Bottom Line
Grade : C

G.B. Gordon’s Bottom Line is the sequel to 2022’s By the Book and the second in the Follow the Money series, about an FBI agent working white collar crimes and the younger forensic accountant with whom he becomes romantically involved while investigating an elaborate money laundering scheme. The story was perhaps a bit formulaic, but it was well done and I enjoyed it, although I had reservations about the romance, which, while it had plenty of chemistry was rather under-developed. Still, I was invested enough in finding out what would happen next to pick up Bottom Line – but while the plot is interesting, I can’t report any significant improvement in the romantic storyline. If anything, it’s even more sidelined than in the first book; the two leads spend hardly any page-time together and when they do one of them is almost always being shitty towards the other.

It’s been two months since Nick Marshall and Ben Coyne finally succumbed to their intense mutual attraction and spent an incredible night together. But since then? Nada. Nick has been like a bear with a sore head ever since, furious with Ben for ghosting him and furious with himself for letting it matter so much. He’s found it impossible to get back to his usual MO of casual hook-ups and is throwing himself into his work more than ever, his latest case taking him to Vancouver where he’s to co-ordinate a multi-national, multi-agency force investigating a money laundering operation stretching from Las Vegas to Melbourne with possible connections to the Triads.

Ben doesn’t understand why Nick has ghosted him ever since their night together. Surely he must remember that Ben’s phone was a casualty of the explosion that almost killed him, so he no longer has Nick’s number? Or is it because Ben was too aggressive in the bedroom? (It seems, over the past two months, that Ben has realised he’s interested in a bit of what he terms “power exchange” during sex – and he identifies Nick as a sub in denial about it. [How on earth he knows Nick is a sub, I have no idea, and it’s a really strange assumption to make about someone he’s had sex with exactly once and still doesn’t know all that well.]) Whatever the reason, Ben is hurt, but is trying hard not to dwell on it too much. He has a new job he enjoys and is doing great at, good friends… Special Agent Sex-on-Legs can take a hike.

Ben is surprised when his best friend, Corey, who has gone to Vancouver to visit his grandmother, calls to ask him if he’s still in touch withthat FBI guy.” Corey has noticed that there is more cash around the house than there should be and is worried that his grandmother has somehow become tangled up in something dodgy – he wonders if it’s the sort of thing that should raise red flags. Ben doesn’t particularly want to call Nick – even if he could – but he does still have the card given to him by Nick’s partner Duncan Reid, so he calls him instead. Reid agrees that whatever Corey’s grandmother is mixed up in sounds fishy, and ends their conversation by practically begging Ben to call Nick. Learning Nick is in Vancouver as well… Ben has never been a great believer in fate, but maybe there’s something in it after all.

The author keeps the story moving as Nick, realising someone is leaking information about the investigation, tries to hunt down the mole without attracting suspicion while continuing to run down leads and make connections. He’s seriously pissed when he gets a text from Ben to say he’s on his way to Vancouver and that Reid thought Nick would be interested in the reason why. Nick, still angry and hating (and scared by) the pull towards Ben he still feels, blows him off rudely and thinks that will be an end of it – but it isn’t. A couple of days later, Ben texts again and Nick realises that whatever Ben has stumbled into is somehow connected to his case – and he doesn’t like it. He tells Ben to stay out of it and generally behaves like a spoilt brat in a sulk; he’s dismissive, rude and talks to Ben like he’s nothing… and I would have cheered if Ben had told Nick to fuck off. Of course, that’s not what happens; instead, they head up to Nick’s room for angry!sex and are just getting down to business when Ben makes a comment about wanting to tie Nick up that sees Nick bolting from the bed and locking himself in the bathroom. This is explained as trauma resulting from an encounter, twelve years earlier, with a man who picked up guys for sex, tied them up and then killed them (Nick never actually had sex with this person, but it was a close call) – and then, after Nick has calmed down, about his being in denial over wanting to be submissive in the bedroom, because alpha male types (my words) like him don’t want… that.

Usually, a same-couple series affords more time to build the foundations of a romantic relationship (see Nicky James, C.S. Poe, Gregory Ashe etc.) but that isn’t the case here because the romance is seriously underdeveloped. For around three-quarters of the book, Nick is sniping at Ben, ignoring him and generally being a complete twat to him – it’s only after the plot has reached its climax that they finally talk properly and Nick starts thinking about the ‘L’ word. Which is rich considering he even suspected that Ben might be the one leaking information to the bad guys!

The premise of this series had a lot of potential, offering something a little different to the majority of the romantic mysteries, suspense and procedurals that are out there right now – but unfortunately, the central relationship isn’t working for me. I liked Nick a lot more in the previous book – he’s a hot mess who seems to have it all worked out (but really doesn’t) with a nice line in snark – but while his thought processes in this story are consistent with his characterisation as someone who acts like an arsehole to cover his vulnerability, he’s simply cruel a lot of the time and I lost sympathy for him. Ben, on the other hand, has grown into himself and is much more confident; he’s not afraid to call Nick out when he’s being especially dickish (such as when he dismisses Ben’s concern for Corey’s grandmother and her friends) and he does it in a very measured way that is nicely contrasted with Nick’s sometimes immature way of handling things. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Nick is forty-one and Ben is fifteen years his junior.

In the end, the poorly executed romance (and the odd assumptions and jumps in logic) mean I didn’t enjoy Bottom Line as much as I’d hoped to. The complex plotlines are well done, the author captures the tense atmosphere of the investigation in a way that puts the reader right in the room with the characters, and the climax is exciting, but I disliked Nick so much that I couldn’t help thinking that maybe Ben would be better off without him – which is not the way I want to think about two characters who are supposed to be falling in love with each other. If there’s another book, I might read it just to get answers to the unanswered questions posed in book one (and briefly mentioned in this one) but the author is going to have to work really hard to get me to believe that Nick and Ben belong together.

Reviewed by Caz Owens

Grade: C

Book Type: Romantic Suspense

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : July 1, 2023

Publication Date: 06/2023

Recent Comments …

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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