So I finished the Cut & Run spin-off and, for the most part, I liked it. I think that Nick and Kelly were an interesting couple. Mostly because Nick is such an interesting character–sly and gruff, but caring; the pillar of strength for the Sidewinder crew; the go-to guy who would always be there for his friends. He put everyone’s needs above his own; he always acted for the good of the cause, mission, or crew. He was insanely loyal to and protective of those he cared about, but his armor was so impenetrable that even the people closest to him couldn’t see how vulnerable he was. This is not to say that Kelly wasn’t interesting, but it took a while for me to accept his characterization and even then, he often seemed to be only what Nick needed to move forward. As if Roux wrote Kelly to play opposite Nick instead of writing Kelly and exploring how his personality worked or clashed with Nick’s. He was a swing first, talk later kind of guy. Curious, impulsive, expressive, and straightforward. And that’s good, but his tone or the feeling I got from him wasn’t consistent throughout. But I loved the way Nick was in love with him.
Another thing I loved was how dirty they were leading up to and during sex. Well, the writing of it, which managed to avoid being too gross, too scary, and too cheesy. Though, with Kelly’s iffy characterization, I did roll my eyes a time or two.
Each volume of the trilogy focuses on Nick and Kelly’s relationship along the Cut & Run timeline.
Shock & Awe
This was a collection of two shorts about Nick and Kelly between book seven and book eight.
“Shock & Awe”, the first short, told of how Nick and Kelly got together after New Orleans (Touch & Geaux) with the help of a persistent request for a kiss. They played tug-o-war with the idea of going further–Kelly 100% in favor of, Nick wanting to, but afraid of what might happen, so he was constantly trying to put on the brakes. They were, in some ways, close to some manner of agreement when Sidewinder was called to active duty, unfortunately having to leave Kelly behind to recover from the bullet he took in New Orleans.
“Bait & Switch” catches up to them on Nick’s 48-hour leave to handle something that’s integral to the plot of Crash & Burn. While in the area, he popped in to see Zane and met up with Kelly who flew into Baltimore from Colorado. They advanced in their relationship and I was happy to see how their years of friendship colored their interactions as they ventured into new territory.
I liked the stories, but I felt like Roux spent too much time trying to convince me that Kelly was the type of person he was and trying to bury the impression that I got when he was first introduced when Ty came out to Sidewinder. He was more a character than a person.
Cross & Crown
This single story falls between Ball & Chain and Crash & Burn. It focused on Nick back at work as a Boston Police Detective. Mistaken, unknown, hidden, and fake identities, converged on a case Nick got saddled with not too long after he returned to work post liver donor surgery. Nick is a history buff, so the case was of particular interest to him. Kelly tagged along and assisted him as he chased down a historic treasure and the identity of a living John Doe who was found at the scene of a crime with no idea who he was or why he was there. Julian Cross and Cameron Jacobs from Armed & Dangerous make an appearance. This story line ties into how Julian was called in to help out in Crash & Burn. Betwixt and between the historic mad dash tour around Boston and some dealings with the Irish mob, Nick and Kelly tried to just be with each other and when Nick’s case got in the way, their attention turned to working out their future living arrangements. A week or two here and there and so much time apart wasn’t working for either of them.
When all was said and done, they picked up the thread of a story line that made a cameo appearance in Ball & Chain. Though, its mention at the end of this volume is the last we see of it. I feel somewhat slighted because there wasn’t even a kernel a hint of it later on and it makes me curious about what they did instead.
This was good and they had great sex, but most of the volume was about the case and a lot of Nick and Kelly reflecting on what they knew and understood about each other.
Part & Parcel
This story weaves the past and the present, telling of Nick and Kelly’s life in the aftermath of Crash & Burn and taking us back to the early and latter days of Team Sidewinder. About a month into his recovery, Nick was feeling lost and listless. To ease something in him, he thought to open up the box that contained the things held near and dear by Elias Sanchez, the 6th Sidewinder who died at the hands of the killer from the first case Ty and Zane ever worked together. Sitting on top of everything in the box was an envelope that contained a letter to Nick and a number of sealed envelopes. Nick tried to read the letter, but he couldn’t get past the first page for all the pain it caused him. Crash & Burn unearthed a lot of truths on top of all of the things that had been revealed in the volumes leading up to it, but with lives hanging in the balance, sorting things out and coming to terms with all the pain and betrayal had to take a back seat for a while.
Once Nick was mostly out of the woods, but still nursing a bad knee and the knife wound in his side, he couldn’t escape how things had changed between he and Kelly and he was at a loss as to how to fix them. But he was constantly holding his breath and trying however he could to earn Kelly’s love, trust, and faith again. Kelly maintained that their 20-year history had more than earned him those things, but he was harboring feelings of doubt and betrayal and was unable to admit to what was really going on inside of him. With those dark clouds looming over them, they opted for some time apart. Nick tried to work on his relationship with Ty by inviting him to Boston and Kelly, back home in Colorado, moped for some time before calling Owen for advice. After the scare of the Boston Marathon bombing, Ty headed back to Baltimore and Nick headed to Colorado. Nick and Kelly made up as Nick continued his recovery. After some time, they headed to Boston with a stop in Baltimore for Ty’s birthday. Back in Boston they started getting Nick’s boat ready for Kelly’s long term residency, but an unexpected find tripped them up again.
Feeling lost and listless again, Nick tried again to delve into Eli’s box and found that he’d been charged with the task of healing the wounds and mending the rifts between the remaining team. With things between he and Kelly seemingly addressed, Nick called on the boys and then they–Nick, Kelly, Ty, Zane, Owen, and Digger–started out on the course set for them by Eli. From there it’s a pretty tumultuous ride in and out of the past and across the country as things left unsaid began to fill the spaces amidst the silence and the memories. Nick and Kelly stumbled as their foundation crumbled and they pulled the rest of the crew with them as it all came to a head.
Overall, it was a decent ending to the Cut & Run series, but I really wanted more closure for Nick and Kelly’s future. Also, Roux just… I have to wonder if she lacks the ability to be subtle or if she just tries too hard to check off a list of things that, in her head, rounds the story out and makes everything okay in regards to appearing LGBT+ friendly rather than fetishizing. Towards the end, the topic of sexual orientation comes up and it just didn’t seem natural. It was more like she just fit it in at the end. You may want to call it an 11th hour reveal, but it just didn’t read that way.
This volume ended with a short called “Brick & Mortar” which is an after story for Ty and Zane–the first of its kind was included at the end of Crash & Burn. It’s really cute and I’d love to read more, but I really wish there was one for Nick and Kelly.
Roux’s writing unnerves me and has since the beginning. I’m pretty sure most people would prefer their sex life not be a spectacle, but with her, something that has the potential to be positive somehow turns out sordid. I think Madeleine Urban tempered some of Roux’s more obnoxious characterizations that I could tell were squirming under the surface in Cut & Run. When the series became just Roux’s, I saw that she had to work hard to keep some of that under wraps. But the truth will out. Writing characters who are okay with someone’s non-heterosexual alignment, who are open to talking about it the way they would anyone else’s relationships and conquests, as they were, is one thing. But writing characters who are (seemingly) okay with someone’s sexual alignment, but who openly talk about it in an intrusive and crass way, is something else. The latter can often look like the former, but only the latter makes me gag. Even to some of my closest friends, I wouldn’t say some of the things she wrote, so how she thought they were appropriate for people who just met, I can’t fathom.
Roux is good with premise, plot details, and individual characterizations–usually–but sometimes her character interactions are way off, completely unnecessary, or out of character. The latter is particularly frustrating, because decisions made OOC often mar the story and reek of lazy writing. When she can’t figure out how to advance or introduce a plot element with the characters as they are, she changes them for the scene and it’s really disruptive and pulls you out of the story for that moment. She’s so much better with Urban.
I read another story by her, unrelated, and it has kind of cemented my decision to put her on the don’t bother list. I may check out something else she wrote with Urban because I think they work well together, but beyond that and perhaps a short or two for the Cut & Run-verse should they ever pop up, that’s really it for me and her.