This novel was long, but it never dragged or felt padded with unnecessary content. The authors crafted an intense story in which I was quickly invested in the characters, their situation, and their developing relationship. This narrative isn’t quite an “enemies to lovers” arc, but Bel must overcome significant ingrained beliefs about Daniel despite pressure from the rest of their small town.
Daniel is a fairly tragic figure for most of this story, but even when he feels sorry for himself, I couldn’t help but admire that he never stopped fighting. Unfortunately, it is almost as if he’s fighting the wrong battles. Daniel has given up on external redemption but does everything he can to contain the elements of his sleep disorder that he feels puts others at risk, even to his detriment. Even his relationship with kink stems from trading security for a power exchange relationship about which he was never entirely honest. Bel has no idea he’d like the idea of controlling Daniel so much, but once he starts to reframe his beliefs about the other man, he at least wants to help protect him.
One thing I particularly liked about the relationship between Daniel and Bel is that they don’t immediately jump into bed together. Well, they share a bed to sleep, and some shenanigans happen. But consent is sexy in any form, and I had no problem with Bel ensuring that Daniel was both in his right mind and fully understood the connection developing between them.
Bel himself didn’t quite understand all the implications of openly dating Daniel (much less openly dating any man) in his small South Carolina town. It’s easy, as a reader, to wonder why either man doesn’t just pick up and move away to a place where they can have a fresh slate and live their authentic lives. However, no character exists in a vacuum, and this pair has pretty strong roots (and a parole officer) tying them to the town.
Overall, this is a quiet sort of romance. The climax is exciting, and moments of fear and anxiety are spread throughout the book concerning the external plot. But I adored the love that grew between these two unique men, no matter how they expressed it. This novel contains a full story that does not need a sequel, and I’m perfectly content with their hard-earned happily ever after.