U.S. Deputy Marshal Kurt “Ridge” Dandridge is a man on a mission: he wants to capture the drug and arms dealer who murdered a child in cold blood. Once he does that, Ridge plans to leave Savannah in his rear view and find another assignment and living situation that might take him closer to his family’s ranch in Montana. And finding his fiancé in bed with his boss is only another reason to hate Savannah. Though, to be honest, he’d long suspected Todd was only partly monogamous. All Ridge’s buddies want to set him up with a mutual friend, Kendall, but he’s too bruised to consider dating right now. He’s currently couch surfing after walking out on Todd.
Kendall Blakemore is finally finding his feet after struggling for a long time. His illicit tryst with his stepbrother has brought nothing but pain, and he’s been estranged from his haughty mom and her wealthy husband for the past three years, since nothing he ever did was valued by them. Kendall has a good job working as a paralegal, one that he’s preparing to quit so he can take a management role at The Cockpit, a popular gay club where Kendall has been creating distinctive wing sauces and signature drinks. Going by his “Sugar” persona at the club, Kendall meets Ridge by chance, and they are both intrigued. But Kendall doesn’t want anything casual, and Ridge isn’t prepared for anything permanent.
This book is a standalone spin off from the Sinister in Savannah series and can be enjoyed on its own. It is a romance, with a dash of suspense, in contrast to the other books in the Sinister series. Ridge and Kendall have both been introduced in previous books, but they finally meet each other in this one. Their mutual friends are all lovingly partnered, and they want their good buddies to connect and find happiness. It’s a cute gimmick, and both characters are interesting and fun to read about. Their love story has a meandering path, as both men have a lot of backstory, and Kendall’s family implosion intersects with Ridge’s official duties.
Todd has convinced Ridge that he’s terrible at sex, and Kendall knows that he makes bad decisions about men, falling too hard, too fast, and chasing them away. These guys have an intense chemistry, but hesitate to initiate intimacy because of their past hurts and a seemingly impossible future. It allows for a slow burn as they get to know one another, keeping sex out of the equation. I liked both characters, but the plot convolutions detracted from the story. Ridge has about five different assignments in his Marshal role, yet wanted to bug out of his life, and has a vengeance mission to settle, and all of that got kind of confusing. Likewise, Kendall’s family drama was intense. His mom’s behavior was so weird and awkward, and his despicable stepfather felt unrealistic, not to mention his ex-slash-stepbrother, who’s both closeted and self loathing. Kendall is somehow the only decent person in the whole sordid family, and it only served to make them all seem even more emotionally depraved. This didn’t facilitate accepting the “transformations” when they came. The sauce-master business I didn’t quite get, because Sugar/Kendall was a waiter, and how then did he get to experiment in the club kitchen? It seemed unlikely, anyway, which was another convolution I didn’t fully buy.
In all, I liked the characters and the side characters—who were main characters in other books. I think people who have read the previous series will likely find this story a more satisfying read, because there are so many callbacks to the other characters and their continuing happiness. On its own, this book reads fine, but was complicated by coincidences that felt too strained. Expect a slow burn and a happy ending all around.