Rating: 3.75 stars
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Laurie Stallon is getting ready to graduate high school and spends much of his time volunteering at the local animal shelter. When the sexy new veterinarian shows up, Laurie is totally smitten, but he isn’t even sure if Dr. Sam Davies is gay. Laurie finds himself initially tongue tied around the sexy man, but as they work together more, they begin to develop an easy working relationship, especially as Sam takes time to help teach Laurie more about animal care.
Sam finds himself drawn to Laurie right away as well, despite the fact that he knows he probably shouldn’t. Even though Laurie is only a few months away from turning 18, and Sam is pretty young for a veterinarian, there is still an 8-year age gap between them and Laurie is still in high school. But Sam can’t help his attraction for the young man, especially one who has lived a life beyond his years, suffering abuse from his father and eventually living mostly on his own in a foster care facility.
When Laurie goes out dancing for his 18th birthday and is attacked, he seeks comfort with Sam, who is only two happy to give it. With that, the men finally give into their attraction, but they must take things very slowly. Between Laurie’s past abuse and his recent attack, he is very nervous about sex and Sam is determined to give Laurie all the time he needs. The age difference causes some trouble as well, and Sam is realistic about the challenges they face, even as the men are determined to try to make it work. On top of that, the men must work through Sam’s worry for Laurie’s safety and Laurie’s sensitivity about being the younger partner. With all these issues to deal with, the men must trust in the love between them to work out their problems and move forward together.
This book combines two of my favorite tropes in one place: age difference and virgin hero. I am a big fan of stories where we see a hero experience love and sex and relationships for the first time, and here we get all of those. Laurie is not only young, but his background of abuse, as well as his recent attack, means he has no sexual or relationship experience at all. I loved watching Sam introduce Laurie into both these wonders, while at the same time really taking things slowly. I appreciated that these men don’t rush into anything sexually, as that wouldn’t fit with Laurie’s past, but that they take things in small steps. So I think this was handled well and I really enjoyed this aspect of the story.
Laurie himself is a really interesting character. On one hand he has this troubled past that has forced him to grow up quickly. He lives essentially on his own in a group foster home. He works hard at the shelter several days a week and has great maturity in terms of his independence, dependability, and commitment. So a part of me could see how an older man like Sam could find him mature enough for both attraction and a relationship. On the other hand, in many ways Laurie is still a child. He is so quick to get upset, to storm out of the room or cry with disappointment when things don’t go as planned. He is hurt so easily, and when someone upsets him, he basically falls apart. For example, on his birthday Laurie tells Sam he is going to this club, hoping Sam will pick up the hint and maybe show up. The guys have shared one kiss and decided they would talk the next day about the possibility of pursuing something more. When Sam finds out Laurie is going out, he says:
“Laurie, you’re young and just discovering the gay scene. You’re about to go to college and maybe even move out of your mom’s home. There is a great big world to be explored and you should enjoy it. You can go out and date whomever you want. You don’t owe me any explanations. We’re not together…”
All of which is true and makes total sense. They AREN’T together. They have kissed once. But Laurie totally freaks out, whipping “his head back as if he’d been struck in the face” and storming out in a tantrum. These things happen over and over during the book, including the final conflict where Sam, in overprotective mode, says Laurie is behaving like a child. So yes, Sam was wrong and chose his words poorly. But Laurie totally freaks out, refuses to talk to him, and much more (which I won’t detail due to spoilers). I mean, people say hurtful or poorly thought out things all the time and it isn’t a catastrophe. Adults talk it out and work through things, but Laurie just can’t seem to handle that and reacts very childishly.
So as much as we are told, and even see, how mature Laurie is, we also see him so frequently acting immature as well. And yes, he is 18, so he is acting just like an 18-year old would, which I really appreciate on one hand. But at the same time, it makes me have trouble understanding just what Sam is getting out of this relationship. Yes, Laurie is hot. And yes, Sam likes to take care of Laurie. But how does this grown man want to deal with a boy having temper tantrums so often? I feel like I needed a better handle on how this is a partnership and what is motivating Sam in all this. As it was it seemed unbalanced and hard to see the appeal from Sam’s end.
Overall I was kind of mixed on this one. There was a lot I really liked. I enjoyed Evans’ writing and really liked the way she explores the virgin hero angle, the age gap, and the affects of the abuse. I found Laurie and Sam sweet and sexy together, and often a charming couple. On the other hand, I did have trouble with Laurie’s immaturity, which made it harder for me to really buy into the relationship and their partnership. So a good story with some issues but overall enjoyable.
Cover Review: I really love Paul Richmond’s cover here. I especially appreciate the addition of the lip ring. Very cute.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.