darkest flameRating: 3.75 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Vaughn O’Keefe is part owner of the Hog’s Den bar, ownership he shares with the Disciples of the Road motorcycle club. The club president, Mal, helped Vaughn out when his partner left him and the bar was about to go under, investing in the bar and keeping it as a hangout for the club. Now Vaughn is under the protection of the club and knows most of the men. And though the knows he shouldn’t be noticing, the one he can’t keep his eyes or his mind off of is Smoke.

Smoke came to the Disciples from another club. After being addicted to heroin and having his life pretty much fall apart, Smoke was taken under Mal’s wing and now he is on the way to becoming a brother of the club. He knows he owes Mal for taking him in and helping him get his life back on track. So while he can’t help his attraction to Vaughn, he also knows the club will never accept his attraction, nor does he want to rock the boat after Mal has been so good to him.

Despite their determination to stay away from one another, the attraction between the two men is strong and it is hard not to give in. Things get more complicated when Smoke is assigned to help out at the bar and the guys are together much more. And they are even more difficult when Vaughn becomes victim to some attacks that seem to be connected to Smoke’s past. Denying their attraction is almost impossible already, but when Mal tasks Smoke to watch over Vaughn, and even have Vaughn stay with Smoke, the connection between them starts to burn fiercely. The guys are falling in love with one another and even fantasizing about what a life might be like together. But between concerns about how the club would react to finding out that the men are bi, combined with the ever increasing threats to Vaughn’s safety, the two worry there is no chance for happiness together.

Motorcycle club stories are interesting with their hard core, bad boy dynamics and very traditional rules of male behavior. In m/m romance, they are particularly well suited for conflict as the inherent “macho” vibe is often inconsistent (or seemingly impossible) to reconcile with openness toward homosexuality/bisexuality. In this story, things are even more complicated by the fact that both Vaughn and Smoke feel at debt of gratitude towards Mal and don’t want to rock the boat. Vaughn’s business most certainly would have gone under with Mal’s financial support. And now that Vaughn is having trouble, Mal is there offering protection. Smoke’s life was falling apart and he feels he owes Mal greatly for helping him recover and get back on track. So not only do these guys have the normal fears about how the brothers will react, but they are also dealing with concerns about letting Mal down and how he would handle the news. I did wonder at how often they engaged in not particularly private sex for guys who are supposedly holding this closely guarded secret relationship, but I did understand why coming out seemed like such a difficult hurdle.

This story is the first of a new series, but is tangentially connected to Lee’s There You Stand and Vaughn and Smoke appeared as side characters in that story (not sure who else might overlap but that book is not part of this series officially). By the time we get to this book, the attraction between these guys is already there and we kind of jump into the middle of things to some degree. I did feel a little behind as they are in full on lust stage already and I unfortunately didn’t feel the chemistry or connection between them. I am not sure if this is because things started in an earlier book, or just a factor of how this story was written, but I had a hard time with the connection between these guys and just didn’t feel it, at least for quite a while. We are told there are lot of hard leaking cocks and intense desire, pretty much all the time, but it is more telling than showing.

Honestly, the telling versus showing issue played out in quite a few areas. We see so little of these guys on their own, and almost all of that is them anticipating being together, hooking up, or thinking about how they had just been together. While we do get some scenes with Vaughn and his dad, it is about halfway through the book before we even see Smoke at all outside of planning for/having/thinking about sex with Vaughn. Also, one of the plot elements has Smoke working with another MC to help them bring down his former club. We are told this is a point of major stress for Smoke, but we don’t even really know what he is doing for most of the book and we barely see it happening. So while we are told how anxious this is all making him, it is hard to feel it because we are just told (or in some cases not told) what is going on rather than seeing it.

I will also just mention that I had somewhat of a hard time at the start of the book with the writing style and editorial end. There were a number of typos and some formatting issues. Lee also has a tendency to use sentence fragments, and at times jump thoughts from one paragraph to the next. That said, after the first part of the book I didn’t notice these problems at all anymore. I am not sure if they went away, or if I just got used to the style, but things were much improved as the story went on. The only lingering issue I had style-wise was the alternating POV. I have no problem with that in general, but I found myself constantly struggling to remember whose POV I was in, even with chapter identification headers. I think it is partly because the story is told in first person POV, and these guys almost never refer to the other by name, only pronouns. So Vaughn, for example, rarely mentions Smoke by name when he is thinking about him, only as “him” or “he.” I also think, unfortunately, that the characters weren’t quite distinct enough to really tell them apart by personality, which again made it tricky figuring out whose head we were in.

All that said, things improved for me quite a bit by the 2/3-3/4 mark. The story picked up speed, the connection between the guys was stronger, and I felt much more invested and eager to see how the conflict resolved. There is a nice suspense element toward the end and I really liked how things wrapped up for the guys. So while this was a slow start for me, it picked up as the story went along and the ending worked well for me.

I think if you are motorcycle club fan, this is definitely one to look into. And if you enjoyed There You Stand, I think you will enjoy getting Smoke and Vaughn’s story. I will be curious to see what is next for this series and where Lee takes things from here.

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