Title: With a Touch
Author: Sasha L Miller
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 16k words
Genre: m/m Fantasy Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Halloween Rentboys, Halloween, Rent Boys, Magic, Alternative World
Rating: Pretty Good
In his search for the missing candidate who can stop the unceasing rains plaguing the country, Eneko is led to a cluster of rentboys desperately trying to make money despite the foul weather. When the candidate once more runs away, Eneko is left relying on the remaining rentboys, including the handsome, self-contained, and highly distracting Lain.
Part of the beauty of this story, for me, was that the blurb reveals very little about the world. In keeping with that, I’ll forgo a summary here as well. The world is truly what made this story special. Though definitely a romance, and quite sweet as well, the world is what captured my interest and which allows the romance to develop. When we start the story, all we know is that there is a mysterious “candidate” that Eneko is looking for, and that his success in eluding capture is what is causing the terrible drenching rains that has made their city ground to a halt. Rain plays a major role here, thought the control of the elements is seen as a magic above any other, and the reason finding the candidate is so important.
The rather atmospheric setting immediately sets the mood during the early part of the story. What I found intriguing, though, was that it also sets a mysterious tone. Their city is literally falling apart at the seams, because of so much rain, something usually seen as a symbolic renewal, but which in this story shows a pervasive sadness over the city. That juxtaposition is carried forward in the story as we meet the characters and learn a bit more about the world. I always felt just a little off balance and didn’t really know where the story was going. That’s why I loved not having much information about the world before starting the story. Without knowing that, we don’t really know what is going on, what a “candidate” is and why it is important. This is also shown in the rent boys, as we get to know them. They know more than anyone that you have to be careful who you can trust, and it led me to wonder what type of government or hierarchical system the city had and whether it could be trusted. I appreciated that we’re pulled into the story that way not only through the rent boys’ distrust of Eneko and who he represents, but that the world around them literally reflects that.
Of course, the focus of the story was separated from the romance in some respects, because the romance develops bit by bit between the rest of the story. That meant that we ended the story with a little less romance than I had hoped for. It really depends on what you like to get out of a romance short story whether this will satisfy you or not (in the romance department, anyway). The world and story itself was pretty well done and definitely satisfying for me. Also, I don’t have a problem with characters taking it slow and ending the story with only a promise of more, without the romance quite yet off the ground. So, while I would have liked to see more between Eneko and Lain, I still thoroughly enjoyed this story. It ended up being one of my favorite of the Halloween Rentboy stories from Less Than Three Press. Of course, I’ve long been a fan of this author and will continue to be. In many ways, this story is right up her alley and something that fans of the author and her past work (especially other shorts) will like. Recommended!