Maaaaan, I wanted to like this book so much! Unfortunately, I didn't.
Usually Annabeth Albert is one of my favorite comfort/fluffy authors, but this one didn't work for me. And it started out so promising! But then made me uncomfortable fast. Let me tell you a story to explain why.
In 2011, I was a heartbroken university student who needed a way out and fast. So after corresponding with a woman online, I packed my bag after barely 3 months of writing back and forth, and borded a plane. 18 hours later I arrived in Durango, Colorado, USA and was picked up by a lady that was 20 years older than me and nothing at all like I expected. And vice versa. My attraction pracitcally evaporated after 2 hours in the same car with her. Things went downhill fast, but we committed to 3 months of staying together and hopping around the country as house sitters, so what could we do? If she would have been a little more like Adrien's online date, I'm pretty sure she would have left me high and dry with a hitched ride in New Mexico. It was only my insane luck that she didn't. So I could emphasize with Adrien a lot when he was stranded on that camping ground somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in desperate need of help. That beginning really drew me in, because... yeah. I got it.
But back to my travels. At one point, we weren't able to find a new house sitting gig in Colorado, so we started to look elsewhere. We stayed in a hostel during the time, both sitting around with our laptops trying to find a new place to stay. After three days a guy arrived and checked in. He was from Texas, home from deployment and traveling through the country on his own. I found him somewhat attractive, least of all because I have a thing for military uniforms (I know! Bite me.). He and I ended up talking a little bit in the smoking area - which was fine until he started to press me for information I just didn't want to give. I left him to his own devices and went to bed. The next day he was RIGHT THERE at breakfast, talking to me, flirting with me like nobody's business. When I declined his invitations for various acticities around town, he gave me an indulgent smile. He came back two hours later, trying it all over again. Rinse, repeat over the next couple if days. He started to touch my hair, which was absolutely not what I wanted. He constantly threw an arm over my shoulders, brushed his fingers against mine at the oddest of times, and he refused to leave me alone as soon as I opened the hostel's front door. My constant rejection seemed to make him even more persistent, even more determined to invade my personal space to the point where he barged into the women's dorm room at 8 am in the morning. It took three appaled women and the manger to finally get him out of the room so we could get dressed in peace. I left the hostel the same day, tired of saying "No." in every language and every form or fashion possible without being heard. I didn't feel safe in my own dorm, and I was completely freaked out when the other men gave me the "You engaged him, we know you wanted it, too. Don't play hard to get. Stop being so stubborn." lectures and stares.
All of this came back to me when I read the first part of this book. Because that was exactly what Adrien did! He had absolutely no respect for the boundaries Nick set very clearly. He didn't listen when Nick asked him to stop flirting so outrageously. He didn't listen when Nick asked him to stop with his touching and brushing up against him. He had no respect for Nick's personal space or desire too keep his private thoughts private. Sure, you can try to explain it all away by saying that Nick actually wanted it, that he just needed to be perusaded for his own good, that he participated in the end. That Adrien only tried to woo him despite his reluctance.
I. Don't. Care.
There is a difference between wooing someone/being persistent and persuasive manipulation bordering on coercion. I can get behind the romantic notion of slowly winning someone's heart with thoughtful gestures and not giving up easily. What I can't stomach is that in romance, people seem to confuse the wooing with almost stalkerish, inappropriate behavior. I'm also not completely convinced that it hasn't something to to with this being about two men. If you had a man behaving like this in a F/M romance novel, would all the female readers still find that fine and romantic? I don't know.
But either way, when someone tells you that you make them uncomfortable, you BACK OFF. When someone asks you not to touch them or flirt with them or make inapproriate jokes, YOU STOP. If you care about someone, you respect their wishes, you let them decide when they are good and ready to touch YOU. You don't push and push and push until they are so out of their comfort zone that they don't even know which way is up anymore. That's not love, that's not caring, and it's certainly not romance. I refuse to accept that as romantic gestures or heartwarming behavior. Adrien was way out of line more often than not, and no matter how Nick reacted to it or not, that was WRONG.
Other than that, I was slightly disappointed by the turn the story took when the boys arrived at the wedding od Aiden's sister. Because, let's be honest here for a second: When you're driving across the country to attend the wedding of your sister and your EX-BOYFRIEND? There should be feelings, and words, and at least a little bit of something? But I didn't see that here. It was too smooth, maybe even too rushed, where I would have liked to see more conflict or at least tension. But that are my personal preferences coming through.
Sad fact is, after this whole insta-attraction-turned-manipulation-turned-love angle didn't work for me, I wasn't very invested in the story. It did get better after a while, but I mever really recovered from my discomfort. So the rest of the story passed me by in something of a blur. I did like the hard-earned coming out ending with happiness, sunshine and a lot of feelz. I did like the families and the secondary characters. And the dogs! Just not enough, I guess?
So, where does that leave me with this one? Somewhere around 2 stars I think. Because it was okay, except for the situation in which it really wasn't. I wanted to love this so much, and maybe that was part of the problem.