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Brains and Brawn

by R.L. Merrill

Brains and Brawn co-op - R.L. Merrill
Part of the Summer of Hush series:
Editions:ePub: $ 4.99
Pages: 344

Quarter-Finalist in the BookLife Prize Contest
"Overall: 9.50 out of 10
Expertly plotted and paced, this romance builds a central relationship that is sweet, sexy, and satisfying. The love story grows through various plot points and conflicts, taking the main characters -as well as a vibrant supporting cast - on an emotionally resonant and heartwarming journey. It's exactly what a good romance book should be. Merrill’s dialogue is authentic and exhibits variances of tone and cadence when spoken by different characters; it's distinct and clear. The love scenes are explicit and passionate with an undercurrent of emotion that sets them apart from others in the genre. This swoon-worthy romance between a Marine officer and a rock star charms with a sweet and sexy story that shows how love can heal two hearts touched by tragedy." —BookLife Prize

"Over the course of this novel, Merrill writes about this burgeoning connection with smooth confidence...Merrill rests a good part of the story on a realistic appraisal of his characters’ fallibility: “People want to think they can handle anything that comes their way, but everyone has a breaking point,” Brains reflects at one point. It may seem like a standard unlikely-romance plot at first, but the author offers it to readers with considerable skill and style." —Kirkus Reviews

"R.L. Merrill is the reigning queen of romance and rock and roll. Brains and Brawn delivers yet another heartfelt love story with relatable characters whose trials feel steeped in the real world. Like the first book in the series, Summer of Hush, this one gives you a VIP backstage pass to life on a mega-tour. You’ll come out feeling like a member of the band.A realistic and inviting love story in the rock-music world.A rock star with a secret is injured in a freak accident. A single-dad Navy corpsman comes to his aide. Neither expected romance to bloom, but now that it has, will their secrets end it before it begins?" —Award-Winning Author Kilby Blades

Billy “Brains” Brennan has achieved rock stardom in not just one, but two chart-topping bands, but events from his past have him convinced he’s living on borrowed time. Brains and his brothers-in-Hush are ready to take the last cross-country Warped Tour by storm...until the actions of two drunk dudes with bad attitudes set off a chain of events that leave him incapacitated...and face-to-face with a handsome stranger who inexplicably feels like home—and not the home Brains fled at sixteen.

Chief Petty Officer Paul McNally has spent his 25-year career as a Navy Corpsman responding to emergencies and caring for wounded soldiers. When fate has him in the right place to provide aid to a fallen rock star, it sends his life spiraling on a trajectory he never planned for. Instead of concentrating on his impending retirement and a second career, he’s now playing nursemaid to a fascinating younger man…and falling in love—a fact he can’t seem to figure out how to explain to his adult son.

A health scare, band drama, and pain from both their pasts threaten to end Brains and Paul’s fledgling relationship. Fate brought them together. It will take trust, honesty, and hope to keep them together.


Chapter One

February 2018


“Happy birthday, son. Feel free to crack open one of the beers I left in the fridge.”

Paul McNally didn’t feel old enough to have a son turning twenty-one. When he was Bowie’s age, he never thought he’d be a career Navy man, but there he was, forty-two years old, overseas, and missing another of his son’s birthdays.

“Thanks, Dad,” Bowie answered. “Your beer is nasty and therefore safe from me. I can’t believe you were able to call. What time is it there?”

“Uh, it’s seventeen hundred hours here in Okinawa on Thursday. All’s good in the hood.”

“That’s not exactly the hood,” Bowie said with a laugh. “I’m glad you’re safe, though.”

“It’s good to hear you laugh,” Paul said. “I know it’s been hard—”

“Dad, I’m okay.”


Paul had stood by helplessly more times than he liked, often a continent away, while the kid picked himself up out of a spiral of depression and put one foot in front of the other. Now his son was a few months shy of finishing his associate in arts degree in music and was looking to transfer to a local bachelor of music program. It had taken him longer to finish because of his struggles, but he was going to do it, and damn, that made Paul proud.

“I know, I just hate being away.”

“I hate it, too,” Bowie admitted. “I was worried, you know, with all of the insanity going on. One week it’s North Korea and the next there’s a false alarm in Hawaii….”

Bowie’s anxiety had been through the roof lately. Paul’s sister Penny lived in the duplex unit next door and kept an eye on Bowie while Paul was gone. When they’d talked earlier, Penny told Paul that Bowie hadn’t made it to class this week. Bowie never wanted his dad to worry, and that frustrated Paul no end.

“I’m sorry—”

“It’s your job, though. I get it, Dad.”

Paul pressed his thumb and forefinger into his forehead and closed his eyes.

“Hey, go in the top drawer of my dresser. I have a surprise for you.”

“Your underwear drawer?” Bowie asked, horror evident in his tone. “Gross. Do I even want to know?”

“Just go,” Paul said with a laugh. “Hurry, though. I can’t talk long.”

Paul heard Bowie curse, and then something crashed in the background. He could only imagine the mess Bowie’s room would be without his presence. Paul McNally was a military man through and through and had attempted to instill order in their home—more for Bowie’s peace of mind than his own. Kids with anxiety and depression do better in a neat and structured environment. That’s what the therapists had told him. That’s what he’d learned when he did his own research. Kid still had a messy room, but at least he had his own system of organization that worked for him.

“All right,” Bowie finally said. “What am I looking for?”

Paul pictured him opening the drawer to find a sealed envelope he’d left there before his deployment on top of the neat stacks of white T-shirts and boxers.

“An envelope with your name on it, what do you think? You find it? Open it.” Paul couldn’t stand the suspense. He knew Bowie would be thrilled with the gift—and he knew it would provide the perfect occasion for him to spring some news on his son. Some good news for once.

Paul heard the envelope tear and then a crinkle as Bowie pulled out the folded piece of printer paper. His gasp made Paul smile.

“Surprise! Before I left, I got us tickets to the last Warped Tour. It’s not ’til June, but I’ll be back by then and we can go together. They should be announcing the bands in a week or two.”

Bowie sucked in a breath and blew it out into the phone. “This is…. Thanks, Dad. I know it’s not your favorite show—”

“It’s fine. I always like hanging out with you and going to hear music. I miss going to shows with you.”

Paul and Bowie had gone to see live music regularly when they lived in Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina, and San Diego. But the past five years in the Bay Area were a different story. They’d been to some concerts, but Paul was gone at least half of those years, and they’d missed other shows because Bowie just couldn’t handle the crowds and noise in the headspace he was in.

“Me, too. I love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, kid. You doing okay? Work okay?”

“Yeah,” Bowie said. Bowie had always tried to be honest with Paul, but Paul knew it was hard for him to admit he struggled. “I’ve missed class, but I haven’t missed work.”

Paul’s eyes burned with tears and he sucked in a breath. His son was so damned brave—braver than Paul had ever had to be in his nearly twenty-five-year career.

“I’m sorry—”

“Don’t apologize, son. We both know this is a process, right? You call Mrs. Robinson?”

“I did. I’m seeing her tomorrow. Dad, I don’t want you to worry.”

“I am worried. I wish I could be there with you.”

“It’s okay. Aunt Penny is keeping me fed. I’ve been picking up the kids from school every day when I get off work and taking them out so she gets a break. I eat dinner with them before I go to class….”

“I know it’s tough. You do the best you can, and that’s all I ask, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good man. All right, I gotta hang up now. Message me after you see Mrs. Robinson, okay?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry to worry you.”

“I just want you to be happy, son. That’s all. I love you. Be good.”

They hung up, and Paul cursed. Then he pulled up the calendar on his phone. June twenty-third in Mountain View, California. The website said it was to be the last summer-long, cross-country tour for the franchise. He and Bowie had been to two Warped Tour shows in California and three or four back east. Paul’s wheelhouse was more classic rock and heavy metal, but once Bowie started skateboarding, they both fell in love with the culture and music.

Punk, pop-punk, metalcore, and up-and-coming singer-songwriters had made Warped phenomenal over the years, and Paul was sad to see it go, but he was glad they’d be going together. It was an end to Warped, sure, but his impending retirement meant a new beginning for him and his son. One where he was around more. One where he could support Bowie in becoming a man. One where perhaps Paul could find something for himself, although he had no idea what that something might be. He’d been a corpsman and father with no room for anything—or anyone— else…What else was there?

Paul looked at his calendar and frowned. One hundred three days until he’d be back home. He’d turned in his papers for retirement and been told it would take several months to process. And then there’d be the ceremony….

As he tucked into his bunk that night, he thought about his own future for once—not his son’s, but his own—and it presented him with more questions than he was ready to deal with.


Reviews:Kirkus on Kirkus wrote:

Acareer Navy man unexpectedly finds himself caring for an injured young rock star in Merrill’s LGBTQ+ romance sequel.

This series installment picks up the story of the rock band Hush as they pull themselves together after the death of their friend and lead guitarist Gavin West. Members Silas Franklin, Carlos “Los” Morales, and Billy “Brains” Brennan are embarking with a new band mate, Jordan, on the cross-country Warped Tour. In Mountain View, California, their paths cross with 42-year-old Navy corpsman Paul McNally and his 21-year-old son, Bowie, who’s finishing a music degree and attending one of Brains’ guitar workshops. At this workshop, there’s immediate erotic chemistry between Brains, who sees Paul as “a stacked older dude,” and Paul, who gets “Actual goose bumps” when he hears Brains’ “deep, smooth voice.” Fate takes a hand in bringing them together when the band’s tent unexpectedly collapses, trapping Brains under a table and terrifying him. After Paul rushes to the scene, Brains begs him to stay, and the narrative develops into an unlikely romance that surprises not only Paul and Brains, but also all the other people in their lives. Over the course of this novel, Merrill writes about this burgeoning connection with smooth confidence, even when it hits rough patches, as when Brains needs physical therapy or when Bowie reacts poorly to his father’s new relationship. Merrill rests a good part of the story on a realistic appraisal of his characters’ fallibility: “People want to think they can handle anything that comes their way, but everyone has a breaking point,” Brains reflects at one point. It may seem like a standard unlikely-romance plot at first, but the author offers it to readers with considerable skill and style.

A realistic and inviting love story in the rock-music world.

About the Author

“With a strong plot, an expertly crafted cast of supporting characters, and deep empathy, Merrill’s novel will keep readers hooked.” —Publishers Weekly review of Typhoon Toby.


R.L. Merrill brings you stories of Hope, Love, and Rock 'n' Roll featuring quirky and relatable characters. Whether she’s writing about contemporary issues that affect us all or diving deep into the paranormal and supernatural to give readers a shiver, she loves creating compelling stories that will stay with readers long after. Winner of the Kathryn Hayes “When Sparks Fly” Best Contemporary award for Hurricane Reese, Foreword INDIES finalist for Summer of Hush and RONE finalist for Typhoon Toby, Ro spends every spare moment improving her writing craft and striving to find that perfect balance between real-life and happily ever after. She writes diverse and inclusive romance, contributes paranormal hilarity to Robyn Peterman’s Magic and Mayhem Universe, and works on various other writing and mentoring projects that tickle her fancy or benefit a worthy cause. You can find her connecting with readers on social media, educating America’s youth, raising two brilliant teenagers, trying desperately to get that back piece finished in the tattoo chair, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more Rock 'n' Romance.