Title ~ Secrets and Bow Ties
Author ~ Lou Harper
Publisher ~ Samhain Publishing
Published ~ 19th May 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Who said nerdy can’t be sexy?
Secrets, Book 3
Self-confessed gold digger Dylan Price is cooling his heels as a waiter at a trendy West Hollywood restaurant, waiting for the sugar daddy of his dreams to walk through the doors. Someone rich, sophisticated. Preferably old.
Bookish Simon Wainwright couldn’t be further from Dylan’s ideal. Aside from his terrible fashion sense, Simon suffers from a glaring lack of a Beverly Hills mansion. And he’s barely over thirty!
Dylan, however, isn’t made of stone. Coincidence, an obscene candle, even Simon’s dorky cardigan compel him to give the shy academic a very special birthday gift, which Dylan files away as a one-night stand. But when Dylan’s quest lands him in hot water, he runs to Simon to hide.
The two take off for Las Vegas, where Dylan takes upon himself to give Simon a complete makeover. For reasons he can’t comprehend, Dylan begins to reevaluate his life—and what he holds most dear. But with danger not far behind, he might be too late.
Warning: Contains a nightclub where the staff is as hot as the food, a waiter with a smart mouth (in more ways than one), a nerdy college professor, Vegas “boylesque” shows, and lots of smexy times.
I generally love Lou Harper and look forward, with great anticipation, to each new installment in the “Secrets and…” series. Yes, her characters are a bit over-the top, the situations are often laugh-out-loud funny, the angst could be taken from a gay romance tutorial (there seems to always be one guy who’s running away from love because he’s not worthy), but she is such a first-class writer that I can not only forgive all that, I can revel in the sheer absurdity of it all.
“Secrets and Bow Ties” keeps with the formula. The protagonist is a hot-as-hell young waiter (Dylan Price) who spends most of his time trying to find and land a rich, old sugar daddy. The problem is that he almost succeeds and it almost gets him killed. Invited to Ed’s home after he served him at the restaurant where he works, Dylan is awed by his gated Spanish Colonial mansion. It looks like his ship has finally come in. Ed is a big movie mogul whose most recent film, “Bullet Train”, tanked. But he doesn’t seem to be lacking for big bucks as his expensive, but tacky, furnishings and Mercedes limo clearly demonstrate.
Ed is called away before the kinky sex happens, but makes an appointment for the following day to meet up with Dylan and fly him to Vegas. He stands him up. Thoroughly disgusted at his thwarted plans, Dylan goes back to work at the restaurant. He waits on a table with two Lesbians and a devoted, mousy, but not unattractive nerd. The girls tip him generously to flirt with Simon during dinner – it’s his birthday. All goes well, the threesome leave and Dylan gets ready to catch his bus home. Who does he meet as he leaves the restaurant? Simon, of course, who is waiting for the valet to bring out his car.
Feeling upset and abandoned, Dylan throws caution to the wind, jumps into the awaiting car and heads to Simon’s apartment to seduce him. If he can’t get a sugar daddy, at least he can get a little one-on-one. That’s where his best-laid plans start to fall apart. You’ve probably heard the expression: “You want to make God laugh? Make a plan!”. Well, God’s sides were splitting when Dylan finds himself strangely attracted to the shy, innocent Biochemistry professor. When Simon recounts to Dylan his hopes for a golden future where there is no cancer, no genetic disease, no AIDS, once molecular robots are built to target only the infected or defective cells, killing them one-by-one without side effects or damage to healthy cells, his eyes light up and Dylan is blown away by his passion. Think about it, Dylan’s only passion is landing a rich old man, so that he’ll never again face the poverty and homelessness he lived through as a kid. And the only assets he has is his looks, sense of style, and his incredible skills at oral sex - which, of course, he brings to bear on Simon, in celebration of his birthday.
Dylan is thrown off stride by his surprising desire to stay and cuddle with the straight-shooting and uncomplicated Simon. After all, he’s not rich, isn’t old, and doesn’t have a mansion in Beverly Hills. He’s afraid that this new emotional thing he seems to have fallen into overnight will derail him from the only goal he’s ever known. He knows that love is not in the cards, and what would a brilliant Nanotechnology researcher want to do with a superficial young man whose only real talent is parading his ass in front of horny old men?
This is the moment that stuck with me throughout “Secrets and Bow Ties”, the moment in which Dylan bemoans his own stupidity. It stuck with me because, in fact, Dylan actually is incredibly stupid. He’s dumb as a stump, which he proves, over and over again, as he blindly saunters deeper and deeper into a conspiracy of drugs, art theft, violence and murder.
He finds out why Ed stood him up for the Vegas trip – because he was dead, thrown off a tall building in Hollywood. Things immediately start going bad for Dylan. Ed’s Hispanic chauffeur, Julio, braces him as he leaves the restaurant one night, knife to his throat, demanding what Ed “gave him”, threatening to turn him over to the Mexicans. Dylan can’t do a thing about it, because Ed didn’t give him anything except for a large black silicone butt plug. Surely, Julio is not willing to kill for that!
Within hours, things go from ridiculous to seriously dangerous, when a trio of huge Mexican thugs begins to break into his apartment. He dives out the back window, races down the fire escape and, anonymously, calls 911. Does he wait around for the cops? Does he report the threats? No, he runs to Simon and asks him if he can stay with him for a few days while his apartment is “fumigated”. He’s so dumb, he’s even lying to Simon.
Eventually, he’s introduced to one of the Federal agents investigating the break-in at his apartment. One of the most over-the-top and barely-believable DEA agents in literary history, Ms. Ramirez is a short curvaceous lady who dresses (tastefully) in equally short, skin-tight dresses that seem to always be made of fabric that features various kinds of sparkle and glitter. Tasteful? A pantsuit would be tasteful. I suppose that’s meant to leave the reader concerned that she might actually be an associate of the bad guys, or just give us a giggle when this flirty woman, who dresses like a hooker, turns into an angry prude when confronted with a simple black butt plug. Go figure.
And what’s with all the Mexicans? There’s something vaguely racist about a plot that seems to be pretty much populated by south-of-the-border criminals (and agents) with a few token Americanos thrown in for the gay-couple story line.
Agent Ramirez warns Dylan to lay low – very dangerous men are after him. So he does just that, bundles up Simon and takes off for Vegas, going to exclusive shows (boylesque), eating at famous restaurants, even taking a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. Yeah, that’s “laying low” all right. And someone’s following him. He gets into a snit with Simon (I knew he couldn’t ever care for me) and tries to ditch his shadow. Where? In a dark alley, of course. Who shows up? Julio, the Chauffeur with the knife. (I told you Dylan was as dumb as a stump). Simon, the meek professor, saves his life with his secret ninja skills, leaving Julio unconscious in the alley. The next morning, the TV news reports Julio’s body showing up in the desert, cut up into little pieces.
When contacted by a third party offering him serious money for “what he got from Ed”, he tries to contact Agent Ramirez, but gets her voice mail and, ticked off, doesn’t leave a message. Stupid, again. Even worse, he goes to meet the man in a sleepy, early-morning, 1950’s diner, where he’s supposed to give Dylan $50,000 in exchange for what Ed gave him. He still doesn’t know what that is, but figures he can sweet-talk the guy into giving him the money, and then he wouldn’t need to find a sugar daddy so soon. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Even dumber, he has no problem walking out on Simon to make the deal. Oh yes, some remorse, but then again, it could never work because “no one could ever love him, anyway”.
There is a huge climax with lots of gunfire, near-deaths, a rare and priceless sarcophagus filled with cocaine and a few more over-the-top life-saving, nothing-to-lose, moves by Dylan - and, of course, a brief but nice happily-ever-after. This is, after all, a Romance novel.
Thankfully, Ms. Harper is a talented-enough writer that the adventures of Dumb Dylan might be unbearable were it not for her evocative settings, colorful characters, an advanced sense of the absurd and the sheer pleasure of her prose and dialogue.
All of which makes this a pretty good read and a worthy entry into the “Secrets and…” world of colorful misfits. The love story was obvious and inevitable, but charming, still. I don’t rank it at the top of her work, only because I was getting pretty annoyed at the stupidity of Dylan, but I suppose she needed to keep him clueless in order to press her plot along. That notwithstanding, enough is enough.
Despite my reservations about Dylan’s IQ, I do recommend this book. Any Lou Harper novel is a good read, and passes a few hours rather pleasantly, if not always very deeply. Although I did have fun reading it, a little more humor or a little more depth might have moved my rating from four stars to five.
And none of my complaints changes the fact that I’m still waiting, with bated breath, for whatever the always-inventive Ms. Harper comes up with next.