Book Title: Sun, Sea & Small-Town Secrets
Author: S. J. Coles
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Release Date: July 6, 2021
Genre: Contemporary M/M Mystery/Holiday Romance
Tropes: Forbidden Love / Small Town / Holiday
Themes: Healing / Hurt/Comfort / Travel / Self-discovery
Heat Rating: 4 flames
Length: 48 634 words/ 193 pages
It is a standalone story.
Small towns are full of secrets, some harder to keep than most.
Sebastian Conway is a professional psychologist and accomplished criminal profiler, but when one of his patients is sentenced to life in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, he simply cannot let it go. His borderline obsessive behaviour has embarrassed his boss and lover, Gerrard Wilson, and the relationship has come to a bitter end.
Seb has now grudgingly taken Gerrard’s advice and come to the small coastal town of Ruéier in the South of France to get some distance and clear his head—but he cannot sit by and do nothing.
He has started writing a book he believes will address the failings in the case, but when he gets swept up in a local investigation into suspected drug trafficking, which is led by the enigmatic and strangely enticing Antoine Damboise, the book—and Seb’s intentions to avoid active criminal cases—take a back seat.
He knows it’s a bad idea to get involved, but he can’t seem to help himself. And when it seems Damboise is tempted to make their relationship more than professional, Seb finds it easier than ever to ignore his better judgment. But when a local drug dealer is murdered and Seb is implicated, everything gets a whole lot more complicated.
Can the two men set aside their personal feelings long enough to figure out what’s really going on before Seb ends up in prison? Or worse…
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of murder and drug use.
I turned back. He was stood by reception looking thoughtful, scratching at the stubble on his cheek.
“Would you, perhaps, like to get a coffee?”
I blinked. “A coffee?”
“Oui,” he said. “A thank you, shall we say? For your
His smile was friendly, but his eyes were weighing me
up with a dark intensity I couldn’t penetrate. Whatever it was going on here, saying yes, I knew, would be a very bad idea.
“Sure,” I said with a smile. “Sounds good.”
His own smile widened, and he nodded. “Bon. I will meet you outside.”
I was grinning like a teenager with a crush as I stepped back out into the street. The fresh breeze dried the clamminess on my face and swelled in my lungs and chest. A small confidence boost could only help my productivity, I decided. I still wasn’t sure what exactly his interest was. Heavy looks or not, I got exactly zero read on his sexuality. But surely even French police didn’t take witnesses for coffee?
I was so busy retrospectively analysing his body language in the interview room—Did he extend his leg toward me? Rest his hand near mine?—that I didn’t hear him behind me until he said my name.
“Apologies,” he said when I started, and a small smile twitched the corner of his mouth. A pair of sunglasses hid his troublesome eyes from view. He’d slung his jacket over his arm and, with the bright sunshine glinting in his corn-blond hair and off his white teeth, I suddenly wondered how I ever considered him plain.
“It’s fine,” I managed. “Where do you want to go?” “Ah, I know the best place. Follow me.”
We turned back. Adjudant Rayne was hurrying toward us. She fired French at him whilst frowning at me. Damboise replied calmly, and she said something more, her eyes leaving me to send Damboise what was unmistakably a warning look.
“C’est bon,” Damboise concluded. “This way,” he said and turned toward the seafront. Rayne watched us leave with her arms crossed and expression grim.
“She doesn’t like me very much,” I said.
“You misunderstand,” he said without looking at me. “She was just reminding me of some paperwork that is late. I will do it after a bit.”
I spent the rest of the walk pondering the possible reasons behind his lie.
The breeze was brisker and the air fresher as we stepped out onto the seafront boulevard. The beach was crowded with families—the children running, laughing and shrieking in the gentle swell of the shallows. The boats bobbed sedately in the harbour, shining all the colours of the rainbow under the bright, sapphire sky. Bicycles whizzed up and down the road, baskets laden with groceries or bottles of wine. The men with guns seemed like a distant dream.
I followed him as he crossed the road to the Café De La Mer.
“You have been here before then, yes?” he said as he pulled out the chairs around one of the plastic tables under a blue-and-white parasol.
“The first day I got here,” I said, a little warily as I surveyed the clear view of the harbour. “The coffee is good, but I think it’s better at Cafe Maman.”
“Oui,” he said, hanging his jacket on the back of his chair and sitting. “I would say that is true. But have you tried the chocolat chaud?”
“Hot chocolate?” I translated dubiously, taking the other chair. “I don’t much like it.”
“Just wait,” he said, signalling a smiling waiter with a raised hand and placing the order. Damboise made meaningless small talk for the interval until the waiter returned. I blinked, surprised, as he set the shallow cup half-full of dark liquid that looked more like espresso than chocolate in front of me.
“What, no squirty cream? Marshmallows?” I asked with a half-smile as Damboise lifted his small cup in his distractingly delicate grip.
“We respect chocolate too much to pollute it so. This is the local recipe, melted then mixed with a splash of cognac. Go ahead. Try it.”
I lifted the cup to my face and inhaled the rich, thick scent. It was sweet, yes, but savoury too—bold, rather than cloying. It reminded me of fresh-turned earth, with a slight smokiness, like when the wind brings the scent of a distant bonfire. I drank. It was so thick that I could almost chew it. It tasted like it smelled—rich and earthy, with the spice of tree bark and apricot from the cognac.
“Yeah,” I said, tipping the cup farther to coax more into my mouth. “This isn’t like the instant stuff.”
“In France, nothing is instant. Everything is slow. Considered. Deliberate.”
“I’m beginning to get that,” I said, scraping the remains of the chocolate with the tiny spoon that had come with it. Damboise smiled at me, sipping his own drink like someone sampling a fine wine, then he dabbed his lips with a napkin.
This isn’t my first book by S.J. Coles and this one was a great representation of the author’s work. What I like most about Coles’ novels is that there is always such a great story! There’s a romance but it is secondary to the story and the characters are very authentic and I was drawn into their world.
Sebastian Conway has been “given” time off by his boss (who happens to be his recent ex) to go to the South of France and write a book. The book is going to be about a case that stuck with Sebastian. The women who was sent to jail is innocent and Sebastian knows it. As a profiler, he can’t stand the fact that her life has been taken away from her. But his obsessive behavior led to the demise of his relationship… and potentially his job.
When Sebastian takes Gerard’s advice and leaves, he’s doing a slight amount of writing…but more wallowing and drinking. Things change when he gets involved in a local case by accident… then manages to become involved with the lead detective.
There is a crime in this book to be solved. and even at the beginning it relates to the crime that Sebastian is writing his book about. He is fiercely committed to what he believes in, and he believes that his profiling work can really help to solve crimes. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to be able to let go of things. That may be an advantage sometimes, but it’s often a disadvantage – especially if it seems to weigh you down too much.
In a way… this theme holds for Damboise as well. He lost his first relationship because he was too dedicated to his police work, and as a result, didn’t want to be out too much in the public eye.
One of the best things about this novel is the way that Coles brings all the threads of the story together quite cleverly by the end of the book. This is part new relationship, part crime solving, part personal growth and it all adds up to a really engaging story.
I found I was as invested in the case as I was in the relationship between Sebastian and Antoine. They were unique characters and I enjoyed reading about them.
This is a great M/M romance novel with the usual added S.J. Coles twist. Her novels have great characters but also a very rich and involved plot!
Short: A great crime mystery with a sizzling relationship. Great characters and an engaging story!
About the Author
S.J. Coles is a Romance writer originally from Shropshire, UK. She has been writing stories for as long as she has been able to read them. Her biggest passion is exploring narratives through character relationships.
She finds writing LGBT/paranormal romance provides many unique and fulfilling opportunities to explore many (often neglected or under-represented) aspects of human experience, expectation, emotion and sexuality.
Among her biggest influences are LGBT Romance authors K J Charles and Josh Lanyon and Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice.