Six months after nearly losing their lives to a serial killer in New York City, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are suffering through something almost as frightening: the monotony of desk duty. When they’re ordered to take a vacation for the good of everyone’s sanity, Ty bites the bullet and takes Zane home with him to West Virginia, hoping the peace and quiet of the mountains will give them the chance to explore the explosive attraction they’ve so far been unable to reconcile with their professional partnership.
Ty and Zane, along with Ty’s father and brother, head up into the Appalachian mountains for a nice, relaxing hike deep into the woods… where no one will hear them scream. They find themselves facing danger from all directions: unpredictable weather, the unrelenting mountains, wild animals, fellow hikers with nothing to lose, and the most terrifying challenge of all. Each other.
Every time I talk about this series, I will say the same thing: I love, Love, LOVE Ty and Zane. They are just it in terms of what you want in a character. They’re real in a way that is sometimes missing from lead characters. These guys are far from perfect and that makes them easy to relate to. They niggle with each other over stupid shit; they’re not always as honest as they should be; and they have a shit load of personal issues to wade through. And lets not even talk about the idea of commitment. Even the faintest whiff of the C-word is enough to send these boys running in opposite directions. And yet, despite all this, they just work.
In this installment of the series, Ty and Zane are drifting a little bit. They’re stuck doing desk work and if you know Ty at all, you’ll know that doing nothing is the fastest way to drive Ty bonkers. Zane has been struggling to put the events of New York behind him, but it isn’t working too well. Ty’s getting frustrated with being stuck doing paperwork and Zane’s inability to live in the moment. He also has no idea how to help Zane deal, and it’s starting to put strain on their relationship, both personal and professional. Things are really starting to wear on them, until Richard Burns, their boss, gives them strict instructions to take some time off and return to work with their heads out of their asses. Ty plans on going home to see his family, but Zane finds himself at a bit of a loose end. What the hell is he going to do for three weeks? Ty knows his partner is just going to end up sitting around, moping. So, he invites Zane to come home with his to West Virginia. This is where the fun and games start.
In Sticks & Stones, we meet Ty’s family. What an awesome, odd lot they were. Ty and his brother Deuce are thick as thieves, and Deuce knows that Ty and Zane are… involved. Mara, Ty’s mother, is awesome. Seriously, I decided that I loved that woman the minute she gave Zane a hug upon their first meeting, treating him like he was one of her boys. Then we have Chester Grady, Ty’s grandfather. This crazy old coot carries a shovel with him wherever he goes and uses it to kill the hosepipe (his eyesight isn’t too good; he thinks they’re snakes). My least favourite member of Ty’s family is Earl Grady, Ty’s dad. I didn’t mind Earl in the beginning, but then he said something completely and utterly unforgivable to Ty which made me want to smack him in the mouth. He felt really awful afterward (as he should), but it was too late. The words were said, the damage is done and Earl will be on my shit list forever. The only good thing that came out of Earl acting like a prick was Zane’s reaction. Man, I thought Zane was going to rip his head off.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. A day or two after Ty gets home, the boys decided to go on a nice relaxing hike. Again, if you know Ty and Zane, you will know that the day things go according to plan… you know what, things will never go according to plan. They stumble across some nutty treasure hunters who have no problem killing anyone who may threaten their “investments”. Things quickly escalate and Ty and Zane’s “relaxing” holiday quickly turns into a trip from hell. Between the crazies trying to kill them, Earl being a douche, and wondering around in the freaking woods, Ty and Zane are bordering on a mental break down. And just when you think things cannot possibly get worse-BOOM!-things go further downhill.
I loved pretty much everything about Sticks & Stones, but what I especially loved was the perspectives from Ty’s family, particularly Deuce’s point of view. Deuce is the only member of Ty’s family who knows that Ty and Zane are more than just partners. Deuce is also a psychiatrist, and he finds himself fascinated by Ty and Zane’s tumultuous relationship. While we see how Ty and Zane’s feelings for one another are changing and developing, having an outsider’s perspective was refreshing. Sticks & Stones also started introducing some serious emotional angst. Not to the point where you’re writhing in agony, but where you’re heart kinda hurts a little bit. Most of those moments were from Ty’s perspective, and I just found myself getting a little choked up. This big, tough idiot has this gentle heart and, God, I just wanted to reach into the book to give him a hug.
Here are a few examples of the emotional trauma inflicted on the reader by Ms Roux and Ms Urban:
Exhibit A: Deuce asks Ty if he’s in love with Zane.
“I don’t know,” Ty said. “I don’t know if I love him or not. I think… I think I could if he let me,” he said, admitting more to Deuce than he’d even been willing to admit to himself.
Exhibit B: Ty gets attacked by a bloody mountain lion.
“You’re okay,” Zane said quietly but clearly. “Just focus on me for a few minutes. What’s the first thing that comes to mind?” While talking, he was gently wiping away the blood.
Ty blinked at him, opening his mouth as he thought the very first thing that came to mind when Zane prompted him. I love you. He snapped his mouth closed and stared at Zane, unable and unwilling to answer.
Exhibit C: Zane is checking Ty’s wounds.
At least he now knew the truth about himself and Zane. Looking raptly into Zane’s dark eyes, Ty wondered why he hadn’t realized he loved the man earlier.
“How bad is it? Really,” Zane asked, looking up to meet Ty’s eyes.
Ty swallowed hard. “Hurts worse than I thought it would,” he answered in a barely audible voice. Whether he was talking about his hand or something more, he really couldn’t have said.
Exhibit D: Zane and the Grady’s have made it off the mountain more or less intact. Ty and Zane are having a quiet moment.
What he was afraid of, he’d come to realize, was not of dark spaces or falling from great heights or being buried alive. His greatest fears, in the end, were letting down those he loved and saying the words “I love you” without any hope of hearing them in return.
He knew, deep down somewhere, that if he fell for Zane Garrett, he’d be falling alone.
God in heaven, didn’t that last bit break your heart a little? In conclusion, Sticks & Stones was even better than Cut & Run, if you’ll believe it. And for this series, it’s pretty much a continuing pattern. Each book is better than the last.