Title: Valentine Wish
Author: Eden Winters
Length: 36 pdf pages.
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m romance
Isaac Lewis left the gangs behind to remake himself. He’s a street fighter turned gym rat, a thug turned honest man—only his loneliness hasn’t changed.
Success as a restaurateur hasn’t erased Thierry Guillaume’s insecurities. Well-padded in a world where looks matter, he’s been grasping at crumbs of affection. Can Isaac convince him he deserves the whole cake?
When I requested this for review I hadn’t realised it was a sequel to a novel, The Wish, nor that it was a re-release of a title originally published with Torquere in 2010. However, since I enjoy Winter’s writing I set about reading The Wish so that I could do the sequel justice. I have to admit, I sometimes wonder at the wisdom in rereleasing older titles, as it’s clear Winter’s writing has improved significantly since she wrote the novel. I’m not about to launch into a review of the novel, but I just wanted to make the point that you don’t really need to read it first. Isaac and Thierry are very much minor characters who only make the occasional appearance in the original. While your experience of reading Valentine Wish might be enhanced if you know who Alex and Paul are, I don’t think you’ll suffer unduly if you don’t.
This short is entirely from Isaac’s point of view, as he celebrates his Valentine’s Day birthday. More accustomed to visiting Berkley’s as the chauffeur for his rich employers, Isaac has gotten to know the owner and head chef over time. For a long time Thierry was unavailable but now he’s single again, and Isaac is determined to have his birthday wish.
I loved the fact that Winters has made a big bear of a man the object of Isaac’s affection. As Isaac himself points out to Thierry, he likes to snuggle and that just wouldn’t be possible with another gym rat. Isaac genuinely lusts after Thierry’s ample, hairy body and doesn’t care about his age. This was a refreshing change in a genre which usually only eroticises the lean, muscular and young.
Another part of the story that worked particularly well for me was the scene where Isaac sees off Thierry’s no-good ex, Victor. Isaac calls on his street fighter past to deal with the sleazy thug, rescuing Thierry from the man’s clutches. As Isaac observes, the Frenchman is a lover, not a fighter, and can only cower in fear while Victor threatens him. While this didn’t make him particularly heroic, it added a note of realism and Thierry certainly stirred up protective feelings in me, just as he did in Isaac.
What didn’t work so well for me, though, was the slow start. The first five pages were a mix of exposition to tell us Isaac’s past and present, and description of the restaurant. These pages really dragged for me, and even when Isaac begins interacting with the other guests, we still don’t see anything of Thierry for a few more pages. They don’t spend a great deal of page time together at all, with very little conversation, so although I got a sense that perhaps they could work well as a couple, I didn’t really see the connection. The sex between them was both hot and affectionate, however, so lovers of erotic romance should enjoy that part.
I was also puzzled by a minor detail, but enough for it to drag me out of the story. We are told by Isaac that Thierry has only just become single, otherwise he’d have made a move earlier. However, later Paul says that Thierry has been single for six months. I wondered if this was an error that should have been caught in edits, because six months is a pretty long time by most people’s standards.
In short, then, this is a pretty well-written story with two appealingly different protagonists, and although it was slow to start, I enjoyed it by the end. The very last paragraph in particular was genius, and left me with a grin on my face.