Ari wakes up to find himself blindfolded, gagged, and stuffed in a closet. The last thing he remembers is vacationing with his family in Iceland. He was headed back to the hotel when someone grabbed him and now he stuck on a boat in the middle of a storm, trying frantically to escape.
Holden Amundsen is a former actor who now lives holed up alone in his remote home in Maine. After his actions led to the death of a co-star, Holden hasn’t been able to face anyone and has been locked away for years. When he finds a gorgeous man washed up on his beach, he wants to call for help, but the man is clearly terrified. When the guy passes out, Holden brings him back to his house to recover. Holden soon learns the man not only has lost his voice after being strangled, but that he has no idea who he is or what happened to him prior to washing up on the beach. Holden is sure that they should call for help, but Ari (who uses the name Gus because he can’t remember his own) begs Holden to let him stay a few days while he regains his memory, as he is certain there is someone dangerous after him.
Holden is not used to having people around, and certainly not the gorgeous and charming Ari. Slowly, Ari begins to recover from his injuries and regains his voice, but his memories are slower to return other than knowing he was kidnapped. Ari makes his interest in Holden clear, and Holden certainly returns the attraction. But he doesn’t feel like he deserves someone like Ari, certainly not after his past. Not to mention they have no idea who Ari is and Holden worries Ari feels a sense of obligation, rather than attraction. But that doesn’t stop Ari from warming Holden’s heart and helping him shed some of his self doubts and reclusive tendencies. The men find themselves settling into a happy co-existence, marred by Ari’s lack of memories and his recurring nightmares about the kidnapping. However, Holden knows that once Ari remembers who he is, the chances are slim he will want to stay. But even worse, the kidnappers are still out there, and if they learn where Ari is hiding, he could be in serious danger once again.
I’ll admit, I picked this up because the blurb made it sound like sort of crazy crack and sometimes I just am in the mood for that. I did find it more serious than the blurb suggests, but that didn’t take away anything from the story for me and I totally enjoyed this one. While the set up is kind of fantastical, and Ari has a tendency early on to crack jokes when he should be fearing for his life, this story was very well rounded with some nice character development, sweet and sexy romance, and a bit of suspense as well.
Ari is a totally engaging character and a highlight of the book for me. He is fun and sweet and sometimes silly. He knows what he wants (Holden) and he isn’t afraid to go for it. Part of Ari just wants to sink into Holden’s protective arms, but he is also a strong, independent character in his own right and he is more than there for Holden when needed. Holden is a grumpy recluse, mostly because he erroneously blames himself for his ex-girlfriend’s death and spends much of the book (and the past seven years) self-flagellating for his presumed crime. Holden also worries about the power dynamic between the men, knowing Ari is coming from a more vulnerable position given that he doesn’t remember anything about his past and is dependent on Holden. I really enjoyed how Ari is there for Holden and really tries to help him see he is not to blame for his past. He also is such a bright, sunny light, he brings some joy back to Holden. And all Holden wants to do is wrap Ari up and care for him. There is sweetness here that I really liked, a tender underbelly where we see Holden take those first, fearful steps to reach for happiness with Ari. I think at times Holden is too “one step forward, two steps back.” He goes from aggressively into sex with Ari, to pulling away, and back again too much for me. This is a long book and I think a lot could have been tightened up here rather than seeing so much back and forth from Holden. But I liked these guys together and Spears develops the men well.
Sea Kissed is a fairytale retelling and it has a bit of that fantastical vibe that fits well with this type of story. It is not necessarily over the top, but the set up is sort of dramatic and the ending a little pat. But it has that lush dreaminess and underlying sweetness that fits the fairy tale vibe. The story seems intended as a Little Mermaid retelling, given that the characters given names are Eric and Ariel, as well as that Ari washes up on shore with no voice. But I’ll be honest that beyond that, I really didn’t see any connection to either the original or Disneyfied version of the story. Now I’ll admit, I tend to be bad at recognizing source inspiration like that, but the book really didn’t seem to hit any of the notes of the fairy tale beyond that bit of set up. In reality, this felt much more Beauty and the Beast to me — wealthy, handsome recluse saved from himself by a gorgeous young thing who sees beyond the grumpiness to the man inside; remote castle; and a hero who is well-known and hides away because of his past. We even have the huge, overflowing library. In reality, this didn’t affect the book one way or the other for me, but if you are looking for strong Little Mermaid vibes, you may not get them here.
The suspense end of things pretty much bookends the story. We see Ari get kidnapped, escape, and get washed up on the store early on, and then the story moves into the relationship development side. Then things kick back up toward the end as the kidnappers end up back on his trail. I’m going to say right now that I knew what was happening here from the very beginning, so that took some of the excitement out of the story for me. And as I mentioned, things tie up somewhat too patly at the end for me. But I still think that this element of the story adds a nice dynamic. Not only does it bring some suspense and excitement to the story, but it also gets woven in nicely to the relationship development, as Holden can’t help but feel like there is an expiration on their developing romance once Ari remembers his past. So I think Spears does a nice job bringing all of these elements together.
While this isn’t a heavily holiday-oriented story, we do get a little bit of winter celebration here as well. Ari is part Jewish and we see the men having latkes, as well as going to a Christmas fair in town. So there is a bit of holiday sparkle, perfectly timed for the season.
Overall, I found this one to be a nice mix of fun, humor, romance, and suspense. The story has both a light side, as well as a more serious one, and it kept me totally engaged throughout the long book. Sea Kissed was my first book by Spencer Spears and won’t be my last.