With equal amounts of loyalty, love, and perhaps a bit of occasional highhandedness as well, Jeremy has always looked after his little brother, Benji, even convincing him to go to the same college he attends. But then Jeremy is offered an internship and Benji is left alone to make his way through freshman year. It might be hard for most, but for Benji it’s a bit of a nightmare since his shy and introverted personality means that he finds it difficult to make friends. Plus, he is pretty naïve when it comes to dating and after being shamed and stood up by a fellow classmate who is apparently just using him for the help he gives in class, Benji is pretty heartsore and depressed. Ace, his brother’s best friend and Benji’s secret crush, showing up is the icing on a lousy cake of a night. Still, even if he harbors all kinds of feelings for a guy he knows will never see him as more than his buddy’s kid brother, it is nice to have Ace around.
Ace has never considered it a chore to be around Benji. The guy is so very pretty and yes, while Ace is straight, even he must admit to being bi-curious—maybe even more than that—and Benji seems to push all the right buttons for him. But Ace swore to Jeremy that he’d look after Benji and that means not getting too close or using him as an experiment to determine if his increasing surety that he is bisexual is right. Still, Ace hates to see Benji sad and the jerk who spun him round and left him high and dry on their supposed date deserves a beatdown. But what can Ace do to help? What Benji needs is some confidence and to see that he really is gorgeous and sexy and so talented. He needs a secret admirer, someone to leave little gifts and messages that would make Benji feel special, and Ace can step in and do just that.
Surely there can’t be any harm in just leaving a few notes and a few silly gifts and pretending to be someone who finds Benji irresistible? Surely there’s no danger of Ace developing feelings for Benji. It’s just a harmless gesture…or is it?
D.J. Jamison gives us a truly sweet romance in Secret Admirer. What starts out as just a way to make Benji feel better becomes a huge revelation for Ace, who finds himself increasingly grappling with the idea that he is bisexual—something he has felt might be so for quite some time, but he has never hand the courage or inkling to act on it. While this story isn’t a out for you trope, exactly, there is no denying that there’s only one person who chimes Ace’s bell and that is Benji. Still, the author establishes right from the beginning that Ace’s thoughts about guys and their allure is not necessarily new, as much as his need to get good grades and land a decent job after graduation has taken most of his focus. In fact, Ace really hasn’t dated much in his three years at college and truly hasn’t missed it, until Benji arrives on campus and turns his world upside down. Now the kid who he always had affection for is a gorgeous young man and is pinging all kinds of new emotions inside Ace.
The slow building romance that is highlighted with cute gifts and notes is honestly so sweet. I loved how what begins as a way for Ace to make Benji feel better about himself becomes this kind of coming out for Ace and the culmination of years of crushing on Ace turning into a real relationship for Benji. Along the way, we learn much about Ace’s upbringing and the miserable parents he has who have leached off of him for years. He is an incredibly hard working guy and deserves all the happiness in the world and Benji is so ready to be the one to deliver that to him.
One of the real strengths of this novel is how these two men, as presented by what others think of them and then their own internal thoughts and feelings, are very well rounded characters. I really felt I knew what made Ace and Benji tick by the end of the story. I value in depth characters in novels and the author creates a way to see all aspects of both Ace and Benji through the use of both secondary characters and their own perceptions. This then led to a deeply realistic growing love and the many firsts that occurred for each of them were so believable.
We also watch as both men struggle with Jeremy’s constraints—his worries about being so far away when initially the idea was he would be on campus with Benji in his first year there. For Benji, it means that Jeremy’s excessive concern always makes him doubt himself and his worth, even though Jeremy would never want that to actually happen. His control over Benji and his “brotherly advice” manages to become a main roadblock to Ace and Benji confessing their feelings for each other. In many ways, Jeremy’s demanding request that Ace look after Benji and take care of him as a brother would do forces a lot of guilt and shame to overshadow the growing feelings Ace is having for Benji. Both guys feel like they are somehow betraying Jeremy and that becomes what I think is the main source of conflict in the story.
Secret Admirer is a wonderful story. I felt the handling of bisexuality and the juxtaposition of an out and proud man versus one still in the closet is done very well. There is so much to love about this sweet romance and I can unreservedly highly recommend it to you.