Richard is an ex-freedom fighter who worked tirelessly with his partner Grady to end slavery. Grady’s death sparked the final push to successfully overturn slavery, accomplishing their goal but leaving Richard alone. Grady was the only man Richard ever loved, and with his death, Richard has been left very sexually inexperienced. He hopes to further the cause of supporting the former slaves by making a political partnership, but before he can start a relationship with anyone else, he needs to learn a few things about sex. So Richard does something he never imagined he would do: find someone to teach him.
Richard has heard about a former slave that was captured and is being sold on the black market. He figures he can solve two problems at once. Richard will buy Denny’s freedom and offer to pay him to teach Richard about sex. Richard is very clear that Denny can walk away a free man if he doesn’t want the job. Richard will even help him find work and get papers and get settled into a new life. But Denny agrees to take the job and help Richard get comfortable with sex.
The more time the men spend together, the less it becomes a job and the more it becomes a relationship. Though Richard never imagined he could feel anything for anyone after Grady, he ends up falling for Denny. And Denny returns Richard’s feelings, the men finding unexpected love and companionship in one another. Things seem to be going great for the men, but when ghosts from Richard’s past return, the love they share may not be enough.
Wow, so this book was such a lovely surprise. I had no idea what to expect of this story or this author, but I was drawn by the former slave theme and decided to give it a try and I am really glad I did. Ashlin really manages to elevate this into a nicely layered story with a great characters and a moving plot.
So the setup here is obviously an alternative world where slavery was legal as recently as five years ago. Richard and Grady were not only freedom fighters, they were leaders in the anti-slavery movement. In fact, Grady, himself a former slave, was one of the major public faces of the cause and Richard was known as “Grady Porter’s Richard.” It was Grady’s tragic death and the attention it drew to the movement that was the spark to finally end slavery. Now Richard continues to work to help former slaves adapt to their new lives and to enforce the new anti-slavery laws.
I will say that while the story definitely incorporates the rebellion, the freedom movement, and aftermath, for the most part this book has a very traditionally contemporary feel. Except for the slavery component, this world is virtually identical to modern day. So I think this story is very accessible, even if you are primarily a contemporary reader. However, I do wish we had a bit more background in terms of world building. I would have at least liked to know more about how long slavery had been part of their society. We also don’t really ever get a clear setting in terms of location or year, or a sense of the government and their role in all this. So I think some details could have been fleshed out, but I did enjoy the contemporary feel to the story.
The first part of the book focuses primarily on Richard and Denny’s developing relationship and falling in love. I really enjoyed the dynamic between the two of them, as it is a bit of twist on what we might expect. From the start, Richard is clear that although he is buying Denny’s freedom, Denny owes him nothing. He will help him out regardless of whether he accepts the job as Richard’s sexual guide. But still, Richard appears to be coming into this from a position of power. He is the well-known freedom fighter and Denny a poor former slave. But really there is quite a bit more happening here. First off, despite his years of slavery, Denny is strong, confident, and comfortable with himself. He is easily able to hold his own with Richard and just about anyone else. It is Richard, who despite outward appearances, is much more fragile. Grady’s death left him devastated and now that their fight has been won, he is a little out of sorts. Also, although he and Grady were madly in love, they had almost no sexual relationship due to Grady’s abuse when he was a slave. So Richard is not only inexperienced, he has no sense of how to relate to someone else sexually. There are some wonderful scenes early on as the men are intimate and Richard is afraid to move or show any strong feelings. He is used to having to hold himself in so much control so as not to stress Grady that he has no idea how to let himself go. Denny manages to help Richard break free of his rigid control and really learn to experience passion and intensity. So we really get an interesting and complicated dynamic here as these men build their relationship together.
The second part of the story deals with a crisis that brings up Richard’s past and sends him into a tailspin. The men have fallen in love and are starting to build their lives together, and this event just throws all that into chaos. This part of the story definitely has a darker edge as Richard’s mental health suffers significantly, and Denny struggles to pull him out of it. It is emotional and heartbreaking at times and just really nicely done. Although this part of the book definitely has a heavier tone, Ashlin did a great job building the relationship between these men to the point where I could believe completely as we see Denny help bring Richard back from the edge. He helps Richard find that place where he can still love and remember Grady, but also move forward with his own life and new love. And even though it is definitely a heavier tone, it is still very sweet and highlights the connection between the two men.
So I really liked this one and was quite impressed with how Ashlin builds this really lovely and moving story. I loved Richard and Denny and really enjoyed them as a couple. The set up for the story is great and gives us a nice mix of an alternative world story with a very contemporary feel. I definitely liked this one and would certainly recommend it.
Cover Note: This is kind of a misleading cover, because we never see Denny as a slave, nor is there any BDSM element, two things that are suggested by the chains.
Note: This book was originally released with another publisher and a slightly different title.