Rating: 4.5 stars
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Sergeant Jed Cooper has been in the Army since he was kicked out of his home for being gay. Although it has been a hard life, he also loves it and has found a wonderful brotherhood in his fellow soldiers. But some bad drinking water gave him a chronic stomach illness that means his time in the Army is up in three weeks. However, before he goes, an ambush on the streets of Kirkuk leave him with severe injuries and many of his team injured or dead. Now Jed has to return home to heal and figure out how to put his life back together.
Jed returns to the small Oregon town where he grew up, staying with his brother Nick and his wife Kim until he figures out what to do next. But things have been strained with Nick for years, ever since he sided with their father against Jed, and Jed can’t wait to get out of there. He takes Kim’s suggestion that he rent a room from her brother Max, who lives in a small cabin on a nearby lake.
Max has his own health issues to deal with. He is an epileptic, and even with his medical dog Flo, occasionally has unexpected seizures that leave him debilitated. But he likes the quiet life by the lake, and Max and Jed turn out to be a good fit. They become friends and slowly turn into more. But there is a lot standing between these men, both baggage and secrets. Jed suffers from PTSD, is still healing from his leg injuries, and refuses to tell Max about his severe stomach issues. Jed is used to leading others and relying on himself and he can’t manage to let Max know how bad things are, even as he grows to care for him deeply. While Max is open about his own health issues, he has a big secret from his past that is lingering between them. Max and Jed have grown to care for each other, and even fallen in love, but they must be able to be open about their pasts and present lives if they have any hope of moving forward.
Only Love is a beautifully told story of two men with a lot of emotional and physical baggage who somehow find peace and happiness with one another. It divides roughly into two fairly distinct halves, at least for me. The first part of the book focuses on the building of the relationship between Max and Jed. We start with Jed as he is on his last mission in the Army, then jump to his return home and ultimately his move into the cabin with Max. There is such a lovely build to this story. The men meet, become comfortable friends, and eventually drift toward one another for comfort and ultimately more.
These are both men who are struggling to get by in many ways, especially for Jed. Not only does he experience PTSD and the abrupt change of life leaving the military brings, but he is recovering from a severe leg injury requiring lots of physical therapy. And then on top of that, he is dealing with his gastroparesis, a permanent condition that leaves him nauseous, exhausted, and frequently in severe pain. I enjoyed the quiet tone to this section of the book. There is not a lot of angst and drama, despite all that the men are dealing with. These are men who just handle things, who are strong and self-reliant and often stubbornly independent. But slowly over the course of the story, they begin to open up to one another and find love, strength, and happiness together.
As we reach the midpoint of the book, however, we start to see that issues are beginning to churn. Jed’s suspicions that Max is hiding something turn out to be true, and he finds out exactly what happened in Max’s past. Jed must continue to deal with his recovery from the gunshot, as well as the emotional stress and PTSD from the Army and its aftermath. And both of these men are continuing to struggle with severe, chronic medical issues, and for one of them, things spiral out of control until he is clinging to life. I am not going to give away too many details here, because I want readers to experience this for themselves. But we see Max and Jed have the realization that they are in love, and truly want to be together, just as health issues become so extreme that they may lose each other forever. Again, this story is never wild and crazy. Leigh manages to bring out emotion and intensity and pain in a quiet way that really drew me in as a reader. And when things finally settle down for these guys, it is so rewarding. I just loved the epilogue and how everything works out for them.
So I really enjoyed this book. I think readers who are looking for angst and drama and wild sex probably should look elsewhere, because that is not what this story brings. Instead there is a quiet beauty as these two damaged men find hope and happiness in each other. I found it lovely and engrossing and enjoyed it immensely. Definitely recommended.
Awake and Alive
Awake and Alive is a “missing moment” from Only Love, a free short that fleshes out some of the details from the epilogue in the novel. I really enjoyed learning more about the recovery and how these men moved from the near death experience to the settled way we see them in the epilogue. Like the novel, it is quietly lovely and very rewarding. If you enjoyed Only Love, you will definitely want to pick up this free short as well.
A review copy of these books was provided by Dreamspinner Press.