Rating: 4.25 stars
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RCMP officer Grady McDonnough isn’t the type to hit on a person while their working, but when he first meets the gorgeous bartender Jack Chevalier, he’s certainly tempted. The two men ultimately become friends, even though Jack tries to keep it from happening. Due to his past, he knows he’s not a good fit for Grady. But Grady is determined, and though his feelings run deeper than friendship, he’ll do whatever he can to keep Jack in his life.
Four years later, the two are best friends and Grady is doing his best to get over Jack. But when Jack’s past comes crashing in, Grady drops everything to be there for him. Jack finally shares some of his past he’s kept hidden from his friends, and Grady is all the more determined to take care of Jack. Even when Grady’s own past shows up, and things get even more complicated. Jack is just as determined to take care of Grady.
The two men might be just friends, but everyone around them sees something else. And as Jack and Grady support each other through everything going on, they find comfort in one another. They begin to lean harder than they ever have, and finally let the walls down between them. All it takes is one moment, and some tough self reflection, for everything between them to change. Now they are trying to start a relationship while dealing with their pasts. It’s not easy, and things are rocky, but their feelings are strong and both men will fight for the family they’ve created.
Let me start this review by saying that this book is a standalone, and works just fine in regards to the storyline. However, it’s part of a larger universe the author has created, which encompasses at least two series and two standalones. I didn’t know this before beginning the book, and I haven’t read the previous ones. As I said, the storyline isn’t dependent on the previous books, and therefore there’s no need to have read them. But I will say that it was pretty clear from the outset that the copious amount of secondary characters are people the reader “should know” and that their stories have been told before. Because of this, I felt a little bit like I was missing background, particularly as it seemed that Jack especially, but perhaps Grady as well, have played roles in the other books. With that in mind, I also felt that the payoff of these two characters finally getting together would have been more impactful had I known of them before. It wasn’t a huge detriment to the story in any way, but for me, and the type of reader I am, this was something I noticed.
Both Jack and Grady are a bit broken, but they’ve come a long way in their healing. They both have family and childhood trauma, but it is very different. I won’t go into too much detail here, as I don’t want to spoil anything. Grady’s upbringing was very strict and when he came out, he was disowned. He’s made a life for himself, and is happy with the way things are now in part because he’s created a family with friends. For Jack’s part, a choice his father made landed Jack in trouble, and though he did what he had to, he’s living his life on the straight and narrow now, determined to make the best out of his life.
Jack is a fixer, and loves nothing more than helping other people. He always has an answer and a helping hand. But when it comes to his own life, he doesn’t like asking for help. He’s put up walls to keep himself safe, and though he’s done a lot of work and a lot of healing, it’s still hard to trust. But with Grady, from the moment they meet, Jack is able to trust the other man. Part of him doesn’t believe he deserves a friend like Grady, but he’s grateful nonetheless. Jack is an absolute sweetheart, and I loved watching him really break down those final walls and able to finally give himself the happiness he deserves. Grady’s love and care for Jack is unwavering, and really lovely to see. Both MCs are just really good people, trying to do the right thing.
The chemistry between the MCs sparks right at the start, and though this story is a bit of a slow burn in a lot of ways, the intimacy and love between them is easy to see even if Grady and Jack can’t see it for themselves. There was a definite mutual pining situation, though both men are convinced the other can’t want them or doesn’t want a relationship. Usually, this sort of thing frustrates me when it goes on for as long as it did here, especially when a conversation between the MCs could clear things up. But Wayland made it work, and it was so easy to understand where both MCs were coming from, that I was happy to go along for the ride. What I very much liked was that once they got together, there was no big miscommunication or black moment for the relationship. It was just Grady and Jack navigating the bumps and figuring out how their relationship works. In part, this was due to how well they knew each other and how they were basically dating already without knowing it. It added to their overall relationship in a nice way.
There are some heavy topics touched on in this book, including sexual assault, transphobia and homophobia, and conversion therapy. The author handles them with care, and none of these topics are the main focus of the story and are not depicted on page, but rather elements that make up the characters’ backstories. That being said, for me, it felt like the story didn’t need all these elements to be impactful.
There’s a lot of other stuff going on in this book, especially in regards to Jack and Grady’s pasts. For me, some of it was a bit over the top, especially the big confrontation at the end with Grady’s family. I also felt like the resolution was a bit too pat in regards to this storyline. And with Jack’s past, a well placed word to the right person makes the problem disappear. On the one hand, I liked that it wasn’t some big deal and everyone could move on to their HEA without worry. On the other, it felt a bit too easy which made it less believable.
All in all, though, I enjoyed the story. While there are some parts that worked against the book for me, the narrative style was smooth and detailed. The author balanced just the right amount of humor to keep it from going too dark. Jack and Grady were lovely characters who carried the story well. If you’re looking for a friends-to-lovers story with some heavier elements that give the story weight, then definitely check this one out.