When life drowns you in lemons, to hell with making lemonade. I wanted to burn the whole world. But eighteen months from the day my life was torn apart, I’m tired of the anger. Tired of the nightmares. Tired of putting one foot in front of the other just trying to survive. Three months on a high country sheep station in the middle of nowhere is exactly the reboot I need. A chance to break free. To breathe again. To find a way forward.
I put my entire life on hold and head south to Mackenzie Country. But falling for the captivating young station boss was never part of the plan. Holden Miller might be smart and sexy and push all my dusty buttons, but we come from two different worlds. I’m not looking for a relationship. I’m not interested in love. I’m done with all that.
But Holden doesn’t care about my rules. Nestled safely in the arms of the spectacular Southern Alps, on an isolated sheep farm at the top of the world, Holden begins knitting my battered heart together one careful stitch at a time. And with every pass of the thread, every braid of the river on our doorstep, I catch a tantalising glimpse of something I’d almost given up on.
Happiness, and maybe even love.
If I have the courage to reach out and grab them.
“Hang on, Tuck.” I lowered the phone from my ear and squinted at the dusty blue Hilux pulling in at the kerb. It had Miller Station stamped on its door, windows rolled down, and music blaring.
The driver killed the volume, pushed his sunglasses up his nose, and leaned across the passenger seat to speak through the window. “Are you Gil Everton?”
“Yep.” I raised a tentative hand in greeting.
“Cool. I’m Holden Miller. Let’s get you on board.” His full mouth curved up in a high-wattage smile that made my stomach do a weird-arse, vaguely familiar flip.
Oh boy. Attraction. Just freaking dandy. Eighteen months with my libido on military-grade lockdown, and it chose that moment to wake up and get with the program. Not only that, but I already knew Holden was gay from my conversations with Emily. Go fucking figure. It was a wrinkle I sure as hell didn’t need in my reboot plan. I hadn’t been laid since Callie’s death and I wasn’t looking to change that state of affairs anytime soon even if I had been able to summon any interest, which I hadn’t . . . for a while. So, yeah, there was that. Which was why my reaction to any man was . . . surprising.
“Gil, are you still there?” Tuck called through the phone as Holden disappeared back into the cab and the driver’s door opened.
I raised the phone to my ear again. “Yeah, but I’m gonna have to—” I stopped abruptly as a ruggedly handsome dark-haired beauty with a mass of lazy brown waves bouncing around his ears emerged from the Hilux. And since I was a hot mess but not dead, I drew in a sharp breath and whispered, “Wow.”
“What?” Tucker interrupted my gawping. “What wow? Gil?”
I cleared my throat and mumbled. “Nothing. I’ll call you in a day or two. Say hi to Gail and the kids for me.”
“They don’t like you either.”
I laughed. “They love me.”
“Fuck it. You’re right.”
“Wait, Gil. Gil!”
I hung up on Tuck’s protest and shot to my feet, by which time Holden had circled to the back of the Hilux and was busy opening the hatch. It gave me a few seconds to appreciate the way his dusty jeans hugged a pretty spectacular arse, and an equally dusty black T-shirt showed off lean muscular arms sporting a golden tan.
Holden caught my eye and that broad smile widened, no doubt because I was standing there staring at him like a total idiot. “First off, let’s exchange numbers,” he said. “I think you only have Mum’s. I tried to call to say I was running late, but whatever I had in my phone didn’t work.”
“Oh.” Shit. Great way to start. “Yeah, I ah, changed my number, sorry. I updated your mum, but maybe you’ve got my old one.”
“No problem. Here.” He gave me his phone and I corrected the number he had stored and then he sent me a text.
I called him back to make sure we were right, and Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” rang out through the carpark.
I bit back a smile and raised a brow. “Really? I think I should be offended.”
He chuckled. “Don’t be. Besides, it was before I met you and it kind of fits, right? You’re from the big smoke. You’ve even got your Roberto Cavalli’s on.” He pointed to the label on my jeans and heat rose in my cheeks. “Pretty fancy for a sheep station.”
I narrowed my gaze and fired back, “But you recognised the brand which says you have an eye for those things.”
He grinned. “Of course. They’re a great jean. Just don’t wear them in the woolshed.”
I laughed. “Kind of goes without saying.”
“Are those it?” He nodded to four bags of varying sizes siting in a tidy line at my feet.
I gave a mute nod, because I was well-educated like that, and wiped my hot palms down the front of my jeans.
“Great.” He sauntered over in that loose-gaited way perfected by many farmers like they had all the time in the world. About a metre away, he stopped, lifted his glasses onto his head, and a pair of dark coffee-brown almost black eyes locked with mine.
And just, damn. I was in trouble.
Then he smiled. “Welcome to Mackenzie Country, Gil.”
Wow. This book starts with an unimaginable disaster that had me crying. The ending had me sobbing. And in between I couldn’t stop reading.
Heed the trigger warning.
After the first chapter there is a time jump of 18 months. And honestly, right move. Feeling Gil’s pain, seeing it on the page 18 months later was a true testament to grief. I felt like we, as readers, were honoring his grief by seeing it reflected a year and a half later.
So Gil, a psychologist with a thriving practice who lives in the city takes a sabbatical as a domestic manager at a sheep station (ranch) in a gorgeous but remote area of New Zealand. Complete 180 from the life he knew. He wanted to shake up his life to try to climb out from under his grief. And his new boss was unwittingly the first step.
Holden is going through his own life changing circumstances since becoming the boss at Miller Station. He always knew he would take over from his grandfather, but not as suddenly as it happened after his grandfather was diagnosed with dementia.
Jay Hogan takes us on a journey of two men. Both struggling in very different ways. But they find so much comfort with each other. They completely belong together.
And beyond their relationship- I learned a lot more about New Zealand (I love books set in countries that aren’t as popular as others) and about merino fleece on sheep. As a fiber artist, I thought this was very cool.
Jay paints a picture with words, not only of the landscape, but of the different relationships within the story. Holden and Gil. Holden and his employees and friends. His mother. His best friend and former lover. I could see relationships like these in real life. Nothing was forced. There was no drama for drama sake. They even talk about the isolation of living where they do.
I really loved this book.
4.5 pieces of eye candy
Heart, humour and keeping it real.
Jay is a 2020 Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Gay Romance and her book Off Balance was the 2021 New Zealand Romance Book of the Year.
She is a New Zealand author writing mm romance and romantic suspense, primarily set in New Zealand. She writes character driven romances with lots of humour, a good dose of reality and a splash of angst. She’s travelled extensively, lived in many countries, and in a past life she was a critical care nurse, nurse educator and counsellor. Jay is owned by a huge Maine Coon cat and a gorgeous Cocker Spaniel
Find Jay in all the places: https://www.jayhoganauthor.com/landingpage