Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
After losing their parents ten years ago, Foster has dedicated his life to raising his younger sister, Becca. Despite the tragedy, he is happy and comfortable with his life; however, Becca is determined to leave for college, making Foster aware of how few friends he has. Being demisexual and gay in a small town has also limited his love life, even though his looks garner attention wherever he goes. Foster is uncomfortably aware of his good looks, so when one of the students at the elementary school calls him “the pretty fireman” during a safety rally, he takes it in stride and finds himself charmed by the brazen eight-year old and her mortified father. As Foster spends time with the pair, he falls first into an easy camaraderie with Dutch and then into love, but is bemused that after years of not being attracted to anyone, when it happens it’s directed at a straight guy.
As a child, Dutch Schumach befriended the son of the president of the Velvet Devil’s MC, and grew up in that lifestyle, falling into the role of enforcer. When he discovered that his ex-girlfriend was pregnant and planned to give the baby up for adoption, Dutch finally found the motivation to give up the life and start fresh. Eight years later, he and his daughter Hazel have found a home on Piedras Island, and things are looking up. He works a job he loves with his best friend and he’s recently been promoted. Making friends with the kindhearted and amazing Foster is just icing on the cake. When Dutch realizes he’s attracted to Foster, he’s surprised, but willing to take a chance and is thrilled that Foster wants him too, but when his former MC comes calling, they threaten not only Hazel, but the family he and Foster are building.
Real Hazard is the fourth book in the West Coast Forensics series and part of Keaton’s Piedras Island universe, but stands alone well. Dutch was introduced in the first book, Real Trouble, where I really enjoyed his character and was interested in learning more about him given what transpired in that book. Overall, there’s a lot to enjoy; Dutch and Foster are solid, likable characters with good backstories. The supporting cast is strong, and seeing Dany again was a highlight for me. The blurb mentions that they are “two very different men,” but outside of their upbringings, they’re really not. They’re both family men who would do anything for their loved ones, and are giving, caring, and foster safe environments for Becca and Hazel to thrive in; the blended family they create is warm and loving.
All the components are there for a great story, but for me, some of the connective tissue is missing and I found the pacing to be slightly uneven and the suspense aspect of the plot disappointing. There’s too much telling instead of showing when it comes to Dutch and Foster’s transition from friends to lovers. There are many time jumps when establishing the friendship and the pair have only one scene of actually hanging out solo and bonding before suddenly Foster realizes he’s falling in love with Dutch. Although the story is told in alternating POVs, there is more attention given to Dutch and his bi-awakening than showing Foster’s growing feelings for and connection to Dutch. Dutch’s emotions and introspection are on page, while there isn’t really anything from Foster to indicate he is attracted to Dutch. He comments that he finds Dutch attractive, sure, but that’s not the same; connection is integral to a demisexual becoming attracted to someone and that element is missing here. A couple of chapters after Foster’s realization, he retrospectively talks about his feelings for Dutch, but it seems like an afterthought.
Hazel’s matchmaking also comes across as a bit odd to me, as there is no indication for why she latched on to Foster so hard and adamantly. She hasn’t tried matchmaking in the past, so besides Foster’s model-esque beauty, there’s no reason for it. Kid logic and drives can be opaque and probably wouldn’t have mattered to me, except the book opens with a POV from Hazel that sheds no light on her feelings and makes it seem even more random. Additionally, the motorcycle club storyline is introduced relatively early then back-burnered for most of the book. The way it plays out also feels contrived because you have a character who is so worried that his presence on the island puts everyone in danger and has a public and very credible threat made, but doesn’t go to the cops because they “can’t do anything.” Yet, this is a small town; if nothing else, they can put people on alert, especially since the book makes a point to mention all the motorcycle activity. Foster knows about Dutch’s past, so he’s not keeping a secret and people could have been prepared, but it feels like that basic step isn’t done so the action and the revelations that follow can happen.
However, Foster and Dutch are good characters and their love for each other is sweet. Their honesty, open communication, and blended family are easy and lovely. The secondary storyline of Foster coming to terms with Becca leaving and encouraging her independence and just the vibe of the island and this small town community are also enjoyable. Those who love low-angst stories about single-dads, “overwhelming” youngsters, and two men who never expected to find love finding happiness may enjoy Real Hazard.