Friends, I’m torn. If you follow my reviews, you already know Lily Morton’s Deal Maker is one of my favorite contemporary romances. It’s chock full of my favorite things: well-realized principal characters, funny and clever dialogue, vivid (amazing) settings, low-angst, hot sex, entertaining secondary characters, and a super sweet happily ever after. These things, coincidentally, are characteristics of most Lily Morton novels, although her last two haven’t balanced these qualities quite as well. The humor wasn’t as effortless, and the road to happily ever after sometimes veered slightly into the smugly sanctimonious. Oz, The first book in the Finding Home series, didn’t work for me for both of those reasons, but thankfully Milo, the second book, finds the author returning to form – and I loved almost everything about it except one of the obstacles to the HEA: Milo falls for Niall, best friend and sometimes lover of Milo’s older brother, Gideon. I can usually overlook my problems with this trope, but this time out, the transition is a bit too close – out of one bed, and into another. So while I very much enjoyed this pairing, the ‘other brother lover’ thing is decidedly not something I enjoy, and ultimately diminished my pleasure in the story. Don’t care? You’ll love this book.
In a prologue, Milo is in the kitchen of the home he shares with his partner Thomas. He’s uneasy after accidentally dropping a bottle of red wine – afraid Thomas will be angry. Thomas enters the kitchen and is initially sympathetic, but when Milo flinches, Thomas starts painfully tugging at Milo’s hair, complaining about its length. Milo struggles to move away and Thomas loses his patience. He lays into him – complaining loudly and obnoxiously about Milo’s slow stuttering speech (something he’s struggled with since childhood), his inept handling of the simplest tasks, his incompetence in bed and… a “What the fuck is going on in here?” surprises them both into silence. Niall Fawcett, Gideon’s best friend, stands in the doorway staring at the pair of them first in disbelief, and then with a face full of rage.
Shortly after the scene in the kitchen, Niall takes Milo to Cornwall to recover and heal. Five years later, Milo is living at Chi an Mor in Cornwall, with Silas (the estate owner) and Silas’ his husband Oz. Milo, an expert art conservator, spends his days working on estate projects in his colorful attic studio and helping out whenever he can. Meanwhile, Niall, close friends with Silas and Oz, stops in for meals and visits (he lives in the former dower house). Milo is mostly content and happy – his work on the estate and on behalf of private clients is fulfilling, and he feels at home with this adopted family. The only problem is his inconvenient attraction to rescuer and friend (and his brother’s lover), Niall. Milo adored him as a child, lusted after him as a teenager, and then forced himself to move on after he discovered Niall and Gideon were more than simply friends. But his attraction to the man seems to be building once again, and he can’t figure out how to stop it.
Milo’s peaceful life is interrupted when Oz’s mother breaks her hip and he ends up looking after Oz and Silas’ baby daughter Cora while they go to the hospital in order to fetch Oz’s mother home. Shortly after they leave, the boiler breaks at the main house, and Milo and Cora are forced to decamp to Niall’s. It’s clear to readers – and Milo and Niall – that they have unresolved feelings for each other – lustful, naughty feelings – and it’s a marvelous waiting game watching them try and fail to pretend they don’t. Milo knows he’s never actually stopped lusting after Niall, but also that Niall is recently back from a liaison with Gideon. Niall also sometimes reminds him of Thomas – he’s protective and commanding, possessive and intimidating. Although he knows Niall would never hurt him, he can’t help comparing them – worrying about his attraction to controlling men. Niall has always felt connected to Milo, and when Milo moves in and they begin to spend their days together, he abruptly realizes he’s been waiting for Milo to grow up – and now that he has, he wants him. All of him. Niall knows his feelings for Milo are different from anyone he’s been with before, but he’s cautious, not wanting to overwhelm or scare Milo away.
Oh reader. It’s all delicious. The brilliantly realized setting (coastal Cornwall in fall/winter), the set-up, the principal characters (likeable, lovely, human and flawed, deeply in lust), the slow simmering attraction, darling Cora, Niall’s psycho cat, they’re all wonderful. And when Milo, unable to sleep and wrecked with desire, asks Niall to help him get over his fear of sex (Thomas made him dread it), it simply feels perfectly right and natural that Niall would say yes. Their chemistry – in bed and out of it – is intense, and after this first heated encounter, they spend a lovely week falling in love (although neither admits it), until Silas and Oz return, and then not too long after, Gideon shows up (with Jacinta, his sometimes girlfriend, and his and Niall’s frequent third in bed).
Up until this point of the story, I was mostly okay with Niall and his sexual relationship with the brothers. He’s a great guy and when he falls for Milo, it’s very clear he knows Milo is it for him. Gideon was his past; Milo is his future. But when Gideon arrives, Milo flees, worried he isn’t enough for Niall, and assuming Niall will resume his relationship with his brother. Um. Yuck. This fundamental misunderstanding, compounded by Gideon’s smug insinuations that he’s right and that it’s only a matter of time, felt incredibly out of sync with the rest of the novel. What follows – a road trip/vacation from hell with Niall, Milo, Gideon, Jacinta and their loser friends, is equally bizarre. Sulky Gideon somehow winds up a hero whilst casually referencing Niall’s sexual prowess and cock size to goad Milo into… well, I won’t spoil it for you.
Fortunately, the creepy Gideon drama only merits a few short chapters, and once the pair returns to Cornwall, Milo picks up the rhythm and flow of the first half. It’s not quite happily ever – yet, but Ms. Morton’s writing strengths – setting, characters, and dialogue – once again reveal themselves, and the novel ends with a happy and satisfying happily ever after.
Milo is romantic and sexy and sweet and mostly lovely, and I enjoyed it despite the Gideon subplot. I’m happy to see this author return to form, and I’m looking forward to book three in the Finding Home series (I’m guessing it will be Gideon’s story). If you’re new to Ms. Morton, I wouldn’t pick this as a starting place (read the Mixed Messages series first); if you’re a fan (as I am!), I think you’ll forgive the plot misstep, and enjoy this one despite its flaws.