Jay Crownover’s Retreat kicks off her new Getaway series and delivers what her loyal fans expect – a sexy and heartfelt romance. An action-packed, suspenseful storyline is added halfway through the book, making Retreat feel like two distinctly different stories. While this offers an unexpected change of pace it’s problematic because Crownover writes a love story so well that the romance outshines the suspense plot, and readers might resent the bad guys for hogging the second half of the book. Strange to say, but the author’s expertise in one area makes the writing in the other feel average and causes a decisive split in the book. That said, the result is not tragic, because Retreat is still an enjoyable, well-written novel that is easy to recommend.
Leora – known as Leo – had her heart broken and her faith shattered when she discovered that her long-term boyfriend was married. She was devastated and angry at her gullibility and threw an extended pity party, shutting off her emotions and ignoring her friends and family. She is naturally a blunt person with an acerbic wit, but she’s been especially unfiltered and cynical since her breakup; she hasn’t been pleasant to be around. She’s been an unsupportive and lame friend to her best friend Emrys, who has steadfastly tried to help her. Leo realizes now how selfish she’s been and commits herself to being a better friend and having a better attitude. In an attempt to make it up to Emrys, she agrees to go with her on a week-long horseback tour into the wildness of Montana.
The two friends leave California and arrive at the Warner family ranch – the group’s headquarters and ground zero for the trek – and Leo is already struggling to be positive, nice and have fun. She’s a city girl and thus is out of her element in Montana and finds it difficult to hide her thoughts and to stop making sarcastic quips about everyone and everything. When she meets the Warner brothers who own the tour company and will be their guides, she’s simultaneously irritated by and attracted to the oldest brother Cyrus. He’s less than friendly, slow to smile and not afraid to call Leo out on her bad attitude – he’s the perfect kick in the pants she needs to get her out of her funk. Cy appears annoyed, but he has the hots for Leo and relishes how she challenges him.
The group of eight tourists and two cowboys head out into the wilderness, and Leo and Cy continue arguing and hissing at each other. In other words, they flirt like crazy. They definitely have a major case of insta-lust that is fairly unrealistic, but they’re both oddly charming and have sizzling chemistry, which makes it easy to throw believability off the mountain.
Things heat up quickly between Cy and Leo, and they agree to have a fling during the trip that will end when Leo returns home. Their physical relationship unexpectedly and rapidly evolves to strong feelings making them wonder if this could more than just sex. Just as things start to get complicated for them, the group inadvertently lands in the crossfire of a of fight between some unsavory characters. They have no idea who these people are but they’re shooting, and the threat is very real.
Cy and his brother realize these people do not care if the entire tour group becomes a casualty, and they split up to seek the safety of the ranch. Each group’s journey is not easy, as they find danger around every corner, and they must fight to make it out of the mountains alive. As they try to focus on survival, Cy and Leo are still trying to navigate their emotions.
Retreat is written exclusively from Leo’s point of view, but Cy’s dialogue provides insight into his thoughts and feelings, and he’s a surprisingly well-developed character even though the reader never gets into his head. Leo is crabby at first, but her dry wit is entertaining and she proves to be likeable and endearing. She’s a great match for Cy, and it’s enjoyable to watch their relationship evolve from simply sex into something more.
The unfolding mystery can be confusing at times, but it’s original and unpredictable, and you’ll be invested in seeing how things will play out. But you’ll also yearn for more of Cy and Leo and less of the bad guys. It is admirable that Ms. Crownover challenged herself to try something different and offer her loyal readers something more. Retreat might not be a flawlessly executed first foray into Romantic Suspense, but I have every expectation that her next will be.