There's been little love in H.D. "Hound Dog" Fisher's life since the death of his beloved mom when he was a boy. Bounced around the foster care system, he ran away as soon as he could… and took the foster dog with him. As far as he's concerned, only dogs have no ulterior motive, never hold a grudge, and offer unconditional love. Now he helps run a no-kill shelter and leaves relationships where they belong: in the back room.
"Bean" Alexander settled in Kansas City to open his coffee shop after years of traveling. He never expected to open his heart too. When a man with a grudge takes a swing at H.D. while in line at Bean's shop, Bean jumps to intervene.
So taking a hit for H.D. gets Bean noticed, and H.D. feels obligated to pay a debt. But then the unexpected happens. A series of misadventures causes H.D. to open up—but falling in love makes him turn tail and run. Trust is a tough road to travel. Will good friends, a dog named Sarah Jane, and a bit of folk magic be enough to bring Hound Dog and Bean a happy ending?
The blurb pretty much covers the plot, so I won't bore you with that, but rest assured that I loved, loved, LOVED this book. Not just because Bean makes the most fabulous coffee, and the reader learns so much about the details behind that awesome cup o' java, and not just because H.D. works for a no-kill shelter, but also because the book covers a journey for both of them.
The character of H.D. is described as somewhat slutty, having casual sex for sex's sake, never spending the night, never hooking up with a man twice, not interested in a relationship, because it's not safe to let people in since they just end up leaving you. He's had a difficult childhood after his mother died, and he isn't interested in finding someone to spend his life with - that's a fairytale he can't believe in, and his experiences only confirm that fact for him.
Bean on the other hand is looking for exactly that - a loving, caring, long-term relationship. He's not into casual hook-ups, and realizes quickly that Hound Dog's ideas don't mesh with his. Still, he sees something in the young man and perseveres, slowly, carefully. I quite enjoyed the deep and multi-faceted exploration of the characters the author presented. From the start, when Hound Dog won't let the rude man adopt a little dog, he impressed me with his firm belief in what's right for an animal and his strong conviction to do the right thing, even if it is difficult to disappoint a little girl.
I was similarly impressed with Bean, who strongly believes that making coffee is an art form, will only buy from sustainable family-run farms, and only roasts the beans in batches at a time. Yet there is much more to him than first meets the eye, and his tendency to put himself last if it benefits someone else is also apparent right away.
B.G. Thomas writes flawed characters - they are by no means perfect - yet I couldn't help but feel for both of them, even when Hound Dog gets scared of the feelings he's suddenly developing. Even the boysecks is, while often pretty damn hot, still emotional and furthering the plot, giving even deeper meaning to the characters.
I loved the supporting characters, especially Elaine and Mara, who are presented as strong, self-sufficient women, with good, smart heads on their shoulders. Elaine in particular seems to know how Bean has to work carefully so H.D. doesn't run, and she's not shy about sharing that information. Even Bean's parents, so accepting of his sexuality, are given more depth than I expected after initially meeting them in this book.
I loved the depth of the emotions the author explored, from H.D.'s fears to Bean's, and how he painted such a rich picture of both men and their relationship, from the initial meeting to the first time sexing, to dinners and movies, to Bean's being there for H.D., even including the awkward and embarrassing meet the parents - it's all richly described. There is humor, too, and a bit of magic, as well as situations that are dangerous and showcase the characters' strength and convictions.
Organic, realistic dialogue rounded out a fantastic example of emotional and strong writing.
And I was sucked in completely, ranting at H.D. when he's being stupid and scared, and smiling through the tears when he finally gets it, cheering on Bean when he's fighting for what he wants, even when he's worried that he might be loving H.D. in vain. I even loved the little bit of folk magic that's included, even if H.D. has a hard time coming to terms with what's happening. I'm a sucker for stories about people who had horrible childhoods but overcome the past and find what they've needed to find all along. Throw in a super cute little dog named Sarah Jane, and you've got yourself a winner.
This was a very satisfying read, and I highly recommend it.
** ARC courtesy of Dreamspinner Press. A positive review was not promised in return. **
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