Author: Santino Hassell
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Ashton Townsend is the most famous celebutante of Manhattan’s glitterati. The black sheep of his wealthy family, he’s known for his club appearances, Instagram account, and sex tape. Most people can’t imagine him wanting for anything, but Ashton yearns for friendship, respect, and the love of his best friend—amateur boxer Valdrin Leka.
Val’s relationship with Ashton is complicated. As the son of Ashton’s beloved nanny, Val has always bounced between resenting Ashton and regarding him as his best friend. And then there’s the sexual attraction between them that Val tries so hard to ignore.
When Ashton flees his glitzy lifestyle, he finds refuge with Val in the Bronx. Between Val’s training for an upcoming fight and dodging paparazzi, they succumb to their need for each other. But before they can figure out what it all means—and what they want to do about it—the world drags them out of their haven, revealing a secret Val has kept for years. Now, Ashton has to decide whether to once again envelop himself in his party-boy persona, or to trust in the only man who’s ever seen the real him
Hmm, where to start? I guess at the beginning. During the first half of the story, I had difficulty maintaining my interest in the MCs. Both characters are highly emotionally dysfunctional, though they are from two totally different backgrounds. In fact, Val’s mother was Ashton’s family’s housekeeper while they were growing up. Val carries resentment against Ashton’s family for not supporting her care financially when she became terminally ill. The only way Val was able to earn enough for the extra bills was by taking a job from Ashton’s father to be Ashton’s bodyguard after one of Ashton’s one-night flings published a sex tape that rocketed him into instant stardom—the kind of notoriety most people don’t want.
The thing is that Val never told Ashton he was being paid and even years later he’s still serving as Ashton’s unofficial bodyguard. He’s also his friend and he’s really being protective because he can’t bear the thought of anything happening to this young man he secretly loves. Too bad he can’t admit it, even to himself, never mind to Ashton. And keeping the big secret is eating him up alive.
I must say that, on the one hand, I can see why he wouldn’t want to reveal the secret, but on the other, it really wasn’t such a big deal and would have been much easier on both of them if explained sooner. Of course, then, we wouldn’t have the big drama spread out over the course of the story. But Val’s words and his thoughts never line up and he’s constantly screwing up with Ashton by saying the wrong thing.
I found it very difficult to continue to read Val’s self-inflicted angst. That kind of character rubs me the wrong way. The fact that the big reveal dragged out to the latter part of the book made me want to smack Val upside the head—more than once! And then, when it finally happened, it felt anticlimactic, and frankly, I don’t think dragging it out added value to the story. It put me in more of an appositional mode, and I just couldn’t get into deeply caring about the two finding their place in each other’s life.
Ashton is portrayed outwardly as a very shallow character—the epitome of poor little rich boy, and yet, I liked him. The author gave enough of his background and fed us enough of his inner turmoil to engage me. The poor guy is like the poster child for heartbreak.
So it’s probably obvious I’m left with very mixed feelings after reading this book. On the one hand, I had to put it down a lot because it didn’t keep my interest as much as the others in the series did. And that was for most of the reasons cited above. On the other hand, should I really be comparing this to the others in the series when the characters are completely different? Their lifestyles, families, education, and socioeconomic status are not remotely the same. We’ve moved uptown with this story and left the Brooklyn contingent behind. There’s some crossover in characters but this story could actually be read as a standalone.
That all being said, I decided to settle on 3 stars because I liked it. I didn’t love it, but sometimes that’s the hallmark of a good author—not everyone is likeable so why should our characters be? Even if I don’t compare it to the others in the series, the fact that the characters never totally engaged me is enough for me to say okay, yes I liked it, but I didn’t find it outstanding.