Damon Thorne is a 30-year-old, former CIA operative who now works a s “fixer” in and around L.A. Five years ago, his wife and infant daughter got killed and Damon blames himself, even though it was a freak accident of circumstance. He left his CIA life behind and moved back to LA, nearly dying in his depression. A dear friend, Leah, checks in on Damon nearly daily to ensure he’s still breathing. Damon’s fixer job often entails kidnapping errant children or spouses of the wealthy to get them into substance abuse treatment—though he’s sometimes called on to liberate a possession or two from nefarious hands. His newest assignment is to have a sit-down with the flamboyant and tabloid-fodder gay son of a conservative U.S. senator from California. Damon doesn’t agree with daddy’s politics, but surely he can convince Jude Chenoweth to keep the clubbing to a minimum, right?
Jude cannot believe that his narcissistic d-bag father hired a goon to kidnap him. Who does this? Jude was only looking for a little good time, and Damon shows up right outside the club where he was set to meet two gorgeous bedpartners for a night of sexy fun times. Well, Damon’s gun put a dent in that plan, but it didn’t cool Jude’s interest. Damon would surely be the right kind of man to turn Jude’s crank…if he swung that way. Damon’s friend, Leah, kind of lets that cat out of that bag, however. But, Damon hasn’t been with a partner in years, not since his family died. And it’s harder and harder to remember why he shouldn’t accept the compassion and passion Jude seems ready to offer.
Clean Up on Aisle Mine is the first book in a “spy” series, and I was looking forward to high-tech ops and gritty situations. I don’t think this book hit those expectations. Jude is initially Damon’s “prisoner” for a short conversation, but Damon’s quick to morph that situation into more of a custodial arrangement, where Jude can simply disappear from the limelight and lay low in Damon’s loft to keep his dad’s pressure off. Jude agrees, feeling suddenly—and inexplicably—loyal to his dirtbag father. And captivated by Damon. For me, this was a bit low brow attraction, and that fit with Damon’s persona. He’s not a high-profile guy, and his CIA experiences are really less than impressive.
I also struggled with other bits of what seemed nonsense—like sending Damon alone on a mission to rescue two kidnapped girls from their estranged and unbalanced mental patient of a mother. It’s a minimum two-person op, so Damon…recruits his guest/captive artist playboy Jude to assist? Who does this? Jude, who is a successful artist, is now bit by the fixer/investigator bug. These guys know each other hours before their taking on a serious mission. And hardly more than two days before Damon is breaking his 5-year sex drought. This virile, bisexual guy has lived a celibate mourning life in West Hollywood for years, but Jude is the only man to tempt him?
The questions came faster than reasonable answers, for me, and this kept yanking me from the story. The romance developed unreasonably quickly, with both MCs abandoning their deep-seated emotional and professional situations to fall head over heels for a virtual stranger. The late-story intrigue came out of literally nowhere, and I was absolutely blindsided by what amounted to a mystery of melodrama. The story ends with the good guys getting away, but not solving the mystery—setting up a second book where Damon and Jude get to figure out why the heck they got drawn into that mess.
In all, I was disappointed in both the spy aspect and the romance aspect—feeling neither were well supported in the story. I think I would have liked Damon and Jude being lovers if they’d had a bit more time to get to know one another and really build something more special. If you really like odd couple romances, with a bit of a hostage kink, this might be a book for you.