Code Name: Rook by Sawyer Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A man of mystery. A woman without a clue. A danger that threatens to consume them both. Cage and Jamie are a match made of secrets. What began by chance quickly spirals out of control. Code Name: Rook takes some getting used to. There are moments when it feels like your walking in slow motion and it's hard to see the way out. Sawyer holds her cards close to the vest and just as you think you have everything figured out there's another twist that stops you cold. A spellbinding blend of sensuality and intrigue that thrives on being smartly unpredictable.
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There are few historical episodes as dramatic as the “Hundred Days” – the label given to Napoleon’s doomed attempt to reclaim the French throne and reestablish his empire. Having driven out the restored Bourbon monarchy of Louis XVIII, Napoleon faced off against the coalition of powers that had exiled him to the Mediterranean island of Elba less than a year before. Though Napoleon struck first and scored some initial victories, his defeat at the battle of Waterloo ended his last bid for power, and led to his imprisonment on the remote island of Saint Helena until his death nearly six years later.
It is an understatement to say that there is no shortage of books on the events of the Hundred Days and the battle of Waterloo, as authors began writing about it almost from the moment the guns stilled and have not let up since. Yet even when weighed against two centuries of accounts of the battle, John Hussey’s book stands out. The first of a two-volume work on the Hundred Days campaign, it is the product of meticulous scholarship and careful reassessment of every significance event and controversy involved. This is evident from the very first chapters, as Hussey looks at Europe’s long history with Napoleon and the events leading up to his decision to escape his exile – a decision born of a mix of boredom, ego, ambition, and frustration with the slights inflicted upon the former emperor by the Allied powers that had defeated him.
With a British officer resident on Elba to supervise him and a British warship patrolling the waters between Elba and France, Bonaparte’s decision was not without risk. His successful arrival in France, followed by his bold journey to Paris, though, defied the odds and achieved his goal. Yet Hussey describes the tenuousness of Napoleon’s hold on power, with many in France still exhausted from his reign and wary of what his return might bring. Aware of the post-exile divisions among the coalition, Napoleon hoped they might provide an opportunity to maintain his throne. Nevertheless, he prepared for war.
And war was coming. Hussey devotes considerable space to describing the coalition facing the returned emperor, with pride of place going to the commands led by Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and Arthur Wellesley, the duke of Wellington. Hussey spends several chapters dealing their commands, their operations, and their activities, with intelligence operations featured prominently. This is central to his efforts to unpack the events of Napoleon’s 1815 campaign and establish clear chronologies and understandings of what the commanders knew and when they learned it. The issues can often seem trivial, but they serve a clear purpose in serving as the basis for Hussey’s analysis of why decisions were undertaken, and why alternatives were not pursued.
Hussey ends the volume with an account of the battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras on 16 July. Though he details the actions separately, he makes it clear that they need to be regarded as a whole. His explanation is of a piece with the rest of the book, in which Hussey lays out the facts and explains how he reached the conclusions he did. It’s a careful work of often painstaking construction, and is what makes the book such a valuable addition to the already substantial library of works on the events of 1815. Take together with its successor volume, it’s a book that serves as an indispensable history of the battle, one that no serious student of the subject can afford to ignore.
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Title: The Assistant
Author: John Tristan
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: August 24, 2020
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, Japanese-American, trans, interracial, BDSM, D/s, power play, slow burn, personal assistant, disability/ chronic illness, depression, age gap
Burned out ex-soldier Nick Kurosawa has drifted from job to job since he lost his family in a car crash. Lately, he’s been working on and off as a bouncer, barely managing to cover his bills; an opportunity for steady, well-paying work is just what he needs to get his life back in order. Jacob Umber, a secretive philanthropist, gives him that opportunity. Umber has fibromyalgia and needs a personal assistant to help him with the tasks of daily living—someone strong, adaptable, and, most of all, willing to let Umber take the lead. It seems a perfect opportunity for Nick. More than anything, he craves guidance and a purpose, and Umber gives him that in spades. When Nick starts craving more, it seems an impossible complication, but even the reserved Umber can’t deny Nick’s talent—and need—for following his orders. But Umber’s shadowy past holds secrets that could undo their fragile new relationship and any hope Nick has of a normal life.
The Assistant John Tristan © 2020 All Rights Reserved
It was a clear autumn night, with the moon low and yellow above the city. Between its fullness and the lights, only a few stars could be made out, pinpoints in the raw black silk of the night. Nick stood with his fists balled above the man breathing hard in the gutter. A trickle of spilled beer ran into his hair, foaming like shampoo. He smelled sour, of sweat and fear.
“Jesus, man!” The man’s companion—a skinny young guy with a circular Band-Aid over one eye, like a discount pirate—crouched beside him. “Somebody call an ambulance! Call the cops!”
“By all means,” Nick said. He forced himself to take a step back, unclench his fists. “Let’s call the cops and tell them the whole story.”
Discount Pirate slit his eye at him and helped his companion to his feet. The man was dazed but seemed unhurt. Still—he could easily have a concussion.
Nick hesitated. “Maybe we should call an ambulance—”
“Forget it,” the man said thickly and spat into the gutter. In the neon and moonlight, the blood in his mouth looked black. His eyes met Nick’s, and this was the worst part: they understood each other perfectly. He’d wanted to start a fight, and Nick had taken the bait. Another night, it would have fallen out differently.
“Let’s get out of here,” Discount Pirate said, putting a proprietary arm around his companion’s waist and dragging him off into the darkness.
Nick let out a shaky breath. The street was empty, now; if he was lucky, this wouldn’t get back to Merritt, who owned the Hellhole. He hadn’t hired Nick to start fights but to stop them as gently as possible—de-escalation, not macho bullshit. The Hellhole was the only gay bar in Westerley, which meant it drew both the occasional snickering asshole and its share of ex-boyfriend drama. Merrick wouldn’t thank him for bad publicity.
Fuck. This was the last thing he needed. He turned toward the familiar voice. “Hey, Alex.”
Alexander Finn—his friend, once-upon-a-time fuck-buddy, and self-appointed social worker—had come up out of the Hellhole at just the wrong time. Sweat was still beaded on his pale forehead, cooling rapidly in the night air. “What happened?”
“Didn’t know you were down here tonight,” Nick said, affecting a breezy tone. “Must have been here before my shift started.”
Alex rolled his eyes. “I know you’re not jealous, so you’re trying to deflect. What happened?” He took out his cigarette case—silver, engraved—and popped one into his bow-lipped mouth, then offered one to Nick.
He reached for it, then hesitated. “Haven’t smoked in months.”
Alex gave him a skeptical look. “Come on.”
“Vaping doesn’t count.”
He laughed softly. “I’ll give you that one.” He snapped the case closed and tucked it away. “Talk.”
“I don’t know.” Nick ran his hands through his hair. “The guy just. Got under my skin. It’s like he knew how to push my buttons.”
“You’re not supposed to have buttons while you’re on the door.”
“Fuck you. Give me a cigarette.”
He did; they smoked together in the neon-lit dark.
“This job…” Alex chewed on his thoughts for a moment. “It’s not good for you. This isn’t the first time you’ve let someone…push your buttons.”
Alex was right—he’d never let himself take it this far before, but there were more than a few times over the last few weeks when a sneer or a snicker or a muttered insult had gotten under his skin and launched him right in someone’s face, teeth bared, eyes glittering. His fuse frayed shorter every week he was out here. He took a long, slow draw from the cigarette and laughed bitterly. “Well. I still need the rent paid.”
“How long until your shift is over?”
Nick grinned sideways at Alex. “Why, you want to take me home?”
He sighed and shook his head, but it had raised a smile. “Just think you could do with a good night’s sleep. After that…” Alex hesitated a moment. “Can you take the next few days off?”
“I’m not back on shift until Monday evening.”
Alex nodded and took a card out of his pocket—his business card, Nick recognized—and then fished out a pen. “Turn around,” he said.
Nick did. Alex leaned on him, using his back as a desk to write on. He could feel the scratch of the pen through his shirt.
When Alex was done, he handed him the card. Nick frowned at it. There was an address on it, a place in the financial district, and a name: Jacob Umber. “What’s this?”
“Someone—someone I know is looking to hire. I thought…well, you already have a job, and I had someone else lined up, but—”
“You always have someone lined up for something, don’t you?” There was a slight edge of bitterness to Nick’s words. Alex networked—he always had a side hustle lined up for someone, for the washouts and burnouts, the ex-cops and ex-military, the bikers and drifters he seemed to draw into his orbit. His type: like Nick. “Is this meant to be charity? Because you can pass it on to one of your other tricks. I don’t need it.”
“Call it what you will. And you’re not a trick, Nicholas.” Alex leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, chastely. “You’re my friend.”
Nick swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and stuffed the card in the back pocket of his jeans. “Yeah, all right, fine. There’s no number on the card—am I meant to just show up?”
“I wrote hours on there,” Alex said. “Nine to three. Weekdays.”
“Nick…” He seemed to be struggling with his words. “This isn’t a guaranteed job. I can get you a way in, but you’ll have to impress.”
“Come on, Alex.” Nick flashed a smile. “Don’t you think I can pull out the stops when I need to?”
He laughed and shook his head. “I know you can. Good luck, Nick.”
“Thanks. No, really…thank you.”
He nodded and left him on the empty street. Nick took his vape out of his pocket and sucked down a nicotine cloud; he noticed his hands were shaking. There was a subtle ache in his knuckles, where they’d collided with the man’s cheekbone. He felt a tiredness deeper than exhaustion, something like lead in his bones, and on top of that, a thin hot skin of queasy arousal. He didn’t know if he wanted to sleep for a year or get fucked up against the wall of the nearest alley. Well, he told himself, right now it’s going to be neither. He smoked until his hands stopped shaking and then waited for the sky to lighten—for his shift to be over—so he could go home.
John Tristan is a multinational gay nerd, currently living in Manchester, UK. When he’s not writing, he works in the voluntary sector; when he’s not doing either, he’s probably playing video games or tabletop RPGs. After his mother banned books at the table during mealtimes, he read the backs of sauce bottles. His stories are sometimes romantic, sometimes erotic, often speculative, and always queer.