Author ~ Nya Rawlyns
Publisher ~ Jade Horse Publishing
Published ~ 25th August 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance, Mystery
Michael Brooks is a loner, and with good reason. A short fuse and a tendency to shoot from the hip, sometimes quite literally, mean he’s all the company he’s got most of the time, and he likes it that way just fine. It suits his job as Warden for Wyoming’s Fish and Game Department.
Being alone sounds good to the researcher for the USDA Forest Service, Dr. Seamus Rydell, especially since it means time away from the pressures to follow his family’s political traditions. He’ll need a guide to Timber Lake to set up his testing equipment, and who better than a Warden whose boss needs him out of sight for a while?
They’re just doing their jobs, until both men get derailed by a lust threatening to light up the night sky and by egos big enough to fill the wilderness.
When a psychopathic poacher intrudes, Michael’s past rises up and the present twists out of shape around a sick mind. As the future for both men fills with darkness, it is all too clear no one will come back from Timber Lake unscathed.
Combine a great romance between a city-slicker and a cowboy, a beautiful journey on horseback up the gorgeous Snowy Mountain Range of Wyoming, a psychopathic killer, some top-flight writing, and you get one of the more unusual gay romances I’ve encountered in quite a while. And what a pleasure it was to read!
Despite their roles, none of the characters are stereotypes. Michael Brooks is a gorgeous, rough-hewn cowboy with some success on the rodeo circuit, though that’s now just a hobby. His full time job, these days, is as a Warden for the USDA Forest Service, a protector of the Federal lands that are held in trust as America’s heritage for future generations. He’s also an unashamed gay man, though he’s always held his personal life to be, well... personal.
As “Timber Lake” opens, Michael is in a world of hurt for doing the right thing, but not the politically astute thing – he shot a man on a crowded campground with “civilians” all around. Of course, the guy was some kind of psycho who had been leaving a trail of tortured animals in his wake, and was approaching a young boy fishing off the bank of the lake – the boy unaware of the man creeping up behind him, bloody knife raised to claim his first human victim. Michael saved the boy’s life, and in celebration of his heroic effort, he’s being punished for “endangering” the other tourists. Government bureaucracy never fails to do the wrong thing. His sentence? A month’s semi-suspension, an enforced vacation, under-the-radar, while the “scandal” dies down. He’s told to go have fun. Sadly, that’s the one thing Michael doesn’t know how to do. Known for having a short fuse, but taking his job dead seriously, Michael is one of the best wardens in the entire Snowy range and can’t stand the idea of being driven off the land he loves and protects. He has no idea what to do with the enforced idleness. It may actually make him crazy - if he isn’t already.
Seamus (AKA “Sonny”) is Michael’s polar opposite. Raised wealthy, on the East Coast, to a politically-connected family (his aunt is in the House of Representatives), groomed to become a classical musician on his way to public office, Sonny rebelled, and “cowboyed up”, getting his PhD in Land Management at Wyoming State, with a specialty in Wetlands and Timber Management. Still, he’s a cosseted young man, but he’s smart, hot, and determined. Unlike Michael, Sonny is politically astute, which is how he got his assignment from the Forest Service to run a series of experiments in the Medicine Bow National Forest, gathering ever-changing habitat data in an important region that has evaded any serious research, to date. It’s hard to design effective land management when you don’t even know what you’re dealing with.
Michael gets recalled from his vacation to do what he hates most - babysit some amateur who doesn’t have a clue. He knows damned well that’s a PR job, not a Warden job, but he’s in no position to refuse, though he’s mighty ticked off about it. As far as he’s concerned, this is just more penance being exacted unfairly.
That is, until he sees the gorgeous man he’s about to know better than he ever imagined, and even his long-practiced disdain starts to melt. Yes, there is a meet-cute, at the Laramie Rodeo, where Sonny bumps into Michael – literally. It’s not till a couple of days later, however, that the two men find out that they’re slated to be together, intimately, for the next couple of weeks.
And “intimate” is the right word. The first night they zip their sleeping bags together to conserve body heat, they do more than conserve it. In fact, they generate a considerable amount of their own.
What proceeds is an epic climb to Timber Lake, at around 9000 feet, through sudden snow squalls (even though it’s not even close to Winter), drenching rain, wind, and all kinds of obstacles along the rarely-trod path to the lake, where Sonny needs to take samples and install and calibrate his data-gathering equipment.
It’s a beautifully written travelogue, with vivid descriptions of the stunning landscape, the physical challenges, the hot springs that warm their souls and their hearts. It’s also a journey for the two men, learning each other, falling, every day, a little bit more in love, though they avoid discussing it, in light of the limited time frame allotted for their relationship, and nothing promised beyond the next two weeks.
There’s also heart-pounding, terrifying action of the human kind, threatening both men’s lives, plus a multitude of experiences that allow Sonny to show what he’s made of, and it’s pretty impressive stuff.
I don’t want to let any spoilers slip, so let me just say that both men make mistakes that threaten to derail, if not destroy, the trust and intimacy they’ve built throughout their perilous trek. But there’s also a reunion that will warm your soul.
Ms. Rawlyns has done a beautiful job writing “Timber Lake”. The characters, dialogue and settings are beautiful and rendered fully and eloquently. The editing is impeccable. Both men are absolutely believable, and augmented by a wonderful, colorful, and fully-developed cast of secondary characters. I never thought I’d read a realistic drama in which an undersized mare named “Peanut” was protected by a black-and-white mule named “Spot”, who refuses to leave her side, no matter what. Sonny had bought them, together, as underfed, near-dead nags, literally one step ahead of the glue factory, and they returned that notable kindness by saving both men’s butts more than once on the arduous and dangerous trip up and down the mountain. There are also two women, ostensibly “trailer-trash”, but in fact, big-hearted ladies who become great friends of Michael’s, Sally and her daughter, Dolly – whose mother is desperately trying to hook her up with Michael. Surprisingly, they’re the ones who first figure out that Michael is gay and that he’s falling for Sonny, and support them both, without reservation.
“Timber Lake” deserves every one of the five stars I gave it. The prose is plain language (as fits its setting), but remarkably expressive and evocative. And it’s a page-turner. This is one of those books you just can’t put down once you start reading. It held me, spellbound, from the first page to the last and I was reluctant to see it end.
This is a marvelous book, which I recommend with all my heart.