the arrangementStory Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars

Narrator: Charlie David
Length: 7 hours, 1 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links:  Amazon | iBooks

Carter Haywood lives a busy life, between his job and raising his brother with special needs. The only time Carter gets for himself is his monthly weekend away, where he goes into the city for a couple of nights of no strings sex and fun. No one sticks around in Carter’s life, and he is not looking for a relationship. But he needs these weekends to give him a mental break to recharge for the rest of the month.

One night Carter walks into a bar looking for that weekend’s hookup when he encounters bartender Reed Kincaide. Reed is a bit reticent at first about Carter’s proposal for a night of fun, but in the end he agrees and the guys have a fabulous night together. Carter never does repeats, but he surprises himself by wanting more time with Reed. Carter still isn’t interested in anything serious, but he proposes an arrangement where the guys will meet monthly for a weekend of hot sex, no strings attached. Reed finds Carter incredibly hot, and he isn’t really looking for a relationship either. Between his anxiety and his ADHD, Reed doesn’t think he is meant for a relationship. But he can’t turn down a chance for more time with Carter.

As the men spend more time together, Reed finds himself with a growing attraction to Carter and real feelings developing. He is pretty sure Carter is having feelings as well, but Carter is also still putting up clear walls. He is willing to spend some casual time with Reed for more than sex during their weekends together, but his life is far too controlled to let Reed in for more than that. However, eventually Reed realizes that he is no longer happy with just having a tiny piece of Carter’s life and his heart. Now Carter must decide if he is willing to open up his whole self to Reed, or risk losing the man he has grown to love.

I was intrigued by the set up for this story and the chance to try a book by Felice Stevens. I think the overall premise worked for me here and I liked the idea of a transition from sex only to something real between these guys. Overall I enjoyed Stevens’ writing, and found the storytelling to be good. I struggled with Stevens’ overuse of pronouns, and the constant use of “he” and “him” became both confusing and distracting. But for the most part, I found the writing solid and it was a good introduction to the author’s work.

Where I struggled here is that I really didn’t like either of these guys, Carter in particular. I’ll be honest and say it made getting through this story kind of tough, as I found myself rolling my eyes in exasperation at some of their behavior. I still gave this book a solid rating as the writing overall is good, and honestly if you aren’t bugged by these guys in the same way I was, you probably would enjoy the story. But unfortunately, I really struggled here as I found Carter pretty unbearable.

The set up here is not uncommon in the romance genre, with a guy looking for sex and nothing more. We can see clearly that Reed finds Carter to be sexy and kind and a good guy, but I found him a self absorbed, abrasive jerk. For example, when Carter decides he wants to see more of Reed beyond that first week for a regular friends with benefits thing, this is what he says:

After taking a deep swallow of his drink, Carter gazed at Reed in contemplation. Then, ignoring all the rules, his rules, made a decision and leaned forward, resting his crossed arms on top of the bar.

“We’ll have an arrangement. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I have obligations that keep me home except for one weekend a month. That’s when we’ll meet and spend our time together. Other than that,” he shrugged, “there is no real need for us to talk. We aren’t dating or romantically involved. It’s not even friends with benefits since we not even friends.”

I didn’t love the unilateral way Carter just declares this plan to Reed, but even worse, he is such a jerk about the way he presents it. And this isn’t just for show. Carter literally will not discuss anything about his life with Reed. They meet for the weekend, stay in bed and have sex, and don’t speak at all about the rest of their lives. At first Carter isn’t even willing to have dinner or do anything but stay in bed all day until Reed finally wears him down. And Carter will allow absolutely no contact outside of these weekends. At one point Carter accidentally texts Reed and when Reed calls back, Carter totally freaks out at the idea Reed would dare call him and break this wall of sex only. I get the idea that he is not interested a relationship, but even guys who are only hooking up still occasionally text or chat. But Carter just loses it at any suggestion of even the remotest contact beyond sex. He just comes across as so selfish and rigid and unpleasant, I had trouble seeing why Reed found him appealing.

I think part of the problem here is that we get to learn so little about these men and what is driving them until quite late in the story. We know Carter has had a bad past with his mother and that she abandoned his brother Jackson to Carter’s care. We also know that Jacks has some special needs that have required a lot of Carter’s time. But we get little information beyond that until pretty far into the story. It is more than halfway through the book before I had any idea what Carter does for a living in his super demanding job (and even then we get only the barest glimpse), or even how old Jackson is. We also never learn the actual nature of Jackson’s disabilities. At first is seems like he has very severe mental and emotional problems, though as we spend page time with him the reality is much more mild than I expected. But it is just that overall we learn so little about Carter and his life, at least until far into the story, that I couldn’t really relate to him or understand how his background had shaped him. If we as readers had been let in a little more, I think he could have been more sympathetic. But by the time we learn details, I was already frustrated with him as a character.

Reed fared better for me for most of the story, mostly because he is the guy who seems to be getting the short end of things. It is clear he is in a bit over his head with Carter, as well as that he is developing feelings before Carter does. So I had more sympathy for him, and found him generally more likable. But actually Reed went kind of downhill for me after a while. He just seems to let himself be such a doormat, allowing Carter to treat him badly and never standing up for himself. Part of this is that Reed has some anxiety and ADHD issues that make him doubt his self worth quite a bit, and I think this colors his actions. But like Carter, we get detail kind of late in the game. There was a point at which I wanted to scream at Reed to just make a choice already: stop letting Carter treat him badly, or decide that this is something he can live with. But instead he just sort of rolls along, being upset, feeling taken advantage of, but not really doing anything about. Until he totally loses his shit. Even though Carter has made it painfully clear that he wants zero contact outside their weekends, and he fanatically guards his privacy, Reed decides to stalk him online, then to actually show up at Carter’s office and barge right in to disrupt Carter in the middle of a meeting, surprised all the while at how badly Carter reacts to this. I found this behavior crazy in light of what we know about Reed as well as Carter and at this point I was just annoyed with both of them.

Once the guys decide to go for it, the turnaround seems immediate. Carter goes from not wanting even the remotest of contact with Reed outside of their weekends to being all in for a relationship. He introduces Reed to Jackson right away, declares his love, and Reed basically moves in. It was so abrupt as to be unbelievable from a guy who was so petrified of a relationship. I think part of this is because the guys basically only see (and speak to) each other for a handful of weekends, and suddenly they are ready for a full life change.

I listened to this story in audio and I enjoyed Charlie David’s narration. This is a sexy story and David has a great sexy voice and it fits well with the tone of the book. The pacing is good and the narration is smooth. David doesn’t do much in the way of distinguishing the voices, so all the characters sound pretty much the same. The strange exception is Reed’s boss and a throwaway character who drives Carter somewhere and both men have noticeable accents. But otherwise all these characters sound pretty much alike. It didn’t bother me necessarily, but after listening to a lot of audio lately where the characters are really voiced distinctly, it was a notable absence. That said, the story is easy to listen to and David’s narration is pleasing and works well with the book, so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

So as you can see, I had some issues here. Overall, I think it is the story that bugged me here, and I think for other people this might have worked just fine. I enjoyed Stevens’ writing overall and I’d be interested to try some of her other work for comparison. I think if you find Reed and Carter more compelling than I did, you would find a lot to enjoy here, especially if you are a fan of sexy reads. But for me there were just too many character issues to fully enjoy this one.

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