Mikey Vining grew up around football; his father is the head coach of the Houston Riggers and three of his brothers played as well. Mickey is the only one who took a non-athletic path, studying nutrition and becoming a chef. He tries to stay away from the players, particularly after a past poor decision getting involved with one of the Riggers. But when the team’s Heisman Trophy winning rookie needs a personal chef to help get his nutrition on track, Mikey gets pulled into working for him. It was just supposed to be temporary, but five years later Mikey is still working as a chef and personal assistant to star player, Tiller Raine.
Tiller is the NFL’s first openly gay player, not to mention a star wide receiver. He works hard and is committed to his team, and while he is out, he also keeps a low dating profile. Over the past five years, Mikey has become indispensable to Tiller. Not only does he keep him well fed (to the envy of his teammates) and manage the details of Tiller’s life, Tiller is also incredibly fond of Mikey. In fact, the men are very close and Tiller can hardly imagine his life without Mikey around. The fact that he has started to think about Mikey as more than a friend is something Tiller needs to just push aside. There is no way he can get involved with someone who works for him, and the coach’s son no less.
When Tiller gets injured, he decides to spend the Christmas holidays near home in Colorado, so Mikey rents them a gorgeous cabin in the adorable town of Aster Valley. There Tiller gets to enjoy a winter filled with snow and and small town charm, as well as time all alone with Mikey. For his part, Mikey has been lusting after Tiller for years, but he knows getting involved is a bad idea. Yet the special time the men have alone together is enough to finally push them to reveal their attraction for one another. It is a magical time for both men and they are red hot together in bed. But Tiller’s team is pressuring him to return to the field, despite the fact that his injury isn’t fully healed. And Mikey’s dad is very clear that he absolutely will not have any romantic connection between his son and his star player. Now, Mikey and Tiller must figure out if there is a way to take their idyllic time together in Aster Valley and turn it into something long term when they return home, or if the vacation magic will have to come to an end.
Right as Raine is the first book in Lucy Lennox’s new Aster Valley series and I absolutely loved it. The story is romantic, sweet, and super sexy, with two men who clearly care about each other and aren’t afraid to show it. The town of Aster Valley is charming and the locals we meet seem like great fodder for future books, so I’m really excited about this new series. While this full-length story does set the stage for future books, I will note that Lennox has a short prequel, Winter Waites, that is officially considered a standalone. However, to me it feels very much part of the series and the main characters do show up here without a lot of introduction, so I’d start there if you can.
Tiller and Mikey are the highlight of the story for me and I loved their dynamic. As the story opens, they are already five years into their friendship and working relationship. Lennox very much lets us feel their connection, and even though we miss the early stages of their relationship, I had no trouble jumping in and really believing in the strong bond they have built. There is such a sweet dynamic between them. Tiller may be the big, strong football player, but Mikey is definitely the boss of the house, keeping Tiller in line as both his PA and chef. At the same time, Tiller is so sweet and gentle with Mikey, always putting him first. Not to mention that these guys talk to each other, which I appreciate. Yes, there are some moments where each of them holds back, but for the most part, these guys see each other as a team and are honest about their feelings. When they finally get together, they are warm and sexy and such a good match. I really just loved them and their relationship is what carries the story for me.
The conflict here is two-fold, with Mikey being Tiller’s employee, as well as Mikey’s father being Tiller’s coach. My initial instinct was to question why these guys care so much about what Mikey’s dad thinks, considering they are both grown adults, but Lennox does a great job really establishing the conflict and making clear why this is an issue for them. Both of these men are so invested in pleasing Mikey’s father and so much rides on his opinion that is hard for them to go against him. But I appreciated that no matter what, Tiller and Mikey support one another and the story has a great resolution.
As I said, we get to meet some of the other side characters here, and the epilogue leads us into the next book. I am enjoying this small town of Aster Valley and already excited for future stories.