Desert Isle Keeper
I tend to either wildly love Roan Parrish’s books or dislike them intensely, and Rend, my friends, falls squarely in the ‘wildly love’ category. Although much of its subject matter is somber and heavy, the author deftly balances the darkness with a passionate romance that’s heartbreakingly tender, romantic and moving. Rend takes the second chance at love trope and twists it, putting its characters (and readers) through the proverbial wringer on the road to happily ever after. Our principal pair is a study in contrasts, and I was totally invested in each of these characters, their issues, and their love for each other from beginning to end. Rend, Ms. Parrish’s ode to a gothic love story, is alternately painful and lovely, and ends with a hard earned, satisfying and hopeful happily ever after.
Unlike Riven (which you don’t have to read in order to enjoy this story) which is told in dual PoVs, Rend takes place entirely in the PoV of Matt Argento, a minor secondary character in the previous novel. After a childhood of abandonment and deprivation, Matt falls desperately and totally in love with Rhys Nyland – a handsome, wholesome and happy stranger – who picks him up in a bar. In the prelude, which we later discover is a flashback, the pair meet, and instead of the hook-up Matt expected, they wind up sharing a late night meal, talking and getting to know one another, and forging a surprisingly intense connection.
Matt, who originally hoped for distractingly good sex and maybe a good night’s sleep on a comfy mattress (he shares a crowded apartment and sleeps on the couch), is charmed and irresistibly drawn to Rhys. Rhys is sweet and funny, charming and kind, and obviously delighted with life and Matt, and doesn’t seem in any hurry to get him into bed. It’s new and different from what Matt’s accustomed to, but he can’t resist the big man. When Rhys says goodnight after only a heated kiss and request for his phone number, Matt’s confused – he thought they had great chemistry, but Rhys doesn’t push for anything more. Instead, he arranges for them to meet up several times over the next few days, further endearing himself to Matt, but frustrating him. Smitten, wracked by the lust he feels whenever Rhys is near, and bewildered by Rhys’s interest, Matt finally just asks Rhys what they’re doing:
…I texted him, Do you have sex?
He wrote back immediately: Yes.
I responded: Great. Wanna have it with me?
Rhys: More than anything.
And I was left speechless yet again, completely undone by his endearing brand of deep impact honesty.
OK I’m coming over, I wrote finally, suddenly convinced the whole thing would fall apart if I waited.
Yay! Rhys responded, and I found myself grinning despite myself.
The ensuing liaison and Rhys’s confession about what he wants from Matt and why, thrill and scare Matt in equal measure. He sneaks away while he thinks Rhys is asleep, but moments later, a love note (in the form of a text) shocks him into returning. When the prelude ends, Matt is hopeful for the first time in years, but doubtful it can last. After all, everyone he’s ever loved has abandoned him… eventually.
From this completely absorbing prelude, the story jumps forward two years, and we find Matt and Rhys happily married and living in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The relationship is idyllic – they’re besotted, can’t keep their hands off each other, and are committed to being together forever. Matt represses any worries he has and he thinks he’s fine until Rhys leaves to go on tour in support of his new solo album, when doubts and fears from Matt’s past overwhelm him.
Rend unfolds as Matt unravels. Interspersed with vignettes of Rhys and Matt’s whirlwind romance and impetuous marriage, we watch Matt slowly fall apart while Rhys goes on the road and lives out his musical dreams. Matt tries and mostly succeeds in hiding his struggles from Rhys, but as the days go by he finds it harder and harder to cope on his own in Sleepy Hollow. Plagued by darkly pessimistic thoughts telling him he isn’t good for Rhys and that he can find someone else, he can’t sleep and doesn’t eat, and he finds himself returning – over and over again – to the last ‘home’ he knew, before he was passed from foster home to foster home. He’s haunted by the ghosts of his past and the fear that Rhys will reject him once he knows his darkest secrets. Rhys suspects something is off about Matt, but when he finally returns home to his husband, it’s nearly too late.
Although Rend largely focuses on Matt’s physical and emotional breakdown, the author (wisely) frames them within the context of his marriage and relationship with the love of his life, Rhys. Rhys is Matt’s heart; his enormous capacity to love and be loved holds the disparate parts of the novel together. He’s joyful and loveable and kind and honourable as well as fiercely protective and possessive of Matt. I loved every scene with Rhys; his deep and abiding faith in Matt and their marriage, and his unwillingness to give in to Matt’s doubts and fears, his big heart… it’s just… wow. Ms. Parrish’s characterization of these two men is supremely well realized; I understood them, their struggles, their hopes and dreams, and I was completely engrossed in their love story. Rhys helps Matt confront his demons and rewards his trust with a possessive and all-consuming love – the kind Matt craves and needs. Rend doesn’t flinch from the pain and damage of Matt’s childhood or its long term effects on every facet of his life; this is a starkly beautiful portrayal of a marriage in trouble and the lengths two men will go to in order to find happiness together, forever.
When I finished the terrific first book in the Riven series, which featured a famous musician eager to escape the limelight (Theo Decker) and a musician/recovering addict (Caleb Whitman) hiding himself away, I was curious where Ms. Parrish might go in book two. Riven seemed a bit of a closed loop – the principal pair found their happily ever after, and the only significant secondary character, their extremely likeable/loveable friend Rhys Nyland, was happily married. Rend was an unexpected and marvelous surprise. I enjoyed revisiting Riven’s characters, and Theo and Caleb both have terrific cameos in Rend, but this novel more than stands on its own. Rhys, a classic beta hero, is a wonderful contrast to Matt. Their poignant and heartbreaking journey to happily ever after feels real and authentic, and fans will root hard for them. This is one second-chance love story that will twist you up, wring you out, and then leave you wanting more.
Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo