Review: Hard Line (The Woodbury Boys, #2) by Sidney Bell

Premed student Tobias Benton is making amends for his past. He keeps his head down, mouth shut and colors within the lines. But when his close friend Ghost goes missing, Tobias will do whatever it takes to get answers—including using blackmail to enlist some help. The last thing he’s looking for is romance.

Private investigator Sullivan Tate isn’t above a little breaking and entering to solve a case, but when Tobias catches him in the act, it’s almost game over. Their uneasy alliance only gets more complicated when Sullivan learns that Tobias shares his interest in kink. Mixing sex and work could kill Sullivan’s career, but Tobias’s acceptance of Sullivan’s darkest urges is nearly impossible to resist.
Side by side, Tobias and Sullivan spend their days searching for the truth and their nights fulfilling their respective fantasies. But the answers they seek are far more dangerous than they realize, and soon they find themselves fighting for more than just each other.

I'm going to try not to gush. Let's see how that goes. But when you find an author whose words speak to you... the struggle is real. You should see how many highlights I made in this thing. I think the highlighting feature gave me the bird at one point. Sassy kindle.

I jumped on the Sidney Bell bandwagon when I saw everyone adding Loose Cannon. I was on NetGalley, it was on NetGalley so why not? That was the best decision I've made in awhile because she turned out to be my breakout author of 2017. Hard Line has now bumped her into auto-buy territory and I will buy this once it comes out so I can see the cover and read it in a non-wonky PDF conversion form.

Enough of that, let's get down to (hopefully) some non-spoilery bidness.

Hard Line is Tobias' book and in the beginning I figured this would be the placeholder to get to Ghost's book. Wrong. Tobias surprised me. I didn't think he had it in him and I'm delighted to have been wrong. If you've read Loose Cannon you probably have a decent grasp of who Tobias is, Tobias is the good one. Earnest, kind, polite. He's come to a crossroads in his life so expect some angst as this is his journey of self-discovery but who he fundamentally is doesn't change. He does become a better, more confident version of himself and that is due in part to his relationship with Sullivan.

Things between them progress naturally but quickly so fans of the slow burn may have trouble with this one. I like a slow burn as much as the next but when you stir kink into the mix it doesn't work as well for me, especially when the sub is a newb like Tobias, so if you're kink averse, this is probably going to be a miss for you.

The kink is mostly D/s but Tobias does like pain. Bless him. Edging, a little humiliation, some bondage, spanking/paddling, begging, dirty talk and no high-protocol stuff. Praise be! It's also very focused on the headspace of both Tobias and Sullivan which is another thing I tend to gravitate towards in my kinky reads. There is a fine line between kink being used as cure-all for mental illness and needing to get out of a certain headspace. Bell deftly straddled that line. These characters have enough "stuff" to make them interesting and require some conversations, because trust is paramount to do what they do which should appeal to hurt/comfort fans, though this is on the lighter side. Their kinks are how they connect but that connection soon morphs into something more.

"...he felt helpless here, overwhelmed and stupid and shocked, and all he could do was keep kissing Tobias, keep kissing him as if they would never stop, not until the sun expanded and the world went up in flames. It still might not be enough"

Sidney Bell is a wordy author but here's the thing, all those words have meaning. They either drive the plot forward, flesh out characters or establish a connection between protagonists, so they're not misspent or superfluous to my mind. Here she uses them to bring both Tobias and Sullivan to vivid life. I know them and understand them through their inner dialogues, their adorable banter and their edifying conversations. These two communicate. They use their words and do very little assuming, so none of that push/pull thing that can drive some readers to DNF.

Hard Line is character driven with the focus being on these two but there is a subplot that carries over from Loose Cannon that is Ghost heavy. Fans of Ghost will not be disappointed! He plays a fairly large role in Part 2 which has ramped up my excite to impossible levels for his book. With Sullivan being a PI, Tobias hires him to find Ghost then decides he's going to help. Nothing like an experienced and emotionally invested "helper" when there are dangerous, mobbed up whackadoodles involved. Some may find the daily grind of PI-ing boring but that brought a certain authenticity to the narrative, in my opinion.

The epilogue was sublime and if these two aren't more happy than not for all the days to come, there's something bad wrong with the world.

I would not recommend Hard Line be read as a stand alone but I would recommend this series to all the peoples!

Sorry. I think I failed on that non-gushing thing. Oops.

An ARC was provided by NetGalley.

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