Book Reviews

Raising the Bar (States of Love) by Leigh Dillon at Dreamspinner Press

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Romance
Reviewed by Serena Yates on 07-September-2018

Book Blurb

Destin Bellingham has inherited a problem. Thanks to his late playboy father, Destin faces putting a For Sale sign on his family’s historic horse farm. Getting his talented stallion, Black Sambuca, into the Grand Prix show ring would put Bellmeade back on the map—if only someone could make “Sam” behave like a show horse.


Disgraced top rider Tonio Benedetto has his own problems, but he can work magic with difficult jumpers, so Destin hires him despite his bad-boy reputation.  The street-smart, openly gay loudmouth from Miami and the closeted, buttoned-down son of Old Dominion Virginia make a rocky pairing, but time is running out to save Bellmeade from bankruptcy.


Opposites attract, sparks of tension grow into flames of passion. But if Tonio fails to tame Sam, will true love become a lost cause too?



States of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the United States.

Book Review

Starring two men from opposite ends of the spectrum in almost every way, this entertaining novella full of surprises, laugh-out-loud scenes, and touching moments shows the importance of building trust and never giving up – be it professionally or personally. Destin and Tonio, at least initially, agree on only one thing: getting Destin’s prize stallion, Sam, to the point where he can enter the Grand Prix show ring and behave like the show horse he is supposed to be. Sam is the key to getting Destin out of the financial trouble he finds himself in after inheriting the family horse breeding farm, but the stallion is also an important part of Tonio getting his riding career back on track. With the horse holding all the trump cards, so to speak, the process is an uphill battle with lots of small and large incidents, and I found myself pulled into the excitement in no time.

Destin is more than slightly overwhelmed now that he is in charge of Bellmeade. His father, recently deceased, was a playboy who drove the business close to bankruptcy, and Destin is supposed to pick up the pieces with only three mares, an ancient stallion no longer able to breed, and a younger stallion who is unwilling to behave. He knows he needs help, but he doubts anyone can make Sam behave – until he is desperate enough to accept his best friend’s recommendation to give Tonio a chance.

Tonio is a brilliant but disgraced rider who doesn’t even have an agent anymore because nobody wants to work with him after he punched someone in the face. Tonio may be lacking in the social graces and has a mind of his own, but he also has tons of talent where horses are concerned, making him perfect for taming Sam. Getting along with humans is so not his strength, so he knows he will have to behave when Destin asks him for help. Oh, and he is out and proud, which is not something that endears him to the somewhat snobbish, very conservative society in Virginia.

Neither man would have given the other the time of day, had they not been forced to work together. The tension between them is palpable and the sparks fly, but both need the other too much (initially for purely selfish reasons) to give up. As we all know, sparks usually lead to flames and eventually a fire, and Destin and Tonio are no exception. But Destin is deeply in the closet and doesn’t think he can come out without ruining his future, and added to all the other problems, this makes a happy ending seem highly unlikely for the longest time.

If you like romances with lots of initial tension between the main characters, if you want to watch two strangers bond over a common goal, and if you’re looking for an amusing read with fantastic secondary characters, lots of passion, and a great setting in Virginia horse country, then you will probably like this novella.





DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by Dreamspinner Press for the purpose of a review.

Additional Information

Format ebook
Length Novella, 91 pages/29588 words
Heat Level
Publication Date 07-September-2018
Price $3.99 ebook
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