Will Epstein is bitter, angry, and humiliated. He was to marry a football player he’d met through a dating show, a la “The Bachelor,” but was left at the altar just as the ceremony was about to begin. After some time spent in England, hiding away and sleeping with as many guys as he could, he’s back in Lavender Shores, a small-ish town where his family is one of the five “founding families.” Will has wealth and prestige, but he’s a very unhappy man.
Andre Rivera is a widower and single father. He married the love of his life and was very happy…until his wife suddenly passed away. He’s also a member of one of the “founding families,” and his nosy mother has been trying to set him up on dates, with no success. One night, at the bar owned by a mutual friend, Will and Andre meet up and, in a drunken rage, Will tries to beat Andre up. You see, Andre just happens to be the identical twin brother of the guy who wound up marrying the man who left Will high and dry. Once the misunderstanding is settled, Will and Andre strike up a great friendship, and for three years, everything is great between the two of them.
Will finds himself having feelings for his best friend, but assumes he’ll never get anywhere because Andre is straight…after all, he was married. However, one night after a family wedding that wasn’t all that friendly, and a distressing phone call from his brother, Will goes to Andre’s to ask him to fly him to Alaska to see him. Imagine Will’s shock when he finds his “straight” friend with a man with whom he’d obviously been intimate.
What follows is the story of two men, who were once friends, finding each other once again, and falling deeply in love. Will they be able to get past their insecurity and fear? Or will they decide they’re too different to continue?
Let me start by telling you I am a big, big fan of the Lavender Shores series. I’ve eagerly snatched up every single new installment and devoured them. To begin, I will say I’m not at all sure if, as a new reader, you should jump into the series at this particular point. The town of Lavender Shores is not very large, but there are a lot of family connections between the five “Founding Families” (that is a story unto its own). From book one, The Palisade, until The Wilderness, a tremendous amount of information is given about the families, their members, and their rivalries among themselves. In fact, one of the things I really like about this series is the inclusion of a Lavender Shores family tree and a map of the town. This is a helpful inclusion, clever on the author’s part, and simply (but attractively) drawn. Don’t let the fact that this is the eighth installment trouble you. If you do want to start at the beginning (which I highly recommend), you’ll find yourself caught up in compelling characters and interesting plots. Also, I consider the town of Lavender Shores to be a character of its own. It’s charming, and everybody knows everybody, but not everybody loves everybody, if you know what I mean. So, yeah…I just wanted to let you all know about this in advance before I continued into my review.
Will Epstein’s story begins in book six of the series, The Glasshouse. We meet him at the beginning of that book. I felt sorry for him because of his humiliation, but my first general opinion of him wasn’t exactly rosy. He’s caught up in the whole Hollywood aspect of his and his fiancée’s relationship. He likes the attention the cameras are giving him, and he’s started to kind of believe the hype. Now, in The Wilderness, Will doesn’t start out as very likable. He’s getting drunk and continues to feel sorry for himself. He’s not terribly friendly. In fact, I would go so far as to say he was full of hate, even though it’s been a year. The fact that he so quickly jumps on Andre, believing him to be his twin, and the ferocity with which he charges Andre, did not make him the most endearing person. As the story moves along, though, I was able to see his vulnerability. He was groomed to be part of the family business and reign over it by his father’s side. All he really wanted was his father’s love and admiration, but he always came up empty. Will is a runner. When things go badly for him, he just wants to get away rather than face his issues. So, even though I wasn’t crazy about him at the beginning, I fell in love with him by the middle of the book.
Andre Rivera was pretty lovable from the start. He lost his wife suddenly, and he was left to raise his daughter alone. He had to put up with a mother who inserted herself into his life by continually trying to set him up with perfect specimens (her words, not mine) so he won’t have to live his life alone. It was annoying to me, so I imagine it was 200 times more so for Andre. I liked how he was open to a friendship with Will, rather than avoiding him or even being angry with him. Andre had a big heart, and even what I would consider a sense of wonder…even though that does come about toward the middle of the story as well. He never told anyone about his bisexuality, thinking it was nobody’s business, but when he realized keeping that secret was costing him the most important relationship he’s ever had next to his wife, he came clean. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was pretty devastating. He broke my heart, and I wanted to just catch a flight to Lavender Shores just to hug him.
I felt the plot of The Wilderness was perfectly paced and very smooth. I never felt bored or wanted to skim. Each chapter is written from either Will’s or Andre’s POV, but I didn’t get confused as to whose head I was in. Abel was able to provide enough detail for me to actually see in my head the action that was coming off the page. I had the perfect idea of what Will and Andre looked like, and I could also see the cabin in Alaska down to the furniture. Abel’s description of the Northern Lights was lovely and it was easy to picture them there in the cold Alaska sky. I have to say I was more pleased with this book than the seven that came before. Each installment is better than the last, and I felt everything more deeply than the others.
There are a ton of background characters here. I can’t even begin to get into them here. I’m going to say the most important of them is Nick, Will’s brother. He lives in Alaska, having proudly gotten away from their father’s influence. He’s supportive of Will, but he’s not afraid to tell it like it is or call him out when he needs it. I got the undercurrent of loneliness from him, and I have to imagine he’ll be getting his own book soon. I liked him a lot, so I will be looking very forward to that. Another character I considered to be important, but wasn’t featured enough for me is Andre’s daughter, Katniss. She’s pretty well adjusted and down to earth, but she doesn’t seem to interact with Andre very much. She spends a lot of time with her cousins or he grandparents. Yes, Andre is a pilot going on a lot of overnight flights, but I felt like I should know a bit more about her.
I’d like to give a quick mention about the chemistry that flowed between Will and Andre. They had plenty of it, that’s for sure. Whether it was friendship, romance, or sexy, it was palpable. Their sex scenes were smoking hot…lots of dirty talking, which is a favorite of mine. There was one scene I’m not sure is actually physical possible, but it was still awesome. I’ll let you all be the judge because I don’t want to give it away.
The ending was predictable, but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes the best happily ever after is the one you expect. Everything tied up neatly, but left enough open possibilities for future installments in the Lavender Shores series. I highly recommend this one, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I even higher-ly (So what if I made that word up?) recommend you do start at the beginning and work your way up to The Wilderness. Not only will that make it easier for you to understand everything, it will introduce you to one of my favorite series ever. Definitely grab these ones up.