Rented Heart by Garrett Leigh
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Rent Boy and Wealthy Guy, Contemporary British Setting, Age difference, Humour, Sexy, Hurt/Comfort. Psychological – Grief, Addiction
Length: 228 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Ex-surfer-turned-businessman Liam Mallaney moved back to Holkham, Norfolk, to mourn the loss of his husband. Grief and loneliness keep him a solitary figure, and he likes it that way. There’s no room in his broken heart for anything else.
Rentboy Zac Payne left London and most of his demons behind, but he still only knows one way to make a living. When he spots Liam in a club one night, it seems he’s found his mark. But Liam proves nicer—and their connection far deeper—than he’d bargained for.
Their arrangement quickly becomes too complicated for Zac, who has other things on his mind: namely his BFF and wayward flatmate, Jamie. Zac owes Jamie the world, and even as Jamie’s drug addiction destroys all they have, Zac won’t leave him behind.
Besides, Liam knows nothing of Zac’s home life, too caught up in his own head to think much beyond the crazy heat he and Zac share. But when trouble comes to Zac’s door, putting his life in danger, Liam must set his grief and anger aside to pick up the pieces of Zac’s shattered heart and his own.
Liam is hanging outside a gay bar in a Norfolk town one night when a good looking guy approaches him. Liam’s had a couple of drinks and, while it’s not top of mind, he needs to get laid – as in a sad, lost, numb, make me feel alive kind of laid. As in a not having had sex since his husband died two years ago needing to get laid. The guy who approaches him sparks an attraction but it’s also the fact the guy tells him it will cost to be with him. What the rates are – for a fuck, a blow job, a reciprocal blowjob, and to spend the night. Oh, and no kissing. Liam figures, why not? In for a penny, in for a pound. He can walk away after being with a rent boy. No consequences, well maybe, but definitely no attachments, right?
Zac isn’t sure the guy he’s been eyeing outside the bar will be interested in him. Interested in a hooker. Can he talk the good looking guy with longish blonde hair, nice face and body into a fuck? Maybe he can talk him into a night, he hopes he can… for many reasons. He’d like to eat tomorrow. He’d like to be able to have hot water in the shower. He’d like a john who looks like this one, who’s attractive and clean. When the john takes Zac up on his offer he decides to take him home, something Zac never does ordinarily.
From the moment Zac and Liam touch there are sparks. There’s connection and there’s chemistry. Maybe it’s because Liam has been without sex for so long. Maybe it’s because Liam is respectful toward Zac, as well as sexy, but Zac pushes some hot buttons and has them pushed back, making the sex white hot. No matter what, there is a kind of intense push and push-back going on. Zac dares and Liam asserts himself in bed more than he ordinarily would.
After a good fuck, something Liam seemed to enjoy, and can clearly afford, Zac hands him a business card, ones he had made up as a kind of joke but now hopes will help Liam call him again. Weeks go by and Zac doesn’t hear anything, but he thinks about Liam, about the connective sex, about hooking up again, and while the money is a major incentive, so is the man.
Liam thinks about Zac as well but has issues of his own to deal with. However, the pull to see the rent boy is strong and it’s more than physical as well, although physical definitely works.
Over a matter of many weeks, once the guys link up again, they meet up several times, often for hot sex but increasingly for companionship and a deeper, emotional connection. Liam has a business he and Cory started together, Cory the businessman and Liam the designer. It’s now grown considerably and while Liam is grateful he can keep local people employed, and his sister and his brothers-in law work in the business, Liam doesn’t enjoy the meetings and business side of it all, that was Cory’s talent. On paper he has a nice life, he has money, he and his twin sister, Rosa, are close, he walks his two goofy labradoodles, Jazz and Dave, on the beach every day. His dad lives nearby, but he’s lonely in spite of it all. It’s empty and hollow. He misses Cory.
Bits and Pieces:
The characters and the story arcs and narrative are fabulous, interesting, emotive, enjoyable, and honest – that’s a jackpot from my perspective.
Zac and Liam are three dimensional and easy to love. You share frustrating times with them but mostly you want to hug them and make sure they’re okay. You want them to fall crazy in love. Add in Jamie, Zac’s best friend, and you have a character trifecta for emotions that will be passionately felt by most readers. These guys aren’t perfect but they’re really, really nice and they’re written in an incredibly relatable way. Even Jamie, who is using and has his moments, is lovable as well as funny and offbeat-charming.
The fact is, Liam is an on-again-off-again customer, and no matter that he pays Zac well, Zac has to make sure he can continue to support himself, and oftentimes Jamie. Zac isn’t sure why Liam wants him of all people, why he comes back to him, the whore. All he knows is their seemingly warm connection is nice, the sex electric. And that he’s treated well, not something Zac has ever known before. But Zac is waiting for the other shoe to drop because he’s nothing special. Liam is gorgeous with his surfer looks, his tanned, clear skin and beautiful, sad eyes. He’s obviously wealthy as well. It’s because Liam’s lonely and missing Cory. Once Liam is on top of his game, once he works out there are other, better guys who would be keen to be with him, he’ll trade up from the paid sex and paid company of Zac.
I really admire that the author did not make these guys meet and suddenly the hooker stops hooking. Because that’s how Zac’s supported himself for eight years prior to knowing Liam. It’s his job. Kudos to Garrett Leigh for writing a story about an MC who keeps working and for the other MC who is predominantly non-judgemental. Liam, at thirty four, is older, and he’s responsible in any number of ways, but he’s lived a more sheltered life than Zac. Even so, he knows the guy he’s falling for has sex for money, as surreal as that may sound, or actually be. He also knows he is too caught up in his own head to do much about someone else when he has to deal with his own grief and emotions and processing of thoughts.
Liam had meant it when he told Zac he’d never be his whore, but that didn’t mean he understood Zac’s motivations any more than he did his own.
A lot of writers would drop this like a hot potato because of the shit they cop for this storyline – guys meet and don’t stop sex with everyone else but one another. From fifteen Zac has sold his body to make ends meet. At twenty three it’s all he knows. He has no particular education. He has no particular skillset. He’s a recovering addict. He’s not maudlin about it, he’s nothing if not realistic. Jamie and Zac also fuck. Zac, for comfort and familiarity, and he enjoys sex. Jamie, mostly for the same reasons with an added dynamic. It happens up until near the end, I mention that so readers know going in. It’s written well and with conviction, so it works. Liam doesn’t have sex with anyone else but he’s still (quite naturally) grieving, struggling with himself, to a degree, for having sex with someone who isn’t his (deceased) husband. It’s right, people often feel loyal for many years to partners who have died. Liam’s father also has dementia and Liam is attempting to deal with his dad’s deteriorating memory and behaviour. So Liam is busy with his own emotions surfacing, ones he’s trying hard to sit on – old and new.
Meanwhile, Zac is pretty busy trying to survive – having food to eat, and heating, basic bills paid, staying clean, and also helping to keep his best friend alive – and relatively controlled. I say relatively controlled because Jamie can’t be controlled, but Zac does his best to make him want to keep on living until he can, hopefully, clean up too. Apart from profession-borne reservations I have re: addiction and friends, the friendship between Zac and Jamie is compelling. Zac looks out for someone who looked out for him at his worst. Zac makes sure Jamie knows when he is going to link up overnight on the off chance Jamie comes home to an empty flat. Jamie takes comfort from Zac being clean but when he’s off his face he reverts to some standard addict behaviour. Zac and Jamie can feel alone against the world together, at times, but then Zac can feel alone against Jamie and the drug driving him.
Zac sighed. He’d never come across a pimp who gave money away for fun, and his gut told him whoever Jamie had got involved with was bad news, but there was little he could do about it. Jamie was beautiful and wild, and no one would ever tame him.
One niggle, because I can’t help myself. Because I know addiction, dammit! Getting clean – six months – and staying clean would have been next to impossible for Zac living with Jamie. You’re a recovering addict and your bestie is still an addict. At any time it’s not a good idea. It’s actually a recipe for disaster. But it’s first and foremost romance and the guys had their hooks well and truly dug into my heart for it to particularly bother me. The main story was the building of a relationship and love between two nice guys and their respective lives, lives that are being sorted out and meshing together. Their hurt/comfort isn’t angsty but it’s still emotive, it makes you want to read, read, read. So, I was buying the recovering addict living with the current addict because I was definitely hooked on what they were selling. I love and appreciate good characters and passionate storytelling, I truly do, and that’s what this is.
I was in the mood for a contemporary romance with some depth when I went looking for a book to read. Just look at the blurb, it sounds perfect and it was just what I needed. Rented Heart is a Cinderella story, aka a gay Pretty Woman… which is a reimaging of Cinderella. If you fancy that premise/concept then this should be right up your alley.
No two ways about it, Rented Heart is really nice writing. For me it’s an added bonus that it’s British and actually feels British. Garrett Leigh gives you love, heart and emotion, strong chemistry and heat – it’s plenty sexy. Given the premise, and a couple of tense moments, the story isn’t heavy or dark. At times there are glimpses of melancholy, but the essential tone is uplifting, and there’s an epilogue and HEA. The characters are all fully realised, lovable, and grab your attention, never letting go, right from the beginning. Zac and Liam are an unlikely couple made likely by the quality of the writing, even more so by the conviction and determination of the author to make their story as authentic as possible within a loving and kind romance framework.
I want to read Jamie’s story now and I gather he will get one. He deserves some health, happiness and true love. I can smell a reader favourite a mile off and Jamie is that character. If you enjoy Garrett Leigh, if you like rent boy stories with passion and emotion and nice MCs, then this is a very good read. Definitely add to the I must read it pile for when it comes out. 5 Stars!
ARC provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.