Bishop is a 32-year-old man recently released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit. That doesn’t mean Bishop wasn’t a criminal—he’d been a gang member since his early teens—but he’d been set up by some others in his gang to take a fall and knock him off his power pedestal. Bishop didn’t roll over on the guys who did it, though, and that leaves him able to walk freely when he gets released, alongside his best friend, Trent, who’d been caught up in the same intrigue. Bishop and Trent now work for Bishop’s dad, Mike, in a landscaping business. Bishop’s biggest shame, however, is being a functional illiterate, having had undiagnosed (or unmanaged) dyslexia his whole life. Bishop pretty much dropped out of school in his youth, aided in this by Mike’s youth and inexperience as a single, gangbanging, teenaged father. Now, however, Mike wants to be the support he never was in Bishop’s childhood, and is fully invested Bishop’s total rehabilitation—including getting his GED and taking over managing the landscaping business. Bishop is not without skills. He’s big and brawny, has a skill for drawing, and designs a lot of the new landscapes Mike’s company is installing. That includes the huge new contract they just won to landscape a prominent downtown office building.
Edison is a paralegal and office manager for a legal firm. He’s only 26, but he’s meticulous and efficient. Edison’s father had owned one of those old-time barber shops where you could get a hot towel and a blade shave. Edison’s whole life revolved around sitting in the shop with his dad, reading and studying, and learning old-school wisdom and manners from the elderly customers. He relished making good food to nourish the both of them, and nearly didn’t survive himself when his dad, his best and only friend, died of a sudden heart attack three years ago. Since then, Edison has worked on improving his physical health through regular exercise and some moderation in his diet. Though still a big man, he’s more fit than ever. He’s terribly insecure, though, and more than a half-step out of touch with his peers, often feeling isolated by many of his carefree (and self-serving) co-workers. Skylar is the worst of them, constantly cutting Edison down with left-handed compliments and outright nastiness.
Okay, wow. That felt like a lot of description—and that’s how I felt when I started this book. Like I got told a LOT of information and hadn’t had a chance to experience much through the characters’ eyes. I was a bit turned off, to be honest, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue. I have enjoyed a number of books by this author and never had such a reaction before, so I kept the faith that the story would soon begin to carry me away. I was eventually rewarded for my patience.
Edison and Bishop are an odd couple. Edison is a straight-laced, educated man who longs for a deep love with a kind man, yet he’s never even been kissed. Bishop’s a behemoth of an ex-con with no education who’s convinced no decent man would ever love him. His ex-fiancé betrayed his trust greatly in the course of the trial, and Bishop’s confidence is at an all time low when he meets Edison. There seems to be an instant spark, and the attraction grows with each encounter. Edison isn’t above spying from his office window to watch Bishop work, or maneuvering little “chance” moments to talk. Edison asks Bishop for a quote on landscaping his yard as a ruse to get Bishop to spend some time with him—which nearly backfires. Bishop is more than interested in Edison, but he wants to be worthy of him, especially once he learns Edison is a virgin.
What I really loved about this story is the way both Edison and Bishop care for one another. I love the relationship they build, and I love how Bishop works so hard to “improve” himself to be a man Edison could respect as a partner. Bishop wants to woo Edison—who would be honestly happy for Bishop to simply take him straight to bed. Bishop’s efforts aren’t for naught; developing their relationship slowly through dating allows Edison to appreciate Bishop’s strength, his resilience, and his artistic sensibilities—and tender lovemaking eventually sates Edison’s lust. He loves that Bishop enjoys his cooking and quiet nights in-house listening to Edison read to him. When Edison does learn of Bishop’s reading issues, it’s after Bishop has had time to attend adult literacy classes and develop a plan for his continued education. It’s a sweet story with a romance that is a steady but very slow burn.
Side characters are important here, with Trent and Mike being stalwart friends and supporting Bishop in any way possible. There’s a natural conflict between Bishop and Skylar that builds into the climax, but it resolves well. While the sequel is set to star Trent and a character we’ve heard about but haven’t met, I have a feeling we will see Skylar again somehow.
This story is an HEA as far as I am concerned, but it was a far slower read than I was expecting. Part of this was excellent character development—showing Bishop’s growth and his very positive and loving relationship with Mike, who is really trying hard to be a good dad, whatever that means in real life. His support and constant forays to do dad-ly things with Bishop is endearing and entertaining, by turns. It’s as if Bishop is having the adolescence he never got being raised up, and that was heartwarming to experience. Unfortunately, the long explanatory interludes slowed the pacing of the story, and made me wonder if we were ever going to get on with the romance. I was also put off by some of the dialogue, especially when we were dealing with Skylar, because it sounded so juvenile for 30-something year-old men. Even Mike’s coarse repartee was wearing, and he’s nearing 50. I never did buy the throwaway discussion of Bishop’s mother and why she wasn’t invested in Bishop’s life. That was grounds for a criminal action, and I can’t figure out if any of Mike’s family ever assisted in baby Bishop’s care. In a story that had me feeling explained to throughout, Bishop’s childhood seemed like a giant, confusing void.
In all, I liked the story. I love both Edison and Bishop and would love to read more about them…if the book is about 30% less verbose.