Lost in You was in my TBR because it is one of my favorite romance tropes: big brother’s friend (or friend’s little sister, from the hero’s POV). I don’t have a big brother, but I like the way family, friend and romance relationship demands and loyalties play against each other in books with this device. As it turned out, that dimension wasn’t the only, or even the most important, way that dynamic operated in this novel.
Joe Harris is back in Petal, Georgia, to help out with his father, who has been having episodes that frighten Joe’s mother and suggest some sort of psychological problem (confusion, wandering, unexplained outbursts). Joe’s reputation in town is as a bad boy, but he’s served in Iraq since those days. Mostly this serves as a reason for his friends to be wary of him dating their sister, and as the reason guilt plays a role in his determination to put his father’s welfare ahead of anything else in his life. The people in town don’t seem to have any problem accepting that his years in the army and away from Petal have matured him, so the reformed bad boy isn’t really the basis of this plot.
Beth Murphy finds Joe attractive, and she doesn’t take her brothers’ objections seriously. But Joe does, at first, which means that Beth ends up pursuing Joe until she can change his mind. I liked that aspect of the book a lot — Beth wants to date Joe, and his reluctance is because of her brothers, so she goes after him. It’s sweet, believable, and normal — no crazy romantic comedy stunts, just a woman showing a man that she’s interested and not waiting around for him to make the moves.
The real conflict here isn’t about Beth’s family at all, although there’s a lot of the book devoted to her family history as backstory. The problem is Joe’s; he is both protective of his father and ashamed of his family’s problem, so he doesn’t tell Beth what’s going on. He views his relationship with Beth as something that takes him away from his parents and their problems, and he sees his family trouble as something that would unfairly burden Beth if she knew about it. Beth feels shut out when he won’t share what’s bothering him, and she is hurt when she finds out and he still won’t accept help and support from her. Ultimately the book is about learning that love means sharing burdens as well as joys, and that a romantic partner can be a help with family rather than either competition or mere distraction.
While this book was enjoyable to read on its own, it was pretty obvious that it was part of a series — not just the second book, as I thought, but actually the sixth. I didn’t realize that Dane’s four Chase Brothers books were also set in Petal, and Lost in You is heavily populated with characters, particularly couples, from earlier books. I didn’t feel lost, as there was plenty of explanation, but I suspect that a reader who had read the earlier books would appreciate that aspect more than I was able to do.
I enjoyed this book enough that I purchased and read the book just before it, since the next book hasn’t been released yet.
Once and Again has some of the same themes — in this book, it’s the heroine who has come back to town to deal with family issues. Lily’s concern is her teenage brother, Chris, who is failing at school and getting into trouble since their parents’ divorce. Their father isn’t around much, being caught up in a new relationship with a younger woman, and their mother is abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, unable to cope with losing her husband.
I loved Lily’s take charge attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to turn her brother’s life around. She knows that Chris needs boundaries, but also that he needs a sense of security and the knowledge that someone loves him too much to allow him to fail. I thought their relationship was depicted really well.
Nathan is Chris’s English teacher; he is also Lily’s ex-boyfriend. Those two factors make him off-limits as far as she’s concerned, but as one of Chris’s teachers, she can’t just ignore him while she’s working to create an academic plan that will keep Chris from failing. Nathan pretty quickly realizes that he wants Lily back, but he has to prove to her that he’s trustworthy and really interested in a commitment. Lily is busy with her family issues, not to mention trying to find enough freelance work to replace the job she quit to move back to her hometown, so it’s as a helper rather than a lover than Nathan manages to show her that he has changed.
These books are realistic about mental illness and addiction — someone has to accept help and admit they have a problem, and even then, it’s not a straight or easy road to recovery. Family support makes a big difference, and the role reversal that happens when we have to guide our parents’ decisions is unsettling for everyone.
I also enjoyed that these characters are middle-class folks, some with lower-class backgrounds. They deal with practical issues that are recognizable from the lives of people I know personally. Petal isn’t as idealized as some romance small towns, although sometimes the wonderful Chase family got to be a bit much for me. Again, YMMV, especially if you’ve read the earlier series.
I’ll definitely be reading the next book in this series, which comes out in June. I’m not so sure about going back to the Chase brothers books, although I might for Beth’s sister (Chase wife number four), because the bits of her story that appear in these books are intriguing.