This book, while part of the overall Porthkennack series, is basically a continuation of the first one, Wake Up Call, which I also loved. It would probably be best to read that first, because while this one doesn't focus on the characters from the first book, they do make an appearance, and there isn't a whole lot of backstory shared here - it's assumed the reader knows who they are.
This book also had a bit of a darker, more melancholy undertone than the first one, and for good reason.
Mal Thomas has come to Porthkennack to heal from a traumatic experience at work, that isn't fully explained early on. Believe me, though, it's horrid. While I don't have personal experience with this sort of thing, a long-time friend of mine does. He is still, after many years since that incident, struggling with the emotional and psychological aftermath. So once I found out what had happened to Mal, I fully understood where he was coming from.
Jory Roscarrock (yes, the much younger brother of Devan's mother) hasn't had an easy life so far. While he has a doctorate in English Lit from a prestigious university, he also has been living under a dark cloud for some time, partly because of his older siblings, and partly because of a youthful indiscretion that derailed much of his plans.
Mal and Jory meet. There's attraction, when Mal, after getting a bit of bad news from home while at the town's museum, is in need of comforting and Jory, the museum curator, offers, with much social awkwardness, a cup of tea. Then Mal finds out who Jory is, and the romance nearly dies before it has a chance to blossom.
As with all of this author's books, I definitely appreciate the very British writing style, the very British choice of words, and the very British setting. JL Merrow just manages to transport me to whatever place they write about, and I could easily visualize the stark cliffs, the dark tunnels, the grey skies, the imposing house Jory calls home, the pub, the town - everything is described in vivid details, and the reader is transported into this fictional place on the rugged coastal setting.
Both Mal and Jory spend time worrying about the secrets they keep/kept from the other, and both wonder if a relationship between them is even worth pursuing, considering Mal lives in London and Jory cannot leave Porthkennack, for reasons. There is a lot of angst inside, and this isn't a romance that comes easily for either of them. In addition to their personal issues, there's also the issue of Mal being best friends with the aforementioned Devan - who is Jory's nephew, and who's been treated badly by Jory's siblings - which puts additional strain on the budding romance, obviously, as Mal is torn between the attraction to Jory and his loyalty to Dev.
The plot progresses slowly, and it had to, in my opinion, because the roadblocks in their way are, while not insurmountable, definitely considerable, and this book wouldn't have worked as well for me if the author had rushed through their individual insecurities and issues they had to overcome.
I think the lesson here is that if you want something badly enough, you have to find the will to fight for it. You have to forge the path that works for you, because ultimately the only person responsible for your own happiness is you. And if you want it, pursue it.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **