Big Bend Texas Rangers: Never Stay Gone – Tal Bauer
Six bodies in a single grave… in the same West Texas country where Dakota left everything behind.
Every beat of my heart belongs to you.
Thirteen years ago, Dakota Jennings thought he’d found his forever when he fell in love with Shane Carson. But one afternoon shattered their love story, and both Dakota and Shane left Rustler, Texas, with broken hearts. Even now, Dakota is still feeling the agony of losing Shane. Sure, he’s a Texas Ranger, but that’s not how he wanted to live his life. All he ever wanted was to love Shane.
Loving you is the only time I feel alive.
Shane’s life was supposed to be different than this. There’d been a plan, ever since he was knee-high to his father. But falling for Dakota spun Shane’s world upside down, and for years, Shane has had nothing but the memories of all that he lost: Dakota’s gentle touch, and the sweetness of his lips, and the star-strewn nights they spent wrapped in each other’s arms.
West of the Pecos, there is no law.
When the Rangers get the call about six bodies being pulled out of a mass grave in West Texas, the governor sends Dakota to run the investigation. Dakota heads back to his hometown and comes face-to-face with the last man he ever expected to see again: only now, he’s Deputy Shane Carson… Dakota’s local partner assigned to the case.
There’s nothing Dakota wants more than a second chance with Shane, but so much is stacked against them: six corpses, a murderer on the loose, and history that refuses to stay buried. And the bodies keep piling up as Dakota and Shane try to run the killer down across the West Texas plains.
In a moment, everything changes: the hunters become the hunted, the past fractures, and all Dakota thought he knew comes tumbling down. Secrets break wide open as Dakota remembers–
This is West Texas, and out here, nothing is as it seems.
Big Bend County is a place of beauty and desolation, of secrets and small towns. Where the past and the present collide, and where nothing stays hidden forever.
This MM romantic suspense is the first in the new Big Bend Texas Rangers series. Come along for the West Texas sunsets, the heart-pounding thrills, and the hard-won Happy Ever Afters.
Never Stay Gone is the first book of the romantic suspense, police procedural series, Big Bend Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers are the badass officers who patrol the West Texas desert areas up to the border.
The story opens with Deputy Sheriff Shane Carson stumbling upon a grave of six women in various stages of decomposition. With talks of a serial killer being bandied about, the Texas governor tasks ex-military Texas Ranger and, also her personal guard, Dakota Jennings to investigate.
Shane and Dakota were friends turned secret boyfriends back in high school. Shane broke things off because of pressure from his over-bearing dad just when Dakota was about to tell him of his plans after they graduated. With his world crashing down around him, Dakota disappeared. After 13 years, he’s back in Big Bend, a changed man but somehow still in love with the same boy.
This book has all the hallmarks of what I have come to recognize as the Tal Bauer style. There’s the thrilling suspense, the twisty-turny plot, people in high places with the dirtiest secrets, the swoony second chance romance, the mysterious pivotal event the characters agonize over but would turn out to be different from what their internal monologue seem to convey. Let’s not forget the amazing John Solo emoting the heck out of everything.
I loved how it was done in The Murder Between Us and The Night Of. Both of these were rated 5 stars. Here, it took me a while to get into the story. The opening chapters weren’t hooking me as much as I wanted them to. Descriptions of landscapes tend to make my eyes gloss over from boredom. I was propelled by John Solo’s performance. I’m glad I stuck around because things picked up once the investigation started.
Drama was on an all-time high, with many highly emotional scenes. And when the tears came, they kept on coming. This is quite possibly, the weepiest MM romance I’ve ever read! Waterworks from manly men could be deeply moving but very annoying when they start bawling at every other scene. Shane, in particular, was very weepy. The guy had it rough but jeez!
Shane was the golden boy, the quarterback, and his dad’s only hope of reclaiming the family legacy. He lived under his father’s thumb, his entire life already planned out by the older man. His only act of rebellion was his relationship with Dakota.
After his football career fizzled out, Shane worked as the deputy sheriff. This is where he is at his best. He’s a bit green when it comes to murder investigations, but he knows how to connect with people. He’s always ready to share a kind word.
Dakota was the cowboy son of drifters Shane befriended during high school football tryouts. Since then, the two were inseparable, mutually pining after one another until Shane struck up the courage to make a move.
If there was ever one guy made to be a book boyfriend, Dakota’s your man. He was completely devoted to Shane then, he’s still devoted now. Even as a teenager, he planned his whole life on how to support Shane’s dream of becoming a pro football player. As an adult, he built a house for his man. With his own hands.
I’ll never forget that flashback to their last day in senior year where he presented his meager budget for his and Shane’s living expenses, a.k.a. his heart on a plate, with all the earnestness of a youth in love, only to have it handed back. It was one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever! The sensation of falling and shattering to pieces was palpable. My chest hurt for Dakota. I nearly started sobbing myself.
The reconciliation scene? Hooboy, people were flayed raw! That’s how intense it was. I was glad the book is written in 3rd person dual POV. The emotional impact of a 1st person POV would have been too much.
I was super happy they grabbed that second chance and made the most of it. But then I got paranoid that the author might pull another plot twist and pull the rug out from everyone’s feet. This was still halfway through the book and I don’t think I could bear any more relationship drama.
I got so anxious about it I stopped reading. It wasn’t until I read a review saying things went well for the couple after that reunion that I breathed a sigh of relief and picked it up again. The rest of the story focused on the mystery.
I’d like to say the mystery was predictable. In hindsight, it followed the usual pattern of the author. But I was the gullible fool who fell for the red herring, suspecting the loner who was actually going above and beyond his duty. So good job on that nice bit of redirection!
When I thought about it, Never Stay Gone is written like Shane and Dakota’s favorite country songs. Full of lonely cowboys, small-town life, first kisses, devastating heartbreaks, and sappy love declarations that make you cringe and make you smile too. This is truly a book that doesn’t pull its emotional punches. They hit you, hard, straight in the kokoro. It’s not my favorite, but it will stay with me for a long time.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
This book comes with an official soundtrack. Check out the songs from the CD Dakota gave to Shane. Because he’s dorky like that.
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West Coast Forensics: Real Trouble – Elle Keaton
Two men on opposite sides of the law: will they be able to set aside their differences and trust love?
Danylo Peters has issues, lots of them. He’s not on Piedras Island by accident, he’s not a nice guy, and Peters isn’t his real name. Dany’s in hiding, trying to escape his family’s influence and start a new life. But Dany must have been born under a bad sign because the very man he’s really running from is one of the first he runs into.
A new life in a new town seemed like the right decision for Soren Jorgensen, especially after a difficult case left him recovering from a gunshot wound and lonely as he’d ever been. Finding Dany living on Piedras brings back all the feelings he’d tried to lock away. He’s angry and bitter and Dany is not going to continue to get away with his old tricks. Too bad Dany is just as compelling as he ever was.
The two men find themselves on opposite sides of Soren’s first case on Piedras, but neither is able to deny the attraction between them. They keep finding themselves in compromising situations; if they’re found out there will be Real Trouble.
Real Trouble is set in the Veiled Intentions world, while familiar characters appear Real Trouble can be read as a standalone. Real Trouble is a dual POV following Soren Jorgensen and Danylo Peters as they fight their way to their HEA and is the first in the new West Coast Forensics series.
I love how Elle Keaton keeps bringing us back to Piedras Island, part of the real life San Juan archipelago in Washington. The first time I’ve known this place in Veiled Intentions was through the rather grim eyes of Niall Hamarsson, It felt like such a bleak place then. It slowly revealed to be a charming vacation town the longer Niall hung around his now husband, Sheriff Mat Dempsey.
This summer hotspot is not without its darker side. Yet another local was found murdered. With the newly married sheriff and his private detective husband away on their honeymoon, it’s up to the new deputy, Soren Jorgensen and island native, Deputy Birdy Flynn to solve this case.
They also had to investigate the fire that damaged a landmark hotel. To Soren’s shock, he saw the last person he expected to see working as the hotel’s new chef. His ex, Danylo Petyr a.k.a. Dany Peters. Suspect in the fire incident and member of a notorious crime family.
Dany’s history is tied to events in the other books. In an effort to leave his sordid past behind, he moved to the island under an assumed name. He’s now a hardworking, talented chef. Still as headstrong, troublesome and goddamn alluring as Soren remembered.
The deputy is a stoic, taciturn, gentle giant Dany likes to poke and provoke. The two were sorta together some years back. Dany disappeared after Soren was shot by Dany’s cousin. As their paths crossed again, they found the flames still burned hot even with the old hurts, the anger and the bitterness.
They might not be favorites or that memorable, I still found Soren and Dany likable, individually and as a couple. Their relationship development might not be that strongly established given that they had more page time apart than together. And they weren’t really communicating properly. However, their shared past already gave them an insta-connection. That, plus the swirling mix of intense emotions that drew them together convinced me that these two were meant for each other.
A huge chunk of the story is devoted to the case. This is the type of mystery where I don’t particularly care who had done it, I just liked tagging along with the detectives because the author made it enjoyable to do so. The investigation took me around Piedras. The setting was familiar and comfortable yet still offered new avenues to explore.
This opener has the same vibe as its sister series. It’s written in a straight forward style that kept the plot constantly moving. I really liked that even without the flash and bang, the book was consistently engaging. It’s filled with characters that felt like old friends and new ones I want to know better.
Fans of the author’s other series, Accidental Roots would recognize Soren and Danylo immediately. I haven’t read that series yet but I had no problems following their backstories. Although, I do think some readers might feel like they’re dropped in the middle of a story because of the many established characters and some references to events in the author’s previous works. I recommend starting with Veiled Intentions first.
Real Trouble did a great job as a police procedural. It has a second chance romance that’s good enough for me to root for. It’s also an engrossing story about small town camaraderie, family ties, building friendships, honesty, setting new roots and becoming a better person. All in all, it’s worth the trip.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Winter Kill – Josh Lanyon
Clever and ambitious, Special Agent Adam Darling (yeah, he’s heard all the jokes before) was on the fast track to promotion and success until his mishandling of a high profile operation left one person dead and Adam “On the Beach.” Now he’s got a new partner, a new case, and a new chance to resurrect his career, hunting a legendary serial killer known as The Crow in a remote mountain resort in Oregon.
Deputy Sheriff Robert Haskell may seem laid-back, but he’s a tough and efficient cop – and he’s none too thrilled to see feebs on his turf – even when one of the agents is smart, handsome, and probably gay. But a butchered body in a Native American museum is out of his small town department’s league. For that matter, icy, uptight Adam Darling is out of Rob’s league, but that doesn’t mean Rob won’t take his best shot.
So we know Special Agent Adam Darling is quite the looker and then we have this:
Having reached the airport in plenty of time, Adam had relaxed. He looked tired, there were shadows beneath his green eyes, but he smiled at Rob. He had an attractive, quirky smile—despite noticeably sharp incisors—and Rob was sorry again that the night before had been a one-time thing.
Fangs! Oh that’s just too cute!!
Usui Takumi as Adam Darling
“And we can always talk over the case, if it’ll make you feel better.” Rob was teasing him. Flirting with him? Adam smiled uncertainly. “True.”
“And then we can be back at work bright and early tomorrow morning.”
“Yes. That would be…”
Heaven? Sort of.
“See how easy that was?” Rob said. “Easiest decision you’ll make tonight.”
It was hard to tell in the grainy light, but Adam thought Rob winked.
Yuu Otosaka as Deputy Rob Haskell
Adam and Rob. I was neutral about these two until that fang incident mentioned above. That’s when I squee-ed (internally)! From that point forward, I was low-key cheering them on. Low-key because I need to keep a straight face. I’m reading this while there are other people around.
This is really good! I especially enjoyed Winter Kill because the mysteries (as there are several) kept me guessing, and for once, there were no loose threads left hanging. The story wrapped up and resolved things satisfactorily and though the ending was still in that characteristic abrupt style, it promised a HFN, which is realistic for the kind of relationship Adam and Rob have.
After I realized this is the Adam Darling mentioned in The Art of Murder series and that Lanyon’s FBI agents live in the same world, it became a little game of anticipating who’s going to pop up in whose book. BAU chief Sam Kennedy made an appearance here and he was as menacing as ever. Special Agent JJ Russell was also present in the AoM series. I think, Tucker, Adam’s ex has a book of his own.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits