Small City is a typical small town full of people who live on top of one another, gossip too much, get in each other’s business, and have their share of prejudices. It’s those that made Patrick feel like an outcast as a gay teen in an all too hetero school and prompted him to leave right after graduating. The fact that he is an artist with a camera and bold in both his dress and personality didn’t help much. Still, it isn’t until he wrecks his career in Chicago by doing something foolish that Patrick begins to consider what it might be like to move back home. He loves his mother and, while visiting home to be her date for the town’s annual alumni weekend, he realizes there are a few others who are out and proud now living in Small City. He is shocked to realize one of them is the very guy who wanted nothing to do with him in high school, Charlie North, the most popular guy in their class.
Charlie, who is now a now a firefighter, is also good friends with Patrick’s mother. He has been able to keep tabs on Patrick because of her and is beside himself that the boy who he has nursed a crush on since high school is coming home to visit. Patrick is trying to play it cool, as he knows that it’s his own needy and clingy ways that lost him his last relationship. He doesn’t want to scare Patrick off before they even have a chance to get reacquainted. Besides, he’s aware the guy is only here for three days, but still Charlie’s determined to admit his attraction and hope they can at least spend time together while he’s in town. Sure, Charlie would love more—a lifetime if he’s being honest–but if three days is all he has, then so be it. What he doesn’t expect is that Patrick is ready for a change in his life and Charlie’s decision not to press him about staying might actually backfire and lead Patrick to think that there is nothing really to keep him in Small City.
Erin McLellan is a new author for me and the novella Small City Heart is a wonderful introduction to this writer’s capable story crafting ability. It’s a romantic love story with a enemies to lovers vibe. I like the idea of how a small town can change over time and be made to realize its own prejudices by its members slowly coming out of the closet and forcing those same biases into the light. It presents a hopeful picture to counteract the turmoil of the current day.
Charlie is just so very sweet and his desire to show Patrick how much he has always desired him shines throughout the novella. It’s understated at times, but apparent that he and some side characters are very brave for being out in their hometown. There is still a real pocket of homophobia that rears its head and they remark more than once that they have decided to enact change by staying put and not hiding. I really enjoy how the author makes the reader aware that it’s not all a bed of roses in Small City, and yet there are many who support and love the folks who have come out. The underlying tension that Patrick feels about making the move back home a reality is an effective plot point. The fear Patrick grapples with about never fitting in is perhaps the most honest part of this story. So often romance novels tend to gloss over these types of problems with a love will conquer all kind of feeling, but not so in this book and I appreciate it very much.
Aside from that aspect, I don’t think much new ground is covered and the story, while very nice, is fairly predictable. Still, it is a lovely bit of escapism and Charlie and Patrick make for a sweet couple who deserve their happy ever after. I will definitely be checking out this author’s work again. I like how she paints realistic characters in settings that seem like they might be relatable to most readers. Small City Heart is a very nice introduction to a new author who will be on my short list from now on.
Note: This story has been republished with new scenes and an expanded epilogue.