Bend or Break, Book 3
Charles “Cash” Carmichael traded his high-rise condo and family-firm career for a job coaching soccer for Chicago’s inner-city kids. He’s adjusting to living on minimum wage when his young cousin, newly out and running away from home, shows up on his less-than-luxurious doorstep.
Angsty teens definitely aren’t Cash’s thing. He needs local backup, and there’s only one name he can think of: Stephany Tyler. Back in the day, the bisexual Steph was the perfect friend with benefits until she fell in love with a woman.
To his relief, his former friend steps up to the plate. Soon, though, Cash finds himself feeling the familiar need to keep her in his bed, and in his life. But Steph, burned by the ex-girlfriend and by the absentee dad she’s been trying to connect with, won’t risk her heart again.
Good thing Cash believes in leaving it all on the field. If he can just convince Steph to get in the game, there’s a chance they can both win.
Warning: This book contains ex-friends with benefits crossing boundaries a second time, several steamy encounters on staircases, copious discussions about gay sex from a “straight” guy, a shout-out to magic buttons, and an especially memorable going away threesome.
While this is part of the bend or Break series, it can be read as a standalone. I enjoyed Off Campus, the first in this series and the book where we meet Cash and Steph, I loved Nothing Like Paris (both books are m/m) and my jaded heart rejoiced when I heard that The Girl Next Door was going to be m/f albeit with a queer twist. Amy-Jo Cousins writes with such emotion, and her ability to get inside her characters heads is second to none. I wanted this book really badly…
Cash, in my opinion is one of the most attractive characters I’ve come across in romance, he is so open and self aware, his love of what he does, an inner city football coach, is so clear, as is his desire not to be such a rich kid slumming it. Cash tries so hard to be the best that he can be. From making sure that he correctly pronounces his students names, to making sure that his cousin, Denny, gets access to as much information about being gay as possible. Girl Next Door is totally written from Cash’s perspective. And it is a wonderful place to be. One of my favourite elements of cash’s character is his commitment to healthy eating and recycling, there were times reading about him I actually caught myself saying “aww” out laud.
Steph, I have never wanted a female character to be so cool, and she didn’t disappoint. I struggle often in reading ‘het’ romance in being able to relate to a lot of the women, but Steph, with her open sexuality, spikiness and vulnerability is wonderful.
I did find that Ms. Cousins set the location scene really well, I have never been to Chicago, but I got such a sense of extreme weather and cultural diversity that I did feel like I knew the place. Although this is romance, it is also very much about the family we make with our friends and finding your own way in life. I found this to be the most affecting part of the book, Cash has completely changed his way of life, what anchors him is his relationships with his friends, Steph being one of them. I think that this was my favourite part of the book, the almost ‘coming of age’ element, finding out who you are, and what it is you want, and Cash does want Steph.
The romance itself is a slow burn, which at first I didn’t appreciate, but as I read on I think that it reflected Steph’s initial resistance to any real intimacy, the last third of the book really focused on the romantic relationship as well, and I really felt how vulnerable and scared Steph really was.
There was quite a lot of internet chatter over the sex in this book, and – especially as there is a m/m/f scene and anal play, and while these scenes were stimulating, they actually lacked the kind of emotional connection that I have come to expect of Amy Jo Cousins. That did in fact come later, thankfully.
For me a romance is primarily about the two main characters, and despite all the bravery and difference of Girl Next Door, I craved more Steph, and then more Steph and Cash.
Overall a really great story, vibrant and lively with one of the most engaging main characters in Cash that I have read in a long time.
You can buy a copy here.