Rory and Thad are YouTubers who run a small channel called RIPP — Researchers in Paranormal Phenomenon. They research and investigate haunted locations in the hopes of being able to give their followers a little scare or, at least, a little entertainment. Brooks, Rory’s brother, supports them by helping them with equipment, transportation, and moral support, all while serving as the resident skeptic. Even so, Brooks wonders, sometimes, if his ex is right, if he really is just desperately clinging to his brother because without Rory and Rory’s life, Brooks wouldn’t have one of his own.
All of that changes when Dane joins the team. Newly arrived at the college, Dane’s been put into a group with Rory and Thad in their film class. Hesitant, at first, to make friends, Dane finds himself entranced by Rory’s handsome older brother and ends up joining them all in their investigation of Coldburgh Station, an abandoned train station where twenty some odd people froze to death and, following a batch of accidents and a suicide, is now rumored to be haunted. What better place to start?
Brooks is already smitten by Dane’s beautiful eyes and Dane can’t help but sneak glances at Brooks when he thinks the other man isn’t looking. (He’s looking.) Dane has his own ghosts following him, and when the ghosts of Coldburgh Station turn out to be real, all he will have to hold onto is his faith in salt, spells, and the comfort of Brooks’ arms around him.
Brooks has graduated college and lives with his two little brothers. One, Rory, is related by blood and the other, Thad, is Rory’s best friend. Rory and Thad view themselves as brothers and both of them look up to Brooks as their elder brother. They love one another, support one another, and make fun of one another, and all three of them give all of their free time to their YouTube channel. Once Dane joins them, the three of them are more than willing to become a quartet, welcoming Dane with open arms .. and when he opens his in turn, handing him things to carry.
There is a great deal of focus on the growing and established friendships in this story, which makes sense as this is the first book in the Researchers in Paranormal Phenomenon series. Dane has suffered a horrible event that has left him heartbroken and afraid to get close to others, but something about the three members of RIPP warm a frozen part of him. They don’t push, they don’t demand, and yet they don’t ignore, either. They’re aware he’s keeping them at arm’s length, but they’re willing to be patient and wait for him to be able to talk to them about what he needs from them and what he wants. Brooks, especially, who wants more from Dane than just a friendship.
When their first kiss has Dane running scared Brooks never blames Dane for it. He blames himself for pushing too fast, too far for Dane’s comfort, and the two of them take the time to talk when next they meet. Brooks wants a relationship with Dane and lets him know that Dane is worth waiting for. And if Dane only wants to be friends, that’s good, too.
The B plot of the book is the haunted train station and the ghosts that suddenly appear. While it’s nice to see characters being afraid and horrified of ghosts — rather than just brushing off this amazing and horrifying moment — I, personally, feel that the book was a bit lopsided in regard to this part of the story. There was a great deal of time given to Brooks buying a coffee mug or pizza night, and while that’s great for building up the characters and showing the rapport they have with one another, the moments with the ghosts feel rushed in comparison. This is a small nitpick, though, and other readers might not have an issue with the pacing or balance.
It’s a little jarring to read a book that, given the current situation, opens with a man with an obvious cold — sneezing, coughing, and a fever — out and about without a mask, even if it is only to traipse around an abandoned and purportedly haunted site. I also found it to be a little disconcerting having brand names italicized whenever they showed up. But other than those small issues, I had fun reading this book.