Ever since college, Tierney Terrebonne has been crushing on his best friend, Ian. Since Ian is not gay, Tierney sees no reason to come out. His hookups are pretty much all bathroom glory hole encounters anyway. Plus, his controlling grandfather, along with the rest of his family, have made it very clear that Terrebonnes are not gay, and anything Tierney does to rock that boat will lead to loss of his job and place among the family.
When it turns out Ian is in fact not only gay, but madly in love with his new boyfriend Sam, that is just one more step in Tierney’s unraveling. The pressure to keep up appearances, the clear lack of acceptance from his family, and the knowledge the man he thought he loved doesn’t want him are all too much for him. Tierney begins to fall apart, drinking too much, getting into fights, not being able to sleep, and basically having a total meltdown that leads to him going down spectacularly in flames.
The one bright spot for Tierney is his new friend Dalton Lehnart, a young man who works for Ian and is friends with Ian’s boyfriend Sam. Somehow Dalton seems to see the softer side of Tierney, even behind his difficult personality. When Tierney finally starts to get his life on track, Dalton is the one who provides support and helps him through the transition. Both men begin to have feelings for one another, but they are both worried that it might not be the best time to start something as Tierney is still working out his issues. Dalton also has a history of falling for unavailable, needy men, and being with Tierney may be repeating his past mistakes. Both men are falling for one another, but things may be just too complicated in their lives for a relationship to work out.
Billionaire with Benefits is the second book in Anne Tenino’s Romancelandia series and the primary focus of the book is really Tierney finding himself and getting his life back on track. In this, I think Tenino really succeeds. We see Tierney at his absolute worst: drunk, rude, belligerent, and difficult. He is focused so much on other’s expectations and keeping up appearances that he has no sense of his real self, and truly the man is falling apart. It could have been really easy to hate Tierney, and, to Tenino’s credit, she manages to make him sympathetic and likable instead of a total ass. Part of the reason Tierney is relatable is due to Dalton, who somehow manages to see the real Tierney even before he gets his act together. When he is with Dalton, Tierney is a bit more real and shows more of his true self. We can see he is not the ass everyone thinks he is (or at least not totally), and I found myself rooting for him.
Of course, Tierney pretty much hits rock bottom before getting the therapy he needs. I did wonder how a man who is basically totally dependent on alcohol, has no ideal how to relate to people in a real way, and is falling apart mentally manages to have a total turnaround in only two weeks of treatment. Yes, he is still anxious and wanting a drink at times, and yes he is sometimes still belligerent with Ian. But for the most part Tierney basically has a personality transplant in pretty short order. Still, I found it rewarding to see him grow and change throughout the book and to see how his connection with Dalton really helps Tierney begin to find himself.
For as much as I enjoyed Tierney’s journey, I did struggle with some other aspects of the book. So much of the story is focused on first Ian and Tierney, and then Tierney’s total breakdown, that there isn’t much time for Dalton. I feel like he is only a relatively minor secondary character for most of the first half of the book, and though we do get some small background tidbits, I don’t feel like I really knew him for a long time. As he and Tierney begin developing a relationship, Dalton becomes more of a major player in the story, and I found him a really interesting guy, but it takes a while to get there.
I also feel like this book just went on too long for me. It is almost 450 pages, almost half of which is devoted to Tierney’s decline. I think this could have been cut way back and still conveyed his problems and the urgency of the situation. It would have helped a lot in bringing Dalton more prominently into the story earlier and making their relationship more of a focus. Once Tierney gets back from rehab, again I think the story could have been tighter. There is a lot of time with the guys dancing around each other as they try to figure out if they are friends, or dating, or what direction their relationship should go. Dalton is questioning whether he really wants Tierney or is just attracted to his type (and it takes a long time before this is really satisfactorily resolved). It was just an awful lot of story here and I think it slowed this book down for me a lot.
FWIW, this book definitely is on the heavier end and deals with much more serious issues than the first book in the series, Too Stupid to Live, or many of Tenino’s other books. I was kind of surprised at the tone shift within the series, but overall I didn’t mind it. I just mention it because if you are looking for Tenino’s trademark humor, this book doesn’t really go in that direction.
Speaking of the series, I will mention two more things. First off, this book overlaps the timeline of Too Stupid to Live as far as I can tell and features Sam and Ian from that book as fairly significant secondary characters. I didn’t remember details on the plot of the first book, but I definitely remembered the characters and I think that helped a lot. You could probably jump into this book but I think you are better served reading both. Also, as with the first story, this series has a nod to the world of romance and typical romance tropes. Sam even discusses with Dalton how things would play out were this a romance novel. It is sort of a fun, clever wink at the genre and incorporated nicely here.
So overall I enjoyed this book primarily for Tierney’s journey. I think it is handled really well and I found him just the right amount of frustrating and sympathetic. I liked Dalton as well, I just wished we had more of him and their relationship. The story was just too long for me and I feel like things got a little lost at times. But still a nice story and I continue to be a big fan of Tenino’s writing.