Rating: 4.25 stars
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Riley MacDermott is in charge of the annual Bath Christmas Market. It is a hectic and somewhat thankless job, but one that he hopes will help him attain that promotion he has been seeking. All seems to be going fairly smoothly until he realizes that his ex, Stanislav Dubinsky, is a last minute vendor at the Market. It has been five years since Stan left Riley to go live out his dream of a life amid nature in the woods. And as much as Riley wishes it were different, he knows he is still not over the Stan.
Although Riley hopes to just avoid Stan and keep the past behind them, the men end up reconnecting, and a hot encounter leads the way to two weeks of rekindling their relationship. The physical and emotional connection these guys have seems just as strong as it was five years before. But Riley and Stan want totally different things out of life, and they know that at the end of the Market, they will have to separate again and return to their own lives. But losing the man you love can be even harder the second time around, and Riley and Stan must figure out if there is way to make things work between them for good.
Merry Gentlemen is a fun and sexy story of two men who are meant for each other, but who want very different things out of life. Or at least think they do. The story is told from Riley’s POV and he is an amusing, quirky guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, but at the same time is determined to move up the career ladder. At first he comes across a bit bumbling, but as the story continues it is clear he is really just a fun, open guy and he has a really enjoyable voice. Despite his attempts to move on from Stan, it is obvious that Riley has never really gotten over him, even five years later. He compares other men to Stan and they just don’t measure up. But he never expects to see the man again, let alone holding out any hope they will get back together.
Riley and Stan are very different. Riley is a city guy, enjoys the bustling life filled with lots of people and always interacting with others. And Stan is much quieter, more reserved, and enjoys a life with nature and isolation. Years ago Stan made the decision he needed a different life outside of Bath, and even though he invited Riley to join him, he still walked out of the life they had built to find something better suited. Despite being so different however, it is clear when you see these guys together what a perfect match they make. My favorite part of this book is the banter between these men. They are fun and fiesty and the love between them is so clear from the way they interact in these silly moments. Here they are getting back together in the bedroom:
“Roll over,” I said, and for a minute I thought Stan was going to argue, but then he grunted and did it, spreading his legs wide and sticking his bum up in the air. “That’s it. Good pillow-biter,” I said, patting his arse a little more forcefully than necessary.
“Fuck off,” Stan mumbled into the sheets, but I could hear a chuckle in his voice, and then he wriggled his arse impatiently. “Come on then, jebacka. Make like a tree and stick some wood in me.”
“What the hell kind of tree does that?” I asked, rolling on the condom and lining myself up. “This why you’re so happy out in the woods, then? Getting seen to by the local wildlife?”
“Yeah, I’ve got myself a harem of trained badgers. They’re shy, but really filthy when you get to know them.”
We both sniggered, and as I lowered myself against Stan’s back to kiss his neck, I remembered that sex with him had always used to be like this. Fun. Joking and laughing and not taking ourselves too seriously. Somehow I’d forgotten that part, too strung up on the memories of the angry sex over the last few months and the mournful intensity of our good-bye fuck.
In addition to the banter, however, there is a tenderness between these guys that shows up throughout the book. It is clear that neither one ever stopped loving the other. Circumstances pulled them apart, but their feelings for one another continue to be strong. They are so sweet and fun and super sexy together, and I really enjoyed them both.
My only real issue here is that the story sets up Riley as this workaholic who is always prioritizing his job over everything else. It is apparently the source of past arguments between the men and part of the reason why things didn’t work between them when Stan wanted to move someplace with less bustle. But although we are told frequently that Riley is only focused on his job, we don’t really see it here. In fact, Riley comes across to me as quite casual, and certainly not an uptight, work obsessed guy. Much of the conflict hinges on these two different personalities and I think we needed to actually see this kind of behavior from Riley, rather than just be told about it in order to make it totally work. Along similar lines, the book seems to place most of the blame on Riley for the breakup. He is the one who wants to stay in the city, who is focused on his job, who likes the urban life rather than the outdoors. But Stan basically told him one day that he no longer wanted their life together, that he was picking up and moving hours away into the wilderness, and that Riley could come too. This seems to me like at least part of the responsibility for their problems falls with Stan, but blame always seems to fall on Riley’s shoulders and the assumption seems to be that it is his issues holding them back. I would just like to have seen a bit more balance here, or else a better explanation of why he is the root of their problems.
That aside, this is really a lovely story that I enjoyed quite a bit. Despite the tension of figuring out how to make things work between them, it is a fairly light story, sweet and sexy and low on the angst. I really loved Riley and Stan and enjoyed them so much as a couple. I liked this one quite a lot and thought it was a great holiday story about two very different men who finally find their way to be together.