If You Love Something
I’ve been meaning to read one of Jayce Ellis’ m/m romances for a while, so I was happy to pick up her latest – If You Love Something – for review. It’s an easy, sexy/sweet, low-angst read – nothing spectacular or outstanding, but the engaging writing and likeable characters kept me reading and were enough for me to be able to offer a recommendation.
Michelin-starred chef DeShawn Franklin is living his dream as Executive Chef at a trendy Washington DC restaurant. He’s something of a local celebrity and is at the top of his profession, although the fact that as EC, he doesn’t get to cook all that often isn’t something he’d banked on, and nor are the continual requests (read: orders) from management for him to film TV segments and make public appearances. It is what it is though, and he goes along with it with (mostly) good grace. But a call from his beloved grandmother telling him she isn’t going to seek treatment for her cancer suddenly turns his world upside down. He drops everything and rushes to her side – where she informs him that she’s leaving him her house – the home DeShawn grew up in – in her will, and all her liquid assets will go to Malik, DeShawn’s ex-husband. DeShawn knows his grandmother was very fond of Malik and has stayed in touch with him, but those bequests mean she’s leaving nothing to her son, DeShawn’s uncle Robert – which Robert isn’t going to be pleased about.
As if all this news isn’t enough of a bombshell, there’s one more important thing DeShawn needs to know in order to be prepared for the trouble Robert will inevitably stir up. Although he and Malik filed for divorce seven years before, there was a problem with the paperwork and the divorce never actually went through. He and Malik are still married.
After the (not)divorce, Malik Franklin returned home to help run his struggling family restaurant alongside his brother James and sister Sheila. He’s never told his family about his marriage to DeShawn, mostly because it was over before he came out to them as gay, and coming out was difficult enough, without having to explain his marriage – and why he wasn’t married any longer. He’s never really got over DeShawn and tells himself that letting him go all those years ago was the right thing to do. Back then, DeShawn was a talented sous chef with big ambitions and bigger dreams, and when things started to take off for him, Malik realised he could never be the husband DeShawn needed, especially as he wasn’t ready to come out.
“I couldn’t let him give up his future to deal with my present. He deserved so much more. And the only way I could give it to him was to let him go”.
DeShawn and Malik haven’t seen each other since they split, but now, if they’re going to honour the terms of Grandma’s will, they’re going to have to work together to fight Robert’s legal challenge. He’s claiming that Grandma is of unsound mind and that Malik has exerted undue influence on her to get her to get her to put him in the will. The two men are going to have to resume their marriage and behave like a couple in order to present a united front and strengthen their defence against Robert’s claims.
It’s clear from the start that DeShawn and Malik never really fell out of love with each other. DeShawn wants to make the best of the chance they’ve been given to spend time together and hopes to win Malik back, while Malik is determined to hold himself apart, believing he and DeShawn still want different things from life and that if he lets him in, he’s in for another world of hurt when DeShawn leaves to go back to his big city life. But their intense attraction to one another has never gone away, and slowly but surely, they reconnect as they begin to get to know the people they are now, and rediscover just how good a fit they are.
There are many things about this story that work really well, not least of which is the strong chemistry between the leads, and the fact that they act and think like adults and – after a bit of a rocky start – approach their problems in a mature and considered manner. I appreciated the way the author shows so clearly how they’ve grown into themselves during the time they’ve been apart, leaving the reader with the impression that they were always meant to be together, but met each other before they were ready to be what they needed to be for one another. The family dynamics are well done; the love between the two men and Grandma is just lovely and the relationships between Malik and his siblings is well-portrayed.
With that said, however, I had some issues. Firstly, a personal bugbear; I really dislike that whole I’m-not-worthy-so-I’m-letting-you-go storyline, and it rarely – if ever – works for me as the reason for a failed relationship because it’s so one-sided, and is tantamount to one partner telling the other that they don’t know their own mind. I’m also taking at face value the reasons given for the fact that the divorce didn’t go through; I’m not a legal expert and these things are different on my side of the Pond… but I can’t deny I gave it the side-eye. The pacing flags a bit here and there, and then there’s the role in the story played by the media – the tabloids, paparazzi and TV news – and the way they’re so completely preoccupied with DeShawn and Malik and their marriage. DeShawn is a celebrity chef, not an A list actor or rock star, and the level of scrutiny afforded the couple is over the top and unbelievable.
But despite those reservations, I enjoyed If You Love Something and would recommend it to anyone looking for a warm and heartfelt second-chance romance.