Wyatt has spent the last nine years running his family ranch, taking care of his brother, helping to raise his nephew, and continuing his father’s dream of building a vineyard on their land. Wyatt puts everyone else first and he is finally getting a vacation, courtesy of his brother Liam’s Cancun destination wedding. Knowing Wyatt never takes time for himself, Liam has convinced Wyatt to head to the resort a little early. While at the airport, Wyatt encounters a very drunk New Yorker who has clearly been crying and is a total mess. Wyatt can’t bear to leave the guy falling apart and barely standing, so he does his best to get some food and water into him.
Noël works in celebrity PR in Manhattan and suddenly he has become the story. After 18 months together, his fiance (a model and “it” girl on the rise) just left him at the altar. Noël has decided to take their honeymoon himself, even if that means drowning himself in vodka in order to manage it. He doesn’t expect the kindhearted cowboy in the airport to help him out, nor for the men to be not only on the same flight, but going to the same resort.
Noël and Wyatt hit it off so well, the two of them end up spending their vacation together, enjoying all the lovely activities Noël had originally booked for himself and Jenna. Wyatt finds himself incredibly drawn to Noël, but Noël has never had an interest in men before. Yet that doesn’t stop the pair from growing incredibly close in a short time, or from Wyatt imagining what could be between them in the future. Noël realizes that despite never wanting a man before, he wants Wyatt desperately, and the two have a magical time together. But while Wyatt may be hoping for more, Noël has a life in New York he has been ignoring and a job to return to, not to mention that he can’t help but doubt that a guy like Wyatt would ever want him long term.
The aftermath of the trip is hard on both men. Neither one is over the other and the men are missing each other like crazy. Wyatt is crushed that Noël doesn’t seem to want him and Noël isn’t doing much better. Their romance in Cancun was a whirlwind, but things may have burned too bright. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a chance for the men. Now, they will have to work on rebuilding their relationship and learning how they can be together, and maybe there is a way Noël and Wyatt can find a real future together.
How to Say I Do is sweeping and romantic and it’s a story that I really think will appeal to those who love the drama and the fantasy side of romance novels. The story is broken down into roughly two parts. The first focuses on the guys meeting and their magical time together on vacation. Their trip is idyllic and beautiful and as perfect as can be. The men go on decadent excursions to waterfalls and private beaches and are catered to with every possible luxury in this first class and exclusive resort (I’m still not totally clear how Wyatt is affording it). They fall in love over the course of the week as they enjoy endless champagne, beautiful beaches, and ultimate decadence. I think some readers are going to find this a little too much instalove, given that they are basically in love in 6 days. Not to mention that within days of being dumped by a woman he loved, having never before even been attracted to men, Noël is crazy for Wyatt. But I tend to give leeway to vacation romances, as there is something about that time away from reality that I think lends itself to the drama of falling hard and fast. This part is swoony and sexy and feels like the perfect escape from the reality of both their lives.
However, things fall apart for the men at the end of the trip and they go their separate ways. I was a little surprised here because, honestly, this felt like a third-act conflict and there was still about 2/3 of the story left. I just couldn’t really imagine what would fill the rest of the book, but the story slowly begins to rebuild things between the men. We see each of them facing the real world and figuring out how to move forward without one another, and then slowly beginning to realize they may just be able to have each other after all. I did really wish these guys would talk to each other, because they just sort of come back into each other’s orbit and slowly get back together, but there is never any discussion of what happened between them in the past, the issues they struggled with, or what their future may look like, etc. The story also has a side plot about a famous client of Noël’s who has hired his firm to do PR for her wedding. The two threads tie together and I liked the way that Tessa’s romance helps to inspire Noël to think more about what he really wants for himself. We also spend a lot of time with Wyatt on his ranch, seeing his vineyards, and learning more about his dreams and his connection to his father. Again, expect a lot of fantasy romance here in that everything is pretty much idyllic on this Texas ranch and Wyatt is about the most perfect, patient, saintly man to have ever lived. But for the most part, I did find myself able to let go and get caught up in it all.
That said, there were places I struggled here. I found the story problematic in the way it painted the New York versus Texas dichotomy. Every single thing about NYC is awful. Noël describes everyone as selfish and self absorbed and only concerned about appearances. Everyone we meet from New York, barring Noël, Tessa, and her fiance, are awful. Noël’s parents are cold, unfeeling, and pay no attention to him. New York and everyone it in are constantly being compared unfavorably to Texas, which is presented as idyllic in every possible way. Everyone is lovely, caring, and compassionate. They are neighborly and pitch in endless hours harvesting grapes for Wyatt’s wine out of the goodness of their hearts. The ranch is this perfect oasis of beauty and tranquility. Wyatt’s family couldn’t be more loving; they adore everything about one another. Not one person in “nowhere Texas” had a single bad thing to say about Wyatt coming out as gay. I feel like Bauer just leans way too hard into this small town/big city trope in a way that feels way over the top. I mean, even if we were to ignore the fact that state-level politics of Texas are frequently hateful for people who aren’t white, Christian, straight, and conservative, it still seems absurd to paint every single person and everything about a place with such a broad brush. I think Bauer could easily have shown us why Wyatt loves his home and why Noël finds himself drawn there without making this feel like a fan letter to small town Texas, with everyone from New York cast as the villain.
One of the side elements to the story focuses on Wyatt’s relationship with his father. The two were incredibly close, the best of friends, and Wyatt was crushed when he died nine years ago. He is still very much grieving years later and his desire to build a vineyard grew out of a dream he had with his father. I liked the way we see Wyatt slowly gain some measure of peace with his loss and be able to move forward emotionally, and I found this part very touching overall. I did wonder about Wyatt’s mother, who is barely mentioned in the story. His father is the hero with a capital H and there is hardly a whisper of Wyatt having another parent (who died at the same time). I also wondered how Wyatt’s brother felt about the fact that this was clearly the Wyatt and dad show and he had no part of it. It was touched on very briefly, but I would have been interested to see that explored more. I also found a reminiscence early on to be sort of shocking, though it is never commented upon. We learn that at five years old, Wyatt’s father regularly gave him a shotgun and set him up with the gun aimed and pointed at the open front door in case of trouble when people came by at night to see his dad (who was a sheriff’s deputy). I know people have different views on guns, but I hope we can all agree that five-year olds should not be put in a position of regularly being expected to potentially shoot intruders with a loaded weapon. I honestly kept expecting that, at some point, Wyatt was going to look back and wonder about this and have it color his thoughts of his dad and their relationship, but this armed five-year old is presented as totally reasonable and some sort of fond father/son experience.
One thing I think Bauer does so well in his books is research and meticulously crafted details and I think that continues here with some aspects of the story. The resort really comes to life with vivid detail on the setting and the activities and the wildlife. I really felt like I could picture it all. Similarly, the portions of the story focusing on vinoculture were well done and it was just enough detail to flesh things out without feeling like we were being overwhelmed by information. However, there were other areas where I think the details fell short here. I found Wyatt’s nephew read way young to me. He is supposed to be eight years old, but he came across several years younger. For example, he is obsessed with Paw Patrol, which is a show aimed at preschoolers. And while, of course, everyone can like what they like, it just seemed like a strange writing choice in terms of establishing his character. Also, we are told he is starting first grade, which… I don’t think there are schools where eight-year olds are only in first grade in the U.S. He would be going into 3rd grade around here. It’s not a major issue, but it kept throwing me out of the story as I tried to do the math.
And then my big issue on realistic detail is that Wyatt is somehow this one man show who is running both a ranch and a vineyard with seemingly zero staff. We know he has a cattle ranch and presumably those cattle require some degree of work, but Wyatt appears to have no ranch hands and virtually never actually does anything with the ranch himself, because he spends all his time on the vineyards. Then, in addition to running the ranch, he runs a vineyard… again, with no staff. His neighbors help him harvest, but other than that, Wyatt seems to be doing all the planting, growing, mashing, bottling, aging, distributing, etc himself. Then, on top of all that, he is preparing for Tessa’s wedding by painting the barn (which takes weeks), building all the picnic tables, making a stone dance floor, etc. It just does not seem humanly possible for one person to do all of this, not to mention Wyatt still has time for casually hanging out with Noël and his family. I don’t need total realism in my books, but this just felt like a huge hole that makes no sense to me.
I am probably nitpicking here, because overall, I did enjoy this one a lot. I think you have to go into this story with the mindset of just letting yourself be swept away by the romantic fantasy of it all, and Bauer brings that to life so well here. I enjoyed Noël and Wyatt together and was (mostly) just able to let go and enjoy the story.