Christian Blackburn can’t wait to get out of the house and away from his overprotective mother. Christian gets seizures and his mother smothers him with her concern and need to take care of him. Now that he is starting college, Christian is looking forward to living on his own and having some independence. He isn’t really interested in dorm life, so when he finds a room for rent near campus, it seems like the perfect opportunity.
Brandon Hayes isn’t really sure where his life is going. While he has a best friend and a good relationship with his ex-wife, Brandon hates his job and doesn’t really know what he wants from his life. Bringing in a roommate seems to be a good way to appease his ex who doesn’t want him in his big house alone, and Christian seems mature and responsible beyond his years. As the men share the home, their friendship grows, and the attraction betwen them grows as well.
Both men know a relationship between them would be difficult. Christian’s mother would freak if she knew he was dating a man more than twice his age. Also, no one knows Brandon is bi, including his son Van, who is older than Christian. The guys decide that keeping things a secret between them is best for now, and they are falling in love in their own little bubble of their shared home. But as their relationship grows, the men come to rely on one another, and when a crisis happens, they must decide if they want to keep their secret, or if they are ready to share their feelings with the world.
The Secret Thing is the second book in E.M. Denning’s wonderful Blackburn Brothers Duet, following The Sweetest Thing. We met Christian in that first book, as he is Nathan’s younger brother, and I was really intrigued by the glimpses we get of him there. While there is a little bit of timeline crossover here, and Nathan and Scotty make some appearances, you could read this book as a standalone with no problem.
Like the first book, The Secret Thing combines warmth and sexiness really well in one story. Despite the age difference, Christian and Brandon both stand on the cusp of new lives and are figuring themselves out. They both have others who assert themselves quite a bit into their lives, and both are learning to reach for and stand up for what they want. There is a sweetness to their relationship as they fall for one another and support each other. Their quiet nights in and time cooking together have a nice warmth. Along with that, there is a lot of heat here, especially as Brandon explores being with a man for the first time. So there is a nice balance here and the story has a really great tone.
The age difference between the men is considerable and they are in very different points in life. Christian is turning 19 and a college freshman, while Brandon is 40, divorced, and with a grown child. Yet, as I said, they both are at sort of turning points in their lives, which gives them a shared point of view. On top of that, Christian is very mature and responsible, so he definitely doesn’t come across as his age. So I think in general, the age gap worked with the story.
Where I struggled somewhat is that Christian seems almost too mature and, due to the secrecy of their relationship, these guys are in so much of a bubble they seem separated from real life. For the majority of the book, Christian’s POV is almost entirely confined to being in the house. I get that Christian doesn’t like the idea of dorm living, but he has essentially zero interaction with college life. He sees his best friend a couple of times, but doesn’t appear to interact with anyone from school, make friends, join activities, or do anything other than study and live a domestic life with Brandon. I think I just needed more understanding of Christian and why he was so old beyond his years. I get that he needed to be more responsible than most kids his age due to his illness, but not why he had almost no interest in typical college activities or making any friends. I guess I just wanted to understand this aspect of him better as a character.
That is just a small issue, however, and overall I really enjoyed this story. It is a great follow up to the first book and the tone and feel of the stories line up nicely. I enjoy an age gap romance and I think Denning does a nice job showing how these guys work together despite the difference in years. If you are looking for sweet and sexy, definitely check this one out.