Today we're kicking off the blogtour for Heidi Cullinan's upcoming release
Love Lessons #3
Even hot messes need a happily ever after.
With the quiet help of his wealthy family, Sebastian “Baz” Acker has successfully kept his painful past at bay. But as the end of college draws near, his friends—his buffer zone—are preparing to move on, while his own life is at a crippling standstill.With loneliness bearing down on him, Baz hooks up—then opens up—with Elijah Prince, the guy Baz took a bullet for last year. The aftershocks of their one-night stand leave giant cracks in Baz’s carefully constructed armor. For the first time, the prospect isn’t terrifying.
Accustomed to escaping his demons by withdrawing into his imagination, Elijah isn’t used to having a happy herd of friends. He’s even less comfortable as the object of a notorious playboy’s affections. Yet all signs seem to indicate this time happiness might be within his grasp. When Baz’s mother runs for a highly sought-after public office, the media hounds drag Baz’s and Elijah’s pasts into the light. In the blinding glare, Baz and Elijah face the ultimate test: discovering if they’re stronger together…or apart.
Warning: Contains sex in a Tesla, sex in a cupboard, sex under a piano, kinky role play, and a cappella RuPaul songs. Just a couple of boys groping, battling, then finally loving their way to becoming men.
“I don’t know. I think maybe this whole thing is a bad idea. I should stay, earn money.”
“Forget the money.” Elijah glared at him. “Easy for you to say.” A tic formed in Baz’s cheek. He shut the computer and glared right back, or ostensibly he did. Fucking sunglasses. He looked as if he wanted to say something but kept swallowing it.
Elijah gripped the mug so hard he thought he might break it. If he offers to pay me to be his date at the fundraiser, I’m throwing this coffee at his head.
Baz threw up his hands. “Fine. If you don’t want to go, say so.”
God, Elijah hated how this guy could tie him up inside. “I didn’t say I didn’t want to. I said I shouldn’t. I need to make money. Be responsible.”
“You have enough money in your fund for school. More than enough.” “
Yes, and my fund makes me want to throw up.”
“Because it’s at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and still rising. Somebody, one person, put twenty-five thousand in just the other day. I could go to school twice with what’s in that account. I don’t understand where it all came from. Who all these people are. I owe all of them. I don’t know what I owe them. Just that I do and have no way to ever pay them back.”
“You don’t need to pay anybody back. You certainly don’t owe penance in the school cafeteria.”
“What the fuck would you know about it?”
He snorted. “Penance? I know plenty.”
Elijah clutched his coffee to his belly, sloshing some on his pajama pants. He stared at the floor, feeling angry, anxious and hollow. “I don’t want it. The money. The help. But I don’t have any choice. I have to take it. But I don’t know what to do with it.” Tears pricked his eyes, and he shut them. Tight.
When he heard the scrape of Baz’s chair, his stomach flipped over. He tried to drink his coffee, but his hand shook. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Baz’s bare feet appeared in front of his own. Hands took the coffee cup away.
Elijah wrapped his arms around his belly and kept staring at the floor, except now he stared at Baz’s groin and feet. “You don’t understand.”
“The fuck I don’t. Ever since that goddamned night when I was sixteen, I’ve had bubble wrap around me. Yeah, I was a privileged rich kid, but after I was thetragic rich kid. My whole family and all my friends live to wipe my ass. Poor Sebastian. Don’t upset him. But don’t let him hurt himself. Don’t let anything happen. You want to talk about feeling like you owe somebody? Every goddamn day they all remind me I’m the boy who lived. Then they want to know why I can’t move on.”
Baz was so close each breath Elijah drew was Baz-scented. Night sweat and coffee and a whisper of morning breath, lingering detergent and old deodorant not cutting the mustard anymore. How fucked up was he? Baz was baring his soul, and all Elijah wanted to do was lick him.
When Baz put a hand on Elijah’s hip, Elijah had to grip the counter to keep from leaning into him. Talk. Stop being such a fucking mopey tool. “Why...why do you...” want me? “Why...me?”
On Elijah’s hip, Baz’s thumb made a slow circle. “I don’t know.” Slower circles. Like a massage. Four inches from Elijah’s groin. “I don’t know.”
Elijah dug his fingernails into the Formica. “You’re going to be a jerk again. And then we’ll be in the middle of the fucking desert or something.”
“No deserts in Illinois.”
“Fine. You’ll leave me in a cornfield.”
“You’re the only one who can drive. You can leave me in the cornfield.”
“Like I would.”
“You would, actually. I think... I think that might be why. Why...you.”
I love Heidi Cullinan's writing.
When I was approved for an ARC of this book (thank you, Samhain), I did the happy dance and started reading.
Yeah, there are some pop culture references within that required context, like Howl's Moving Castle, but even though I may not have been familiar with that book and movie, it didn't distract nor deter from the story in this 3rd installment of the Love Lessons series.
Aptly named, too, this series. Much like Walter had to learn that lesson in the first book, and Giles and Aaron in the 2nd one, book 3 gives Baz (he with the constant sun glasses) and Elijah (he with the religious nuts for parents) a chance to learn what love is all about for themselves.
Because, trust me, they needed to learn. Both of them are a hot mess in their own way.
The book starts with Kelly and Walter's wedding, which all their friends attend, including Elijah and Baz, with Disney and glitter galore, and a performance by the Ambassadors, after which Baz and Elijah sneak off to Baz's Tesla for a bit of drugs, alcohol and sex.
As a matter of fact, while this series is generally sweeter than Heidi's other books, the sex in Lonely Hearts is pretty raunchy. But both Baz and Elijah have seen more crap in their young lives than anyone should, so I wasn't expecting bubblegum pop and unicorns.
Both of them are damaged. We saw some of that damage in Fever Pitch, but the extent of Elijah's fucked-up parents is only fully coming out in this book. The same goes for Baz - of two of them, he's actually the more fragile, not only physically, but certainly emotionally. When he shares his story with Elijah, I cried. The fact that he survived THAT is a double-edged sword for him. Not only is there survivor guilt eating at him, but also the aftermath of it, of having to carry that burden of expectations, because he's the one who lived. While he pushes everyone away, with an easy smile and the ever-present shades, afraid to love, unwilling to let anyone see the real him, he doesn't question though is that he himself is loved.
Elijah on the other hand doesn't believe anyone will ever love him, nor will anyone stay if he doesn't meet their expectations. Prescription pills his drug of choice, numbing his pain with those and alcohol, he has closed himself off from everyone, even Aaron and Giles. After the incident at the end of Fever Pitch, Elijah has been living with the school pastor and his wife, both of whom are wonderful, amazing, kind people, and going to classes paid for by the growing "Elijah Prince" fund, donations from all kinds of people, and someone I suspected early on was adding larger chunks. He trusts no one completely, not even the pastor's wife, who becomes more of a mother to Elijah than his own ever was, and he certainly doesn't trust Baz. No, the walls are up, they're high, and nobody's gonna get into that particular castle.
Living this way, keeping everyone at bay makes for two very lonely people.
But love wins, and neither Baz nor Elijah are immune in the end.
Dirty, hot sex turns into a real romance, a relationship, both of them scared to let it happen, but neither strong enough to make it stop.
I loved almost all the supporting characters, especially the pastor's wife, loved that we got to visit with Aaron and Giles, Mina, Walter and Kelly, everyone at the "White House", and I loved that Heidi introduced Lewis/Lejla, a trans character who will hopefully get her own book.
I strongly disliked Baz's mother. The crap she unleashed on him, with her machinations, was not doing her any favors in the "me-likey" department, and she seriously pissed me off. Until she redeems herself somewhat, though I wasn't mollified, only less irritated.
Both of these young men go through a lot, but also really grow into themselves throughout this book. That's the kind of thing I like to see, and Heidi, as usual, didn't disappoint. Yeah, there's pain, there's hurt, there were tears, but I knew they were in love before they would even admit it to themselves.
A brilliant 3rd installment, one I had been looking forward to, and I devoured it.
** I received a free copy from the publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **
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Directly from the author herself, a little background info...
WHY I WROTE THE BOOK/INSIGHTS INTO BAZ AND ELIJAH AS CHARACTERS
Fever Pitch was never meant to be a sequel to Love Lessons, and I had no plans initially for a lengthy series, but then I met Elijah. In Fever Pitch I only ever wanted Elijah to be the cranky roommate, sort of an antithesis to Walter and Kelly’s roommate romance. I figured out quickly he was gay, but he wasn’t just cranky, he was brutal, and I didn’t understand why. As soon as I learned the depth of his backstory, I knew he’d have a story.
Baz was much the same. His role in Fever Pitch was to be the wrong choice, Aaron reaching too easily for comfort. He too grabbed my attention, especially those sunglasses. Why did he wear them all the time? He honestly gave me goosebumps, because his disabilities and internal injuries lined themselves up before I got to research them properly. And of course the more I wrote him, the more I realized he was hiding some seriously soft insides.
Both Elijah and Baz walked onto the page of Fever Pitch and sparkled all on their own. I didn’t know they shared a past until Baz jumped in front of Elijah in the parking lot, but all they had to do was look at one another, and I knew they’d live happily ever after, together.
I loved writing Lonely Hearts because Baz and Elijah weren’t simply wounded heroes. They’d both suffered serious trauma in their past, they were survivors and by and large they had their heads on straight about the rough hands life had dealt them. What it was clear they didn’t know, however, was how to be intimate with other people. Their life experiences allowed them to feel very deeply, made them rich and strong, but they couldn’t figure out how to share that with anyone else.
More than any characters I’ve ever written, I feel like Baz and Elijah could only be happily ever after with each other. You’ll have to let me know if you agree.
More about Heidi:
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.
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Promotional materials provided by the author.