Release Blitz: The Arrangement: Felice Stevens

The Arrangement
Felice Stevens

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Released July 20, 2016
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Carter Haywood lives for the weekends—specifically the one weekend every month when he escapes real life, with all the pressures of work and caring for his special needs brother, to do whatever he wants, with whomever he wants. Sex is only a release; he's not looking for love, a relationship or even a second night with the same man, until he walks into a bar and finds someone who makes leaving it all behind impossible. After one incredibly passionate encounter, he breaks his rule and goes back. He needs to see this man again. And again.

Damaged goods. That's all Reed Kincaide sees and hears when he looks in the mirror. Anxiety and ADHD define his life and he’s learned to keep people at a distance, never letting them get close enough to know who he really is. When Carter proposes a monthly weekend of sex without strings, it's the ideal arrangement for him. Or so he thinks. Every month, leaving Carter proves to be more and more difficult. It’s not only the intensely hot sex they have in their hotel suite; Reed wonders about the secret life Carter refuses to share.

As months pass and they grow closer Reed finds himself falling for Carter, but he needs more than hurried hugs and farewell kisses. He wants it all. Letting Reed into his carefully constructed family life could upset Carter’s whole world, but it might be the risk he’s finally willing to take, if it means keeping Reed. Once bodies are engaged, the heart is sure to follow, and Carter and Reed discover that holding on to each other is the first step in letting go of the past.

These two broken men grabbed my heart from the beginning and did not let go. Not even when they frustrated me or disappointed me with their secrets.

Carter Haywood is a successful businessman. He is closed off, mysterious, protective, and searching for an easy hook-up to get him off on his one weekend a month he allows himself to take care of his own needs. The rest of his time is spent working or caring for his special needs brother. But his controlled facade hides fears and vulnerability.

Reed Kincaide is a student and bartender who works hard and has goals. He has his own personal issues, challenges, and secrets that he does not share. He feels damaged, unlovable, and his life is ruled by his anxiety. He does not trust easily and does not want to be hurt.

Their initial meeting was passionate and not easily forgotten. So they stumble upon an arrangement of "sex-only one weekend a month". It becomes both the excitement and also the calm in their lives. But the more time that goes by, the more frightening it becomes due to the attachments being formed.

Their secrets are a wall between them. And they both have feelings of insecurity, unworthiness, fears, and abandonment issues. They are terrified to really become vulnerable, trust, or risk being rejected. But as it becomes more complicated, the lines of the arrangement become blurred. And their issues are not going to just go away. So they each have to figure out where they stand and what they can handle.

My heart hurt for these guys. Their self loathing, shame, and fear were so ingrained in them. I got frustrated at their near misses and communication issues. But I loved them both and enjoyed seeing their layers begin to peel back to reveal their true selves. All these guys ever needed was unconditional love, acceptance, and tolerance. But they hadn't had it from the people who shaped them. They didn't believe someone would truly love them and accept all of their baggage. It was a long, confusing road for them to begin to explore their own true needs and those of the other, and take a chance on fighting for a life they never thought they deserved.

I was totally invested in this couple. Their chemistry was intense and all consuming. I was tense and anxious myself. I felt their pain and disappointments. I wanted to soothe them. Every set back broke my heart. And I found myself a bit weepy from the strong emotions and at times joy (and this is rare for me).

I adored these broken characters and slowly seeing their cracks start to get filled. I enjoyed the side characters of Jacks, Helen, Michelle, and Reed's dad. There were some topics that are current and many can identify with. I felt the they were handled respectfully and with good understanding and compassion.

This book was engaging, emotional, sexy, heart wrenching, and inspiring. I did not want to put it down. Their secrets were slowly unraveled to each other while we knew all long since we were privy to both of their points of view. But that was the source of so much tension and misunderstanding. The process of building trust, opening up, and taking a chance was hard for them and a slow process. But I celebrated every bit of growth they showed, and every little bit of happiness they were willing to fight for.

This was my first Felice Stevens book, but she has earned a new fan and I will definitely be reading more from her. I really enjoyed her easy flowing writing style and flawed but likable characters that pulled out so many feels in me.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Arrangement is my first exposure to author Felice Stevens, and while I found the story a little predictable, the characters and their happily-ever-after made this an enjoyable and recommendable read.

The most important thing in Carter Haywood’s life is the little brother, who has special needs, in his care. One weekend per month is all he allows himself to escape the pressures and solitude of his life, to go out and have fun with whichever guy he ends up picking up. His intentions are never beyond a single night; he doesn’t have the time for a relationship, nor does he feel he has anything to give toward one, because everything he does is for the ultimate goal of making sure his brother is cared for. Then one weekend, he picks up a bartender named Reed Kincaide and cannot forget him. Reed always has feelings of inadequacy because of his ADHD and anxiety disorder. As a result, he rarely allows people to get close to him, yet he too feels the intensity of the weekend with Carter. So when Carter proposes a sex-only, no-strings-attached arrangement one weekend a month, it seems exactly what both men need. But with each passing visit, the intensity increases and Reed cannot settle with just sex any longer. Carter also realizes the attraction between them is growing, but how can he make room in his life without disrupting the needs of his brother?

I am in a bit of a rut lately with the books I’ve been reviewing. I think this makes three of the last four or maybe five that essentially start with what’s intended to be a one-night hook-up. One of my favorite reasons for reading romance is the anticipation of the firsts that happen, the first kiss, first touches, first realization of love, and so forth. So if some of this happens in the first chapter as a result of a totally non-romantic hook-up, it may not necessarily mean it is a bad thing, but it does mean the story has to work harder to hook me in after taking away some of what I like so much. As such, it did take me longer to get into this story. Fortunately, both the characters and their story are compelling. It doesn’t take long to discover that both suffer from the effects of bad mothering. Of course, their past experiences are bad enough that honest communication about it is something neither of them wants to do. And neither believes himself good enough for the other to love. It’s frustrating to read as both of them are so ingrained in this mindset. But for me, the development of overcoming their problems in this respect made up for the beginning being a plot device I’m not particularly fond of.

As far as the pairing itself is concerned, the early hook-up did have a similar effect in my mind as many of the books I have read with that start do: I never really felt the heat of the intimacy between them like I wanted because there is no build. The details of their arrangement, though, means there is a month between their visits, and it becomes clear early on that both look forward to the next visit the entire time they are apart. While this does try to accomplish the sort of build that I crave in reading romance—and it does build the tension as far as their feelings for each other is concerned—it usually doesn’t work for me as well other tropes do. Unfortunately, that’s the case here.

The book also contains a child, Carter’s younger brother, who has developmental disabilities caused again by bad mothering. To be honest, at the beginning of the book, I was under the impression that the child was significantly younger—say, first or second grade—than I realized he is later in the book (he’s more like ten or eleven.) I admit, I was tired during the first reading session I did with this book, so I’m going to assume this is just something I missed as opposed to something she doesn’t make clear. Regardless, children in romance books often make me cringe, as authors often use them to accomplish things in ways that aren’t particularly believable—perhaps this is why I missed the age; my brain likes to hide kids in romance novels because I worry about how believable they’re going to be. Fortunately, my worries were unfounded here. I can’t tell you why the kid turns out to be important, since I don’t want to spoil it, but know that while his role becomes rather predictable as his story is revealed, the author does a good job in both keeping him realistic and keeping him from taking over the story outright.

The Arrangement is definitely an enjoyable and often heartbreaking story with a clear writing style and compelling characters. In spite of my issues with how the novel starts, the author eventually does pull me into the story with a good amount of feels to make up for what I miss out on. And the happily-ever-after is nicely done. I recommend this one, and I’m looking forward to reading another of Felice Stevens’s works in the future.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of The Arrangement in exchange for this fair and honest review.
It wasn’t the same standard room this time, Reed noticed. Carter had a suite, and Reed hadn’t ever been in a hotel room quite as large or luxurious. The outer room boasted a dining table with four chairs, a credenza with a flat-screen television, a large, comfortable-looking sofa, and two club chairs. A low light glowed from an interior room, which Reed assumed to be the bedroom. His stomach clenched tightly in response.
“Uh, sure. I wasn’t working the bar, just doing some of the office work for Vernon, so he didn’t care if I left.” Still holding on to his waist, Carter walked him over to the sofa where Reed dropped his knapsack and duffel bag, then managed to break Carter’s hold on him so he could remove his jacket. On the pretense of looking around the room, Reed walked around a bit before halting by the wall of windows overlooking the congested streets of Times Square.
“It’s bizarre, you know?” He touched the cool pane of glass. “There’s so many separate worlds going on all over the city. We’re in this secluded bubble up here where we don’t even hear the sound of the traffic. Anything could happen, and no one would realize it; love, death, every day it all goes on around us and we remain oblivious.”
He sensed Carter behind him. “That’s very philosophical. Is that what you’re studying—philosophy?”
The disbelief in Carter’s voice caused Reed to smile, but he kept his gaze fixed on the glittering light show outside the window instead of turning around to meet Carter’s eyes. “No, I’m studying hospitality management. I’d like to eventually manage my own restaurant or a hotel.”
“Good. For a moment I thought you were wasting your tuition money on nonsense. You’ll never make any money studying that crap. It’s not like you can open up a philosophy store and spend your day spouting all that bullshit to people.”
Strangely enough, Carter’s obvious disdain quieted Reed’s nerves. “I don’t know; I could see myself sitting in a nice quiet space, talking to people about their lives, thinking deep thoughts.”
“Oh yeah?” Carter pressed him against the window, covering Reed with his body. He’d forgotten Carter had been naked when he entered, and Reed could feel the thrust of his cock against his ass. “Maybe you have something there ’cause I like it when you get deep.” Carter kissed behind his ear, sending shivers down Reed’s spine. “Deep inside me.”
A surge of lust jolted through Reed, stiffening his dick, and heat flooded through him. Carter’s tongue traced a slow deliberate pattern across his neck and Reed’s pulse raced. “I like that too,” he whispered, and Carter’s lips curved in a brief smile against his ear, his breath hot and humid.

I have always been a romantic at heart. I believe that while life is tough, there is always a happy ending around the corner, My characters have to work for it, however. Like life in NYC, nothing comes easy and that includes love.

I live in New York City with my husband and two children and hopefully soon a cat of my own. My day begins with a lot of caffeine and ends with a glass or two of red wine. I practice law but daydream of a time when I can sit by a beach somewhere and write beautiful stories of men falling in love. Although there is bound to be a few bumps along the way, a Happily Ever After is always guaranteed.

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