Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Brody has always had a plan. A carefully laid out series of steps that would take him from point A to point B. Routines that are logical and to a point. He may not have been some genius hockey player or some brilliant wunderkind rocketing up the ladder, but he had something they didn’t. He had drive, work ethic, a laser focus, and inexhaustible patience. Brody had a plan. But his boyfriend, London, was tired of the plan. Tired of coming second to hockey, tired of not being able to be out, to be seen, to go along with Brody to his best friend’s wedding. So … London left.

Going to a wedding alone while you have someone to come home to is one thing. Going to a wedding alone because you have no one to go with sucks. And maybe that’s part of it, the loneliness. The need to reach out for some human contact. More likely, it was that sultry voice, the lazy smile, and the whiskey colored eyes that met his across the room. When the chance came, Brody took it.

Seamus — Sea, for short (Shay) — is an up and coming country star. He has the voice, the smile, the looks, the charisma … but it’s lonely being so deep in the closet, unable to come out. And his few attempts at sex with men haven’t been great. He’s tired of being a virgin, tired of waiting for the right one to come along — when, owing to his career, the right one will always be just out of reach — and when Brody’s offer of finding him a new shirt, after having poured champagne over his, leads to the chance for something more, Sea grabs for it with both hands.

Contract Season is the second book in the Trade Season series, but you don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy it (which is good, because I hadn’t read it). This story is a standalone dealing with a different hockey player, a different team, and a different flavor of romance. And Sea, while he learns to enjoy going to hockey games, is terrible when it comes to ice skating. Just … terrible.

Sea is a tangle of emotions and expectations, all of them his own. Getting his start at 18 on a televised singing competition, he’s been told — by fans, by producers, by his agent — who he is, what his niche is, what his sound is, and what his look should be. His agent even picks out his outfits, his breakfasts, all of it. While Sea’s slowly trying to find his own identity in his songs, it’s slow going, because he’s so afraid of giving it away, of letting people know he’s gay. If he hadn’t been caught out by an unlucky (or lucky) paparazzi pic and his neighbor’s Ring doorbell, Sea might never have had to make the choices he’s now able to make, for all that they’re choices he doesn’t want to make.

Brody is just as much in the closet. First, he needs to focus on his game, and two, sports — especially the big four — aren’t necessarily keen on openly gay players. While some of his team might guess, only one or two actually know, and he’s find with that. But when he and Sea are publicly outed, their respective managers develop a plan: The two of them will date. Publicly. After all, it’s easier for certain parts of America to swallow a pair of gay men in a loving relationship than two gay men caught in a fling. So Brody and Sea sign a contract, agreeing to be fake boyfriends, and it goes terribly.

Sea is insecure, struggling with alcohol dependency and internalized homophobia. A stylist putting nail polish on him sends him into a near panic attack. It’s one thing to be gay, for people to know he’s gay, it’s another to flaunt it. Sea has an image in his head of what a country music star is, and now he’s having to reimagine that, to reimagine himself. Soon that nail polish becomes an act of defiance, something he wears for himself. Brody has it easier with an entire team behind him, publicly supporting him, being a large, loud, and imposing buffer zone between Brody and anyone who might come for him, but even Brody is having to make choices. His plans are now altered. And, for some part of it, they’re no longer his plans.

It’s stressed again and again how their public admission of their sexuality is difficult, as well as how important it is. How the representation of a gay hockey player in a championship team, or a gay country singer invited to sing at the CMAs is for the younger generation who will follow in their footsteps. They crawl so that others might walk, and it’s something that’s important to both Sea and Brody. It means their outing, their struggles, their public admission and the pride they take in each other even more important.

Sex, too, is a focus of the conversation as Sea struggles with what sex means for him. The second time he and Brody tried to spend the night, Sea — drunk, and too in his head — tells Brody to leave. And he does. And from then on, sex is always an awkwardness between them as Sea hesitates, startles, stalls, and fights his own fear and uncertainty, as well as his desire for Brody. And Brody, realizing he’s growing more and more in love with Sea, has to ask himself if he’s able to be in a relationship where sex might not be part of the equation. Is he happy enough with handholding, emotional closeness, and kissing?

There are the usual tropes of a lack of communication, but because they’re mostly from Sea’s side as he is dealing with who he is, who he wants to be, and the entire confusion that is sex, itself, it works. The confusion, the misunderstandings, the false impressions are all in character and not there simply to fuel the plot. The book — despite how quickly Brody and Sea fall into bed in the first chapters — is a thoughtful, slow burn as the relationship, tension, and trust builds between them.

This was a quick read with well developed characters who had a strong chemistry, three-dimensional side characters, clever banter, and strong messages. All in all, I found it to be very enjoyable and strongly recommend it.

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