Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Adam (Win) Winchester is a county deputy and the cousin of one of the men killed in the incident that sent Sage to prison for almost a decade. While Win’s uncles, Jim and Teddy, are determined to make Sage and the entire Redding family pay for their loss, Win just figures Sage has paid his dues and maybe needs a friend. Maybe he needs more than a friend. In fact, Win’s counting on it.
No one’s denying Sage is an ex-con who went to prison for manslaughter. Regardless of the love he has for his father, he’s returned knowing things will likely go badly for him. Maybe a man can always come home, but he may not be able to stay.
The Terms of Release is the first in a new series by BA Tortuga. Its set in one of her favored locations, northeast Texas, where the regional twang of the Texas accent and cowboy colloquialisms is as prevalent as the searing summer heat. These are used as the basis for a romance between two more basic characters found in BA Tortuga’s stories, a cowboy and a ex-soldier, each here with a twist.
Sage Redding, a pocket cowboy, coming off of hard time in a penitentiary for manslaughter, but the story behind his conviction points to something or someone else. Adam (Win) Winchester, former soldier, now a county deputy, who uncles and family were instrumental in Sage’s conviction and length of time behind bars. Sage has returned home because of his father’s ill health to help his parents run their ranch to the consternation and hate of the townfolk and local police department, except for Win that is.
Immediately the author sets the whirlwind of small town prejudice, poor economics and personal gain into play with Sage’s homecoming. Its not just one issue plaguing Sage’s return but a multitude. He’s a con, he’s a murderer, “they don’t need his kind here” sort of thing. It should be cliche but that’s exactly the sort of mindset found in small communities and BA Tortuga gets it exactly right. Never mind that his parents have been a fountain of support for many within town limits, that is easy to forget until Sage’s wonderful mother brings it up. I adored his parents. They are just two more reasons that I find this author’s stories so easy to sink into, her characters come across as perfectly earthy and human. Snarly, wounded, stolid, and supportive. Amazing how quickly I can take them into my heart.
Adam (Win) Winchester is another terrific character with roots in this community. He’s wondering why he came back at all and finding that Sage maybe the best reason to stay. I loved Adam but the real story is Sage.
Sage is tiny and he did hard time in a state penitentiary. That has left him with permanent scars, ones mentioned and ones left to the imagination…all horrific and life changing. How BA Tortuga handles this aspect of her character and story deserves special mention and admiration. Ever think about how someone who has been convicted of manslaughter handles prison time? Especially if you think they might deserve it? What if they were actually innocent as some are being found these days, after the fact, in the Texas system? How do they handle what happened to them inside? How do they handle being outside once more? Tortuga has Sage go through all these things, from checking in with his parole officer, to missing out on simple cultural things we take for granted to things I will leave up to the story. And we get some of the confusion we might feel present in Win who doesn’t always understand Sage’s state of mind. That’s equally important for the story and for the reader. Tortuga gives us two points of view and the time needed to develop them both to the degree that we understand and commit to both men and their relationship.
Sage maybe be a tiny pocket cowboy but by the end of the story he had captured my heart, along with Win’s. Theirs was a romance to root for and a journey to love that will captivate you. The Terms of Release doesn’t always flow evenly but it moves with heart, and courage and grit. A wonderful story and I can’t wait to see where BA Tortuga takes this series next.
Cover art by Leah Kaye Suttle. If the intent is to draw you in by the hot torso and hot landscape then done. But if the job is to let you into some idea of the storyline? Fail.