Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Mason Lawrence should be happy. He is incredibly wealthy, owns a successful company and his days are full with his business and his spare time is spent with friends and business associates. But Mason is unhappy. He has long held a crush on his best friend who is straight and very married. Just spending time with him playing tennis is painful and his friend is beginning to notice a difference in the way Mason is treating him. Something has to change and it arrives in a totally unexpected manner.
Out of concern for Mason’s lack of companionship, a friend tells Mason about a discrete escort service where Mason might find someone to spend his only vacation with. Wary but desperate, Mason hires Jack, an outspoken, gorgeous escort to spend a week with him at his cabin in a lakeshore vacation property. And at first, Jack is everything Mason could hope for. He is funny, gregarious, blunt, and sexy. A blond Peter Pan whose refusal to grow up endears him to Mason a man who has never really been a child. Then their relationship of employer/employee starts to turn into one of friendship and then something a little more. Can love be possible when one refuses to grow up and the other afraid of his own emotions?
The trope of rent boy/John love is a standard within the m/m genre. Whether I enjoy a story with this plot is entirely up to how an individual author handles this topic and the twist they give to the rent boy in question. A.F. Henley’s Second Star to the Right and her character Jack are wonderfully endearing additions to this genre. I have a fondness for prostitutes that make no excuses for the fact that they are, in their words “whores”. Jack is unapologetically blunt about his tastes, his profession, and his expectations for the week ahead, much to Mason’s astonishment. He is golden, sexy, and tall, everything that Mason wants and has never been able to have. And now that Jack is Mason’s for the week, Mason isn’t exactly sure what to do with him.
Henley makes Mason’s confusion and hesitation both humorous and endearing when confronted with Jack’s direct manner and easy going sexuality. Everything about Mason’s character is reflective of his personality. He is small in stature, a fact he is uncomfortable with, comparing himself unfavorably with all he meets. Shy and awkward, small and amenable, Mason is someone who has always been too old for his years, too responsible, too mature to enjoy childish games and pastimes. Throw someone of that persona in a cabin for a week with a sexual adult Peter Pan and the mixture has bound to be entertaining, and a little explosive.
And while Jack is forcing Mason to open up and relax, Mason’s actions and gentle treatment of Jack is forcing Jack to reflex on his own life, including the fact that he is almost 30, an age too old for his profession. How is a man who refuses to grow up going to live when he ages out of the only profession he has ever known? By the time they (and the reader) have reached this stage in their relationship, both men have tumbled out of their complacency into a place of fear about their current status as well as the future. Henley has made us care, through their interactions and past revelations, about these men. And now we teeter on the brink of self discovery along with them, full of anticipation and anxiety for the next step each man will take. Will it be towards each other or away?
Of course, there is an emotional explosion and a denouement that offers a future for both Mason and Jack. I think that if I had a quibble with this story, its with an ending that felt a little too abrupt for the story that preceded it. We get a week with Mason and Jack that feels realistic in the manner in which their relationship grows. The arguments that come feel natural as well given each man’s emotional makeup and their present occupations. I wish Henley had given us a little more of the events that follow upon their return to the city. It would have made the epilogue that much more satisfactory by giving us the building blocks upon which that ending is built.
However, that issue aside, I did love Second Star to the Right. I loved Mason and Jack in all their frailties, insecurities, and kindness, especially towards each other. When you temper bluntness with compassion, sexuality with caring, then you have a recipe for a terrific love story and Henley has given that to us in Second Star to the Right. I think you will enjoy it as much as I did. Consider it a highly recommended.
Cover by Aisha Akeju is simple in design but works for the story within.