Desert Isle Keeper
Just a Heartbeat Away
I haven’t read too many début stories this year, but I heard good chatter on social media about Cara Bastone’s Just a Heartbeat Away, the first full length novel in her Forever Yours series. (Technically her first book is a prequel novella to the series, When We First Met, but this is her first full length story). What a good decision! It’s got everything I look for in a contemporary romance and is a strong contender for my top ten list this year.
Sebastian Dorner is in a spiral of grief after the sudden loss of his wife in a car accident when his son Matty’s pre-Kindergarten teacher, Via DeRosa calls him into the school to gently point out some neglect of Matty that she’s noticed and offer him some suggestions on how to get them both on a better path, one day at a time. He’s grateful for her suggestions, but embarrassed that he’d let things get so bad and not noticed – and resolves to follow her advice which turns out to be a lifesaver in getting him to focus and move forward.
Two years later, Sebastian and Matty have moved into a new house and Matty is going to a new school, one where – coincidentally – Via has just gotten a job for the upcoming year as an elementary school-age counselor. Sebastian has just taken a part time position on staff as well, as a lunch monitor and soccer coach, as he’s self employed as a furniture maker and plans to use the time at school as his breaks. Via is twenty-seven and has a boyfriend, Sebastian is forty-two and widowed. Both new at this school and with their prior connection, they become friends easily – plus they live within walking distance of each other. But soon they can’t deny an attraction – one that troubles Sebastian as he believes Via is too young for him. Will he let his fears get in the way of a second chance at happiness?
This book pulls no punches in giving you all the feels ranging from shared grief to happiness and contentment as Sebastian puts his early struggles behind him and focuses on the reality of raising his son and making the best of their situation. His best friend Tyler has been with him through it all and now that Sebastian is on the other side of those dark days, he’s been encouraging Sebastian to get back into the dating game and plying him with a variety of dating apps, though Sebastian’s thoughts keep straying to Via. This is a slow burn romance, building up tension as Sebastian and Via’s friendship becomes deeper. (When Via realizes her feelings for Sebastian are growing, she breaks things off so there is no cheating in this story.) Eventually they yield to that mutual attraction in some sexy scenes but it will take more than that for Sebastian to overcome his feelings over their age difference, something that doesn’t bother Via at all.
There are many different relationships at play in this story, and I love how the author balances out the romance between Sebastian and Via with the other connections in their lives. Sebastian’s in-laws of course grieve the loss of their daughter Cora, a woman who was very much like her mother Muriel. Sebastian and Muriel have an interesting relationship and their heart-to-heart conversations help Sebastian make decisions about his and Matty’s future. Via grew up in foster homes and relates to Sebastian’s grief from her personal understanding of loss. She has a best friend, her foster sister Serafine whom she confides in and relies on for advice. Sebastian’s best friend Tyler has been with Sebastian through the bad times and the good times and doesn’t shy away from telling him what he thinks. The conversations in this story are its strength, making you care about everyone involved.
I have to confess that I have a fondness for heroes who work with their hands (especially furniture makers) and for age-gap romances, so this novel already had some positive checkmarks for it before I even picked it up. Add to that really wonderful characters, people who aren’t afraid to admit how they are feeling (especially Sebastian, who could have walled himself off but instead chooses to be open and honest), sexual tension that leads to some passionate love scenes, and you have a charming romance that has a new spot on my keeper shelf. Fans of Kate Clayborn, Lucy Parker, and Jill Shalvis will enjoy this new contemporary romance author and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work!