Julian is the town veterinarian and an all around good guy. Most people see a man who is quiet, reserved, and kindness personified when they look at the Doc, but he knows how often he has bitten his tongue or squelched his passions in order to just get along. But all that changes when the stranger from the cabin brings in an injured owl late one night to the clinic. Suddenly, he and Daniel Michaelson morph from being strangers to fast friends. Daniel somehow gets Julian; he even endures his occasional mouth vomits about useless animal factoids and actually seemed to like them. Daniel likes all the quirky things Julian does, calling them his “different Julian’s” and their friendship blossoms.
But that doesn’t explain why Julian suddenly stands up in front of half the town at the local diner one night and lies through his teeth in order to provide Daniel an alibi that he surely doesn’t need. O’Leary doesn’t like the stranger in the woods and blames him for the disappearance of the camper that has been plaguing local law enforcement. Julian can’t just stand by as they rake his friend over the coals and accuse him of something heinous—so he tells a little fib—that somehow morphs into he and Daniel being boyfriends—straight Daniel—his boyfriend. Oh poor Julian is not going to be able to talk himself out of this one.
Daniel has come to O’Leary to escape his failures—his failed writing career, his failed marriage, his failed friendships, and his abysmal relationship with his father. He neither wants nor needs friends and so he keeps himself apart from the town as much as he can. He hikes the mountains and loves it—until he finds the injured owl. Racing into town to save the little thing seems somehow indicative of his own attempt to save himself—to reinvent himself. But after meeting the vet, Daniel is left with more questions than answers. For instance, why does being around Julian make him feel all squirrely inside? He is a straight man and yet he can’t help but notice how handsome and fit Julian is. What is happening? Surely Daniel would know if he was bisexual? He’s never been attracted to a man before and he is not about to start with the only person in O’Leary who he could call a friend.
Take two lonely and wounded men and put them together in a remote cabin and make them friends, then watch as they slowly but surely develop something other than feelings of friendship for each other and you have the basic plot for May Archer’s second novel in the Love in O’Leary series, The Gift. Daniel sees nothing but a huge loser sign above his head. He has escaped his former life and his condescending and disparaging parents for a remote location right outside the town of O’Leary. He knows he was never really in love with his wife; in fact, he’s never had any successful relationships he can remember. So when he divorced his wife and his last two novels tanked after having a run of four bestsellers, all the supposed friends he had disappeared as well. Once his books weren’t doing so well his father moved in on him and began to harangue him about getting a real career in the company, prompting Daniel to flee to protect his sanity. All he wants is peace and quiet so he can lick his wounds and wallow in how much of a failure he is. But Julian changes all that; he is like Daniel’s personal cheerleader and he is genuine, something Daniel didn’t think existed anymore.
With a slow moving passion that builds alongside humor, a bit of angst, and lots of witty dialogue, we watch as Daniel and Julian evolve beyond fake boyfriends to something more. You could say The Gift is based on a out-for-you trope—and in many ways you wouldn’t be wrong. Daniel never really accepts that he is bisexual until the very end of the novel and even then he is hard pressed to put a label on himself. But he is quick to point out that Julian is the only man he’s ever been attracted to and that is where the OFY trope rears its head. I applaud the author’s desire not to definitively have Daniel decide to narrow his feelings down to one label; however, I do think that it might have been easier to swallow if Daniel had not been so quick to so often tell Julian he has only ever been attracted to him and no other male before. Still, the slow way in which the attraction built and the tentative way the two men first come together was very well written and made the resulting relationship all the more believable.
I liked these two together; they were fun and even though both of them overthought most things and ran scared for a good part of the novel, when they finally did come clean about their feelings, it was really very lovely. Even though O’Leary itself is a gossip fest, I find myself liking the town and its inhabitants, particularly both of Julian’s brothers, whom I hope will eventually get stories of their own. If I’m guessing right, however, I think the major event that happens at the end of the novel that is just a bit of a cliffhanger in a good way will be the basis for the third story in this series. I am eager to sink my teeth in to that one.
The Gift was a really solid follow up to the first book in Archer’s series. The town continues to have its share of disturbing events, despite it being so small and seemingly idyllic. I am hooked for sure and look forward to moving on to the next saga waiting to unfold.