There hasn’t been a book of Mia Sheridan’s that I have not loved with all my heart, her breathtaking stories brimming with so much emotion and intensity, that I never quite know how to move on from all they’ve made me feel. I often end up re-reading chapters, time and time again, desperate to stay in that story for as long as I can, but never before have I been affected in such a way that four subsequent reads couldn’t distract me from the one I so badly wished to return to. Exquisitely written and utterly unique, this is the touching tale of two broken people—a young man who refuses to forget what love felt like, and a young woman who forces herself not to remember—and their journey of healing. Their story stole my heart, even ripped it out of my chest a time or two, yet I knew from the very first page that this would become one the most devastatingly romantic books I’d ever read. And it quickly became my new favourite from this author.
“You can help me practice being touched by a woman. Getting comfortable with someone in my personal space.”
The horrors that Gabriel Dalton had been forced to endure as a child left him feeling damaged and ruined, and while he’s spent the last twelve years of his life proving to himself that his past doesn’t have to define his future, he’s never managed to overcome his fear of being touched. Determined to be free of that last shackle from his past, Gabriel walks into a local strip club in a desperate attempt to find a way to become more comfortable with physical contact, only to recognise his own broken pieces in the lonely eyes of the stripper dancing onstage. He wastes no time making her an offer any other woman in her position wouldn’t hesitate to accept, but it soon becomes clear to them both that nothing about their arrangement would be easy on either of them.
“I want to stay present. That’s what I need you to help me with. Staying.”
A lifetime of hurt and disappointment has taught Eloise ‘Ellie’ Cates to hide her heart behind a steely façade of detachment and indifference, never showing her true self to anyone and always expecting the worst in people. From the moment she lays eyes on Gabriel, however, his very presence makes her feel exposed and confused, and all the more determined to push him away at all costs. But when an unexpected turn of events forces them to spend a great deal of time together, they slowly discover that maybe their painful pasts are the very reason life led them to one another.
His unrelenting presence made me hope for things I’d given up on long ago, and the reminder of my own forgotten dreams had hurt in a way nothing had hurt in a very long time.
While their physical closeness takes time to develop, their emotional attachment grows very quickly, yet only one of them lets himself love the other freely and openly. Ellie remains wary and guarded with her heart even when all it really desires is to love and be loved in return. Life has taught her that love never lasts and that happiness is fleeting, but she never expected to meet someone like Gabriel—a man who bears a past even more painful than hers, but refuses to lose hope in love.
“I love you, Eloise. That won’t change. Why does that scare you so much?”
“Because…because I’m afraid you’ll take it away.”
“Do I strike you as a man who loves carelessly or recklessly?”
A tender romance begins to bloom between them, slowly healing those last parts of Gabriel’s soul that still felt broken, but for Ellie love has only ever been a source of loss and disillusionment, and no matter how desperately her heart yearns for Gabriel, her fear of losing him drives her into believing the worst about herself.
He needed someone warm and caring, someone who would nurture him and piece together the broken parts, someone who would look in his eyes and be his calming spirit. I was not that girl. I couldn’t even begin to piece together all my broken parts as I’d lost most of them long ago.
A truly beautiful tale of love and healing, and superbly told in Mia Sheridan’s trademark prose that never fails to reach deep enough to touch our hearts, this extraordinary story shows that no amount of love can teach a person how to love themselves, and that we are the only builders of our own self-esteems in the end. I felt utterly ruined by this book, in the best possible way, and have not stopped gushing about it ever since.
“I don’t mind chasing you, Ellie. Just let me catch you once in a while.”