Title: The Mating of Michael
Author: Eli Easton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 5/5 Smooches
Sex in Seattle: Book Three
Everyone admires Michael Lamont for being a nurse, but his part-time work as a gay sex surrogate not only raises eyebrows, it's cost him relationships. Michael is small, beautiful, and dedicated to working with people who need him. But what he really wants is a love of his own. He spends most of his time reading science fiction, especially books written by his favorite author and long-time crush, the mysteriously reclusive J.C. Guise.
James Gallway’s life is slowly but inexorably sliding downhill. He wrote a best-selling science fiction novel at the tender age of eighteen, while bedridden with complications of polio. But by twenty-eight, he's lost his inspiration and his will to live. His sales from his J.C. Guise books have been in decline for years. Wheelchair bound, James has isolated himself, convinced he is unlovable. When he is forced to do a book signing and meets Michael Lamont, he can’t believe a guy who looks like Michael could be interested in a man like him.
Michael and James are made for each other. But they must let go of stubbornness to see that life finds a way and love has no limitations.
“Who was the grimacing man in the photo, being silly, goofing off with a friend? He did not recognize that man as James Gallway, the acerbic recluse. The tectonic plates in his life were shifting, and he couldn’t see where it would end—whether a new paradise lay on the other side or whether the landscape of his life would be buried like Atlantis, under the waves of disaster.”
James Gallway has very few friends. A science fiction writer by trade, he is reclusive, prickly and wary of letting down his guard in front of anyone. His agent is trying to get James to be more visible by doing book signings and attending an awards event. James is not happy about being in the public eye and mingling with fans and fellow authors. He is self-conscious about his appearance and his being wheelchair-bound. Although he is not eager to accept or admit it, he also is lonely.
Michael Lamont is outgoing, nurturing, compassionate, passionate and seems to get along with most people. He is a homecare health worker and a sex surrogate. Despite all of the people in his life, who clearly love him, he, too, is lonely. Love seems like an elusive dream for him, just out of his reach.
In this third book in the Sex in Seattle series, Eli Easton grabs ahold of readers and doesn’t let go. Although readers have met Michael in the first two books of the series – The Trouble with Tony and The Enlightenment of Daniel – it is in this third book that Michael’s character jumps off of the pages straight into readers’ hearts.
Michael is a born nurturer. It is hard not to fall in love with his character. He is gentle, loving and nonjudgmental. Michael’s compassion and caring nature seem genuine, but James has his walls firmly in place, and he rejects Michael’s advances. Their first encounter at the book signing is charming, but it is Michael’s realization that his stalking of James at the pool has resulted in James no longer swimming that seals the reader’s love of Michael’s character.
“You stopped going to the pool!” Michael said in the sort of tone one might use to say “You killed my dog!” or “You cheated on me!”
James was momentarily too surprised to react. Then it sank in that Michael Lamont was standing on his front doorstep—the guy he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about, the guy he’d blown off so rudely and had since regretted. He wasn’t sure if he should be thrilled or freaked out, but thrilled seemed to be winning by a wide margin.
James drove his wheelchair back a foot. “Please. You have me on tenterhooks. Do come in.” He stuffed down any trace of interest, using his droll voice.
“I….” Michael hesitated. “No, I really don’t want to invade your private space. I just came to say—”
“Come in. It’s cold with the door open.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Michael looked abashed. He stepped inside and closed the door. “Look, I didn’t come here to throw myself at you again. I came because you stopped going to the pool! That is so wrong. And I’m so upset that you did that. And that I did that. It’s really good for you to go to the pool!”
James’s mouth was hanging open. He snapped it shut, feeling inexplicable mirth bubbling up inside him at the absolute absurdity of the situation.
He swallowed it down and glowered. “How is that any of your business?”
“Because it’s my fault!” Michael said in frustration. “I stalked you at the pool, and now you stopped going! I just came here to tell you that I won’t go there again. I promise. But I can’t stand that I took that away from you. The guy at the desk said you’d been going there daily for years. If I swear that I won’t go there again, will you go back? Please?” Michael looked at him beseechingly.
It was James’s turn to talk, but he was busy drinking in Michael’s appearance. Geez, he looked better than James’s very active and overexercised imagination had remembered. He was wearing a light jacket over a rust-colored embroidered tunic shirt that looked like J.Crew and India had had a 60s love child. Very skinny jeans hugged his slender thighs. His dark hair fell swoopingly over one brow as he regarded James, apparently waiting anxiously for a verdict.
It was sort of sweet that he cared so much, really. In a strange, stalkerish way. “I’ll go back,” James said at last.
Michael looked relieved. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. “Good. Because I know you probably just think I’m weird, but I really admire you, and if I screwed things up for you, I’d never forgive myself.”
James and Michael seem like a perfect match for each other, although James clearly cannot see this as well as the reader can. Michael’s openness seems a direct contrast to James’ reclusiveness and self-loathing. James doesn’t think anyone could be interested in him because of his disability. He is reclusive, lonely and has been burned in the one romantic relationship in which he was involved.
He sat there, suffused with a numbing blackness. The truth was, he’d been going downhill for a few years—bouts of depression, having to force himself to write, uninspired, unhappy. Broke. Lonely. His discouragement over his reviews and sales had sapped his confidence and made his writing even more stilted, mechanical and forced rather than swept out on a wave of passion. He’d accumulated a ten thousand dollar credit card bill just trying to keep afloat. And he’d been isolating himself too much. That was why he’d stuck with dating Chris, even though nothing about it had felt right, until finally Chris dumped him. James was pathetic, a twenty-nine-year-old virgin with no family and a handful of casual friends. He was tired of living alone, struggling on through life alone. He was tired of seeing other couples like Devon and Allison, while he himself was unloved, untouched.
Michael is sweet, caring and uninhibited. He is the opposite of James in many ways. Despite his ease with getting to know other people though, Michael has been unlucky in love. When he finds out his favorite science fiction author is doing a book signing, he drops everything to go see him.
It was hard to explain to anyone what J.C. Guise meant to him. Michael was sixteen when he’d read Troubadour Turncoat, a novel in which a young medic on a Federation starship discovered that the Federation was using biological weapons against civilians. The medic single-handedly brought them to their knees through sheer determination, a fierce sense of right, compassion, and moral honor.
It was a book that changed Michael’s life, cementing his decision to follow his mother’s footsteps into medicine and become an R.N. The way J.C. wrote Acton Halliway, with his deep sense of empathy and his absolute core of right and wrong, had shifted something inside Michael. Maybe it was silly to say you were who you were thanks to a science fiction novel, but it was true. It wasn’t that the book created Michael’s personality, but it had plucked certain attributes he already had, making them resonate at the precise time in his life when he was trying to figure out who he was.
And then there was the small matter of his crush. When Michael got the hardback of Troubadour Turncoat from the library, the back inside flap had an author photo. To Michael’s knowledge, it was the only photo ever acknowledged to be of J.C. Guise. It wasn’t a very good photo, being about an inch square and one of those artsy black-and-whites where the focus was a little fuzzy.
It was a candid shot of J.C.’s face as he looked off to the left, smiling. But the photo was big enough — big enough to see that his hair was long and dark and his face was young, square, strongly featured, and mysteriously attractive. The brief bio beneath the photo said that J.C. Guise wrote the bestseller Troubadour Turncoat at the age of eighteen and was considered a science fiction prodigy.
Michael had looked at the book’s publishing date and figured out that J.C. Guise was only a few years older than Michael himself—nearly his own age, cute, and so fucking brilliant. A serious fanboy crush had begun right then, aimed at that little one inch square of a face.
Although Michael is proud of being a sex surrogate and he loves his job, he is afraid to tell James about it. Quitting seems like a logical choice to Michael, but his boss encourages him to speak to James first. Michael is not sure James will understand, so instead of telling him about the job, he keeps it a secret, which, of course, turns out to be a colossal mistake.
Michael loved being a sex surrogate. It felt entirely natural to him. He’d graduated from nursing school at twenty-one and did an internship with a VA hospital in Seattle. A few of the patients there were young, just recovering from injury or PTSD. One in particular, a sweet boy named Wayne, had lost a leg and was severely depressed. Michael was fairly certain Wayne was gay, and he was so devastated by his injury. Sometimes, Wayne would look at Michael, then look away. There was pure need in that look, a need so deep it ran red with blood. Michael had a strong urge to hold Wayne, to comfort him, to, yes, give him relief in any way that he could. Instinctively, he sensed that Wayne needed physical contact, needed someone to make him feel like a man, to remind him that being alive meant the possibility of great pleasure, not just pain.
Michael is sweet and his attitude is in direct contrast to James’ pessimistic views of life. Although James’ actions seem a bit harsh at times, Easton has provided such a detailed background story for him that readers cannot help but empathize with him. The story of James’ childhood is tragic. His writing seems to serve as a type of therapy for him. He does not realize how much it also serves that aspect to his readers, especially Michael.
Easton has created a wonderful group of characters – professionals and misfits – in the Sex in Seattle series. However, it is with The Mating of Michael that Easton’s talent really shines through. It is not just the main characters who readers will gravitate to: Tommy, Lem, Mrs. Chelsey and Marnie are great additions to this book and help keep the plot intriguing and the smiles flowing. Not only do these minor characters supply depth to the story and Michael’s character, but they also provide humor. The story of Lamb is a great addition to the story and helps readers understand more of James’ thoughts.
Although The Mating of Michael can be read as a standalone novel, the book has more depth if the other books in the series are read first. Easton is a phenomenal storyteller, and she has an engaging writing style incorporating realism, humor and angst. You can read about Easton’s inspiration for this series and characters here.
Thank you Eli Easton and Dreamspinner Press for providing a review copy of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.