Title ~ Line in the Sand (Herc’s Mercs #2)
Author ~ Ari McKay
Publisher ~ Torquere Press
Genre ~ M/M Contemporary Romance
Alec “Red” Davis is Hercules Security’s director of operations, a man who is brave and honorable and yet also a stickler for following the rules. When Cade Thornton says that Alec is losing his touch, Alec takes a position as private bodyguard to Jonathan Baldwin, an up-and-coming actor starring in one of Hollywood’s hottest new franchises.
Jon is attractive, personable, and grateful for his fans, which, unfortunately, makes keeping him safe a real challenge. As Alec is drawn more and more into Jon’s life, he finds his admiration for his client growing -- as well as an attraction which is strictly against his professional ethics. Unfortunately for Alec’s peace of mind, Jon finds Alec equally attractive, and Alec finds himself torn between duty and desire.
Then, while guarding Jon on an “adventure” vacation in Central America, a flash flood puts both their lives in danger. Alec finds himself pushed to his limits in a race against time to save the man he loves before time runs out -- for both of them.
Hunky bodyguard + famous (gorgeous) star = inappropriate attraction and ultimately...danger! Well that's the usual combo in these types of stories. Generally set around the hunky, alpha security guy protecting his actor/singer/dancer from a crazy fan/stalker/jealous colleague. All circumstances that have been used many times in the bodyguard/ celebrated client trope and to be honest, great story lines if they're written well and the chemistry is sparking between its protagonists so I'm certainly not knocking the concept and one I was quite happy to take on board if it turned out to be the case in the second helping of Ari McKays series about a group of ex-military guys turned security.
However, even though the above equation does apply to this story in a generalised way, it most certainly wasn't how I expected it to be. The bodyguard—in this case Alec 'Red' Davis, from Hercules Security, who we met in book #1— does get handpicked for the job of guarding a famous actor; Jonathan Baldwin, and there is an immediate attraction that Alec fights, because of course to get involved with a client is a definite 'no no', and they do ultimately end up in a dangerously, precarious position...but that position was as far away from the crazy/ jealous fan/stalker/colleague situation as it ever could be and the trauma they did choose to put their couple through was something I'd never have thought of, so it was a surprising change...but a good surprise!
I had a great read with Herc's story but this one actually crept ahead slightly in the enjoyment stakes and I think it was because I felt the chemistry instantly between Alec and Jon from the moment they met. This wasn't a love/hate relationship or an antagonistic start, it was a mutual appreciation of each other that stemmed from the fact that Jon, was such a guileless, sincere person. Not a diva, but a really genuine guy. Full of life, enthusiasm and gratitude for how his career had taken off and so appreciative of his followers that the two previous bodyguard's he'd employed pre Alec, had quit, not because he was hard work or temperamental but because they'd found it hard to cope with the friendly and open way he interacted with his fans...no fear of any threat to himself. Always trusting that he could just enthusiastically jump into the crowds of admirers to give and receive hugs, chat and sign autographs without thought for his safety. I grew to love Jon fairly quickly so it was no surprise that he got under Alec's skin, his complete opposite.
'Alec seemed so straight laced and serious, making sure every I was dotted and every T was crossed. That was a great attribute for a bodyguard, but didn't match well with Jon's spontaneous, play it by ear nature.'
Alec is the ultimate professional. Sporting an air of quiet danger, tough and serious, but not miserable or grumpy. He was protective without being in your face and deferential towards Jon without being star struck. Opposites attracting, but in a way that came out of an admiration for how the other projected himself and a genuine friendship began to form despite their underlying feelings which constantly simmered, making Alec's job of looking after this appealing man much harder than he expected.
"Even though Alec was a very, very dangerous man, he had the feeling that Jon Baldwin was just as dangerous in his own way--a dangerous temptation, one that Alec had to resist--and that was probably going to be one of the toughest things he'd ever done."
Then the pace of the story steps up a notch, and the time comes for Alec to really use his military skills to protect his charge, who by this time he's fallen, hook line and sinker for. A feeling that unbeknown to him is reciprocated, but even though he doesn't realise that, his survival instincts kick in as the danger facing them both comes from a completely different angle than either us the reader or Alec the bodyguard sees coming! At this stage it got quite exciting, but also very touching, as the two of them battled to stay alive in a hostile environment that tested their will to live, forged an even deeper bond and brought those hidden feelings to the fore. Considering the length of the novella, Ari McKay packed a fair bit of edge of your seat tension from midpoint of the story and at one point I got quite emotional myself!
I was enjoying this so much that it was only really as it came to the end that I realized there had been no physical contact as such until the final (yummy) love scene and you know what? It really didn't matter one bit because the interaction and pull generated between Alec and Jon was so delightful that I honestly didn't miss it! I find this writing duo are really good at this. They don't flood their stories with tons of repetitive, graphic sex but when it does happen it's because it really means something between the characters and it never fails to sizzle and satisfy. I always like how they build up to it, and especially enjoyed how the build-up in this made it such an engaging story to read.
I'm not 100% sure who will have his story told next but there was a teaser appearance towards the end from a guy called Daryl 'D Day' Greer, an 'odd Job' man (read mercenary, I'm thinking) for Herc's company, whose character seems like he might just be bit of a lovable rogue...so I'll deffo be watching this space for the next instalment from 'Hercules Security' to see if I might be right, but then again I could be totally wrong...hmmmmmm...I think it's going to be a matter of wait and see!
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The panel got underway with the director presenting a teaser-trailer for Dead Wrong, which had the fans surging to their feet in a standing ovation. Then there was the screening of the blooper reel from Dead to Rights, which had the audience howling with laughter. Alec couldn’t help but chuckle as well as he watched Jon’s antics, particularly when Jon was trying to act like a total badass but started laughing in the middle of a line.
After that, the question and answer session began, and most of the actors were asked about roles they’d played in other movies or on stage. Not surprisingly, Jon was asked about Macbeth, and Alec listened with interest to his answer.
“Playing Macbeth--” Jon glanced around, feigning alarm. “I can say that now, right? We aren’t in a theater, so I don’t have to remember to call it The Scottish Play. Okay, so, playing Macbeth really was a bucket list thing for me,” he said, his demeanor turning more serious as he spoke. “I’ve done Shakespeare before, but I was always cast in less intense roles. Claudio in Much Ado, Lysander in Midsummer Night’s Dream. I didn’t even get Petruchio when I auditioned for Taming of the Shrew. They cast me as the mild-mannered student Lucentio instead.” He laughed and shook his head. “I’ve always wanted to play Macbeth, though, because he fascinated me as a character. Here’s this decent guy who ends up completely losing his humanity over the course of the play. In a lot of ways, that whole play is like a horror movie, so it was a natural fit after Dead to Rights.”
Alec found himself nodding. He and Jon had discussed Macbeth during their evenings together in California, and Alec admired Jon’s attitude and approach to acting. He’d also been as impressed as hell with what he’d seen of Jon’s stage work; Alec had seen several different productions of Macbeth, both amateur and professional, as well as the recorded versions starring Orson Welles and Ian McKellen, and while he might be accused of being biased, he thought Jon’s portrayal was one of the best he’d ever seen. Jon had a natural grace and a tremendous stage presence, which made him seem larger than life when he performed, which was perfect for portraying Macbeth.
The Q&A continued smoothly with questions directed more or less evenly among the panelists, although the actors did get a few more questions than the behind the scenes crew. No one rushed the stage or brandished a weapon, and Jon was enjoying himself immensely, even when faced with inane questions like “boxers or briefs?”. Given Jon’s apparent lack of boundaries, Alec was surprised when Jon’s response was coy.
“I think we--” he gestured to his fellow cast mates “--should be allowed some secrets.”
It didn’t help that Alec had seen Jon in his boxer-briefs on several occasions, and the question brought back the memory of Jon’s nearly-naked body with rather more clarity than was comfortable. The thought that other people would -- perhaps literally -- kill for the chance to see what Alec got to see on a daily basis was sobering, yet also made Alec feel more smug than he had any business feeling.
Immediately following the “boxers or briefs” questioner, a young man stepped up to the microphone stand; his outfit looked familiar, and after a moment, Alec recognized it as a meticulous reconstruction of Jon’s costume in Dead to Rights. Before the young man could even open his mouth to ask his question, Jon jumped up and pointed at him, grinning with utter delight.
“Oh, my God, you’re Duke!”
“No, you are,” the young man replied cheekily, but he looked pleased by Jon’s response.
“Okay, I have got to get a good look at that costume. It looks fabulous.” Jon skirted around the table and jumped off the stage, making a beeline for the costumer.
This was not how the Q&A was supposed to go, and Alec was moving almost before he realized it. He stepped out of the wings, crossed to the front of the stage and jumped down, hot on Jon’s heels. But his eyes were also on the man on the podium, dressed in Duke’s costume; he knew real weapons weren’t allowed in the con, but there was no way he was risking Jon’s life betting on everyone following the rules. Somehow, he reached the young man as soon as Jon did, and Jon blinked at him, startled at seeing him there.
“Oh, hi.” Jon smiled sheepishly at Alec as if he realized -- belatedly -- that he’d done something reckless. But it didn’t stop him from gushing over the quality of the “Duke” costume and asking questions about how the costumer had replicated certain aspects of it.
The young man in the costume seemed almost overwhelmed at first, but he gradually relaxed and began answering Jon’s questions with more ease, and he worked himself up to asking if he could get a picture taken of them together.
“Of course!” Jon agreed readily -- and handed the young man’s camera over to Alec. “Do you mind?” he asked, giving Alec a winning smile.
Alec raised one eyebrow at Jon, but he took the camera obediently and snapped a couple of pictures before handing the camera back. “Now, Jon, how about if you get back on the stage where you’re supposed to be before they charge you admission?”
“Sorry, sorry!” Jon looked chagrined as he sprinted back to the stage, using the steps off on one side to get back up there while his cast mates looked on with amused indulgence.
Alec followed at a more sedate pace, but he took the same stairs Jon did, then slipped back into the wings. The other bodyguards were there, and he gave a wry smile in response to their sympathetic looks. There was no changing Jon, and at this point, Alec wasn’t even sure he wanted Jon to change, especially if it lessened his joy in life in any way.
Series Reading Order
Line in the Sand (Herc’s Mercs #2)
About Ari McKay
Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who collaborate on original m/m fiction. They began writing together in 2004 and finished their first original full length novel in 2011. Recently, they’ve begun collaborating on designing and creating costumes to wear and compete in at Sci Fi conventions, and they share a love of yarn and cake.
Arionrhod is an avid costumer, knitter, and all-around craft fiend, as well as a professional systems engineer. Mother of two human children and two dachshunds who think they are human, she is a voracious reader with wildly eclectic tastes, devouring romance novels, military science fiction, horror stories and Shakespeare with equal glee. She is currently preparing for the zombie apocalypse.
McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.
Ari Mckay will be gifting one lucky reader an eBook of Line in the Sand (Herc’s Mercs #2). All you need to do is enter the Rafflecopter below.