Natural Twenty by Charlie Novak takes two lonely men and produces a lovely romance between them. In many ways, this story hangs its hat on the instalove trope, something that, in this case, bothered me simply because it isn’t in keeping with how both characters are built up in this novel. However, the way in which the author chooses to bring Jay and Leo together is really nice and I ending up liking that aspect of the journey very much.
Jay is fresh from London, thanks to his best friend, Edward, rescuing him after a disastrous finish to a long-term romance that ended with cheating by the ex, Kieran. Jay’s last job saw him working long hours—something the Kieran both harped about and criticized Jay over. The guy both called him out as a failure and someone who abused their relationship by ignoring him, while conveniently overlooking the fact that he that was the one that pushed Jay initially to take the job. The whole thing left poor Jay hurt, anxious about repeating his failures, and gun-shy about starting another relationship ever again, until he meets Leo.
Leo is an introvert with a huge heart. He also runs a floral shop that produces unusual arrangements that he artistically creates. Brawny, tattooed, and a bit grumpy, he and his dog, Angie, are content to be alone—or so he keeps telling himself. The real problem for Leo is that whenever he does allow himself to get entangled in a relationship, he gives bits of himself and his heart away too soon—often leading to heartache in the end.
When he sees the new bookstore has opened up, Leo decides to take a welcoming bouquet to the new owner, Jay. Instant attraction smacks Leo in the face when meeting Jay, who is half his size and gorgeous. From there, the two strike up a tentative friendship over the role playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, played weekly at the bookstore. It quickly morphs into something more, but Jay is hesitant to start a new relationship and Leo is determined not to push him. Despite those intentions, the two end up together in a very short time. But the demands of a new business and the specter of failure hang heavy over Jay’s head, causing him to pull away from Leo before long, leaving both men heart sore and pining for the other.
Earlier I mentioned that the way in which the author built up these two characters didn’t jell with how quickly they fell in love. On one page they discuss taking it slow and in the next chapter they are in bed together and internally monologuing about how the think they have fallen in love. This is when I thought the book got confusing—mixed signals on both Jay and Leo’s part. Was Leo committed to giving Jay his space or was he pursuing the guy with everything he had? The constant interruption of the internal dialogue by both Leo and Jay not only began to interrupt the flow of the story, it also denied the spoken intentions voiced by both men. I do understand the idea that the author might have been trying to show the internal battle both Jay and Leo dealt with, but their actions definitely threw their mental reservations out the window.
Consequently, when I mix this with the rushed expressions of love that both of them declare after a short time of knowing each other, I am left with a feeling of dissatisfaction over the arc of their romance. Still, I did ending up liking both characters, even though I wanted to bop Jay on the head for his desperate need to prove himself and refusal to ask for help when he is in crisis mode over his store.
Even though the “I love you” comes way too soon to make real sense and echo how the characters describe themselves initially, this is still a very pretty romance trope, one that I did very much enjoy. Natural Twenty marks the start of a new series by Novak and I am really hoping we get Edward’s story next; he provides a lot of humor in this initial novel and is an intriguing character I want to read more about, for sure. In the end, I think many might enjoy this book despite the minor flaws I indicated above.