A Worthy Man is the latest installment in the excellent Men of Halfway House series. In creating Vannguard Shaw, author Jamie Reese offers a man who is nearly broken, returning from a nightmare of being imprisoned for something he actually did not do. In this case, Shaw was saving his boyfriend from a violent attack by a father who couldn’t handle the shame of a gay son. It didn’t help that that son was already marching to the beat of his own drum and had little regard for parents who valued appearance over substance. Drayton was in love with Shaw and tired of hiding it when one night at dinner he admitted to his parents he was gay. That admission would be the end of everything and land Shaw in prison for ten years before Dray was able to get him released by exposing his mother’s lies and manipulations.
During that time, Shaw would refuse to see Dray, but that didn’t deter Dray in the least. Instead he wrote letters, every week for ten years, and when Shaw was finally released Dray would be there to bring Shaw to the halfway house where he would live out a probationary period until he could be free to be with Dray again. The only problem is the Shaw who went into prison is not the same man who comes out. Nor has Dray remained the same either—instead he has used his laser-like intelligence to pursue creating incredible cars of the future, electric cars that would set the standard for any that would come after and his first model was based on the drawing Shaw made for him ten years before.
Now Dray wants Shaw to take his place by his side and join him by running the design team and being a part of the multi-million dollar industry Dray has created. But Shaw views himself as broken, useless, and unworthy of much—especially not of someone like Dray and his love. Shaw may no longer be behind a physical set of bars, but the prison he has created for himself that is laden with self-doubt and loathing is very real and that Dray may not be able to free him from in the end.
This story is perhaps the purest form of a true romance novel you will ever be likely to read in this genre. The motivations behind what Dray and Shaw do and say are all filtered through a deep and genuine love for each other. Unfortunately for Shaw, they are also mired down in years of an abusive hateful father who taught his son he was worthless. There is no great drama here, just a few smatterings of slightly angsty moments, but overall this story is more cerebral. We get inside the heads of Shaw and Dray and watch with gut wrenching sorrow how much these two have suffered being apart. Now, when everything should be so much better, the distance that has grown between them is one they must slowly dismantle if they are ever to be as close as they once were. This wall that Shaw has constructed over the years was necessary for his survival in prison, but now he struggles to let it go and see that he is worthy of happiness and Dray’s love.
There was such passion and pathos in this novel. Author Jaime Reese plumbed the depths of raw emotion when she took on the job of drawing a character who had to shut down every feeling he had in order to survive. Shaw is like an open wound at times—slowly bleeding out and almost a mere shadow of the boy he once was. He is weary to the bone from fighting for everything he has ever wanted and now that Dray is still there and still professes to loves him, he can barely believe it and is terrified it will all be taken from him yet again.
My one complaint with this tender romance was that I felt it dragged on in some sections—constantly returning to the same place over and over. I understood that the author was attempting to make us understand and feel how broken and scared Shaw was, but I felt as though that could have been accomplished with a little less repetition. As a result, the moment when Shaw finally began to trust in his ability to make Dray happy and to be a partner in the business, the story felt almost rushed—a bit too easy after all the mental turmoil Shaw had gone through for most of the story.
However, there is no denying that A Worthy Man was yet another wonderful book in the Men of Halfway House series and there is no way around the fact that author Jaime Reese writes gritty, realistic characters whose sufferings and triumphs will pierce the toughest of hearts.