After his father was arrested in a financial scandal, Tom Worthington has finally managed to get himself back into college after losing everything. He has worked like crazy driving a cab and sleeping in his car, just to raise the money to finish his last year and a half of school. Things have been miserable for Tom since his father’s arrest, the scandal following Tom despite the fact that he had nothing to do with his father’s crimes. The press hounded him nonstop and Tom has become totally isolated, just looking to keep his head down and stay away from anyone who can hurt or betray him.
When Tom arrives in his new dorm room, he is immediately met by fury in the form of his roommate Reese Anders. Reese was promised no roommate this year, and when he sees Tom, he wants him out. Reese’s first attempt is to scare Tom away with the gay, bringing guys back to the room for hookups he hopes will send Tom running. But after working himself to exhaustion, Tom is so happy to have a place to live, he could care less about Reese’s sexual orientation. Plus, part of Tom can admit he gets turned on by the sounds of Reese’s hookups and there is a part of him that wishes he was the one Reese was spending time with.
The guys definitely start off at odds, but eventually a friendship forms and Reese opens up with the reasons for his hostility toward Tom. Both men are kind of hiding out, each with his own reasons for holing up in their room and not facing the rest of campus. As they spend more time together, an attraction grows that Tom finally gets the nerve, and Reese finally has the trust, to act upon.
Tom is so happy with Reese, but he knows it is just a matter of time before Reese wants something more. Tom has managed to be out with their close friends and others in the dorm, but the idea of being out publicly terrifies him. He has been burned so badly by public exposure and people who revel in the scandal of his life. Tom just can’t bear the public attention that will surely come if he comes out as gay and the idea of that kind of scrutiny again just terrifies him. Reese is slowly managing to move on after his own crisis and Tom knows he won’t wait forever for them to be public together. Both these guys are wounded and need the support of one another to get by. But Tom will have to work hard to be the partner that Reese needs or he risks losing the man he has grown to love.
Ok, so you all know I am a big ole cover slut and there was no way I was passing up this book after seeing this gorgeous beauty. I mean seriously, it is amazing and totally drew me in before I even read the first word of the blurb. I’m not the only one who kind of wants to lick it, right? Right? Fortunately, this book is far more than just a pretty cover and Cousins really creates a moving, intense story about two broken boys who manage to crawl their way out with the love and support of one another.
Cousins does an amazing job developing the characters of Reese and Tom. Both these guys start off the book pretty broken. Reese has some trauma in his past that he is not fully over. He is clinging to the fact that he will have his own room and suddenly in walks Tom, who represents everything Reese fears. At first it just seems like Reese is being a giant dick to Tom, but then we can see how is all self defense and he is barely holding it together. I liked how we see Reese heal over the course of the book, and in some ways, it is his exposure to Tom that helps him. Seeing Tom as the type of guy who hurt him in the past, but who would actually do anything to protect Reese, goes a long way to increasing his trust and confidence.
Tom, on the other hand, takes much longer to start moving beyond his past. The last year has been devastating for him. It is not even that he mourns the loss of his old life. He thinks his father is a jerk and certainly doesn’t feel he deserves a cushy life at the expense of all those his father has hurt. But poor Tom is just broken by trying to survive. He was hounded by the media, stripped of all his possessions, and done nothing but struggle to survive through incredibly hard circumstances. By the time Tom gets to school, he just wants to hide out and get through it and move on. He is so fragile, the idea of anyone really seeing him is more than he can handle. Reese is the only person Tom can let in for a very long time, and even once he opens back up to a couple of other friendships, he still clings to his tiny circle. Where the guys struggle most is when Reese starts to move on and blossom once again and Tom is still stuck in his fears and anxieties. We see it coming, this conflict that looms between them, and so does Tom, but he has no idea how to stop it. It is heartbreaking, but at the same time just what he needs to finally move forward.
I don’t meant to sound like this story is a downer, because it is not. It definitely has its lighter moments, mostly brought on by their best friends Steph and Cash. And there is a lot of sweet romance, not to mention sexiness as Tom explores all the fun of being with a man for the first time. But this story is definitely intense and the issues these guys are working through are serious. What Cousins does so nicely here is really show us the progression of their relationship, from two broken men at odds with one another, to slowly falling in love, to the point where things are starting to fall apart, and ultimately put back together again. It feels so real, so moving, and I just got engrossed in their story. My only real issue with the book is that at times it was just too much of a good thing. This book is long, and while the set up and the resolution move along at a nice pace, the middle got somewhat sluggish for me. At times I felt like we were revisiting the same issues over and over. But at the same time, it felt so authentic to these characters. So yes, faster pacing would have really helped here, but I also kind of got why the story takes its time.
So I really loved Off Campus and found it so compelling. Tom and Reese are fabulous characters and Cousins does an amazing job developing them and letting us follow along as they finally move beyond their pasts and find happiness. They are sweet and sexy together, and I loved the way these two men just take care of each other. This book is the start of a new series and I am already dying for the second book, which is set up so nicely here. So a great story and one that I definitely recommend.