Author: Amy Lane
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Vern Roberts couldn’t wait to turn eighteen and get the hell out of Dogpatch, California. But city living is expensive, and he’s damned desperate when Dex from Johnnies spots him bussing tables.
As “Bobby,” he’s a natural at gay porn. Soon he’s surrounded by hot guys and sex for the taking, but it’s not just his girlfriend back in Dogpatch—or her blackmailing brother—that keeps him from taking it. It’s the sweet guy who held the lights for his first solo scene, who showed him decency, kindness, and a smile.
Reg Williams likes to think he’s too stupid to realize what a shitty hand life dealt him, but Bobby knows better. What Reg lacks in family, opportunity, education, and money, he makes up for in heart. One fumbling step at a time, they connect, not just in their hearts but in their bodies, where sex that’s not on camera, casual, or meaningless, becomes the most important thing in the world.
But Reg is hampered by an inescapable family burden, and he and Bobby will never fly unless he can find a way to manage it. Can he break the painful link to his unrealized childhood and grow into the love Bobby wants to give?
The first Amy Lane books I ever read were the Talker series, Truth in the Dark, Promise Rock, and Chase in Shadow. Each one, in its own way, ripped my heart out, repaired it, and stuck it back in with a new appreciation for an author who could reach deep inside my soul behind my emotional wall and just tear those feelings out for all to see. Had I ever cried over the plight of a character before meeting these men? No, but Talker, Knife, Deacon, Crick, and Chase gave me a new perspective on both the MM genre and on their creator, Amy Lane. Since that time, I’ve read thousands of stories, and I must say that when I want a gut-wrenching, yet soul-healing, deeply emotional MM romance, Amy Lane is my “go-to” author.
This book, number five in the Johnnies series, literally took me back to those early days of soul-rendering drama. It’s everything I crave in a story that digs deep into my heart and soul and makes me feel whole by the time we reach the ending. Is it a bonus that we see so much of Dex, Kane, Ethan, and other guys from the series? Absolutely! In fact, though they aren’t “on page,” so to speak, this story runs concurrently with Chase in Shadow so we hear what’s happening to Chase and Tommy, and we experience the trauma surrounding Dex, Kane, and Ethan from a different perspective. I love the way Ms. Lane cleverly wove the timeline of the other stories into this one.
And wait—I haven’t even mentioned Bobby and Reg yet—the MCs of this story. Ahhh, they stole my heart, and to be honest, I’m not sure which one stole more of it, though it might be Reg by a tiny bit. Reg has been with Johnnies for about a dozen years. He’s nearly thirty and is still enjoying doing scenes and having sexy times with the guys during their off hours. In fact, it’s the only thing that relieves him of the burden of caring for his older mentally ill sister—a sister who frequently and cleverly hides the fact that she’s not taking her meds. She then becomes belligerent and often violent. Reg knows he’s not bright, but he’s a hard worker, and he cares about people. His future job prospects are pretty dim due to the burden of caring for his sister and his own inability to grasp new concepts and remember important details. But he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t let that get him down. And he’s all the more endearing because of that.
Reg promised her long ago that he’d look after her and he keeps his promises. Though only he and his sister know this, when he was not even eighteen and their mother left, he forged the papers that gave him custodianship of Veronica. Now, so many years later, he feels trapped. She’s bigoted, angry, and miserable most of the time. She’s definitely not the person she was when he first took over her care. Even in his own home, if he wants to have one of the guys over for sex, they have to wait until she’s safely asleep before he can bring them up to his room and then they have to leave immediately after. This is okay for casual hookups but Reg is starting to think of the future and beginning to crave adult companionship beyond sex. Always told that he’s stupid, he recognizes that his options are few and far between, but nevertheless, in his dreams he wants his happy ever after.
When Vern Roberts, who becomes Bobby Green, shows up to audition for his first porn scene, Reg happens to be there assisting Dex, and he helps the young man navigate his first time on camera. Is he shocked by this big farm boy’s enormous ten inches? Definitely. But he sees beyond that to the sweet eighteen-year-old who only wants to earn money to send back to his mom in Dogpatch.
Bobby escaped the nowhere life he was living in the rural small town, where he was crushing on his friend, Keith, until Keith started to blackmail him into giving him blowjobs. Keith’s father owned the ranch on which Bobby’s mother rented a tiny house and the threat involved outing Bobby and getting his mom kicked out. Once he got away from that, he felt he needed to rescue his mother from the hellhole so he worked two jobs to do it. When he lost the construction job he’d taken as his ticket out, he moved on to Johnnies—a job that would turn out to be a lifesaver in more ways than one.
Reg and Bobby become close, but Bobby won’t engage in sex with Reg until Bobby breaks up with the girlfriend he left back home—a girl he didn’t really want to marry, but who provided him with the reasoning that he couldn’t possibly be gay. She also happens to be Keith’s sister so there’s ramifications from that too. Now he realizes that whatever the label he’s given, he’s very attracted to Reg and when they discover the feeling is mutual, a new journey to a committed relationship begins for both men.
I definitely don’t want to ruin anyone’s appreciation of what actually happens in the book by giving any additional details, but I must say that if you have a chance to take it slow and savor this one like a fine wine, it’s very satisfying. Each man grows in maturity individually and together; Reg learns that love doesn’t always come with happiness; and Bobby learns that he can have integrity, be true to himself and his heart, and find family in more places than at home.
I can’t recommend this one highly enough! It’s outstanding in so many ways—as a romance, as a family drama, as a poignant portrayal of mental illness, and as an unabashed declaration for family of the heart. It’s going on my Best of 2018 list immediately. Very highly recommend!