Author: Erin McLellan
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Niles Longfellow is a nerd, and not the trendy type of nerd, either. He wears a historically accurate homesteader costume to work every day, has a total of one friend, and doesn’t know how to talk to guys. So when he gets a flat tire and the hottest hipster ever stops to help him, all Niles can think is that he’s wearing his stupid cowboy getup. Normally, Niles feels invisible to other men, but he’d take that invisibility any day over Rusty Adams seeing him in suede and fringe.
Rusty moved to Bison Hills to help his sister raise her daughter, and nothing is more important to him than that. He’s also fresh off a breakup, and isn’t prepared for anything complicated. But then he meets Niles. Rusty sees Niles as more than a clumsy, insecure guy in a costume. He sees a man who is funny, quirky, and unexpected.
Nothing about their connection is simple, though, especially the lies and insecurities between them. Niles doesn’t know if he can trust Rusty with his heart, and when Rusty’s sister decides to move away, Rusty doesn’t know if he can stay behind.
I find it interesting that the opinions on this story are so divergent. People seemed to love it or hate it. I loved it. And many hated Niles, but I didn’t hate him at all. Why? Because I am Niles. Or Niles is me. And I totally understood his crazy psyche, his worldview, his skewed relationship perceptions, and his low self-esteem. If anything, the character I most disliked was Rusty, who’s carrying around a ton of baggage—much of it of his own making—and his biggest issue is that he needs to grow up, put on his big-boy pants, and take responsibility for his own actions—or inactions—and lies, as the case may be. So I forgive him. Maybe.
But I digress. This story centers on Niles Longfellow, twenty-something, socially inept, and a nerd. He is Director of Education at Bushyhead Homestead, an authentic Old West theme park in Bison Falls in the Midwest. He’s so into his job that he even owns authentic homesteader clothing and has been known to wear fringed shirts and leather chaps. Unfortunately, he doesn’t ride a horse to work, so when he has a flat tire on the way home and a gorgeous hipster stops to help him, his mouth and brain disengage and his inability to have a flirty conversation with the good-looking man causes him grief and self-recrimination later that day. The hipster is Rusty, and he’s captivated by Niles—by his looks, his knowledge of the history of the area, and by his overall sweetness. It’s too bad he can’t get Niles to see that now, or even later, when he finally convinces Niles to go out with him.
In his own words: “Niles wasn’t dateable. He was weird and antisocial and super inexperienced and kind of awkward. He gave good head, but Rusty didn’t know that.” There’s one push-pull situation after another throughout this story, and it becomes the perfect book for those who love angst and self-destruction. Niles self-destroys constantly because he just can’t “get” how anyone could possibly love him. He’s constantly paralyzed by fear.
Rusty destroys any chance at a long-term relationship with Niles by telling lies. He lies about his past three-year relationship with handsome fellow teacher, Todd, and he compounds that lie later by failing to tell Niles that he may move out of town when his sister and her daughter do. The only reason he’s even in Bison Falls is to be near his unwed sister and to be the rock for her to lean on for childcare and other help. Now, with her planning to move, he’s leaning toward going too, but he doesn’t want to tell Niles—ostensibly because he doesn’t want to upset him.
Niles, on the other hand, has decided to take a leap of faith and goes all-in on a gamble to have a relationship with Rusty. They’ve become friends and then lovers, and Niles is starting to get a glimpse of happiness. And then it all comes crashing down when the truth about Todd comes out. Rusty has dug himself a hole, and there’s no way out but the truth, but that comes too late to save what he’s started with Niles, who now feels betrayed and used.
I get where other readers and reviewers are coming from with their perception of Niles. No doubt about it, Niles is prickly. But the author remains true to his personality throughout the story, and I believe that all his reactions were genuine for his kind of personality—not necessarily likeable, but definitely genuine. Thankfully, his BFF, Victor, while working for a cruise line, uses video chat to keep in touch daily. Victor deserves his own book. [hint, hint]
Oops, I digress again, but Victor is awesome and a rock for Niles. He gently pokes Niles into positive self-reflection and into facing the role his own insecurities took in the relationship with Rusty. He also gets Niles to face cold hard facts about his family and about his inability to take steps to move out of his rut. But he doesn’t just chastise—he actually comes to Bison Hills to help Niles personally. And he confronts Rusty, pointing out that he’s the one who rejected more than a surface relationship with Niles. Victor is most certainly a wonderful example of friendship. It takes time but when Rusty finally owns up to his truth, he realizes that he loves Niles and wants to be with him above all else.
I highly recommend this book. If you haven’t discovered this author yet, give this a try. You won’t fall in love with either MC in this story right away. The author has certainly gone out on a limb to tell a different kind of tale, but it resonated clearly for me, and I hope it will for others as well. How they managed to stumble their way to the HEA makes for intriguing and interesting hours of reading. Thankfully, there is a resolution as the two come to terms with their own reality—first individually and then as a couple. Well worth the read!