Author: K.C. Wells
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 296 Pages
At a Glance: In spite of some flaws, this was a gorgeously written love story.
Blurb: It’s taken Tommy Newsome a while to get his head around being gay. Growing up in a small town in Georgia, hasn’t prepared him for the more liberal life of a student at the university in Athens. Add to that the teachings of his parents and his church, and you have one shy young man who feels out of his depth. Working on his daddy’s farm hasn’t given him any chance of a social life, certainly not one like the clubs of Atlanta have on offer. Not that Tommy feels comfortable when he gets to sample it—Momma’s lectures still ring loudly inside his head.
All that changes when he goes to his first gay bar and sets eyes on Mike Scott.
When Mike’s not behind the bar at Woofs, he’s busy with his life as adult entertainer Scott Masters. Twenty years in the industry and the times, they are a-changing. Mike’s not had much luck in the relationship department, but as his mom is fond of telling him, you keep fishing in the same pond, you’re gonna reel in the same kind of fish. Maybe it’s time for a change.
And then a beautiful young man asks Mike to be his first….
Review: Tommy was raised in an ultra-conservative farming community where “god-fearing” men and women did not discuss sex, nor did they deviate from the bible subscribed man/woman pairing or even allow impure thoughts to occupy space in their minds. Now, in college, all the worries Tommy has had over the last few years have come home to roost, and for the first time, he is fairly sure he may be gay. Added to that, his roommate is definitely bisexual and a bit of a slut to boot, and is constantly encouraging Tommy to pop his “cherry” and find someone to date.
In short time, Tommy begins to undo all the untruths and close-minded bigotry he has grown up with over the years, beginning with a trip to his very first gay bar. Once there, Tommy finds himself drawn to the older bartender who seems to be the very embodiment of someone Tommy could not only trust but might actually be the one man Tommy could give himself to sexually for the first time. Mike Scott is a weekend bartender at the gay sports bar that Tommy visits every weekend. While he has definitely spotted the handsome young man who sits at the end of the bar nursing his cherry coke, Mike also knows the kid is way too young for him. Besides that, once Tommy got wind of Mike’s real occupation, he would no doubt run far away…just like so many others had done in Mike’s life. However, Mike hasn’t pegged Tommy correctly—he is a determined, if awkward and painfully shy, young man. Tommy knows one thing with great certainty—he wants Mike to be his first and he won’t take no for an answer.
First is an incredibly beautiful coming-out story, featuring a tender first love trope and two gorgeously written leading men. I’m not sure how anyone could read this novel and not fall head over heals in love with both Mike and Tommy. Tommy’s shy and innocent demeanor was so well crafted that he made even the hardest of hearts melt in his wake, and no doubt readers with any maternal instincts will want to scoop this boy up and keep him safe from harm. Tommy’s journey to self-discovery and sexual awakening was one major story line in this long novel. The way in which the author kept tightly to Tommy’s journey, making it both realistic and compelling to read, was sheer genius. Such depth and clarity was given to creating both men in this story—making it a real delight to read such well-formed and realistic characters despite how incredibly innocent and unschooled Tommy appeared to be during the bulk of the novel.
Mike Scott’s journey was the second major plot point to this story. Mike was an incredibly conflicted man. Wounded by past failed relationships and growing ever more weary in an industry that seemed to be steadily embracing more and more risky decisions regarding unprotected sex, Mike is at a real crossroad when young Tommy Newsome steps into his life. Every person who Mike had grown to care for outside the porn industry has left him. Either they could not accept his participating in sex with multiple partners, or they balked at the idea of being in a relationship with him after finally discovering he had no intentions of walking away from the job. Either way, Mike had no one to share his life with in a time when he was so desperate to have that kind of intimacy in his life. Not only did Tommy’s age give him pause, the idea that Tommy would run straight for the hills should he find out Mike’s real job was a constant worry for the handsome bartender.
I fear this review is not really doing justice to the subtlety of this author’s expertise at striking the careful balance she achieved when writing such an innocent character as Tommy. It takes a very deft and skilled hand to create such an innocent young man, who is on the cusp of both sexual and mental awakening. On the other hand, it also takes immense patience to not go the easy route and make an older, world traveled porn star into a stereotypically callous and sexually preoccupied character, but that was not the case in this novel. Tommy and Mike were depicted as real men grappling with honest emotions and fears, and who bravely struggle to live their lives on their terms. In short, I was awed by the realism that infused every page of this story.
For a good portion of First, we watch these two cautious men dance around each other, each giving up bits of themselves in a slow building pas de deux that is as mesmerizing as it is beautiful. The tenderness, the romance, the gradual sharing of confidences and the sweet tendrils of growing love between Tommy and Mike create such a delicate bond that is constantly overshadowed by Mike’s secret. It was the fear of that ax falling, that secret being revealed, that also lent a hand at making this a gripping tale.
Unfortunately, there were also two minor plot points that left me a bit confused and ultimately pulled me from this sweet romance, which temporarily left make me a bit uncomfortable with the trajectory the plot took as a result. The first was the idea of “cuddling up” to a porn buddy that was casually tossed into the storyline. Mike seemed to fully embrace this practice despite being in serious relationships both in the past and presently with Tommy. Since the storyline doesn’t put parameters around Mike’s “cuddling,” which I assumed was a euphemism for casual sex or comforting holding and kissing when the need got to be too great, I was led to believe by Mike’s inner musings that he did not consider this cheating. Even though while involved with Tommy Mike does resists actual sex with a former lover, he still kisses and holds the man in bed. Perhaps it’s my narrow view of relationships, but I felt that was crossing a big line from a hug and kiss on the cheek to comforting a friend. Plus, considering Mike was already lying to Tommy about his porn job, it felt doubly wrong and smacked of cheating. I felt Mike was fully aware of how much Tommy trusted him, therefore in any reading of this discussion on cuddling, I felt fairly certain Mike had crossed a line.
The second had to do with the ending—which, given Tommy’s difficult time with accepting Mike’s job and the fact that he lied to him, seemed way too easy a fix. Please don’t get me wrong, this was a gorgeously written love story and despite the age difference, I was fully on board with this partnering and with their genuine love for each other. I simply thought that the same amount of time spent in building this loving dynamic should have also been spent on the rebuilding of trust that needed to take place once Mike’s lying had been revealed. No other place in this novel did I feel that the author was trying to veil some form of ignorance on Tommy’s part as just virginal and relational naïveté. But the ending and Tommy’s quick capitulation after being blindsided by the discovery of Mike’s occupation was just a bit too out of character. Wisely, K.C. Wells created Tommy to be a pragmatic and thinking young man—this too rapid acceptance and reestablishment of a trusting relationship thrust all that into suspect for me.
However, nothing can negate the fact that K.C. Wells has risen to an all new level of storytelling with this latest offering. This author continues to hone her craft and plum depths of excellence in creating outstanding stories time and again.
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