Rating: 4.5 stars
Nathan Qells has a pretty great life. He loves being an English professor. He has a son who has grown into a wonderful young man and an ex-wife he adores along with her husband. He loves his condo and takes care of Michael, the young boy who lives across the hallway with his uncle, the mysterious Andreo Fiore. The only thing lacking in his life? A man to really love and who will love him back. At least, that’s what his ex wife tells him. She also tells him he has never truly loved another man deeply. Nate doesn’t agree with her. At least he thinks he doesn’t. Doubt starts him looking for Mr. Right, which leads him into the path of a dangerous man and the mob..
Andreo started working for the mob as a way to support his nephew after his sister died. Long and unusual work hours meant that Michael would be alone in the apartment. Then Nate, the neighbor across the hallway, came to their rescue and took Michael under his wing. Years later, Michael spends most of his time across the hallway and Dreo has fallen in love with Nate. Dreo sees in Nate a good, wonderful man who also happens to be very handsome. And blind in the face of Dreo’s love. Between Michael and Nate, Dreo wants to lead an honorable life, one where Michael can look up to him and Nate would be proud to be his partner. But first he has to get out of the organization and it has troubles of its own. As Dreo tries to extricate himself from the mob and make Nate realize that love is right in front of him, his criminal past makes them both a target.
As a man in his forties and nicely settled into his life, Nate is a realistic representation of a man who thinks that he is happy with his status quo and stops reaching out for more. In Nate’s case, he has stopped believing in romantic love for himself and has settled just for caring. I find that totally believable. So many people dismiss the idea of love after a certain age, believing the chance of them falling into love later in life is miniscule to nonexistent. So when Nate refuses to listen to his ex wife when she tells him he has never loved, I totally get it. Nate is capable of caring for others but self satisfied enough not to extend himself further. I know him because I have met him in real life. Nate certainly has his flaws, he is impatient with others, abrupt to those professors within his department he doesn’t respect, and a little arrogant. All of which makes him very human.
Andreo is much older than his years. I had to keep reminding myself of his age. He accepted responsibility of his nephew in his early twenties, and his time as a bodyguard/muscle in the mob has aged him further. He recognizes that he could coast along the path he has made for himself (very much like Nate in this respect) or reach for what he really wants, a family with Nate and Michael. Deeply steeped in his Italian family and culture, he speaks as much Italian as English. And I loved it. Besides French, there is no more romantic language than that of Italy. Both are the languages of love and it is used very effectively here. I loved Dreo, a honorable conflicted man trying to get out of a bad situation. What a great character.
And then Calmes adds in more characters to give the story substance and layers. There’s Michael, Dreo’s nephew and almost son to Nate. He’s young, cocky but still so much in need of direction and parental influence. Mel, Nate’s ex wife, and Ben, her husband, both contribute additional needed perspectives on Nate and his life. Duncan, the in-the-closet ex boyfriend, and Aubrey, Nate’s sarcastic grad student with just the right amount of snark. All necessary and unique.
The story itself has many wonderful moments. I especially liked the storyline with Nate and his missed dates with Sean Cooper, an attending doctor. With them, as in real life, sometimes it is all about the timing. People can seem to be right for each other, and yet the timing is off for them to be a couple. Nobody’s fault. Stuff happens. I haven’t seen this pop up in a storyline and loved it’s authentic treatment here. I don’t know enough about organized crime to comment on it here (outside of what I have seen in The Godfather movies) but the idea that you can have people at different levels of competency in mob organizations struck me as realistic too. Old fashioned businessman versus young takeover turk. Crime is still a business albeit a criminal one. Is there angst? Of course, there is. It wouldn’t be a Mary Calmes book without it. Never fear, our protagonists future is assured. I liked how all the different elements pulled together in the end to give me a very satisfying story and a new couple to love.
Cover: The cover art by Anne Cain is such a sensual piece of art that I would love to have a copy. In the introduction Calmes and Cain talk about the inspiration for the cover, deceased artist Steve Walker’s painting Parallel Dreams. I looked up that painting and thought it beautiful. I learned much about Steve Walker and his art which I really appreciated. But this cover stands on it own, glorious in its depiction of love between two men. It has already become a favorite of mine.