Title : Side Line
Author : Ben Ryder
Publisher : Dreamspinner Press (BUY HERE)
Genre : M/M, Contemporary
Length : 174 pages (e-book)
Published : June 12, 2013
An Englishmen Story
Having rarely experienced another man’s touch, US Marine Damon O’Connor doesn’t identify as gay, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about strong hands or where treasure trails lead, despite his commitments back home. Damon’s sense of duty is strong, and he’ll stop at nothing to do what’s right, even if that means dying for his country.
While stationed in the Middle East, Damon gets what he least expects in the form of Jay Wells, an out-and-proud British beer promotions manager working in the area. Jay is content working his life away and has no time for relationships. Neither does Damon, as he’s days away from deploying to war. Until they met, love was the last thing on their minds, but they’re determined to enjoy it while they can.
Side Line, set in the near future just as the Third Gulf War is about to kick off, is told from the POV of Jay Wells. Jay is a twenty seven year old Londoner and Promotions Manager for Side Line beer. He is sent to Bahrain to pitch their beer in anticipation for a rapidly growing market as Bahrain is set to become the newest tourist hotspot – think Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He takes with him his assistant, Jackie, and the Beer Squad. During one of the promotional events he meets twenty seven year old Marines Staff Sergeant, Damon O’Connors from Tampa, Florida. A veteran of eight years, Damon first joined the Marines at nineteen. Their first conversation is pleasant and, while Jay assumes Damon is straight, he enjoys the chat for what it is. However, when they run into each other again at another event, Damon has turned decidedly chilly. In fact, he’s downright rude! Nevertheless, and against his better judgement, when Damon accosts him outside the venue after closing, Jay is persuaded by the sight of Damon’s impressive package to take him up on his offer for a lift. Instead of taking Jay back to his hotel, Damon drives him to a deserted parking lot. He then proceeds to scare the life out of Jay, who thinks he’s about to be a victim of gay bashing, before correcting Jay’s misconception by demanding he ‘suck it’ as a prelude to bending Jay over the hood of the car. With no lube apart from some spit. With the apparently impressive package that Jay got a preview of earlier and lived up to its potential. Then he leaves Jay high and dry after having got his own satisfaction. Wham, bam, thank you, buddy. What a charmer, not. And for over three quarters of the book, that’s pretty much how their relationship goes.
Contrary to what the blurb seems to suggest, the story is told completely from the POV of Jay, and they didn’t enjoy days of romance. In fact, Damon’s presence didn’t even come close to taking up half the book. The ‘romance’ aspect, and I use that term loosely, very much took a backseat to the rest of Jay’s story. The first sex scene is borderline dub con and while that’s the only one I would term that, Damon’s behaviour doesn’t improve much for most of their encounters. At over halfway, there wasn’t a whole lot of time for any real relationship to develop and I was really not sure how it was going to work. Even the revelation of some of Damon’s backstory towards the end it was difficult to like the character with that much damage done and not enough build up to a turn around. At over three quarters through, it was a bit of a case of too little too, late as far as the romance aspect went. And Damon’s use of ‘buddy’ in replacement of a name got old really fast, too. As an aside, there’s no use of condoms, which I was thinking is a pretty unsafe practise with a complete stranger, and also out of character for Jay. Then I remembered reading a throwaway mention earlier about a vaccine. The only real criticism I have of the writing itself was an over abundance of ‘, as’ – as in: “That’s okay, Jacks, but we have to get straight into this, as I have to get back into the office…” and, “And now you’re the big kid that gay guys want to be with, as you’re bigger than them…”. It’s not a big thing, but it did pull me out of the story a little when it was used so frequently, especially in dialogue. People don’t often speak that way.
What saved this book for me was that Jay himself really is likeable. He’s funny, easy going and makes sure the girls of the Beer Squad are safe and looked after at those sometimes rowdy promotional events. His reactions were believable, if not completely logical (but that in itself is believable). Then there’s Jackie, Jay’s assistant and ex ‘trolley dolly’ for the oldest and largest British airline. She is just all kinds of awesome. There was actually quite a bit of humour, especially the banter between Jay and Jackie and Jackie’s one liners. The mention of gnocchi will have me laughing for a while! There was a couple of nice moments between Damon and Jay. The gift Damon gave Jay before leaving Bahrain was really sweet.
This was an enjoyable story that, much like Damon with Jay on more than one occasion, ultimately left me feeling not quite satisfied. I really liked Jay, Jackie was awesome and I warmed to Damon right near the end when we finally got to know him a little. But the majority of the story he was a jackass. It would have been nice to have had more of a build up to Damon’s redemption and Jay and Damon as a couple, even if that part was in an extended epilogue. It felt like the story ended just as we were getting a chance to know Damon and there was no opportunity to see them together. It could barely be called a HFN. The rest of the story I actually really liked. It never felt boring or uninteresting.
Rated 3.5 stars by BookSmitten