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Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Shared Range by Andrew Grey

A Shared Range by Andrew Grey
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (203 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 4.5 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

After a year in medical school, Dakota Holden returned home to take care of the family business full time and help his father cope with multiple sclerosis. Devoted to his family, Dakota allows himself just one week of vacation a year, which he spends in some exotic location having all the fun he can stand. On his last vacation, a cruise, Dakota struck up a friendship with Phillip Reardon, and it fills an important role in Dakota’s life.

So when Phillip decides to take Dakota up on his invitation to visit the ranch, Dakota is happy to see him and meet his veterinarian friend, Wally Schumacher. Despite Wally’s inclination to help the wolves Dakota’s men shoot to protect the cattle, he and Dakota find they have a lot in common, including a fierce attraction. But they’ll have to decide if the Wyoming range is big enough for Dakota’s cattle, Wally’s wolves, and their love.

Wyoming – the “Equality State”, so named since it was the first state to give women the vote, is also Matthew Shepard country as our hero points out, and not the most encouraging place for a young man to come out. This story, which looks to be the first in a new series from Mr. Grey, takes us to a beautiful locale and face to face with some highly relevant, timely issues – homophobia driven violence, the heartbreaking issues of caring for an ailing parent, and, also appropriate to the locale, the reintroduction of wolves onto national park land.

While these are all important topics, their handling never felt heavy or preachy in the context of the plot. These are simply facts our characters have to face. Dakota, who leaves medical school to come home and care for his MS-stricken father, has managed to keep his balance through life’s upheavals. Strong and stoic, sensible and practical, he hides his pain and his loneliness from himself and soldiers on, never becoming bitter or resentful. While he’s loyal to a fault, kind and compassionate with others, he hides his sexuality while he’s home, from his father and from the community, for fear of hurting the ranch and the people he loves.

Enter Wally, a feisty, passionate little fireball of a vet-school graduate, who disapproves strongly of the ranchers’ practice of shooting wolves, whose joy in working with animals shows in all his actions, and who doesn’t need anyone’s help in a fight, thank you very much. While Dakota and Wally initially butt heads, it doesn’t take long for the two of them to feel the magnetic pull of attraction and to anticipate the gray, empty spot that would shadow their hearts if they were apart. Some readers might argue that their coming together happens too quickly and that their disagreements resolve too easily. I would respectfully disagree. I found it more realistic that two people who are meant to be together would have a natural connection and that two such kind and caring people would be mature enough to be able to compromise.

All that said, there is a touch more high drama in this story than in many of Mr. Grey’s works. His stories often have a gentle, contemplative quality, stories of inner struggle and turmoil. We lose none of the inner life of the characters here, but there are guns and fistfights, snarling predators and actual physical danger. Snarling predator-wise, one of my favorite aspects of the story is how Dakota’s view of the wolves shifts as he begins to see them through Wally’s eyes. On the flip side, the only aspect of the plot that I felt a bit forced was in the too-easy acceptance of most people outside the relationship, both wolf and gay couple-wise. This did not affect my enjoyment of the story, however.

Against the backdrop of breathtaking mountains and in the context of the struggle for acceptance, A Shared Range is a tender and heartwarming love story. The importance of family, of compassion, loyalty, and kindness, which we have come to expect in Grey stories, are all here, wrapped around endearing characters, both major and minor. This is one of those stories to read when your heart is bruised and your world feels dark. You’ll take a deep breath afterwards and see the sun again.

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