Joint Review – Lay it Down (Desert Dogs #1) by Cara McKenna

Lay it Down cover image

Publisher: Signet Eclipse
Publish Date: Out now
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher

Backbreaking days, wild nights, and the hard hum of steel between your thighs…
That’s a life well lived, according to the Desert Dogs—four friends who call Fortuity, Nevada, their badlands home.

Vince Grossier is the self-crowned outlaw king around here. But when Fortuity’s slick new mayor invites a casino development to town, greed isn’t far behind—and it claims Vince’s good friend as its first casualty. With the law turning a blind eye to the mysterious death, Vince must seek his own brand of justice. The pretty photographer hired by the developers might be the key to uncovering the truth. And she’s a temptation too good to pass up.

Finally free of a controlling ex, Kim Paget’s not looking to be taken for a ride—not on the back of some tattooed roughneck’s bike and definitely not in his bed. But when she uncovers evidence supporting Vince’s suspicions of murder, Kim must entrust her safety to a man whose body threatens danger of a whole different kind.
This blurb came from the author’s website.

E: I have read and enjoyed a few of McKenna’s stories in the past so when I saw this one I was certainly curious enough to give it a try. I have to say Lay It Down has a completely different feel then what I have read before. It is slow developing and much more of a romance versus and erotic romance. The other thing I wanted to point out is despite the cover image, this is NOT a Motorcycle Club romance. This is a romance where a group of central characters bonded over motorcycles when they were young. I caught some early comments about Lay It Down so I didn’t go into this story expecting the same feel as my previous experiences with McKenna and I think that really helped my enjoyment.

Marlene: Like E, I picked this up because I’ve enjoyed a couple of McKenna’s previous stories. We’ve done joint reviews of McKenna’s Hard Time and Unbound here at the Book Pushers, and I reviewed After Hours at Reading Reality. So I requested Lay It Down thinking it would be more of the marvelous same, but it isn’t.

I enjoyed that it was more romance than I had seen from her previously, but it also took much longer to really get into than the books I had previously read by McKenna. It’s one thing for the romance to be slow-burning, and another for it to take so long to get into the characters.

E: Lay It Down focuses on a small mining town out in the desert. Most people left as soon as they could but like any small town enough stayed to keep things mostly going. This little town is now dealing with an invasion of construction workers as they work to turn a nearby location into a high end casino with the intent of creating a vacation area for the rich and famous to play. Not everyone is in favor of this casino but most of the vocal resisters are also known as troublemakers so their comments weren’t really considered.

When one of Vince’s best friends, Alex, dies in what appears to be a drunk driving accident, Vince remembering a conversation they had right before his death is unable to let things go. He actually didn’t take the tactic I expected and I give McKenna props for giving a bit of a different spin to his investigation. Instead of going off by himself and stirring things up beyond recovery, he ended up enlisting the assistance of two other unlikely individuals, both employed by the casino’s parent company.

Marlene: Like some of her previous works, Lay It Down is focused on a small town that has seriously seen better days. Or possibly better decades. It’s not just gritty in the economic sense, but also full of actual dust and grit from the mines and rock quarries outside of town.

Unlike so many small-town romances, Lay It Down takes place in a town that is dying and there’s no miracle to bring it back. There’s a new casino being built outside of town, but the reader can just tell that if it’s successful, it is going to kill all the things that make Fortuity special. And if it fails, well, the economics of that suck even worse.

But the big money involved in the casino project is already turning things upsides down. The margins are small and the urge to skim is high. Vince Grossier isn’t one of the people who didn’t want the development, but is forced to get involved when his best friend calls him at midnight to unnerve Vince with a tale of bones discovered on the construction site. It’s the last conversation they ever have, so Vince can’t stop poking his nose into Alex’s supposed drunk driving accident. It’s too coincidental not to be something more than an accident.

E: I really enjoyed the supporting cast McKenna created and their interactions. Kim, the free-lance photographer scarred from her previous relationship was quite good at shutting Vince’s advances down. I was glad to see her make him work because he seemed to believe that he was the world’s greatest gift to the double X chromosome. Vince’s reaction was a classic but he certainly stepped up his game as the story progressed. He also had a hate-tolerate relationship with Duncan, hired by the casino owners to smooth over any dissenting voices. Duncan really had a hate-tolerate relationship with most of Vince’s acquaintances, but he ended up being an all around decent if slightly mysterious and neurotic man at the end.

Then there were the Desert Dogs. Friends since childhood, bonding over motorcycles and mischief, whose bonds stretched a bit over time but they all responded to the mysterious death of one of their own. I enjoyed seeing how their past history snapped back into place and I could tell they were close friends when it only took a single comment or a look to start an argument. It was interesting to see how they each went a separate path and used their various skills while they investigated Alex’s death. One of the other things I enjoyed about this group of friends is they weren’t all male. Raina, now the owner of the local bar, was certainly a prominent member and on several occasions demonstrated that she could run the group if necessary. She also had a bit of a history with one of the group. It will be very interesting to see what happens to that tension as the series continues.

Marlene: Let’s talk about Vince and the Desert Dogs. But especially about Vince. There are motorcycles involved in this story, but in the trackless desert scrub, it’s much more a matter of necessity than alpha ego. (Not to mention one of the Desert Dogs is alpha female). They aren’t a motorcycle gang, they are a group of childhood friends who happen to love motorcycles.

But Vince is the leader of this pack, as much because he’s the one who stuck in town as anything else. Not that he’s not alpha, but it’s survival as much as anything. He stayed in town to take care of his mother, who seems to have early-onset Alzheimer’s. And prophetic visions.

Vince is pretty dominant, but in a way that makes it seem part of his survival skills. He’s beyond pushy, but there’s no a-holishness involved. He wants to “get the band back together” because he’s sure that bad stuff is about to go down on that construction site. And he wants his younger brother back in town.

His relationship with freelance photographer Kim Paget comes out of the blue, and knocks them both for a loop. He does start out with the attitude that he’s heaven’s gift to women, or at least locally. Kim has just ended a relationship with a manipulating bastard, and isn’t interested in being maneuvered by a man. But she is very interested in doing what she wants because she wants it, and Vince certainly seems like he’d be good for that. He’s just the right kind of bad boy to break her out of her good girl rut, as long as it happens with everyone’s cards on the table.

Her perspective is fascinating, because she’s willing to be crowded and overpowered physically when the situation is right, what she can’t stand anymore of is a man getting his way by undermining her self-confidence and agency through questions and whispers. She’s been there and done that, and doesn’t want to go there anymore.

E: Like Marlene said Kim also had a twist to her back-story. Unlike a lot of bad former relationships that appear in the romance genre which involve physical abuse so the much larger, aggressive hero has to prove to the heroine he won’t harm her physically, this was more of a subtle undermining of her thoughts and feelings. It is just as damaging because it can be harder to recognize. It was good to watch her stand her ground and own her life when it came to choices and yet enjoy a variety of physical encounters with Vince. Once he left the cheesy no effort one-liners behind and started showing who he really was, I enjoyed watching them interact.

Kim ended up being good for Vince because she shook him out of his rut of meaningless encounters and had him taking a second look at things around him. He was forced to work with people and not just dictate. Her inclusion also meant he had to admit even though his mother was suffering from some mental impairment she knew more than anyone suspected. I think his mother will continue to play a subtle but important role as this series progresses.

And I loved the dance between Duncan and Raina. They struck sparks off of each other from the very beginning and as the story continued those sparks never went away. In fact it seemed like each was trying to provoke the other into losing control. They left me with a few unanswered questions including the big question about Miah’s reaction when those two finally ignite. I really liked seeing Duncan move from the callous mercenary too good for you troubleshooter to someone who cared about doing the right thing regardless of the cost to him. I am also still wondering what Duncan was hiding.

Marlene: The Desert Dogs themselves are a terrifically flawed bunch of side-characters, and I sincerely hope that the author is planning to give each of them their own story. They are childhood friends who manage to keep up their bond, in spite of everything that gets in the way. Vince has been in jail for a couple of stretches, but the late Alex was Deputy Sheriff. Raina owns the local bar, and Vince’s brother Case just hasn’t been caught for anything, yet. Last but not least, Jeremiah, known as Miah is one of the local landowners. His previous hot fling with Raina still gets them both hot and bothered, but it doesn’t interfere with the gang’s friendship.

They all throw themselves into the hunt to figure out the cause of Alex’ death. A hunt that brings mercenary troubleshooter Duncan into town, and into Raina’s path. I’m glad that their relationship will be front and center of the next book, because the initial steps of their “opposites attract” relationship have been snarky-hot.

E: As I mentioned in the beginning this is a much slower paced story than what I have read from McKenna previously. However, once the main characters were introduced and their basic personalities established things seriously picked up until it seemed like I couldn’t read fast enough to find out what as going to happen. There is something seriously wrong with the casino, the construction, and the town of Fortuity. I want the Desert Dogs get to the bottom of it before it claims another member.

I hope the next installment starts at a quicker pace since things seem to be pretty well set and the tension between the main characters is already present. I am anticipating that release.

I give Lay It Down a B/B-

Marlene: Once Vince starts acting real instead of using his outsized personality to keep any true intimacy at bay, we have a surprising romance with an extra dollop of suspense. The entire pack of Desert Dogs pulls together to investigate the death of their friend Alex. In spite of all the trouble this brings down on their heads, they can’t let it go.

And they have to stick together, so that Vince’s mothers spooky visions don’t come true in the wrong way.

It took me longer than I expected to get into Lay It Down. The beginning drags a bit, but once all the Dogs are together and Kim gets firmly on board, the tension (both sexual and suspenseful) never lets up. I hope that the second book in the series, Give It All, has a faster start without the need to lay down all the introductory information.

I give Lay It Down a B.

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