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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Nothing Special: Swat Ed.: Fox & Bull – A.E. Via
A fox can set many traps to catch his target—but this one only needs one to catch his.
Dominic “Bull” Walker is used to the simpler things in life. Give him his own land to work, a strong horse, and twelve hours of daylight, and he is a contented man. But when someone threatens to take away the successful ranch that took him two years to rebuild, he’ll accept any help he can get to defend it.
Mandel “Fox” Tucker is a sixth-generation SWAT soldier. It’s embedded in his bones to protect and serve his community. So when he gets word of the vandalism occurring on the Walker Ranch, he quickly volunteers the free time he has, thanks to his recent suspension.
The brief visit Fox had with Bull four months ago had been a contentious—but powerful—encounter. Therefore, he’s not surprised when he shows up on his doorstep unannounced and has to pull out some of his best tricks to get past the six-foot-four, stubborn Texan.
Fox is only there to safeguard what’s most important to Bull. But being on the ranch brings an awareness to him that he embraces with both hands. Nature, peace… love—things he never found in the city.
This book contains the love story of two new characters. It is a part of a series but can be read as a standalone.
There are no multiple pairings or sharing. Ends in a very HEA.
Trigger Warning:Mild police violence. Scenes are not graphic.
I have always been a big fan of the Nothing Special series since the beginning. Admittedly, many of the books were messy. It wasn’t until the 6th book, His Hart’s Command, that the series hit its stride. The 7th book, Ex Meridian, is my absolute favorite. It continues its winning streak with the 8th installment.
Fox & Bull is the second SWAT Ed. The titular characters were introduced in the previous book’s epilogue. The two met for only a couple of hours but each made quite an impression on the other. Fast forward to the present time and we got Bull still trying to catch glimpses of his favorite SWAT soldier on the nightly news.
Meanwhile, Fox, tired of being disrespected and unappreciated when he was doing his job well, decided to take a break. He grabbed the opportunity to investigate a break-in at the Walker ranch just so he could see the unforgettable cowboy one more time.
Fox is a cunning, smart-talking cop who’s very good with a rifle. Bull is a hardworking man of few words. An astute businessman who built a successful ranch from the ground up after his old one was destroyed by a calamity. They are just a couple of guys who wants to love and be loved in return. Is that too much to ask?
Fox has gone through hookups and one-night stands with people who fantasized about dating a SWAT soldier. But when things get serious, they were actually too chicken shit to put in the hard work required in a real relationship. Bull was engaged at one point but the bastard left him to die during a flood. So I couldn’t really blame the poor man for not immediately jumping into Fox’s arms no matter how badly he wanted to or how charming the other man was.
The first scene they were together made me LOL. Bull got so tongue-tied and awkward at seeing his crush again, he tried to say three greetings all at once. He’s such a sweet guy! I was rooting hard for him.
There was a deadline hanging over their heads. Fox will be called back to work after a couple of months. The author did a great job making each moment Fox was in the ranch count. The passion and heat jumped off the page. But what I loved most was how the story was able to convey, in the cozy domesticity and everyday ranch business, the way the two cherished each other tenderly.
This is a wonderfully done opposites attract, slow-burn romance with a minor mystery, some action, and lots of humor. It’s more romance-focused than all the other books. There’s less action, with most of these scenes happening in the beginning and at the end. A huge chunk is spent with Fox building rapport with Bull’s employees, learning ranch work, and falling in love with a horse.
The book had a fluffier feel to it as well. All the books had a strong sense of family and camaraderie. With the previous stories, the bonds are formed among people who constantly risk their lives for each other. Here, there is still that strong connection but the dynamics has a softer vibe. This is perhaps because the bonds are formed among people in a safer, homier setting. (Not sure if I’m explaining this part properly. Sorry if I’m not making sense (^_^;))
The book is populated with lovable characters, both old and new. We see a lot of Hart and his boyfriend, Free, stars of the first SWAT Ed. Bull’s pop, Walker, and their housekeeper, Emma, were a riot! They are his biggest cheerleaders and all but claimed Fox their son-in-law the second he made his appearance at the ranch. Fox and Dale’s interactions were also hilarious. Bull’s best friend/ranch manager was very determine to cockblock Fox in the name of protecting Bull. Until Fox sicced a young, and very interested, ranch hand, Ridge, on the interfering idiot.
There was OTT ridiculousness near the ending when God and his squad bulldozed their way into the ranch. I was rolling my eyes at all the silly male posturing. It’s a thing with this series. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s just plain stupid.
Another niggle is Mercy, Bull’s horse. He said he had the horse since he was a little boy. He is now 33. Mercy is, what, more than 20 years old? I’m not sure about a horse’s lifespan but that horse is really old. And Bull is still working him hard.
Minor quibbles aside, I enjoyed this story a lot. Fox and Bull are great additions to Nothing Special‘s impressive roster of alpha males. As a couple, they light up the page with their fabulous chemistry and unwavering devotion to each other. Their romance was a building of trust, and a promise of commitment. These are two men who truly appreciated what a precious gift it is to find someone brave enough to stick around.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Fox & Bull can be read as a standalone but is best experienced after meeting God, his husband, Day, and their merry band of troublemakers. Check out my reviews of the first seven books:
Nothing Special Books 2-6
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