Note: Fire & Rain is the sequel to The Way Back, a book featuring a love triangle. This review will spoil the ultimate romantic pairing that comes in that story.
Eric Walker has not had a great romantic past. His marriage fell apart due to his cheating on his wife with men, he hasn’t been able to maintain a relationship with anyone, and his series of blind dates has gone from bad to worse. Not to mention that he destroyed his relationship with his brother, Jason, and Jason’s now fiancé, Riley, by trying to get in between them and have Riley for himself. The only positive about his messy romantic life is that it helped him get the rest of his life together. He got sober, he loves his job as a bar manager, and he is surrounded by great friends, including his best friend Johnny Osborne. Still, Eric still holds out hope of finding love and a lasting relationship.
The gang at the bar is like family, and when one of the staff, Travis, loses everything in a fire, they all jump in to help. Eric moves Travis into his house and does everything he can to help the younger man get back on his feet. In the meantime, the craziness of the fire and its aftermath bring Johnny and Eric together in ways Eric never expected. He has always cared about Johnny as a friend, but has never seen him in a romantic light — until the day he does and then he can’t turn back. Apparently everyone else, including Johnny, saw the signs long before, but Eric missed it all. When Eric finally recognizes the attraction, the men are able to make the move from friends to lovers.
Things are not all smooth sailing. Life is kind of a mess for Travis, caught between his feelings for two men. The whole thing brings up bad memories for Eric, who found himself caught in a similar situation in his own past. Eric also struggles with feelings of responsibility for Travis and the others at the bar, sometimes overwhelming himself with guilt and obligation. Not to mention Johnny has some painful memories of his own that are getting in the way of really being comfortable in the growing relationship. Now that Eric and Johnny have finally accepted their feelings for one another, they must focus on moving forward and making new memories together.
So I totally loved Quinn’s The Way Back and have been eagerly anticipating Eric’s story. Eric is not really a bad guy in the first book, but he definitely makes bad choices and is just at a really confusing place in his life. Here we see that he has finally gotten his life together and is happy and settled. He just really still longs for a romantic connection with somebody to make it all complete. So I really enjoyed seeing him find his way to Johnny and finally pull it all together.
I really enjoy a good friends-to-lovers story and Quinn does a nice job here of finding the balance between building the intensity as Eric realizes his feelings for Johnny, without dragging things out too long. We can see how suddenly one kiss just awakens Eric to seeing Johnny in a romantic way. At the same time, I could totally understand how the nature of their relationship as coworkers and Johnny being a former client of Eric’s could have prevented Eric from ever thinking of him romantically before that.
But we can easily see what everyone else knows, and that is that these guys make a great pair. Johnny is lightness to Eric’s intensity; he encourages Eric to stop feeling responsible for everything and to not always beat himself up for his past. Both of these men are good, and kind, and giving to others, and they are sweet together. I loved their banter and the way they interact. I particularly loved how there is more to them than just the pairing of tough athlete and femme drag queen. They make a great couple and are very sweet and sexy together.
The story unfolds several issues for these guys to deal with. We learn about Johnny’s past and what makes him a little insecure about his relationship with Eric. We also understand Eric’s sense of failure for his own romantic history, and why he lacks so much confidence in this area. He knows he has messed up time and again, and while we can see he has become a mature, responsible man, he still worries that he is fated to screw things up again. So both of these guys have complicated histories that they need to move past, and Quinn does a nice job delving into these things and helping us understand the two men.
The biggest conflict of the story centers around the fire in Travis’ apartment and Travis and others from the bar take on a big role in the book. In some ways this really works. First off, the aftermath of the fire is what indirectly kicks things off between Johnny and Eric. Travis’ subsequent romantic issues also help illuminate some of Riley’s past and how he has moved beyond that. But I do think things went overboard here with so much focus on Travis and his relationships. Eric has this enormous sense of responsibility over the staff at the bar. Even though many are around his age, he thinks of them as the “kids” and feels like it is his job to take care of them. He is consumed with guilt when things go wrong in their lives, blaming himself even when he has nothing to do with it. He is also way overly invested in Travis’ love life. Giving your friend support or even guidance makes sense. But Eric is just so emotionally involved in what is happening to Travis that it just seemed way excessive. First off, I am not sure I needed so much detail into Travis’ love life. It was a lot of involvement for a secondary character. Second, we really never learn just why Eric feels this need to take care of everyone or has such a sense of responsibility for their problems. I wanted to understand what was driving him to act this way, but we never really learn anything to explain his behavior, despite how much of the story this consumes.
This is just a small issue, however, and overall I really enjoyed this book. Although you could read this as a standalone, I really feel like it was enhanced by having read The Way Back. There we see Eric’s mistakes and the mess he is making of his life, and by the time we reach this book, we see him having pulled things together. So it makes a nice progression for him and shows his growth over the two books. This story just has a really nice tone, with some fun banter, two really endearing characters, and some sweet, sexiness. I enjoyed it lot and recommend both books.