Title: Lines in the Sand
Author: Lyn Gala
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Dan Skinner/ Cerberus Inc.
Buy Link: Buy Link Lines in the Sand
Genre: contemporary m/m
Length: Novella (144 pdf pages)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: One man on the run from the law, and one man on the run from his former fellow mobsters learn to find trust with each other and build a new life together.
The Blurb: Three years ago, Carl Ragar turned on the mob. His conscience couldn’t handle the murder of an innocent bystander, and he had to turn his back on his mentor, Petroc “Pete” Barbu, a man he’d admired and lusted after. Pete made no apologies for his job as an enforcer, but he’d never planned to get himself or Carl involved in the murder of a reporter. When Carl turned state’s evidence, Pete couldn’t even pretend to be surprised.
Now Pete’s still on the run, and Carl is unceremoniously dumped out of witness protection. Two men tangled in their own pasts, they will have to face the shifting moral lines in the sand that drove them to make disastrous choices. Once Pete and Carl were partners who trusted each other with their lives—now they’re struggling to save their souls.
Let me start this review in an unusual way, with the book’s cover. Take a moment to take a look at those two rugged guys, caught in an intimate, tender moment of their lives, with their gestures, their postures, and their looks revealing so much about them.
The guy on the left is Carl. He’s the best when it comes to cars, but, as he readily admits, he’s no good at reading people. Carl likes men, and he likes to submit, but he won’t just submit to some random guy. As a nineteen-year-old kid, Carl got a three-year sentence for auto theft. Even though he bottomed for a fellow inmate in the end, Carl never put up with being treated like a pushover, not in prison, or outside. He makes his own choices, draws his very own moral lines in the sand. Those lines may shift from time to time, and they may be much farther out than most other people draw theirs, but once he’s laid them down, nothing can make him overstep them. This was what made Carl turn against the mob, even though it meant he’d be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life, even though it meant betraying his mentor, a man on whom he’d been secretly crushing on for nine years: Pete Barbu, who’d been working as a hitman in the same mob, who’s facing death penalty in the US thanks to Carl. The very same man who came for Carl after Witness Protection dumped him, the very same man who stuffed him into a car and dragged him all the way to Mexico, to the seedy motel they’re currently in.
Look at Carl. See how his right hand holds on to his seat while his left hovers in the air, fingers flexing from want to grab the other guy’s thigh but hesitating nevertheless? See how his body leans in to the other man, how his eyes are cast down, his lips half-open in apparent anticipation? Doesn’t his entire posture speak of battling emotions, of wariness hindering a desire to give in to the strong hand that clutches his other arm?
It’s Pete’s hand, big and powerful as befits a man who’s made a living, a fortune even, of roughing up other people, of beating and killing men and putting them into shallow graves. And still, Pete has his own lines in the sand. He chose the particular mobster he worked for on the notion that he was less of an evil than others. He never killed a man who didn’t have it coming.
Ever since Carl walked up to him in prison, all balls and no sense of self-protection, asking for a job, Pete wanted the kid. But he’ll never force himself onto another man. Not even on this man, who ratted him out, who made him flee to Mexico. Not this man, who showed him a strange kind of loyalty, keeping Pete’s finances a secret from the feds even as he lead them to the graves of Pete’s victims. Which is why Pete can afford a rather comfortable life now, and which is also why Pete felt obliged to save Carl from vengeful mobsters as well as from himself, since the man is obviously too dumb or too stubborn to watch his own back.
Now take a look at Pete. His eyes are wide open, watching Carl’s face, and for all the firmness in his grip on Carl’s arm, there’s nothing forceful in it. Pete clearly wants Carl closer, but he doesn’t push it, he waits patiently, gives Carl room to decide. His stance speaks of calm confidence, and protectiveness, and the strength to back up both the claim he lays on Carl, and the unspoken promise to keep Carl safe.
In my opinion, the written characterizations match the picture above (not necessarily in physical appearance, but in idea). With two so flawed heroes, a murderer and a traitor as the main characters in a romance, of all things, it’s not an easy task to get readers to like those men. And yet, I couldn’t help doing exactly this.
The author doesn’t make excuses for them, they are what they are, but for all the crimes they committed, they have consciences. Even better, each becomes the other man’s conscience out of care for each other. While their relationship started out on an utter imbalance of powers, their mutual care makes them equals in the end.
Over the course of almost a year they spend together, they don’t suddenly turn into saints. Nevertheless, the new morals they come to accept for themselves make them fit in with the society they are now a part of.
This society is portrayed in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental way through well – wrought supportive characters: Jose, Pete’s best friend and business partner; Castellan, a federale and Jose’s cousin; Vincente, a cop who attempts to blackmail Pete. They may appear openly corrupt and their values may appear as strange as they’re peculiar, but those people, too, are who they are, trying to make the best of what Fate dealt them by drawing their own lines in the sand.
As much as I loved this book, it had its flaws, the biggest being repetitive writing. Some of the character’s reflections were rehashed so often I eventually felt hit over the head with them.
This aside, I can only recommend this book. The characters grew on me a lot, and I finished their story with a happy smile for them.