I enjoyed Rhenna Morgan’s Men of Haven series where she takes men with rough backgrounds and a need to act then pairs them with competent women in over their heads. Despite the above summation that matches each book in the series, Morgan finds a unique story while her characters are three-dimensional.
NOLA Knights, a spinoff, shows every sign of being the same. It starts with Sergei, who we met in Darya’s story. The Russian has definitive ideas of what the bratva, or mafia, should mean and feels the environment in Russia is no longer conducive to this. He obtained permission to create his own brotherhood in the U.S., choosing New Orleans based on his experiences during his college education.
We don’t know that at first, though. Instead, we meet a struggling single mother with a loss-filled past who has become the sweetheart of one of the toughest neighborhoods in New Orleans. Everyone knows her. Everyone loves her. But none of them can help her when she unexpectedly loses her job for something she didn’t do and can’t explain.
Evette is faced with the tough choice to trust someone she knows to be outside the law or let her financial circumstances undermine her talented son’s schooling. She’s had a hard life so far and always found a way through it. So what if this way caught her attention every time she visited the diner her substitute mother owned? He’s physically attractive, sure, but it’s something more than that.
This novel has all the parts of Morgan’s writing that have made me a fan from the beautiful, layered description to characters I grew to love. Sergei brings with him a dark world in which he has, and will, do dark things that haunt him. At the same time, motivation counts, and this is fiction, so I’m all for the hero taking action and removing barriers built up by corruption and underhanded deals. Or should I say anti-hero? He’s not an angel, but he’s far from the devil he sees himself.
When he tries to describe his intentions, Evette uses the Godfather to visualize what motivates him. People make a deal with Sergei, and they owe him something in return, but they also become part of his protected network. It’s an older image of the bratva, but it suits the series and Morgan’s style. Sergei keeps his promises and offers security, proving his sincerity by removing the infestation of protection-racket thugs who had plagued the neighborhood.
Where Morgan falls into a pattern of sorts is having the relationship consummated in both words and open door action about midway through the book. She leaves the rest of the story to show them as a loving couple, but also to deal with the non-romantic conflict. Sergei assumes it’s his lifestyle, and there’s some truth to that. Still, the seeding is there from the start to show the situation is more complex than just one mobster objecting to Sergei’s efforts to clean up the neighborhood and win the people’s loyalties.
As you have probably guessed, I’ve been won over by Sergei and this spinoff series. It maintains the same aspects I’ve enjoyed in Morgan’s writing while offering a new setup and new stories to go along with it. Even better, Sergei’s ties to Haven through Darya are still strong, bringing beloved characters from that series into this one when appropriate.
Which reminds me of one more thing I wanted to leave you with. The way to tell this is a true love story is in the details. Sergei understands who Evette wants to be beyond what life has pushed her into and does what he can to help her achieve her dreams. In turn, Evette sees into the heart of her Russian vor, retaining a healthy respect for his responsibilities but understanding the why as much as the what. He’s a vigilante, anti-hero with good motives, and there’s no question love thrives between them. Sergei’s ready to step in where corruption turns the system against her and everyone in the neighborhood she claims. After all, she’s family.
P.S. I received this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.