I can always count on Santino Hassell to offer up gritty realism in his novels and Concourse has plenty of that along with a whole lot of soul searching and a whole lot of crazy, mixed up love! ~ Slick, Guilty Pleasures
Ashton Townsend is the most famous celebutante of Manhattan’s glitterati. The black sheep of his wealthy family, he’s known for his club appearances, Instagram account, and sex tape. Most people can’t imagine him wanting for anything, but Ashton yearns for friendship, respect, and the love of his best friend—amateur boxer Valdrin Leka.
Val’s relationship with Ashton is complicated. As the son of Ashton’s beloved nanny, Val has always bounced between resenting Ashton and regarding him as his best friend. And then there’s the sexual attraction between them that Val tries so hard to ignore.
When Ashton flees his glitzy lifestyle, he finds refuge with Val in the Bronx. Between Val’s training for an upcoming fight and dodging paparazzi, they succumb to their need for each other. But before they can figure out what it all means—and what they want to do about it—the world drags them out of their haven, revealing a secret Val has kept for years. Now, Ashton has to decide whether to once again envelop himself in his party-boy persona, or to trust in the only man who’s ever seen the real him.
I have a complicated history with Santino Hassell’s Five Boroughs series, there are some books I have loved, some that I’ve liked and some I really didn’t care for, but the crazy thing is in each book there are characters that I can’t forget. In Concourse we get to know two very different and extremely flawed men whose relationship has spanned over a decade and changed to the point where neither one is sure where they stand with one another. This book was complicated, with characters that at times frustrated me and at other times I wanted to hug and tell them it would all be okay, but most of all I appreciated that finally admitting there was something “more” between them led them down a path to figuring out who they are and what they want out of life. Despite the happy ending, I have a feeling we’ll see these two again, because in reality Concourse is only the beginning of their story.
Normally I despise characters like Ashton Townsend because they appear self centered, self destructive, and determined to blow up their own lives and anyone associated with them. As this story unfolds, it’s evident that Ashton has real issues and I have to wonder why someone who has the means hasn’t tried to work through his feelings with a professional because it honestly seems like he has a death wish. Unhappy in all aspects of his life, Ashton is a social media celebrity whose blue blood family finds him disgraceful expect when they want to use him to lure in clients for their company. Ashton is a party boy, an ex-model, and he’s been in love with his best friend Valdrin Leka for years, but despite the intimate moments they’ve share he isn’t quite sure of Val’s sexual orientation or his feelings for him other than friendship which for the last year has been tenuous to say the least.
For year Valdrin Leka has trained as a boxer not because he loves it but because he has natural talent, because it is the one link he has to his father who took off, because his late mother was proud of him, and because he feels he owes it to his trainer and his sister to fight and win so his trainer will gain notoriety and he’ll be able to put his sister through college. Valdrin has lived his life doing things for other people and never really figuring out what makes him happy. For years he’s watched over Ashton first because he felt sorry for the boy who has become his best friend and then for other reasons he doesn’t care to admit. He hates the life Ashton leads, he hates his public persona, but secretly Val knows that Ashton means more to him than he ever thought possible.
A decade plus of friendship plus some pretty big blurred lines have left Ashton feeling confused and Valdrin feeling guilty. There is no denying these two are messed up and watching them figure out how to deal with the feelings they have for one another, get past everything in their past, forgive one another for mistakes and move forward was pretty exhausting. However, I enjoyed seeing the changes in both these young men and watching them realize that they couldn’t let their past, their unrealistic expectations, and other people rule their lives that they needed to take control and do what made them happy. That is what made this book for me; well that and the cameo appearances by Nunzio, one of the heroes from book one in this series.
I can always count on Santino Hassell to offer up gritty realism in his novels and Concourse has plenty of that along with a whole lot of soul searching and a whole lot of crazy, mixed up love! Big thanks to Riptide press editors for not cleaning up the New York slang out of the character’s speech, it made these characters real.
ARC provided by the publisher for a voluntary review.
Available now from Riptide Publishing. http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/concourse
A Short Story
Ashton and Valdrin at the Rodriguez wedding
~Two months before Concourse
Val wasn’t anywhere to be found. He wasn’t at the table we’d been assigned in the ballroom, on the dance floor, or even in the nearest bathrooms. I didn’t bother to check the bar. Valdrin Leka did not drink.
I stood in the middle of the large room, looking around at all the flushed faces and big smiles, and wondered where my best friend could be. Convincing him to come the Rodriguez wedding as my date had been a struggle. He didn’t feel comfortable around my friends, insisted this wasn’t his crowd, and had cited his early schedule, training, and the long drive back to the Bronx as reasons why he shouldn’t come.
I’d sent him sad sack selfies with big pouts, reminded him again that I didn’t know everyone here either and most people were friends of friends, until he’d finally caved.
Despite him giving in, I was surprised he’d stayed as long as he had. I just hadn’t expected him to leave without warning.
A shred of unease went through me, tightening my chest and making my stomach flip. Was this the start of yet another span of months where we didn’t speak at all? Where my calls went unanswered until I stopped trying? Where I sat in my apartment, smiling for Instagram in an outfit sent to me by a designer, before returning to the bleakness that had settled over me all winter?
I’d always worn a mask on social media, at events, and with some of my “friends”, but it had been excruciatingly difficult during Val’s absence from my life. Going between “A-Town” and Ashton the Severely Depressed had been tough. The only reason I’d gradually been drawn out of it had been meeting the Liberty X folks, Caleb, and reconnecting with Meredith. Now, I had Stephanie and Charles. Even so, no one had been able to replace Val.
Retracing my steps, I returned to the bathroom where I’d found Angel and Stephanie fucking. They were long gone, and no one else was around.
“What the hell?” I whispered out loud, my voice slurring.
Frustrated, I pulled out my phone to text him.
Ashton: Werre are you?
Ashton: Ar e yu coming back?
Valdrin: Nice texting skills. Just how drunk are you?
Rather than answer, I trotted back to the elevator and took it downstairs. The panic had eased a little, but nerves were still crawling over me like spiders. They didn’t settle even when I found Val leaning against the door to the entrance and looking out at the street.
He looked so sexy in his dark suit. Typically, Val wore track pants, sweats, and only got as dressy as a nice pair of jeans. This was like a gift. And thankfully, he’d worn one of the suits I’d bought for him a couple of years ago. Before I’d had to think of tricky ways to get him to pay attention to me for long periods of time.
I smoothed a hand over my hair and sidled up to him. He didn’t meet my eyes, and I knew something was wrong. I’d known it as soon as he’d disappeared, but his serious gaze remaining fixed on the road was a definite sign.
I didn’t break the silence. I just traced his features—the square jaw, wide lips, olive complexion, and thick dark hair which was cut shorter than I liked. I wanted to run my fingers through it, or to touch the fading bruise on his cheek. To kiss it and ask him which asshole at the boxing gym had dared to damage that chiseled face.
“You’re a real piece of work sometimes, Ashton.”
I blinked out of my tipsy dreaminess. “I’m sorry, what?”
Val’s gaze swept over to me, and I realized he wasn’t simply annoyed. He was furious. He was flushed and his nostrils were flared.
“What did I do?” I asked. “I haven’t even seen you in almost an hour—“
“Right, because you made me come here—“
“I didn’t make you come here. I asked and you said yes.”
“—just to ignore me for three quarters of the night so you can grind all over Charles or Aiden or whoever else.”
My jaw dropped. “Were you… like… it’s a wedding, babes. People dance at weddings. You refused to dance with me.”
“Yeah, well…” Val looked away again, his jaw tight and cheek clenching. “I thought you’d at least spend some time, y’know, fucking talking to me. Not leaving me sitting alone at a table like an asshole. The dudes who got married didn’t even know who I was.”
“I doubt Michael and Nunzio knew everyone at the—“
“You’re missing the point,” Val snapped. “This is why I didn’t want to come.”
I kept staring up at him, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was too drunk, too caught off guard, and now… it felt like he’d punched a hole in my chest with this sudden attack. He glanced over at me after a beat, and some of the anger drained away. The tension left his shoulders and he sagged against the door.
“Just forget it, Ashton.”
“Why should I forget it?”
Val thudded his head against the door frame. “Because I’m being an asshole.”
I put my hands on him, forcing him to face me, and stepped in close until we were nearly crushed together. He went rigid, but didn’t push me away when I pressed my face against his chest.
“I hate that we’re like this now,” I whispered. “There’s always this tension. This weirdness. I miss the way things were before…”
Before we’d fucked. Not that he ever spoke about that night. Not that we ever discussed it.
Val didn’t say anything, but one of his hands hesitantly cupped the back of my head. He stroked my hair as I listened to his heartbeat, which sped just slightly as I pinned my body to his.
“Just tell me what I did,” I insisted. “You refusing to talk is so unhelpful. It’s just making me think… you’re going to ghost on me again. For good this time. And again, I won’t know why.”
“Don’t Ash me. Just tell me.”
He released a slow sigh. “I saw you making out with that fucking dude with the hair and jewlery—“
“Charles?” I demanded. “He was upset! I was only comforting–”
“—and it got under my skin. Okay?”
Astonishment consumed me. “But why would you care?”
“For exactly the reasons I said,” he replied sharply. “I came here to spend time with you, and you spent the whole time grinding on or making out with other dudes. I feel like a fucking idiot.”
He sounded jealous. Completely jealous. And there was no way it was all in my mind. Just like the one and only time we’d had sex hadn’t happened in my mind even though he continued to act like it had never happened.
“Well,” I said, smiling sweetly. “Silly goose, if you want me to grind on you or kiss you, just say the word and it will happen.”
Val rolled his eyes and looked away, but his heart was racing.
“Shut up, Ashton. You know what I meant.”
Actually, I didn’t.
Nothing about his words or his body’s reactions to me made sense. They never had. But I nodded and accepted it like I always had in the past, and hoped that one day we’d figure it out.
About the Five Boroughs Universe
New York City—home of soaring skyscrapers, concrete boulevards, and the hopes and dreams of millions. A city where opposites attract and romance is found in unlikely places. From the glittering penthouses of Manhattan to the blue collar neighborhoods of Queens, values get tested, cultures clash, and connections made. Men of diverse backgrounds examine their lives, test their sexual boundaries, and seek success in an unforgiving urban landscape that moves fast and stops for no one. Despite the odds, there’s love to be found in the five boroughs as long as they’re willing to work for it.
Check out the Five Boroughs Universe. http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/universe/five-boroughs
About Santino Hassell
Santino was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed grunge kid, then a transient twentysomething, and eventually transformed into a guy who spends his days and nights writing romance with an edge.
Santino is a dedicated gamer, a former fanfic writer, an ASoIaF mega nerd, a Grindr enthusiast, but most of all he is a writer of LGBT fiction that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
Connect with Santino:
- Website: www.santinohassell.com
- Blog: santinohassell.com/blog
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/santinohassellbooks
- Twitter: twitter.com/SantinoHassell
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- Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/santinohassell/
- Instagram: instagram.com/santinohassell
- Google+: plus.google.com/u/0/+SantinoHassell/
- Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/santino_hassell
To celebrate the release of Concourse, one lucky winner will receive a $25 Riptide credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on May 6, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!