Cole Hadley’s life is finally coming together. He’s free from his fat-shaming ex-husband, has landed a job at the State Department that lets him work with antiquities, and is about to start a two-week vacation in the sleepy town of Al’Shahin. Cole’s main goal is to complete his diving credentials, and he hopes the wonders underwater will finally release his artist’s block. Cole wants nothing more than to make art again. One glance at the hot dive instructor gives him second thoughts, however. He’s worked on his self confidence, but the man has a look that all but screams “too good for you.” But Cole is nothing if not an expert at dealing with thorny people.
It was not Hank Ashton’s plan to become divemaster at the Hotel Grande Al’Shahin, but after borrowing money from the wrong person years ago, it’s the best way to pay off his debt. Truthfully, it was the only way to pay off his debt. And if it wasn’t for Sam, Hank probably would have had a far more illicit arrangement. But even a dream job in a pristine location can feel like a dead end when there is no getting out. Every day is an empty grind until a visitor named Cole comes for lessons, and Cole ticks every one of Hank’s boxes when it comes to attraction. A little fun in the sun wouldn’t go awry so long as Hank can keep it on the down low. But when his student starts to remind Hank of what he loves about diving and the sea, he finds himself falling hard and fast. And when they find a genuine, ancient artifact, the two men just might find a way to stay together…if their views on what to do with the thing weren’t diametrically opposed.
Drifting is the first book in author J. Calamy’s Diving In series. The story is told in alternating third-person omniscient perspectives. I really enjoyed how Calamy used this narrative style to flesh out Cole and Hank as individual characters with lives outside their enthralling dives and growing feelings. Cole was a terrific lead. His backstory clearly indicates he’s had a long struggle with being overweight, and on page it’s clear he has and continues to work at accepting himself. The string of interesting jobs (archives in a museum, State Department) added to his intelligence. I really enjoyed that this professional experience also got a moment to shine when Cole low-key confronts the man who is extorting money from Hank by brandishing his public-service honed skills. Hank was a marvelous opposites-attract romantic interest for Cole. For one thing, I liked how Hank is just straight up attracted to Cole from the get-go. And because we get to hear Hank’s side, it was easy to tell Hank is genuine in his desire for Cole. As they go on dives and get to know one another, they discover there’s more than just physical attraction. Basically, I just liked that there was no need for Cole to prove himself as a romantic partner despite his weight. Added bonus: Hank is also outside what I would consider the typical romantic lead. Even though he’s apparently super buff, he’s also bald and pushing fifty. It just tickles me that both leads are outside the archetypal “hot young stud” trope in many romances.
The plot of the book focuses mostly on the dives Cole and Hank share. Because Cole is only on vacation for two weeks, he’s booked a lot of dive time. This works out great as Cole and Hank get to know one another and discover their attraction to each other is mutual. One aspect of the book that had me flipping pages with excitement and dread was knowing that LGBTQ relationships where the book is set are pretty clearly discouraged. After their first steamy kiss, I was just waiting for the wrong person to catch Hank and Cole in the act. Another nail-biter aspect was knowing that the man who Hank owed money to also had Hank’s passport. I was constantly wondering if that would raise its ugly head — and how perfectly it would lead to Cole getting to bust out epic levels of diplomacy to get Hank out of his bad situation. The way the climax ultimately unfolds spoke so clearly of how much Cole and Hank thought they understood one another, and the horrifying realization that they really don’t. Of course, they then must work through the issues in order to ultimately get to their happily ever after.
Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I really appreciated having a overweight main character. Cole’s weight was never a huge plot point, but I thought Calamy did a great job reminding the reader that Cole is not a chiseled model and his appearance used to and still factors into how he navigates the world. And that faded away the more comfortable he got with Hank. The pacing felt like a slow burn to me, but given that Cole and Hank were only together a week before the found and argued over the artifact, it’s probably closer to instalove. That said, there is so much careful attention paid to how the two characters interact with each other that it makes the whole romance thing work exceptionally well. If you like stories featuring main characters outside the norm for many romance novels, if you like instalove stories or opposites attract, if you enjoy romances set in far away places, then I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this book.