Leroy Madden is never in a good mood. He knows it and everyone around him knows it. He has tried to repair his relationship with his brother, Judah, but that is still shaky, and being in a struggling business with his mother is trying his last nerve. And then there is Fox Carmody, the man that Leroy has been attracted to for the last year and that attraction blindsided Leroy so hard that Fox just thinks Leroy hates him. Now, Fox is living in Leroy’s house, at the urging of their mothers who are in a relationship, and Leroy has no idea how to keep his attraction hidden from Fox and maybe he doesn’t want to anymore.
Fox Carmody is struggling with every aspect of his life these days. He’s in the middle of a divorce and his cheating ex was entitled to half of everything Fox worked his entire life for, leaving Fox with no business and no direction. Fox has been aware of brooding, good looking Leroy from their first encounter and he has always been aware of the disdain that rolls of him in Fox’s direction. But Fox also starts to see the hunger in Leroy when he’s looking at Fox and their close proximity has them reaching for each other and then reaching for more. Fox wants Leroy and he knows Leroy wants him, but their lives are a tangle of details to be worked out and it seems nothing comes easy for Leroy and that includes Fox Carmody.
On Board follows the first book in the Painted Bay series, Off Balance. Leroy was introduced in that first book as Judah’s brother and all of the family dynamics are set up there as well and I found it helpful to have read that book first. This book is largely a redemption story of Leroy as there wasn’t much to like about what we saw of him in Off Balance, but the author doesn’t try to erase Leroy’s past as much as try to make us understand it and him.
Leroy was in his last year of Veterinary school when his father died, and Leroy came back home to take over the family mussel farm. He does all of the physical labor for the farm and treats it like his own business, yet his mother still owns the business and the house that Leroy is living in, and she never lets him forget that. Leroy was always second to his brother, Judah, and their parents catered to Judah’s dreams of being a dancer and Leroy’s resentment has steadily risen all these years. Leroy didn’t defend Judah from homophobic bullies in school and their relationship reached the breaking point. Now that Judah is back home, Leroy is trying to repair the damage, but it’s a long road for that and Leroy is exhausted and angry all the time.
Leroy didn’t react well when he learned that his mother was in a relationship with Fox’s mother and it’s one more point of contention on an already overloaded life. Leroy also couldn’t handle his attraction to Fox, he wasn’t even sure what was happening to him, and now that Fox is in his space all of the time, Leroy is drowning in it all.
Hogan does a good job of getting us into Leroy’s head and being able to feel the layers of animosity and hostility that mostly make up his personality. Fox sees glimpses of Leroy when he’s slightly less prickly and wants to see more of that, but Leroy fights his attraction to Fox with everything he has. Fox is going through a spiteful divorce and that adds to all of the tension, especially the storyline involving his dog, Mack. The attraction and chemistry are there for sure between the men, but there are many obstacles in their way.
My issue with this storyline is Leroy’s mother, Cora. Leroy is thirty years old and Cora treats him like a child. She constantly lets herself into Leroy’s home, because she owns the house, and continually forces him to bend to her will. This includes having Leroy hire Kane. Kane was also introduced in the first book in the series as Judah’s bully and tormentor. Kane beat Judah so severely in high school that he had internal bleeding, yet Cora just says it was a long time ago, people change, and that Kane needs a chance. I had such a hard time with this line of thinking it started to derail the book for me because Cora is an integral part of this entire story. Leroy is constantly caught in the middle between what his mother wants, how he now wants to do right by Judah, and then create a relationship with Fox. I think enjoyment of this book will depend on how you take to the family dynamics and how much you like Leroy and if you find him redeemable. I liked Fox’s character and seeing him find his way after his life blew up, but even after getting to know Leroy more, I found him a tough character to root for. That speaks to the quality of the writing, but it then also speaks to personal enjoyment of the characters and the storyline.
I really enjoyed Judah and Morgan’s story in the first book and I liked being back in the town of Painted Bay. The next book is going to try to redeem Kane, so the next visit could be just as tense as this one. If you like a more disagreeable character finding his HEA, On Board might have what you are looking for.