When Hutch Crowley hears crying, he finds his new neighbor in distress. Fourteen-year-old Ivy is having a hell of a day, and Hutch does the best he can to help. He listens to her problems, helps her with the solutions, and then takes her to his huge grocery store. With her father out of town, and no one to watch over her until he can return, Hutch takes up the mantle, along with his best friend, Mike Rojas. The men take care of Ivy until her father gets back.
Mike showed up in Mangrove a few years before, and Hutch immediately connected with the man and offered him a job and a place to live. Now, Mike is still living in Hutch’s guest house and managing his store. They eat together every night, and Hutch is love with his best friend. But Mike is straight, and Hutch will do nothing to jeopardize their friendship. Especially now that Mike is dating again, and the parade of women doing the walk of shame from his house is long and varied.
When there is yet another attempt to shut down construction on the community center Hutch is building, Hutch gets into a physical altercation with another man that lands them both in jail. Mike is there to get him out, and things change between them in an instant. Mike is done denying what he feels for Hutch, and is ready to show Hutch exactly what he wants. All Hutch has to do is reach out and take it, if he can just reconcile the change.
This is the third book in Mary Calmes’s Mangrove Series. Now, I’ve been reading along in the series since the first one, and Hutch has made an appearance in the first two books, so I was happy to see him finally getting his story. So while I can say that this book absolutely works as a standalone and no prior knowledge is needed to understand anything or to feel connected to the characters, I think it adds just a tiny bit extra if you’ve been following along up till now. Sultry Sunset is another friends to lovers story, and it fits in well with the first two. All three books thus far have the same kind of feel, but are individual enough that they stand on their own.
So Hutch is a one of a kind character, and I was really glad to be in his head. I loved the way he thinks, and he had me grinning throughout most of the book. The beginning of the story does take a bit of a leap of faith (why in the heck does Ivy’s father not jump on a plane and come back the instant he finds out his daughter is alone?) but if you can make that jump, then you’re in for a hell of a treat. Hutch is funny and big hearted, a little bit snarky, and an all-around great guy. I loved getting to know him, watching him deal with the people in his life, and move forward. And I have to say that I adored the way he felt about Mike, what he was and wasn’t willing to risk, and how their relationship took that step from friends to lovers. Hutch made this book for me, and his personality alone makes it work the read.
We don’t get to know Mike quite as well, and most of what we do see is colored by Hutch’s perspective. This didn’t detract as much from the story for me as I thought it would. Yes, I would have liked a little more from Mike, but it was clear he was a good guy who cared immensely about Hutch. But because we didn’t get to know him as much, I found his leap from supposedly straight into willing to commit fully to Hutch a little jarring. I think if we’d been shown just a little bit more of the transition, I would have found it a bit easier to take. I did, appreciate, that this isn’t a out for you story, and that Mike admits to finding men attractive in the past, even if he wasn’t ever moved to do anything about it. What we did see of Mike felt real and organic, and though I wanted more, I appreciated what we did get.
Mangrove is peopled with all sorts of unique characters, and we get to see them fleshing out the story as secondary characters, as well as introducing us to several characters who could be up for their own Mangrove novella. It gave the book a wonderfully well-rounded feeling without being overwhelming.
Overall, I’m really enjoying this series, and I think that this installment is a great addition. Though I had a couple of small quibbles, Hutch alone makes this story worth reading, and the ending is so full of love and promise that it just made my heart go all soft.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.