Rating: 4 stars
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Jack Dresden has avoided coming home for the last decade ever since he left for the Army with a black eye courtesy of his former best friend, Dillon. Dillon had been the only man who’d ever stirred Jack’s blood, but fear of coming out had Jack pretending to be straight and dating Dillon’s sister Stacy instead. When Jack broke Stacy’s heart by ending things right before leaving for basic training, Dillon had shown up to let him know how he felt about that—with a strong right hook. Jack had accepted Dillon’s anger and knew he didn’t deserve a place in Dillon’s life, so he’d stayed away all this time. Now, he’s on six weeks of forced medical leave and just praying he can keep avoiding the object of his desires now that they’re in the same town.
It was easier for Dillon Bluff to let Jack think that he’d gone over the day before he left spoiling for a fight because of Stacy. It was easier still to tell himself that the real reason was just because Jack had been planning to leave without saying goodbye, but the truth of the matter was that Dillon was just angry Jack was leaving at all. Even though Jack was dating his sister, Dillon had fallen hard for his best friend, but he’d accepted that he’d never have him. Dillon just kept telling himself that as long as Jack didn’t find out about his feelings, as long as he got to keep Jack in his life in some capacity it was enough. And then he’d gone off and punched Jack and Jack had left and never looked back; it was an old ache, but one still raw. Now, with Jack back in town, the wound is re-opened and Dillon doesn’t know how to heal it.
The thing is, Jack’s capture and torture at the hands of the enemy that led to his eventual medical leave messed him up more than just physically. He’s displaying signs of PTSD and his heightened agitation and flashbacks, combined with his strong desire for Dillon, make keeping his feelings in check near impossible. When Dillon notices the way Jack’s breaking apart, it forces both men to admit the feelings they’ve been harboring since high school. Dillon wants to put Jack back together, and Jack wants what Dillon is offering, but Jack might just be too broken for Dillon to manage it.
I’m just going to come out and say this right off the bat—this book was too damned short! These main characters and this premise were so well crafted, and the obstacles to their relationship had so many layers that this book just wasn’t capable of doing justice to them in so few pages, and I think that showed up in a lot of areas. Which was such a shame, because my god, had the story we were presented with actually been explored to its full extent? It would have been a knockout.
Wounded, broken, miserable Jack Dresden stole my heart from page one. He’s a complete mess throughout the entirety of the book and he just aches for so many things he feels he doesn’t deserve—Dillon, his father’s affections, for his mind and body to be whole again. You get the feeling that he’s fought so hard and so long to be a good man, to be what everyone expects and needs him to be and now he’s just tired and ground down—and lonely. I completely understand Dillon’s urge to just wrap him in a hug and take care of him and put him back together. This was one of those characters that were he a real person that I knew I wouldn’t be able to decide what I wanted more: to fuck him or to mother him to death. Fortunately Dillon is there to pretty much do both.
Dillon produced a less guttural reaction from me, but I still liked him quite a bit and I liked him with Jack, so that’s a tacit stamp of approval. (You all know you’ve read those books where you fall in love with a character and then the romantic interest shows up and you pout for the entire book because they’re just not good enough for the character you’re so emotionally invested in; thank god that didn’t happen here.) Dillon is a boy who spent his youth being picked on and bullied and letting Jack fight his battles for him but grew into a man that had to learn how to stand up for himself after Jack left. I loved that we could clearly see the growth in him. Really, with both of them; it made their romance feel more deep and meaningful. They both loved the boys that they had been and the men that they had become and their relationship felt like a favorite T-shirt: old and worn in and comfortable in all the best ways. Dillon really worked for me in that his love for Jack was so palpable, and I’ve already said how much I identify with his deep need to take care of Jack and just be there for him.
The premise of this really worked for me also, I could feel the tension between Jack and Dillon at the beginning and I loved the side story of Jack trying to deal with his traumatic experience. The plot continued to work for me through the realization of their mutual attraction and the subsequent fallout, even though the pace felt a bit rushed. Where it fell apart for me was in the ending. It’s really abrupt and there are so many loose plot threads. I know that this is the first in a series and I don’t know if the author plans to revisit these characters or not, but I hope so, because I felt like I got no resolution with them. We don’t know what happened with Jack’s PTSD. They never address the fact that Jack is still active military and that he’s going to go back in six weeks and how they’re going to make that work. Jack never addresses whether or not he’s going to come out to his father, even though several times he mentions being tired of hiding. We don’t even really get to see if the relationship has a chance to work out long-term at all. There was just a lot that the reader is left hanging on and it was rather disappointing.
If you really like lovers reunited stories, or military stories, or stories about emotionally wounded men, then I’d recommend this one. The strong characters and sweet romance make it worth overlooking the too-quick plot and unresolved ending.