In high school, Shane Wallace suffered relentless bullying at the hands of golden boy Maxwell Sullivan and his friends. Now 12 years later, Shane is confident and solid. And mostly happy. He has his own auto repair shop and he takes care of his mother, who deals with debilitating depression and anxiety. When Maxwell Sullivan comes back to town, Shane wants nothing to do with him.
As a kid, Maxwell lived in fear of his father and desperately tried to keep his sexuality a secret. As soon as he turned 18, he left the small town of Last Chance and moved to LA. He reinvented himself, becoming the person he always wanted to be. Including now going by Van, as Maxwell was someone he was ashamed of being. He tries to apologize to Shane for his actions back then, but Shane doesn’t want to hear it. Which Van understands completely.
But when Van helps Shane’s mom, the two finally have a chance to talk. Shane sees that Van is not the kid he once knew, and a friendship starts to blossom. But the attraction sparks almost immediately, and the two begin dating. Life is working against them, though. Van is only in town for a short time, and Shane has responsibilities he won’t ignore. When Van reaches his breaking point with his own mother, there’s little point in him staying in town. Both men agree they aren’t ready to let go, and they try the long distance thing. But distance, fears, and miscommunications threaten to tear them apart. But if Shane can take a chance, they might finally get their happy ending.
It’s Judge a Book by Its Cover Week here, so let me kick this review off by telling you why, when I saw the cover for this book, I was ready to snatch it up practically before I read the blurb. So immediately, I was drawn to the simplicity of it. Easy to read, crisp font, dark background, and two beautiful guys in a sensual, intimate pose, what’s not to love, right? But even more than that, the sensuality got me thinking, wanting to know about the guys and their story. And then there was the necklace. Did it have some meaning in the story? Or was it just something to add to the image? I wanted to know. And, for me in particular, there’s that little subheading, proclaiming the book a part of a series. All these things worked together to drawn me in and make me want to read. And oh, believe me when I tell you that this cover is absolutely perfect for the story within.
Quick note for those who need to be aware: there is discussion of child abuse on page, though it’s not too graphic. And there is depiction of mental illness. I think the author handled both aspects well, and treated them with the respect they are due.
Right from the first page, it was easy to see there was more going on beneath the surface. Shane, though being bullied, sees a layer to Maxwell he doesn’t quite have a name for. I liked that the book began when the MCs were high school because it gave a great sense of grounding to the story. Then we fast forward 12 years, and we see Shane as he is now. Confident. Successful. He’s really come into his own, and he’s…well, not exactly happy, but content with his life. Van, when he appears, shows how much he’s changed, and gives us the reasons why. I loved the way Hart reveals the depths of both characters. It could have easily been given in an info dump, or conversely, drawn out too long so that some bit of information could have felt like a surprise. But the author handles it perfectly, doling out the info at the perfect pace. Within the first couple of chapters, the reader has a good handle on both the MCs, and it was easy to understand where they were both coming from.
The chemistry between Shane and Van sparked from their first real conversation. There was something under the surface to their interactions that really ratcheted up the anticipation. When these guys got together, there was a true sensuality to them. I loved the way Van’s photography played into their sexual encounters, and I loved that Shane found an excitement and kink he didn’t know he had as they played together. These guys worked on every level.
So I really enjoyed the style of writing, and the pacing throughout the story worked well. Near the end, there’s a miscommunication of sorts that felt a bit predictable. It made sense for the characters, but it was just a tiny bit frustrating to watch it happen. However, it didn’t drag on too long, and the resolution was incredibly satisfying. I liked that there was an epilogue, too, that finished off the story nicely.
All in all, this one was well done from beginning to end, and I really enjoyed it. Even better, it’s the first of a series, and I’m really looking forward to the next book. If the cover didn’t already draw you in, and again I’ll say that it is 100% perfect for the story, then know that I have no qualms about recommending this to you.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack from Interlude Press that includes a signed, print copy of Not Your Villian by C.B. Lee, plus e-book copies of some of their award-winning books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Judge a Book By Its Cover Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.