I just finished a very sweet gay romance entitled Out of Bounds by A.R. Barley, a completely new author to me. The was a feel-good story with likable main characters. The blurb is as follows:
Beaten and heartbroken, Jesse Cole is placed in a new dorm room after his last roommate attacked him. Just wanting to be left alone to heal in peace, he’s shocked when tall, dark and dangerous-looking Nick Moretti walks in.
Nick doesn’t have time to tiptoe around his new roommate—he’s too busy working in order to pay for school. But something about Jesse brings out his protective instincts. As their cautious friendship grows and becomes loaded with sexual tension, he wants to make Jesse comfortable.
Enter the perfect plan: a line of tape down the center of the room. Boundaries established.
But as innocent movie nights become hours-long temptation marathons, and whispered chats from across the room delve into straight-up dirty territory, crossing the line has never been so satisfying.
Jesse is Broken
It’s the middle of the semester, and Jesse is reassigned in a new college dorm room in the senior dorm even though he’s only a sophomore. He’s what one would call “broken” after having gone through a vicious homophobic attack at the hands of his roommate — someone he trusted — which resulted in a visit to the ER. As the story progresses, we learn that Jesse had misread the signals his former roommate was giving him (or did he?) and when Jesse leaned in to kiss him, the roommate turned on Jesse with his fists, beating him pretty badly. Luckily, we don’t see the violence first hand – we only hear it from Jesse’s mouth as the story progresses. Oh, and by the way, Jesse is a virgin; that disastrous kiss is the closest he’s come to sex with anyone.
It’s pretty apparent that Jesse is suffering from PTSD, and it doesn’t help matters that his new roommate, Nick, is built, handsome and well over 6 feet tall – the kind of person who could break Jess in half if he so chose. Nick also works as a bouncer at a local pub and because of unfortunate events in his past, thinks of himself as a “thug”. But once we move past his dangerous-looking exterior, we see that Nick is actually a very sweet man who goes out of his way to make Jesse feel safe.
In the beginning, practically any movement Nick makes causes Jesse to flinch. So in order to make Jesse feel safe in the room and less skittish around him, Nick puts a line of tape down the middle of the room which neither of them can cross. Nick promises he’ll never go into Jesse’s space nor is Jesse to go into Nick’s. In other words, no going “out of bounds”, hence the title of the book.
But there’s something about Jesse…
Not only does Jesse bring out Nick’s protective instincts, but soon Nick finds himself thinking about Jesse in ways that surprise him, given that he claims he not into “twinks”. Soon he finds himself daydreaming about kissing Jesse – and more. But Nick doesn’t act on his feelings, fearful of doing anything that could jeopardize the progress Jesse’s made. Finally, they both figure out that there’s a mutual attraction between them, but even then, Nick still respects the boundary, fearful of doing anything that could end in disaster
And they take things slow
Nick is the perfect gentleman and moves slowly — perhaps a bit too slowly, once Jesse’s realizes his own feelings for Nick. The romance between the two of them is slow and tender, starting out with pizza and movie nights (but no touching!), working their way to holding hands when they’re out in public. It’s lovely to watch these two as their friendship slowly evolves into love. This is definitely a slow-burner, as they build up trust between them and slowly get to know one another.
The boundary gets pushed
Of course, the boundary is eventually going to get pushed; otherwise, we wouldn’t have much of a tale, now would we? Without giving too much away, I will say that this book has a HEA – an excellent friends- to-lovers ending as they both learn to let go of the past.
Out of Bounds is a heartfelt yet sexy friends-to-lovers story about two guys with a troubled past finding one another. Both characters were charming and sweet, and I loved watching Nick and Jesse interact as their feelings for each other deepened. I found both characters realistic and extremely likable. What especially worked for me was the slow build-up between Nick and Jesse as their evolving friendship moved toward a deeper connection. I also liked that the angst in the novel was kept to a minimum (I’m not much for overly angsty stories and tend to shy away from them as a rule).
Though this story dealt with some heavy issues such as assault, homophobia, lack of self-confidence and fear of rejection, the story didn’t feel overly heavy or depressing. What the author did end up giving us was a lovely feel-good story about friendship, loyalty, love, pride, and happiness — a story about falling in love and discovering who you are really are during the process. I definitely plan on reading more by this author. Recommended!
You can check out Out of Bounds HERE