Cornell University junior Seth Griffin has his heart set on two things: NASA and his straight roommate, Kevin Fields. Seth’s been around long enough to know hard work and dedication will only make one of those things his, and turning a straight man gay isn’t the one. But Seth discovers he has bigger problems than hiding his massive crush on his drool-worthy roommate. A man as unfathomably rich as he is mysterious reaches out to Seth with a cryptic offer: participate in a week-long session of debauchery or let his family fall into utter financial ruin. When Seth realizes the extent of his family’s debt and how letting this enigmatic man foreclose on all of it will affect the entire family’s future, Seth realizes he is stuck…being at the beck and call of a Mr. Winthorpe
Except things are not quite what the seem on the surface. For one thing, Mr. Winthorpe wants Seth to have the week of sexual fantasies with none other than his roommate Kevin. For another, the entire week will take place at Mr. Winthorpe’s impossibly lavish compound. With each passing day, the circumstances and situations Seth finds himself in are more and more fantastic…and more and more guilt-laden as he performs sexual acts with his straight roommate. When Seth realizes Mr. Winthorpe must be blackmailing Kevin every bit as much as Seth is being blackmailed himself, Seth steels himself to only get as involved as is required to meet the terms of his agreement with Mr. Winthrope and save his family from ruin. Seth imagines the distance he reads in Kevin’s body language means Seth is doing the right thing…but is he really?
When I read the blurb for this book, I was under the impression there would be some sort of paranormal or fantasy aspect to it. As we are introduced to Seth and his situation is laid out, however, I started to wonder if the story was just one of blackmail. It took quite a while for the paranormal elements to become truly noticeable, but after a certain point, Sparrow just lets go and throws absolutely everything into the mix. What kept this progression from being too over the top and too campy for me was the slow escalation. For example, when Seth first arrives at Mr. Winthorpe’s compound, the way the building is laid out to accommodate the activities Winthrope has for Seth could be explained as fancy architecture.
When it comes to our characters, I found myself much more interested in Kevin than in Seth. This is perhaps because the story is told from Seth’s perspective, so we get a constant stream of his thoughts. For me, the introductory chapters where we learn just how deep Seth’s family is in debt painted an unsympathetic Seth. The exasperation he seems to express towards his parents and the stilted exchanges he was with them felt flat. Once the action focuses just on Seth and his obligation to Mr. Winthorpe, Seth turns into a different kind of martyr. The idea that he’s selling himself to save his family from financial ruin takes a back seat to Seth’s inner tortured monologue about falling hard(er) for his straight best friend. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the angst Seth exhibits as he tries to fulfil the specific sexual acts Winthorpe demands of them while not ruining the friendship he has with Kevin. On the other hand, it was extraordinarily transparent that Seth was so focused on how miserable Kevin must be that he seemed to ignore how Kevin actually felt.
Kevin himself was far more of a closed book. Since everything he does is filtered through the lens of Seth’s POV, I was drawn to his behavior. We learn that Kevin stress eats; later in the book, it was clear he does this in reaction to Seth brushing off their sexual encounters. Kevin is often portrayed as averting Seth’s gaze, especially later in the book. Here, too, Seth is so wrapped up in the misery of feeling like he’s forcing himself on Kevin that Kevin believes Seth is actually not attracted to him. And in the background of all this sexual tension is the unknown reason about why Kevin has been wrangled into Mr. Winthorpe’s schemes—what sort of dirt does Kevin have that could be blackmailable?
The story is structured into days of the week, complete with dates and times to start off each chapter. Given that Winthorpe expects basically one element of sexual seduction to occur on each one of the seven days of the agreement, there is plenty of action on-page to enjoy. Just as the settings became increasingly fantastical, the sexual escapades grew increasingly intimate. The pacing worked well with the book, I thought. This built in lots of opportunities for Seth to wring his hands over having a sexual relationship with his roommate and lots of opportunities for the reader to see just how badly Seth was reading Kevin’s reactions. And, from a purely oh-la-la perspective, this offered much on-page action to enjoy. Personally, I felt it lacked as much emotion as it was perhaps intended to have…but then again, both Seth and Kevin are there under some form of duress, so maybe that distance was intentional.
As far as the writing goes, the opening chapters were a bit of a disappointment. As mentioned before, the writing makes Seth come across as unsympathetically cocky towards everyone who isn’t Kevin. There are some continuity errors and time jumps that were jarring. Hours passed between two sentences without anything to make the reader feel like any time would have passed at all, for example. There were also at least two noticeable formatting flaws, at least in my reviewer copy of the book.
All in all, this was an entertaining story driven more by the plot than by the characters. The big surprise about who Mr. Winthorpe really is was rather cleverly hidden and Sparrow doesn’t give it away (at least not for me) until nearly the very end of Seth and Kevin’s contracted time. I liked the slow build up of sexual tension between the two friends, even if it was exasperating at times to see Seth focus so much on how much he shouldn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t ever be with Kevin “like that” that he fails to see he just might have Kevin “like that.” If you like friends to lovers with a fantastical twist where both the romance and the fantasy grow slowly but undeniably stronger throughout the book, you’ll enjoy this story.