After reuniting three years ago, Matty Marcus and Rob Lovely are now living together in New York City. Rob is working as a physical therapist and Matty is an assistant skating coach. After their separation, the men are thrilled to be back together and are deeply in love. Yet the rest of their lives is not going as well as either had hoped.
Matty is still struggling with the emotional challenge of his failure at the Olympics. He has been happy training a young figure skater, but it now looks like she will be moving to a new training center. Matty feels like a failure at everything, like he is never good enough, and it is taking its toll. Matty is hearing a voice in his head he calls Control, a voice that is constantly telling him he is weak and terrible. To combat the voice, Matty is desperately grabbing control over his eating, starving himself to prove to himself he can succeed in one area. Matty is punishing himself in other ways too, to prove he can win out over Control. And he is finding that he needs increasingly intense scenes with Rob to calm his mind. Yet soon after their “resets,” Matty finds the physical pain is over all too fast and the emotional pain has returned.
Rob’s number one goal is to take care of Matty, but it is an increasing challenge. Rob is monitoring Matty’s eating, their finances, and Matty’s emotional health. Rob will do anything for Matty, but the constant need is exhausting him, and the intensity and frequency of their scenes together is completely draining. Things are made worse by the fact that Rob is miserable in the city. He longs for the open spaces and clear air of his former home in Montana and the city feels like it is stifling him. But he also knows Matty loves NYC and Rob doesn’t want to take that away from him. As Matty continues to struggle, he pushes against Rob, looking for Rob to take control and resolve his feelings. But Rob is falling apart under the pressure, mentally exhausted and struggling to care for his partner, always putting his own needs aside.
As things continue to get worse, Rob knows something needs to stop the downward spiral. He needs to talk to Matty and share his feelings, but Rob has always been the caretaker, the one that handles the problems. However, both men need a change desperately, and the only way things will get better is if Rob opens up about his feelings and he and Matty work together to get their lives back on track.
So Training Season was one of my favorite books of 2013 and easily one of my favorite books by Leta Blake, an author I love. So I was DYING when I heard there was going to be a sequel to that fabulous story. I adored Matty and Rob, loved the way the kink was worked into their relationship and how it built in a way that they both thrived, and found their relationship sweet, sexy, and beautiful. So to say I came into this story with high expectations and a sense of incredible excitement is probably a complete understatement. I will admit, I didn’t love this one quite as much as the first, but I still think Blake did an amazing job giving us the next phase of Rob and Matty’s journey.
This story starts about three years after we last left them, and a lot has happened to both men. Although the love and devotion between them is as intense as ever, neither is in a good place emotionally and both are struggling. We kind of jump into the middle of this, finding the men not at their lowest quite yet, but certainly in a different place then when we left them. This was an area I struggled with a little, as it was hard for me to make this transition from good to bad when much of it happened off page between books. Not that Blake brings these issues in out of nowhere. The foundation for everything is solidly built in the first book — Matty’s struggles with eating, Rob’s desire to always care for and protect him, Matty’s crushing disappointment at the failure of his Olympic dream, and Matty’s need for control over his life. So Blake does a fabulous job of pulling on these threads, of building the conflict out of issues that have been present all along and are now suddenly exploding. I never felt it came out of nowhere, but as a reader it was still a little difficult to jump into this crisis part way through, when we last left these guys blissfully happy.
As I said, the foundation was all there and things just get worse and worse for these guys. We are in both of their heads and can feel their pain so acutely. Blake does a great job letting us see exactly what each man is going through and understanding why he is struggling. The voices in Matty’s head telling him he is a failure, his desperate attempts to win out over Control, Rob’s constant exhaustion coupled with his determination to be everything Matty’s needs, they all are so real and just build to the point that something has to happen before both men completely lose it. It is intense, and not always easy, but through it all, we can feel the incredible love these men have for one another and that is why this story works so well. Even as they struggle, there is never any doubt that these guys are meant to be together and they love each other fiercely.
So as I mentioned earlier, I struggled a little with seeing these guys suddenly in such a dark place. In particular I felt that way with Matty, as his sparkle and fabulousness made him such an amazing character in the first book. It was kind of hard to lose that, to see him so deflated for so much of the story. So this isn’t an easy book by any means. Even the sexual end of things takes a turn. Whereas their BDSM play was intense but super sexy in the first story, here there is an almost desperate edge to things, as Rob pushes on to try to take care of Matty, and Matty needs ever more intensity to find the smallest bit of solace. So while these guys are still super sexy together, the emotional pain is intertwined with most of their encounters and that is a little hard to handle. What I really loved, however, is the way Blake pulls things together. There is no magic solution, and everything that happens feels realistic and organic. As the conflict comes to a head, both men need to be brutally honest about how they feel and what they need. Matty needs to give some focus to Rob and not just lean on Rob for support. As that happens, things begin to change for the better. It is hard work, especially for Matty who struggles so much with his disordered eating. But these guys love each other so much and are willing to do whatever it takes to bring happiness to one another. The ending is so rewarding and uplifting and I loved seeing Matty and Rob pull through and find the life that both of them truly want. They are in such a good place, and so much better than where they started.
Overall I found this story really wonderful. I wish we got to see a little bit more of than transition period on page to help acclimate us to where we find these guys when the story starts. But I think Blake does an amazing job building these issues, of grounding them in these characters and really showing us the pain they are experiences. As the story ends, we get the sheer thrill and joy as we see Matty and Rob work through their issues and find intense peace and happiness together. I so love these characters and adore the world Blake has built. I am dying for stories for some of the amazing side characters (Todd and Sato, Elliot and Ulysses, Bill and Angus) and it sounds like they might be on the horizon. I just can’t get enough of Matty and Rob and love them so much. Even though this book isn’t always easy, it is incredibly rewarding and I can definitely recommend it.