Ethan Stokes, a successful DC interior designer, drives back to the Maryland farm where he grew up, with his life in disarray. Randall, his lover and business partner, has moved out of their townhouse, announcing (with his luscious new Latino boy toy in tow) that he no longer loves Ethan and wants to call it quits.
But something wonderful has happened, too. Ethan received a call from his father asking for help—in Ethan’s own words, the call he had waited for all his life. Ethan’s mother died three years ago, a devastating blow to his father. Now, finally, Ethan’s father wants his help. Ethan assumes it’s to help him sell the farm.
When he arrives at the farm, he is shocked that Quinn Kincade, Ethan’s first kiss and object of unrequited longing, lives in the Stokes house. In fact, Quinn is sleeping in Ethan’s old room. Quinn’s alcoholic father has also moved in, after losing the Kincaid farm. He’s devastated by the loss of his wife, the only person who could keep him sober.
Quinn is now happily, openly gay, and welcomes Ethan to the house with unnerving enthusiasm. He’s conceived a project that will save both their fathers and he wants Ethan to get on board with it.
The story idea of two gay men setting aside their professional lives to rescue their cantankerous fathers, both recently widowed and painfully lost, took me by storm as I read the opening chapters. That’s what I thought the story would be about (along with the romance, of course). While I’m certain a large number of readers will enjoy this book more than I did, this is my review and I have to say I finished the book feeling misled.
The promises an author makes to a reader are more than important. They comprise a sacred contract between them. When an author finishes a story, the first question in his/her mind must be, “Did I keep the promises I made to my readers?” In the second paragraph I learned that when Ethan Stokes gets a call from his father asking for help, “it was the call Ethan had waited for all his life.” I took that information as a very important promise. The hero had been waiting for that call all his life, so surely building some new father-son relationship had to be a major part of the story. Instead, the story turns out to be an uneven and fairly predictable romance between Ethan and Quinn, with the lost fathers as a kind of backdrop reason for Quinn and Ethan to be stuck together until they can love each other openly. As the story progresses, resolution of the two father-son relationships becomes less and less important. Even the elder Kincaid’s struggle with alcohol is ultimately left unaddressed.
There were two main problems with this book for me. The first was that the editing and proofing was below the standard I’ve come to expect from this publisher. For example, there were many typos — “threated” instead of “threatened”, repeated use of question marks where they didn’t belong — “I don’t do that nasty habit anymore?” and even dangling modifiers — “Recently separated, the Dupont Circle townhouse was now listed [for sale].”
More troubling, logic problems that should have been weeded out in edits remained, tangling the story. In chapter one we learn that Randall, the nasty ex, announced he no longer loved Ethan and wanted to call it quits. He’s moved out of their Dupont Circle townhouse, which is now listed for sale. On page 8 the reader is told “Any hopes of reconciliation were dashed, Ethan unable to compete…” but in chapter four Ethan agonizes about his attraction to Quinn: “He was with Randall…kind of.” And at the end of chapter seven, Ethan confides to his feisty-straight-female-BFF, “But I just wished that I knew if things were over with Randall. It would be so much easier if I did.” and “He just needed to hear it from Randall’s lips and then he could move on.” How could he have forgotten that already happened on page 8? That’s a serious rift in logic. Ethan’s persistent equivocation about Randall provides the plot with an endless source of angst, but as written it gets in the way of the actual story.
The second problem is with Ethan himself. A protagonist is supposed to be a well-motivated character overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal. Or at least supposed to be proactive on occasion. What does Ethan want? It’s seldom clear. I completely lost my sense of what he wanted with his father, what he was willing to risk to reach out to him besides work on the project. Ethan definitely wants Quinn, but chooses to suppress his attraction to Quinn even though his knees melt when he’s around him. He’s certain that acting on his desire would ruin their project. We never really learn why, but we’re told it would be a really bad thing.
Over two thirds of the way through the book we read, “[Ethan] wanted Quinn bad. But Ethan also didn’t want to feel Quinn’s large fist coming in contact with his nose if he refused Ethan’s advances.” Why on earth would Ethan think that was a possibility? Openly gay Quinn has treated Ethan with nothing but warmth, even flirting, and has given no indication of violent psychosis for Ethan to be afraid of.
I’m pretty sure Ethan is supposed to come across as torn, confused, or lost, but he came across as spineless to this reader, passively coping with whatever happens to him until the very last pages. Frankly, I lost sympathy for him because he seemed unable to initiate relationship action with his father or Quinn, or stand up for what he wanted when it really counted.
In spite of these problems, the author’s colorful high-energy language and his enthusiasm for the story pull the reader forward. The dialogue is lively, the farm scenes believably realized. There are some beautiful moments between Ethan and Quinn as they work on their project, and Ethan’s growing sense of belonging on the farm is sweet.
I’ve rated this book 3 stars, in part because the story didn’t seem thought through adequately, but mostly because I don’t feel I was given the story I was promised. I don’t think every other reader will be as bothered by that and will enjoy it simply as the very straightforward city-boy/country-boy romance it became.