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Dare Buckley has come home—or at least, he’s come back to Palladian, the small town he left as a teenager. After a major lapse in judgment forced him to resign from the Seattle PD, Palladian is the only place that’ll hire him. There’s one benefit to hitting rock bottom, though: the chance to investigate the mystery of his father’s suicide.
Dare also gets to reacquaint himself with Finn Fowler, whose childhood hero worship ended in uncomfortable silence when Dare moved away. But Finn isn’t the same little kid Dare once protected. He’s grown into an attractive, enigmatic stranger who neither wants nor needs what Dare has to offer.
In fact, Dare soon realizes that Finn’s keeping secrets—his own and the town’s. And he doesn’t seem to care that Dare needs answers. The atmosphere in Palladian, like its namesake river, appears placid, but dark currents churn underneath. When danger closes in, Dare must pit his ingenuity against his heart, and find his way home the hard way.
I’ve come to realize that sometimes Z.A. Maxfield’s version of flawed men just speaks to me; like they have an express tunnel to my heart. They can go straight there and squeeze the hell out of it. This is one of those times. I’m not saying that I don’t have issues about this book – let me get to that later – but overall, it is another story coming from Z.A. Maxfield that I ended up loving.
Dare touched my heart because of his struggle with alcoholism and his realization that the kid that used to look up at him with childhood hero worship no longer was there and he didn’t know how to deal with this. I found Dare’s stumbling to find a way back to Finn’s life compelling. It pulled me right in – especially because Dare also had a way with words that just broke me (one of my favorites: “I have loved your eyes for my whole lifetime”).
While Finn … ah, Finn, how could I not love this strong man that emerged from ashes of his past like a phoenix? Finn’s mother was known as playing around with a lot of men (married or not) when she was alive. Then after she was dead and Dare left, Finn became an object of bullying with one incident so bad it put a mark on him. But despite the town still not accepting Finn fully, he was able to hold his head high. He had a side-business, albeit a bit secretive, in which the town’s people were willing to spend their money. He took care of his beloved aunt. He was just amazing.
The chemistry and history that pulled these two men in was strong. I had no trouble believing that each was essential for the other’s life. While the mystery that surrounded Dare’s father’s suicide and present deaths was well-written too. Even if the reveal of Dare’s father’s case was by way of Finn ‘telling’ it to us readers rather than Dare finding out by himself, but it was still a good mystery.
Now here comes my biggest issue…
I am going to start with a disclaimer. I’m NOT against BDSM or D/s tones in my books. I just don’t prefer it. I can enjoy it but at the same time I also need a strong motivation for it, if a romance story wants to introduce this in the middle. For me, D/s doesn’t always fit with the story. And the D/s tone here is one example.
I could make a guess of what the author was trying to present here with the D/s sub-plot (yes, I’m NOT calling it BDSM). Dare always found himself as some kind of protector – to the kid that Finn was and then later as a cop. However, that life took a toll on him somewhat, which pushed alcohol his way which contributed to his error of judgment back in Seattle. For Dare, submitting to Finn was a way to give control to someone he knew wouldn’t hurt him. Meanwhile for Finn, who had been left behind to defend himself, who suffered from bashing when he was teenager, who gave up his dream to leave Palladian to take care of his sick aunt, being dominant was Finn’s way of taking control. He didn’t need emotional connection to do it.
Unfortunately, I just didn’t think it fit the story. Or maybe I was expecting something different. The kind of hurt/comfort healing that came from sweet romance, probably. From the beginning, I felt that Dare didn’t exactly dream or secretly yearn for D/s kink. Even near the end, Dare said, “You can do whatever you want with me, if every so often you let me love you like that,” which somehow for me it meant that Dare cherished an emotional sexual connection with Finn more than being controlled. So what was the D/s sub plot for? I couldn’t help but think it was presented here because the sub-genre was popular. But this story would work just as well without it.
However, as you could see, despite my biggest issue, I still gave it 4 stars. It was because the D/s sub-plot did not dominate the story. There were more scenes of Dare and Finn reconnecting outside the scene, as well as those wonderful sessions of Dare and his aunt, Lyddie. Then there was the other sub-plot of Finn and Bill Fraser, one of the seemingly homophobic cops who turned out having a much more complicated relationship with Finn. That one sub-plot was as interesting. I definitely would love to read more about Bill if ZAM plans to write a sequel.
So all in all, this is a mesmerizing, rich, and complex story. And guess what, it fits my taste very, very well.