Title ~ Fire and Ice
Author ~ Andrew Grey
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 25th May 2015
Genre ~ M/M Contemporary Romance
Carlisle Cops: Book Two
Carter Schunk is a dedicated police officer with a difficult past and a big heart. When he’s called to a domestic disturbance, he finds a fatally injured woman, and a child, Alex, who is in desperate need of care. Child Services is called, and the last man on earth Carter wants to see walks through the door. Carter had a fling with Donald a year ago and found him as cold as ice since it ended.
Donald (Ice) Ickle has had a hard life he shares with no one, and he’s closed his heart to all. It’s partly to keep himself from getting hurt and partly the way he deals with a job he’s good at, because he does what needs to be done without getting emotionally involved. When he meets Carter again, he maintains his usual distance, but Carter gets under his skin, and against his better judgment, Donald lets Carter guilt him into taking Alex when there isn’t other foster care available. Carter even offers to help care for the boy.
Donald has a past he doesn’t want to discuss with anyone, least of all Carter, who has his own past he’d just as soon keep to himself. But it’s Alex’s secrets that could either pull them together or rip them apart—secrets the boy isn’t able to tell them and yet could be the key to happiness for all of them.
I loved Fire and Ice – and not because the story is all that unique, or the characters radically different from a thousand other characters in this genre. I loved it because it is vintage Andrew Grey. No one does the theme of “the family we create” better than he. No one. He’s a superb writer of proven gifts, and when his heart is deep in a particular book, it just sweeps the reader along on a wave of passion and poignancy. Not all of his books are five-star, not all of them seem to have the deeply-felt commitment that his “family” novels do, but Fire and Ice is certainly among them, and one of the best books he’s published in a while. Reading this was like “coming home” to Andrew Grey, and he had me from the very first paragraph.
Don’t look for any big surprises or unexpected obstacles in Fire and Ice. In fact, some of the twists in the plot were obvious from the very beginning, and anyone who knows Mr. Grey’s work knows where it’s going to end up from early in first chapter. But none of that detracts from the journey – the powerful writing that gives birth to such vivid and empathetic characters. His characters jump off the page, fully formed and engaged. Somehow it seems the words you’re reading have never been read before, the story and theme have never been written before. It is the Andrew Grey magic.
Carter Shrunk is a cop. It’s what he’s always wanted to be, despite a sterling intellect and the endless possibilities in his almost-charmed life. He’s not a happy cop. Unfortunately, he’s also a brilliant computer guy, a hacker who never went to the dark side. Once the department found out how valuable he was behind a monitor, all the clues and suspects and evidence he was able to unearth with a few measured keystrokes, he was exiled to a makeshift computer lab in the basement of his precinct in Carlisle Pennsylvania, too important to work in the field like a “real cop”.
It took me a while to realize that the setting was not just an interesting locale. Fire and Ice is actually a sequel to his wonderful book, “Fire and Water”, and it establishes a new series, “Carlisle Cops”. The protagonists from Fire and Water show up for a couple of cameo appearances in Fire and Ice, and it’s nice to see them again, even if it’s only for a moment or two. It establishes the continuity of this new series, and promises there will be much more to come. I sure hope so.
Carter gets his moment to be a “real cop”, when his superiors finally put him in a cruiser and send him out to do a little real police work in the field. He’s ecstatic – at least until he responds to a report of some kind of disturbance in a pretty ritzy neighborhood. Not expecting anything all that dramatic on a routine domestic violence call, he is confronted by a scene out of Hell. There’s a woman who is alive, but incoherent and appears near death. There is also a man, the homeowner, who is screaming like a madman at anyone within hearing, making demands like the over-privileged, entitled ass he is.
The medics get called for the woman, the screaming man is led away, and the other officers announce the scene is “cleared”. They’ve checked and there’s no one else in the house. Carter is assigned to give a last look around the place, and he’s not at all sure that his colleagues are right. He finds a teddy bear and a pair of child-sized jeans on the floor of one of the bedrooms. Something strikes him wrong. A child lives here, but no child was found. He intensifies his search, discovers an attic access door in one of the closets, climbs up and now he really has found Hell. In one corner of the attic, there is a stained mattress with no bedding. He can smell human excrement, and the stench of an unwashed body in the unrelenting heat of the airless space. And there, hidden behind the bed are two terrified eyes, the eyes of a little boy, so small, so vulnerable, he seems to be an abandoned toddler. Later, they find out that the boy is actually five, but his growth has been stunted by malnutrition.
He carries the boy out of the attic, down the stairs, where he is terrified anew at each face he encounters. He clings desperately to Carter. And when offered a couple of cookies, he wolfs them down like he hasn’t eaten in a month. This is a kid who was never cared for, fed regularly, and thus pounces on any sustenance he can get his hands on. His body and his mind can’t quite believe that there will ever be enough food or even a next meal.
When asked his name, he replies, simply, “Piece of Shit”. He’d been called that so often that he’d actually come to believe it was his name. At the faintest hint of disapproval, he bends over the sofa, dropping his pants, waiting to be whipped because “he’s a bad boy”. His butt is striped in welts and scars. What have these people done to this poor, innocent boy?
He’s obviously been terribly abused, both physically and mentally, and Carter is absolutely determined to make someone pay for what they’ve done to him. He looks at the beautiful young boy, and it breaks his heart.
Child Protective Services has to be called. They need to get him a safe place to stay, immediately.
The caseworker shows up. Unfortunately, he’s the last person in the world Carter wants to see, Donald Ickle. Carter acknowledges that that Donald is hot enough and that he’s certainly attracted to him, but Carter doesn’t want anything to do with him. They’d shared a weekend together, a few months back, and it was wonderful, intense, sexy - they seemed to have a lot in common and were good together. But Sunday, Carter wakes up alone and there’s not even a good-bye note. Carter calls Donald for weeks afterward, but Donald won’t return his calls. The one thing Carter doesn’t want to see is this ice-cold, detached man responsible for this terrified young boy’s well-being.
In their short time together, Carter and the boy (his real name turns out to be Alex) have bonded. Alex won’t go near anyone else. He seems to trust Carter and is desperately afraid of anyone else around him. Carter returns his affection. The boy has touched a special place in Carter’s heart, and he’s not about to put Alex into the hands of “Donald Icicle”.
But fate has other things in mind. A bed cannot be found on a weekend, on such short notice, nor can a foster family placement be arranged until Monday. DCS has to determine if Alex has relatives who might be willing to take him in, which means Alex may have to spend a couple of days in a juvenile facility. Carter knows the traumatized boy can’t possibly handle that, so he manages to guilt Donald into taking the boy home with him, at least until the next day. Donald is reluctant, but as long as Carter is willing to care for him, to stay at Donald’s house and look after Alex, he’ll go along with it.
That’s the beginning of “the family we make”. It is a match made in heaven. Alex was the victim of a pedophile pornography ring, videotaped while bent over, naked, and whipped. His mother was too deep into drugs and despair to save her son, and only survives a few more days. No one has ever cared enough about Alex to protect him, to save him, to love him. Donald has his own issues– his childhood was also a nightmare, which is why he became a caseworker. Everyone he ever cared about was taken away, leaving him too terrified to get close to anyone, including Carter and Alex. Fortunately, they don’t give him a choice, and throughout the rest of the book, Alex comes into his own, Carter doesn’t let Donald run away, and Donald finds a family that will not abandon him, a family who will love him for who he is. Part of the genius of Andrew Grey’s writing is that the characters fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, providing each other with exactly what they need to flourish and grow. The three together mesh perfectly, they easily and willingly fulfill each other’s needs and create a tight, loving, supportive and unbreakable little world of their own.
There is a surprise twist at the end. I won’t give it away, but it doesn’t matter. Anyone who knows Mr. Grey’s work knows his heroes are destined for a glorious happily-ever-after (he is, at very least, an optimist). I defy you to read this without a tear in your eye, without your heart melting for Alex, without rooting for a future together for these two dedicated men.
As I said, this is vintage Andrew Grey, and Mr. Grey’s magic works on the heart of even the most hardened cynic. It’s not exactly subtle - there’s not a lot of surprises in store, just a wonderful, human story about family and about love. One I recommend with all sincerity and a heart overflowing with affection for these characters and thankful for Mr. Grey’s generosity in taking us on this journey with him.
Fire and Ice is a great read. Don’t miss it.