Author: Brandon Witt
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Summary: Estes Park native Todd Fleece works hard to honor his obligations to family and the businesses he inherited, but only his friends and the horses at his ranch brighten Todd’s life. In fighting his attraction to his best friend’s ex-boyfriend, Todd has focused solely on his work, leaving little room in his life for finding love.
Matt Abel’s reckless youth put him on a path to a self-destructive life—his most painful failure was being a horrible father. He excels at extreme sports and living on the edge. Now back in Estes Park and teaching white-water rafting, Matt tries to reconnect with his mother and his grown daughter. When he runs into his ex’s friend Todd, Matt longs for more than a fling.
But achieving happiness isn’t simple, not with Todd’s family conflicts and Matt struggling not to slide back into alcoholism. With hurdles threatening to drive them apart, Todd and Matt try to find the courage to brave the rapids and face a future together….
Review: There nothing I appreciate more in a book than characters that touch my heart when I recognize pieces of myself in them. I identified with Matt the most in this story, the one who, when told what he ought to do, feels pushed to do the opposite. In his 40’s now, he’s discovered the consequences of taking that trait too far. Todd’s character is his counterbalance, as he tries too hard to meet self-imposed expectations, particularly towards his dysfunctional biological family. Todd friends, the Gay Boys Christmas Dinner group, or GBCD guys though, are friends I can only wish I’d found in my life, and family of the heart to each other. The best kind of friends, who will call you out on your crap but accept and understand each other’s faults and foibles as well.
The narrative is told in alternate POV chapters and switches from first person for Todd to third for Matt and it works very well. Their relationship seesaws a couple of times and matches the ups and downs of their personal lives. Matt is trying to mend, or build a new bridge, to Jordan, his daughter, and it’s a very long bridge indeed. Todd has family issues and his businesses adding to the chaotic emotions he’s feeling. The narrative balances that when Matt, leading his rafting groups down the rapids, and Todd, riding his horse through the trees and mountain views, are described in a way that painted peaceful visions in my head. It’s not a story that will scrape your emotions raw but it tugged very hard on my heartstrings. I’d recommend reading Mapping the Forest first, as it introduces all the characters that appear here, and I’m sure in future books for the other GBCD men.