Today I am so pleased to welcome Jayce Ellis to Joyfully Jay. Jayce has come to talk to us about her latest release, Learned Reactions. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!


I’d always wanted to write a friends-to-lovers romance, but I’ll be honest. My time on Twitter led me to believe that they’re terribly out of style (enemies-to-lovers all the way!), enough that I had to step away to get the first draft done. And as I worked on it, I kinda got where readers were coming from.

Why haven’t these folks taken the next step? If they’re attracted to each other, and they’re likely compatible on a lot of levels (else they wouldn’t be friends…right?), then what’s the holdup? I finished the first draft and had no clue! Suffice it to say I had 15 pages of typed notes to myself before my editor even got her hands on it, trying to work out exactly why they’d been in this holding pattern for so long.

But here’s what I learned while muddling through Learned Reactions. There’s something to be said about comfort. There’s something to be said about lanes. And there’s something to be said about trust. So much of who I consider family aren’t blood, and I know where I stand with them. I know what I can share with them, and I know where my boundaries are. I trust them with my secrets, and I vented to them mightily before my husband and I got our acts together.

Imagine my husband was one of those friends (we never were, always in the pseudo-dating sphere). That comfort, those boundaries? They start to blur, shift, rearrange themselves. Not just for us, but for other mutuals as well. Things that have been comfortable for years now…aren’t. You want to think you can keep everything you’ve had before, but add this something new to it, and I just don’t think it works that way. Maybe for some lucky couples, but definitely not for Carlton and Deion.

Notwithstanding the wrench I threw into their journey with Carlton’s niece showing up, forcing them to consider the boundaries of their relationship in ways they’d never conceived of, the simple act of moving from friends to lovers requires an examination of everything that came before.

Deion has that classic unrequited love thing going on, and he has to decide whether he believes Carlton’s change of heart is real, or a play for the powers-that-be. And that’s the thing. It’s a choice. He chooses what to believe and what to discard, the decades-long reminders of why they couldn’t work, or the actions he’s seeing now.

Carlton has to reconcile his rationale for keeping Deion boxed in the do-not-touch-zone with what he wants now (hint: it involves a lot of touching). Even more than Deion, Carlton must consider where and why the boundaries with Deion lie. Where he’s said they are, versus where they’ve resided in his heart, aren’t necessarily in the same place. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for him to shift them.

Friends-to-lovers is a consummate internal plot story. Nothing external is keeping these guys apart for twenty years. And if the reasons for staying apart in the first place don’t work, it gets old quick. I get it. But goodness I love it, watching two people figure out their new normal, how things will change, how they will stay the same, and watching as they set off on a new road together. They’re kind of classic feel good stories, and I hope you love Carlton and Deion as much as I do!


“The friends-to-lovers trope feels fresh in Ellis’s hands, in part because it’s underpinned by a lovingly drawn depiction of Black family dynamics.” —Publishers Weekly

Carlton Monroe is finally getting his groove back. After a year playing dad to his nephew and sending him safely off to college, it’s back to his bachelor ways. But when his teenaged niece shows up on his doorstep looking for a permanent home, his plan comes to a screeching halt. Family is everything, and in the eyes of social services, a couple makes a better adoptive family than an overworked bachelor father. A fake relationship with his closest friend is the best way to keep his family together.

If things between him and Deion are complicated, well, it only needs to last until the end of the semester.

Living with Carlton is a heartbreak waiting to happen, and once the adoption goes through, Deion’s out. He’s waited two decades for Carlton to realize they’re meant for each other, and he’s done. It’s time to make a clean break. But it’s hard to think of moving away when keeping up the act includes some very real perks like kissing, cuddling and sharing a bed.

Even the best charades must come to an end, though. As the holidays and Deion’s departure date loom, the two men must decide whether playing house is enough for them—or if there’s any chance they could be a family for real.

Higher Education:

  • Book 1: Learned Behaviors
  • Book 2: Learned Reactions

Buy Links: Amazon


Jayce Ellis started writing as a child (just ask the poor sixth-graders forced to listen to her hand-written cozy mystery), then made the tragic mistake of letting the real world interfere for the next two decades. When she finally returned to her first love (her husband and two turtles, Chompers and Desi, remain locked in an eternal battle for second), she’d transitioned from mystery to romance, and there she’s found her true passion.

Jayce writes about people a bit like her, Black and queer and striving to find the good in a world fixated on the bad. She prefers her angst low and her characters hot—a term encompassing all shapes, sizes, and complexions.

There may be a hint of irony in Jayce’s day job as a family law attorney, but she soothes herself in worlds where people communicate and find a way to work things out and reach a real and true HEA, even if there’s rarely a neat, tidy little bow wrapping everything else up. Because really, where’s the fun in that?

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