Hennessy came to Palm Island three years ago on vacation and he never left. At first, it was because he thought a casual hookup actually meant something more, but even after his heart got broken, Hennessy realized that the island is where he is supposed to be. He now works as a server for the grumpy and prickly Chef Storm. Everyone is pretty much terrified of Storm, but to Hennessy, he is just a big softie underneath all that gruff demeanor.
As unsociable as Storm may be, it used to be worse. After his former high pressure job as a well-known chef, Storm enjoys the quieter pace of Palm Island, even as he works 15-hour days during the summer. But now it is the off season and things are much more relaxed. That is, other than the fact that his ex-husband continues to call. Donny and Storm were never a good fit and all Storm wants to do is put the past behind him. But Donny isn’t taking no for an answer, going so far as to show up on the island trying to get Storm back. In a panic, Storm publicly kisses Hennessy and begs him to pretend to be boyfriends in front of Donny. Of course, Storm never expected the kiss to be quite that good…
The attraction that flares on the beach that night is enough to have Storm and Hennessy continuing to hook up. It is supposed to be casual, no strings for both of them. After all, neither has a good relationship track record and both are wary about getting involved again. But it isn’t long before the pair realize that there is something real between them, something they both want to pursue, if only they can put their pasts behind them and look forward together.
Taken by Storm is the second book in K.M. Neuhold’s Palm Island series (that has now changed names from originally being titled the Off Season series). I love the premise of this series as it looks at the lives of the locals in a gay island resort and what they get up to during the off season while the tourists are gone. There is a large cast of side characters here and we met both Storm and Hennessy in the first book, but you can start here with no problem.
This book is a sort of fake relationship, sort of boss/employee story. I say “sort of” because we get light versions of both the tropes. While Hennessy and Storm are pretending to date to throw off his ex-husband, everyone else on the island knows darn well that they are faking (until they are not), so this is more of a chance to give the men that spark to get their relationship started than a serious pretend dating situation. It is a fun set up and I think it works well, as the pair may never have crossed that friend line without that push. And while Hennessy does work for Storm during the season, during the time this book takes place, he is not currently working for him. The boss/employee dynamic is mentioned a bit, mostly to say it is a non-issue, and it doesn’t really play much of a factor as a potential roadblock. But I did enjoy seeing the fluid way these guys work together in the kitchen in the few scenes we see, and it is a nice illustration of the dynamic between them.
Neuhold does a nice job here of giving us a sense of why these guys are hesitant to get involved, but without dragging things out forever or with too much lack of communication. Hennessy got burned before and his past haunts him. He hooked up, fell hard, and made what he considers a fool of himself. In fact, he has barely been able to be civil with Easy, despite the fact that he is a fellow local and among the same group of friends. So Hennessy needs to get to a place where he can put that embarrassment behind him, accept what happened and his role in it, and trust that he can take a chance on Storm. For his part, the messy aftermath of Storm’s marriage has left him hesitant as well. But even as the men aren’t quite ready to officially commit out loud, they definitely act on their feelings for one another and the growth of their relationship feels very natural.
I love the camaraderie and found family vibe of the group on the island and a lot of the fun is seeing them all interact. That said, there are an awful lot of side characters and I have a really hard time keeping track of them all. Some are distinct enough by their jobs or personalities that I can keep them straight (like I know Boston runs the bar). But many of these guys — Lucky, Goose, Luz, Easy, Trick… — I don’t feel like I could distinguish at all. So sometimes things feel a bit muddled with all the side characters that I know nothing about and who feel somewhat interchangeable. I assume as the series continues and we get to know everyone better, this will be less of an issue, however.
Overall, I found this book fun and am enjoying the set up for the series. I really liked Storm and Hennessy’s story and look forward to the next book in the series.