In this 5th book in this fantastic series we finally get the story of Connor and Micah, the two Bryant brothers. Well, they're not actually blood-related brothers, because that would be super icky, but Connor Clark was sort of adopted into the Bryant family when he was merely 13, escaping from his super-religious and abusive family, and Micah has been in love with him ever since.
Micah even tried seducing Connor when he was just 16 and Connor was 20 and home from college.
The book starts really slow - all the reader knows is that Micah and Connor love each other desperately but can't find a way to come clean to their family and their friends about being in love and soulmates and wanting to be a couple - I mean, how would you tell your family that you're in love with who they consider to be your brother, amirite?
But they're gonna do it - they're gonna come out. And then Connor's nephew Moses, 17 and in dire need of rescue himself, comes to live with Connor, and all thoughts of coming out as lovers fly out the window.
There's a lot of heartache and pain within, and the author did a fabulous job pulling me into the story, wanting these two men to have their happy ending. The characters are fully fleshed out, and it is clear that they love each other very much. And yet, Connor worries that he might be holding Micah back from pursuing his violin virtuoso career in NYC if he allows himself to grab onto the younger man with both hands, never thinking that Micah is perfectly happy being in Lavender Shores and actually doesn't want to live in NYC. I mean, it's not like he asked - he just assumed.
And Micah is so patient. He keeps waiting for Connor to find the courage to come clean, while pretending to be happy with stolen moments in their hideaway - a underground cove near Micah's house - where they are free to be open and affectionate.
For a lot of the book, their relationship is fraught with tension, for obvious reasons, and Micah actually has a boyfriend of sorts for a while in Seth (who needs his own book, stat), but it's a casual and open relationship which ends amicably.
It's possibly that a reader might find a sexual and romantic relationship between two brothers objectionable, but it's important to remember that they're not blood-related, and that Connor was never officially adopted by the Bryants, so there are no legal ties either. Additionally, it is very clear from the start that Micah never thought of Connor as his brother - for him, Connor is always the man he loves; Connor is his soulmate.
This book is full of heartache and pain, but also much love, and it is that love which carries the day and makes it worth all the tears.
While the books in this series can be read as stand-alones, I wouldn't recommend you read them out of order, as all of them build upon their predecessors to some extent.
I also hope that the author has more books planned. While The Hideaway provides us with a natural stopping point, there are plenty of other characters in this fictional town who deserve their own chance at lasting love.
** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A review was not promised in return. **
"Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practise To Deceive..."
Lamont Price, Andrew's older half-brother, is an author of M/F romances under a female pseudonym, attending his first romance book conference and about to come clean to his readers. He's nervous, understandably, not only because he's deceived his fans into thinking he's a woman named Ginger Peach, but also because he doesn't like the spotlight. As soon as he can, he runs from his fans to a bar outside of the conference hotel.
Lamont is an interesting character. In his mid-forties, he is plagued primarily by what he considers his failures (no boyfriend, no long-term relationship prospect, no books in his own name, no sex for years), and largely avoids getting together with his family, because they keep trying to set him up with someone he could add to the family. Lamont hasn't had sex in years because he doesn't do hook-ups and prefers to have sex within a relationship only. Not a bad attitude, of course, but obviously, that can lead to loneliness. And he is lonely. He sees all the happy couples in Lavender Shores and feels left out, like he's on the outside looking in.
While he's at the bar, hiding from his fans, he meets Tate Dallas, who's the prolific cover model for another romance author and whose real name is Tyler Dixon.
Tyler/Tate is what may be considered a rentboy. He's not only a cover model, but can also be hired as an escort, including providing bedroom attention, and some other jobs within that industry. He does all his to fund his photography and showing his work in galleries, while waiting for his "big break". He makes no secret of having a lot of sex, but he omits telling Lamont outright that he gets paid for doing so. He also omits another major thing, one that... nah, you read this for yourself.
So Lamont, having the baby shower for Andrew and Joel's soon-to-be-born baby coming up, asks Tyler if he would consider posing as his boyfriend for a long weekend in Lavender Shores, no strings attached, and no hanky-panky included. Of course, Lamont thinking that Tyler is the most beautiful man he's ever seen definitely helps in overcoming a smidgen of his shyness to even propose this arrangement. But surely, someone as gorgeous as Tyler has no interest in someone as boring as Lamont.
Except Tyler is struck pretty much just the same, but doesn't feel that he has anything to offer the older and more successful man. And thus expects nothing except the part he's agreed to play. It's a one-time thing, and then they'll go their separate ways.
But the best-laid plans and all that...
I quite liked the two main characters here, and the author did a darn good job exploring them in depth. It was clear that the Tate Dallas persona was a front, and that there is a real person hiding behind that pseudonym, a person who gets scared of what might be and a person who doesn't believe in love everlasting. Tyler is not ashamed of what he does to support himself, but he also keeps Tyler and Tate very separate. As Tyler, the fact that he's pretty straight-forward in what he says and does helped to draw Lamont out of his shell too.
It was also clear that Lamont, while shy and introverted, faltered more often than not under the pressure his parents put on him, whether it was intentional or not. Many people in town looked at him as if he was this fragile person and failed to realize that Lamont is in fact quite strong. His strength is in his convictions and his unwillingness to settle for anything but the real thing.
The two men have a strong connection from the start, and once Tyler gets to Lavender Shores for the baby shower weekend, they both struggle to stick with the original plan. I really liked that this was a slow burn romance for a good chunk of it, and that they had a chance to get to know each other a little bit before jumping into the sheets.
I really liked the imagery of the Shipwreck that the author used here, and the many parallels that could be drawn from it. It was also quite lovely how the author used the actual shipwreck as a background for Lamont and Tyler to get closer and soon allows them to realize that neither of them is ready to say good-bye quite yet.
Obviously, the omissions I mentioned at the beginning of my review play a huge role in the progression of their relationship and end up to be a chasm Lamont and Tyler cannot bridge once the truth comes out.
Or can they?
This is a romance, after all, so you know that a HEA is guaranteed, and the author doesn't let the reader down. Still, both men need to first find themselves, find who they really are, and figure out that what they had, what they built, no matter how short their time together, may be worth fighting for.
How they find their way back to each other - well, you read this yourself. There's some angst, some self-discovery, and there's a fabulous epilogue that you don't want to miss.
And plenty of holy hot boysecks, Batman, to boot!!
** I received a free advance copy of this book from its author. A positive review was not promised in return. **
Donovan Carlisle, descendant of one of the founding families of Lavender Shores, is the town therapist and knows everyone's secrets. Well, at least everyone who's come to his practice and unburdened themselves. He's had a few unsuccessful relationships and has for many years denied his attraction to his sister's husband, burying that deep inside, knowing that it can never be more.
Spencer Epstein is the ex-husband of Erica Epstein, Donovan's sister (there are families trees available on the author's website that explain all this, and Spencer actually took Erica's name upon marriage). Spencer is a high-powered, successful attorney. He's known he's gay but his religious preacher parents sent him to "pray-the-gay-away" therapy for years, and he still struggles with the guilt his formative years have instilled in him. He initially came to Lavender Shores to be himself, but then met Erica, and for some reason that isn't clear to me decided to marry her. Meeting Donovan at the engagement party and falling in love at first sight wasn't in his plans, but Spencer denied and buried the attraction and desire for an entire decade, during which he was faithful to his wife and produced two children.
The book starts at a masquerade party being held by one of Donovan's friends in San Fran, which Spencer also attends. Spencer recognizes Donovan immediately and grabs the chance to take what he's wanted for so long, thinking that Donovan will not know who he is, since the mask and costume hides his identity.
But Donovan does, right after the end of the impromptu blow-job.
It takes a little while but they come clean about a lot of things, and carefully start dating. Donovan has concerns that being with Spencer will be seen as a betrayal of the family, and the ugly voices inside Spencer from years of reparative therapy rear up at inopportune moments. They struggle, not with each other so much, because there is little internal angst in the relationship, but with how to best move their love into the open. There are kids involved, obviously, and some hard conversation need to be had.
I really like this series. Each book is very different from its predecessor, and we get unique couples with unique situations. In this book, considering that the two men have secretly lusted for each other for a decade, their relationship evolved rather quickly but still felt realistic under the circumstances. The ILYs come early, but not unexpectedly - again, it felt plausible, considering the circumstances. Their easy banter was fun, and I loved how eager Spencer was to explore all the things he's missed out on, once they jump feet first into the relationship. Their bedroom exploits were part fun and part super hawt, and I loved how easy this part was for them. The relationship overall had a more relaxed tone, which also felt realistic, considering they've known each other as brothers-in-law and family/friends for years.
I had a couple of niggles. While Erica isn't the only female in this series, her initial portrayal was one-dimensional and flat. She was basically (and has been from the start of the series, really) the designated villain in this book, rude to and full of contempt for pretty much anyone she deems beneath her, and her behavior, through Donovan's and Spencer's eyes both, was cruel and mean and unexplained. It was only later in the book that she became a real human, a real person, when she is honest with Spencer for what is possibly the first time in their entire relationship. We see her struggle with Spencer's new relationship, with the fact that her brother took her place, and that made her real. There was a moment when she let loose a horrible slur, which, I think, shook her up quite a bit once she realized what she said, and then she actually apologized.
My other niggle is that Donovan and Spencer sounded rather alike on occasion, so much so that it was a little difficult to tell who was talking at a given time. This wasn't something that happened throughout the book, but often enough that I noticed it. Their thought processes seemed very similar during those instances.
While this wasn't my favorite of the three books so far published, it's still a solid 4 star read for me, a book about second chances and being true to yourself and finally going after what you really wanted all along, and I would definitely recommend it.
Lamont's story is next. I can hardly wait!
** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A positive review was not promised in return. **