Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
John loves his job as head rigger for Cirque Brilliance. The heavy scarring over half his face makes it a little hard to meet new people, but John’s got a good crew and a nice found family, and he’s content with his lot in life.
When Cirque hires talent for a new show, John meets Bao, a bright, ever-cheerful acrobat. Bao seems drawn to John and becomes a constant presence at his side—talking to him during downtime, spending time with him at lunch, and generally seeking out his company.
John doesn’t know what to make of this. Sure, he likes Bao—maybe a little too much, honestly—but he’s had enough experience to know that Bao couldn’t possibly like him back. Or so he thinks, anyway. Fortunately, Bao seems determined to prove him wrong.
This was a delightful romance story—one of those that leaves me saying “Aww, I want more.” I’ve heard some people call this kind of story too sweet, but really, it was very satisfying on so many levels; and IMHO, nothing is too sweet. This one was somewhat like a fine piece of dark chocolate that melts in your mouth as you savor the flavor while enjoying it slowly.
Bao Liu is recruited from China to join a new Cirque show. On his first day he meets John, the head rigger, a man whose face and body had been severely burned in the past—and a man who carries the scars as much on the inside as on the outside. John has been rejected and taunted for how he looks and is even called Phantom by many in the show, including some of his crewmates. They apparently don’t know or care how much that hurts him. And they certainly don’t know why he never joins them on their time off and is never seen with a date. John is simply too fearful to take a risk. Until Bao breaks down the walls he’s spent years building.
But break them he does—one brick at a time. The cheerful, bouncy, personable acrobat will be featured in a handstand act, and it’s hard for John to imagine Bao staying still long enough to balance. He seems to be in perpetual motion, even when spending most of his free time hanging out with John, trying to befriend the stubborn recluse. It’s fun to watch Bao batter down those walls John has built, and the author does a beautiful job showing us the John who hides behind his mask of indifference.
When Bao is injured, John not only takes on the blame for not assuring his safety, he ends up volunteering to check in on Bao and ensure he gets the rest he needs for a week. And that gives the couple more time to get to know one another.
If I had one wish for this story, it would be that I want it to be longer. There is so much to these two men that didn’t have enough time for further exploration, and so many sweet moments I didn’t get to see because the story came to a close before I was ready to let them go. I hope the author considers more stories in this world. It was a unique setting, with unique and interesting characters, and I recommend it to all who love a sweet MM romance between an unlikely couple.
Cover art by L.C. Chase is beautiful and works for the story.