Title: Red Light
Author: Thom Lane
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novella (92 PDF pages)
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Summary Review: A lovely romance set in the country where romance is an essential part of life, and Jeff and Benet succumb to the charm of their environment and each other.
Jeff is a deliberate loner: he’s had his heart broken once, and he won’t let it happen again. Ready to rebuild his life, he goes on holiday. Alone. Until he meets Benet — and finds that the human heart is not so easily controlled.
Unable to resist the siren call of Benet’s sweet, beautiful nature, Jeff decides a fling can’t hurt, but all he wants is sex and company; anything more just leads inevitably to disappointment and betrayal. But Benet slithers under his guards and breaks all Jeff’s new-set rules. Will he obey his brain and stop for the Red Light or will he give in to the heart’s impulse and run it?
Jeff was vacationing in Provence alone because his ex, Tony, had dumped him 6 months ago and did not accompanying him on the holiday they had planned together. Since Jeff didn’t want to waste his airfare and the gite they had rented, here he was in a place where everyone around him seemed to be couples, and to make matters worse he didn’t speak French. Sitting in a restaurant trying to order off the wine list he overheard the man at the next table speak to the waiter in excellent French but with an English accent, and he introduced himself to the gorgeous young man. Benet was young, charming and eager to be friends with another Englishman and they ended up sharing the bouillabaisse and wine, getting to know each other, and spending the afternoon together. It was the kind of impulsive thing that Jeff hadn’t done in years because he spent most of his time working as a doctor, but being with Benet lent an air of magic to the day and later on, the evening.
Since they were both young and attracted to one another they shared something else, each other’s bodies, and they spent the night together. Jeff had no expectations that this would turn out to be anything more than a one night stand since Benet had to go back to work the next day, and he didn’t want any entanglements. It was a moment out of time and it could not lead anywhere; he was going back to England after his holiday and Benet was in France for a year to learn about wine making, his chosen career.
The next day Benet was still there and they played tourist together in the French countryside and shared some information about themselves. They couldn’t bear to part after just 24 hours so they soaked up memories for another 24 and enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh. Eventually Benet had to leave for work and Jeff chalked up the experience as a holiday fling with no possibility of being anything more. No commitment, no expectations, and no promises was what Jeff wanted but he was reluctant for Benet to leave. But despite how much he was beginnning to care for Benet, he was determined that he would never place himself in a situation again where he could be hurt, and he recognized that if he let him, Benet could become too important so he was glad when their brief time together was over.
Jeff still thought he was in control and we share his thoughts, although even here his conflicting emotions betray him:
And there too my well-trained body didn’t let me down. It lied and lied for me as we nuzzled and kissed, as we licked and bit and sucked at each other, as we fucked. It said that all was well, that we were two young men enjoying a night of hot sex with no meaning, that we could leave each other in the morning without a backward glance or a regretful thought.
I did want that to be true. I did believe that it ought to be, that I needed it to be so, that I had no protection else. In a world full of casual betrayals, what’s a man to do but hold on to his heart and give nothing away but his cum, which costs him nothing?
And yet, and yet. I spent the night in a welter of misery, which was all the worse for being so utterly unexpected. I’d thought myself entirely in control, and in a dozen words Benet had undone me entirely.
The next day Jeff drove Benet to the vineyard where he worked, intending to leave immediately after, but it was not to be as he was exposed to the full effects of French hospitality and the wonderful family for whom Benet worked, who had adopted him as one of their own. He couldn’t resist vivacious Juliette, the daughter of the house, who demanded that he stay for a few days since he was on holiday and had nothing planned; Grandmere and the other family members whose sole aim it seemed was to make his stay in France pleasurable, also made refusing difficult and impolite. Deciding to stay and risk getting his heart broken rather than cut and run seemed to be the more pleasant option, so he stayed. Living at the chateau was a rollercoaster ride for Jeff who had his first experience of true French hospitality, added to the disconcerting thought that he was liking Benet more than he should as he was becoming attached to him. He had been undone by Benet who sneaked under his radar, so he gave in to his desire for this man who represented everything he should not have – he knew he was losing the battle:
Apparently it was too late. I had already done something stupid. I’d let him too far into my life, way past the skin on skin of sex and the warmth and challenge of good friendship.
Still. I was strong, I was grown-up, and I’d weathered worse storms than this. And faced more cruel partings. He didn’t need to know that I was bleeding inside. And I’d grow scar tissue soon enough
Thom Lane used the light and dark of his two protagonists as one would use these elements in photography, to highlight not only the vivid contrasts, but also the effect their mutual attraction had on each other, which made the colours not only stand out but merge. The book is told from Jeff’s first person POV and we experience his struggles against an attraction he didn’t want, but Benet was insidious and even though Jeff swore that there was no way he was going to be drawn any further into his life, it was a losing battle.
This is the first book I have read by Thom Lane and I thought that his prose was engaging and his protagonists three dimensional, including the supporting characters who were a lot of fun and made the story come alive. Initially it seemed that Jeff and Benet were not suited because while there was only 5 years difference between them (Jeff was 29 and Benet was 24) the age thing was emphasized due to their personalities, and Benet seemed younger because of his attitude. However he proved to be the smarter of the two and Jeff was no match for him. I thought that Benet’s character growth was greater as he shone and showed maturity when he needed to, while Jeff was virtually unchanged throughout apart from his vacillation.
If you have never visited France you will love the French atmosphere as Thom Lane brought it to life in Red Light. Many writers don’t achieve the effect that seemed effortless here, and those readers who always wanted to visit France but can’t afford to will love Red Light, if only for this reason. I did have a few niggles. One was the introduction of Tony late in the book who gave Jeff advice about his love life, and Jeff’s mother who I thought was two dimensional, at best; also there wasn’t much about wine in the book, which was probably my own expectation since the chateau was a winery.
I think you will like Red Light and the characters. Definitely recommended.