To escape an arranged marriage, the king needs a fake fiancé. Stat.
King Bastien’s father locked him into an ironclad betrothal contract with Lady Helena Rey when the two of them were only seven years old. Bas and Helena have never been friends—and not only because she marked their first meeting by dropping a frog down his shirt. He’s been unsuccessfully petitioning Parliament to annul the damn contract ever since he took the throne nine years ago. But with the deadline for officially confirming the engagement rapidly approaching, Bas is getting desperate.
Enter commoner Nico Pereira, manager of the Royal Crest Vineyards, who nurses a secret crush on the king. He’s at the New Palace to unveil a wine that’s the first joint venture between North and South Abarra. No problem, right? Except Nico has a secret: He has a superpower. Not a very strong superpower, but because powers are a privilege reserved for Royals, it still puts him at risk for arrest and prosecution. Nico can usually mask his limited foresight gift under the guise of being an incredibly efficient administrator. But when King Bastien asks him to be his fake fiancé?
Well. Nico never saw that coming.
Nothing if not loyal, Nico accepts the faux-posal, although close proximity to Bastien makes him more than a little… uncomfortable, and the increased scrutiny of government officials threatens to expose his illegal ability. Good thing this engagement is temporary, because being the king’s ex will be a lot less onerous than prison or exile.
Or, if the attacks from a shadowy conspiracy continue, with being dead.
King’s Ex is a 52,000-word M/M superhero rom-com featuring a fake engagement, class differences, improbably pristine clothing, dueling secrets, a guaranteed HEA, and a kitten.
“I— I beg your pardon, Your Grace, Your Majesty.” Nico couldn’t tear his eyes away from the king. Who wasn’t wearing a shirt. “Baroness Savatier told me I could find you here, but—”
The king. Isn’t wearing a shirt.
His Grace of Arles—whom Nico usually managed to think of as Tarik, as the duke had requested, except when distracted because ohmygod, the king wasn’t wearing a shirt—motioned for Nico to enter the sitting room. “No trouble, Nico. What’s up?”
Other than the king being half-naked? “Um, I’ve got the commemorative corkscrew for you to use at the ceremony this afternoon.”
“Ceremony?” King Bastien turned around, and Nico tried not to swallow his tongue at the sight of the royal pecs—but it was a struggle. “What ceremony?”
Tarik grinned up at the king, apparently unaffected by the sight of all that smooth, golden skin and defined muscle. Of course he’s unaffected. The king is his cousin. He’s probably seen this sight hundreds of times. And besides, he’s married to one of the buffest men in both Abarras. “You’ve forgotten, haven’t you?”
King Bastien looked down his nose at Tarik. “I don’t forget things, mon cousin. I merely offload everything but the most pressing details to external memory.”
“External memory?” Tarik raised an obviously skeptical brow. “I didn’t realize you’d achieved true cyborg status, Bas.”
Nico cleared his throat. “I, uh, think His Majesty is referring to his private secretary. Mr. Vidal keeps His Majesty’s calendar and handles his correspondence.”
“Ah, right.” Tarik crossed his feet at the ankles. “Since the estimable Vidal hasn’t downloaded your schedule for today, I’ll remind you.” Although he didn’t take his gaze off the king—and who could blame him—Tarik held out his hand, and Nico placed the engraved platinum corkscrew in his palm. “Today is the official tasting ceremony for Royal Roses Red Blend, the collaboration between the Royal Crest vineyards and Roses Estate.”
Was that a blush staining the king’s cheeks? If so, it vanished immediately—not that Nico was looking. Uh huh. Right. “Of course. Sander’s and your birthday gift to me.”
“A formal ceremony?”
Tarik snorted. “What do you think? It’s a joint venture between North and South Abarra. Another chink in the wall between our countries.”
“Definitely formal then.”
“Formal doesn’t have to be painful, Bas, you twit. You’ll let me open a bottle and pour you a glass. All you have to do is drink the damn wine.”
A smile tugged at the king’s lips, a fond expression that Nico had only been privileged to see a handful of times, and usually in company with Tarik. He glanced down at himself. “Then I expect my current attire will be unsuitable. I’d best take a shower before I’m reminded of some other obligation.”
“Shower? Why bother? It’s not as if you need it.”
Nico’s brain whited out for a moment and an image arose, obscuring his view of the room. The king. Naked. And wet. He lost his grip on his tablet and despite fumbling to catch it, it headed straight for the sharp edge of the marble table in front of the fire. “Crap!”
At the last possible moment, King Bastien lunged forward and must have somehow batted the tablet aside, because it plopped onto the overstuffed cushion of a heavily brocaded chair. The king picked it up and held it out to Nico. “Crisis averted, eh?”
A crisis I didn’t see coming. Nico accepted the tablet, and although his fingers brushed the king’s, he couldn’t really enjoy it. Because he’d just experienced yet another example of why his stupid, secret, illegal power was worthless.
What good was foresight unless you could actually foresee something useful? Other than the king. Naked.
E.J. Russell (she/her) ), author of the award-winning Mythmatched LGBTQ+ paranormal romance series, holds a BA and an MFA in theater, so naturally she spent three decades as a financial manager, database designer, and business intelligence consultant (as one does). She’s now abandoned data wrangling, however, and spends her days wrestling words across a rainbow of genres. Count on high snark, low angst, and happy endings.
Reality? Eh, not so much.
She’s married to Curmudgeonly Husband, a man who cares even less about sports than she does. Luckily, CH loves to cook, or all three of their children (Lovely Daughter and Darling Sons A and B) would have survived on nothing but Cheerios, beef jerky, and satsuma mandarins (the extent of E.J.’s culinary skill set).
E.J. lives in rural Oregon, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
4.25 out of 5 stars
King’s Ex by E.J. Russell is the first book in the ‘Royal Powers II’ series, and it centers around King Bastien, who is caught up in the annual celebration of Bonfire Fortnight and nearing a dreaded deadline that will result in him marrying the woman his father chose for him so many years ago. Nico, the efficient Royal Vineyards manager, discovers a loophole that will save Bastien, but who will save Nico, who has closely guarded secrets of his own that may prove deadly?
This gay fantasy romance novella is part of a multi-author series and is the direct sequel to Duking It Out and Duke the Hall. Bastien’s perfect storm is nearing, and his desperation causes him to jump at the alternative Nico presents, but their respective secrets make this an interesting study of the superhero powers that are part of this universe.
I’d love to have Bastien’s superpowers with regards to my clothing, lol, and it was fascinating to see the synergy that he has with Nico. There are delightful cameos by several characters from the previous stories in this author’s universe, and the fun repartee between several of the characters add to the feeling of comfort and familiarity that makes these stories so compelling. The dark twist that is resolved is a great addition, as is little Polita, and I hope there are more tales to come that exemplify even more of the powers available to the folks in this world. I’m always happy when I see a new story by this author and I anxiously await even more tales from that fertile and innovative imagination!
A copy of this title was provided for review