Ira is a genderqueer man living in Toronto; he’s a miniatures artist, sculptor, and dancer—though most of his dance gigs are burlesque. Ira’s not proud of it, but it pays the bills. Getting into exotic dancing wasn’t the best plan, especially since his first manager, Cedric, has been stalking him since Ira tried to walk away two years ago. Cedric has been a problem, and the ruckus he’s caused has lost Ira jobs, apartments, and his school friends. Ira’s holed up in a sublet apartment, living off lease, in an effort to keep Cedric from finding him.
Jed’s a bartender and building supervisor, and meets Ira when he attempts to help him, mistaking him for a woman out late in a bad neighborhood. Turns out Ira was just walking home from shopping, his high heels and skirt a red flag for the aggressive queer-bashers out for a thumping. Still, Ira’s androgynous looks are interesting and attractive, and what a bonus that they live in the same building, right? Well, Ira’s not a fan of being saved or taken care of—he’s spent years on his own now and friends only walk away. But Ira’s desperate for cash and the bar Jed works at, the Hen and Hog, needs a server. Having been turned away from such work in the past, Ira’s reluctant to be refused again, but when he’s nearly mauled by Cedric at his next exotic dancing gig and big, burly Jed stands as a bulwark against the gropers, well, it’s worth a try. They also decide to work on a friendship, but the attraction growing between hem is too strong to resist.
At the Hen and Hog Ira finds a comfortable position, working his way up from bussing tables to serving. The clientele seems ideal, barring one regular who’s got an unrequited crush on Jed and doesn’t like the competition. That said, when Cedric turns up like the bad penny he is, Jed and his co-workers and friends deflect him in stellar fashion. And, well, that leads to bigger problems in the short run.
This is a sweet, odd-couple romance with Jed and Ira exploring a new relationship with men that didn’t fit their usual type. Due to Ira’s history with exploitation, he’s not keen on big, strapping men who might hurt him, while Jed never anticipated falling for a slender, androgynous, genderqueer man—yet, wow, do those flashes of ladies’ fashion turn Jed on! Plus, Ira’s boyfriends in the past never wanted him to dance, but Jed’s a practical man, and he’s willing to accept Ira as he is—no matter the job.
The stalker storyline seemed a little rushed near the end, but the build-up of the romance was well-paced. There are a LOT of characters in this ensemble cast, and at times it was difficult for me to keep track. Also, and this might only affect me, but I couldn’t place the location for a long time and only confirmed it was Toronto by searching for Ira’s former college online. When I’m reading a book, I do like to have a strong sense of setting, and that was a miss for me—until I paused and investigated on my own. Maybe it’s not a thing for other readers, but it took me out of the story. It looks as if this book kicks off a new series, probably with secondary characters taking the leads, and I liked those characters enough that I’d read on.