Iskander Ayhan has just been assigned as a bodyguard to Admiral Dalton’s college-aged son. Iskander, and pretty much everyone else on the Admiral’s security detail, is pretty sure this is a pointless exercise, just another high ranking military man sure he is important enough that someone will be after his family. Troy Dalton says he is being harassed at school for being gay, but the evidence seems sort of flimsy.
It doesn’t take long, however, before Iskander is convinced that more is going on here. It is clear to him that underneath all his punk, don’t give a crap posturing, that Troy is really terrified. He is showing signs of PTSD and true terror at being alone and vulnerable. Iskander quickly realizes that while Troy may not be being bullied for being gay, something clearly happened to the young man, but Troy isn’t talking.
As Troy and Iskander spend long days together, the initial attraction that Iskander felt begins to grow stronger. Iskander knows it is crazy to get involved with Troy; he is the bodyguard and certainly if the Admiral finds out it will destroy his career. Yet Iskander can’t help his growing feelings, especially when Troy is clear he feels the same. The men fight off their attraction, but eventually give in to the connection between them. As Troy begins to feel more safe, he finally opens up to Iskander about what is really going on. The truth is even more horrible than Iskander imagined, and what is worse, Iskander realizes that he may be presenting a danger to Troy as well. The men have fallen hard for one another, but someone is determined to hurt Troy and Iskander must figure out if he can protect the man he has grown to love.
I am a sucker for a good age difference story, and this book really plays up on that angle nicely. Here we see not just the difference in ages between the men, but differences in life experience, as well as the fact that Iskander is Troy’s bodyguard. In this case, Troy is mature for a 20-year old, yet has had some past experiences that have really scarred him emotionally. I loved the way at times he is tentative and shy and Iskander must take things really slowly with him (especially sexually). But other times when he is comfortable, Troy is assertive and confident in what he wants and not afraid to reach for it. So I liked the dynamic between these two guys and really enjoyed them as a couple.
As always, Witt really excels at depicting the military side of things. She incorporates so many small details, from terminology to politics, that really infuse the story with so much realism without making it too heavy handed. The military side of things adds another wrinkle the conflicts these guys face. It is not just that Iskander is Troy’s bodyguard, but that he works for the Admiral who could destroy his career in a heartbeat.
So I think a lot of how you feel about this story will rest on the idea of Troy and Iskander together. Clearly their relationship shouldn’t be happening. Iskander has been hired to protect Troy. They are keeping secrets from Troy’s father about what is really going on. They are having sex while Iskander is on the job and hiding their relationship. And as things heat up, it is clear that Iskander’s presence in Troy’s life is putting him in increased danger. So if all of this is going to drive you crazy, this may be a tough book to love. Personally, I was fine with pretty much all of it. This is romance land after all, so I can let some things go for the sake of love. I do think as the conflict heats up, Iskander may let his passion drive a little too much, but ultimately I enjoyed their relationship enough that I could overlook most of the questions about whether they were making bad decisions.
The place where I had the hardest time was that I felt like we got a lot of repetition. Iskander is our narrator and we get his first person POV. I enjoyed his voice but at times I felt like we were rehashing the same issues over and over. Early on in the story, everyone thinks this whole protection details is BS and not worth the time. No one believes Troy is really in danger. Iskander, however, quickly figures out something is really up and we get multiple narratives of him explaining how no one believes Troy, but he knows something is wrong. Later, as the guys end up together, we get another loop of “We shouldn’t be doing this, but I can’t help myself” as Iskander struggles with being with Troy. We get this same “should I or shouldn’t I” inner monologue over and over, sometimes multiple times in the same scene. So while these were both key issues, I just felt like they were belabored and repeated too much.
In the end, however, I found myself really liking this one. There is some nice suspense as we slowly learn what is really threatening Troy and some excitement at the end as it all comes together. I liked both Troy and Iskander and enjoyed them together. And I found that the military setting really enhanced the story. So overall I liked this one a lot.