Review: The Retreat: A Roughstock Story (Roughstock) by B.A. Tortuga

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year the bullfighters hold their retreat, three days free of families and outside obligations.  Its a time to bond and renew before the rodeo circuit begins again.  And for the first time, Dillon Walsh, rodeo clown and significant other of Coke Pharris has been invited.  With “all manner of mischief is on the menu along with the barbecue”, can Coke and Dillon find time for love as well?

The Retreat is more a piece of flash fiction or excerpt than a stand alone story. It is a glimpse in the early days of Coke and Dillon’s relationship.  While the story doesn’t go into details, Tortuga hints at the early stages of Coke and Dillon’s romance by pointing out that this is the first time Dillon has been invited to be a part of this tightly knit group of men.  And by how circumspect the men are with their PDAs.  Only one other member makes a significant appearance in this short story, it is a telling one with Nate and his wife as a couple who are also close friends of Coke’s and now Dillon’s.   This couple acts as a centering element for Coke and Dillon’s relationship.  They are both a barometer and anchor for all the other bullfighters reactions.

B.A. Tortuga’s great characterizations are front and center of this short story. So even without any background you will find yourself grinning in response to Dillon’s reaction over being invited to the bullfighter shindig:

He gave his butt a little shake, happy and loose in his hips. He sure did like the idea of being invited to the annual bullfighter weekend. He’d never been to one before. Hell, he hadn’t known about them until Nate had asked him.

Just walked right up to him and popped him on the arm and said, “You coming to both parts of the retreat, yeah?”

Like he knew all about it. Like he was just a part of the team, totally, finally.

Of course he’d said yes. Absolutely.

You get the glee, the joy over being finally included in a group of men who are important to him.  Just lovely.

There are any number of Roughstock shorts out there to be enjoyed.  But first, go back and read the core stories in the Roughstock series, Get the background to all the characters and relationships mentioned upon in the short stories.  This will leave your frustrations with these interludes at the door and let you settle back for a quick trip with characters you have grown to love.  Here are the books and stories in the Roughstock series in the order they were written and should be read:

Core Roughstock stories:
Roughstock: Blind Ride — Season One – Novel, m/m, core
Give it Time: the Seven of Wands – Novella, m/m
Roughstock: And a Smile — Season One – Novel, m/m, core
Doce — A Roughstock Story – Novella, m/m
Amorzinhos — A Roughstock Story – Novela, m/m, threesome
Roughstock: File Gumbo — Season One – Novel, m/m, core
Roughstock: And a Smile — Coke’s Clown – Novela, m/m,
Shutter Speed, A Roughstock Story: the Seven of Pentacles – Novella, m/m
Roughstock: City/Country – Novel, m/f
Roughstock: Picking Roses – Novel, m/f
Needing To: A Roughstock Story – Novella, m/m
Upcoming Roughstock Novels
Roughstock: What She Wants – Novel, m/m/f
Roughstock: Tag Team – Season Two – Novel, m/m
Roughstock: Terremoto – Season Two- Novel, m/m

Roughstock Shorts:
Cowboy Christmas (Coke and Dillon)
A Cowboy Family Christmas (Coke and Dillon)
Barbed Wire and Bootheels (Sam and Beau)
Just Another Day At The Office (Coke and Dillon
Leatherwork and Lonely Cowboys, a Roughstock short (Beau and Sam)
The Retreat (Coke and Dillon)
The New Guy (Coke and Dillon)
Some Good Doctoring (CB and Jonesy) – Free Read

Book Details:

ebook, 13 pages
Published May 2nd 2012 by Torquere Press

Review: Fever Anthology by M Rode

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

If you love cowboys, than this is the anthology for you.  From cowboy tv stars to those that ride bucking bulls and every permutation in between, these 8 stories will make you laugh, make you sigh, even reach for a fan or too but always make you remember why you love a cowboy.

Stories included in Fever are:Fever cover

Loose Riggin’ by Julia Talbot
Two Buckets and a Snakeskin Suit by Aaron Michaels
Torn by Sean Michael
Cowboy and Indian by Rob Rosen
Heart of Dixie by Mychael Black
Ready to Ride by Katherine Halle
White Hat/Black Hat by Kiernan Kelly
In the Pocket, a Roughstock story by BA Tortuga

I really enjoyed this anthology, especially because cowboys are a real weakness for me.  Of special interest was the new story from BA Tortuga in her Roughstock series, I cannot get enough of those boys.  It also introduced me to a series I hadn’t heard of, Mychael Black’s Hearth and Home series, so that was a plus too.  Here in sequence as they appear are mini reviews of each story:

1.  Loose Riggin‘ by Julia Talbot: 3.5 stars

One cowboy on the way up, one cowboy bull rider on the way down.  Baron LeBlanc is a top bullrider at the end of his career.  During one ride he injuries himself badly and an young bull rider, Arlen Deamus, offers to take care of him and become his traveling partner.  I loved this story and thought the characters and the plot were full of promise.  It is the perfect introduction for a longer story.  Julia Talbot draws us in with her wonderful characters, great names and vivid descriptions but just as we are settling in, its over. As a short story, it ends so abruptly that it feels incomplete and the reader feels more than a little frustrated after investing emotionally in the story.  I would love to see this author expand Baron and Arlen romance into a full length book.  I will be first in line to pick it up.

2. Two Buckets and a Snakeskin Suit by Aaron Michaels: Rating 3.5 stars out of 5

While on vacation, Marcus and his sister Shelly attend camel races outside Las Vegas.  Shelly is dying to meet an Australian cowboy and these camel races have more than their share of those.  But when Marcus is hurt after he falls off a camel, he is the one who captures the attention of the only Aussie cowboy there.  This was a cute little romance between a man talked into riding a camel by his sister and the Aussie cowboy who just happens to be a chiropractor who comes to his aid.  Michaels did a nice job with presenting us with a well rounded character in Marcus and Shelly but I would have loved a little more back story on Vic.  But it’s cute, hot, and has a realistic HFN.

3.  Torn by Sean Michael: 5 stars for the heat alone

Pistol, an injured bull rider, returns home to his partner Bender and their ranch after a long  6 month absence on the rodeo circuit and shoulder surgery.  He is unsure of his welcome after receiving an angry  phone call from his  partner following his injury.  Bender’s love for Pistol is both the source of his anger and the one thing that will heal it.  This is my second favorite story in the collection.  Sean Michael gets everything right in this story.  We get all the information we need about these two men and their long term relationship from Michael’s descriptions of their tense posture, their loving gestures and a dialog that  telegraphs a well established intimacy at every level.  Bender is tired of his lover’s injuries and this last one scared him badly.  Pistol loves riding bulls and is frightened that his time as a bullrider is coming to an end.  The situation is tense, hot, loving, angry, gentle, just everything you would expect from two scared people who love each other deeply and are faced with a serious situation.  The ending is perfection, but then so is this short story.  It doesn’t need to be longer, it doesn’t need any additional backstory.  It ends where it should.  Lovely.  Here is a tease. Pistol is returning home after surgery unsure of his welcome:

He opened the door, pushed it open and stood, trying to keep them from the arm still in the sling. “Hey y’all, you happy to see me?”

“You should have called and let me know.” Bender waited for the dogs to have their hello, blue eyes on him like twin laser beams.

“I didn’t want you worrying. Jack needed his guest room back.” He’d been imposing. Not to mention, the man’s mother-in-law had come to help with the last few days of Mary Ellen’s pregnancy, and he’d wanted to come home. Bender told the dogs to “scatter,” and they did.

Before Pistol could say anything Bender was on him, mouth covering his in a kiss that smashed his lips against his teeth and totally stole his breath.

Oh. Oh, thank God. He pushed up into the kiss, damn near sobbing with relief.

4. Cowboy and Indian by Rob Rosen: 2 stars out of 5

Jed sees a poster for a fifty-dollar prize for the longest bronco buck advertised outside a saloon.  He figures his horse Bessy needs a new saddle and aims to get it for her by riding in the rodeo.  Along the way he runs into an Apache warrior, Taza, who wants to help his people.  They make love, not war and end up with a future neither of them ever dreamed of.   There are quite a number of things about this story that I have issues with, but the portrait of Taza, an Apache warrior, is the largest.  Having a Native American character, especially in a historical story, can be a iffy element if not handled just right.  For me, Taza just did not work.  From his pidgin English which reminded me of the “Me, Tonto, you white man” variety to the fact that he drops trow for an unknown white man just after the awful Apache wars have ended….well it’s not just unrealistic but downright ridiculous.  Here is their first interchange:

 “Jed,” I told him, with a polite nod. “White man sounds so, well now, formal.”

With his free hand, he pounded his chest. “Taza,” he informed me. “In your language, means Apache warrior.”

I nodded my head. “Pleasure, Taza.”

And then he nodded, releasing the beast before sending it swinging. “You want to pleasure Taza?”

The only way that piece of dialog would work is in a Mel Brooks comedy.  And it just goes further downhill from there.  This is the one story I would skip over.

5. Heart of Dixie by Mychael Black: Rating 4 stars out of 5

Mack Sexton has been in love with his best friend and handyman Les Spencer for a long time.  Les feels the same but neither man has acknowledged let alone acted on their feelings.  Then one day everything changes.  Heart of Dixie is a snapshot of a relationship that is part of a series called Hearth and Home by Mychael Black.  I am unfamiliar with that series but got enough of a taste of it from this story that I will be scampering back to pick up the rest.  Black develops the characters and setting to the point that it and both men feel real and the reader connects with them from the start.  Mack’s sister, Kate, is a lively character in her own right and the interaction among the three of them comes across as long established and affectionate.  Enjoyable and romantic.  I loved this one.

6. Ready To Ride by Katherine Halle: 4 stars out of 5

Eric is an orthopedic surgeon volunteering his time with the Justin Sports Medicine program. Ben Greene is champion Saddle Bronc rider Eric has come to love.  When Eric’s volunteer time with the rodeo comes to an end, Ben must travel on the circuit alone.  And while neither man has talked about where their relationship is going, both love each other deeply.  When Ben is receives a season-ending injury during a ride, Eric decides that, conversation or not, he is bringing his man home for good.  I loved Halle’s characters and thought she got the character of Ben with his avoidance of “mushy talk” just right.  While most of the story is seen through Eric’s eyes,  Halle shows us that Ben’s actions telegraph his feelings perfectly to his lover and that words are not always necessary.  This story has romance, cowboys and HEA in a nice short package.

7. White Hat/Black Hat by Kiernan Kelly: 4.25 stars out of 5

The time is 1968, the place Hollywood where a new TV western is getting ready to go into production.  Two men, Dallas Frank and Stone Grant, arrive to audition for the two leads, Black Bart and Sheriff Carson Star, the White Hat/Black Hat title characters.  To each man’s surprise and delight, they win the roles and secretly the love of each other.   For the next forty years, they pretend to hate each other in public while continuing a love affair that has lasted as long as their show.  Then their show is cancelled.  What will they do now?  Kelly gives us a terrific look back at old Hollywood and its outlook on homosexuality.  Through small interludes we watch as Dallas (real name Joe Bob) and Stone Grant (real name Arvin Mason) settle into a long term relationship while playing the Hollywood game to protect the series and their reputation. The ending is rewarding, the relationship has a very authentic feel as does the times the men pass through.  My third favorite story of the collection.

8. In the Pocket, a Roughstock story by BA Tortuga: 5 out of 5 stars

Sterling is a new bullfighter and he loves his job.  He also loves working with his hero and fellow bullfighter, Coke Pharris.  But rodeo clown Dillon Walsh is tired of the youngster drooling on his man and figures a little matchmaking is in order.  When stock  contractor Colby Tyburn asks for an introduction to Sterling, Dillon sees an opportunity and takes it, maneuvering Sterling into a date with the stock contractor.  Colby Tyburn has been watching Sterling for some time and loves what he sees….a gorgeous energetic young man, all want and desire.  Sparks fly at the first introduction but neither man expects the white hot sex to turn into something deeper and just perhaps, permanent.  In the Pocket is a Roughstock story. So if the reader is familiar with the series, than you already know all about Coke Pharris and his rodeo clown lover, Dillon Walsh.  They happen to be a favorite couple of mine so it is wonderful to see them make an appearance here.  But the focus of the story is the young (and virginal) bullfighter, Sterling, and the older, more experienced man, Colby Tyburn, a roughstock contractor.

Sterling is a bouncy Tigger of a character.  He is youthful, energetic to the extreme and has a bad case of hero worship when it comes to Coke Pharris.  Unfortunately for Sterling, Coke is taken and Dillon is not happy that Sterling can’t keep his hands off his man.  BA Tortuga paints the perfect portrait of innocent enthusiasm and lustful need all wrapped up in one young man who doesn’t seem to know what to do with it all.  I just loved Sterling, he absolutely made me smile.  Colby Tyburn could have come off as a predator but his appreciation for Sterling and all of his qualities, not just his physical traits, brings him back to a person the reader can relate to.  Their sexual encounter is sexy, white hot, and ultimately very touching.  It is not necessary to have read the other Roughstock stories, but it does help to round out the back history of the other men mentioned, however casually.   There are over 17 stories in the Roughstock series, Coke and Dillon’s story is called Roughstock: And a Smile- Season One. I absolutely recommend them all.  Here is a taste:

Nate (was) screaming his head off to get the bull’s attention. Joa landed, but luckily the Brazilian was ready, and they sort of strong-armed each other.

“Gotcha.”

He flung Joa toward Pharris and put himself between the cowboy and Merry-Go-Round. He heard Coke grunt, but then he and Nate were busy playing a game of slap the bull on the nose, trading off as it went round and round. This was his favorite part, the fun part. They did their little dance, and he pulled his butt in, hearing the whoosh as two thousand pounds went by.

“Woohoo!” He grinned at the gate shut, jogging over to Pharris, who clapped him on the back.

He loved his life.

Loved it.

Cover illustration by BSClay is perfect in tone and design for this collection.

Book Details:

ebook, 195 pages
Published June 5th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN
1610404858 (ISBN13: 9781610404853)
edition language
English

Review: Bullheaded by Catt Ford

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Bullheaded coverBull rider Cody Grainger and bullfighter Johnny Arrow have been in love for two years and traveling together on the circuit for less.  The relationship is one that Cody’s parents approve of and the rodeo world has little knowledge of.  A time of change is coming for both men, something neither of them want to acknowledge. For Cody Grainger, the future means retirement.  Cody is at the top of the ratings and hopes to win the first back to back World Champion Bull Rider titles, but his body feels every inch his thirty years plus the wear and tear of riding bulls is making it harder for his body to take the abuse doled out by the bulls. Cody doesn’t just want to win, he needs to win and he refuses to see that his time as a bull rider is coming to an end.

Johnny Arrow is much younger than Cody and just starting out in his career as  a bullfighter.  His chosen profession means as much to him as bullriding does to Cody but Johnny just can’t seem to get that idea into Cody’s head.  Frustration and unhappiness grows between the men and when the lack of communication is combined with the stress of the chase  of the world title, their relationship breaks apart and Johnny leaves to pursue his profession on the summer circuit.  With Johnny gone and Cody in denial about the cause of their breakup, Cody’s career takes a downward spiral he is unable to break.  Both men soon realize they need to be together, but pride is a tough obstacle to get through.  So is Cody’s outlook on Johnny and his career.  Can both men compromise enough to let their love pull them through or will pride and denial cost them the love of their lives?

Catt Ford knows the world of bull riding from every exciting aspect, from the athleticism of the bulls themselves to the bullfighters who risk life and limb to protect the bull riders after their rides are done.  Ford’s familiarity and her vivid descriptions of the sport make this book for me.  I love the rodeo and Ford captures all the details from the danger of the chute to the politics and marketing strategy of the stock contractors and folds them effortlessly into her story.  The author even gives the reader an introductory Bullriding 101 that works in its brevity and simplicity and helps the reader unfamiliar with the subject to better understand the terms and specifics of the sport.  I normally am not a fan of this book dictionary idea but it works beautifully here and adds to the readers enjoyment instead of befuddlement.

Catt Ford’s descriptions really bring you into the world of bullriding.  Instead of feeling like you are watching the events happen from a distance, say on cable, she makes you feel the events are happening around you, as though you are sitting in the stands, the dust of the arena in the air and the sounds of clanging gates and the explosive grunts of the bulls ringing in your ears.  This is how the book opens, with Cody on the back of a bull and the chute gate getting ready to open:

IT ALWAYS started this way. He could feel his heart speed up, the insistent pounding in his chest, the steel rail cold under his hand, the restless beast throbbing between his legs, the tightness of the wrap around his hand. He gave the nod.

When the gate opened, the bull exploded out of the chute, bucking and twisting high in the air. Time slowed down for him as the rush of adrenaline shot through his body. It made him feel weightless yet powerful. Energized but floating on air. This was going to be a good ride. He was in the zone, shifting his body expertly, just enough to counter each move the bull threw at him, finding the perfect center of balance. The bull’s rage shivered up his spine, but it didn’t make a dent in his determination to win. He could almost hear the ticking as each hundredth of a second counted down.

His timing was perfect. He was so concentrated on his ride he couldn’t hear the roar of the crowd or the buzzer when it came. His internal clock told him once again he was the victor in the ageless contest between man and beast.

And it gets better from there.  You feel the pain from old and new injuries adding up, the young riders pushing to get ahead and the love of bull riding that doesn’t diminish even while the body is telling the rider it is time to quit.  Marvelous, realistic, glorious and sometimes quite sad.

It is Catt Ford’s characters and storyline that I had some issues with.  Johnny Arrow is clearly my favorite of the main characters.  He is young, ambitious and supporting a family on the reservation. Yet he is also inexperienced when it comes to men and insecure enough about his relationship with Cody not to speak up for his own needs.  Johnny’s growth as a professional bullfighter and more importantly as his own person is charted throughout the story.  It is well done and absolutely necessary to maintain his realism as a character.  He experiments with sexual encounters with a diverse sampling of gay men helps define who he is although some readers will have problems with this aspect of the book.  Both Johnny and Cody have sex with others but the reader needs to keep in mind that the couple is broken up and therefore not cheating on each other.  It is a realistic facet of their lives and helps with each characters growth.

And while Johnny is my favorite character, Cody is my least.  It probably doesn’t help that we see only a little of their relationship before the argument that breaks them up.  The Bullheaded of the title clearly speaks to Cody’s mental state as well as profession.  He rides roughshod over Johnny and pretty much everyone else throughout most of the book and doesn’t experience nearly the amount of growth Johnny does or that Cody needs to.  In fact, they are separated for almost too much of the story and for me, it doesn’t really begin to gel until they meet back up again and try to work things out.   For far too much of the story, Cody is just that much of an unlikeable person.  He  is understandable in his desperation to stay on top and we get the stress he is under from all sides to retire and while we can relate to him we don’t necessarily like him.  And that hurts the story from my perspective.

It took me a while to commit to the relationship between Cody and Johnny.  What pulled me through until I connected with them was Catt Ford’s immersion of the reader into her love of the bull riding universe.  I will let Cody speak for himself:

The physical and mental challenge to stay aboard and the ecstasy of conquest rushed through him, electrifying his body. It felt like more excitement than his body could contain, as if he might explode with the insane joy of it any moment.

Catt Ford gets bull riding and makes the reader understand why.  For that reason alone, you should pick up this book and let the bulls and their riders come alive before you.  It is an amazing journey and one you will enjoy.

Cover art by Catt Ford.  Unusual cover gets your attention immediately and works for the story within.

Book Details:

ebook, 340 pages
Published April 15th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN
1623806267 (ISBN13: 9781623806262)
edition language
English

Review: Leaving Home (Home #4) by T.A. Chase

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Leaving Home coverPeter Skinner is now working full time for Les Hardin and Randy Hersch out at their ranch after the falling out with his family and grandfather over his sexuality.  With his family shunning him, Peter is happy to have found a home and new family with Les, Randy and their friends. But when he watches his friends, all couples and deeply in love, Peter feels acutely the lack of the same in his own life.  Peter wants someone to love and someone to love him back.  And when he does find it, Peter never expects the man to be a drunken mess collapsed in an alley.

Charles ‘Chaz’ O’Brien is in a world of pain and he has made it worse by his dependance upon painkillers and alcohol.  A top bullfighter for years, the profession has taken a severe toll on his body, the last injury to his back occurring only weeks ago.  Bullfighting is not only his profession, its his only love, and Chas will do anything to keep going on as a bullfighter.  While on a break between events, Chas gets lost in a haze of booze and pills and ends strung out in an alley.  Only the kindness of a passing stranger named Peter Skinner saves him from the drunk tank or worse.

When Peter takes Chaz home to recover, neither man expects to find themselves falling in love for the first time in their lives.  But the path to happy ever after is full of obstacles for this couple, the largest one being Chaz himself.  For Chaz and Peter, the choices ahead will be the hardest ones of their lives to make. Sometimes its not enough to find love, but it takes courage to keep hold and have faith.  What will Peter and Chaz do?

I started this series with the best book of the group, No Going Home (Home #1).  It remains my favorite of the series and I think explains why this book gets a 4 star rating, rather than the 3.5 it probably deserves.  I just fell in love with all of the characters and need to follow each to the end of their journey.  Leaving Home is the story of Peter Skinner, a young feed clerk in his grandfather’s store when we first meet him in No Going Home.  His grandfather’s homophobia cost his grandfather’s store Les and Randy’s substantial feed account , then it cost him his grandson when Peter bravely stood up for Les and Randy, and finally Peter came out as gay himself.  Even as a secondary character, there was so much heart to Peter that the readers starting asking for his story and now we finally have it.

Chaz O’Brien is another one of the group of characters in this series that center their lives around the rodeo circuit.  T.A. Chase has given us bullriders, cowboys who ride the broncs as well as bulls, and now bullfighters.  It is a neat  way to tie together events in a series and it works perfectly here.  Reoccurring characters from previous books pop up here already familiar with Chaz because they know him from the circuit. Realistic and works well within the framework Chase has set down.  The  injuries and lifestyle of the bullfighter (as well as bullrider)  is authentically related as well.  It is a tough life for those who choose to live it.  It has its wonderful moments and its aspects of horrifying pain and terror.  I think Chase does a terrific job of capturing that as well.

One aspect of the story here is that of addiction, not a spoiler as it is mentioned in the publisher’s blurb.  Leaving Home is not a long book but for one of its length, I think again Chase does a realistic job of portraying a man in denial about his addictions and ability to handle it on his own.  My only quibble is that we see his addiction but none of the recovery which would have made this story more well rounded and satisfactory.

As it is, my largest issue with this story is the ending.  It is far too abrupt for the reader to feel that they received the resolution they were looking for.  In fact, I feel that we are missing about a fourth or more of a book here.  We are already 87 percent through the story when a traumatic event happens.  That’s the penultimate chapter.  That leaves only one chapter in which to tie up all the aspects of the story and give the reader a HEA and trust me, that’s just not enough to do the story or the characters justice.  It reads and feels rushed, an all too familiar occurrence with this author lately and this series.  You only have to look at the series to watch the books shrink as it continues.  My favorite, the first story No Going Home clocks in at 296 wonderful pages.  Leaving Home? 157 pages.  Still, the Home series has my deep affections so I will be staying with it.  I still need to know what happens with Yancey and Juan.

If you are new to this author and the Home series, start at the beginning, then wind your way through the rest of the stories.  You might find that you only last part of the way or become committed to seeing it through.  Let me know what you think.  I will be here for the journey and will keep you all apprised.

Here are the Home series in the order they were written and should be read in order to understand the characters and events that occur:

No Going Home (Home #1) 5 stars 296 pages

Home of His Own (Home #2) 131 pages

Wishing For A Home (Home #3) 196 pages

Leaving Home (Home #4) 157 pages

Home Sweet Home (Home #5) 131 pages (Yancey and Juan) to be published May 27th, 2013

Reviewer Note: In the TA Chase horseshifter story The Longest Stride, characters from the Home series make several appearances, which to my thinking was substandard and the use of characters from a favorite contemporary series in a new, different shifter world was dumbfounding.  Why would you collide two totally different worlds like that?  A huge misstep by this author.  Give that book the absolute pass it deserves.

Book Details:

ebook, 157 pages
Published April 2013 by Total E Bound Publishing
ISBN
1781843074 (ISBN13: 9781781843079)
edition language
English
series Home
Book Cover by Posh Gosh has lovely men on it.  That torso is far too unscarred to be a bullfighter but the scenery is lovely.