No one is ever in the building as early as Stephen—at least not until he is rushing on the stairs, hot coffee in hand, and comes crashing into the guy who he has been ogling since the office Christmas party. Russ is an up and comer at the firm where Stephen is the CFO and it’s entirely his fault that the guy is now sprawled out on the floor needing more than just a hand up. Stephen is determine to make sure Russ is okay and even follows the ambulance to the hospital where he is told that Russ has a badly sprained foot, as well as a concussion. He can’t be left alone, so Stephen takes Russ home and that is when sparks begin to fly. But Stephen is a gentleman and refuses to take advantage of an injured man, even if the guy is more than willing. One overnight turns into days and then into weeks. Russ and Stephen may have a heap of compromising to learn in order to make it work, but the idea of a relationship is definitely on the table. Now if only they can learn how to trust each other and their fledgling love.
Brigham Vaughn combines two of her previous releases into one new book to begin a series that will feature new material in the future. Until then, Off-Balance follows the story of an age gap couple, Russ and Stephen, as they navigate the rough waters of a new relationship that is threatened by past hurts both men need to deal with before they can go all in and trust the other. For Russ, his mother leaving him and his sister going to live with a homophobic and ultra-religious aunt means he grapples with abandonment issues—often sabotaging himself in order to be the one who leaves first before the other person has the chance. Stephen, on the other hand, tends to cling too tightly and dominate in a way, outside the bedroom, that threatens to smother Russ and make him feel as though Stephen doesn’t trust him to make his own decisions. Both scenarios demand a high level of communication if the two men are to make a go of being in a relationship with the other.
While this novel is definitely based on an insta-love trope and the “I Love You’s” come rather quickly, there is a lot of ground that these two men actually need to cover relationally that makes their love for each other feel much more realistic and solid. Both guys bring a heap of emotionally wounded baggage to this pairing and working through it is crucial to their success as a couple. I really like how the author takes the time to unwrap all the minefields that these two encounter on their road to a happy ever after. Both men change exponentially—particularly Stephen who begins as this calm, solid rock wanting to control many aspects of Russ’ life and moves to a man in great emotional need of a solid partner by the second half of the book.
It’s this radical change in character that seems strange and yet works well for me. The event that changes Stephen so dramatically triggers the dealing of buried traumas and coming to terms with the past that has shaped him into the man he is today. What I did struggle with, however, is the repetition of the doubts and fears that invaded both Russ and Stephen’s thoughts every time they had a conflict. It became monotonous to read once again that Stephen fears he is too old for Russ and the guy will leave him for someone younger and that Russ worries he will never measure up to the kind of man he thinks Stephen wants and deserves. These ideas are pulled out over and over again every time there is some conflict, which happens quite often. I applaud the author for not just allowing these two men to glide off into the sunset, so to speak, but still the angst got old after a while simply because it was always based on the same fears.
There is some heavy material covered in this novel from homophobia, to rejection by parents, to the death of a parent. As each issue is uncovered, Russ and Stephen learn more about themselves and each other. While this is not a light-hearted romance, it is a great character study and you really know each man inside out by story’s end. Off-Balance begins the Peachtree series and promises to further explore Stephen and Russ in the next installment. I look forward to seeing what the future brings for these two at the hands of this talented author.