Sarah has suppressed her love for Jace, knowing he only sees her as a chore. Enter cowboy Jasper Simmons. Jasper is as sweet and gentle as Jace is hard. Sarah tries to keep both men separate in her mind, but can’t stop fantasizing about being tangled and sweaty in bed with both of them.
When Jasper finds a dead woman nailed to a tree, he is thrown into contact with Jace. The proximity unearths an attraction neither of them had felt before. Seeing Jace with Jasper in an emotion-filled situation gets Sarah wondering if her roommate is keeping secrets. Then Jasper admits to Sarah he once had a crush on another man, Jace suddenly kisses her in a shocking lapse of control, and suddenly Sarah's fantasies are taking on a vivid reality. Will sweet, awkward Jasper be the key to two becoming three?
This novel is the 6th book in a series and the majority of the novels are M/M stories. However, the author has brought other romantic relational configurations into the saga of the Hawkins Ranch which figures prominently in connecting all the characters throughout these stories. The other consistent ingredient is that all the characters are either involved in ranching or law enforcement. So it is in this story. This novel was released in 2009, but I encountered it recently and found it to be a compelling read.
Both the male characters in this story are very masculine, especially Jace who is alpha in his way of relating to both men and women. His relationship with Sarah is very complicated since Sarah's brother, presently serving in the military in the Middle East, really "gave" Sarah into Jace's care and protection when he was deployed. Now it has been a number of years, Sarah has grown into a mature, sexy, strong-minded woman, and Jace is having a very difficult time maintaining the "big brother" relationship with her.
Along comes Jasper, a kind-hearted, caring, gentle but strong-minded man who fell for Sarah when she was just 18 years old. Now, four years later, Jasper feels he can make his move. He has issues of feeling unworthy because of his roots, his lack of superior education and talking skills, as well as a brother who is incarcerated for rape. Yet his heart has belonged to Sarah for so long and he knows that her attraction to him is of long standing and such that he is confident that they have something special brewing.
This is a story of discovery and growth, of coming to terms with one's own issues and acknowledging oneself honestly in all the facets of being--inner strength, comfortable in one's skin, sexual orientation, etc. For Jace, he knows he needs to be in a multiple partner relationship but he has been deeply hurt by couples who welcome him initially and then discard him in the end. He is bi-sexual but has kept his "secret" from anyone in his small community. Keeping all this important stuff about himself under wraps has spawned lots and lots of tension that has impacted his relationships. For Jasper, he struggles with feeling good about his abilities, his growth past his feelings of inferiority, moving forward after some poor adolescent choices, and acknowledging that he is "good enough" to be Sarah's lover. For Sarah, she has had to face her attraction to Jasper but she also knows that Jace is important to her in a romantic way. She also has to find a way to move Jace away from the "big brother" feelings so that he can be open about his feelings for her.
This is also a story that contains a parallel murder mystery involving a serial killer and one that has invaded their small community. Jasper finds the first body, nailed to a tree in a back pasture on the Hawkins Ranch, reminiscent of a crucifixion. Ultimately suspicion falls on almost everyone involved with the Ranch and most of the town's citizens. As a sheriff's deputy, Jace is also deeply involved in the investigation. Jasper's brother, the rat-fink nasty guy who has always lorded it over Jasper and who is now, once again, attempting to use Jasper & Sarah's romance--threatening to do harm to Sarah--as a means of blackmail and such. So this entire murder mystery story line adds a good deal of complicated, messy factors into the story, and I, for one, think it just makes the novel a whole lot better.
The real issue, though, is the way these three people discover that their mutual attraction can be forged into a relationship that will meet all their needs. It is tense, hot, sexy, and very revealing as the layers of propriety are peeled away and each of these three must make some critical decisions about their future as a person and as a part of this triad. They all struggle, and that struggle is the core of the story. It is almost as if everything else swirls around the central action which is the almost inevitable way these three come together. But don't get me wrong--it isn't smooth, easy, or simplistic. Lots of heavy emotion, lots of self-doubt, lots of worry about the social ramifications, lots of concern each carried around over how they are perceived by each other and the wider community. It's a messy story, but let's face it--life is messy!
I first read Cameron Dane when I bought Ride, the fourth novel in this series about the town sheriff and his compelling attraction to a woman who was a semi-professional bull rider. Boy did he struggle with the whole idea of a woman involved in that part of Rodeo. Liking that book a whole lot led me to this present novel and I am delighted to have found it. I think this author--who writes lots and lots of M/M novels--has managed to translate her considerable understanding of human nature and relationships into engaging stories. She also manages to write the love scenes in such a way that they are not contrived--as if the story makes opportunities for sex--but rather allows the sex to be a natural outflow of the story and the relationships.
All in all--this is a really terrific book and one that is on my favorites list. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.