Title: Bounty Hunter
Author: Cornelia Grey
Length: 27 pdf pages, 11,500 words.
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Genre: m/m western erotic romance
Steamy, romantic, gritty and brimming with moral dilemmas–Bounty Hunter has it all and packs a real emotional punch. This truly is one of the best m/m short stories I’ve ever read. It was originally published in the Weight of a Gun anthology.
The story opens with William Hunt entering a seedy whorehouse, acting on information leading him to the infamous James Campbell. Cornelia Grey sets the scene beautifully, giving just enough detail to make the shabby surroundings come alive, from the stumbling drunk having his pocket picked by the whore he leans on for support, to the theatrical moans issuing from the closed doors. It isn’t until William hears James’ groans and is haunted by unbearably erotic memories that we realise the prior history between the former lovers. The longing for something once cherished and now lost suffuses the narrative and hooked me right into the story.
The story then takes a dive back into the past for a short scene when the two first met years before, and then we’re thrown back into the present when William pushes his way into the room to find James lying with a whore. There’s a poignant contrast here to the surroundings William has been used to thinking of James in:
God knows how many people had spread sweat and come on that bed. William knew it should disgust him, should sicken him to the stomach , the thought of James there, gone from the endless span of praries and purest night sky to this, a disgusting, dirty hole of a room in a saloon that was a pathetic excuse for a whorehouse. For some reason he didn’t care. Hell, it almost seemed right. Seemed appropriate for the epic fuck-up their lives had become.
The whore makes tracks when William pulls out his gun, leaving the two men alone at last. William has a job to do and he should shoot James there and then, but this proves incredibly difficult to do, especially when James doesn’t put up any fight and just lies there naked while smoking a cigarette.
Bounty Hunter is intricately plotted with its leaps back into the past to show the growing relationship between the two men, and the events that led to their break-up along with James becoming a wanted man. These flashback scenes are kept short and to the point, but give plenty of texture and depth to the story. Meanwhile, the story in the here and now quickly progresses to one of the most erotic scenes I’ve ever read. Fair warning: the sex here is dirty and there’s gun play. If eroticising weaponry makes you uncomfortable you might not want to read it. Then again, I think it was my discomfort with the concept that made it so incredibly hot to read. Rest assured there is no issue of dubious consent here–both men are equally excited by the chance to reconnect.
One of the things I particularly loved about the sex in this story is the contrast between how things used to be between them, and the bitterness that’s grown in the intervening years. It’s angsty in the best possible way, because you know that there’s a really good reason for all the hurt feelings, and because the men refuse to wallow in them. These two acted in exactly the way I would expect them to, given the expectations of masculine behaviour in that time and place.
Not every reader will enjoy this story, I’m sure. The characters have had to make difficult choices and screwed things up. William is revealed to have become a man with few scruples about hurting people to obtain information, and James is a wanted criminal, but through the flashbacks we are led to understand exactly why this happened and I felt real sympathy for both of them. Other readers might also find the ending unsatisfactory, but I thought it was as happy as could be hoped for in their difficult circumstances, and gives their relationship exciting possibilities in the future.
While I know Bounty Hunter isn’t going to be an A+ read for everyone, I can heartily recommend it as a beautifully crafted short story. The sex is smoking hot and the men are dark and complex. This is one of those stories that’s going to linger in my memory for a very long time, and one I definitely intend to re-read in future.