Rating: 3.75 stars
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When Judson left Vermont, he rarely looked back. He made his way to Paris where he became a successful chef and opened a restaurant with his now ex-boyfriend. Judson is now back in Vermont living in his parents’ home after everything went wrong in Paris. He is just getting his bearings again until he figures out his next move because he has no intention of staying in Vermont. He certainly has no intention of reconnecting with his childhood best friend and forever crush, Skyler. As a child, Judson never fit in and, while he has made progress, he still struggles with his self-esteem. When he sees Skyler again, the longing is still there, but so are the wounds.
Skyler never understood why Judson left without a word. They had known each other since the day they were born and were the best of friends and Judson’s absence has never gotten easier. Skyler never came out to Judson and neither man ever knew how the other truly felt about him. Skyler also thought he would leave Vermont and see the world, but family obligations made that impossible. Skyler is fine where he is now and his maple syrup business is starting to thrive. When Skyler sees Judson again, his world shifts once again as the same feelings are still there, but Skyler needs some answers.
The men have a lot to work through and when they enter a reality TV show together, they spend a lot of time together. Their lack of communication hasn’t gotten any better over the years and Judson and Skyler have to open themselves up to finally have what they have always wanted.
Stronghold 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.
This is an easy to read friends-to-lovers book set around the type of miscommunication that happens at a younger age. Judson and Skyler were the closest of friends, but Judson always felt he was included only because of Skyler. He was overweight and unsure of himself and while Judson is healthier now, he still struggles with his self-esteem. His departure from Paris didn’t help and what happened there gets worked into his story.
Skyler never knew why Judson left so abruptly and when he sees Judson again, he simultaneously wants him and wants to yell at him. The men work toward each other slowly as they get to know each other again before tackling the larger conversations. They both also have external issues to deal with as Judson has to clean up his life in Paris and Skyler has family issues that are preventing him from reaching for his own dreams of expanding his maple syrup business.
The book moves at a good pace with a reality show designed to build up the contestants instead of the common thread of tearing them down, and men work through their attraction and their past. The show does not take over the story, but works as a catalyst to the men working together toward both of their dreams. There is still miscommunication or lack of communication between the men throughout the story and while it does get resolved and doesn’t linger too long, you do have to be able to go along with that. Skyler’s family issues involving his father were a large part of his story, but we don’t see the family trying to fix the root of the problem, just the consequences of the problem, and more of that would have made for a more solid story.
There are some familiar Vino and Veritas faces to be seen here as Judson and Skyler reconnect after a long absence to get the life they both have dreamed about.