When Danylo (DAH-neeloh) Petyr first meets Soren Jorgensen, he thinks seducing the stoic, giant cop will be a sexy bit of fun. What he doesn’t expect is the incendiary heat that erupts between them in their handful of times together that indelibly melds them to one another. Unfortunately, Danylo’s entire life has been directed and tainted by his criminal family’s name and legacy, and when Soren is shot and almost killed by one of Danylo’s cousins, he knows whatever he has with Soren will only wither and die—so he runs. After almost 3 years of moving constantly to stay off his family’s radar, Danylo is ready to settle down and build a life of his own, believing Piedras Island, the last place his family would think to look for him, the best place to do it.
When Danylo crashed into Soren Jorgensen’s quiet world, the intense feelings and connection he felt towards the provoking, snarky man filled the emptiness he tried to ignore with so much energy and life it left him forever changed. So much so, Soren considers coming out as gay; yet, in all his imaginings, he expected the brash whirlwind to be at his side. Instead, he finds himself recovering from a gunshot wound and being outed to his community alone. Soren’s lifelong feeling of being an outsider is worsened by the truth, so he leaps at the chance to join the Piedras Sheriff’s Office (whose sheriff is an out gay man) and try to build a life that fits and fulfills him.
When he’s unexpectedly reunited with Danylo, now Dany Peters, Soren’s emotions are sent into a tailspin, especially since Dany keeps coming up in his investigations. The combustible passion between the men is even stronger than before, and talking takes a back seat every time they meet. Both men are wary of the other’s presence on the island and the intensity of their feelings. Both want to claim the island (and each other) as home, but fear admitting it. As Dany and Soren try to make peace with their feelings, murder and arson in the small community reopen wounds inflicted by Dany’s family, and Dany’s fears that his family’s violent ways will kill him in the end.
I found Real Trouble to be a bit of a rare joy as it effortlessly checked many important boxes of an enjoyable read for me: a writing style I found economical, yet affecting; a plot with a compressed timeline whose pacing never stumbles; and a story that capably conveys highly-charged, fraught passion well enough to make insta-love passably plausible to a critic of the trope. The book also pulls off that atypical writing feat of writing a standalone story from another series (technically two) that manages to: a) incorporate established backstories and characters without making me feel like I’m missing vital information or being frustrated by info dumps that bog down the pace; and b) actually compel me to read the other series purely for my own enjoyment rather than as necessary research to fill out the characters and/or make their development make sense.
Real Trouble is the first book in the West Coast Forensics series; it’s set on Piedras Island from Keaton’s Veiled Intentions series, with Soren and Dany first appearing in When It Rains from the Shielded Hearts (formerly Accidental Roots) series. *whew*. Keaton does a great job transferring the energy between Soren and Dany into the story with relatively little information about their previous involvement other than its all-consuming brevity and horrible and abrupt end. I also enjoyed the fact that for all their differences in personality and upbringing, both Soren and Dany seek refuge in Piedras to define themselves instead of allowing their lives to be governed by their families’/others’ expectations. Additionally, they share the same core values: a desire to be a source of good in the world and be loved by someone who sees them for who they are.
Growing up in brutal environment where Dany felt “he lived or died at the whim of his family,” and sometimes had to be complicit to avoid bodily harm or worse, it’s much harder for him to see the good inside himself or believe those he cares about can separate him from his family. Part of his struggle with Soren both before and now is his feelings of inadequacy and fear of falling for someone who’s too honorable and pure to protect himself from Dany’s intrinsic toxicity. Thus, the push and pull, the underlying resentment each man feels, and the slow unpacking and acceptance of the depth of their feelings (between bouts of almost begrudging hate sex to hesitant intimacies) is engaging.
As I mentioned before, the timeline is short; the main action of the plot and between the MCs happens over 5 days. However, Keaton’s writing style and natural dialogue keeps the pace moving efficiently, while still keeping the narrative cycles of exposition and tension effective. As this is less of a suspense-driven mystery, the suspects are limited and easy to spot, even without knowing all the whys and functions primarily as a catalyst for Soren and Dany’s reacquaintance, an obstacle to trusting themselves and one another, and a symbol for the divide Dany believes he and Soren fall on different sides of. So if you’re coming to the story for red-herrings, in-depth police procedure, or crime fighting shenanigans, you may be disappointed.
The only small quibble I have is that I really do wish that Real Trouble included a bit more of their past interactions into the narrative, especially as any real detail and underlying emotions aren’t expressed until halfway into the story. Like I said before, Keaton does do a great job bringing in the core of the conflict and feelings with the dual POV, even more impressively, without relying on flashbacks. I just feel like there was just a smidge too much teasing/nebulous wording about the events; thus I never fully got to experience the initial charge of the spark and their reaction to it (besides hot monkey sex), only the messy aftermath. However, that’s my only (and highly personal) gripe. For all the important benchmarks—compelling MCs, interesting and environment-enrichening secondary characters, a tightly paced plot that handles Soren’s ethically murky involvement with a potential suspect believably (i.e. without unnecessary, contrived drama), and being a fun way to spend a few hours—Real Trouble succeeds.