Tom Hannity is not boring, despite what his ex-boyfriend says. He loves his circle of family and friends and finds peace in the beauty of flower arranging. Still stinging from his recent breakup, Tom attends an Anti-Valentine’s Day “Ex-orcism,” hoping for some fun and forgetfulness.
Mario Tellez is tired of party boys, and he’s had his eye on Tom for a while. When they run into each other at the Ex-orcism, sparks fly, until an accidentally overheard conversation drives Tom to do something he normally doesn’t do.
What should have been a hot and fun night turns into Tom and Mario seeing each other at their absolute worst, although surprisingly, it brings out the best in them, too. Navigating around the toxic people in their lives isn’t easy, and after a small series of bumps in the road, they finally come around full circle… to Valentine’s Day and laying old demons to rest.
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Love and the Exorcism by Melanie Hansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Melanie Hansen describes her Valentine’s Day short story Love and the Exorcism as “hot, sweet, and non-angsty.” It certainly is that, and more, supporting Melanie’s theme of normal people in real-life situations finding their happy ever afters.
Tom is a florist who recently got dumped by his cheating ex, Jake, whom he thought was the hottest guy in town… Until he meets successful Latino landscaper, Mario, at an anti-Valentine’s Day party hosted by their mutual friend Suzette to “ex-orcize” her former husband.
Since the gay dating scene is limited in their area, Mario has seen Tom around town when Tom was with Jake. Mario thinks that Tom is the better man, nice and classy, than Jake. Tom went out with Jake because he has some self-esteem issues and there aren’t many options in their area. So, he can’t quiet believe that the hunky Mario would be into him.
But there’s much more to Mario than being easy on the eye. He’s just as sweet on Tom as Tom is sweet on him. And he’s got personal demons of his own. The overall tone of the story is lighthearted, warm, and fuzzy, but the conflict reflects a cold reality of how the people who are supposed to love you can also be the most mean-spirited people in your life.
Tom and Mario are lucky to find their soul mates in an insulated community and the unconditional love romantics crave. They are an adorable, hot couple managing the ups and downs of a new relationship and learning the importance of communicating their fears as well as their hopes-real people trying to make each other happy and a difference in each other’s lives.
I liked the sensory descriptions of the sunshine and the ocean breeze. I liked the tenderness, sweetness, and joy of their lovemaking, as well as their kink for roughing it up against a balcony or closed door. And I really loved the club scene. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded if the characters had spent more time there. It seemed like a lot of fun.
Love and the Exorcism is such a sweet, sexy, short read that I wanted more, because the characters and their lives seemed larger than the story. As always I look forward to reading Melanie Hansen’s future books.
*ARC received from the author for an honest review.
IT WAS eight thirty before Tom knocked on Suzanne’s door, and he wondered if she would even hear him over the thumping music emanating from within. He winced, already regretting having come. He could turn around and leave and Suz would be none the wiser….
Just then the door was yanked open, and Tom stared. Suzanne stood there in some kind of naughty nun outfit. She was actually wearing a wimple, along with a micro-miniskirt, fishnet stockings, and sky-high red stilettos.
She grinned at him, her teeth white against the blood-red lipstick coating her mouth, and Tom almost groaned aloud. A theme party? He hated shit like this!
“Welcome to the Ex-orcism!” she exclaimed as she grabbed his arm and yanked him inside. He had a brief moment of horror, wondering if he’d be the only one at the party not in cosplay, then relaxed when he saw the other attendees milling around in regular clothes.
Suzanne took the bag of chips Tom was clutching and led him back toward the kitchen.
“Tonight we drive out the spirits of our exes,” she intoned, tossing the bag of chips down among the others on the kitchen island. Tom could see a bonfire merrily blazing in the fire pit in Suzanne’s backyard. A mound of stuffed animals, clothes, and other things were next to it, ready to be burned.
Oh God, could it get any worse? All he’d wanted was a little company tonight, maybe a few laughs, not some idiotic ritual that he was sure violated every fire code there was.
“I didn’t bring anything to burn. You didn’t tell me to,” he muttered, and Suzanne grabbed his arm again, plastering herself to his side.
“Oh, come on, you don’t have a picture stuck in your wallet or something?”
Tom stared at her. “Who carries actual pictures anymore, Suz?” he asked, his voice incredulous. He fished his phone out of the pocket of his khaki pants and held it up. “We all have photo albums on our phones these days!”
She considered that and shrugged. “I guess you can do a ritual deleting of the album then,” she chirped, undeterred. “You gotta do something to ex-orcise Jake.”
Tom didn’t bother to tell her, but he’d already done that. When Jake had tossed his spare key onto Tom’s kitchen counter, given him the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech, and breezed out the door like the past half year meant nothing, Tom hadn’t cried, hadn’t broken anything. He’d just spent the next hour going through his apartment with methodical precision and erasing every single trace of Jake from it: his toothbrush, razor, a few pairs of underwear, and a Star Wars T-shirt Tom knew was one of his favorites. He’d bagged it all up in a green trash bag, tossed it in the apartment complex dumpster, and was done with it. There was no need to dramatically burn anything on Valentine’s Day. Jesus Christ.
Suzanne shoved a blood-red Jell-O shot in his hand, and Tom downed it, wincing at the burn of the vodka mixed with cherry Jell-O. He doubted it was that strong, but he so very rarely drank….
“I call that ‘Love on the Rocks,’” she informed him, then kissed him on the cheek and disappeared. Tom grabbed a napkin and scrubbed the lipstick off his face, poured himself some plain ginger ale into a red Solo cup, and wandered into the living room.
Scanning the faces, he was relieved to see he recognized most of them, and he joined a group of guys chilling on the large sectional couch.
“Tommy, how’s it hangin’?”
Tom reached out and bumped knuckles with Seth, another one of his old circle of college friends, and plopped down next to him with a sigh. “Can’t complain. I’ll be glad when this fucking day is over, though.”
“Tell me about it,” Seth groused. “I miss my wife, and she comes home tomorrow.”
Tom looked at him. “That’s right. You’re married! Why are you even here, man?”
Seth shrugged. “Marissa’s away on a business trip. Didn’t have anything else to do, so I figured I’d come crash y’all’s Lonely Hearts Club.”
Tom snorted. “Ex-orcism. Right. I’ll be leaving before those particular festivities.”
“Aww, don’t be such a spoilsport, Tommy.” Seth’s voice held a note of mild reproof. “Suz has been through a lot this past year. She needs this.”
A wave of shame swept through Tom, and his face burned. Shit. Self-absorbed much? Suzanne was going through a bitter divorce after almost ten years of marriage, and all he’d been thinking about was that he didn’t need this; it hadn’t even entered his mind that she might.
“You’re right,” he murmured. He knew that was the real reason Seth was here: to support their friend on her first postbreakup Valentine’s Day.
Seth elbowed him in acknowledgment, and when they all eventually gathered around the fire pit, Tom tried at first to get into the spirit of things; he really did. But the choking smoke that billowed over them, the acrid smell of burning fabric and melted plastic filling the air, soon drove him back to lean against a nearby porch column.
He stood there, not wanting to come any closer, watching Suzanne cry as she tossed a teddy bear into the fire.
“He won me this at the fair. It was our first date,” she sobbed. “And I kept it for ten fucking years. Bye, Teddy!”
As the ritual went on, Tom couldn’t help glancing at his watch a few times, wondering if he’d been there long enough to take his leave without looking like a complete asshole. Deciding with a sigh he should stay at least another half hour, he slipped into the kitchen to refresh his ginger ale, then headed back outside to his column.
There was a small group of men nearby with their backs to him, and as Tom approached, he heard one of them say, “Who’s that complete tool in the striped polo? I’ve never seen him at one of Suz’s parties before.”
Tom froze midstride, glancing down at himself automatically although he knew damn well he was the only one wearing a striped polo shirt. Tool? Indignation made his face burn.
“Shows up here dressed like a GQ photo shoot, then acts like he’s better than anyone else.”
Tom’s mouth fell open. How dare that little bitch judge him? And who was he to talk about looking like a tool? Tom had noticed him when he first came in, unknown to him but apparently a friend of Suz’s. The idiot was dressed in some stupid hot-pink tank top with the name of an underwear company catering to gay men scrawled across the front. Who wore a tank top in February, even in Florida? Asshole.
“I think he’s some friend of Suzanne’s from college,” said a different voice. “Has to be a pity invite. He certainly doesn’t seem like any fun.”
“Well, I think he’s kinda hot. All I can think about is messing up that perfect hair.” Now this voice was deep and husky, with a sensual, suggestive undertone that sent a little quiver through Tom’s body, replacing the anger.
“Come on, Mario, really?” the bitchy one said. “He looks like the type who fucks his wife in the dark, under the covers, with her nightgown hiked up. Prim and proper.”
Tom gasped in renewed outrage, but then the second voice said, “Oh, I remember who he is now! He’s Jake’s ex.”
The bitch cackled. “Oh, he’s the one. Works in some lame-ass flower shop or whatever. Jake said he was boring as hell.”
The wave of pain that coursed through him weakened Tom’s knees, and a roaring sound started up in his ears. Boring? Lame-ass?
You’re a great guy, Tom. I’m just not ready to settle down. If I was, it would be with you, okay?
Tom wasn’t an idiot; he knew Jake was feeding him a line of bullshit, but he had appreciated being let down easily. Now to hear that Jake was trashing him—making him a laughingstock to people like this muscle-bound little prick who thought wearing bubblegum-pink gave him the right to criticize others’ apparel—cut right through him.
“Well, Jake is a party boy with a serious drinking problem.” This came from Mario. “I don’t think I’d trust a fucking word out of his mouth.”
The sea breeze shifted, and a fresh wave of choking smoke from the fire pit wafted right over Tom, making him cough. Before he could dart away into the kitchen, the group of men turned to see who was behind them, and Tom found himself staring straight into their faces.
Bubblegum’s face was florid with drink and laughter, his bright blue eyes filled with malicious humor. The other two men seemed mortified at being overheard, looking anywhere but at Tom. But the fourth man—his eyes were a deep brown, fringed with thick black lashes. The smile on his well-shaped, full lips wasn’t mean or embarrassed but warm and inviting as he traced his gaze leisurely over Tom, from his toes back up to his face.
The man, Mario, winked at him, and Tom’s lips parted in reaction as heat pooled in his belly. Just then Bubblegum, that prick, gave a sort of derisive snort, breaking the spell. His earlier words slammed back into Tom like the force of a blow.
Well, fuck you, Jake!
Everyone might store their pictures on their phones these days, but Tom did have something of Jake’s on him, a cheap leather bracelet Jake had tied around Tom’s wrist one night not long after they met. Tom had worn it ever since, and even after Jake left, he couldn’t quite bring himself to take it off. Now he practically tore his hand from his wrist trying to yank it loose, and as he strode over to the fire pit to fling it in, Suzanne’s approving cheer rang in his ears: “Ex-orcism, baby!”