Allan Seville wakes up in the middle of nowhere, tied naked to some wooden planks with his hair all shaved off. Al has no memory of how he got there, nor where he even is. Just as he starts to panic, Al is rescued by a sexy cowboy, Duke Walters. It turns out Al has been drugged, kidnapped and tied up, and left on Duke’s ranch. The last thing he remembers is going down to the bar in his Houston hotel the night before, and then nothing until waking up that morning.
Duke brings Al back to his home and the police investigate, but have no leads. Something about Duke just gives Al a sense of comfort and security, not to mention a deep sense of attraction, and when Duke offers to let Al stay awhile, he easily agrees. After the craziness of his modeling and acting career, taking some time out on the gorgeous ranch with a sexy cowboy is just what Al needs. An attraction between the men grows intense very quickly, and Al can’t believe how fast he is falling for Duke. As good as things are between the men, however, not everyone is happy to have Al around. The kidnapper is still on the loose, and as things escalate, Al realizes he may have to leave Duke behind if he is going to stay safe.
I really enjoyed this debut novel from author Thorny Sterling. It is sexy and romantic with a nice bit of suspense and two super likable heroes. The story is told from Al’s POV in first person, present tense. Now this isn’t something easy to pull off, and often I find present tense can just suck the life out of a story and come across like a dull recitation of actions. But Sterling really does an excellent job here keeping the story lively with crisp writing and a great POV character in Al. Al is quick witted and fun and a little bit snarky. He has a touch of arrogance and is aware that he is a high maintenance guy. As readers we get his internal thoughts and musings, many of which cracked me up, and getting the story from his outsider’s perspective really works.
Al and Duke are a great couple, with lots of differences but a perfect match. Al is a model, lithe and androgynous, who has a thing for lingerie and expressing his feminine side. I particularly loved how much Al enjoys his androgyny and his femme tendencies, and how at the same time we see that he can struggle for acceptance as well. He is used to people finding him attractive, it is his job after all. But while he finds men who are willing to tolerate some of his cross dressing kinks, he doesn’t often find ones who revel in it the way Duke does. Duke just seems to connect with and understand Al, right from the beginning. Duke himself is everything that Al dreams about — a hot, rugged cowboy with huge muscles, a bristly mustache, and a thick coat of chest hair. Despite their physical differences, deep inside these guys are both all heart. They have a pretty immediate connection, but there is just a tender sweetness to them both and about their feelings for each other.
In addition to the crisp, witty tone to Sterling’s writing, he does a really wonderful job with creating such a sensory experience to the book. Whether it is the beautiful scenery, the delicious food, or the way the satin feels on Al’s skin, there is such wonderful description in this story that really brings the details to life. There is almost a hedonistic feel as Al describes what it is like to feel Duke’s chest hair against his smooth skin, or the way the butter melts on a muffin (I’m not joking that I literally was inspired to make pancakes after reading about Al’s enjoyment of his breakfast). I am really impressed by the writing style and the way I could really feel the things as Al experiences them.
The story also has a nice suspense theme that weaves throughout. From the beginning, we know someone has attacked Al but we have no idea who or why or if they will strike again. This isn’t a super intense thriller, but there is a nice mystery built in and some definite suspense as well as some scary moments. I was particularly intrigued when finding out the reasons behind the attack. It was a unique spin on things and helps make the story stand out.
I did have two small issues. First, this romance happens awfully fast. Like way fast. As far as I can get the timeline, Al is rescued in the morning, the guys are kissing before lunch with a promise of more to come, and by evening they are not only having sex, but really emotionally involved. Within a couple of days they have entered major serious romance territory. I mean, Al was drugged and kidnapped with the attacker still at large, and he is all sexy times only a few hours later. It is a lot, but I was of sort of mixed feelings here. On one hand, my head was saying, wow, this is way too fast to be believable. But the rest of me couldn’t help but feel that it all seemed very natural. These guys connect so tangibly so fast that even though I knew the relationship was moving at light speed (as do they), for the most part it worked for me.
In addition to the romance timeline, I also found myself questioning the timeline of that first day. We are told Al wakes to eye-stabbing brightness, which certainly makes it is clear it is daytime and most likely well past daybreak. He manages to get untied, taken to Duke’s house, rest while waiting for the police, go through police questioning, ride out on the ranch with Duke, make out under a tree, repair a fence, and return home to the house, all before lunch. Equally impressive, he calls his best friend and agent Elsie as he rides home with Duke after the rescue. She manages to fly from New York to Texas, stop in Houston and get all of Al’s luggage from the hotel, and drive two hours from Houston to the ranch, again all before lunch. I know these aren’t major issues but the timeline did bug me a little. It seemed like days had passed and we are talking hours. I think that the combination of the timeline issues and the fast courting just made things feel like the timing was not quite right here.
Overall I thought this was a really great story, however. I just loved Al and Duke and enjoyed them both individually and as a couple. I found myself really liking Sterling’s writing style and the book has a lot of energy and subtle humor that I enjoyed. The romance is super sweet and mushy, while still being hot and sexy. So overall I thought this was a great first story from Sterling and I am really looking forward to more.