Revisiting an ‘old friend’ is always an exercise of apprehensive excitement for me, Fading being one of those perfect books in my eyes that very few stories have managed to match in intensity or overall impact on me as a reader. But while Ryan played a crucial role in that storyline, only ever hearing Candace’s voice made it a very unilateral account of a young woman’s battle to overcome a trauma. As much as I loved Candace as a heroine and felt every painful bit of her brave struggle to reclaim her life and herself in the process, hearing Ryan’s voice has been like a dream come true. This book follows the same timeline as Fading, even takes it a few steps ahead, but it is in no way a re-telling of those events. This is very much Ryan’s story, beginning to end, and while having read Candace’s story is a definite advantage as that knowledge fills the gaps that this book does not linger on, this is a unique account of a man falling in love for the first time in his life.
“All I know how to do is care for myself. I’m selfish just like he was. I’m not a provider the way a man should be; I’m a taker. I stay disconnected – and take.”
Ryan has lived an emotionally detached existence for most of his adult life, never really paying too much attention to the string of nameless faces that he bedded and never saw again. His history of abuse at the hand of his father have made him apprehensive of getting too close to a woman, always fearing that his father’s legacy of violence would run through his veins as well, given the right circumstances. His conquests stay short-lived, superficial and always free from expectations. Until one face is all he can think about – the shattered body of a young woman, beaten, raped and abandoned naked in the alleyway behind his bar. Her helplessness and the violence of what was done to her torment him day and night, those images etched in his mind, unable to escape them, and taking him back to his childhood through flashbacks of watching his mother being viciously beaten by his father.
“I’m him. He’s part of me. He runs through my blood. I hate him. I don’t want to be him, but I am.”
When Ryan first meets Candace, he immediately suspects she might be the same woman whose life he most probably saved that fated night, but the more he gets to know her and develops feelings for her, the more his mind refuses to believe it is her. Everything about her indicates that she has survived a life changing ordeal, but not having known her as the vibrant and cheerful young woman she once was, he explains her behavior to himself as shy and reserved. As you would carefully approach a wounded animal, he patiently waits for her to lower her defenses and let him into her life, following her lead as to how close he gets to her.
“She’s broken. I see it clearly, but whatever it is that’s haunting her, I wanna make it fade. I wanna make it fade and make her fall too – with me.”
As Candace slowly starts trusting Ryan and their mutual feelings for one another take centre stage, we watch them fall in love, one step at a time, cautiously but irreversibly. While in Candace’s book we watched a broken young woman learning to trust a man again and re-discovering and re-accepting her sexuality again, this time around, we stand witness to a man learning to love for the first time, discovering the selflessness and overwhelming helplessness that comes with those feelings, and finding a new purpose in life in the guarded but compassionate eyes of the woman before him.
“You’re everything I never thought I wanted, but when I met you, you were everything I needed.”
We might think we know this story, but the more we read it, the more we realise we never knew Ryan at all. I found myself enjoying being in his head a lot more than in Candace’s, his journey being one of inner change and discovering his own capacity to love, rather than one of recovery. He is a character I loved from the get-go, and while this book was a lot more narrative-driven rather than focused on the inner turmoil of a broken young woman, even his actions spoke volumes about the kind of man he is and how far he is willing to go for the woman he loves.
“I love this girl beyond anything. Love her from a place in my heart I never knew I had.”
A splendid conclusion to a stellar series, one that makes me want to stand up and applaud Ms Blair’s ability to tackle difficult themes with unquestionable skill and sensitivity. I give this book and the series as a whole my Six Stars of Excellence for consistently giving us stories that engage both our minds as well as our hearts, and for bravely paving her own way as an author who follows no one’s lead.
“When I met you, I found me.”