Rating: 4 stars
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Hayato and his twin brother, Subaru, were ten when their mother killed herself. Their father worked a lot, and his travels often precipitated her bouts of depression. They were later orphaned and joined a yakuza, or crime-syndicate Japanese gang, to survive. After part of the yakuza for many years, Hayato and Subaru were recently wounded in a battle with encroaching Korean gangs in Tokyo, and their roles for the gang have been reviewed.
Hayato now manages the running of several illegal gaming parlors. One is a new assignment for a recruit no one thinks will succeed, Masuo. Hayato knows nothing of Masuo, except that he let the man give him incredible sex while blind drunk on New Year’s. Masuo thinks he can charm Hayato into a real relationship, but is shut down repeatedly.
Hayato was trying to reconnect with his boyfriend of two years, but was tossed out of their apartment on Christmas when his boyfriend learned Hayato was yakuza. Suddenly homeless, Hayato avoids being alone at nearly any cost, because he fears that he could succumb to suicidal depression, like his mom. January is the worst month of his year, the month she died, and so Hayato is doing everything he can to numb his pain and stay around people, even sleeping in manga café’s and crashing with Subaru when he can. But, Subaru’s girlfriend wants to move in now that her lease is ending; it’s a tiny place for two people, let alone three. Could Hayato charm Masuo into letting him stay at his apartment?
This book was unexpectedly tender, with so many issues for Hayato and Masuo to experience and express. They have a superior/underling professional relationship, but also a sexual tension that pervades their connection. Wild and outwardly fearless, Hayato is surprisingly vulnerable, with his fear of being alone and his struggle to accept love from anyone. His learned manipulation and ruthlessness barely mask how he’s crumbling on the inside, drinking away his sorrow and fear, setting himself up to be miserable in order to not burden Subaru. Masuo is a young man with a huge heart. He became yakuza because one saved his life as a child, and he considers it valorous to protect and defend one’s land and people. He has his work cut out for him, however, with a dingy gaming parlor, out-of-date gaming equipment, and a cheat preying on him. Hayato should be helping him more, but Masuo revels in the idea of self-sufficiency. He doesn’t understand Hayato’s erratic behavior, but he is still attracted to him. And, he has a deep desire to please his boss. I liked both characters, but I think I liked Masuo more at first—until I learned more about Hayato’s depression and how he endured his trauma. Masuo is a good man, and his principles are admirable, for a gangster. His compassion is almost too much for Hayato to trust, but in the end, this match is one both men deserve.
This story is a romantic spin-off from the author’s more gritty Yakuza Path series. Having not read those, I really enjoyed learning about the power dynamics of yakuza society, as well as Japanese society at large. The violence scale for this story is pretty low, with mostly threats and a bust up in the ending. Expect some intense sexy times and some violent flashbacks. It was wonderful to see both Hayato and Masuo overcome their personal fears and grow as people, especially now that they have someone with whom to share their lives.