Theo Wishart has given up on finding love.
Luca Moretti doesn’t want to find it.
A handful of summer days may change their lives forever—if they’re brave enough to look between the lines.
Eyes might be windows to the soul, but for Theo Wishart they’re all shuttered. His dyspraxia makes it hard to read people. He doesn’t do relationships and he certainly doesn’t do the great outdoors. Two weeks spent “embracing beach life” while he tries to close the deal on a once great, now fading seaside hotel is a special kind of hell.
Until Luca. Gorgeous, unreachable Luca.
Luca Moretti travels light, avoiding all romantic entanglements. Estranged from his parents, he vows this will be his last trip home to New Milton. His family’s hotel is on the verge of ruin and there’s nothing Luca can do to save it. He’s given up on the Majestic, he’s given up on his family and he’s given up on his future.
Until Theo. Prickly, captivating Theo.
No mushy feelings, no expectations, and no drama—that’s the deal. A simple summer fling. And it suits them both just fine. But as the summer wanes and their feelings deepen, it’s clear to everyone around them that Theo and Luca are falling in love. What will it take for them to admit it to themselves—and to each other?
Between the Lines is another emotionally satisfying and beautifully crafted romance from the pen of Sally Malcolm, and is a wonderful follow-up to both Perfect Day and Love Around the Corner, both of which are also set in the fictional Long Island resort of New Milton. This novel is set a few months after the events of Perfect Day (and I loved the glimpses we were afforded of Josh and Finn at their wedding), and is an enemies-to-lovers romance between two men from vastly different backgrounds who meet when one of them arrives in town to negotiate the purchase of The Majestic, a family-run hotel that has seen better days.
Theo Wishart has travelled to New Milton in order to seal the deal over the purchase, and set in motions his father’s plan to develop the hotel and its land into a luxury resort. He is anxious to prove himself by closing the deal, especially in the light of a particularly embarrassing incident which led to his being accused of sexual harassment by a colleague, and his father’s obvious belief that Theo doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the cut-throat world in which he operates. Theo’s dyspraxia means that he doesn’t read people well; he gets distracted easily and has had to devise a number of coping mechanisms (such as timing himself in the shower and reminding himself to make eye contact with people) to help him to fit into a world which often views his lack of co-ordination and discomfort in social situations as things that make him someone to deride or pity rather than just someone who is different.
Luca Moretti was born in New Milton but left home five years earlier, after his mother remarried and his step-father Don made it clear that he couldn’t accept Luca’s sexuality. Luca loves his mother and he loves his home, but he only returns for the summers now, to help out at the hotel and to take on some part-time work as a lifeguard and surf instructor. He’s furious about his mother’s plans to sell the Majestic, and believes that Don is pushing her to sell, his anger blinding him to the fact that Jude Moretti is not quite herself, and that, after a life of hard work, she deserves to have an easier time of it.
When Theo arrives for his meeting with Jude and Don, he’s dismayed to discover that the rude guy who collided with him outside the coffee shop earlier is her son – and with the hostility coming off him in waves, it’s clear he’s vehemently opposed to his mother’s plan to sell the hotel. Josh can also tell that he stands every chance of getting his mother to change her mind. Jude expresses her concern about Lux Properties’ plans to redevelop the site, suggesting that perhaps she and Luca (mostly Luca) would be more amenable to the sale if the redevelopment was something more in line with the community, and floats the idea that Theo should spend a couple of weeks in New Milton, getting a feel for the place. Perhaps then, he might come to see what’s so special about The Majestic and its place in the community – and will be able to persuade his father to rethink his development plans. Theo and Luca agree reluctantly to the idea, neither of them enthused at the prospect of spending two weeks in each other’s company, but each hoping to use the time to persuade the other to their point of view.
Sally Malcom does a great job of creating a strong connection between these two very different men; she has a real gift for imbuing her characters with a true depth of personality and for creating strong emotional connections between them. The frisson of attraction that sparks between Luca and Theo is almost instantaneous, although they both do their best to ignore it, dismissing the idea of acting on it as a terrible one given their situation. But eventually, they can’t deny it any more and they agree to have a summer fling for the two weeks Theo is there and then go their separate ways with no regrets (hah – good luck with that!). As they start spending time together, Luca comes to understand and appreciate Theo for the kind, loving person he is and Theo learns more about what makes Luca tick, how hurt he was by his mother’s remarriage and her silence when his step-father refused to accept him. As the two men fall for each other, Theo realises just why Luca is so attached to The Majestic, and starts to wonder if there might be an alternative to the plans his father has proposed, one that would preserve the spirit of the hotel while also allowing Jude and Don the freedom to enjoy their retirement. We’re treated to some lovely snapshots of Luca and Theo’s time together as their relationship develops, delighted as they take two steps forward and then frustrated as they take one step back, past insecurities and hurts seeming as though they’re destined to keep them apart. Even so, their relationship grows organically and doesn’t feel rushed or lacking in plausibility. The romance is full of humour, warmth and affection as well as some beautifully conceived sexual tension which culminates in some nicely steamy moments. But the elephant in the room is just waiting in the corner, keeping the reader on tenterhooks waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it does, the impact is visceral – Theo sees it coming yet can do nothing to stop it – and I certainly had a lump in my throat while reading.
Luca and Theo are wonderfully rounded characters who have more in common than they’d at first thought. Both have difficult familial relationships; Luca clearly resents Don’s place in his mother’s life while Theo is well aware that his father views him as a disappointment. They’re prickly and wary of letting anyone get close, and yet they find a way past each other’s defences to an extent neither had expected was likely or possible. The secondary characters are strongly drawn, too, and I found Jude and Don especially to be true-to-life in the sense that their dilemmas felt real and messy, and their flaws made them seem like real people. When we learn of Don’s prejudice it’s easy to then believe he’s pushing Jude to sell the hotel and to paint him as the villain of the piece – but the author shows us things aren’t that black and white. He’s misguided about Luca, for sure, but he loves his wife dearly, and, as we learn later, is motivated primarily by concern for her. Jude, too, is similarly multi-faceted; she has valid reasons for wanting to sell up but is torn up about it, wanting to preserve something for Luca but also needing to do the right thing for herself.
All these facets of the characters and their stories are seamlessly woven together, but the focus is firmly on Luca and Theo and their love story, which is beautifully written and gorgeously romantic; they make a terrific couple and I adored getting to know them, both individually and together. Between the Lines is highly recommended – it’s a superb read, and I was captivated from start to finish. Sally Malcolm is an incredibly talented writer, and I can’t wait to read whatever she comes up with next.