Gage Kingston is moments away from getting married when he realizes he can’t go through with it. Gage basically takes off running and ends up randomly bumping into his ex-boyfriend, rock star Jett Stevens. The men fell for each other 12 years ago and had been hoping for a future together. But when Jett’s famous rock star father died, it shattered him. He felt he needed to continue his dad’s legacy by taking over his place as lead singer in the band and to leave Gage behind. Now, Jett can’t believe Gage has landed back practically in his arms, right in the middle of a big radio interview on the beach no less. When things get complicated between the public interview and Gage’s runaway groom situation, Jett suggests Gage pretend to be his boyfriend to smooth things over.
The guys decide that they will pretend to be dating through the band’s tour in Florida, and then publicly break things off. However, almost immediately, Jett and Gage find themselves reconnecting, both romantically and physically. Neither man was ready to end things 12 years ago and, now that they are back in each other’s lives, it doesn’t take long for them to once again settle into that deep bond they once had. Gage is there for Jett as he deals with the stress of performing and trying to fit into his father’s shoes, instead of making his own way with his own music. And Gage stands up for Jett and supports him when Jett’s uncle and band manager, Bas, tries to manipulate Jett’s love for his father to get what he wants. But even as the men are growing closer together, the end of their pre-arranged relationship is drawing near. Now, Jett and Gage have to decide if there is a way to turn their temporary reunion into something more, or if once again the demands of Jett’s life will pull them apart.
Aisle Be There is the first book in Charlie Cochet’s new Runaway Grooms series and it is totally adorable and a lot of fun. The book takes place within Cochet’s larger Four Kings Security universe and Gage is cousins with King from Diamond in the Rough. King does appear here briefly and there are passing mentions of the various Four Kings guys providing security for Jett, but this story does stand alone from the other series with zero issues. That said, if you enjoy the style and tone of the Four Kings books, I think this one is going to be right up your alley, as it has a similar sense of humor and playfulness.
While there is some set up here with the runaway groom and fake relationship situations, at its heart this is a lovers reunited story. Gage and Jett got torn apart by the tragedy of Hart’s death (and some impulsive decisions made by Jett in his time of grief and helped along by his pushy uncle). So neither man ever really got over the other and once they are back in each other’s lives, they are quick to rekindle all those feelings from the past. Gage is just so solid and strong and he provides a sense of stability and comfort to Jett’s more chaotic life. Jett gave up his solo career to take over as lead singer for his father’s band, feeling like it was the only way to keep alive the legacy of the man he loved so much. But Jett has lost a lot of joy for performing and is mostly going through them motions at this point. It becomes clear early on that his uncle is bad news and is coercing Jett with guilt and nostalgia to manipulate him into doing exactly what Bas wants. So in addition to rekindling the romantic connection, Gage is looking out for Jett and helping things run smoothly for him and even intervening as needed with Bas.
These guys are fun, sweet, and sexy together and, while they are ostensibly fake dating, virtually from the beginning both guys are all in with one another romantically and hoping for more. It takes a while for them to actually acknowledge to one another how they feel or that they want things to continue, but there is never any doubt that the men want to be together. Even as the guys share their feelings, what is really complicating things is the situation with Bas, Jett’s uncle and band manager. We see many examples of how he manipulates Jett using his dead father’s memory to control Jett and the band. As things heat up toward the end, the situation gets even more complicated with Bas and there are more wrenches thrown in. I think Cochet does a nice job of really showing Jett’s connection to his father and why Bas is able to manipulate him so easily. I could really feel the bond Jett had with his dad and that aspect is set up nicely. And it is clear Jett’s bandmates are treading lightly for fear of Jett’s feelings in some respects. But I did find myself a tiny bit frustrated at the end with how things play out. First, Bas’ contract seems a bit hard to believe; even if Jett would have signed something like that, would his much more skeptical bandmates have so willingly agreed to a contract that gives them no control? But even more, at one point it becomes clear how much Bas is controlling Jett’s life and career, and Gage makes a decision he thinks is for Jett’s own good. But when that decision involves deciding FOR Jett what is best for him, and then essentially leaving Jett to the wolves with someone who is harming him, it was hard to see how this was actually supporting Jett’s best interests. It was just frustrating behavior from the normally very rational Gage. But overall, I do think this storyline plays out well and I like how it comes together in the end.
I also loved the sense of friendship and camaraderie among the band. The rest of these guys are in their 70s, bandmates and good friends of Jett’s dad, and they have sort of a playful uncle vibe with Jett. It is clear how much they love and care about him and they provide some comic relief, but also real affection. It gave the story a found family element that rounds it out well.
I’ll note, for what it’s worth, that while the story sets up with a “runaway groom” situation and that is the title of the series, this part of the storyline doesn’t really go anywhere. The fact that Gage was about to get married really has no impact at all on the story. There is some noise early on about how his fiance’s dad would be pissed and send guys after him, but that doesn’t actually materialize. And while we get a nice conversation between Gage and his ex, otherwise there is no fallout from Gage taking off moments before the wedding. Given how otherwise caring and kind Gage is shown to be, we don’t see him really make any effort to clean up the post non-wedding mess. He pretty much just runs away and doesn’t look back, and barely thinks about it at all. So there really isn’t any significance to the fact that he was a runaway groom or a connection to that early set up. The story could have worked the same if Jett and Gage ran into one another for any one of a million reasons. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but be aware if you are coming into this book looking for that trope that it is really only the barest of outlines.
Overall, I found this one a really great start to the series and it was a lot of fun to jump back into this world. In fact, I found myself thinking about this story for days after finishing it. The tone of these books is fun and playful and light, but there is also a lot of heart and emotion here. Whether you are a Four Kings fan or new to this world, this story is definitely worth checking out.