Charlie Renfrew is a young, twenty-something man trying to recover his life following addiction. He has depression and anxiety, and is finally being properly treated for that. Charlie grew up in a wealthy family, the second son of parents with high expectations, but he never quite measured up, and he turned to alcohol and drugs while in secondary school. As a rebellious teen, Charlie accidentally knocked up his best friend, Emily, and is now the determined father of a sweet toddler, Carys. Charlie lives and works in London, paying his own way through uni and a degree in English literature, none of which his posh parents respect, while also sending most of his salary to Wales to support Emily and Carys, where they live with Emily’s gran. Charlie makes a bit of money as a guitarist in a small-time band, so his time is truly stretched in many directions, which is why he doesn’t date men, ever. Just quick hook-ups on the weekend, when he can find the time.
Ben Campbell is the 25-year-old lead guitarist and singer of a climbing indie rock band. He’s blond and sexy, and way out of Charlie’s league—so Charlie believes. But Ben keeps returning to the café where Charlie works, flirting with him until he agrees to some steamy break-time shenanigans, and maybe a real date. It seems that Ben’s got his mind set on Charlie, who runs both hot and cold anxiety, and it’s a battle for Charlie to see the good that Ben finds in him.
This is a sweet and sometimes steamy romance between two young-ish men who have big plans on different tracks of life. It is the second book in the When Snow Falls series, but is fully readable as a standalone. Charlie’s modest goals include a steady job with enough income to support Emily’s education, Carys’ upbringing, and maybe get a decent night’s sleep, whereas Ben wants to be a music success, rocking out on tour and selling records. After losing his dad young and battling with dyslexia, Ben appreciates the hard work Charlie is doing to make his life functional. His attraction, and continued interest, feeds a hungry part of Charlie’s soul—that bit starved for the slightest bit of approval he never got from his parents. For Ben, who’s struggled to find a real connection since moving to London, Charlie’s very real-ness is captivating. Charlie’s need to control his life plans plays well with Ben’s mild submission kink, giving Charlie a lot of control in their sexual activities, which continues to empower him. But, is this fledgling attraction just another coping strategy? Is it too big a distraction to Charlie’s commitments? Could loving Ben become an addiction? And, worst of all, what happens when Ben (inevitably) finds someone better/sexier/able to hang out more?
Charlie’s anxiety is a huge driver of the plot, with him constantly second- and third-guessing his decisions. It’s also Christmas-time in the story, and that brings another level of stress. All of this made for a rather angst-filled romance. Ben and Charlie are both very lonely, and they’ve had serious abandonment issues to overcome. Their connection to one another builds quickly and intensely as a result, which scares Charlie to no end. I liked how Ben was pretty patient through Charlie’s struggles, because he saw a man whose heart of gold could cherish him completely, if given a bit of comfort himself. Charlie’s used to sacrificing himself on behalf of Emily and Carys, without aid. That Ben wants to help him out at all is a complete revelation. Charlie’s family isn’t all bad, though his parents definitely are awful to him. It was good to see Charlie loved wholly, not only by Ben, but also by Carys, and Emily—as a dear friend.
The pace is rather frenzied, mirroring Charlie’s hectic schedule, and I dug that, because that made the tension higher for Charlie. I could easily imagine any offset to his precarious schedule would send him into a tailspin, which does happen. The end comes in on just the right note of found family love, with Charlie and Ben having both realized their professional and personal goals, together. Readers who enjoy UK-based stories, New Adult rock romances, or stories where good people finally get their messy lives together, would probably enjoy this one.