This book is the first in a brand-new series, but it is also set in Fox’s sprawling and delightfully interconnected world and features plenty of familiar characters. In particular, the two heroes are featured in previous books – one as a solid sort of hero and another as a specific type of villain. Even before the book starts, readers know that these men have history. Fox retreads that ground for new readers in a way that is not boring for those of us already in the know by centering Charlie and Justin’s stories solidly under the scope of candid mental health recovery. Most impressively to me, Fox transforms Justin into a sympathetic character when former bullies are generally one of my few hard lines in fiction.
These days, both men are doing much better, but neither can be called perfect. Even Charlie, who has all the makings of a proper hero with his dedication to saving lives in a way that often threatens his own. His return to his close-knit hometown forces multiple confrontations with the man who pushed Charlie to his worst in high school. Justin has also hit rock bottom since then, and it soon becomes clear to Charlie that his well-earned hate might be more of a habit he needs to break if he’s to live up to the current standards he has set for his life. For his part, Justin is making strides to accept himself and doing good work to be accepted by the community. He assumes that he will never be accepted by Charlie, but does his best to apologize anyway. In an instance of terrible timing on multiple levels, both men confront everything they mean to each other. The results are explosive and sexy, and end up being the turning point they need in their interactions with each other.
Looking back, I feel this earlier encounter might be the true dark moment of the book. The rest of the story feels more like a fresh beginning only made possible because they have already faced and acknowledged the worst in each other, which is an essential hallmark of the enemies-to-lovers trope. I enjoyed all the delicious feels both men experience as they find comfort in each other, and Justin’s touch-starved neediness even comes across as sexy and poignant when it easily could have been read as annoying under the touch of a less talented author.
Additional conflict still occurs, especially since parental approval can be complicated even when characters consider themselves full adults. I do wish Fox had explored these dimensions of the story more, especially since I did feel the traditional ending “dark moment” came across as both rushed and a little too easily overcome. These two complicated characters could have easily supported a more atypical plot and story arc. That being said, I have no complaints over Anders Bash’s involvement in the story’s conclusion, even if it is hilarious when he somehow becomes the voice of reason.
This book was originally advertised as a stand-alone story, but I found myself unsurprised to see “book one” on the cover once the release date grew closer. Fox is great at developing interesting secondary characters who deserve their own stories. I have a few ideas about who might be up next in this new series, and I’m looking forward to future installments regardless of whether I’m right.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.