Cask Strength by Layla Reyne

Cask Strength by Layla ReyneThis is the middle book in a gay male romance series that is one continuous story, so I can forgive the serious cliffhanger ending, especially since the main story of the book is resolved. Aidan and Jamie advance their relationship as well, though they are far from a permanent happily ever after as their situation is much too complex for a simple resolution. Each discovery seems to open up a bigger gulf between Aidan and Jamie. I’m still not keen on the explicit gay male sex scenes, but they are no more detailed than the straight sex scenes in contemporary romances, and the relationship struggles are very strong, as is the overarching story that carries through the whole series. It’s this that pulled me back into the series, and kept me reading through to the end.

The main story for this book brings up some complicated situations for both of them, though a bit more for Jamie as his past comes back to haunt him in ways he hadn’t really expected. The FBI arranges his cover as a coach back with the team he’d left, claiming career-ending injury rather than having his sexual orientation revealed. This decision led him to the FBI and work he loves, not to mention the only way he’d have met Aidan, but he didn’t realize how much he missed being in the thick of things in college basketball, something pickup games with his coworkers can’t provide.

There are unresolved issues with his first love as well, which tie nicely into both the romantic and professional tangles. It’s this more than anything else that brings Aidan’s situation to a head. Aidan is terrified of letting Jamie in only to lose him the way Aidan’s married died with his husband. He’s pretending their connection is casual sex when both of them know that’s not true, but Aidan refuses to admit it. Meeting the man who held Jamie’s heart before points to the risks he’s taking in pushing away the one man who makes Aidan whole again.

The story dovetails with the overall series plot in several ways, but none more pressing than Jamie’s decision to withhold damaging information from Aidan until he’s uncovered all the facts. It’s a matter of timing, and timing is rarely with the two of them.

Like the first book, there’s tension on both professional and personal sides. I found this one more balanced as far as the random hooking up because it didn’t seem like everyone, male or female, was on the make. Most people were going about their business, legally or illegally, and while the emotional connections were critical, they were more realistic, showing an improvement over the first book.

Ultimately, this is how I found myself reading a gay male romance series. The story is strong, the relationship crises feel real and are never simple, and it both points to the dangers homophobia creates while demonstrating how a relationship is a relationship regardless of the gender mix involved. That, plus well-written characters and a strong family connection made me not want to see the end of this story just yet, despite having decided to pass on the later books. Had I held to that decision I would have missed some solid storytelling.

P.S. I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

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