Title: Where You Hurt the Most
Author: Anne Brooke
Cover Artist: L.C. Chase
Publisher: Self Published
Buy Link: Amazon
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: 44 pages / 13,800 words
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by jeayci
Review Summary: A surprisingly satisfying, almost magical, short story.
Blurb: Adrian is more than happy as high-class escort for a number of regular clients. When his boss and dear friend asks him to entertain his nephew, Adrian readily agrees, but meeting Dan challenges him in ways he’d never imagined.
Dan is scarred inside and out from an accident that destroyed a promising future. Despite Adrian’s loveless lifestyle and Dan’s withdrawal and anger, the two men forge a deep—if unnerving—connection. Soon they find themselves questioning the choices they’ve made and the futures they’ve mapped out for themselves.
Yet even bright young men like Adrian and Dan fear the unknown and take comfort in the familiar. Neither may be strong enough to step away from the life they know and toward the one they dare not hope for. But while it’s true that love can’t heal all wounds, it is the surest balm for where you hurt the most.
(This title is part of the 2012 Rentboy Collection.)
Review: The title of this story perplexed me until I read it and discovered how perfectly it fits. Where you hurt the most is, naturally, the point at which you’re most vulnerable. Sharing your deepest vulnerabilities with someone is one of the biggest risks you can take, but the potential payoff is correspondingly rewarding. When you let someone know where you hurt most and they respond with support, caring, understanding, magical things can happen. Things like a believable HEA even if they didn’t spend much time together. Despite how it may sound, this wasn’t insta-love. It was… I hate to use the word again, but it really was magical. Almost like a real-life fairy tale (well, except that it was fiction. But that’s a minor detail. It was believable).
I think the believability factor was helped a lot by the fact that Adrian was so clear it wasn’t love. He’d fancied himself in love with clients before and had learned better. It couldn’t be love. But it was something… special. Something real. Something that could become love if given the opportunity. The question is: does he give it the opportunity, when doing so means destroying a satisfactory status quo?
Status quo for Adrian is a life he clearly enjoys as an escort, meeting interesting people and visiting nice places. There are hints of pain in his past, but he has clearly moved on from whatever it was to create a satisfying life for himself. Dan had apparently had a great life, until his face was badly scarred in a freak accident and required multiple surgeries. So when they meet, Dan is obviously the wounded one and Adrian’s role is clearly to help him. And it works, but a funny thing happens: Dan touches that core of vulnerability Adrian has buried so deeply he hardly notices it. That touch turns out to be a catalyst for change.
There’s a wonderful scene in which Adrian is offered the possibility to ignore the change, to go back to the way things have always been. That would clearly be the “safe” option, and it’s understandably appealing. But he chooses to embrace the change and all the risk associated with it. Because this is a romance, I’m not spoiling anything to tell you that his risk pays off and he gets his HEA. A HEA that is possible because of the changes each man has made in himself and his life as a result of meeting the other.
I read relatively few short stories because they usually leave me wanting. It’s a rare author who can tell a complete and satisfying story in just a few pages. Anne Brooke is one of those authors. This story was deeply moving, rather sexy, and incredibly satisfying, despite being a mere 44 pages. There’s a surprising amount of characterization and background packed into few words.
In summary: “Everything you’ve ever wanted in a [book]. And less. Tastes great, less filling!”