Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Wes Jensen’s older sister, Chelle, has just died of cancer, leaving Wes custody of her four-year-old daughter, Jessie. Wes was incredibly close to Chelle as she raised Wes after their mother died. The last thing Wes has time to deal with is Braden Roth, the one night stand, who just keeps showing up. Wes has Jessie to think about and Wes is not really good at letting people get close to him anyway.
Braden has never had a man, or a woman, for that matter sneak out on him before morning. Wes intrigues Braden at first simply because he left in the middle of the night. Braden goes after what he wants and what he wants right now is Wes. The more time he spends with Wes and Jessie, Braden realizes he wants more than just getting Wes into bed again. As their lives continue to intertwine, Wes sees that Braden is not as self-centered and shallow as he thought. But, after losing so many people in his life, Wes cannot risk his heart again and does not think he will ever be able to ask anybody to Stay.
Stay is the second novel in Riley Hart’s Blackcreek Series. Although we first meet Wes and Braden in the first book, Collide, Stay can absolutely be read as a stand alone. I say that from a reader perspective where I always want to know every single thing there is to know about a character. In Collide, Wes and Braden are secondary characters. Wes almost has a one night stand with one of the MCs and then has an off page one night stand with Braden. Wes leaves Braden before morning and now Wes has become a challenge to Braden. The epilogue in Collide ends with the service for Wes’s sister and the opening of Stay picks up in the same scene. The author weaves in a few details to catch us up, there are cameos of Noah and Cooper, the MCs from Collide, but then it is truly Wes and Braden’s story. However, Collide was an exceptionally well written, scorchingly hot, friends to lovers story, and if you have not read it, you should, only because it is that good.
Wes has been alone for a while. His father left when he was a kid, his mother died in a car accident, his partner of five years left him, and his older sister has just died. The only family he has is his other sister who he is just not close with as he was with Chelle, and now he has custody of Jessie, whom he adores. He knows he is alone, but has never thought of himself as lonely. He has no problem finding one night hookups that are all about sex and release. He is a solid, stable guy that somehow does not feel good enough and will always put everyone’s needs above his own. He is slightly panicked at the moment, as he second guesses every decision about Jessie. His only concern is doing right by Jessie and honoring Chelle.
Braden has more energy than he knows what to do with. He catches the eye of both men and women, but nothing and no one has ever held his attention for long. Braden will admit, with a wink, that he is cocky, confident, and good looking. He knows he has no filter and he is often mentally kicking himself as he once again puts his foot in his mouth. He wants to do something important for Wes, he does not want Wes to be alone, and knows Wes will never ask for help. He also knows that he is not completely selfless as he really wants Wes in his bed again. Braden completely owns who he is, although he has never had a reason to disclose his sexuality outside of his family and friends. When his homophobic firemen co-workers come down on him about his bisexual interests, Braden does not back down to make them feel comfortable and he does not run from who he is. It is refreshing to see a character that is so comfortable in his own skin.
When a work conflict leaves Wes without someone to care for Jessie one night a week, Braden offers to help out. Braden paints Jessie’s nails, watches cartoons with her, cooks for her, and finds that Jessie has taken a piece of his heart. Wes sees a side of Braden he never expected and there is the start of a true friendship. However, there is a constant push and pull between them, as for every step Wes takes forward, he then takes two steps back.
There is a continuous simmering sexual tension between them and they once again give in to their desire to have their hands and mouths on each other. They are super hot and take what they need from each other in the bedroom. There is a bit of a power struggle as they each try to take control, and take each other harder, faster, higher, with a, “Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted,” mentality. Braden always returns home however, as Wes has yet to ask him to stay.
Stay is a character driven story and the book revolves around the characters’ thoughts and emotions. Wes and Braden are different, but it’s their differences that complement one another. Wes has to be able to accept that he deserves love and can take something for himself and Braden has to realize that he does not always have to be looking for the next thing to hold his attention.
There is a slow buildup of two men finding their way through every day life and holding out hope that maybe there is someone to share that life with. There is also a lot of family time spent, between the scenes with Wes, Braden, and Jessie and also with Braden’s family. Braden’s family completely supports him and accepts his bisexuality. They all want Braden to just be happy and find someone to settle down with. They are a really close group; they really love Braden, and are welcoming when Braden brings Wes and Jessie home for the holidays. They know how Braden feels about Wes and they know that the relationship is new. It was then slightly out of character for them to bring up Braden’s ex in front of Wes and bring out some traits of Braden’s that make Wes pull back again just as he is starting to accept his true feelings for Braden.
Jessie is woven through the story as a catalyst and is something that draws Wes and Braden together other than their physical attraction to each other. She helps progress Wes and Braden’s relationship with her comments and insights. Some of her thoughts, at times, were a bit too mature and overreaching for a four-year old.
The writing and layered character development deserves its own mention here. This is the third book I have read by Riley Hart and she writes characters that are real. By that I mean, you can pull her characters right out of the book and stand them up next to you as if they were real people. That in itself is a talent and a gift.
Stay is a private look into the lives of two men who find that family is not only the one we are given, but the one we choose for ourselves. Spend some time with all the men of Blackcreek.
As an end note, we briefly meet bartender Mason in Stay. He is up for the next story where we can once again return to Blackcreek.