Riley Black is a Hollywood star who doesn’t realize he’s a star. Growing up in the Midwest, he is Hollywood’s clean cut, golden child. While at a Hollywood party, Riley spots a man who reminds him of his first love. Firmly closeted to his family and the public in order to protect his career, Riley has linked himself to his best friend Natalie to become Hollywood’s favorite couple.
After a stint in the service left him with PTSD and unable to work a normal job, Evan “Quinn” Campbell finds himself employed as a rent boy prostituting himself to Hollywood’s elite. When he runs into Riley, he finds himself wanting to reconnect with his former sweetheart, but is too embarrassed. When his pimp, Brandon, finds out that Quinn is shirking his job in order to spend time with Riley, he threatens to expose Quinn’s secrets about what happened during his time in the service and create a scandal to ruin Riley’s career.
The Trouble with Mr. Midwest was a friends to lovers book. Riley secretly loved his best friend, but never acted on it. After high school, Quinn headed off to the Army and they lost touch. Today, Riley portrays the superheroes they read about in comics in Hollywood blockbusters while Quinn, who was once Riley’s protector, has trouble protecting himself. Embarrassed by his job, he initially refuses to acknowledge Riley, but Riley won’t let it go. Paying Quinn his fee, he forces Quinn to sit and have coffee with him.
I fell in love with Riley from the first pages. Riley is famous, yet he doesn’t realize it because he’s too awed by those around him, which earns him the nickname of Mr. Midwest because he hasn’t been jaded by Hollywood. Partially because of his fear of ruining his career, and partially because of his fear of disappointing his family, Riley hides his sexuality with the help of his best friend, Natalie, by posing as a couple.
Quinn initially was a much more difficult character to like. Unable to hold a regular job with his PTSD, he went to work for his former commanding officer, Brendan, selling his time and his body. While he wants to spend time with his former friend, he risks angering Brendan by not earning money. As Quinn and Riley become more entangled, Brendan threatens to expose Riley’s sexuality and potentially ruin his career unless Quinn breaks off their relationship. With the help of some online friends, Quinn begins to confront his own demons.
The secondary characters in this book are great and really bring the story to life, whether it’s Riley’s trainer harping on him to work harder, his housekeeper who watches everything he eats, the workers at the donut shop Riley visits, or his best friend who you want to be your own best friend. Through each of these characters, we see what type of person Riley really is.
While at times the book is fun and sweet, readers should be warned that there is a dark side to the book. There is abuse: physical, emotional, and sexual. Worse, the abused seemed to believe they deserved the abuse.
While I loved the friends to lovers theme, I had a hard time with the dichotomy of fun and sweet versus the abuse running through the story. However, this book has great writing, great characters, and a decent story line.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.