Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Who is Nicolai Valentino?
Some think him a devoted son, a ruthless killer, a vicious monster. The heir of the infamous Valentino family, Nico is a man with blood-stained hands and a heart of ice.
To Gabriel Delatto, Nico is more than that: a childhood friend, a passionate lover, a misunderstood soul, a man whose cold, calculated outward exterior protects the broken man inside. Nico is his best friend, his lover, his other half—his better half.
But how much of that is true? And how much is just lies whispered between bloody lips?
New York to Tokyo—Gabriel is willing to follow his lover to the ends of the earth to find out what Nico is running from.
Or, maybe, what is Nico running to?
Author Note: Please be advised that there are sexual scenes of explicit graphic nature, including BDSM themes, within the following story. These are done between two parties over the age of 18.
There are scenes involving non-consensual BDSM themes and mentions of past physical and mental child abuse and graphic material that may not be suitable for all audiences.
To be honest, after reading the first story in this series I wasn’t at all sure I was going to continue with the series. I thought that book,On Hands and Knees, was lacking in world building and a foundation for the characters and the characters relationship necessary to the story and overall arc. But there was just enough intrigue and interest for me to continue and I’m so glad I did because this? This novel? It’s a completely different animal.
Between Bloody Lips (The Valentino Family #2) by Sai Fox to be sure builds on the somewhat nebulous storyline of the prior book, picking up right after the events there. But here everything is so much more fleshed out. What was a disadvantage in the first story becomes a strength here, and that would be the tortured narrative of Gabriel Delatto, whose mind and memory never seem little more than a shaky thing ready to fly apart, and it’s threatening to do so without it’s anchor, Nico.
Gabe is running after an elusive Nico, ending up in Japan, with an elusive criminal underworld filled with layers he can’t comprehend, and the reader is there floundering with him. This is a dark, angst filled story. Both Gabe, Nico and some of the others here have come from a tormented, background of systematic child abuse and it has left both men deeply scars and in many ways twisted and wounded beyond repair. They seek through BDSM, cutting, and more, relief through pain, humiliation, and submission. While some of these scenes read as BDSM others read as self harm, and others still more are non con, violent dub con, and more. As I said this is a violent world of criminals and the dark nature of others, the author has realistically shown that. So be warned.
As the story progresses and we sift through Gabe’s tortured mind along with his efforts to understand Nico’s predicament and his own, we start to form our own ideas of what is behind Nico’s running and the some of the layers start to come together but it does not prepare us for the startling revelations towards the end.
I cannot go into details here except to say this is an exceptional book, from the characters to the convoluted, labyrinthine story. Everything finally comes together in one smashing, stunning climax that is worth both books.
Plus for once, I enjoyed the fact that the author did not take these tortured men and miraculously “cure” them. Or promise a HEA, no matter what that blurb says. No. They can’t be promised that given who and what they are. A HFN is realistic and yes, there are still questions we might not know the answers to, but that feels real too given the circumstances here as well.
For me I wish Sai Fox had run both books together for one brilliant story because that’s what this second novel becomes. Just brilliant. And one, if your stomach can handle the abuse, cutting, and everything, is worth it all. I highly recommend it.
Cover art by Samantha Garrett is dark and stunning, just like the storyline.
Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited