After surviving a difficult childhood and an attack by homophobic teens that left his face scarred, Dillon Kramer has dedicated his life to helping abused kids. His friend, Daniel, runs a shelter where many of these children end up when the social services system fails them. Under Daniel's leadership, Dillon has set up a group home of sorts where he is caring for seven boys who desperately need a safe place to live and be loved. Since they are flying under the social services radar, Dillon has to scrape on a daily basis just to provide food and the basic necessities of life for his boys. They are living in what was thought to be an abandoned house, but as it turns out, it is owned by a mysterious stranger who comes to pay a visit.
Soldier has always been a loner, but never more so than since he was severely scarred by a bomb explosion during his time fighting in the military. Lately, his life has felt rather aimless, but that all changes when he comes to check on his properties and finds a handsome young man and a bunch of kids living in one of his houses. After staking the place out for a couple of days, Soldier senses that they are in need of help. Once he comes out of the shadows to meet Dillon and the boys, Soldier knows beyond a doubt what he wants to do with the rest of his life, and it's to love and protect Dillon and all the kids...if they'll only let him.
Soldier was my first foray into the male/male sub-genre of romance, and I have to say it was a pretty good book with which to begin. This was a very sweet story about two men who are terribly wounded in both body and mind but find love and acceptance in each others arms. They in turn are able to pass that love and acceptance along to the seven abused little boys who are in their care and even a poor scruffy dog and a little puppy too. The interactions between the pair and their seven charges were utterly heartwarming, especially as a couple of the more severely abused boys slowly come out of their shells and begin to blossom under their care. It's readily apparent how much they all love each other, and they truly are one big, happy family. They couldn't be a closer, more caring bunch if they were related by blood.
Dillon is a sweet, wonderful guy who really stepped up to the plate to help these poor kids who no one wanted and who have completely gotten lost in the traditional social services system. Life is tough for them. The borrowed house they live in is falling down around their ears, and Dillon has to scrape on a daily basis just to provide food and the necessities of life for everyone in his care. As hard as he has to work though, I know Dillon wouldn't change a thing. He loves the boys just as much as if they were his own flesh and blood. After he was attacked as a teenager by his homophobic peers and left with facial scars, Dillon was resigned to probably spending the rest of his life alone until luck shone on him, bringing the man of his dreams right to his doorstep to help share his burden.
Soldier, as his nickname suggests, was in the military and fought in the war (presumably Iraq). His heroic actions saved several of his comrades lives, but he was severely wounded when a bomb exploded near him. He is now recovered from his injuries, but was left with extensive scarring on his face and body. Soldier has become something of a reclusive loner, a wanderer without much direction or purpose in life, until he finds a gorgeous guy with a bunch of kids living in one of his houses. Suddenly, Soldier knows what he wants to do with the rest of his life and the wealth that his dad left him. It's like he was just looking for a worthy cause, and Dillon and his boys were certainly that. I really admire Soldier for wanting to put his money to good use. I've often thought that if I had extra money that's exactly what I would be doing, searching for a philanthropic cause. Soldier had a lot more to offer than money though. As a military man and a big, strong guy at that, he was used to protecting and hadn't been able to do that since being injured. Now with Dillon and the kids, he has several someones to look out for. On the outside Soldier may have been a big, scary-looking dude, but underneath it all, he was just Gom's (and Dillon's ;-)) big, snuggly teddy bear.
Soldier and Dillon's first meeting, coupled with Gom coming out to ask a bazillion question and then fall asleep in Soldier's lap had just the right mix of awkwardness, emotion, sexual tension and sweetness. After that, things did kind of go from 0 to 60 really quickly in more ways than one. Normally, I wouldn't go for the love at first sight angle, nor the idea of an abused kid trusting a stranger so easily, but I think that they all just sensed something special in each other, a kindred spirit who could understand and relate to all their past hurts and share their fears of what the future might hold. In spite of knowing that, I did wish that there had been a little more development in Soldier and Dillon's relationship and a bit more exploration of their backgrounds. The reader is given just enough information on both men to get a feel for where they've been and what their lives were like before meeting, but not much else. I was a little surprised that Dillon didn't share his traumatic past with Soldier at any point in the story. However, I can respect that the author seemed to want to keep the focus on the present and how these two men interact with the boys and are trying to build a family unit together.
All the boys are a great bunch of kids, but two, Gom and Tommy, are stand-out characters who get quite a bit more face-time than the others. Little Gom (short for Montgomery) is just too cute for words and a real scene-stealer. He's been through a lot having been physically and emotionally abused by his drug-addict mother, but is still such a sweet, sensitive and thoughtful little boy. He doesn't sleep much until Soldier comes along and makes him feel safe and protected. Tommy is a little older and wise beyond his years. He too has been the victim of horrible sexual abuse and child prostitution. He's a quiet, gentle kid, but with Soldier there to back him up, he's able to face down his abusers. Even though these boys are just fictional characters they really got to me (probably because I know there are kids in the world just like them), so it really warmed my heart to know that they were being loved and cared for by two great dads like Soldier and Dillon.
Even though I loved the story, I did think that the writing itself could have been stronger. As is, it was a little too passive (too many "be" verbs), rather simplistic, and in need of more details. However, in spite of the mechanics of the writing being somewhat weak, I can't deny that Ms. Miles managed to create a story filled with heart and soul that really tugged at my heartstrings which is why I decided to give it keeper status. I haven't read a romance that embodied this much tenderness and emotion in a while. Soldier is the first book in the Scarcity Sanctuary series. Tommy and Gom grow up to get their own books next in the series, Tommy's Story and For Gom's Sake, and after falling in love with these little guys in this book, I can't wait to see what kind of young men they grow up to become. Soldier was definitely a pleasant introduction to male/male romance, and I'm really looking forward to not only continuing with this series, but seeing what else this genre has to offer.
Note: This book contains scenes of explicit sensuality between two men which may offend some readers.
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