Bauer is one of those authors whose stunning use of language elevates the work from general storytelling to a genuine art form. I’d probably have loved this book all on its own based on the excellent characterization and intricate plotline, but luckily, I got to read this amazing bit of literature instead. The action starts at what looks like the moment right before the climax, so I expected the flashback that occurred soon after the early reveal of the dark moment. However, it wasn’t just a teasing prologue to get us hooked. This book is more like two stories in one as we follow dual storylines that are each worthy of a dedicated book.
I kind of expected the angst, but what I didn’t anticipate was the two separate types of angst we get during each separate narrative. The past, which includes point-of-view scenes from both Reese and Brennan, features many bright moments of these characters meeting before the inevitable conflict when their roles in the world tear them apart. This narrative is more political, as Brennan and Reese both have public roles to play and understand how a reveal of their relationship might affect those roles. The events of the present that weave through the flashbacks are purely suspense, all from Reese’s perspective, while he has no idea whether Brennan is even dead or alive for most of the book. The themes of service and sacrifice tie both of these arcs together, and Bauer teaches a master class here on both pacing and how and when to reveal specific details that affect both timelines.
Bauer also treads a fine line between making Brennan and Reese a little too perfect. Instead, these men are three-dimensional characters who lean toward aspirational of what I’d love to see in a real-world American president and the man in charge of protecting him. The connection that develops between them is less about the physical and more about emotional and mental intimacy as they cultivate a tentative friendship into a genuine romance. I appreciated that their main political roadblock is not that Brennan is gay, but that he hid his orientation. In the same vein, I also loved that Bauer skips over any boring “bi panic” on Reese’s part and focuses on how sometimes the important part is just finding your person.
I laughed, I swooned, and I cried, but most importantly, I couldn’t put this book down. This novel works as a stand-alone story, but Bauer doesn’t skimp on developing a handful of secondary characters—and there is one in particular that I’d love to see more of in the future. If a sequel is written, Bauer left plenty of fascinating routes open for an equally compelling romantic suspense story. Until then, this one shouldn’t be missed.