Rating: 4 stars
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When Kameron’s forced to transfer to the vice squad after his former unit finds out he’s gay and lets him know in subtle ways that they’re not okay with it, he thinks he’s willing to do whatever it takes to stay in favor with his new team. That only lasts until Jimmy, head of the unit, comes to him with his next undercover assignment. Information gathered from their latest drug bust says that Jimmy’s own brother, Bear, is in danger and Jimmy knows Bear won’t accept protective detail, thinking it’s just Jimmy being his usual overprotective self. Jimmy wants Kameron to ask Bear out and pretend to date him so he can stay close and keep an eye on him. Kameron hates the deception, but the way Jimmy presents the idea makes it sound like the only way to keep Bear safe, so he accepts. He hates the deception even more when he meets Bear and realizes that once the ruse is discovered it could keep Kameron from dating the man for real.
Bear makes a habit of turning down the guys who hit on him while he’s tending bar, especially since he’s wary of men altogether after his ex hacked into his computer and stole money directly out of his bank account. So he’s all prepared to tell the hot guy who shows up out of nowhere at the bar one night where he can stuff his pick-up lines, until he realizes the guy’s not trying to pick him up—he’s actually asking him out. He’s not used to guys staying interested once they find out casual sex isn’t on the table and the novelty makes him accept Kameron’s invitation to dinner despite his reservations.
Sparks fly immediately, and they easily fall into a new relationship, but Kameron knows it’s only a matter of time before it crumbles. Their happy little bubble is indeed shattered when the gang who thinks Bear knows where their missing drugs are thanks to his loser ex—the guy who stole them—makes a move to take out Kameron and the whole story about the deception is revealed. Bear’s hurt by the lies and he wants nothing to do with Kameron or Jimmy, but there’s still a ruthless gang after him so he doesn’t get much choice in the matter. Forced into close contact to keep Bear safe, Kameron knows this is his only shot at convincing Bear that everything wasn’t a lie and that his feelings were, and still are, genuine.
This is a book that slots nicely into that bodyguard/protectee trope that’s so popular and while I felt there were a few twists here to make it feel fresh, it was still a tad cliched at times. On the whole this story worked for me, but there were a few things that I felt were missing and instead of just being disappointed, my attachment to what was there made the missing pieces feel like missing limbs, still tingling along the edge of my awareness to remind me they weren’t there.
Probably the biggest example of that is Kameron. He’s a sweet guy and instantly likeable as a guy who’s in a tough situation and just doing the best he can, but unfortunately there’s not much substance to him other than that. As its title would suggest, this story is all about Bear. Every single scene in this book revolves completely around him and how he’s feeling, what he’s doing, if he’s in danger. Fortunately, he’s a great character, so I didn’t mind, but it was a weird thing for a book with so many moving parts and it really took the spotlight off Kameron. He’s not nuanced in any way, especially in comparison to Bear, and it was clear the author’s love affair with Bear affected the character of Kameron. He never progressed past a list of traits that made him the perfect guy for Bear. Honestly, that’s the best way to describe his personality—perfect for Bear—he never really got his own personality and it was a shame because the framework that was there held real promise. Despite the fact that he was completely two dimensional and predictable, I still liked him in the way that I like the earliest incarnations of Superman—he’s got as much depth as a puddle but he’s a good guy.
Kameron’s lack of development and growth is especially noticeable in comparison to Bear’s character. Here is our nuanced, conflicted, deep character, and he works. Described as a smaller guy with a chip on his shoulder about it, “Bear” is the perfect nickname for him. He’s sassy and difficult and witty and headstrong while at the same time being vulnerable and unsure and sweet and concerned about those around him. He was a fascinating study in contradictions—dominating one scene and then submitting eagerly to Kameron the next, unreasonably stubborn about some things and ruthlessly logical about others, brave in the face of danger but impossibly terrified by his situation when the danger seemed to be over. He was the shining star of this story.
In the same way that Kameron’s characterization didn’t fare as well as Bear’s, the side characters got the same treatment. Jimmy, the brother that sets all of this in motion, is terribly cliched, nothing more than a cardboard cutout with only a few moments within the book where you see flashes of something hidden deeper. And if Jimmy was bad, the best friends and the villain are worse. All of which is doubly disappointing when they’re interacting with Bear and your face is being rubbed in the fact that this author can create compelling characters, that it just didn’t happen for all of them.
But it wasn’t just the characters that suffered from tingling phantom limb syndrome, the plot was full of missing appendages too. What was there was great—the romance was sweet, the sex was hot if a little rushed, the action was intriguing—but there just wasn’t nearly enough of it. This is a book that takes place over the course of several months and is only just over a hundred pages long. Most of what was absent was the development of their relationship. We don’t get much other than Kameron showing up to pick Bear up for their first date. We only get brief glimpses, most of which are all or mostly sex, of their time holed up in a safe house. Most of the scenes are about the external conflict going on around them and the danger they were in, which was interesting, but totally not why I was reading the book. I want a story about a relationship from my romance novels, otherwise what’s the point, I could just read some other genre. The really upsetting thing is that once again what was there was great, and it only served to highlight what wasn’t.
All in all I liked this book a lot, but I would have loved it had there been just a little more meat on the bones here. I can pretty confidently recommend this to those of you who like bodyguard or cop stories or for those of you who love a sassy, confident character.