Darkness engulfed Reese Thompson’s early years. The ideas and actions that merely fitted him into the fold of his own family left hims at odds with the rest of broader society. When a personal revelation wakes Reese up to reality, he wants to change, but he knows it will come at a steep price. Ultimately, the choice between staying in the hateful fold of his family or throwing off their narrow views and values is made for him. Reese is arrested, charged, and found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit. Yet the time he served feels like a penance paid for past mistakes.
Now, Reese is a free man. He just wants to live the best life. With his cat and a job as a barista with a very open-minded boss, Reese feels like this is as good as it gets. Certainly he has no aspirations for friendship, let alone romance. Or he didn’t right up until Charlie Chen walks into his cafe and leaves Reese tongue tied, hot, and bothered.
Charlie is fresh out of college working as an accountant for an overbearing boss. The trips to a certain cafe were initially just a treat to break up the monotony of being a desk jockey, but as soon as he catches an eyeful of the hunky barista, Charlie makes a point of coming back. There’s something dangerous about the mysterious coffee slinger. Despite the darkness in the man’s eyes, Charlie can tell there is stunning depth there as well. He’s also convinced he’s just the man to crack Reese’s shell and reveal the real man within.
Bit by bit, Charlie proves to Reese that love can find a way. That it’s not all about huge romantic gestures, but about just being there for your partner, taking things at their pace, and giving him his space. For Reese, these qualities outshine Charlie’s stunning good looks and, more importantly, give him hope that there just might someone for Reese to love as well. Together, they find creative ways to forge a connection that grows ever deeper, to the point where they have a real shot.
When Reese’s old life comes crashing to the forefront, it not only ruins a major milestone for Reese and Charlie as a couple, but threatens the very idea of them being together. Now, it’s Reese’s turn to repay Charlie’s kindness…but there are no guarantees that Charlie will be able to forgive Reese for the man he was and go back to loving the man Reese has become.
On the whole, I was sort of into this book. More than the characters and their situations and the drama that explodes around Charlie at the end, it was Reese’s past that snagged my attention.
What is it about Reese’s past? Ostensibly, it’s the prison thing. And Kay does a good job about stringing the reader along thinking that’s “all” the baggage Reese has. Then there is this exchange between Reese and Van, who works at the same cafe as Reese:
…Van stepped closer. “I know you’re scared of his reaction when you tell him about…” Van trailed of, waving his had in front of Reese’s chest. “But believe me, offering your heart on a platter is never easy. Give him a reason to stay with you even after he knows the truth. You told him about the night you were arrested, right? So maybe he’s already suspecting something.”
Reese swallowed thickly. He couldn’t believe he was talking about his feelings like some teary school girl. “He’s already been so…understanding. I don’t know if there’s anything strong enough to make him stay as soon as he knows the full truth…”
This exchange helps prep the reader for “the full truth” without actually giving anything away. (Yet, as I reread it after having completed the book, there are hints.) Not only does this help me realize there’s more than being arrested in Reese’ past, but it gets me wondering what would be worse than that. Being baited like that really helped up my interest in the story. Each time our main couple got intimate, I wondered if it would be the scene where we find out Reese’ dark secret. Let me just say that given long wait and the way we see our characters falling more and more in love with each other, it was pretty satisfying (shocking?) to see what Reese had been hiding.
One aspect of the book that was a big mixed bag were the actual characters themselves. We have a good number of supporting cast. Reese’s boss is a woman named Jenny who’s in a committed menage with two men (Van in the excerpt above being one of them). This trio serves primarily as a vehicle for the reader to get to know Reese prior to his meeting Charlie. In a nutshell, he’s horrendously miserable and on-page he usually takes his bad attitude out on the customers who patronize the cafe where he works. For whatever reason, Jenny and the rest of them are totally fine with his surly behavior. The introduction of Charlie sort of tempers this, but only when Reese is with Charlie…and then, we see him turn into a man with an over developed sense of possession and who is free with his passion.
While I don’t necessarily mind seeing this lovesick change in Reese, keep in mind Reese is the one who’s trying to keep Charlie at arm’s length because of the skeletons in his closet (being arrested and that other thing). It really threw me for a loop and made me think Reese was a dick for seriously pushing the envelope on what constitutes behavior between “friends” (as Reese said he wanted) and “boyfriends” (which is what Charlie was always angling for).
The flip side to that equation is Charlie, who’s fresh out of college, but wants a committed relationship. For the most part, I think he does right by Reese when it comes to respecting Reese’s verbal insistence they only be friends (despite Reese’s physical cues he wants much more). That said, there were plenty of scenes where his reaction to some of the shit Reese pulls just smacked of melodramatic overreaction…funnily enough, several of these were immediately tempered with Charlie calling himself on his own flakiness. I will say this: when Charlie finally learns Reese’s secret, his reaction was very interesting to read—truly, I don’t think I would have faulted him for just about any reaction, so it was just kind of fun to see where the author took Charlie with that bombshell. However, just when Charlie’s about to mend bridges with Reese, more shit hits the fan and Charlie blindly lays all the blame at Reese’s feet. That is the one reaction (of so many) that felt like unjustified pandering. Rather than having me on tenter hooks waiting to see how Reese would respond, I was turned off by Charlie’s inexplicably stupid choice (at so so so late a stage) to blame Reese.
Overall, this was a pretty good story. If the characters are almost campy with their one-dimensionality, I think the hook buried in the story makes up for a lot of it. It really helped me that we learn Reese has more than just being jailed in his past earlier in the book, otherwise his other secret would have definitely come across as too-little-too-late-too-fantastical-to-be-believed. If you’re looking for a get-together fix between opposites that has a HEA ending but some major emotional drama, you’d probably like this story.