Though this novel involves the “east meets west” theme I’ve come to adore from the co-written books by Payne and Tortuga, it is also a departure from the formula in that Mason is not some posh city guy. Instead, the major difference has more to do with their relative life experience. Levi is only 5 years older than Mason, so this isn’t an “age-gap” romance so much as a “life gap.” I found their romance just as compelling as if Mason had been a rich guy on a business trip to Albuquerque rather than a young guy on the run.
Why Mason is running is very much a hook for the novel’s beginning. The authors manage to frame his character so that it is clear he fled his previous life for less-than-legal reasons without revealing too much specific detail. However, they also imply that those reasons solidly place him on the side of angels, which served to further draw me in. Conversely, the big reveal of his past starts out as a bit anticlimactic. The real external conflict comes into play when Mason’s past arrives in New Mexico to confront him, and it ties in nicely with the inevitable relationship conflict that develops.
The non-flirting between Mason and Levi from the beginning of their interactions is adorable. Still, I also appreciate that both men respect the inequality of their circumstances (Mason both works for Levi and is renting housing from him). A friendship blooms between the men first, followed by the attraction and chemistry that can’t be ignored. They fall into a romantic relationship with that solid base fairly easily, but not every romance arc has to be infused with angst.
The requisite dark moment in this story was an event that I saw a mile away, but I still found it tense. It highlights that just because a relationship doesn’t have angst doesn’t mean it can’t be affected by the characters having different views on the same priorities. Here, the “life gap” element comes full circle in an incredibly satisfying happily ever after.