with or without himRating: 4.75 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

Tyler Bellamy is a music student who is paying his way through school by selling himself at parties where wealthy men pay for sex with hot young guys.  Tyler doesn’t particularly like the work, but he is determined to make something of his life, and equally determined not to be faced with a huge debt upon graduation.  So even though the men can be violent, and Prescott, the party organizer, is definitely dangerous, Tyler keeps at it because the money is too good to pass up.

When Haris Evans, a wealthy businessman, sees Tyler performing at his music school, Haris finds himself with an instant attraction to the young man.  And when he follows Tyler that night and finds him in trouble at one of the parties, Haris can’t help but get involved.  Haris has spent years focused on his work, trying to put his past behind him.  He doesn’t date or have relationships, his past making him wary of getting involved with someone and finding it especially difficult to give his trust.  But he knows he wants Tyler and so Haris makes him an offer — live with him for four months in an exclusive relationship in exchange for 20,000 pounds.

Tyler is shocked by Haris’ offer, but he is attracted to Haris as well.  And Tyler knows that he needs the money and doesn’t want to go back to Prescott and that life.  He figures being with Haris is a solution to his problems, even as he isn’t thrilled about once again selling his body, this time to one man instead of many.  But there turns out to be more between these guys than just a sexual relationship.  They quickly form an emotional connection too.  These are two men both haunted by their horrific pasts.  Both are closed off about sharing their lives with others and letting people in.  But somehow with each other Haris and Tyler both begin to open up, to share themselves with each other, and to fall for one another.

But those pasts are unfortunately not all behind them. Prescott is furious when he finds out that Tyler no longer wants to work for him and is not interested in taking no for an answer.  And someone seems to be following Haris, and threatening incidents occur that risk both Haris and Tyler’s safety.  Both men have a lot of baggage and it is not easy to figure out where the threats are coming from, and soon both their lives are in danger.  But even if they can find a way to keep themselves safe from the men of their pasts, Haris and Tyler also need to figure out a way to move beyond their own arrangement if they have any hope of a future together.  They must trust each other and open their hearts if they are going to move past their business arrangement and really experience love.

So I picked this book up after reading Elsborg’s Every Move He Makes, a romantic thriller that I totally loved.  And I found I really loved this story as well, with many of the same elements that I enjoyed in that story.  Elsborg manages to once again combine a sexy romance along with an exciting suspense plot that kept me totally engrossed from the start.

So obviously this story starts with a bit of a Pretty Woman vibe: young sex worker meets wealthy, older man who wants him for what is supposed to be purely a business transaction but it turns into more.  But fortunately Elsborg elevates the story above that simple premise by giving us really layered and well developed characters in Haris and Tyler.  Both men have pretty horrific pasts that really shape the men that have become, and the way that they relate to one another.  Tyler lost his family at a young age in a truly awful way, growing up in foster care, still emotionally scarred by his past.  The experience left him terrified of being in debt, which led him to find the quickest way possible to make money for college.  At the same time, he has learned to be independent, to make his own way in the world, and to figure things out for himself.  So despite entering this contract with Haris, Tyler doesn’t particularly want to be taken care of or to use Haris for money.  He worries as soon as Haris finds out about Tyler’s job working for Prescott that he will hate him and be disgusted by Tyler’s actions.  His low sense of self worth makes him fear that he is nothing more to Haris than a sex partner, and worries Haris will never really want him for more, especially if he knows the truth about Tyler’s past.  Tyler really wants to be loved and for Haris to truly care for him, but he fears they will never be able to rise above the financial arrangement to something more.

For his part, Haris has an equally horrific backstory, one that we only slowly learn about throughout the book.  He has been betrayed by someone close to him in a way that almost destroyed his life, and that violation is one that he can’t forget.  Haris has remade himself through hard work into a wealthy and successful businessman.  But those experiences have made Haris wary, and it is extremely hard for him to trust anyone again. Even as he falls for Tyler, Haris finds himself caught up time and again by his lack of trust.  He really must learn to put his past behind him and put his heart in Tyler’s hands if they have any hope of a relationship together.

At the same time as we get these characters who struggle with complex paths, we also get a portrayal of a wonderful relationship between them.  First off, they are crazy hot together.  I mean CRAZY HOT.  Elsborg writes intense and passionate sex scenes that just blew me away.  But there is also just such a great sense of fun when these guys are together.  They tease and banter and laugh through just about everything.  Both are men with a lot of darkness in them, but together they find a way to enjoy life and each other.  I found myself smiling at so many of their exchanges, just a sweet silliness that goes so well with the incredible heat.

Adding to all this relationship complexity, Elsborg also gives us an exciting thriller.  We see early on that there are threats developing on multiple fronts.  Tyler is dealing with an angry Prescott and his henchmen who are determined to keep Tyler in the fold and not let him quit working the parties.  And someone is following Haris, but he has no idea where the threat may be coming from.  Throughout the book we are kept on edge as the men face dangers from their past that threaten their lives and their happiness. These scenes are fast paced, exciting, and frequently terrifying.  The suspense plot blends really well with the romance, keeping their relationship developing at the same time Haris and Tyler are dealing with all these outside forces threatening harm.

The only place I found myself frustrated was towards the end of the book when both Tyler and Haris seem to be mired in their old patterns of behavior and unable to move on.  Much of the suspense conflict has been resolved by then and things move back toward the relationship end.  Tyler know he loves Haris and wants to be with him for good.  Yet he is unwilling to share his feelings, wanting Haris to declare his first.  I get that Tyler has a lot of self-doubt, but I got somewhat frustrated with the regular internal dialog of how much he loves Haris, wants Haris to return the feeling, but is unwilling to tell Haris how he feels.  At the same time, Haris continues to make the same mistakes as he has the rest of the book, unable to trust Tyler and acting impulsively when he feels like Tyler is betraying him in some way.  I guess I just felt like at that point in the book, I wanted to see more growth from these guys rather than finding them behave in a similar ways to when things started.  I do think Elsborg gives as a nice resolution ultimately, and I appreciate we see that Haris especially must work on his attitude before things tie up neatly. I think I just needed this progress to happen a little faster.

But overall I really loved this one.  Elsborg combines suspense and romance so well into one package. We get sexy, well-developed, romantic heroes who make a wonderful pair together.  That combines with an exciting suspense plot that kept me engrossed and eagerly waiting to find out who is really behind all the threats and danger.  I really enjoyed this one a lot and definitely recommend it.

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