Michael Baldwin is a retired Air Force sergeant, a wounded veteran who barely survived a bullet to the head. After two years of therapy and learning to manage his agoraphobia and anxiety with the help of a service dog, he’s ready to live on his own—in the sheltered community of Hartsbridge Island, New Hampshire. There, Michael can stay off the radar of his father, the Governor. Closeted, and wishing for a stable partnership he can’t quite imagine having in his current condition, Michael stumbles across Josh.
Josh Goldberg is an outgoing and lovely bisexual man running his family’s Tolkien-themed bagel shop. He’s a townie, and certainly attracted to quiet Michael. They have some communication problems straight from the start, because Josh has a reading difficulty and Michael struggles to speak when he’s stressed. So texts are awkward and meetings are awkward and neither man is sure how the other feels, for a little bit. But, Josh is open to learning what Michael needs in a partner, and that’s the kind of understanding Michael never dreamed of receiving.
I really liked watching their courtship unfold. The added tension of Michael’s demanding father was interesting, as well. Josh and Michael are both sweet guys and they complement each other in personality and skill sets. Josh is embarrassed regarding his lack of education and Michael supports him without shame. Michael struggles with simple tasks in public, like talking to strangers—or even loved ones—and Josh give him the space and quiet reassurance he needs to unwind his tension. Also, food. Josh fed Michael enough bagels, soup, and deli creations to do a Bubbe proud.
There’s not a lot of sexytimes, but they do make some magic happen. I liked that this was a slow burn, because it demonstrated a commitment for each man to be sure it was the right thing, and that the act was more than a physical release. Michael, especially, had to ensure this, as he’d made a habit of using anonymous hook-ups to cope with his disability. Their banter is sweet and tender, and their fierce devotion felt believable once they got past the initial (also believable) awkwardness. Michael’s PTSD was considerately treated, and the secondary characters were fleshy enough to feel real. I particularly liked the community response to Michael—how they were kind and accepting of Kaylee, his sweetheart of a German shepard. Knowing people who’ve had service dogs, the descriptions of that behavior felt authentic. It also made me laugh when she “critiqued” Josh in the bedroom… 😉 Expect a sweet romance, with two men who are appropriately tentative, and an HEA that’s warmer than a hearth fire in a blizzard.