Story Rating: 3.25 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Aiden Snow
Length: 7 hours, 31 minutes
Although Duke Morgan is a successful business owner, bail bondsman, and bounty hunter, he is a complete failure when it comes to love. At forty-five, Duke has given up on the idea of a loving, committed partner and a happily-ever-after, and when his long-term friends-with-benefits arrangement with his friend Judge ends, his hope for any relationship (even the pseudo-companionship kind) dies. That is until Duke calls is best friend Quick, and his heart (and other parts) leap to attention when he hears the most seductive, flirtatious drawl on the phone. Duke’s heartbeat quickens…only to almost stop when he learns that the deep, enticing voice belongs to Quick’s son, Vaughan.
Since he was sixteen, Vaughan has been in love with Duke, and for the past fifteen years, he’s dedicated his life to becoming a man worthy of Duke’s time and love. Now, after earning his master’s and law degrees and living abroad for six years, Vaughan is a cultured, educated, and confident man ready to claim who he’s always wanted. Just when Duke decides to give Vaughan a chance, a critical injury during a bounty retrieval places any future they could have together in jeopardy. It pushes Vaughan to make a decision that means deceiving the man he loves in order to give Duke a chance at life, as well as a chance to learn to love Vaughan for himself, not out of obligation.
Promises: Part I started off as a promising story about a boy’s crush becoming a man’s love and finding love and an equal partnership where you least expect it. However, it turned into an insta-love story with way too much page time given to shade throwing/conflicted feelings for a non-ex that Duke and Vaughan both invest too much emotional energy into and plenty of set-up for Promises: Part II. What peaked my interest in the beginning was Vaughan’s introduction; he definitely came in hot, resolute, and in charge. His first words to Duke are flirtatious and sultry; the drama/tension about Duke dating Quick’s son mentioned in the blurb never really materializes because Vaughan had previously told his father of his feelings. I loved how forthright Vaughan was with his intentions. Plus, Vaughan’s ultra-focus and determination to prove himself a man THE MAN for Duke in only a few interactions is intense and seems to set the stage for a seriously steamy courtship that poor Duke has obviously been needing in his life, a fact made abundantly clear given that he is still pining for his not-relationship with his f%ck-buddy, which has been over for quite some time. And while Duke admits he never loved Judge, they never dated, only had sex when Judge was in town, never kissed, and Duke knew Judge didn’t want a relationship with him or anyone else, the fact that Duke was still willing to settle for this pittance speaks VOLUMES as to the quality of Duke’s *love* life.
Given how crappy Duke’s dating history is and how no-nonsense Vaughan is, I was looking forward to Vaughan and Duke getting to know one another on equal footing and seeing Vaughan’s no-holds-barred courting of Duke. Unfortunately, it was quickly usurped by Duke’s assault, and the story transitions from one where Vaughan and Duke get to learn about one another and grow to love each other to more of an insta-love story where Vaughan lies to Duke because he’s worried about Duke only having feelings for him out of obligation if Duke learns about Vaughan going above and beyond to help Duke’s recovery. Although Duke may not love Vaughan because of what Vaughan did for him, in my opinion, Via does create a situation that encourages a false sense of love/attachment on Duke’s part that is just as bad as love born of obligation.
Duke’s declaration of love comes quickly—days out of the hospital, after finding out what Vaughan has done for him and why, and after a near death experience in which Duke bemoaned not having a chance with someone like Vaughan—a man Duke believes is way out his league, who has treated him with open affection and claimed to have had feelings for him for years (all within the space of a few days). Who wouldn’t be in a state of heightened emotions and think themselves in love with a person like that? Especially someone like Duke, who frankly, I actually feel kind of sorry for. Given how little he values himself and how little Vaughan actually had to do to make the man feel special, Duke is lucky Vaughan came home to claim him because the man is ripe to be taken advantage of. And although they do date later, it comes after the post-op I-love-yous and without Duke actually having spent any time getting to know Vaughn or them really spending time together. For all that Vaughan wants to prove himself a man and Duke’s equal, emotionally Duke is so desperate to be loved and needy that he is actually nowhere near Vaughan’s emotional maturity level in my opinion, so for me, his declaration just feels less genuine and less earned even by the end. Additionally, after Duke’s brutal attacks, he has nightmares and there’s the mention of possible PTSD and anxiety, but of course, he gets over it with brute strength and a gun and coming home to top his man ALPHA STYLE because that’s how *real* men do it.
However, even if I didn’t always believe the feeling were earned, I cannot say that I didn’t feel the characters’ emotions when they are portrayed by narrator Aiden Snow. This is one of those times when I can comfortably say that an author/narrator pairing is pretty much perfect. As Via tends to write MCs who fall into the alpha/bad-@ss, mother-f$cker category with voices of the “deep,” “booming,” and “baritone” variety, Snow’s natural reading voice falls into this range and with him also being a talented voice actor able to convincingly convey genuine emotion, ranging from subtle to forceful, this is a match made in audio heaven. Snow’s pacing is good and, as mentioned before, his tone is spot on for the character voices he is meant to portray. Moreover, as low as his register is, he manages not to make female voices sound off-putting or nasally. My only minor quibble is that sometimes he keeps his narrator voice intonation during inner monologues or parts of the narrative where some emotive inflection is needed. That being said, his narration of Promises: Part I definitely increased my enjoyment of the story.
For fans of A.E Via’s Nothing Special series who want to see Duke get his HEA, or those looking for a really sweet (and I mean heavy on the “sweetheart”) story, where an older bad-@ss in the streets-blushing bottom in the sheets meets the younger top of his dreams, I highly recommend the audiobook so you can experience the voice that flusters Duke and makes him blush firsthand.