Tanner is the manager of a popular wine bar in Burlington, Vermont, but he will freely admit that he doesn’t know that much about wine. In fact, working in a bar was never part of his plan and now Tanner’s focus is just to make it through each day. That is until Jax winds up sleeping on his couch and Tanner starts looking forward to each day as long as he gets to see Jax.
When the only place that Jax had to stay went up in flames, a friend came through with a connection for him and now he’s sleeping on a stranger’s couch. Except, Tanner doesn’t exactly feel like a stranger. Jax is new to Vermont, by way of England and then CA, and every decision he makes now is a major event as he has physical and emotional scars from a life he had to move on from. Now, Jax spends his time on the trails of Vermont tracking elusive animals to film and, while he had been focused, his head is now filled with Tanner.
The chemistry the men have together is obvious to them and everyone around them and they naturally gravitate toward each other. Even though the men want to spend all of their time together, they both have a lot of healing to do and want to be able to stand on their own before they fall together. But when Tanner goes chasing old ghosts, he might not get the happy ever after he has started to crave with Jax.
Heartscape is part of the Vino and Veritas collection, a set of multi-author stories set in the larger World of True North universe. The books are designed to be standalone stories that can be read in any order and will feature the Vino and Veritas wine bar and bookstore. Tanner is the manager of the wine bar and we will get to see glimpses of him throughout the series as characters visit the bar. Garrett Leigh hits a lot of emotional notes with the relationship between Tanner and Jax as the book is heavily character driven and when Leigh gets down deep into her characters, it’s a beautiful sight to see.
Both men are in a tough place. Tanner used to lead adventure tours in Alaska and on the job trauma and PTSD led to depression and him returning back to Vermont. He thought the trails in Vermont would be a better fit for him, but trauma was waiting for him there too and Tanner spiraled far down into a mental health crisis. He works a lot and his only family is his brother and their relationship is complicated. When Jax needed a fresh start, he found himself in Vermont as well. He’s far from his home in England and far from his dissolving marriage in California, and only some of the scars he carries are visible.
Tanner and Jax just get each other from the start. The tension in the story is both internal and external as both men have deep issues to work through that can be seen in many facets of their lives. The book is slower and quieter in some parts and although there is racing heat between the men, the inferno also manages a slow burn. The scenes with just the two of them are the true highlight of the story and Leigh writes dreamy, seductive intimacy for their soul deep connection.
Some of the larger storyline did falter for me as their dialogue got crossed at times when Tanner would use a non-American expression that was more suited to Jax, as well as references that didn’t feel age appropriate to his character. There are also secondary characters that have storylines here and they didn’t all fit into Tanner and Jax’s story for me and I wasn’t sure if they were new characters or connected to the larger world, as some of them showed up without any explanation. I also would have liked more overall detail on Jax’s job as the description left a lot of questions for me. The bookstore is barely mentioned here and I felt like I needed this book to connect more to the larger world as there were areas that were briefly brought in, but then felt unbalanced.
I can certainly see Tanner and Jax being a favorite couple of the series, and a favorite couple in general. Their connection is intense and their intimate scenes are filled with emotional passion that lives on after the last page.