Alta Hensley-Fallen Daughters

 

Alta Hensley has an interesting writing technique. She writes short stories that show up in various box sets, and then she either expands them or puts them in other books, using the box set as a kind of testing laboratory. There are others that she has written that have just sat on her desk. If you are like me and have read most of what Alta has written, then you will recognize most of her Fallen Daughters, either in their original form or in the form they showed up in other books. I recognized all of them, except for Fallen Daughter 3. Did that stop me from rereading all the stories? No way. I love to reread, so this was awesome for me.

Fallen Daughter #1

This one got tested out in Daddy’s Demands, and then found its way into one of the Top Shelf books, the one with Roman and Cheri, to be precise. I loved it in both its forms, and it’s still as fucking hot the second time around. Or third time. However many, it’s still ridiculously hot.

Fallen Daughter #2

This one first showed up in an anthology called The Dark Forest, which is a collection of adult fairy tales. Alta’s was a take on Sleeping Beauty. A very, very dirty version of Sleeping Beauty. I know that it showed up in another book, in parts at least, but my brain fails me right now, so I don’t remember which one it was. I loved the way that our heroine was given her gifts, and how they really did help her in her captivity.

Fallen Daughter #3

This was the only one of the stories that I haven’t read before. I will say that I haven’t read every single thing that Alta has written, so it may be in one of the books that I haven’t read yet. I really liked it though. It was a pretty sweet little story, which kind of makes it not Alta’s usual fare, but it is just a lovely little story, and left me very happy.

Fallen Daughters #4 & #5

There is a reason that I am combining these two. It’s because they were together in a book called No White Knight, and it was one of the first things that I read by Alta. #4 was known as Pallid Slave, and it disturbed me on a couple of levels. Disturbing good, though. OK, I have to get a smidge personal here. I have lost 2 brothers, one 31 years ago, one 16 years ago. There really isn’t a mark of that loss that shows everyone that you have lost someone you loved so much. That can be both a blessing and a curse. You don’t have to worry about anyone giving you sympathy when it’s overwhelming. Then again, you have to tell them that you are grieving when it gets too much, and that can be really hard to do. In Pallid Slave, there really is a very visible outward sign of mourning, which I think is more of a curse than a blessing in this case, but I found it to be a really interesting way to handle it. #5 was called a Hero in Disguise, and frankly, it could be ripped right out of today’s headlines, and that’s what makes it so fucking disturbing to me.

Fallen Daughter #6

This one first showed up in Twisted Sacraments. If you read those stories, you know that there is no happy in any of them, and it’s no different with Alta’s story. Frankly, I’m pretty sure that the world is going to end in a plague, and so any stories that have some kind of plague in them play right into that fear. And then you put the coocoo for cocoa puffs bits in there, and yup. I’m properly worried.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve read these stories in any form before, they are definitely worth a reread.

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Alta Hensley-Bared

Alta dropped a surprise release on us this week. It’s called Bared, and I think it’s old school Alta Hensley. Stories like this are why I first fell in love with Alta’s work. Bit of trivia for you, Alta was the first author I ARCed for, and it was on her book Captive Vow, so y’all can thank Alta for this blog.

So, Tessa is a young woman who needs a job. She’s just about to get evicted, has been working at shitty jobs, but she saw this ad for a personal assistant for an author that involved going and spending 6 months in a cabin in the mountains while he writes his book. Tessa figures why not try for it. The worst he can do is say no, right?

Price is a best-selling author and he’s just about to write a new book. He needs to have a writer’s cave to write, and for him, it’s a cabin in the Sierra Nevadas. He also needs an assistant to cook, clean, and beta read for him. He’s been doing all kinds of interviews, but he finally meets Tessa and decides that there is just something about her and so he hires her. And off they go to the mountains, for 6 long months.

I kind of felt sorry for Tessa at the beginning of the book, mostly because I’ve been Tessa, or close enough to. I know how hard it is to be that poor and to be that desperate to find a job and to have a new life. But I also admire her a lot. She wasn’t sure that she would be hired, she knew that she didn’t have the experience for the job, but she went for it anyway. She wanted something new, and she just went for it. That takes a lot of courage and gumption, and I have to give her major props on that.

Price is, overall, a likable guy, but he is kind of a jerk a few times, but since he warned Tessa that he could be an asshole, I’m not sure if I could really consider him a jerk, especially since I’ve been in a hyperfocused place too, not necessarily writing a novel, but still in that place that everything is pinpointed to that narrow focus, and it’s really easy to just not realize that other people exist when you are in that place. So, does that make Price an asshole because he’s an asshole or does it make him an asshole because of circumstances and he’s just doing assholish things but it isn’t part of his core personality?

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Having just gone through some lovely snow, or you know, like 2 feet of snow in the past week, and some fucking cold temperatures, I gasped when Tessa ran out of the cabin, because I know what can happen to you in that kind of weather.

OK, that’s all I have to say today. Go check out this one! Happy reading!

Alta Hensley-Beasts & Bourbon

It’s been a while since we saw one of Alta’s Top Shelf books, and I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been thirsty for one. And this is the one I’ve really been wanting since all the way back to the beginning of the series. That’s because Beasts & Bourbon is basically the start of the series. Well, sort of, at least.

Way back when, like 2017, I think, there was an anthology called Royally Mine. (Sorry, it’s not available anymore.) In that series, Alta wrote the original story of Cheri and Roman, and thus introduced us to the world of Spiked Roses and Top Shelf. We’ve had 4 other books between now and then, and now we’re getting back to Cheri and Roman’s story, with it fleshed out and expanded. And yummm. It was worth the wait.

So, Roman is a bona fide prince. He has 2 older brothers, so there is very little risk of him actually taking the throne, but still. Prince. He’s done a lot of things, but he’s currently one of the 7 owners of the premier and exclusive gentlemen’s club, Spiked Roses, in NOLA. He gets to do all kinds of dark, dirty, depraved, and wonderful things there. But now, it’s time for him to marry. That means it’s time to fetch his wayward bride.

Cheri, pronounced sherry not cherry, has been betrothed to Roman since they were children. She may not be a princess, yet, but she is part of the nobility. Her mother is a countess, which means her father was probably a count, but could’ve been an earl, but definitely means that she’s a Lady, at the very least. Not that we ever find out, and I’m only guessing, so take it as you want. Anyway, she felt stifled in the whole royal lifestyle, so she ran away as fast as she could. She’s been living in Costa Rica writing poetry and winning prizes. Right up until Silas Roope, His Highness’ attorney comes to drag her home so that she and Roman can get married, blackmailing her with her mother’s welfare to make sure she actually goes to NOLA.

Roman starts out as kind of a dick in the beginning of the story. To his benefit, at least he realizes it and can fix it, and doesn’t have to have his head smacked for him to see what he did. After being a dick, he gets sort of sweet until he has to be not sweet. So, for like 5 whole minutes or so. LOL. I like Cheri, but I think that a lot of her strength is bravado, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can mean that when things shift, it can take her a hot minute to figure things out and to get her footing again. OTOH, for all that I think that, I also think that she bends fairly well, more like a willow than an oak, if you know what I mean.

I understand why Roman does certain things the way that he does and that they have to be done that way. Doesn’t mean that I like them or anything, but I understand why he does them. He doesn’t necessarily like them either, but needs must when the Devil drives.

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After our last run-in with the ICB, I was hoping that we were completely done with them, but I guess we aren’t. I’m kind of mad at Roman for taking Cheri there. Like I said, I understand why he did it, but I sure as hell didn’t like it.

OK, that’s all for today. Go check out this one! Happy reading!

Anthology-Twisted Sacrament

These stories are dark, dark, dark, dark, and even darker than that. There are no happy anythings here, there’s no light. There’s nothing that will bring you any kind of hope. I’d say abandon all hope, but even just abandoning it isn’t enough. You have to completely scour any kind of hope from your soul. You have to erase the word hope from your memory. Then you might, just possibly might, be ready to read Twisted Sacrament. Consider yourself warned.

The anthology consists of 7 authors who write dark anyway, but then they got let off the leash. Not only that, they were given the brief of writing the most sacrilegious and blasphemous story possible. And let me tell you, SJ Cole, Zoe Blake, Addison Cain, Jennifer Bene, Celia Aaron,¬†Ashleigh Giannoccaro, and Alta Hensley fucking delivered. These 7 stories are depraved, twisted, desolate, full of mindfucks, horrifying, and darker than fuck. They are disturbing. And yet. And yet, I couldn’t stop reading them. I couldn’t get enough of them. I loved everyone one of them, even the ones that left me shaking at the end. (I’m looking right at you, Jennifer.)

They are all short stories, none of them much longer than 30 minutes to read. I wouldn’t recommend reading them at night before bed though. You might not sleep well. But because they are short, you’re only going to get my reactions, as is my usual practice in this situation. I got ARCs for 4 of them, but like I said, they are short, so I had no problems reading the rest of them.

Addison Cain-She Came Before God

There is a period of Catholic and Italian history where the high ranking clergy weren’t as… celibate as they should’ve been. During that time, Rodrigo Borgia became Pope. There are all kinds of rumors about orgies in the Papal palace while he was there, and it is historical fact that he had children, born when he was a cardinal. You know, when he wasn’t supposed to be dicking around. Lucrezia Borgia, who you may have heard about as a poisoner, was one of his children. So, what does this have to do with Addison’s story? Well, her story involves a pope and some fucking.

Addison’s story really just was straight up horrifying. Our poor little heroine learns that she’s part of a horrible family tradition, and everything that she thought was true isn’t. This story stuck with me. I mean, I dreamt about it. Even days later, I’m still trying to get a total handle on certain things. I really wanted to scream at the end of it, and maybe sit and cry in despair.

Zoe Blake-Lilith’s Revenge

Lilith comes out of Jewish mythology. She’s generally considered to be Adam’s first wife, but when she wouldn’t behave the way that they wanted, she was kicked out of Eden and Eve came in in her place. Lilith then went on to become the mother of demons. In her demon partying and fucking days, she fucked everyone she wanted to, including some angels.

In Zoe’s story, she is back in her demon party girl aspect, tempting a priest. Now, here’s the thing. She and her priest get it on in all kinds of ways and do all kinds of depraved things, but… The question is, is what they are doing real, or is the priestly part real, or is anything real? Zoe has written an incredibly mindfuck and my mind is still fucked from it. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t and what was going on in the story. I have theories as to what’s going on, but they vary from minute to minute.

I recommend following Zoe’s instructions when it comes to her story.

Alta Hensley-Last Rites

I personally think that the end of the world is going to be some kind of plague. In this jet-setting world, it’s going to be too easy for something to be across the world before anyone gets diagnosed with it in the first place. Why do I mention this? Because Alta destroys the world with The Itch, an illness that makes people want to scratch their skin off, makes their blood foam, and makes them pretty fucking crazy. There are rumors of a safe place for women to go (and only women), where they won’t be exposed to The Itch.

This is so disturbing. It’s short, it’s brutal, and it’s dark as fuck. I kind of wanted to take a very, very hot shower after reading this one. And maybe scrub for about 30 hours.

Jennifer Bene-Baptism in Eden

If you look at my GR/Zon review, it says “Oh my fucking god. That is all.” Yeah, that’s about all I could say about this one on there. Jennifer writes dark at the best of times, but let her off the leash, she’s simply dazzling. And dazzle she does.

You may think of Eden as paradise, but Jennifer’s Eden is as far away from paradise as you can possibly get. It’s so dark and so twisted. I know I’m saying that a lot, but there aren’t words in the English language to describe it. But the fact remains that this story is Stygian. It’s also a very Jennifer Bene story. If I were given all the stories in this book and asked to pick out which one Jennifer had written, this would be the one that I choose. When I was done reading it, I was literally sitting on the couch and shaking. I had to go read something else to calm down. I may be traumatized.

Celia Aaron-Communion

I know that I’ve raved about Celia on here before. She totally deserves every good thing I have ever said about her.

I loved this story. It wasn’t quite as dark as some of the others, but it’s by no means light. I love the byplay between Cate and Ted. It is very interesting to see how Ted talks to her and what goes on. I feel like this is very topical too. I have to wonder how much Celia was influenced by what’s going on in the world right now, because it really feels like there was some serious influencing going on. Frankly, I think it makes it better.

Ashleigh Giannoccaro-Say Yes

I’ve only read one other Ashleigh Giannoccaro book, but I own a couple of more. My TBR is totes ridic and one day I’ll get to them.

Ashleigh takes us for a tour through a cult. A very, very creepy cult. A very creepy cult that says men have to have 2 wives or they can’t get into Heaven. OK, I grew up Mormon, and there has always been the whole polygamy thing surrounding the church, and then the FLDS church around, which are a polygamous cult, so this one felt really close to home, if you know what I mean. I don’t know how much Ashleigh took from there, how much came from other cults, and how much came straight out of her head, but it was a fascinating read. It also looks like it’s setting up for a new series, so I’ll be all over that one.

SJ Cole-I’m Better Than You

SJ Cole is Stevie J. Cole writing under a new name. And OMG, her heroine is totally cuckoo for coco puffs. I mean, the cheese not only done slipped her cracker, it left the room, the house, the zip code, the state, and the country. Then it changed its name, cut its hair, and got plastic surgery. The cheese wants to have absolutely nothing to do with Violet anymore, and I don’t blame it. I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with her either. I can totally get why she’s upset, but damn, girl takes it to another level. She’s creepy as fuck. She’s crazy as fuck. SJ says there’s more to the story, and I’m going to have to read it. Can’t fucking wait. I like creepy and crazy.

OK, there are my reactions to each of these 7 stories. I loved this book. But, trust me, don’t look for light. Don’t look for happy. Don’t look for hope. Don’t look for this book to last long. I recommend you go buy it soon if anything I talked about sounded good, because anthologies don’t tend to last very long and then the rights revert back to the authors.

No spoilers, but a picture I thought was great for this.

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Alta Hensley & Maggie Ryan-Kings and Sinners

Oh, Alta and Maggie, how I love thee. Kings and Sinners is a box set of 3 of their books, Maddox, Stryder, and Anson. I think that Maddox might’ve been the first Maggie Ryan book that I read, and it was close to the first book of Alta’s I read. I got it through a freebie, a newsletter or Instafreebie back in the day, but it’s been a while, so don’t quote me on that.

The books can all be read as standalones, but they are all related. Maddox, Stryder, and Anson are brothers, who work with their father Drake Steele. They help out people in the underground and help protect innocents. Their ranch is a working ranch, but it’s also a safe house of sorts. The house is built with the back right up to a mountain, which allows them to have control rooms and a *ahem* playroom down in safe areas. They all live together in the house with their housekeeper Jennie, who is basically their surrogate mother, as well as a hippie vegetarian who keeps her boys healthy and happy, and keeps them away from meat.

Jennie is a pretty awesome character. She dances with bees and the bees seem to like it. She has this kind of all-mother vibe around her. She just makes everyone happy and if they are scared, she helps them feel better. I really like her.

Now, remember how I said that Maddox, Anson, and Stryder are all brothers? Well, they aren’t brothers by blood. Drake is Maddox’s father, but there was an incident in which the rest of their family was murdered. Anson and Stryder both came to be parts of the family in different ways, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t any less Drake’s child than Maddox is. They are definitely family and they all love each other fiercely.

Maddox.

It’s obviously Maddox’s story, but it’s also the story of Adira. The book starts out with a horse auction in Dubai that Adira’s father is putting on. Maddox and Drake are there to bid on horses, but that’s not the only reason that they are there. They owe Hadi, Adira’s grandfather, a life debt and he has asked them to come and save his family because they are threatened. Sadly, the only member of his family they are able to save is Adira, and only because they manage to pull her out of the Persian Gulf after a yacht with her entire family on it blows up. They manage to smuggle her out of Dubai and into Texas, where she and Maddox start to come together while they are figuring out who wanted all of her family dead.

Adira is strong, feisty, and really smart. Her family was celebrating her graduation with her doctorate. However, she’s also been fairly sheltered because she hasn’t been able to go anywhere without security. She knew that her father and grandfather were into the darker side of the law, but she didn’t know exactly what, and she really didn’t want to know. Maddox is definitely protective and kind of Domly. He’s really good for Adira, I think, because she needed someone steady and protective as she was trying to deal with what happened to her family. And if he paddled her ass, tied her down, and made her come, she wasn’t going to argue with that.

Stryder

This one starts out in very cold Moscow. Using information that they got while looking for the culprits behind what happened to Adira’s family, Stryder and Anson are there to track down a Russian who is involved in human trafficking. They get two tickets to an auction where the evil man is selling off women. When Stryder sees Zoya on the dais about to be sold, he knows that he has to be the one to have her. He needs to save this poor young Russian woman who had spent her whole life on the farm before she came to Moscow and ended up abducted so that she could be sold. After Stryder buys her, and before they can leave, he has to whip her. Luckily, he’s a genius with a whip and he and Anson whisper to her to scream and make it look like it hurts while Stryder whips her gently, but makes it look like he’s doing it hard. The Steele boys smuggle her out of Russia and into Texas, where she settles into life in the Steele household.

I thought that Zoya was pretty awesome. I mean, she’s able to use her art skills in order to help out all the other women who Poplov had kidnapped and sold off. It couldn’t have been easy for her to remember everything that she had been through, but she was bound and determined to do it. Zoya sees things that happened to her and the people who were involved in what happened in one particular way, which is only normal, I would too. But Stryder has a different perspective, and it makes it hard for Zoya sometimes. But, the Steele family are all there and all willing to help the two of them out.

Anson

Anson, working from Zoya’s art and his computer research is in Argentina, searching out Natalia, who was Zoya’s friend, and who has been sold to Juan Montez at the same auction where Zoya was sold. He’s pretty much nose-to-nose with a fer de lance snake when the book opens, so there’s that. But he’s there to get Natalia, and he’s not going to let that snake stop him. Meanwhile, Natalia is dealing with her own snake, only it’s not nearly as lively as the one Anson sees. Montez may have bought her for a sex slave, but he can’t get it up. That doesn’t stop him from doing other things to her. But, she has a plan. Montez destroyed her entire family, and she’s going to take him down. She spent a lot of years training in nasty ways so that she could kill him and at the auction, she did what she could to get his attention to get him to buy her. Eventually, Anson and Natalia manage to help each other and they escape out into the jungles of Argentina. Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Natalia doesn’t want to be rescued because she wants to kill Montez and Anson doesn’t want to not rescue her.

All three of the women in these books are strong, but I kind of think that Natalia is the strongest. Yes, Adira lost all her family too, and Zoya was also sold off as a sex slave, but Natalia had a plan. She had revenge on her mind and everything she did for years was for her revenge. Plus, she had to actually go through months and months of brutalization that Zoya was saved and Maddox was right there for Adira. Natalia went through all that without the hope of someone being there to help her out and get her safe, anyone other than herself, and that, to me, makes her really strong. I felt sorriest for Anson for having to deal with her stubborness, but that same stubborn comes in handy, later in the book.

I really enjoyed reading this series and each of the books. I think that Anson is my favorite of the brothers. I can’t tell you why that’s true, but it is. It’s nice to have the whole series in one handy place, making it easy for me to read. Go check them out! Happy reading! No spoilers today, but have a pretty picture of a horse.

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Alta Hensley-Filthy Fight

This is the second book in the Hot¬†Hard & Dirty books. There are 5 or 6 more of them. Alta’s book focuses on a boxer, a boxing gym, and the Filthy Fight. About the title, it gets used several places in the book, and I really like that.

Juelp’s dad always told her that she was named after his favorite drink, the mint julep. It looked sweet and packed a punch. Julep has spent her life trying to live up packing a punch, and she does. Since her dad died, she and her brother Danny have been running the boxing gym that he started. Danny does the training, and she does pretty much everything else. So when Danny runs off their best chance at winning a heavyweight championship, again, it’s up to her to fix it. That’s what she does, along with keeping Danny from completely losing it. So she starts figuring out who to get to come fight for the gym. One thing she does is call her friend Lola, who is a sports writer, and who suggests that she go talk to Mateo, the boxer who was known as The Matador, but who has been out of boxing for a few years. Lola warns Julep that there was some kind of scandal there, so she will need to be careful.

Mateo loved to box. His father Cisco loved boxing and taught him to love it and how to box. But a few years ago, he did a stupid thing and caused his career to crash and burn. So when Julep rolls up to his house, looking all sweet, and asks him to come and try out at their gym for the heavyweight spot, he tells her no. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t really, really, really want to do it. Especially since he’s doing a shitty job with his welding company. His dad talks him into it, and away he goes to the open tryouts, where he dominates.

Danny is worried about taking a chance on him because he threw a fight. He doesn’t want Mateo to reflect badly on the gym, and if Mateo does it again, not only will it reflect poorly on them, it will be the end of the gym. But Julep convinces him to do it because she knows that he is their best choice. She’s positive that Mateo won’t do anything like that again and she’s sure that there was a really good reason that he did whatever it was he did. Mateo has never talked to anyone about it, and no one knows what he was thinking or his motives.

Danny is a total prick. I can say that without insulting pricks, I think. But seriously, everything is always Julep’s fault, even when it’s his fault, but when something goes well, it’s always because Danny planned it, or whatever. That kind of thing is really exhausting to have to deal with.

When I went into this book, I was all excited about a nice, filthy, forbidden boss/employee romance. And that’s there. But to me, this is about so much more than just that. You get a story about redemption, second chances at life, love, family, and picking yourself up after you fail. And that all wrapped around some hot sex and some fighting. I loved how Mateo’s story and his journey made me feel. There’s a lot of emotion there. And that’s what made this book so glorious, in my opinion.

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I personally think Nero and Danny had a little something going on in the background. I still don’t trust Danny at all. I know that kind of guy too well. Maybe Julep and Mateo can punch Danny around a little until he gets some sense in his head?

Oh man, Cisco’s whole storyline both makes me incredibly sad and incredibly happy. Sad that he was so sick, happy that he got to die the way he wanted to and where he wanted to. Not everyone gets that.

OK, that’s all that I have to say about this one. Go check it out! Happy reading!

Maggie Ryan & Alta Hensley-Bride to Keep

I’ve been looking forward to this one since like January. The release got pushed back for reasons, which meant I had to wait and wait and wait. But yay! It finally released today and we’re all happy. So, let’s talk about dark and sorta scary bad boys, the woman they take, and their sister in Bride to Keep, shall we

We have the 4 O’Shea brothers, Cal, Derrick, Nolan, and Rogan. (Pro-tip: always highlight the names of the guys in RH books so that you can keep them all straight.) They are connected with the Irish Mob, and they have just burned down everything that Dallas Callaghan has because he killed their parents and traumatized their beloved baby sister, Alana. Then they are off to the witch’s den so that they can confront her about their sister.

Monet is not a witch, but she is very much into natural healing, holistic healing, herbalism, and all that. She sells all of those things plus crystals and such in the tea shop she inherited from her grandmother. She knows that she’s not a witch, but the mystique and ambiance help her bottom line, so she will make people think that she’s a witch. The boys show up and warn her to stay away from Alana. They don’t want her to take advantage of their baby sister.

Alana was with her parents when their boat blew up. She was out on the waterskis while they pulled her around. When she came to after the accident, she was terribly devastated. When she woke up the next day, she was slightly less connected to the world. She was happy. She figured out a way to live in the world but not of the world. She found Monet’s shop by accident, but she kept going back because she loved it and Monet so much.

After sneaking off to see Monet again, Alana gets found out by her brothers. They come up with a plan. They’re getting ready to move to Ireland, so they’ll just kidnap Monet and take her with them so that Alana has a friend and more help to get their farm up and running.

OK, I have to say that I didn’t like the guys for a chunk of the book. I looked at my husband and told him that I thought they were dicks. But, I did love Monet and Alana, and they were more than worth getting through the boys’ prickishness and they do get better. And yeah, this is a RH romance, but that’s not all it is. There’s also the journey of friendship between Alana and Monet. Some of the stuff that Alana said just kind of sticks with you and makes you think, it’s really deep and really important. There were a couple of points where I cried. It was terribly sad and very sad. And I can almost guarantee that when I read the book again, I will cry again at those parts. But, it was a great book and the O’Shea boys won me over, so it’s all good.

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Alana! No! I do not accept this version of reality.

And those jerks. How dare they do what they did? I mean that was just a shitty thing to do after everything they’ve been through. Seriously, I liked them by that point, but I wanted to smack each and every one of them. Dicks.

OK, I loved this book. Go check it out. Happy reading!