Richardson takes on an issue that isn’t often dealt with in gay fiction – the physical abuse of one man on his partner – even though it must be as prevalent in homosexual relationships as it is in heterosexual ones. How the abused man frees himself from the tyranny of another and breaks the chains in his mind that tell him abuse equals love makes for a moving and poignant story.
Twenty-something auto mechanic Shawn Mathews seems to suffer quite a few mishaps, his boss Max tells 30-year-old Dr. Gene Collins. Gene immediately spots Shawn as a victim of physical abuse, but Shawn denies it, claiming that his boyfriend Jared loves him. When Shawn is beaten nearly to death and dumped in the street, Gene identifies him in the hospital and tries to befriend him.
But Shawn blames Gene for the beating since Jared saw them talking together and thought they looked just a little too cozy for Jared’s liking. Gene, having been abused himself both physically and mentally by a previous boyfriend, ignores Shawn’s plea to leave him alone and let him go back to Jared.
Kendrick knows that for Gene to help Shawn shore up his self-esteem will take a lot of time and dogged friendship, so the story takes place over months, not just days. And even when the writing gets a little pedantic, Kendrick’s anti-abuse stand makes it clear that convincing someone to leave his abuser isn’t a quick or easy process, and definitely can’t be done alone. Dedicated support is imperative.
Shawn, a young man whose family disowned him when he came out in his late teens, is a talented mechanic who can diagnose and fix cars as if by magic. He’s liked by his fellow mechanics and Max, the garage owner, so much that they like being with him and gather around to protect him, much to Jared’s disgust. He’s looking so hard for someone to love that readers’ hearts will immediately go out to him.
Gene sees his younger self in Shawn and remembers quite vividly how hard it was to pull away from an abusive lover and convince himself that what he felt wasn’t love at all. Gene’s the laid back doctor of the small town who knows everyone’s secrets whether he wants to or not. Fortunately for Shawn, Gene is not only attracted to him but Gene’s tenacious in trying to help him, not taking “Go away!” for an answer. Gene’s the guy all of us want watching our backs and befriending us.
Unfortunately, why Shawn wants Gene, other than the fact that Gene consistently and constantly goes to the bat for him, is murky. Shawn just seems to switch dependencies from the abusive Jared to the kinder, gentler Gene, which isn’t exactly the equivalent of love. On Gene’s part the relationship is also unbalanced as at times it seems pity and compassion play bigger parts of Gene’s motivation than love.
Still, I had no trouble believing that a connection was there between the two men that might develop into love, but wasn’t quite there yet. More than anything, Kendrick builds a compelling case about helping those who need help in crucial matters. Kendrick has a huger backlist – he’s an author readers can spend quality time enjoying.