Keeping Sweets, Cate Ashwood
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Porn Industry, Sweet Contemporary
Length: 206 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
A very sweet and spicy story with two very lovable characters.
Evan Lowry has not had a good life in his eighteen years. His mother, an alcoholic, died leaving him with a defacto non-biological ‘father’, Phil. Phil honours a debt to Evan’s dead mother by keeping Evan under their roof until he graduates. Evan is now graduating, packed, and off to university on the next bus after graduation. He has very little money, very little in the way of prospects for a job, and answers an ad for adult modelling. He really doesn’t know what he’s in for initially but soon enough finds out what it’s all about, that adult modelling = gay porn. They are hiring for a shoot in a house in Newport for just over three weeks. The money is good and it will allow him to cover expenses when he goes to university until he gets on his feet. The truth is, though, Evan doesn’t really know what he is getting into. Evan is a complete virgin, no girlfriend, no boyfriend. At the interview Evan gets to meet the owner of the business, Les, and Noah Conway, the main attraction at Sonic Street Studios.
Long story short, Evan finds Noah (real name Bran), extremely sexy, extremely desirable and he pretty much latches on to him emotionally from the beginning. The, uh, interview – lord, I always love them in these kinds of books – was pretty hot and really piqued my interest in these two characters. The rest grew when Bran saw where Evan was living and how many clothes he didn’t own, how he couldn’t afford to feed himself, and the way Evan is still ‘puppy-dog-happy’ in spite of his circumstances. How Bran is intrinsically a good guy in a harsh industry and Evan is sweet despite a harsh upbringing. My love of the two MC’s was cemented more and more as the book progressed, the way Bran took Evan under his wing, looked out for him, and showed him things he’d never seen before, like the ocean. The fact that Bran helped Evan enjoy some simple things he had never enjoyed in his childhood was truly a delight for me to read. How gentle Evan was and how he didn’t ask for much or expect it.
The other aspect of this book that I liked was the sex. It was pretty freaking hot, but not over the top, which is interesting given the premise. The sexual emphasis is focused on Bran and Evan, even though there were other men in the house on the shoot with them. There were other brief scenes, however it didn’t need anyone else as these two really lit up the pages. I actually liked that it concentrated heavily on Evan and Bran. I didn’t want them with other people in the sex scenes (there were some close calls), and I’m usually pretty open with this concept, but I got all protective.
The intimacy between Evan and Bran was also amazing, even on set they just let the others fade away. But when they were alone they were gentle and sweet and discovered they had things in common, even a favourite movie. As the book progressed so did their relationship, there was nothing static about it. Given a longer word count I think that would have given even more dimension to them both.
I must say that Cate Ashwood did handle a relationship dynamic very believably here- both Evan and Bran are lonely characters. Evan has never known love and affection and here is Bran, this gorgeous, sexy, seemingly confident man taking an interest in him – shopping, supplying kind words, food, caring – Evan was always going to give his heart to him. Always. Bran’s been around the block and has seen his share of shitty behaviour, starting with his family once they knew he was gay. People did take advantage, he’s twenty seven and has been in the industry for a decade, although this was gentled in the book. Here was Evan, this sweet, cheerful, innocent, attractive, adoring young man who doesn’t want his Noah persona as a conquest, and isn’t judging him, but offering his trust and innocence to him. How heady, because Bran is used to the porn industry – conquest junkies or haters. Okay, it can be an unhealthy relationship in real life but it is very, very realistic. And, hey, this is fiction and my heart was willing these two guys together. I wanted it. I needed these guys to be in love, against all rationality I cheered for them. So Cate Ashwood did a good job as a writer making me want to read their story. Wanting so very much for Evan and Bran to find their happiness against all odds.
I liked the alternating POV for Evan and Bran. I liked seeing their thoughts. I wanted to shake them sometimes and say “talk,” but I also understood their respective reasoning’s for miscommunication – Evan not being secure in himself, believing that Bran was this older, experienced, sure man that wouldn’t want someone who had spent their life being small and inconsequential. Bran because he feels Evan is so smart, young and should experience more. That he would hold him back. Both are fair points and they helped drive a bit of the drama; not that there really was any drama other than will they/won’t they get an HEA? They had to work for it and that just makes it that much better for me. I loved the title and the reasons for it. It was sweet and it tied in beautifully to the characters, their story and relationship.
There are a few reasons I might not have liked this book. The first chapter didn’t work for me. I know it was to let the reader into how hard Evan’s life had been. I would have liked to have had this unfold more as the story progressed. It just felt more like I was being told rather than Evan letting me in. Also, whilst I know it’s always coming in this premise, the porn industry came off as shiny. But, you know what? At the end of the day this was a love story, not a psychological drama, and everything was all overcome by Cate Ashwood’s characters, Evan and Bran. By her obvious love of her characters that was thoroughly infectious and made me love them too. I couldn’t help but fall. So it worked well.
I highly recommend this book for those who, like me, like a porn industry premise, an age gap, a virginal main character, some hot loving with a focus on the main characters, and a HEA. I hope Ms Ashwood writes a story for the oh so protective Colt. I would love to see him meet someone special and I don’t believe I’m on my own with that desire.