Title: After the Sunset (Timing #2)
Author: Mary Calmes
Cover Artist: Mara McKennen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Western
Length: Novel (168 pages)
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: Behaviour on both Rand’s and especially Stef’s part make this a less enjoyable read for me than Timing.
Two years after riding off into the sunset with ranch owner Rand Holloway, Stefan Joss has made a tentative peace with his new life, teaching at a community college. But the course of true love never does run smooth. Rand wants him home on the ranch; Stef wants an exit strategy in case Rand ever decides to throw him out. Finally, after recognizing how unfair he’s being, Stef makes a commitment, and Rand is over the moon.
When Stef gets the chance to prove his devotion, he doesn’t hesitate—despite the risk to his health—and Rand takes the opportunity to show everyone that sometimes life’s best surprises come after the sunset.
Stefan Joss is back saving the day in After the Sunset, the sequel to this author’s Timing (reviewed here). While I thought it was okay overall and I did enjoys parts of it, I had a few problems with After the Sunset that made it a less enjoyable read for me than its predecessor.
Set two years after the end of Timing, the story opens with Stefan, our first-person narrator, talking with a few sheriff’s deputies after they blocked in his car at the grocery store. The Sheriff wants to chat with Stef about some things that have been happening. Apparently Rand and his ranch were both kicked out of the town and county they were in (and happily county lines were redrawn) after he came out as gay, and Rand has been buying up and selling off property all over the place, securing his position as one of the wealthiest and diverse ranchers in the area and making a lot of people either happy or upset. In the meantime, after losing his job to the economy and trying to figure out what happens next, Stef has decided to throw in the towel and get a teaching job close to the ranch, choosing a permanent life with his black-haired, blue-eyed cowboy to Rand’s complete and utter delight. Enter Rand’s relatives from his dad’s side of the family whom Stef has never met and with whom Rand has bad blood on multiple levels, participation in a rodeo to keep land, and secrets coming to light.
There were things I really liked about this story. I love the cover, which is actually a snapshot of a scene and a nice change from two bare-chested men (that often don’t even look like either character). I enjoyed the rodeo — how it came about, how Stef handled it (I thought the emceeing of the cowboy date auction was a hoot), what happened there. I liked how Stef was with the Red Diamond hands and vice versa. I found the part of the plot around Rand’s family to be entertainingly-(melo)dramatic. I loved the interaction with Stef and the dogs, especially Bella.
We get to see some of the relationship Stef and Rand have developed (which includes a copious amount of smexxin), but a significant portion — about a third — of the book happens without Rand in attendance, which was a disappointment. Stef finally making a decision was great, but the lack of fanfare around it seemed a bit anticlimactic.
It’s light on angst, and the majority of the drama and conflict is external to Stef and Rand’s relationship, with a large part of the plot devoted to Rand’s extended family and the rodeo. We are introduced to many new characters, and one in particular that got a lot of attention in this story is Glenn, one of Rand’s cousins, and I am thinking that I might like to see him get his own story.
One of my biggest complaints about the previous book was Stef’s seeming perfectness. While he does turn heads, solve people’s problems and charm the pants off most folks he comes into contact with, he seemed less in-your-face perfect in this book, which was an improvement. Additionally, Charlotte plays a very small role here, as opposed to her being a major character in Timing, and since I had some problems with her character and actions, this was welcome.
But my biggest problem with the story for me was Rand’s demands (hey, that rhymes!). From what clothes Stef wears (“You are not allowed to put on your fuck-me clothes if I ain‘t there to do the fucking!”) to his and Stef’s finances (“I‘m telling you right here and now that I want you to close your account from Chicago and start using the one we share.”) to when Stef needs to be home (“You should be home when I‘m home, period.”) to where he’s allowed to go (“You don‘t go nowhere without me.”), there is no asking. Now some of the exchanges that they have over these things are cute (much of the time Stef just laughs at him), but by far the most significant and outrageous was Rand’s pronouncement that he expects Stef to essentially be the little wifey and raise the kids that Stefan and Charlotte are going to make together, something that apparently Rand, Charlotte and their mother May had already discussed and agreed upon — without telling Stefan. WHAT?!? After dropping the bomb and a short conversation during which Stef does put up a teensy bit of a fight, Rand says:
“No! I will not discuss this with you. The time to talk is over and done. When you asked me if I wanted you and I said yes, I started planning my whole life right then. When you lost your job, you decided to only look as far as Lubbock for a new one so you could come home every night to me. That tells me all I need to know, Stef.”
And then…nothing. Stef just sits back and accepts it, which is unbelievable considering Stef’s strong independence stemming from fear of abandonment in the previous book (he left everyone before they could leave him). If they had talked about it and come to some mutual understanding and agreement, that would be one thing, but it’s not; Rand just thrusts it on Stef. In all fairness, this plan of Rand’s is within his caveman-like domineering, possessive, focused and über-alpha character, and I can even buy Stef’s stepped-up domesticity (as it is begun in the previous book), but I simply did not understand his easy acceptance, and it irritated and bothered me throughout the book. And by the way, while I did add the warning, I don’t really consider this a spoiler since it happens in the first chapter, which is the excerpt on the DSP site.
Additionally, there is a continuity issue around this: about half-way through the story Stef has a conversation with May on the phone where she references this plan, then toward the end she mentions it again, but in a way that makes it seem like it was the first time it’s been brought up.
As I said, I generally liked this story, but some issues preventing me from rating it higher. Fans of the author and those who liked the first book will probably like this one as well.