Heat Factor: They have a lot of sex. (A lot.) And it’s explicit but not every time.
Character Chemistry: He was meant to love the white swan!
Plot: Gay football player thinks he can spend his college career with his head down and without romantic entanglements…until he meets the love of his life during a summer study abroad in Paris
Overall: Holy angst, Batman!
Heat Factor: It’s actually not that slow a burn, but getting to that first kiss is oof
Character Chemistry: They just like each other so gosh darn much
Plot: (Best friend) and (father) of The Jock’s protagonists are third wheels so much that they find themselves pairing off, particularly after the quarterback is left behind while everyone else has summer break
Overall: It’s a sweet one. Floating hearts just coming right off it.
Gotta love a sports romance. These books both have Bauer’s voice and highly developed world-building, but they’re very different stories. The Jock starts angsty and gets angstier, full of drama and multiple hurdles. The Quarterback is a gentler friends to lovers – though it has its share of angst, too – centered mostly on the protagonists with a more singular conflict.
The Jock begins with two new adult men—juniors in college—meeting the day they move in together for a study abroad program in Paris. Justin sees Wes and immediately thinks he’s going to be just like all the other dreadful, homomisic, filled with toxic masculinity cowboys he’s known his whole life growing up in Texas. And yes, Wes is really a cowboy, not just because of his attire but because his dad is actually a rancher far out in west Texas. Wes is also gay, he’s just been keeping his head down and focusing on football so he can stay in college and have options after he graduates.
Paris is a dream for both young men, and they have stars in their eyes all the way home, like maybe this summer romance can be the real love they both want to last forever. But home brings everything crashing down, and both Wes and Justin are left to pick up the pieces separately.
From their initial tiptoeing and optimism to the secrets to the fallout of being discovered, this book is an angst-filled ride. It’s long, a chonky 400 pages, and Wes and Justin don’t find themselves addressing just one problem as life spins out in front of them. (Pay attention to all the foreshadowing!) (Have I mentioned that Bauer is good at spinning tension? I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that before. 😜) Anyway, this is high drama, and there’s a lot of content that is definitely included to evoke specific feelings in the reader. Bauer is a writer who uses power words, and the text leans vivid and evocative. The reader is meant to feel it right in the gut, but it doesn’t work for every reader. There are some extremely ugly moments, but oh, the catharsis of the ending.
I will note that I started The Jock, read about 10 pages, and got sidetracked until I’d read some other Bauer books, so I’m not sure I’d recommend this one as a starter in his oeuvre. There’s instalove and a lot of sex in the beginning, with most of the dramatic tension occurring after they return to Texas. Paris is the calm before the storm, and the reason for the reader to believe these guys have something to fight for later on, so the dramatic tension in the first portion is centered on the ominous foreshadowing that things will not go well at home. Also these guys are college kids, and they behave like college kids.
Some content notes for this one: Homomisia, involuntary outing, assault
I had read the blurb for The Quarterback before I got halfway through The Jock, so when I saw that Justin’s dad—who was married when I’d encountered him as Justin’s dad—turned up as one of the heroes, I was…confused. And curious. But I really wondered how Justin’s dad falling in love with Wes’s best friend was going to go.
It’s a double bi-awakening.
Nick’s “before Paris” presentation was not terribly impressive, though his post-Paris dadding was solid. I didn’t quite know what to think of him as a hero, TBH. Then, when things really hit the fan in The Jock, and Nick told Justin that he and Justin’s mom were getting a divorce, his dadding totally leveled up, and I was like, “Yes! Let’s do this!” So I immediately downloaded The Quarterback.
I already mentioned that The Quarterback is much more centered on Nick and Colton, specifically on the yes/no of their own relationship. I mean, Nick is Justin’s dad. Justin is the same age as Colton. And Nick was a young dad, but not, like, 15 or 16. This is a solid 20 year age gap. Is Nick going through a mid-life crisis?
Then take Colton. He’s been playing third-wheel to Wes and Justin, he’s got daddy issues like you would not believe, and he’s isolated because it’s summer and he’s recovering from an injury that might prevent him from playing football anymore. Plus, his career trajectory before his injury was the NFL, which creates its own set of issues. I honestly had to wonder how Bauer was going to pull this relationship off without it being completely squicky (some readers will think it’s squicky regardless—every book isn’t for everyone).
Nick and Colton find themselves thrown together often because of their mutual desire to spend time with Justin and Wes, respectively. These two might not have come together on their own, but because they’ve been thrown together, and later because Nick is in a position to offer Colton an internship, they befriend each other for their own sakes. And, over the course of the internship, they both relieve their loneliness with each other’s company. For a long time, they’re just coming to care about each other.
Then Colton has a wet dream about Nick and we’re off to the races!
Colton is definitely coded as demisexual. He’s been with women, but he’s never connected with anyone on a deeper level emotionally, and he didn’t really care about the sex all that much, either. And it’s not until Colton and Nick have a deeper friendship that he finds himself sexually attracted to Nick at all. Nick’s sexuality is a little less clear, but he’s only ever been with two people—his wife and Colton. And while he’s thinking about being with Colton, he realizes that he’s never really considered any kind of attraction to anyone other than his ex-wife. The Jock might be all about love at first sight, but The Quarterback is all about feelings deepening until love is standing there, staring you in the face.
There are a lot of questions these guys need to ask of themselves and each other before they can really be together, but they’re so busy living in their summer bubble that they’re able to avoid them until they really just can’t anymore. (Hello, angst!) And that’s how we get from “is Nick actually just having a mid-life crisis” and “is Colton just dealing with his daddy issues in a questionable way” to “Oh, yeah, I can really see these guys together.” Though I will say that, for all I find long books to be almost insurmountable these days and am generally cynical about romance over 400 pages, 400+ pages seems like Bauer’s sweet spot. At first I thought it was because a lot of his books are suspense and need to develop some worldbuilding and mystery with the romance, but there were some opportunities here, too, to tease out some of the “whys” of the choices these guys made as the story progressed. The pacing of the second half of the book was faster than that of the first half of the book. I was still completely satisfied, don’t get me wrong, but I also would have loved some more, shall we say, ornate tying of bows in the second half as life choices were happening rapidly.
I’m pretty sure I read both of these books in three days, so clearly they were doing something for me.
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