparks into flames. Will doesn’t feel so alone anymore, and for the first time, Noah realizes someone is seeing him behind all the scars. But between their jobs, Will’s massive familial responsibilities, and Noah’s vulnerabilities, they don’t stand a chance unless they find a way to let love speak louder than their demons.

Will’s thumb pressed against his bottom lip, making his mouth prickle from the contact. “You could at least pretend you’re into me.”

If only Will knew that Noah was totally into him and fighting his body all the way.

Noah’s tongue slipped out, and he licked the pad of Will’s thumb. He heard the all too authentic groan in the back of Will’s throat, and Noah’s cock stirred to life. Holy shit.

“That’s hot,” Will whispered as he watched Noah’s tongue flick against his skin again.

Encouraged, Noah hollowed his cheeks and sucked Will’s thumb into his mouth. He increased pressure as he circled with his tongue before releasing it with a pop.

He arched an eyebrow. “How was that?”

“Nicely done.” Will’s gaze was hungry, and Noah liked that he could surprise him. “Had you kept going, I would be hard as a fucking stone.”

Damn. Will was so incredibly sexy.

Noah bit his lip and batted his eyelashes. He could play along too.

Will tore his gaze away from his eyes, and as it slid down to his mouth, for a split second Noah thought Will might kiss him. His pulse spiked as he admitted to himself that he would want that. So fucking much.

Noah cleared his throat. “Anybody watching us?”

Will glanced around the party. “Definitely.”

He grinned. “Good.”

Author Bio:
Once upon a time, Christina Lee lived in New York City and was a wardrobe stylist. She spent her days getting in cabs, shopping for photo shoots, eating amazing food, and drinking coffee at her favorite hangouts.

Now she lives in the Midwest with her husband and son—her two favorite guys. She’s been a clinical social worker and a special education teacher. But it wasn't until she wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper that she realized she could turn the fairy tales inside her head into the reality of writing fiction.

She's addicted to lip balm, coffee, and kissing. Because everything is better with kissing.

She writes MM Contemporary as well as Adult and New Adult Romance. She believes in happily-ever-afters for all, so reading and writing romance for everybody under the rainbow helps quench her soul.


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