Review: Stage Two (Lexington Lovers #3) by Ariel Tachna

Love has a steep learning curve.

Assistant high school principal Blake Barnes has everything he wants—a chance to help troubled students and an outlet for his passion for theater. Well, almost everything—he still goes home to an empty apartment. Then his high school crush explodes back into his life, the unexpected guardian of two boys in Blake’s care.

Thane Dalton has always been a bad boy through and through. Not much has changed, including his mistrust of authority figures, and no amount of institutional bureaucracy will keep him from protecting his nephews from the bullies terrorizing them. If that means butting heads with Blake, so be it.

Blake and Thane have lessons to learn: that they both have the boys’ best interests at heart, that the tension between them isn’t just confrontational, and that sparks can fly when opposites come together.

I’m sort of at a loss how to review this. I mean I liked it but where I normally feel the fluff and romance from the Dreamspun line, this one fell flat.

Told from dual POVs, we meet Blake Barnes as he is dealing with two young men, Kit and Phillip, who attend the high school where he is the Sophomore Vice Principal. Kit and Philip are in the office for fighting but they say they were only fighting because Kit was being bullied by jocks. When Blake looks up who their guardian is after learning their parents are both dead, he finds out their guardian is the boy Blake crushed on in High School; bad boy Thane Dalton.

Let me take a moment here to say that while the story truly is a romance, it focuses a lot on Thane's nephews who have been recently orphaned after their mother, Thane's sister, passed away. They lost their father when they were very young and have only been with Thane for a month when the bully situation at school escalates. Thane is doing what he can while juggling his construction business and learning how not to let his nephews nor the memory of his sister down. Blake, being the boys' vice principal, is drawn to their situation before he knows who their guardian is and begins to bond with the boys for the simple reason they are awesome kids who don't deserve to be targets of jock head jocks.

Thane is pretty much still the arrogant bad boy from high school just with a self-made business and the unconditional love for his nephews. When he meets Blake to pick up the boys, his first impression could not be more off and he judges Blake harshly. Of course, Thane has no clue he went to school with Blake and actually accuses Blake of being some spoiled rich kid. Thane is hesitant to agree to the action Blake takes with his nephews for the incident, seeing as it’s a he said/he said deal, Blake assigns Kit and Philip to work on the stage crew for the theatre department's upcoming production of Guys and Dolls. Once Thane agrees it’s better than suspension or ISS, he reluctantly offers to help out a few times since his business is in construction.

I felt for Blake so much. I get having an unrequited crush in high school come back after years and still feel as if time has reversed and you are once again a kid with a crush and not an adult. I liked that the author went with a slow burn for this romance, focusing more on the family aspect of Thane and his nephews, as well as Blake developing a relationship with the two men. Blake and Thane’s meet-cute offered the reader a chance to see the attraction Thane denied. It also let us know that Thane is still an ass man through and through.

The details of the stage crew was fun to read and I liked that the high school had supervision of the students, but ultimately let them lead the production of the play and also the construction of the set design. It also gave ample opportunity for Blake to be with Kit and Philip and an excuse for Thane to show up and ogle Blake. There were some seriously sweet moments with all of them but after Blake mentions he went to school with Thane and Thane makes the statement in the closet… it was finally on.

But then it wasn’t. Now, I get with this line there is sparse sex on the page and I am way okay with that. I don’t need on page sex to make a romance a romance for me but this was off when it came to the sex. We had some really hot and heavy lead ups between the couple that just stopped. It felt like those old commercials with the crash test dummies seeing them flying at a fast speed only to hit a wall. We got labeling Thane as an “ass man” who didn’t care if he was grabbing tits or dick while he was ass deep in someone. So I thought we would get Thane in ass deep action and well, we didn’t. I’ll be honest and say that disappointed me.

The conflict of the story made me angry. I know that Thane is learning how to parent and how to be in a relationship, but he really screwed up with Blake and I think Blake should have made him grovel way more than he did before he gave him a second chance.

Stage Two was a nice read, one that didn’t make me feel like the other stories in the line did. But the sweet moments were memorable and the end tied up everything in a pretty boy the way the series is known for.

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