Falling for his final client won’t make leaving London easy…
Ian ~ A talented, young photographer desperate to stay in London.
Guy ~ An older, fierce food critic, determined to keep him in his city.
Ian shouldn’t be attracted to a scathing food critic like Guy Parsons, not after the last time he fell for someone older, arrogant, and gorgeous. He knows better than to let dramatic good looks sway him since his last heartbreak. Besides, he’s accepted a new job at the far end of the country and won’t be staying in London.
Having one month left doesn’t seem enough now Ian’s fallen in love with the city. Working as Guy’s photographer for December might help him afford to stay for longer, even if he hates Guy’s brand of restaurant reviewing. When Guy turns out to be worlds away from the last man Ian fell for, shared meals soon result in shared secrets and feelings.
More than attraction sparks between them as Christmas approaches. Intimate moments lead to intense passion, but is being well matched in the bedroom enough to stop the clock counting down to Ian leaving London, and Guy, for good?
Romance novellas are very often hit-and-miss for me. Truth be told, the majority of them ‘miss’, usually because the characters and relationship are underdeveloped, so I generally approach with caution. But every so often, a novella or ‘shorter novel’ comes along that defies my expectations – and I’m pleased to say that Con Riley’s His Last Christmas in London did exactly that. It’s a lovely, poignant and sensual age-gap romance that hit me right in the feels and left me sighing happily when I finished it.
Twenty-four-year-old Ian Fisher has decided it’s time to give up on his dream of making a living as a freelance photographer in London and take a secure short-term job back home in Cornwall. It’s going to be a massive wrench; he loves the city and he loves his two flatmates, Seb and Patrick, but he’s making next to nothing thanks to his arsehole of a former boss – and former lover – who is holding out on giving him a reference after Ian realised the guy had been gaslighting him for ages and passing Ian’s work off as his own, and left both his employ and his bed. His confidence in his abilities has been severely shaken, and without the reference, it’s proving next to impossible for Ian to get any work, so he’s resorted to selling off some of his equipment just so he can afford his rent, even though Seb and Patrick have said they’ll spot him until he starts earning again. But Ian doesn’t want to be a drain on them, and decides it’s time to face facts, suck it up and take the six-month teaching contract he’s been offered while he works out what his next move should be.
Doing a favour for his ex is the last thing Ian wants to do, so when Lito Dixon – who is clearly partying – calls and asks Ian to “go and take some food shots” for a high-profile client, Ian’s first instinct is to say no. But realising Lito is desperate, Ian demands both his reference and three times his usual fee – it’ll keep him afloat for a little while longer – and when Lito begrudingly agrees, Ian takes the job.
Guy Parsons is a well-known restaurant critic whose reviews have often been labelled as “career-ending” and “business crushing”. Still smarting from just having to deal with one utter bastard, Ian is in little mood to deal with another, and arrives at the restaurant predisposed to dislike Parsons on sight. When he arrives, he can’t help noticing how very striking the man is – with his flow of dark hair and warm, dark eyes – and is even thrown by the hostess’ description of him as “lovely”, which Ian decides must be just a front he maintains before going in for the kill. He wastes no time in making his opinion of Guy perfectly clear when he arrives at the table, but the wind is taken out of his sails when Guy calmly (and somewhat mischievously) plays up to the hostess’ assumption that they’re a couple. Confused and surprised at the powerful attraction he’s feeling for the other man, Ian slowly lets go of his preconceptions as Guy proves himself to be funny, charming and insightful – anything but a bastard, in fact – insisting Ian joins him for dinner, giving helpful advice to the new proprietors of the restaurant, and showing genuine concern for Ian and a real appreciation for his talent.
The chemistry between Ian and Guy simply leaps off the page, the intense current of attraction running between them from the moment Ian sits down growing even stronger through the meal. It’s as though this… thing… between them has taken on a life of its own, neither of them quite believing they’re about to do what they’re about to do as they race back to Guy’s flat. For ‘dessert’.
Lito calls the next morning, angry that Guy has requested Ian for the remainder of his pre-Christmas photo shoots, but Guy is a prestigious client and Lito has to go along with it. This affords Ian a short reprieve before he has to leave London, and he determines to make the most of it – hopefully, with Guy. Ian told Guy he would be leaving London soon, so whatever is happening between them comes with an expiry date, but at least they both know where they stand. Over the assignments and the days and weeks that follow, Ian gets to know the real Guy, the Guy who knows his way around a kitchen and is free with his help and advice, the Guy who is an excellent listener, the Guy who is kind, funny, thoughtful, and possessed of a true generosity of spirit – the Guy who is just emerging from the stark grief of losing of his husband three years earlier. This Guy is a man Ian can’t help wanting to know more of, to spend more time with – a man he could even love… but that expiry date is looming.
This is a poignant and gorgeously romantic story about finding true love in the most unexpected of places, about second chances and about finding what, who and where you’re meant to be. I was so glad to know that Guy’s marriage was a very happy one (so often in romances the previous partner was a shit) and I loved the parallels the author draws between that relationship – Guy’s husband was a lot older than him when they first met – and Guy’s relationship with Ian, with Guy now the older man offering support and understanding, knowing that what Ian needs is someone to have his back, but not to fight his battles for him. The imbalances that come with a twenty year age gap (the established career and economic security are all on one side) are not ignored, but they truly don’t matter as much as what these two men have to offer each other or what they come to mean to one another, with Guy helping Ian to re-kindle his confidence and belief in his abilities and Ian reminding Guy what it’s like to feel truly valued and bringing love and light back into his life.
His Last Christmas in London bowled me over in much the same way Ian and Guy bowl each other over. Their romance is beautifully written and utterly swoonworthy, and the strong, passionate emotional connection that develops between them is superbly drawn. They’re likeable, engaging characters with plenty of depth snd real, rounded personalities, and the London setting is perfectly and vividly described through Ian’s photographer’s eye. The handful of secondary characters – especially Seb and Patrick – are strongly realised, and I loved the little ‘Easter Egg’ throwbacks to His Haven. Warm, touching, funny and sexy, it’ll make you smile, will bring a tear to the eye in the best of ways, and is the perfect book to cuddle up with on a grey winter’s afternoon.