“Give unto them what they require.
Take only what you need to survive.”
In the fifty years since his commune was destroyed, The Source kidnapped, and his best friend murdered, Creed Lowell has followed The Way and it’s central tenet—performing the Exchange and living off negative human energy and occasionally blood, leaving the donor with positive emotions and peace of mind. Now a night nurse specializing in caring for the elderly, Creed uses his ability to ease their suffering; he loves taking care of others, but knows he won’t ever find peace until he has brought the man responsible for the massacre to justice. When Creed’s most recent clue brings him back to Santa Cruz near his old commune, he feels like he’s finally coming close, a feeling soon confirmed by a series of bizarre attacks using unique tactics he’s all too familiar with. Given the danger involved in his quest and the secret of his vampirism, Creed avoids intimacy, believing that only once he’s stopped Stephen, freed The Source, and ceased performing the Exchange can he live out his natural human life in happiness. However, his plans don’t account for Roman San Angelo.
The last thing Roman expects when he arrives home from his graduate internship in Spain is to find out that his beloved grandmother has been placed in an assisted living home. No matter how much she and everyone else says this is what she wants and what is best for her, he can’t help feeling like he failed her. As time passes, her happiness and renewed vigor helps Roman accept that it was the right choice, even if it still smarts that he couldn’t give her what she needed, unlike the ridiculously charming Creed. The mysterious and infuriating man knows just how to get under Roman’s skin, while also somehow giving him a peace and calm he’s never experienced. When Roman’s doctoral work in the psychology of cults gets him tapped to help the police solve the attacks, his work and Creed’s secrets soon collide, and as powerful and deadly forces converge on the two men. Now, their only chance at survival is trusting one another.
Sundowners is the first book in R.L. Merrill’s Sundowners series and features two types of vampirism that both work on the principle of Exchange—blood drinking and energy filtering, the vampire exchanging positive energy for sustenance. Initially, Creed is drawn to Roman because the man exudes so much raw anger, pain, and loneliness that it overwhelms him. Creed’s attracted to him, can’t seem to keep himself from releasing his pheromones and feeding off Roman’s anger (which goes against his principles of consent, but he doesn’t struggle with it much) and starts dating him while fighting his need to protect Roman, a protection Roman can’t stand. After suffering several tragedies, Roman is a walking ball of contained anger. He’s learned to manage it and found his purpose in criminal forensic psychology, but it’s always simmering beneath the surface waiting to lash out, especially when he feels he’s being coddled or lied to. Roman senses that Creed isn’t all he seems, so his attraction is tempered by distrust. Roman and Creed are good characters to follow, although at times some of their dialogue and interactions are a little clunky.
Although the heated back and forth between the MCs is engaging, I found Roman’s family, particularly his uncle, and the succor Creed gives to his patients the most compelling elements of the story, also bolstered by a good secondary/tertiary cast. The plot driver of Creed’s search for Stephen and the attacks are solid, though Creed’s choices in the last quarter contradict his “protect Roman” mantra and the action of the climax feels like the literary equivalent of shaky cam fight choreography with the story ending on a soft cliffhanger/tentative HFN. The world building is filled out enough, but does have some gaps; however, as the reader only knows as much as Creed (who knows very little), it works well enough for this point in the series.
Additionally, the book does that thing where a character states ‘it’s science not magic’, but gives no real explanation for how it’s science, and I’m too much of a nerd to be able to let it go when an author throws down the ‘It’s Science!’ gauntlet without offering any for their world. Plus, the myth of ‘we only use a fraction of our brain’s mental capacity’ seems to be a reason given for the ability to visualize and manipulate energy and heal people, which is unfortunately a pet peeve of mine, as science has proven that’s not true. It’s also a little hard to accept vampirism as pure science given that some people have the ability to force thoughts and images into other’s minds. Between the mind boggling wave/particle physics and biochemical thermoenergetics necessary to accomplish some of these things, there are just a lot of developments and abilities that veer more mystical than scientific. However, how vampirism is used works well in the story and provides a nice set up for exploration of the mythos in future books as Creed doesn’t have the entire picture.
With its strong secondary characters and likable but flawed leads, Sundowners is an enjoyable paranormal romance I look forward to reading the next installment in the series.