Author: AM Arthur
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 5 stars
Type: Novella from Series
Purchased by reviewer
Blurb: No one in Jeremy Collins’s life ever stays. His parents, sister, and wife are all dead. Now he has taken Cole Alston into his home to help him recover from years of abuse at the hands of his ex. Jeremy hopes Cole, who he loves, will stick around, but after eight years of Cole not being allowed to make his own choices, Jeremy doesn’t think he has the right to ask. As Jeremy keeps his concerns and desires to himself, his best friend Bethann calls on him for a huge favor–claim he’s the father of her baby so she isn’t ostracized in their small town for sleeping with a married man. However doing so would be tantamount to denying his relationship with Cole. Rumors fly before Jeremy can explain to Cole that he said no, and suddenly the whole town is in his business. Rather than reassure Cole, Jeremy’s explanations have the opposite effect. Something is going on in Cole’s mind that Jeremy doesn’t know about, and in order to get Cole to talk, Jeremy will need to confront his own deepest fear.
This is the sequel to the marvelous “Unearthing Cole” which definitely must be read first. I had this downloaded the moment it became available, that’s how eager I was to find out what was going to happen next with Jeremy and Cole.
In “Unearthing Cole”, Cole Alston found himself returning to his hometown of Franklin, North Carolina following the death of his mother. His mother had paid little attention to him for most of his life, more obviously so once realizing he was gay. She and his father had been hoarders so Cole found himself with a huge mess to sort through, a run- down property to sell and an abusive ex-boyfriend to continue eluding. Enter Jeremy Collins, owner of a local antique/ second hand shop and all around friendly, easy mannered guy. Jeremy had been eyeing the Alston’s hoard for a while, and when he met Cole to talk about cutting a deal for it, let’s just say his eye definitely fixated on him!
The storyline picks up here two months after the events in “Unearthing Cole”. I think it is super that while the first book was told from Cole’s POV, this one is told from Jeremy’s. We get to know what was going on in Jeremy’s head in the past, as well as the present. Love this approach to the series.
Cole is still living with Jeremy in his spacious, yet cozy apartment above the shop. His parent’s property didn’t sell to the first interested party, so Cole’s funds – and thus his options – are limited for the time being. The townies have no idea that Cole is gay, or that Jeremy is bisexual, so the intimate nature of their relationship is a secret. This includes Jeremy’s best friend Bethann, who is also the sister of his deceased wife. Cole has no desire to out himself to the town, largely because he feels people will wonder what Jeremy is doing sharing his home with a gay man. He is adamant that Jeremy not potentially risk his business and his good standing in the minds of the people of the small southern town of Franklin. I couldn’t help but feeling Cole was the one being hindered by his mind here…
Jeremy has it bad for Cole, in fact he realizes early on that he is in love with him. While he wants so badly to tell Cole this, he is set on giving Cole room to heal – to discover for his self what he wants from life now that he is out from under the shadow of his abusive ex, Martin. Cole was emotionally as well as physically scarred by his time with Martin, and his dismissive parents sure never helped his self- esteem. Jeremy wants nothing more than to see some of the ingrained and detrimental behaviors that Cole exhibits fall by the wayside. He wants to help Cole find inner strength and learn to value who he is. Jeremy is truly a rock, but rocks can be hard to budge – they can also be crushed…
Cole is feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all that is happening. The finality of the death of his mother, Jeremy’s kindness, his deep feelings for Jeremy, his new found freedom from Martin are all weighing on him. Yet Cole is also enjoying this new life. He’s coping better with situations that in the past had meant sure panic attacks. He is even going “picking” with Jeremy, and learning more about the trade. He is hopeful, but still guarded.
Early on in the story Jeremy suffers an injury, and while it is fairly minor, Cole finds himself in the familiar role of caretaker, helping Jeremy, cleaning and cooking. It’s nothing that he hasn’t already been doing, and hey, he enjoys cooking, but an odd sense of duty and expectations overtakes him. Jeremy notices that Cole is becoming a bit too obsessive and striving for perfection in his endeavors, and he worries that this is carry over from Cole’s time with Martin. Oh how he bristles at the idea that anything Cole would do in their home would cause him to fall back on old behavior patterns. He vows to himself yet again not to put pressure on Cole to stay in Franklin, but he does open his heart to him.
Add this to the mix – bed hopping Bethann finds out she is pregnant and has the audacity to ask Jeremy to claim he is the father. What the heck Bethann?! I don’t know if she became pregnant on purpose to try to snare Jeremy, it seemed like it but was murky. Shit hits the fan at this point… No way is Jeremy even going to entertain that idea. Jeremy tells Bethann the truth about him and Cole. Her reaction caused me to have a hard time finding any sympathy for her dilemma. The entire situation causes doubts to come crashing down on Cole and becomes a direct catalyst for his following emotions and actions. Cole is afraid to let Jeremy know how much he cares for him. Jeremy has lost so many loved ones in his life. Cole wonders why Jeremy should be risking a relationship with him. With Cole…who sees himself as someone with loads of complexities, who doesn’t know exactly what he wants, who is still fighting inner demons, and who just can’t bring himself to be the reason Jeremy is outed in the town where he has established his business and home. Jeremy has known Bethann for years. He could have a chance to have a life with her, have a child, to not have to “rock the boat” in town by revealing he is bisexual. How could Cole deny him that?
Arghhh!! Ok, so here is where I was telling my friends that I wanted to shake Cole. I also felt the need to reach into the pages and hug Jeremy. Then I kept reading and started crying. Yes, these guys made me cry! The author does a superb job of making their communication issues perfectly plausible. After all, both men had some big issues in their pasts plaguing their emotional present, including one whopper that Jeremy finally disclosed to Cole when Bethann announced her pregnancy. The story gets very intense, however, there is no angst fest here, the relationship arc progresses beautifully throughout the story. There are tender moments, there are terrifying moments and there are “oh you did not just do that” moments. The manner in which Cole finally communicates to Jeremy exactly what he needs is indeed one of the loveliest written ploys in a story I have ever read. It was extremely effective for me, and for Jeremy.
I absolutely love the characters of Jeremy and Cole. AM Arthur has a wonderful talent for writing contemporaries that feature authentic guys working together on their relationship, and their individual issues. The back drop of small town North Carolina and Jeremy’s profession of “picking” for antiques is something that I personally find enamoring as well.
Looks like there is going to be more stories for these two in the future and I say – bring it on! They are in a solid place at the end of this story, but still have a lot of healing to help each other through.
I must add. That cover, Jeremy. Niiice. 😉