Dale has left his home and job because he couldn’t endure seeing his cheating ex with his new girlfriend. Working with both of them and being completely unaware that his ex had manipulated both him and the young lady left Dale feeling raw and hurt. A fresh start is needed and, luckily for him, a fire station several miles away affords him a transfer. Unfortunately for Dale, before he can even get his bearings, his first day finds him rescuing an elderly woman whose cottage is in process of burning to the ground and angrily pushing some nosy guy out of the way in order to do his job. That guy is none other then the woman’s boss, the Lord of Calminster, a person no one wants to be on the wrong side of, particularly their first day on the job.
Besides irritating him senseless, Ben also rings every one of Dale’s relationship bells, but he is leery of pursuing the man for many reasons. Not only did they start off on the wrong foot, but Ben is also already involved with someone…and it isn’t a man. What Dale doesn’t know is that Ben is only dating the woman in order to move along a merger of part of his business holding with a powerful man, but the further along Ben goes, the more reluctant he is to continue the lie that he feels anything but friendship for the girl. When she brings the issue to a head and informs him she is well aware he is a closeted gay man, Ben worries that everyone will find out before he is ready for the village to know.
Meanwhile things are heating up with the new fireman and Ben wants something more than just the harmless flirtation the two men are entertaining. But Dale is adamant about not going back into the closet for anyone, boyfriend or not, and tells Ben he must make the decision—come out and be the man he is or step away from their growing attraction for good.
I have enjoyed many stories by author Sue Brown and her latest, The Fireman’s Pole, was no exception. Despite an occasional choppy feel to the pacing of the story, the two main characters, Dale and Ben, were well developed and the secondary cast added to the richness of the story. Perhaps the real gift this author offers in her novels is the realistic settings that almost become a character in and of themselves, prompting the reader to wish they were able to visit the villages she creates. There is something magical about the little hamlets these people inhabit and Calminster is no different. For me, the romance that developed between Ben and Dale proceeded at a nice pace even though the transitioning between scenes in the book itself was uneven, at times. There were some rather sudden place and time changes that jolted me from the flow of the novel and that led to an overall feel that the story may have needed a second edit in order to make it smoother.
The chemistry between Dale and Ben worked so well and I really felt for Ben as he struggled to come to terms with exposing his sexuality to those who had served his estate for so long. His sense of fear that somehow admitting he was gay would cause those he loved to feel he had failed them and the worry that opening his private life up for all to see could make him vulnerable to public disgust was a believable worry that grounded his character in reality—something which helped given he was modern day aristocrat in the 21st century. I liked that Dale was compassionate to Ben’s fears, but refused to allow their relationship to take a back seat to them in any way even at the potential cost of losing each other.
Apart from the occasional glitch in pacing, the only other problem I saw was the somewhat obligatory reappearance of Dale’s ex who wanted to “rekindle’ what they once had. This type of monkey wrench is often overused in romance novels, in my opinion, and I felt this particularly story was strong enough to stand without that plot device thrown in for good measure. I readily admit that this is a personal dislike on my part and others may have no problem with it at all.
All in all, Sue Brown’s The Fireman’s Pole was a lovely addition to the growing library of Dreamspinner’s Dreamspun stories. As always, a Sue Brown novel is a complete package that lures you into the story completely and wraps you up in the magic.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.