Leighton “Whit” Whittaker keeps running into Rainn Richardson, actually running into the guy, and each time Rainn can’t get away fast enough. Whit does talk too much, but mostly it’s that Whit is a hockey player and, due to a career ending injury, a broken-hearted Rainn has not had anything to do with the sport in four years. Except, Rainn does notice Whit’s intriguing eye color and when Rainn hears Whit’s current dilemma, he can’t help feeling sorry for Whit.
Whit’s birthday is approaching and he’s determined to find a hookup or a boyfriend or someone to give him the experience he is looking for. Rainn agrees to be Whit’s wingman, but Whit now only has eyes for Rainn, although Rainn has never been interested in men before and Whit knows he’s setting himself up for heartbreak.
Rainn tells himself that he’s fine being a bartender, but Rainn has left many things unfinished and has closed himself off from reaching for more. Whit begins to challenge Rainn in every aspect of his life and Rainn doesn’t want to help Whit find a date and can’t seem to stop thinking about kissing Whit. Their friendship is about to get complicated.
Headstrong is part of the Vino and Veritas collection, a set of multi-author stories set in the larger World of True North universe. The books are designed to be standalone stories that can be read in any order, featuring the Vino and Veritas wine bar and bookstore. While Rainn was introduced in Heartscape as a bartender at the wine bar, and we get a glimpse of Tanner here, the relationship between Rainn and Whit does stand alone.
Rainn is barely making ends meet working at the bookstore and the bar. He was on track to play in the NHL, but left college after an injury ended his dreams and he has never fully recovered from the disappointment. Once he finds out that Whit plays on the same team he used to be on, Rainn wants nothing to do with Whit because he wants nothing to do with hockey.
Whit is determined to lose his virginity, the sooner the better. He thought life would be better once he came out, but he is not good at flirting. Men find him attractive, but Whit’s mouth is forever getting in his way. The men become fast friends and Whit falls hard and fast. Even though Rainn has never been interested in men, he deals with his attraction to Whit and then acts on his attraction and is really fine with being with a man, both in private and in public.
The tension comes from Rainn not having a plan and Whit having had a plan all of his life. Whit is close with his family and will be taking over expanding the farm with his brother. Hockey was important to him, but was not his life’s dream, which Rainn doesn’t understand. Rainn seems to have fallen through the cracks with his family and his former coach and has no one to direct him or guide him or even console him.
This book was just fine for me, but I can’t say I ever fully gravitated to either Rainn or Whit and I never felt that special spark that lights up the pages. Rainn doesn’t want to label his sexuality, but the focus of this book is on Rainn being with a man for the first time and with the way it comes about, more exploration was needed for me to pull this together. Even though the men meet at the bookstore, there is little of the store seen in this story and there were some continuity errors between the books I have read so far in this series.
If you are looking for younger MCs with lots of growing pains, both personally and professionally, then Headstrong might be one to check out.