Author: Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
A Porthkennack Contemporary Novel
After a massive anxiety attack, Sam Atkins left his high-powered job in the City and committed himself to life on the road in a small van. Six months in, he’s running out of savings and coming to the conclusion that he might have to go home to his emotionally abusive family.
Needing time to think, he takes a walk through a copse by the Cornish roadside, only to stumble upon the body of a ritualistically killed sheep. As he’s trying to work out what the symbols around the animal mean, the sheep’s owner, Jennifer, and her nephew, Ruan Gwynn, come upon him.
Ruan is a kind-hearted young man with a large supportive clan, and since he and Sam feel almost instant attraction, he doesn’t want to believe Sam is a sheep-killing cultist. In fact, the moment he lays eyes on Sam’s miserable solitary life, he wants to rescue the man. But as the killings escalate, he and Sam need to stop whoever is actually to blame before they can concentrate on saving each other.
Of all the books I’ve read in this series, this one ranks near the top. I enjoyed the writing style, the exploration of anxiety/panic attacks and all its implications, and the return visit to Porthkennack with several of the characters mentioned in past stories by the various authors who are doing this series together.
Sam Atkins comes from a very wealthy and powerful family of finance gurus. In fact, he was once one of them, advising his clients on which investment strategies would work best for them, but the more he learned about the upper echelon in the banking and investment industry, the more he felt the losses suffered by his clients personally and the more it affected his own health and mental state. In short, Sam was too sensitive to live among the tigers and his panic disorder increased until he was physically incapable of continuing to pretend. Selling and/or donating everything he owned, he outfitted a van for living on the road and he took off to start his life unencumbered by other people.
Now, six months into this new life, he’s pretty much running out of money and regretting the fact that he didn’t keep more as a fallback. So instead of finding a rental location to park his van, he pulls into a little copse near the town of Porthkennack. It will turn out to be the best move he ever made.
Ruan Gwynn is out helping Auntie Jennifer trace what’s bothering her sheep herd late one night when they come across a slaughtered sheep with runes and sigils placed around its head—and a young man leaning over the body. The young man is, of course, Sam, and they’re hard-pressed to believe his story of simply hearing a commotion and stumbling upon the dead sheep. But Sam knows a bit about the occult, having all the time in the world to pursue interests other than his coding and app development hobby on the Internet, and he informs them that these signs don’t make sense as they don’t follow the pattern one would expect. Interested, and eventually believing him when they find evidence his van has been pilfered while he’s been helping them, they decide to explore the issues further.
Over time, the two young men work together not only to find the source of the slaughters that continue after that night, but also to track an IP address of someone who has been bullying Ruan’s sister and her high school friends, one of whom recently committed suicide after the bullying became too much to bear. It turns out the two issues are connected and they are connected in some way to the infamous Lussmore family—a family of smugglers we met in House of Cards, an earlier story in this series. And while Ruan and Sam are working to solve the mystery, Ruan relentlessly pursues Sam, encouraging him, loving him, helping him get grounded, and ultimately giving Sam a new role in life and a new place to call home.
As I said earlier, I enjoyed the author’s writing style, and I enjoyed both the mystery and the romance. I especially resonated with Sam, having suffered several extreme, and embarrassing, public panic attacks in the past. The author’s treatment of the disorder was thoughtful, well-informed, and respectful. Showing Sam’s inner core of strength and commitment to Ruan at a time he most needed it was a very positive move, and allowing Ruan to show his soft underbelly, while outwardly seeming to be so strong, grounded, and focused provided a sweet opportunity for Ruan to lean on Sam as his lover and chosen life partner.
I highly recommend this story. Though several of the family names have been used throughout the series, the book is certainly a standalone. If anything, it may pique the interest of readers who decide to explore more in the series. I do have my favorites, and as I said, this is one of them. Those who enjoy UK contemporary romance, with a bit of the rural Cornish countryside thrown in, a little late night witchcraft, and a mystery to solve along the way should definitely enjoy this one.