Off World 2: Sanctuary, by Stephanie Vaughan

>> Thursday, August 30, 2007

TITLE: Off World 2: Sanctuary (ebook here or here)
AUTHOR: Stephanie Vaughan

PAGES: 288 in the print version
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press

SETTING: Futuristic - Doradus station, on a hollowed-out mining asteroid
TYPE: Gay romance
SERIES: Follows Off World.

REASON FOR READING: Vaughan is on my autobuy list, and Off World was fantastic.

Vigilant crewmember Sandy D'abu stays behind on Doradus station to mind the crew's new secure cargo business while the rest of the guys take the spaceship out on a run. There isn't a lot for him to do, so he spends his evenings at Durty Nelly's, keeping an eye on bartender Alex, a former pleasure slave a few of his crewmates feel responsible for.

When the man who made Alex's a pleasure slave back on Earth suddenly turns up as part-owner of the sex club, Sandy agrees to help Alex out by pretending to be his boyfriend. After all, what are a few kisses among friends? The problem is that Sandy doesn't want to pretend; he's already in love with Alex. Alex is still skittish about being touched at all by anyone, let alone kissed by the huge ex-soldier, and if that wasn't enough, there are plenty of bad guys in both Sandy and Alex's pasts back on earth who have escaped to Doradus station too, and they all want a piece of the action.. Will Sandy and Alex be able to put the past, and the men who want to hurt them, behind them to find a future together? Find out in this passionate sequel to Off World.
THE PLOT: OW2 takes place right after the events of OW1, but though what takes place here is a direct consequence of something that happens in the first book, this book stands alone quite well. Anyway, during OW1, Sarhaan and friends got help from Alex Valentine, a man they'd first met when he was a sex slave at a kind of brothel catering to "special" (read "completely perverted") tastes, but hadn't been able to save. Alex later managed to escape on his own, even though he'd been pumped full of drugs all the time, and made his way to the off-world station of Doradus, on a faraway asteroid. As the book starts, he's managed to be clean for some time and is working as a bartender at Durty Nelly, a high-end sex club.

Since a ear infection kept him grounded on his spaceship's latest run, his fellow crew members have asked chief engineer Sandy D'Abu to keep an eye on Alex while they're out. He's been spending his evenings at Durty Nelly doing just that (it's not like there's a lot to do on Doradus, otherwise), and during his long chats with Alex, he's become extremely attracted to the guy. However, he's aware that the events in his past have left Alex barely able to bear even the most casual of touches, so Sandy doesn't have any hopes that anything more can develop.

But circumstances change when a man from Alex's past arrives at Doradus and becomes a part-owner and Durty Nelly. Feeling threatened, Alex asks Sandy to pretend there's something more between them, and suddenly they're spending a whole lot of time together, in close quarters...

MY THOUGHTS: I loved it! I knew I would, so I made a whole production out of reading it... opened a good bottle of wine, set out some olives and cheese and crackers and then some really good chocolate and dug in. And it was totally worth it: Vaughan doesn't disappoint in the least.

It's not a perfect book, because I had a couple of little issues with the plotting. Like, how Nick's past relationship with that Nick guy is never made completely clear. It happened before Alex was forced to become a sex slave, and there seems to have been some kind of betrayal involved, but what exactly happened? What did Nick do? Why does Alex see him as so much of a threat that he's willing to "impose" on Sandy, as he sees it? I have some theories, but no certainties. And that instance of grave danger at the end kind of came out of the blue.

But did these very few small plot issues lessen my enjoyment of the book one whit? Hell, no. I was wholly caught up in the relationship, and that was just lovely. Alex is a wonderful wounded hero, a man still haunted by the horrors of what happened to him a few years earlier and convinced he'll never be able to have a real relationship with another man, and furthermore, that if he's ever able to handle it, he's not really worth anything. He's damaged goods, more trouble than he's worth, etc. He might have become annoying or whiny in another author's hands, but he never did here. I was totally rooting for him and found his insecurities and doubts just heartbreaking.

Sandy was the perfect guy for Alex, and I loved that Alex was the perfect guy for Sandy, too, because Sandy was such an incredibly good, decent man and he deserved it. He's the gentle giant kind, a scary looking Samoan, all huge and tattooed, but a tender, caring sweetie on the inside.

That's just how their relationship was, actually, tender and caring, as well as very, very sexy. And the best thing was, it's not just Alex who finds the sanctuary of the title. Both of them do, with each other, because Sandy has his own issues that are made much better by being with Alex, and that made for a much better relationship than if it had been one-sided. The focus of the story was squarely on that relationship, with the outside plot merely creating the circumstances for a closeness that would have been harder to achieve naturally.

MY GRADE: A very solid B+. Gorgeous book!

NOTE: I initially tried to buy the book directly from Torquere, but MY GOD, their website is crap. My payment just wouldn't go through, so I had to search and search for it, since it wasn't at Fictionwise yet. Finally, I ended up buying it from All Romance Ebooks in MS Reader format, rather than the html I was trying to get from Torquere. Good thing I was determined to get the book, because I suspect a casual shopper would have just given up.


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