As a lawyer specializing in family law, Matt Ramsey has seen more than his fair share of messy divorces. It’s a high-stress job and all he wants is two weeks in the seaside English town of Nyemouth to forget how horrible people can be to each other. Unfortunately, Matt comes across a couple having a blazing row on his first night, and it ends with violence. Thanks to Matt having his phone’s camera at the ready, he puts a stop to things before they escalate. It wasn’t an ideal way to meet some of the locals, but as soon as the aggressor leaves, Matt discovers the remaining partner is as charming as he is attractive. It’s bad enough that Matt feels an instant attraction to a virtual stranger, but when that stranger is several years younger and married to a horrible man…Matt is resigned to keeping his hands to himself.
For Jake Wrangler, hindsight is 20-20. And now, he sees very clearly that he only ever fell for a petty, vindictive man like Vince because Vince filled the void left when Jake’s parents died a few years ago. But even after being separated for a year and Jake serving Vince with divorce papers, Vince refuses to let go. Worse, their brief but volatile encounters are being noticed by Jake’s sister, his friends, even a random hot tourist who comes to Jake’s aid when Vince gets physical. Despite the instant attraction to the older man, Jake knows he’s in no position to pursue a relationship. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be friendly with newcomer Matt. And if they manage to spend two nights out of three together talking over beers…so be it. Soon, both Jake and Matt realize the spark they feel is ready to ignite. They don’t want to hold back, but are unsure of how to move forward with Matt only being in town temporarily and Vince’s temper a constant reminder that Jake may never be free.
Safe Harbour is the second book in author Thom Collins’ Jagged Shores series (book one is North Point). Both books are set in the same location, Nyemouth, England, and feature a smattering of common characters, including the two MCs from book one, Dominic and Arnie. The stories also share a common thread in that an MC from each is an active member of the town’s lifeboat team. I liked how Collins includes little references to places, events, and characters from book one without making it feel like Safe Harbour is sharing the spotlight. I thought this approach gave the book a cozy, familiar feeling, while still having fresh characters and new action. In fact, Jake lives in Nyemouth, but is apparently completely absent from the first book because Vince had taken them on vacation in Europe…a tidy way to address that situation.
One of the biggest themes in the book is how Jake and Matt individually acknowledge how much they enjoy spending time together, but also have to contend with personal circumstances that make a real relationship between them incredibly difficult. Jake clearly has significant problems with his would-be-ex-husband. The pair have on-page exchanges that highlight how much of a jerk Vince is; however, it’s the short scenes with just Vince that showcase just how horrible a human being he is. As Vince grows more desperate to bring Jake back under his control, he gets more on-page time. I really liked how this built the tension. It was clear to me that Vince was forming and acting on plans to cause major harm to Jake and/or Matt, so every moment thereafter was full of tension as I waited to see when and how Vince would spring his trap.
Matt, on the other hand, has his own turbulent relationship history. He divorced his husband a few years prior after discovering the man was cheating with several other men and pursued a lifestyle that far outstripped his means to pay for it. Interestingly, Matt’s ex comes around to Nyemouth and gets tangled up in the Jake/Vince/Matt drama in a pretty horrible way, albeit one that ultimately seems to scare Matt’s ex into cleaning up his act. Honestly, I was expecting Matt’s ex to cause a little more drama with Jake, but I don’t think Jake ever even interacts with Matt’s ex on-page.
Meanwhile, the Jake and Vince drama plays out at pretty regular intervals and there were little snippets of just Vince that truly paint him as a horrible human being. Vince really felt like he was driving a lot of the action. Without the drama he brings, the story is largely built around different permutations of the same date-like vignettes. Jake and Matt meet up for lunch and chat, Jake and Matt meet up for a beer and chat, Jake and Matt share a home-cooked meal and chat. Eventually, this gets spiced up with some sex. I didn’t mind the same-same settings and the way their conversations felt glossed, mostly because the first third or so of the book also focuses on how Jake and Matt are trying to deny the attraction (or at least their ability to act on it). There is also the uncertainty Matt feels when he discovers he’s more than a decade older than Jake. This clearly plays on Matt’s mind, but it sort of fell by the wayside when the two are together—largely ignored because both Matt and Jake seem to find each other equally physically attractive. That was kind of a let down, but then again, Vince brings plenty of drama without Matt feeling like he’s robbing the cradle.
Given how much of an impact Jake’s ex has on the story and Matt’s worry about being too old (when not in Jake’s company), I think Safe Harbour offers a pretty charming unrequited (but totally requited) love theme. And the repeating “just a casual night in/out” theme helped me feel a sense of connection with the MCs, even though they’d only known each other for two weeks by the end of it.
Finally, I really enjoyed the ending. Of course, it ends with a dramatic scene that left me furiously turning pages. And the finale to the book offers a sweet happily ever after that I thought was just as “homey” as Jake and Matt’s initial courtship. If you like cozy thrillers, insta-attraction, age gaps, or vindictive partners who get their comeuppance, then I think you’ll enjoy Safe Harbour.