Layla Reyne

Books: Mystery | Queer | Romance

Agents Irish and Whiskey: Single Malt (2017), Cask Strength (2017), Barrel Proof (2017)

Trouble Brewing: Imperial Stout (2018), Craft Brew (2018), Noble Hops (2019)

Dine with Me (2019)

Agents Irish and Whiskey

Single Malt (2017)

Aidan Talley is back at work eight months after the hit-and-run that killed his husband as well as his partner. His best friend (also his boss and his sister-in-law) has a new partner for him, but also a new case to work off the books: evidence that the hit-and-run wasn't an accident, and that the car Aidan, Gabe and Tom were in was specifically targeted.

He'll also be working as a mentor to his new partner, cyber expert Jameson Walker (also known as Whiskey). And if he's lucky, he'll be able to trust his new partner to help him discover who murdered his partner and his husband.

Aidan turned for the exit and Jamie grabbed his arm, spinning him back around. "Dammit, Talley, let me say it, then you won't have to keep avoiding it."

"I've heard it enough already," he snapped, tortured gaze locked on Jamie's hand around his arm.

"Believe me, I know better than most." Between his father's death and his injury, Jamie had heard more than enough condolences.

"Then why?" Aidan asked, gaze still averted.

Jamie's hand glided down his jacket sleeve to the shirt cuff and sparking cufflink, straightening it. "Respect. Not for what you lost, but for what you had. And my Southern mother would kill me if I didn't."

Aidan looked up, one corner of his mouth slightly hitched.

"How's she ever gonna know?"

"You weren't raised in the South. They always know."

So I started this book with grave concerns. Generally a romance between law officers who are partners is a HUGE problem with me. I don't like it when people have to keep their feelings a secret, and I really dislike it when they ignore rules and regulations that are there for a very good reason. So you're going to have to work pretty hard to convince me that professionals are going to blatantly ignore the rules.

(F)raternizing with a fellow agent was frowned upon by the Bureau; with one's partner was taboo. He loved his job and didn't want to do anything to jeopardize it, especially now that SAC Cruz was eyeing him for promotion. While he preferred to stay in the cave, out of the public eye he'd already had enough of, he wanted to do well and advance, which meant doing good, clean fieldwork and keeping his hands off Aidan.

This book actually managed that, and did it well. When the two give into their feelings and impulses it's a reasonable response to the circumstances (near death experience and pain pills). And why they–and a third party–agree to keep their relationship under wraps AND to keep them as partners also made sense considering The Mystery.

Yes, there is not a complete resolution of the mystery within this book, and yes, we get a Big Reveal at the end of the book (also something I generally DESPISE) but since the entire series is published, and since the Big Reveal actually felt like it belonged where it was, I wasn't mad.

Another reason that the budding relationship bothered me far less than it normally would is that Aidan is still getting through his grief.

It'd been only eight months since he'd lost Gabe. His husband deserved more, better.

"How long were you two together?"

"Ten years." Aidan opened the drawer next to Jamie's dangling legs, pulled out two spoons, handed him one and set the other on the opposite counter.

Jamie tapped the utensil against his thigh as he did the math in his head. "You weren't together right away?"

"No." Aidan split the steaming pudding mixture between two bowls. "He was still playing football, and I was still playing the field."

Aidan quite clearly loved Gabe, and the grief remains a struggle as he goes through his first year, but he also seems in many ways ready to go on with his life, and struggles with the guilt over feeling that as much as the survivors guilt.

I really appreciate the time and effort that went into that portion of Aidan's character.

Another thing is that the two had some fun banter, and good chemistry.

"You'll need to distract them long enough for me to upload the monitoring program."

"How do you propose I do that?"

"Ask them to repeat everything in plain English. It's damn annoying."

The other thing I especially liked was Aidan's family, and their unconditional love and support. And that it went both ways.

"Love you too, baby bro." Said in jest before, Aidan spoke the words sincerely now, forced out over the lump in his throat. He was close with all his siblings. They'd never been bashful about expressing their feelings for one another, even in front of others. After the accident, those expressions of love took on new significance.

It's a good story that managed to get me past issues that are generally major problems in a story for me.

Publisher: Carina Press 

October 2019 | Rating: 8.5/10

Cask Strength (2017)

Aidan Talley and Jameson Walker are partners, and enjoying each others company. But nothing more. Just casual is all Aidan wants, because he doesn't think he can survive the loss of someone else he loves.

Jameson thinks he can handle "just casual" but if he's fooling Aiden, he's not fooling himself, and Aiden getting shot make it clear Jameson can no longer deal with just casual.

I would've killed Casanova myself if I had to sit in that glass cage with him today."

Her face softened. "Ah, he's reverted."

Jamie debated whether to say more, given the deniability she clung to, but she'd opened the door with that comment. "I'd heard. I just didn't think…"

"Aidan's not good at lonely. Before Gabe, he was a player. No other word for it, and I say that with all the affection of a sister."

"He committed to Gabe."

"He loved Gabe. He was worth giving up all the others."

And you're not. Stomach heaving at the implication, he eyed the trash can.

If I already hadn't had lots of sympathy for Aiden from the first book, I don't think I would have been able to stomach Jameson still trying to salvage a romantic relationship. But Aiden was all but destroyed when his husband was murdered so his fears are reasonable–especially when they both work in dangerous fields.

The back story is important here. Jameson, Aiden, and Mel (their boss) are looking into the hit-and-run that killed Aiden's husband as well as his partner.

I was blocked from the investigation because of my personal connections to the victims. As soon as SFPD ruled it a hit and run, my predecessor closed the case. With the promotion pending and Aidan's injury rehab, I backed off. They questioned Aidan extensively.

The bigger problem is that Mel and Jameson are keeping secrets from Aiden.

But ten to one, he had something major on Gabe and Tom. And if I have to tell Aidan the man he loved most in the world and the man he trusted to watch his back betrayed him, I need to be able to tell him why.

But they have to continue with their regular work, which means Jameson being sent under cover in the only way he could possibly go undercover: as an assistant coach at a 2A school, to look into gambling and identify theft.

What I particularly liked about this story was that Jameson is good at coaching, so it's a particularly believable under-cover assignment. The problem is that it reminds him just how much he misses the game he walked away from.

There is a lot happening here, and I don't recommend jumping in without having read the previous book. Partially because it makes it clear that Aiden's past continues to influence his decisions, and also because of the mystery that goes through all three of the books.

Publisher: Carina Press 

October 2019 | Rating: 8.5/10

Barrel Proof (2017)

(finishes previous book)

(literally scrambles to start this book)

Don't even bother reading this if you didn't read the previous two. You have no reason to read this without the others, and you shouldn't, because she does a fabulous job building the characters and their relationships and everything in the previous two books, that get us where we are here.

As you may (or may not) have remembered, I had issues with the first book, in that Jamie and Aiden are partners, which is a big no-no. And Mel (their boss and Aiden's sister-in-law) is essentially running a private investigation without letting her higher-ups know.

All of these things are problems, and those issues are acknowledged in this book, as well as the side issue of Jamie continuing to hack on the side. For work, yes, but that doesn't actually make it better in a legal or ethical sense. There are other ethical issues that come up (some of which reinforce why partners should NOT be romantically involved) and those are addressed as well, which I really appreciated.

This book moves FAST. If I'd been able, I could easily have torn through all three books in a single sitting (alas, I must work). So the mystery was good, the pace was unrelenting, and the romance was good–with problems that stemmed from the choices both men made and having to come to terms with those decisions.

I really liked this series.

Publisher: Carina Press 

October 2019 | Rating: 9/10

Trouble Brewing

Imperial Stout (2018)

Imperial StoutDominic "Nic" Price has been a lot of things: SEAL, JAG, and now assistant US attorney. But he didn't think he'd particularly been in love, until he meets Cameron Byrne, the FBI's kidnap and rescue expert.

Cameron Byrne has played the field for as long as he's been aware there was a field, but he  loves his job working for the FBI because it allows him to leave his past behind him. Moving to the west coast has been hard to Cam's finances, but it is good for him to be closer to his best friend–even if his new partner (and boss) is said best friend's husband. Who is out of the country on his honeymoon right now, leaving Cam and Nic to deal with the fallout when an operation goes completely pear shaped.

Unfortunately, things are even more complicated than normal for Nic.

Worse still that Nic was in jeopardy for a man who'd disowned him, who'd turned him out for being gay.

One of the things I liked was the awareness of just how difficult the shift to California was for Cam.

"For what it's worth," Lauren said, "I'm a fan of the weekend dressed-down policy you've got going while the boss is gone."

Cam tried not to wince. It was a professional rule he hated breaking and would have never considered it in Boston. But dry cleaning here cost twice what it had back home, and he'd frankly run out of clean dress clothes.

I enjoyed seeing Aidan, but even more I enjoyed seeing Lauren, who gets to play a much larger part in this story.

Aidan dropped into a visitor chair. "What would Whiskey do?"

Lauren clapped, absurdly loud in the otherwise deserted room. "Oh! We should get W-W-W-D bracelets!"

"No," he and Aidan said together.

She stuck out her bottom lip in a pout. "I'm going to grow a sense of humor tree in the corner."

The mystery was a good one, and the tension of the story was ramped ALL the way up almost from the start, with the operation that went badly. In fact, I am NOT starting the next book immediately after this, because I need to go to bed at a decent hour this evening.

But soon. I shall read it soon.

Publisher: Carina Press 

February 2020 | Rating: 8/10

Craft Brew (2018)

craft brewDominic Price and Cameron Byrne have been serious about each other for months, but Nic is so afraid that the gangster who holds his (estranged) father's debts will go after anyone Nic cares for, so he and Cam have kept their relationship quiet.

"Did Vaughn take out insurance on it?"

From the folder of horrors that had produced only bad news, she pulled out another sheet of paper— an insurance certificate on the house. His gaze shot to the declared value box, and all the moisture in his mouth vanished. Double the assessed value, last time he'd checked the county land records.

He ran his hands down his face, groaning. "It's as good as doused in lighter fluid." He had to get his father and staff out of there.

Cam may not like this, but he accepts what Nic wants. Unfortunately, this means he hasn't needed to come out to his family as bisexual, so when he is called home for a family emergency, he doesn't know how to bring Nic up, not wanting to cause drama in a situation that isn't about him.

We also learn the incident in Cam's past that led him to work for the FBI–and gave him the skills to work undercover in the last book as a safebreaker.

Now here is something very interesting that I really liked.

"(T)he FBI is already investigating. I don't want to fuck up that case, and I don't want to be walled off any more than I already am."

Cam pressed his lips together, stewing. "We're walled off too," he said after a moment. "I can't access the files on Vaughn or Curtis."

"All of us are, including Aidan. Conflicts of interest."

I really, deeply, appreciate this. It's nice to see a procedural where people follow the rules (even if they're forced to do so). Of course with Mel and Whiskey no longer working for the FBI, they have their own resources that allow them to work around the FBI. Theoretically this isn't the best idea for their careers, however, I am more than willing to accept it, since it involves Nic directly, and they are willing to help each other out (found family! yay!)

Oh, Nic's dad is a giant horse's ass. Luckily, Cam's family is wonderful, even if he is unsure how to bring up his sexuality with them.

First, the relationship between Nic and Cam is wonderful. Cam is patient (mostly) with Nic's fear for his safety, and although Nic doesn't like that Cam isn't out to his family, he doesn't push or force the issue, simply saying that he won't go back into the closet but Cam needs to talk to his family in his own way and in his own time. I found that willingness to understand each other especially sweet.

The only nit I have to pick is that it feels a bit unrealistic to me that Cam wouldn't have told Jameson about his relationship with Nic. They are best friends. Jameson immediately knows what's going on without being told, so it just seemed silly for them not to talk about it, but in the overall scheme of things, it's a small nit.

Like the previous book–and the previous series–I tore through this book, unwilling to stop reading for anything except sleep and work. She really is very good.

Publisher: Carina Press 

February 2020 | Rating: 8.5/10

Noble Hops (2019)

Noble HopsNic and Cam are ready to settle down in their relationship but nothing can remain calm for the two of them. In this case, Nic's estranged father has been found dead, and it's good odds he was murdered by DUncan Vaughn, the gangster who has been threatening Nic for a year now.

Nic didn't cry; Curtis wasn't worth the tears. And Cam didn't speak; Curtis wasn't worth the words either. They just held each other, letting the tumult of other emotions run their course.

There is so much I like about this book!

1. Forensic accounting!

"Have you confirmed the other lenders have all been paid off?"

"Last payment cleared Friday," she answered quietly.

2. Lots of searching through gigs of documents to put pieces together.

Nic looked down the table to him. "Anything else from the raids?"

Cam gestured at the boxes, then at the mess covering the table. "There's a metric ton of shit here, Boston. Give me the high points."

"Box ten," Lauren said, without looking up from her screen.

Cam shifted over to the boxes, uncovering the one with the ten sticker on the end. He lifted the lid and pulled out two evidence bags. He placed the bags on the table in front of Nic, the heavy metal inside making a loud thunk as they hit the wood.

3. Straight-up discussion as to whether Nic and Cam's relationship is an issue.

"Your partner, who works for the FBI." Stymied, Bowers had changed directions. "Don't you think that's a conflict?"

Nic wouldn't be baited. He'd been ready for this line of attack for some time. "Quite the opposite, actually."

Bowers rested his forearms on Nic's desk, staring him down. "Think the Deputy AG will say the same?"

"Considering Jack met me and Cam for lunch in Norfolk and commended our work on cases together, I'm pretty sure he would."

Bowers's face fell and his skin blanched.

But most of all what I liked is that when something happens that looks bad and/or is hurtful, both Nic and Cam TALK about what is happening rather than creating a Big Misunderstanding.

Thank Dog.

The other thing I liked is that all the members of the team contributed–it wasn't just Nic and Cam, but the friends as well as their co-workers getting things done to get the case ready. Yeah, of course there were action sequences, but that's in the DNA of both characters, so I'm ok with it.

In other words, this was a fun series that I tore through–barely able to put my book down to do necessary things like eat, sleep and go to work.

Publisher: Carina Press 

February 2020 | Rating: 8.5/10

Dine with Me (2019)

Dine with MeMiller Sykes rose in the food world until he had his own restaurant. But now the restaurant is closing, his best friend is getting married, and according to the doctor he has 6 months to live if he doesn't get his cancer treated.

But the treatment (if it works) may well destroy his taste buds, and who could he possibly be without the sense that made him a chef? So he's going on a farewell tour of sorts. His partner has arranged a two-week tour of restaurants in the US–paid for by the lucky foodie who get a chef for a tour guide.

Clancy Rhodes has finally finished his residency and is ready to join his father's plastic surgery practice. But his family decided he needs a treat before he dives into his new life. As a lover of food, this is the perfect vacation for him and he can't wait to get to ask all the questions he wants about food and cooking and restaurants and everything.

First, I love Miller's found family, especially Sloan. I also get that although Miller did everything possible to save Sloan, he doesn't believe that he deserves the same from her or their other friends or his family.

Part of it is that his sense of self is almost entirely tied up in cooking. He doesn't feel like he has much to offer beyond that, so if he loses the ability to cook–what is he besides a burden?

The other thing, of course, was the food.

I am, unfortunately, a picky eater. Yet I still love a well-written food description.

(W)hen he tasted the chocolate soufflé with Earl Grey crème anglaise, it was beyond semi-orgasmic. Hell, beyond orgasmic. It was a night full of hot-sweaty-blow-your-mind-sex, in a baking ramekin and gravy boat. He eyed the latter, debating whether to turn it up and drink the remaining crème anglaise right from the boat.

Miller followed his gaze, accurately reading his intent. "I will think less of you."

"I'm not sure I care right now." The sauce was calling his name, loudly.

It did make me wish I wasn't so particular about food, and that I could eat anything. But I'm pretty sure the only way that would work would be if I neither saw nor knew what I was eating, to be able to over-ride my brain. And then I's still likely find so many flavors too strong.

But this story is not about me, it's about these two lovely characters falling for each other. Which of course they do, because this is a romance. But it's also realistic in Miller's prognosis and future, which I appreciated.

Nothing in life is certain, so try to live as hard as you can.

Publisher: Carina Press