Adam Barton is an out New York firefighter who’s originally from the Dallas area. He meets catering chef Rico Estevez when he puts out a fire at a nearby synagogue. The fire was a homophobic hate crime, and Adam has seen a lot of that kind of tragedy in his life; his high school boyfriend suffered from it.
Rico wants to be out and proud, but his father, son of Cuban exiles, is a conservative law maker in Florida and might one day be up for a Senate race. Their relationship is stilted because his father’s idea of happiness is material success, and his mother was killed years ago when Rico was still in high school. Rico strives to be a great son and businessman to make his father proud, but he’s upset about his father’s convictions. His dad is dead set against same-sex marriage equality and has blatant bigotry regarding gay people, including Rico’s friends Gideon and Jonah. Rico’s afraid to confess his own sexuality and lose what little relationship they share.
The thing is, these guys have a burning passion. They agree to no-strings fun, but the more time they spend together, the less things seem casual. Adam has some setbacks at work—which lead him to take some time off—and Rico follows him to his parents’ ranch in Texas. This seems to be a turning point for each of them. Rico sees how Adam’s willing to take the next logical step, and Rico’s wanting to take three steps back. He’s too panicked about his father’s political life to reach out for the love he craves. Despite his Gideon taking him to task, Rico doesn’t reach out to Adam until tragedy strikes. Nonetheless, Adam’s more than willing to lift Rico’s sagging business and spirits.
All or Nothing is the third book in the Together series, but fine to read as a standalone.
I liked the story, though I wasn’t wild about Rico for roughly 75% of the book. I’m not one to complain about sexytimes, but a lot of it didn’t engage me. I think I had a disconnect because Adam and Rico couldn’t stop telling themselves they weren’t building an emotional connection while they were dropping into bed and making passionate love at every conceivable moment. So, it took a while for me to warm up to the supposed love that was growing. Expect Rico to be a jerk and push Adam away…more than once.
The part where Adam helps with Rico’s business felt realistic and believable, though some other incidents in the story felt heavy-handed, repetitive, and, at times, preachy, to me. The way Rico spoke to his dad, in particular.
Rico’s wavering on coming out was tough to take. He had the love and support of everyone near him, and the anticipated disappointment of his father, a man who hardly interacted with him and whom he moved to New York to escape. It seemed a false choice, the way it was built, and that made the stakes feel lower than they should have been. I think I would have understood it better if Rico and his father were really close and there seemed something tangible to lose if his dad disowned him. As it was, the conversations between them all felt off, and Rico’s inability to claim his own happiness was purely frustrating. The big showdown was anticlimactic, for me as a result. That said, the resolution was better than I’d expected.
Trigger warning: there are instances and descriptions of teen suicide in this book. Adam encounters this more than once and it leaves deep scars. There are some really intense moments, and Adam and Rico come out on the far end with happy times in their immediate future. Recognizing the fragility of life, they decide they’d rather have all of each other than nothing at all.