Rating: 3.75 stars
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Alex Dominguez doesn’t know what to think when he’s suddenly summoned to the Governor’s office for a special assignment since his career as a Nevada State Trooper has been completely unremarkable for the last four years. Turns out the Governor has been asked by another political friend for a favor and he wants Alex’s help in carrying that out. A laird from Scotland is coming to a Nevada park for a big game hunt and the Scot’s uncle, a member of the Scottish parliament, is worried that his nephew’s behavior while out of the country might be detrimental to his political career. He decides the young Scot needs a babysitter—an assignment passed on to Alex. Alex is reluctant to take on the assignment as it feels dishonest, but he sees no good way to refuse.
Rory Drummond has had a love of the outdoors and a touch of wanderlust for as long as he can remember. He’s scoured every inch of the mountain wilderness near his home hunting game and meeting nature on its own terms. When the mountains of his own homeland don’t hold quite the same thrall anymore, he books a big game hunt with a company in the Nevada mountains—an area he’s been fascinated by since his studies in school. He’s expecting a week of freedom from his duties as laird and his uncle’s outrageous disregard for his privacy; he’s just looking for a little freedom. What he gets instead is Alex.
Convincing the owner of the tour company to pair him with Rory as “buddies” for the hunt, tasked with watching each other’s backs in the harsh wilderness conditions so he can stay close to Rory, Alex goes to pick Rory up at the airport and gets knocked off his feet with instant attraction to his charge. Rory feels the same attraction and they fall into each other’s beds quickly. As the hunt begins and both men confront the awesome beauty of the wilderness, they come to realize that they’ve both been searching for something for a long time and they might just have found it in each other. Everything falls apart when Rory becomes aware of Alex’s true reasons for being on this hunt and both men must come to terms with the deception if they have a chance of making the connection last longer than the hunt.
I’ll start by saying that I was really excited by the premise of this story. I love a good story that brings people from two different worlds together and this story really delivered that well with beautiful descriptions and authentic feeling settings. Both men feel like “sons of the soil,” such vivid representations of their homelands, and it’s fun to see how such two different cultures intersect. I will also say that it felt realistic that the governor would assign a babysitter if an important political figure from a foreign nation wanted to go on a potentially hazardous expedition in his state. It’s a totally believable setup that draws the reader in quickly. The story starts off strong, with Rory’s palpable excitement and Alex’s clear reluctance to follow some spoiled Scotsman around.
All of which made it pretty disappointing when the plot sort of came off the rails later on. The main conflict in the book is that Rory freaks out when he learns that Alex was arranged to be on the hunt by his uncle, actually assuming that he’s a spy for his uncle and reporting all sorts of things back to the man, and they never talk about it. Rory just gets on a plane and heads back to Scotland without ever letting Alex explain or talk about his feelings. I found that to be a really ridiculous overreaction considering he professed to already being in love with Alex and he gave him a priceless family heirloom that essentially welcomed him into the Drummond clan as a token of his affections. Alex’s pure terror at the thought of Rory finding out about his assignment beforehand felt really over the top too. It felt like a case of creating a conflict when the setup of this story had already provided a perfect conflict. Namely that these men are from opposite corners of the Earth and that after only a week together they both have to go back to their lives. I would have loved to see this book tackle that issue and not the overly contrived drama of Alex’s “spying.”
In fact that’s an issue that was really never resolved at all. The last half of the book felt quite rushed in comparison to the first. The ending was quite abrupt, and at the end the characters still haven’t really addressed the fact that one of them just picked up and left everything they knew to move to another country for a man he’d only spent a week with. The same man who incidentally just walked out of his life in a fit of pique without ever talking through their issues. It was really pretty frustrating as a reader not getting any sort of closure for that plot thread.
The characters themselves were enjoyable. I loved Rory for the most part and liked Alex a lot too, except when they got naked with each other. It’s like both men seemed to suffer personality transplants once the clothes came off. There are other issues with the sex scenes, including one that really rides the line of non-consent pretty hard and was actually rather disturbing for me the way it was presented, with one character actually thinking to himself that he should “give him a little time and space to come to terms with the fact he was almost raped.” (In my opinion there was no “almost” about it, but your view may differ.) That’s in addition to the fact that those scenes just weren’t all that sexy to begin with and were written with language I can only describe as just plain weird. The other thing about the sex is that they don’t seem to be anything special and, in a plot that hinges almost completely on the concept of love at first sight, it was really sort of bizarre. Both men spend quite a lot of time thinking about how they’re having the best sex of their lives yet it’s never really explained why. They also seem to have very different sexual needs from their partner and often it felt like they were playing very different games with each other, in the same scene. Which was such a shame because they were cute as can be together when they kept their clothes on.
One of the most successful parts of this story for me was the story of Alex’s emotional growth. When he was still a young child he lost both of his parents to lung disease within a very short period of time and had a rough go of it in the foster care system. Never the victim of any physical abuse, he was subjected instead to years of neglect and emotional disconnection. In response he learned to sink into himself and never connect with anyone. This hunting trip is taking him back to the same area that he and his father used to hunt and camp on before his death; in fact the owner of the tour company remembers Alex’s father well. During his ascent up the mountain he begins to feel like he’s meeting his father’s spirit in the wilderness and as his relationship with Rory builds, like he’s introducing Rory to his father and seeking approval. This very meaningful confrontation with the grief he clearly never dealt with as a child was absolutely beautiful and such a fantastic way of dealing with Alex’s emotional reservation.
I also really liked that in many ways both of these men had spent their lives searching for something and not even realizing it, Alex peace with the loss of his parents and Rory a sense of self and direction. It was really enjoyable to watch them grow as people and together. They both felt lost and a little broken and the way they healed was perfect because it wasn’t that “magic of sex” healing so many stories feature. True, their relationship did start pushing them in the right direction, but both of them worked individually to be better men for the other.
On the whole, I think if you can ignore that these men don’t really sync up sexually and the major obstacle to their relationship is just swept under the rug, I think this one is worth the read. Very likable characters who go on a beautiful journey of self-discovery make it worth overlooking the other issues.
One other little side note: this book is not part of a series per se, but it is set in a universe and features characters created in a work that was a collaboration with another author. It stands alone easily though.