A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: A sweet, endearing meet-cute.
Elliot didn’t know that offering to help his sister get over her broken love affair would mean attending a speed-dating evening at the local hotel in their quaint English town. Obviously, as a gay man, he’s not the target group, and there’s nothing for him there except cheap wine and uncomfortable chairs. But when hotel manager Alexsy sits down opposite him and offers an evening of a very different kind than Elliot expected, Elliot’s tempted to try something for the very first time in his life—the tantalizing adventure of a one-night stand.
Just-You Eyes is part of Dreamspinner’s 2011 First Time Daily Dose Anthology
Dragged with apathy by his sister Effie to the local inn for this month’s speed-dating night, Elliot doesn’t expect much more than a few friendly conversations with locals he’s known all his life and a drink or two. Not much ever happens in the West Country, and though his sister is excited about the night out to meet someone new after her recent break-up, Elliot is just tagging along to support his sister and her fear that not enough men will show up for the event to proceed. Apparently being gay doesn’t matter to the women showing up to the heterosexual event — they’d just like someone new to talk to. Yet, when Effie’s ex-boyfriend shows up and she ditches the event to cry all night in the restroom, Elliot is left at the table by himself. He is soon joined, however, by another man, a beautiful man in a crisp suit with a slight Eastern European accent. His name is Alexsy and he works for the hotel chain. At first, Elliot only sees the differences between them, though he is immediately attracted to Alexsy. The more they talk however, at the table and then later over coffee and brandy, Elliot sees their similarities as well as the attraction between them.
Just-You Eyes is one of the novellas of the First Time Anthology — the premise being set around the first time a character does something. Here, we see Elliot, emotionally stunted from his last relationship (a bastard named Bernie), almost socially awkward in his conversation with Alexsy, who is apparently well skilled in one-night stands, which he freely admits to Elliot. Elliot has never had a one-night stand, though the more he gets to know Alexsy, he can see the attraction. The whole story is set around one night, which like slowly peeling the layers of an orange, is one long seduction scene.
Seen through the POV of Eliott, we only see Alexsy the way Eliott sees him, which is prehaps more suave and self-assured than he really is. In Elliot’s eyes, Alexsy lives a carefree life — living in London, partying hard, having many different lovers. Alesxy is his ideal in many ways, and Clare shows us with this story how much and how little we can see about a person when we first meet them. The Alexsy of the beginning of the story isn’t the same as the man at the end. And though he might have changed some, the way that Eliott sees him has changed as well, after feeling desired for the first time in several years and maybe a little more sure of himself. I really enjoyed Elliot and Alexsy and was happy that we got to know so much about them in the short length of the story, though what we do know about them is less from what they say to one another and more how they say it. Like many a first date, or an awkward one-night encounter, the meaning behind their conversation says more about them than the dance they do around the actual words and gestures.
Lastly, I liked how the title showed the special connection between the two men. “Just-You Eyes” refers to the gaze of someone who is really listening to what you have to say. Alexsy has this quality as Eliott speaks, which is the impetus for their encounter to move forward. If Elliot didn’t have that reassurance, I doubt that they would have ever been able to make more than a passing acquaintance.
I really enjoyed this story, mostly for Elliot who just needs a good cuddle and friend. The strongest parts of the story were in the dialogue, the slowly peeling layers of seduction and truth. This is a sweet story and reminds me what I like about reading Clare London’s stories — the characters and the connection that grows between them. Recommended.