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Cold Hands (College Fun and Gays #6) - Erica PikeTitle: Cold Hands (College Fun & Gays #6)
Author: Erica Pike
Publisher: Self Published (Ice Cave)
Length: 13,900 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Sequel, Series, Short Story, Enemies to Lovers, Ex-Bullies/Bullying, College, Past Abuse, Hurt/Comfort, Second Chances, Grovel you Bastard!, Public Sex, Carnivals
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

“Hot-Hands” and Casper have been dating for a month, but their relationship is about as smooth as shattered glass. It doesn’t help that Hot-Hands is racked with guilt over his high school bullying of Casper, or that Casper darts away whenever his boyfriend gets a little too frisky.

Desperate to hang onto Casper, Hot-Hands tries to earn back the trust he destroyed years ago, so they can face their disastrous past and have a chance at a happy future.

Note: Cold Hands focuses on high school bullying for being gay. This is the sequel to Hot Hands and contains big spoilers if read first. Hot Hands is free of charge here.

REVIEW

Hot Hands was by far my favorite story in Erica Pike’s College Fun and Gay series, so you can imagine my excitement when she said that she was writing a sequel. Cold Hands is almost as much of an antithesis to that first story as it’s title. Hot Hands introduces us to Casper — a college student who was brutally bullied, more like abused, in high school for being gay — and his ex-bully and middle school crush Jaime. Casper shows up to college and is surprised and devastated to learn that one of the ring leaders of the guys who tormented him is not only there but also in some of his classes. He does everything he can to avoid Jaime, but doesn’t know that a lot of Jaime’s bullying stemmed from his own awakening homosexual feelings towards Cass. His physical and emotional abuse for most of his teen years have really impacted him. He’s shy and doesn’t understand why he’s still attracted to one of the men who abused him, which also messes with his head. His attachments soon turn to another man, however, a man he starts to call “Hot-Hands” because of the way the man’s hands draw him out and make him feel sexy and interesting whenever he’s accosted by this same hard-breathing man in the dark. It’s a serious case of having a secret admirer, but Casper has his suspicions and soon finds them proven wrong. All that time, Casper had inadvertently been giving himself up to the man who caused him so much pain and now he’s more confused than ever.

Cold Hands resumes this story from Jaime’s point of view, which is a serious change in how we understand the story. Cass is a thinker who constantly analyzes his feelings and thoughts, but because of their unique relationship he knows very little about what Jaime really thinks and Jaime’s motives. The change in point of view starts this sequel off on a different foot. We immediately see that Jaime has real regret about the way he treated Cass in the past and that his feelings now are genuine, and also that he’s a different man now. He understands himself and has grow up in the two years they spend apart. Now, he’s out of the closet and over the shame that he grew up with from a conservative family and town. Still, Cass doesn’t know that. He’s still confused about Jaime’s motives and his own. How can he trust himself and his feelings if he’s seriously considering having a relationship with his abuser?

The real difference between the first story and the second isn’t the point of view, but in the focus of their relationship. If you look at these stories together as one, then this story is the payoff. The first was the setup, the background and the premise — the meetings in the dark with Casper’s “secret admirer” and the subsequent reveal of his real identity — but, Cold Hands is the meat and bones of their relationship. This story carries on to peel back the layers and find out if these guys have a solid base to build any relationship upon and how they go about doing that. The change in point of view facilitates that because by nature of their relationship as abuser/victim, Jaime automatically sees the bigger picture than Cass. Casper is still mired in confusion about his feelings and dealing with understanding Jaime and his actions and in evidence of how that abuse affected him, he’s battling his own self-esteem.

I’m so glad that Erica decided to continue their story because I think that it is only in retrospect that this story feels as if it completed the first. Cold Hands makes the whole story better by giving us a chance to see them work through the consequences of their actions in the first story, and that in turn gives them the HEA they deserve. This also shows in the sex in both stories. So much of the first story takes place while Casper thinks “Hot-Hands” is someone else entirely that a lot of those scenes were exploratory, sexy and hot in a situational way, playing on the mysterious suitor with a dirty and exhibitionist twist. I read that story as a really good piece of erotica with an engaging plot. This story moves their physical relationship into a place of intimacy, so much so that it’s often too difficult for Casper to really handle.

I definitely recommend these stories to all of you, though you absolutely have to read Hot Hands first. Well done Erica and thank you for writing this story so I could spend more time with Cass and Jaime!


Title: Devil’s Night
Editors: SL Armstrong & Kristen Pavka
Authors: SL Armstrong, K Piet, Alina Ray, Azalea Moone & Tali Spencer
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Length: 42,500 words
Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Keywords/Tags: Anthology, Short Stories, Demons
Rating: Pretty Good

BLURB

The infernal host is on the prowl. They want your soul, and they’re not afraid to bargain for it. They’ll promise you everything you could ever desire, but the price tag may be steeper than you can handle. Whether tempting and seducing mortals, defiling angels, or reveling among themselves, the fiendish creatures in these four haunting tales know that while good is okay, evil is just more fun.



Thaddeus sold his soul to save his family long ago, but the deal he struck with the demon Belial has him spending eternity managing Le Carnaval du Diable, filled to the brim with other’s damned into servitude. Belial wants more than Thaddeus’ soul, though, and his constant advances only add to Thaddeus’ stress as he faces a threat to The Devil’s Midway.



Craig Peters finds himself Hell Bound and destined for an eternity of torture at the hands of the demon Karawan, despite having no memory of the sin that condemned him to this existence. Over time, though, those memories return, along with an unnatural attraction to Karawan, which leads them both down a path neither of them could have possibly imagined.



When the Hounds Come Out to Play, Ryu and Keir are released from their chains to hunt the wayward damned and drag them down to Hell. A breath of freedom is an opportunity for fun, however, and Ryu isn’t about to waste it, even if it means getting caught in a case of mistaken identity with a handsome stranger.



Finally, Beltran is a man of heritage and honor, and when his cousin is brutalized, he has few qualms about consulting a local Inca shaman on her behalf. Little does he know the price of the charm he seeks will make him The Seventh Sacrifice in the amir demon Kitara’s ancient quest for revenge.

REVIEW

I’ve gotten a bit behind on my reviews lately (partly due to GRL) and several of the ones that have backed up have been anthologies. I have to tell you that reviewing an anthology, for me, is quite daunting. I just can’t seem to do a review without reviewing each story — even if I don’t set out to. But the great thing is that the anthologies released by Storm Moon Press recently seem tailor-made for me. And when you add in one of my favorite sub-genres of paranormal, demons (and sundry), I knew that I had to accept this one for review no matter how far behind I was. Surprise, surprise — I pulled it out first, completely neglecting the others.

I want to apologize to all those authors because I just couldn’t resist. And while none of these stories were my favorites (none were my least favorites either) I’ve found in SMP’s past anthologies, the diversity between them was really wonderful. These four stories work really well together simply because they’re all incredibly original in different ways. Don’t expect your typical demon/angel trope here. They do however take the atmosphere of this time of the year into the tone of each story without it becoming … Halloween-y.

They each have something to praise about them, so in the end my review format for anthologies works for this one.

Read on!


The Devil’s Midway by SL Armstrong & K Piet (Pretty Good)
Genre: m/m Historical Paranormal
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Demons, Carnival, Battle of Wills, HFN

Though he should be an old man by now, Thaddeus finds himself managing the traveling Le Carnaval du Diable, the demon Belial’s pet project. But, though he generally can keep the carnival and all it’s traveling act and crew under wraps, he’s frustrated that the badass demon still has his sights set on him. Owing to the catalyst that brought him to sell his soul to the Devil and how that intersects with his faith, Thaddeus has always remained autonomous. Though the big man below owns his soul and therefore his long, unending future, he doesn’t own his mind or actions, which makes him the only one who can deny Belial. But the chase seems to turn the demon on and he uses every advantage he has to break Thaddeus down and get him into his bed, some of which are devious enough to be worthy of the demon he is.

The place this story succeeds the most is in the sexual tension created between Thaddeus and Belial. They’re both incredibly stubborn, and Belial has enough arrogance for both of them, that their sexual come and go turn into a game of wills. Thaddeus is afraid that if he did give into his carnal desires and sleep with the demon he would lose his independent thought he cherishes. It is all he has left that hasn’t been laid claim to and he doesn’t want to chance it. Belial, though, is very difficult to say no to, especially as he continues to find ways to try to torment Thaddeus into submission. While there were some other small bits of plot that help to expand the world, this is the essence of the story.

The problem then for me, was that I didn’t really understand the ending. I have no doubt with these two authors that the choices they made were deliberate, but they either didn’t work for me or I didn’t understand the story as I thought while I was reading. It was certainly enjoyable, and I really liked the world (I’d love to see more!), but the ending didn’t seem to add anything in particular to the story other than follow through on what is probably Thaddeus’ true characterization. So, I ended up feeling like this story wasn’t much more than a snippet of a larger world. No real romance, per se — or at least the story didn’t progress enough for me to consider it a romance. And, like I said, that’s probably what the authors were going for, but this time it didn’t work as well for me.

All of what I expect from these authors is in this story, the quality of writing is undiminished. I simply had a bit of a snag with the direction of the end of the story and my hope that there would have been more before it ended. A good, strong start to the anthology!


Hell Bound by Alina Ray (So So)
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Demons, Hell, a bit of BDSM, Kink, Amnesia, Insta-Love (or, too quick for me), HEA

Craig wakes to find himself in darkness — a shifting void that slowly reveals a dreamland resembling Hell. He learns quickly, though, that he is indeed dead and has traveled to the underworld for punishment and redemption for his actions in life. Too bad Craig can’t remember anything about his life except random details like pop trivia. He’s ushered through punishments and recollections by the demon Karawan, a sexy young red-skinned hunk that gives Craig “Ideas”, even during his rather harsh punishments that are intended to cause pain. A human who derives pleasure from pain is something that Karawan has never heard of before, but something that he admits intrigues him, along with the human himself. When Craig starts to regain his memories, they’re both in a for a surprise. Is Craig in the right place? or, did he do something terrible in life that he hasn’t remembered yet? Either way, they both find themselves finding pleasure in a place where happiness is supposed to be impossible to feel…

I am of two minds about this story. I originally gave this story a Not Feelin’ It rating simply because it ended on a low note for me, after starting quite strong. But after a little reflection, there is actually a smart and original hook to this story. The first half of the story, where Craig arrives in Hell and Karawan introduces him to the various tortures meant as punishment, is quite strong. There’s an atmospheric quality to the writing that portrays Hell as a void which is incredibly eerie. The addition of Craig’s amnesia means that his point of view is rather distorted. Karawan is shown to have a more trustworthy point of view, and interestingly enough, a rather naive and sheltered one. I could never quite tell if it is his lack of experience, his own personal quality, or a representation of the whole race of demons, but Karawan isn’t the cruel master one expects by allowing us to see his reasoning behind torturing humans.

The problem I had was the very quick transition from “getting to know each other” to the ending and a quick change in tone (from suspenseful and mysterious to almost sappy). There is a very quick series of events that revs up the pace and it really didn’t work for me. It left me feeling like the two wouldn’t have as strong of feelings as they did at the end because we don’t get to see the point where they actually get to know one another, just hear about a bit of it. It goes hand in hand with the ending, and I could see that the author had an endgame in plan from the very beginning. I had actually wondered if that was the way the author was going to go right at the beginning, and for the most part I was right. It’s an interesting little trick of reasoning which made the story stand out a bit more for me, hence the raised rating. Unfortunately, the execution left some things to be desired and because of that, this was probably my least favorite story of the anthology.


When the Hounds Come Out to Play by Azalea Moone (Pretty Good)
Genre: m/m Paranormal
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Hell Hounds, Hell, First Times, Shifters, Halloween

I also had a difficult time with this story, but only for a bit. The beginning is almost funny, and certainly cute as we’re introduced to the Hounds of Hell, dog shifters coming to the surface for Halloween night to reclaim lost souls. I liked Ryu immediately, who is like a fish out of water but attracted to the sunlight that burns him. He reminded me a bit about Ariel, from The Little Mermaid, who is obsessed with humanity but gets burned by them in her naivete. The story later got difficult for me and left me with a bit of an uneasy feeling. Trying to understand and feel empathy for Grant is a tall order, and I had to reconcile my own feelings with Ryu’s, all while watching him become a little bit more jaded as the story progressed. I think, though, that this story might have left the most impression on me, even though it wasn’t my “favorite”.

I was initially a bit confused about the direction the story took, when we learn who Grant and Jalen really are, and upset that the story wasn’t a romance, but it made sense after a while. Ultimately, I’m glad that the story didn’t turn romantic, because that would have confused me even more. Of course, part of my uneasiness also comes from knowing so little about Ryu, but then I think that was deliberate. And it makes sense why the author would choose to keep so much detail from the reader, unless she wanted to sacrifice the mood of the story, which is built on the suspense and threat of danger from several different directions. This story had the most Halloween atmosphere for me, and that’s not because the holiday makes an appearance in this story but because to Ryu, who doesn’t really understand humanity before his night away from the graveyard, Halloween only makes everything more confusing, and therefore it is disorienting to him and the reader.

I definitely liked this story and I loved that it was something different. I’d love to hear what other readers think about this one!


The Seventh Sacrifice by Tali Spencer (Really Like It)
Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: South America, Bolivia, Gods, Dub Con, Snakes, Magic/Sorcery, Revenge, HEA

Finally, I think this story was my favorite of the anthology. I was waiting for that sizzling chemistry and for a story to take it a little further than some of the previous ones in the anthology. Beltrane, a Spanish descendant of conquistadores, is visiting his cousin in Bolivia, a female TV journalist who was recently horribly abused by her boyfriend. Beltrane follows his friend’s directions to visit a sorcerer in the ancient city to buy a charm or talisman to get revenge on the man who betrayed his cousin, the woman who is like a sister to him. Only, the sorcerer isn’t what Beltrane expected at all. Not only is he surprised that some of this seems to be real, but the man himself intrigues him — not to mention Kitara is one of the most beautiful men he’s ever seen.

Kitara is much more than a sorcerer. Descended from the ancients and shackled to the area around the church for centuries only makes the past betrayal and anger at what the Conquistadores did to the Incan culture. It turns out that he needs Beltane as much as the man needs him, or even more. Strangely enough, the man who he was immediately attracted to when he walked in his store is Spanish, and could be the key to unlocking the imprisonment placed on his people all those years ago. Only, he’ll have to sacrifice him first!

I really liked the dark edge to this story. I think, in the end, I consider this a romance. I’m glad that Kitara doesn’t act human. If he did, this would easily be a romance, but I’d rather him be as he is in this story — larger than life, still retaining his god-like abilities and way of thinking. In many ways, Beltrane is a pawn to Kitara, but by the end of the story I wasn’t so sure of that, even though it seems that way, outwardly. But the dark edge to their relationship and sex in the form of betrayal and sacrifice and slavery.

If I had to choose one story from this anthology to expand into something larger, or a sequel, it would be this story. Not only did I like it enough to want to read more, but there’s the growth of the relationship between Beltrane and Kitara, as well as the plethora of detail and possibility about the world.

Recommended 🙂