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Games of the Heart by Kristen Ashley, narrated by Rachel Fulginiti

Games of the Heart audioWhy I read it:  I received a review copy via Audible Studios.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  From the balcony of his house, Mike Haines can see the quiet, commonplace beauty of the Holliday farm. But what he remembers is the little sister of his high school girlfriend, Dusty, who grew up there. As a teen, Dusty had gone off the rails but when she was a kid, she was sweet, she was funny and she had a special bond with Mike. But after high school, she took off and Mike never saw her again.

Then tragedy strikes Dusty’s family, she comes back to town and Mike thinks she hasn’t changed back to the sweet, funny girl he knew but instead continued to be selfish and thoughtless, leaving her family alone to deal with their mourning. So he seeks her out and confronts her in an effort to understand what went wrong and to force her to sort herself out.

He finds out quickly he’s wrong about Dusty Holliday. Very wrong. And right after Mike discovers that, the bond they had years before snaps back into place in ways he would never suspect.

But Mike Haines had a bad marriage then he played games of the heart for a good woman. And lost. In order to protect himself and his kids, he’s cautious, he’s careful to read the signs and he’s not interested in finding a woman he has to fix.

Then he learns what happened to Dusty and he thinks she needs to be fixed. He swings, he misses and in this new game of hearts, for Dusty, Mike just got strike three.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  When I read At Peace at while ago, I enjoyed the character of Mike Haines. Kristen Ashley has written a few books now where there has been a kind of love triangle. I say kind of because it is always clear who the prime couple is – In Mystery Man, the couple were Hawk and Gwen, and Tack was the one who missed out.  In At Peace, it was Joe and Violet and Mike was the guy who didn’t get the girl.  Tack, of course, got his HEA with Tyra in Motorcycle Man and now Mike gets his HEA with Dusty.  I liked Mike in At Peace. He was a nice guy who really cared about Violet and, if not for Joe, she probably would have had a happy life with him. They could have made it work and they had genuine feelings for each other. Generally, I’m not big on love triangles because either one of the guys (usually it’s two guys and a girl) is a dirtbag or both of the guys are great and one has to miss out.  What I really like about the way Ashley does it is that I know that there will be a book for the other guy at some point, that he will get his HEA and that he is a good guy and the feelings he has for the heroine (and hers for him) are respected – even by the hero who ends up with the girl.  This seems unusual to me and, apparently, it means that I can enjoy the love triangle as a way of showing more love for the heroine, as showing she is “worthy” of love and that she is in demand, without getting too bent out of shape that she will end up with the “wrong guy” or that the “other guy” will be pining away for the rest of his life/turn into a jerk. Also, the love triangles don’t drag on too long and that helps.

Golden Trail by Kristen Ashley, narrated by Brian Pallino

Golden Trail audioWhy I read it:  I was supplied with a review copy by Audible.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Tanner Layne and Raquel Merrick fell in love young, hard and fast and both of them knew a beautiful life they thought would be forever.

Until Rocky left Layne, no explanation, no going back.

Layne escapes The ‘Burg only to come back years later because his ex-wife has hooked herself to the town jerk and Layne needs to make sure his sons get raised right. Layne manages to avoid Rocky but when Layne gets three bullets drilled into him while investigating a dirty cop, he can’t do that because Rocky stops avoiding Layne. They make a deal to work together to expose the dirty cop but they have no idea the strength of their enduring attraction or the sheer evil at work in The ‘Burg.

As Tanner Layne and Raquel Merrick play their game and dance around the pull that draws them together, Layne has to discover the dark secrets buried so deep in Rocky’s heart she doesn’t even know they’re there at the same time untangle a sinister web of crime so abhorrent it has to be stopped… at all costs.

And to do it, Layne has to enlist everyone, including his ex-CIA mentor, Rocky’s detective brother, the town’s unpredictable informant and Layne’s two teenage sons all the while stopping Rocky from doing something crazy and keeping their game secret so Layne won’t get himself dead.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Happily for hero-centric readers like me, Golden Trail is told almost entirely from Layne’s (third person) POV. Perhaps surprisingly, given that I am a hero-centric reader, it took me a while to realise it (doh!). Maybe I was distracted by the fact that when the book opens, Tanner Layne is in the hospital, having been shot three times.  Raquel “Rocky” Merrick Astley is sitting by his bed.  18 years earlier she had left him. They’d been happy for three years together and then, suddenly, she left. No explanation, no take backs.

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