Brayden Hart is determined to find his older brother, Mason, who disappeared after being discharged from the Army. A hacker friend of Bray’s has found out Mase has a connection to Sam Wheeler, so Bray tries to get information from Sam. However, Sam denies any knowledge of Mase and sends Bray on his way. Bray isn’t about to give up so easily on finding his brother, however, and follows Sam on a mission to Kiev, Ukraine.
Sam knows he can’t reveal his knowledge of Mase’s whereabouts, as Mase is undercover on a case with Sam and his team. He hopes sending Bray away will be enough to dissuade the man, but instead, Bray shows up at Sam’s hotel in Kiev and stumbles right into the middle of the investigation with the Ukrainian mafia. Their only hope now is to pretend that Bray is Sam’s boyfriend as a ruse for why he has suddenly showed up there.
Sam hopes to keep Bray at a distance until he can get him safely home, but the pair find an attraction right away. And when they need to perform for the listening devices planted in their hotel room, it becomes even harder to keep their emotions out of it. Now, Sam and Bray have to figure out if they can take the connection they built in Kiev and turn it into something real, or if they are going to walk away from their chance at love.
Sweet Hart is the first book in Rae Marks’ Hart Consulting series. There is a fun set up here with Brayden tracking down his missing brother and sort of stumbling into the middle of a covert operation. The pace is high at the start as we jump right into the middle of things and see Bray determined to find Mase, and ending up in some high stakes maneuvers as they all try to stay ahead of the bad guys. There are some nice thrills here early on and it sets up a fun fake relationship, forced proximity type situation as Bray gets inadvertently caught up in the middle of the case. Sam and Bray have nice chemistry together, especially as they explore some very mild Dom/sub type dynamics. There is also a sort of found family/brotherhood connection among Sam and his team, and it seems a nice set up for the rest of the series.
Unfortunately, this book sort of lost steam for me partway through and, when I was done, I was left feeling like the story didn’t really come together and there were just way too many holes. Like I said, the book starts fast and with a lot of energy, pretty much throwing us into the story without any background before Sam and Bray meet and they are off and running. It made for an exciting beginning, but also left me sort of struggling to get oriented to what was happening. And by the time the book ended, I was left with so much confusion and so many unanswered questions that things sort of fell apart for me.
As far as the case is concerned, I was never clear what these guys are investigating or who they work for. It takes most of the way through the story before we get any information about Hart Consulting, which is apparently Mase’s company, and learn that they are private contractors for the military. Yet, even with that, it is still not clear what they are investigating and pretty much everything I know about the case comes from the book blurb, rather than the actual story. Sam and Bray keep getting caught up in dangerous situations, but I felt like I understood maybe 50% of what was actually happening with the case in Kiev and things are never really explained. There a bunch of bad guys in different factions and I couldn’t keep any of them straight or understand who was on what side. Sam seems to just go to meetings a lot, so I wasn’t really sure what he was trying to discover or investigate, and then they are done and the case is over. Or maybe it is not? The bad guys are mentioned again later, so I think the case may be ongoing, but nothing is really clear and I was left really confused.
Mase is apparently undercover as part of the case. We are told he was kicked out of the Army and is now pretending to work for the bad guys. His dad also kicked him out of his home as a teen for being gay. Bray is much younger and hasn’t spoken to Mase in years and is determined to find him for life and death reasons, which were not totally clear. I think it is because their dad is dying, but I’m not totally sure. Particularly because the dad not only kicked out Mase as a teen, but Bray as well, and I am not sure why this raging homophobe’s illness is supposed to be something we care about in the first place, let alone why it would bring Mase home to see him. I also kept waiting for the backstory on why Mase was kicked out of the military, because he was supposedly falsely convicted, but we never find out anything about what happened as far as I could tell. Mase has also been ignoring Bray’s emails because he assumes all of his family has sided with his dad. So Bray has decided to track him down, thus ending up in the middle of the investigation. Yet, for all that it drives the story set up, nothing is ever resolved between the brothers. Bray has a couple of 30-second interactions with Mase, but because he is undercover, they don’t have much time together. And then the book ends and the brothers have never actually talked about anything — about their past, about the misunderstandings, about what was so life or death that Bray had to fly to Kiev to follow a stranger in order for Mase to know.
I also found a kind of weird disconnect here in that sometimes Bray is portrayed as a super competent soldier who is skilled enough that Sam’s group ultimately wants to hire him for their elite team, and other times like he is a clueless kid in way over his head. He is much younger than Sam and Mase, so maybe that is part of it, but I just felt like there isn’t a total consistency in how we are supposed to view him. I’ll also just throw in that Bray has a hacker friend who is able to magic up solutions to every possible scenario because he is literally one of the best in the entire world and just happens to have nothing to do all day but sit around and wait for Bray to call him. And of course, in like three seconds he can hack into the traffic cameras in Kiev from across the world, or literally anything else any of them need in moments to get them out of any and all possible situations. It was just a way too easy shortcut for me in terms of the suspense side of the story.
This is the first book in the series and so maybe the author is trying to carry some of these major plot arcs over the course of multiple books. And I am good with that in theory, as this is a pretty common suspense series formula. But aside from the fact that Sam and Bray end up together, so much feels unaddressed, unresolved, and unclear. I was left to piece things together from the blurb and try to understand what was going on. And when I looked back at the story, I just felt there are so many plot threads that are opened and just left there. Maybe the overall case can carry to the next book, but this is Bray’s story and his character motivation is all wrapped up in finding Mase and reconnecting. So to have the story end with no conversation between them and none of these threads addressed just didn’t work for me.
I think what carries this story is interesting set up and the great energy in the early part of the book. The second half is much slower and way too much is open ended for me to feel like there was enough here to fully hold things together. As a series though, this one has some promise, so it may be worth checking out if you are intrigued by the story.