David Hammond and Grayson Alexander are two ambitious professionals—the former has a medical Ph.D. and spends most of his time teaching at medical school, while occasionally moonlighting in the ER; the latter is a career politician who started small and worked his way right up to becoming running mate of the President elect.
The new president has barely been sworn into office before a sniper strikes and kills the man. Suddenly for Gray, what was supposed to be a four-year stint in the nebulous role of Vice President is replaced with the monumental task of being President of the United States of America. To keep the country from exploding in a panic, Gray has no choice but to devote himself wholly to the task of being President. This means long days, longer nights, and being constantly available for his staffers.
As the days turn to weeks, and weeks to months, the relentless claim on Gray’s time only grows worse—a fact that does not escape David’s notice. Things go from bad to worse when David begins to realize someone is keeping them apart. With all the distance that’s opened between him and his husband, however, David is not at all confident it’s purely accidental, or rather intentional on the part of Gray’s staff. Or, most worrisome of all, active avoidance on Gray’s part.
It will take a monumental effort for the two men to reconnect…provided there is enough love left to save them.
Let me preface this whole review with this simple comment: I utterly, completely, unquestionably, and relentlessly loathed the David Hammond character. On-page, he is manipulative, emotionally abusive, utterly selfish, displays sheer odious behavior, and is prone to monstrous tantrums for even the smallest of requests or perceived slights. (I will grudgingly grant this: the scale of a small request when one is the spouse of the President is a bit different than for the average Joe.)
In short, this, the title character, absolutely ruined the entire story for me. To add insult to injury, the writing does nothing to improve the book—which I will expound upon at the end. To start with, allow me to give you a few snippets of just what kind of character David Hammond is.
First up, David’s thoughts on being present at a private dinner intended to secure trustworthy advisors for Gray (emphasis is mine):
While [David] enjoyed watching Gray so obviously in his element, the subject matter [of politics] was generally not one he cared much about. Nonetheless, he stuck it out and stayed.
To me, I see only a man who cares so little for his husband’s passion (one that led said man to the White House), it’s a chore to provide the kinds of moral support his mere presence at a function is supposed to provide. Moreover, this was the first of any such functions beyond the inauguration (the celebrations for which were presumably cancelled on account of the first president getting assassinated on the parade route), so David can hardly be burned out on such appearances). Not to mention the fact that the guests present were not the hoy polloi of politics, but hand picked friends and professional acquaintances of Grey.
Or David’s reaction after inquiring about Gray’s travel schedule and how much he, as First Spouse, ought to attend (emphasis is mine):
David took the news [waiting for a big international trip] with a smile, because he was quite pleased with the answer he got. He did not want to accompany Gray on the trips. He already had a full-time job and couldn’t easily take time off from that job to go gallivanting around the country with his husband…
This paints David as priggishly self-important. It’s compounded by other passages where David pushes back very hard against anything that might cramp his style as a part-time professor, part-time ER doctor. This strikes me as extremely selfish given the first mention occurs the very first day David sets foot in the White House and basically continues anytime anyone wants him to do anything that conflicts with his work schedule.
Or when David learns it’s better if he quits his public gym and uses the one at the White House, which David laments as being far too ill-equipped for him to use:
“I’ve seen it,” David commented. “It is in no way comparable to a real gym. In fact, it’s pretty sad.”
“Buy some new equipment and make it what you want,” the chief of staff told him.
“And who’s going to pay for that?” he shot back. “I’m not. It seems to me that if you want me to use it, you need to find the money to make it into a workable gym. It’s not that now. You get me a workable gym, and I’ll consider using it. Until then, no.”
I find this irritating because, although we’re told David’s wracked up a mountain of debt getting his doctorate, his husband is going to get paid $400,000 a year. I think they can afford some gym equipment and still make loan payments (assuming they’re pooling they’re resources as I assume many married couples do). Not to mention that the First Whatever apparently gets paid $10,000 (which is a drop in the bucket, but David has clearly established that he has a job and he’s not going to quit come hell, high water, or being married to the President of the US.). So aside from his being whiney about this (and he gets whiney about money at least one other time), this comes across as poorly researched.
And here’s a slice of some of his brand of emotional manipulation. At this point, Gray has broken a couple of dates with David. Gray is now trying to set up something for the two of them and this is David’s reaction (emphasis is mine):
“Don’t forget about our date tonight.”
David paused, slowly turned back toward Gray, and studied the man for a moment. His mind was running an intense algorithm that tried to determine the level of snarkiness he should use.
“I remember, Gray. The real question is whether you will,” David said as he turned back to leave. Pausing once again, David turned back to Gray, smiled, and said, “Just so you know, Gray, you’ve already got two strikes.”
“What does that mean?” Gray asked David.
“It’s simple. This will be the third such appointment you’ve made with me. The first two didn’t happen because of you. Under the rules of the game you adore, when a batter misses a pitch three times, they’re out of the game for that rotation. You’re a smart man, Gray. Figure it out.”
What I get out of this scene is emotional manipulation at its worse. I mean, it’s a thinly veiled threat to divorce Gray, though not in so many words. I find this type of behavior detestable and pathetic. Time after time, David virtually blames/vilifies Gray for not carrying on with his relationship with David exactly as they had done before Gray became President. For the first three-quarters of the book, we have to watch David fly off into histrionics over money or lack of attention or not getting to do things exactly how he used to do. It’s exasperating and irritating.
Adding to the sheer unlikableness of David, the writing doesn’t do him any favors. During many of David’s woe-is-me diatribes about how he’s apparently getting screwed over, he harps on his point. That is to say, stylistically, there’s a lot of semantic satiation going on (semantic satiation being that feature of the English language at least where a word is repeated so often, it begins to lose meaning). In other words, David argues like a broken record. For example, he can’t possibly meet and greet the White House staff because he has a job, he has a job, he has a job he has to get to. Or David cannot be a stay-at-home spouse because he has a job, he has a job, he has a job. Or David cannot use the White House gym because who’s gonna pay for that, I’m not gonna pay for that, are you gonna pay for that?
And, as the title of the book suggests, we spend the entire story stuck with this human being. Huzzah.
As a side note, Gray himself is a particularly lackluster counterpart. On the whole, he readily capitulates to David’s tantrums, but clearly, the Gray character gets used by the author at certain times to artificially create more drama for David to flip out over. I felt especially shortchanged by the “romantic” dynamic between this pair because David, predictably, is a commandeering top while Gray is an obsequious bottom—meaning it feels like Gray just accepts whatever David feels and does nothing to point out how, well, selfish/whiney/manipulative David is being.
The one bright point in this story happens about 3/4 of the way through. After months of suspecting he and Gray are being intentionally kept apart, things come to a head and David decides to take extreme action. This is the catalyst that finally, finally, finally lets the reader focus on the relationship between David and Gray without the hissyfits or David’s blind rage at whatever perceived unfairness he’s suffered. Indeed, if you’ve read this far, you’ll be shocked to learn that I almost enjoyed part of the story. Yes, it was far too little and far too late. Nevertheless, it was sort of enjoyable to see them work through the angst. David still manages to make it all about him, but at least I wasn’t flying into a rage over how utterly asinine the guy was being every time I turned the page—which did wonders for my blood pressure.
Overall, this book is a super duper extra hard PASS in my book. The main character comes across as utterly loathsome, a quality only exacerbated by weak writing.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.