Things are quiet at Holsum College for the summer, especially in the dorms. And with fewer people around, Calvin Beaumont is finding it even harder to keep his mind off Tyler Burk who lives across the hall. But as much as he wants the adorable Ty, a lot of issues stand in the way. First, is the fact that Calvin isn’t out (or even really able to accept he might be gay). He is even still dating Nicole, despite the fact that he can’t muster up much enthusiasm for their relationship or any intimacy with her. Add to that the fact that Cal was Tyler’s RA all year. Although it is summer and he is no longer on duty, Cal still feels like he shouldn’t be getting involved with the younger man. Plus, Tyler is hooking up with the arrogant Hunter who jerks Ty around while still stringing him along.
Part of Cal has been hot for Tyler all year and Ty’s flirting and friendliness is making it difficult to keep his distance, especially after he and Nicole break up. In addition to being gorgeous, Ty is bright and open in a way that just draws Cal in. And as he watches Ty falling for the wrong guy over and over, Cal finally accepts that he wants Ty for himself. What starts as flirting moves on to sexting and eventually to hooking up. But Cal is still not ready to come out, wanting to keep their relationship a secret and to keep Ty at a distance. But as things get more serious, Cal has to decide what he really wants and if he can open himself up to love with Ty.
This is the newest installment in Harris’ Men of Holsum College series and has familar themes of young love and a main character who is just accepting his homosexuality. These are both tropes I really like, but this book hung me up mostly because I had a really hard time warming up to Cal. I just felt like he was constantly jerking poor Tyler around, claiming to care about him but not treating him much better than the other guys who use Ty for sex. We know right up front that Ty is needy, falls hard for the wrong guy, and needs a lot of caring and affirmation. He hooks up with Hunter, poring through texts, looking for the barest glimpse that Hunter actually likes him, despite Hunter’s complete lack of interest in anything besides sexual gratification. Yet even knowing this, Cal doesn’t treat Ty much better. He holds Ty at a distance over fears that someone will find out about his interest in guys, along with concerns over propriety from being a former RA. He basically wants to hook up with Ty, but not have any social interaction with him beyond texting behind closed doors. Cal asks Ty not to be with anyone else, but then he doesn’t want to have any kind of real relationship with him for at least a month and a half (until they move out of the dorms? It wasn’t totally clear to me). Over time Cal drops these barriers and things move forward faster than he originally plans. But it still bothered me to see the way he treats Ty.
I also found myself really struggling to understand the issue with Cal being Ty’s former RA. I felt like it was just an arbitrary obstacle put there to create tension because it just didn’t seem like that big a deal to me. I understand why an acting RA shouldn’t get involved with one of his students. It is like a professor and student – there is possibility for undue influence on both sides. But now that Cal is no longer the RA, why does it still matter? Does he think he is manipulating Ty through his authority? Or that Ty is getting away with something due to their relationship? It just felt like yet another way that Cal is putting hurdles up between them. At one point Ty thinks to himself that Cal is “cautious with everything but Tyler’s heart” and that really summed up my problems with Cal.
I have read lots of stories where one partner is not ready to come out and it didn’t really bother me, so I am not sure why it was an issue for me here. I think partly because we don’t get to know Cal that well. I needed to understand more about what he was going through as he worked through the process of coming out, beyond the fact that he comes from a conservative town and his parents expect him to marry Nicole. I think the other issues is the power dynamic. Often in this trope, the person coming out is the less dominant partner. But here Cal is the one in control, the one calling the shots in the relationship, with Tyler being the more needy partner. So seeing Cal be the one to hold back, to push to keep the secret when Tyler is not the type to ever say no to him just made it harder for me to feel for Cal.
I don’t mean to sound all negative, and there was a lot I liked about this story as well. First, I found Tyler a sympathetic character who I really rooted for. On one hand he is needy and has terrible judgement about men. But he is young and he hasn’t yet learned that casual sex is not the same thing as real intimacy. He just wants love and a relationship but he doesn’t know how to get them. I also really liked Cal’s ex Nicole. She is tough and strong and knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to call Cal on his BS and get him to finally admit there is nothing between them and that he cares about Tyler. I liked that they remain friends and that they are able to support each other as they each find relationships with people they really care about and come clean with their families. And for those worried about cheating, things are definitely over between Cal and Nicole before anything happens with Tyler and they are both happy for one another. And as always, Harris keeps things wonderfully steamy and Cal and Tyler are super hot together.
I will say I am really enjoying this series and love the way Harris carries the characters through and weaves plot lines together to connect the books. This is the second story featuring Hunter as a side character (he is friends with benefits to Brooks Price in Player and the Prude) and he will be the main character in the next book in the series, Pride and Politics. I love the way the characters come in and out of each other’s books and how we often get to meet them before their feature story. I think Harris is doing a great job with this series and I am really enjoying. So despite having some issues with the main character here, I think the series is a lot of fun and I am really looking forward to the next installment.