Austin Russell is an accountant who had been a competent bean counter and ruthless budget-cutter for his last employer, the Supernus Group. That role had promised to pay dividends in the form of corporate donations to the not-for-profit agency his mother runs, but the promised bonuses never materialized. Instead, Austin was given expensive gifts of a romantic nature, and his boss pressured him (at times) for a relationship. While flattering, a Breitling watch worth thousands of pounds won’t actually pay bills, like the donations would have.
Austin is the fourth book in the Learning to Love series and can be read as a standalone, but is likely best enjoyed after reading Sol, the second book—and definitely after Luke, book three. In previous stories, Austin has been written as a bad guy, having left his partner Sol after Sol formally adopted his orphaned nephew, Cameron. His role as the hatchet man of the Supernus Group gave Glyn Harber headmaster, Luke, fits. Glyn Harber, the setting for the stories in this series, definitely felt the crunch of Austin’s cost-cutting measures. But Austin has redeemed himself to this point, made up with his happily partnered ex, and made dear friends of the staff at Glyn Harber. Which is why he must leave, now. Okay, not because he has friendship, but because Glyn Harber has no money. He’s only sticking around to make sure the renovation of Sol’s art building happens without breaking the available budget.
See, Austin has been working so hard, taking every promotion offered. No matter how soul-sucking, all to raise money in the name of his sister, Tamsin, who died tragically from a car wreck under Austin’s juvenile-appropriate watch, roughly fifteen years ago. He’s still wounded from that personal tragedy, and his mum has been a tireless safety advocate, using the funds she and Austin raise to fund projects to make their corner of the world more safe for children. Without a big paycheck, and corporate matching funds, Austin can’t contribute. And if he can’t contribute, what good is he, anyway?
The thing is, Austin’s starting to actually feel good about himself again, and the guilt that always comes from the memories of Tamsin, his mum, and the foundation that’s bleeding him dry are all lead wights holding him back from his best life. He’s met a man, Dom, and Dom’s daughter, Maisie, who’s a pupil at Glyn Harber. She has developmental delays and needs special instruction of the kind in which Glyn Harber specializes. Dom is a good father, though Austin makes some snap judgments about his caregiving at the outset. Maisie falls into a dangerous situation and he thinks it was Dom being negligent—pulling back horrific memories of Tamsin’s accident. There’s no mistaking the chemistry, though, and Dom’s non-traditional family is as accepting of Austin as it is struggling with Maisie’s issues.
Austin can’t bear to see a child struggle — that was partly why he left Sol those years ago; he knew Cameron needed a steady caregiver and Austin didn’t trust himself to be that. Not after what happened with Tamsin. Life comes full circle though, in that Austin needs Cameron’s help now to assist Maisie in her recovery and growth. And doing so will also benefit Sol, because Dom is prepared and able to manage the art building renovation. They are a fully entwined package, which is how Glyn Harber thrives, it seems.
This is a sweet redemption love story, with a MC that has fewer missteps to redeem than his backstory had shown readers, to date. I loved how the scenes we’d had of Austin in previous books gave us an impression of impropriety and selfishness, while it was also showing us his “better angels at work” side. He never had to stick out his neck to warn Sol or help Luke, but he did, because he does know what is right, and he does separate the personal from the professional. I loved how he adored Maisie, Dom, and Dom’s dad. And, how their family dynamic helped Austin recognize how toxic Austin’s own family had become. Dom and Austin are electric together, and they’re surely meant for one another, if Austin can trust his heart for a change. I really enjoyed this one, and loved the found family and redemptive aspects. I’m not sure if we’ll see another book in this series, but I will JOYOUSLY read on if there is one.