Beautiful. SO beautiful. If you've read the 1st installment you already know who Dante Pope is and you probably have zero sympathies for him. He made his brother's life – and so many others – living hell. I think Dante wants to believe in redemption but it's so hard to conceptualize with the life he lived and the decisions he made. Nothing could make it right and people doesn't really change. Yet the last two years in prison did make some sort of difference for him. It's not that he learned how to (take) care for people, but starting out with planets seems to work. This is how he finds himself, once release, working as the gardeners' help at Wilburn Manor (so far away from London and his not so far past).
Sid Harrison doesn't WANT any help, but he needs it. For the past two years a chronic illness has wrecked his life and the person he used to be. Constant pain and various neurological disfunctions are his daily routine now, so when his boss (and sometimes friend) Benjamin Heath not so much offers him help in the form of the fresh out of prison – gorgeous looking – Dante his first reaction is – this ISN'T how he should be feeling about the guy but also, he might as well use the help offered.
Dante and Sid simply get along. Dante is hard working and quiet and while he sees all of Sid's difficulties (better than he should maybe) he doesn't treat him like Ben and Anna (his twin sister) does – someone who needs constant chaperoning (as seems to not be able to care for himself). There's honestly and respect in Dante's eyes and appreciation too. His own feelings towards Dante hasn't changed from his initial reaction to Dante's photo (they only deepened) but acting upon it is complicated.
As the days goes by Dante and Sid form a friendship neither of them fully understands. They both want more but keep away for different reasons. I really liked that actually. I prefer slow-burn and It's not Garrett's usual (especially considering the previous installment and how I felt about it). There is something so EASY about how these two get along and mostly how they see each other. Sid realizes Dante's past isn't bright and his actions were probably more horrific than he could ever imagine but it's not the person he sees in front of him – Caring and considerate but not overbearing. While Dante tries to do and be his best – so very different than the person he used to be – it doesn't mean it's easy for him to accept Sid's kindness towards him and the fact all he sees in him is goodness he never thought he had. Especially remembering the hell he put his own brother through. No reasons or reasoning can make him forget and certainly not forgive himself. Luis sure doesn't and why should he? What he does see all around him is the sunshine that is Sid. Other people on the property mean nothing to him – Sid is EVERYTHING. He doesn't see him as Sid sees himself. He doesn't define him by his illness or his limitations, he sees beyond them to what IS possible. Which I feel like is generally what we ALL want to find in a partner. Someone who SEES us and appreciated the good parts in us and learns to accept and live with what makes each and every one of us human and flawed – If it's something "real" (like Dante's past or Sid's illness) or it's just our own warped perception of ourselves.
Dante and Sid together are why people like me read romance novels. It's not just about the promise of "Happily Ever After" it's the journey in which they find they deserved to BE loved.
Something else I want to address is Luis and Dante's relationship - which is me more than casually recommending you start with the 1st installment! - Everything between these two was twisted and full of misleading perceptions. Dante was the leader, the one who brought Luis into this world - and kept him there quite a while against his will - but it almost seemed like his way of dealing with inferiority he felt towards him. Luis was better than him and not just as a fighter (or due to his good looks). Others were loyal to Dante out of fear (or maybe need) but they followed Luis out of appreciating he never got. Yet Luis never wanted what he brought out in those people - he wanted OUT of that world. In my opinion Luis was a threat to Dante's ego so he would rather have him under his thumb than accept he is free of him and his rule, maybe free to show him (and others) he is (in fact) the better one. This is just what I got from them. They were both flawed in their own way, forged by life's circumstances on the streets with a strong will to survive that transformed to something ugly and cruel. It was somehow easier for Luis to see himself out, but that was because he didn't feel like he belonged in the first place. Unlike Dante. But maybe this strange push and pull between the two - especially now that Luis is out of reach with his enviable relationship with Paolo - was what made Dante take a chance at something different.
HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
While there's a few more side characters from the previous 2 books there are two new ones, both mostly mentioned briefly – Fen and Rami – who'll get their own story in – "Christmas Mountain" – to be released in November 9th. Already pre-ordered mine!
Bonus Epilogue (Free Teaser) - This is a meeting between the three couples from the three installments. You can read the beginning through the link and/or head to Garrett's Patreon for the full thing.
4-5 September 2021
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Darkest Skies is a Contemporary Romance series by Garrett Leigh. Each book centers around a gang member who wants out - each for his own reasons and circumstances. For me, it's all about the Pope brothers - Luis and Dante (1st and 3rd installments). There two needed redemption more than Sid's plants needed water. Both were utterly beautiful stories. Tender and sweet while also being sad and horrific.
1. Redemption (Published 18 June 2020) [Luis Pope and Paolo Cilberto] ★★★★★
2. Deliverance (Published 20 May 2021) [Benito Martell and Mickey Larwood] ★★★ (DNF21%)
3. Salvation (Published 2 September 2021) [Dante Pope and Sid Harrison] ★★★★★