One of my favorite things about Hawthorne’s writing is the way she plays with tropes in a manner that takes the story beyond the obvious. This is very much a second-chance romance, as a family tragedy forces one character home for the first time since leaving his high school boyfriend behind. However, that’s where the easy description ends and the subtlety begins for these intricate characters. Many questions were left unanswered when Max abandoned Rome, especially because their relationship included a power exchange dynamic when neither was mature enough yet for the necessary self-examination involved.

In their time apart, Rome develops that side of himself, while Max…does not. His life away from his hometown ultimately places him in a holding pattern, while Rome examines and embraces all aspects of himself, including building a life when the original plan was for them both to leave together. This creates an amazing immediate tension between the characters when they find themselves face to face again, even before we have any idea what the original conflict between them was about. The connection between them still very much exists, despite their older age and their time apart. Is giving into it a good idea? Not necessarily, but that’s half the fun of this sort of romance. I love a good “idiots in love” story, but here, Max is just an idiot with little emotional intelligence. Hawthorne’s deft touch with characterization means that I kind of love him anyway.

This book is an incredible example of how character development is an integral part of any good romance arc. Max’s personal journey, including the conflict he also experiences with his sister, is as compelling as anything he experiences with Rome. At the same time, Rome’s role in this book more than satisfied the need for hope that elevates the romance from a potential angst-fest to a narrative I had a hard time putting down. (Seriously, I made time to read in the middle of my busiest event of the year, even when it meant wiping away tears right before presenting.)

As always, Hawthorne’s books are never just about the kink, even when it’s also totally about the kink. I highly recommend this book to any readers interested in checking out this writer’s work, because it is a well-written stand-alone that features so many elements that define her as a talented, unique voice. Familiar readers will also find plenty to love here, and I have the feeling that Max and Rome will become characters as popular as many in previous stories.

Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this novel from the author.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars.
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