Rating: 4.5 Stars

Publisher: Self Published 

Genre: Gay Romance 

Tags: Undercover Police, Russian Mob, Darker Tone – Non-Con/Dub-Con, Hurt/Comfort, Romance, Book #2

Length: 275 Pages 

Reviewer: Kazza 

Purchase At: amazon

Blurb:

Two men. Three identities. An unstoppable attraction.

Desperate for his luck to change, Jake Spencer manages to land a dance contract with Dmitry Gruzdev. The job has plenty of perks, including a simmering lust between him and Dmitry’s hulking brute of a bodyguard, Mikhail. Life is finally looking up. Except as the shine wears off, it becomes clear that Jake’s stepped into a world of darkness and depravity where Bratva answers to no one and allies are not what they seem. 

Mikhail’s hiding a secret: there is no Mikhail. He’s simply a front for undercover operative, Ryan Harris. A means to gain access to Dmitry. Ryan’s not stupid. There’s no way he’s going to get distracted by a pretty face, no matter how attractive Jake might be. That would be far too dangerous for all concerned. Only it’s not that simple and before Ryan knows it, the line between personal and professional begins to blur spectacularly.

Lust develops into more. Secrets start to unravel. Ryan’s got an impossible choice to make: keep Jake safe or maintain his cover. But how much does Dmitry know? The hunted may be about to become the hunter, blowing both men’s worlds to pieces and leaving them with nothing. 

Can a relationship built on lies ever lead to love? 

Warning: This book contains a seductive dancer prone to getting into trouble, a gruff man who’s anything but, and a villain who just won’t go away.

**IF YOU HAVEN’T READ A DANCE TOO FAR TREAT THIS AS A SPOILER REVIEW**

Review:

I was really keen to read this book when it came out because I enjoyed book #1, A Dance Too Far, but I haven’t been well and had to put this on the back burner. When I finally got around to reading it last week I read it in a day.

This is “Mikhail’s” story from book #1, A Dance Too Far. The reader soon discovers that Mikhail and his fellow bodyguard, Igor – really Ryan and George – are undercover Metropolitan Police Officers. They were ballet dancer Valentin’s Bychkov’s bodyguards but in reality they’re part of an operation to infiltrate Bratva via Dmitry Gruzdev. Dmitry is a lower rung member of the Russian organised crime group. Being a small fish doesn’t mean he doesn’t have teeth though, and he has his own network of thugs, but New Scotland Yard is interested in using Dmitry to get to Iosif Zhernakov

Ryan and George’s handler, Colin, is not happy that they allowed Valentin to go (the end of book #1). He hadn’t sanctioned it and he’s copped flack over it. What’s going to happen to the operation now Valentin’s no longer there and Mikhail and Igor’s bodyguard duties come to an end? George suggests that now Valentin is gone they’ll be able to be around Dmitry and the organisation more. Dmitry spent more time in Moscow, with limited time in London and around them previously. The two of them purely being bodyguards for Valentin wasn’t getting them closer to the Bratva hierarchy and now they believe they can infiltrate more easily without babysitting a dancer. But, surprise!  Dmitry wants them to help him shortlist candidates to replace Valentin.

Jake Spencer is a twenty-one-year-old down on his luck ballet dancer looking for work. Everyone who dances has heard of Valentin Bychkov and when Jake finds out his “mentor,” Dmitry Gruzdev, is looking to replace him, he manages to sneak into the audition.

Jake dances well enough, although Dmitry mockingly tells Mikhail he’s nothing like Valentin. Jake is attractive though, his dancer’s body also helps. He fits the profile Dmitry uses – someone desperate who won’t be missed. Dmitry offers him the contract. Jake asks a few questions about clauses, but Dmitry knows how to sell something and tells Jake a world-renowned ballet teacher will work with him, if he doesn’t want the contract someone else will. That ensures a broke and unemployed dancer will sign on the dotted line quickly. Jake’s been living in a squalid flat, his rent overdue, and a sleazy landlord wanting sex in exchange. His parents don’t accept that he’s gay and wants to dance for a living, having nothing to do with him. Here is Valentin’s mentor offering him something he desperately wants, who is he to question it?

The fact Dmitry had not only allowed me to dance, but offered to mentor me, and then on top of that had solved my biggest problem by providing a place to live, still seemed like a dream come true.

Little does Jake know the contract will be nothing like he’s promised, and his landlord wanting sexual favours is the tip of the iceberg of what Dmitry has planned for him. Dmitry uses all his young charges like commodities, something he can make money off via “parties” he organises for older men who want to be able to grope and play with pretty young things.

I hated myself at that moment. The last thing I wanted to do was deliver him to Dmitry’s office like a sacrificial lamb, except that’s precisely what I was about to do.

This is a darker book than A Dance Too Far. For one, Ryan has to play the part of Mikhail for around fifty percent of the book. We know he’s Ryan Harris, but Jake doesn’t. So their relationship starts on a deception. Before he’s aware of what’s to come, Jake is flirtatious and lighthearted. He fancies the gruff and older Mikhail, who has a scar on his face and is six foot five of dark and brooding muscle. He thinks that Mikhail is reticent about fooling around with him because he’s a closeted Russian man. He doesn’t know about the total arsehole that is Dmitry and his “parties,” or Bratva.

When Ryan and George were inserted into Bratva two years ago Valentin had been with Dmitry for approximately a decade. He’d already been hardened, and with very good reason. Jake isn’t like that and it’s difficult for Ryan to see his reaction to the fact he won’t be a ballet dancer and he will be used for sex. Same as Valentin, only Dmitry let Valentin get away with occasional things because he was a commodity as a dancer as well, but mostly it was because he had a deep obsession with Valentin. Still does. Doesn’t mean he was good to Valentin. He wasn’t. Dmitry has no such desire for even a little latitude toward Jake – he’s a means to make him money through prostitution, if not, he can be disposed of easily. End of.

Mikhail/Ryan starts having sex with Jake when Jake makes his desires known and Ryan can’t resist but it doesn’t sit right because he knows what’s going to happen to him. “Mikhail” did try to warn Jake, but something would get in the way, then it was too late because Jake had signed himself over to Dmitry. When Jake starts to realise just what he’s stuck in the middle of, when he overhears Ryan with a British accent on a phone, Ryan has no choice but to let him know who he is via notes – the rooms are always bugged but there aren’t any cameras. When they go to Scotland for one of Dmitry’s “parties,” Ryan doesn’t believe there is any surveillance as there hasn’t been enough time. Turns out he’s wrong and Dmitry finds out he’s fucking Jake. Rather than the proverbial hitting the fan, Dmitry encourages it, thinks it will make Jake looser with the men he’s about to entertain on a regular basis, and if Mikhail gets some on the side and it doesn’t interfere with his job, then whatever, Dmitry’s not interested in Jake, and he can hold it over Mikhail if he feels like it. Even after he has to attend the “parties,” Mikhail/Ryan and Jake still have sex. Which is… difficult.

Ryan hates seeing these boys being used not only by Bratva but his bosses at New Scotland Yard. He knows their names and faces. He knows what they go through and when he falls for Jake, which is pretty quickly, he can’t take it for much longer. I have to admit that allowed Ryan off the hook with me because I hated what was happening, what had happened. But he’s a terrible undercover agent. He jeopardises his and George’s life. The operation as well, all because he wants Jake. He fantasises about what life would be like if they met under different circumstances. He’s a big teddy bear in some ways. And Rudolph, awww, so sweet – you need to read the book. I liked his police partner, George. He’s pretty patient and understanding given what Ryan is doing with Jake, his career and life on the line just as much as Ryan’s.

Things eventually turn pear-shaped and Ryan and George are out of the picture. The book hits an even darker note then. I felt a great deal for Jake, he endures so much at the hands of Dmitry prostituting him out and brainwashing him into thinking no one cares. He’s there for as long as Dmitry wishes it… or he’s dead. When they are separated, Ryan spends every waking hour trying to find Jake but it’s over six months before there’s any hope.

Valentin and Max make an appearance too. It was nice to see them again. They still live a cautious life, as Dmitry is fixated on Valentin and has already tried to have Max killed once. The only thing that keeps Dmitry away, and from causing a scene, is the fact that he doesn’t want to advertise to his superiors in Bratva that he’s gay. Ryan tries repeatedly to contact Valentin to see if he knows where in Russia Dmitry might have taken Jake, but Valentin is dancing in New York and “Mikhail” is not someone he’ll talk to. Ryan Harris? He doesn’t know that name. He lived a tough life before falling in love with Max and escaping Dmitry, he doesn’t want to be reminded of that world again.

 

H L Day has become an author I’m growing increasingly fond of. Her writing is entertaining, it has depth of emotion, and it makes you want to keep reading through to the end. The two books I’ve read have been well edited, with the exception of Americanised words in a British setting. I just wish authors wouldn’t do that. Apart from that everything is neat and tidy and well put together. The dual POV once again helps drive emotional attachment to the MCs and to make sure the plot moves along at a good pace. I really, really liked and felt for both of these MCs, and that’s in spite of deception forming part of the basis of their relationship. That’s something I often avoid in books I choose to read. That H L Day made me overcome that was good writing. I could understand why Ryan had to do what he did, as upsetting as it was for him. I was glad when he at least let Jake know he was Ryan. Also, they’re smokin’ hot together.

I believe this is a duology as in the afterword the author said this book was written for readers who wanted closure on something, which was achieved. I’m personally happy if this is the last book or if H L Day chooses to revisit this world. Either works for me. I also want to mention the covers of these two books. A Dance Too Far has one of the best covers I have ever seen, and I really like this cover too – striking. And one more thing: Valentin deserves a medal, high five, my ballet boi. I can’t say anymore without spoilers, but, *bites tongue, I want to. You can read this book without having read book #1 but I’d recommend you do read it first. It’s a good book anyway so, if this book sounds like you, grab A Dance Too Far and A Step Too Far and have a weekend binge. 4.5 Stars!