Rating 4.5 stars
Ryan Ward was a firefighter for years before a steel beam pinned him in a burning building, ending his career and nearly his life. Now Ryan is starting over as a med student in a new town and state. His new life brings new adjustments, from being an older student on campus to learning to walk again. A fall on the steps brings him literally into contact with John Barrett, the head groundskeeper, a man undergoing his own life changes.
John Barrett once had a life as a successful landscape architect, a wife he loved, and two kids he adored. He was happy, she was not. A divorced father, he has followed his ex-wife and her new husband to this town hoping to stay in his children’s lives only to watch them move to California. Now he finds himself starting over and all alone in a big house he bought for himself and his kids.
A few meetings turn into friendship and John offers to rent Ryan a room in his house. Initially this looks like a great solution to both their problems. John needs the extra income for child support and Ryan needs an escape from the hard partying roommate in his current apartment. But then the friendship turns into attraction, something neither of them saw coming. Like fuel added to fire, a student is murdered and John becomes a suspect. Now they must solve a mystery while struggling with their new relationship. Can they survive or will all go up in smoke?
At first, I thought this was another “Gay For You” story. But that is far too restrictive a tag to hang on this wonderful book. Here you have two men unwillingly shoved into making serious life changes. When Ryan was forced to give up his life as a firefighter due to a career ending injury, he lost not only a job he loved, but friends, a lifestyle and even his family when they couldn’t deal with the accident. A messy divorce and it’s repercussions (she remarried, moved away and started keeping his kids from visiting him) shattered John’s life. His new job comes with a lower salary and job title, the new house he purchased is too large for just one man and he’s lonely. And starting to drink too much.
Kaje Harper captures, in every piece of dialog, in each character description, the trauma of starting over at an older age. It’s all there from the obstacles, uncertainties, the anger and the fear. I empathized greatly with each man as they struggled with the changes in their lives. Each character is so beautifully developed that I really felt I knew them by the end of the book. And when John’s teenage son returns home just as Ryan and John are coming to terms with their new relationship, a father’s responsibilities are made priority, just as it would in real life. There is no aspect of Ryan and John’s relationship that seems forced or unreal.
In addition to accepting a new sexual awareness, a students suicide and murder complicate matters further. At first, I thought the student Alice’s suicide might be a red herring but the author skillfully weaves the mystery into the plot to give the reader a extra layer to enjoy. The mystery builds slowly as the relationship deepens between the men. To me this is similar to adding spices, dimension as it were, to a recipe. The layering if done correctly, lets you savor the flavors long after you have finished the meal. That is the excellent job Kaje Harper has done here. I will savor the excellent flavor of this story for some time to come. While this was my first book from Kaje Harper it definitely won’t be my last. My thanks for a wonderful story!
Available from Samhain Publishing, Amazon and ARE.