Gabriel Blackstone is an inventor that’s barely making ends meet. He doesn’t believe in the caste system that relegates people to their lot in life, and he doesn’t believe a companion should be forced to give his or her body just because that’s their place. When his friends, who are also his assistants, buy him an evening with a companion for his birthday, Gabriel goes to the meeting. But Lucio turns out to be much more than Gabriel expected, and the two pass a pleasant evening together. Gabriel can’t get Lucio out of his head, but he knows nothing more can come of their association. Gabriel can’t afford to hire a companion, even if he wants more time with Lucio.
Lucio’s thoughts are consumed with the enigmatic inventor as well. When chance bring them together again, both men discover the bond they forged on their first meeting wasn’t a fluke. They begin to make plans to spend time together in socially acceptable ways, and Gabriel intends to save enough to buy Lucio’s contract. It’s not an ideal situation—Gabriel would rather Lucio be free—but at least if Gabriel holds Lucio’s contract, he wouldn’t have to service any other clients and they could be together for real.
But the price of Lucio’s contract is huge, and it takes time for Gabriel to save that kind of money. Before he can, Lucio is forced to service a client that leaves him beaten and battered. He needs time to heal, but he is not given enough, and a new client turns him away. As punishment, Lucio is sent to the breeding barns and Gabriel must act quickly to save his lover. With the help of a wealthy and influential aristocrat, Gabriel does just that. But even though Lucio is finally free of the life he’s been born into, more troubles plague the men. Just as it seems that that finally have everything they wanted, more obstacles are thrown in their path.
Ariel Tachna and steampunk. That combination alone was enough to have me picking up this book. With Tachna’s ability to create fantastic worlds, I knew I was in for a treat. And this book definitely didn’t disappoint. The author creates an in depth world, and then really delves into the characters’ lives, giving a solid, well written book.
Gabriel is the heart of this book for me, and it’s he that goes through the most character growth. When we meet him, we see his heart straight away. He makes it clear what kind of man he is. He’s intelligent and happy with his lot in life, but he’s not one to rest on his laurels. Just because he’s satisfied being born into the merchant class doesn’t mean that he’s fine with the way everyone else is forced into their castes. And it’s not just because doors are closed to him because of his station. It’s more than that for Gabriel, and I liked that he worked to get things changed. Even before he meets Lucio and grows to care for him, he’s part of a group that is against the caste system. But of course knowing Lucio steps up his game, and pushes him to do more. I loved that he was such a genuinely goodhearted person, that he cared about his fellow human beings. And I loved the way he blossomed and grew as he fell in love with Lucio. I also really liked the way he had to work at accepting Lucio’s role in life, and what that would mean for their relationship. Nothing was instant for Gabriel, but his love for Lucio ruled him completely and made him a better person.
Lucio is less happy with his station in life, but he doesn’t know how that can change. My heart broke a bit for this disillusioned man. Because he was essentially a slave to the house that owned his body, Lucio had no choice but to do was his clients wished. He’s been schooled from a young age to please and pleasure. He’s learned to compartmentalize what’s done to him during these encounters, and it doesn’t affect him overly much. But he’s lost hope of ever having a true lover for himself. Until Gabriel. And once he meets this man and knows that’s where he wants his future to be, his grit and determination are lovely to see. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to get through until he can be rescued. I also really liked that he does his part to assist in his rescue. He’s not passive, just waiting for it to happen.
Their connection definitely straddles the line of instalove. And I have to admit that in the beginning, it was hard for me to make that leap. I didn’t quite see how they could have formed such an intense connection from the little interaction they had. But I was able to let that slide, for the most part, because the love that shines out of them both is beautiful, and their chemistry just leaps off the page. There is no doubt that these two men are meant to be together.
This is a fairly long book, and overall I thought the pacing was really good. There were a couple of instance where I was wishing the plot moved just a bit faster. And I had a few tiny quibbles with some of the plot points. The repetition of no one knowing how much Lucio’s contract cost got a little bit tiresome. It was also a leap for me to believe some of the attitudes presented, especially in the handlers of the pleasure house. But these things were tiny quibbles, and didn’t detract too much from my overall enjoyment of the story.
I want to make quick mention that Lucio does suffer some pretty terrible abuse from one of his clients, and that the abuse itself isn’t shown on page, but the Lucio’s injuries are. And some of what took place is mentioned afterwards. There is also a M/F sex scene on the page, but it’s not gratuitous and is integral to the plot.
This is definitely a story I enjoyed. It showcases Tachna’s talent and the world building alone makes it a worthy read. But we also get some incredibly well drawn characters, ones that will stick with me for a while. This book is one I have no qualms about recommending
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.