Rating: 4.75 stars
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Former tattoo artist turned short order cook Barrett McCall has to start over…again. When his apartment building burns down, Barrett has no other choice but to accept help from an acquaintance. But only for a night or two. Barrett refuses to let himself become anyone’s burden. The invitation for a place to stay also becomes an invitation to a party that Barrett is really not up for. And after accepting an offer from his boss Dixie to rent her basement apartment, Barrett takes to hiding out on the back deck until the party is over. He didn’t expect Schuyler to be hiding as well.
High school art teacher Schuyler “Sky” Rhodes has mourned the death of his cousin, Matty, and kept the secrets of that fateful night for the past fifteen years. The anniversary is especially hard, made even harder this year by having to put on a happy face and escort his Aunt Dixie to Sky’s ex’s housewarming party. Hiding out on the back porch was the only option he had in order to maintain any sort of sanity. He didn’t expect to run into one of his aunt’s employees. And hearing that Barrett would be moving into Dixie’s basement apartment, where Sky grew up, hits him hard on an already difficult day.
In his past, Barrett was the bad boy that liked to party. Too many drugs. Too much to drink. Too many mistakes followed by months of anxiety over not knowing the results of blood tests. He was battered and broken, but is happy to just be alive now. In Schuyler, Barrett sees some of his old self, and feels the need to help.
An art piece with special meaning, a thoughtful gift from Schuyler, leads to an electric first kiss. Barrett and Sky feel a connection neither has ever experienced before. Barriers built long ago by both men to keep themselves protected begin to crumble, but some secrets are just too painful to let go of. Just as their relationship takes a pivotal turn, the one other person from Schuyler’s past who knows what really happened to Matty shows up and threatens not only Sky’s relationship with Barrett, but Sky’s life as well.
Color of Grace is the second book in A.M. Arthur’s Cost of Repairs series. I am more and more impressed with this author as I continue to read her works. The angst and emotion put into each scene, the secrets, the damaged heroes, the theme of overcoming one’s past – it all makes for an enthralling, captivating story.
When I first started reading, I was afraid that this story would be a mirror image of the first in the series. But it’s not. Yes, there are two broken heroes. Yes, they both have life-altering pasts. Yes, they both keep secrets. And yes, they overcome their pasts with the support of one another. But that’s not the entire story. Color of Grace is a heartwarming story of an unlikely pair that takes a chance on each other and finds love and support in one another when they didn’t think it was possible. It’s about forgiveness and growth. It’s about finding and making a home in the most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people.
Schuyler and Barrett are amongst some of my all-time favorite characters. Like I said, they are both damaged, but after experiencing their traumatic pasts made such different choices that led them on the path to who they have become. Barrett’s painful past is mostly of his own choosing. His illness was not, but his eventual choice to turn his life around, made him a beautiful, strong, wonderful person. Schuyler is the product of his choices as well, but he hasn’t been able to move past them in order to resolve his problems. Guilt chokes him at every turn and he’s only surviving his life, not really living it. With Barrett’s support, Sky begins to trust again and makes moves to overcome the past that has imprisoned him for fifteen years.
Schuyler was introduced in Cost of Repairs as Rey’s ex-boyfriend. I remember him being a bit of a jerk who didn’t think before he spoke. And in the beginning of Color of Grace, I saw the same jerk of a man. He’s almost intentionally hurtful, trying to push people away. It’s his defense mechanism, keeping people from getting to close. One of my favorite things about Sky is that he’s terribly uptight and quirky. He also has a strong need for control. It’s hard to describe, so why don’t I just show you?
Barrett was close, too close, and when Sky returned his mouth to Barrett’s hole and wiggled the tip of his tongue past that tight ring of muscle, his orgasm started pooling in his balls.
“Gonna come,” Barrett gasped.
Sky sat up. “Not yet.”
“Shit.” He rolled off the pillow and reached down, grasping his cock around the base, the skin hot and tight, fighting back the need to climax. Barrett closed his eyes and thought of unsexy things, but all he could think about was Sky.
Until the bed shifted and he spotted Sky walking toward a door on the other side of the room. Too curious to be insulted by the abandonment, he watched a light flip on. Then the unmistakable sounds of someone gargling. Barrett smiled. It was funny and fussy and insanely thoughtful, considering where Sky’s mouth had just been.
He hung his pants up before sex. He used mouthwash after rimming. Sky was certainly full of amusing surprises.
I just love him.
The progression of their relationship is one of my favorite parts of this book, even more than the shedding of secrets. Neither man is looking for a relationship. Neither is relationship material. They go from acquaintances to sort of friends when Barrett sees Sky at his lowest. Then the progression from friends to a relationship is slow and delicious. They build a trust. They get to know one another. One steps on the other’s toes. They hurt each other intentionally and unintentionally. They make mistakes. They forgive. They fall and they get back up and try again. But that’s what makes them a perfect imperfect couple.
This story is angsty and funny and sad. My heart hurt right for both characters. There are several ups and downs, but I enjoyed the entire journey. The writing is beautiful and flows so well. It’s a perfect balance of monologue and dialogue. And it’s paced perfectly. Best of all, the story is realistic and believable.
My only complaint lies with the Laundromat fire that burned down Barrett’s apartment building. It was a major topic of conversation throughout the book. I was hoping for the conclusion of that very minor storyline, but it never happened. Was the fire intentional? If so, who did it and why? If there is another book in the series, maybe the questions will be answered then.
Color of Grace is a beautiful story of finding hope and love at the most unlikely of times. It’s a tough story of pain and slow healing. But it’s a wonderful story of self-forgiveness. I laughed. I cried. I wanted more when it was over. I highly recommend Color of Grace and I hope that there is more to come in this series. Read it. Also, read Cost of Repairs, the first book in the series. You’ll thank me later.