Rafi Reyes, lead singer and songwriter of the popular band Distant Kingdom, has hit rock bottom. It isn’t drugs or drinking that’s got its claws in him, it’s the utter betrayal of his band. Bo, his fiancee and band mate, just dumped Rafi for his brother, Carlos, also in the band. Now the two of them are not only trying to take DK and all its songs away from him, they’re also pregnant. Rafi, whatever his other flaws, is damned good at math. The only way for Bo to be as far along as she is would be if she and Carlos were fucking around while he was in London, while he and Bo were still together.
Julian Gault has recently turned 21 and he’s no longer in the mood to let his uncle, the infamous Uncle Eddie, manage his career. He wants to get away from Eddie, but it’s easier said than done. Eddie is powerful, with his fingers in all sorts of pies. As a famous actor, Julian has learned the fickle regard of fans, but he’s also learned how powerful the press can be, and when a chance meeting brings Rafi and Julian together, it seems the two of them may be able to help one another out.
Rafi needs a boyfriend to prove to Bo and Carlos that he’s over them. Julian needs someone to help repair the reputation his uncle has carefully cultivated (and is currently trying to ruin). A bright new romance with a popular singer might be just the ticket. But the longer they play the game, the closer they get. Julian wants to keep Rafi at arm’s length, but Rafi isn’t sure he wants this to be just pretend.
Julian seems, at first glance, the standard frigid, disdainful snob, looking down on his fans and all the little people too far beneath him to notice. He’s cruel, vicious, and such a skilled actor you’d never know if he truly meant that kiss or if it was all just an act. But what’s harder to see is the young man beneath the lacquered polish; the brittle, frayed edges; the loneliness; the self doubt and fear. Demonstrative in public when the cameras are on him, Julian is different in private where he’s softer, quieter, and more willing to let others be the focus of attention.
Rafi has always been in his brother’s shadow. The bastard son of his father’s mistress, he came to live with his father and stepmother when his own mother died. While she wasn’t cruel, his stepmother never warmed to him, and Carlos has always had issues with him. Rafi wanted his brother’s love; Carlos wanted his brother’s talent, and when he had a chance to take his brother’s fiancee, Carlos took her. Rafi puts the blame on Bo, not wanting, perhaps, to see his brother for who he truly is. Julian is as much a distraction, trying to figure out the quixotic man, as well as a temptation. Rafi is interested, but when he finds that he wants to kiss the real Julian, not the actor pretending his boyfriend, Rafi doesn’t quite know how to handle it. He just knows that he wants Julian.
As a fake couple, the two men are photogenic and romantic. Somehow, they also manage to become friends, which is a wonderful first step on the road to a real relationship. While Rafi can’t begin to guess at the secrets Julian is hiding, he also doesn’t care. He wants to know who Julian is, not what happened to him, not if Julian doesn’t want to talk about it. There are moments where the two have a moment to kiss — a kiss with actual emotion behind it — and Rafi refrains. He wants their first real kiss to be private, consensual, and mutual. And you can see Julian soften towards him after that one, single moment.
Rafi is patient, grounded, and forgiving. Julian is spiky and defensive, expecting a blow to come from somewhere, anywhere. Everywhere. And Rafi, confused and bemused and loving just waits to Julian to calm down again. The best moments were the Ren Faire where the two of them went on a group date with Rafi’s manager and best friend, Amber, and Julian’s adopted younger brother, Christian. The scenes were fun, but not fluffy, cute and charming in a way that made the darker moments feel more real.
I went in to this book expecting it to be a fluffy comedy, and while there are some amusing moments and some sweet moments, it deals with a sad reality of life. The casting couch is an open secret in the entertainment industry, both for women and men, and especially young men. Uncle Eddie is a predator whose interest is the young men and boys in his care. Julian wasn’t the first, and wasn’t the last, and both he and Christian have to deal with the fact that they were raped by this man, who later attempts more physical harm. It’s not shown, but it is heavily foreshadowed and referenced from the first pages.
Even so, this book is primarily a good, happy, fun romance between an Ice Prince and a Summer Prince and I enjoyed that Julian didn’t change who he was. He just found happiness. He’s still a haughty, arrogant, proud, and somewhat introverted diva, but at the end of the book, he’s all those things and a man in love. Rafi is, strangely, the one who does the most growing. He learns to stand up for himself, he learns to put aside the complicated feelings of guilt and insecurity given to him by his brother and step mother and to realize he’s good enough. In fact, he’s more than good enough. After all, if Julian wants him, he had to be something pretty damn great.
Note: This book references a side character’s attempted suicide