Hi there! Going back into my WAY BACK mode, I missed this M/M romance from Lane Hayes, which came out several months back…but it recently dropped as an audiobook! LEANING INTO FOREVER is the seventh book in her Leaning In series, and follows the love story of Geordie, a grieving widower and partner to Wes at Conrad Winery. He’s vowed to never find another man to fill his heart, but retired baseball player, Levi, unexpectedly slides past his defenses. I really liked LEANING INTO THE FALL, LEANING INTO ALWAYS, LEANING INTO A WISH, LEANING INTO THE LOOK, and LEANING INTO TOUCH, so I was eager to round out my experiences with these Bay-area romances.
About the book:
Geordie de la Rosa is a legend among wine lovers in Napa Valley. His ultra-fabulous style paired with a penchant for leading impromptu sing-a-longs has made him a star attraction at Conrad Winery. Co-owning a well-respected winery was never Geordie’s aspiration but he likes the niche he’s made for himself. He won’t deny that his job and his friends have helped ease his heartache and grief after the death of his longtime partner.
Levi Yeager excels at the art of reinventing himself. He’s been a minor league baseball player, a college coach and now a restaurant owner. The problem is he doesn’t know a thing about the food business. And when his chef quits unexpectedly, he’s afraid his new venture is doomed. But Levi isn’t a quitter. It may be the only thing he has in common with the beautiful, sassy man from the neighboring winery who agrees to help get his new business up and running. Neither man counts on their fast friendship or the wild attraction they feel for each other. However, they know they won’t stand a chance until they let go of the past and lean into forever.
How about a little taste?
“My game is coming back. If I keep talking and you keep listening, you’ll eventually warm up to me. Where was I?”
“The psychology of alliterations,” I deadpanned.
“Right. Your tone is imperial, you use alliterations like a poet and you dress like a diva. You’re pleasant to strangers but you hold them at bay. You’re kind but controlled. Most likely you were an elite member of a royal family in a former life.”
“You’re probably right,” I said, amused in spite of myself. “Since you have me figured me, let me see if I can do the same.”
“Be my guest.” Levi made a sweeping motion with his left arm before resting it on his steering wheel. The casual gesture was ripe with potent masculinity. And I hated that I noticed.
I tore my gaze from his stubble jaw and cleared my throat. “You’re a newly out sports enthusiast at a crossroad.”
“Sports enthusiast at a crossroads,” he repeated with a laugh. “I guess that’s better than has-been athlete looking for a new gig.”
“As you said, I do have a way with words and I’m a firm believer it’s crucial to accentuate the positives.” I set my hand over his without thinking then pulled back when a familiar spark of awareness skittered along my spine.
Levi smirked. “You’re weird. I like you.”
“Thanks. I like you too. Platonically of course,” I added.
“Of course. What exactly is my crossroad?”
“I’m not sure. Perhaps you quit your job to try a new venture with this lover who dumped you and now you’re heading to LA to woo him back—”
“Not a chance,” he snapped.
I raised a brow at his vehemence. “Or…you’re going on a fact-finding mission to salvage what you can of your original idea and determine what comes next.”
Levi nodded. “Closer.”
“Have you thought about selling the diner?”
“Yes. But I’m not going to.”
“I have nothing to lose. And you know what? It’s kinda liberating. No net required ’cause I’m already free falling. Have you ever felt that way before, Geord?”
Every fucking day.
Silence fell like a blanket between us. Soft and warm and safe. I didn’t want to break the quiet but I couldn’t allow myself to be pulled under either.
I licked my lips and whispered, “Yes.”
Suddenly, I couldn’t move and I couldn’t look away. Maybe I was a sucker for ruggedly handsome men who weren’t ashamed to reveal their vulnerable sides. I admired that he made free-falling sound like an adventure. I’d been doing it for nearly four years and my outlook was nothing like Levi’s. I worked my ass off to make sure no one knew how tired and raw and afraid I felt every damn day. I clung to the best parts of my past like a lifeline, hoping my ghosts would ease the inevitable ‘splat on the concrete’ nosedive I had coming my way.
Levi’s story was certainly different, but I recognized something in him I knew too well. A desperate spirit that wasn’t quite ready to give up. I’d like to think that sense of acknowledgment was why I leaned across the console, closed my eyes and pressed my lips against his.
Geordie is a mature man who’s suffered the loss of his long-time partner, Mike. Geordie remains a partner in the Conrad Winery, that Mike and his best friend (and former lover) Wes Conrad founded together. Wes and Geordie didn’t get along at first, but Geordie’s brash, in-your-face diva role from his years as a drag queen mellowed during his ten years with Mike, and now the four years since his death. He still entertains at the winery, belting out show tunes while expertly pairing food and wine, though, and Wes volunteers Geordie to assist a new cafe owner in setting up a pairing menu–now that the cafe will feature only Conrad wines exclusively.
Levi Yeager is a retired baseball player in his late thirties, but he’s only newly out in the gay scene. His dream to return to the family cafe he grew up in is in jeopardy, now that his head chef–and former lover–has decided not to relocate to Napa from L.A. Levi’s pretty-much immediately taken with Geordie, who feels he’s a decade past his prime, but can’t help feeling flattered by the admiration of such a strong, sexy younger man. Levi proposes a partnership–Geordie helping him with translating his grandmother’s cookbook–written in Spanish–and he’ll show Geordie there’s more life to be lived.
As much as Geordie struggles to let go of his grief, he’s also aware that he is still alive, and that Levi doesn’t treat him like the broken man he’s felt like since Mike passed. It’s bittersweet how Geordie feels compelled to maintain his celibacy, and constantly talk to Mike as if he’s listening. Levi takes it all in stride, getting Geordie to open up and experience some new and old things–like riding a motorcycle for the first time, and riding a Vespa again after two decades. Geordie’s friends see the changes for the better, and this gives Geordie the confidence to let Levi in when he would not normally do so. Levi is tender, and patient. He cherishes the struggle Geordie fights to take a chance on love again. It’s kinda funny how they struggle with jealousy issues to a small degree.
I liked the audiobook, and valued the narrator’s gravitas when rendering Geordie’s voice. Both men seem to have problems with starting over, but Levi’s are centered in falling for the wrong man again, while Geordie’s stem from guilt over “forgetting” Mike. Thing is, Levi’s okay with Geordie’s love for Mike, and thinks it’s perfectly fine for him to grieve and find new love. It was so wholly accepting, and gave Geordie the courage to start again. They have a bit of sexytimes, and it’s both sad and celebratory. I really enjoyed the depth of emotions in the book, and I felt it came through is a big way because the narrator’s voice carried the pain of loss, and the hollowness of the shell he’d become to mask his grief. It was endearing to watch him open up and accept Levi’s love. I really enjoyed.
About the Author:
Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in an almost empty nest.
About the Narrator:
Nick Russo is an award winning narrator with a fan following for his work in fiction, specifically in the romance genre. His performances in two of Amy Lane’s books, Beneath the Stain and Christmas Kitsch, made him the recipient of Sinfully M/M Book Review’s Narrator of the Year – 2015. When he’s not in the booth, Nick enjoys spending time with his wife, Jessica, and kids, (aka their beagle Frank and cat Stella), drumming in his cover band, exploring rural back roads with his wife on his motorcycle, or being enthralled in a tabletop role playing game with his friends.