Down & DIrty
I started Rhenna Morgan’s Men of Haven series late in the game, with book five, Stand and Deliver. I really liked it, and picked up a few of the previous titles as well as the next in the series, Down & Dirty. Each book is designed to be read as a standalone but there are glimpses of secondary characters throughout. Accordingly the hero in Down & Dirty, Axel, is one who has been around since the beginning and fans of the series have been waiting for his turn at an HEA. Unfortunately, while he definitely fits the alpha male type of the heroes in this series, some of his actions come at the expense of the heroine, making this one an okay read but not as enjoyable as I’d hoped.
Lizzy and her band are still working their way through dive bars in the hopes of making it big. When a bar owner tries to renege on their agreed-upon contract, she gets an unexpected helping hand from a handsome and commanding stranger, a man who gives her the good kind of shivers.
Axel McKee has been waiting for his opportunity to introduce himself to Lizzy, a woman whose career he has been shadowing for several months. He’s seen her potential, not just as a musician, but also as a woman who could be the perfect match for him. Offering to put the weight of his name and business acumen (and money) behind her to give her a career a leg up is an easy choice. But Lizzy has been burned by a man before, her manager-slash-boyfriend having nearly destroyed her once lofty ambitions. Can she find it in herself to trust again – and is Axel the key to her happy ever after?
This is a music-themed Cinderella-type story, with a heroine who is working hard to make a name for herself suddenly offered the resources that can give her a boost, complete with a handsome prince at her side. It sounds great – so why do I feel conflicted about Axel as a hero? Maybe it’s a bit of resentment that a man has to be the one to ‘rescue’ her, instead of Lizzy making it on her own. When they first meet, Lizzy introduces herself as Lizzy but Axel insists on calling her Elizabeth, ignoring that she doesn’t like to be called that. Running roughshod over her objections was the first clue that Axel wasn’t going to be the man of the hour for me.
Axel is a dominant man in all facets of his life, including in the bedroom. From the first moment he’d seen Lizzy he’d been aware of her ‘submissive’ side (his conclusion about her, not her own) and he takes it upon himself to show her that side of her personality, as though he knows better than her what she likes. Everything happens with her consent and their sex scenes are definitely hot as they flirt with some BDSM themes, particularly bondage and Dominance/submission. Despite Axel’s arrogant assumptions that he knows best about everything for Lizzy and his tendency to take charge, he has a sincere desire to help her achieve stardom and show her a loving and supportive family structure (the men of Haven and their partners). In the end it’s Lizzy’s feelings about Axel that matter the most, and he proves, with his actions towards her and her band partners, that his intentions are genuine and that he is trustworthy.
Axel’s drive to promote Lizzy’s musical success comes from his own aborted career. Instead of focusing on himself, he and his brother-by-choice Jace had done everything they could to help their mothers lift themselves out of poverty. Their mothers live together at the Haven compound and all of the men’s financial success has been inspired by them, and used to create a safe environment for the other male friends who’ve proven their worth. The men of Haven will stop at nothing to protect their found family, and when Axel finds out just what Lizzy’s former manager did to her and to other young and naïve performers, he and his friends take action. For Lizzy, having new female friends and two moms who adopt her as their own, is equally as important as her feelings for Axel. Lizzy gets a happy ending in all sorts of ways, not just in terms of the romance, and it’s Axel who makes it possible. Perhaps readers familiar with him from other books will overlook the issues I had with his behaviour and be glad to see him finding the woman of his dreams. I still plan to catch up on other books in the series and maybe they’ll alter my opinion of him. Time will tell. In the meantime if you’re looking for an alpha male-led story with a Cinderella theme and lots of sexy times, this one might do.