After a rocky time in high school, Ethan Follet has finally founds himself a great group of friends in college. Yes, he still has to sometimes keep parts of himself hidden, parts that long for the football games and the parties and the socializing his friends turn up their noses at. But he’s got friends, is doing well at school, and has a bright future, and so he is willing to squash that part of himself looking for a little more adventure.
Ethan wants to be a lawyer and he is sure his Constitutional Law class with the famous professor is his ticket to an internship and a great future. Of course, he gets stuck sitting next to a guy who spends all his time on his phone and fooling around. Greg Sanderson is Ethan’s total opposite. He is relaxed and fun loving and enjoys poking a bit of fun at Ethan’s uptight nature. One day their bickering suddenly turns sexual, and before he knows it, Ethan finds himself hooking up with Greg in the library stacks, something so unlike him he can’t even believe he is doing it. But being with Greg is hot, and the risk of exposure gets him even hotter. Soon the guys are taking chances, hooking up all over campus and Ethan is having the time of his life.
Hanging out with Greg gives Ethan the confidence to push his boundaries a little. He starts to socialize more, taking more chances and trying new things. Ethan finds himself happier than he has ever been. Of course, his friends aren’t all thrilled to see these changes in Ethan. And Ethan slowly realizes that Greg is coming to mean more to him than just the friends-with-benefits arrangement they agreed upon. But despite the fact that he and Greg are growing closer, both sexually and emotionally, Greg still isn’t willing to come out and really be with Ethan. He is still hiding behind his ladies’ man reputation and wants Ethan to just keep things as they are. But as Ethan falls harder for Greg, he realizes that he isn’t happy with just being Greg’s friend. No matter how hot their hook ups are, Ethan wants more. Now he only has to hope that Greg will be willing to face up to what is really between them and that the two can have the real relationship Ethan longs for.
Out in the Open was really a wonderful surprise for me. I say surprise, because this is the debut book by author A.J. Truman and it is self published as well, so I really had no idea what to expect here. I was drawn in by the young love story, the enemies to lovers elements, and definitely the hot, semipublic sexual encounters. So I decided to give this one a shot, and I am really glad I did because I found it an excellent story with well developed characters, lots of heat, and great writing.
I am a big fan of young love stories, and I think Truman really captures that element of college students finding their way. It is clear right away with Ethan that he is still kind of figuring himself out. He went from totally on the outs in high school to part of a group in college. He is happy and fitting in, but he also feels like he is missing something. At the same time, he is worried about rocking the boat with his friends, about opening himself up to new things, even as part of him craves that. As much as Ethan accuses Greg of hiding behind his reputation, to a degree Ethan is doing that as well, avoiding things outside of his comfort zone and his friends’ expectations. Greg, of course, is still figuring himself out as well. Although it is pretty clear he is still coming to terms with his sexuality, we also learn along the way that Greg is playing a role too, and needs to figure out how to reach for what he really wants, rather than meeting others’ expectations. I think Truman really captures these guys well as young men who don’t quite have it all together yet, but who are growing over the course of the book. It would be easy to have made Greg the bad guy, but despite the fact we know he is hurting Ethan with his unwillingness to be open about their relationship, I could totally understand him as a young man still trying to work things out.
I also love a good enemies to lovers story, and we get that here with a bit of the geeky hero element thrown in as well. I loved seeing these guys bicker and banter, and somehow Greg comes across as kind of lovable despite being a bit jerky to Ethan at first. The moment where Ethan finds himself suddenly jumping into this sexual encounter despite himself is so well done. We can feel his panic and his shock, at the same time as he is thrilled and excited. The guys pretty much get it going on all over campus, sneaking into offices, closets, and even movie theaters for a bit of fun. I loved to see Ethan open up and have some fun, and how somehow his experiences with Greg give him confidence to try other new things, like going to a football tailgate party. These guys are so sexy and their encounters are steamy and fun. They both get off on the thrill of possibly getting caught and it just ramps up their excitement to be a bit daring, especially Ethan who is so used to doing what is good and expected all of the time.
One element that didn’t totally come together for me is Ethan’s friends, especially his best friend Jessica. She comes across as so judgmental most of the time. She has rigid rules about what is acceptable (art museums: yes, fraternity parties: no). Jessica is critical of anyone who has different interests or who tries to fit in with a certain crowd. Over the course of the story, we get to know more about where this is all coming from, and she becomes a little more sympathetic. My issue was there were times I felt we were supposed to see Ethan as the one in the wrong for going out drinking or hanging out with a different crowd, but instead I found myself siding with him against Jessica’s rigid attitudes.
So overall I really enjoyed Out in the Open. I loved Ethan and Greg and found them a fun couple who are super sexy, with great banter and some nice tension. I think Truman really gets the college age vibe really well here and these guys felt very believable and their experiences authentic to their age. I particularly loved seeing both Ethan and Greg come out of their shells and learn that they can push beyond the rigid walls they have built around themselves. This story was really enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it.