After It Takes Two To Tumble, this book follows the fortunes of one of Ben’s brothers, Hartley. As a teenager, he slept with a much older man, his godfather, to help provide for his brothers — school fees, rank, etc. On that man’s death, he inherited his house and a good deal of money, but now the whispers have gone out about why exactly he was the beneficiary… and, of course, he’s socially ruined. Into his life comes Sam Fox, publican and former boxer, who is kind and careful and handsome, and whom Hartley wants despite all the damage done by the exploitative sex he had as a teen.
On the one hand, it’s a delight how slowly and carefully the sex is explored in this book, how well Sam takes care of Hartley. At the same time, it’s harrowing; Hartley’s fears and self-disgust and inability to let himself find happiness are all over everything, making it a rather more serious book (at least to my mind). It’s not that it lacks sweetness, because it certainly doesn’t, but there’s a certain amount of bitter to it as well that — despite grief and worry — weren’t present in the previous book. There’s no on-screen rape or graphic discussion of it, but it colours everything; those who may find this triggering may want to avoid this.
It does have a lovely found family, much as the previous book does, and Hartley opens out into a lovely character as he loses some of his snootiness and challenges some of his own assumptions. Sam is lovely from start to finish — human, and not always able to be perfectly patient and perfectly understanding, but he strives to be better all the time. There are some fun side characters as well, particularly Sadie and Kate.
Overall, I enjoyed it a lot and it broke through a funk during which I wasn’t reading much at all. It’s a little darker in tone, but it does have a happy ending, and I ended up enjoying it a lot.