By Felice Stevens
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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.
The Arrangement is an emotional read. Both of the main characters are broken – they have fears, past experiences that have tortured how they built their futures, feelings of inadequacies, shame, self-loathing – but together they complete one another, whether they want to admit it or not. Carter is commendable as the older brother who will stop at nothing to provide for his special needs brother, even if that means sacrificing his own life and future happiness. Reed suffers from ADHD and anxiety, and it’s obvious that he’s fighting his past ghosts and trying to come to figure out who he really is and wants to be…and can be. Together, these two share a kindred AND explosive chemistry, but layers of self-inflicted doubt almost keep them apart. I loved the thought-provoking issues they confronted (mental illness, parental neglect, special needs), passionate sex scenes, emotional and tender love story, and vulnerability.
The story seemed to move along slowly at times, but when it did, the pace seemed to fit that part of their story. The secondary characters add depth and quality to the storyline – Reed’s father Walter, Carter’s younger special needs brother Jacks, Helen the neighbor and former special education teacher who helps care for Carter, and even Michelle, the nosy mom of one of Jacks’ friends.
In true Felice Stevens’ fashion, The Arrangement delivers endearing characters with whom you can – and want to – connect, a plot you quickly become invested in, and steamy passion and explosive emotion. It’s almost like being there.
“Thanks for everything,” mumbled Reed as he wiped down the bar. “Like I was the maid delivering towels.”
Carter slid his hands over Reed’s, his palms damp with sweat. His voice shook. “That’s crazy. You don’t love me – you can’t.”
“Says the man who never lets anyone tell him what to do or say. If you don’t believe my words, then feel them.” Reed kissed him again, his tongue pressing against the seam of Carter’s lips and finding little resistance. “Feel what you mean to me. It’s you. You are everything to me. How could I not love you?”
The scene when Jacks and Reed connect on a personal level.
Review originally posted on Amazon and Goodreads on July 26, 2016.