With his bar burned to the ground and the insurance company slowing down the payout process, things are becoming crystal clear for Parker Hoffstraeder: the time has come to leave O’Leary for good. There is nothing left for Parker—his ex-boyfriend Jamie hates him, his life savings is gone, and the dream he’s nurtured for years is up in smoke–literally. But the fates and the unpredictable weather have something else in mind entirely. So, when Parker gets stranded in his car in a ditch due to the blizzard now blowing, it should not surprise him that the person karma sent to save him is none other than someone who despises him, Jamie, the man who Parker still loves.
May Archer brings another (and I think her finest) chapter to life in the Love in O’Leary series with The Fire. (Again, I will quickly say that if you have not read the other novels in this series then this review will contain spoilers for prior stories.) This book picks up directly from the last, just a few weeks after Parker’s bar has been destroyed by fire. Having lost his apartment and most of his possessions, Parker is trying to hold on while the insurance company adjustor tries to find some evidence that Parker lit the fire himself. But much like the past year, everything falls apart at the same time and suddenly Parker finds his room at the local inn forfeited and himself homeless. Trying to make it to the airport in a snow storm that is about to turn into a blizzard means poor Parker is stranded alongside the road until Jamie arrives. This would be the same Jamie that has made no bones about letting everyone, including Parker, know that he hates him, which amuses Parker to no end since it is Jamie who broke up with Parker all those years ago and if anyone should be holding a grudge, it’s him.
This novel was outstanding. It has humor, excellent pacing, incredible pathos, and more. There is no denying that the emotions between Parker and Jamie feel real and spot on. So much history surrounds these two men who fell in love years before as seniors in high school, but misplaced ideas about the right way to love a person soon found Jamie setting Parker free and Parker being so hurt that he stayed away—for over a decade. If miscommunication had a name, it would be Jamie—and maybe Parker, as well. Most of this novel is watching the two of them not only rekindle the love that has been percolating for years, but also come to terms with the fact that they both had a hand in the break-up and subsequent angry resentment that tore them apart.
I’m not sure I can adequately put into words why this particular installment moved me so much. The ending definitely had something to do with it—and honestly, I challenge anyone to read the last chapter of this book without grabbing a tissue. But it is more than that. For some reason, O’Leary became more real to me. Perhaps it was because this story was about two of her sons, so to speak, as where other stories had a stranger coming into town as one of the feature main characters. Perhaps it was because the side characters became less the intrusive, rather than the nosy gossips they have always been painted as previously, here they came across more supportive, like kind friends there to help Parker and Jamie when they needed it most. Or perhaps it’s because Jamie, a man who had lost so much, finally gets what he deserves—a chance to laugh, to love, and to move on from his grief. Whatever the reason(s), The Fire is by far the best novel in the series for me. I have fallen in love with O’Leary and two of her favored sons and I hope you do as well.