Color of Grace by AM Arthur
Title: Color of Grace (Book 2 in the Cost of Repairs Series)
Author: A.M. Arthur
Publisher: Samhain Publishing, January 2013
Blurb: Barrett McCall once lived like there was no tomorrow. Now the reformed party animal savors each day as a gift. His short order cook job at Dixie’s Cup pays the rent, and he’s content with his sober—if solitary—life.
When a fire leaves him homeless, Dixie’s offer to let him move into her basement apartment puts him on a collision course with her nephew, art teacher Schuyler Rhodes. The heat between them crackles, but in Schuyler’s eyes Barrett recognizes the same demons he exorcised long ago.
Dixie’s kind-hearted offer couldn’t come at a worse time for Schuyler. It’s the anniversary of his teenage cousin Matty’s drowning. Everyone believes it was an accident, but Schuyler knows the truth—and so does the culprit. For fifteen years that truth has burned a hole in his soul…and now it keeps Barrett at arm’s length.
One lingering kiss melts away the barriers between them, but when the other witness to Matty’s death shows up in town, Schuyler is forced into a confrontation that could cost him Barrett’s love—and possibly his own life.
Contains a hot man-on-man romance between a slightly uptight art teacher and a free-spirited tattoo-artist-turned-line-cook, a bucket of guilt sprinkled on top of past regrets, and the improper use of bamboo kabob skewers.
Review: Sky Rhodes is too damn hot for his own good, or at least that was my impression of him from Cost of Repairs, the first book of this series. But as the events of this novel began to unravel, I realized that vanity was a veneer to cover a hidden series of emotional scars.
The story begins with Barrett McCall, an enigma with an obvious past, and an air of mystery that’s hard to resist. With his apartment burning down in the very first chapter, we’re given a brief glimpse into Rey and Sam’s lives as they offer him a place to crash for a couple nights. I appreciated the author not rehashing the first book’s plot to the point of redundancy, though I was glad to see how Sam and Rey were doing. The story of Barrett and Sky takes off from there, with them meeting on what happens to be one of Sky’s worst days of the year.
Between the two men, there’s enough baggage to go to London for a summer, and at first, I had difficulty seeing them together, despite their inherent hotness. Their beginning was a strange push/pull, and when one would relax and consider the possibility or their attraction, the other would back off, close down, and send up major Don’t Go There signals. In this way, we see the kindness of each character in the little ways they reach out to the one hurting despite their very real and convincing reasons to keep people at arm’s length. Perhaps it’s the dichotomy of the Sky from the first book and this Sky that kept him mysterious to me at first, but as the layers peeled away, I began to understand why he was the way he was in Cost of Repairs and how my first impression of him was skewed. The man has a lot of guilt from his past, and his coping mechanisms, i.e. drinking until he can barely walk, are less than effective.
I liked in this book how we got to know more about Dixie, whom we met in the first book of the series, and how she’s more than your Debbie Novotny type, taking care of everyone she can. We see why she’s everyone’s mother hen—she lost her son Matty when he was a teenager, and while she could have easily become bitter and recalcitrant, she didn’t. What happened to Matty was a terrible thing, and while she still has a hard time with it, she holds no blame in her heart, even when she learns that she never knew the whole story.
Ultimately, though, I connected most with Barrett, a man who has seen demons, faced them down, and grew into a real man despite some really horrific events in his past. He’s helpful, however, without being preachy. He doesn’t lob his own past onto Sky’s shoulders. A recovering alcoholic who can offer a miserable man company at a bar to see that he remains safe is a strong man indeed, and despite Barrett’s own questioning of his integrity, he definitely has it. When Barrett chooses to take a chance on Sky, I couldn’t help wonder if he was making a mistake, but it turns out, Barrett’s a pretty good judge of character.
The end was paced better in this installment than in the first one, and by the time I’d gotten there, all the characters felt like friends to me, and I was saddened to see it end. One question that was never answered and sort of bugged me was what actually happened to start the fire that destroyed the Laundromat and apartments above it where Barrett originally lived. Perhaps that’s the jumping off point of a third book if there is to be one? Perhaps we’ll never know, and it’s meant to stay a mystery. Regardless, Barrett’s necessary move into Dixie’s basement, increasing his interaction to Sky (who is Dixie’s nephew and used to live in her basement apartment) is fortuitous, and shows us just how barren his life was before meeting Sky. It gives room for hope, and second (and third) chances, and two men who could have had a very depressing story find in each other the strength they need to let go of the past and fully embrace a future—together.
Only quibble: the blurb gives away too much. I hesitated to even include it in this review, but that would break the formatting well established on this site.