Clark Fletcher is an history teacher at Granville High. After having taught in Omaha for some years, it’s a little stifling to return to his hometown, especially because all his gay besties are coupled up. He’d love a partner, but right now Clark’s pretty full up with his dog Mookie, teaching, and managing his special project mentoring at-risk middle school kids. Clark’s beloved Nana is on his back all the time to find a man, however, even setting him up on blind dates. But none of those guys turns his crank. Not like Hunter Rhodes, a super-sexy divorced man who’s newly returned to Granville with his pre-teen son, Toby.
Hunter is a mess. He’s bought a fixer-upper historic home with tons of problems. His long absence from Granville put a strain on his family relationships. Oh, and his son wants to orchestrate a reunion with his ex-wife. Their divorce wasn’t contentious, but now Hunter recognizes it was the best choice for both of them. Being a single dad has its own challenges, and he’s getting tired of aggressive women trying to snag him because their shenanigans upset Toby. Toby’s acting out at school and needs tutoring to get on track after moving, so he’s referred to Clark’s mentorship program, and Clark’s so kind to take him on. Toby really likes Mr. Fletcher, and might respond to the mentoring, if only tutoring didn’t take up so much of their time together.
All the time and proximity being spent together kicks off a wild idea in Hunter’s head: fake date Clark to limit potential romantic entanglements, which will keep both Toby and Nana happy. Toby thinks a fake boyfriend will keep potential step-mothers away from his dad, and Nana thinks Clark’s finally found a good man. Win, win, right? Well, maybe if they weren’t both catching attraction for the other.
Don’t Date a DILF is the first book in the Rules We Break series, which is a spinoff from the Games We Play series, also set in Granville, Nebraska. So, expect some callbacks of characters from previous books. This is a sweet fake-boyfriend romance, where Hunter and Clark get to know one another and build a real relationship while maintaining a ruse. Hunter’s finally able to acknowledge the bisexual attraction he’s only privately accepted, while Clark needs to work through his struggles surrounding dating parents of potential students. He had a colleague who’d made sketchy decisions due to parental influence, and he’s nervous he could get caught in the same deceits. The thing is, Clark isn’t keeping his “relationship” on the down-low like his former friend. He’s upfront and it’s totally cool, especially as Clark’s not actually Toby’s teacher. But, as their true desires reach a tipping point, Clark and Hunter have to make hard choices that can upset some pretty important people in their lives.
I really enjoyed the thought and care brought into Clark’s character as a young and exuberant teacher. He’s careful and kind in appropriate measure. He adores Toby, and is willing to sacrifice to ensure the child is healthy and accepting of first, the ruse, and second, the reality. Hunter is a good man, and his love for his family isn’t small. He sacrificed his parents to keep his wife healthy, but now he’s making amends–and Toby is beginning to recognize that the life they are living now is better than the one he imagines he should have. I really appreciated how much the parenting and teaching went hand-in-hand in this story; it felt very realistic.
For a kick-off book bringing us back to Granville, this did the job in a fun and sexy way. Readers who haven’t read any, or all, of the Games We Play books won’t feel lost, as this is a true standalone, despite the recurring characters–including Hunter’s brother, Augustus, who found love in a previous book. I’ve enjoyed other stories by this author, and wasn’t let down by this book. Despite the name, and many “shrinkage” references, it was small-town sweetness and sensibilities that allowed Clark to find his happy ending with his sexy DILF.