Ben is too embarrassed to return to Matt and Julian’s for his final four months of probation. His stupidity at not following his own gut, but instead trusting a person he thought was a friend, landed him back in prison to serve the two last years of his sentence. Now, he is at different hallway house and terrified as he is about to be beaten or worse for having a phone—his one means of communicating with people who don’t understand sign language. Before it all goes to hell, Ben manages to alert his placement counselor, Sam, who arrives with the police and rescues him—again. Humiliated by his weakness, Ben accepts going back to the original place he began his probation and is gratified by the warm reception from Matt and Julian and their lack of recrimination at his previous failure to remain out of prison. Now he just has to find a job and manage to keep his nose clean for a few short months and then he will be truly free.
With some help, Ben finds a job at a bakery where he meets Bull, a rather large and scary looking man who despite that manages to peak Ben’s interest. They get off to a rocky start, but that changes quickly and now Ben is struggling to understand the conflicting feelings he has for Bull and tries to tamp down the inner demons that always remind him that everyone eventually leaves him and not to get too attached.
After a disastrous first meeting, Bull finds out that Ben is deaf and wasn’t just ignoring his overtures at the bakery. Determined to get to know the guy, Bull shows up at the house and soon convinces Ben to give the idea of friendship a chance. Bull is determined and patient and slowly he breaks through the shell Ben hides behind and the two become friends and more. Bull is sure Ben is the one—the man for whom he has been waiting a long while. Now he must help Ben understand he is worth taking a chance on and becoming more than friends.
There is no denying that Jaime Reese’s The Men of Halfway House series is one of my favorites. I cannot express how this author just seems to get better and better at developing rich characters who may be flawed, but have a goodness inside them that draws the reader to them like a moth to flame. I can only hope that somehow A Sweet Man is not the last novel in this group, but if it is, Reese has certainly done the series justice by saving such an emotional and heartfelt story for last. The strength of this book lay in the growth that occurs in Ben and, to a lesser extent, Bull (aka Gabriel).
Ben moves from a place of shame and constant doubt to a bright future with a new career, a loving partner, and the family he has always craved. For Bull, it’s recognition that life is much too short to be spending it doing a job that may put him in harm’s way and take him away from the one person he loves—Ben. Both men mature in this novel, even though Bull is already in his late thirties and disciplined in most ways. This might seem to make him an unlikely candidate for big change, yet it still happens as he finally finds the one man who will give him what he has been searching for—honesty and permanence. Being with Ben pushes Bull to look differently at life and assess where he is going in his career.
There is a beautiful chemistry between Ben and Bull and the author wisely builds it slowly, allowing Ben to come to terms with the idea that he is capable of being loved and not just abandoned by those who claim to be his friends and family like before. Ben seeks to be independent and not be treated as someone who is fragile due to his deafness, and Bull does just that. Because Bull’s grandfather was also deaf, he knows sign language and not only uses it with Ben, but helps him improve his skill as Ben so often relies on reading lips rather than signing. Together, the Del Toro siblings help Ben by offering him a job and eventually a home. Each kindness shown to him helps Ben build his self-confidence and trust. This relationship is truly gorgeous to watch play out.
Those familiar with the series will see many returning faces, some more involved than others. Obviously, since this is a Halfway House novel, we see Matt and Julian. Aidan also plays a rather big role in bringing Ben and Bull together for the first time and then also stepping in near the end of the novel where, in true Jaime Reese fashion, there is a heart in the throat moment or two that leaves you shaken, but as always leads to a happy ever after. Others are either mentioned or appear at gatherings held at the house, we even briefly see Wall. I absolutely enjoyed Calvin, the wily ex-thief at the house, and his friendship with Ben, as well as his humorous response to meeting one of Bull’s clients, Rachel.
Sadly, I wonder if this may be the end of the series. With seven books, I suppose one might consider it time, but oh how wonderful it has been getting to know these men and reading their marvelous stories. Their lives have been exciting and redemption is always hard fought, but well-earned. Such a hope-filled group of stories deserves the special place it no doubt has found in many reader’s hearts—especially mine. A Sweet Man is a novel I can happily highly recommend.