Circles: Book Four
Mason Arquette isn’t one for mincing words. In fact, he often rubs people the wrong way—with the exception of Riece Burrell. Riece came with his own set of social issues, but he saw right through Mason’s tough exterior, and they made a perfect couple. Or so Mason thought… until Riece abruptly ended their relationship without much explanation.
Years later, Mason and Riece are thrown back together. As a US Forestry Service photographer, Riece is sent on assignment to the Black Hills, where Mason works. When Mason is tasked with guiding Riece around the territory, old feelings are quickly rekindled.
But nothing is ever easy. Just as Mason and Riece begin to work things out, they’re targeted by people with motives so vile and twisted they defy imagination. In a desperate race for their lives, they must depend on one another and take a big step out of their personal comfort zones to find their way back to safety—and back to love.
MASON ARQUETTE would always be the one who got away.
Not that Riece Burrell ever gave Mason, or the fact he’d gotten away, any thought. He definitely wasn’t giving it any consideration as he disembarked the airplane and made his way to the baggage area. After grabbing his first suitcase to roll out on the conveyor belt, he set it between his feet and waited on the second one. His camera bag and a laptop case were slung over his shoulders, which made juggling the larger suitcases awkward.
He absolutely never gave a moment’s consideration to Mason’s broad smile, cocky attitude, and self-assuredness. The term mountain man was something Riece often associated with Mason, though when he’d last seen Mason, he’d had no beard. Mason, with his agile body, muscular arms, and quick wit, had alternately amazed and frustrated Riece during their few years together.
Riece could have done with some of Mason’s muscles right now. These bags were damn heavy and hauling them around was difficult.
After stumbling more than walking to the area where there would—hopefully—be cabs or shuttles waiting, Riece stopped and looked around. He’d been focused first on getting the correct flight, ensuring that it was an acceptable time of day—for departing as well as arriving. Then he’d had to complete the task of seat assignment, something that required care. All those choices conspired against Riece, and he’d completely forgotten about transportation from the airport to his destination.
The irony of the situation was, Riece was supposed to be good with details. He’d landed his current position as a photographer for the U.S. National Park Service because of his attention to detail.
A point he didn’t miss was that little bit about Mason Arquette being his guide and escort in the wilderness of the Black Hills. Apparently the universe wanted to be damn sure Riece never forgot Mason.
Billings Logan International Airport was huge, and the view looked like something from a postcard. Riece had spent considerable time researching the airports he could fly into and the airlines that would take him there. Some people might simply pick the closest airport, but not Riece. Sure, the airport in Rapid City was closer, but Riece liked the amenities offered in Billings slightly more. The website for his chosen airline was much more user-friendly, and the flights to Billings offered more choices of arrival times. He also reasoned the trip from Billings to Custer would afford him the opportunity to see more of the area without the pressure of observing it as part of his new job. At times simply being a tourist elevated him professionally as a photographer, and Riece thought this might be such a time.
Which brought him back to the little detail of how to get to Custer. Surely, there were others traveling in the direction of Custer, South Dakota. Except many of those people had probably rented vehicles and would drive, or maybe had people picking them up.
Riece didn’t drive. If the need arose, he could drive he supposed. He had the knowledge, but he’d never gotten his license and never put that know-how into practice. He stopped near the exit and looked around. There were kiosks and desks for rental cars, shuttles to places in and near Billings. Men and women stood around holding up signs with names hand printed on them. Others were handing out coupons for transportation services, restaurants, and dry cleaning establishments.
There was too much information swirling around him for Riece to process rationally, so he didn’t try. He stood in the middle of that section of the airport and stared at the floor. Long ago he’d learned that if he could filter out some of the noise and sights coming at him from all directions, he could make decisions and think clearly. He rooted around in his camera bag until he found his phone and earbuds. Put those in, play some music to block out the world, and he’d be able to sort out this problem.
A cab. He needed a cab. Taking a deep breath, Riece did some fast calculations and figured what the fare from Billings, Montana, to Jewel Cave National Monument would be. It would be expensive, but his other choice was to call his new boss and tell her he’d be late because he needed a ride. Then ask her to send that ride.
Not embarrassing in the least.
“You didn’t take into account the fact you’d have to get from the airport to your motel, did you? And I bet you forgot you could turn on your phone after you left the plane and didn’t see my text.”
Riece’s heart skipped a beat. He bit his lip and held his breath for a second. He continued to stare at the floor before remembering to look up and glance around the airport, focusing on nothing in particular. “Hi.”
Mason laughed. “Hi, yourself.” He always seemed to think Riece was funny, even when he wasn’t trying to be. “Riece, look at me,” Mason reminded him gently.
Riece complied. He was met with startling blue eyes—unusual considering Mason’s First Nations heritage—coal-black hair, and the same smile he remembered. Most people considered Mason’s cocky attitude abrasive and his self-assured temperament overbearing. He was often referred to as a jackass, or something similar. To Riece those qualities of Mason’s had at one time been a safe port in life’s storm.
“You came to pick me up,” Riece said.
“Nah… I was just wandering through the airport and saw you. It was a complete spur-of-the-moment thing,” Mason said with such a straight face Riece almost believed him. Mason reached down and picked up both of Riece’s suitcases, tucking one under his arm and grasping the other by the handle.
“It’s six hours between here and Custer,” Riece said. “You were being nice. I won’t tell.”
Mason held his fist out. “Thanks,” he said. Riece made a fist and lightly bumped Mason’s. “Do you have a motel room?”
Riece nodded. “I do.” He flipped his wrist over and looked at his watch. “Check-in is in—” Sighing, he closed his eyes for a few seconds and took a deep breath. “—two hours.” Scratching the back of his head, he gave Mason a lopsided grin. “I apparently misjudged my travel time.”
“I guess you did.” Mason dipped his head at the exit. “I’m parked this way. How about you call and cancel your reservation from my Jeep. I know a place to stop for the night a few hours from here.”
Riece turned on his phone and held it, but didn’t call. “I should get to the motel so I’m ready to start work Monday.”
Mason glanced sideways at him as they walked. He heaved a sigh. “Riece, I just drove quite a few hours to pick you up. I’m sorta tired, and hungry.”
“You’re always hungry.” Riece stopped inside the parking garage entrance. “Which way?”
“I’m hungry too. The food on the plane was… questionable,” Riece said.
Mason laughed. It was a hearty sound Riece realized he’d missed very much. “I bet,” Mason said.
“How many rooms?”
“Huh?” Mason asked.
“Where we’re stopping; how many rooms?” Riece asked. He wasn’t sure if he was hoping Mason’s answer would be one or two.
“In the whole place? I have no clue. Anyway, I have a buddy who drives a beer delivery truck, and he also works in the bar there. Best food for a hundred miles. It’s part of a small inn. I booked us there for a few nights. One room for you and one for me.” Mason stopped beside a Jeep. It was the off-road sort, with mud splattered over the burnt-orange exterior.
The vehicle chirped when Mason used a remote to unlock it. He stowed Riece’s luggage in the backseat. Riece walked slowly around the back of the Jeep, running his fingertips over the paint as he wandered to the far side.
“Sweet ride,” Riece said and opened the passenger door.
A small white box with gold embossed writing advertising some store Riece had never heard of sat on the seat. Written over it in thick, black letters and in Mason’s handwriting was the word Riece.
He silently picked up the box and held it carefully while he climbed into the seat, only setting it down long enough to snap on and adjust his seat belt. Mason took his place behind the steering wheel and started the Jeep, glancing at Riece as he put the vehicle in gear and guided them onto the road.
“A little welcome-to-South Dakota gift,” Mason explained.
Riece frowned and looked out the window. “But we’re in Montana.”
“Not for long, and we’ll be working in South Dakota.”
“We’ll be working in the Black Hills. That mountain range is approximately 125 miles long and 65 miles wide, covering not only western South Dakota, but also eastern Wyoming,” Riece said.
“You sound like a talking travel brochure.” Mason sighed and shook his head. “I live in South Dakota. The office we’ll work out of is in South Dakota. I’m guessing you’ll live in South Dakota too.”
“We’re not in South Dakota,” Riece reminded Mason.
“Stick four or five of those taffies in your mouth,” Mason grumbled. “You like saltwater taffy. I know a place that sells amazing saltwater taffy. I thought you’d like some. Can’t you simply, for once, say thank you, enjoy your gift, and not nitpick over pointless specifics?” He used the palms of his hands to steady the steering wheel, stretched his fingers, then wrapped them around the steering wheel again.
“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen you in years, and the first thing I do is hurt your feelings,” Riece said softly.
Mason reached over and took Riece’s hand, holding it gently without squeezing. The gesture was extremely intimate and one that had been common between them at one time. “No, you didn’t hurt my feelings. You frustrate the hell out of me sometimes—most of the time—but what you say is almost never hurtful. I know better.” He let go of Riece’s hand, nodding to the steering wheel. “Gotta drive.”
It was the truth too. Riece knew that for a fact. He knew his communication skills were lacking, and somehow Mason had some innate way of knowing and, more importantly, accepting those traits in Riece. Maybe it was no different than the way Riece saw through what most people thought of as Mason’s brusque-bordering-on-asshole outward personality to the real man underneath.
“Would you like some?” Riece unwrapped a flavor he knew Mason liked and offered it.
Mason held out his palm. “Sure. Call and cancel your motel reservation.”
Riece smiled and nodded. It only took a few minutes to complete the task, and he set his phone on his lap when he’d finished.
Mason motioned to the dashboard. “There’s a hookup, so why don’t you plug your phone in and play us some driving music. Or if you’d rather, I still have the CDs you made. Those are in the glove compartment.”
“You kept them? I didn’t think you liked my music.” Riece pulled out his phone, plugged it in, and chose a playlist.
“Yes, of course I kept them. We’ll be at my friend’s place in a few hours. So plenty of time for a nap if you’re tired,” Mason said. He pulled a threefold brochure from the visor and tossed it onto Riece’s lap. “That’s it. To answer your next five or six questions.”
Riece smiled and opened the pamphlet. Mason leaned back and rested his elbow on the door, grinning when Riece said, “It’s close to Devils Tower. I like the name, Big Rock Inn.”
“Devils Tower is a must-see,” Mason said. “You’ll like it, and since you’re now an official photographer of federal lands, maybe you can get some good shots. Tyler is a good guy, and the food there is great.” It took Riece a few seconds to sort out what Mason was saying since he sometimes tended to jump around when he talked.
“How’s your dad?” Riece asked. He yawned.
“He’s okay. His Alzheimer’s is bad enough now he has to live in a care facility, but I take him home with me when I have a few days off duty. He seems to enjoy it, though I’m not sure he always knows who I am.”
“So, you gave up time with him to pick me up?”
“He’ll enjoy seeing you again. It’s weird what he remembers. When he knows me, he asks about you sometimes,” Mason said. It wasn’t an actual answer, but if it hadn’t been true, Mason would have denied it.
Riece went back to reading the brochure. He wanted to say he felt guilty taking Mason away from a visit with his father and that he’d missed Mason. But he couldn’t in all honesty tell Mason he was sorry he’d come for Riece instead of seeing his father, and he felt silly expressing how much he’d missed Mason. Everything Riece rehearsed in his head sounded wrong, so he kept silent.
He started when Mason’s hand closed over his again, pressing in with a warm grip before he let go and took the wheel with both hands.
“Riece,” Mason said, “I know you didn’t sleep last night because you were nervous about the flight, and I know you barely blinked on the plane, never mind slept. You’re staring into space. Relax your control issues for ten minutes. I’m driving, and I’m not some stranger. This is a Jeep, not an airplane.” Mason’s voice was firm and soft.
“Thank you,” Riece said quietly. He relaxed back against the seat, closed his eyes, and let the music wash over him, thinking as he drifted between awake and asleep that he’d missed more than Mason’s company and how Mason always seemed to understand him.
“There is nothing wrong with you, Riece. Yeah, I’ll agree sometimes you see the world in a different way than I do, but that’s not… hell, I don’t even know what."
“Why did you stay with me?”
Mason shook his head and chuckled. “....What I see is someone sweet and funny and smart and caring. I like spending time with you. And, you stayed with me despite the fact I rub most people the wrong way.”
Mason made quite an impression on me during his brief appearance in 'Jewel Cave', so the prospect of getting his story was very appealing. The 'Circles' series is one I've enjoyed immensely for its mystery, intrigue, romance, and action. The fact that Riece is a character who definitely dances to the beat of his own drum was fascinating, so between the two main characters and their unique personalities, I was glued to the pages.
Mason and Riece head off into the backcountry of the Black Hills so Riece can get pictures. What they run into is a terrifying and horrific group of hunters who don't specialize in animals. It takes everything they both have, and more, to evade them while hoping they can reach help. Mason knows this area very well, but Riece is not much of an outdoor person, and all of these threats along with the changes don't mesh well with the way his brain works. Both men have to dig deep to escape with their lives.
'Gone Away' was another action-packed adventure in the series. To be honest, I would have loved more background on these two men, and I definitely would have enjoyed some more detail of Riece's mental processes. He came across, to me, as being very high functioning autistic, and I would have appreciated that being explored a little more. However, as a big fan of this author's work, I think she did a great job, and I certainly enjoyed every moment of the story. Thank you, Elizabeth!
NOTE: This book was provided by Dreamspinner Press for the purpose of a review on Rainbow Book Reviews
Gone Away is the fourth book in Elizabeth Noble’s Circles series and as with the previous book Jewel Cave it’s an entirely new storyline featuring just one previous character Mason Arquette who made a brief appearance in the concluding scenes of Jewel Cave. This technique of using just one minor character from the previous book means that each book of the Circles series can be read as a standalone story.
The early chapters of Gone Away gently introduce us to the main characters Mason Arquette and Riece Burrell who were once lovers, but haven’t seen each other for some years. As they slowly get reacquainted we learn that the way Riece’s brain works and the way he sees the world isn’t what many people consider normal. I’d hazard a guess that he is on autistic spectrum but we are never told that officially, just that his brain works differently and that this ‘disability’ and I use the word loosely is the reason he left Mason previously.
Within days of meeting up again they are thrown into the wilderness and forced to trust each other and fight for their lives as they are hunted by killers. For me this is where the story really got going and became the point at which I couldn’t put the book down. Ms. Noble continues to write suspense really well just as she showed in the previous books in this series; there were plenty of times when I wasn’t at all sure how Mason and Riece were going to get out of the Black Hill alive let alone uninjured.
If you are someone who enjoys an effortless read that’s full of mystery and suspense but is unsure about m/m relationships then these books by Elizabeth Noble could well be perfect for you, since m/m sex plays a very small role in the story. Gone Away in particular is about renewing friendship and trust between two males who have hurt each other in the past. It isn’t about leaping into bed every five minutes just because they love each other. I’m not saying sex doesn’t happen but it isn’t the focus of the story by any means.
In my opinion this is an excellent read, easily living up to the quality of the earlier books in the series. On an aside and having read all the books in this series I get quite a kick out of trying to guess which minor character will become the hero in the next story. Roll on Circles book 5 so I can find out if I’ve got it right.
Note: I received this book pre-release in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Previous books in the series:
Run for the Roses
A Barlow Lens
Once again, this book can be read as a standalone. While there is references made to the previous book in the series, it’s not required to fully understand this book in the slightest.
I have to say, Riece is probably one of my favorite characters that I have read this year. I don’t know what it is about me and the smart guys, and the ones with their little “issues” but Riece was just… so sweet. You could tell that he truly cared about Mason and was still bothered by what happened between them.
Mason was equally awesome because he knew what he wanted and was more than willing to do it on Riece’s schedule.
I have to say the trouble that these two get into in this book caught me off guard and I was completely shocked at it all. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll say this, Noble wrote the whole thing so well that it wasn’t too super detailed, but it was done just right to where you couldn’t help but be on the edge of your seat wondering what was going to happen next.
Overall, another must read from me, and I can’t wait to find out what Noble comes up with next in this series!
Reviewed by Crystal Marie for Crystal’s Many Reviewers
*Copy provided for review*
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