Milo has been crushing on Ellis since he first saw the older man. But Milo’s shyness and awkwardness always comes out when talking to Ellis. Milo is convinced that Ellis is far too good for him. He’s barely making ends meet at his part time job and, besides, he doesn’t have time to date. Milo is focused on caring for his nine-month-old old daughter, Sara.
From the moment they meet, Ellis has been drawn to Milo. But he’s been hurt in the past, and he can’t even imagine opening up to the younger man. Besides, the age gap between them is big, and he wants more for Milo than to be saddled with an older man who has a lot of baggage. But with every interaction, the affection between them grows. And neither man can let the other one go.
Eventually, that attraction bubbles over and Milo and Ellis begin dating. But secrets from both of their their pasts come back to haunt them. With the neighborhood Milo lives in threatened, Ellis is determined to fix it. But the ghosts of Milo’s past rear their heads. Together, Milo and Ellis need to face what came before if they have any hope of a future together.
This is the second book in the Dads of Stillwater series and for that reason alone, I picked it up. We meet both MCs in the first book, and there’s a hint at the end of their attraction. And, as with the first, I finished this book with mixed emotions. While I liked both of the characters on the surface, this book as a whole didn’t always work for me.
Milo is a sweetheart who has been dealt a raw hand in life. He’s been in survival mode since he was a child, and he’s strong because of it. But he can never relax. He can never just be the 26-year old he is. When Sara came into his life, that stepped up even more. The baby is his whole heart, and he will do anything to keep her safe and happy. I admired his determination and his pluck, for sure.
Ellis had his heart broken and, as a result, left his former life and settled into Stillwater, taking a teaching position. He’s a big-hearted person, determined to do the best he can for the people around him. He throws himself into doing the right thing, and while his heart is in the right place, it’s also partially so that he can hide from his past and make a new life.
As much as I liked the characters, and as good as their chemistry was—because there was no denying these two had spark—the story as a whole had some problems for me. It’s told in first-person present tense, with alternating POVs. This worked for the most part. But I had issues with the narrative style. It felt to me as though the author was barely scratching the surface of the story. I wanted to see more in depth exploration of the emotions and dive into deeper detail of the plot points.
And then there were the secrets. We learn pretty early on that there is drama regarding Milo’s family, but we don’t find out what it is until three quarters of the way through the book. When we do find out, it’s a pretty big deal. But at the same time, it isn’t given the due the weight the plot point deserves. I will say here you should heed the content warnings in the book, as there is mention of drug abuse, suicide, and violence, though none appears on page. In the same way, Ellis’s big secret was barely mentioned, just in passing a couple of times, but not really felt or understood until nearly the very end of the book, when it all comes out. Again, it seems like a big deal that is barely given its due.
The other big problem I had with this story was Ellis’ interfering. Now, I will say his heart was in the best place when he does these things, and that shows through in his character. But he’s repeatedly going behind Milo’s back, taking choices out of his hands. Milo is a fully capable adult who has shown he has his stuff together, even if it’s a hard life he lives. And while Ellis is trying to make things easier, he goes about it in the wrong way, in my opinion. After a few second’s conversation, Milo forgives the transgression. For me, this raised a red flag and, as much as I liked Ellis to start out, it gave problematic vibes. So I really didn’t like this part of his personality, nor did I think the conversations surrounding it were adequate.
So this book was just okay for me. There were parts I liked, but others that didn’t work. The author introduced a new character, and then dropped a big hint as to the conflict point for the next book. Ashley did this in a way that doesn’t detract from the current story, which I appreciated. And it definitely raised intrigue to continue with this series, so I’ll probably continue.