Rating: 3.5 stars
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Ph.D. candidate Greg London is working himself to death. Between his job, his TA position, his research, and preparations for a big presentation, every minute of his day is crammed full. Greg barely has time to eat and the stress is taking a huge toll on his health. But Greg knows that he must work hard to succeed. He owes it to his parents who have sacrificed for him and supported him for years. And if that means he is constantly exhausted and frazzled, well, it will get better eventually.
Greg lives in a house with some fellow engineering grad students, along with senior Marshall Sulkowski. Marsh is a gorgeous jock and Greg is totally hot for him, but the guys barely interact and Greg knows someone like Marsh would never be interested in a geek like him. So he is shocked when Marsh stops by his room one night and movie watching turns into a hot hookup.
Afterwards the guys go their separate ways. Greg is super busy, plus he knows Marsh has no real interest in a guy like him. Greg might be willing and eager for sex, but there is no way Marsh would want more than that. As it turns out, however, Marsh is interested in Greg. But he realizes that someone as smart and together as Greg couldn’t possibly be interested in a dumb jock like Marsh. So the men continue their hookups, seeking each other out constantly for sex, but always keeping their distance for anything more than that.
Despite their attempts to keep emotions out of things, both Marsh and Greg are falling hard for one another. But both are also certain there is no way the other is interested. Now that their hearts are on the line, both young men must figure out a way to show the other that they care so they can have the relationship both Marsh and Greg truly want.
So I liked the set up of this story. I am a sucker for a good geek and jock story and I really liked how Grey sets up these two guys as seemingly so different but with a lot of similarities underneath. Greg puts his all into everything he does. He works nonstop, never feeling like he can do enough or give enough. On top of his own work, Greg is always helping out others, the first one people come to when they need assistance. But Greg is incapable of asking for help for himself, and is literally working himself sick. Greg realizes he is smart, but it doesn’t all come easily to him and he is determined to work as hard as possible to meet his goals. Marsh is also a hard worker, but sees himself as stupid and hopeless. Years of listening to his father has convinced him he is good for nothing but baseball. He doesn’t dare to dream for what he wants because he thinks there is no real chance he can get it. So both of these guys, while actually quite accomplished, suffer from a big lack of self esteem. They are both sweet and kind and well liked, but neither really accepts there is anything worthy about them.
This self-doubt is what brings me to the biggest hurdle in this book, which is the inability of either man to believe the other actually likes or cares for him. So even as they are hooking up and having all this hot sex, both Marsh and Greg are sure that is all the other wants. They have one miscommunication after another where they are dancing around each other, afraid to say how they feel, and inadvertently hurting the other with their seeming indifference (which is of course a defense mechanism and a mask for their true feelings). It sets up what seemed like a never ending cycle where the guys are horny/frustrated/stressed and seek the other out for sex. Before the sweat dries, one or the other will say or do something to unintentionally insult the other or hurt their feelings and then they will retreat to separate rooms, only to have it start all over again a day or two later. This goes on for basically half of the book at least. Over and over the guys get together and rather than ever say or do anything to move things forward, they just get hurt and retreat. Here is an example around the 50% mark:
Marsh pointed at the computer screen. “Is that your presentation? For the…thing? Symposium? Thing?”
“What do you know about that?”
Marsh’s expression flickered, something hurt and foreign passing across his face before smoothing out. “Ronnie mentioned it, I think. Said it was what you were so busy with.” His gaze darted off to the side and back again. “I mean—”
“Yeah, that’s what it is.”
“How long is it supposed to be? Your talk?”
“Twenty minutes, plus questions. No big.” Greg’s pulse sped just thinking about it.
Marsh nodded. “Yeah, that’s not so bad. So do you…?” He tipped his head toward the screen. “Want to give it? Like, for practice? I could listen. I mean, I probably wouldn’t understand it or anything.”
Greg’s gut twisted. Marsh would probably be bored out of his mind. “Nah, I mean, I’m still working on it.”
“Really? Isn’t it soon?”
“Friday.” Greg was seriously starting to feel queasy about it.
“You’ve got to have at least part of it done, then.” Marsh smirked, but there was a shadow to his smile. “Come on. I’m a good listener. I won’t fall asleep on you or anything.”
Greg wasn’t so sure about that. His work was so boring. And he just…he couldn’t. He shook his head. The idea of doing this in front of Marsh made his stomach flip dangerously and the back of his neck sweat. “Nah, I mean, I have to give it in front of my advisor on Wednesday. I’ll probably make Ronnie listen to it tomorrow or something.”
Something in Marsh’s face shifted, and he blinked. “Oh. Sure. Cool.” His jaw looked tight, and he glanced away again.
It sent Greg scrambling for excuses. “I mean, you’d just be bored. And you couldn’t comment on the science or—”
“Yeah, of course,” Marsh cut him off. His knuckles were white around his pen, and it made Greg feel all twisted up inside. “Whatever.”
So Marsh is interested in Greg’s presentation, but is worried Greg will think he is too dumb to understand it. Greg is clueless and so worried about boring Marsh that he ends up insulting him and making him feel like Greg thinks he is stupid. Neither man will actually say how they really feel or what they really want.
This same pattern continues over and over as the lack of communication, combined with the fact that neither man seems to have any self-esteem, means they repeat this cycle seemingly endlessly. I found myself incredibly frustrated as this went on and on. This is a fairly long novel, so we are talking close to 200 pages of this same cycle before things move forward. I think if the book had been shorter, or this section had been briefer, it would have worked much better for me. But instead we go through almost half the book and these guys are basically exactly where they were when the story started. There has been no growth to the relationship or even any real character development. They are both still just flabbergasted when anyone says anything to suggest the other might actually like them, or may want to be included in small aspects of the other’s life.
The book picks up after about the halfway point as more action begins to go on with the plot and the story moves on from the hookup cycle. It isn’t until about he 70% mark, however, that these guys start getting a clue that maybe their feelings are reciprocated. Still, things do move faster in the second half and I enjoyed seeing Marsh and Greg actually taking those baby steps toward a relationship. I really liked seeing how hard Marsh works to take care of Greg and to help him through his stress. Greg returns the favor later in the book, and it is clear that these men really care for one another and are determined to take care of each other. And while the sex got caught up in the hot sex/hurt feelings loop, these guys are definitely sexy together.
So I think there is a lot to enjoy here, but I definitely found myself frustrated as well. It was just too long treading the same ground over and over, and hard to watch these guys keep unintentionally hurting each other. The second half of the story was much better than the first for me and redeemed the story overall, but it was definitely a very rocky start for me. So I am of mixed feelings here, but I think there is enough to enjoy that if the miscommunication issues don’t bother you, you might find this one really working for you.