Detectives Nicholas Valenti and Sean O’Brian are best friends. As partners, it’s them against the bad guys. During off hours, they drink at bars, go on double dates, and are always there for each other. They’re comfortable with one another, not shy of touching. When O’Brian was stabbed on the job, Valenti realized his feelings for his partner ran deeper than he anticipated. Now he’s having a hard time not broadcasting his forbidden feelings to everyone around.
Their new assignment is a risk. Valenti and O’Brian go undercover to bust a drug ring at a notorious gay resort, the RamJack. They must pretend to be gay for the duration of the mission, as a sugar daddy and his boy toy, and for that they need to practice to get their act up to par. From a few kisses on a dance floor to delving deep into BDSM dungeons, Valenti and O’Brian must appear believable, or the owner of the resort and drug lord extraordinaire, Conrad, will not simply throw them out, but will devise terrible means of payback. But being creditable is one thing, trying to investigate at the same time puts both men in harm’s way.
The plot, set in the 1980s, is utterly implausible, ridiculous, and awfully predictable. And yet… this is one of my favorite M/M pairings and stories. Why? Because of Valenti and O’Brian. Though told in third person from Valenti’s point of view alone, the two men are shown as wonderfully enjoyable characters with realistic speech and thought patterns. The development of their personalities and relationship is the key component here. The profound emotions lying just underneath the surface and the sheer torment of their affair, well, it pulls at my heart string every time.
The writing is detailed and vivid, super-sexy and strong. The driving force of the tale is the OFY and friends-to-lovers romance between two straight guys. Valenti is more analytical, always assessing the situation and the consequences of his actions. In comparison, O’Brian is less intellectual, more impulsive, and street-wise. They complement each other well, and their dialogue never fails to tickle my fancy and funny bone. The sexual tension is palpable and the genuine emotions these men have for one another is simply put suh-weet!
Why I don’t give this a full five stars, not even after all these years, is twofold. One, the case ends really abruptly, everything just turning out fine without any effort on the heroes’ part. Basically, Valenti sleeps through the whole thing. Two, the constant self-recriminations on Valenti’s part are a part of what makes the character appealing, but at some point I started to read those scenes as seeing gay love from a negative point of view, as though anal sex is the worst thing a man could do to another. That part of sex is repeatedly described as a violation and in terms of violence. Considering the sex was, in the end, between two consenting adults, that negativity and needless masochism started to grate on me. Nonetheless, neither of these things detracts me from re-reading this little BDSM-lite tale (some bondage, forced seduction, exhibitionism, and voyeurism) every now and then.
There’s a bonus story, I’ll Be Hot for Christmas, at the end. This short tale is told from O’Brian’s point of view. It’s been a year since the assignment at RamJack, and Valenti seems to be pulling away. He was shot in the line of duty, and he’s been forced to desk duty. As a result, O’Brian’s been given a temporary new partner, a hot young guy. O’Brian’s sexually and emotionally frustrated, and decides some bondage sex is what’s needed to solve the “case” of Valenti’s reticence.
It was nice to get inside O’Brian’s head for once. His inner monologue is more concise, to the point, and pragmatic than Valenti’s. His determination to figure out what’s bugging his partner is fun to read. I often enjoy this short story more than the longer previous one. The only negative part here is when O’Brian denies he’s gay. I think the scene was supposed to be funny but his declaration of being only-gay-for-you with his partner felt kind of depressing. I would have thought after a year of being and sleeping together, both men would have started to see the gay aspect in a more positive light. Still, a nice, if a bit silly, little story about sexual torment to get at the truth.
P.S. This book is part of the September Reading Challenge and chosen from the Favorite Virgin Heroes list.
This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for Favorites List Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win this week’s fabulous prize of books and swag from Samhain Publishing, as well as our amazing grand prize sponsored by Riptide Publishing. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Favorites List Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!