At fifteen, Justin O’Dwyer ran away from home. It was the only way he could survive, to get away from the drugs, the abuse, and the terrible reputation of his family. Justin thought he’d never see the small town of Enterprise, Oregon again. But then his mother died, and Justin had no choice but to return to take care of his three young siblings. It’s only been four days, but he’s barely holding it together. And when an emergency forces him to seek the help of a stranger, he meets Del Abbott.
Del’s life is in shambles. His ex-husband turned out to be nothing like the man Del thought he was, and now he’s left with nothing but his Nana’s house and a desire to make something of himself again. Justin and the kids are clearly in need of help, and Del is just the man for the job.
The attraction between Justin and Del is instant, but Del knows Justin needs a friend and support more than anything else. He sees the strength in Justin, and knows that if the young man can just get some help, he can get himself and his family on their feet again. But Del falls in love with the children quickly, and the more time he spends with Justin, the harder it is to deny their attraction. Their relationship is natural, and everyone begins to thrive.
But Justin’s blood relatives come back into the picture, and Justin just needs to hang on, to survive, and make sure Del isn’t hurt. But things take a turn for the worse, and Del knows that if he wants to keep this family he’s adopted as his own together, he’ll have to give it his all so they can start fresh.
I was quick to pick this one up because I’m a fan of both these authors, and I wanted to see what they could do when working together. Despite the heavy themes and the dark moments in this book, it’s full of fluff and happy too.
What really drew me in was the characters. First of all, the kids actually act like children appropriate to their age, and that goes a long way with me. And then there’s Del and Justin. Both men have been hurt, in vastly different ways, but they both have so much strength and character that it just shines through. Justin is arguably the more broken of the two, but he’s got so much bravery and strength in him. I loved that Del saw that right away and encouraged Justin in the right direction without overstepping or being too high handed. Del was incredibly aware of the fine line he walked. The authors did an outstanding job of portraying Del as supportive without being overbearing.
The chemistry between these guys was outstanding. It’s a little bit of a slow burn, in that they both want to be together but they both know it’s best to take their time. But it never felt too long or drawn out, and the pacing here with the both the romantic story and the other plotlines was perfect. When these guys act on their attraction, it sizzles and sparks, and feels so right and natural I couldn’t help but cheer for them.
Now as for the dark moment. We can see it coming a mile away, and we know Justin is about to make a bad choice. Considering how far he’d come in trusting and talking to Del, I had a moment of frustration with him and wished he’d just been forthright and honest about what was going on. And then the consequences of his actions were huge. It just about broke my heart, even knowing that was probably going to happen. So while I would have preferred the authors had gone in a different direction, I also have to give them credit. The “not talking” didn’t last long, and the big bad thing didn’t drag on forever before we know things are going to be okay. And I loved that everything ended on a very good note, and that we really got to see that all play out.
All in all, I think this one is a winner. Fielding and Henry hit a a lot of right notes on their debut collaboration, and I’m hoping there’s more from them in the future. If you’re looking for a whole lot of sweet, with some definite angst, then this book is one you should definitely check out.