Rating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel

A car accident at age 15 changed Sam Braga’s life. Now using a wheelchair, Sam quickly realized his parents no longer had much use for him in their lives. As soon as he could, Sam left his Alaskan town and made his way to Colorado for college. There he connected with a childhood friend and found a successful career as a tattoo artist. For the last couple of years, Sam has been raising three-year-old Maisy. The little girl was abandoned by Sam’s cousin, whom he never met, and Sam took her in. Now Maisy is the light of his life, but things are stressful. While Sam applied to formally adopt Maisy, child services is making him jump through hoops as a wheelchair using man with a non-traditional job. Sam is terrified that they are going to take his little girl away from him, and his sole focus is on protecting Maisy.

Niko Pagonis made it to the NHL and was living his dream… for two minutes. That is how long it took for Niko to be critically injured and end his career forever. The loss of his dream threw Niko for a while, but eventually he made his way to Colorado to study accounting. He is slowly settling into life in the town of Fairfield, but he doesn’t quite feel like he fits in just yet. Niko can’t help but feel like there is more out there for him, and he is hoping to open a restaurant that features his family’s traditional Greek recipes in town.

When the men meet, there is a strong attraction between them. Niko is very much interested in Sam, but Sam is clear his life is chaotic right now and he doesn’t have time to focus on anything but Maisy and getting custody. But the attraction is fierce enough that Sam and Niko decide to have a friends-with-benefits relationship to burn off some of the heat between them. The connection between the men is intense and, while Sam is wary after many men rejecting him once they learn more about his paralysis, Niko proves that he cares about Sam and is deeply attracted to him. Things are going great between them, but the men are having trouble keeping things casual. Both of the guys have a lot happening in their lives and they know getting involved is a bad idea. But with the attraction simmering, they will either have to take a leap, or things will blow up between them.

Blank Canvas is the second book in E.M. Lindsey’s Irons and Works series. I’m coming into this one in sort of a round about way. I started with To Touch the Light, a standalone holiday novella in the series. I really enjoyed getting to know the found family cast of side characters and loved Lindsey’s style, so I picked up Renegades, the first book in her spin off Breaking the Rules series. By the time I read that book, I was way invested in this group of characters and couldn’t resist going back to read some of the earlier Irons and Works stories. So a little convoluted, but I was really interested in digging more into this great world Lindsey has created. As with all the books, the large group of friends features prominently in each other’s stories, but I had no trouble starting here and keeping up with Sam and Niko’s journey.

Lindsey has kind of an intense style, but I found this one not quite as heavy as the other books I’ve read, despite the serious subject matter. Most of the conflict in the story itself is focused on Sam getting custody of Maisy. While Colorado’s laws have changed to prevent disability from being a factor in adoption, many states do not have such protections. I could really feel Sam’s pain as he struggled with the idea that someone might take away his child just because he uses a wheelchair. Child services is making him jump through hoops to prove he can care for Maisy, despite the fact that she has been healthy and happy with him for years. It adds so much stress to his life and leaves him little time to focus on anything else. At the same time, having Niko in his life helps to relieve some of that tension. Niko is supportive and understanding about Sam always putting Maisy first. We also see how Sam’s friends step up and help in any way they can, and there is a nice sense of community and support, despite the frustration at the way Sam is being treated.

The other big issue for Sam is how Niko will respond to him being in a wheelchair. Men in his past have either been disinterested in dating him, or lost their desire once they got to know the realities of his life. As with her other books, Lindsey explores Sam’s disability with great balance. We see a lot of nitty gritty and the story doesn’t shy away from the less pretty side of things. There is a nice sense of realism here that I appreciated. But at the same time, Sam’s wheelchair use is not the focus of the book — it is part of who he is, but not all he is.

The relationship between the men falls into a fairly common romance trope, in that they are planning to keep things casual, but find that it doesn’t work. There is a nice intensity to things between Sam and Niko right from the start. They have a great chemistry and, while the story isn’t over-the-top with sex scenes, their intimate moments are intense and sexy. Again, Lindsey doesn’t avoid some of the realities of sex for Sam, and I appreciated how we see Niko not only accept Sam for exactly who he is, but revel in the sexual connection they have.

So I find I continue to really like Lindsey’s writing and I am glad I went back to read further into this series. I have a few of the other books on my list to read and review, so I am very much looking forward to delving more into this world.