Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Steve Michaels and Zack Greene have been happily partnered for three years. Zack is a popular actor on a hit television show where Steve works as the director. At home they share a dom/sub relationship, but they keep their lives very private. Zack isn’t out and so they keep their relationship a secret both on the set and to the public. When the men first met, Zack was coming off a very troubled period in his life, his wild behavior jeopardizing his career. The two men have built a relationship where Steve sets the rules and provides guidance for Zack, helping him keep his newfound control over his actions.
Everything is going well for the couple until the sudden interference from Rich, a producer on the show. Out of nowhere he wants to ban relationships between any members of the cast and crew. In addition, he starts stirring up trouble, picking on Zack and starting fights. Soon things escalate further, with Rich suspending Steve, assaulting Zack, and lying to the police and studio about what is happening. Zack and Steve realize that the only way to protect themselves and save their jobs may be to go public with their relationship and to tell the police about Rich’s attack on Zack. But both men want to keep the dom/sub part of their relationship private and worry that Rich will tell everyone about it. Things are further complicated when Zack’s father becomes involved, using Zack’s past to stir up more trouble. Now the guys must figure out if they can keep their secrets while still protecting themselves.
This is the first book I have read by Borino and I found I really liked it. I was initially drawn in by the Hollywood angle of the story, but found that this is book has a lot of other layers as well. The primary focus is definitely on the how Zack and Steve try to balance their public personas and their private lives. Although Steve is out, it is much harder for Zack as an actor and the men take great pains to keep their relationship a secret. This is further complicated by the dom/sub dynamic, as even when they accept the Zack’s outing is inevitable, neither man wants to reveal the details of their partnership. I do wish we got to see a bit more of the fallout here though. After years of being in the closet, Zack is basically forcibly outed. I would have liked to see the aftermath of this a bit more and how (or if) Zack’s career is affected.
The book also gives us a nice portrayal of the partnership between the men. I really liked both Zack and Steve and they are very cuddly and sweet together. Their need for one another and the comfort they get from each other is very clear. I would say their relationship has sort of a domestic discipline feel to it. Steve is definitely in charge of the decisions that affect their relationship and issues punishment when Zack’s behavior is out of line. They have a mutually agreed upon relationship contract that guides both of them. It is clear throughout the book how well this dynamic works for both of them, Zack especially. He likes the rules and the structure, and that after a punishment has been administered, the conflict between them is over. I think Borino does a nice job of showing why Zack and Steve work so well together and the strength of their partnership is what holds them together as things in their lives get crazy.
The third dynamic in the book focuses on Zack’s family and background. He had a very religious upbringing and has been out of touch with his parents for years. When they suddenly appear back in his life, not only does Zack need to reveal his past to Steve, but he must deal with his father stirring up trouble. To me this felt like the weakest of the three plot layers, mostly because the behavior of his parents just didn’t feel completely realistic to me given their backgrounds and the situation. I also think the resolution to the conflict between them seemed too easy given the build up over the course of the story.
I did have a few other issues with the book. First, I don’t think we get nearly enough understanding about Rich’s motivation. Out of nowhere he swoops in and starts stirring up trouble, but we never are told why. We know Rich is also a dom and that he recognizes from Zack’s collar that he is a sub. But why does he care? What is he so mad about that he is risking his career, starting fights, etc? My reading between the lines is that he doesn’t approve of the way Steve “doms” Zack, thinking he doesn’t exert enough control. But is this a reason to cause so much trouble? Regardless of what his reason actually is, I feel like it needed to be much clearer. All the major action of the book results from Rich’s behavior, so I really feel like he needed to be more fleshed out and less generic “bad guy” with no explanation as to why.
My other concern was that I had a LOT of confusion throughout the book about which man was doing the acting, speaking, etc. I frequently had to stop while reading to try to figure out what was going on, or to reread when my initial assumption was incorrect. Here is a quick example so you can see what I mean. Here the guys are in bed:
“You didn’t get any relief today.” Zack dragged his lips to the side of Steve’s face and bit his ear, as though he needed convincing.
“Mm-hmm, what should we do about that?”
His boyfriend answered by removing his shirt and taking down his pants.
Ok, so whose pants? Is Zack taking off his own shirt and pants or Steve’s? I only figured out it was Steve’s clothes because he is the one naked later in the scene, but my initial assumption was Zack was removing his own clothes. This just happened so many times throughout the book. It is not all the pronoun problem, which is a common issue in m/m romance, but just a lack of clarity in the writing as to what is going on and who we are talking about. I think some better editing could have really helped this a lot.
Despite these concerns, I really found this an enjoyable story. Action is the first in a planned series featuring Zack and Steve, and I really looking forward to reading more about them. I found them a really likable couple, with a lot of warmth (and great heat) between them. I would definitely be interested in continuing their story.
Cover Review: Oh, I like this one. Pretty pretty.