Shawn Matthews loves his job as an assistant chef in the Bentley Ghost Town. His boss, Miles, is a good friend, and Shawn enjoys the work. Now that the ghost town is closing for a two-month winter break, Shawn isn’t sure what to do with himself. He sends most of his paycheck back to his grandparents, which has Shawn homeless and living out of his car. He doesn’t know how he is going to fill his time with nothing to do all day and no place to go. When the cook at the main ranch gets injured, however, they need someone to fill in for her, and Shawn is lucky enough to get the job. Even better, the ranch owner offers him one of the cabins to use in the meantime, which means Shawn has a bed to sleep in, at least for a couple of months.
Robin Butler is a horseman on Clean Slate Ranch, and the first time he sees Shawn, it is like seeing the ghost of his late husband. Robin can’t help but be distant to Shawn, thrown so off kilter by the resemblance to Xander. But after the men get to know one another, Robin realizes Shawn is quite different than Xander, both in appearance and personality. The two men become friends, and there is definitely a connection between them. But Shawn hasn’t had a lot of experience with men and Robin isn’t sure he is right for Shawn. However, while the guys do take things slowly, neither can resist their attraction for long.
Once the men finally give in to their feelings, things get serious quickly. Robin and Shawn are so compatible and each are finding a relationship they never expected to have. But both men also have a lot of baggage in their past, baggage that is getting in the way of their current relationship. Now both men need to open up about their history and share their feelings, so they can have a future together.
Lucky Break is the fourth book in A.M. Athur’s Clean Slate Ranch series. While the main characters from the first three books all appear here, as well as assorted side characters, this story does stand alone plot-wise. All you really need to know is that most of these guys are friends/co-workers of Shawn and Robin. But being familiar with the past books will give you a nice feel for the rhythms of the series and the key characters, so I think it would enhance your enjoyment here.
One of the things I particularly like about this series is the found family element. Clean Slate Ranch lives up to its name as a place where people can go to put their past behind them and make a new life for themselves. The first three books focus on a trio of close friends, and there are really nice bonds among all the main and side characters. I enjoyed seeing these men settling into their lives and finding a place to belong and fit in. Things are perhaps overly idyllic on the ranch, but I enjoy that about the series. I also really like the ghost town storyline, and while it is not particularly prominent here, it is a fun addition to the series.
After the initial conflict, Robin and Shawn fall into their relationship pretty quickly and easily. Shawn doesn’t have a lot of experience dating in general, or with men in particular, and Robin is patient and takes things slowly. However, while the men fall for one another pretty easily, they both have complicated pasts that cause some conflict as they try to navigate things between them. I think both their backstories are interesting and Arthur shows how they shape their characters. I did feel like it took too long to really learn what happened to Shawn, however. He has a lot of anxiety in general, and fears about Robin abandoning him in particular, and it was hard to really understand Shawn’s fears without knowing what had happened to him in the past. It left me frequently frustrated with Shawn as I couldn’t really understand a lot of his behavior, and we don’t learn what is affecting him until very late in the book.
I also found this one to be a little too long and, at times, things felt repetitive. There are a lot of scenes of the guys hanging out, of Shawn cooking, and of one or the other having doubts or anxieties about their relationship. I felt like we kept circling back to the same issues, in particular Shawn’s fear that Robin would leave the ranch and return to life in the rodeo. There is nothing Robin says or does that makes this seem likely, yet rather than talk to him, Shawn just obsesses over it and it just kept coming up over and over. So I feel like the story needed some tightening.
My last issue is a tiny thing, but it did bug me. Shawn is inexperienced with men and the guys take things slowly sexually. They spend a long time just kissing before they move to getting off together. Shawn is also not interested in or ready for anal sex, and Robin comments over and over that it is not something they need to do, that many gay men are never interested in penetration, that as long as they are both enjoying what they are doing, they don’t ever need to have anal sex and it will be perfectly fine. Yet when Shawn ultimately decides he wants to try it, he literally gives it as a gift to Robin, and it is presented as this huge milestone, “To truly bring them together as one” and “making love.” Like I said, not a huge deal, but it bothered me that the book makes such a point that anal sex isn’t the end all be all for a relationship, yet in the end, it comes across like the holy grail of sex.
Overall, I did enjoy this fourth story and really like the series overall. This book introduces some new side characters and the next book will be coming out early next year. I am definitely looking forward to more.