A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: One man’s struggle with being tied down by what is expected of him versus what he really wants out of life and the man he meets who lends him the strength to break free.
Blurb: Rustin has his Associates Degree and leads a successful life as a retail store manager. He’s dissatisfied, though, and wants more. Afforded an opportunity to complete his education while working as a bartender at a trendy gay club in New Orleans, he leaves his Michigan home behind. He’s barely off the plane when he encounters Dutch, a Texas cowboy who is visiting the city on business. Will the connection they share that weekend lead to a lasting relationship, or are they destined to go their separate ways to pursue their own destinies?
Review: Cocktails, by Jeff Erno is really a story about two men who are both similar and yet distinct. Rustin, who has just found the courage to break free from his parents and their restrictive hold on his life is starting fresh, pursuing his dream of attending college to finish his degree and live a life as an out and proud gay man. The other man, Dutch, struggles to break free of his family’s expectations, the sham engagement to a woman he does not love and the clinging grasp of a mother who is determined to keep him tied to their ranch and a future she has mapped out for him.
Dutch has lost his Aunt Delta and comes into town to settle her estate. He chafes at the lie he is living at home–engaged to a women and tied to a ranch neither of which he loves. He meets Rustin and falls for him almost instantly but flees before anything can develop; sure in the knowledge that his secret engagement will destroy any chances he has with the man. Yet, he comes back over and over again, each time running away from and back to the man, wanting him and yet fearing that he will never be able to break free from the lie he is living. A hot encounter at Dutch’s hotel room leave the men dancing toward a commitment of sorts, but one that cannot ever be, given Dutch’s reluctance to confront his mother and tell her the truth about his sexuality.
During this time, Rustin takes up residence with two delightful friends, Deejay and Tommy, a gay couple who manage a local gay bar. Here is a prime example of what Jeff Erno does best–rich, fully developed secondary characters who are both fun and quirky, compelling to read about and truly sweet in so many ways. This coupled with their own unique brand of D/S relationship provided much needed comic relief as well as a glimpse at a loving and, admittedly, hot committed relationship that left me smiling.
And so these two story lines intertwine as we bounce back and forth between them and see the stark differences in a happy committed couple (Deejay and Tommy) and one that teeters on the edge of disaster (Rustin and Dutch). When that moment comes–when Dutch is forced to confront his potential futures–one with his fiancee or one with Rustin, we feel the pain these two men are forced to contend with in a very real way.
The story however hits some glitches that left me rather puzzled. So let me back up a bit and talk about some of the smaller details.
First, I know that I have to acknowledge that this book is a part of a series and as such, one would expect the introduction of several secondary characters whose story lines were left dangling somewhat. Therefore it didn’t concern me that there were a few characters introduced who seemed to hit the main stage and rest there briefly only to disappear into the action.
Unfortunately these men seemed hooked into the story only by means of a sexual nature–two being one night stands for both the main characters respectively. In fact, just about everyone in this book was having or hoping to have sex in some form or fashion. Now call me old-fashioned but I would like to think that we can have male characters who are minus a raging libido in our m/m erotic romance novels–which is what this novella is touted as on the publishers shelf. Why couldn’t Rustin meet the next door neighbor and simply chat about his confusion over why Dutch had chosen to run away? Why did it have to end in mind blowing sex?
And what about Dutch? He comes into town to settle the estate of his beloved Aunt Delta and the first thing he does is hook up with a dancer at a gay bar? I mean I do understand that he was deeply closeted at home and that he was using this trip as a way to explore his sexuality but this act of near desperation made me wonder just how deeply this man could commit to anyone. The slide into insta-love with Rustin was nice–it was–but it was tripped up by equally sporadic sexual encounters with near strangers on both Rustin and Dutch’s part.
The story felt disjointed at times. As if there was a real need to set up the next installment, which left this current one bouncing around hitting on the rapid introduction of secondary characters and rushing the development of the relationship between Dutch and Rustin. And that was the problem in a nutshell–the “rushed” feel to the entire novella–I felt myself trying to keep up and then shaking my head at the convenience of the various plot pieces.
I think that Jeff Erno is a really solid writer. He tells a good story and much of his work is usually a 4 or 5 star adventure for me. This little story, however, was given a bit of a short shrift and the main characters in particular deserved more time on the page. I felt for Dutch–his conflict–his “trapped” feeling. I applauded Rustin’s courage at leaving everything he had ever known to start fresh–live the life he wanted to, as a gay man. I simply needed more time to explore this relationship. I needed to see the transition that Dutch made from closeted to openly gay develop a bit more slowly.
Cocktails by Jeff Erno was a nice story, but I can’t help thinking with the right amount of time and a bit slower pace that it could have been a great story.