empty boxRating: 3.75 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Dave lives a pretty solitary life after breaking up with Travis, his long-time partner. Dave works as a cook at The Square Peg bar, and his coworkers are more like family, but he doesn’t have much of a social life, and isn’t sure he is ready for one.  After staying way too long in his relationship with Travis, a relationship where he was constantly bending to accommodate Travis’ abusive and erratic behavior, Dave is pretty sure he is better off alone and doesn’t much trust his own judgement.

When Dave breaks his ankle one icy night, he is rescued by his young neighbor, Jeremy. Despite Dave’s exhaustion and pain making him grouchy, Jeremy is sweet and friendly and goes out of his way to help take care of him. In fact, Jeremy makes it very clear that he is attracted to Dave, and would love something more. But Dave is almost 20 years older than Jeremy and is sure the beautiful, young man can do better than a guy like him.  Dave and Jeremy become good friends, spending lots of time together, but Dave holds off Jeremy’s attention, trying to discourage his interest. Eventually, however, Jeremy wins out, convincing Dave to give things between them a try, and when he does, the sparks fly.

Just as things are moving forward, however, Travis comes back in the picture. He wants Dave back, and even though Dave wants nothing to do with him, Travis isn’t taking no for an answer. And when he begins to threaten Jeremy, things get even more serious. Dave has finally moved on with his life and found a good man who truly loves him, but his ex lover and his feelings about his past may derail his new relationship.

The Empty Box is the third book in Davitt and Snow’s The Square Peg series. I absolutely loved the first book and enjoyed the second as well, so I was excited to reconnect with the gang from the bar and revisit this world. Dave is the cook at The Peg, and even though he is older than most of his coworkers, he is part of their little family. When we meet Dave, he is still pretty down from his breakup. He is pretty much over Travis, but he also still bears the scars from that relationship. Travis was emotionally abusive, cheated on him, was addicted to drugs, and generally took advantage of Dave over and over. Dave is still angry at himself that he let things go on so long and didn’t get out of there years before. He feels like he has wasted so much of his life on Travis. So when he meets Jeremy, Dave isn’t really emotionally ready for a new relationship, especially one with a young, vibrant, gorgeous guy who is having his first real sexual and emotional experience with another man.

I think the authors do a nice job with a slow build here, because Dave needs time to adjust to the idea of Jeremy. I did get a bit tired of all the protesting when Jeremy so clearly wants Dave, but it doesn’t drag on too long. As they move into a relationship, we slowly see Dave coming back to life. He has been so closed off and reserved, and he starts interacting more with his coworkers and generally becoming more comfortable with himself. I loved Jeremy, who is virtually always upbeat and a sweet, likable guy. At times wondered what he sees in Dave, who has a tendency to be quite grouchy when he is tired or in pain or otherwise upset and definitely has his intense moments, but there are enough loving, sweet times between them to carry it off.

Where things derailed somewhat for me is in the Travis end of things. On one hand, I appreciate that the story doesn’t go in the exact predicable stalker plot, and the authors take things in a surprising direction here. But so much of this didn’t work for me. First off, the guys have been broken up a year and Dave seems to have cut off all contact with Travis, but somehow Travis is back as soon as Dave has a boyfriend (how does he even know?). Dave seems to fluctuate so much between sending a clear message that he is no longer interested in Travis and then accommodating him or interacting with him anyway. He seems strangely in denial that Travis is dangerous, even when it seems clear he is threatening Jeremy physically.  In some ways I appreciate that the authors make this relationship complex. We know the two men had been together for years, both as friends growing up and ultimately in a romantic relationship. So Dave has a lot of baggage there and still sees his old friend buried inside this monster. But we see Dave clearly saying he is over Travis, insisting that he has moved on and telling Travis that he doesn’t want to be with him. Yet he keeps engaging, keeps underestimating him, and even at times provoking him. There was a point where I was yelling at my kindle at Dave’s stupid move confronting Travis when he should have been calling the police. And as things go bad, Dave almost destroys his own relationship due to his inability to move past things with Travis. I’ll be honest, it really negatively impacted my feelings about Dave and I found myself with a lot less respect for him than I had before. I also feel like Travis gets so much page time and this conflict is such a huge part of the story that it really takes away from the primary relationship between Dave and Jeremy.

I had a few other smaller quibbles. I loved seeing The Square Peg gang again, but have to wonder how a bar and restaurant operates with seemingly only six employees.  How are they the only ones who work there? Two cooks, two bartenders, and two managers? I also couldn’t really believe that they manage to open a new restaurant from the ground up in a month, going from an “empty box” to a fully operational restaurant in such a short time. I also found that while I enjoyed Dave’s friend the beekeeper as a side character, the story relies a little too much on his role as the zen adviser, the quiet farmer who doles out this almost magical wisdom that is exactly what everyone needs, like a beekeeping Yoda. Nothing major here, but just little things that didn’t come together fully for me.

So while I liked this story, there were definitely some things that didn’t work as well for me. I loved (really loved) the first book, The Square Peg, but unfortunately the other two books haven’t quite lived up to that one for me.  I would definitely recommend that if you haven’t read this series, you start with the first book and then think about giving the others a try.  If you are fan of the series, this one may be worth it just for the chance to revisit with Shane, Ben, Vin, and Patrick. I am not sure I’d go back and read it again, but I am glad I took the time for Jeremy and Dave’s story and I continue to enjoy this series.

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