Rescued from slavers, healer novice Jaime Buchanan finds himself alone and free in Pyrderi, a kingdom of magic, mythical creatures, and a culture as open and kind as his homeland was cruel and close-minded.
Despite his rescue, Jaime is not left without scars, both mental and physical. Traumatized by his experience and hiding his gift, Jaime struggles to earn his place in the kitchens of Angharad Palace, the heart of Taliesin City. His former life as a student of the healing arts leaves him at a disadvantage in the kitchens, and his damaged state is becoming more apparent by the day.
One day, when necessity and fate intervene, Jaime meets someone unexpected—Prince Maxim, youngest son of the Pyrderian king, a sword master and a devastatingly kind man. Unaccustomed to powerful people with compassion and heart, Jaime flees. A cascade of events reveals Jaime’s hidden talents of healing, and he finds himself not in chains, but at the beginning of a new life.
This swift change of fortune opens Jaime up to new possibilities, including a smitten prince who cautiously courts Jaime, easing him away from his fears and reminding him that compassion and love can make him strong. The winter solstice is quickly approaching, and Prince Maxim shows Jaime the enjoyment and excitement to be found in a land that embraces the ice and cold, and the mysteries of all things magical. He learns to see the man under the royal mantle, and Maxim is more than even Jaime suspected.
The winter solstice is nigh when tragedy strikes, and Jaime learns that his past of grief and sorrow can be a pillar of strength for his solstice prince. If there is one thing that Jaime believes above all else, it is in the healing power of love.
His eyes were drawn to the wide shoulders of Prince Maxim, the royal speaking quietly to a pair of full healers in their silver and white robes, the edges trimmed in varying hues of green that denoted their ranks and specialties. One of them saw Jaime hovering and pointed towards him with a smile. Prince Maxim turned and grinned wide when he saw Jaime. Jaime smiled back, flushing. The prince said his goodbyes and strode across the room to him. Long legs, a trim waist, a broad chest, and strong shoulders clothed in black leather pants and a brilliant white shirt, topped with a long jacket in rich sky blue left Jaime at a loss for words. The prince looked every inch the royal. Prince Maxim was at his side before he was ready, and Jaime shivered, skin tingling from head to toe when the prince gave him a wide smile and offered his hand. Jaime found his much smaller hand engulfed in the prince’s with his long fingers curling over, holding him firmly. His face burned, and he ducked his head, hair falling over his eyes. “Good morning, Jaime.” “Good—good morning, Your Highness,” he stammered back, and he gripped the hand holding his in an unconscious plea for support. He was holding hands with a prince. His life had taken an unexpected twist. “Please, call me Maxim,” the prince offered, and Jaime gasped, shaking his head frantically. The prince was smiling at him, somehow beyond patient. “I wouldn’t dare! I couldn’t, Your Highness,” Jaime burst out, heart racing again. “It’s not allowed.” Prince Maxim drew closer, their joined hands between them, and he gave Jaime a slow perusal, taking in his wide eyes, flushed cheeks, and no doubt able to see the galloping pulse in his neck. “There is no one to gainsay you for the privilege. I do not mind. Please, it would be an honor for you to use my name.” “Can I—can I think about it?” He couldn’t believe he just said that, and he nearly bit the tip of his tongue off snapping his mouth shut. Prince Maxim chuckled and turned them both, tucking Jaime’s hand in the crook of his elbow. “While you’re thinking about it, how about I give you a tour of the castle? Something besides the kitchens and servants’ halls? Would you like to see the library? Do you like to read?” “Master Eames wanted to talk to me…” “I’ve been ordered to return you promptly after midday by Master Eames, along with strict instructions not to overdo it.” The prince’s charming grin never fell away, and he seemingly saw nothing amiss in a healer ordering about a royal. Master Eames was a distinguished healer, surely used to getting his own way, and Jaime had no desire to run afoul of the healer’s orders either. Prince Maxim continued, “Now what about some breakfast and then on to the library?” “I love to read. I would love to see the library.” The idea of the prince taking him to personally see anything was spinning about in his mind, making him feel dizzy, and leaving him glad for the strong hand holding onto his.
SJ Himes once again puts her incredible writing talent on display here in The Solstice Prince. In this story that takes place in Himes’ carefully crafted fantasy world, I found a slow-burn romance between two young men who are in some ways at opposite ends of the spectrum—one being royal and the other a commoner—and it others quite alike…namely in that they both have very special skills that they are both tremendously talented at wielding.
One of the things i loved about this story is how open, accepting, and just the kingdom of Pyrderi is—a stark contrast to its neighboring countries, a situation that in many ways parallels our own world. Though this is the first story in this new series, readers are not inundated with pages and pages of world building, instead it is presented throughout the book in the necessary portions of the story, with some aspects still left open to discover in subsequent installments (which I am excitedly looking forward to reading!).
Though it is obvious Prince Maxim is entirely smitten with Jaime from the start, things between them move slowly growing from friendship to courting to a deeply intense relationship without rushing, even if the time period covered in the story might indicate otherwise. It didn’t feel fast at all to me, with the story concentrating equally on Jaime’s situation as he returns to a more normal life after being enslaved and resumes his training, the ailing King and the affect of his poor condition on his family, and the developing connection forming between Jaime and Maxim.
I read this book in one sitting, as I was fully entranced and didn’t want to put it down. While it does contain a complete story in itself, there is the promise of much more to come; my curiosity is definitely piqued for more of Jaime and Maxim, but also to see what other stories come out of this world with either the characters already introduced or others to come. Jaime and Maxim are very strong main characters, but they are also surround by a well-rounded cast of supporting characters, and I found myself invested in all of them and can’t wait to read more.
Jaime and Maxim’s tale leans much more to the sweet side, with a gradual building toward much more near the end once their intimacy finally spills over. This perfectly fits the two of them, and their story wound up being a 5-star read for me…with special bonus points for the wonderful illustrations by Sarah Jo Chreene that can be found in special scenes of the book. I highly recommend this story to all M/M romance fans, and M/M fantasy romance fans in particular. I can’t wait to read more in this series, and especially to get back to Jaime and Maxim to see where they go from here. While the majority of this book is relatively tame in regards to intimate scenes, there does come a point where it moves into more and therefore it is meant for readers 18+ for some sexual content.
The narration: There are a lot of reasons Joel Leslie is one of my favorite audiobook narrators, and his performance of The Solstice Prince is a stunning example of so many of those reasons. First, there’s the reliably steady pacing; next, there’s the amazing accents—oh, so many beautiful, trilling accents…and each one individual to a specific character making it easy to know who is speaking; then there’s the way he injected such emotion into the characters’ dialogue, allowing the listener to really feel how the characters do throughout the story; and finally, his overall performance just really pulled me into the story even more so than when I was reading the ebook. But it really was all of those truly remarkable voices that did it for me. 5 stars for the narration, and where the ebook got bonus points for the fantastic illustrations, Joel’s voices get a whole bunch of bonus points from me as well—definitely one of those times where I wish there were more than 5 stars to award…I’ll just award them anyway here in my review :-)
I'm a self-employed writer who stresses out about the silliest things, like whether or not I got my dog the best kind of snack and the fact my kindle battery tends to die when I'm at the best part in a book. I write mainly gay romance, erotica, and urban fantasy, with occasional forays into contemporary and paranormal. I love a book heavy on plot and character evolution, and throw in some magic, and that's perfection. My current series are: The Beacon Hill Sorcerer, Bred For Love (as Revella Hawthorne), The Wolfkin Saga, and the epic fantasy romance series Realms of Love. My last two novels in the Beacon Hill Sorcerer won 3rd Place in the Gay Fantasy category for the 2016 Rainbow Awards.
I live in New Orleans, where the personalities are big and loud and so are the bugs! New Orleans is rich in cultural history, and the flavor and music of the City is impossible to hide. Before that, I lived all over the United States: Tampa, Western Massachusetts, Indianapolis, and on and on.... I'm a nomad, and I've yet to find a place that calls to me strongly enough to become home. My faithful travel companions are my dog Micah, the numerous voices in my head who insist they all get put on paper, and the wind at my back.
Joel Leslie is a UK transplant, growing up with American parents in a British commonwealth. A classically trained actor with an MFA in theatre from USC, he is often cast for his unique ability to deliver native, authentic combinations of American and British sounds. His great range and ability to bring characters to life with honesty, wit and versatility delights producers and listeners alike.
He is proud to have a strong following with m/m listeners and an ongoing relationship with some of the finest writers in the genre. He loves that every day he gets to share these beautiful, inspirational and empowering GLBT characters with the world.
His authors have praised him as “a narrator among narrators, a man whose ability to create different characters rests on the power of his voice and his impeccable delivery,” and a “true delight…" "his professionalism, good humor, and charm make him a dream to work with,” "Anyone else would only be second best”.
Joel has consistent access to his home studio for all production needs. When not in the booth he spends his time chasing after two loquacious wiener dogs.
He can’t choose... Leadership and setting an upstanding example are everything to Wisconsin Wendigos captain David Dickson. On ice, he’s got it all together. Off ice? Not so much. For years he’s been pining for not one, but both of the loyal alternate captains who’ve stood by him through thick and thin. They’ve always had his back… Sasha Ivanov and Bo McAllister have always seemed more into each other then into their captain. But when the stress of the season starts affecting David, they’re more than willing to step up and help him deal with it--by whatever means necessary. He can’t resist... When Sasha and Bo offer him everything he’s been wanting, David can’t say no, even though he knows it comes with an expiration date. But the more he finds himself fitting into their life, the more he wants what he knows he can’t have. Can Sasha and Bo find room in their hearts for one more person? Will David let them bring him into their life? Or are these captains doomed to remain just teammates? Find out in this steamy sports romance novel, featuring a team captain who’s too stubborn for his own good, a defenceman with a heart of gold, and a goalie who never has a problem using his words.
Ariel Bishop is an American romance and erotica author who feels strongly that all love triangles are best resolved through healthy polyamory. She has been a reader of romantic and erotic fiction for the entirety of her adult life and draws on that experience as well as her own imagination to create original erotic stories. She lives in the Ozarks with her partners and their children, plus two bunnies that rejoice in the names Reginald von Pancakes and Snickers.
Fleeing her wavering feelings for her fiancé Taryn Ashford boards a westbound train to visit relatives. Her journey awakens unbridled passion with the dangerously handsome, Jared King. When Jared is accused of murder, she is faced with providing him an alibi at the risk of her own reputation. Did he use her to save himself or can she trust her heart - and him - to discover the truth? A truth they must work together to reveal.
Gunman, shooter, the brand is Jared King's life. His skill with a gun creates an existence forever searching - searching every face for the bounty hunter in constant pursuit, for the settled life he is certain he will never find and for one woman's love. Taryn Ashford jeopardizes his need to remain emotionally detached. She represents the happiness denied him, but if he pursues her, will he risk both their lives?
Join our upcoming book tour from June 12 - 25, 2018.
Save the date! Join us and visit our tour stops daily as we share more features, excerpts, reviews, interviews, fun facts and and other extras about the book! To check the latest tour schedule, visit the Untamed Hearts Book Page at Book Unleashed.
About Colleen O'Connell
Colleen has been an avid reader her entire life and has a particular love of the historical romance genre. Having enjoyed reading romances early on, she began writing them herself when she wanted the stories to take a different turn and determined the only way to achieve it was to craft her own. She currently lives in Northern Kentucky and has a background in Human Resource Management.
Landon can’t believe he’s let himself get roped into participating in a charity calendar, let alone one that features tastefully photographed nudes. The genius physicist is hardly model material and he’s dreading the nude part of the photoshoot. Amid his reluctance, the one bright spot is his emails back and forth with the photographer.
However, Bailey ends up being not quite what Landon expects, and their first meeting is decidedly awkward. Bailey’s persistent though, and gradually Landon warms to the burly photographer, and they discover they have a shared love of gamer culture.
A tentative friendship is born, but the road from friends to lovers isn’t easy. Landon’s battling past trauma and must decide how much of a risk he’s willing to take. A sexy connection may not be enough to keep them together unless both are willing to put their hearts on the line.
Approximately 40,000 words. Previously released as part of the EXPOSED anthology, and loosely linked to the #Gaymers universe, this friends-to-lovers, hurt/comfort story stands alone with a guaranteed happy ending. Contains a brief mention of a prior assault, but no on-screen violence or flashbacks.
LEVEL UP EXCERPT—This is their first kiss, because I absolutely love writing first kiss scenes!
Bailey was the type who moved a lot as he gamed, biceps flexing, knees wiggling, shoulders jostling. Landon always liked people who got so into gaming, but it was more than a little distracting. His body was quickly coming to associate that orange scent of Bailey’s with good things, and other parts of him apparently liked Bailey’s nearness, which was a novelty because instead of intimidated, as he would have expected, he was more than a little turned on.
“Oh man, that was a rush.” Bailey laughed as both of their health meters dipped to zero. “I’m almost wishing I’d gone into game art, not photography. Amazing how these graphics have held up over the years.”
“Totally. And speaking of art, let me find the Space Villager stuff.” Landon reluctantly stepped away from the game. He headed to the nearby kitchen, where he was pretty the papers were buried with a stack of mail. Paper control was not his strong suit. “You’ll go nuts at the latest screen shots and promo teasers.”
“Cool.” Rather than follow Landon, Bailey went to sit on the couch.
“You want a drink while I’m in here?” Landon called to him after he found the papers under a pile of pizza ads. “I’ve got four flavors of Snapple, soda, and water.”
“Surprise me with a Snapple flavor.” Bailey looked right at home on Landon’s couch, lounging back.
He really did not look at all like any photographer Landon had ever met, and curiosity had him asking, “So why photography? You said you could have done game design?”
“Yeah, I had plenty of friends at the art institute go that direction. But I’ve been in love with photography ever since I worked on our middle school yearbook. I figured out quickly that taking pictures of events and sports was far more fun than trying to do the sports myself, so I did yearbook all through high school, got a photography scholarship to the art institute in Portland.”
“So you don’t play a sport?” Landon had a hard time believing that. With Bailey’s height and breadth, he totally looked like he lived for weekend games of some type.
“Nope. Hopelessly uncoordinated.” Bailey shot him an endearing smile when Landon handed him the bottle of tea.
“Me too.” Landon clinked bottles with him, then held up the papers. “Found the codes. But can I show you some stuff on the TV screen while you have your drink?”
“Absolutely.” Bailey took a long swig of tea, and Landon had to look away before he got mesmerized by Bailey’s full mouth, how it looked when his tongue chased a stray drop of moisture, how pink it was in contrast to his paler skin and brown beard.
Landon queued up the pre-release trailer Josiah had sent him a link to. Bombastic music filled his small living room as on the screen, and a spaceship pulled in for a landing on a planet filled with ruins of a once-powerful civilization. The narrator had an iconic voice and detailed all the special features of the expansion pack. Landon had already watched this a half-dozen times, and it still gave him happy chills.
“Wow. I can’t wait.” Bailey looked suitably awed. “This is even cooler than when War Elf added the mystic raids.”
“I know, right? Now look at the in-game screen shots.” He brought up another video, body relaxing more and more despite Bailey’s nearness. It was just so awesome to have someone new to share this with. He’d been hyped about this all week, but Pike was distracted by his boyfriend Zack’s deployment, Savannah didn’t game much, and the rest of his regular crew seemed to have other things occupying their attention.
Somehow, as he shared more video clips, he drifted closer to Bailey, so that their knees were almost rubbing. It wasn’t a giant couch, so there wasn’t a ton of room to move back, but even so, Landon wasn’t looking for an escape. He was aware of Bailey, very much so, but not nearly as freaked out as he’d been a few hours ago. Instead, his senses seemed to soak up Bailey’s scent and nearness, and it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth video that he realized that he was aroused.
Clink. Somehow Landon’s left hand, holding his drink, and Bailey’s right hand tangled.
“Oops.” He tried to extricate himself without spilling both beverages. Bending to put his on the floor, he hadn’t realized that Bailey had also leaned down until their heads collided.
“Ow,” they said simultaneously.
“Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry.” Bailey reached out, feeling around on Landon’s head. “Did you see stars? Break the skin?”
“I’m fine.” Landon didn’t pull away. Bailey’s hand felt damn nice. Gentle. Soothing more than just the bump on his head. Their eyes met, and he really needed to move back, break this spell, but he didn’t, instead leaning into to the touch. Bailey’s eyes darkened, and he stroked down Landon’s jaw. God, that felt so good, like an extra blanket on a chilly night, warmth he hadn’t realized he was missing. How long had it been since he’d been touched like this? Hugged, sure. He’d hugged Savannah goodnight, and hugged and wrestled around with his best friend Pike at the last LAN party, but neither of those things was touch like this. Caring. Sweet. Arousing.
Bailey leaned in again, way slower this time, all the time in the world for Landon to stop him. But he didn’t. Bailey’s beard tickled an instant before their lips met, a soft slide of mouths. Not aggressive at all, not the on-a-tight-schedule rush of a hookup, Bailey kissed like they had a sleepy Sunday afternoon to kill, like each reaction of Landon’s mattered, like he was trying to memorize something important and was going to take his time learning the lesson.
Landon was the first one to take things further, mouth opening on a sigh, welcoming Bailey’s agile tongue. He tasted sweet, like tea, and minty like the gum he’d popped after the pizza, familiar yet new at the same time. How had he managed to forget how awesome kissing could be? A laugh bubbled up in his chest, but quickly transformed to a groan of pleasure as Bailey nipped at his lower lip.
Not content to let Bailey be the one exploring, Landon sent his own tongue on a quest, tracing Bailey’s full lower lip, delving inside to rub tongues, retreating playfully to earn another nip. F*ck. This was nice. The video switched over to something random, and he barely registered it. He couldn’t say how long they kissed, just that he didn’t want it to ever end.
Landon and Bailey become acquainted with each other through email, developing a friendship that both become invested in before they ever even meet in person. Those emails take place before the start of this story, so we don’t get to see that part of their connection beginning…which was actually fine, and for me didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. What did affect it was Bailey—but in the most positive way.
Bailey was an incredibly sweet, thoughtful, and caring man, and I totally fell in love with his character right from the start—then kept falling for him again and again with every supportive word, gesture, and conversation. He was so understanding of Landon’s situation, and his patience and constant friendship were moving—though at the same time I was a little frustrated by Landon’s difficulty in moving forward with him. But oh, how I adored Bailey.
I do understand the reasons behind Landon’s reluctance to attempt anything more than friendship, but at the same time it was disheartening to see how this stunted Landon’s healing process. It also slowed the development of their relationship to the point that it made this novella feel like a much longer story to me. I felt bad for Bailey since he was so open and compassionate with Landon, and it was Landon’s past that he kept letting get in the way of their relationship becoming so much more.
Level Up wound up being a 3.5-star read for me, and I attribute all of the positives to the wonderful Bailey. Overall though this is a good read and one I would recommend. I’m a bit nerdy myself, so that aspect of Landon’s character was a plus for me even when he was frustrating me. This story is meant for readers 18+ for adult language and sexual content.
Meet the Author
Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer. The #OutOfUniform series joins her critically acclaimed and fan-favorite LGBTQ romance #Gaymers, #PortlandHeat and #PerfectHarmony series. To find out what she’s working on next and other fun extras, check out her website: www.annabethalbert.com or connect with Annabeth on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify! Also, be sure to sign up for her newsletter for free ficlets, bonus reads, and contests. The fan group, Annabeth’s Angels, on Facebook is also a great place for bonus content and exclusive contests.
Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two active children.