Title ~ Beyond the Surface (The Breakfast Club #1)
Author ~ Felice Stevens
Published ~ 17th August 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
On 9/11, firefighter Nick Fletcher’s world changed forever. He's unable to rid himself of survivor’s guilt, made worse by the secret he hides from his family and co-workers. Nick's life is centered around helping burn victims, until he is reunited with the man he’d once loved but pushed away. Now he has a second chance at a love he thought lost forever.
For fashion designer Julian Cornell, appearances mean everything. His love affairs are strictly casual, and the only thing he cares about is making his clothing line a success. A chance encounter with the man he loved long ago has Julian thinking for the first time in years there may be more to life than being seen at the best parties and what designer labels to wear.
When Julian’s world takes an unexpected turn, it's Nick who helps him regain perspective on what matters most in life. Julian, in turn, helps Nick accept who he is and understand he isn’t responsible for tragedies he couldn't prevent. Lost love found can be even sweeter the second time around and after all the years apart, both men learn to look beyond the surface to find the men they are inside.
Firefighter Nick Fletcher is struggling with survivor’s guilt years after 9/11, a day that scarred him both physically and emotionally. He’s still an emotional mess even after years of therapy. On top of that he has a lot of guilt and self-loathing attached to the sexuality he refuses to acknowledge beyond furtive, anonymous hook ups and the way he treated the only man he ever loved. Living in an apartment attached to his parents’ home he moves through life on automatic pilot other than the times where he volunteers at the hospital’s burn unit, working with and comforting the kids and teens there.
Julian Cornell lives his life proud of the man he is and is on the cusp of reaching his goal to be an internationally successful men’s fashion designer. When his latest showing goes horribly in a likely act of sabotage, he finds himself quickly struggling to maintain his business. The last thing he expects is the man who broke his heart twenty years ago to return. The one man he never got over and has compared all others to since.
I’m a big fan of second chance at love stories where the MC’s were first together when they were young. It’s always interesting to see how they change from the teens them remember to the reality of the adults they are now. In this instance though, I had a very hard time warming up to Nick and that made the first part of the story a struggle for me. It’s hard to fault a character for actions they took at 16 years old, but as an adult almost twenty years later, Nick is still like a scared kid. He has no intention of coming out either at home or on the job and when he realized Julian was likely in the same bar he was, he was content to add to his guilt and let Julian slip away yet again without ever revealing himself. When they do meet up face to face again, Nick has no problem shaming Julian’s chosen career path and assuming he is a shallow, stuck up person in direct contradiction to the loving caring person he knew Julian to be all those years ago. As much as Nick can admit to himself that he always loved Julian and made a big mistake when they were kids, he can’t bring himself to do anything to change.
Julian, on the other hand, I liked from the start. He is immediately sensitive to Nick’s issues and protective of him. He knows the man underneath the scars and has never stopped loving him. Regardless of how Nick’s actions when they were younger colored his future interactions with men, Julian easily admits that it will be hard to resist falling for him again, but begins to forge a new friendship with him. He worries about Nick’s state of mind and will do anything to help him, even as Nick continues to run hot and cold towards him, but he’s also going to try his best to keep from getting pulled in only to once again be left behind.
Although Nick has a big supporter in his sister Katie, Julian is the one person that can get through to Nick and when he finally does, an emotional tidal wave is unleashed and Nick quickly begins to take back the life he put on hold so long ago. He throws himself into a sexual relationship with Julian and vows to work on coming out. It’s not easy with potential roadblocks that arise both personally and professionally in the form of bigotry and fear mostly stemming from Nick’s father and one particularly offensive co-worker.
There is a lot of drama and issues that are raised and dealt with in the second part of the book, but the story does not get overly angsty. There were a few things about Nick’s emotional recovery that seemed to resolve themselves a bit quickly merely by having Julian present, but overall I liked seeing Nick finally embrace the man he was always meant to be. Julian also grows during the story and finds a new more rewarding purpose for his talents. Felice Stevens is a good storyteller and I understood and respected the lingering effects of Nick’s PTSD resulting from 9/11 and he did come through in big way in the end for Julian and a trainee firefighter who was having a difficult time, but my inability to otherwise connect with him until late in the story frustrated me enough to keep me from giving the book a higher rating.
Julian has a great group of friends and Zach and Marcus, the two men who became his closest friends in college and make up the rest of the “breakfast club”, were standout characters. Unwaveringly honest, supportive and loyal, they help keep Julian together when everything seems to be falling apart and their scenes were fun and touching. The men have distinct personalities and I’m looking forward to both of their stories, especially that of the secretive, quiet Zach.