“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have - life itself.” ~ Walter Anderson
People often tell Joel Jones of 'Cervena' by Louise Lyons that he's too softhearted; Joel often goes out of his way to trust or help someone who needs it. When he takes Sasha in and gives him a job, a place to live, and, eventually, his heart, Joel does a good thing. But trusting his business partner, Karel, is one time when Joel's soft heart gets him into serious trouble. Not only does Karel betray him, but he also puts Joel and Sasha in danger because the money Karel lost gambling, he owes the mob.
When Joel returns from an emergency trip home to England, he finds that the man he trusted and called friend has almost completely bankrupted the nightclub they worked so hard to make a success. Joel is appalled at Karel's deliberate corruption of their business, taking it from a stylish, upscale club down to the level of the other sleazy, disreputable bars in town. Joel works quickly to try to undo what Karel has done, restoring the club back to the sophisticated level it was before he left. Joel is especially upset about the unfair treatment of his employees, Sasha in particular. Joel's relationship with Sasha had just begun when he left, and Sasha thought they had a good thing going, based on more than just sex; but after Karel told everyone Joel was not coming back, Sasha had basically given up on ever seeing him again. Fortunately, he and Joel are able to pick up the pieces and move forward with their relationship which continues to strengthen.
When the mob can't get the money Karel owes them, they go after Joel for the money. To give him more 'incentive' to pay, they threaten Sasha with harm if Joel doesn't pay up. Joel, now deeply in love with Sasha, will do almost anything to keep him from harm even if it involves selling Cervena. Even though Joel is scrambling as fast as he can, the mob becomes impatient and raises the stakes, charging interest on top of the amount Karel owed them. Since the threat made about hurting Sasha, Joel has kept him as close as possible, moving him into Joel's apartment, going to work together, basically not letting Sasha out of his sight. Even with all this vigilance, the bad guys manage to take him. Joel almost loses his mind - he has to have him back! Sasha is his heart now, the only thing that makes life worth living. Not having any other course of action, he makes a deal with the devil, turning to someone he's not at all sure he can trust, in order to ensure Sasha's return.
My favorite element of this story was Joel's character and strength. He has a compassion that others call a weakness. Joel has a great moral compass and always takes the high road. When he finds Sasha digging around in his trash, instead of sending him away, Joel brings him in and gives him a start on a new life. Also, Sasha is very attractive and Joel wants him almost right away, but does not approach him for fear that Sasha would feel “obligated” to have sex with him. Joel wants to make sure Sasha knows that is not the case and is delighted that Sasha feels the same way. In each other, they find something more precious than money or success, they find a deep abiding love. If you enjoy a fast-moving story filled with night club life, intrigue, angst, sex, betrayal, and love conquering all, you may enjoy this book. Thanks, Louise, for the intense, sexy read and, especially, for introducing me to Joel, who has become one of my favorite characters.