Title: The Art of Touch
Author: Dominique Frost
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Length: 20,517 words/ 79 PDF pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cryselle
Review Summary: A sweetly humorous and nuanced story in the present tense, which works unusually well.
Jared Hamilton is the director of the famous law firm, Hamilton & Hamilton. He’s a brusque, no-nonsense type that doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Thus, it is no surprise that he finds Kyle Washburn instantly and aggravatingly annoying.
Kyle is Jared’s massage therapist and is cheeky and irreverent. Jared doesn’t like cheekiness or irreverence. Unfortunately, Kyle also turns out to be absolutely brilliant at his job, which means that Jared can’t find an excuse not to return to the massage parlor when Kyle’s massages are clearly having such a beneficial effect. Jared is more relaxed and congenial than ever – well, as congenial as he can be.
It is only when another one of Kyle’s customers implies having had sex with Kyle that Jared realizes that he, too, finds Kyle sexually desirable – and that the thought of anyone else touching Kyle is unbearable. This revelation changes Jared’s perspective and his behavior, and he finds himself more and more attracted to Kyle with each therapy session. But does Kyle want him, in return, or is all that flirtation just part of the art of touch?
Failing to read the excerpt in this case was an extremely good thing, because I might have bailed at the present tense within a paragraph or two. And that would have been a shame, because this turned out to be a lot of fun.
Jared specializes in being an uptight asshole, although he’s got enough covert sparks of humanity to go with it that everyone around him, from his sassy personal assistant to his wealthy uncle, looks out for him. Not that he likes that or appreciates it, because he doesn’t, and he’s loud about kicking and screaming at every sign of thoughtfulness, which he manages to lap up. Under severe protest, of course. 😆
Kyle turns out to be another one of those persistent, pesky caretakers, and he’s just adorable. He gently contradicts Jared at every turn, performing his particular brand of magic, which turns Jared more nearly human. Unfortunately, that humanity returns in stages, and some of the stages are kind of ugly. Kyle teases gently or calls bullshit on him, which brings out more of that latent humanity.
The relationship between Kyle and Jared has to blossom more as a friendship, giving Jared time to rejoin the human race. A lot of details about the two men come out during this unfolding. It’s deftly done and develops the characters beautifully. When they do finally come together, Jared is a very different man than he began, and Kyle has revealed a number of depths.
The story is periodically humorous, although it doesn’t go for non-stop knee-slapping. Jared’s moments of foot in mouth aren’t glossed over with humor but are treated with the seriousness the offenses deserve. He’s not let off lightly, although he does most of the tormenting himself.
I really enjoyed the pacing of the story and the interplay between the men; their hidden details are unrolled slowly and in such a way that you can see them falling in love. There was one sex scene that seemed shoehorned in, and one element of the ending was probably meant to demonstrate hidden depths but came so completely out of the blue that it was weird instead of illustrative, but otherwise the story was very nicely done.
Present tense stories usually leave me cold, because the form is hard to manipulate for character and development, with the action always stuck in the now. This story is one of the best examples of present tense work in any genre I have read, and the development stacks up with the best. Warmly recommended. 4.5 stars