THE GUARDSMAN is the second book of Cat Treadgold’s The Olympic Peninsula series, in which each installment features a different romance set against the backdrop of the dreamy, picturesque Pacific Northwest landscape of Washington. While the first book placed country singer Joe Bob Blade and his love Ali at the forefront, this title shifts to Ali’s twin brother Liam’s story, which offered an intriguing cliffhanger in the first novel.
Still reeling from a terrorist bombing that he survived years ago, Liam returns to the States. Reuniting with Ali introduces him to Joe’s only sister, Teresa, a wealthy socialite who’s feeling somewhat aimless after calling off her long-time engagement. While helping out with the arrival of Joe and Ali’s twins, Teresa and Liam find themselves falling for each other quickly, tip-toeing around their feelings. But once Teresa becomes the target of suspicious accidents, and others begin vying for her affection, Liam names himself Teresa’s protector—but are their worlds too far apart to have a happy ending?
There are plenty of storylines to juggle in this second book, and Treadgold does a commendable job of layering Ali and Joe’s ongoing romance—and adventure into new parenthood—between Teresa’s relationship woes and Liam’s angst. It takes a few cues from beloved nineties tropes: scheming nannies, overeager suitors with rom-com level misogyny, early internet tabloid fodder, and suspenseful brushes with imminent danger. The story itself, again, feels deeply rooted to the time period, which makes it especially easy to fall into. That said, this means it also includes nineties-accurate biphobia as a significant plot point, as well as a repetitive fixation on dieting and thinness.
Family is at the heart of the story, and it’s fun to see new dynamics emerge among the occasional dysfunction. Compared to Ali and Joe’s relationship, the “forbidden” aspect of Teresa and Liam’s feelings for each other is dialed up to eleven because of Teresa’s well-manicured image, Liam’s rough-and-tumble nature, and his mysterious past. His wry sense of humor is effortlessly charming, and his easy banter with Teresa is a captivating foundation for their relationship. His rugged, protective nature is deeply appealing, but so is the care with which his flaws and other nuances—ones with rougher edges—are dealt with throughout. The same can be said for Teresa, who becomes a lot more than a spoiled princess; her fears, her desires, and her search for a new purpose in life are all relatable (despite her privilege).
It does take some time for the story to get moving, specifically the romance, as Teresa and Liam spend a sizable portion of the book not even interacting with each other. The pace lags a bit in some places, mostly when Teresa is listless and her routine becomes repetitive. Meanwhile, the last act of the book feels rushed, dialing the anticipation down a few notches. The lingering glances, the angst, and the mutual pining from afar, however, are fantastic and always hit the right notes. All of this is rendered with wonderful prose that’s perfect for contemporary romance. The scenic landscapes of coastal Washington are as richly detailed as ever, this time focused on quaint Port Townsend, resplendent with walkable streets, stunning sea views, and charming Victorian houses. THE GUARDSMAN also sprinkles in a few hints about the next installment: an alluring promise for more.
With heartfelt family dynamics and deeply relatable characters, Cat Treadgold’s THE GUARDSMAN dials the forbidden romance up to an eleven, where dramatic angst, smoldering glances, and mutual pining abound.
~Jessica Thomas for IndieReader