I am so sad to say goodbye to the Marked Men series! It seems like I've spent so long with these hot, troubled, tattooed men, that I can't imagine not having a book with them in it to read. The series caps off with ASA, Jet's brother-in-law and Rome's BFF. Read on for my review, an excerpt and a killer giveaway.
Asa (Marked Men #6), by Jay Crownover
Published April 21, 2015
Publisher: William Morrow
Format: ARC, provided by the publisher
Genre: new adult contemporary romance
To Buy: Amazon * Barnes & Noble
Rating: 4 STARS
(From Goodreads) Starting over in Denver with a whole new circle of friends and family, Asa Cross struggles with being the man he knows everyone wants him to be and the man he knows he really is. A leopard doesn’t it change its spots and Asa has always been a predator. He doesn’t want to hurt those who love and rely on him, especially one luscious arresting cop who suddenly seems to be interested in him for far more than his penchant for breaking the law. But letting go of old habits is hard, and it’s easy to hit bottom when it’s the place you know best.
Royal Hastings is quickly learning what the bottom looks like after a tragic situation at work threatens not only her career but her partner’s life. As a woman who has only ever had a few real friends she’s trying to muddle through her confusion and devastation all alone. Except she can’t stop thinking about the sexy southern bartender she locked up. Crushing on Asa is the last thing she needs but his allure is too strong to resist. His long criminal record can only hurt her already shaky career and chasing after a guy who has no respect for the law or himself can only end in heartbreak.
A longtime criminal and a cop together just seems so wrong . . . but for Asa and Royal, being wrong together is the only right choice to make.
Talk about a reluctant hero. Asa embodies that term to the fullest, and it is so frustrating. I get that Asa has not always been on the right side of the law, but he's been trying to find his way in the world for awhile now, and it's time he has something good in his life that's all for him. Royal could help him out with that if he would only allow her to. But, she has some things of her own to worry about first.
Man, if self-deprecation was an Olympic sport, Asa would take the gold medal by a mile. He feels so badly about his past wrongs. But, more than that, I think he feels even worse that there are times when he wants to slip back into old habits. When you live your life a certain way for so long, it takes a lot of time to make a 180 change. Asa definitely has the will and the motivation to make the change. And, he really couldn't get a better support system.
Asa's best friend is Rome, ex-military hero and all around good guy. Asa's sister Ayden is married to Jet. So, once Asa demonstrated he was serious about turning his life around, he had these rock solid guys and their awesome women to surround him with love and support. While that would make most people ecstatic, I think it only amplifies Asa's guilt. He sees himself as completely unlovable and not worthy of these good peoples' time. He is always reminding everyone of how rotten he is, which was sad and maddening.
"Do you want to confess every single sin you've ever committed to me? Do you think it will scare me away or absolve you of past misdeeds? Because I have to tell you, neither of those things is going to happen. I'm never going to dislike you as much as you dislike yourself, Asa."
And then there's Royal. She's the newest member of the group, having moved into the same apartment building as Nash and his girlfriend Saint. And... she's a cop. She's like, the antithesis to Asa, or at least to the former Asa. She's just heaped a fresh, steaming pile of guilt on her shoulders too, due to a botched case that got her partner seriously injured. While taking some time off, Royal tries to up her game of seduction when it comes to Asa.
He might have been a criminal in the past, but now I was the one that wanted to steal something from him and keep it for my own... he was going to put up a fight once he realized I was after his heart. After all, it was my job to capture the bad guy... only this one I wasn't planning on letting go of.
And, here's the thing about Asa that made me just want to throttle the hottie. He has this beautiful girl practically throwing herself at him, and he doesn't think he's worthy of her affections. You know, I'm all for the alpha male types that like to call the shots, but nothing irritates me more than a guy (or a girl) who makes blanket decisions for the other person based on what he think is best for her. Asa is convinced he's a bad guy and she's a good girl and therefore they can't be together. He sees things in black and white, and in so doing, he forgets that the "bad" people in the world can do good things and the "good" people can be total douchebags from time to time.
Royal ends up wearing Asa down, and all of a sudden, he's feeling things and learning things about himself from both Royal and the others in the group that he hangs out with. He's learning how to be a responsible, upstanding citizen. And, he's learning that sometimes that sucks a lot. Asa has to make some judgement calls over the course of the book, and not all of them leave him feeling warm and fuzzy. One in particular nearly destroys everything he's built, and it was this one decision that really made me crazy. I'm still not entirely happy with how everything shook down, but Asa's and Royal's HEA made it worth it.
Speaking of HEAs, since this is the last Marked Men book, we get a lot of opportunity to see where Rule, Jet, Rome, Nash and Rowdy are in their relationships with their wives and girlfriends. They've all found love and success, and are on similar paths now. It was a fantastic way to wrap up the series.
But, the best part of all was the little note after the book ended, informing the reader that this is NOT the last we will see of our favorite tatted heroes. Jay Crownover is writing a spin-off series - The Saints of Denver - which will focus on many of the side characters that have been introduced in the past few books. I know the first book in that series will feature Sayer, Rowdy's sister, and Zeb, Rome and Asa's friend from The Bar. This is good news indeed.
She puffed out a breath and her bangs fluttered over her winged brows. “He’s a survivor for sure, but there is a difference between merely getting by and living the life you’re supposed to live. I had no idea how love was supposed to look or feel until I met Jet. I wasn’t living a full life until he gave me the strength to let go of everything else.”
Her eyes flared hot, gold just like Asa’s did when he was excited about something. I was a tiny bit jealous that just saying her man’s name had that effect on her.
“I want Asa to do more than survive, Royal. I want him to finally be happy for once in his life. I want him to do more than just get by. I want him to have something that is his and his alone that he doesn’t ever feel like he has to fight for.”
I gulped a little bit as emotion started to clog my throat. I set my almost empty beer down on the table in front of me and twisted my fingers together. “He has all of that within his grasp, but his hands are too busy holding on to the past and reaching for the future to grab on to it.”
She opened her mouth and then snapped it closed as she leaned back in her chair. She crossed her arms over her chest, covering up the Valkyrie straddling a flaming guitar and the word enmity as she did so. The shirt with the ripped-off sleeves that showed the sides of her black bra seemed out of place with her pointy red cowboy boots, but it was Ayden, so she rocked it and looked perfect doing so.
She shook her dark head. “I know he is. I was hoping that since he can’t stop staring at you, and keeps looking at me like he wants to drop-kick me across the bar, maybe you had convinced him to let some of that go. We can’t go back in time and we can’t predict the future. He’s living in suspended animation.”
I shifted again as the jukebox switched to an old Christina Aguilera song, which had several middle-aged ladies climbing up from the table they were sharing and doing some serious booty shaking. It made me grin even though the topic of conversation wasn’t exactly cheerful.
“Every once in a while he puts it all away, and every now and again I feel like he’s reaching for a lifeline to stop himself from sinking. It gives me enough hope that I’m willing to stick around and see how it all plays out.”
She ran her finger around the rim of her shot glass and licked the salt off. “What are you going to do if you ever have to lock him up again? He’s a trouble magnet. Even when he’s trying to keep his nose clean.”
I sighed and shoved my hands through the front of my hair. “I keep telling myself I’ll cross that bridge if I ever come to it.” I leaned closer to her when the dancing women moved a little closer and their laughter got loud enough that I had to talk over it. “Did you know he was willing to do time, to sit in jail for a crime he didn’t even commit because he’s so twisted up on the inside about everything that happened before? How can someone even function with that kind of guilt filling them up?”
My voice caught and I let out a shuddering breath. I started a little when Ayden’s hand reached out and landed on top of the fists I hadn’t even been aware I was making. I mean I knew about guilt and the way it could affect a person’s thinking. My own guilt had kept me away from Dom when he needed me most, but I let it go when I realized it was poisoning everything in my life. I would always feel bad for what happened that night in the alley and I would never get over seeing Dom fall, but it couldn’t be the only moment that defined my life or my career. I needed Asa to realize everything he was missing by refusing to let go.
Ayden’s fingers squeezed mine, and I had to squeeze back because she was the only other person alive that could understand how hard caring for a man like Asa could be.
“That’s why I worry. All he’s done since I brought him to Denver is function. Nothing more and nothing less. That’s no way to live. But now he watches you like you matter, like he’s worried I’m going to scare you off with all the stories of his past misdeeds. So I have hope, a thin, tiny thread of hope that there is finally something out there in the world that he’s going to realize he has to wake up and live for.”
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