Rating: 2.75 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Samuel Harrison is a Marshal tracking down a thief (or thieves) robbing banks, stores, and people across the West. Sam prides himself on his stellar track record catching criminals and he plans for this time to be no different. He is sure that a shipment of gold coins leaving the town of Salvation will be a draw for the bad guys and so he comes into town to track them down. When Sam meets a sexy man at the saloon, he indulges in his desire for a passionate encounter, followed by a night with the alluring man. But when he finds out that Jake is also the thief Sam is trying to catch, he must decide if he will do his duty and bring Jake to justice, or give in to his feelings and allow Jake his freedom.
I was intrigued by the set up for this story, as I am always on the look out for a more non-traditional historical. I think the idea behind this one works well – cop and criminal facing off in the Old West. We get a nice feel for the long hours and solitary life of Sam as a Marshal, of the dry dust and the weary horses. So I enjoyed the setting and the author gives a nice feel for the time period.
Unfortunately, there were just too many things that didn’t work for me here. First off, the story is told in present tense, which is a really hard sell. I am not totally against it on principle, but it takes a lot of skill to keep a present tense story from sounding like a list of actions (Sam does this. Sam does that. Then he does this again.). And in this case, Morgan really never gets above that for most of the book. Especially because so much of it is written in short clipped sentences that kept the narrative from ever really settling into a rhythm. I felt oddly distanced, like I was watching these characters act out the story but never really felt engaged with it. It just felt like too much telling without ever showing the emotions or the nuances behind things. Here is an example from when Sam is getting ready for a bath:
The water steams softly and Sam pushes his suspenders off his shoulders, fingers working at the buttons on his shirt. He pulls the fabric over his head, mouth curling down at the stains that pepper the material; dust, dirt, sweat, all ground into the fibers. He plunges the material into the pool, gasping at the heat against his skin. He watches the dirt flush out of the fabric and swirl away.
He sloshes the shirt through the water a couple of times before he pulls it out, wringing as much liquid from it as he can before he drapes it along the back of the bench. The soft drip, drip of moisture falling from the hem of his shirt makes a muted counterpoint to the louder trickle of fresh water falling into the pool as Sam unfastens and removes his pants, draping them over the other end of the bench. His underclothes come off next and they get plunged into the hot water as well, adding their drips to the strange symphony.
It just felt like a list of tasks, rather than engaging the reader into the story.
This is further complicated by the fact that the book gives us the POV from both men, and along with some messy pronouns, I had a hard time keeping track of whose head we were in and who was doing the action. I had to reread constantly to figure out who was doing what. And finally, I ran into several cases where tenses seemed off and grammar was problematic. For example, “Another victim mentioned a husky voice… as the thief removed the jewelry they were wearing” (emphasis mine). This story just really needed a tight all over edit.
Aside from the writing style, I also just couldn’t really connect with either of these characters. Sam is a little better developed, and we learn of his family business and his desire to be his own man, the expectations of his parents and how he felt like he needed to branch out on his own. We get a better sense of what motivates him, though I still found myself frustrated by his behavior. Sam is supposed to be this stellar Marshal, yet he literally has sex with a stranger who walks into the bath with him 10 seconds after meeting. In a room that is not secured, at a time when being with a man could get him arrested or killed. Then he invites Jake back to his room for another night of passion, while he is in town to do his job. That is basically the extent of their relationship, yet when he realizes Jake is the thief, that connection is somehow enough to consider letting Jake go and violating everything he is sworn to uphold. I needed more here to understand why Sam is willing to turn his back on what he believes in just because he meets a hot guy.
Jake is unfortunately less developed and I never understood what was driving him at all. This is romance, not the real world, and I don’t need my bad guys to have a secret heart of gold. But I want to at least understand him, why he is stealing, what made him the man he is. We get no real sense of his history other than a vague reference that he grew up poor, and no idea how he became this master criminal. His sister is awful and seems to boss him around, but again, we get no real understanding of their dynamic, whether he is doing this for her or for him, and why.
Even together not much develops between these men. Most of the book focuses on three sexual encounters, two before Sam knows who Jake is, and one after. They talk the first night over dinner. And that is literally all there is between these men. Even with all the sex, I never found it really engaging (and that rarely happens for me). And then suddenly at the end, we are heading to a relationship between them. If the book came out and said this is all about hot sex, then maybe I could just roll with it. But there is an implication of feelings between them that just seems to stem from nothing.
I also have to point out my annoyance at a scene where the men discuss their latest sexual encounter. Sam feels like he forced Jake and Jake is disagreeing. Jake tells Sam:
Sam, look at me! Do you really think you could have forced yourself on me if I really didn’t want it? I am not some fair maiden to be ravished.” …
“Come, Sam, truly look at me. Am I feeble, a weak trembling girl to be tumbled to the ground and held down against her wishes?”
I will admit my blood boiled here at the idea that rape victims are only “weak trembling” women and that the fact that Jake is a strong man means assault is impossible. Especially considering Sam was holding a gun on Jake for most of the time during the encounter.
So unfortunately this one just didn’t do it for me. The setting and idea behind the book were entertaining. But the writing was confusing, often awkward, hard to read, and had editing problems. The characters were poorly developed individually and had little chemistry together. So overall this one just didn’t come together for me.