Mary had a brief moment of popularity two years go when she dated the town’s golden boy, Roman. She was a cheerleader, he was the star of the football team. It should have been a match made in heaven, if it weren’t for the fact that Roman was madly in love with her brother. Mary covered for them, supported them, and stood with them when the town turned against them. But Roman and Jonah graduated and moved on to college in LA where they could be free and be themselves, leaving Mary behind.
Mary can put up with the looks, the cruel comments, the isolation. She’s a devout Christian and believes there is salvation for everyone, forgiveness, and love. Even when it’s hard. But … it would be nice to have friends, again. When a chance encounter brings Mary to the attention of Dylan, the sheriff’s son, known for his smart mouth and ever-present knife, and Justin, the new and black footballer player just moved to town, Mary sees a chance. She’s not the only one alone and lonely. And three wounded souls are stronger than one.
When Mary sees the simmering tension between Justin and Dylan, she recognizes it at once. These two are meant for one another. The way they stare at one another, the way they move around each other, and … the way Dylan is giving Justin a blowjob. That was probably the biggest clue. And, Mary’s fine being a beard again, entering into a fake relationship if only to have a friend or two. But Dylan has something else in mind. Dylan sees no reason he can’t have Justin and Mary; for once, Justin seems to be agreeing, and Mary can’t help but melt between them. Even if this is just for a moment, just a fling, just an experiment … it’s everything she wants. They are everything she wants.
In Between is the third entry in the Love is Love series, and follows the events of Bully King (which I very much enjoyed), but works well as a standalone. While Roman and Jonah make the occasional phone call to Mary, this is very much her story — and Dylan’s and Justin’s. It’s also a simpler story, not as complex or dark, and involves a great many graphic and explicit sex scenes between two people and three people — all of whom are 18. There is also an attempted rape, sexual harassment (by a side character), bullying, a fight in which one character is badly stabbed and another shot, and Dylan is several times beaten by his father. This book pulls no punches, so heed the warnings if you’re interested in reading this story.
Mary is a good girl. Even as removed as she is, emotionally, from her father — having watched him beat her brother to a pulp with the bible while her mother did nothing to stop the violence or protect her child changed her opinion of both her parents very decidedly — she is still an obedient and devout daughter. Mary’s faith is what keeps her going, able to hold her head up. She will follow the teachings of Jesus, to forgive, to be compassionate, to not act with anger, and to not judge others. Likewise, it helps her deal with the shunning the town has been giving her, but when she finally has Justin and Dylan in her life, everything changes. Suddenly Mary has support. She has two people who will stand at her side, stand up for her, fight for her, and defend her. She’s no longer just trying to endure, she’s thriving. They make her laugh; their kisses steal her breath and make her blood boil. And she loves them.
Justin’s family is the only black family in a town where lynchings are seen as something funny. Something no one should get worked up over. In a town where footballers can do no wrong, Justin is constantly under attack from his fellow players, suspended for defending himself … and everyone knows why. He hates it here. His best friend died not long before coming to town and he’s still dealing with that pain. When Mary first reaches out to him, he rejects her, quite firmly, because being friends with him could cause her a great deal of pain. Until Dylan changes everything, Dylan who gets in Justin’s face, who drags him out into the woods for a beer, who jokes about being gay, whose hand gets too close … and whose energy and friendship call to Justin. It’s Dylan who makes him realize he might not be straight, and he’s fine with that. So long as it’s Dylan. And it’s Dylan who drags Mary into this, egging them on, pushing the three of them together until no one can tell where one of them ends and the other begins.
Dylan is the son of the sheriff, and being beaten by his father is a daily occurrence. Nine times out of ten, he’s the one to start, mouthing off and posturing, both looking for the only attention he’s known from his father, and making the beating something he chooses. After all, if he’s the one to start it, it’s a fight, not a beating. If he’s the one who lashes out, who smarts off, he’s the one deciding to be hit. Dylan hates his father, he hates his town, he hates all of it. Justin started off as a way to piss off his father, as their houses are almost next door. But Justin is gorgeous and kind, and Dylan wants very badly to have someone be kind to him. Justin is strong enough to stand up under the twisted weight of his regard. He can give it all to Justin, knowing those shoulders can bear the weight. And for Mary, Dylan will rise out of the mess of his life and try to be a hero. Because he loves her. As much as he loves Justin. Or would, if he believed in love.
There is a lot of teenage angst in this book. Dylan constantly worries about how he will break Mary. Breaking her, both in a sexual sense and in an emotional sense, are some of his favorite phrases when it comes to their girlfriend. He’s so certain that because he has issues ,he’ll somehow ruin Mary, as though she’s too pure and innocent, this as he’s fucking her while she’s cradled in Justin’s lap. Mary is so certain they’ll leave her behind, even as they arrange their schedules so they can walk with her during class. Both Mary and Dylan have the weight of the town, it’s homophobia, racism ,and conservative opinions shaping everything they’re feeling, while Justin, coming from a larger town, is not so bogged down. He’s the sane one, the rock they cling to to keep them together, while Dylan is the spark that ignites them, and Mary is the heart. It’s a well-balanced, hormonal, sex-fueled thruple and I found it to be well characterized and developed.
There is a plot in this book, a loose thread tying the sex scenes together involving a stalker intent on raping Mary; Dylan’s father; the mystery of Dylan’s mother, who ran way when he was seven; and Mary’s own parents finding out that their daughter is having sex. Unfortunately, all of it feels very incidental as the book moves from sex scene to sex scene. The focus of this story is the erotic nature of this threesome and the emotional bonds that tie them together more than the background drama of a small-minded small town. It’s an easy read with little angst, but I did find the imbalance of sex to story to be a little too heavily weighed on the sex. Still, if you’re looking for a steamy MMF, this one is certainly that.