Author: Indra Vaughn
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Oliver and Samuel’s relationship is fairy-tale perfect. They share a gorgeous house in Antwerp, go out with their friends every weekend, and count down the days to their dream wedding. But their happy ending is shattered one late night, and just like that, Ollie is left bereft and alone.
Review: This is an extremely well written book that will break your heart, put it in a mixer, warm it up again and then put it back together. If you are in the mood for a superb story of loss and comfort; and rediscovery via several forms of love, this is the ticket. The author gets to the guts of the characters’ emotions and actions, and presents their struggles, strengths and foibles with a rich realism. I applaud her for taking a sort of road less traveled approach to romance, while doing it with flair. While there is grief, turmoil, guilt and second-guessing aplenty, this is no angst-fest.
Be aware: please read the blurb as it clearly states this story involves a character death. The character, Sam, is someone who is living and breathing on page in the opening chapter. He’s not merely learned about through flashbacks. Also, the two main characters in the story, Ollie and Thomas, have a complicated road. They aren’t only with each other in this story, and their romantic union with each other doesn’t occur until the last third of the book. Ok, tissues ready?
The story is told from the POV of Ollie, Sam’s fiancé, which I found powerful and telling. There was no doubt as to Ollie’s feelings and rationalizations. Sam and Ollie were two successful young men in their mid-twenties who had the world at their feet. Living in a gorgeous large home in Antwerp, thanks to an inheritance from Sam’s grandmother, they were crazy in love and happily planning their wedding. I was immediately captivated by Ollie and his plight. I was at his side throughout the entire story.
Ollie’s world comes crashing down the night Sam dies. Ollie witnesses Sam’s death, which compounds the horror of it all. What follows are some dark weeks. Ollie grieves for Sam to the point of intervention from family and friends. Ollie’s Mom is a rock, and his best friends Thomas, Cleo, and her boyfriend Imran, are there for him too. But Ollie’s grief doesn’t keep the world from turning. His friends have issues of their own, some of which may drive a wedge between them all. While doing his best to move forward, there are a multitude of problems he needs to face head on. Ollie also discovers he needs to deal with the tangible and intangible presence Sam still has in his life. Sam’s parents start causing problems for Ollie regarding ownership of the house, which shocks and angers him. There will eventually be a trial relating to Sam’s death. There is an un-opened wedding present from Sam to Ollie sitting up in the loft, and Ollie believes looking at it may destroy him. Ollie’s happy, cocooned life has seemingly gone with Sam.
Thomas becomes a wing man and a rock for Ollie. Making sure he gets out, that he talks about his feelings, that he knows there is still beauty in life. The city of Antwerp and gorgeous countryside around it were on full display here through some of their excursions. I thank the author for weaving the locale into the story so profoundly. Thomas had been a long- time friend. Ollie has been so comfortable around Thomas for so long that he hasn’t seen what’s in front of him. Sure, Thomas is a player – different girl every week, never settling down – but he’s always been willing to be there for Ollie, even more so now. I took to Thomas immediately, he was such a supportive friend to Ollie, and obviously had a lot to offer to…someone. It was clear to me that he was pining for Ollie, and I sympathized with his position. Cleo and Imran are solid throughout as loyal friends to both Ollie and Thomas, very strong secondary characters.
Because we’re in Ollie’s head for this story, we know he has always noted how attractive Thomas is, not just physically, but as an all-around good guy. Following Sam’s death – and hallelujah the author had this play out over a year’s time – Thomas and Ollie come to the realization they feel deeper affection for each than mere friendship. Ollie also discovers Thomas does not limit his pursuits to women. I enjoyed watching the evolution of their relationship from friends to lovers. Ollie wondered if he was reacting in part out of loneliness, and he also struggled with guilt based on moving on from Sam; Thomas struggled with guilt over having a chance with Ollie only because Sam had died. Just when the two men have finally come to terms with embarking on an actual “going to dinner” date, Thomas’ past comes calling in the form of baby Milo.
I don’t want to spoiler the exact reasons why Thomas needed to take Milo in. I will say the baby’s mother is not demeaned at all, and she does not cause contention between herself and Thomas, or Thomas and Ollie. Thomas sort of freaks, he tries to be gallant for the sake of Milo, and to keep his troubles from affecting Ollie. Ollie won’t hear of it, and offers up his big house – and his mom – as help, haven and home for Thomas and Milo. Ollie again feels guilty, he had wanted children, Sam had not. He was willing to pass on them for Sam, but now he found himself with a baby actually in his lap. A baby whose father wanted to be with him. So now the men were dealing with the huge responsibility of Milo, plus Ollie’s other big issues have come to a breaking point. Will Ollie fight Sam’s parents for the house? Can he deal with attending the trial regarding Sam’s death? Can he and Thomas really get a solid start on a newly defined relationship with everything so fraught in their lives? Can he even get past his memory of life with Sam to give his heart to someone new?
Thomas and Ollie work hard to overcome all of their obstacles on their own, and together. It isn’t easy, in fact it’s a messy, complicated, tear-filled, frustrating road – but oh, the ultimate destination makes the bumpy ride so worth it. I thought so, and happily, so did they.