When the author approached me with a request to read and review this book, I took a look at the blurb and happily agreed.
This book has all the elements I look for in a romance novel - well-fleshed out, complex main characters with imperfections, a believable romantic relationship, a realistic stumbling block derailing the romance for a little while, and a wonderful supporting cast. Add to that the underlying theme of figuring out who you really are, and what you really want out of life, and I was hooked.
Jonathan's love is classical music and his piano, and he wanted to attend college pursuing his passion, but was roped into a business job by his domineering and rather cold father to come work for the family business, Vallen Industries. Jonathan loathes the job, but doesn't feel that he has a choice - his older brother James who was supposed to follow in their father's footsteps passed away in a tragic accident, and Jonathan feels he owes it to his father to take James' spot.
But he hates it, and it shows. He's not business material, and while he's good with numbers and charts, he feels stifled. From the start, I felt that Jonathan was depressed and unhappy, especially in light of having to hide his sexuality from his disapproving father, and having thus no personal life to speak of.
Since the business isn't doing so well, the older Vallen hires a new temporary CEO, a young hot-shot of Italian heritage, studly and smart and ambitious Marco Pellegrini. Marco sees pretty quickly that the younger Vallen has no sense for or interest in the business, but tries to train the younger man anyway, all while planning to increase business profits by at least the margin for which he was hired.
All Jonathan sees is that he'll never compare and uses this opportunity to escape. His late mother left him a cottage on Cape Cod, and Jonathan quits the company and runs, hoping to find himself and his music again.
A year later, after having got a dog and losing quite a few pounds, after trading his glasses for contacts and his old sweats for more fashionable clothing, Jonathan is convinced by his cousin Anthony to go on an LGBT cruise in the Caribbean.
Marco Pellegrini is also on the same cruise with his younger sister Sophia, taking his first vacation in a year, but doesn't recognize Jonathan due to his rather different appearance.
And Jonathan, with help from Anthony, pretends his name is Jonah Rutledge, secretly happy that Marco doesn't recognize him.
I loved both Jonathan and Marco. They were very different in many ways, but also alike in others. Jonathan felt unlovable, and didn't think he deserved someone like Marco, where Marco was rather driven, having worked his way up from poverty to being a sought-after CEO, while not making time to find someone with whom to share his life. Both are very lonely deep down.
The romance begins on the cruise ship, with lots of UST, trips to shore and having fun in the sun, but it's clear that both Jonathan and Marco long for more than just a quick roll in the hay. They have a connection, they have similar interests and likes, and they get along fabulously. All the while, Jonathan knows he has to come clean about the lie, even if the only lie was his name and all the other things he's told Marco are true.
Even though the bulk of the book is told from Jonathan's POV, the author utilizes an interesting method to give also insights into Marco's mind by giving us diary entries. I especially liked that Marco included a section of gratitude in each entry - just things he was thankful for - and how those changed over time.
As you can glean from the blurb, things don't go smoothly all the way, and Jonathan's lie is abruptly exposed when his overbearing father shows up at the last stop of the cruise to bring Marco back to work, sees his wayward son with his CEO, and nearly ruins everything Jonathan and Marco hoped to build.
Marco initially cannot forgive Jonathan for pretending to be someone else, but as they both return to their respective homes, they both realize that if you really want something, you have to fight for it. And Marco understands Jonathan well enough by then to also realize that he has to wait for the other man to come to him, even if he's normally a go-getter and not very patient at all.
The way they work things out to get back together was ever so romantic and sweet, and it was very clear that they did want to be together. Jonathan especially had to find his backbone to go after what he really wants, and boy, does he ever.
The climactic high-point of this book takes place in a boardroom, and it was a joy to behold how Jonathan stands up for himself and for Marco, and thus finds himself to be the person he was meant to be, and the person I knew had been simmering underneath the surface all along. Fabulous!
With a satisfying HEA ending, this book is truly a grand romance, and I would definitely recommend you give it a try. I enjoyed this author's writing style, I loved the characters, including the supporting cast in Anthony/Andrew and Sophia, I would have loved to clock the older Vallen a few times, and I had a fantastic time reading this book.
** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A positive review was not promised in return. **