After a harrowing experience with a psychotic stalker, Michael is finally putting his life back together. He owes a part of his recover to Justin, the amazing man who not only stood by him after he was attacked, but who now wants to marry Michael. The only caveat? Justin’s modeling career demands that he spend the next six months in Paris. Both of them know this is the right move for Justin, but for two reformed playboys who are very into the physical aspect of their relationship, six months without each other will be a test.
Even when the couple reaches a compromise they both agree to, Justin’s feelings get hurt when he learns the extent to which Matthew has “compromised.” The fact that Michael has to go back to stripping to make ends meets further complicates what used to be a decidedly uncomplicated relationship. But none of that tops the insidious fear Michael feels when his nightmares about that stalker take a turn for the surrealistically real. Suddenly, he knows Justin is the best thing that ever happened to him—and might just be the last happy memory he has.
First off, this is the second story in what seems to be a series and is listed as a sequel to Behind the Velvet Curtain on the cover. However, the author the confirmed that this story was designed to work as a standalone. Despite this, I did have some trouble at times catching up on things that had happened in the first book.
I found this book summarily disappointing. Our main characters, Michael and Justin, are all over the place emotionally. Personally, I thought the long-distance aspect of the Michael/Justin relationship was fraught. The big climax feels like a repeat of what apparently happened in the first book and suffers from some significant plot holes. The time Converse dedicates to Michael’s tennis friends and the bizarre chapter where discussion of Michael’s family takes center stage sat wrong with me as well as these characters never mattered elsewhere in the story.
First, let’s look at our narrator and main character, Michael. I like to go into a new story as “blind” as possible. I read blurbs to see if I’m interested in the story, but by the time I read the books, I generally expect the text to establish who is who and what is what. It took me several chapters to just get a name for Michael, and all of a sudden, I realize the same character has two names. It took nearly the whole rest of the book for the reason behind the two names to become clear.
Because Michael is the narrator, we are privy to all this thoughts. This is usually a good thing, but Michael’s thoughts are repetitive:
[I] think about how great the show was. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep doing this until I retire for good, but I sure had fun being back on stage. That was so much fun. As I lock the dressing room behind me, another guy comes up and tells me how good the show was, and then another. It really was a great show.
That’s Michael’s reaction after his first time stripping after a break. This kind of overkill, of talking an idea to death, is typical of Michael. His narration about the impending six-month separation from Justin is also rife with this meandering:
I smile, looking at Justin…I still can’t quite believe I found someone like him. If it was just a fling of hot sex, that I could see. But I never saw falling in love with him, nor him with me. I never saw him proposing, and me accepting. I never sought out marriage or even a steady boyfriend. But Justin changed all that. He caught me by surprise. I love him so much, and I’m as hot for him as the day I met him. I think that’s what surprises me the most, the sex is just as hot as it always was. I didn’t think that was possible, but I guess it is…I smile and look into his eyes. Damn he’s sexy. And a nice guy too, who knew? (Smirk.)…I never thought I’d have a permanent boyfriend let alone get married. I guess I never thought I’d meet someone like Justin.
That is from just three pages of text during a single scene.
With Justin headed to Paris for work, the guys mutually agree they still want to be in a relationship and still plan to get married, but will be allowed to have sex on the side while he is gone—just no sharing the details. Not that this requires a hard label, but the complete lack of the characters discussing what it could mean to open their relationship annoyed me. Michael does a bit of waffling over the idea that maybe Justin will find a hot young French man and end up dumping Michael, but the they never actively discuss much beyond “we’re cool with sleeping with other people for this short period.” Later on, after Michael actually does engage in sexual activity with others and lets Justin know during a phone conversation, Justin then plays the jealousy card—hanging up on Michael and not calling back. When they do touch base again, all is forgiven. Even that could have potentially lead into a deeper discussion about what they wanted out of their newly (temporarily?) opened relationship, but Converse then drops the whole entire theme.
Another issue I cannot wrap my brain around why so much time and attention is devoted to Michael’s tennis buddies. Converse bends over backwards to characterize this niche of gay men who play tennis and refer to each other with female names and female pronouns—yet offers only that these tennis players are not drag queens nor that any of this may stem from any gender queerness. It threw me for a loop that this outrageous band of sidekicks takes up so much time and attention only for one purpose: to lead our MC into the chance to have sex with other guys while his fiance is in Paris. After that, these characters never make another appearance (kind of like how the open relationship thing fell right off the radar).
Rather than building on the friendships, Converse insteads reintroduces a character called the Creeper, who was the main antagonist in the first book. To be fair, Michael has been having nightmares about the Creeper—a man who becomes obsessed with Michael’s stripper ego, Matt. These nightmares are possibly the one element of the story that are not a complete wash and they’re a known quantity from the very beginning of the book. That said, when the Creeper himself reappears on page, it felt like a cookie-cutter repeat of what we learn happened in the first book. Obsessed stalker goes after Michael/Matt, obsessed stalker gets Michael/Matt, someone comes sailing in at the very last minute to save Michael/Matt.
In fact, the storycrafting left a lot to be desired as well. The resolution to the Creeper problem is morally ambiguous, but the dialogue that follows raises more red flags about the actual maturity of these characters. Even worse, Converse left in a scene where the Creeper attacks Michael with acid, but then completes the scene as if that never happened.
Overall, my impression is that these characters are woefully disappointing and Converse does not help develop them when he neglects to explore or even just adequately explain the orientation and possible gender identities presented. Converse pumps huge amounts of creativity into a group of people who fall by the wayside. Not even having read the first book, the final climactic scene felt like a rehashing of what went down in the first book (albeit with a more permanent resolution). Whatever enjoyment there is in Converse’s utilization of the nightmares to blur the lines between what’s real and what’s a dream is completely subsumed by a story that is otherwise erratically told, poorly edited, and lacks characters I could care about.