After an undercover mission got blown to smithereens, metropolitan police officer Ren has been convalescing for the last several months. Now that the worst of his physical wounds have healed, he’s joined his older brother’s archaeological dig in Asquith, England. Ren may be off the case, but he knows the bad guys are still out there. He’s determined to keep his professional life under wraps to protect his family and, well, he’s never had to worry about a significant other. Besides, Ren has every intention of returning to undercover work to bag the crime boss who got away. But on his first day at Asquith, Ren literally runs into a man who makes Ren question all his choices about returning to his dangerous job.
Dominic suffered trauma no child should ever experience. And when he discovered his younger brother was at risk of enduring the same, then fifteen-year-old Dominic did what he thought he had to do keep his younger brother safe. Sixteen years later, Dominic has paid his debt and is a mostly free man. Or he thought he was. On his way out the prison yard gates, a prison guard who never liked Dominic dropped a name that Dominic knew was more a threat than a simple name. With the shadow of his past looming over him, Dominic is incredibly wary. Life, however, has other plans. Dominic’s younger brother brings Dominic to live with him at Asquith and, the first day there, Dominic meets Ren. Sparks blaze instantly, despite both men playing their cards very close to the chest. Dominic is worried his past will taint any future he could have with Ren, while Ren knows his job means he cannot form close relationships with anybody. Nevertheless, these two discover that they can be stronger together. When the past comes to haunt them, they will risk their lives to finally put the past behind them.
Hold On is the second book in Barbara Elsborg’s Fate We Make series. It takes place in the English countryside and features a law-enforcement officer and a convicted murderer as our main characters. What drew me to this book was the premise of these two characters getting together. Even though the labels “convict” and “cop” are objectively true, their personal histories make it abundantly clear that these two men have so much in common. For instance, they were both abused by people they were obligated to trust. The systems that typically protect people from harm failed them. They’ve both kept their families at arms length to keep them safe–Ren by not sharing all the details about his job (and outright lying about what exactly he does as police officer) and Dominic by trying to disappear. As interesting as all that is, however, I frankly found it sort of repetitive. It felt like Dominic tried to convince himself to walk away once a chapter and even had a few aborted attempts at doing exactly that. When I got to the climax of the story, though, I saw that this repetition helped build a sort of smokescreen that shifted focus enough to make the climax a bigger surprise than I think it would have otherwise been.
When it comes to our two main characters, Dominic wins the strife trophy and Ren wins the personality trophy. I was a little sad that these two didn’t have more chemistry outside the bedroom. The potential was there and I thought they started off strongly. Ren has this just-this-side-of-obnoxious humor that shines throughout the book. When he and Dominic first meet, I really enjoyed how Dominic absolutely rolls with the punches when it comes to Ren’s sense of humor. Over the course of the book, Ren never really seems to lose this quality despite his worries about his past and worries about how his family will treat Dominic (because Dominic never keeps it a secret that he was in prison and he is very google-able in this universe). Dominic, however, seems increasingly consumed with fear that the family of a man Dominic knew in prison is out to kill him. At best, he will occasionally be a straight man for Ren’s humor. Most of the time, however, his narration is strongly colored by “enjoy it while it lasts because I have to disappear to keep him safe.” The narration alternates between these two characters’ perspectives, but everything is told in third person and there are not always clear distinctions when we switch because that can happen more than once within a single chapter.
Plot wise, the light at the end of the “Dominic will always be afraid” tunnel comes when Ren and Dominic finally get confirmation of the trouble they are facing. This scene reverses so much of the fear in the story and it was fun to read about this one last, dire situation Ren and Dominic found themselves in. The stakes could not have been higher for our two MCs and I was captivated by watching Ren and Dominic plan and struggle to stay alive.
Overall, this was a pretty fun read. If you like stories about cops or stories that feature people who have suffered from the criminal justice system, I think you’ll find Ren and Dominic interesting main characters. The romance is spicy in this and despite the rather heavy histories Dominic and Ren have, they share an interminable spark of lust for each other. Their romance is laced heavily with tension given Dominic’s multiple offers and attempts at disappearing, but Ren always manages to convince Dominic that they’re better together. Note there are scenes of violence and mentions of sexual abuse for both MCs, so sensitive readers should proceed with caution.