Rating: 4.75 stars
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Liam Lamplighter is in a dark place. To fill some hours and take his mind off things, he applies at a local tattoo parlor to get some table time. Though it’s been several years since he worked as a tattoo artist, and his resume is thin, the owner takes a chance on him. It quickly becomes clear to Liam that Ace, the owner, and his two employees, Deb and Goose, are a close knit group. When he shows up for work, he’s quickly given the nickname Professor because of his intellect. But Liam has been keeping to himself for years, and he doesn’t quite know how to fit in.
When the four of them go out for Goose’s birthday, Liam sees yet another side of the trio. It is only then that he starts to share a bit of himself with Ace. Liam’s uncle, the man who raised him, is in hospice care, and the reason he started working at the tattoo parlor is because he can’t stand going back to the cold and empty house at night. Ace is supportive and listens to Liam, and they begin a tentative friendship. When Ace’s situation changes, and he needs to take temporary custody of his nephew, Liam offers to let Ace and his nephew Cole share his house.
Though the attraction between Liam and Ace is mutual, there are a lot of reasons that they know they shouldn’t get involved. They are not able to resist each other, though, and throw caution to the wind. As Liam shares more of himself, Ace can see how much pain Liam has been carrying around for a long time. Ace is like a soothing balm to Liam’s soul. And Liam is going to need every bit of that in the days ahead.
Wow. I’m not even sure where to start here. This story had just about everything I love to see in a book: a broken hero, a created family, people taking care of each other and supporting one another, tattoos, literary quotes, the list goes on. These characters were so well crafted that I felt they could be real people I met on the street. And not just the MCs, but every secondary character as well. I felt I knew them all, and was invested in them from word one.
Liam is broken. He’s been carrying around pain and secrets for most of his life. He was raised by his uncle after his parents are out of the picture. He made some bad choices as a teenager—getting involved with the wrong guy and using drugs—and has had to live with consequences. I loved being on this journey with him as he healed from his old hurts, and grew into a better man. It was only after he opened up and shared what has happened to him with Ace that the healing process could begin. And Ace is the perfect person to listen to Liam, and to help him start healing.
And Ace? I loved this guy. He’s witty, and a bit snarky, and loyal. He takes care of the people who he thinks of as his. He always does what he thinks is right. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his own hurts. He’s just better at sharing them, better at accepting help from others than Liam is. Together, these two characters are the perfect balance for each other. Even when he thinks its best that he and Liam remain just friends—there are a lot of really valid reasons not to get involved with each other—he’s there for Liam from the beginning. But once he finally gives in to his attraction, his heart comes out even more. I loved the way he cared for Liam throughout the whole story, but especially so after they begin a relationship.
I loved the slow build of their relationship. It felt satisfyingly real. Both Liam and Ace had to work out certain things before they could really get involved with each other. I liked that they didn’t rush into things because when they finally got together, you knew it could last.
As both men are tattoo artists, obviously body art was a big part of this story. I don’t want to give too much away but one of Liam’s tattoos is a true source of pain for him. The scene where he finally reveals it to Ace, and tells him the story behind it, is heartbreaking. And Ace’s reaction is perfect, both for his anger and for the way he helps Liam begin to heal. That tattoo comes into play again at the end, and I was incredibly glad for that scene as well. It was the perfect illustration to show how far Liam has come.
I mentioned the secondary characters also being fantastic. Let me tell you, every last one of them was so well drawn and developed that this felt like not just the story of Liam and Ace. Without Deb, Goose, Frankie, Uncle Gene, and even little Cole, Liam couldn’t have made the great strides that he did. This story wouldn’t have been the same, or had the same impact, if these characters were any less.
This was a character driven story about growth, healing, family, and falling in love. And I loved everything about it. Very highly recommended.