Rating: 4.5 stars
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For Elijah Reynolds, leaving the army was supposed to be the start of a new chapter in his life; he’d finally get to settle down and start a family and spend more time with his parents and his cousin/BFF Tabby. However, life had other plans as the man Eli left the army for betrayed him, and his parents are moving to Boston. Now, he’s faced with the choice of starting over with a clean slate in Boston or staying in the place he loves, but that reminds him of all his failures. Feeling unmoored, frustrated, and isolated, Eli’s few moments of fun come while hanging out with Tabby at the Tabletop Tavern, despite constantly being hit on by unrepentant, irrepressible flirt Arjun Gupta. Trying to avoid repeating the mistakes he made with his ex, Eli has sworn of flirtatious fuckboys (no matter how hot they are). The fact that Eli can’t ignore Arjun’s teasing taunts and come-ons like he does everyone else’s infuriates him, a fact Arjun capitalizes on every time.
Arjun loves his grandmother, loves being a chef at Tabletop Tavern, and loves stripping. What he doesn’t love is living paycheck to paycheck and exhausting himself to make ends meet; he also doesn’t love Eli’s attitude. While his Nani’s hospital bills and move to an assisted living facility necessities him overworking, when it comes to Eli, he has a choice—and he chooses to drive Eli crazy. He’d back off with anyone else, but Eli acts like such a judgmental jerk that aggravating him as payback is a no-brainer. Besides, Arjun knows Eli wants him (even if Eli would rather eat glass shards than admit it), but Eli has made it clear that he doesn’t do one-nighters and, between his two jobs and visiting with his grandmother, that’s all Arjun can offer even if he wanted a relationship…which he totally doesn’t.
As the pair keep meeting and spending time together, Eli comes to recognize how much more there is to Arjun than he lets people see, while Arjun comes to understand Eli’s standoffishness. When the tension between them explodes, neither can regret it, nor can they avoid a repeat. No matter how casual they claim to want things, it isn’t long before they are opening up to each other, but with Arjun reluctant to love another person that is just going to abandon him and Eli still undecided about where he wants to be, taking a leap of faith may be too much of a risk for either man.
Dexterity Check is the fifth book in the Dungeons and Dating series and is my favorite thus far. While the crew from the Tabletop Tavern and MCs from the other books are important characters that feature heavily in the story, it stands alone very well. The story starts with an enemy(ish) to lovers setup as Arjun reminds Eli of his superficial, cheating ex and Arjun loves to aggravate the seemingly uptight Eli because he’s not a fan of being judged by a stranger for simply enjoying one-and-dones. McIntyre does a good job threading the needle between Eli being a censorious prick and Arjun being an annoyance, as it’s easy to understand the hang-ups and hurts underneath each man’s actions. There’s a lot of banter and sass, but also a lot of heart and difficult emotional journeys.
Arjun learned a long time ago that he’s not worth sticking around for and that letting someone close and relying on them only leads to heartbreak; he’d rather run himself into the ground to avoid showing any weakness or accepting help from others. He’s perfected using his natural charm and easygoing nature as a shield to keep people from getting to know him. He lives his life with no emotional entanglements or support, other than his Nani, and is afraid to want more from Eli when Eli offers it.
For Eli, trying to find his place in the world is lonely and demoralizing. Eli has had several setbacks that left him in a dark place and struggling with depression. Enlisting was once a lifeline, but between his career stalling out and his ex cheating, he’s convinced that his life has been a series of wrong choices. The double blow of losing the man he planned to settle down with and the assurance of having all his loved ones around to connect with as he figures out his life leaves him feeling like a failure and uncertain of who he is and what he wants. Getting to know Arjun and falling for him are wonderful and terrible as Arjun makes it clear he can’t do serious, but Eli can’t help losing his heart to the hardworking, vivacious, and stubborn man.
Arjun and Eli have great chemistry, and their individual personal journeys and shared struggle with their self-worth are compelling and relatable. Seeing them open up and be vulnerable with one another is lovely, especially as it is not easy for them. As always, the Tabletop crew are loving, supportive, generous, and make me jealous of having such a solid friend group. Nani is also hilarious and tries to steal the show (and Eli) in every scene she’s in. All in all, Dexterity Check is a fun, heart-tugging and heartwarming read.