When a photograph of stuntman Rhys Sutton with actor Thomas Monroe is mistaken for something far more than friendship, Rhys is forced to deal with his family's belief that he has finally recovered from the death of his husband Andy and is ready to love again. Thomas agrees to pretend to be his boyfriend, but Rhys doesn't realize Thomas's feelings for him go far deeper and aren't a pretense at all. Will Thomas be able to break down the wall Rhys has built around his heart? Or will their relationship flounder on the rock of Rhys's grief?
“My heart’s been empty since you left - but still I refuse to put up a vacancy sign. I’m just not ready for anybody else to move in yet.” ~ Ranata Suzuki
Rhys Sutton, of ‘Take Two’ by Ari McKay, lost his husband, Andy, when he was killed by a drunk driver over five years ago. Since that time, Rhys has been alone. He is lonely without Andy, but the agony of losing him is enough to keep Rhys from moving on. He never again wants to feel the pain that losing Andy caused, even if it means he will be alone for the rest of his life.
Rhys is a stunt coordinator for a popular TV show. Thomas Monroe is a stunt actor on the same show and a good friend to Rhys. Rhys’s family, particularly his mom, has been encouraging him to move on, especially since Andy has been gone for so long. She has tried to encourage Rhys to go see a grief counselor so he may learn how to deal with Andy’s death, instead of living in constant pain, but he refuses to get help.
When his parents see Rhys and Thomas together in a photograph, they decide they are in a relationship. At first, Rhys is furious; he sees an opportunity to get his family off of his back. He makes Thomas a proposition. Rhys’s family is having a reunion and asks Thomas if he would be willing to pose as his boyfriend. That way, his family will figure he’s finally moved on and stop harping about it. Thomas, who secretly has feelings for Rhys, reluctantly decides to go along with the plan.
Being together changes the dynamics of their relationship in a way neither of them anticipated. Playing boyfriends brings them closer together. Inevitably, being more engaged than normal leads to an emotional and physical intimacy that is totally unexpected. Being with yet not being with Rhys causes Thomas a great deal of stress and confusion. He had never realized how deep his feelings for Rhys run. Even being the great actor he is, this pretend boyfriend is causing more mayhem with his emotions that than he thought possible. The strain is taking its toll. On the other hand, Rhys is shocked with how comfortable he feels with Thomas and how much he enjoys having him around. Finally, Thomas wears down his walls and they become physically involved. It feels far more comfortable that Rhys ever thought it would. Thomas is thrilled to finally have his secret desires come to fruition. But as the old saying goes, if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Thomas decides to shave his beard, making him look much younger and it triggers something in Rhys that makes him feel guilty and foolish. He has a meltdown and sends Thomas away.
Besides the happy ending for Thomas and Rhys, an important lesson is presented: if pain is avoided, instead of dealt with, it can cause almost irreparable damage. Experiencing grief is a natural and healthy process, but if you bury yourself along with the person you lost, it becomes unhealthy for you and the others around you. As far as loving again goes, unless you were married to a very selfish person, I can’t imagine that they would not want you to move on with your life and love again. Thanks, Ari and McKay, for an endearing story of second chances. Originally reviewed at Rainbow Book Reviews.