Footsteps of the Past
The first book in Felice Stevens’ new Second Chances series of contemporary romances – The List – introduced readers to Elliot, Spencer, Wolf and Chess, four men in their mid-thirties who have been best friends since their college days. Footsteps of the Past is book two, and although it’s probably not essential to have read The List before it, that book sets up the group dynamic and establishes their very different personalities as well as containing a sweet, sexy romance. Of the four friends, only one of them – Chess Braxton – is in a relationship when we first meet them all; Elliot is a hopeless romantic, Spencer is a self-confessed and unrepentant manwhore, and Wolf is taciturn and very reserved (these two take delight in needling one another and strike sparks off each other like nobody’s business). Elliot got his HEA in The List; Footsteps of the Past is an angsty, relationship-in-trouble story featuring Chess – a university professor – and his long-term partner, André Webster, the CEO of an international, multi-million dollar corporation.
Their friends have long looked upon Chess and André as the perfect couple – #relationshipgoals. They’ve been together for almost nine years and are as much in love now as ever, but over the past couple of years, things have begun to become a bit strained due to the fact that André has taken on all the responsibilities involved in the running of Webster Properties since his father’s death and is spending more and more time away from home. When Footsteps opens, André has been away for six months, but while he misses Chess terribly, it’s hard for him to step back from the job, especially as his mother is depending on him so much and he knows how many employees are relying on him, too. But he’s reached the point where he knows something’s got to give and, determined that that something is not going to be his relationship with Chess, André tells his mother that as the bulk of what he’s been working on is done, he needs a break and he’s returning home to New York. To say she’s not pleased is an understatement.
Meanwhile, André’s prolonged absence has been difficult for Chess, not only because he’s missed him but also because it’s allowed all sorts of long-buried doubts and insecurities to creep back in to his psyche. And when, just before André is due to return home, Chess is tagged in a post on Instagram (which subsequently disappears) showing photos of André kissing another man… well, those insecurities are only intensified. Chess wavers between his deep down certainty that André would never cheat on him and wondering whether life with a mere university professor has become dull for a sophisticated, wealthy businessman like André… and even worse are those niggling whispers at the back of his mind telling Chess that if André were ever to know the truth of his past, he’d leave without a second thought.
As the story develops, it becomes apparent out that both men are keeping secrets from each other about things that happened long before they met, but which they’ve never really worked through, instead, trying to forget them and move on. But sadly, as these things are wont to do those things are poised to come back to bite them on the arse – a situation that is not helped by the sudden appearance of André’s meddling, smarmy ex who seems set on doing everything he can to drive a wedge between André and Chess, and the frequent demands of the business – and his domineering mother – upon André’s time.
The truth Chess has been so desperately hiding – things he hasn’t even told his closest friends – is revealed fairly early on; a difficult childhood, the early death of his mother from a drug overdose, and his father’s rejection led to Chess living on the streets by the age of sixteen and doing whatever he needed to numb his pain and survive. He’s left that life behind him for good and made a much better one for himself, but he continues to be ashamed of his choices and just wants to forget it. André’s issues are tied up with the death of his best friend – for which he blames himself – and his own shame over a misguided youthful love affair. It’s easy to say they should have fessed up sooner, especially after nine years together, but I could actually understand Chess’ thinking:
… by the time I’d worked through it all in my head… so much time had passed that I figured it would be better for forget it.
I’ve certainly been in situations where I’ve thought ‘it’s too late now to do X’ (although admittedly, not something of this nature) so their decisions in this respect made sense to me even though it was clear they were ill-advised in the long run.
Felice Stevens excels at writing heartfelt and emotional character-driven romances, and I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, but this one didn’t quite work as well for me as I’d hoped it would. I liked both Chess and André and I liked the premise of the story, plus it made a change to read about an established couple, as they aren’t often featured in central roles in romance novels. The internal conflict of the secrets Chess and André are keeping is well handled; these two recognise the importance of communication, even when it’s difficult, and are prepared to ask the hard questions, but the external drama created by the presence of the ‘evil ex’ and the demanding mother, combined with the way Chess’ secret is revealed towards the end made me feel as though I’d taken a detour into soap-opera-land. I liked that André is aware that he needs a better work-life balance, and that he’s absolutely prepared to do whatever he needs to in order to put his life with Chess first, but the turnaround by his mother and lightning-quick solution to his business worries are just a bit too pat, plus I found the constant endearments and affirmations of love from Chess and André just a bit too over the top. Of course couples of long-standing profess their love and affection for each other, but it’s somewhat overdone here.
Footsteps of the Past delivered much of what I’ve come to love about this author’s work, but the reservations I’ve expressed mean I can only offer a qualified recommendation this time. Even so, I’ll definitely be picking up book three, Beautiful Mistakes, because the chemistry between Spencer and Wolf is off-the-charts crazy, and I can’t wait to find out just what exactly is going on between them.