The fun thing about romance tropes is that the same general story can be told a million different ways, even by the same author. Denning doesn’t necessarily stretch the boundaries of the “brother’s best friend” trope with her latest book, beyond adding a bit of an age-gap element, but her excellent characterization work elevates this sweet romance from generic to truly compelling. This starts with providing a lovely slow-burn introduction to when August’s feelings for his much older brother’s best friend are first revealed. The timing then is wrong for all sorts of reasons, but Crispin’s close relationship with August’s family means that he remains a permanent fixture in August’s life regardless.

This is a shorter book, but even the time jumps of the first section never feel rushed. They provide important context for the full background tapestry of the important threads that bind August and Crispin together. August might be younger, but I loved how he was able to hold Crispin at different levels within his heart; their friendship remains important to him, despite the unrequited affection. In return, Crispin never undervalues that friendship even when it makes life more difficult for him. It would have been too easy for these men to avoid each other at all costs, if not for that genuine friendship that settles into a more equal connection as August reaches his mid-twenties. The moments between them are poignant even then, laden with emotion but not angst, as the characters kept stumbling into the same conversational (and emotional) pitfalls until I was braced for what would finally break the pattern and truly shift the relationship.

The hinge point itself was interesting but less important than the relationship arc and character development (apart and together) that occur afterward. I especially enjoyed seeing the shift in Crispin’s affection toward August, because whether it existed was never in question. Both of these characters are living a romance story, but they’re not actually in the same trope themselves. August may have been burdened by unrequited love, but Crispin positively blossoms on the friends-to-lovers journey in a way that only benefits both men as they travel toward their happily ever after.

I do promise that this book is low angst, but I also found myself a bit teary-eyed at times because it never skimps on the high emotion. Because it is low-angst, Denning acknowledges the common external plot points that can lead to the dark moment of this subgenre and then neatly upends expectations in a way that had me laughing out loud multiple times. Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read by Denning. She has always been talented as a storyteller, but the writing and characters of this particular story feel like they’ve hit a new high that only opens the door to further exciting possibilities.

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

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars
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