press coverRating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Five years ago, Levar Cousins was a local reporter covering the NYC Pride March when three bombs went off and turned his life upside down. Witnessing the devastation first hand left Levar haunted and led to him leaving New York for a job in DC. Levar now works as the deputy press secretary for Vice President Shafer.

Henley Platt also witnessed the bombing and reported on the story. Like Levar, Henley has never quite been the same after seeing the horror of the terror attack. He now is working his dream job as a White House correspondent and interacts with Levar regularly through work. The men are always careful to keep a professional distance, as befits their positions, but they each enjoy their work interactions. When both men are invited to participate in a memorial event for the Pride Bombing, they end up connecting a little more personally. There is a definite attraction between them, but Henley and Levar both know that nothing can happen between them or they risk both of their jobs.

As Henley and Levar continue to interact, however, keeping a professional distance becomes harder. The men have a shared tragedy that still affects them deeply, and each man finds support and comfort from the other. The chemistry between them is skyrocketing and the men can’t help but act on their attraction. And when another terror attack hits, their world is thrown into even more chaos and Henley and Levar need each other more than ever. Both men know nothing more can come of their connection; in fact, they really need to be staying away from each other completely. But the feelings between Levar and Henley are too much to ignore, and now they must figure out if there is a way to be together, or if they are going to lose it all.

Press is the first book in Nora Phoenix’s White House Men series. She describes the series as “The West Wing but gay, and with less politics.” For those familiar with theTV show, there is that same vibe of energetic idealists working to make the world better. Phoenix also throws in a few Easter eggs, including a White House correspondent named Danny (who I presume is a nod to the show’s reporter Danny Concannon), as well as the frequent request to “walk with me” (which harkens me back to the “walk and talk” style of the show). That said, while the story gave me a touch of nostalgia for the TV series, there is definitely no reason you need to be at all familiar with it to enjoy or follow along with this book.

Press follows dual paths of the romance between Levar and Henley, along with a simmering suspense element with regard to the bombing. Not only do we witness the attack through the prologue in the eyes of both men, but it is clear from the start that the Pride Bombing has deeply affected both Henley and Levar. We learn early on that some of the terrorists were caught, but there are some open questions about who is behind the attack. As the story continues, more threads begin to develop and it’s clear there is more of a mystery at hand than what seemed like a closed case. When there is another attack, it becomes even more apparent that there is a bigger picture that is not yet clear. From a suspense end, this book is really just laying the groundwork. The attacks are scary, but we aren’t really delving too hard into the mystery yet, just really setting things up. I am really curious to see how it will all play out, particularly as each book in this series will be introducing new main characters. So I think it will be interesting to see how each new couple plays into the investigation as it continues to develop.

Where the terror attack really plays a role here is with Levar and Henley themselves. Both men were deeply affected by the bombing and it has impacted both of them in many ways. Five years later, each man still is struggling in the aftermath and there is a kinship that develops between them over their mutual experience. It is hard for either man to find someone who really understand what it means to survive such a horrific attack, and there is a bond they share that really forms the foundation of their connection. Even as the men are attracted to one another strongly, that underlying sense of connection and understanding is really what drives things early on — and what makes it so hard for the men to stay away from each other. I think Phoenix does a really nice job with this part of the story. It is not just two men who want each other, but can’t be together; it’s also two men who deeply need each other. They make a sweet and sexy couple (particularly as Henley is hot for Levar’s sexy lace underwear), and I really enjoyed them together.

There is a nice cast here made up of diverse characters who work in and around the White House. One particularly intriguing character is Rhett, Levar’s best friend and roommate and a fellow Pride Bombing survivor. I am really hoping he gets a story soon. But the book also gives us a nice sense of the workings of the White House (though perhaps somewhat idealized given the current political landscape). But it is the type of government that I would love to see, even if there is some fantasy here in the idealism and ethics. I think there is a really nice foundation here for the series and I am very excited to see how it all goes. So this was a great start to the White House Men and I am very much looking forward to more.

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