Reviewed by Helyce
Sage Bradley comes home one day and finds a gorgeous stranger in the hallway outside his apartment. The stranger claims to have been at a party in his apartment and want to pick up something he’d left behind. Sage assures the man that he had not had a party, but offers to help by calling the manager to see if he knew who might have had one. Sage invites the man inside his apartment to wait.
Mr. Lavender, or Hugh as he introduces himself to Sage, is really there for just one thing, to kill Sage Bradley. But something is just not right about this contract. Sage an artist, his beautiful works here and there around his apartment. He also has bins of premade packages with toiletries and such that he claims to hand out to runaway teens in the neighborhood. He knits scarves and wool hats for the elderly. Why would anyone want this man killed? As they chat, Lavender becomes more and more intrigued by Sage and decides he needs more information before carrying this job out. So he does something completely out of character for him, and makes a dinner date.
What follows is a bit of a walk down memory lane for Mr. Lavender. Knowing he was gay at a young age, he really didn’t question it, but he knew enough that he had to be careful. When his parents found out, he was kicked out of his home and forced to live on the streets. He hid, stole, and did whatever was necessary to survive. He made connections and learned how the streets really worked and when he found the key to his survival he ran with it. Now, years later, he is one of the best. In his head he justifies what he does because the people who he kills are bad people who have done bad things to good people.
When Lavender meets Sage, however, he realizes that something is very wrong with this contract. There is nothing even remotely bad about Sage, in fact, he is everything that is good. As they talk, his own horrific childhood memories come forward and he wishes that he had someone like Sage around when he was a kid on the streets. Lavender begins to question everything about this hit and his determination to get to the bottom of it means that he now must protect the very man he was sent to kill.
I adored Sage. He seemed so innocent even though he saw sadness and heartbreak on the streets everyday. He did what he could to help these young boys because he knew how fortunate he was to have had a family that accepted him for who he was and didn’t try to change him. He is completely in awe of Hugh and has no clue why anyone would want to kill him.
There is an obvious attraction between both men from the moment they meet. And while the meat of the story revolves around the mystery of why anyone would want to kill Sage, there is an emotional element that is deeply felt as Lavender searches for the answers and memories from his own past run parallel to what is happening in the present. When it all comes together and the person who ordered the contract is revealed I admit to feeling a sense of contentment. There is the element of closure for both Sage and Lavender. And though they were thrown together under the most ridiculous of circumstances, they couldn’t have been more right for each other.
Supporting characters round out the cast. Reginald-Lavender’s faithful assistant who I pictured as a young man who worked from home in his boxers or sweat pants with disheveled hair and that “I just rolled out of bed look” but who is intelligent and extremely computer savvy, brought humor to this story. Readers who enjoyed Sterling’s book, Hide and Keep, will enjoy the character cross-over of Detective Lane West who becomes a bit of an unlikely confidant for Lavender.
Once again Ms. Sterling writes a story that pulled me in, shook me up, gave me the feels, made me laugh and smirk, all in just over 100 pages. I have to admit that I struggled with the name Lavender for an assassin, even knowing it was a fake name (his true name is revealed in the story, but I didn’t want to give it away) and couldn’t escape the coincidence that both protagonists were named after herbs, but I got over it. I really liked that for Lavender there was a feeling of his life coming full circle and that in meeting Sage he could close that chapter and begin anew.