Rating: 3.5 stars
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Quill has never really dealt with his mother’s death, but now that he’s out of the military and set to inherit the Scottish country house she bequeathed him, it may be time. Instead, he chooses to sell the house sight unseen. A week before the sale closes, Quill ventures up to the property to slap a few coats of paint up and clear out any personal effects.
What he does not expect is to come face to face with Jackson, the presumed asshole son of his mother’s bone fide asshole second husband. For one thing, Jackson was supposed to have died in the accident that killed Quill’s mother. For another, Quill knows he ought to have zero compunctions about kicking this squatter to the curb. At best, the two were extraordinarily estranged in the past with Quill in the military and Jackson all but filling the void Quill’s absence left in his mother’s life. Yet kicking out the squatter is not Quill’s first or second or third course of action.
In an extraordinarily short period of time, Quill comes to respect Jackson’s resourcefulness at making a life in an all but abandoned house—one that lacks every amenity save a roof and a built in place for a fire. The longer Quill maintains the fiction that he’s simply back from the army and starting a new civilian life, the longer he gets to cozy up to Jackson. And there is not small amount of shock at just how cozy the formerly strictly straight Quill wants to get with Jackson.
With the holidays coming up soon, Quill starts to convince himself it only makes sense to refrain from telling Jackson the house he’s been living in for the past several years now belongs to someone else. Just one good Christmas and he can gently break the bad news to a genuinely good guy. There’s just one thing Quill didn’t factor into his plans: falling head over heels in love with Jackson. Having to be the one to break the man’s heart and trust might be a bridge too far for a sensitive man like Jackson.
Keeping the Caveman takes a common trope (the potential relationship between two romantic interests put into jeopardy because one of the two is keeping secrets) and adds an interesting spin. I’ll admit, Collins does a fair job at building the tension on a few different levels. First and most plainly, we know almost right off the bat that Quill thought Jackson was literally dead when, in fact, Jackson was only figuratively dead to his overbearing (?) father. Second, and more importantly, the fact that Quill has sold the house even before ever setting foot inside (and thus knowing Jackson was both alive and living at said house) causes no small amount of strife.
Quill is an interesting main character. He’s got a background in military and the skills and mindset he developed while serving come to the fore during the first few chapters. Being in the armed services is also a huge plot device—it served as the means for him to escape his cold, loathsome stepfather and as the insurance against having to go home during holidays to spend time with the man (but also, by extension, Quill couldn’t spend time with his own mother or get to know his younger stepbrother). As much as the army factors into Quill’s personality and circumstances, it didn’t feel like a huge “gotta make a big deal about this” element in the story. For me, I rather liked that this aspect of the character didn’t dominate all other facets of his person.
Jackson is a little less clearly defined. While it’s quite clear he is a genuine, clever person who is capable of emotional bonds, it’s equally clear that he has spent the last seven or so years living as a recluse in his deceased stepmother’s house. The reader knows Jackson makes this choice to escape his father, but I was never really satisfied about why there was such a lack of love between the two. I kept waiting for the big reveal, like Jackson’s father was a homophobe or something, but it never really came. That, I thought, was hard to accept given how impactful this off-page character has been on Jackson’s life.
Characterization aside, the main part of the story is the build up between Quill and Jackson. The development happens on two main points: 1) Quill and Jackson falling for each other and 2) Quill growing increasingly desperate to find a good way to break the bad news to Jackson about the house.
As far as point two goes, this develops much as anyone can expect. Quill constantly resolves to disclose the truth and each time he gets waylaid. Even when he starts to get the truth out there courtesy of a side character presumably forcing Quill’s hand, the admission takes a wild swing in the opposite direction. There is plenty of build up for this ultimate reveal.
As far as point one goes, this was the more interesting of the two, but sadly felt less developed to me. I say this because, at the start of the book, Quill has no idea he’s into men whatsoever. To be fair, there is no lack of Quill mulling over this attraction and chalking it up to having been in the male-only army (or at least his part of it was male only) for so long, he’s transferring his affections to the first available human. Also, there is no indication that Quill is a very violent man, whatever his experiences in the armed forces. So it seems reasonable that he’s just go with falling in love with another man…but I felt there wasn’t enough drama or personal turmoil surrounding this revelation.
Nevertheless, all the elements in the book come together nicely. This is just a nice and easy get together story between two non-strangers, albeit one that has them suffering some major angst by way of trust issues. If you’re into the kind of While You Were Sleeping brand of story telling, then this story would be right up your ally.