Desert Isle Keeper
His Compass – the second book in Con Riley’s His series – is a beautifully written, emotionally charged May/December love story featuring two characters we met briefly in book one, His Horizon. That was the first book I’ve read by this author, and while I liked it, it didn’t knock my socks off. His Compass, however, is a completely different matter and my socks are long gone ;)
When Tom Kershaw, skipper of the charter yacht Aphrodite, took his crewmate and friend Jude Anstey home to Cornwall, he had to fill Jude’s shoes pretty quickly so he could move on to his next charter. Unfortunately however, Jude’s replacement proved to be something of a liability; gorgeous, sociable Nick’s claims of growing up around boats and crewing from the moment he left school proved at best, to be highly exaggerated and at worst, to be outright lies. Sure, Nick was outgoing and good with people, but he was also lazy, messy and unreliable; he never finished a task he started, he couldn’t cook or do any of the jobs Tom needed him to do – and one day, he just up and left without a word.
A few months later, Tom is offered the chance to sea-trial a brand spanking new yacht – so new, she doesn’t even have a name yet – for a big fat bonus he badly needs. He’s apprehensive and worried that this new vessel may be poised to replace his beloved Aphrodite and that perhaps, once the trial is over, he will find himself out of work – but those worries fly from his mind when he steps aboard to discover that the deckhand he’s been assigned is the last one he’d ever want to sail with again. Tom is angry (and maybe a little relieved to find out that Nick is safe and well) and ready to storm off and insist on getting another deckhand – but Nick pleads to be allowed to stay, promises he’ll try harder and Tom reluctantly agrees to let him. But there are conditions. First, that Nick must always be completely honest about what he does and doesn’t know; second, that Nick stops bullshitting about his experience. Tom doesn’t want to hear any more excuses.
Most of the story is set aboard the yacht on the month-long sea trial, during which Tom comes to the realisation that there is a lot more to Nick than he ever suspected, and that far from being lazy and incompetent, he’s bright and enthusiastic and capable – and that all he’d really needed to unlock his potential was someone to encourage and believe in him. The story is told solely from Tom’s PoV, but he’s so strongly attuned to Nick that it’s almost as good as hearing from Nick himself and the author does a fantastic job of showing us Nick’s thoughts, actions and motivations through Tom’s eyes. There’s a very good reason we don’t get Nick’s side of the story until quite late in the book, but I never once felt the lack of his viewpoint.
Tom is a lovely man who feels a strong sense of responsibility for those he cares for, although his desire to do the best for them sometimes blinds him to the fact that he might be trying to do too much. He’s in his early forties (the silver fox cover model is perfect!) and is extremely good at the job he loves – but he’s tired after a long season… and tired of being alone. Nick is his opposite in many ways – younger (he’s twenty-five), bubbly and sunshiny to Tom’s grumpy – he has never, in his entire life, been expected to amount to much. Such low expectations have given him zero confidence and made him believe that what people think of him must be true, and he’s grown used to using insouciance and an appearance of carelessness to hide what he believes are his deficiencies. Tom is the first person he’s ever met to have demanded anything of him, and for Nick, having someone who believes in him is a huge deal and something that will ultimately spur him on to do things he’d never thought he’d be capable of.
Their romance is extremely well developed, the attraction and strong chemistry between them clear from the very start. Tom has always followed his cardinal rule of not sleeping with the crew – but something about Nick calls to him, something more than his pretty face and his lively nature, a sense that he’s a kindred spirit who sees the world through a similar lens. They agree to a short-lived fling for the few days before the trial starts while Nick isn’t technically ‘crew’, and both hold to that agreement… until they can’t deny the strength of their feelings for one another, or that they both want something more.
Nick and Tom are superbly drawn, multi-faceted characters; wounded souls who gradually find healing in each other, their stories a wonderful mixture of heart-breaking and uplifting. I was really impressed with the way the author gradually unfolds Nick’s backstory, and with the amount of character development he undergoes during the course of the book, the confidence and self-belief Tom instils in him giving him the determination to succeed. His transformation is amazing to watch, yet he remains very much himself at the same time. But it’s not all one-sided, as Nick helps Tom to learn that it’s okay to accept help and that he doesn’t have to shoulder his burdens alone any more. Tom’s relationship with his younger brother Justin – who lives in a permanent care facility owing to a TBI – is beautifully rendered, and I admit I may have teared up once or twice at certain points in the story (the photo – sniff!); Justin’s larger-than-life carer, Mitch is great fun, and I enjoyed checking in on Jude and Rob at their now thriving business in Porthperrin.
But Tom and Nick are the stars of the show, and as Tom starts to shed his preconceptions and to see the real Nick – charming, insightful and kind – it’s impossible not to root for them to be together. I loved their banter, their honesty and their willingness to be vulnerable to each other and to learn from one another. That sort of openness and give-and-take really makes a romance, and watching Tom and Nick growing together, learning together and finding their forever in each other was an absolute delight.
Buy it at: Amazon
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