First Thoughts: 4 stars! I love Gabe and all his tatted and pierced swooniness. That. Is. All.
Plot, Pacing, and Style: This story actually took me a little while to get into, but then it seamlessly all made sense and fell into place. I remembered Gabe from Ruin, so I had an idea of who he was in my head….boy was I wrong! Turns out there were secrets, lots of them. In Toxic we find out one piece of the puzzle little by little as we read. I loved seeing the story unfold, and it really did all come together in such an emotional and heart wrenching/warming way. This story had my heart breaking, but it also had it bursting.
Main Characters: Gabe was so tortured, and it was almost unbearable to me, the reader, that he carried so much baggage. I could feel his guilt totally eating him alive because I’m pretty sure I felt it too. He really was only going through the motions until he met Saylor, and it was amazing because she was able to bring parts of his heart back to life.
Now Saylor was set up to having baggage of her own, but it just wasn’t even close to what Gabe was going through. However, she was sweet and real and true and I loved her with Gabe (even though I really, really, really did not like her name).
Romance/Chemistry: Deliciously swoony. Gabe and Saylor had chemistry from the very first time they met. Sparks flew. Trust me. However, there were these sparks, but they never went anywhere and I wanted more…I’m greedy like that and just a sucker for romance. It felt like there were a few times where the romance could play a bigger part, and that would have been awesome. Not that it had to be anything explicit, but I felt like a few more hand holdings, touches, or kisses could have given me what I wanted.
Twists, Turns, and Secrets: So I knew the identities were not exactly true, but I didn’t know all of it…so yes, there were definitely some surprises.
Ending: While the beginning was slow, the ending felt rushed. I got my HEA, but I felt like I worked so hard (don’t laugh, it’s an emotional job being a reader ) that I wanted more at the end. I felt like I was kind of ripped off. What can I say? I’m greedy, I love romance and I didn’t get enough of it.
Gripes/suggestions: The ending was too rushed and while I didn’t need an explicit sexy times scene, a good fade to black instead of the epilogue would have left me a lot more satisfied.
Final Thoughts/Rec it? Oh my, YES. Gabe is swoony and you don’t want to miss out on this tortured bad boy who finally gets a chance at happiness.
Life has two stages. Birth and death. That’s it. What you do in between the two? Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it? —Wes M
Behind me, Gabe ceased all motion. The only way I knew he was still there was from the heat that seeped into my back from where his body touched me. More warmth rolled off his hands where they seemed fused to mine. Any minute now, I expected him to pull away, to slip into mask number one or mask number two. Instead, he flipped my hands over, gripping them with his fingers and exhaled, long and slow. Seconds went by, but they may as well have been years. Each time he let out a breath, my heart skipped a beat of longing, needing more of his touch — more of something. My back tingled as the hard planes of his stomach pressed against me. I was in a Gabe cocoon.
And I loved it.
Until the music started.
With slight pressure, Gabe moved my hands to the piano, slowly, effortlessly placing them on each key.
He was playing through me, using my body as an instrument to convey the story of his life. Each time he pressed down on one of my fingertips or guided me to another area of the piano, I felt the sadness of the song clench deeper. The notes became floating tendrils of pain, each one of them slowly invading my body and taking hold until it hurt to breathe.
He moved faster and faster, my hands couldn’t keep up. I pulled back as he continued the song, in such a rush it was like he was yelling but doing it with music. Unable to convey it in any other way.
With a final burst of movement, he lifted his hands off the piano and smashed them against the keys, causing a chaos of notes to burst forth.
Gabe’s breathing was uneven, ragged as he leaned heavily against me, his chin resting on my head, and he whispered brokenly, “I can’t.”
“You were doing so good.”
“It’s like getting into a car with suicidal tendencies. You keep going faster and faster, needing the adrenaline to keep you alive until suddenly you turn the wheel and everything goes black. The notes, they go higher and higher, and right when I feel like I can change the outcome — I panic. Some things…” He sighed and pulled away. “Some things are better left in chaos.”
“Are you sure about that? Are you sure about perfection?” I folded my hands in my lap, but didn’t turn around.
“Sure.” He moved from behind me and sat on the bench. “If life was perfect, how in the hell would we ever learn to depend on someone other than ourselves? If anything, that’s what life’s taught me. The need to be perfect is stemmed in the very belief that it’s actually something we can achieve. Self-actualization — doesn’t exist.”
I licked my lips and looked down at the keys. “Does that mean we don’t try then?”
“No.” Gabe tickled a few of the ivory keys in front of him, the music note tattoos on his fingertips looking darker against the white of the piano. “It just means when you reach the end of your rope, you shouldn’t regret a damn thing, but applaud yourself for trying to do the impossible.”
I felt like he was using double meanings. The philosophical Gabe was a bit terrifying because he made me feel more insecure than the jackass Gabe. But the guy sitting next to me right now? I was beginning to understand, he wasn’t just one person. He was every person, everything, whatever he needed to be, he was.
Like a chameleon.
And suddenly the ending to the story made sense.
Ten different notes all clamoring at once.
Gabe was Chaos.
“So.” He sniffed and cleared his throat. “Now that I’ve totally ruined the moment by talking in my serious voice and scaring the shit out of you — why don’t we work on one of your performance pieces?”
“Okay.” I placed my hands on the piano again, careful to angle my wrists at the perfect degree and keep my eyes on the music ahead. Sometimes I wondered if my posture was better than my playing.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked in calm voice.
I turned and gave him a firm nod. “I’m getting ready.”
“To go to battle?”
“What?” I relaxed my hands a bit. “No.” I straightened. “This is the right posture, it’s—”
“If you say perfect, I’m going to kill myself.”
“Someone should have majored in drama.”
He burst out laughing. “Oh, honey, you have no idea.”
“So?” I lifted my wrists again and looked ahead.
“Fine.” He smirked. “Play just like that.”
“Okay.” I started one of my harder pieces, Piano Sonata 14. It felt exactly the same. The movement wasn’t as fast as some of the others, but the timing for it had to be perfect.
“Close your eyes,” Gabe instructed.
He swatted my wrists. “No arguing with your piano master.”
“Say ‘yes, master’.”
I smiled tightly, my eyes focusing on the music in front of me. I started slowly playing. “Not in this lifetime.”
“Bet I could make you say it.” His voice had an arrogant lift to it, which made me all the more irritated. Master? Um, no.
“Eyes.” He growled again.
With a resigned sigh, I closed my eyes. “Better?”
“Immensely,” he said smoothly.
Darkness enveloped my world. All I had were the notes at my fingertips. All I had was the music — that and Gabe.
He wasn’t saying anything.
Which killed me.
It also made me want to open my eyes, but I knew he’d probably just tell me to close them again, so I kept playing.
And then, with a teasing touch, his fingers grazed my chin, slowly tilting it down toward the piano while his other hand went to my upper back then slowly moved down until it was in the middle, with a gentle push, he urged my body closer to the keys.
Eyes closed, posture completely off, I leaned over the piano. Everything felt wrong as I continued playing.
“Slower,” he said softly.
With a sigh, I started playing slower. His hands moved to my hips. And stayed there. Other than jumping a foot, I was still able to concentrate.
“The music,” he whispered, “It’s not just your story — it’s your lover.”
“Okay,” I squeaked. Heat washed over me as the word lover bounced around in my brain. I knew it, but I’d never experienced it. How was I supposed to use something I didn’t know how to use? And how embarrassing was it that I was stuck in that tiny room having never been… stuck in a tiny room with any guy? Lover. I’d take him. If I got a choice. It would be him. But people like Gabe, beautiful people who had music in their soul, who knew how to speak without words… they weren’t for girls like me.
“Each stroke…” His hands pressed against my hips making me gasp. “You need to feel it not just on your fingertips — but everywhere.”
“Feel it here,” he squeezed and then ran his hands lightly up my sides, then resting right underneath my breasts, he pressed again. “And here.”
My breathing picked up speed, as did my music.
“Slow down,” he commanded in that same irritating patient tone. “Where is this story taking me? Where are you taking your lover?”
“Huh?” I breathed.
“Use your hands to tell me the story — use your body to propel the story forward, what happens next… Tell the story, Saylor. Make me feel it without even touching you.”
“But — that’s impossible.”
“You can feel a kiss without touching someone’s lips.”
“Concentrate.” Gabe’s voice was firm. “I want to kiss you.”
“What?” He was lucky I didn’t actually collapse against the piano this time.
“In the story.” He chuckled. “I want to kiss you in this story, so kiss me.”
“You want me to get up and kiss you?” Mind you, I was still trying to play a difficult piece as he was asking me this, which basically meant I must have had talent, because my body was on fire.
“Without our mouths meeting.”
“Through the music.” I clarified in a doubtful voice.
I could hear the smile in his tone as he answered. “Yes, through the music, show me what the kiss would feel like. I want to taste it.”
He laughed softly. “I’m touching them.”
“My lips,” he countered. “They’re soft, open, wet…”
I squirmed on the piano bench, squeezing my eyes shut. “What else?”
“As I part my lips… I wonder what your tongue tastes like, what type of pressure you’d use as you pressed your velvety smooth mouth against mine. I imagine exploring your mouth not just because I want to — but because I can’t help it. I’m lost. And your kiss is my salvation… so, Saylor, will you save me?”
My fingers glided effortlessly over the piano as I imagined his mouth — the way he smiled, the way he took his lower lip hostage when he was deep in thought. The dark look he got in his eyes when there was something he wanted. Our kiss would be epic.
The music picked up speed as I leaned over the piano, pounding each note with the rhythm of my footsteps as I approached him.
His hands would reach for my hips as he pulled me closer. My hands hovered over the keys making my hesitation known.
And then I pressed softly against the ivory, leaning forward as if I was leaning into Gabe with my body pressed against his. My breasts brushed the keys. I moved closer to the piano and then slowed the music.
His eyes would close.
His lips would part.
And we’d meet in the middle — because both of us wanted the same thing. Both of us wanted to taste, to explore, to feel.
I slowed my left hand as my right hand moved quicker across the keys, to show the anticipation.
And then, our mouths would touch.
I pounded the keys with my left hand, making it the loudest part of the piece which wasn’t normally how it was done.
Our tongues would tangle.
I pounded the piano harder.
His fingers would dig into my arms as he lifted me into the air.
I pulled back from the piano, stopping the music, and then gently started the rhythmic cadence again.
Our kiss was the perfect joining of music.
He was the left hand, I was the right.
Separate they sounded like silly scales.
Together — they were beautiful.
When I stopped the piece, I was sweating.
“Open your eyes,” Gabe whispered.
He was breathing so heavily it looked like he’d just run a marathon. With a smile he tucked my fallen hair behind my ear and tilted my chin toward him.
“That…” He leaned in. “…is how you perform. Like every kiss is both your first and last — like you’re saying both hello and goodbye — like you’ve just been born… like you’ve just died.”
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