"Takes more than water and land to make a place like the Triple C. Takes hope, and faith, and courage, and love..."
-Review by Kazza K
**CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS**
Joshua Chastain is in a bad place at the beginning of Love, Like Water. He is having nightmares about violent men, a young girl - fifteen and five months pregnant - in a warehouse, on the floor, with orders to shoot her being given. He is in a hospital, his mother visiting and telling him, carefully, that she has organised for him to get out of Chicago. Away from the mess that is his life and recuperate at his Uncle Tucker's ranch, the Triple C. That Uncle Tucker is getting older and wants Joshua to come in, learn the business, do the books and, if he likes it, maybe he can take over its running one day.
Josh is a former FBI field agent and had been under cover with an Hispanic gang in the worst area of Chicago slowly gathering information on all its illegal activities. He was a natural choice - he is of Puerto Rican heritage, he knows the culture, his father associated with the gang's leader and he has a memory like a steel trap. It's been three long years and he has come out of the operation after the gang was raided, people killed, and a trial in the wings for the remaining members. He's also been addicted to heroin, by orders of the leader, Chete Montenegro, made a hype for questioning orders more enthusiastically then he should have.
Elian Kelly is the foreman for the Triple C ranch and he has the job of picking Tucker Chastain's nephew up from the bus when he comes into Miller, New Mexico. The ranch is a fair way out, Tucker isn't around, so Eli does as asked - it's what you do for the boss, it's what you do for friends. But when he sees Joshua for the first time it's one heck of a shock. He is supposed to be FBI, and Joshua looks nothing like FBI -
As he walked toward the truck, he shambled like an old man, but his upper body was held tight and stiff, like he was braced for a blow. He walked like the human version of the abused animals the Triple C got sometimes, like a horse beaten too long for no reason at all. And then Eli met the guy's dead eyes, and thought, shaken, If I saw a horse with those eyes, I'd shoot it myself.
At twenty eight Joshua has seen a lot, been through a lot, and is a wreck of a man. He is emaciated - still not eating - battling addiction, the loss of his job, and going from the FBI out to a ranch he hasn't visited in a long time. Who knows how his uncle will view him. Will he even care? Why should he? Life isn't worth much and Joshua is worth less than that. Josh does what is expected by going to New Mexico, getting into the vehicle that will take him out to the ranch in the middle of nowhere - not talking but listening to the man, Eli, talk to him about everything and nothing in general -
Joshua sat and listened to the guy talk, finding a whisper of interest he wouldn't have thought still existed in his blackened soul. The guy had a soft, easy voice, restful and slow, like he was smiling inside. It made Joshua feel like he was in a completely different universe, one where people actually cared about what happened. Rescued animals? Fixing broken horses?"
Elian Kelly is thirty three and the foreman at the Triple C. He has a good relationship with the boss, Tucker, and the staff in general. Tucker knows Eli is gay and it doesn't bother him. It is what it is. He doesn't profess to understand why men like men, but he believes in live and let live. Besides, Eli is a damn good foreman and a nice man. Eli likes working with the horses, helping them to know that not all humans are cruel. He had dreams of being a rodeo star - eventually he gave it a shot - but only after he took care of his ma and his family when his father died. Not much of a career, a bit old to be starting out, and then the Triple C came along and that's where he still is.
Tucker can see fairly quickly that Eli likes Joshua. That he has been trying to take him under his wing. But taking someone under your wing that has no real reason to want to live is not an easy task. Josh makes some effort but he struggles against his nightmares, his anorexic state, and not feeling like he fits in, no matter how nice his uncle is, no matter how much Eli tries to talk and fill in the blank, awkward silences. And no mater how nice Sarafina, who is the cook, and the real mistress of the Triple C, is.
Eli decides that the new horses coming in from Kansas, and from the ASPCA, might be a good opportunity to get Josh involved in the ranch and to see how things can improve - you may start out looking and feeling bad, but life can be so much better. Eli looks at people and horses pretty much the same - treat them with kindness, approach the spooked ones carefully and gently, and they will probably come around. But Joshua's ordeals are never far behind. He feels uncomfortable feeling things for Eli -
He didn't know what Elian Kelly wanted, he just knew that the patient watchfulness made him nervous, made him curious, made him crazy. Made him want to walk over to where he stood, put his head on his shoulder, and wait for those patient arms to come around him, pat him gently, and tell him everything was going to be okay.
Joshua is so spooked, feeling like a burden, and now desire for a man he feels unworthy of, who probably isn't gay. He takes off into the desert, in warm weather, hoping to never be found. Only he doesn't count on Eli and how much he cares for him. Eli finds Josh by riding his horse, Milagro, out into the desert with all the right equipment, including a sat phone and reflective blanket. When he finds a severely heatstroke-affected Joshua, who is barely alive, he lets some impassioned feelings out -
The water ran from the sides of his mouth. Eli set the bottle down carefully and held Josh in his lap under the silver blanket, waiting helplessly, his heart breaking. "Oh, baby boy," he whispered, "don't do this to me. No me hagas esto, mijo. Please don't. Please don't."
From here things develop between Eli and Joshua. Eli is gone over the damaged Joshua -
He was so fragile. So thin. So beautiful, even with the sunburn and the ointment and the hollows under his eyes.
...once he filled out he'd be too beautiful for Eli to bear.
And Joshua deciding that he wants to live. He wants to help his uncle out. And he wants to be around the comforting Eli Kelly. Someone he would have been attracted to before the assignment. Someone he needs now -
Eli was everything Joshua wanted: clean, strong, honest. Straightforward. Gentle.
As time passes, they bond over horses, over Eli's ability to be so calm and dependable, the ranch and an ever-growing physical attraction. Josh hasn't been with a man in over three years and his desire for Eli ramps up -
(He) Wondered how he would taste, what it would be like to lie down with that strong, hard body beside him, around him, in him.
After his attempted suicide in the desert - although Tucker and Eli close ranks around Josh, saying he got lost - Josh has to see a psychiatrist on a regular basis. He is dealing with a heroin addiction and plenty of issues -
"What are your dreams about?"
Josh rubbed a fingertip over the arm of the chair.
"Memories," he said finally.
The shrink didn't say anything.
"You want to know about me?" Josh looked up to see McBride watching him, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"I'm gay. I'm a heroin addict. I'm ex-FBI. I've killed people."
Josh settles in, relatively speaking, to life on the ranch. Getting to know Eli. Getting to know his uncle better. Getting healthier. Getting to know the horses. Getting to know the land. The book has it's fair share of (justifiable) angst. But it also has a quiet, country perspective on life, dry humour, friendship, and a sense of family. And, of course, the developing but difficult relationship between the MC's is always there, front and centre. There is also a major turn that I won't discuss as it's a spoiler but the book went in a different direction than I thought it would. I like thinking one thing and getting another.
The writing is technically strong, emotionally it tugs at the heartstrings, and there are some lovely words written by a good author. That Joshua is not someone who can be fixed overnight was written well. Eli was the right character to be dealing with, and falling for, Joshua. They are a great couple, totally believable and I fell in love with them, particular Elian Kelly.
You get both Joshua and Eli's POV here and it is great to see what both men are thinking and feeling - Joshua so scarred, Eli trying hard to do the right thing by Joshua, but being confused just how to go about what he has to to make Joshua feel okay.
The sex is smoking hot -
"Fuck. You." Josh jerked his arm out of Eli's grasp and stalked toward the door.
Eli saw red. He caught Josh just before he walked out into the sunshine and yanked him into the dark corner beside the door. Joshua's eyes went wide and startled, and Eli felt a rush of lust more powerful than he'd ever known. He shoved Josh against the wall and crowded in, finding his mouth just as his body slammed up against Josh's. He heard a muffled yelp, but them Joshua went soft in his arms. Only for a moment though; in the next, Eli found himself with an armful of fierce....
He was groaning low in his throat as he rocked his hips into Eli.
"Fuck," Eli hissed as Joshua's teeth closed on his shoulder.
"Yesss," Joshua hissed. Fuck me. Fuck me."
He handed Eli the lube, then turned and bent over, his palms flat against the wall.. "Fuck me," he sad over his shoulder.
"Jesus Christ!" Eli popped the lube and swiped some on his cock, the reached for Joshua's ass, sliding two fingers in deep. Joshua moaned, "Good!" as Eli stretched him, then in a blur of need and heat and unexpected fury, Eli buried himself in Joshua, slapping his hands over Josh's on the walls. He drew back, rocked hard into him, heard Josh hiss, felt him shudder, and did it again, and again his hands holding Josh's flat on the wall....
The secondary characters are also multi-dimensional - either good people or loathsome. Uncle Tucker is a gem of a man. Sarafina, the motherly figure Josh needed, and Jesse needs his own book. I would be all over that one. Everything about Love, Like Water is written right, and this is now one of my favourite books. If you love your M/M served up with good characterisations, angst to burn, a damaged character, a sexy, gentle cowboy, great secondary characters, a good sex to plot ratio - but when it happens it is red-hot - a HEA - they get one but it takes a while, they work for it - and just some heartfelt moments, then this is your book. I can't recommend it highly enough.
5 Beautiful Angst Lovin' Stars
"You're too good for me. Where did you learn to dance like that?"
"I'm Puerto Rican," he replied, his body still moving. I was born knowing how to dance."
Joshua shot Eli a quick grin then took a couple of quick steps so that he was dancing directly beneath the little waterfall that fell from the canyon wall. He was singing something about water, about love running like water, and dancing as if his soul were on fire. He was so beautiful Eli almost wept.
He came out of the waterfall as he finished the song, walking straight for Eli, taking him into his arms and kissing him, hot and fierce.
Eli closed his eyes and fell.
This book was supplied by the publisher, Dreamspinner Press, in return for an honest review.