Mark Forrest alienated half the town when he made the comments he did about little Joie and their mother. Given that their mother had simply chosen to let Joie/Joey express themselves as they saw fit, thus acknowledging the child’s genderfluidity and supporting it outright, it shouldn’t have bothered anyone. The fact that it rankled something deep in Mark is a real indicator of just how deeply the man is in the closet and how much he hates it. But Mark has a reason for the judgmental hate he spewed and it has to do with a terribly verbal and mental abusive past. In fact, he still suffers every Wednesday when his hateful parents call and ream him out for existing below their standards. Mark knows he has to do something or lose what little respect members of the community afford his badge and himself. Then Francis Archer comes to town.
What began as a furtive one night stand comes home to roost in a big way when Francis moves to town a few months later. Having left his former nursing job, Francis decides he needs a change and comes to live with his friend, Padraig, and his partner, Kaos. Francis soothes Mark—calls to his submissive nature and sees beyond the surface to the tortured man beneath. But all those things are never going to be enough if Mark can’t somehow move beyond the self-flagellation and hate his parents provoke in him and accept that he is not only gay, but worthy of a loving partner, something Francis longs to be for him.
Author Tia Fielding adds a third novel to their Love by Numbers series with the release of Thirteen. Readers of this series may remember Padraig and Kaos and the incident concerning little Joie from Four; if not, then it may be useful to read the other other books in this series first as they all hinge on each other. Much like the other stories, this is a character-driven book, one that I feel has the most interesting men of all. My heart bled for Mark Forrest. He was the classic byproduct of an abusive past, proving that things don’t have to be physical to leave lasting and traumatic scars in a person. The weekly phone calls Mark has with his parents are painful to read—and for some who are triggered by homophobic and nasty rhetoric, possibly triggering. But those calls are essential to this novel to fully understand just how deeply pervasive the hold Mark’s parents have on him so many years later, even when they live so far away. It also gives real insight into why Mark thinks the way he does and how he can barely help the hate he was subjected to from spilling out of his own mouth, even though in his heart he never means what he is saying.
In fact, one such time when Mark and Francis are being intimate goes horribly wrong for just that reason—with Mark’s comments and actions triggering the memory of a traumatic incident in Francis’ past and forcing the two men to both seek counseling. While I will say that who they confide in and how they go about getting help is a bit strange and irregular, at least they are pursuing help, something I have remarked about as a missing element in past novels in this series and was so glad to see happen in this book. Both men carry baggage and it’s apparent that it must be dealt with if they are ever to have a chance at a relationship built on trust, something quite necessary since they have a Dom/sub element to their lovemaking.
Thirteen explores just how much our past lives on inside us and shapes the person we are today for both good and bad. The story relies heavily on Mark coming to terms with his being gay and his needing to either change or cut away the moments in which he interacts with his parents in order to live the life he deserves. Patience, trust, and love are the key to making a relationship survive and Thirteen does a lovely job of giving us all three.