Desert Isle Keeper
Narrated by Joel Leslie
Rule Breaker, the first book in Lily Morton’s aptly named Mixed Messages series, is terrific. Opposites attract when an emotionally closed-off lawyer falls for his long-suffering assistant, and despite its sometimes heavy subject matter and slightly taboo relationship, Rule Breaker is comfort reading at its best. Romantic and sexy and passionate and fun and naughty – it’s all the things you look for in a contemporary romance, and just the kind of book you can read over and over again and enjoy every single time. I fell hard for the principal characters and their charming friends (each gets a story of his own); and the audio version enhances all of the above. Joel Leslie, a new-to-me narrator, perfectly captures the humor and sarcastic, snarky tone of Rule Breaker, and his interpretation of both lead characters is spot on. Love the story, love the audio – love this book.
Dylan Mitchell has worked for Gabe Foster for two years. Two years of criticisms and sarcastic reminders of Dylan’s mistakes and missteps. Two years ignoring the parade of men in and out of Gabe’s life. Two years of… liking his job. Enjoying his work. Respecting his boss. Two years of barely concealing his amusement and delight when Gabe drolly castigates (or eviscerates) various incompetent, ineffective, bumbling coworkers. Two years of suppressing his attraction to Gabe and focusing on his job. And aside from regular, recurring dreams of murdering Gabe in increasingly creative and violent ways or simply kissing him senseless, Dylan finds fulfillment and satisfaction working alongside him.
His loyalty is tested when Gabe’s latest partner, Fletcher, organizes a last minute ski getaway. Instead of Gabe telling him no, he insists on bringing Dylan along so they can work while they’re away. Dylan doesn’t appreciate Gabe appropriating his personal time to appease his loathsome boyfriend – or for any reason whatsoever, really – but agrees to go despite his anger, and the weekend fundamentally shifts the dynamics of their partnership. Fletcher (and the vacuous group of friends he’s invited along for the trip) treats Dylan like trash, rousing a protective side in Gabe that Dylan’s never seen before; and when Dylan belatedly discovers ‘work’ is Gabe’s excuse for avoiding the slopes because he can’t actually ski, he has the bright idea to teach Gabe himself. As the afternoon progresses, the thin veneer of their ‘colleagues only’ relationship finally begins to crack.
The pair agree to grab dinner after their day on the slopes, and after an après-ski drink (or four), they wind up entwined in a passionate kiss. But Gabe abruptly pulls away – withdrawing from Dylan emotionally and physically. The disastrous weekend overflows into their working relationship as Gabe makes himself scarce – and unbeknownst to Dylan, dumps Fletcher – while Dylan furiously reminds himself that the coldness is only what he expected. He knows Gabe is closed off emotionally, unwilling to give anything more than sex, but he’s hurt by Gabe’s rejection anyway. Dylan sees the protective, nurturing, loyal and caring side Gabe carefully hides, and longs to spend time with that man, their brief… whatever it was, a painful reminder of how much he has to lose chasing after a man who won’t ever be the loving partner Dylan longs for.
Everything changes on a business trip to Amsterdam shortly after the ski weekend. Dylan is resigned to the awkward tension between him and Gabe, but determined to move on, he agrees to go out with a new acquaintance. When Gabe shows up and admits he followed them to the club, Dylan isn’t sure what’s happening. So Gabe makes his intentions crystal clear by grabbing and possessively kissing him, and Dylan ignores the voice in his head telling him this is a very bad idea and gives in to the thrill of once again having Gabe in his arms. The pair eventually make their way to Gabe’s hotel room and go after each other with abandon, the sex everything Dylan dreamed it might be. The following morning, desperate not to lose this sliver of connection with Gabe, he convinces him he’s willing to pursue a purely physical relationship with no attachment. Yep. Right. Well friends, although we view this story solely through Dylan’s starry eyes (except for an awesome epilogue), it’s clear these two are in love. But as the ‘relationship’ progresses, Dylan conceals his emotions – afraid to scare Gabe away – and Gabe…well, he can’t hide his affection for Dylan. But he tries. Hard. Really, sometimes he’s just a total dick. And eventually the relationship (aka sexfest) founders.
Dylan and Gabe are classic Morton characters: handsome and urbane, with a great sense of humor and excellent judges of character, interesting… Look friends, she writes appealing characters I want to spend time with. Initially, it doesn’t seem like these two would have much in common – but they do. And as the story unfolds, Ms. Morton doesn’t waste time illustrating how they can’t work – she instead shows us why they do in lots of little lovely vignettes that prove Gabe isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is. I loved them together. Gabe has a lot of baggage to unpack; he’s fortunate to find Dylan, who loves him even when he’s at his most prickly. And when Gabe’s hang-ups inevitably get in the way, I cursed him whilst cheering for Dylan, who decides he deserves better and demands Gabe give it to him or hit the road. This story is alternately hot, hot, hot, frustrating, tender, and sweetly satisfying. Secondary characters are similarly likeable (except awful Fletcher) – especially Dylan’s family – and a sequence that takes place over Christmas is particularly lovely and memorable.
Joel Leslie is an excellent choice to bring this novel to life. His interpretation of both Gabe and Dylan is well-suited to the material, and he nails Ms. Morton’s gift for repartee – especially with this pair. Their banter is a highlight of the story and his performance is just as I imagined it whilst reading the novel. My only quibble is his portrayal of Jude, Dylan’s best friend, who plays a pivotal role in the story. I know this character well (he stars in book two, Deal Maker (my favorite in the series)), and Mr. Leslie’s version of Jude made him sound a bit too juvenile. Otherwise, however, it’s an excellent performance and that really is the only thing I disliked.
Rule Breaker features two men with very different ideas about love and companionship who spend so much time rationalizing why they shouldn’t be together, they nearly convince themselves they can’t be. Fortunately, a meddling friend and fate intervene, and they find their way back together. Sexy, funny, sweet and smart, Rule Breaker kicks off the Mixed Messages series with a bang, and Joel Leslie absolutely brings this story to life.
Breakdown of Grade: Narration: A Content: A
Running Time: 9 hours 32 minutes