Broken Protocol: Smoke & Bullets Book 2, A.R. Barley

Broken Protocol (Smoke & Bullets) by [Barley, A.R.]

Growing up close, Dante and Luke both had the love and nurturing of an amazing father.  What they also had was an incredible amount of affection and desire for one another.  As the elder foster brother, Dante did what all self-respecting older brothers do...he ran.  He ran from his inappropriate attraction to his younger brother and dove so deep into his police work that he couldn't find his way out.  When his mind and body had finally had enough he found a place to settle and still went about avoiding Luke.  Feeling abandoned and spurned, Luke dove into creating his own life.  One mugging brought them back into each other's lives and as they try to investigate the case on their own time, something much bigger, much deeper builds between them until Dante can't, won't run and Luke will do almost anything to keep him.

I'm not a fan of encouraging jealousy or throwing your life in someone's face just because you're hurt by their reaction.  In this case both of these acts were used to encourage Dante's response and it worked, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.  I felt that Luke was immature and spiteful.  Rather than showing his emotional cards he hid behind gratuitous flirting with the specific aim of rubbing Dante's face in it quite spectacularly on multiple occasions.  It showed that he was willing to use others toward that aim as well and didn't speak well for his base character.  Sure, he could have genuinely been interested in those men without Dante in the picture, but the way he went about it all was grating and disappointing.  For all the times he claimed he wasn't a kid anymore he sure showed the maturity of one.  Not being seen as a kid is more than just having the appearance of a grownup and some life experience under the belt.

That being said, while this happened two, almost three times in the story, we get enough of Luke on the job and in reminiscences that we see much more clearly who he really is.  If all we had to go on was the various club and bar scenes I would have been immensely frustrated and disappointed.  Instead, we see a brilliant mind, a lot of focus, determination, and selflessness, a huge amount of frustration and desire for Dante, confusion, tenderness, and understanding...a well-rounded person that could absolutely be the ideal partner for Dante.

Dante is a little easier to understand and like right from the start.  While he's dark and broody and intense, he also tries his best and comes from an incredibly difficult upbringing.  His past doesn't come to light until near the end when he finally feels that he's willing to risk everything he's tentatively built with Luke and it's agonizing.  I believed his turmoil all through the story and when I learned the basis for it all I was a little shocked and a lot heartsick.  Only with Luke has he ever been completely bare and, thankfully, Luke was the perfect person to lay it all out in front of.

Dante's back and forth up to this point is definitely a bit frustrating, but the roadblocks he sees are realistic and valid.  Their connection isn't one that most people understand and their relationship is absolutely a cause for concern in most situations.  These men belong together, however, and it takes a lot of courage for them to admit and embrace what they truly mean to one another.  By the time they get together I actually believe that they can overcome their societal obstacles because of the background we get and the groundwork laid as they get reacquainted.  With the added drama from the mugger, we get an intense situation that both pushes them closer as well as adds another layer to their difficult coming together.

The drama was always in the background because it was the initial force that brought them back into one another's lives but also because it was the investigation that was, in part, driving the plot forward.  Maybe because the case needed to be handled in Dante and Finn's off time it changed the way he investigated it, but it felt like it was always there but never really thought through.  One evening of going over files to make the connections between incidents to link them, one night of clubbing for the sake of interviewing (which is a whole other thing because we really just end up getting tiny snippets of interviews from Luke's various hookups and more than a little internal commentary on their tattoos and sexual encounters...), and one interview with Ryan from the couple that started Dante's involvement in the beginning.  Including a few mentions of something that should be clicking but isn't and details that he should be focusing on and yet doesn't, the case that seems so important is also not given enough focus to actually matter.  Only when Luke gets huffy and goes out on his own do things become clear and also quite dangerous.  I can't say the end confrontation wasn't intense, fitting for the story, and worth the emotional confessions, but everything leading up to it seemed to lack the attention it deserved.

Despite my complaints of immaturity and lack of attention given to the investigation driving the relationship closer and the story forward, I liked the book.  Dante was dark and troubled and needed the lightness that Luke brought to the table.  Luke was young-feeling and intelligent and needed the grounding and devotion Dante offered.  They're both committed to their jobs and one another.  Dante's short, direct confession was perfect for him and for the couple.  The overall story was interesting and drew me in so that I actually want more from the Smoke and Bullets series that will come.

*$3.99 on Amazon!
 Broken Protocol: Smoke & Bullets, A.R. Barley

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