Rating: 4 stars
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Devon McCade lives with two of his former foster brothers in his childhood home, Neverwood. Upon the death of their foster mother, Audrey, the three men accepted her request to move back to her house and reopen it again as a place for troubled boys. Always a loner who kept his heart tightly protected, Devon has learned to open it to his brothers and the little family they have created, along with his brothers’ partners. Devon is happy there, but he has not let himself get close enough to anyone to find love for himself.
That begins to change when a desperate father knocks on his door. Nicholas Hardy’s son Robbie ran away a year ago and Nicholas has been searching for him ever since. He has a glimmer of hope after seeing a photograph that Devon took for article about homeless kids in Seattle. He hopes that Devon might be able to help him track Robbie down and bring him home safely.
Devon feels compassion for Nicholas immediately, but also a surprising attraction. Although their first priority is finding Robbie, the men grow ever closer during their search, eventually giving in to their feelings for each other as well. For the first time Devon begins to have real feelings for someone and to open up his heart. But Devon knows that something permanent is impossible with Nicholas. Even once they find Robbie, Nicholas has a life he must return to that will mean leaving Devon behind. Now that Devon has finally found love, he may find himself losing it all too soon.
The Lost Year is one of three books that are part of the Secrets of Neverwood anthology. Each story is available both as a standalone book, as well as as part of the larger anthology. The anthology has a really interesting premise in that all three stories feature one of three foster brothers, men who are brought back together upon the death of their foster mother. They agree to take on Audrey’s last wishes, that of reopening her home to needy children. Each of the stories focuses on one brother, and the The Lost Year is the last one, wrapping up both Devon’s story as well as the larger plot arc across the anthology. I read only this final story in the anthology, which means to some degree I was jumping in at the middle. However, since the books are sold as standalones as well as a set, it seems reasonable to assume the book should be able to be read and evaluated on its own, so that is what I am doing here.
When The Lost Year opens, Devon and his brothers are already in the process of renovating Neverwood to get it ready to reopen. Both his brothers, Danny and Cal, have met their partners and all five men are living in the house together. It is clear that it has taken a while for the men to all get comfortable together, especially Devon who has never really accepted the love of a family before. But we can see that he cares for these men and they have become important parts of his life.
When Nicholas comes looking for help, Devon is immediately drawn to him, both physically and emotionally. Based on his past as a foster child, as well as his experience photographing these kids on the streets, Devon can really feel for both Robbie and Nicholas. Drew really makes Nicholas’ pain palpable. He clearly loves Robbie so much and has abandoned the rest of his life to try to find him. He quit his job, is sleeping in his car, and doggedly searches for his son, despite the lack of leads. When he finally begins to get close, we can feel the fear and the optimism warring as he desperately wants to hope for the best but can hardly let himself. It is so heartbreaking, especially as they encounter more homeless kids in their search. The pain Nicholas experiences feels so real. It takes time not only to find Robbie, but for them to begin to rebuild their relationship and their lives together. We really get a feel for Devon’s emotions in all this as well. He can relate to these street kids who have nowhere to go, no one who wants them. It is part of the reason he and his brothers have agreed to open Neverwood again, to try to help these kids and give them homes. I think this part is very well done and Drew captures these men and their feelings so well.
I enjoyed Nicholas and Devon together and there is some great sexual tension between them. Devon is pretty much in lust just about instantly, which I found a touch unrealistic, especially given the dire circumstances these guys are in (though I loved his kink for Nicholas’ glasses!). I did appreciate that Nicholas is the one to make the first move between them, rather than Devon instigating something with this man who is in the midst of such an emotional crisis. Given the circumstances, I actually felt like the relationship develops very nicely and naturally between the two men, and we can really feel the emotional connection they have. There were times I was surprised at just how much Devon is inserted into this whole situation between Nicholas and his son. I kind of wanted to say “back off” a few times when he is right in the middle of it all. But overall, I found their relationship both sweet and sexy and enjoyed them together.
I did find myself confused when Devon invites Nicholas to spend the night at Neverwood after they first meet (rather than sleeping in his car) and both his brothers are very wary and unwelcoming. They are clear that they don’t want Nicholas there, that they don’t trust him. It causes a lot of tension, so much so that Nicholas is clearly aware of not being wanted. Even when he returns with Robbie, proving he is legit and was being honest about his motives, they are still very cool and standoffish and I just never could figure out why. These are men who are dedicating their lives to taking care of kids in need. Then here comes this man whose child is on the streets, and who, even when he finds his son, needs help rebuilding their relationship. But instead of welcoming him and trying to help, they are so resistant and the reasons for this are never made clear. Perhaps if I had read their stories I would have a better sense for why they are so wary. But within this book I found it very confusing and seemingly in conflict with the way their giving natures are presented.
There are two overarching plot lines that appear to carry through all three stories. The first relates to the men reopening Neverwood and their foster mother Audrey. Audrey apparently continues to “haunt” Neverwood as a ghost, interacting with Devon, even speaking to him verbally. I wasn’t totally clear, but it seems all of the men are aware of her presence and interact with her. In this story she is very active, both with Devon and later with Robbie. She can move objects, get into their thoughts, and even become visible. I was kind of mixed feelings on this one, as it is a bit of a paranormal twist thrown into a book that is basically a straight contemporary. Especially when ghost Audrey is directly affecting major events in the story. But I also found it kind of sweet to see this women still caring for her boys even after death, and the way she helps them and looks out for them.
The other plot line involves a distant relative who wants claim to the house. It seems clear that he has been making trouble all along (presumably in the first two stories) and by this book the brothers have had numerous dealings with him. He is escalating his behavior, threatening and confronting the men, and even breaking in. This was the one place in the book where I really felt having the full story would have been helpful, because this plot line seems a bit of an afterthought in this book until the very end. We learn about him early on, but then not much happens until the end when there is a big climactic event. I think it would have felt more meaningful had we experienced the full range of the conflict, or at least more of it within this book. As it was, there is this major story element that seems somewhat out of nowhere without experiencing the history of their interaction.
So I think if I had to do it again, I would probably get the entire Secrets of Neverwood anthology and read them all. I really loved the anthology set up and the way these stories connect. It is really innovative for an anthology and allows the three authors to create different stories with a really unique connection. That said, I do think The Lost Year can stand alone and be quite enjoyable even without reading the others. Drew really does a great job showing both Nicholas’ journey with his son, as well as the developing relationship between the two men. So overall, an enjoyable story.
Cover: Ok, I hate to be critical here but doesn’t it look a tiny bit like the guy on the cover is pregnant? I know it is the weird shadow, but the way the arms are around his stomach and the shirt is pulled up just makes me think of a pregnant belly.