Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Sean Christen
Length: 3 hours, 42 minutes
Derek is trying, desperately, to take control of his father’s advertising agency now that his dad has officially retired. Derek has his hands full with the stodgy employees who want to do everything the way his dad had done—and think Derek is too radical a thinker to really run the company. Not to mention the folks who’d been friendly before he took the big job and now all defer to him instead of working with him. It’s annoying and isolating. Further, Derek’s mother is particularly interested in his love life, wanting Derek to settle down. It’s too much pressure and Derek has taken to inventing a perfect boyfriend, “Marcus,” a firefighting kitten saver who takes especially good care of him. And now his mother wants to meet Marcus.
Luke is a former firefighter, retired involuntarily due to an injury on the job. Though he’s just received some of his settlement and disability, it’s not enough to rehab his family’s tavern, Halligan’s. Luke’s childhood friend, Al, runs an escort business—company only, no sex—and Luke’s desperate enough to reach out for a gig. Turns out Luke is a dead-ringer for Derek’s fake boyfriend, and Derek’s willing to pay a sum that will very nearly pay for all the necessary renovations that will bring Halligan’s back into the black. Derek’s paying Luke for one month, five dates, and set the stage for their necessary breakup. But Luke sees beyond Derek’s gruff exterior and their arrangement begets a friendship.
I liked the way the narrator brought these two characters to life. Derek is a proud, but insecure, man who doesn’t have time to find Mr. Right. Most of the guys he’s dated were interested in his connections or his money, and they weren’t polite about it. That vulnerability was well-translated in the audio. Luke’s heart was easy to experience, and I was able to quickly connect with him. An injured firefighter trying anything he can to save his family’s business? And, he’s sweet as all get out? Done. His gruff voice in the audio sounded like it had a little Southern twang, which didn’t make a lot of sense, but I still liked it. I loved how Derek was so quietly smitten with Luke, and frustrated that Luke so perfectly matched his ideal, fantasy man. The romance is sparked by their mutual immediate attraction, and Luke is assertive enough to relieve the tension when it needs to be done. He lets Derek see his own vulnerability and that fosters the growing bond.
Neither man was looking for a partner, but their shared experiences do create an artificial sense of intimacy. By the time they make the overnight cabin party with Derek’s college pals, Derek’s jealousy is plain to witness, and Luke’s intuitive nature help him navigate what may have otherwise been a really messy situation. There’s a bit of steam in this niblet of a holiday story, but the emotional growth, mostly for Derek, was what gave me the warm-fuzzies. I loved how compassionate Luke was, and how his support, even as phony as it was at first, gave Derek just enough confidence to make good and lasting changes in his life, and his business. It’s a sweet story, especially once Derek starts looking at Luke as a person, and not his hired and fake boyfriend.