Rating: 3.25 stars
Christian Ramsey finds himself divorced and the sole caregiver of his two girls after 11 years of marriage when his wife walks out the door. The first thing he realizes is that he has no idea of who his children really are or what to do next. During his marriage, Chris was the income earner, and his wife did everything else, including parent his children. Now that it is all on his shoulders, Chris feels incapable of handling the situation and he is not sure he even likes his children. Chris is adrift in his own life and knows it.
Enter Bill Dowe, former best friend, former best man at Chris’ wedding, and former lover of closeted, deep in denial Chris. Bill is now the principal at a local middle school and an incident between one of his school’s students and Chris’ oldest daughter brings the men back together again for the first time in 11 years. During their meeting at the school over the girls altercation, Chris asks Bill for help with his daughter and really his life. Bill is still bitter over Chris’ marriage and his denial about his sexuality but still he finds himself plunging once more into Chris life and his problems. When affection and attraction grow once more between Bill and Chris, will Chris take the chance he denied himself the first time around or will history repeat itself.
I think Treva Harte knows people and it shows when it comes to the characters she has created for this book. They are real people, full of flaws that we all recognize. They behave badly, run from problems when they should have faced them and make really bad personal decisions. They also redeem themselves, show an ability to grow emotionally and adjust to stressful situations. And they accept changes in relationships better than expected, surprising when one there parents. If you discerned that I was talking about the children here, Chris’ daughters, Pen and Annie Ramsey, then you are correct. In my opinion, Pen and Annie make this book. Harte writes tweenagers with a clarity that is astonishing. And trust me, these girls are heartbreaking in that way that only that age can be. Here is eleven year old Antigone “Annie” Ramsey in Bill’s office at school, after hitting another student:
“She wasn’t small for a kid her age, but she looked…well, oddly delicate. Like she was too skinny for that body, too fragile for her size. Like maybe she hadn’t been eating right for a while.
I’d heard of kids her age on diets, but—damn…I hoped she wasn’t. The world could screw with a kid’s head way too early. Did she think she needed to be skinny, or was something going on that made her not eat right? Bulimia, anemia, depression…
“I’m here because Miss Dumberson out there made me.”
I tried not to snort at the nickname. Sometimes I wasn’t much older than my students. Antigone sniffled again and peeked up at me through her eyelashes, probably deciding what kind of bullshit I’d believe. “It wasn’t my fault.”
Pen, her sister is a bundle of realistic complexities herself. Both girls are afraid and uncertain for themselves and their families future .And they react as you expect them to with their mother abandoning them to a emotionally reserved father they only saw after he came home from work. This is desperation with a capital D. And Treva Harte rolls it out there for the reader to see with all the authenticity and gritty realism of a documentary on dysfunctional families. I love these girls and connected with them on an emotional level from the first. And that is my problem with this book. These are not the main characters. With regard to the main characters, I don’t like either Chris or Bill very much, although Bill comes out much better than Chris does.
When the focus of the story is a dysfunctional, emotionally distant man who dislikes his children (mostly because he has absented himself from their lives and doesn’t know them), who runs from confrontation and problems of a personal nature, how do you engage the reader enough for them to make a connection to the character? For me it was one instance after another where Chris handles the situation or his children badly and then waits for Bill to bail him out. Who ends up understanding and taking care of the kids? Chris? Uh, no, that would be Bill. And while I could understand Bill far easier than Chris, he enabled Chris in his behavior and we are meant to approve of that.
Then there is the characterization of Chris’ wife which is very much in the one sided “evil witch” tradition that I despair of when reading m/m stories. Self centered to the point of abandoning her children for a man with more money and status, even a believable backstory is lacking. I could see it if she felt that 11 years in a marriage to a gay man left her unfulfilled, especially if that man was Chris but other than a sentence or two, where is her concern for the girls? I know that there are shallow women out there just like Stephanie, I just wish I didn’t see as many of them as I do in the stories these days. A more even handed approach would seem not only more sympathetic but more realistic.
In the end, I felt for the children, could have cared less what happened to Chris and wished that Bill would grab the kids and run like hell. Not the way one is supposed to feel when reading a contemporary m/m romance. And there is also a bdsm element in play here between Bill and Chris. I could sympathize with Bill taking a strap to Chris, but trust me when I say sexuality didn’t enter into my wishful thinking. Again, probably not what the author had in mind.
But oh those sisters! They deserve a story of their own, where they ride to each others rescue after thwapping a couple of villains (or maybe their parents) over the head. Trust me, these girls are more than capable. I loved them and had the focus been on them, you would have seen an entirely different rating. It is almost worth it to say to read this book for these two characters alone. Almost. So if Treva Harte is a “go to” author for you, you will want to pick up this story. Otherwise, I would wait and see what she comes up with next.
Cover: Cover Artist: Kalen O’Donnell. I am not a fan of red covers, including this one. They are hard to look at and this is especially garish.