Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Benson’s job is to provide research and legwork for a lawyer in his grandfather’s firm, proving that their client is the true owner of a large plot of land in Devon Falls. This land was deeded to the town close to a hundred years ago by Miriam LeBlanc and has been used most famously for their fall festival where they celebrate the turning of the leaves. Not only does the festival bring tourists (and their money), but it brings the town together. However, Miriam also left a stipulation in her will that, should any of her descendants ever return to Devon Falls, her land would revert to them. And that’s where Carter’s client, and Benson’s job, comes in.

It’s up to Benson to let the people of Devon Falls know the land is no longer theirs, and that their festival days have come to an end. Needless to say, no one’s happy about that. Jack Lancer, though, one of the family doctors for Devon Falls, makes an effort to befriend Benson. Perhaps he hopes that his charm, his smile, and his easy conversation and camaraderie will sway Benson; or perhaps he’s just being nice — like everyone in town is being nice. Too nice.

Jack is currently serving as guardian for his nephew, Elijah, while the boy’s father is away. He ends up butting heads with his ex-wife’s parents who want to take their grandson home to Florida with them — because a single man has no idea how to take care or a kid. Benson makes an impulsive decision to get involved and lies through his teeth about being Jack’s boyfriend.

Suddenly Benson’s life is turning into a Hallmark movie. And he couldn’t be happier.

Small town romance, fake dating, charming kids, found family, and quirky neighbors coming together to save the holiday festival … this book could easily have been so saccharine sweet you need the nearest lemon. Instead, it has a good balance of tension, sadness, and legal drama to help keep the story grounded. And a good portion of that grounding is Benson, himself.

Benson was abandoned as an infant by his mother, literally left on the doorstep of his father’s house for a then-teenager who had no idea what to do with a child. Benson’s grandfather stepped up, sending his son away to school and taking Benson into his own home where he was given to nannies to raise and shuttled off to boarding school as soon as he was old enough. In fact, Benson has been raised more by his grandfather’s indifference than anything else. When his father married and had other children, Benson was still more his grandfather’s problem than his father’s. His father lets his son visit on occasion, and his father’s wife has made an effort to send holiday greetings and gifts and to invite Benson to visit now and then, but he has never really been a part of that family

When Benson sees Elijah, who loves music as much as Benson did, who struggles with school much the way Benson did, his heart goes out to the kid. Stepping forward to pretend to be Jack’s boyfriend is more for Elijah than Jack, but as the days go on, Benson finds himself actually growing to like Jack. There’s an easy rapport between the two of them and a near-instant chemistry. The sex is good, very good, but the conversations they have before, after, and even in between are more important to the growing romance between them.

Jack married his high school sweetheart, because that’s what you do. You fall in love, you marry, you move away from home and make it big. Only … Jack got divorced. He also hated the big city. And while he loved his wife, maybe he wasn’t as in love with her as he thought. So now he’s back home in Devon Falls, working with his mother in the family practice. In Benson, Jack sees two things: a handsome man and someone in constant pain. Benson’s headaches, his exhaustion, and his loneliness call to Jack. He wants to do something about it, to help him feel better, eat better, sleep better, laugh more … It makes Jack pushy, as he charges forward to try to do what he knows to do, which is help. Or rather, Help with a capital H.

Benson is used to being told what to do, used to bending over backwards to please people, and I saw — early on in the relationship — shades of that same behavior between Benson and Jack in a way I wasn’t entirely a fan of. And then it was addressed that Jack can sometimes go too far, trying to take care of people by taking over because he knows what’s best for them. Seeing Benson stand up for himself with Jack, and how well Jack handled it, how he listened and made active, honest efforts to hear what Benson was saying, to give him room to talk, room to make his own choices, just made this book that much better for me.

The author treated both characters with equal respect, allowing them both to be flawed and to have those flaws examined and explored. Both characters can and do make mistakes, and both can and do redeem themselves, apologize, and become stronger people — both together and apart. I really enjoyed how well the author constructed the story around the characters, and can’t wait to see more of their work in the future.