Desert Isle Keeper
Angels in the City
Garrett Leigh’s Christmas-themed Angels in the City really hit the spot. It uses some of my favourite tropes, it’s got just the right amount of angst, just the right amount of humour and festive cheer, and an emotional, sensual, opposites-attract romance between two endearing and attractive leads. I practically inhaled it in one sitting.
Jonah Gray is young, handsome and successful and is, according to his mother, the most eligible bachelor in the city. The story opens on the night of the annual Ball held for the charitable foundation run by his parents, which Jonah is dreading for a number of reasons – not least of which is his reluctance to face yet more of his mother’s matchmaking schemes and questions about his relationship status. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s all togged up in his Armani best and on his way out of his office when the lift gets stuck on the way down to the lobby. Mind you, the prospect of being stuck in the lift for hours may be preferable to spending a few hours at the Gray & Gray Christmas Ball – especially when Jonah has company in the form of an absolutely gorgeous man he’s seen working at the app development company that occupies the office space opposite his. After Jonah puts a call out to the engineers, he and his lift-mate strike up a conversation that’s just a teeny bit flirty – which ends when the lift starts moving again… and Jonah sort-of-but-not-really-jokingly invites the other man to accompany him to the Ball.
Sacha Ivanov isn’t quite sure why he says yes to the invitation. He’s a loner, content to fill his life with work and one-time-only hook-ups and isn’t looking for that to change, but something about the gorgeous auburn-haired executive from the office across the way has him completely entranced. When they arrive at the ball, their ‘act’ as the perfect couple is seemingly effortless and Sacha is the ideal fake-boyfriend, charming Jonah’s mother, and somehow knowing what Jonah needs even before Jonah does himself. The attraction that’s been building between them since they met gets stronger as the evening progresses, and things move to their inevitable conclusion when they go back to Jonah’s penthouse for a night of bone-melting, life-changing sex. The next morning, Jonah is a bit disappointed – although not surprised – to find Sacha gone.
A week goes by. Jonah and Sacha see each other in passing at the office, but make no attempt to engage. Jonah can’t forget the night they spent screwing each other’s brains out, and wouldn’t mind repeating it, while Sacha keeps reminding himself he’s a one-and-done type of guy and tries hard not to keep looking through the glass partition that separates the offices in hopes of a glimpse of the gleaming auburn hair that had felt so silky, tangled around his fingers. It’s not until another late night at the office brings them face-to-face again that Sacha and Jonah actually talk, and in a somewhat roundabout conversation full of Sacha’s typically inscrutable pronouncements, agree that they both want to pursue a friends-with-benefits arrangement. The problem comes when one of them realises that he has no idea how to do the ‘friends’ part of the equation, and the other that he doesn’t want the ‘benefits’ without it.
The intense chemistry between Jonah and Sacha leaps off the page from the moment they meet and burns bright throughout the novel, but it’s clear from the start that this is much more than attraction and that there’s a real connection there, too. Jonah is the first to admit that that connection is something he’s been searching for and that he wants more from Sacha than a few no-strings fucks, while Sacha, who learned early on in life that the only person he could depend on was himself, seems intent on keeping things casual.
Jonah is lovely; charming, funny and inherently sweet, he’s a good boss and a good man, and is content with the way things are until a “moody, contradictory Russian computer nerd” comes into his life and turns it upside down. Sacha is his total opposite, an (adorable) grouch who doesn’t suffer fools and makes no secret of it. He sometimes uses the fact that English is not his native language to obfuscate and create conversations that go around in circles, but as the book progresses, it seems he’s just as much of an enigma to himself as he has made himself to those around him. His instinctual reaction to keep his barriers up causes him to deliberately push Jonah away even though it’s really the last thing he wants to do, but he’s been doing it for so long that it’s a hard habit to break.
I adored both Jonah and Sacha, a pair of complex, likeable, believable characters who, in spite of their quite different personality types, really are a perfect fit. The communication issues and the way Sacha keeps getting in the way of himself are frustrating, but it doesn’t go on for too long, and the emotions that so obviously radiate between the pair are so raw and honest as to be almost palpable. And even when they’re foundering and unable to be honest about how they feel, there’s no question that Jonah and Sacha have fallen deeply and irrevocably in love; the journey to reach their HEA may be a bit bumpy but it’s lovely and completely swoonworthy nonetheless.
There’s a small, but strong secondary cast, notably Jonah’s mum and his BFF Lily, who is awesome, and I really liked the way the author integrates some Russian holiday season traditions, from the yolka – the tree put up to celebrate New Year – to the delicious-sounding Krendel (Christmas bread – I immediately went to look up a recipe!) and pastries.
Sexy, funny, warm and emotionally satisfying, Angels in the City captivated me from start to finish and has earned itself a place on my keeper shelf as a festive favourite.