Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Football player Eric Holden is the star of his college team and always accompanied by adoring fans and hangers on. He has also acquired his very own stalker in the form of Abel Epstein. Abel has followed Eric around since their freshman year, taking photographs and using them to adorn his dorm room wall in what is basically an Eric shrine. Abel is not particular subtle and Eric knows all about his hero worship, but figures Abel is basically harmless and mostly ignores him.
Eric’s best friend Pacer Daringer is working on a class project with Abel when he realizes that this little weirdo is actually the object of one of Pacer’s biggest fantasies – tied up, bent over, domination. When he realizes the full extent of Abel’s obsession with Eric, Pacer negotiates a deal: Abel agrees to help him live out his fantasy in exchange for Pacer providing some access to Eric. It turns out these guys are more compatible than expected however. Abel enjoys being dominated and spanked and the guys begin to explore their dominant and submissive sides. But Abel is still obsessed with Eric and unwilling to give up his constant stalking. So Pacer must help Abel realize that they are really the ones meant to be together.
So I really liked the set up here with two really interesting themes. First we have Abel, totally obsessed with the object of his fantasy, a straight man who has no interest in him and never will. And then he has this real guy right in front of him who likes him and wants him and who Abel likes in return. He just needs to open his eyes and see what could be between them. The story also shows us two guys who are just exploring their dominant and submissive sides, learning what they like and what they want. Neither man is really experienced in this kind of play, and they sort of fall into realizing that both of them are turned on by spanking. They are just starting to learn about themselves and explore their interests with each other. So this story really has a great set up and interesting ideas.
Unfortunately some of it fell a bit flat in the execution for me, mostly because I didn’t find either guy super likable. Abel is just so obsessed with Eric, almost mind bogglingly so. He takes pictures of him every day, chronically “significant” moments like Eric eating lunch, going to class, etc. He has never interacted with Eric, doesn’t know him at all, but is just totally obsessed with him and full of hero worship. I’m willing to give a little bit of a pass to behavior which in a real life would make you a candidate for an institution, whether it be jail or a mental hospital, because this is a romance novel and Eric doesn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. But I wanted to see Abel move past it much more quickly than he did. Practically every time he and Pacer are together, he is still going on and on about Eric. I sort of wanted to yell at him to just wake up already. It just made it harder to see a connection between Abel and Pacer when Abel is so into Eric for so long.
I felt for Pacer a lot here. He is clearly starting to feel things for Abel and time and again Abel brings up Eric, even moments after a sexual encounter with Pacer. We can see him struggling with his feelings and though he puts on a good front, it is clear that he gets hurt. But I did have a hard time with Pacer’s forcefulness sexually. Their first interaction is clear coercion — Abel will do things sexually with Pacer in exchange for access to Eric. Abel is resistant at first, but Pacer preys on his desire for Eric to get what he wants. Over the course of the book the sex ranges from what I would consider consensual to full out dubious consent. Pacer is MUCH bigger than Abel and much stronger and he uses his size and strength to grab Abel, hold him down, initiate sexual activity, etc. By the time things are over, Abel has gotten into it, but it felt a lot more like taking than giving much of the time.
In some ways I could understand this behavior. Both these guys are just exploring a dom/sub dynamic and they don’t quite get it right all the time. They both like the spanking, they like it when Pacer orders Abel around, and they even both like things aggressive. And Pacer feels bad when he loses control and uses his strength against Abel. So they are sort of feeling their way around how all this works. And it is not that I am against dub con in my books. But I guess I wanted to see the story acknowledge more clearly that this is what was going on, not to make it sound like this behavior is all ok or somehow falls under BDSM. I am not an expert, but I do know that a sub gives control to the dom, the dom doesn’t just take it (especially with no safe words or any other structure in place).
One other small quibble is that I felt like the issue of Pacer and the football team sort of led to nowhere. We find out he used to play on the team but quit. It is significant enough that we get a scene where he meets with the dean to discuss his loss of athletic scholarship, etc. But then it doesn’t really go anywhere. I kept waiting to learn why he quit or understand the purpose for this plot point. I guess I see a little how this is worked in later, but I still felt we were left a bit hanging.
In the end this story came around for me and I liked how it came together after some (in my opinion) unnecessary shenanigans involving the fraternity. I really liked that Eric turns out to be a really good guy, that he cares about Pacer and he is kind to Abel. I liked that Abel is finally able to see Pacer and their relationship and realize that it is what he wants. And despite my concerns about the physical aspects about their relationship, there is some sweetness to these two guys together. But I just wanted so more chemistry from Pacer and Abel, more of a connection and a sense of them building something together. So I liked this one, but didn’t totally work for me.
Cover Review: Oh, I love this cover. So cleverly done with the way the text is worked in, and the subtle humor with the paddle. Really neat and very pretty looking.
P.S. Less Than Three Press has generously donated a copy of Stalker to our Jock Week giveaway so be sure to stop by and check it out!