by Sally Malcolm
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: December 10, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Theo Wishart has given up on finding love.
Luca Moretti doesn’t want to find it.
A handful of summer days may change their lives forever—if they’re brave enough to look between the lines.
Eyes might be windows to the soul, but for Theo Wishart they’re all shuttered. His dyspraxia makes it hard to read people. He doesn’t do relationships and he certainly doesn’t do the great outdoors. Two weeks spent “embracing beach life” while he tries to close the deal on a once great, now fading seaside hotel is a special kind of hell.
Until Luca. Gorgeous, unreachable Luca.
Luca Moretti travels light, avoiding all romantic entanglements. Estranged from his parents, he vows this will be his last trip home to New Milton. His family’s hotel is on the verge of ruin and there’s nothing Luca can do to save it. He’s given up on the Majestic, he’s given up on his family and he’s given up on his future.
Until Theo. Prickly, captivating Theo.
No mushy feelings, no expectations, and no drama—that’s the deal. A simple summer fling. And it suits them both just fine. But as the summer wanes and their feelings deepen, it’s clear to everyone around them that Theo and Luca are falling in love. What will it take for them to admit it to themselves—and to each other?
I adored Ms. Malcolm’s last book, a retelling of Persuasion, so to say I was very excited for this one would be an understatement! And, yes, it was just as good! It’s a delightful example of enemies-to-lovers starring a neurodivergent character, with an underlying message of forgiveness. While it’s set in the same time and includes the wedding of the two main characters from the first book, I think it’d work perfectly fine as a standalone.
“The horizon was already dark, a few stars visible in the deep blue, and when he opened the window and stepped out onto the narrow balcony he could hear the roar of the surf. It was a comforting sound, like the endless hum of a Manhattan night, only more gentle—and with fewer fumes. He inhaled a deep breath and felt the peace of the place sink into his bones. For a strange moment he found himself wondering what it would be like to belong here, to have that peace for himself.”
Luca’s a bit of a wanderer, content to travel from beach to winter resort, working as a seasonal surfing or snowboarding instructor. The only constant is that every summer he returns to New Milton, his childhood home and the location of his family’s hotel, the Majestic. This year, however, may be the last, as his mother reluctantly intends to sell it. Theo represents the company making the offer, and needs to close this deal to prove to his father, the CEO, that he’s worthy of taking over the company. So when Luca’s mom suggests that Theo stay for two weeks before she’ll sign the offer in the hopes of making him see what’s so great about the Majestic, he reluctantly agrees. Despite a rocky start, the chemistry between Luca and Theo is undeniable, so they agree to a no-strings-attached fling while Theo’s there. I’m sure you can guess how that works out!
“See?” he said irritably. “You’re doing it right now. Why can’t you just say what you mean, instead of expecting me to divine it by—” he wiggled his fingers “—magic?”
Luca snorted a laugh. “You know what? It’s lucky you’re gay. At least guys tend to be pretty up-front about what we want, huh?” He made a vague, crude gesture. “You’re hot, let’s screw. Am I right?”
“I guess.” Theo poked at his hamburger. “But even hookups take a certain degree of…nonverbal communication. And it’s so easy to make mistakes, to think you know what someone wants when the truth is they don’t want you at all.”
From the meet-cute to the epilogue, it’s obvious that Luca and Theo are very different men, and Ms. Malcolm did an amazing job with differentiating their voices. Theo has dyspraxia, which manifests for him as coordination issues and problems reading social cues. It’s frustrating and exhausting for him, wondering if people actually mean what they say or are being sarcastic, or lying, or any of a multitude of other reactions. A past work romance gone wrong – the man was married – has soured him on all relationships. I thought this was handled very well, from the descriptions of how it affects Theo’s life to how Luca reacts to it. Rather than coddling him, Luca simply adapts to make things clearer or easier or Theo, not protection but assistance. Luca, for his part, has his own demons he’s fighting, and that’s part of the beauty of this book. It feels emotionally deep and honest, and while at points it’s heart wrenching, it doesn’t feel like you’re being played for those emotions.
“Point is, resentment screws up your life. It’s always best to move on.”
Luca glanced at him, wondering whether he was making a point, but perhaps it was only Luca’s conscience pricking. Resentment was one of his oldest friends, after all. It had served him well the past five years, kept him from forgetting how badly the people you loved could screw you over. Kept him from making the same mistake twice.”
The nature of one of Luca’s demons, though, is the one part of the story that’s still bothering me. Luca’s dad ran off when he was young, and five years prior to the story, Luca’s mom Jude married Don. While, at one point, Don tells Theo that he thinks Luca would never have accepted any other man in Jude’s life, it most certainly doesn’t help that Don is of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” homophobic camp. Feeling betrayed that his mom chose Don over him because she married him, Luca swore to never spend another night under their roof and left. Cutting ties with the hotel that’s been in his family for three generations hurt, and he blames Don for Jude’s determination to sell the hotel. Of course, going with the whole forgiveness theme, there is a reconciliation storyline here, and I’m of two minds about it. While it’s true that Don seems to have changed – though he still disapproves of Luca’s “promiscuous” lifestyle – most of their behavior towards Luca is still pretty awful. Jude seems incapable of understanding why marrying somebody who so thoroughly rejected a part of her son hurt him so badly. I’d also agree that the degree of resentment that Luca is harboring, while completely understandable, is a giant festering wound that’s poisoning his life – he refuses to take over the hotel because it would benefit Don’s retirement – and it nearly drives away Theo. His reconciliation to someone who’s still unable to apologize for his homophobic stance seems like it might be extremely hurtful to readers who’ve dealt with the same pain and who’ve chosen to cut contact. I’m not one of those, though, and there’s a line in the book, to paraphrase, about “forgiveness, even when it’s not deserved” and, to me, that’s what’s happening here – Jude and Don don’t deserve Luca’s forgiveness, have done nothing to earn it, but Luca gives it to them anyway to free himself of the burden of resentment that’s been controlling his life for too long.
Overall, though I spent a lot of time thinking about Luca’s parents and their actions, at heart this is a lovely, emotional story about two flawed men and how they find their HEA. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be picking up whatever Ms. Malcolm writes next!