Deion Jones has been in love with his best friend, Carlton Monroe, since they were 19. Even though he wants forever with Carlton, Deion knows it’ll never happen. Carlton is not the settling down type, or the family type, and though Deion understands why, he also knows that means that Carlton won’t ever take that leap with him. But that doesn’t stop him from being the best friend he can to Carlton and being there for him one hundred percent.
Carlton became an unexpected parent to his nephew, but now that Trey is off at college, he can jump back into his life as a single man. And the thing he wants to do most is hang out with his best friend. Deion has been his rock since they were 19, when Carlton’s parents basically told him they didn’t want anything to do with him. When Deion comes for a visit, although there are some mixed signals, they are happy to be with one another — even though Deion is constantly fighting his attraction and Carlton is constantly reminding himself why he can’t be with Deion.
But things change when Carlton’s niece shows up at his door, wanting to stay with him. Olivia’s situation isn’t great, living with her grandparents, and she wants to be able to be herself. Carlton immediately takes her in, even though it means he’ll have to jump through hoops to adopt her. He begs Deion to stay a while longer, to help get Olivia settled. But domesticity feels right to both Deion and Carlton, and their relationship becomes physical. It’s what both men want, but neither can fully express themselves. Carlton is desperate not to lose Deion and Deion can’t give himself fully over to Carlton when he can’t be sure Carlton loves him back.
Unrequited love that’s not really unrequited between friends to lovers? Yes please. This definitely intrigued me from the start, and since I’ve been a fan of Ellis’, I was looking forward to this book. And while the characterizations were spot on and the narrative tight, it wasn’t without it’s problems for me.
I love both Deion and Carlton and their relationship with each other. Both MCs are well fleshed out and fully formed. It was easy to understand exactly where both characters were coming from. And their chemistry was off the charts. It was absolutely clear that not only were these guys right for each other, but that they’ve been right for each other and were letting their own issues hold them back.
Deion is such a good guy, solid and strong and loyal to a fault. Yes, he’s in love with Carlton, and that plays into it to a degree, but the heart of it is that Carlton is his friend, and Deion is would do anything for him. Carlton would do the same, but he’s hampered by his fear of losing Deion. Deion is the only real family he’s had for almost twenty years, though before his sister’s death, they were as close as they could be given the circumstances. I just really liked both these guys, their complex backstories, and all that they were.
Though I was mildly annoyed that the inherent conflict of this story was predicated on the fact that these two men weren’t great at communicating with each other, Ellis definitely made it believable and human of them. The MCs thought things they should have just said to each other, but at the same time, I was along for the ride and understanding where they were coming from. Carlton, especially, given his past and his current situation, made a lot of sense. My heart went out to him. I did understand where Deion was coming from as well, and could understand his reluctance to jump right in.
However, where this book really didn’t work for me was the big conflict and resolution at the end. After everything these guys went through, I felt Deion’s reaction was extreme and dramatic, not really fitting the situation. He knew what Carlton’s big fears and insecurities were, and still acted in a problematic way. Then it was up to Carlton to make amends and the grand gesture. This didn’t sit well with me, because ultimately these two didn’t have a true and real conversation. I also felt that Deion was just as at fault, because of his reaction when he didn’t hear the words he wanted to, despite Carlton showing him with actions. The lack of communication here really got to me, and I would have preferred these guys have a real conversation instead of a grand gesture. For me, it would have felt more real.
Despite that, I still liked this book. Ellis’ style is tight and easy to read, drawing me in time and again. I love the characters she creates, not only the MCs, but all the unique secondary characters as well. While this book didn’t end on the best note for me, I’m looking forward to what comes from the Higher Education series in the future.