Have you ever read a novel that was just about perfect until that last chapter or so when the author writes an ending that feels not only implausible, but over the top romantic? I find that particularly disappointing when the rest of the story is not only fairly realistic, but filled with emotional and sexual tension that flows at just the right pace. It was just that situation with the epilogue that threw me off track while reading Barbara Elsborg’s latest release, Edge of Forever. Prior to those last few pages, this novel was a solid five-star read for me and others might argue that it still should be; however, I found the future glimpse of our two main characters just too over the top and a little bit too happy. But the story along the way was filled with healing, hope, love, a tiny bit of good old fashioned lust, and some past traumas that both men needed to confront and assimilate if they were ever to be happy.
The story takes place in the frozen landscape of Russia where a well-funded cattle breeding ranch is in the infant stages of getting operational. Russians may know many things, but apparently how to wrangle, rear, and deliver calves while keeping their mothers alive is not a common skill. Hence, the lucrative contract call was put out for American cowboys willing to give a few months to a year or more to train their Russian counterparts. For Levi Blue, it meant a new barn for the ranch in Montana—the one currently occupied by his quiet father and his homophobic, ultra-religious brother and his family.
Having already survived some pretty horrific circumstances at the beginning of his teen years, Levi is sure his brother will eventually come around and accept he is gay. Of course, the worse alternative would be if his zealous brother decides to fill the role of savior himself, along with a few buddies, and beat the gay out of him. Either way, some time away from the ranch gives everyone some much needed space and the paycheck doesn’t hurt either. Knowing how the Russians feel about gays, Levi keep his head down and decides celibacy is the best route. No skin off his teeth either, considering his penchant for threesomes with no strings attached and no repeat partners is wearing a bit thin anyway. Other than the lack of sex being the biggest frustration for the cowboy, the lack of experience and slow response from the Russians when it comes to learning the trade isn’t a cake walk either, but he can deal with it for a few more months. Well, Levi thought he could until the spoiled, gorgeous, out and proud Pasha Andreyev arrived and all of Levi’s carefully constructed walls began to crumble.
Pasha is being punished for losing his emotionally aloof father a rather big construction deal—too bad he hasn’t done what he’s been accused of either. However, here he is on the frozen wasteland with no phone, cash, or transportation, his social media accounts all erased, and his life in the hands of strangers who wants him to clean up cow shit and more. Pasha has a very sensitive stomach and this is going to be hell. But he endures—after all he had lived through much worse and the time away from the city means no Maksim—an older man who was obsessed with Pasha and hurt him in the past. What the model doesn’t count on is falling for a pretty American cowboy, fighting off a bully who wants to make his life a living nightmare, and actually coming to love the ranching life—well maybe not love, but certainly like. But time is limited, Levi is emotionally unavailable, and a life without each other is waiting for both men.
This story had the best pacing imaginable with some stunning descriptive passages and a plot that really gripped me from the start. It was hard to imagine how much more damage could be done to with Levi or Pasha, emotionally, but they both arrived at the ranch in serious need of someone to love and to be loved in return. Their chemistry was undeniable and their relationship grew steadily, but was never rushed or unbelievable. The supporting characters, both nasty and thuggish juxtaposed with the kinder and more understanding, were near pitch perfect. I can honestly say that most every element of this story worked well, making it a novel that was hard to put down.
As I mentioned at the onset of this review, it was the epilogue that made this novel skid off course for me. However, up until that point, this was a winning combination of slow burning romance, hurt/comfort, and triumph over current and past life situations that threatened to do in both of our MCs. I can understand why the author wrote her ending—it was terribly sweet, but I really felt it diminished the journey the men had to take getting there in many ways. At the end of the day, Edge of Forever was a really good novel that needed to end just shy of its epilogue to make it resolve with the same veracity it employed throughout the rest of the book.