I would rate this 3.75 stars.
The book starts by establishing what Colt’s life has been like for the past ten years after he was kicked out of the house for being gay at age 15. He needs out of Toledo quick and buys a bus ticket to Charlotte, but a stop in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee changes his life forever. Enamored with the area, he quickly tries to get a job at a distillery owned by Malone Kensington. Colt gets hired as a janitor, but soon sees his chance to really change his life and reach for something more. When he meets Mal, his Cinderella dreams come true wrapped in a My Fair Lady bow.
Except for the beginning and the end, the book doesn’t focus on anything angsty. Cole is likable because he is a hard worker and is grateful for the opportunities he is given. He appreciates his change in circumstances. He respects the people he works with and doesn’t begrudge them their success. He hasn’t let his misfortune turn into bitterness or resentment against people who haven’t struggled in the same way he has. Yet, his parents taught him to be sort of a con man, so he is a bit too good to be true. On the other hand, Mal has had all of the opportunities life could give him. He knows he was lucky, but he has also worked very hard to get where he is, to be able to do what he was raised to do and loves, yet he is not always his own boss as he answers to the Board of his company. When he takes Colt into his life, into not just his business but his home, he shows an unlikely amount of trust to a perfect stranger–especially with corporate espionage an issue. He’s a little too sweet to be true also.
This had some interesting parts about the distillery: the process of distilling, the product design and marketing, and the tasting room and restaurant. It was enough to root the reader in that backdrop if you have experienced any agritourism. Colt and Mal never lie about who they are, where they have been, or what they’ve done. They share what’s important to them. When Colt’s past comes back to haunt him, it wasn’t in the way I expected. One the one hand, I love a surprise. On the other hand, I was disappointed by the cartoon villians. Even though this all seems farfetched, it is charming. The references to the TV show Firefly made me smile. The romance is a sweet slow burn as they date while they work and live together. Mal really wars with Colt’s being an employee and the age difference between them as he is a nice guy and doesn’t want to take advantage. The secondary characters Audrey, Philippe and Gwendolyn all help play matchmaker in different ways. The epilogue is divided into sections and wraps up any loose ends. I connected with them and wanted them to have their happily ever after.
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**The book was previously released by a different publisher as a category romance. It is now self-published and has a new cover.