Victor St. John is a closer for Kyneton Capital, a business that doesn’t so much as invest in small businesses as break them and buy them up cheap once they’ve gone bankrupt. Victor is a predator of the highest order, earning millions of pounds in his business practice, which is a far cry from the life he barely survived in the orphanage. Victor’s once caring home was bought by Kyneton and cheaply run by the bigger, abusive orphan boys who beat and molested Victor way back when. Victor learned to be ruthless under the model Kyneton employed, and he conned his way into a job there just as soon as he was legal.
Victor is pitted against his arch-rival, a despicable guy named Jack, for a promotion. All they have to do is “acquire” a specific successful business from their respective hometowns for Kyneton. Victor is determined not only to beat Jack, but to win so handily he can fire Jack. All he has to do is snatch the Mermaid Tea House from Idris and Lalima Malakar—cousins from Bangladesh who sell tea from their family’s plantations.
Victor is fair salivating at the chance to best Jack, but things go wrong from the start. While surveilling the tea house, Victor catches two lowlifes trying to drown a sack of puppies in the river at the back garden. Triggered by his own trauma, Victor battles the men, rescuing the pups, and alerting Idris to his presence. Idris comes to the rescue, helping to clean and care for the pups, and even arranging to get them adopted. Victor’s shattered by these events, and he’s very much attracted to Idris. Irdis, who cared for him that evening, not even wanting payment or sex in return for his kindness. Victor’s confused about Idris’ motives, even more so when Idris accepts Victor’s appeal for a date, but not fancy gifts or big ticket shows.
Idris is a kind man and his attraction to Victor is refreshing. Victor thinks Idris must be conning him and is reluctant to accepts Idris’ affection, especially knowing he’s put plans in motion to ruin the tea house’s business. Yet, the love of a good man really has value in Victor’s world and he attempts to soften the blow of impending hostile takeover of the business.
This one was a bit nerve racking for me, on account of Victor being such a snake, at first. He’s caught in a web of his own making as the weeks wear on and Victor falls harder and faster for Idris. The interracial aspects were handled with care, especially the inner terror Idris feels regarding the Brexit issues that are sweeping England. He’s not sure, but he thinks race is a reason new customers are being warned off. He’s partially right, but Idris is blindsided by Victor’s shenanigans. It felt like the climax managed several confrontations. Each time, Victor shows more of his humanity and a new capacity for love.
There is a little bit of sexy times and a lot of hurt feelings here. Idris finally thinks life is turning a corner, but instead he gets a (metaphorical) roundhouse kick to the stones. Vincent is a man who made millions without any true education, but Idris teaches him about love without cost. I hated Victor for a large part of the book, not because he is bad—he is—but because he thinks what he does to Idris is justified and moral. I also pitied Vincent a lot of the book, as his life is loaded with trauma, even as a “successful” adult. The resolution came quickly, once Victor did the right thing, and Idris’ love was worth the cost Victor had to pay to win it.
Having read two of the previous books in the Trowchester Blues series, it was nice to reconnect with some of those characters, but they play small parts in Idris’ love story. In all, it’s a thoughtful book, with an opposites-attract storyline and a good deal of redemption in the mix. Idris comes to terms with who he is and makes peace with the conflict of his family expectations and his Muslim faith.