Heal is the seventh and final book in Nora Phoenix’s White House Men series. The series covers an overarching suspense plot and the final elements are resolved in this book. Therefore, this book (and this review) has spoilers for past events and the stories should be read in order, starting with Press.
It’s been a year and a half since President Del Shafer lost his wife, Sarah, and he is still grieving her loss. He is glad to see that his friends and his son have all found love and happiness with their new partners. And knowing that most of those responsible for the Pride Bombing and related deaths have been caught helps to ease his mind. But Del is still struggling with his grief and his loneliness, particularly as being the president is so isolating.
Issa is the president’s body man. His job is to be with Del while he works, helping with whatever he needs, whether that be having a pen or a sandwich at the ready, or knowing when Del needs to be quietly ushered out of an event. Issa loves to take care of people and this is the perfect job for him. He cares about the president and wants to help ease his stress and make his difficult job a little bit easier.
When Del is pretty much forced to finally take a two-week vacation at Camp David, Issa comes along to keep him company. Issa doesn’t officially work when Del is not working, but the idea of being all alone at Camp David is more than Del can bear. Del is determined that the two spend time together as friends, rather than boss and employee. And as Del and Issa enjoy time by the pool, cozying up with movies, and relaxing together, a spark begins to grow between them. For the first time since Sarah’s death, Del finds himself with an interest in sex again, and he is very much into Issa. And Issa finally lets out his long-standing attraction to Del. Things heat up between them and Del and Issa not only enjoy an intense sexual connection, but real feelings begin to grow.
However, all is not easy, even as they have fallen for each other. While Del is leaving office soon, he is still the president and Issa still works for him. Issa also worries about the age gap, concerned Del will want to find someone older once he gets tired of a fling with Issa. Not to mention that while Del is out as bisexual, the theory is easier for many people to see than the reality of the president dating a man. However, Issa and Del have found something special between them, and it is chance for real love and happiness for them both. Now that they have found love, neither man is willing to give it up.
Heal picks up a year from the end of the sixth book, Puzzle, jumping us into the future, which I think is a great decision on many levels. First, it allows a little more time between Del losing Sarah and him finding someone new. It also helps show that Del is still dealing with a lot of grief, as well as guilt for Sarah’s death (as the poison she ingested was meant for him). The time gap also brings us closer to the end of Del’s time in office, as the book starts in July and the inauguration for the new president is in January. So the story covers many months as we see Del transitioning into his post-presidential life. And finally, it allows Heal to serve as an extended epilogue of sorts as we get to see how all our other couples (and triad) have been faring over the past year and what is going on in all their lives. While this is definitely Del and Issa’s story, we do get moments with all our couples, as well as POV chapters from a variety of different characters.
This series has always had dual storylines happening at once — the romance and relationship development, and then the larger suspense plot about the Pride Bombing and the various other attacks and murders that took place. Puzzle wrapped quite a bit up for us, but the one open thread on the suspense end was finding Yazid El Sewedy. In this final book, we do get closure on that last piece of the suspense plot. Things end a little softly here, after all the intense excitement and revelations in the previous book. But the storyline does wrap up nicely here, and we get a chance to see Ryder and Branson shine once again in the investigation.
On the relationship end, I was glad to see Del get his happy ending. He has been a fixture throughout the series, almost the linchpin around which the rest of the characters revolve. So it is only fitting that he gets his own HEA. I enjoyed Del and Issa together, and there is a nice sweetness between them. There is also a nice heat, as Del explores being with a man again after so many years, as well as enjoying the resurfacing of his dormant libido. I like Issa’s caretaking vibe, and he really is a source of comfort and support to Del as he works through his grief and moves on.
However, you really have to go with a lot here in terms of how this relationship plays out. I found in some ways I could just go with it, and in other places I struggled. First, while the men have been working together for a while, they do not have a romantic relationship or even really a friendship prior to the story opening. They have a somewhat casual working relationship where Issa can be a little pushy and informal at times. And we learn that Issa has found Del attractive for a while. But these guys jump from zero(ish) to 100 so super fast. They are alone at Camp David and they go from boss/employee to in love and partners in a matter of days. Also, it all kicks off when Del tells Issa he wants them to interact as friends, not boss/employee (which is very in character for Del). But it also feels so unrealistic to me. Del is Issa’s direct supervisor (at least in practice, if not officially). They are together almost constantly, all day every day, as boss/subordinate. How would you just turn that off for two weeks and hang out as friends, then suddenly turn it back on when that time is over? Not to mention the huge issue of the fact that Del is the president, Issa is his much younger employee, they start having sex, and no one seems to think there is anything at all to be concerned about here (other than appearances). I mean, Issa is fully dependent on Del for his job, and continues working for him even once they are sexually involved. So I’ll admit that there are a lot of things here that were kind of a tough sell for me, but overall, I really enjoyed these guys together.
One of the best aspects of this series is the found family vibe among all the men, and this story really showcases that. As I said, we catch up with everyone and see where they are and their plans for the future. It all ties together well and highlights how important these guys are to each other and what a source of support they are. Calix, in particular, is there for Del to provide advice and a listening ear as someone who lost a partner and found love again. So it was fun seeing everyone and catching up.
Heal really ties up the series nicely and I have so enjoyed reading these books. It is a great series that brings together an engaging suspense arc, as well as some really appealing relationships. I loved how it all comes together and can definitely recommend the White House Men series.