Merrick Rhys is a young Welsh transplant living in South London and working as a tailor and salesman in an upscale menswear shop. Previously supplementing his income by performing as a male stripper at parties, he quit after growing tired of the pressures and complications. He agrees to do his routine one more time for friends who are hosting a stag party and finds an intense mutual attraction with one of the guests. Unbeknownst to Merrick, that guest happens to be the groom.
James Carré is a successful, middle-aged London-based artist who is about to marry Michael, a man none of his friends think is good for him. James’s fiancé is controlling and demanding and James often finds it difficult to live up to his standards of perfection, but James feels that at his age he’s not likely to find anyone else willing to make a life with him. Certainly not someone as successful and good-looking as Michael.
When James and Merrick chance to meet the day after the stag-do, they hit it off immediately and find they have a great rapport. James questions the purity of his motives in hanging out with Merrick but also finally begins to question seriously if manipulative Michael is right for him. Merrick finds himself falling more and more for James over the course of a week, but also wants to take it slowly due to a past bad relationship. Everything comes to a head the weekend before the wedding when James finally decides he can’t in good conscience stay with Michael any longer, at just the same time Merrick reads the announcement of James and Michael’s wedding in the paper.
Title: James and Merrick
Series: Take a Shot, Book One
Author: Jessica Skye Davies
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 07/05/2021
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Age-gap, arts (visual), friends-to-lovers, hurt/comfort, stripper, engagement, artist, maestro, tailor, London setting, Welsh ancestry
As Saturday evening came around, Merrick also did his best to remind himself that a party like that wasn’t a place to meet guys, not when he was providing the entertainment. But, of course, if any of his friends’ crowd seemed nice…well, maybe there could be further conversation afterward. It had been nearly three years since his disastrous relationship with Seth, and now, as he wasn’t doing the dancing thing anymore, he thought maybe he didn’t have to adhere quite so strictly to his policy of independence. He had always been attracted to the proverbial gentlemen of a certain age, after all.
When Merrick arrived at Nigel and Theo’s place, he was pleased to find he had been correct about the type of mates Nigel and Theo had round—grown, professional-type men who mostly seemed to be getting a laugh out of the notion of having a stripper at a stag night. A rather more laid-back party than the young and perpetually randy crowd one usually encountered at such parties.
There was one guy who Merrick found himself drawn to repeatedly. He was handsome and quiet with an understated sort of masculinity and didn’t look like he was trying to impress anyone. His strong jawline was complemented by warm, observant grey eyes. His gaze followed Merrick’s movements appreciatively but almost shyly.
Merrick was taking a short break before the last half hour of the booking when Nigel asked if he’d be up for doing body shots as his last ‘act’ of the evening.
Merrick hesitated slightly; in his experience, that routine could get a bit sticky—in more ways than one. “Right, yeah, but just regular navel shots,” Merrick assented. “Not the tequila ones with the lick-salt-lime ritual, yeah?”
Nigel pulled a face. “What do we look like, mate? You know you’re the only one here under thirty, don’t you?”
“Doesn’t always feel like it,” Merrick laughed. “You clear a table; I’ll change leather pants for something easier to wash. I’ve got a pair of genuinely hideous aussieBums with cartoon bananas on that Henry sent me on my last birthday—that should go down a treat.”
“It’s cherry vodka we’re using,” Nigel said absently, as if trying to decide whether cherry would pair well with banana-printed pants.
Within a few minutes, the table was cleared and Merrick carefully arranged himself with his arms behind his head. It helped keep his abdomen taut but also elevated his head so he could give a reassuring smile and wink to the guys who seemed shy about sucking vodka out of a nearly nude stranger’s belly button. He knew they were just going along to be good sports. Then again, there were also those who stepped up to the makeshift bar grinning like Cheshire cats and usually stepped away only after an extra lick up his treasure trail. As long as it all stayed good-natured, Merrick didn’t much mind.
The last guy up was the one Merrick had been catching looks from all night. As he positioned himself beside Merrick, the rest of the guests cheered him on, but the tension between the two of them spiked. Merrick could tell the man was well buzzed, but by no means sloppy drunk. He fixed Merrick with that sexy look he’d been giving all night, only by now it was practically smouldering. Merrick knew he was returning the same look as the cold liquor was poured once again into the focus of his navel.
The man leaned in, deliberately keeping eye contact with Merrick as he put his mouth to Merrick’s abdomen and sucked up the vodka. He swallowed it down but didn’t step back straightaway, instead boldly swirling his tongue around a few times. When he looked back up at Merrick, an electric zing filled the space between them as their eyes locked. Merrick didn’t hesitate at all when the man moved from his stomach to his lips.
Merrick could taste the cherry vodka as the man pushed his tongue into Merrick’s mouth, and Merrick felt as though he was the one who had been drinking all evening. He couldn’t remember ever having been kissed quite like that, so sensuously, and he wanted more—a lot more.
Unfortunately, just as the nameless man pulled back a bit, Merrick realised that the partygoers were cheering wildly, and they’d just put on a fairly good show for them. Not that Merrick was at all shy about it, but he knew if things went any further just then, it might border on getting out of hand.
As the guy helped him up off the table with just a soft kiss of thanks to his cheek, Merrick checked the time and found he was done for the night. He thanked the guests for being a good crowd and collected the offered tips as he went to change back into normal attire. He considered Theo’s invitation to stay for the rest of the party, but he decided it was better to get home. Mixing business and pleasure was too often inadvisable, and if he stayed any longer he was rather sure he’d end up asking for that guy’s number.
Once home and in his own shower, Merrick wondered about ringing Theo and Nigel in the morning to ask about the guy. Give it a night to sleep on, he thought, and if he still found himself that interested, it might be worth enquiring. The attraction between them was plain enough, and that kiss had been downright sizzling.
His dreams that night, full of snogging handsome guys with bedroom eyes, had a rather predictable result by morning. He woke hard and aching like a randy teenager, glad he’d at least avoided a wet dream. Merrick decided he really did need to give it a few days before asking any favours about phone numbers; he wanted to put some distance between himself and this fixation. And to get a start on it, he decided to get dressed and go get some breakfast. His favourite place was just a few blocks away and would take his mind off the hot mystery man.
Okay, first, I loved the cover, even though, I will admit I’m not positive what the dragon thingie on there is meant to represent. Possibly a rugby reference. But still it made the cover fun.
I haven’t read anything by Jessica Skye Davies before, but thought I would give this novella a try, since it has one of my favorite tropes: runaway grooms. I am going to give a small spoiler alert…there is some cheating in this book…which can be a no-go with some people, often me in fact, but it was not one MC cheating ON the other MC, but one MC cheating on his intended groom. (That’s the extent of the spoilers). It did not put me off, though.
These two MC’s, with an age gap in excess of 20 years had so much in common, and seemed to have so much joy in each other, it seemed inevitable that they had to get their HEA. Often with an age gap of that range, you will read about daddy kink, etc. There was no mention of that at all. It simply was an age gap that was there, but not really an issue for either the MC’s or even their friends. I really liked that, as often much is made of that issue.
The personalities of these two men complemented each other, chill and yet loved hanging out with their friends, as well as each other. They both loved their job and had crap relationships that left to some serious self esteem issues. However, they helped each other through, even as they went slow. They were never in a hurry.
Michael was a jerk, but I really enjoyed that he got what was coming to him in the end, with a little jab from the two MC’s at the very end of the book. 🙂
Lastly, I’ve never seen what is the equivalent of 3 epilogues in a book, and I am here for it! I loved seeing where they were a year, two years and three years down the road. I could have more of that in every HEA I get, and be a very happy reader.
4 pieces of eye candy
Jessica Skye Davies has been a writer since her first works were “published” in her grandparents’ living room and written in crayon. She’s been a professionally published author since 2011. Jessica lives in Pittsburgh and is active in the community, having served with a local LGBT community center for several years and currently serving with the local Welsh society. She’s often found spending time with friends, attending the symphony, watching hockey, rugby, or soccer, and moonlighting as human pillow/concierge for her official writer’s cat, Squidge.