Review: ‘Relay’ by Layla Reyne

35918522Published January 8th 2018
237 pages

Captain is not a title Alejandro “Alex” Cantu takes lightly. Elected by his teammates to helm the US Men’s Swim Team, he proudly accepts the role, despite juggling endless training, team administrative work, and helping out on the family farm. And despite his ex-lover, Dane Ellis—swimming’s biggest star—also making the Olympic Team.

Dane has been a pawn in his celebrity parents’ empire from crib to pool, flashing his camera-ready smile on demand and staying deeply in the closet. Only once did he drop the act—the summer he fell in love with Alex. Ten years later, Dane longs to cut his parents’ strings, drop his too-bright smile, and beg Alex for another chance.

Alex, though, isn’t ready to forgive and forget, and Dane is a distraction he doesn’t need on his team, until an injury forces Alex to accept Dane as his medley relay anchor. Working together, their passion reignites. When Dane’s parents threaten reprisal and Alex is accused of doping, the two must risk everything to prove Alex’s innocence, to love one another, and to win back their spots on the team, together.

I love me a sports romance. I don’t even need to know a whole lot about the sport involved, I just always really enjoy them. Which is helpful in this case, because I can’t say I know anything about the world of professional swimming. But this book was full of all the things I love about sports romance; mainly passionate, fit, competitive, talented athletes. It’s hard to go wrong with those.

Dane seems like this huge presence, he’s attractive and charming with a supposedly big personality, but it doesn’t take long to work out that that’s not who he really is. He’s being dressed up as this character that his parents want him to play, making him fit this image they’ve designed to go with their perfect lives. Needless to say, being gay is not a part of that image. So Dane has had to shut down the real him, including his feelings for Alex. keeping it all buried for the past decade.

Alex is struggling. He doesn’t have the fame and glory that Dane has, instead he has a mother who’s seriously ill and he has to scramble for every penny he can get, working himself into the ground to keep himself and his family afloat, whilst still trying to achieve his dreams. It would be hard for him to watch Dane be handed everything on a silver platter even if their relationship hadn’t already been demolished when Dane walked away from him all those years ago. That was just another kick in the teeth from life, something else he wasn’t able to have.

So there’s immediate tension when they find themselves on the same team, heading to the Olympics to represent the US together. Dane hogging the spotlight and Alex trying to hold it all together and be as good as a captain as he can be, all while this resentment flaring between the two of them causes problems left and right. And not that I know much about swimming or US sporting environments, but I’m familiar enough with professional sports to know that a punch up that results in a teammate breaking their leg would be met with a reaction more severe than a coach tutting and shaking their head. But this is fiction. We’ve got to get our drama somewhere, so I was happy to go along with it.

And boy, does this book have plenty of drama. There are fights and villains and injuries and scandals, scorned lovers and rescues and redemption. It’s all happening. The focal point is Alex’s hurt at Dane turning his back on him when they were teenagers. I did feel bad for Alex, but I was often frustrated at the level of grudge he kept. They were only 16 when this betrayal happened. 16 years olds can’t realistically be a part of serious relationships and commitment, so I’m not sure what else Alex expected from Dane at the time. I’m sure the heartbreak was real and painful, but for it to still be so raw and intense 10 years on, to the point that it was impacting their lives and their jobs, seemed a bit excessive.

All that being said, it did create the perfect setting for a real second-chance romance. They’re both still ridiculously in love with each other, even though they’d rather not be. All that want-but-can’t-have, getting close and then pushing away because they don’t believe it could ever work. They inch closer page by page, the real turning point being the whole scene at the club. That was really gorgeous. We learn so much about the two MCs there; Alex’s past and how little he had, Dane’s present and everything he wants to be. And especially who he wants it with. His love for Alex is so pure, it’s beautiful.

Dane’s parents are the ever-present villains. They’re very easy to despise. There’s never a point where you feel guilty for disliking them, you never catch yourself thinking “oh, but they’re his parents, they love him really”. They outright use him, all day every day, and it’s steadily crushing Dane’s spirit. The times when he gets to break away from them and have a go at being the person he wants to be are really special, his freedom is palpable, and we get to see the potential Dane has to be a truly happy man.

Away from the bad guys, there is a cast of characters that are pure gold. The rest of the swim team are great; mentor Mo is that wonderful voice of reason, Bas is hilarious, Jacob is adorable, and Bas and Jacob’s friendship blooming sucks you right in. I’m so glad the next book in this series in their story. Alex’s family are incredible, strong and supportive and charming, they’re definitely the best part of Dane’s trip to Colorado. That scene in the barn with Alex’s mum’s timely interruption? Priceless.

I really loved seeing Alex and Dane grow together throughout this story, resolving their past and letting each other in, taking a risk on that second chance. Their passion, their affection, I really believed in them. The whole book is full of so much heart-warming camaraderie and teamwork, everyone lifting each other up, the hard work and the rewards, all the joys of professional sport. It was a real satisfying read.

Things do end on an almost-cliffhanger. We don’t get to see the conclusion of everything the team has been working for, that’s all saved for book two, but it’s not too frustrating. It’s not like there’s big unanswered questions, it’s just that there’s a whole other journey the team needs to go on. A journey that I will be impatiently waiting to read about. I will be pre-ordering ‘Medley’ as soon as I can!

4/5 stars

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