In 2003, journalist Connor Regan marched through London to add his voice to a million others, decrying the imminent invasion of Iraq. Eight months later, his brother, James, was killed in action in Mosul.
Three years on, Connor finds himself bound for Iraq to embed with an elite SAS team. He sets his boots on the ground looking for closure and solace—anything to ease the pain of his brother’s death. Instead he finds Sergeant Nathan Thompson.
Nat Thompson is a veteran commander, hardened by years of combat and haunted by the loss of his best friend. Being lumbered with a civilian is a hassle Nat doesn’t need, and he vows to do nothing more than keep the hapless hack from harm’s way.
But Connor proves far from hapless, and too compelling to ignore for long. He walks straight through the steel wall Nat’s built around his heart, and when their mission puts him in mortal danger, Nat must lay old ghosts to rest and fight to the death for the only man he’s ever truly loved.
Despite being a fan of military romances, I’m not big on books that take place in a warzone. But because I have found that I often enjoy M/M romances involving themes I don’t typically like and because I loved Leigh’s book Misfits, I decided to give Between Ghosts a try. Connor being a journalist was also a deciding factor because many, many years ago, it was a career option I entertained. Yet I began the book with great trepidation because my mindset was not where I felt it should be in order to give it a fair chance. So I decided to read a couple of chapters before bed so that it would be less I had to read the next day and hopefully put me in the correct mindset – or near it. The next thing I knew, three hours had passed and I had devoured half the book.
The book begins with Connor sharing a memory about him and his sister taking part in an antiwar protest and how they felt as if what they were doing mattered. He contrasts it with his other clearest memory, being informed eight months later that his older brother was killed in the war and how devastating the news was, leaving him restless with grief three years later. While I found the Prologue compelling, sucking me right into the story and keeping me up into the wee hours of the morning, when the scene replays (in a way) later in the book, I found myself bawling because the words take on a much stronger meaning after Connor spends several weeks embedded with an SAS team in Iraq. This was only the first of several scenes which gave my tear ducts and deep breathing techniques a work out. Kleenex = 3, Breathing Through the Tears = 1. Book Hangover = Absolutely.
Between Ghosts was a definite 5-star read for me for many reasons. It is by no means a fluffy romance. Connor is in the middle of a warzone, with a tight-knit group of elite soldiers who eventually begin to share their stories with him after he proves himself. He may not be up to their full physical standards, but Connor is no lightweight, nor is a whiner. His questions were probing, but he knew when to back off from sensitive topics because he observed the men he was and learned to read them. Despite Nat’s unhappiness with being strapped with a journalist, he too came to respect Connor’s inquisitive nature. I liked that when the author allowed attraction to run its course, it was done with the setting in mind – there were no leisurely scenes in which the men lost themselves in one another, rather they were hurried and stolen moments, with some being affirmations of life. I won’t pretend to be well-versed on soldiers and warzones, but I do understand human nature and human behavior. Because of this, I was impressed with how realistic the characters were. It was almost as if Leigh had served as an embedded reporter or did extensive research among service members because the author’s understanding that sometimes what seems like the worst thing to say is what actually gets them through it and the inclusion of gallows humor added a level of realism that is often missing in war romances – at least in my limited experience. Between Ghosts is a warzone romance and is, therefore, quite intense. It is not an easy read and there was more than one time when I wondered which of the men we got to know would live and which would die, because deaths do occur. Despite my tears and the heavy subject matter, I loved this book. There is so much more I want to say but I can’t because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I will say that when Nat finally reads Connor’s private file – which I knew was inevitable because a man can only stop himself so many times when presented with such temptation – I felt the metaphorical punch in the gut Nat sustained because I was just as shocked as he was. That scene alone was 5-star worthy, but thankfully Leigh’s storytelling was as compelling the entire book and I look forward to reading more the of the author’s work.