Noah and Ian fell in love in high school and thought they would be together forever. Noah didn’t want to leave Ian and their small town to go away to college, but Ian convinced him to go. Ian promised to be there for Noah when he returned, but Noah was devastated when Ian joined the military instead. Noah had trusted that Ian would always be there and his hurt caused a rift between them that never recovered.
Noah went on with his life, attending school, making friends in the city, having occasional other relationships, and eventually returning home to his small town. He also explored his interest in BDSM and his desire to be a Dom. But Noah never got over Ian, and there is a hole in his heart that has never healed, even now, twenty years later.
When Noah runs into Ian in town and learns Ian has moved home, he is both terrified and thrilled. Noah still loves Ian and he regrets his decision to cut Ian out of his life so many years ago. As it turns out, Ian has never gotten over Noah either and is just as eager to explore what could be between them. The two once again start dating, and Noah shares his interest in Dom/sub dynamics with Ian. Everything seems to be going perfectly and Noah dreams he might have all he ever wanted. But the men spent so much time apart and so much has happened to both of them over the years. Now, Noah and Ian have to figure out how not to repeat the mistakes of the past so they can move forward to their future together.
Lust & Longing is an intense lovers reunited story that has a really interesting structure. The first portion of the book focuses on the aftermath of Noah and Ian’s break up and subsequent 20 years apart. We see Noah struggle through his loneliness in college, watch him explore BDSM, and see him coming home to live. The story jumps in time, so we are seeing bits and pieces of his life, but it is enough to give readers a feel for Noah’s intense emotions for Ian. He is heartbroken that Ian enlisted, to the point that he breaks off all contact with him for decades. But despite that, Noah never stops loving Ian and it comes through clearly in this section of the book.
The story then shifts to the men reconnecting in their hometown and falling back into their relationship. They are all in pretty hard and fast, both men never having lost their feelings for one another. It is intense and heady as they explore their relationship, this time as grown men. Noah introduces Ian to Dom/sub dynamics and they explore this between them. Things are very mild on the kink scale here, FWIW, but there are some interesting elements in the way Noah tries switching for the first time and submitting for Ian. And the men are kind of swoony in their adoration for each other.
I do think the book felt a little disjointed to me. We have the early portion where we see Noah exploring BDSM as a college student and having a fairly serious romantic relationship. Then there is a middle where Noah continues to live his life and we see what is happening to him over the years. It is almost halfway through the book before Ian and Noah reconnect, and then the story takes a different turn as they are exploring their relationship. I didn’t necessarily mind the time apart, as Ian is never far from Noah’s mind so it didn’t feel like the guys were totally separate. It was just that the story didn’t really blend all these sections together smoothly and the book felt kind of like three separate parts. This is particularly true with the BDSM side, as it comes in and out of focus over the course of the book, but never really felt steadily incorporated into the story.
The book is told solely in Noah’s POV, which I think was a choice that adds some interesting dynamics to the story. We never really get Ian’s viewpoint about his decision to join the military or what happens to him in all these years they are apart. And actually, I think it works because we are so intensely in Noah’s head and his emotions that having Ian’s experiences be unknowable to us as a reader fits with Noah’s POV on the narrative. However, I did wish to get more of a sense of what Ian thought when Noah just cut him out of his life, so I would have liked to see that explored through conversation. But, in general, I think the sole POV made for a nice structure for the story.
As Noah and Ian are coming back together, I knew there would be a conflict somewhere down the road, though I’ll admit I didn’t see this one coming. So Denning throws in a nice curveball here for the guys to address. I did find myself super frustrated with Noah, however. We saw him literally cut Ian out of his life once, despite loving him deeply, for making a decision that Noah didn’t like. He lost 20 years with the man he loves because of it and, over the course of the book, we see Noah come to recognize his mistake and even apologize to Ian. But when the next conflict comes, Noah once again is super rash and jumps to every wrong conclusion. He is certain Ian never actually loved him, that they have no hope for a future, etc. It is like he takes 2 + 2 and gets 45. I wanted to see that Noah had learned and grown since he was a young man, but he reverts right back to his childish ways from 20 years before. And when the guys move past the conflict, they still never really address the underlying communication problem and other issues that caused the fights. So I wish this final conflict could have been used to show some growth or communication between the men to really resolve this issue.
Overall, however, I really enjoyed this one. I was totally sucked in to the story and found Noah’s journey really pulled at my heartstrings. Denning does a nice job balancing the more intense times with the sweetness of the romance between Noah and Ian, and I enjoyed seeing them reconnect and find their happiness together.
P.S. This story is currently not listed as a series, but I’ll throw in a pitch for Denning to give us stories for some of the really interesting side characters that we meet here.