Promises is an m/m romance published in January 2010 by Dreamspinner Press. Many m/m authors seem a bit mysterious, so I was delighted to visit the author’s website and see an actual photo, with a bio, not to mention a handy book list, which indicates that Promises is the first of several m/m romances set in Coda, CO (and, it seems, her first book). You can find an excerpt of this short novel (about 228 pages) here.
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.
I enjoyed Promises very much. Matt walks into the store where Jared works to inquire about a Jeep for sale, they end up taking it for a spin. Jared is immediately attracted to Matt, and thinks:
Getting out of the store for a few minutes, especially to head into the mountains, was enough to brighten my day considerably. Doing it in the company of the best-looking guy I had seen in a hell of a long time sure didn’t hurt either.
This kind of plain delight in seeing an attractive person and spending a few minutes in his company, regardless of whether anything sexual or romantic happens, is very rare in m/f romance. It’s written from Jared’s first person point of view, something else I find to be more common in m/m contemporaries than in het romances.
This is a small town romance, with a hero, Matt, who is not only closeted but unaware of his own sexuality. Jared is open with Matt about his sexuality, and they bond over mountain bike rides, dining out, and watching movies at home. Matt has to deal with a homophobic, alcoholic father, fellow cops who question his masculinity and make fun of Jared, and his own conflicted feelings.
I thought the author did a wonderful job of portraying Matt’s journey. Rather than have him getting a boner around Jared, feeling confused, and then savagely resolving it in a bathroom (yes, I have read those stories), it’s the emotional tug that feels strongest:
I turned to look at [Matt], to see if he felt it, too, and found that he wasn’t seeing it at all. He was looking at me. His head was cocked a little to the side, like something was puzzling him, and he was smiling a little. But the thing that really startled me was his eyes. If I had ever imagined him looking at me like that, it had only been in my sweetest dreams.
He reached up, over my shoulder to my hair. Was the whole world in slow motion? I felt like I couldn’t even breathe. There was a tug, and I realized he had pulled the rubber band free. Then his fingers were pushing up against my scalp and into my hair. My breath caught in my throat, and my eyes closed. I don’t know how long we stood like that. It felt like forever. It felt like only a heartbeat.
I did have to put on my “reality blinkers” to accept that someone so opposed initially to homosexuality as Matt is, a cop, a “guy’s guy” raised a conservative Christian, would really fall so quickly into such an exclusive and close friendship with one of the only gay men in town, the minute he arrives there for a new job in the precinct. On the other hand, having never read a “gay for you” romance, I instantly saw the appeal, in terms of the sexual tension: when Matt finally gives in to his attraction, it’s similar to a deflowering scene in a regency (although the word “cock” appears in the text more often). Still, this is not an m/m romance with many sex scenes, something I appreciated as a reader who thinks this sort of thing is often overdone in both m/m and het romance.
While Matt’s significant issues take up most of the energy in the relationship, Sexton leaves room for some character growth for Jared, too. Although he seems out and proud, we learn he trained as a teacher but feels more comfortable working in his sister’s store. Is this contentment or fear? Jared’s conflicts about the relationship may not be as obvious as Matt’s but he, too, has to come to terms with living openly as a gay man, in a relationship, in a small community that has been his home all his life.
This was a very readable book, with well developed main characters and a touching relationship. I especially liked Jared, an open, straightforward, intuitive, and nurturing character. The secondary characters and portrayal of the “small town folk” were somewhat stock (the Marine-drunkard-homophobic father, the cowering mother, the concerned parent, etc.), yet Sexton managed to wring genuine tension during a catastrophic dinner scene between Matt and Jared’s families, and I appreciated that at the end of the book, there were still issues to resolve and people who would not accept them, just as in life.