Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
Genre: New Adult, Romance
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
ARC from the authors
| Review |
Oh, Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. You are sly ones, that’s for sure. The fact that every blogger I know dropped everything when they received this book is a testament to how beloved these authors and their backlists are. This is a book readers have been thirsting for for years – even ones who didn’t know it. It’s been three long years since these two have released a co-authored romance featuring a male couple, and I have no doubt fans are going to find the same magic with Keaton and Bailey in Top Secret that they did with Wes and Jamie in HIM.
While Keaton and Bailey were in the same fraternity, that wasn’t how they found each other in a more romantic way. You can tell by the blurb that their true identities really were top secret, but I’m not going to spoil you with why they were chatting without knowing who the other was. Keaton was a not-so-dumb jock trying to get out from under his father’s expectations, and Luke was down on his luck and trying damn hard to make ends meet while getting his college degree. They both had issues with their families, but in very different ways. Along with their determination to make their lives what they wanted, that was one of the things they were able to really bond over. I liked Keaton’s character. At the beginning of this book, aside from living under his father’s thumb, he was generally a content guy. He knew what the expectations were for his future, but he only let them weigh him down so much before he started to take matters into his own hands and decide his own future. He was a diligent student (with the weirdest of knowledge,) and he was a good boyfriend. Quick to step up and give his girl what she wanted. As for Luke, he had a fun group of friends, but the weight of his family crushed him, and it made it hard for him to be hopeful about his future. But he really did try. His family treated him like an ATM machine, and his self-worth was tied tightly to that. He didn’t see what Keaton saw in him, and it made things feel so temporary. The steamy scenes in this book were so damn hot, and the fact that Keaton was absolute putty for Luke really brought it to another level. I like how aspects of their personalities showed through here, and it made the characterization even better.
My only gripe was that there was an aspect of Luke’s personality that was so in your face; it was overdone and made that part of him feel inauthentic. I would like to have seen more of an inner struggle. It could have been more nuanced and given him and the story a more real feel.
It goes without saying that Top Secret was a wonderful addition to these authors backlists. I know I’m not the only one hoping that Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy have more co-authored books in store for us, and I’ll be here to read each and every one of them!
| Rating |
| Excerpt |
TOP SECRET by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy
“Look,” Annika whispers in my ear. Under the table, her small hand squeezes my thigh, while her cheek gently nudges my chin toward the doorway. “He’s cute.”
“Subtle,” I tease before giving the object of her attention a cursory glance. He’s just a tall guy with brown hair, nothing special as far as I can tell. “How about we save this conversation for later?”
She rolls her eyes. “We both know there won’t be a conversation, Keaton. You like playing along, but you won’t actually go through with it.” This time she forgets to lower her voice.
“Go through with what?” one of my frat brothers asks from across the table. Tanner, Judd, and I had popped into the campus Starbucks for a caffeine fix after practice. Annika’s next class is directly across the street, so she’d come to say hi before class.
“Nothing,” I tell Tanner.
If you can call your girlfriend wanting a threesome with another dude “nothing.”
Yup, my girlfriend wants a threesome. And here I’d thought that, after six years together, Annika couldn’t surprise me anymore.
She and I have been inseparable since junior year of high school. I know every last detail about her, from her food preferences to her pet peeves. I know she gets anxiety in long lines, that she sneezes any time she gets a whiff of cinnamon, that she loves the beach but hates skiing.
What I didn’t know was that my girlfriend fantasizes about threesomes. The first time she brought it up, I thought she was kidding around. Annika Schiffer, heiress to a home-furnishings fortune, wants to bang two guys at the same time? Yeah right.
My girl is the president of her sorority, wears a pearl necklace (and not the fun kind) on a daily basis, and made me wait until we were eighteen to lose our virginities to each other. Don’t get me wrong—she’s not some uptight rich bitch with a stick up her butt. She’s fun and warm and fierce when someone tries to mess with her or her loved ones.
But she’s also… I’ll just say it: vanilla.
I didn’t think she was serious about the threesome thing until last week, when I’d asked her what she wanted for her birthday and she brought up the idea again.
I move my lips to her ear so Tanner and Judd can’t overhear. “Don’t you worry, babe, there’ll be more than just a conversation,” I rasp.
She shivers, and then flashes me a dazzling smile. Her face is flawless. Classic features, pouty lips, and smooth skin that’s just the right amount of dewy. She works hard and spends a lot of money for that skin. I’ve been in her bathroom at the sorority house, so I’ve seen all the products she puts on her face to keep it looking so perfect. Not to mention the monthly facials, which require her to fly to New York every month because this little college town we live in doesn’t have a “competent aesthetician”—her words, not mine.
It helps that her father owns a helicopter that can accommodate her monthly treks. I’m not one to judge, though. My dad has his own jet.
“I can’t wait,” she says before hopping off my lap. “Come over tonight after practice, okay, baby? I have to go to class now.”
“I’ll see you later.”
“Bye, boys.” Annika’s hand flutters in a wave on her way to the door.
“Later!” Tanner calls after her. And if I’m not mistaken, he takes a longing look at her ass.
“Dude,” I say. “If you’re going to eye-fuck my girlfriend, you could at least be subtle about it.”
“Why?” Tanner argues. “She’d be flattered. And you should know how good you’ve got it. Besides, I’m harmless.” He flashes me a big smile. “What are we doing this weekend, anyway?” Tanner asks. “The Presidential Dance-off, right?”
I shake my head. “That’s, like, in two weeks, man.”
“Really? Why did I think it was sooner?”
“Because you’re stupid,” Judd offers helpfully.
Tanner gives him the finger, before turning back to me. “Do you know what you’re doing for yours yet?”
I have no clue. And no, dancing isn’t an actual requirement for our fraternity’s presidential race. But it used to be. A few decades ago, the candidates running for frat president decided a dance-off was the only way to decide who was more fit to lead. Hence, the Presidential Dance-off was born. On our living room walls, there are old photos of well-dressed men with slicked-back hair and girls in poodle skirts on their arms.
My fraternity has long-held traditions that began well before the invention of the red Solo cup. But these days, Alpha Delta has evolved. Or devolved, depending who you ask. Instead of perfecting his twist and his mashed potato, the presidential candidate is expected to dazzle the other members by planning a kickass event. I’m talking epic. Monumental. The kind of party that will be remembered for years to come.
Although, like dance moves, I’m not entirely sure that party planning is a solid indicator of what makes a good president. Sure, frats throw a lot of parties, but there’s a social committee for that.
The role of president is actually pretty lame, according to Reedsy, our current prez. He pulled me aside after I threw my name in the race and admitted that it’s a boring gig and that I should reconsider. “So much fucking responsibility on your shoulders, dude,” he’d bemoaned.
For a moment, I’d almost bailed. To be honest, I’m only running because my dad was president of Alpha Delt in his heyday, and my granddad before him. But that’s also the reason I couldn’t bail. My father would lose his shit if the Hayworth legacy ended with me.
So I have ten days to plan a legendary party.
“Maybe I can just hire an event planner?” I suggest.
“No way.” Judd’s response is immediate. “If that fuckhead Bailey finds out, he’ll have you impeached.”
“You can’t impeach someone until he’s elected,” Tanner points out.
Still, I don’t want to be accused of cheating. What a pain in the ass this whole thing is. “We can brainstorm about this on Sunday night. We have a game to win on Saturday.”
“Oh, we’re going to win,” Tanner promises.
But I’m not so sure. Not only am I worried about the Northern Mass offense, I think my father is driving up for the game. So winning isn’t even enough. If the Northern Mass players aren’t crying into their helmets after the fourth quarter, my father will still give me hell at brunch the next day.
And here I thought weekends were meant to be relaxing.
“Fine,” Judd says. “We’ll talk about your campaign after the other meeting on Sunday night.”
“What other meeting?” I search my brain and come up empty.
“Pledge Committee,” he says, gulping the last of his coffee.
Oh, phew. “I don’t have to go to that one. I’m not on PC this year.”
“But I sent you that email?” Judd whines. “I told you I need you there. Initiation night is coming up and my committee is lame.”
“Who’s on it, anyway? What do you have planned?” Note to self: be conveniently unavailable on Sunday night. There is no way I’m sitting on the Pledge Committee again. Dealing with last year’s pledge class was a total pain in the ass.
“There’s Ahmad, who’s smart but boring. Paul, who’s just boring. Owen, who’s fun but not exactly creative. And Paxton, who’s just a tool.” He sighs. “Whatever. At least Bailey isn’t on it this time. Remember what a buzz kill he was last year? I fucking hate that guy.”
No big secret there. Judd’s had it in for Luke Bailey ever since the guy rushed Alpha Delt sophomore year. And say what you will about Judd, but he’s not an asshole unless he feels you’ve given him a reason. He’s a bro to the core—he believes in male bonding, high fives, and, in his mind, a friendship isn’t official unless you’ve bled together, partied together, and nursed your twin hangovers the morning after.
Luke Bailey doesn’t subscribe to this philosophy. The moment he scoffed at Judd’s attempt at a fist bump, he earned himself an enemy in Judd Keller.
Since then, their tumultuous acquaintanceship has only gotten worse. Luke is a cocky ass when he wants to be, and Judd hates feeling like he’s being mocked or judged.
Oh, and then Bailey banged Judd’s ex. So there’s that.
“You exert too much mental energy on that guy,” Tanner informs Judd. Tanner’s a psych major, so he’s constantly dishing out (pretty good) advice that everyone mostly ignores. “Holding onto anger isn’t conducive to robust mental health.”
“First of all, say the word robust one more time and I’ll clock you. You know how I feel about that, bro.” Indignation flashes in Judd eyes. “And second of all, Luke Bailey screwed my girlfriend! I’m never not gonna be angry at that prick.”
“Ex-girlfriend,” I hedge, but it earns me a deep scowl from Judd. The two of us are teammates, and I do feel loyalty to him, but I’m also not afraid to call it like it is. “You and Therese were broken up for months.”
“Me and Therese are never broken up. Sure, we take short breaks, a hiatus or two. But she’s my girl,” Judd says tightly. “Everybody knows that.”
“Bailey says he didn’t,” Tanner says.
“That’s bullshit. He’s a liar. And now he’s trying to screw K over!” Judd growls. “He joined the presidential race to get back at me. I just know it.”
“You think?” Tanner looks skeptical. “Because that would be sociopathic lengths to go to just to spite you.”
“Yeah,” I agree with a chuckle. “Bailey’s a prick, but I can’t see him taking on the huge responsibility of running a fraternity just to flip you the metaphorical bird.” Although if I’m being honest, I don’t know why Luke Bailey is running for prez. The guy hasn’t shown much interest in frat activities since he joined us.
“He totally would,” Judd argues.
“Hey, we got class now,” Tanner reminds our sulking buddy. “We should book it over there.”
“Fine.” Judd scrapes his chair back and gets to his feet. His cloudy gaze meets mine again. “I’m serious, man. Bailey is bad news, and we need to kick his ass in this campaign. There’s no way I’m letting him be our president.”
“Don’t worry. He won’t be.”
Once my friends are gone, I let out a tired sigh. I don’t particularly care about Judd’s beef with Bailey at the moment. I have a football game to win, a campaign to plan, and a father to impress.
And a girlfriend to please.
I go up to the counter to get a refill, then settle in my cozy corner of the coffeehouse and open the app I downloaded last night. I hadn’t lied to Annika earlier—her birthday request is in the forefront of my mind. I just need to do some investigating first.
Welcome to Kink!
Add a profile pic.
I’d wanted to fill all this out last night, but my frat brothers suckered me into an epic session of Red Dead Redemption that lasted till three a.m. Now I quickly scroll through the camera roll on my phone until I find a suitable one. It’s of Annika and me, taken in Easthampton last summer. She looks smokin’ hot in a teeny string bikini, and my abs are looking tight, if I do say so myself. I crop out our faces and load the photo.
I skip the bio for now, because I’m feeling impatient. I want to see what this app has to offer more than I want to break my brain thinking of one hundred and forty-five characters to describe how my girlfriend wants to bang two men at the same time.
Actually, that’s pretty much the gist of it.
Still, I’m curious to check out the goods. Kink is more hookup app than dating app, and I’m pleased to discover it lets you search for users who’ve expressed interest in certain arrangements.
I click on the threesome box in the search section. There are an eye-opening number of options, combinations that hadn’t even occurred to me. Annika wants another guy, though, so I ponder the easiest combos.
My finger hovers over the m/f/m button. The other option means the men are allowed to touch, I think. It’s the moment of truth. Some guys would hate this idea. I don’t, though. I’m a scientist. Experimenting is what I do.
I even dreamt about sex with men once. Or twice. I never mentioned that to Annika. But why would I? I’ve also dreamt of meeting a dragon who smoked clove cigarettes. The things my brain invents while I’m sleeping aren’t newsworthy.
But I’d be lying if I said that Annika’s shocking birthday request turns me off. I’ll try anything once. And the app lets you click as many boxes as you want. So after looking over my shoulder once more just to make sure nobody I know is watching, I tap both options and usher in the possibility of taking a walk on the wild side.
The threesome has to be with a stranger, though. I’m certain that any one of my frat brothers would be down to help me give my girl a night to remember. Well, except Dan, who’s only down for dudes. And, well, Bailey, who thinks I’m an ass. I think he’s an ass, too, so I guess we’re even.
But I can’t do this with someone I know. What if the whole night is awkward as fuck? If it’s a brother, I’ll still have to live with him. If it’s a teammate, I’ll still have to see him in the locker room.
And then there’s the opposite scenario. What if it’s not awkward as fuck? What if I like it a whole lot?
Yeah, I don’t want my buddies judging me. A stranger for the win, then.
I lean back in my chair and start swiping.