Second Best Men
Grade : B+

I chalked up my first Christmassy read of 2023 with this novella-length seasonal(ish) romance from Fearne Hill. Second Best Men is loosely connected to her Rossingley series because its leads are two of the secondary characters we met in those books, but it would work perfectly well as a standalone as there’s enough information given to fill in any gaps in a new reader’s curiosity.

Thirty-six-year-old dairy farmer Rob Langford lives a busy but lonely life, tending his 300+ herd of ‘girls’, and having more meaningful chats with his prize bull than he has with people. We met him in Toby’s book, To Mend a Broken Wing, where, to be honest, he was a bit of a dickhead, happy to screw around with Toby but giving him the cold shoulder in public to avoid any suspicion that Rob might be gay, too. He’s been so deep in the closet for so long, he’s pretty much forgotten why he was in there in the first place; his old fear of people seeing him differently doesn’t seem so much of an issue any more, but the habit of hiding is so ingrained that he just can’t convince himself to take that final step and come out. He’s also reached the stage where he thinks love has passed him by anyway; what man would want to spend his life on a remote farm with someone whose day begins at 4am and who spends most of his time smelling of cow shit, old dog farts and tractor oil?

It starts snowing as Rob is on his way home after spending Christmas Day with his sister and her family. As he rounds a tricky bend, he sees a car – a pretty posh one, too – has skidded off the road and into a ditch. The car looks like a right-off, but he can see someone inside; Rob gets out of his truck to see what he can do to help. The driver seems to be okay, although Rob isn’t happy that he’s trying to get out of the car – he really should get checked out for head and neck injuries first. The man insists, however, telling Rob that he’s a doctor – a surgeon, actually – and that he’s got a dislocated shoulder and busted ribs, but his neck is fine… and in any case, an ambulance likely won’t reach them for hours, especially as the weather is worsening. Rob can’t disagree with this, and ends up taking the injured man – who introduces himself as Evan – back to the farmhouse.

Evan ends up staying with Rob for a couple of days until the weather eases up and he can sort out his car situation, and the two of them start to get to know each other. (Rob also has to fix Evan’s dislocated shoulder – not a scene for the squeamish, which includes Rob, who promptly passes out afterwards!) Rob shows Evan round the farm, and they end up chatting far later into the night than Rob really should – but he’s having the best time he’s had in ages.

“Twentysomething me would never have guessed that if thirty-six-year-old me could choose, it would be to find someone with whom to spend an evening exactly like this.”

As they talk, they discover they have friends (sort of) in common; Rob’s farm borders the Earl of Rossingley’s estate, so he has a passing acquaintance with Lucien, the eccentric sixteenth earl and his husband Jay, and Evan was Jay’s best friend in medical school. Evan admits to Rob that he wasn’t a good friend to Jay when Jay pulled out of his wedding a week before it was due to take place and then became involved with Lucien (To Hold a Hidden Pearl), and Rob silently muses on his crappy behaviour towards Toby. Evan tells Rob about his divorce, about how his twelve-year marriage, already on the rocks thanks to his putting the demands of his job first and his not wanting to have children, broke down completely when he told his wife he was gay – words he’s never said aloud until now. Yet even though Rob finds Evan incredibly attractive and would love to find out if his interest might be returned, he still can’t bring himself to speak his own truth. And it looks as though he’s destined to regret that forever when, on the third morning, he goes downstairs to find a note from Evan telling him that the breakdown service sent a truck out early that morning and the driver didn’t have time to wait around.

A few months pass, then circumstances contrive to throw Rob and Evan together again when Rob needs some medical treatment and he walks into the office of the “lovely” Mr. Christopher E. Richardson to find himself face-to-face with Evan. After this somewhat unusual and unexpected reunion (and yes, the doctor/patient thing is addressed and resolved), things start moving fairly quickly as Rob and Evan begin to explore their mutual attraction. The sex is great and feels both new and like an extension of the relationship they’d already started to build, and although things do progress quite quickly, I didn’t mind because the romance has been so well set up and the early part of the story when Evan and Rob are snowed in together and getting to know each other is so charming and heartfelt and comfortable. Also, these are two grown men in their late thirties/early forties who have made lives and careers for themselves, not teens or twentysomethings in the flush of first love who are still working out who and what they want to be. I really liked the emphasis on Rob and Evan as two whole, independent individuals coming together to create something new as a couple – Rob doesn’t hold with the term “other half”, with its implication that one person is somehow incomplete until they find a partner – and learning how to be together without sacrificing who they are or what they’ve achieved.

Fearne Hill has obviously done her homework when it comes to the farming side of things, and she imparts that information naturally as part of the story, but be prepared for frequent mentions of farm-y things like cow shit, vomit and various farmyard smells!

Tender, poignant and often hilarious, Second Best Men is a wonderful story of redemption and finding love where you least expect it. Rob and Evan are very real and relatable, and Rob’s wry narrative voice is distinctive and incredibly engaging. Novellas can be difficult to pull off, but this one works superbly and is a lovely – and highly recommended – addition to the Rossingley universe.

Reviewed by Caz Owens

Grade: B+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : November 17, 2023

Publication Date: 11/2023

Recent Comments …

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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