Andrew was raised to believe being gay is a sin, so he agreed to a loveless marriage with his wife in an attempt to hide his orientation from his family and the world. He and Kristy have an “arrangement” that allows him to sleep with others as long as he publicly keeps up the facade of being a loyal husband. Of course, his wife has no idea that the other people he is sleeping with are men, and he has no intention of her ever finding out.
Paul notices Andrew at the gym and is immediately attracted to the man. But even when Andrew makes clear his interest, as well as the fact that Kristy is ok with an affair, Paul still has a hard time getting past the idea that the guy has a wife. Yet the connection between the two men is strong, and before long Paul gives in to temptation.
The two start a hot affair, getting together every chance they get. Paul would love Andrew to be with him publicly, but he also realizes the chances of a future together are next to impossible as Andrew will not leave his wife and kids, nor will he come out. However, when Andrew’s life falls apart, Paul is the one there to help pick up the pieces. Now he just has to hope that Andrew finally is willing to accept that being with Paul is not a sin and they can have a life together, if only Paul will take that chance.
I am a big fan of Renae Kaye’s writing and loved Safe in His Arms, the first book in this series where we meet Paul as a side character. So I was really excited to see Paul getting his own story, especially one with such an interesting set up. I liked the conflict here, with two men who have religious backgrounds, but ones that are vastly different. Paul comes to the relationship from a place of acceptance, while Andrew hasn’t been able to let go of the feeling that his actions are a sin. Tied up in that are Andrew’s children, who he adores, and he will not do anything to risk his relationship with him. As usual Kaye writes some steamy scenes and I found the writing to be solid.
However, I did find myself with quite a few issues with this story that sadly left me somewhat disappointed in this one. First off, I had a really hard time feeling the connection between these two guys. I think it is because a lot of the early part of the book they aren’t together except for sex. Or at least their getting to know you time happens off page. So by the time they are serious about one another, we hadn’t seen much but the steamy stuff and I never really felt these guys as a couple. Even as the book progressed, their connection never really worked for me and I had a hard time getting behind them.
I think that my feelings about the guys together were also impacted by the fact that I found Andrew pretty much totally unlikable. It was not because of the sex outside of the marraige, because Kaye does a good job making it clear that this is a mutual arrangement with Kristy and that she is ok with his outside relationships. Of course, she thinks they are with women, but I still felt like this is handled well and I never felt like Andrew was cheating. And I think Kaye makes a pretty good case for how much he loves his kids and how important they are to him (with some issues I note below). But first off, we never really get enough background on Andrew to feel like I understood him. We are told his parents believe that the Bible states homosexuality is a sin and that is all the explanation we get for his behavior throughout the book. I felt like I needed a lot more to understand him and his extreme views. At one point he comments that even if he left Kristy, his parents would make him marry someone else. While I can understand not wanting to come out, I have trouble seeing how a grown man can be forced by his parents into marrying. Andrew is presented as so extremely in the closet and so terrified of being gay that I needed to understand him more to make sense of his actions. I also never felt like he really grew over the course of the story. He goes from relying on Kristy to manage everything in his life to relying on Paul. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but I feel like circumstances force Andrew’s hand to finally be with Paul rather than his own feelings, and that if nothing had changed in his life, Andrew never would have moved forward.
I also found it confusing that despite Andrew’s terror of being found out as gay, he is reckless to the point of absurdity with his sexual relationships. Paul meets Andrew when Andrew is being fucked by a stranger in the open shower stall of the gym. This is a place where guys often hook up, and Paul has noted seeing people have sex there before. Yet Andrew who is fiercely in the closet regularly has sex in an open area with another man as if someone he knows (or with whom he is connected) can’t just walk in at any time? At first Paul and Andrew’s hookups happen in private hotel rooms, but later Paul begins spending tons more time at Andrew’s house, and again it seems absurd given Andrew’s fears about people knowing about their relationship. I mean, he has two small kids and Paul is there all the time, including having sleepovers in Andrew’s bed. Yet he never thinks these kids might mention this to grandparents or someone at school? Or someone might notice the frequency with with his “friend” visits and spends the night? I found it kind of ridiculous.
Andrew (and this story) also present a quite outdated view on marriage. For all that he loves his kids, Andrew is a workaholic, arriving home after Kristy has fed the kids, bathed them, and put them in pajamas. Andrew shows up in time to kiss them goodnight and put them to bed, yet she is painted as the monster and he the loving parent. Yes, Kristy does some pretty bad things here, but I felt like Andrew is given this total free pass. Over the course of the story, it becomes clear that Andrew has little idea of what goes on in his kids’ lives. He doesn’t know they go to day care some days. He barely knows how to feed them. At one point he notes he has no idea who even shops for the food in his house. Yet all of this is ok because he is the one who works and his wife is responsible for the family. Let’s get real, lots of husbands work and have stay-at-home wives and still talk to their families enough to have some idea what goes on there all day. And Kristy is portrayed as lazy and uncaring, despite being left with all the household responsibility. Paul expresses shock to learn that she goes to the gym a couple of days a week and puts the kids in gym child care, like this is an appalling dereliction of parental duty. And yet at the same time, Andrew is spending his extremely limited non-work time not with his kids, but sneaking off to hotels to hook up with Paul on almost a daily basis. This attitude about the woman’s role isn’t just coming from Andrew, but is just generally pervasive throughout the book. For example, at one point Paul thinks:
Andrew needed a solution because he couldn’t work fourteen-hour days and expect others to run after his kids. A wife worked well in those circumstances because she got the payoff — Andrew’s money and Andrew’s attention.
So the last thing brings us back to religion again. This story relies heavily on religion, something I not particularly fond of in my books. There is a little too much for me about what Jesus thinks and what is the right path, in all honesty. On one hand, I found it hard to believe that after a lifetime of indoctrination, Andrew moves forward after one speech from a clergyman. And on the other, I found myself frustrated that his actions come from someone outside telling him he is ok rather than his own feelings on the matter. There is just a lot of proselytizing here, too much for me as someone who is not a believer in Jesus, not to mention a pretty bleak portrayal of Catholics.
So unfortunately, while there were some things that I liked about this story, there was a lot that didn’t work for me. Usually Renae Kaye is an reliable favorite and I have really enjoyed everything else I read by her. But this one just didn’t really work for me, though folks who are less bothered by Andrew’s behavior and who feel more of a connection between the men might feel differently.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.