Robby Shaw isn’t really who everyone thinks he is. He may be a rising star on a kid’s TV show and the fake ex of the famous actor, Elijah Dunne, but he is also an insecure, lonely young man who no one ever takes more than a second glance at and even that’s just because he is a little bit famous. Robby isn’t even his first name, but one he chose after leaving the cult his father still runs and vowing never to return. But Robby left behind siblings who he misses terribly and worries about endlessly. When a drunken night lands Robby in jail, he is shocked to see that it’s his father who is bailing him out. Apparently the tabloids posting the one picture of Robby kissing a girl was all that is needed for Robby to be allowed back into the fold — the fold he refuses to be part of no matter how much his father tries to force him. Then a home invasion ends in murder and Robby is back in the police station, but this time he’s not alone. With help from his ex, Elijah, Robby has a lawyer and a protection detail as well.
Calder is known for two things: his sexy Texas drawl and sleeping with the clients he is sent to protect. When his boss tells Calder he will be on detail for Robby Shaw, he also warns Calder that this time he will keep his pants on or else. No problem—until Calder sees Robby and remembers the first time he encountered the gorgeous young man. Someone needs to show Robby just how special he is, but that will never be Calder; his track record with relationships is not a good one and he might enjoy sex, but emotional entanglements are another thing altogether.
Exasperating by Onley James is the third novel in the Elite Protection Services series and the first where there is a little less kink and more focus on the aspects of how love heals deep wounds left from a fractured past. Both Robby and Calder suffer from incidences in their background that have left them hurt and gun-shy when it comes to trusting others and letting them in to their hearts. For Robby, it stems from an abysmal self-esteem issue and the idea that no one ever really sees him for who he is and therefore he is often passed over and alone. For Calder, a past traumatic event in his family and a failure during his time in a previous job have left him sure that he will fail anyone who is foolish enough to rely on him—emotionally or otherwise. So he floats from one sexual encounter to another, reveling in the bad boy persona he uses to hide the pain deep inside. When the two are thrown together, the sparks go off immediately. Calder has assured Linc he will not take Robby’s virginity—but that doesn’t mean the two men can’t play. So begins their journey down a slippery slope that will either end in admitting they love each other or prove that both are right about not being relationship material.
I have to say that I really enjoyed learning more about Calder; he had so much depth behind the playboy exterior I had come to know in previous novels. His character hides an untold wealth of desires that, at first, seem in real conflict with his persona until you get a look at his past and what has shaped his nearly impenetrable façade. This character, for me, was perhaps more approachable than others in past novels and Robby was just such an innocent lamb that the pairing of the two men really worked for me.
What didn’t work, however, was the final chapter of this book. The resolution found in the epilogue was just a bit out there for me. Between Robby’s choice of careers to the fairly unrealistic way Calder and Robby set up house and more just left me speechless. I understood that Calder had hidden his real desires to be in a relationship beneath his guilt and anger at himself over his past mistakes and circumstances, but this ending saw him doing a complete 360 and made my head spin. Robby’s choices may have been less of a stretch when it comes to job changes, but still it was just a bit too Pollyanna for me. It was an ending that felt completely out of left field.
Exasperating is a nicely done, character-driven story that is a worthy addition to a marvelous series thus far. Although the ending may have not been to my liking, fans of these books might have a different opinion altogether. This one is definitely worth checking out if you are familiar with the other novels, which give much needed background into the lives of the men of the Elite Protection Agency.