Mark is a 19-year-old farm hand working on Clay and Dell’s farm, which neighbors his father’s homestead and land. Mark is gay and glad to have the friendship of out gay men, like Clay and Dell, in their rural area of Wisconsin. Mark truly respects Clay and Dell and how good they are in both life and business. His relationship with his father is very tense, however. His dad is still mired in grief since Mark’s mom passed several years ago, and their own farm is failing, which is why Mark took the job managing Dell’s ever expanding goat herd. The demand for their organic goat’s milk cheese is too great for Dell and Mark to handle, so Dell and Clay decide to hire another hand: Isaac.
Isaac is a member of a local religious cult. At twenty-three-years old, Isaac is not very confident in navigating the world outside the insular, puritan, subsistence society he was born into. His father is one of the important elders, and Isaac’s education was managed in the compound school with strict guidance in a simple life, with few-to-no conveniences. Isaac is one of few people from their community who leave the compound to purchase tools, or trade surplus handicrafts or crops for money. Isaac has been recently allowed by his father to seek outside work. Clay and Dell are a little nervous to hire Isaac, because they are afraid he will be homophobic. But, he’s an excellent worker and a great help to Mark. He’s so sheltered, however, that he’s quite taken aback when he learns that Clay and Dell are a married couple. He knows that his father will not allow him to work for bosses who are so “godless,” but it turns out that Isaac is not going to tell his father. And, he’s going to save a little of his earnings back, too. Because he’s not so sure that he’s cut out to stay in his community much longer.
Mark and Isaac are good workers and they become friends to one another. They both have attractions to men, but neither has a lot of experience—Isaac has never even been kissed before. Their friendship is pretty intense, though, and attraction does grow as they build emotional intimacy. Isaac tentatively confides in Mark about the trials of his life in the compound, and Mark helps him navigate the strange and odd world outside of it. Isaac’s fear of his father dominates his actions, even as he makes little rebellions, like changing out of his plain homespun clothes while selling cheeses at the farmer’s market. As the tension between his home and work life crests, Mark is there right when Isaac needs him the most. Their mutual esteem does grow into a robust first love, but Isaac is unsure that he could be lovable, especially to such an educated and worldly man like Mark. Their courtship is sweet and tender, though the specter of his father’s wrath is a shadow in the background.
This is the third book in the Heart Home and Family series, but fully enjoyable on its own. This is such a sweet story, with a cast of mature adults supporting the “new” adults, Mark and Isaac, as they navigate some difficult family obstacles and plan their futures. Isaac has a lot of trauma due to his family life, and a huge culture clash from his upbringing to the outside world. He doesn’t want to live that life, but he’s afraid to leave his family. It’s complicated by his observations of gay men in the community, and understanding his sexuality and his own desires better than ever. Mark is such a solid support to Isaac, but he’s also a man growing up in his own right. His conflicts with his father have led to some important decisions that help Isaac maximize his opportunities in farming, with Clay and Dell.
I love how they all operate like an extended family, and it was good to see so much happiness with these folks. There is a bit of extra drama, due to Isaac’s father’s extreme attempt to bring Isaac back to their conclave. I really enjoyed the insight into Isaac’s life, and how he finally feels like he’s a wanted and valuable part of a “chosen” family when he’s with Mark, and Clay and Dell. It’s a happy ending, despite Isaac’s issues with his family. Good thing he has so much loving support in his new life.