For Rhys Davis, fences are important. They keep the cows in and the cars out, and checking them and repairing them, while not quite a daily routine, is something he does often. They are much like the fences he keeps up to protect himself, keeping his sexuality quiet — if not quite a secret — in the small New Mexico town he calls home. But when he meets Sinjun, the blonde haired, flip-flop wearing new owner of the local spa, all of Rhys’ fences come tumbling down.
For Sinjun, the cowboy kneeling at his feet — who also happens to be a plumber, a general contractor, and handsome with a killer smile and gentle hands — is almost too good to be true. When Sinjun bought the small spa, sight unseen, he didn’t know what he’d be getting into. All he wanted was to get away from his ex and to put the past behind him. Somehow, with Rhys, everything seems so easy. The gentle touches, the open smiles, the breath stealing kisses… leaving California and his abusive ex-husband behind are the best things he’s ever done.
But Hal isn’t done with Sinjun. Not by a long shot. This time, though, Sinjun isn’t alone. He has his father, he has his cowboy, and he has almost an entire town of artists, bakers, ranchers, and friends who are willing to stand beside him. Hate and fear aren’t going to win, this time.
For all the cheerful, small-town flavor of this story, this book opens with a disturbingly emotional prologue that takes us through Sinjun’s thoughts as he prepares to leave his abusive husband. It details some of the horrors and injuries he has suffered and, while none of it is exactly graphic, it may cause discomfort for some readers. However, you can bypass the prologue without it taking away from the story, but do be warned that there are mentions of Hal’s stalking behavior, threatening actions, vandalism, revenge porn, and the death of an animal.
Sinjun is a man who has managed to find the strength to leave a ten-year relationship with a man who beat him, tortured him, humiliated him, and isolated him from friends and family. Even so, he’s past that and refuses to let it change who he is. He wants to be happy, he wants to make other people happy, and he wants to fall in love. And, when given a chance at that love with Rhys, he is open with what he wants, what he needs, and — as Rhys shows himself to be the sort of man Sinjun can depend on — he isn’t afraid to ask for help or support, which Rhys freely gives him.
When Rhys was 16, he entered into a relationship with an older man, a friend of his father’s. The man was married and had children and, when his family found out, Rhys was whisked out of the house and cut off by his parents. Rhys still has that pain but, like Sinjun, he’s put the past behind him. Now he has friends, a ranch and a life he’s proud of, and when he sees a chance with Sinjun, he’s not afraid to open himself up to it. Yes, it means letting the small, insular town know he’s gay but … that’s what he is. He’s patient with Sinjun and when he finds out what the other man has been through, Rhys turns to Google to see what he can do to help the man he’s falling in love with, and what not to do.
They’re an easy, loving couple that match each other very well. Sinjun is used to being confined and judged, and with Rhys — who only wants to be happy with Sinjun, and for Sinjun to be happy with him — he’s free to be himself. To dance in the kitchen, to make and have friends, to indulge in all the ways he wasn’t able to before. Sinjun is also more than willing to be part of Rhys’ life, to get to know his animals, to cook the food he likes, to be interested in his life. A life that will soon be their life.
And then there’s Hal. Though his age isn’t specified, Sinjun was probably in his twenties, still a young man, and Hal is wealthier and, though neither his age nor profession are specified, it’s mentioned he has people on retainer to track down Sinjun and look for his new residence, phone, and financial status. Hal is never introduced as anything but a threat. However, he’s also made so exaggerated in his actions and his emotions that, for me personally, as someone who has never had to live through what Sinjun has, it came off as a bit over the top. He went from scary to crazypants too quickly for me to really take him seriously.
There are a few hints in the book of a supernatural aspect to the story, but it’s a light touch for the most part, something that could be Sinjun’s own happy thoughts or spiritual energies. But then the end of the book happens and I don’t feel like enough groundwork was laid to support the sudden mystical element. One moment we’re in a story about Sinjun, Rhys, and Sinjun’s crazy ex … and the next we have a haunted hotel. Personally, I didn’t care for the resolution. While other parts of the book worked for me, including the romance and the friendship between Sinjun and Rhys, the rest of it, from the hotel to Hal, really didn’t.