His Christmas Guardian by Cindy Dees
Runaway Ranch #4
Oct 25, 2022 by Harlequin
Review by Kate H.
There is a lot to like in His Christmas Guardian. For one thing, it starts us right in the middle of things, with Nicholas Kane scoping out an art auction in search of his treacherous spymaster boss, Gray. We begin with intrigue, action, and a near death experience. We learn that Nick, an operative in the US intelligence services, was left out of a deadly and treasonous expedition to steal almost priceless artifacts. His sense of betrayal is extremely strong because the men he trained and worked with for years apparently put monetary reward over duty, and loyalty to Gray over country. There are elements of the story – and yes the artifacts do have a Christmas theme – that made me think fondly of the tv series Alias.
Fairly soon into the novel, Nick meets Alex, a fixer. Alex’s job is to diffuse or take out intelligence assets like Gray, who have gone rogue. Alex is highly suspicious of Nick, for good reason, and for several chapters, we get to see the two men get the measure of each other, as they decide whether to trust one another. In this process, we learn about their families and their backgrounds. One thing we discover is that Alex, who has meted out so much death in his career, has a vision of retirement, whereas Nick assumes he will die in the line of duty. It becomes Alex’s goal to get Nick to change his view, and not see his life as sacrificial and expendable.
The romantic and sexual tension builds so well – and even moments like doing surveillance under a mylar blanket while their shoulders touch seemed incendiary and meaningful. There is a little cheesiness in places – and that seems at odds with Alex and Nick’s hyper-competence. And the Christmas tie-in seems tangential at best. But when the guys finally get their moment of consummation, it just did not feel right. For one thing, their relationship speeds up at the end – I am assuming because of all the dramatic events and near-death experiences. But the sex scene felt formulaic and perfunctory. I was disappointed, because I really enjoyed most of the novel and the tension was built well enough that I didn’t mind waiting until near the end. But the wait was not rewarded. From what I understand, this is the first m/m romance under the Harlequin Romantic Suspense line, so perhaps it was an editorial decision to constrain the gay intimacy.