“ Paperback: 240 pages / Publisher: Riptide / Published: 6 Aug 2012 „
This collection left me feeling somewhat bemused. It's not that the sex scenes were terrible or the prose awful in general. No, it was because the one story left me feeling like I was missing something, another joyfully reunited me with some fellows I met in the sequel I'd managed to read FIRST only to leave me uneasily thinking that it felt slightly more rushed than the story itself deserved, and the yet a third one, well, the third one was an utter delight. There is a fourth story, but that one left me feeling ambivalent on several scores. I'm reviewing the stories in no particular order (just to confuse you, bwuahahaha!)
The story Cruce de Caminos (Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane) introduces us to Sean O'Hara who is one deeply conflicted young man. His childhood seems to have been no picnic and he fell in love during high school with a young woman whose problems led them to have a sort of drug fuelled co-dependency. Sean has been ditched by his beloved once more as she tries to leave behind the drugs and prostitution and begin her life anew with yet another john who promises her a happily ever after. Sean's own desperation leads him into the supernatural heart within New Orleans itself as the disaster that was Katrina approaches. His adventures as a rent boy are not Pretty Woman type fodder in the least, though they do bring him closer to his destiny. The supernatural elements are beautifully woven in, and they actually echo the dreamlike darkness that seems to cloak New Orlean's very being and which one feels wrapping round you should you wander the French Quarter alone at night.
The problem was it was so very different in tone from the rest, it left me feeling blindsided as I sank into and then disoriented when I began the next story. I should also warn you that if you read the authors' The Druid Stone (Carina Press), you will indeed meet Sean O'Hara again, but that Sean and this Sean are very much before and after images of the same man. THIS Sean is the one before he cleaned his act up, though his knack for getting into supernatural trouble doesn't seem to have abated any. A really good tale, but it just didn't mesh with the collection as a whole as one might have expected it to.
Priceless (Cat Grant) is a novella length entry that reunited me with the fellows in Doubtless (which is actually the sequel). When a nerd is bought a cute rentboy for his birthday, things begin to get interesting (and he gets annoyed). Said rentboy is desperate for cash to pay his college tuition, but a Very Bad Man becomes a client who takes things too far and does VERY Bad Things. Cue nerd to the rescue and a Pretty Woman outcome (nerd is mega rich and slums it out of habit) and you have a tale that hits all the right spots, even if it IS a trifle predictable. I loved getting to read their love story, but it did nonetheless feel a wee bit rushed in places. I also think that it would have made sense to package Priceless and Doubtless together in an omni rather than like this, but then, I'm not a publisher so what do I know? I'm assuming there was a reason why it was presented in this way.
Necessities Door (Fiona Glass) left me feeling rather ambivalent. A British police officer (Jake) who is openly gay is used as bait in a sting operation focusing on a crime boss who has a thing for rent boys. Said officer is undercover and so plays the whole rentboy role as real as possible. He comes up a cropper however when he ends up having sex with a punter, who actually leaves him cash in exchange. It opened up a whole can of worms on ethics that the while touched on somewhat within the story, was really something that the confines of the short story did not do enough justice to. It was also somewhat bleak and tawdry in ways that brought my mood down and despite the ending, it left a feeling of hopelessness ghosting about. I'm not entirely sure if I enjoyed the story, or if I didn't and the fence sitting itself is difficult as it's a rather pointy topped fence. It was well plotted enough that I would read another entry by this writer, but truthfully, if it left me feeling the same I probably would pass her on by in future as not my personal cup of tea.
Where You Hurt the Most (L.C. Chase) was one of those surprises that makes it all worthwhile. Having given up on love after his own heartbreak, Adrian is enjoying a personally fulfilling career as a high class escort. He's beautiful, charming, and educated, and his clients treasure their time with him. When his boss asks him to take on his cousin Dan as a personal favour, Adrian agrees quite readily. He owes the man a lot and to be truthful, Dan's situation interests him. Dan was once a man of flawless beauty whose face is now marred by terrible burn scarring. Worse still are the scars that the accident have left upon his psyche.. As Adrian reaches out to Dan, he unwittingly uncovers his own inner scars, and together, the two begin to make their way towards truly living once again. The hesitant steps each man takes as they reach out, and hide, are poignant.
While not subscribing to the Cinderella formula nor getting into the dark, grimy corners of the sex trade world, the story itself does show the personal limitations undertaken by many sex workers in this strata of the field. It also doesn't demonise the workers, and I quite liked the respect and care shown to the escort by his clients and employer. Not necessarily entirely realistic, but still, it made a nice change of pace while sharing a romance that was tender and raw in ways that really touched my heart.
Altogether, it's not that bad of an anthology to read, and if I could, I'd give it 3 1/2 stars. Dooyoo is whole stars or nothing though, and sadly, the limitations won't allow me to feel comfortable upgrading it to a full four. I'd like to also mention that you can purchase this as either a paperback, or an ebook, and that if you only want to read one or two of the stories, you can also buy them individually via Amazon, All Romance Ebooks and the publisher's own website as ebooks in multiple formats.
I'd like to thank Riptide Publishing for providing me with my review copy.