Tristan is in the town of Shamwell for the summer before being forced to take a job with his father’s company in New York. Tristan has no interest in high powered finance, but his father has made it clear it is time to get a “real job” and start providing a return on the investment he made in Tristan’s education. Tristan is a successful, if fairly small time, actor and acting is truly his passion. So he tries to block out the fact that this is his last summer of freedom as he spends time helping to get his former nanny’s house on the market.
When Tristan meets Con, a local handyman, he is immediately attracted to the gorgeous hulk of a man. But things don’t go smoothly for their first meeting. Tristan is pretty arrogant and pushy and Con makes it clear he is not interested. Not that Con doesn’t find Tristan attractive, but he assumes a posh guy like Tristan is not truly interested, not to mention Con is looking for something serious and Tristan will be gone at the end of the summer. But when both men end up getting recruited for the local Shamwell production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Tristan is tasked with helping Con with his lines, the two end up spending a lot more time together.
Although the men share a mutual attraction, neither one can quite admit it, certain the other doesn’t feel the same. Neither Tristan nor Con is willing to be vulnerable and open up to how he feels, even as they spend more time together preparing for the play and their attraction grows. And even when they finally give in to their feelings, Tristan’s imminent departure, not to mention an ill advised bet, threaten to end things before they really start.
Played! is the second of the Shamwell Tales series, taking place in the same small British town as Caught! Although this story does feature Robert and Sean as side characters, it pretty much stands alone.
This story centers around these two very different men as they dance around each other, falling for one another but each afraid to admit it. Tristan is wealthy and a bit arrogant, using big words and fancying himself to be quite the thing (“poncey git” seems to be the frequent description). I think a lot of your feelings about this book will probably rest on how you feel about Tristan. He is passionate about acting, and that passion is something that really appeals to Con. And deep down he is scared of where his life is going, mourning the loss of the acting life he loves, and not as secure as he seems. But that doesn’t stop him from being kind of stuck up and arrogant a lot of the time, and I’ll admit I didn’t always find him easy to like. Con, on the other hand, is pretty much totally lovable. He has his own issues of self confidence stemming from his difficulty reading and his lower class upbringing. But he is sweet and thoughtful and I loved his friendship with his elderly client.
The conflict did drag on a little long for me. They are on kind of miscommunicatino spiral for most of the book and it is well toward the end before they finally move to anything more than a kind of lust-filled friendship. I wanted to see more time in relationship building, but we were still getting “he must not actually like” me kind of miscommunications into the last quarter of the book. I would have particularly liked more time seeing Con’s feelings for Tristan, because as I said, he is not super likable and I wanted to get more clearly why these guys were working together. But again, it takes quite a long time to get there. I also think the ending gets rushed a bit in terms of Tristan and his issues with his father. This is sort of dangling in the background of the whole story, and the resolution comes super fast and pretty much off page, which was disappointing.
There is a bit of a “mystery light” in the story surrounding Con’s grandfather who used to live in Shamwell. I actually found this to be quite interesting and an entertaining side plot. I also enjoyed seeing Sean and Robert again, as well as some other friends (one of whom I’m thinking might be headed for his own story). I did find Tristan’s BFF to be pretty awful, and though he seems to realize it to some extent, there is never a full acknowledgement of the role she has played in his life direction or the fact that she may not actually have his best interest at heart.
I think what ultimately makes this story for me is Merrow’s charming writing and great humor. Her characters are quirky and fun with just the right dose of self deprecation. I found that the humor and wit carried a lot of the story and kept me well engaged and entertained, even as I found myself frustrated at times with Tristan and the misunderstandings between them. I would still recommend this book, even with those issues, especially for fans of Merrow’s writing and sense of humor.