Title: Promises (Coda #1)
Author: Marie Sexton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Length: Novel /230 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A guest review by Kassa
Jared Thomas has lived his whole life in the small mountain town of Coda, Colorado. He can’t imagine living anywhere else. Unfortunately, the only other gay man in town is twice his age and used to be his teacher, so Jared is resigned to spending his life alone.
Until Matt Richards walks into his life, that is. Matt has just been hired by the Coda Police Department, and he and Jared immediately become friends. Matt claims he is straight, but for Jared, having a sexy friend like Matt is way too tempting. Facing Matt’s affair with a local woman, his disapproving family, and harassment from Matt’s co-workers, Jared fears they’ll never find a way to be together—if he can even convince Matt to try.
Promises is an engaging romance that features solid characters, good writing, and a tension filled relationship without overwhelming angst. The story is a classic friends turned lovers but instead of being a “gay for you. ” This allows both characters to develop a friendship first that is then the foundation for the men to explore their attraction. Their path isn’t always easy and outside factors affects the men as much as their own fears and issues. The best aspect of this story is that it felt familiar yet entirely fresh and interesting. Promises could easily become a favorite comfort read for many.
The plot is mostly character driven as Jared meets Matt very soon after Matt moves to little Coda, Colorado. The two have an instant chemistry and strike up a friendship. Jared finds out that Matt is straight but Matt seems to pursue the friendship and maintain their close connection. After months of friendship, Jared has fallen in love with his best friend but Matt is not ready for a gay relationship. Jared soon finds out that he may not be ready to be as open as he thought.
Since the plot revolves around the two men, Matt and Jared, their characterization is key to creating an engaging and interesting story. Thankfully the story as told from Jared’s first person perspective delivers fully developed complex characters. Jared is in his twenties and working at the family hardware store he owns with his brother and sister in law. Living in such a small town, he has no real options for dating so he exists on an occasional hookup with a friend who comes to Colorado for skiing a few times a year. He is wasting his education and teaching degree because he doesn’t want to handle the fallout of being a gay teacher. As the book develops, Jared reveals that he’s in his own closet due to his fears and insecurities. This is contrasted to the equally real closet that Matt backs himself into by continuing to deny his homosexual desires. Matt has been attracted to men before but with a dysfunctional family and gay unfriendly job – police officer – Matt has denied his desire for a long time. It’s only his feelings for Jared that force Matt out of a safe, but unhappy existence.
The two men start as friends and their foundation is that of mutual likes and the ability to get along. The book shows the men hanging out, bike riding, watching football, and enjoying each other’s company so much they rarely, if ever, need space from each other. It’s only when that closeness starts to become sexual on both sides that the confusion and slight drama confuse the issue. Thankfully the angst is kept to a minimum. Even as a fan of heavy angst stories, the deft author’s touch kept the pace moving swiftly and allowed for a deep, intense connection without overwhelming drama and soul wrenching angst. There are a few problems that show up periodically through the story, but mostly these are easily resolved without feeling too cheap or fast. These are shown as potential issues but the focus is never taken away from Jared, Matt, and their relationship. Both men show fear, insecurity, hesitation, and missteps as they figure out what they want and how to work through their issues.
There are a few unnecessary aspects; such as the final resolution, which had no real purpose and the story would have been fine without it. The subplot involving Matt’s dead ex-girlfriend isn’t very important and doesn’t actually prompt any different decisions or resolutions so while the story is fine with it, it could have been dropped just as easily. The various secondary characters have a purpose but aren’t given enough importance and distinction to really separate them. I often confused Lucy and Lizzy in several of the scenes. Yet these characters were nice to show a family dynamic.
Other than these few quibbles, the story really shines with its engaging writing and well developed characters. Both men stray from the stereotypes early on and the complexities they show are very welcome. The erotica scenes are graphic without being overly explicit or gratuitous. This is one of those rare books that really is an erotic romance where the sex scenes enhance the story without being there just for the sake of graphic language. As a new to me author, I’d definitely read her again and I think most readers will really enjoy this offering. I highly recommend this book and think a lot will agree with me.