Mason Alexander finally has something of his own. His bar in Blackcreek belongs to him without being attached to his family’s name in the restaurant business. He moved to Blackcreek when he found out that his family had lied to him his entire life. It’s not that easy though, and he does love his family and has obligations to the family business.
Gavin Davis has found himself in Blackcreek as well. He is adrift in life and has no idea what his next move will be. He lost his job as a music teacher for helping a gay student, and his Christian parents believe he is going to Hell for being gay. Music gave him balance in a life where he had to pretend to be everything he wasn’t.
When the men meet, the attraction is instant and they easily begin a physical relationship. What they don’t expect to find in each other is a place where they can be themselves and stop pretending to be what everyone else expects them to be. It certainly is not as easy as it sounds, and work, fear, and family all threaten the relationship they both find themselves wanting to have.
Pretend is the third book in the Blackcreek series. Although we do catch up briefly with the guys from the previous books, this book could be read as a standalone if you wanted to jump straight into this one. The first book in this series, Collide, remains one of my favorite friends-to-lovers stories. The chemistry between the main characters in that book was so well written and there are scenes that still resonate with me. Pretend did not offer quite the same experience for me.
Hart’s writing is still clear and visual and her characters are so well written as to be real people. However, there was an overall lack of chemistry between Mason and Gavin and a lack of trajectory to their story. The story is fairly simple. They meet, they take a day trip, they have sex, there is an ex, and there are family issues on both sides. Both guys are very closed off emotionally, but they open up to each other very quickly, and we know their stories very early on in the book. Their openness with each other bordered on being unbelievable to alternately just finally finding the right person to talk to. The first time they are together, it read more as a business transaction and lacked the chemistry I had come to expect from this author. I did become invested in their lives initially. Then, the same issues kept going around and around. Their family situations make up a good portion of the story line and those same issues are discussed over and over again with no forward motion.
The theme of the book is pretending and going through life pretending to be someone else to live up to family expectations. The word pretend shows up so many times throughout the book that it lost its overall effect. When the book is winding down and the guys are finding their happy place, a new issue comes up to interfere with their relationship. For me, given what had taken place with the guys just prior to that, it was a bit late in the story to start pulling them apart. Then, new issues are added that did not fully enhance the story line and are not offered full closure. A minor character is first introduced in the last few chapters. Then, there is an inconsistency with that character. It is minor in the grand scheme of the book, but present nonetheless.
Overall, I am still glad I had the opportunity to read this book as I enjoy the setting and all of the individual characters that live in Blackcreek. If you have followed the series, it would be hard to pass up another visit to Blackcreek. If you have not read the series, I would highly recommend starting with Collide and moving forward from there.