Review – Stand by You (Belonging #3) by A.M. Arthur

**Trigger Warning: Story contains recounting of mental/emotional/physical abuse and sexual assault**

Stand by You cover image

Publisher: Carina Press
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

Three months after his rescue from an abusive boyfriend, twenty-two-year-old Romy Myers has landed his first legitimate job—bussing tables at his friend’s new coffee shop. The job has brought him some stability after years of abuse have left him feeling damaged and broken. He’s working hard on his panic and social anxiety, and those things are often tempered by the big, burly presence of Brendan Walker.

From the moment ex-football player Brendan helped rescue Romy from his ex’s abuse, he’s wanted to protect him. And he does, from a distance, with joking text messages, a new gym routine to toughen him up and a genuine friendship. So far it’s been easy—but Brendan’s feelings aren’t just friendly anymore…

When an argument spirals out of control, a hot and heavy make-out session causes Romy’s friendship with supposedly straight Brendan to reach a new level. The last thing Romy wants is to fall for another guy who could potentially shatter him, but Brendan also wakes up a part of him he thought had been destroyed by violence—his heart.
This blurb came from the author’s website.

I don’t remember exactly what made me decide to request this story but I am glad I did. Initially I struggled through the beginning because it seemed like I was dropped into the middle of a story populated by past history and current relationships without any lead-up. As I was formatting this review I realized Stand by You was the third installment in Arthur’s Belonging series. Reading the first two would have helped because the setting and several of the key supporting characters would have been familiar. I also struggled because Romy’s behavior and mental soundtrack in the beginning made me concerned he was going to remain as fragile throughout the entire story. Typically I prefer main characters who have some sort of their own agency but as I continued reading Romy’s backstory emerged and I understood he was trying to recover from being very badly hurt emotionally and physically by those he trusted in the past.

I found watching Romy struggle to deal with his feelings of self-worth, guilt, fear, and a desire to go back to who he was heart-wrenching. He had spent so much of his life using his body and his domestic skills to attract protectors after he physically recovered from his last relationship he was determined to change his lifestyle and stop depending on others for everything. Also as a result of his last relationship, Romy was left with severe emotional scars making it difficult if not impossible to deal with crowds, confrontations, or strange situations. Yet with all of the things he was facing, I liked how Romy never gave up and was able to make the decision to take charge of his life.

Brendan slightly reminded me of a guy I went to high school with who was big tough football player with an extremely soft heart. It was very interesting to see how Brendan had worked through what he thought was important after losing his football scholarship due to injury. The work he did on the side to help the homeless and how he was willing to drop whatever he was doing if one of his friends asked him to help went a long way to showing me how he and Romy were able to form a couple. Just as Romy had his struggles Brendan faced his own challenges between his well meaning but interfering sisters, his rather intolerant brother-in-law, and a refusal to admit who he really was to himself. I thought his journey and decision were just as important as Romy’s in order to make the romance and relationship work. I loved his patience and his lack of preconceived notions about any action with Romy, provided they both wanted it.

I thought the way Arthur handled the emotional trauma, residual effects, and impact on life in general was deftly done and never once appeared patronizing or dismissive. I really appreciated how Romy and Brendan discovering their mutual attraction wasn’t a magic cure but also came with its own set of pressures and challenges. As I settled into the story I enjoyed the different interactions amongst the friends, Brendan’s family, and of course Brendan and Romy. The combination of happy, sad, frustrated, and angry made the world and characters seem much more vivid. I thought the conclusion of this story really made sense and worked with the characters making me glad I stuck with the story.

Stand by You was a good emotionally rough read. Having discovered the two previous books I am planning on giving them a try because I enjoyed Brendan and Romy as well as the glimpses of the previously established couples. I just hope none of them suffered the same sort of trauma Romy experienced.

I give Stand by You a B-

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