Sometimes, it’s hard to acknowledge what is right in front of you.
After his new neighbor rescues him from an abusive boyfriend, Danny has decided to swear off romance. His luck with men has never been great and Danny absolutely had to draw the line when his ex started wailing on him over something as trivial as an uncollected package. In fact, Danny probably owes his neighbor, Jax, his life…at the very least, a huge thank you. When Danny goes to offer his gratitude and invite the new guy over for dinner as a way to welcome Jax to the building, however, Danny gets a shock. Rather than politely shrugging off Danny’s thanks, Jax is antagonistic. Jax’s surly behavior and snarled comments make it clear as day that he places the blame for Danny’s situation entirely on Danny.
Jax has his own demons about domestic violence. Growing up with a mother who suffered spousal abuse and went through man after man has skewed Jax’s ability to empathize. As a youngster, it also turned him to food for comfort. As an adult, he’s worked extraordinarily hard to overcome his childhood obesity and maintain the ripplingly muscles physique behind which he hides. One of the biggest things he’s hiding is his inability to cope with and empathize with his mother and those he feels are like her…like Danny.
Despite the inauspicious start, Danny’s actions—pressing charges against his ex and throwing him out of their apartment—prove to Jax he’s got some backbone. Likewise, Danny can’t help but be attracted to someone as dynamic and passionate as Jax—who clearly loves his tattoo artist sister if his body art and modifications are any indication.
Things should have been clear sailing once they finally allowed themselves to get over their hangups. Yet real life rarely works out so smoothly. Danny doesn’t understand why Jax is so averse to actually being in a relationship and Jax doesn’t understand why his tried-and-true tactic of one-night-stands isn’t working with Danny. As Jax backslides into bad eating habits that threaten his health, it’s up to Danny to help pull him out of the deep end.
That, in a nutshell, is what this story is about. That said, there is a lot of side action. Dorine works hard to develop Jax’s background, which crops up on-page throughout the book. He has moved to Danny’s small Iowa town to work in his sister’s tattoo shop. He eventually confronts his demons about his relationship with his mother. He also fesses up to baggage about an unrequited love in his old home. I really enjoyed how snippets of this played out throughout the story, helping make Jax a well rounded and very three-dimensional character.
Danny does not enjoy the same level of involved-ness, but I feel this gets balanced on page by having Jax take a super active interest in Danny’s profession: playwriting. For all that the backstories and side characters highlight Jax’s social network and circumstances, much of their relationship is framed through the lens of the theater—which Danny has introduced to Jax and Jax ends up loving. We are treated to them bonding (sometimes unwittingly) over analysis of the characters in the plays Danny writes as well as other activities that take place as Danny prepares to open a show.
The text feels very rich with description. For all that goes one with Danny’s ex, Jax’s mommy issues, Jax’s self-image issues, Danny’s lack of confidence, the mutual attraction both men feel but are wary to act upon, and so on, I felt that there was very little in the plot that didn’t feel like it belonged. That is to say, there were very few elements in the story that felt like padding.
The one area that felt substantial, yet seemed to fizzle to me, was Jax’s unrequited love. I was especially bothered by how, after Jax and Danny finally consummate their relationship, the story doesn’t wrap things up. That in and of itself isn’t necessary a bad thing because one of the leftover things addressed is Jax and his mommy issues. That said, the other element is Jax’s unrequited love thing…and why, at this point, that thread would get raised with less than a dozen pages left felt a bit slap dash to me. In part because the unrequited love was mentioned by other characters more directly involved in the actions.
I also had some issues with the way Danny reacts to Jax’s admission of his body-image issues/bulima. Specifically, Jax gets stuck in a binge-purge and I understand Danny is meaning to be supportive, but I interpreted his on-page reaction/tone to be sort of accusatory. Perhaps this is supposed to stem from disbelief that Jax, with his bad-boy biker image and rippling muscles, could fall prey to an eating disorder, but it just came across as a bit jarring to me.
Nevertheless, these few (perceived) shortcomings only surface at the tail end of the story that is otherwise filled with careful description that makes the main characters pop off the page. The threads that weave around Danny and Jax felt true-to-life for me and were all the richer for including several supporting characters with firm, identifiable connections to the MCs.
If you’re looking for a story to really bite into, one that takes subjects often fraught with melodrama (being a theatre nerd, being a tattooed bad-boy, eating disorders, emotionally challenged characters) and thoughtfully packages them into a sweet, slow-burn romance, you’d enjoy this book very much.