'Choked Up' by Hank Edwards is the fourth book in the 'Up to Trouble’ series. It takes place about six months after the previous book left off. PTSD has put life on hold for Mark Beecher and (Aaron) Pearce as he is recovering. Mark is frustrated by his mental state and is pushing himself to get over it. Not that Pearce has complained, but Mark yearns to be able to hold his own in their relationship and not feel so completely dependent on Pearce. When Pearce is called to assist in a murder case in Detroit, he quickly realizes that it's not just business, it is also personal. All clues point directly to the sociopath, Robert Morgan. The murders are designed to lure Pearce back to Detroit in order to finish what happened in Barbados.
Pearce doesn't want to leave Mark but they both know how important it is to stop Morgan, not only for their own closure, but to prevent more men from dying and to obtain justice for those killed. Mark tries to ease Pearce's fears by reminding him of how much progress he's made and reassuring him that he will be able to manage on his own. Mark knows Pearce would never leave him if it weren't absolutely necessary.
There are a lot of concessions Pearce makes while working on this case because of its relevance. For one, Pearce always works alone. In this investigation, Pearce is assigned a partner named Jake Perrin who is the Special Agent In Charge. Pearce isn't the easiest man to work with but Jake's easygoing banter and willingness to cooperate win Pearce over. The investigation is crawling with not much evidence to go on. Yet, while the clock keeps ticking, the body count continues to rise, along with Pearce and Jake's impatience and frustration at their lack of success.
When Mark catches the look of Pearce's face on one of the news broadcasts, he decides he needs to go there. Mark begins the ten-hour trip to Detroit to be with his man. Mark doesn't quite know what he is going to do when he gets there, but he's certain about one thing. He will have to endure Pearce's wrath for coming. As expected, Pearce is furious, yet secretly relieved to have the comfort and support that only Mark can give. When Mark's best friend goes missing, he refuses to stand by and do nothing. Begrudgingly, Pearce and Jake allow him to become part of the search and hopefully, rescue, fearing the worst and hoping for the best.
Pearce and Mark have come a long way from the days when Pearce was Mark's witness protection guard and became his lover instead. Mark cracked through that seemingly impenetrable shell and straight to Pearce's heart. They are uniquely different men who found someone with whom they belonged and, regardless of their often life-threatening escapades, consider themselves unbelievably lucky. There's a fair amount of sex in this murder mystery thriller and the physical encounters are steamy. Since Pearce and Mark communicate what's in their hearts best through physical intimacy, it is a natural method for them to reach an understanding and to reconnect.
I enjoyed meeting Jake and loved the sometimes naughty banter between him and Pearce. It added much-needed levity to what, for the most part is a dark story. Also, it was a perfect way for Pearce and Jake to connect as a team. Anyone who is a fan of Pearce and Mark will be delighted with this book and with its conclusion. For anyone new to this series, the books must be read in sequential order for the optimum reading experience. Thank you so much, Hank!