A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
For three years, Trey Huggins has watched and wanted Principal Cole Harding. As a teacher in the high school where they both work, Trey knows it’ll never happen. Even if Cole was gay, he’d never go for a guy like Trey.
Seeking love in other places, Trey meets a man online and finally agrees to a drink. What he gets instead is a trip to the emergency room in the back of an ambulance. With the school year swiftly approaching, Trey fights to overcome his physical limitations as well as his constant fear.
For twenty-five years, Cole has managed to keep his private life separate from his job. Extending a helping hand to a colleague shouldn’t be a big deal, but the feelings Trey invokes in Cole are anything but professional.
Can the teacher tutor the principal in love, or will class be out for these two before the school year even begins?
Pocket Pair is the third installment of Carol Lynne’s Poker Night series. Each story will cover one of each of a mixed-bag of six gay friends (Zac, Marco, Angelo, Trey, Kent, Bobby) who meet for a bi-weekly Saturday-night poker game. This third book is the story of Trey and longtime-crush Cole, who is the principal at the high school where he and Zac work, as well as setting up scenarios for the upcoming stories.
Opening about a month after the end of Slow Play (reviewed here), we find Trey recuperating at Bobby and Jules’ house from a brutal attack that occurs at the end of the previous book. In an effort to try and move past his crush on his older, bigger, blond Adonis boss, he went against all habit and character to meet a blind date at his house to disastrous results. With the serial attacker still on the loose, he is scared, shameful at his stupidity and feeling pathetic. Before the attack, Trey was a virgin, a prize he held close for that special someone, so not only has he been violated by a knife, he has lost that part of himself as well. High school principal and boss to Trey and Zac, Cole has spent twenty-five years finely grooming his career, and an essential part of that is keeping is orientation — and his attraction to little shy and cute employee Trey — private. There is no way he can have a permanent relationship and keep his job. But the attack on Trey brings to light that attraction, even though it threatens his livelihood and all he knows. Is there any way the two can make it work?
This third story is more plot-driven and emotional than the other two books, which makes for a change in pace and overall feeling for the read, which I enjoyed. Along with that, there seemed to be a little less smexxin, which was welcome based on my criticism of the previous book especially, though what is there I felt was at first somewhat unrealistic to me (more on that later). There is also quite a bit of set-up next book here, with emphasis on Angelo and his upcoming relationship and issues.
I’d been looking forward to Trey’s story as he is the quietest and shyest of the bunch of friends, and the attack that occurs at the end of the last book made me a bit sad for him. I was hoping for watching him work through his various issues that come from such an attack with the aid of this very opposite-than-him boss of his that we’ve been hearing about for two books. What I felt I got, however, is another almost glossed-over problem/conflict story. There are several tension points that could have been made that were almost non-existent in nature or dealt with off-camera, once again ultimately leaving me a bit bereft.
A few larger issues:
I think my biggest problem was, considering Trey’s situation, that the even relatively tame smexxin, when it did occur fairly early on in the story, felt implausible to me. Here is a man who could not stand even being touched by his friends, yet has little problem being fondled and kissed by Cole the first time they meet socially one month after his attack. Even though he thinks about it in passing (It suddenly dawned on him that this was the first time someone had touched him since the attack and he hadn’t flinched back out of range. and There was something special about Cole’s embrace that had Trey feeling perfectly safe for the first time in weeks. and Despite the new development happening before his eyes, Trey knew he wasn’t ready for a sexual relationship. He still had a lot of crap to work through.), and though I am no expert on the after-effects of an attack such as Trey had, I felt it was unbelievable. I cannot see someone who was raped and stabbed and left for dead allowing even minimal physical and sexual contact just one month later. In addition, Trey is, at his age and compared to his friends, voluntarily sexually inexperienced; he was a virgin before the attack and idealistic about sex (limited exposure based on wanting a loving partner before going all the way, so to speak). As such, this criticism would not have been at all had those initial encounters have been left out as the rest of the progression of his relationship with Cole — even that of the sexual nature — was relatively credible.
A second larger point for me: Cole makes no secret of the fact that he is not willing to jeopardize his career by coming out and asks Trey to keep their budding relationship a secret, which Trey understandably has some concerns about. If he really feels that way, fine, but he seems inconsistent about it. Despite his words, Cole has no problem being seen with Trey and accompanying him around on his errands related to the attack (Trey even seems to take this more seriously than Cole). He also seems to have no issue being seen kissing and touching Trey in public. My problem is that not only is this contradictory, the setting is the relatively liberal Bay Area and it should not have been an issue at all, something that thankfully he even brings up: For Christ’s sake, there was a reason he’d moved to the San Francisco area in the first place. When had he decided to let the bigots around him dictate what kind of life he was supposed to live?
Last of the big issues: much of the relationship-building is held off-screen during an over three-month period, which was a disappointment, and I felt cheated out of watching them interact. Likewise, quite a bit of Trey’s healing process is also off-camera, which is something I had been looking forward to watching.
A few minor niggles:
I was hoping for an interracial aspect, which was mentioned a very few times both in previous installments and here, though Trey is about as non-African-American as any man can come in almost every way, so that is a non-issue.
Second is the situation with his family. Trey decided to go against his parents’ wishes and teach instead of practice law like the rest of his family, which is just one of several issues that alienated him from them. It is built up and mentioned several times, but we don’t get to witness, say, his interaction with them, to drive it home. Also, there is discrepancy in the story over the finishing of this law degree, with him at one point saying to himself: He couldn’t imagine what his life would’ve been like had he followed in the family’s footsteps and used the law degree he worked so hard to acquire, but then later says “Because I’m not a lawyer. In my parents’ eyes, I sold myself, and them, short when I quit law school after the second year to get my teaching degree.”
Third, the age difference issue is just about completely non-existent (I think there was one mention of it), and in this book, it is the greatest so far among the partners: approximately twenty years.
Even with the issues I had, Pocket Pair was an improvement over book two of the Poker Night series. Book four, Different Suites, is the story of Angelo and Detective Moody Torrance and a continuation, of sorts, of the plotline here.