I was a bit pushed for reading time this month (too many new releases to review!) and I was actively looking for a fairly short read to fulfill this month’s prompt, so I was pleased when I came across Served Hot on my Kindle. I’m a big fan of Annabeth Albert’s books, but I’m still playing catch-up with her backlist; Served Hot dates from 2015 and is the first book in her six-part Portland Heat series of novella-length stories featuring guys who work in the restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and bars of the city. It’s short, sweet and sexy and the author packs a decent amount of character and relationship development and a lot of heart into the limited page count.
Self-employed barista Robby Edwards enjoys working his busy coffee cart in the Old Emerson building in Portland, and the highlight of his day is the arrival of David Gregory, an attractive, well-dressed guy who always buys a vanilla latte and sits at one of the nearby tables to eat his (obviously home-made) lunch, alone. They don’t do much more than exchange pleasantries or talk about the weather, and even though Robby doesn’t know if David is gay, he has a major crush – but no idea how to go about striking up an actual conversation and maybe even flirting a little bit.
When Robby decides to go for it and mentions he’s going to Portland Pride that weekend, he can’t help being a bit disappointed when David doesn’t react and seems to withdraw a little. He wonders if he’d have been better not to have said anything at all. So he’s absolutely delighted when David shows up after all and makes it clear he’s there for Robby. They spend a little time talking and share a sweet (but not quite chaste) kiss before they part having arranged to see each other again soon.
The next time we see David and Robby, they’ve been dating for about six weeks… and Robby is starting to get a little frustrated. Not just sexually (although he’s that, too) but because he’s falling hard for David and isn’t sure where he stands with him. He’s wary of pushing too hard and scaring him off – while David is clearly not quite sure how to be in an openly out relationship. He’s not closeted – not any more – and when we learn his backstory, his inability to move forward is easy to understand, although that doesn’t excuse the fact that he doesn’t always treat Robby fairly.
Despite that however, David is a very sympathetic character and it’s easy to root for him to be able to get past his issues so that he can be with Robby, because there’s no question these two belong together. Robby is smart and funny and a bit insecure, and I liked that he recognises his flaws and owns them. He’s very well fleshed-out considering this is such a short book and I enjoyed spending time in his head. And although we don’t get David’s perspective, Ms. Albert does a terrific job of bringing him to life through Robby’s eyes; he’s shy and endearing, and his backstory is heartbreakingly realistic. And in fact, I loved how real this story was – Robby and David aren’t stunningly handsome billionaries; they have normal jobs, and they talk about normal things like money and food and friends and family.
The story is told in four sections that take place over just under a year, so there are time jumps, but the format works. One criticism I often make of novellas is that the romance is rushed, but that’s not the case here as we get to see the different stages of Robby and David’s relationship as they both navigate unfamiliar waters and learn – together – what a healthy relationship looks like and how to deal with fears and problems just like every couple has to.
Served Hot is a charming read, a warm, feel-good story with just the right amount of angst (and steam!) featuring two likeable characters, and I’m looking forward to reading more in the Portland Heat series.