Rating: 3.5 stars
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Within moments of meeting Ryder Mann, Shay Delacombe knows he’s in trouble. Having the brilliant and attractive Ryder stay with him for a few days as a favor to his half-brother, Niall, seemed harmless enough, but Shay didn’t expect to be more interested in the witty and irrepressibly flirtatious Ryder than he has been for anybody in longer than he can remember—a feeling that only grows as Ryder messages him over the following ten months. When Shay moved his law practice from Seattle to Piedras to keep an eye on his great-great aunt, a big part of him felt like he was closing a chapter in his life and sailing into the waters of middle age comfortably single. So as attracted as Shay is to Ryder, between their 15-year age gap, Shay’s toxic upbringing, his aversion to committed relationships, and the fact they live hundreds of miles apart, anything between them is a no go. Yet, no matter how often Shay reminds himself he can’t even risk friendship with Ryder, he can’t seem to stop himself from always responding to the man’s messages, calls, and charm.
For Ryder, the difference in their ages is not an issue, especially considering how compatible they are and the fact that Shay can’t hide his attraction to him. Having his mother head out for dinner with a friend and never return, Ryder believes in seizing the day and doesn’t understand Shay’s hang-up on “just a number.” So he settles in for the long game of sneakily building a friendship under the guise of random texts and dropping in for visits when delivering documents to his coworker, Niall. Unfortunately, while Shay always responds and clearly enjoys his visits, Ryder can’t find a way out of the kid zone.
When Shay’s friend is concerned about the possible disappearance of his nephew’s girlfriend and asks Shay to look into the situation and represent his nephew if necessary, Shay decides to take Ryder up on his offer to help, even while chastising himself for spending more time with him. As what should have been a few simple interviews turns into escalating danger, Shay worries that the missing teenager may be in real danger, along with his heart.
Real Danger is the second book in the West Coast Forensics series and is a quick-paced, though oddly boring, romantic suspense with likable leads and an interesting missing persons plot. Although Ryder and Shay are in the previous book, their introduction to one another occurs in Real Danger. Ryder appears to be a forensic computer analyst for West Coast Forensics who quickly fell into lust with Shay when he crashed at Shay’s rental home, and despite Shay harping on their age difference, he continues to engage with Ryder, building a friendship with the younger man whether he admits it or not. While frustrated by Shay’s focus on their ages and his inability to learn more about Shay’s dating life, every text, email, etc. only convinces Ryder that they could be so good together. Keaton does a decent job threading the needle between understandable doggedness and an inability to take no for an answer. The almost constant flirtation and propositioning of Shay is interspersed with Ryder being thoughtful, funny, or insightful.
Shay doesn’t think he’s a good guy or “wired for a proper relationship” because his parents were a mess, he was a mean-spirited asshole when he was younger, and he has never invested anything of himself in his short relationships; in Shay’s opinion, Ryder can do so much better, but apparently can’t see it. For me, there’s a disconnect between how terrible Shay believes himself to be versus what is presented; I get that the mental landscape for how people see/feel about themselves isn’t always an accurate representation of who they are, but as Shay is presented in this book, it was hard for me to buy into Shay’s conviction. The text does a fine job stating the why and how for Shay’s level of self-disgust, but I didn’t feel it. As West Coast Forensics is a spinoff of the Veiled Intentions trilogy (previously Hamarsson & Dempsey) that follows Niall, maybe all the in-depth characterization/ discussions about Shay are done during his appearances there, especially given the antagonistic history hinted at between him and Niall compared to their apparently newly genial relationship.
Conversely, I can totally believe Shay is arrogant given his inability to see Ryder as an adult who knows his own mind, even going so far as to translate Ryder’s belief that Shay’s a good guy into some kind of childish hero-worship: “Even so, Shay wasn’t who Ryder thought he was. He wasn’t Superman…” something Ryder never says or even intimates. While Ryder freely expresses his interest in Shay, to me it doesn’t come across as star-struck. Persistent? Yes. Possibly overeager/borderline pushy? YMMV. But placing Shay on a pedestal like Ryder’s some guileless baby gay meeting his first big, bad daddy? Not so much. However, Shay won’t have a conversation with Ryder about anything other than their ages so that’s all Ryder sees as an obstacle, and when they do make progress towards coupledom, the third act high-stakes kick in. Since Shay’s adamant ‘we can’t date’/I’m the worst and Ryder’s ‘but why tho???’ dance takes place mostly during their investigation, the pacing doesn’t get too bogged down.
The case is interesting as it centers around the very real issue of society’s apathy when dealing with missing indigenous females, and for the most part, Keaton incorporates the social commentary well. Given the nature of the topic, the prose/inner monologues can be a bit awkward and in your face, but not egregiously so, and the missing person, Debbie, is actually a decently fleshed out and cool character rather than just a plot point. There are a few issues I had with the continuity that did pull me out of the story, such as an introduction of threatening letters Ryder finds that keep getting mentioned, but the event didn’t happen. In the previous chapter, Shay gets a threatening email with some weird pseudo-religious creeper talk about forgiveness and mentions of a box of mail Shay picked up from his old office to seed the letter reveal…but none of it goes anywhere. I actually went back to check Real Danger to make sure it wasn’t something from that book. There’s also things like evidence being found in one location then later in another, odd actions/behaviors etc. However, my copy is an ARC and as the blurb is now different, the Shay being stalked storyline and other inconsistencies may have been resolved.
Also certain characters’ behaviors regarding Debbie’s continued disappearance make no sense given later revelations.
If you read Real Trouble and enjoyed the angst between the MCs, be forewarned that the tone of the two books is a bit different. Real Danger is angsty in its own way, just instead of it coming from the MCs, it’s mostly the nature of the missing person’s case. For all Shay’s ‘I’m too terrible to love’ thoughts, the relationship between Ryder and Shay is pretty light-hearted, and while I personally couldn’t engage with the story and feel the mystery doesn’t quite stick the landing, Real Danger is a solid romantic suspense I could see others really enjoying.