Author: A. R. Hawkins
Cover Artist: LC Chase
Genre: M/M Romance
Length: 270 pages
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Lloyd A. Meeker
Review Summary: An extravagant but well thought-out plot featuring characters in an unrealistic mafia-style setting.
A debt is paid and two lives are changed forever.
For Aaron Quinn, the decision to drop out of med school turns his life upside down, and his father piles on the guilt over the tuition costs. So when his father cooks up a plan to hold off a Mafia loan shark’s wrath, Aaron reluctantly agrees, desperate to make up for his failings.
Raised and groomed to take over his father’s position in the Mafia, Liam Sandoval has his own issues. Looking for any escape from his horrible life, he accepts the offer of a weekend of pleasure from Aaron. A mutual attraction ignites, and they realize a weekend will never be enough. But the growing relationship will be put to the ultimate test when enemies target Liam’s new weak spot—Aaron. Can they overcome the outside forces threatening to pull them apart?
When a romance blurb pretends to pose a question as the hook to the story, every romance reader already knows the answer is undoubtedly yes. That pretend uncertainty is a convention, albeit (imvho) threadbare from overuse and long overdue for retirement.
At what point does use of such conventions in our genre begin to control a story instead of support it? Surely the road to a satisfying HEA or HFN doesn’t have to be paved with them. Moreover, if romance genre conventions dominate a story, do they damage the story? The answer probably varies from reader to reader, but again, my answer is yes.
Indebted has a detailed and well thought-out plot, even if it is heavy on melodrama, eye rolls, and huffing. The story, told by the lovers alternating in first person present (except for flashbacks) is written by an intelligent and creative author with a strong voice, yet my overall impression when I finished the book was not of her creativity or uniqueness, but of the tyranny of the conventions she conjured to assist her in the telling.
Liam Sandoval is a collections enforcer for the loan sharking operation of the notorious Everson crime family. He is nicknamed The Machine because he is cold and ruthlessly efficient.
Aaron Quinn Sr. is a nasty loser, in default on his loan to Sandoval. He offers his beautiful, intelligent, decent, and gentle twenty-something son Aaron Jr. as a sex toy to the ruthless Sandoval for the weekend as payment of the debt, guilting his son into agreeing. Never mind that the loan in question is for 10k plus interest, and market rate for a weekend with a quality escort would run about a quarter of that.
And yes, Aaron Jr. is an ass-virgin who says to Chloe, his feisty best friend and confidante since elementary school, “I want my first time to be special, a gift to my partner.” Aaron is so guilt-ridden from dropping out of pre-med (he was shattered by his mother’s death) and costing his father huge money in tuition that he’s willing to sacrifice his own ass to save his father’s.
Sacrificing sexual virtue to save others was a cliché when the silent film melodrama serials were made at the beginning of the 20th century, such as when the heroine faced the prospect of saving the family farm by surrendering to the mortgage-holding villain’s lecherous advances. The horrible reality of such a sacrifice still occurs, but because it’s been so badly overused in fiction, an author has to handle it with extra care, perhaps even reluctance and trepidation. In this story it appears as a tasteless but relatively unremarkable idea, and Aaron Jr. agrees tearfully but with barely a murmur. Sandoval agrees to the weekend deal, too, but his decision also requires no examination of his character.
Romance convention dictates that this unconscionably venal scheme by the heartless Aaron Sr. will blossom into the truest and tenderest and most passionate love between Liam, a ruthless mob enforcer and Aaron Jr., a gentle, almost naive youth brimming with sweetness and guilt. There is never a single doubt. It is mutual and everlasting lust at first sight for them, even though each lover inhabits his own particular hamster wheel of angst, spinning with manic speed from self-loathing to animal lust to possessiveness to crushing regret and guilt to euphoric completeness in each other. In the space of a few pages. Again and again.
It is a persistent genre convention to make lovers so emotionally unstable, so tormented, but when some subtle boundary is crossed, the torment overtakes—obscures—the love, the very humanity from which it sprang. It becomes a thing in itself—unattractive, and occasionally even ridiculous. It becomes a form of self-absorption, maybe even narcissism.
Hawkins is clearly a solid writer. She tells an interesting story with an engaging voice, but it often can’t be heard above the clamor of completely predictable genre conventions grinding out their particular agendas. That’s the reader’s loss.