Doran Callaghan doesn't know when to fold ’em. His gambling has landed him in debt and in jail, and now it’s got him stuck in the sticks in a reintegration program. He wants to turn his life around, but old habits come knocking, and some creditors are harder to shake than others.
Xavier Wagner cares more about the National Park he works in than the people around it, until a stranger awakens desires he didn't know he had. Doran's natural submissiveness turns Xavier’s ideas of how to treat a lover upside down. But Doran doesn't seem to know about boundaries — or even to have any — and Xavier’s not sure that Doran will say no if he needs to. Which means someone’s going to get hurt.
While Xavier struggles with his principles, Doran's past comes calling. Trusting each other is suddenly a matter of life or death, but Doran has to decide whether counting on Xavier — or himself — is a gamble he’s willing to take.
This is the ninth book in the Bluewater Bay series, but as the series has progressed, the books have become less related and completely detached from the Wolf Landing concept. And that's more than okay.
Xavier is a ranger, more comfortable outside on the trail than inside. He is biracial and has incredibly supporting parents. Xavier is independent, demanding, and likes to be in control.
When Xavier realizes that the "kid" who works in tourist information has a puppy crush on him, he can't resist getting to know him better.
Doran is on probation and in a program for gambling addicts. The blurb is not entirely accurate, as the book states that Doran was never sentenced to jail time. His uncle bailed him out, and he was put on probation.
As Xavier points out, Doran had every rug pulled out from under him. He's scattered and doesn't focus easily, unless he's holding a pencil and drawing. But Doran isn't shy around Xavier. Xavier does funny things to his insides, and all Doran wants is to be Xavier's.
There's an interesting power dynamic in the relationship. Doran wants to give up all control, but Xavier worries that he's taking advantage of the younger man. Granted, at 22 Doran is only five years younger than Xavier, but he SEEMS much younger than that.
Xavier demands complete honesty, but Doran worries that if he tells Xavier about his past, Xavier will leave him. And Doran doesn't want to be left. Not EVER.
Doran slid both hands into the open jacket and around that big body that was so much warmer than his own. He wanted to wrap himself up in it, wanted ... All of it. Everything.
Xavier has it all together, while Doran is floundering and scared of his own shadow. He actually has reasons to be, and the ending features a rather suspenseful scene in the mountains, which added plenty of tension to the story.
The steamy scenes in this one are beautiful, not kinky, not exactly, a little abstract for my tastes, a little too . . . controlled, maybe?
But there is certainly explosive chemistry and a real connection between the MCs. I loved the way Doran just gave himself to Xavier and the way Xavier possessed him.
I was worried the ending would be too tentative, and while Doran's issues aren't fully resolved (that would have been too easy and unrealistic), Xavier and Doran trust each other and are working on their communication skills. Xavier pushes less, and Doran shares more.
This is relationship-focused story, and the characters are complex and well sketched.
Because the story is told in a dual POV, we are privy to both men's thoughts. Doran's brain goes a hundred miles per hour, while Xavier mulls and analyzes everything. The juxtaposition is fascinating.
The ending is a HEA, not tentative exactly, but certainly there's more to Doran and Xavier's story. I would love a follow-up!