Hagen Wylie lives in a small Oregon town where he works as a contractor. He grew up in that same town and is happy there. After surviving a bombing and a kidnapping in the military, Hagen enjoys his quiet life. He has lots of friends, as well as an occasional friend with benefits in actor Ash Lennox. But Hagen’s world is turned upside down when he learns the love of his life, high school boyfriend Mitch Thayer, has returned to town.
Hagen and Mitch were inseparable in high school and dreamed of a life where they could be together when they graduated. But with Mitch leaving for college to play football while Hagen was still in high school, their long distance relationship fell apart and Hagen hasn’t ever truly gotten over it. Now Mitch has returned to town with his two young sons and is planning to settle there for good. And he makes it clear that he wants Hagen back.
Hagen is wary of getting involved with Mitch again as his trust was broken all those years ago. He has learned to protect his heart all costs and can’t bear the idea of once again being hurt if Mitch leaves him again. But Mitch has grown up and changed and he knows that Hagen is the man he has always wanted. Now he just must convince Hagen that he is ready and eager to commit his heart and his life to being together.
You Never Know is one of those really sweet, delicious romances with main characters you totally root for. These are guys who fell in love as teens and, despite being separated for so long, still have deep feelings for each other years later. There is such a connection between them that we know they are meant for one another right away, even as Hagen is wary. Calmes infuses the story with such a sweet sense of young love, of a connection that can’t be broken, and just a pure romance that it really makes this book work. If you are someone who likes to be swept away by heroes who are just meant for each other, I think this is going to be a story you really enjoy. For me, this sense of pure romance and young love rekindled is what made the book for me and helped balance out some of the places where I had other issues.
The biggest problem for me is that a good deal of this story focuses not on Hagen and Mitch, but on Hagen and Ash. It felt like the Ash subplot just took up too much of the book and pulled time away from developing the present day romance between our heroes. Ash and Hagen have a casual, friends-with-benefits relationship. Ash is a well-known actor about to make it really big and he doesn’t live in town, so Hagen has always known nothing serious will ever come of it. And that is safe for him, because he is still not comfortable risking his heart. But as this story starts, Ash begins to push for more with Hagen and Hagen pretty much dismisses him, certain Ash isn’t serious despite Ash’s protests to the contrary. This back and forth continues throughout the entire book and we have one conversation after another where Ash tries to persuade Hagen of his feelings and interest while Hagen sort of just yeses him and pats him on the head because he doesn’t think Ash is sincere. I understand that showing Ash and Hagen’s relationship serves to both illustrate the contrast with Hagen’s connection with Mitch, as well as to let us see Hagen’s issues with trust. But as a reader this constant back and forth, as well as Hagen’s total dismissal of Ash’s feelings, got a little wearying. While neither we nor Hagen truly know what Ash is really thinking until the end, I still felt like Hagen doesn’t take nearly enough care with Ash’s feelings. So it seemed that this side plot drags out throughout the book and for me it got too much story time.
The other side of this is that it means that we get very little time with Mitch and Hagen. Mitch doesn’t show up on page until the 30% mark, and honestly it felt very much like Ash gets more page time, as well as more real time, with Hagen than Mitch does. In fact, the guys reunite, spend an off and on 24 hours together, most of which is around Mitch’s kids, and then Mitch goes out of town. A few days later they have a conversation that reunites them for good and that is about it for them together. Hagen goes from broken and unable to trust, to willing to commit completely to Mitch in basically a day. Hagen’s whole character is built on these scars from his past, but he goes from fearful of trusting Mitch to all in for life shockingly fast. These guys literally haven’t spoken to each other since they broke up at ages 17/18 and are now in their 30s. Hagen makes clear he has changed a lot due to his time in the military, and says how important it is to share that with Mitch, but he gets back together with him before having that conversation. I just needed to see these guys rebuild their trust, get to know one another again as adults, and spend some time developing their relationship beyond the one they had as kids. But we spend so much of the book with Ash, that it felt like Mitch and Hagen’s story is rushed through with little time to develop.
I think what still makes this story work is what I talked about at the start, and that is the really rich sense of romance between them. It didn’t make these issues go away, but it made me kind of want to ignore them and just get swept up in the deliciousness of them together. So I think the book ends up falling on the side of the positive for me, but I still did wish for much more balance in favor of the main relationship and time to actually see Mitch and Hagen build on what they had as teens. But if you like second chance romances between likable men, along with some adorable kids and a charming small town, this book still should be a good choice for you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.