Review: Learned Behaviors – Jayce Ellis

Review: Learned Behaviors – Jayce EllisLearned Behaviors
by Jayce Ellis
Series: Higher Education #1
Also in this series: Learned Reactions
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: November 9, 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 238
Source: Purchased
My rating: One StarOne StarOne Star

Two single dads meet at the office where it’s hate at first sight in this new series from acclaimed author Jayce Ellis.

Sending his daughter off to college is the proudest day of single dad JaQuan Reynolds’ life. Everything took a back seat to raising her—including his career. He has no idea what comes next, but his newfound freedom is quickly curtailed by a crash deadline at work and the uptight, hovering presence of consultant Matthew Donaldson. He’s surly and insufferably sexy, and Jaq’s ready to check him out and write him off—right up until a work assignment forces them together.

Every day. From now until Thanksgiving.

Work and fatherhood have been Matt’s whole world for years now, ever since his marriage ended. His eldest son is getting hitched over Thanksgiving weekend, and he’s not going to let a work deadline get in the way of celebrating with his family—not this time. The hours aren’t a problem, but the executive assistant on the project might be. Jaq’s sexy voice makes Matt yearn for things he let go of a long time ago.

Lust isn’t on the schedule, and neither is longing. But as the weeks go by, Matt and Jaq are forced to reevaluate their plans…and discover that even the most tight-knit of families can make room for one more.

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When I saw that cover with those two gorgeous men smiling at each other, I couldn’t resist picking this up. It’s also a workplace romance, which is trope I generally enjoy. I’m not sure I’d say this is enemies-to-lovers, but it’s definitely bordering on that: they’re not even sure they like each other as people but their chemistry is off the charts.

Matt works for Bernhardt, a large department store, and the Kingsley design studio is set to do an exclusive line of home goods for them. The problem? Bernhardt waited until the last minute, and now they only have a few months to get the items ready for a Black Friday launch. The only way to make it work is for Matt to go onsite until Thanksgiving. JaQuan is the executive assistant to the chief designer at Kingsley, and he’s just recently dropped his daughter Tanisha off for her first year at Howard. But even with his newly empty nester status, the amount of hours Matt wants them to work – and his attitude – rub Jaq the wrong way. But they’re both very attracted to each other, and as the project progresses, things progress in ways they don’t expect. But between the demands of their kids and their jobs, is there any time for them to figure out their relationship?

“Matt wanted him there because he wanted to see him, to watch him work, to spend hours on end next to him. That he wasn’t entirely sure if he even liked JaQuan wasn’t the point.
“You want him.” Not a question. Didn’t need to be.
“Absolutely.” Matt wasn’t prepared for the relief he felt at admitting it to himself.”

Jaq was very easy to like. Jaq’s girlfriend got pregnant and her parents kicked her out, so she moved in with Jaq and his mom, then took off when Tanisha was little. Jaq’s been too busy being a dad to even think about dating, but now that she’s in college, things seem a little more possible… even if he’s still living with his mom at thirty-five. But it also means he has pretty much zero dating experience. Matt was a harder sell. From the start, he’s very blunt and, well, rude. Like Jaq, he’s a single dad. Matt has three kids with his ex, one of whom is getting married Thanksgiving weekend, and the youngest is an RA at Howard. They’re both workaholics, though Jaq’s a bit better about putting his daughter first, and his company is more understanding of that. Matt, on the other hand, literally cannot delegate to save his life, and takes on way too much under the auspices of taking care of his family financially – to the point where his kids don’t want to invite him to things just to have him not show up because he got caught up in work.

The relationship between Jaq and Matt was very slow-burn and a bit stop-and-go. They’re both so confused about what’s going on that they skip a couple of relationship steps. Neither of them have much dating experience and there’s a lot of misunderstandings and communication they have to work through. Pretty much everyone else around them thinks they’re in a relationship before they are, and it takes a lot of discussion from others, including Matt’s ex, before they realize what they have is worth working for. When they’re together, though, they’ve got incredible chemistry and they’re really quite sweet.

The secondary characters were fun, especially Jaq’s mom, but my favorite was his group of new friends. While dropping Tanisha off at Howard, Jaq meets another dad and ends up part of a group of non-straight Black dads that meet for coffee every once in a while. I liked Lawrence and Carlton a lot and the hints of their own stories we got throughout the book. I liked how they supported each other through their relationship and kid problems, though it did feel like they bonded quite quickly. As for cons, my biggest issue was the pacing. It bogged down in the middle of the book, and the relationship seemed to stall interminably.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the writing, the characters and their interactions, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next book in the series.

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