John Carey hit rock bottom and he was driven to rehab against his will. But he’s put in the work, and his 28 days are almost up when he gets the letter that shatters his world. His first love, Tory, has committed suicide, and John is the one who has to clean up his mess and lay Tory to rest. Newly clean, and still a mess himself, John leave Sacramento for Florida to do exactly that. The journey there has him traveling down memory lane. He remembers his childhood, his amazing Nana, his time with Tory in all its painful detail, and just exactly how he started making porn.
When John gets to Tory’s apartment, he meets Galen Henderson. Galen is Tory’s friend and neighbor, and the one who is holding Tory’s keys and a box he was instructed to give to John. Galen is broken himself, having been in an accident, covered with scars, and addicted to prescription pain meds because his pain is so high. He’s the last thing John thinks he needs, but it turns out that Galen is snarky and witty, and exactly who John needs to hold his hand. They bond quickly, and Galen is there as John starts wading through the mess Tory left behind.
It’s a struggle for John not to fall back into his addiction as the pain of cleaning up after Tory grows. But he has so much to stay clean for: his best friend Dex, the thriving porn company and it’s all its employees, and now there’s Galen. Galen’s so called friends abandoned him while he was recovering from his accident and he’s got no one left to live for. Slowly and carefully, they take care of Tory’s business, but also grow closer. The men are attracted to each other, but it’s such a bad idea for them to act on it. Yet they can’t help themselves; they want each other so badly, and more than that, they need each other.
Despite his own addiction, Galen is there for John and even begins to take less of the oxy that has ruled his life for three years. But one night, in terrible pain, Galen takes more than he should and John finds him unconscious and in trouble. After a trip to the ER, John forces Galen to rehab so that he can detox safely and get clean. Galen is willing to work the program, and he makes huge strides. He loves John, and he’s finally at a places where he can ask for help. But John has a whole life waiting for him back in California, and it’s one he really needs to get back to. He’s willing to put it on hold for Galen; he’s finally found someone who really wants to get better, unlike Tory, who John feels he failed. But Galen knows he needs more time, and tells John to return to his life and to start making it a place Galen can join in. John reluctantly goes home, and he just has to have faith that Galen means what he says and will join him when he’s ready. For a man like John, that’s a lot of faith to have in someone else. He just has to hope that this time, it’ll work.
Let me start by saying that this is the fourth book in the Johnnies series, and while maybe it can stand alone, you don’t want to do that. Lane does a fantastic job of filling in all the backstory that brought us to this point, but the monumental impact of this story loses something if you haven’t followed along and witnessed John’s catastrophic fucking up. His redemption is all the sweeter if you’ve already witnessed how hard he fell he fell in the first place. But if you’ve been following along with the Johnnies series, you are going to be amazed at the man John is.
In prior books, especially Dex in Blue, we’ve seen how John has bottomed out and let the coke take over. But we didn’t really get to know John all that well. But this book is his story, and we dive right into his heart and his pain, and we are shown the layers he possesses. I have to admit, I was pretty angry at John for his actions before I started this book. I went into it expecting Lane’s trademark style, knowing my heart would be ripped up and put back together, and that I’d be made to fall in love with John. And it was and I did. But I never thought that it would be such a nuanced and beautiful story, that I would come to care for John so deeply that I felt his pain as if it were my own and be desperate for him to find his happily ever after.
In John we can see perfectly how addiction can cause a truly good man to make some of the worst mistakes ever. John has a huge heart, and a philosophy about life and porn that is beautiful. But the cocaine has clouded his judgement, and he was so desperate he made some incredibly bad choices. He’s working to make amends for those wrongs, and he does it in spectacular fashion. What I truly loved about this book was the theme of forgiveness, and how sometimes you give it when it doesn’t seemed deserved, and how that can heal you better than anything else. John has put in the work to get clean, but now he has to stay clean, and he has something huge he’s facing that would make it easy to fall off the wagon. But John perseveres, and it’s a testament to his character that he does. Yes, he spiraled out of control, but this guy is one who was made to be amazing and he just needed his head clear to remember it. I loved him, from start to finish.
This story is not just a romance. Or perhaps I should say it’s more than just a romance. This is a story about healing, about letting go of the ghosts of the past, and how sometimes it’s the right thing to do to walk away and move on with your own life. It’s a story of hard lessons and revelations. The love that John and Galen found with each other helped on the journey, but ultimately, they both had to do the work themselves. They both had overcome their own demons in order to move into the future together. I have to admit, that as hard as it was, I loved how real this book felt. Yes, there are some serious painful issues and moments. Yes, my heart broke again and again for these guys, especially John. I wanted there to be the easy fix, for these guys to just walk off into the sunset in love and happy. But I loved that it’s not like that, that it’s hard and painful and real, and that ultimately, it’s up to both men to heal themselves so they can move forward.
I could go on and on. I could point out all the little things that made John and Galen so fantastic. I could mention a hundred different things that made this book so good. But then we’d be here all day and you’d be reading a 25 page essay. The parts that impacted me the most are here, and I will leave it at that. I loved this book. I loved every painful moment that moved these characters forward. I loved the real feeling, and I loved the funny bits that broke the tension at just the right time. I loved the way these guys were crafted, and how hard they hurt, and how far they came by the end. This book hurts, but there is hope, and it is strong. By the end, the hurt was worth it, for John and Galen, and for me.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.