Phil Thompson and Cole Fisher were closeted boyfriends in high school who attended college as roommates and secret lovers. It was the happiest that Phil had ever been, until Cole’s father caught them and moved Cole and their family from California to the east coast. Phil dropped out of college and returned home to small-town Apple Valley and took up the carpentry business his father had taught him from a young age. He never settled with another man, though he’s had some steady hook-up buddies over the past 15 years. No, Cole was it for Phil, and it still rankles that Cole went and married a woman. Guess Cole didn’t feel the same about Phil, and that likely rankles just as much.
Phil lives alone in a little rental and shares his space with a couple of nosy cats, Batman and Robin. His sister and his teenaged niece, Eve, live close by and make up most of the company Phil keeps. Inspired by his industrious cats, Phil designs custom cat houses that he sells locally and at regional cat shows. Eve often helps out. On one occasion, Phil almost thinks he sees a man resembling Cole Fisher, and the déjà vu stirs up all those broken-hearted memories. What would Cole be doing at a California cat show anyway?
As the custom cabinet maker in a house rehab in Apple Valley, Phil’s thrown a little off his game when the new homeowner turns up for a walk through. It turns out to be Cole, starting his life over in Apple Valley. He’s recently divorced and his ex-wife can’t wait to get all Cole’s stuff shipped out west. To some degree, this includes their 12-year-old daughter, Dana, who is due to spend the summer in Apple Valley. Dana is a sedate young girl who idolizes her dad, and doesn’t handle her mom’s high strung bossiness well. She loves helping Cole show his pure-bred Siamese cats and just being with him, and Cole wants this house perfect and ready for her visit. And he wouldn’t mind reconnecting with his old friend and former lover, Phil.
This reconnection story is a sweet one, with two men who never forgot the other, though there was a country and 15 years in their way. Cole struggled with his father’s homophobia, but acquiesced to living a heterosexual life to appease his sick and dying mother. She never knew Cole was gay, and his father’s manipulations goaded him into a very deep closet. However, the cracks in his marriage began early and he is only now digging out from that charade. Cole never dreams that Phil will still be hanging around Apple Valley, and he’s happy to reconnect, even if it’s only as a friend. Which Phil really isn’t excited about. He’s sure Cole will be gone in a hot second, leaving him devastated once again. I could sympathize with Phil, here, and understood his brusqueness for the defense he mounted. I really liked Eve and her mom, who are not above shenanigans to help lonely Phil find happiness. Both Phil and Cole have similar interests, but they are now grown men on different trajectories—aren’t they? Phil thinks so, but Cole is definitely more optimistic. And, it’s a win that Dana bonds with both Eve and Phil right away.
The book is a bit of a slow burn, which made sense given the set up. Cole and Phil pick up their friendship and this leaves the door open for more. During the course of the summer, their relationship strengthens with some help from the ladies in their lives—Dana is definitely happy for Cole to have Phil for a boyfriend. Just as they get the romance going, a curveball strikes, giving Phil the opportunity at having the family he’s kinda longed for. The catch, though, might just undo all the progress Cole has made to win back Phil’s esteem. That was a tough part to take. Phil’s abandonment issues are central to this part of the conflict, and Cole’s behavior only makes it worse. Cole’s non-confrontational instinct didn’t help him in college—or now, and he needs to dig beyond his discomfort to win back the love of his life. I liked how Cole resolved this situation, bringing Phil back with honesty and commitment. The sexytimes are brief and the ending is totally happy. Readers who like small-town heroes and reconnection romances will probably enjoy this one.