Rating: 4.25 stars
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Ara Costas. Beautiful, wealthy, narcissistic, cruel. He rules the Chicago club scene and can turn the heads of both men and women. Everyone wants to be him or to be with him. Ara looks down on everyone, including the endless stream of men in his company. His power is his perfect face.
One night an accident changes Ara’s life and he is left scarred and alone. He becomes a recluse who controls his conglomerate from his computer. Ara stays in the shadows and never leaves his high-rise apartment except for doctor’s appointments. The light becomes his enemy as it can expose what he wants no one to see. In seven years, Ara has not felt the wind on his face or an intimate touch.
Ilias Adams was raised on an Iowa farm. After graduating business school, he leaves home when his father cannot accept that he is gay and Ara hires him as his face to the world, handling Ara’s business and board of directors. The first rule Ilias must follow is never to look directly at his employer. He is also not allowed to leave Ara’s apartment, except for business, until he is Ara deems him trustworthy.
At their first meeting, Ara is rude and abrasive, yet Ilias finds himself drawn to Ara’s voice. Ara admits to himself that he hates Ilias immediately because Ilias is perfect and more beautiful than Ara ever was. At times, Ilias is scared of his boss and never knows what mood he will find him in. But, he also recognizes that Ara is lonely and angry. Although Ilias is quiet, respectful, and a little naive, he stands up for himself and demands his boss treat him with simple common courtesy when Ara the beast roars at him.
As the weeks pass, the two spend time working together every day and begin to enjoy each other’s company. Ara begins to look forward to stepping behind his desk and each day Ilias tries to bring light into Ara’s day and draw him from the shadows. It’s the small things that get to Ilias, the first small kind gesture from Ara, a half smile hidden behind the computer, the intoxicating scent of Ara.
But even when Ara recognizes his past errors, he does not know how to change and move forward. Ara is certain he is a monster and not worthy of love. Even when Ara is lusting after Ilias, he knows he has no idea even how to love someone. But Ara wants to be a better person because that is what Ilias deserves and he does not want to be alone anymore. Ilias persists as he falls for Ara, moving slowly and tentatively to try to show Ara the beauty within himself.
Initially, I was not fully on board with reading yet another update to, “A tale as old as time…Beauty and the Beast,” complete with a motherly housekeeper and table settings at each end of a long dining table. But, overall, I am pleased to have spent time with Ara and Ilias. The story primarily takes place at Ara’s home with just a limited number of scene changes. The story is slow building, tender, and oozes with sexual tension. There is little angst and more of a back and forth style to the building of the relationship. The characters are well written with enough backstory on both Ara and Ilias’ family life to give us an understanding of where they come from. The story is told with alternating points of view that are consistent and flow well together. The dialogue is not one sided and the reader always knows what each character is thinking, which makes for a deeper, more well rounded story.
As their relationship grows, Ilias is constantly second guessing each move he makes as he literally reaches out to Ara. Inevitably, they become intimate and Ara is naturally afraid of Ilias seeing him without clothes, as the scarring is not just contained to his face. Ara’s scars are mentioned in detail and allow the reader to better understand the physical pain that Ara deals with. Ara continues to tell himself that he is not worthy of love and that everyone sees him as a monster due to his appearance. The intimate scenes are tender and loving as two alone, broken people try to find love and healing. Of course you will be rooting for them to live happily ever after.
As with most fairy tales, the reader is asked to suspend belief. Ilias, who has just graduated business school, is hired through an employment agency to essentially take over as COO of Ara’s company. It is never disclosed what type of business Ara runs, but it is described as a multi million dollar conglomerate and Ara’s family heritage is referred to as aristocratic. Ilias agrees to move into Ara’s residence and not leave at all, except for business meetings, until Ara finds him trustworthy. Ara had a private investigator look into Ilias’ background, but never looked at the report himself, stating the investigator said Ilias was “probably” trustworthy. Yet, the moment he meets Ilias, he hands him a folder with all of his business contacts, bank accounts, and moves him into his home. Additionally, Ara has had countless surgeries, yet the physical scars remain. With all of Ara’s money and the advances in plastic and reconstructive surgery, the reader is left to wonder why he cannot be helped. Additionally, when Ara and Ilias finally become intimate, Ara mentions they have to keep it quiet as there is a no fraternization policy within the company. As their relationship progresses, this is never brought up again.
As with fairy tales, the story runs in a predictable pattern. But, the writing and the character development are solid. If you are in the mood for sweetness and a modern spin on a classic story, it is a worthy read to see if Ilias can tame the beast within Ara.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.