WHERE THERE’S SMOKE by L. A. Witt
Where There’s Smoke by L. A. Witt
Reviewed by Cassie
Veteran campaign manager Anthony Hunter isn’t too happy to be dragged into the campaign of an unproven candidate for governor, especially when he finds out the candidate in question is former actor Jesse Cameron. Jesse is inexperienced in politicts. He’s also charming, far too attractive for Anthony’s peace of mind, and married. Since a former client of Anthony’s, Jesse’s uncle, pulled Anthony into the job, he gets right to work, determined to get his candidate elected. He doesn’t expect that his attraction to Jesse will turn out to be mutual, or that they’ll fall into a secret affair. It’s not long before he’s neck-deep in potential disaster. Too bad he doesn’t want to stop, even if it means being Jesse’s dirty secret for the forseeable future.
Jesse Cameron hates the pretense he’s been forced to go along with, that he’s happily married and straight, but he doesn’t see any way out. All he can do is try to run his campaign as honestly as he can, and protect his wife, Simone, who seems determined to help him get elected, even at the cost of her own health and happiness. Hiding his true self is difficult enough before he meets Anthony. Afterward, it’s torture. His attraction to his campaign manager is immediate and intense, and before he knows what’s hit him they’re sleeping together. Politics, secrets, and the unrelenting scrutiny of the media are a difficult enough mix under normal circumstances, but in Jesse’s situation they’re potentially explosive.
With so much as stake, something’s got to give. The only question is, what will it be?
Where There’s Smoke is an emotional, suspenseful peek into the campaign of a man who genuinely wants to do good things for society, but has to lie in order to do so. It’s told through the alternating points of view of Anthony and Jesse, and that was a very effective way to tell the story. I usually get mad at closeted politicians, but in Jesse’s case, I could sympathize. He wasn’t one of those guys who runs on a platform of “family values” and gay suppression while secretly hiring gay escorts. Instead, he’s a good, if conflicted, man who is misguided enough to take the advice of his uncle, a respected career politician. Due to his uncle’s meddling, the focus ends up on Jesse’s supposedly rock-solid marriage with his wife, who knows as well as Jesse does that their marriage is over. Hoping the ends will justify his means, Jesse throws himself into his campaign. His developing feelings for Anthony throw him into a tailspin of guilt and confusion, all of which he has to hide from all but a couple of people. When his wife, Simone, starts having health problems, things only get more confusing.
Unlike Jesse, Anthony has a lot of experience in politics. He knows how to make his candidate look good without having to sling mud on the other guy. He knows how to hide secrets and misdirect the media. He also knows how to remain professional at all times—and sleeping with his candidate is NOT the way to do that. Still, he can’t seem to resist Jesse, no matter how bad of an idea anything between them might be. Handling his job and his feelings quickly turns into a juggling act of epic proportions. Anthony’s uncertainty, and his guilt over Jesse’s wife even though the marriage is a sham, are endearing qualities, especially in a man so controlled and capable. Both his and Jesse’s feelings for each other developed in a slow, organic way. No insta-love here, only attraction, hot sex, and mutual respect that develops into more.
Of course, the relationship between Jesse and Anthony doesn’t develop in a vacuum. Instead, it grows in fits and starts, hampered by the never-ending posturing and media attention that make up a political campaign. Besides the voters and the media, Jesse has his family to consider. His uncle expects him to pose as a straight man for the duration of the campaign and beyond. Simone has her own life, and her career as an actress, to consider. One thing I really liked about Where There’s Smoke was the way LA Witt portrayed Simone. So many wives in m/m romances are grasping harpies, evil witches, or long-suffering, yet perfectly understanding, beards. Simone is none of the above. She clearly cares about Jesse and wants what’s best for him, yet at times she gets angry and resentful, which felt real. She’s also a consummate actress, so at times is very hard to read. All her actions and reactions came across as believable, and none of them made me hate her or Jesse. Both of them are in a terrible position, and I felt bad for them both. Jesse had truly good intentions for his run for governor, and I couldn’t help wanting him to succeed. At the same time, I wanted to see Jesse and Anthony make a real go of their relationship, which didn’t seem likely if Jesse achieved his goal. I won’t spoil the ending of the story here, but suffice it to say LA Witt wraps things up in a satisfying, yet believable way. Even for readers who aren’t fans of politics (like myself), Where There’s Smoke is a suspenseful, emotional read.