Everything Caleb Taylor has worked for and loves is invested in Bliss Island. Not only is it his childhood home, it’s the place that he has poured his blood, sweat, and tears into in order to make the wedding destination spot a success. Unfortunately, Caleb’s late father made some very unwise financial decisions, putting the island in deep debt and Caleb in jeopardy of losing his home. The most surprising and distressing choice was the deal his dad made with Louis Chastain that essentially forgave a major debt he owed the man if Caleb married into the Chastian family before the debt was due to be paid. When Caleb realizes that he must marry or lose Bliss Island, he scours the agreement hoping to find a loophole. Unfortunately, there isn’t any such reprieve, but while Louis Chastain is demanding Caleb marry his daughter, Caleb sets his sights on the other sibling—the one who disappeared ten years before when he came out to his bigoted father and was shipped off to his uncle’s to live.
Julien Chastain is angry and tired of barely making a living go-go dancing at a gay bar. Since his father and mother disowned him and sent him away, his life has been one moment of survival after another. When he spots a familiar face in the crowd one night, little does Julien realize that his life is about to change—if only he can convince his bastard of a father that the deal Caleb is offering looks and feels like true love. The idea of success is difficult to imagine since Caleb identifies as straight and Julien knows his every touch is something that Caleb doesn’t desire. How are they ever going to pull off being a happy couple in love when Caleb can’t even kiss Julien?
D.J. Jamison is a new author to me and this latest release, Surprise Groom, has definitely cemented the idea that I will be checking out this author’s other work as soon as possible. Before anyone worries, this is not a “gay for you” trope, but rather a story about a man who had a pretty traumatic experience in his teens that caused him to bury his attraction to men for quite some time. Caleb is bisexual and it takes reconnecting with his childhood best friend, Julien, for Caleb to realize that he buried his desires so long ago due to this past event. Since then, Caleb has dated women, but never found one that could handle his single-minded focus on work and making Bliss Island into a premiere wedding destination until he brings Julien home—and Julien falls in love with the island almost as deeply as Caleb has already.
What unfolds in this story is a set up marriage of convenience that becomes so much more before either man even walks down the aisle. Caleb, in essence, comes out in this novel and begins to understand that the feelings he had for the opposite sex had been buried under guilt, fear, and a bit of trauma that he had never really dealt with before Julien helped expose the underlying cause. Caleb and Julien are magical together; their chemistry is palpable and their inner turmoil over how their relationship is quickly changing is very realistic. I absolutely loved how the author had these two guys communicate their feelings and fears to one another. It was so refreshing to see two men actually handle conflict maturely and effectively—that to me was the best element to this story overall.
While I wasn’t thrilled with the last bit of conflict in the book, I understood why Julien did what he felt he had to in order to save Bliss Island and Caleb’s dream. Oftentimes if we love someone, we will sacrifice a great deal in order to see them happy. I felt this was exactly the motivation for Julien’s decision near the end of the novel. Still, there had been such pains taken to establish how well they were doing in being open and honest with each other that the final chapters seemed to negate all that groundwork and didn’t really ring quite true for me. However, in the scheme of things, this was only a minor glitch and didn’t detract too greatly from the high quality of the story over all. Surprise Groom is a lovely romance and one that has put this author’s past and future work on my to be read shelf for sure.