Rating: 3.75 stars
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John Turner is entrenched in his small town life. Born and raised in Magnolia Ridge, Georgia, he doesn’t want anything else. But he does have to keep his sexuality a secret. Homophobia runs rampant in the small town and everybody knows everybody else’s business. John’s best friend Chloe plays along and pretends they’re dating, and John is satisfied with the way things are.
Matt Kinsley needed a change and decided to move across the country and take a job at a small town police station to get out of the hustle of San Francisco. He’s always felt his country roots, even if he barely has a connection to them, and even if it means he has to go into the closet. He hasn’t been in town long when he and John meet across the state line at a gay bar.
They both know that they shouldn’t get involved, but they keep coming back to one another. John isn’t out and doesn’t want to be, but Matt’s okay with that. For now. But just as their relationship is settling into a good place, a murder rocks the sleep town. And John is the prime suspect. Matt knows his feelings cause a conflict, but he also knows to his bones that there is no way John did it. Secrets come to light, but if they can’t find the real murderer, then John’s fate is sealed.
I knew what I was getting into as soon as I read the blurb for this book and the authors deliver exactly that. Two guys who need each other, even if they don’t know it, set in a backdrop of southern charm and, well, bigotry. I liked both the MCs and I found that charm that’s supposed to be there. This book definitely has some things going for it.
John definitely tugged at my heart strings. He’s a guy who likes his town and his life, loves his family, and wishes there was a way he could be out. But he knows there’s not, so he’s settled with his life. Over the course of the story, John comes to accept himself more, because despite what he believed, he wasn’t as comfortable as he thought. Matt gives him a reason to take chances, and the connection between them gives him hope. What I really liked here was that the authors made the change in his thinking real and organic, and it built throughout the tale. The chemistry between the characters didn’t blow me away, but there’s a definite connection and it’s easy to see how they could fall in love and support one another. John has the worse end of the deal, and I loved seeing Matt being there for him, and even making some questionable judgements because of his feelings for John. It worked, on the whole, and their relationship drives much of the story.
As for the murder, I had a harder time. First of all, the person murdered was a bit of a shock, and though it drove John to be honest about himself, I still had some trouble with it. And then I found the resolution to be…rather quick and not that satisfying. The last fourth of the book moves too quickly for my liking and I wished things had happened sooner so they would have more time to be explored. And one key point in the investigation was not satisfactorily explained, which niggles at me. At any rate, this aspect left me wanting, and brought things down. I wanted the parts to mesh better.
But the easy style of the writing drew me in and kept me reading until the end. The pacing was off in a few places, but the characters were well developed and I enjoyed both the MCs, as well as most of the secondary characters. If small town southern charm coupled with love and understanding are your thing, then check this one out.