Kate Hawthorne’s entry in the Vino and Veritas series is a fairly short one; you could call it a long novella or a short novel, depending on how you want to look at it. Daybreak is an opposites-attract story featuring mechanic and widower Jasper Cunningham (whom we met in Jay Hogan’s Unguarded) and Liam Luckett, whose car breaks down when he’s part-way through a round-the-States-road-trip he began some weeks earlier when he just up and left his home in California without a word to anyone.
Jasper and his husband Michael were teenage sweethearts, and had been married for a decade when Michael died suddenly and tragically of a brain aneurysm. That was three years ago, and as the pain of his loss has slowly started to soften around the edges and missing him has become more manageable, Jasper has begun to realise that it’s time for him to move on and get on with living his life. It’s what Michael would have wished for him, and he wants it for himself, too; he’s tired of being sad and lonely. But the problem is – he has no idea how to go about getting his life back.
Liam decided on his cross-country trip as a means of escape – from college, from his parents and from their expectations, which have dogged him for almost his entire life – and the longer he can stay away from LA the better. He’s been on the road for a few weeks now, stopping off here and there, playing his guitar at open mic nights whenever he can. But his car starts playing up as he’s approaching Burlington and he just about manages to pull into a parking lot before it gives out completely. Fortunately, the parking lot is in front of a row of shops and restaurants and a big brick building with a neon sign – Vino and Veritas – outside. Liam heads into the ‘vino’ side of the building and orders himself a glass of wine, mentioning in passing that he’ll need to find someone to take a look at his car in the morning.
When a somewhat disgruntled Jasper arrives (in response to a text from Tai (Unguarded) who is in the V and V that night, he’s thrown completely off balance by his first look at Liam, who is too pretty, too vibrant, too full of life (in short, too everything Jasper isn’t) – and yet is the first person he’s found remotely attractive since Michael died. The attraction is unwelcome and absolutely irrefutable, but he ruthlessly tamps it down and heads outside take a look at the car. Which isn’t going anywhere that night. It’s already snowing and the weather is set to get worse; with no way of driving to a hotel (even there was a decent one nearby) Tai helpfully suggests that Jasper could put Liam up for the night. Jasper’s initial reaction is to refuse, but realising the guy has nowhere else to go (and being helpless in the face of Liam’s pleading puppy-dog eyes) he relents and takes Liam home. To sleep on the couch, of course.
Liam ends up staying with Jasper for a few days in the end, thanks to the deteriorating weather, a power outage and because the part needed to repair his car gets sent to the wrong place. Neither man tells the other much about themselves, so Liam doesn’t know Jasper is a widower (although he knows he was married) and Jasper doesn’t know that Liam is the son of a well-known conservative politician, but then, why should they? The attraction they’re both feeling doesn’t need to lead to more than a little sexy fun; Liam is going to be leaving as soon as his car is fixed and Jasper isn’t ready for a new relationship – so maybe Liam can be his ‘in-between’ person, someone to help him get back into the saddle (so to speak).
I liked the premise of Daybreak, and the writing is very good indeed. The way the author describes Jasper’s grief and the feelings of loss he’s trying to come to terms with is so heartfelt that it leaps off the page, and I especially loved the metaphor of the classic car he and Michael had planned to fix up but which is still sitting, neglected, in the garage. But while Jasper is strongly characterised, Liam isn’t, and it’s a very stark contrast which makes the whole thing feel rather unbalanced, and the romance – which, given it happens in less than a week is already on shaky ground – really difficult to buy into. And I just couldn’t. There’s certainly plenty of chemistry between Jasper and Liam, but there’s no getting round the fact that in less than a week, Jasper goes from deciding he’s not ready to have someone else in his life to falling in love with someone he barely knows.
And I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that Liam – who is a grown man – hasn’t yet told his father that he doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps and go into politics. Liam is twenty-four, not a kid; if he’d been sixteen, eighteen – maybe I could have bought into it more. But he’s been a legal adult for six years and I just couldn’t sympathise with a situation that was partly his own making.
In the end, Daybreak is one of the weaker entries in the Vino and Veritas series (I say that with the caveat that I haven’t read them all – yet) and I fully admit that having read it after I read Jay Hogan’s fabulous Unguarded means it may have suffered by comparison. But even so, the instalove romance and the poor characterisation of Liam are undeniable; but the excellent writing and characterisation of Jasper are enough to earn Daybreak a low-level recommendation