When Vinnie wakes up in a strange room with the hangover from hell, he knows trying to get over Austin, his best friend and sometimes lover, with a random hookup was a bad idea. Vinnie doesn’t remember much about the night before other than giving a very disappointing performance and now he feels like death from all the alcohol. Fortunately, his hookup Bryan is a calming presence who takes care of Vinnie and helps him on his way.
Bryan is nothing like Vinnie, nor is he anything like the guys Vinnie usually hooks up with. Though there aren’t too many guys Vinnie has been with beyond Austin, and now Austin has moved on with his new boyfriend Sean. On one hand, Bryan is bold and confident and doesn’t care at all what other people think about his flamboyant and fabulous self. It is such a stark contrast to Austin who worries all the time about the impression he is making. But at the same time, Bryan is a calm presence who practices yoga and manages to soothe Vinnie’s anxiety and stress. The combination of the two sides of Bryan’s personality are such a draw for Vinnie that he finds himself continuing to seek Bryan out, even after that first night.
The two begin to grow closer and Vinnie finds himself really falling for Bryan. But Bryan is not a guy to be overlooked and Vinnie has no real idea how to be a boyfriend. He is working hard at it, however, as Vinnie knows Bryan is just what he needs. But Vinnie isn’t totally comfortable with himself, and even though he is determined to support Bryan, at times it is hard for him to handle Bryan’s loud personality and the attention it draws. But Vinnie also knows that he has grown to care about Bryan deeply, and he is willing to whatever it takes to prove to Bryan than Vinnie can be the right man for him.
Hard Candy is the latest installment in Amy Jo Cousin’s wonderful Bend or Break series, and it released along with Austin’s story, Love Me Like a Rock. As I mentioned in that review, we met these guys in Level Hands and I had assumed they would ultimately get their own HEA together, but Cousins took things in an interesting direction here and gave them each their own romance with a new partner. I was a little worried about that before I read the books, as I liked these guys and they seemed to fit, but now that I have read their stories, it is clear how much better each of them are with other partners.
In Vinnie’s case, he is pretty stuffy and uptight, following rigid rules for himself and living a totally disciplined and controlled life. His parents have high expectations and he works hard to meet them. Vinnie isn’t always the nicest person around, mostly because he doesn’t ever really think about how what he says and does affect other people. What I really liked is how Cousins makes him a likable guy despite all this. Being there for Bryan and accommodating someone else’s needs doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him, but he cares so much about Bryan that Vinnie is determined to do whatever it takes to be a good boyfriend and partner. We see a lot of growth in Vinnie as he learns to be more confident, more at peace, and more attentive, and most of that comes from Bryan.
For his part, Bryan is a great character who has two different sides to his personality. He manages to be both loud and out and fabulous, while at the same time having a calm center and a peaceful personality. Things aren’t easy for Bryan, and he encounters casual homophobia and even threats that really surprise Vinnie. Vinnie can’t help but want to make Bryan happy, to prove to him that Vinnie can be there for him. Bryan is clear that he won’t settle for someone who doesn’t respect him or who is embarrassed by him, and Vinnie is determined not to let Bryan down. I really enjoyed these guys together and I liked the opposite attracts element of how these two different men ended up fitting so well.
Just for clarity, although this story released at the same time as Love Me Like a Rock, it takes place second in the timeline after Austin and Sean have already gotten together. You could probably read these two books without the rest of the series, but I think Hard Candy is definitely better if you have read Austin’s story first.
I continue to really love this series and I think this is another really nice installment. I am looking forward to seeing where Cousins takes the series going forward, and I will definitely be along for the ride.
Note: Love Me Like a Rock and Hard Candy are both published individually as their own ebooks, but are also available as a duology called Between a Rock and a Hard Place in ebook and paperback form.