Ellis is kind of falling apart. Trying to be there for everyone else is exhausting him and it’s taking its toll on him personally and on the job. Ellis was taught from the time he was a boy that his value is in taking care of others and he is running himself ragged. The only thing that is helping save his job is his best friend, Wayne, who has been covering for him and being there as a source of support.
Wayne has had feelings for his straight best friend for years and it is killing him to see Ellis so exhausted and stressed. Wayne feels like what Ellis really needs is a guiding hand, someone who can help him deal with his own life as Ellis isn’t putting his own needs anywhere near first. Wayne is a Dom and he thinks that he can help Ellis by providing the support and guidance he needs. And when Wayne’s club reopens, it seems like a good chance to expose Ellis to the world of BDSM and make his proposal: Wayne will help Ellis by taking him in hand and controlling his life for him until Ellis gets back on track.
Ellis didn’t even know Wayne was a Dom, nor does he know much about the scene. So his first instinct is that this isn’t something for him. But as things get more desperate, Ellis realizes he needs a change, and Wayne has always been there for him, providing support and guidance. As Ellis realizes how much of a guiding hand Wayne already provides, the next step doesn’t seem as scary.
As the men begin a Dom/sub relationship, things slowly begin to improve for Ellis. What’s more, his new confidence finally allows him to recognize his feelings for men, and for Wayne in particular. The guys move to not just a Dom/sub relationship, but an emotional and sexual one as well. Even more, it becomes clear how well suited Ellis is a sub, and how much better he is emotionally in this new role. But as police officers, both of these men work dangerous jobs, and when a crisis hits at work, the men might have to rethink what they have built.
Before You Break is the first book in K.C. Wells and Parker Williams’ new Secrets series (Secrets being the club where Wayne is a member). What wasn’t clear from the book description is that this series is a spin off of sorts from the authors’ Collars and Cuffs series. While we meet Wayne and Ellis in the Prologue as they are on a case for work, the early parts of this book then shift focus to Jarod and Eli, two characters from the other series. We follow along as the men arrive in London having just moved from Manchester, visit the newly renovated club they have bought, and discuss various aspects of their lives and relationship. We also see the club opening, where numerous friends come to visit (presumably from the other series), and while Wayne and Ellis are at the same opening, the focus is primarily on Jared and Eli here. So having not read the other series, I will admit it made for a bit of a rocky start for me as the early part of the book is so focused on these other characters I didn’t know. I actually like cross over characters, but rather than being side characters in this new story, these guys were sort of having their own plot that didn’t really involve the MCs for this book. So it did push back our getting to know Wayne and Ellis a little.
Wayne and Ellis are best friends and Wayne has feelings for Ellis he thinks are unrequited. When we meet them, things are already falling apart for Ellis and Wayne feels like he needs to take action. Pretty soon after we start focusing on them as main characters, Wayne tells Ellis he is into BDSM, brings him to the club, and then tells Ellis he wants to take over his life and be in charge. It felt kind of abrupt, to be honest. We don’t get a chance to see the close friendship between the men or really much detail about how Ellis is falling apart. So to suddenly spring “Hey I am a Dom, your life is clearly a mess, and I think I should just be in charge of you” on a guy felt a little crazy. I think if we had more time to really get to know their relationship and the situation, this would have been more smooth. But while we are told all these things, we aren’t really shown them. Once Ellis agrees, the guys move very quickly into a Dom/sub relationship for a guy who seems to know nothing more about it than some internet research. After they contract for a three month period, Ellis still seems to not really know what he is in for. The first morning he gets upset because Wayne is going to control what he eats/drinks, he is expected to do domestic chores, and he is supposed to call Wayne “sir.” It made me wonder what these guys actually discussed if these basic components of their relationship were such a shock to Ellis.
Ok, so things started a little rocky here for me, but the story did pick up as it went. I enjoyed seeing Ellis both discover BDSM, as well as his affinity for being a sub. Once they are in this relationship, we see Ellis introduced to the lifestyle, slowly learning what is means to be a sub and getting more settled in his own life. I do think Wayne is a little heavy handed making decisions for Ellis in regards to his family before he actually knows what is really going on with him, but we do see Ellis finally getting some control over his life and not running himself ragged trying to meet everyone else’s expectations. I also liked how the men slowly transition to a sexual/romantic relationship and that Wayne doesn’t push Ellis before he is ready. While the beginning seemed like the guys jump into things really fast, the story then does a nice job developing things for Wayne and Ellis over the course of the book, and by the end I could believe in the connection between them, as well as see how well Ellis fits into this new role. I also like how things resolve with Ellis’ sister and I think it puts him in a good place and is a realistic resolution to that conflict.
The ending adds an interesting twist as the guys encounter a crisis at work. I will mention that while these guys are in law enforcement, this is not a big part of the story. While we start with them on assignment and end with another call out, the rest of the book is a few locker room scenes with coworkers and lots of talk about “training,” but we don’t see these guys doing their jobs much. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but don’t look for this to be any kind of police procedural or suspense story. Regardless, I did enjoy how the ending not only shakes things up a bit for the guys, but also lets them explore some new issues and I think some interesting things develop here. I would actually have loved more focus on some of these things they are dealing with, but I do think it provides a nice way to cap off the story.
So this one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I really liked the set up with the friends to lovers vibe and the newbie to BDSM. And I liked both of these men and thought their journey was nicely developed, particularly for Ellis. But I found it somewhat hard to connect with the men and their relationship with the slower start and so much telling versus showing, that it took me a while to settle into things with them. I needed a better feel for them and their relationship to fully buy into everything. Still, if you are fan of BDSM stories and friends to lovers, and in particularly if you enjoyed the Collars and Cuffs series, this may be one worth checking out.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.