Simon Kadish takes his responsibilities seriously — to his religion, to his brother, and to the bakery he inherited upon his grandmother’s death. But Simon is also buried under the emotional weight of his obligations and it is causing him stress, not to mention a rocky relationship with his brother. The bakery is barely surviving and Simon knows it’s only a matter of time before it goes under. Part of him imagines what life would be like with the freedom of not having to run the shop, but Simon is also shy and nervous and has trouble interacting with others, even in his small town. The one indulgence Simon allows himself is his fantasies of porn star, Rocco Moretti.
Rocco has spent 15 years with his boyfriend and sign language interpreter, Eric, but things have fallen apart in spectacular fashion. Not only did Eric dump Rocco on social media, but it seems he is involved with someone else as well. Rocco knows he should be more upset about losing Eric, but if he is honest with himself, the relationship hasn’t been great for a while. Still, the notoriety isn’t helpful and the constant social media buzz is wearying. When Rocco gets a message from a fan, over video in ASL no less, he is struck by the shy man who reaches out in Rocco’s own language. He begins to chat with Simon online, and soon the men have developed a friendship of sorts. When things get too much for Rocco and he needs a break, he decides on a whim to head out to Cherry Creek, Colorado, where Simon lives and have a visit.
Simon can’t believe it when his fantasy man shows up at his door. He is also kind of terrified, as Simon has never even kissed a man and is definitely far more inexperienced than a professional porn star. Simon also has many fears and insecurities that keep him mostly at home, so social interaction isn’t easy for him either. But somehow, Simon feels comfortable with Rocco in a way he does with few others. He finds himself opening up to Rocco about his past, losing his parents and grandmother, and the burden of responsibility he feels for keeping things all running smoothly. He shares his feelings about his brother, and the rocky past that has made it hard for the men to have a good relationship. And he opens up about the bakery and the dire situation there. For his part, Rocco loves that Simon is interested in him as a person, not Rocco the wealthy porn star. He enjoys the break from his fast-paced life and getting to know people in the small town. And he finds himself falling for the shy man who is nothing like his usual type.
As Simon and Rocco continue to spend time with each other, they begin exploring a sexual relationship that thrills Simon as he experiences sex with someone who seems to truly care about him. The men are falling hard for one another and the relationship is everything both men could want. But Rocco’s life is still up in the air and Simon can’t imagine him wanting to relocate to a small mountain town. And Simon has to figure out what to do about the bakery and what his life may be like in the future. But with the love they have built between them, Rocco and Simon are determined to figure it all out together.
Love Him Free is the first book in E.M. Lindsey’s new On the Market series. The books are all set in Cherry Creek, which may be a familiar location for some readers. The series takes place in the same universe (and same town) as Kate Hawthorne’s Room for Love series and the Motel brothers make a variety of appearances here in this book. Most significantly, this story is a companion of sorts to Hawthorne’s recently released Heartless, which focuses on Simon’s brother, Levi Kadish. I’ll get into more detail about that later in the review. I’ll also note that the triad from Cloudy with a Chance of Love by Lindsey, Hawthorne, and E.M. Denning, also live in Cherry Creek and make an appearance in this story as well, but you definitely don’t need familiarity with that book to follow along here.
I have a soft spot for stories featuring older virgins having their first sexual experiences, so I really enjoyed the dynamic between Simon and Rocco. While Rocco may be a porn star and this book does have some nice heat, Lindsey doesn’t make that the focus of the dynamic between the men. For Simon, even more than the sexual experience, Rocco is someone who wants to help care for Simon and is a person with whom Simon can lay down some of his emotional burdens. Simon is a man who has given up so much of his life under the weight of responsibilities, and with Rocco, he can let some of that go. Rocco’s love and support helps give Simon the confidence to venture out of his shell a bit (while still acknowledging that this isn’t a love cures all type situation). I love that Rocco adores Simon for exactly who he is, slight imperfections and all. And Simon is someone who loves Rocco for who he is in return, not Rocco the rich and famous porn star, but Rocco the regular person. These men are each facing burdens that they can let down with one another and I love the way they support and care for each other. That said, this story still has some nice steam and I enjoyed the sexual dynamic between the men as well, especially as Simon is exploring things with Rocco for the first time.
A major conflict in this story is Simon’s relationship with his brother, Levi. Those who have read Heartless will already have the background on this dynamic as we saw it play out from Levi’s POV in that book. This story takes place about four months later and some of the tension between the brothers has softened in the wake of Levi finding his own happiness with James. But there is a lot still unresolved that gets explored here and I really liked seeing the brothers work through their relationship. This book leaves them both in a much better place and we can see glimmers of how things might be between the men in the future. It is hard for me to say how this story would read for new readers unfamiliar with Levi’s story, since I just read Heartless a week or two ago. I feel like you are going to get a richer experience here if you have read Levi’s story, as you will have both sides of the relationship. That said, I do think that Lindsey does a good job bringing in the men’s past, as well as having Simon explore Levi’s perspective on things, so you can probably read this without having read Heartless and still get a good sense of the conflict. For me, I had fun seeing the other side of the coin here with Simon’s story, as well as seeing Lindsey explore the town and the characters from the Room for Love series. I think it is kind of a neat dynamic that both authors are writing series set in the same town and I am enjoying seeing how things connect and cross over.
I am a huge fan of Lindsey’s writing and I think this is another great story. There is sweetness here between Simon and Rocco that I really liked, along with the sexiness of their connection. I enjoyed watching them fall for one another and I am really eager for more stories set in this world. I am definitely looking forward to continuing the series.