After failing to make it in Nashville, country singer Christopher Ryder now works at the Smoky Mountain Dreams theme park. He loves to perform for the crowds, even though he knows he is second best to the real star of the show. But Christopher is happy getting to perform, even as he wishes he didn’t feel quite so invisible.
Jesse Birch also lives a fairly lonely life. After his wife was seriously injured in a car accident, Jesse is raising his two kids alone. He has some occasional hookups, but he hasn’t had a serious relationship in the five years since Marcy’s accident. But when Christopher comes into Jesse’s jewelry store to have a gift made for his grandmother, the two men have a spark right away.
The sexual connection between Jesse and Christopher is immediate, but they try to take the relationship slowly, despite how quickly they seem to be falling for one another. Both men have some serious baggage to overcome that has made them wary and a little uncertain. Jesse is fighting with his sister-in-law for the right to let Marcy off life support, as she has been in vegetative state since the accident with no hope of recovery. At the same time he is dealing with raising two kids and helping his daughter work through her continued emotional grief about losing her mother. Fortunately Jesse has the support of Marcy’s parents and his sister, but his wealthy parents have no real interest in him or his life. Christopher’s parents are a total freak show. His dad has had a series of marriages and affairs and wants nothing to do with him because he is gay. And his mother and stepfather are bible thumping bigots who tell Christopher constantly he is going to hell.
As the men spend more time together, they both begin to tentatively hope that their relationship might be really going somewhere. It is scary for them, and they don’t want to rush things. But at the same time, their chemistry is insane and they are falling hard for one another. Christopher and Jesse start to believe that maybe this relationship can bring them the love and family they really want. But they both need to work through their pasts and the issues holding them back so they can really make things work together.
Oh, this was so good! So sweet and warm and romantic. These guys are definitely going through some rough stuff, so it is not all easy. But this is just such a beautiful story that it made me incredibly happy reading it.
When Christopher and Jesse meet, the sparks fly right away. They are smoking hot together and their sexual relationship takes off quickly. But they are more uncertain as they get to their emotional relationship. Both men are falling hard and fast, but they are both nervous too. Blake really helps us feel how these men are each longing for something real together, but also worried they are moving too quickly. We can see their hope as things become more serious, that wish for this to become something real. Sometimes that longing is just palpable, how much they want it to work and how much they are growing to care for one another. It is so beautifully done and I was rooting so hard for these guys to make it together.
Despite their feelings, Jesse and Christopher do have a lot to work through. Things are wonderful between them, but both have so much holding them down. Jesse is still trying to get his life back together after Marcy’s accident. He is dealing with his kids, as well as with fighting to get Marcy off of life support. He still feels guilt for the direction their relationship was headed before the accident and that is coloring his whole outlook on Marcy and his past. It is especially tough as his daughter is really struggling, and she isn’t so happy about her father bringing home a potential new partner. Christopher is so good and understanding and is determined that Jesse should always put his kids first. He knows what it is like to have parents who don’t care about you. He must deal with bigoted parents, and most especially a mother who has totally abandoned him in favor of her religious beliefs. Christopher just sits and takes it, just like he always has, in the interest of family harmony. But it is killing him having to listen to her and his stepfather say such cruel things to him all the time.
Blake really does a fabulous job of developing these characters, and I am just barely touching on all the depth and complexity. There are so many layers to these guys and we slowly learn more about them and what has shaped them into the men that they are — their families, their sexuality, their childhoods. Jesse is the former rebel who has finally grown up. And Christopher is the man who has tried to stay invisible and keep out of the way of those who would mistreat him. All of this has shaped them into warm, caring men who are so loving and kind, but who also have a lot of pain to work through. I love that they are not afraid to express their feelings and to take a leap with one another.
All of this relationship development between Christopher and Jesse is overlaid with a really wonderfully depicted setting. The men live in the Smoky Mountains in rural Appalachia. Blake really makes the whole area come alive, from the people, to the culture, to the scenery. It is clear she loves this area and it is treated with dignity and a real love for the community. I could imagine the sights and smells of the theme park, the beauty of the mountains, and the quaintness of the town. It is really well done and adds so much to the story.
So I really loved this book and it just was a great comfort read for me. Not that it isn’t angsty at times and not that these guys aren’t going through a lot, because it is and they are. But there is just such a quiet beauty here in this slowly building relationship filled with such warmth and love. These guys are so great individually and in need of so much love and companionship, it is so rewarding seeing them find happiness together. Not to mention they are crazy hot together (OMG, the scene with the pearls! Trust me). So this one just made me want to curl up by the fire and enjoy. Perfect for a cold winter’s day. I loved Smoky Mountain Dreams and highly recommend it.