Rating: 3.75 stars
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Colton Hale is a homeless man with virtually nothing in the world. His parents kicked him out, it seems, and all he has is learned is a skill at manipulating people. After a brutal beating by a man who could be a john, or a would-be pimp, Colt takes what little money he has and buys a bus ticket as far as he can go. While at a rest stop in the Smoky Mountains, Colt gets off the bus to stretch his legs and is taken aback by the beauty of the locale and charmed by the local Kensington distillery. He decides maybe this is as far as he needs to go and lucks into a job at the distillery. It’s just sweeping floors and re-stocking shelves, yet he does it with vigor that catches the eye of a few of the high-up employees. They are quick to recommended Colt keep looking for higher placements.
Within a few short months, Colt’s big opportunity comes as a result of Mal Kensington’s introversion. It seems that the marketing campaign for Kensington includes a more personal touch—with either Mal or a trusted spokesman taking trips and doing photo-ops with customers and retail buyers. Mal has no urge to do this; he’d rather stay home and keep up his duties as Master Distiller. So, he decides to contract out the job, and he meets Colt there, sabotaging the auditions. Mal’s not only frustrated, he’s intrigued. Why would this young man chase away all the competition with a number of wild stories?
Well, it seems Colt’s sure he could be a true and ardent spokesman. He’s got that fake-it-til-you-make it drive, in any case. And, Mal decides to take Colt totally under his wing, even moving him into his mostly-empty mansion. While there, Colt is diligent in his studies of all things Kensington—including Mal. They can’t deny an attraction is growing, but some of Mal’s handlers aren’t quite happy about what seems a budding romance. His chief counsel has determined that Colt, a man who had been recently homeless, is likely conning the tender-hearted Mal. The love growing between them is real, though, and Mal’s not willing to let Colt go. Naturally there’s tension, and with it comes legal agreements that specify what Colt would be entitled to should they begin a formal relationship. It’s overwhelming, and leads to their first real conflict. Colt going missing shortly thereafter is a terrifying experience for Mal—and Colt. Only some quick thinking and the tentative bond they have built leads to a happily ever after.
For me, this one was rather saccharine. I felt there were too many convenient coincidences that dictated Colt’s journey. We have no real understanding about his parents and why he’s been on the streets so long. Also, the bad guys in this are so underwhelming, as is their modus operandi. We barely get any real impressions of them, and what we do learn makes them almost comically dumb. Their plans for getting money from Mal were on par with a Dr. Evil one meeelion dollars demand, and I found myself perplexed at how this all came to pass. So, for me, the last quarter of the book was a little hard to believe. Also, I got frustrated with Colt’s brash reticence to let Mal protect himself, and his company, from a virtual stranger. His behavior was petty and juvenile, and made me wonder why Mal could love him so deeply, as fast as they fell.
In all it’s an okay story. There’s not a whole lot of conflict, and there is a whole lot of sweetness as Mal and Colt begin to fall. I liked the whiskey-making talk as it’s a fave drink of mine. Colt is young, and he can be manipulative. It’s clear, however, that he reserves any guile from his developing relationship with Mal. In the end, it’s happy, with plenty of support for Mal and Colt to build a life filled with love, together.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.