Author: Felice Stevens
Publisher: Self Published
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Rating: 3.75 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 07/20/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Contemporary, Gay Romance
Carter Haywood lives for the weekends—specifically the one weekend every month when he escapes real life, with all the pressures of work and caring for his special needs brother, to do whatever he wants, with whomever he wants. Sex is only a release; he’s not looking for love, a relationship or even a second night with the same man, until he walks into a bar and finds someone who makes leaving it all behind impossible. After one incredibly passionate encounter, he breaks his rule and goes back. He needs to see this man again. And again.
Damaged goods. That’s all Reed Kincaide sees and hears when he looks in the mirror. Anxiety and ADHD define his life and he’s learned to keep people at a distance, never letting them get close enough to know who he really is. When Carter proposes a monthly weekend of sex without strings, it’s the ideal arrangement for him. Or so he thinks. Every month, leaving Carter proves to be more and more difficult. It’s not only the intensely hot sex they have in their hotel suite; Reed wonders about the secret life Carter refuses to share.
As months pass and they grow closer Reed finds himself falling for Carter, but he needs more than hurried hugs and farewell kisses. He wants it all. Letting Reed into his carefully constructed family life could upset Carter’s whole world, but it might be the risk he’s finally willing to take, if it means keeping Reed. Once bodies are engaged, the heart is sure to follow, and Carter and Reed discover that holding on to each other is the first step in letting go of the past.
The Arrangement has an excellent premise and addresses some extremely difficult and angsty issues: mental illness, parental abandonment, and learning disorders. The sex-to-love trope is enjoyable, and the story starts out with intensely passionate scenes and the characters initially embracing a no-strings attitude throughout the first half of the book. These two men are obviously hot for one another, and their sexual chemistry sizzles and pops upon the page. The reader is drawn into their agreement to see one another only once a month, and it is obvious that there is a great deal of tension built up between the few weekends they get to spend together. It feels as though something big is coming, something intense, and that the reality of the demons that torment these two is going to be explosive, heartbreaking, and raw once confronted.
Unfortunately, as the characters’ inner turmoil begins to clash with their attraction to one another and their inevitable need for more than just sex, the expectation of this more intense development of the characters and their inner demons never really happens. The book never quite delivers the heavy, emotional scenes that could have brought the characters’ internal experiences more vividly to life. The depiction of Reed’s anxiety disorder and Carter’s abandonment issues never quite hit me in the gut as I would have expected. As the reader, I was told how these characters were feeling when in the throes of their self-doubt and panic attacks, but I never really felt what they were feeling. Because these are serious obstacles for the characters and the main reasons they struggle with the development of their relationship, I wanted to be able to connect with these inner conflicts, to understand them, and to see the characters overcome them in order to be together. This just fell a bit flat for me. Additionally, the starting, stopping, and mixed signals within their relationship, though obviously a part of the difficulty with where it should go, were a bit confusing, frustrating, and felt more like an immature lack of communication than a natural conflict.
Despite these issues, I liked the story overall, and I particularly enjoyed Carter and Reed together. Their alternate POVs are distinct and well-crafted. They are admirable, likable characters with sad histories and a lot on their respective plates. Carter is obviously devoted to his little brother, and I would have liked to see more of that relationship developed throughout the book, along with a little more information about his character as a whole. Reed is tough in his attempts overcome his anxiety, yet his vulnerability continually breaks through and captures the readers’ heart. Secondary characters are warm and supportive and provide love and important parental and social stability for the troubled main characters.
Though The Arrangement lacks the expected emotional intensity, complexity, and depth for the subject matter, it is a very good story overall. The characters are quite appealing together and end up with a sweet and satisfying HEA. I recommend it for those who like hot m/m sex with a slow build to romantic love.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
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