Wendy reviews ‘Handsome Death’ by Sara Dobie Bauer. Published by Carnation Books April 10, 2020, 72 thousand words.
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I feel an itch on the back of my neck so glance behind me, and indeed, there he is, the blond kid from yesterday. I must have caught him staring, because as soon as I turn to look, he ducks his head and goes back to reading.
I shouldn’t approach him. Granted, he’s stunning. Most vampires would love to get their hands on his bare skin, but I’m not one for picking up humans outside of blood clubs. I’m cautious. Vampires can get in a lot of trouble for biting a human without consent. Like sentenced-to-death trouble. The humans at blood clubs know what they’re getting into. This guy? He looks like a puppy in need of a cuddle. He has no idea what a vampire could do to him.
Maybe some reconnaissance is in order. Just to, you know, make sure he’s all right after yesterday’s altercation.
I’m lying to myself. This isn’t a protective detail in Serbia, this is me away from combat too long and bored in New York.
He sits at one of the heavy wooden tables with the lid off his cup. His hair hangs halfway over his forehead, tilted down over a paperback, but I can still see his mouth, the way he chews his bottom lip, making it pinker, fuller.
I walk right up to his table. I don’t wait for him to look up. I don’t wait for an invitation. I just sit.
He startles at my arrival. His eyes widen and stare at me.
“Who are you?” I ask. I’ve always been really good at openings.
“Uhh.” His forehead wrinkles.
I drum my fingertips on the table. “I’ve never seen you in here before.”
“You saw me yesterday.” He folds the top corner of a page in his paperback: Dracula by Bram Stoker. “You saved my ass yesterday.”
“Before yesterday,” I reply.
He sighs. “A Starbuck’s bought out my favorite coffee shop, so I guess this is now my favorite coffee shop. Buy local.” He scoops his messenger bag off the floor and shoves the book inside.
The kid has one of those runway model faces—gaunt if not so beautiful, sharp and yet soft. Freckles? Zero. Wait, no, he’s got just a smattering that you would only notice close-up … or with well-trained vampiric eyes. He has no shadow of recently shaved facial hair, and that’s no surprise based on the white-blond of his hair. He must moisturize those lips because nobody’s mouth just naturally looks like the perfect mixture of velvet and silk.
He sighs again, louder. “You’re staring at me.”
No, I’m studying him—checking out his vulnerable areas, which are pretty much everywhere considering he’s so thin and fragile-looking.
As for everyone else in the coffee shop, they’re looking at the kid like they want to take him to bed. I catch a girl at the next table over gawking. A big dude with a beard stands in line to our right, his mouth hanging half open as he admires.
“Everyone is staring at you,” I respond.
His pale cheeks burn bright red as he swoops his bag onto his shoulder and stands. “No, that’s …” He shakes his head. “Ha, no.” He doesn’t say goodbye. He even leaves his coffee, half-consumed on the table. He up and abandons me without a word, but I do watch him go—as does half of Inky Grounds.
Once he disappears out into the early October morning, I turn back around and stare at his deserted coffee. Granted, I’m not smooth—I get it—but he didn’t have to run out like that. I just wanted to see that he was safe. Shit, I don’t even know his name.
I’m always astounded by Sara Dobie Bauer’s characters. These guys are so complex and realistic that I fell into the story immediately and could easily believe that all manner of paranormal beasties were walking amongst us being part of our every day lives.
But, back to the complex character for a minute… She writes the most beautifully broken yet strong fellas. Guys like Tristan, who were abused and struggle with feelings of self worth. A young man who’d been told over and over by his ex that he’s not good enough, not bright enough, not handsome enough, told that he will never be enough. Tristan still has the capacity to love his friends and family and follow his dreams to study as a classically trained pianist with throngs of fans all over the world. He still wears clothing that’s too large but has an almost intimate attachment to a coat that his vampire boyfriend gave him. And he has a “thing” about getting gifts so getting and keeping the coat is a huge deal. A life altering deal. Tris has an almost… (I’m struggling for the words here) detached attitude about being turned into a vampire but I think he’d subconsciously buried his feelings about it. He does have the biggest freak out when it all hits him. Still, Tris is a gentle soul that doesn’t want to bite humans to feed but has no trouble at all biting his vampire lover Ethan. He’s precious.
And Ethan, who is so broken that he doesn’t even know he’s broken. I f’love Ethan so much! He starts out by telling himself that he is “protecting” Tris when he’s really just stalking him. I had a couple of laugh out loud moments reading some of the things that Ethan told himself in order to justify his behavior. Once he realizes and accepts that he needs Tris in his life he becomes one of the sweetest killers I’ve ever read. And when he “meets the parents”? OMG, so fun to see the ‘French Butcher’ freak out like a teen picking up his first date.
I loved how this book made me feel. The romance, the drama, angst, and love that these two feel and navigate through their relationship was a beautiful thing to see/read. This one’s going into the re-read stash because I’ll be re-visiting it often!
10/10 Pots of Gold or 100% recommended
Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, mental health speaker, and LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. She lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. Her current obsession with Timothee Chalamet runs deep, and don’t even get her started on Call Me By Your Name.