The Sex Coach
Garrett Leigh is an author I keep meaning to read more of, so I eagerly pounced on her latest release, The Sex Coach, a standalone story that is loosely related to her Skins trilogy. (It’s not essential to have read that series, although I did find it helpful to have done so). Set on Whisper Farm, the horse sanctuary/health farm in Cornwall run by Joe Carter and his husband Harry, it takes place around five years after their story (Whisper) ended and re-introduces readers to Toby, who was taken in by Joe after he was more or less abandoned by his family when he was a kid. Even though Toby has lived and worked on the farm for over a decade, Joe and the others still see him – and treat him – as the kid he was, and not a strapping man of twenty-four, which irks him a little. But he loves them, he loves his job and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else – even though being around a group of gorgeous men who are so obviously sure of who they are and secure in their sexual identity is just more than a little overwhelming.
Toby knows he’s queer; he’s been with a handful of women but never with a man, and although he wants to, he has no idea how to go about it or what to do… and to make things worse, attractive men melt his brain and turn him into a dribbling idiot who[ falls ]apart at the first sign of affection. He worries he’ll never be sufficiently confident enough around a guy to have a relationship, that he’ll never have what his friends have. That he’ll never be… enough.
Eight months earlier, pilates teacher Cole Maguire became the father of baby Ella (the result of a one-night stand) and has taken a temporary gig standing in for physical therapist Angelo (Dream) at Whisper Farm so that he can continue to see Ella after her mother decided to move to Bude in Cornwall. He’s not the greatest fan of horses, but there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Ella, and he reckons that between his work schedule and her visits, he’ll be too busy to spend time around the farm – which is just how he wants it anyway.
Cole is out, proud, pan and drop-dead gorgeous – which of course flusters Toby completely – but despite that he’s completely smitten and unable to hide it. Cole is surprised to find himself captivated by Toby’s innocent, gentle charm, and before long – and in spite of Cole’s determination to keep himself to himself – they become friends. When Toby confesses his lack of sexual experience with men, his fears and insecurities over his lack of confidence and his own attractiveness, Cole suggests he needs to spend time around a guy and just “let it happen ”. He offers Toby the chance to explore his sexuality in a safe environment with someone he can trust not to hurt him or push him into something he isn’t ready for. The plotline – a virgin receives sex lessons from someone more experienced – isn’t an uncommon one and there are potential pitfalls all over the place, but fortunately, Garrett Leigh avoids all of them, making this a sexy yet thoughtful and insightful story about two very different men with very different sets of baggage and terrible communication skills learning to shed their inaccurate self-perceptions and accept themselves and each other as they are. The circumstances leading to Cole becoming Toby’s sex coach are perfectly believable because the author sets up his character and his internal conflict so well; the strength of his attraction to Cole is palpable and his insecurities are really well articulated:
“It’s just hard when everyone around me is so sure of who they are. It scares me…”
And I loved how perceptive Cole is; he realises almost immediately that what Toby really needs is to learn about himself – and that the very best thing he can do for him is to try to instil a little confidence, to assure him he’s beautiful and worthy of love and affection.
While the chemistry between the pair burns hot right from the start and their sexual relationship commences fairly early on in the story, the emotional side takes a while to catch up – or rather, Toby and Cole take a while to catch up with what’s obviously happening between them. The sex scenes are plentiful and steamy but most importantly, they’re integral to the story and the romance; through their physical encounters, Cole and Toby discover things about themselves and each other
There’s a lot to love about this book – the writing is gorgeous, the characters are all loveable and flawed and human, and the longing and passion thrumming between Toby and Cole really leap off the page. And while Cole is giving Toby the support and reassurance he needs, Toby is doing the same for Cole, reminding him that he’s a good man and a good father.
The story does has its weaknesses, however. Cole seems less well-fleshed-out than Toby, for example, and it was difficult to understand Cole’s reasons for holding back from making a commitment to Toby, especially as he so clearly loves him and is miserable without him. Also, while I’m not the biggest fan of children or babies in romance novels, Ella is really underused. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t want pages about dirty nappies and colic, and I really liked the few scenes when she was with Toby – but she’s so peripheral to the story that she felt a bit like a plot device, something else for Cole to angst over.
With those reservations in mind, however, I still enjoyed The Sex Coach and would certainly recommend it. It’s a gentle, low-angst story full of warmth and honesty, with a beautifully drawn relationship at its heart.