Mascara & Bandages is the third installment in Brandon Witt’s Mary’s Boys series and my favorite thus far. I truly fell in love with Ariel Merman, aka Zachary Cooper. Written with incredible sensitivity towards the many losses Zachary has experienced in his life, this character loomed larger than life in this novel and not only because he was a stunning drag queen. This particular book in the series must have been challenging to write due to the on page gay bashing scene that set the stage for our hero to meet his love interest, Dr. Teegan Chau. Witt showed great restraint while giving us just enough shocking violence to allow for us to understand the horrible impact such an attack has on both the victim and the community he lives in. I was struck immediately by the way in which Witt used this moment in Zachary’s life to empower the young man—yes, you read that correctly, empower Zachary. He has to reclaim his life and no one could do that but him. The author gave his man the necessary support system, including the doctor who sees him initially at the hospital and the entire crew at Mary’s, along with therapists, etc. but it is clear that Zachary is the one who finally comes to terms with the fact that he can either give his power away to brutal criminals or own it—and own it he most certainly does.
Zachary is the newest rising star at Hamburger Mary’s. Taken under ManDonna’s wing as the beautiful drag queen, Ariel Merman, Zachary is nothing like his alter ego. Where she is brash and stunning, Zachary is quiet and often a nervous wreck, especially when it comes to receiving praise or compliments. When one particular show goes from bad to worse, Zachary needs to escape to home as quickly as he can, not bothering to remove his make-up, but instead beating a hasty retreat from the club. Just a few blocks from his house he is set upon by three men who beat him senseless and land him in the hospital. When Zachary wakens, he meets the gorgeous Dr. Teegan Chau, a recently divorced man who is struggling with his own recent coming out.
Teegan has a beautiful daughter and an ex who is still his best friend. His staunch, conservative parents do not approve of his being gay and Teegan has never had a serious relationship with a man, but plenty of hookups along the way. When he sets eyes on Zachary, he is lost. Their connection is mutual and immediate, but both men are leery of exploring where this will go for many reasons—not the least of which is that Zachary has lost what little confidence he had after the bashing occurred. But Teegan perseveres and the two men tentatively start out on a journey together—one that will lead to Teegan finally having to fully embrace who he is by standing up to his parents and Zachary coming to terms with the fact that he is more capable than he has ever realized.
This novel was truly beautiful. The growing interest between Teegan and Zachary was so innocent and tentative that I was immediately swept up into their courtship. Zachary comes to grips with the loss of his parents and those things he views as his own personal flaws—flaws that Teegan quickly assures him are all in his mind. Nothing is a slam dunk in this story, instead every milestone that is achieved is hard earned but done so with delicate and tender support from each other. These two men genuinely fall in love and it is, at times, so fragile that a mere whisper could scuttle the entire thing. But the strength it takes each of them to achieve final happiness, to stand up to their demons, so to speak, is a wonder to behold.
I love it when an author is able to make each book in an ongoing series better than the last and that is indeed what Brandon Witt has achieved with Mascara & Bandages. A tender, beautiful romance, a triumphant story of survival, a new beginning for both men—this one has it all and I highly recommend it to you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.