A Flighty Fake Boyfriend
Don’t be fooled by the cute cover model and the word “flighty” in the title; Z.A. Maxfield’s A Flighty Fake Boyfriend IS a fun fake relationship story, but it has surprising depth, two strongly characterised leads and packs quite the emotional punch in places, too. Age-gap and fake relationship are two of my favourite tropes so I was looking forward to reading this, and I’m pleased to report I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.
Workaholic Ryan Winslow has stopped off in St. Nacho’s to visit a couple of friends on his way to Santa Barbara, where he’s due to attend his ex’s wedding. He’s not sure if the invitation was a genuine gesture, a way to gloat or just a mistake, but Ryan accepts because he doesn’t want Luis to think his marriage bothers him, and has arranged for a friend – who happens to be a gorgeous, out-and-proud A-list movie star – to go as his date. At the last minute, however, his friend has to cancel, which leaves Ryan with a problem – does he not go and give Luis the satisfaction of thinking he’s sulking, or does he go stag?
We met the sunny-natured Epic in the previous book (A Much Younger Man). He waits tables at the bistro – appropriately named “Bistro” – in St. Nachos, and has the quirky habit of pinning on whatever nametag is uppermost in the box that day – but his name really is Epic. He’s cute and funny and smart with the sort of self-possession Ryan knows he never had at his age (Epic is twenty-three to Ryan’s thirty-six). When Ryan finds himself suddenly without a date for the wedding, he impulsively asks Epic to accompany him instead. Epic might not be a famous movie star, but he’s attractive, articulate and compelling – and Ryan is drawn to him like iron filings to magnetic north.
This fake relationship story proceeds as you’d expect – but I liked the way things play out, with Epic gradually coaxing Ryan to unwind as their attraction grows and a deep connection forms between them over fancy dinners, moonlight walks and sight-seeing trips. Epic turns out to be extremely perceptive and wise beyond his years; he’s brilliant, caring, funny and upbeat, and fiercely protective of Ryan, who at this point in time, badly needs looking after, someone to remind him to eat, quit smoking and to stop working once in a while. He’s also more than a bit bossy in the bedroom once things get that far ;)
Ryan is more difficult to like, at least until we start to get to know him, because he’s so single-minded and dedicated to his job. He’s been pushing himself to the limits for so long that he’s just about forgotten how to step back and what happiness feels like, but his workaholism is presented in a very realistic manner. There are a gazillion romance novels featuring billionaire bosses who work all the time, but Ryan is different; he’s not a billionaire – he works for a charity/non-profit that is dedicated to tracking down and putting a stop to people trafficking rings – and he’s reached the point where he’s completely and convincingly burned out. He drinks too much – alcohol and coffee – doesn’t eat well and doesn’t take care of himself in general; he’s tireless in his pursuit of the organisation’s aims, but he takes it all upon himself and thinks he should be doing more and more and more, suffering from what seems to be a kind of compassion fatigue.
Getting Ryan to take better care of himself and to let go a bit is no easy job, and the author doesn’t attempt to solve all Ryan’s problems by the end of the book, and nor does she present Epic as some kind of miracle worker. But what Epic does is – at last – provide something in Ryan’s life that’s important enough for him to want to have a life outside of work and someone worth taking care of himself for. Epic helps Ryan to work through some lingering issues – mostly that he still feels guilty for the breakdown of his former relationship because he didn’t pay enough attention to his partner or the relationship. and his fears that he’s doomed to repeat that on a never-ending cycle. But the benefits are not all one-sided, as Epic has decisions to make about his future as well. His well-to-do ambitious parents were pushing him into taking a job in corporate finance after he got his MBA (he’s something of a mathematical whizz), but he persuaded them to let him have a year to figure things out, and agreed that if at the end of it, he had no better options, he’d consider taking one of those jobs. The year is all but up and there are two things Epic is sure of: corporate finance isn’t for him and he wants to make a life with Ryan. The question, though, is whether Ryan is prepared to take a chance on a future he can’t quite convince himself he deserves.
There were one or two things in the story that didn’t quite work for me. I can’t say much without spoilers, but there’s a scene around the middle (where Ryan receives an odd proposition) that was really jarring, and I’ve never been a fan of the I’m-leaving-you-for-your-own-good thing that Ryan pulls near the end because he’s running scared. But other than that, A Flighty Fake Boyfriend is a sweet, funny, steamy read with just the right amount of angst, a nicely-developed romance and a well-deserved HEA. Recommended.