Miller has watched so many of his co-workers at Four Bears Construction settle happily into relationships, and he would love the same for himself. But he is beginning to wonder if it will ever happen for him. When Miller works a construction job at the university, he is delighted to run into his old childhood crush, Demetri. Especially since the man is now a cute, tweed-wearing professor who pushes all of Miller’s buttons. Miller would love to pursue something with Demetri, but the man is definitely hesitant about dating. But Miller is willing to just be friends if that is what Demetri needs.
Too many bad relationships have made Demetri doubt himself and his desirability. The fact that he feels out of shape makes things even worse. Demetri can’t bring himself to try again, and has sworn off dating. And while part of Demetri hopes Miller might really be interested in him, he can’t help but question what the gorgeous, ripped Miller could possibly see in him.
With the idea of a relationship on hold, the men pursue a friendship instead. They get to know each other over gym workouts, casual hangouts at home, and fun get togethers with Miller’s co-workers. Soon, the attraction that flares between them is too much to deny, and the men act on their feelings. Miller’s steadfast friendship and attraction help to give Demetri renewed confidence to try new things and feel better about himself. But Demetri still has some doubts and worries that he is not enough for a guy like Miller. Now Miller needs to convince Demetri that he is everything Miller wants, and maybe they find can find their happiness together.
Stripped is the sixth book in the Four Bears Construction series and definitely one of my favorites. I really loved the dynamic between Miller and Demetri and found them sexy and incredibly sweet together. What I loved most is how being with Miller isn’t a magical cure for Demetri’s insecurities. He has a lot of self doubt, and while it seems like every other man he sees is throwing himself at Demetri, he remains oblivious (which yeah, at times seemed a bit much). But he is just not in a place to actually believe anyone will find him desirable, as he has been beaten down too much. Miller is clear how attractive he finds Demetri and how much he wants him. But it is more than just Miller’s affirmation that makes the difference. Miller’s energy and enthusiasm for life help Demetri to push his narrow box to try new things and reach for more. And as he does, he gains that long missing confidence that really changes his outlook on himself.
I also liked how Neuhold gives us two characters who are at different points on their journey’s to self acceptance of their bodies. In Miller’s case, as a transgender man, he spent many years feeling a dysphoria about his body. While he has come to be happy and confident in his appearance, he still has occasional momentary doubts, like when getting naked with someone for the first time. But for the most part, Miller has really found his confidence and happiness with himself. Demetri, on the other hand, is still struggling with self doubts and anxieties, and that slowly improves throughout the book.
There is always a tricky balance when writing a story where one character is overweight and insecure about it. On one hand, losing weight or getting into shape are often a motivation for that character, but at the same time, it’s important to avoid body shaming or having losing weight suddenly become a magical cure to all the character’s problems. In this case, Neuhold walks that line well. We see that Demetri has insecurities about his size, but also that Miller adores him just as he is. And while Miller does offer to help Demetri learn to use the gym and the guys have some training sessions, Miller is completely accepting when Demetri decides it’s not for him. So while weight is an issue in the story, it is not the sole focus by any means and this isn’t a “lose weight and your life is changed” type of story. In fact, Demetri barely changes physically at all, and it is all right with both men. I do wish we had a little more background into Demetri’s past and what left him so beaten down, however. We are told generally he had some bad relationships, but not a lot of detail. Considering this is a driving factor in the conflict, I feel like more backstory would have helped.
As with all the Four Bears books, this story is heavy on the sex and the playfulness. I particularly got a giggle at Demetri knitting shell cozies for his turtle. It is always fun to reunite with this found family of co-workers who love to tease one another and make jokes, but who are also always there for each other. We get plenty of time with the assorted side characters, as well as a lot of set up for Apollo’s story, which is coming next and will wrap up the series. So if you enjoy some fun, light contemporary with a lot of sexiness, and particularly if you like men with diverse body types, definitely check this one out.