Jove Alms is a handsome man. Well over six feet, and well over eight inches (Tobias can’t get that number out of his head), he’s a force to be reckoned with even without the small army of Hanged Men who follow his every word, without the oodles of money, without the influence, the reputation, and the sheer charisma. And Tobias has just saved his life. Surely that’s enough to keep Jove from killing him, right? Somehow, Tobias lucked into being in the right place at the wrong time — boy were his kidnappers unlucky — and now his life has taken a sharp turn into crazy town. He’s being given fancy clothes, all the food he can eat, and, if he plays his cards right, he may just get out of this alive! A pity Tobias is a terrible card player.
Someone wants something from Jove. Using his love of his horses against him, they’ve drawn him out of retirement, dangling the name Izawa in front of him like he’s stupid enough to believe it. Jove has no intention of falling into the trap someone has laid for him, but he also has no intention of letting this go. No, he’ll get to the bottom of this. Someone will pay, and pay in blood.
Blood Sports is the first story in the Hanged Man series and I really want to know when book two will be out because I loved every part of this story. While it starts like a dark mafia romance with violence, blood, threats, and rival gangs involved in the usual carnage and cruelty, it slowly becomes a rather sweet romance, as well as a story about an estranged family slowly finding their way back to one another, all because Tobias — all five feet of him — can’t keep his mouth from running to save his life.
Tobias has grown up knowing the value of hard work, as well as the value of getting along. When he ends up kidnapped, with no idea why or by whom, he doesn’t ask silly questions like “who are you.” All he wants is to get through this alive, and he’ll do what it takes to make that happen. Cry, scream, beg, rat out a previous employer? Done! That doesn’t mean he’s immoral or even disloyal, but he’s never had anyone — other than his mother — to be loyal to. When Jove shows him kindness rather than the back of his hand, when he gets him clean clothes, all the food he can eat (and gives him a glance at that body), Tobias is pretty sure he’s in trouble.
First, the man is one of the most powerful mobsters out there. So running away would be silly. Plus, Jove feeds him, so there’s that. Second, the man is gloriously handsome and the more time Tobias spends with him, the more chances he gets to look. Third, someone out there wants to kill Jove, and if Tobias did manage to get away from Jove, they might go for him to see what he knows — which is nothing, which means he’d have no value and thus, soon, no life. So staying with Jove is a winning proposition. But, while all that’s good and logical, Tobias soon finds himself getting interested in the man behind the golden eye. He likes Jove, likes the way he feels when Jove snarls at him, or when he pushes him around. For someone whose been alone for so long, it’s nice to feel like someone cares.
Jove has always gotten what he wants, even when it wasn’t good for him. His marriage ended badly, his affairs haven’t lasted, and he doesn’t make friends. So when a five foot, doe-eyed kid — who looks like he’s about to burst into tears — saves his life, Jove isn’t sure what to make of it. The kid’s like a chipmunk on crack; his mouth is never still, unless he’s eating, and he’ll contradict himself easily enough if he thinks one answer will get him better results than the other. But when those giant eyes look up at him, begging him to protect him, Jove feels nothing more than a desire to hold him. He’s never been with a man, before, but that’s no reason to say no to Tobias.
Tobias is no wide-eyed ingenue. He’s a cynical, calculating, young man who knows what he wants. What he wants is to be alive, thank you. His observations, in the book, seem clinical and distant until you remember that, for him, the whole book — from start to finish — is less than a week in which he’s been kidnapped, seen men die, killed a man, and had a gamut of less-than-fun adventures. He’s in shock, he’s compartmentalizing, and when he breaks and all but begs Jove to save him, Jove does. And holds him through the tears. For Tobias, it isn’t the wealth or the power, other than the fact that they’re as much a part of the man as his eye and his gun, it’s the way Jove makes him feel. Safe. Valued. Wanted, like he’s worth the care.
Jove has been around the block more than a few times. He’s retired from a violent life where was amazingly successful. He’s ruthless, cold-blooded, and amoral. Jove isn’t ashamed by the life he’s lived, even though he knows he’s made mistakes — with his sons, especially — but he also isn’t averse to change. And Tobias, a new lens to see his world through, shows him some of those potential changes. Tobias doesn’t believe it’s too late, since as long as everyone’s alive, there’s still a chance to fix things. And if Jove’s too slow (his mind on other things, like the people trying to kill them), then Tobias can make that first step for him. Tobias has no impulse control and Jove kills people without thought. And yet, surprisingly, somehow they’re better together than they are apart. Tobias offers his optimism, Jove offers his love, and the two of them are a pretty romantic and loving couple.
The world building in this book is glorious. The horses, the mob, the paranormal element … all of it works so seamlessly and so well. The characters all have a depth, and not just the main pair. Hadrian and Nevra, Jona’s youngest and eldest sons, respectively, come across as fully formed and people in their own rights. I have hopes, because this is the first book in the series, that we’ll see more of them in the following books. Even the relationship between Izawa and Jove (and Izawa and Tobias) came across reasonable and believable. Everything they did, between them, made sense. No one was stupid just to advance the plot; instead, the plot worked around their intelligence, which I loved.
Please read this book. Join me in my impatient waiting for book two!