I’m loving the fact that more and more gender-fluid and gender-queer characters are getting stories of their own, rather than just appearing in the background to add extra colour to other characters’ adventures and romances. The first two romances of that ilk that stood out for me recently were set in the past, but now I’ve finally found a contemporary story – and in a series I’ve been following to boot – one of Annabeth Albert’s Portland Heat books, where owners and employees of various businesses interact and discover how their lives intersect with each other: all with a lot of passion along the way.
Flamboyant wedding planner Kendall Rose is secure in his identity as a gender-queer gay man, but realises that not everyone finds it easy to accept him as he is, without placing restrictions or trying to change him. His work often brings him into contact with the employees of a local bakery, and one of them in particular, Southerner Todd, has caught Kendall’s eye and seems to reciprocate Kendall’s interest in spite of neither appearing to be the other’s usual type. Kendall’s society fundraiser mother has been planning a 1940s dance event, and Kendall is determined to show his ex, who will also be there, just how over their break-up he is: by turning up with a new dance partner and really shining at a previously unfamiliar set of moves.
Right before their series of classes is due to start, Kendall’s dance partner is forced to drop out due to family commitments. Learning that Todd has a natural aptitude for other dance forms, Kendall invites him along instead.
Todd is very keen to please the man he’s been admiring from afar, although his career as a child dance star crashed and burned in the worst possible way, leading to his time as a homeless drug-addict. Now he’s in recovery and living with his grandmother, Todd feels confident enough to try out dancing publically again, and is soon encouraging Kendall to experiment on the dance floor, as well as taking Kendall’s fashion tips to heart.
I greatly appreciated how this book didn’t shy away from either man’s issues, and didn’t try to gloss over the difficulties they face in gaining acceptance from some of those they meet; even in the open and welcoming Portland gay scene there are some who find Kendall a little too out there. I loved their families, especially Todd’s grandmother, and I was especially proud of Kendall when he turned down a booking from a Bridezilla who thought he was going to be part of her Big Day’s entertainment. My one misgiving overall was that the novella format and the need for a happy ending meant that we were catapulted from the inevitable showdown with Kendall’s obnoxious ex at the charity event to a short ‘six months later…’ epilogue with no chance to properly see the relationship grow over an extended time. Still a worthy addition to this charming series, nonetheless.
Newly clean and sober, Todd’s taken a shine to his job at Portland’s most talked about bakery. It’s not just the delicious desserts they sell, but the tasty treats who keep walking through the door. That certainly includes Kendall Rose, a wedding planner with eyes the color of brown sugar and skin to match. Todd doesn’t try to hide his attraction to Kendall’s elegant confidence and unique style, even as he worries about exposing the secrets of his past.
For Kendall, the attention is just part of the anything-goes Portland he’s grown to love. But he’s still looking for that special someone who will embrace all of him—including his gender fluidity. So he takes a chance and asks Todd to be his partner in a dance class leading to a fundraiser. When the music starts and he takes Todd in his arms, Kendall is shocked at how good it feels. Turns out taking the lead for once isn’t a mistake. In fact, it might be time to take the next step and follow his heart…
Read an excerpt.