stacked coverRating: 3.75 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Sawyer has been in love with his best friend and roommate, Preston, since the two met at boarding school. Sawyer was the scholarship kid there to play rugby among the scions of the wealthy elite. He and Preston shared a room at school and now, thirteen years later, they continue to be inseparable. Preston is a brilliant, but socially awkward, neuroscientist studying for his Ph.D. Yet, despite Preston’s often curt and oblivious manner, Sawyer adores everything about Preston. Everyone says the men are co-dependent, but Sawyer loves taking care of Preston and the two have an incredibly close bond of friendship. But Preston has never shown the slightest interest in men, nor given any indication of interest in Sawyer. So Sawyer has accepted that he will never be more to Preston than the closest of friends.

When Sawyer meets Fitz, one of the new members at the gym where he works, the men hit it off, so much so it leads to a locker room hookup. As it turns out, Fitz is also a graduate student in the same department as Preston, and Preston is to be his mentor. Preston immediately takes a dislike to the friendly, cheery man who is shaking up his routine at work. And when he finds out that Fitz has become close with Sawyer, it throws Preston even more. He isn’t sure why their friendship, and eventual dating, throws him so much. Sawyer has dated guys before and Preston hasn’t thought twice. But seeing Fitz and Sawyer together is upsetting Preston in ways he doesn’t really understand.

As Sawyer continues to grow his relationship with Fitz, he knows part of his heart will always belong to Preston. Yet he also knows he has to move forward with his life, not wait for something that will never happen. But Preston is beginning to realize that he may want more than friendship with Sawyer after all. Now, the men might finally have a chance to take the love they have for one another as friends and turn it into a lifetime of romantic love and happiness.

Stacked is the second book in Linden Bell’s Mars Fitness series. While one of the MCs from Ripped makes an appearance here, this story stands alone just fine and you can easily read this one on its own. The book has an intense friends-to-lovers dynamic, combined with a bit of a nerd/jock vibe, and a relatively inexperienced sexual partner. It has a lot of the tropes I love and I ultimately enjoyed Sawyer and Preston together, but the story did have somewhat of a rocky start for me.

Preston and Sawyer have been best friends and roommates since they were teens. The bond between them comes through very clearly and there was no doubt to me that these men loved each other. But the in love part was harder for me to see. As the story opens, we are told that Sawyer is in love with Preston, but the book didn’t do enough to illustrate these romantic feelings for  me. Their relationship seems to almost completely revolve around Sawyer taking care of Preston, who is socially awkward, absent minded, and so focused on his work that he can barely look after himself in any way (he is coded as neuro-diverse and it is mentioned that he has been tested, but it’s never stated definitively). Sawyer does everything for Preston — makes his food (and reminds him to eat), arranges for his laundry, undresses him and puts him to bed (and lets Preston sneak in every night to share his own bed), goes after Preston at the lab when he is distracted and out too late, keeps track of his schedule and makes sure Preston gets where he needs to go, etc. Preston is very much portrayed as totally unable to function in the world beyond his lab without Sawyer, and their friend Madison, there to manage his life. The story notes that the men are co-dependent, but the whole thing feels very one-sided, as everything seems to rely on Sawyer. It’s not that I needed Preston to be a caretaker in return, but I wanted to see what he is bringing to this relationship, even as a friend, let alone a romantic interest. It was just hard for me to understand the romantic connection Sawyer feels, as it didn’t feel well developed compared to the friendship dynamic.

At the same time, we see Sawyer’s relationship developing with Fitz. The story is written in a way that really showcases this growing romantic connection between him and Sawyer and that came through strongly, with lots of nice scenes of the two of them hanging out, going on dates, etc. So it brings this strong contrast to Sawyer’s feelings for Preston, as their romantic connection isn’t developed nearly as well. Honestly, I kept forgetting that I was supposed to be rooting for Sawyer and Preston to work things out, as Fitz seemed like the more appealing partner and their connection was so well established. This is exacerbated by Preston’s constant rudeness to Fitz, which is clearly coming from a place of unrecognized jealously on Preston’s part, but still makes him come across as not very nice early on. I just think the balance is off here in the story in that the Sawyer/Fitz romantic dynamic is built so much more clearly than the Sawyer/Preston romantic dynamic.

Ultimately, Preston figures out that he is, in fact, jealous and that he wants Sawyer for himself. This is the point where things turned around for me, as we really start to see something build between them. We begin to get those little moments between Preston and Sawyer (plus a lot of sexual heat) that showcase more than Sawyer just taking care of Preston. It became much easier for me to see their connection and I found myself rooting for them for the first time. (As a note, Sawyer does break off his relationship with Fitz before things get too far with Preston, but there is a bit of overlap.) I also appreciated that we see Preston realize that he does, in fact, depend on Sawyer for everything and that he wants to more actively be there for Sawyer in return. Preston also begins to assert himself more and have some more independence, rather than letting Sawyer and Madison handle things for him all the time and fight his battles, particularly with his overbearing parents. I also liked that, in return, we see Sawyer realize that he and Madison baby Preston too much and are too quick to step in, not giving him a chance to learn to handle things on his own. So there is some really nice character growth all around that I appreciated and it provides a nice balance with the early portions of the story.

In the end, this one came together for me nicely and I found myself enjoying Sawyer and Preston together a lot. They are just so gooey and sweet together, with some nice heat. They both grow as characters over the course of the story, and while I struggled with their dynamic early on, things settled down once the men got together. If you enjoy best-friends-to-lovers stories, particularly with a geeky, close-to-virginal hero, this one may be for you.

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