Ground N’At is the kind of coffee shop I dream of. Great drinks, comfortable surroundings, independently owned. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist where I live, but Mx. Zabo does an excellent job casting it as the third major character in the entertaining, if a bit too predictable, Daily Grind. The story of two men trying to find balance in their career and personal lives, this is at once familiar (don’t we all struggle with balance?), and different – these are attractive, single men with charm (and free time) to spare. Characters featured in earlier books in the Takeover series make appearances here (one plays a pivotal role near the end), but I think it works well as a standalone. Coffee drinkers beware: reading about Ground N’At may spoil your satisfaction with your own local shop and/or leave you longing for a similar place to call your own.
Ground N’At’s owner, Brian Keppler, is understaffed, overworked and stressed out. Lately, the pleasures of owning a coffee shop are few, and the prospect of change in the future is nowhere in sight. One morning, Brian is once again filling in after an employee called out when Robert Ancroft walks in. Brian is immediately drawn to the handsome stranger, and it’s obvious the attraction is reciprocated. After some hardcore flirting, a specially created cup of coffee, and a few protracted stares, Rob promises to stop in again – and soon.
I loved the chemistry between Brian and Rob from the moment they meet, and that the author doesn’t waste time pretending these two aren’t completely into one another from the get-go. The fact that Brian has always had feelings for men, though he’s never acted on them, is a minor speedbump that both men appreciate but don’t linger over unnecessarily. Well, Brian does make a few off-the-cuff comparisons to sex with his former girlfriend – which I thought were weird – but they don’t bog down the narrative. Brian has never felt this sort of insta-lust for another man, but while Rob appreciates Brian’s anxiety about his sexuality, he doesn’t let it interfere with his plans. Spoiler alert: they involve nudity. Lots of it. The men feel an intense physical attraction to one another, and Rob – confident in and out of bed, is quick to take the initiative and introduce Brian to the many pleasures he’s missed limiting himself to only heterosexual relationships. The sex is sexy, plentiful and naughty. These two fall fast and hard for each other, which every reader in romancelandia knows, means something has to go wrong.
Unfortunately, the something that goes wrong – or really, continues to go wrong – is Brian’s management of Ground N’At. Brian is a control-freak when it comes to his coffee shop. He owns it, so that makes sense, but he allows his business to destroy every other good thing in his life – which doesn’t. The fast moving relationship between Brian and Rob falters when Brian’s inability to solve problems that plague his business and his extreme unwillingness to ask for ANY help, cause him to lash out one too many times and push Rob away – even after Rob makes every attempt to improve the situation. The main conflict is especially frustrating because the author includes a scary abundance of secondary characters with the perfect skills/qualities Brian needs to save his shop. Rob, a former workaholic (that’s another story line) runs a successful business of his own, Brian comes from a loving family who only want the best for him, his employees are loyal and hardworking, and Ground N’At’s most frequent customers come from a business consulting firm and include his former star barista! Duh, Brian. Let them help you! PLEASE!
I wish I could tell you there is more to this story than the downward trajectory of Brian’s coffee shop, and technically there is, but it feels more like filler than substantive plotlines. There’s a tease here and there about Rob’s workaholic past and lessons he’s learned from it, which are interspersed with flashbacks to a painful past history with his family, but the novel is primarily about Brian, his problems with the coffee shop and how it affects his fledgling romance with Rob. Fortunately, though Brian’s struggles get old quickly, his love for Rob doesn’t. Mx. Zabo has created a pair with great chemistry and affection for one another. I wish she spent more of the narrative with them and less at Ground N’At, and if she had, I think this story would have been more successful.
Brian is stubborn almost to the point of ridiculousness, and it negatively affected my impressions of him and overshadowed the things about him that work. Among the things I liked: his open-minded approach to his bisexuality once he meets Rob, his willingness to express the depth of those feelings, and the way he values qualities and skills that have nothing to do with Rob’s professional success. Rob, on the other hand, is appealing right from the start. Sexy, confident, flirty and handsome, it’s easy to see why Brian falls for him so quickly. I loved spending time with this couple and I rooted for them from start to finish, but the intensity of Rob’s feelings gave me pause. Yes, the sex is great, they have a good time together, and Brian clearly cares for him, but Rob puts up with so much crap from Brian for so long, I started to lose respect for him before the climactic last fight that nearly ends the relationship.
Daily Grind is an enjoyable, though frustrating, love story. I liked it enough to want to read the previous books in the series, and I think Mx. Zabo shows a deft hand writing about the very everyday problems we all have trying to balance our personal and professional lives.