Title: The Darkest Flame (Roadmap to Your Heart #1)
Author: Christina Lee
Release Date: August 17, 2015
Page Count: 212
Reviewed by: Vallie
Heat Level: 5 flames out of 5
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
From the author of There You Stand, a new male/male romance about an errant motorcycle recruit and the captivating bartender who sends his wheels spinning down an all too tempting road.
Vaughn O’Keefe has been part owner of the Hog’s Den for years. Privy to plenty of Disciples of the Road business, he’s never been more ruffled as when a new recruit named “Smoke” walks through the door. Something about the man gets his blood pumping, but he knows to keep his preferences under wraps around the club.
“Smoke” Callahan has done a couple of rehab stints and is finally clean, thanks to help from the Disciples. He’s on the right path and isn’t about to get sidetracked, no matter how much the guy who manages the bar gets beneath his skin. Besides, his last relationship with a man left him scared, alone, and with a nightmare of an addiction.
When the Hog’s Den becomes shorthanded, and Smoke is ordered to help out the one man he can’t have, his longing for the bartender reaches blistering proportions. Vaughn figures a night together should be enough to satisfy their mutual attraction. But neither banks on just how scorching hot it might be.
As Smoke’s past unravels and the one person he hopes never to lay eyes on again messes with all he holds sacred, it’s time to involve the Disciples. Problem is, he’ll have to risk his membership, his heart, and his own hide to keep everyone he cares about safe.
I love biker novels and I was really looking forward to this story. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite deliver what I expected.
Vaughn is tending bar at the Hog’s den, owned by the Disciples of the Road motorcycle club. He’s hot, muscled, funny, and the perfect look-but-not-touch eye candy for Smoke. Smoke is a recent addition to the club, ever since the biker club president helped him kick his drug addiction. Both are bi. Both are closeted. Both lust after each other. The UST was indeed off the charts. When Mal, the club’s president, asks Smoke to help Vaughn at the bar, things get hot really fast. One hook-up (to get it out of our system) becomes two, then the guys can’t keep their hands off of each other. The sex scenes were smoking hot with these two and the dirty talk helped steam things up considerably.
There are several issues that curbed my enjoyment of this book.
The plot. The relationship development didn’t feel natural to me. Mal conveniently asked Smoke to help Vaughn with the bar and when Vaughn’s place was broken into, guess whose house Mal asked Vaughn to stay at? Also, there was some club business going on parallel to the relationship stuff, with Smoke acting as sort of spy for his old club where Mal saved Smoke from. I found it incredibly boring and I even skimmed the few pages every now and then where that stuff was mentioned. This will be a spoiler-free review, so I can’t go into detail about the who-dunnit part of the breaking in and all that but I will say that it seemed very far-fetched and unconvincing. The ending, when the mystery part came to a close, was honestly quite ridiculous. The love declarations didn’t come early but I was still not convinced these guys had anything going for them besides infatuation and very strong sexual attraction.
The writing. Right off the bat, I could tell this was not going to be my kind of book because of the massive info dump. I enjoy inner monologues, but when they’re used for the author to simply relay info on the characters and their background without incorporating it into dialogue, it bores me pretty quickly. Not only did both MCs reminisce randomly about their whole life story in the middle of a conversation with each other, but they gave each other cues so the inner monologue could conveniently follow the intended path. This telling not showing thing is something that affects my reading experience quite strongly and it was abundant here.
That MMF scene. That’s right. There’s a mmf ménage scene in this book. My problem was not the ménage scene itself or the fact that it was with a woman. The justification for it was very weak and it felt very gratuitous to me. The scene happened because the guys wanted to play the straight part and decided it would be good for Vaughn to take up a hook-up offer from one of the regulars at the bar. She started hitting on him, implied she’d be happy to be with both of them, and there you have it. The guys were too afraid that she would blab her mouth about them and didn’t even touch each other. There were hot looks and blue balls at the end of it sure, but how did that scene serve the plot or relationship development again? Oh wait. It didn’t.
There were also some editing issues that were pretty hard to ignore. The story was told in alternating POVs. At some point, a chapter began with Vaughn’s POV, and the “voice” was Smoke’s, even though that was corrected back to Vaughn a little further ahead. Also, some chapters ended quite abruptly, right after a scene that could have used more exploring in my opinion.
Overall, I did not enjoy reading this but I will give the author points for the awesome sex scenes. The characters were interesting and their backgrounds had good stories, but the execution didn’t do them justice.
The Darkest Flame Excerpt
I grabbed my hold of keys and tried not to slam my way out the door. I didn’t know why the hell I was so rattled by Vaughn tonight. I mean, I had been every night, but something about the idea of him being with somebody else right in front of my eyes, made me crazy with need. Need that it felt like only he could fulfill.
As soon as I got to my bike I realized I’d left my cut in the break room. I stood outside attempting to rein in my uneven pulse. I didn’t know what the fuck had come over me.
Breathing more steadily, I stepped back through the door only to find the bar empty. I’d just grab my leather vest and leave him in peace.
“I forgot my…” I stopped in my tracks because Vaughn stood motionless in the middle of the floor, veins bulging in his neck, as if he’d implode at the slightest touch.
He was always moving and talking with a restless energy in this bar so his stillness was a bit startling.
“Hey.” I gingerly placed my hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry if I—”
There was instant recoil, as if he were attempting to contain the vortex of tension between us by vacuuming it in through his skin.
He twisted toward me, his eyes latching onto mine, right before I was slammed against the door.
The wind was practically knocked out of me as Vaughn sank his weight against my smaller frame. We were groin to groin, heartbeat to heartbeat.
“Fuck, Vaughn, you’re—” Heaving breaths surged through my nostrils. “I was going to suggest a truce.”
“Yeah?” he mumbled, his gaze fastening on my mouth. “What sort of truce?”