* * * * *
Evan Costa learned from a very early age that there was no such thing as unconditional love and that it was better to settle for what you could get instead of expecting the world to give you what you need. As Ethan, porn model for Johnnies, he gets exactly what he wants—comradeship and physical contact on trade—and he is perfectly satisfied with that. He’s sure of it.
Jonah Stevens has spent most of his adult life helping to care for his sister and trying to keep his beleaguered family from fraying at the edges. He’s had very little time to work on his confidence or his body for that matter. When Jonah meets Ethan, he doesn’t see the hurt child or the shamelessly slutty porn star. He sees a funny, sexy, confident man who—against the odds—seems to like Jonah in spite of his very ordinary, but difficult, life.
Sensing a kindred spirit and a common interest, Ethan thinks a platonic friendship with Jonah won’t violate his fair trade rules of sex and touch, but Jonah has different ideas. Ethan’s pretty sure his choice of jobs has stripped away all hope of a real relationship, but Jonah wants the whole package—the sexy man, the vulnerable boy, the charming companion who works so hard to make other people happy. Jonah wants to prove that underneath the damage Ethan has lived with all his life, he’s still gold with promise and the ability to love.
Sometimes relationships are just meant to be. Take for instance a reader that loves when a book is so full of angsty drama that it makes her cry buckets. And then there is the author that doesn’t feel she has fulfilled her purpose in this world until she has produced enough tears to bring on a flood of biblical proportions. That reader is me. That author is Amy Lane. We go together like macaroni and cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. Popcorn and butter. Except not. Because those things don’t make anyone cry. Unless, of course, I pour the hot butter onto my bare foot before getting it over the popcorn bowl.
Amy hits another home run with Ethan Gold. Ethan shows up a number of times in Chase in Shadow (the first book in the Johnnies series and the first Amy book that Bel and I ever read) and he managed to steal my heart the few scenes he was in. So when I heard he was getting his own story, I was beyond excited. But I was also scared. As a reader I had certain expectations of Ethan’s story. I expected sweetness and emotional pain that made you want to pull that poor boy into a giant bear hug. Not sure what I was worried about. This is the queen of angst and pain we are talking about here. Of course she delivered. And then some!
Ethan’s story starts out at the tender age of five when he falls off his bike and a neighbor helps him home. That short walk home changes his life forever. On the walk home, Ethan lets it slip about what the teacher aide did to him at school. The kind neighbor informed Ethan’s parents which changed Ethan’s family life forever. Thanks to a wonderful psychiatrist, Ethan goes on to deal remarkably well with the abuse he suffered. But the same isn’t true for his mom. Her inability to handle the situation in a loving manner causes a whole new set of issues for Ethan to deal with well into his adult life. Issues that force Ethan to look elsewhere for affection. And that elsewhere ends up being the porn industry.
Jonah inwardly swoons when the very sexy Ethan and Tommy walk into his place of employment. Tommy is there for an interview and Jonah ends up chatting with Ethan until Tommy is done. Jonah enjoys the few minutes of fantasy before he floats back down to his reality. That reality being a life that consists of working full time to help his parents financially support his teenage sister that is living with cystic fibrosis. When he isn’t working, Jonah spends his time taking his sister to numerous doctor and therapy appointments through out the week. Needles to say, Jonah doesn’t have time for romance. But he doesn’t complain too much. He loves his parents and his sister so helping them is a no brainer for him. But sometimes fate has other plans. And apparently those plans include a sexy new boyfriend with a more than questionable career choice.
Amy does an amazing job of testing boundaries and making the reader take an uncomfortable look at the unfairness of things that do not fit into societies norms. Can someone in porn have a relationship? According to Chase in Shadow and Dex in Blue, the answer is yes. But can a porn model have a relationship with someone who has no ties to the industry (something NOT explored in the previous two books in this series)? The answer to that isn't as easy. Jonah’s feelings in regards to Ethan’s job are emotionally complex at best. And Ethan’s feelings on dating someone on the “outside” aren't any simpler. It is an issue that is not nearly as black and white as some might think and Ethan and Jonah will have to work hard to find a way to be together while still meeting their emotional and physical needs.
This is easily one of Amy Lane’s best books. As always, if you love some (or a lot of) angst and pain with a hope of a Happy For Now (if not a Happy Ever After) ending, then pick this lovely up. You will be happy you did. After you are done sobbing and cursing the author. Of course.