Sam O’Reilly is devastated by the murder of his older brother, James. At James’ funeral back on the family ranch in Texas, Sam swears vengeance for James’ death. Sam moves to New York City to stay in James’ empty apartment and try to track his killer—and keep the cops on the case. A chance encounter enables Sam to meet Thomas, James’ secret boyfriend.
Thomas had thought James’ was closeted, and he’s a bit put out that he didn’t go to his lover’s funeral at the risk of outing him, but he’s relieved to grieve with Sam, to some degree. Truth is, Thomas and Sam are both conflicted by an unexpected attraction. Thomas is a Dom, had been James’ Dom, and he sees even more yearning for mastery in Sam than James had displayed. Thomas knows his interest is initially sparked by Sam’s physical resemblance to James, but their personalities are so different that Thomas finds himself inexplicably drawn to Sam, whose masochistic desires could be handled in far less dangerous practices than Sam, a former rodeo star and adrenaline junkie, experiences in his new job as a biker bar bouncer.
First Rodeo is the first book of a planned trilogy with a murder mystery that spans the whole series. It was a delicately written story—how does one handle attraction to a sibling’s former lover? Or a murdered lover’s sibling? Sam is afraid to tell his folks about the connection between Thomas and James, because he feels like he is poaching. Thomas is nervous that Sam won’t be willing to engage in the D/s lifestyle that James relished. It’s a whole new experience for both of them, as Thomas learns when he starts to share those aspects of his life with Sam. It seems like he’s still hung up on James, doing the things James had liked without necessarily listening for cues from Sam. With a couple resets, it seems that Sam is a natural at submission–once Thomas makes it clear what submission is all about. It’s a little awkward because of the specter of James, and both Sam and Thomas appreciate that. They have conflict as a result, with Thomas not being as attentive a partner as Sam needs, due to his own hang-ups.
I liked how odd and awkward Sam is as a character. His brain is running at 100 MPH and yet the stalwart Texan reveals so little of his thoughts or discomforts. Meanwhile, Thomas is more methodical—and is used to subs who speak their mind, in and out of a scene. It makes for a lot of tension, before their relationship even becomes physical. I liked the slow-ish transition from grieving buddies to tentative lovers. I think it would happen slowly, and it seemed to take enough time for each man to come to terms with the strength of their attraction. Thomas is lagging behind Sam, more so, and it made sense to me, because Thomas in grieving a lover, while Sam was grieving a brother. Also, Sam’s inexperience with dating men—he’s gay, but not experienced—tempers the joy of his first sexual experiences with Thomas. Thomas is often overwhelmed and guilt-ridden by his happiness with Sam, though I expect this will balance out in the next installment.
For now, Sam and Thomas have made significant commitments to one another, enough so that Sam is staying in New York to be with Thomas, and not just to keep the pressure on the investigation into James’ murder. There’s some foreshadowing indicating that James may have had some unscrupulous dealings with people—how else would a 4th grade teacher afford his apartment? I like the way this story is going. There’s a bit of D/s happening that isn’t super intense, as Sam is a novice in the lifestyle so Thomas is going slow. By the end Thomas is really taking Sam’s cues well, and their growth as a couple seems well-assured. I’m looking forward to the next book!