Review Summary: Is it cheating if the candidate is married but has his wife’s approval to have other lovers because they’re getting divorced? Shades of black, white and gray abound in this book and you have to choose your colour when the sh*t hits the fan.
Anthony Hunter wonders what the hell he’s gotten himself into when he agrees to manage an unproven candidate’s campaign for governor of California. As soon as he meets the gorgeous, charismatic—and married—politician, attraction gives Anthony’s rock-solid professionalism a run for its money, and Anthony knows he’s in way over his head.
Jesse Cameron doesn’t like the idea of putting himself out there as a happily married, wholesome candidate, but his retired senator uncle insists it’ll give him an edge over a challenging rival. The only problem is that Jesse’s marriage is over, existing only to maintain his heterosexual façade. Oh, and there’s that minor detail about his undeniable attraction to his smoking hot campaign manager. Or the fact that the attraction is very, very mutual.
Before long, temptation explodes into a sizzling, secret relationship, but under the microscope of the media and the relentless scrutiny of the voting public, Anthony and Jesse can only keep their secret for so long. And this is one scandal a campaign won’t survive…
If you read this book you might think of the characters in shades of black or white, but I thought most of them were shades of gray. The background and plot of this book is centered on two topics: your perception of adultery and American politics in the State of California. Whether or not these are subjects that interest you initially it would be difficult not to become invested in the protagonists – a political candidate and his manager in a campaign for Governor of the State – because if you like excellent writing and great characterizations, in my opinion this is L.A. Witt’s best work to date.
Against his better judgment Anthony was persuaded by former Senator Roger Cameron, whose campaign he had managed successfully and for whom he had a great deal of respect, to take on the gubernatorial campaign of his nephew. It was a daunting task since Jesse, an actor, knew very little about politics. Was he merely starry eyed about the prospect of running for office or did he bring something to the table other than family connections such as new ideas, integrity and a work ethic that would stand up to the rigors of a hard fought campaign? To complicate matters Jesse’s wife, an award winning actress, would be an essential part of the campaign, but she was somewhat of a liability because she had mental and physical health problems that flared up whenever she was under stress, a hallmark of any political campaign. Neither Jesse nor Anthony wanted to use her in the campaign as this could irreparably damage her health, but both she and Roger insisted on her being a part of it.
When Anthony met Jesse he suspected that he was not being completely honest about his personal situation, and he was very angry when he found out half way through the campaign that not only was the marriage a sham and Jesse and Simone were marking time until after the election to announce that they were divorcing, but Jesse was also gay. Even though Californians were very liberal about most things, they were not yet ready to elect a gay governor. So there was the definite possibility that Jesse could be impeached if he were elected and the couple started divorce proceedings immediately after, and also if his constituents found out that he hadn’t been honest about his sexual orientation.
At first I didn’t much care for Jesse because I thought the Hollywood A-lister was a lightweight, but when I saw how much he loved and cared for Simone although he was not in love with her, and hated hurting her, I realized how multi faceted he was. Of course he still had sex with Anthony to whom he was addicted. He also loved his brother Chris, another wonderfully crafted secondary character who brought a different dimension to the plot. Jesse proved in the end that he had the biggest balls as well as a lot of integrity.
I thought that Anthony was the most complex and nuanced character in the book. He was older than Jesse and had never had a real relationship. He was a workaholic and a seasoned campaigner who never failed to deliver and didn’t let personal feelings interfere with his judgment, until he met Jesse and fell in love for the first time. Under normal circumstances he was usually the strongest man in the room but when he and Jesse were together he became so affected by him he couldn’t control his physical reactions. The tension between them was like a living thing and made the sex such a powder keg I’m surprised that my Kindle didn’t explode. Anthony was addicted to smoking almost as much as he was to Jesse and his cigarettes and lighter were like another character whenever he was stressed, which was a lot of the time. At first he demonstrated inhuman control about everything related to the campaign but gradually he seemed to unravel as he tried to balance his job and being in love. To make matters worse, he and Jesse couldn’t keep their hands off each other and they were having sex whenever they could find a few minutes of scarce ‘alone’ time, regardless of the dire consequences if they were caught.
Simone was the most vulnerable character, but on the other hand she was a strong woman despite her precarious health. She also seemed fine with an open marriage pending the upcoming divorce. In fact she pushed Jesse into Anthony’s arms on a few occasions. However, she became upset when she suspected they had sneaked off together to have sex, and she had a meltdown. Clearly she was still in love with her husband even though they no longer slept together.
Roger, Jesse’s uncle, was the only character who was clearly black in my opinion. He was the ultimate user – manipulative and heartless, as he used Simone’s illness to improve Jesse’s chances of winning.
One of the standouts was Ranya, Jesse’s assistant, who was not only very intelligent but she had some of the best lines. Here’s one example when she was talking to Jesse about Simone:
“And you two are as compatible as hell except for that minor detail about you being a sausage fiend.”
About Jesse and Anthony:
“You two go together like texting and car crashes”
Where There’s Smoke is told from both MCs POV which provided an opportunity to look into their minds and hearts and get to know them as every emotion was laid bare. The tension was non stop and I thought that L.A. Witt did a masterful job of putting the pieces together to come up with a plausible and believable solution.
This story was a complex study of human emotions with every possible negative situation one could imagine, complicated by the intensity of being under the intense glare of a political campaign with the press baying at your heels; a marriage on the rocks that was presented to the electorate as the perfect couple; a gay candidate for governor living on the down low; a romance between the candidate and his campaign manager under the eyes of the paparazzi; a scheming relative who did everything he could to achieve his own ends; and the candidate’s wife on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. How could this end well? You have to read the book to find out.
Where There’s Smoke will be released on Tuesday, February 21.