Upon his death, Bennett Summers’ father left a will stipulating that Ben would inherit his substantial fortune if Ben married within two years. Yet, the man who disowned his son when he discovered Ben was gay never factored in the fact that same sex marriage would be made legal in America, meaning the will doesn’t state which gender Ben needs to commit to. Unfortunately for Ben, the two-year time limit is reaching its end and Ben is single, his last relationship having ended bitterly.
One day Hank Bartlett leaves his home in Stone Creek, Ohio for San Diego, with only a small amount of money, nowhere to stay, no job lined up, and the aim of meeting a wealthy man who can take care of him and his family. He arrives in California on the bus, checking into a cheap hotel and visiting a bar in an area of the city he knows from his research is affluent and has a large gay population. It is in Spike that Ben and Hank meet. Ben has had a bad day, receiving the first threat from an unknown source, stating simply “Get married, and you’re dead.” Ben is not over the betrayal by his ex, but feeling vulnerable he invites Hank home with him. After this, Ben not only offers Hank an apartment and employment at his own factory, but also the chance at a relationship. Only as the two men become closer, the threats increase and Ben realizes that everyone close to him could be in danger – or even the perpetrator.
When I read the blurb for To Love and Protect, I was immediately intrigued. Not only I am a fan of Jason Collins’ novels, but I have recently read some really good gay romance mysteries and the premise of this sounded like a story I would enjoy. Unfortunately, for me To Love and Protect was a disappointment and a novel I could take or leave.
I really like the fact that writers collaborate and think this can enhance the readers’ experience, though I did not feel that here Kay Simone’s and Collins’ writing gelled. At times the narrative appears to jump around, particularly in the case of Ben whose memories penetrate the present day action. Normally this would not bother me, but here I felt the timeline of the story being disrupted. For example, Chapter Two ends with Hank on his way to San Diego, Chapter Three begins with Ben in Spike – and a backstory – and ends with Hank and Ben first seeing each other, and then Chapter Four begins with Hank just arriving in San Diego.
In To Love and Protect, both authors use third-person narrative throughout the novel. I felt that this did not give Hank or Ben a strong enough ‘voice’ and despite Ben’s situation, I lacked the connection to empathize with him. The blurb describes To Love and Protect as a ‘hurt/comfort’ novel and I think that for this to work the reader has to have a real sense of the emotions of the character(s) and Simone and Collins failed to provide this for me here.
To Love and Protect has the theme of mystery running throughout, from the first page when Ben’s initial threat is received. In my opinion, the authors could have worked harder at building the tension within the story and I felt that the big reveal became confused, rather than being the major ‘Ah-ha’ moment that I hope for when reading this genre.
However, the romance between Ben and Hank is strong. Although the development of their relationship feels rushed, the story does cover a matter of months and the authors give their reader a solid impression of why Ben and Hank belong together. These men are caring, genuine, and loyal and though it appears to be Hank offering protection to Ben, it is not a one-sided relationship. There is an age difference of fifteen years between the men, but I like the fact that this is a non-issue and instead the men are guided by their feelings.
To Love and Protect did not provide me with everything I hoped for, but taken as a romance it is satisfactory, although not a story I would recommend readers rush to buy.