Rating: 3.5 stars
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Hayden Hurst came out to his parents when he was a teenager and was threatened with being sent to a ‘conversion camp’ to straighten him out. Fortunately, his grandmother was willing to offer him a place to live, and now — after her passing — he has a nice house, a job as a firefighter, which he loves, and friends. One of those friends, his best friend Miguel, calls Hayden one night and asks for a favor. A big favor.
Miguel’s little brother, Jez, is on his way to California from New York and needs a place to stay while he looks for a place to live. Hayden, in the rambling craftsman style home (and aware Miguel lives in a one bedroom closet), says yes. He hasn’t seen Jez since he was a kid, but he recalls the young man having a bit of crush on him. The Jez who shows up on his porch, however, isn’t some bright-eyed kid bursting with hero worship for Hayden; he’s instead a handsome young man in a blatantly gay shirt — rainbow unicorn and all — who snaps at Hayden and vanishes upstairs to hide in the guest room.
So much for first impressions.
Jez, a professional dancer and actor, has never taken the easy road. Bashed for being gay in high school, he was hospitalized with a broken arm and a broken cheekbone. If it wasn’t for his brother, his father might have finished the job. Miguel took two jobs to pay for Jez’s medicine and therapy and helped him run away to school in New York. Miguel is the only family Jez has left, and now he needs his help more than ever. Jez is running from a stalker, Jayson, who tried to control his life. The relationship became toxic, leaving Jez jumping at shadows, afraid of every knock at the door, afraid of crowds, and needing anti-anxiety meds. If it hadn’t been for a phone call at the right time he might never have known about the job offer in California, a job offer Jayson was hiding from him.
Jez’s not just hiding from his past, he’s also hiding a secret from his new landlord: Fang, the pug puppy he bought a few months ago. He’d needed a friend — having cut off all of his old ties when they sided with Jayson, finding his actions to be charming rather than frightening — and the puppy was just what Jez needed. He just needs a car, an apartment, and to get through the next few weeks without falling for his brother’s best friend. He did have a crush on Hayden when he was a kid, and it looks like the crush never quite went away, especially when Hayden smiles at him. Especially when a chance meeting between Hayden and Fang leads to a steamy hot kiss in the kitchen for Hayden and Jez… but Jez swore to himself he’d never date a closet case again, and while Hayden is out, he’s not that out. Not out enough to show off a boyfriend to his friends.
Hayden has a difficult job, a high risk job where you rely on the man at your back to have your back. Not all firefighters are comfortable with Hayden being gay. They accept it in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of acceptance. He’s the token gay friend who makes it okay for them to tell homophobic jokes and toss the word ‘fag’ around. Every joke, every comment, Hayden lets go. He doesn’t stop them, doesn’t condemn them, doesn’t make a scene. The last time he made a point of his sexuality he lost his parents. So he just ignores it. They’re his friends after all, right?
Jez put up with being bullied in high school, and then being beaten. He decided long ago that he wasn’t going to sit politely in the corner and hide who he was to make other people comfortable, and when he hears Vic and Jordon making comments — with a blandly tossed “no offense” in Hayden’s direction — he speaks up. He wants to know why Hayden lets it happen, why his brother lets it happen, why it happens at all. Jez causes the scene Hayden won’t, leaving Hayden with a confrontation he doesn’t want in the firehouse.
Not that Hayden actually, ever, confronts anyone. Other people do that for him leaving Hayden free to be offended without having to do anything about it. He’s passive in that, and I think it’s a mistake in the character. Everyone else fights Hayden’s battles for him and he never quite grows past it. It’s a character arc that never … arc’d. Jez has some growth, though almost all of it is exposition about how he’s overcome past challenges rather than having to do with the story I’m reading; Hayden has no growth at all.
Jez and Hayden as a couple are cute enough, but there was a lack of evidence that they loved each other for more than just the sex. Jez thinks about how much he loves Hayden… while thinking about him shirtless, or about how sexy he is. Hayden realizes he loves Jez while admiring his body and thinking about how he’d love to fuck him. It’s all physical and superficial, but treated as if it’s love. There are also time jumps, such as Hayden’s vacation to Vegas when Jez first moved in; weeks pass between one chapter and another with only a mention and it feels awkward. Most scenes have a purpose to them later in the story, but they way they’re put together is clumsy and unnatural.
Some of the conversations have that same feel; there’s a point to them as they set up another scene later on in the book, but they’re so stiff and telegraphed that they disrupt from the story. This only happens a few times, but it’s jarring and disorienting.
Jez and Hayden do seem like a pair of men very much in lust with one another, maybe even in like with one another, but I just don’t buy how quickly they say ‘love.’ Hayden has never had a real relationship and Jez is rebounding from an aggressive ex-boyfriend and while that may be part of the disconnect, I don’t get the feeling that that’s quite what the author intended. We’re told they’re in love so very often, but given no real proof that they actually feel that way. The writing is good, and the story is a nice bit of fluff, but so many little parts of it don’t work leaving a threadbare and hollow story.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.