Friday, November 04, 2011

How could I resist? HINT: I couldn't (part 1)

So you may remember that a couple years ago I did a four part review of the book Off World by Stephanie Vaughan (spoiler: it was awful). You may remember that I didn't like. At all. Also, I drank a lot. It was not a good book for my liver.

Anyway, I may have mentioned at the end of the review/drunken sobbing that there was a sequel and that I would read and review it if someone paid me to. Well, no one did, but my friend, who apparently loves watching me rage and/or get drunk, bought me a copy of that book. Since I did not give Stephanie Vaughan my money, I get to review it (or, more likely, bitterly snark about it).

The book is Off World 2: Sanctuary, and is less a sequel and more a second book in the series. And it's surprisingly not horrible. I know, I know, I'm shocked too. Don't get me wrong, it's not even close to being a great book, much less a good one, but it is light years better than the first one, mainly because the main characters are actually likable and Zombie Vaughan doesn't really attempt a plot, which, let's be honest, she is awful at.

So basically, this review is probably going to follow the format of the first, in which I take it chapter by chapter, not because it is a train wreck of epic proportions, but because I like to go in depth when I mock things. Also, since I have the book on my nook, I will be including the notes I wrote instead of any text messages. Oh, and if anyone is wondering why I refer to Stephanie Vaughan as Zombie Vaughan, it's because in the first book she foreshadowed a frankly ridiculous plot development that I said if she went through with she would be dead to me. She did and so she is still dead to me. Now, let's get started.

To recap the first book: there was an incomprehensible plot, heroes were horrible human beings, and there was a lot of gay sex. The end.

That's not enough? Fine. So the background you need for this book is that Caleb, formerly Our Dear Fucking Hero, went chasing after and meeting up with Sarhaan and his group of eugenically engineered soldiers, half of who are implausibly gay. Sarhaan and his merry band of soldiers zombie Vaughan doesn't bother giving names and/or personalities to, stole the ship Vigilante and fled Republic/an Earth (which may or may not be a planet wide government), where being homosexual (which in the context of the book is only men, as lesbians are never mentioned ever) is punishable by death. Sarhaan and the others were being framed for the murder of several prostitutes for reasons never made clear, and Caleb's dead fag hag, Daphne, was murdered as she investigated, prompting him to ditch earth for the failgenes soldiers.

Sarhaan and Caleb fuck a lot and fall in love, and frankly two people as horrible as them deserve each other. Along the way we meet D'abu, the only useful person in the entire book, and Alex, who solved the "plot" because he overheard a conversation when he worked as a prostitute at Earthly Pleasures, where he met Sarhaan and the implausibly named Xai Kuwicha, Sarhaan's second in command. This is their story (chun chun).

ETA: Because I'm an idiot, I did not include this when it was originally posted so let me add now:
Trigger Warning: non-graphic allusion and discussion of rape and sexual assault . My apologies for taking so long to add that.

Chapter One
In which our heroes are introduced and a plot worthy of any romcom is set in motion.

This is the first sentence: "D'abu lifted his gaze over the rim of his mug to the man writhing onstage, another man's clenched first inserted wrist-deep in his ass, and stifled a yawn."

This is the note I added: "Fuck my life."

That's right folks, we are back at Durty Nelly's, the bar that hosts live sex shows on the asteroid Dorados (which is like a mall on an asteroid) for all the independent gay asteroid miners (yeah, don't bother trying to understand that). I hate everything Zombie Vaughan chooses to be.

We do learn that Nelly's has various rooms, where presumably the endangered heterosexuals lurk, and there are theme nights. I crack open my first bottle of vodka.

Alex comes up and flirts with D'abu, who apparently is chilling on Dorados while the rest of the crew is off basically being the crew from Firefly, only gayer and less charming and a million times dumber. D'abu is bored with Nelly's shows because he hangs out there every night like a creeper. Oh, D'abu, you know I love you because you call Caleb, Our Former Dear Fucking Hero, on his bullshit, but seriously, don't be that guy. D'abu ignores all the fisting going on to stare at Alex, who wears all black clothes that covers him from neck down, unusual at Nelly's. I'm going to give D'abu the benefit of the doubt and say he doesn't mean to be the guy who leers at women and men and makes them uncomfortable, but, c'mon, he is totally that dude right now.

As Alex is busy serving drinks, D'abu gets bored of being a creeper and wanders to another room. A wild heterosexual appears! D'abu lurks in the back and does nothing! It's super effective!

Yup, D'abu goes to one of the het shows where we learn he hasn't been to one in so long he "wasn't sure if he even remembered how the other half did it." Yes, truly vaginas are mysteries wrapped in enigmas wrapped in cooties. Anyway, this room, the Bird Cage, is in the style of a "pre-Republic Old west" saloon. I think Zombie Vaughan finally decided on using "Republic" consistently instead of switching between that and "Republican," which was one of my many pet peeves of the last book.

Also, since it's "pre-Republic" does that finally mean the Republic is a planet wide government? Zombie Vaughan is terrible at world building. Actually, she's terrible at writing, period, but the world building was the worst.

Anyway, Reesa, a smoking hot waitress, comes by and flirts while D'abu orders a drink. This is boring, but is basically an excuse for Zombie Vaughan to write what she thinks is a bordello. Look, I am not one to disparage sex workers because they do work and are people and the way our culture treats them--either they're whores and therefore deserving of whatever horrible thing happens to them, hookers with a heart of gold, or women who have been assaulted in the past and are therefore broken things with no self-esteem--is offensive and damaging bullshit. But instead of trying to portray sex workers as people, Zombie Vaughan writes them as this exotic and fetishistic subculture that attempts to be shocking and instead ends up, at best, uncomfortable, and at worst some kind of knock off Eyes Wide Shut nonsense.

Anyway, since I am a nitpicker of the highest order, this annoyed the crap out of me: "The guy in the chair being serviced by the latex maid looked more Sherlock Holmes than Wilde West gentleman."

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For fuck's sake. Zombie Vaughan, what do you mean by "Sherlock Holmes?" Sherlock Holmes is a work of literary fiction, not an aesthetic. So are you referring to Victorian England and the related fashions that Sherlock Holmes takes place in? Do you mean one of the specific adaptations? "Wilde West" is a vague term, but at least gets the point across, while Sherlock Holmes is essentially meaningless. I'm pretty sure Zombie Vaughan is referencing Sherlock Holmes via the 2009 Guy Richie movie, which is not historically accurate and raises the question of if it's still popular in the future that D'abu would know it, and also fuck you, Zombie Vaughan.

I know I said this book wasn't horrible, but that doesn't mean Zombie Vaughan doesn't manage to piss me off.

After reaffirming his homosexuality and watching some guy motorboat a worker's breasts, D'abu escapes the land of traumatizing heterosexuality (seriously, considering all the things she has happen in the live gay sex shows, Vaughan makes even the tamest of kinks in the het room seem weird and gross. Also, there are apparently no lesbians in the future) back to the safety of the Men room in time for some double penetration.

God, it's only been eight pages since this chapter started but it feels like years.

You know what? Let's take a moment to talk about the women in these books, or the distinct lack of them. In the first book the only woman mentioned was Daphne, who was killed before the events take place. The only things we know about her was that she was a "forensics geeks" and was obsessed with helping Caleb find a boyfriend. That's it. We don't know why she was looking into the murders or what she looked like or what was her favorite color or if she was in a relationship or was dating or wanted to date OR ANYTHING ABOUT HER AT ALL. Everything we know about her is all in relation to Caleb.

And in this book there is a mention of a woman from D'abu's past and the brief mention of the women working at Nelly's, who are sex workers. There are no women in D'abu's unit. Neither D'abu nor Alex have female friends. Besides Reesa and the woman from D'abu's past, there are no other named women in the book and, suffice to say, there is no scene, not even a couple of lines, where two women talk to each other. The two books fail the Bechdel test so hard.

Look, I understand the books are focused on relationships between gay men (bisexuals also don't exist, actually beyond the G the rest of LGBTQ might as well be mythical ), but Vaughan ignores half the population. We know Republic Earth is virulently anti-gay, but there's nothing about the standing of women. I suspect Republic Earth is also anti-woman, but we don't know because Vaughan does not bother to tell us. Hell, we don't even know if Durty Nelly's has a room for queer women. Just because you're writing a romantic novel about two men in love does not give you license to forget that women, especially queer women, exist. By leaving them out you appear pretty damn sexist.

Now back to your regular scheduled snark.

Anyway, D'abu sees Alex hunched in on himself while talking to Joe Sotheran, the part-owner of Nelly's. Both of them were looking at some blond dude lounging against a pillar. The dude's expression has D'abu heading for Alex, who has a "blank emotionless look in [his] eye's" that worries D'abu.

Oh look, Zombie Vaughan has decided to stick with the absolutely not awkward or irritating choice to switch povs mid chapter. Fantastic.

Alex is freaking out while staring at the blond dude who"he'd thought he never see again. Prayed devoutly. Hoped like hell he wouldn't. Cried buckets over." I think the plot is about to start rolling. Strap in, everyone.

The dude is introduced as Nick. Or more accurately: "Nick. Long time, no fuck over."

Okay, Alex, I think we may get along.

Nick asks if Alex is still mad and Alex says he's not and that he barely remembers it, but that might just be all the drugs they gave Alex.

So Nick has something to discuss with Joe, and Joe says he can talk about it in front of Alex, as Alex is part of the family. Alex thinks, "One of the family? Dear God. Had the Borgias begun adopting?"

Okay, the got a small laugh out of me.

Nick is the new part owner of Nelly's. Alex is not happy about that. Nick wants to fix things with Alex and get into his pants. Alex wants him to die in a fire. Nick also says Alex needs to perform. Because rape victims like nothing better than to perform live sex acts in front of complete strangers!

Alex starts to have an anxiety attack and spots D'abu. (Note: D'abu's first name is Sandy, and after this chapter that's what he's referred to in the text. I will not do that just because). We get a description of D'abu: tall, broad, thick, with short hair and tribal tattoos and "coppery-brown skin." I give Zombie Vaughan a lot of shit, but I do commend her for including characters of color in her main romantic pairings.

Alex calls D'abu baby and acts like he and D'abu are a couple. D'abu is startled but rolls with it to keep Joe and Nick at bay. D'abu wraps an arm around Alex's waist and Alex is distinctly uncomfortable with that touch. I'm not saying Zombie Vaughan is going to deftly handle the recovery of a rape victim, but at least she's not glossing over it as she did with Caleb being tortured in the last book (god, still so much hate for that).

Outside, Alex leans over and quietly tries not to hyperventilate. D'abu is concerned and picks up on the cue that Alex does not want to be touched. Alex apologizes for springing the fake boyfriend on D'abu, who just says they should get out of there while playing up the boyfriend front. As they take a walk, Alex thinks about how terrifying and awful spiders are. I am right there with you, Alex. Spiders are the worst. Zombie Vaughan is totally showing that she is to a writer by using Alex's fear of spiders as a metaphor. No one is fooled by this.

The chapter ends with Alex placing a hand on Sandy's arm, which is sort of a big deal for him.

I expect some of you out there are waiting me for to call Vaughan out for the whole pretending to be boyfriends thing, but to be honest I'm willing to give her a pass on this. Look, pretending to be boyfriends trope is a guilty pleasure of mine. I'm not saying every book and show should use it all the time, but it's a trope that in the right context I enjoy.

Don't worry; there's plenty of other shit going in this book I will capslock rage over. Just be patient.

Chapter Two
In which there is exposition and not much else

To be fair, unlike the last book, Vaughan doesn't unceasingly beat us over the head with the exposition anvil. The exposition here is worked in, if not subtly, at least tolerably.

The chapter opens with this: "One hand linked cautiously through his shouldn't have felt so damned good, and as sure as hell shouldn't be turning Sandy on." This sets a precedent for the rest of the book where Alex just breathes and arouses D'abu the perpetually turned on. It gets real old real fast.

Alex asks whether D'abu is going to ask what the hell went on back there. D'abu says he won't unless Alex wants him to. It's a really nice character note that D'abu respects Alex's boundaries and privacy, especially compared to Sarhaan, who got all angry and harassed Caleb when he didn't mention his super sailor hacking skills. Man, Sarhaan sucks. Unfortunately, Zombie Vaughan immediately undercuts this with this: "[D'abu] hadn't watched over Alex almost nightly for nearly three months without picking up a few clues." Way to be a creepy stalker, D'abu.

In my last review, I spent a paragraph wondering just what the fuck Dorados was. Was it a station built on an asteroid? Was it the asteroid itself? Well, we got our answer now. Basically, Dorados is a hollowed-out asteroid where everything was built into. So there's that. Sure, it's a book late but at least some of the details of this universe are finally being ironed out.

Alex finally says he didn't expect to meet someone from "back before." D'abu knows some scant background info on Alex that he picked up from Sarhaan and Kai, so he asks if Alex knew Nick from back at Earthly Delights (another nitpicky thing, but fucking Zombie Vaughan keeps unnecessarily italicization for the names of places, like Nelly's and Earthly Delights. Stop it, Zombie Vaughan.)

Okay, background info, people: so Alex worked at Earthly Delights, where high government officials could go have sex with men consequence free, as a companion, which basically means prostitute. In the last book we learned all the companions were drugged until "they couldn't say no. They didn't even want to." Which meant that Alex and the others were raped countless times. Also, and this is a really good point to remember, that when he was assigned to Sarhaan and Kai Xuwicha, no matter how much they claimed to care for him, they also raped Alex because he could not give consent.

Also, they tried to get Alex out but failed spectacularly and Alex was then tortured to warn them off. Also, once Sarhaan learned Alex was at Nelly's he did not at all try to get Alex out of his contract like he did with Caleb but left the traumatized rape victim to work in a sex club. But he's still the good guy, so it's okay.

Alex and D'abu joke about how long it's been since Alex was taken to Earthly Delights and how old that makes him. It's a nice touch of dark humor that I didn't think Zombie Vaughan was capable of. Then D'abu immediately starts perving on Alex's mouth. It's like every time Zombie Vaughan has a nice moment between Alex and D'abu, she has to go and ruin it with D'abu being creepy.

So there's this description: "With one raised eyebrow, Alex could convey skepticism dryer than the surface of Mars," which is a character trait that is no way supported by the text. The closest we see to this is Alex being super bitchy to his co-workers, but no dry skepticism. Zombie Vaughan sure does love telling over showing.

So after wandering aimlessly, D'abu and Alex head to the Vigilante Security Services, Inc. offices. VSS, Inc. is the company Sarhaan and the rest started. Alex says he's never been there before, and once again reinforces the fact Sarhaan and Kai Xuwicha are raging assholes.

So in the last book Sarhaan said he and Kai Xuwicha were doing their best for Alex, who they once had feelings for. Just to be clear: their best was not helping the rape victim out of his contract with Sotheran, even though Sarhaan did that exact same thing for Caleb, and it also apparently doesn't include actually talking to Alex or inviting him over to the offices or in any shape way or form actually interacting with him. So apparently their best is asking their co-worker to check occasionally to make sure Alex is still alive. Such assholes.

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Once inside there is meaningless small talk and a mention of Caleb. Even a passing comment about him makes me want to set him on fire I hate him that much. After Alex finally calms down, D'abu asks him how far Alex is willing to take the boyfriend charade.

The pov abruptly shifts to Alex. Seriously, I cannot stress how annoying these changes mid-chapter are. Alex thinks about how awesome and loyal D'abu is, which, compared to fucking Sarhaan, D'abu is like Superman. While looking at D'abu's muscles, Alex is triggered to one of his assaults. Again, while it's not great, at least Zombie Vaughan is attempting to portray Alex having PTSD. Unfortunately, later on the PTSD is pretty much abandoned in the face of the sex.

It's revealed that Nick and Alex's relationship was discovered and in order to save himself, Nick had turned Alex over to Earthly Delights and all the subsquent sexual assault. You'd think this would make Nick the villain of the novel but (SPOILER!) he's not. Yeah, it's weird.

D'abu agrees to continue to pretend to be Alex's boyfriend. Alex is surprised and then suspicious, asking what's in it for D'abu. D'abu says nothing and that he wants to help Alex. Alex asks if D'abu wants sexual favors in return. D'abu says no and repeats that he wants to help out a friend.

Alex thinks that a having a boyfriend will stop Joe from pressuring him to perform. I'm not sure how that will stop Joe from being all "have sex in front of strangers!" but I guess magic is involved or something. Alex doesn't know if he'll be able to handle any touching and kissing he and D'abu will have to do keep up the boyfriend charade, but remembers he already kissed D'abu and realizes he might be able to go through with it.

Alex says he has issues, which D'abu acknowledges and says they can work around. It's like Zombie Vaughan is actually writing them as adults. Weird!

D'abu suggests they get some sleep and continue to hash out the pretend boyfriend thing in the morning. Alex thinks D'abu is too good to be true for about three pages, which is two and half pages too long. Once again, Zombie Vaughan takes something that would be a nice moment and ruins it. It's like her superpower.

Alex then tries to remember if D'abu ever took advantage of the theme rooms Nelly's provides. He did, three separate times with three different employees. I have no idea why this is important or noteworthy. Then we move on to Zombie Vaughan's other favorite theme: watching the object of affection masturbate. Only this time it's Alex wondering if D'abu is masturbating in the other room. Charming.

The chapter ends on that note. Yeah.

Chapter Three
In which our heroes make out, Alex is a bitch, and there's introspection

The chapter opens with D'abu and Alex having breakfast. Because this is Zombie Vaughan, there's a bit of what the fuck going on. For example, they're eating a type of pastry called a beignet--"they're Southern. I got hooked on 'em when we were stationed in Alaska." I seriously read those lines several time trying to figure ouw that the fuck they mean. So they're from the Southern part of Alaska? I mean, Alaska's not considered the south. Plus, beignet is a French word. Beignets are basically fried dough. I'm not saying Alaska doesn't have fried dough, but the way it's written makes it sound as if it's some sort of regional specialty. I know I'm putting way to much thought into this, but it's one of those little details Zombie Vaughan throws out that doesn't make any sense and, like the Lewis Black joke, gives me a brain anuerysm.

No matter what other bullshittery he pulls from here on out, I will always love Alex for saying, "I'm sure that statement makes sense in some alternate universe somewhere." My notes here say "Oh, bb, let me love you."

There's some more small talk where it's revealed that Alex still has cravings for drugs, the names of which I can't be bothered to look up. D'abu says that if it ever gets bad and Alex thinks about using again D'abu wants to help. This is more concern then Sarhaan has ever shown Caleb. Alex says D'abu doesn't have to help him and we go through this routine for about the ninth time. We have about another eighty-seven more reiterations of this conversation to look forward to.

D'abu says of course he's going to help and asks how they're going to go about pretending to be boyfriends. Holding Alex's hand makes D'abu all hot and bothered and he wonders how he's supposed to hold Alex and kiss him without pushing for more. I still maintain that D'abu's reactions are out of porprotion, but at least he's aware enough to keep himself in check.

Alex acts all surprised that D'abu is going through with the plan. Oh for fuck's sake, Alex come to terms with this because if we have to go through this again, I will want to punch you. And I don't want to start hating you, okay? D'abu starts the pretend boyfriend conversation rolling by asking how long they've been together so they can get their story straight. Alex struggles with holding D'abu's hand, but slowly starts to let himself touch D'abu. D'abu is patient and understanding. They are sweet, in their own way.

After Alex gets comfortable with the hand holding, D'abu asks if it's okay if he kisses him. Alex says yes. What follows is maybe some of Zombie Vaughan's best writing. One of the many, so many problems I had with Off World was that the sex scenes were so boring. The writing was very mechanical, very"he touched this and then that and then they came." That kind of written porn is boring. Since we have no visual, written porn needs to be deeper, more sensual. That, and Zombie Vaughan's attempts at dirty talk is just so sad.

The kiss Zombie Vaughan writes about is slow and rich in description and, if I dare say so, actually hot. Too bad she can't keep it up for long and the eventual porn is, again, so damn boring.

Alex gets spooked and backs off, apologizing. D'abu says there's nothing to be sorry for. I continue to like D'abu when he's not being a creepster.

Alex asks D'abu if there's anything he's done that he could never forgive himself for. D'abu thinks about all the peace keeping missions his unit was sent on and all the people he killed, persumably this includes the great Inuit massacre of aught 8. D'abu thinks he can't talk about it with someone who wasn't there and lies to Alex and says there isn't.

We switch to Alex's pov. Alex is working his shift at Nelly's and keep's screwing up the drink orders. Shae, one of the new servers, asks Alex's to fix the order and Alex is really bitchy and says to tell the customer it's not the drink he ordered but the one he needs. Zombie Vaughan, if this is you attempt to show Alex's skepticism, you're failing. Shae's all, "What crawled up your ass and died? You made the mistake and I asked politely for you to fix it."
Alex realizes he's being an asshole and apologizes. Nick, who was lurking at the bar, comments that Alex is still a charmer. Nick apologizes again for, you know, sending Alex off to be raped multiple times. We rehash the whole bit where Nick feels bad and wants in Alex's pants and Alex still wants him to die in a fire. Nothing new here so let's move along.

We then cut to Alex heading home at the end of his shift. Apparently he lives in one of the tiny apartments Nelly's rents out to their employees as they look for more permanent housing. Say what you will about the whole bordello thing, Nelly's is actually more helpful than like all my employers.

Anyway, we get some more background on Alex. Apparently he's been on Dorados for six months. I thought it was longer, but fine, whatever. He's been clean that entire time and is making baby steps in taking back control of his life, like arranging his apartment how he likes or what clothes to buy. It's shit like this that make me believe that somewhere beneath the gratuitous boring sex scenes and inability to have a coherent plot or write a likable lead couple maybe lurks a decent writer deep down, because Zombie Vaughan actually took the time to include little details how being able to buy his own clothes is a huge deal for Alex. We don't know how long he was at Earthly Delights, but it was a substantial chunk of time and that he was pretty young when Nick fucked him over. So during a lot of his formative years he was in a place where he had no control over his body or his life, where he didn't even get to pick out his own clothes or what to cook for dinner or even what sort of sheets to buy. So here he is, on his own, and actually deciding that, no, maybe he wants the couch on the other side of the room is a big fucking deal. And, brace yourself, I'm really glad that Zombie Vaughan took the time to include this.

This doesn't excuse any of the bullshit she later pulls, but let's take what we can get.

Alex reflects that letting D'abu touch him and kiss him is a big deal. Hey, Zombie Vaughan, remember what I just praised you for? Yeah, if you REPEAT IT EVERY TWO PAGES it loses what impact it has. Please cut that shit out.

Alex moves to thinking about how in the beginning he worked D'abu over like any other customer, with the flirting and getting him to buy the more expensive drinks. I have no problem wiht this, because, hey, Alex needs to make a living and it's not like he's got many skills or a degree in anything. Over time his and D'abu relationship went from professional to a more personal friendship. It's nice to know there is a nice basis for their eventual relationship, unlike Sarhaan and Caleb who fucked around and decided they were Meant To Be. I really hate them.

Anyway, D'abu never flirted back until now, and Alex thinks it's because of the pretend boyfriend thing, but what if it isn't? Alex comes to the conclusion that either D'abu was faking it, which means that level of acting was dangerous and he couldn't trust D'abu, or he wasn't and he wanted Alex. Both options frighten him. Alex is pretty damanged, bless his little soul.

Chapter Four
In which we're back at Nelly's, Alex is still being a bitch, there's some making out and nothing really happens

One of my bigger complaints (and I had so many) with Off World was the pacing and how absolutely nothing happened in the book. Even the "plot" got wrapped up off screen and with absolutely no effort from Sarhaan or Caleb.

Off World 2 doesn't have the same problem. It is a slower, much more evenly paced novel. There is no conspiracy plot to solve or world building to establish (which are two things Zombie Vaughan totally failed at), just a slow burn romance. Just to be clear, I have absolutely no problem withe the slow pace, but it does make me recapping events harder. I feel so repetitive when I type "They think" or "they reflect" and, let's be honest, if D'abu and Alex are going to be grown ups about their relationship and deal with Alex's many understandable issues it really makes it hard for me to find things to snark about. It's all about me, is what I'm saying.

But don't worry. I will find a way to carry on.

D'abu is back at Nelly's. Again. Some more. If there's another fisting scene I'm driving to Zombie Vaughan's house and doing this:

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Shae is D'abu's server. Shae blatantly checks D'abu out and D'abu would be all over that if it weren't for his uncontrollable lust for Alex. D'abu goes back to staring at Alex intently like a creepster and thinking how no one studies Alex as closely as him. It's a good think Alex thinks you're pretty, D'abu, because otherwise he might take a restraining order out against you.

So Alex catches D'abu's gaze and licks his lips. This is D'abu's response: "Now D'abu spread is legs a bit to accommodate the swelling in his paints--in response to a look. One simple look and he was getting hard. Good God." On the plus side, at least D'abu is aware of how creepy he's being.

Alex gets called away by another waiter and cuts off D'abu's intent to rush over to presumably grope him, only in a sweet way. Shae returns with his drink and when D'abu attempts to pay for it is informed that Alex took care of it. This pisses D'abu off for some reason and he snaps at Shae and forces him to take the card. Shae is all "whatever, asshat," and escapes D'abu's sulking.

So apparently D'abu is angry that Alex is buying him drinks because Alex has no money. Alex had shown up on Dorados with the clothes on his back and a drug addiction and nothing else. He managed to survive by promising future labor to Joe Sotheran. The only reason his pile of debt isn't double its size is because Sarhaan and Kai worked behind the scenes to get it lowered, so I guess they are sort of looking out for Alex in the laziest way possible.

This does raise the question of why Sarhaan and the still spacey named Kai Xuwicha just didn't give Alex a goddamned job. Hell, they hired Caleb and he's useless. There's no way they didn't know that Alex wasn't traumatized from his years of being pimped out to the highest payer, and, once again, working at a sex club is not conductive to his recovery. They are truly horrible.

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So D'abu decides the best way to talk to Alex about the debt I'm pretty sure Alex wants to keep confidential and the fact that D'abu is not comfortable with Alex using what little disposable income he has on buying him drinks, is to drag Alex away in the middle of his shift and condescend to him. D'abu, honey, you were totally my BFF from the last book, so stop doing things that make me want to treat you like Caleb.

So while D'abu waits for Alex to take his break to be scolded by his fake boyfriend, he looks around and notices that Nelly's theme for the night is "school days." Of fucking course it is. This leads to wondering what Alex's school experience had been, and he decides Alex was a drama kid. I can see it.

Alex comes up and playfully asks if he's in trouble. Alex, you have no idea. D'abu reminds Alex he told him that he didn't want Alex spending money on him. He makes sure he's loud enough so that Teddy, the other bartender and Alex's co-worker can overhear. Oh my god, D'abu, you're reaching Sarhaan levels of asshole here.

Alex doesn't immediately respond and D'abu realizes the music is sexy and is getting to him. Because nothing gets him in the mood like patronizing his fake boyfriend. Also, Alex's "smoldering blue eyes" were totes turning him on, and D'abu concludes that Alex had to be doing it on purpose because "Alex had to know the power of those eyes." This is like the eleventh hundred time D'abu waxes about the power of Alex's eyes and from now on every time he mentions it I'm going to assume Alex has lazer vision because that would be awesome.

Alex finally tells D'abu that he'll spend his money how he wants. Now would be a good time for D'abu to shut the hell up and realize that Alex is not a kid and seriously can do whatever the hell he wants with the money he earned and D'abu can thank him for the drinks like a mature adult instead of deciding to model himself after Sarhaan. Instead he continues to be a patronizing douchebag and says they agreed on Alex saving his money. Alex argues they didn't. Alex is showing remarkable restraint in not punching D'abu in his smug, fat face

Apparently fed up with this bullshit, Alex pulls out the wiles and says he promises not to do it again if they can kiss and make up. I still say he should go with the face punching. They kiss and D'abu is amazed that Alex voluntarily initiated the contact. They break a part and Alex tells him that he'll see D'abu in a couple of hours when his shift ends.

Oh look, another awkward pov shift. Awesome. Alex and Teddy finish up their shift and are cleaning the bar when Shae comes overto divide his tips. Shae asks if Alex is seeing D'abu tonight. Alex says yes and asks why. Shea answers that Alex needs to get laid, because between Alex messing up the drink orders and D'abu being an asshole it's making it hard for the servers to do their job. Shea has a very good point.

Alex however is "speechless with amazement." Alex, do not be an asshole. Shae's right: messing up the drink orders are causing problems for your co-workers and D'abu is making everyone uncomfortable. Apologize. Hell, Shea is a better person then me, admittedly that's not hard, and says he's happy Alex found some romance.

Instead Alex meanly thinks Shea is an "obnoxious little shit" and that Alex was entitled to happiness. We're supposed to side with Alex on this for some reason.

This starts a really weird precedence that D'abu and Alex seem to hate Shae for no discernible reason. D'abu seems not to like that Shae flirted with him, even though everyone at Nelly's flirts with the customers. Hell, Alex always does that. Alex hates Shae because he's, what, young and good looking and tells Alex when he's messing up his job and his boyfriend is being rude to people? How dare he.

Zombie Vaughan does this thing that many writers do, which is paint a character as a bay guy when they call out their hero on their bullshit: Rowling does in the last Harry Potter book, and Whedon does it a lot in Buffy. It's a really bad trope. Your hero can still be the hero while having flaws and making bad decisions and being an asshole, as long as you redeem them (coughSarhaancough), but having them be a bitch to their co-worker who rightfully points out some problems in the hopes that the hero will fix it so they can do their job just makes the hero petty and unlikable.

Shae is a minor character who has no real personality but he is now my favorite and I want to go get drinks with him and trash talk about D'abu and Alex, and it would be amazing.

Anyway, Joe and Nick take Alex back into the office and ask him yet again to transfer to the talent department and participate in the live sex shows. Oh look, it's almost been twenty pages since we talked about this last. It seems so much shorter. Alex once again turns them down. Joe presses the issue. Nick joins in, reminding Alex that performers earn more money. Alex asks if he's not paying off his debt fast enough, and offers to take more shifts and work other rooms. Joe regretfully says he doesn't need more bar staff and says bar tending is easier to teach then someone to put on a sex show. This scene will never end.

Alex for the third time says no. Joe finally accepts that, but adds that there have been inquiries on Alex's behalf. Alex asks what kind of inquiries, and Joe just says, with forbidding ellipses, that "...certain parties" are interested if Alex becomes available. I sense foreshadowing. Having sufficiently rattled Alex, Joe and Nick depart, presumably while twirling their handlebar mustaches.

D'abu wanders in, because even though Nelly's closed doesn't mean D'abu can't do what he wants. He notices that Alex is freaking out. Alex denies anything's wrong and D'abu wheedles a kiss out of him to keep up the boyfriend front. He also gets in an ass grab after checking with Alex first. Sure, D'abu was being an asshole before but he does at least respect Alex's boundaries.

This description of the kiss is also well done. I give credit where credit is due and snark where snark is due.

Teddy, tired of waiting around, pretty much kicks them out and D'abu invites himself up to Alex's place because it's closer, and chapter four finally, mercifully, trails off.

Chapter Five
In which D'abu suffers from blue balls and he and Alex talk about their relationship like they're actual adults

The chapter beings with "Sandy was hard." My note: "In the commercials they say if an erection lasts for more than four hours you should see a doctor. D'abu is way past that."

I would really love to go an entire chapter without getting an update on D'abu's penis.

D'abu checks out Alex's ass as they climb the stairs to Alex's apartment. Apparently Alex has a fantastic ass. I'll take D'abu's word for it. I'm more of a breast girl. D'abu tries to calm himself down because whilile "he might not be the brightest guy on the team'--compared to Sarhaan and Caleb he is like Stephen Hawking--he knows that Alex is nowhere ready for any kind of deeper intimacy. I know I've said it before, but I really do like that D'abu is completely and utterly fine with moving at a slow pace and respecting Alex's boundaries. Sure, Vaughan might be repeating it every two pages, but a message about respecting your partner's boundaries is one that is worth repeating.

Once inside, D'abu convinces Alex to help him keep up the charade so they make a lot of sex noises. This gag would be funnier if it wasn't used in every movie and tv show and book ever. Alex's moans and panting, of course, arouse D'abu. Just one chapter where I don't have to read about his erection. Hell, half a chapter will do.

Deciding to help D'abu out, Alex goes to grope him, but D'abu blocks him and tells him to stop. Alex wants to know why and D'abu puts space between them in the tiny efficency. Alex offers to give take care of D'abu's erection, saying it's not a big deal, and D'abu's all weirded out and explains it's not a transaction, that he wants Alex to want it to. This exchange gets repeated about eight more times.

Alex asks if it was about mutual affection when D'abu went off with some of the workers at Nelly's. Oh snap, D'abu, he's got you there. D'abu says it was an experiment that didn't work out. Alex is not buying that, pointing out that D'abu orgasmed and D'abu says that the point wasn't if he got off but if he went back, which he didn't. Alex asks what D'abu wants.

D'abut basically wants love. That reveal would be touching if this conversation hasn't lasted for nine years.

Alex basically accepts there will be no hanjobs, given or received, and instead asks if D'abu will spend the night.

And we switch to Alex's pov. Seriously, so annoying.

Basically, Alex wants D'abu to stay because he doesn't want to be alone and also play up the fake boyfriend thing. D'abu teases him about it but, c'mon, he is excited about spending the night. Alex offers the bed and then escapes to the bathroom where he has a minor freakout. There's some more little tidbits about Nelly's, which also also has a Tahiti room and, of fucking course, a harem themed room. Zombie Vaughan, I do not care about Nelly's. If we never go back there again I will throw a party.

Leaving the bathroom, Alex finds D'abu camped out on the floor. They argue about where Sandy's sleeping and then Alex, in a stubborn move that is eerily reminiscent of something I would totally do, lies down next to D'abu on the floor. Oh, Alex, I do like you. D'abu jokes that it would serve Alex right if he tied him to the bed, which totally triggers Alex. Nice, D'abu. D'abu, stricken, apologizes, and tries to get Alex to calm down, which he does. Feeling guilty, D'abu agrees to share the bed with Alex.

And with that the chapter, and this part of the review, ends. I feel like I've written an epic. It might be just because the chapters are longer and there's stuff going on. I hope you enjoyed this part and stick around for, basing on the length of this post, will be a 900,000 word review.

Next part should be up in the next two weeks, barring kidnapping by dragon or a banshee squatting in my house or, you know, an attack of extreme laziness. It's not like I'll lose my will to write mid sent--

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