Another winner in the Dreamspun Desires series.
Jake Parnell has returned to his hometown of Buffalo Lick, TX, after being gone since he went off to college. He basically left to escape being suffocated by the small town homophobia, and to not hurt his family's restaurant business, knowing that his twin Josh would be much better suited to run the place. He had a few run-ins in high school with Beau Walker, whose family also own a BBQ restaurant, and who bullied Jake for being gay.
Where Jake left for California, Beau stayed in Buffalo Lick and has since taken over his family restaurant.
But then Josh dies in an accident and leaves behind a wife and child, with another baby on the way. Jake immediately returns home and helps his sister-in-law and his family keep the restaurant open and afloat.
I really liked the execution of the enemies-to-lovers trope here. There was a lot of bad blood between Jake and Beau, and a lot of misunderstanding too. Add to that a football rivalry, what with football being the other religion in Texas, and you can imagine that the two just didn't get along.
Jake doesn't have time to grieve losing his twin, what with running the restaurant, taking care of his sister-in-law, figuring out whether to participate in the BBQ cook-off television show his brother signed up for, which will incidentally pitch Jake against Beau in competition.
Jake's memories of Beau aren't favorable, but then the line between love and hate is very thin, indeed. Turns out that Beau was a bully only to hide the crush he had on Jake, and Jake's crush on Beau isn't quite as non-reciprocated as he thought.
As the grills are fired up, so is the heat between Jake and Beau.
I really liked the emotional aspects of this story - Jake's grief and fears of not measuring up to his brother, his need to belong, to be loved for who he is, starting to see Beau in a different light, as well as Beau's turmoil and desire for Jake, his insecurity, his fears of not being good enough for Jake - all of it was really well done here.
I also liked the vivid descriptions of the cooking/BBQ parts - with super sekrit family recipes - and the competition was fun to watch unfold.
What I liked best though was the banter between Jake and Beau. There were lots of zingy one-liners, and I really enjoyed their romantic relationship once it truly began, once misunderstandings were cleared up and the truth had come out. The romance is obviously slow burn, what with it starting in high school, even though neither would admit to it at the time, and their connection turning from hate to love.
I would have preferred the intimate scenes to not have been fade to black - I think those would have really hammered home the point that these two men are perfect for each other, and enhanced this reader's enjoyment of their emotional connection. Alas, we're told about their bedroom exploits only after the fact, and while neither is virginal (thank you for that), and while I don't necessarily need steam to enjoy a book, I think the lack of steam here felt wrong, especially in light of their strong desire for each other. Their chemistry really burned hot, and their kisses were fabulous, and I would have liked to see that fire continue.
Still, I think this was an excellent read, and I finished the book in one sitting. I was fully engaged the whole time and couldn't put it down. Kudos to the authors for that.
Worth your time, definitely.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **