Focus On Me (In Focus #2), by Megan Erickson
Publish Date: July 21, 2014
Format: e-ARC, provided by the publisher
Genre: new adult contemporary m/m romance
To Buy: Amazon * Barnes & Noble
Rating: 5 STARS
(From Goodreads) Colin Hartman can now add college to his list of failures. On the coast-to-coast trek home from California, Colin stops at a gas station in the Nevada desert, and can’t help noticing the guy in tight jeans looking like he just stepped off a catwalk. When he realizes Catwalk is stranded, Colin offers a ride.
Riley only intended to take a short ride in Colin’s Jeep to the Grand Canyon. But one detour leads to another until they finally find themselves tumbling into bed together. However there are shadows in Riley’s eyes that hide a troubled past. And when those shadows threaten to bury the man whom Colin has fallen in love with, he vows to get Riley the help he needs. For once in his life, quitting isn’t an option…
Oh, the things this book did to me. I thought Megan Erickson had brought the maximum emotional impact with Trust the Focus. You haven't seen anything yet from her. Focus On Me takes on some heavy-hitting issues amid the backdrop of another epic road trip and a budding romance between two very different people. This book is in equal measures hopeful, heartbreaking and HOT.
Colin is what I would call a good 'ole boy. He's a blue collar guy from North Carolina who tries to make it in college in California on a football scholarship. Unfortunately, college just wasn't his thing, and is now driving home after failing out. He's getting gas near Vegas when he sees a hot, model thin guy trying to get a ride out of town. Since the guy seems desperate and looks great in a pair of skinny jeans, Colin offers him a ride.
Riley is desperate for some answers, and he's not even sure of the question. He just knows that he's not happy and is filled with shadows and emptiness. He thinks that the reasons why he feels this way and how to fix it will become evident to him if he can get closer to nature or maybe closer to his inner consciousness. And, if not those things, then there's always the Atlantic Ocean. So, Riley enlists Colin's help to hit the high points along the way - the Grand Canyon, a sweat lodge, a hot gay bar - all the while Riley's just looking to feel something. ANYTHING.
I love how, in the beginning, both Colin's and Riley's gaydar is seriously out of calibration. Both are seriously drawn to the other, but think they have no shot because he's straight. When it comes out that both boys are gay, it was like they both took the gloves off, at least for a little while. The sexual tension between them was crazy off the charts from the very beginning, so once they have permission to openly act upon it, it doesn't become an issue of if, but rather when.
As far as Colin's concerned, the when is ASAFP. But, Riley is much more hesitant. He's trying to deal with all this stuff in his head and doesn't want to drag Colin into it. As such, Riley keeps Colin in the dark about his life, his family and his problems for quite awhile. The two guys go through half the country and a few key attempts on Riley's part to figure himself out before they finally give into their feelings for each other and things seem to smooth out a bit.
Unfortunately, the closer they get to the coast, the more complicated things get. The pieces of the Riley puzzle start to fall into place for Colin, and the paint a very scary picture. By this time, Colin has fallen completely in love with Riley, and he's determined to be whatever and whoever Riley wants him to be. But, as Colin learns, that's not what Riley NEEDS. And, when Colin finally figures out what that is, he's so worried he's too late for it to make a difference for Riley and for them as a couple.
While the focus of this book might be on Riley and what he's going through, I think something needs to be said for Colin here. This big, strong, tough guy has his own feelings of inadequacy that he's dealing with. He failed out of college and is now forced to go home with his tail between his legs to sling bar-b-que at his family's restaurant. He couldn't hack it, and now when Riley leans on him for help, Colin is terrified he's going to fall short with him too. God love this boy. He is so incredibly sweet, and is always thinking of everyone before himself.
Justin and Landry from Trust the Focus play a significant role in Focus On Me. Landry and Riley are e-mail pals, and Riley sort of uses his e-mails to Landry as his diary. He gets his feelings out, since he's too afraid to admit them to Colin. However, his catharsis causes Landry to become concerned for him, and eventually seek him out. It was interesting seeing Landry and Justin from Colin's eyes, especially as he was in the midst of trying to figure everything out with Riley. All Colin knows is that these two guys are interfering in his and Riley's personal situation, and it doesn't sit well with him.
There are several times during Focus On Me that I was brought to tears over Riley's plight and Colin's intense concern for him. This is definitely an emotional book that faces some pretty serious topics head on. Megan Erickson did her homework. And, so many aspects of this book are controversial - Megan also handles all of them with aplomb and care.
And, can I just tell you how freaking hot this book is? Like - crazy, off the charts HOT. Both Riley and Colin have been with other guys before and know what they want and what they like, and neither of them are afraid to ask for it. It's so, so good.
I really hope this isn't the end of the In Focus series. Both books in it have been completely captivating and incredible. I need more.
My boots made an odd sound on the Skywalk. I watched them as I raised my knees up, forward, then down onto the clear glass floor, from which I could see the bottom of the Grand Canyon two thousand feet below.
My legs shook, and my heart felt like it was beating in my mouth. I wiped my forehead with the sleeve of my shirt and breathed in through my nose, out through my mouth.
This whole thing was weird and freaky. But the bridge was a little crowded, and Riley seemed to like it, so I shut my mouth and fought against my flight instinct. Still, I gazed longingly at the solid ground at the edge of the Grand Canyon. According to the shuttle driver, the U-shaped Skywalk jutted out from the rim of the Grand Canyon seventy feet at its farthest point. Which was where we were.
Riley leaned on the railing and looked below. I followed his gaze, spying the Colorado River in the distance.
I walked over next to him and folded my forearms on the railing, resting my forehead on them and closing my eyes. Then I prayed my legs would stop shaking.
When I looked up, Riley was watching me with amusement.
“What’s that look for?”
“You don’t like this, do you?”
He laughed. “Liar. Your face is white and you’re sweating like crazy.”
I wiped my forehead again. “Hot as hell out here. This is Arizona, ya know.”
“Right . . .” He let his voice trail off and then focused back on the canyon in front of us. I told myself to chill and let my gaze roam the area. I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but to actually be here in this huge natural area was a head trip. I was seeing it with my own eyes, but could barely grasp the actual freaking size of the canyon.
A helicopter circled overhead, one of the tours, and I looked up, shielding my eyes as it flew past.
“Have you ever seen Garden State?” Riley asked.
I dropped my hand back to the railing. “Garden State?”
“Yeah, it’s a movie.”
I shook my head, “No.”
He swallowed and looked back at the canyon as he spoke. “Well, the main character is depressed, and he’s been on drugs a lot of his life to deal with it. But then he stops taking them. He said he wants to feel, and he wasn’t sure he ever needed them in the first place.” He took a breath. “Anyway, there’s this scene where he and his friends visit an abandoned quarry. He climbs on top of this old construction vehicle in the pouring rain on the edge of the quarry and yells down into it. Just yells into the infinite abyss, as he calls it. And he’s happy because he’s feeling that moment, you know?”
Riley looked at me, his eyes wide. I didn’t know what he wanted me to say. Because that sounded kind of weird, for a guy to stand and yell into a hole. Maybe he just wanted to hear his voice echo. Some guys liked to hear themselves talk. So all I did was nod.
In response, Riley stepped closer. When he spoke again, his voice was lower, softer. “Standing here like this, how does it make you feel?”
I licked my lips and broke Riley’s gaze to look at the other people walking the bridge. Some were holding hands and talking. Others were pointing at the canyon below. Then I looked back out, staring at the tan rocks of the canyon walls. The best way to describe all of this was beautiful, in the way the sun baked the ground, the way the gentle breeze ruffled my sweat-dampened hair. The way plants shoved their way through cracks in the rock to reach the sun and thrive.
I wasn’t so good at this, talking about how I felt and shit. But he’d asked me, so I thought about how to answer as honestly as I could. “I guess . . . I guess I feel pretty small. And I feel pretty lucky that I’m here. I’m alive and the sun is shining, and I get to see one of the greatest sites in the world.”
I winced a little, wondering if that all sounded stupid.
Riley rolled his lips between his teeth, and his eyes lowered until he stared at his hands folded on the railing. “That’s . . . that’s good, Colin.”
So I guessed I’d done all right. “How, uh, does it make you feel?”
Riley’s eyes fell closed slowly. “About the same,” he whispered. But there was something in his voice, something that made me scratch my head, but also made me think he was lying a little.
“You happy you got to see this?” I waved a hand out into the infinite abyss.
“Yeah,” he whispered again. But he didn’t look happy. And his eyes looked wet.
He blinked and turned away, and when he faced me again, some cool mask had slipped over his face. His eyes looked a little too bright, his smile forced. “Thanks a lot for bringing me.”