Rating: 4.5 stars
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Brandon Bartlett is a science teacher back at his old high school. It many ways things haven’t changed, even though he is a teacher now. The “jocks” still sit together, the “geeks” still sit together, and Brandon definitely falls into the geek category. So he is caught off guard when due to some staffing issues he is asked to step in as an assistant coach for the school baseball team. Leading the team is Jake Campbell, former high school star athlete and still head of the jocks. Despite going to school together and now teaching at the same place, those old dividing lines mean Brandon and Jake don’t interact much.
Both men are surprised as they get to know one another and realize they there is more to other than meets the eye. Jake is smart, hard working, and incredibly dedicated to his students. Brandon realizes how hard those student athletes work, through painful injuries and long hours, usually with perfect attendance. And Jake sees that behind Brandon’s geeky exterior he is actually an accomplished runner and turns out to be quite an asset to the team with his analytical mind and dedication to the students. As the men get to know one another, an attraction begins to grow. But neither man is out as gay (or in Jake’s case bi) and both struggle to keep their feelings hidden in the face of ever increasing attraction. And eventually they can not keep their feelings secret any longer and what starts as lust blossoms into love. And now that they have moved past their initial impressions, Brandon and Jake are able to open themselves up to real happiness together.
So this book is an old favorite of mine, one that I have reread many times but never reviewed here. And with such a strong athletic theme, I knew it would be perfect for Jock Week. The story really divides into two parts. The first is focused on the impressions these guys have of one another and the social structures that are still in place, even as adults. Brandon never feels comfortable with the jocks – the coaches, the PE teachers. He sits with his fellow science teachers in the lounge and the two groups seldom interact. After years of school and then teaching together, Brandon and Jake still operate in very different circles. It is only when they are brought together by coaching the team that Brandon and Jake realize that those labels are meaningless. That being a jock or a geek doesn’t define them, and that each is really an individual (yes, I am having a Breakfast Club moment here). They build a friendship that slowly begins to turn into more.
The second half of the book is where their relationship begins to turn beyond friendship into romance. And once they finally admit their attraction to one another, things heat up and quick! These guys are so sexy together, but also incredibly sweet. The big gruff Jake is a total softie and the guys are so sweetly in love, as well as in crazy lust for one another. So not as much plot development in this part, though we do see the guys try to work through sharing their feelings, how to keep their relationship a secret, and what they want from the future.
As I said, I have read this book many times so obviously I like it a lot. I do think the pacing is a little imbalanced. I would have liked a little bit faster first section and maybe spread the action throughout a bit more evenly. The authors also use a convention that is one of my pet peeves, referring to a character by his title rather than his name or a pronoun. Brandon is constantly referred to as “the science teacher.” As in “Jake looked over at the science teacher…”. I find the convention so distancing, like they are talking about a third party, not one of the MCs. And it happens so frequently I found myself often distracted by it.
But overall I think this is a wonderful story. It is sweet and romantic and sexy without a lot of angst. I like the way it examines how perceptions are not always reality, and that people often defy labels, even ones they place on themselves. We get a nice feel for the importance of sports and the role it plays in both Brandon and Jake’s lives, while not being overwhelmed with baseball minutia. And it is just really sweet and lovely. Great story and definitely recommended.
P.S. Dreamspinner Press has donated a copy of Caught Running to our Jock Week giveaway so be sure to stop by this week and enter!