Rating: 4.5 stars
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Luke Henderson enjoys his daily walks along Coogee Beach, especially when he sees the same gorgeous surfer almost every morning. Luke doesn’t mind admitting to a few fantasies about the hot guy, but the one time the man catches his eye, Luke takes off immediately. So he is very surprised when he goes to a local cafe to discuss selling them pastries from his bakery, only to find that the owner and chef is none other than Luke’s sexy surfer.
Cameron Brown has noticed Luke watching him on the beach, but has never been able to get close enough to approach him before Luke is gone. Part of Cam is happy to see Luke there today, as he is hoping for a little action with the good looking man. The other part is a bit put off by Luke’s assertion that the basic pastries Cam sells in the cafe aren’t particularly good and his suggestion that they form a business deal to sell Luke’s instead. But Cam still is interested in something more with Luke until Luke walks away, and Cam notices his very severe limp. And as much as he’d like a night with Luke, Cam isn’t willing to have a quick one off with a guy with a disability.
Luke isn’t so surprised when Cam doesn’t call right away about the deal. He knows Cam saw the limp and figures he will be like most men who totally lose interest when they see him walk. He knows a guy like Cam would never want someone like him, but he at least hoped they could do business together. So he is surprised when Cam shows up weeks later and wants to talk about the deal. And even more so as Cam continues to ask Luke out and encourage the friendship. And over time, much to Luke’s suprise, the friendship grows to more. The guys have a lot in common with their interest in cooking and love of the beach. But Luke still has trouble believing that a relationship with a guy like Cam is possible, and when those old insecurities come back, it may ruin things between them.
Whitewater is part of Dreamspinner’s new Under the Southern Cross anthology, featuring stories set in Australia. I picked this one up because I enjoy reading about diverse heroes so I was interested to see how the story handles Luke’s limp and Cam’s reaction to him. I think Shayne builds it all together very well, from Luke’s insecurities about Cam seeing him walk, to Cam’s initial first impressions, to the fact that Luke can never fully escape the reactions of others. I could feel for Luke as he constantly is faced with rude comments, stupid questions, and not so subtle stares. So I could completely understand how he is not ready to open up and trust in his relationship with Cam right away and why he doubts that Cam is interested in more than friendship. At first Cam doesn’t come off particularly well. His first reaction to seeing Luke’s limp is to lose interest in pursuing sex with him, although it has less to do with being turned off than to deciding he can’t go through with a quick sex and dump as is Cam’s usual routine. But as he gets to know Luke, the limp becomes almost a non-issue between them. We still see Luke stumble occasionally or face negative reactions, but Cam barely even notices any more as he is falling for Luke completely.
Their relationship is very sweet with a nice slow build. Cam has to earn Luke’s trust and confidence that he really is interested in him, especially after those initial weeks when he was clearly avoiding Luke. There is not much on the physical side here; the story fades to black on their only sex scene and is definitely more sweet than sexy. But there is a nice heat between these two guys and the chemistry is really great. I enjoyed the development of their friendship and relationship, even without a lot of sex.
And can we talk about the food porn here? Wow, do not read this book when you hungry. Shayne gives us decadent descriptions of the wonderful pastries and baked goods that Luke prepares, as well as some of Cam’s wonderful dishes as well. My mouth was watering and I could practically smell the bread baking. One of my favorite parts of the story is when Luke and Cam are cooking together. You can just feel the connection as they work together in the kitchen, creating a meal and learning about each other.
I only had a few small quibbles here where I thought some things could use more fleshing out. First, I wanted to better understand what motivated Cam to move from a reluctance to get involved with Luke to basically pursuing him for weeks. It wasn’t really clear to me what the turning point was and why. I also think that the conflict at the end felt a bit out of nowhere. Not necessarily the issue the guys faced, but the source. I know this is probably too cryptic, but I’m trying to avoid spoiling anything. But I guess my point is that I think there needed to be a bit more groundwork laid for this conflict earlier in the story.
So this is a fun, sweet story that I really enjoyed. I loved the way Shayne incorporates the great sense of place in this Australian beach town. And I really enjoyed Cam and Luke together and found them sweet and charming. And I especially loved all the cooking details and the way it is so nicely infused into the story. So I liked this one a lot and think it is great for a quick, light read.
P.S. The Under the Southern Cross anthology is available in print only as a full anthology. Each of the individual stories can also be purchased in ebook format.
Cover review: I like this one. The colors and the feel just match well with the tone of the story. Sort of warm and sweet and relaxed. I like it a lot.