Author: Lillian Francis
Publisher: Finally Love Press
Genre: MM Contemporary
Summary: Smudge really needs to get laid, if only to stop himself wondering about the softness of Raleigh’s curls and why he keeps running away.
After his tumultuous teenage years, Smudge has settled into his quiet life in the sleepy English village of Slopy Bottom. He’s his own boss with the time and space to indulge his artistic creativity. And he has friends. He’s happy. Satisfied. Lonely. And the pool of potential soulmates is almost non-existent. His friends, Rick and Mal, flush with their own happy romance, keep trying to set him up with the most incompatible men, and he’s never finding true love on Grindr. Hell, he’s not even going to manage a hook up based on the kinky messages he’s been getting recently. He’ll just have to slake his desire to find his own HEA in the pages of bosom-heaving romance novels.
Raleigh is the darling of Slopy Bottom’s blue rinse brigade: church organist, mobile librarian, and apparently wedded to his trademark cardigans. He seems to be the polar opposite of the artistic Smudge, whose brightly coloured mohawk and piercings should be a red flag to Raleigh. Yet he’s yearning for company too. It’s just that Raleigh has less expectation and definitely less courage to chase after it, for reasons that he keeps very close to his chest. Reasons that don’t stop him from being drawn irresistibly to Smudge.
Smudge is sure that the way Raleigh runs from him whenever he sees him is cruelly deliberate. A reflection on his bad boy looks and his disdain for Raleigh’s precious church. So why can’t he stop thinking about the softness of Raleigh’s curls and his delicate body? Then Raleigh offers an olive branch of sugar and caffeine, Smudge’s favourite combination, starting them on a road to an awkward truce. And when they are conned into working together on a community project at the local hospital, the proximity ignites a spark that can’t be ignored. But navigating the murky waters that could take their relationship beyond tentative friendship all depends on whether Raleigh can release his secret fears – and whether Smudge is the man to share and allay them.
Review: This is the second installment of the Village Love series and I was so excited to get to read Smudge’s story. He’s an artist in the small village and sort of the resident bad boy, at least in the eyes of some of the villagers, based on his teen years and also his appearance. “Gauges, tats and a purple faux hawk with green streaks would do that.” One judger in particular is the cardigan-wearing church organ player and librarian, Raleigh. Raleigh is downright rude to Smudge, going so far as to take off in the mobile library bus while Smudge is trying to return the romance books he’s checked out. This happens every time Raleigh sees Smudge and he’s getting really tired of it.
Raleigh is quiet, polite and “a good boy”, although often he doesn’t come across as shy, he comes across as rude when it comes to Smudge. “I’m not lying. Jesus. Why would I lie to you? It would imply I care what you think.” Ouch. He does feel guilt about “…leaving the man high and dry every time there was a chance of the two of them being alone together in the library.” He knows all he has to do is check in Smudge’s returned books and check out new ones, but that flight response is ingrained.
Smudge is more than he lets people know. I loved that he’s a romance reading machine, all the while he’s an artist that paints the romance novel covers! His joy when he finds out, through Raleigh, that there are gay romance novels made me happy.
It is a sign of how much Smudge thinks Raleigh hates him that when Raleigh drops off a “guilt gift” of Smudge’s favorite brownie and coffee, Smudge immediately wonders if Raleigh is trying to poison him. “He toyed with the notion of sweet angelic Raleigh actually being some avenging biblical serial killer.” He knows it isn’t true, but…
I loved that we get to revisit Mal and Rick from Resistance, as they try to set Smudge up with people who just don’t work. I questioned at one point why Mal was aghast at turkey bacon being not bacon, because the man can’t have bacon!
It seemed like Smudge was always apologizing for saying or doing the wrong thing around Raleigh. He speaks before he thinks, he says. But he’s trying. There are things in Raleigh’s past that cause him to react badly sometimes but Smudge doesn’t know that. As the two of them try to work towards being civil, then maybe friends, then maybe more, there is a delicate balancing act happening until Raleigh is honest with Smudge.
I thoroughly enjoyed this installment to the Village series, especially because I so liked Smudge in the first book and I was a little worried about him getting his happy. But he does get it, after working for it some. I loved that they were able to compromise on who and what they would be, with Smudge understanding where Raleigh was coming from and Raleigh finally understanding he was good enough. Highly recommended.