I’m a big fan of Santino Hassell’s Five Boroughs series, so when he released a free m/m/m short (entitled Third Rail) I, of course, had to read it. There was so much chemistry between Chris, Jace, and Aiden that I whipped through that story and was ready to read their happily ever after.
The events of Third Rail continue in Citywide alongside two novellas featuring other Five Boroughs characters. The anthology takes place one summer during and after a heatwave and we get to see some of the secondary characters we’ve gotten to know throughout the series pair off. I didn’t fully engage with all the stories, unfortunately, which could be partly due to the fact that the shorter length didn’t allow enough time to connect with the characters and their relationships. I’ll admit, I could barely remember who any of them were from the original series. The names might have looked familiar but I didn’t have the connection I needed to commit to each pairing (or trio, in one case) and invest in their happy ending.
Rerouted: Grade B
In Rerouted, we see Christopher Mendez coming back into contact with couple Jace and Aiden, with whom he burned up the sheets in Third Rail. Chris goes to the Q-Finder office to fix an IT problem and ends up trapped there with the guys during a massive blackout. Plenty of threesome sex ensues, but the real issue at hand is whether the trio plans to make their arrangement a permanent one. Chris loves his time with Jace and Aiden – and may even love them – but he’s been evasive to try and protect his own heart, since he is the odd man out in their encounters. Jace and Aiden are ready to keep him around, but need to decide whether they want to give up their swinger ways to be with just Chris.
I’ll be honest; I never fully buy into to ménage books that end with the three people planning to continue as a throuple (three person couple). It’s harder for me to see the functionality long term, but I like all three of these characters and wanted it to work out for them. Sadly, I felt that the story didn’t have the spark that the throuple had in Third Rail. I wanted the happy ending for all three of them, and it seemed so obvious that it would work out, as soon as they got the logistics together. Although this isn’t a conflict-driven story, the likeability of all three characters, and Hassell’s writing style made it a pleasure to read.
Gridlocked: Grade C-
Gridlocked features the least memorable characters from the series. I remember Meredith as being friends with Jace and being a partying rich girl. Tonya, however, did not ring a bell. It also wasn’t clear to me when I starting reading the short that it was Tonya narrating, and I had to look back to the cover copy to remind myself who this character was. I never made it past this initial feeling of disconnect and did not care about Meredith and Tonya. It is also, apparently, the most forgettable of the three stories because I’ve already forgotten most of it. Tonya is working as a security guard at a Q-Finder party and protects Meredith from someone. There’s kissing. They hole up in bed, fight, and then back to bed. That’s pretty much all I can remember.
There needed to be more zing or chemistry or something for me to really root for these ladies, but that didn’t happen. It ended up being my least favorite story in the collection. Not terrible, just steamy and nice, without knocking my socks off.
Derailed: Grade A-
Luckily, the last story saves the anthology and is the standout story. Stephanie and Angel (the one nicknamed Sharky) have been off and on throughout the series. They’ve always been around the background of the other love stories, sneaking off to hook up but never committing. When Stephanie lies to her coworkers about having a boyfriend, and needs him to appear for a work trip, she recruits Angel to help her out. For him, going along with her plan is pleasurable torture. He wants to be with her, and would be happy to fill the boyfriend role for real, but thinks Stephanie would never cast him in that part in real life.
Pretend relationships are one of my favorite tropes, and the chemistry between Angel and Stephanie is off the charts. Although I definitely haven’t been on any work trips with as much unabashed sex going on as we see from Stephanie’s colleagues, I was willing to ignore that since it is in keeping with the tone of Five Boroughs. I loved the back and forth between the couple as they are trapped together on the trip and playing a role they are both in denial they want to make real. It’s also interesting to learn more about Stephanie’s past and her brother, and I assume we’ll see more of him in the future.
Although the three stories are a tad uneven in their impact, I do think fans of the Boroughs crew will eat this up. Hassell’s writing style – sexy and gritty, but real – shines through as always, and this makes a good stopover while waiting on the next full-length installment.