I would rate this 4.5 stars.
At first glace this seems like a love triangle with Teo in love with his childhood friend of twenty years Chris, and his growing feelings for a one night stand turned friend, Jack. But Chris, who is bisexual, acts heterosexual for his parents, and while happy to have sex with Teo if they keep it on the down low, is not ready to come out and settle down in his twenties. When Teo loses his virginity to Jack, he starts to realize childhood dreams are just that. Teo is ready settle down and he is a forever type of guy. As Chris does everything in his power to manipulate his friend in order to keep him close and under his power, Teo is finally learning that there is a difference between love and being in love. Jack learns that maybe his happiness with traveling and playing the field is just what he tells himself to avoid being hurt or hurting others. What Jack wants is Teo, but being in love with someone who is in love with someone else is not on his agenda.
Switching POV between Teo and Jack is utilized to great effect, allowing me to enjoy seeing them fall in love from both sides. This led with the erotic, but subtly pulled me into a romance; the sex scenes are hot, hot, hot…yet surprisingly sweet. This features an age gap and a fake boyfriend trope with forced proximity. Their conversations flow naturally. I laughed and got choked up; I got so attached to everyone. They are adorable together, and as their passion grows into friendship, I was rooting for them. As their friendship changes, it’s not that they don’t communicate, it’s that they don’t check-in with each other when their feelings start to change, leading to misunderstandings. Learning about Teo’s relationship with Chris through his fleeting thoughts about past events makes me want to smack him, but it’s his current treatment of Teo that makes me want to punch him out. I also realized he is navigating the difference between his vision of his future and holding on possessively to the person actually most important to him, like a safety net. Kudos to the author for giving me an understanding of Chris without his POV, humanizing him through Teo’s eyes.
All the side characters here are very effectively integrated into the story: family, co-workers, patients, clients, etc. Jack is a pilot and Teo is a nurse while Chris works in the family’s medical business. If I had a quibble, it would be that while Jack’s family is shown, Teo’s family is not. However, the secret to Jack is his family whereas Teo’s character is best seen through his caregiving for everyone he knows, especially parts of Chris’s family he has known all his life. It’s nice to see people handle things maturely without a lot of drama: people who grow through their experiences, work out their differences, and support each other. The author foreshadows the story well, so I knew exactly where this was going, but I never felt like it was formulaic even with the expected grand gesture. It’s great to have a romance story actually touch me emotionally without me feeling manipulated, without the focus on some sort of emotional trauma or being high angst. I have to say this is an excellent romance that I throughly enjoyed.
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**This author does have books for sale at Barnes and Noble and Book Depository, but not this one at the time of this post.