Beaten Track Publishing, $0.99
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Once upon a Christmas season, in the snowy metropolitan city of Midday, there lived a rich prince, Kyle, and a poor baker named Riley. Mr. Kyle Prince resided in a grand high-rise apartment building with a view of the entire city, from the amphitheater to the art district. There was a doorman in white gloves, and Kyle was greeted by name as he walked through the lobby every morning. Businesspeople respected Mr. Prince; many took him into their confidence. He kept company with attractive people who lived in their own buildings, with their own doormen. Kyle was content and warm on snowy days.
It’s incredible how such a paragraph, which tries way too hard to be precious and cute, comes off as corny and cloying without Sandra Bullock looking so adorable while a saccharine piano-heavy track plays in the background. I know, this is a Christmastime story, so a little love and tolerance will be good, but my initial reaction upon reading the opening paragraphs of Raine O’Tierney story is to cringe.
Riley Harris, if you turn the page, was freshly graduated from college, and now contended with those hungry wolves: creditors. He faced overwhelming student loans and credit card debt, and found very little in the way of employment. Proud, and unwilling to be a burden on his parents, he had stubbornly left the small home the family shared when he started school. But making his way in the world proved difficult. Riley had three part-time jobs. He wouldn’t have been able to fit attractive people into his schedule, unless they paid him for his time—but he hadn’t quite sunk that far. There were no white-gloved doormen where Riley lived, because Riley’s home was a beaten and rusted Volvo.
I can smell the type 2 diabetes already.
Kyle is stalking Riley.
They had never touched, never even spoken, but sometimes after a stressful board meeting, or when he was driving in to work in the morning, he’d remember that it was Wednesday or Friday, and his brother, Cameron, had a show at the Jewel Theater. Excitement would begin to prick behind his eyes. Whatever stresses he carried from the day would start to melt away because there was a smile in Kyle Prince’s future.
He waits for that man every evening.
As his “date” exited the back door of the bakery, he paused, momentarily hidden in the shadows. And then the man appeared in a pool of amber cast by the parking lot lights, and Kyle could no longer hold back his warm, welcoming, smile. The sameness of it was thrilling: the man would walk across the parking lot with a small bakery box tucked up under his arm. A red and green box, if it was the same one Kyle had seen in the window. Leftovers, perhaps, or something the baker made just for himself right before closing time.
How could one man eat so many baked goods? And—it was the season for it, after all—could his date be taking home Christmas cake every night?
For a moment there, he had a flight of fancy, the sort reserved for romance novels and bedtime stories. Kyle thought about leaving his post at the back door of the Jewel Theater, walking across the parking lot, and asking if the other man had Christmas cake enough for two in that box. He hadn’t eaten day-old anything for as long as he could remember, but the thought that he might see the other man’s smile more closely, or that his date might reply, say, “Why yes, I’ve had enough for two, but no one has ever asked!” sent a little shiver up Kyle’s spine that had nothing to do with the cold.
Grindr existed in 2014. A wealthy, good-looking man like Kyle has genuine issues getting laid, despite mingling with hot people all the time – what, he can’t find someone to touch in those days? Just how pathetic is this guy?
Riley stumbles and falls that evening, and Kyle swoops in. Poor Riley wakes up to find himself naked and chained up in a bed, with his legs amputated from the knee down because hello, Misery.
Wait, that’s a more interesting, less diabetes-inducing story. In this one, Riley acts like a floundering puppy needing the peen of a rich hot guy to help him find a reason to live.
“Where’s the angel?” he managed to ask, wanting nothing more than to snuggle up beside the man in the suit who had held him in the car. The angel without the halo. Sleep overtook him once more.
Kyle saved the last of his phone calls until that night, after Ms. Miller had gone home. Having loaned Cameron the car (something he never did when he was in his right mind), Kyle had to settle for searching the Internet for homeless shelters in Midday South. For a moment, he considered finding Riley a bed there, once he was feeling better, but a sudden, visceral protectiveness stopped him.
Now that he’d found Riley, and taken it upon himself to get involved, he couldn’t really justify foisting him off on the city. Not his baker, not his standing date, not his Not Kyle. So instead, he wrote down number after number—disheartened by how many shelters there were. Why were there so many?
We have a wealthy man making decisions on behalf of a homeless man who is sick and down on his luck, without consulting the man in question, while treating that man like a puppy one had taken in from the streets. The whole thing is quite creepy, to be honest, because Kyle comes off as slightly deranged while holding all the power in this relationship, and Riley has this helpless drowning puppy vibe that makes his “romance” with Kyle feel more like an exploitative, even predatory transaction of sex for survival.
One of the first things Riley asked Kyle was, “Do I remember an angel?”
Kyle laughed and explained what had happened.
Riley apologized no less than seven times—once for every time Kyle popped in to check on him. He lamented repeatedly that he hated to be an imposition.
“I’m so sorry,” Riley said, going for an eighth when Kyle came to sit on the edge of the bed.
Did I mention how the power imbalance in the dynamic of this “relationship” makes the romance so, so disturbing to follow?
Xmas Cake has only two modes: creepy and overly saccharine, and by the time I am done with it, I feel as if type 2 diabetes had caused all my limbs to be gangrenous and my kidneys to be damaged beyond hope while I am at the brink of a heart attack. I know, this is a Christmas thing and it costs less than $1, but if I wanted to die from diabetes-related complications, I’d prefer to eat all the nice, unhealthy foods out there and be as lazy as I can be in order to get there. Reading this one is just too painful of a way to go.