A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A well-written sweet romance despite all the trauma and drama, but the end came a little rushed.
*** This book contains on-page non-consensual sex and sexual abuse, though not between the main characters–readers who take exception to such issues might want to reconsider reading it***
The Blurb: When love’s for sale, who really pays?
Connor Morrison is a 3D optics pioneer, the star of the UC Berkeley physics department, and a socially-inept workaholic. And with his dear friend and business partner, Steve Campbell, handling their investors, he’s content to remain in the shadows. That is, until he meets the gorgeous and starry-eyed physics student Wes Martin.
Wes is brilliant but broke. Ever since his scholarship fell victim to the financial crisis, he’s had no choice but to sell his body to stay in school. Already half in love with Connor, Wes initially resists Steve’s offer to be Connor’s thirty-fifth birthday present. But in the end, Wes is too broke—and too smitten—to say no.
Connor has no idea Steve bought Wes’s attentions, and he quickly falls under the young man’s spell. Yet after one night together, Wes disappears. He can’t bear to hook with a man he could so easily grow to love, but he also can’t bear to tell him the truth. Besides, if he sleeps with Connor again, there’d be no way to hide the bruises one of his regular johns loves to inflict. Only one thing to do: let Connor go. Walking away is painful, but not nearly as much as building a relationship on lies.
(Publisher’s note: This title contains non-consensual sex.)
The Review: As a very busy top scientist and introverted by nature, Connor has neither the time nor the inclination for socializing, not relating to his business–he’s more than happy to leave the schmoozing to his socially much better versed partner, Steve–and much less privately. So when Steve throws a surprise party for Connor’s 35th birthday, Connor is peeved to begin with. On top of that, there’s a beautiful young man at the party who comes on to Connor, not entirely to his displeasure, but the young man is so pushy that it’s too much for the shy professor’s peace of mind, and he turns him down. However, who turns out to be Connor’s designed assistant and general drudge at an important and much-apprehended scientific convention not much later? None other than Wes, physics student and aside from that, self-appointed biggest admirer of Connor’s professional work.
After a short initial awkwardness, Connor quickly grows fond of Wes. The young man is resourceful, officious, effective, shows in-depth professional insight, he’s pleasant company and gorgeous–what’s there not to like? This time, Connor doesn’t turn him down. They spend a wonderful night together, a night that makes Connor hope and wish for a more lasting connection between them. But in the morning, Wes is gone without a word, leaving Connor hurt and bereaved.
What Connor doesn’t know is that he wasn’t that far from right regarding Wes. The young man indeed found himself wanting more from Connor than a one-night-stand, which was also the reason why he bolted. Unbeknown to Connor, Wes was his birthday gift, bought and paid for by Steve. And now that Wes is developing feelings for Connor, he can’t bear the thought of Connor finding out about him, so he’d rather cut and run than face Connor’s possible disdain.
Whenever I come across the “earning one’s education by turning tricks” trope, I can’t help wondering who’d do this and why? I’m sure there are, unfortunately, people out there in the reality forced to take such desperate measures, but in romance, I’ve yet to come across a solid explanation why the character in question wouldn’t go for a student loan instead. Having said this, Wes’s predicament was at least comprehensible enough that I could buy it for the plot element it was and go with it. The same was true for the remarkable coincidence that brought them back together after Wes pulled his disappearing act on Connor. Their re-encounter was far fetched and convenient, yet not entirely implausible, and it was a necessary plot element, so I just took it at face value.
I found Wes a well-drawn character. Dedicated for his high goal, he started from poor premises and blundered somewhat naively into a situation he had less and less control over. The downward spiral of violence he found himself stuck in was awfully fateful, though I thought that he could’ve broken the vicious cycle much earlier on his own instead of waiting for Connor to ride to his rescue until it was almost too late. Then again, he was subjected to serious, repeated abuse (some of which happened onpage) and therefore most probably completely caught up in all the self-hatred and shame of a trauma victim. I thought this well-done, sympathetically instead of sensational despite the disturbing details.
What also worked for me was the romance between Connor and Wes, from its awkward beginning to the camaraderie and friendship that built on mutual professional respect during Wes’s tutoring sessions and slowly turned into more. Still, I thought the eventual transition from friendship to love a bit rushed, mostly due to the accompanying turbulent circumstances.
With his gentle wisdom, his sharp wit and his genuine kindness, Connor was a very likable character. I found it pleasant to watch how Connor, the essential reclusive genius, opened up to Wes’s charm and his obvious need, and I also liked it about Connor that he, albeit reluctantly, accepted the way Wes had made his living, which kept the angst at a minimum and the big misunderstanding under lock and key. Instead of damning Wes, Connor directed his fury at those who had it coming, his partner Steve and the abusing rapist john of Wes’s, which had me rooting for him in a big way, because those two were thoroughly unsympathetic and didn’t deserve any better than they got from him. In the end, though, I wasn’t really sure about Wes’s and Connor’s HEA; especially, I couldn’t quite see them as equal partners in a relationship even though their mutual affection and love was believable.
Despite the graphic violence this was a quick read with an intense romance and well-drawn characters. Recommended.