Book: Blank Spaces
Series: Toronto Connections #1
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Publication date: November 14, 2016
Length: 330 pages
Reviewed by Erin
Absence is as crucial as presence.
The decision to stop dating has made Vaughn Hargrave’s life infinitely simpler: he has friends, an excellent wardrobe, and a job in the industry he loves. That’s all he really needs, especially since sex isn’t his forte anyway and no one else seems interested in a purely romantic connection. But when a piece is stolen from his art gallery and insurance investigator Jonah Sondern shows up, Vaughn finds himself struggling with that decision.
Jonah wants his men like his coffee: hot, intense, and daily. But Vaughn seems to be the one gay guy in Toronto who doesn’t do hookups, which is all Jonah can offer. No way can Jonah give Vaughn what he really wants, not when Jonah barely understands what love is.
When another painting goes missing, tension ramps up both on and off the clock. Vaughn and Jonah find themselves grappling not just with stolen art, but with their own differences. Because a guy who wants nothing but romance and a guy who wants nothing but sex will never work—right? Not unless they find a way to fill in the spaces between them.
I am always on the lookout for new authors to try and when I saw the blurb for Cass Lennox's debut novel, Blank Spaces, I knew I'd be putting this book on my TBR immediately. Not to mention that stunning, eye-catching cover! I love it! Everyone knows that reading someone new can be hit or miss, and thankfully, Blank Spaces was more of a hit than a miss for me. An asexual character, a bit of a mystery (though it wasn't too hard to figure out), and a different look at relationships made this an enjoyable read.
Vaughn Hargrave is fabulous. As a character he's so likable and endearing and just adorable. He's witty and thoughtful and snarky and then he can be so sweet. He's a bit clueless about some things, but boy he sure can dress well and he loves his job, well mostly, even if he longs for it to be more. He has friends and he's content, though he'd really like to find a guy who gets him ... and his feelings about sex. Enter Jonah Sondern, a guy who is almost the complete opposite of Vaughn. It took me quite a while to warm up to Jonah, but once I did, I certainly was able to understand him better. Brash and cocky and a bit of an asshole, Jonah is about one thing and one thing only and that's having sex. Lots and lots and LOTS of sex. Doesn't much matter with who or where, as long as he's having it. When these two meet there are sparks flying all over the place and of course Jonah wants Vaughn the moment he sees him. Only problem, Vaughn doesn't do hookups, he doesn't even do sex since he's asexual. He's all about romance and intimacy and a true, deep connection.
The growth these two characters go through from the beginning to the end of this book was quite remarkable and very realistic. There is a reason Jonah is the way he is and why he feels as he does about sex; the same is true for Vaughn. Although Jonah doesn't quite get how Vaughn feels the way he does, it doesn't stop him from pursuing Vaughn. Sure it's a bit of wanting something you can't have, but there's also a connection between them that neither can ignore, no matter how badly their views on sex differ. As a reader, I really enjoy the depiction and exploration of different types of relationships. Even if you don't "get" open relationships or even asexuality, Blank Spaces will give you much to think about and challenge your perceptions. I love when that happens. Lennox's writing is engaging, the plot moved quickly and kept me intrigued (though I could have done without the so-called mystery to be honest) and the secondary characters all added a lot to the story. Blank Spaces will make you think, it will give you a different view of relationships, it will tug at your heartstrings. Vaughn is an incredibly complex character with many layers, and Jonah, well, he really did grow on me and he's just so ... himself that you can't help but fall in love with him, too. I'm really looking forward to more from this author and can't wait to read the next book in this series. Be sure to check this one out, people.
Vaughn stood in the club entrance, surveying and judging. It was so new it still smelled faintly of varnish and paint, and it was filled with the kind of people who watched Toronto’s nightlife like hawks, swooping in on anything fresh and exciting. People like his friend Devon, who currently led him and their friends into the place as though he’d been here dozens of times before. Retro neon lights illuminated booths and seats and the bars, while men—and some women—ground to decent trance music on the dance floor.
Yes. After today, Vaughn wanted nothing more than to let go and dance.
But first they had to do the drinks and shouting-over-the-music stuff. His friends were largely people from LGBT groups at his university and accompanying partners or friends; despite working in the art industry, Vaughn hadn’t picked up any new queer friends to bring to one of these nights. Possibly because he seemed to fly under the radar in the industry. Artists and the people who worked with them tended towards eccentric and open-minded anyway, so it was difficult to put labels on people from the get-go. Identifying them and inviting them to these kinds of nights wasn’t worth the effort or embarrassment if he gauged wrongly.
Really, if he had to be honest, he’d found it increasingly difficult to label himself these days. Standing here, gazing at the dance floor and aching for a drink to help him chill out, Vaughn was very aware that his friends were here for other things, things that didn’t occur to him until he caught sight of people on the dance floor touching each other in ways that were decidedly not dance-related.
But now wasn’t the time to nitpick or get deep about the nature of nightlife venues. He was with friends, there was booze to drink, music to dance to, and a rough day to forget. He could certainly be here for those reasons alone.
Devon flirted with one of the bartenders and got them a free round of shots on top of their order. Vaughn knocked his back, then washed the cheap, sugary taste out of his mouth with a vodka mixer. The guys moved to a table near the dance floor and immediately lined up to survey the offerings.
“Interesting crowd,” James judged.
Devon scoffed. “Please. It’s full of twinks.”
“You like twinks,” Vaughn said.
Devon winked at him. “Yes, but I wouldn’t call them interesting.”
“It’s full of twinks with good taste,” André said, a grin lighting up his face. “And good stylists.”
Vaughn scanned the dance floor. Young, lithe men threw themselves into the rhythm of the music and into each other. Bodies undulated, hands sneaked past collars and under hems, lips grinned or kissed, and chests were slowly bared. And yes, the majority of them were unusually good-looking, typical of the kind of people who chased the new and undiscovered. Shiny shoes, form-fitting shirts and pants, the odd vest top despite the winter snow outside, and artfully mussed hairstyles. Dotted among them were a few older men looking for action and women giving themselves up to the music, free from any undue attention.
He envied them slightly.
Banish the thought, Vaughn. Being touched by complete strangers was part of the gay-bar experience. And while he wasn’t here to pick anyone up, being admired wasn’t a bad thing.
“Anyone promising?” Devon asked him.
“I should ask you,” Vaughn replied.
Devon was fastidious in two things: his choice of clothes and his choice of hookup. If Vaughn had a dollar for every time Devon had pointed out an exceptionally beautiful young man to him, he wouldn’t need to worry about paying his bills. Devon had been like that for as long as Vaughn had known him, which was since Vaughn’s first year of university. Devon had been the student union president, president of the LGBT group, and head of his business class; now he was circulating the departments in his father’s pharmaceutical company in preparation for running it. If he dedicated as much time and energy to that as he did to circulating the Toronto gay club scene, Vaughn had yet to see proof of it.
“You said you needed to blow off steam.” Devon waved at the crowd below. “Go blow.” His grin was sharply illuminated by pink neon, and Vaughn rolled his eyes.
“I’d like to have a civilized drink first.” He held up his vodka.
Devon barked out a laugh and clapped his shoulder.
Energy thrummed under his skin, and he suddenly needed to get out there. Work had turned almost farcical by the end of the day—Angeline in a terrible mood, Cressida in a worse one when she eventually showed up, and Maurice griping about every little thing, while Vaughn tried to welcome visitors, make sense of the log from the security company, and manage more media requests to see Jai Yoon’s exhibition. God forbid any interest happen before one of the major pieces was stolen.
At least he hadn’t had to tell Yoon about the theft; he’d been at the front desk when Angeline had made that call. He’d still received a furious email cancelling the interview, with a promise to never exhibit at Delphi again, but that did mean he hadn’t had to speak to her.
Of course, after that, the same reporter had wanted to come in anyway to do a piece on theft and insurance. Maurice had said no, Angeline had said no, but Cressida had said yes, and somehow that meant the rest of them were outvoted. Vaughn didn’t want to imagine the inbox the next day, once the news hit the arts and culture circuit.
Stop. None of that now. Time to forget all the bullshit of working life.
He knocked back his drink and set the glass down, the buzz from the alcohol adding to the buzz in his skin. No one else seemed ready to dance, though. He turned to Devon. “Another?”
Devon grinned and raised his glass. “Absolutely, compadre.”
Vaughn returned to the bar, bought a round for everybody, and carried it back to their section. In that short time, Devon had attracted the attentions of a young man with earrings, blue hair, and the impossibly toned body of a dancer. Another of their crew was leading someone else into the fray of the dance floor. People were acting quickly tonight. Vaughn set the drinks down and handed one to Devon.
“Thanks, babe,” he said.
“No drink for me?” Toned pouted, brushing a finger down Devon’s T-shirt.
Devon took a hefty gulp, then pressed his mouth to Toned’s. Vaughn saw liquid dribble from one corner as the gulp passed from mouth to mouth. His stomach rolled. That couldn’t be hygienic.
Judging by the stars in Toned’s eyes as he swallowed, he didn’t give a shit. “Oh honey,” he breathed, gripping Devon’s shirt and kissing him fiercely.
“It’s so fucking unfair,” James shouted to Vaughn as he accepted a glass from him. James raised his drink in thanks, then sipped it. “Ten minutes and he’s pulled the hottest queen in here. How does he do it?”
Vaughn shrugged. “Maybe you should have done it in five.”
James shook his head. “Yeah right. If I tried that trick, I’d have spit rum all over myself and him.”
They regarded Devon and Toned as they made out, then James shook himself and downed the drink. “Come on, let’s dance.”
Finally. Vaughn finished his too and followed James into the heaving mass of the dancers. Alcohol and sugar lit up his nerves and heightened his senses.
Being part of a hot, almost claustrophobic press of people was perfect—he was lost in the collective sway of humanity, movements orchestrated by rhythm and beats, bouncing and dancing. So good. He ground against James, who wouldn’t get the wrong idea, working himself into a sweaty, pulsating state of thoughtlessness.
The odd hand wormed over his ass or stomach or pec, but Vaughn gently pushed them away and they stayed away. This place was great, he decided. Not as handsy as some of the other bars in town. The music was decent too.
James backed away, prompting Vaughn to check on him. A guy behind James was rubbing his stubbly jaw against James’s neck, and James practically swooned into his arms. Vaughn grinned and turned to give him some privacy.
Only to be confronted by the sight of a blond man sandwiched between two taller, dark-haired men. Blondie kissed one of them fiercely, hand digging into the guy’s jeans, while the guy behind him pressed closely up to him, groin rubbing against his ass, one hand stroking Blondie’s dick through his obscenely tight pants. Jesus.
Vaughn began to move away, because watching sex on the dance floor wasn’t ever his idea of fun, when he realized he recognized the sandwich filling. It was the insurance guy from earlier that day, the short one who’d aggressively worked his way into the gallery.
He stole another look. Yes, it was him. The straw-like hair, the compact, lean body—now on display in very tight clothing—and the strong jaw and nose. Muscular arms reached down towards cock and up into hair. The guy was just as consumed and lost to the world as Vaughn had been moments ago.
What was the guy’s name again? Barlow? No, Sondern. Jonah Sondern.
Vaughn felt the beginnings of an evil grin. So, Jonah the intense insurance lemming was into men. Plural. At once. Who’d have thought?
The guy at Jonah’s back tapped Jonah and the other man on the shoulder and leaned forward to speak. Vaughn turned quickly, not wanting to be seen by Jonah.
Ugh. He couldn’t linger on the floor now that Jonah was there. Given James was otherwise occupied and Vaughn was suddenly very aware of how thirsty he was, it seemed a good time for a break.
Weaving his way off the dance floor, he found his friends still talking over drinks, and he sat down. A few waters later, they headed back onto the dance floor, where he got one glimpse of Jonah and his partners before the crowd obscured them.
After the third song, the drinks caught up with him and he beelined for the washroom. Inside, the stall at the end of the row was locked, moans issuing from within. Vaughn spotted a few rolled eyes from guys leaving the place as he took a spot at a urinal.
“Shit, I’m coming,” someone in the stall groaned.
Vaughn was abruptly very tired and ready to call it a night. This had been good, but peeing into a grimy urinal while men fucked in the stall behind him suddenly seemed a complete waste of time. Did he really want to keep doing this? Coming to places like this, watching his friends pair off for a few hours or the night, listening to other people have sex in a washroom, for God’s sake. How could anyone be aroused in a place that stank perpetually of piss and pubes, let alone consummate that arousal with other men peeing around them? It was beyond him. Maybe there were other ways to burn off a crap day. He should take up a sport. Running. Rock climbing. Or he could try a straight club with some of his school friends; sex in straight places just didn’t happen with the regularity of sex in gay clubs. He could dance and pee in peace.
Better yet, he could try to actually focus on painting. Be more consistent about it. Work it into a schedule and get pieces done. It wouldn’t burn off energy like dancing would, but it would definitely leave him feeling better and not being exposed to other men’s bodily fluids.
He shook himself and zipped up. He was washing his hands when the end stall unlocked and two men left with a spring in their step; Jonah the insurance lemming followed with a victorious grin lighting up his face. He looked like a tomcat fresh off a successful hunt. Every line of his body radiated languid ease and satisfaction—until his eyes met Vaughn’s in the washroom mirror and the victory dropped from his face.
Vaughn felt his blood freeze. The guy’s mouth was swollen, there were burgeoning love bites on his neck, and his hair was mussed beyond redemption—there was no doubt about what he’d been doing. The satisfied expression was gone; now he looked like he’d seen a ghost.
Or rather, his client.
This had to be embarrassing for him. Vaughn would’ve been embarrassed for sure, so the best thing to do was probably ignore him. Jonah’d appreciate that, right? Tactful silence could cover a lot of sins. He washed his hands and walked out without a backwards glance.
Outside the door, he managed about two steps towards his friends, but found his arm gripped from behind.
Evidently Jonah had other ideas.
Vaughn was yanked to the left and pulled through a door to the smoking area outside the club, the hand painfully tight around his arm, and he didn’t resist as Jonah marched him into a shadowy corner. The smoking area had two die-hard smokers shivering in the cold air, and Vaughn could taste smoke in each icy breath, the harsh chemicals adding to his unease. His heart beat quicker—what was Jonah doing? What was happening here?
About Cass Lennox
Cass Lennox is a permanent expat who has lived in more countries than she cares to admit to and suffers from a chronic case of wanderlust as a result. She started writing stories at the tender age of eleven, but would be the first to say that the early years are best left forgotten and unread. A great believer in happy endings, she arrived at queer romance via fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, and manga, and she can’t believe it took her that long. Her specialties are diverse characters, gooey happy ever afters, and brownies. She’s currently sequestered in a valley in southeast England.
Connect with Cass:
- Blog: casslennox.wordpress.com/
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/Cass-Lennox-1704635609768647/
- Twitter: twitter.com/CassLennox
To celebrate the release of Blank Spaces, one lucky winner will receive a $15 gift certificate to All Romance Ebooks! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on November 19, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!