Finding company for a night or two has never been an issue for Matt Johnson. But when a casual arrangement with his former roommate falls apart, Matt starts to realize that maybe he wants more than just sex. He wants a connection. Matt’s prayers may be answered when the incredibly attractive and young Nate Hayes approaches Matt via a hookup app. If only Matt could convince Nate that living a life out and proud is truly the key to happiness.
Nate has been his mother Susan’s support system since his father died a few years ago. Now, however, Nate is ready and willing to explore a side of himself he’s never really gotten to know: being gay. Nate has had his eye on Matt Johnson for a while, and when the sexy bartender actually offers to be Nate’s first sexual partner—and to make it an experience Nate won’t soon regret—Nate can’t help but jump at the chance. And the best part is that both Nate and Matt feel an instant, bone-deep connection. But there is the issue of Nate being in the closet…and coming out to a hyper-conservative parent is never easy. Time will tell if Nate can actually come clean about being gay to his mother without losing all hope of having an amazing relationship with the man of his dreams.
The Love Between Us is a great little story to read when you want a fun, low-commitment distraction. With significant focus on some common tropes (OFY, bigoted parent, the in/out of the closet drama), you can whip through the chapters without getting bogged down in intricate plot details. The characters are also pretty limited in range, which lets the reader take a lot of what they say at face value. Put together, this makes for an easy read that pushes over-the-top reactions. Matt and Nate, for example, fall instantly in love and, even when they struggle with Nate’s being in the closet, their focus is nearly entirely on their relationship. In other words, they have jobs and other friends, but everything serves as a prop for their various, often romantic, interactions. Likewise, Susan, Nate’s mother, is pigeon-holed as a bigot who undergoes a transformative arc that starts midway through the story and climaxes towards the end. Unlike our romantic leads, she seems more conflicted over the love she has for her son and the love she has for her religious life.
Personally, I thought there was a pretty big investment in showing Matt and Nate connecting physically, but very little to demonstrate they were invested in each other beyond the bedroom. Maybe their physical compatibility was also meant to demonstrate their emotional compatibility, but for me, when the bulk of their interactions with each other are either an overt sex act or a lead up to such acts, it felt like there wasn’t as much bonding going on as there was boning. The biggest angst they deal with is Matt’s ultimatum about Nate’s being in the closet, and that gets resolved pretty quickly…so they can get back into the bedroom.
Overall, the book is a very quick read. The author seems to employ a rather casual tone for the story. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me much. However, when it came to some passages featuring Nate’s very straight-laced mom, and at least a couple utterances from Matt (the more experienced, mature half of the romantic couples…albeit he is only twenty-seven), some of their verbal styles felt a bit jarring. I also thought there were a few places where the prose felt a bit weak. In one case, Matt has gone by himself (and without Nate’s knowledge or blessing) to see Susan in an effort to get her and Nate to reconcile. When it threatens to blow up in his face and ruin his relationship with Nate, Matt wonders if he can “whine about how much [he] wanted to make things right” to stay out of trouble with Nate. That smacked of manipulative behavior to me, but I don’t think it was supposed to. Another irksome bit of text was how, after Nate and Matt decide to make an honest go of a relationship, Matt reveals “I haven’t had sex with anyone since you…that might not seem a long time, but believe me, for me it is.” At this point, Matt and Nate had only been “off” for about a week or two. Again, the phrasing and the idea that two weeks without intercourse is some sort of sacrifice feels manipulative to me.
I think anyone looking for a melodrama with a lot of on-page action that plays up some popular tropes will enjoy this story. Close readers may find some bits of text a bit problematic and there is little character development to enjoy between our romantic leads (at least, I got no sense of why they fell in love in addition to lust). There’s a big old happily ever after, though, which makes this a good choice for some pretty spicy escapist entertainment.