For JJ Hendricks, Derek Wells, his little brother Remy, and the rest of the Wells clan has been the surrogate family that filled all the gaps in JJ’s fractured family. The Wells offered love and support while his own family was nothing but alcohol soaked neglect or mostly benign avoidance. Ever since he was little, JJ has been a fixture at the Wells’ home. They are his safe haven as he tries to balance his career as a firefighter with living at home to keep an eye on his alcoholic mother while his father is away on never-ending business trips. He’s accepted like one of the Wells’ own, even at major holiday functions like Thanksgiving.
This year is no different, except that instead of sharing a room during the holiday with his best friend Derek at the Wells’ country home, JJ is rooming with Remy. It has been a few years since the two man have actually been in the same place at the same time due to their differing schedules. Nevertheless, seeing Remy again ought to have been no big deal. So what if JJ discovered his bisexuality during those years? So what if the photo of Remy and his douchy-looking boyfriend made JJ feel protective? They were like brothers—brothers who loved to antagonize one another and had for years. Except when Remy and JJ finally come face to face, the spark of attraction JJ feels for him is fierce and bright. As awkward as it is for JJ to realize his feelings run deeper than brotherly love, he’s afraid making a move will risk not just his heart or a chance with Remy, but his entire surrogate family.
The tension between Remy and JJ rises as they tease one another—both with the friendly competitiveness (or foolishness) they’ve always had and with a new scintillating and seductive edge when away from prying eyes. It’s only a matter of time before Remy comes up with a compromise: a mere holiday fling. While this seems to satisfy Remy’s need to rebound from a recent and messy breakup and JJ’s desire to get carnal knowledge about Remy, the two men come to understand there is nothing very casual about the sex.
Oh, this was a hot read that hit all my buttons. I loved the super thick layers of angst as Remy and JJ fight hard against their attraction. The angst is given a bit more depth through the characters’ backstories. Remy’s ex cheated on him and accused him of being boring, so he’s feeling vulnerable. Plus, we learn that Remy had harbored a childhood crush on JJ despite all the antagonizing that went on between them. I thought this was a great combination because ostensibly, Remy’s not even looking at JJ for anything other than the usual brotherly antics, but he’s raw from the breakup.
As for JJ, none of the Wells knows that he is bisexual. He’s been experimenting and had sexual encounters with men, but as far as his surrogate family is concerned, he’s a few steps shy of being a serial dater. I thought this worked totally well in favor of upping the tension between JJ and Remy because once they bump into each other at the cabin, JJ realizes he’s actually attracted to Remy. He’s got to figure out what that could mean for his relationship with Remy and the rest of the family, but he also can’t help but send out subtle signals that he’s totally interested. This leads of a few tasty, angsty scenes where JJ inadvertently rejects Remy and has to find a way to make it up.
Once they figure things out over the short Thanksgiving day break, things get pretty steamy between them. Since they’ve resigned themselves to a one-time-only (or one-holiday-only?) fling, they indulge with impunity. Yet their close relationship means they’ve had a connection beyond the physical for years and that deepens as they explore their supposedly brief physical relationship. I liked how this also got played (it’s mentioned explicitly on page, but it’s not pummeled into every interaction)—JJ’s and Remy’s ability to talk about their feelings and emotions, which is a stark counterpoint to JJ’s and Derek’s much more narrow relationship (they don’t talk about love and feelings with any of their prospective/current partners, don’t share secrets, etc., but they are one another’s wingman).
Clearly, the one-time-only thing doesn’t last. We get to follow Remy and JJ’s (non)relationship between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when they will invariably be thrown together at another Wells family function. Despite living in the same city, their respective jobs keep them apart. I really liked that this chunk of the story focused on JJ’s side of things and spelled out what exactly the issues are with his family. We even get a few glimmers into his firefighting job (too bad it didn’t include any heart-in-throat scenes were Remy goes nuts with worry about JJ while JJ puts out a fire or actually seeinh JJ working a fire, but I don’t think either omission detracts from the story). What I can say is that despite Remy and JJ having agreed to keep things limited to Thanksgiving only, they flirt like hell and sext like crazy and it was pretty hot.
Needless to say, when Christmas rolls around, both JJ and Remy are realizing they want more than a fling. But there are few obstacles—the biggest one probably that JJ isn’t out to anyone except Remy. But there’s something going on with Derek, too. His own love life has hit the skids and despite the obvious fact that he could use moral support to get over it and get on with his life, Derek refuses to open up to Remy or to JJ. Remy and JJ do their best to help Derek, but wonder if the man’s own jealousy drove off his ex—and start to wonder the fallout might break up the life-long friendship between JJ and Derek.
My only complaint (if I have to call it that) is how JJ ends up, sort of towards the middle, starting to bring up how he thinks he is and/or is perceived to be a big dumb jock. It felt slightly out of place since his mental faculties (or presumed lack thereof?) weren’t even an issue until all of a sudden, JJ’s starting to worry he’s too dumb for a college grad like Remy. And it’s not really a lasting theme, either—so I’m not sure why/how it ended up in the book.
Overall, this was a super satisfying read! I loved how involved the characters are and however trite it sounds to sum things up with “dude’s best friend falls in love with dude’s little brother,” it totally works. It’s not always the smoothest ever (even angst queen me thought some of the back-and-forth over JJ’s mixed signals to Remy before they started hooking up felt a wee bit tired), but these issues are resolved quickly and the plot keeps moving forward. The drama with older-brother Derek and JJ’s alcoholic mom was a nice change of pace that kept the story from being too narrowly focused on just Remy and JJ, too. If you like some hot M/M with a little meat on its bones, this would be a great holiday read!