Book Title: Let Your Heart Smile
Author: JB Buell
Publisher: JMS Books
Cover Artist: JM Snyder/JMS Books
Release Date: July 31, 2021
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Tropes: Friends to lovers
Themes: Hurt/comfort, reunited, pining, happy ending, disability, interracial relationship, different languages, travelling circus, clowns.
Heat Rating: 1 flame
Length: 15 015 words
It is a standalone story with no cliffhanger.
Who can make this sad clown smile again?
Niki Georgiev lives and works in Draganov’s Flying circus as a disabled clown. Each day he paints a smile onto his face, though he hasn’t felt like smiling for some time.
When the circus gets a new act in, flashy stunt bike riders, Niki gets a surprise. His childhood friend Conner Flinn is one of the riders and has returned to the circus a big star.
Niki doesn’t expect Conner to remember him, much less want to spend time with him as he’s just one of the clowns.
But not only does Conner notice Niki, he also asks him to join his act. Will Niki finally have a reason to smile?
Niki turned around to see it was Conner, flanked by two more people. His stunt team, most likely, as they were all in costume.
The pretty Black woman with curly hair on Conner’s right was in a red catsuit with a zip up front, and white stars down her arms and legs. The cute Black guy on Conner’s left was in a similar suit of blue and white stars, with a deep V-cut on the chest held together by see-through mesh to show off pecs and abs.
And Conner, his suit had the same deep V-cut with the see-through panel, showing off some serious muscle definition there. Niki’s eyes didn’t know where to land. He noticed that Conner’s costume was red, white, and blue like the American flag.
“Niki,” Conner said, gesturing at his companions, “this is Jesse, and Dwight. Guys, this is Niki.”
“Nice to finally meet you,” Jesse said, offering out her hand. “Conner hasn’t shut up about you since we got here.”
Niki was mildly surprised, but he shook hands with her, forever thankful he had his right arm so he didn’t have to offer the wrong hand in social situations.
“Hey, man, how’s it going,” Dwight said, offering his hand next. “Looking forward to hearing any embarrassing stories you got about Conner.”
Niki smiled wickedly. “Oh, there’s plenty of those. Now please tell me you guys wear protective gear when you ride?”
This had them smiling and Dwight pointing a finger at Conner. “I told you people would ask!” Dwight said.
“We do, though,” Conner replied. “Yeah, don’t worry, Niki, we got the proper bike leathers to put on, and helmets of course.”
“Well, good,” Niki said, not quite able to let go of his old health and safety habits. “Make sure you wear them.”
“We will,” Jesse assured him. “We just came out to do some promo so we put on our pretty gear.”
He glanced between Conner and Dwight, then gestured at their chests. “You should cover up all those rippling muscles, there’s kids out here, y’know.”
He was only teasing. All the big acts wore revealing Spandex, that was half the attraction.
Conner and Dwight found his joke highly amusing and laughed about it.
“This is why I have a zip,” Jesse said, tugging the zipper on her chest. “Zip it down a bit for promo, and zip it up again later when there’s kids about. It’s so practical.”
“Yeah.” Dwight laughed. “And you can always tell if Jesse likes someone when the zipper comes down a little more while she’s talking to them.”
Jesse swatted him on the arm as she laughed. “Stop giving away all my secrets, man.”
“Uh, why don’t you guys go on ahead,” Conner said to them. “I’ll catch you up in a minute.”
“Sure, Flinn.” Dwight waggled his eyebrows at Conner, as Jesse pushed him away.
“C’mon, Dwight,” she said, tugging Dwight with her. “It was great meeting you!” she said to Niki as they left.
“You, too,” Niki replied, then looked at Conner. “What’s wrong?”
“Hm?” Conner blinked in confusion. “Nothing’s wrong. Why?”
“Oh. I thought something was wrong?”
“No?” Conner broke into a grin. “I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh,” Niki said, as a blush broke out over his face. Never had he been so thankful for his thick clown make-up.
“Do you want to hang out between shows tonight?” Conner asked.
“Great!” Conner grinned at him. “I’ll come find you. Will you be in this outfit?”
“Yes,” Niki said, feeling shy all over again. “I’m Cho-cho the clown now.”
“I like this bit,” Conner said, reaching out to touch the ruffle around Niki’s neck. “You look like that little clown doll my mom used to collect.”
“Pierrot,” Niki said. “Yeah, that’s the idea.”
“It’s cute.” Conner smiled. “You make a cute clown.”
An approaching parent with a kid interrupted them, and Conner took his cue to leave. He waved to the little kid as he walked by. He really did look amazing in that figure hugging costume.
Niki noticed the mom gape after Conner’s retreating form, and he had to press his lips together so he didn’t smile.
Me, too, lady, he thought.
~ * ~ Annie‘s Review ~ * ~
I hadn’t read this author before but I do love a well-constructed short. On top of that, the setting for Let Your Heart Smile was different and intriguing.
Let Your Heart Smile proved to be a nice concise short story with a good amount of emotion. I loved the idea of a childhood friendship reemerging and turning into something more. I also really enjoyed Niki’s character. He had a vulnerability that drew me to him and I found myself very interested in how his relationship with Conner would change his outlook.
As much as I liked the characters and writing, I was a little sad Let Your Heart Smile ended when it did. I would have liked the opportunity to see Niki and Conner cultivate something more on-page versus the promise of lasting connection as the book closed. Conversely, I appreciated that the book and relationship wasn’t rushed, so I guess I really wanted more time with the characters and story. I’d recommend Let Your Heart Smile to fans of shorts who aren’t necessarily looking for an on-page romance and relationship development, but rather are hoping for good characters and a nice story.
*** Copy provided to Bayou Book Junkie for my reading pleasure, a review wasn’t a requirement. ***
~ * ~ Ky‘s Review ~ * ~
About the Author
J.B. Buell is a non binary writer (they/them) of m/m romance and gay rom com stories. They are a cat person, and can’t decide if they’re more of a coffee or tea person but is quite happy to drink both.
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