Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.5 stars
Narrator: Mirron Willis
Length: 5 hours, 47 minutes
Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks
Victor is loud, proud, and out. He’s also a vocal activist who uses his position as a well respected and very public ballet star in order to speak against the inhumane treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia. The only problem is … he’s a Russian citizen who will soon be forced to return home. Because Victor’s been so public, so outspoken, and so defiantly gay, it’s very likely that, upon his return, Victor may not have an easy time of it. When his request for asylum is denied, it’s Victor’s hookup to the rescue.
Well, Isaiah Blackwell isn’t just a hookup. Isaiah, a quietly and politely openly gay black football player, is a man Victor could easily see himself falling in love with, and not just because he’s gorgeous. Isaiah’s a loving and encouraging father to his son, and respectful and caring to his mother; in fact, Isaiah is just a good person, fun to be around, and excellent in bed. And, thanks to a stupidly brilliant idea, he’s now Victor’s husband.
Being married is hard enough; being fake married … well, that’s an entirely different form of hard. Especially when you may or may not be falling in love with your not-husband.
Victor and Isaiah, despite their horny, heated hours together in a quick moment of passion, have decided to have a no-sex marriage. After all, if the marriage isn’t real, why do they need to sleep together? Both Victor and Isaiah agree to this for the same reason: It would be easy, so easy, to fall for their new partner, and considering that this arrangement is just until Victor can get his green card, it’s better not to muddy the waters. Get hitched, get the paperwork settled, and then both of them can go back to living their normal, expected lives. So, of course they fuck, and of course it screws everything up.
Victor grew up in Russia and trained to be a dancer from a very young age. As an orphan, he had no family to distract him and, as a talented dancer, he was rewarded with a better life, more freedom, and the chance to leave Russia to dance around the world. So Victor became an excellent dancer, and now that he’s seen so many different ways of living, of being, he has no desire to go back. But Victor has a large heart and knows that he’s not the only one of his kind. There are other children still back in Russia, men and women and genderfluid people who aren’t free to be themselves, aren’t free to love who they want, and he refuses to back down from that. He does, though, for Isaiah’s sake, try to … tone it down, to be less blatant, because for all that Isaiah is gay, he’s very much trying to be a “model gay” for his NFL team.
Isaiah’s life, as a black man from the south, as a football player, has meant that there have been certain expectations of him. Or so I assume. Isaiah’s life as a black, gay man from the south isn’t really dealt with in this book, beyond his team manager telling him to not let his new husband’s queerness and activism take attention away from the team, and the way the rest of his team goes two-bit, cartoonish homophobe on Victor when they meet him, snarking about him being a ballerina. But Isaiah fits in well enough and doesn’t seem to have ever had a problem with his teammates or the fans. So much so that he’s shocked when his bi-racial, genderqueer son becomes more vocal about not taking any shit from the kids at school using homophobic slurs. Isaiah takes great umbrage with Evan getting in trouble at school, blaming Victor for putting ideas in his son’s head, even though he knows his son’s sexuality and gender identity are fluid. He doesn’t bat an eye when Evan wears a dress, or when he wants to go to the ballet, but when Evan wants to stand up for himself? Or stand up for other members of the LGBTQ+ community? It’s grounding for Evan, cutting him off from his friends, and a cold shoulder to Victor who he blames for all of it.
All in all, I wasn’t a giant fan of Isaiah or his portrayal. He never felt quite genuine, either, when dealing with Victor. While I could get behind their chemistry as fuck buddies, as a couple they felt supremely unbalanced. Victor needed someone willing to stand at his side, not behind him, and Isaiah had been too comfortable passing or being the token model minority, quietly nodding at the LGBTQ+ community, but not truly a part of it. Victor shouldn’t force him into being loudly out if he’s not ready for it, or doesn’t want it; Isaiah’s lifestyle is just as valid as Victor’s, but they’re at such opposite sides of the spectrum that it felt like a mismatch to me. However, they both loved Evan, who — as a young biracial kid that came from the foster system to a loving family — is a fierce defender of the people he loves, hates injustice, and frankly just seems like he’d be an excellent candidate for his own novel. So there’s that.
I received a copy of this story as an audiobook; it’s the first time I’ve listened to narration by Mirron Willis, but it won’t be the last. He has a wonderful smooth delivery, easy cadence, and a warm emotionality to his delivery that I very much enjoyed. That said, his Russian accent fell a bit flat and inconsistent, feeling a bit forced. In the early chapters, the distinction between two characters when speaking wasn’t always clearly delineated or, again, consistent. However, for me, the emotions of a character coming through can be more important than the accent, and that’s where the audiobook really worked for me.