Tai has just arrived in Vermont after leaving his cheating ex in Boston. He doesn’t know anyone in town and has barely any money and no plan. Sleeping in his car on cold nights isn’t his dream either and Tai is trying to figure out what’s next. He’s mostly been told that his face is his best asset and he has never felt confident enough to reach for more. A chance meeting has Tai hired as temporary help at the veterinary clinic and although he doesn’t know much about animals, he is good with the business side of things. Tai knows his life is a mess and he has no interest in another relationship, but Emmett, the veterinarian, pushes all of Tai’s buttons.
Emmett is overwhelmed most days running the animal clinic and taking care of his ten-year-old son, Leo. After his wife died suddenly, Emmett has been trying to hang on as a single parent. He has always known that he’s bisexual, but never had a reason to come out to most people and only a few friends know. Emmett is immediately attracted to Tai and believes in him and the men try to resist each other, but the allure of being together is too great. It won’t be easy though, as Tai wants to take care of himself and Emmett has to figure out what’s best for his family, but maybe what’s best for them is being together.
Jay Hogan releases one of her best books in Unguarded, a novel that is part of the Vino and Veritas collection, which is 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 feature the Vino and Veritas wine bar and bookstore. There are a few cameos in this book, as well, and if you have followed the series, you will get to see Briar, Tanner, and Jasper.
Tai is a great character right from the start and he’s got the perfect balance of snark, sweet, and sass. Tai followed a man from New Zealand to Boston and, after giving him too many chances, Tai is trying to cut his losses. Tai has never felt as good as his older brothers and he hasn’t come up with a plan for himself, but he needs one now and he needs it fast. Emmett has been trying to balance work and raising his son since his wife died, and the hole she has left in their lives runs deep. He’s overwhelmed and stressed and dating isn’t on his mind at all until he sees Tai.
The men have chemistry at first glance, but are hesitant to act on it. Only a few people know that Emmett is bisexual and, while he is open to coming out, he has Leo to consider. Tai doesn’t want to fall into another pattern of relying on a man and wants to do things for himself, although it’s easy to see how well these men fit together. Emmett gives Tai some ground to stand on and Tai brings the laughter back into Emmett and Leo’s lives. Leo is a well-written kid, along with Ivy, the dog groomer, and their antics with Tai definitely had some fun and lightness to the story. About halfway through, I did have thoughts about how the story would sustain another half, but the men fall into a rhythm and the book falls into a melody and then there is some drama to keep the tension and it’s great to watch these men fall for each other.
I don’t want to detract from all the good this book is, but I did have two hesitations. The first is the set up with Tai leaving his cheating ex and sleeping in his car in freezing Vermont. This is a similar set up to Roommate, the book that first introduced the Vino and Veritas series, and I would have preferred something less familiar. Also, I was looking forward to Emmett being a veterinarian and, as a personal preference, I was then hoping to see some interesting animals. But mostly we see Emmett being stressed about the business with clients unwillingly to pay, and while I understand about working with the public, for me there was a missed opportunity to bring a touch more warmth into the story.
Unguarded is a great addition to this series and a great addition to Hogan’s roster of books. The warm moments, laughter, and joyous happy ending would make this a great choice to read next.