This book just really did it for me. It is billed as a historical M/M romance, which I suppose it is, but if you’re looking for a proper ‘romance novel’, this is not it.
In 1893 New York, Emlyn Strickland is the US Treasury’s best man for spotting counterfeit money. Emlyn testified against Darrow Gardiner 6 years ago, and Gardiner has spent the in between years in Sing Sing Prison nursing a grudge. Darrow feels betrayed by his old counterfeiting partner, August McKee, and uses one of the new silver coins he recognizes as McKee’s work to try and buy his early release. If he can deliver McKee to the Secret Service he can be a free man. Emlyn is on his first case as a field agent and is tasked with getting as much information out of Darrow as he can while escorting him from New York to Colorado, where they hope to find the silver mine and counterfeiting operation. Darrow intends to use Emlyn to get back at McKee and punish Emlyn at the same time.
Darrow spends the book torn between wanting his freedom and being unable to see a way forward that doesn’t include his criminal past. Emlyn is strictly by-the-books and desperate to prove himself as a competent field agent to his superiors. The history of counterfeiting and the battle for the Gold Standard was fascinating and worked seamlessly into the story.
There was just so much for me to love about this book. Some of my favorite themes: 1800s American West, road trip, opposites attract. And some that I don’t usually care for: hate to love relationship, power imbalance, couple not getting together until the bitter end. But it all came together so beautifully, and this book is a really good example that while I may *think* I know what I like in a book – the right author/book can make me love anything.
I’ve complained before about lack of smolder in a book. There is NO smolder here. Don’t care! I’ve complained that the characters don’t actually get together as a couple until the final pages of the book. It’s in the last 5 pages here. Don’t care! I get completely put out at the boss/subordinate story lines. Darrow is *literally* in Emlyn’s custody for the whole book. Don’t care! Each of the leads was so distinctly his own person with his own motives, it was a pleasure to read.
The entire story takes place over a single week, and I never even realized it. We watch them grow individually and together, and while they each change, they stay so true to the character introduced at the beginning. I was truly shocked at the end when one character made a reference to the week-long timeline and had to pause my reading to think about whether that was accurate. It was – but the progression of the relationship felt so true that the condensed timeline wasn’t an issue.
I like historical romance and I like M/M romance, but I am often hesitant to read historical M/M because it is nearly impossible for an author to give them a proper Happily Ever After. There are two reasons I think this book works around my concerns. 1. The setting is not London society like the others I have read. These are everyday people living their lives, and they are not constrained by social rules in the same way. 2. Because they only get together at the bitter end it is not a Happily Ever After (and maybe not even a Happy For Now), but it is definitely a hopeful and uplifting end.
I bought this book for $1. Possibly the best dollar I have spent this year. It is currently FREE. Get it. Allen has a very short back catalog, but I intend to read all of it.