Once Burned by Sam Mariano

May 22, 2017 Book Review 0 ★★★★½

Once Burned by Sam Marianofour-half-stars
Once Burned by Sam Mariano
Series: Morelli Family #3
Also in this series: Accidental Witness, Surviving Mateo, Family Ties
Published by Self-published on May 22nd 2017
Pages: 380
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Adrian Palmetto.
Mine is a name known by every lowlife in Chicago. Mateo Morelli's right hand man: problem-solver, hit man, chief strategist, confidante—whatever he needs, I'm his guy. Kinda funny, since I hate the bastard. At least, that's what I've told myself over the last five years, serving a man I consider despicable—a man I once considered my closest friend. It's what I had to do, if I wanted Elise. And I wanted Elise more than I've ever wanted anything in my godforsaken life.
Thing is, I'm free now. I don't have to be Mateo's guy anymore. I paid the price for Elise's freedom and now I can start building a life with her. Only it's not that simple. Nothing ever is in this damn family. Elise carries emotional baggage from her own time served, and Mateo's in deep shit without me.
You'd think I would've learned my lesson about the evils of Mateo's family at 8, when they ruined my life, or maybe even at 28, when they stole it. Now here I am, 33, faced with one final choice: do I escape this family once and for all, or do I dive back into the flames to save Mateo's ass one last time?
**Recommended for readers 18+ due to violence. Book 3 of 4 in the Morelli Family Saga. NOT a standalone. None of these are standalones. Start with Accidental Witness or suffer the consequences! (The consequence is that you'll be really confused. No one will murder you or anything. But I don't advise it.)**
*** It's also strongly recommended that you read Irreparable Damage and Irreparable Lives prior to this one. This book has ALL the spoilers from that duet, so if you ever wanted to read it, you'll want to do that before this book. ***

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Once Burned is the continuation of the Morelli series with each new book delving deeper into the Morelli family, including the man who heads it, Mateo. If you’re curious about this series, you need to start with Irreparable Damage first, otherwise you’ll miss the bigger story bridging between each book in this suspenseful series.

“You’re my friend, Adrian, but don’t forget your place.”

Adrian is Mateo’s right hand man. A love/hate relationship underpinned by an unquestionable loyalty they have shared since childhood. It’s a relationship Adrian fights internally, unable to condone Mateo’s actions yet compelled to ensure his old friend’s safety. His weakness or quality, depending on how you look at it, is he has a heart of gold when it comes to damsels in distress and the people he cares about.  He’s a complex character, carrying the physical scars of when he was first burnt by the Morelli’s and his reluctance or willingness to forgive.

When he first encounters Elise, he immediately steps in to protect her when he notices she has caught the dangerous attention of one of Mateo’s men. Reaching her in the nick of time, he saves Elise but then finds himself spending the next 5 years working to have her freed from a life of servitude within the Morelli household.

Elise is young, happy and is keen to return Adrian’s good deed. In Adrian’s mind she is too young and vulnerable and keeps his distance from her, encouraging a platonic relationship that grows over the years. I adored the way he went about providing a good life for Elise.

“We’re just adjusting to each other, that’s all.

It’s a learning process.” She smiles softly.

“That’s kind of our thing, though, isn’t it?”

Together they work to help and support each other. There’s an ongoing switch between who is reading their situation better and who is looking out for whom. Elise is far from vulnerable and her strength comes through in volumes as the story unfolds.

While this is a mafia romance, it is not a cookie cutter version. It dawned on me while I was reading this book what makes it so different is the absence of the strong backseat role a mother would hold in a mafia family. Yes, there are strong women who play significant roles, wise but youthful, and not matronly. Interestingly, the respect they garner is similar but the loyalty stems from their survival, not the traditional family bloodline.

“I gave you Elise, and I could take her away just as easily.”

“You don’t own her,” I grind out, my jaw locked so tight it’s painful.

“I don’t have to,” he answers silkily.

What has evolved under Mateo’s roof still demands adherence to family values, such as sharing Sunday meals together (like it or not). Everyone has a place and role, providing a sense of belonging. He also has a way of keeping everyone on their toes, especially the partners of the women who attend Sunday dinners. Mateo’s charm and control is not lost on the women and instills fear in the men who are forced to sit by and watch him play his games.

I nearly flipped my lid when I got to 92%, I thought I was going to be left hanging. Not sure I haven’t been, but the next 8% made me forget my earlier anguish. The hiccup towards the end took my rating from a 4.5 to a 4, but by the ending I wanted to lavish 5 stars. Once Burned left me with another book-buzz and I am grateful the wait between books in the Morelli Series is never long and peppered with teasers from the author to keep the momentum of the suspense alive!

4.5 Heroic Stars

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