Alex works as a psychiatric nurse in an assisted living facility in Northern England. Ross is a tattoo artist whose father has been an on-again-off-again patient of Alex’s for years. While the two men managed to keep their relationship strictly professional for years, they committed to being lovers five years ago and haven’t looked back since. Yet there is far more than mere attraction between them; there is the deep-seated trust borne out in their Dom/sub sex play as well as respect for their personal boundaries.
Like any couple, Alex and Ross have had to come to terms with certain facts of life. For instance, Ross cannot prevent the physical altercations that sometimes leave Alex bruised after a shift in the psychiatric facility; Alex sometimes must let Ross physically distance himself when his emotions run too high. Normally, these are passing states. One day, however, there is the so-called “perfect storm.”
Ross is visiting his father while Alex is on-duty. Per his usual, the artist in Ross uses drawing and coloring to connect with the artist in his father. They share an heirloom pencil and sometimes, it’s enough to remind Ross’s father that he has a son. Rather than a touching vignette, however, events transpire that lead to the loss of that special pencil and a physical altercation leaves Alex taking the blows meant for Ross.
Before any of the hurts can be sorted out, however, Ross has to leave on a prior work engagement in Scotland. Upset at his failure as a Dom to protect his sub and hampered by his and Alex’s mutual agreement to keep their D/s relationship strictly at home, Ross hits the drink hard while away from Alex. By the time Ross finally manages to call in, he’s been stewing in his own dark thoughts. In turn, Alex gets concerned when he calls Alex only to be greeted by a mysterious female voice, leaving Alex wondering if Ross is punishing him by sleeping around.
With their relationship in shambles, Ross finally acknowledges he must make the move to set things to rights. But he just can’t get through to Alex. For once, Ross’s typical aversion of emotional pain just might be what is causing him to lose his sub. He realizes that if he wants to get the love of his life back, he’ll have to make some hard choices…and hope it’s not too late.
My unvarnished opinion: whatever interest these particular characters and their D/s relationship spark is drowned out by inexplicably stupid behavior and what I might consider (at its most generous) a sexual assault that is borderline rape. Note to potential readers: DO read the disclaimer at the beginning of the book; to be forewarned is to be forearmed. I did not and you can see, my reaction was pretty much outright disgust. Finally, adding insult to injury, the writing is at times nearly incoherent with description.
The first chapter is arguably the most important of any book. Lack of clarity and interest in the opening chapter, pages, paragraphs is a disservice to all. Parts of this book felt so overwrought, so jammed with flowery description as to be confused with attempts at poetry…I guess? Here is the second paragraph of the first chapter:
Ross never spoke to his father. Occasionally the scratch of pencil would whisper a quiet conspiracy in Alex’s ear as Ross changed to a lighter shade of colour. His drift of pencil seemed as willing and effortless to change with the soft shadows that shifted across the room. Ross sat with a sketchpad on his lap, leg drawn up, a glance flickering over every now and again to Chris, his father, who sat on the bed. That same scratch of pencil on paper was echoed by Chris, along with the same level of concentration, but where Ross worked an artist’s sketchpad, his father took to a child’s colouring book. Crayons were exchanged for pencils, an experienced sweep of an older artist’s hand for nothing more than scribbles and scratches. Ross didn’t seem to mind. He was caught watching the changing lifelines on Chris’s face, and his pencil would instinctively map each different route that he seemed bred to follow and care for.
This is just a mess. Especially where the two men’s artistic talents are being compared and the comparisons are constantly flipflopping between Ross first, Chris second and Chris first, Ross second comparisons and the confusing “exchanged…[the] experienced sweep of an older artist’s had for nothing more than scribbles and scratches.” I don’t even know who is whom in that sentence: Chris is older, but clearly the one left scribbling with crayons…or is he? Plus, it’s just so much fluff for a guy (Chris) who’s only purpose is to create a diversion that shoves a wedge between Alex and Ross.
Thankfully, the prose lets up a little as I went through the book. There are still verbose passages tinged in purple, but at least the words made more sense.
Poor style aside, I would recommend reading the Author Notes and the disclaimer before reading the story. Ignore the blurb—it sort of made me think there was going to be something incestuous in the book (there is not). Most importantly, the disclaimer points out the sex acts depicted in the book are not “models for Safe, Sane and consensual forms…of BDSM” and the Author Notes explain the nature of the relationship between Alex and Ross:
Ross’s reactions are a little extreme, but so is the way he feels for Alex, and vice-versa. …[I]t’s just interesting to see how a natural Dom would react when faced with a sub who works in a dangerous profession, if any inadequacies would refer and conflict with the Dom, and how it would challenge their relationship if that profession intruded on their life on a personal level.
Pyke clearly handled these MCs like the established couple they are supposed to be. Before the great big falling out between Ross and Alex, there are several scenes that establish their Dom/sub relationship at home. It was sweet seeing how they cared for one another physically and emotionally.
Did it feel like these were two men who’d spend the last five years in a relationship with each other? Yes, it did. Which is part of why I thought the conflict was so flimsy and contrived. Basically, (1) Alex gets accidentally punched by Ross’s dad (who was aiming for Ross, but Alex is professionally trained to respond to these situations), so Ross feels like he’s failed as a Dom, and (2) Ross gives the heirloom pencil to Alex for temporary safekeeping while Ross steps outside to cool down after the punching scene, but Alex gets called to another patient’s room for an emergency and the pencil ends up lost—for which Ross blames on Alex.
The second nail in the coffin is how these two events get blown out of proportion. Of course they can’t talk it out because Ross has to leave for Edinburgh that same day. Of course, when Ross gets there, he gets totally and irresponsibly drunk and fails to check in with Alex like he’s always done. Of course, this drunkenness leads to miscommunications and misunderstandings on both sides so, by the time Ross actually gets back to England, he stays away from Alex. Of course, those same misunderstandings lead Alex to believe he’s gone from Ross’s lover to just a tenant (Alex lives in Ross’s father’s place rent free…until IT happens) so he throws that in Ross’s face by promising to pay rent for the first time ever. For a couple that’s apparently know each other for a decade and been in a relationship for five of the last ten years, this behavior rings utterly false to me. If this is enough to send them running for the hills, it signals to me that their relationship wasn’t that strong in the first place—which is at odds with the portrayal in the opening chapter and the Author’s Notes. Hence: read the Author’s Notes.
The final nail in the coffin is how Pyke chose to resolve the conflict between Ross and Alex. Did they sit down and discuss things like two damn grown ups? No. Ross had unilaterally decided that a scene is what’s required to fix their relationship problems. The only problem is, Ross sets it up on the worst fashion imaginable—by staging a way for him (Ross) to kidnap Alex at knife point and literally fuck him back into their relationship. Two big, huge, WTFing moments in this scene for me were (1) the way rape culture sort of pops up when Ross tells Alex it’s up to ALEX to stop the whole thing by using their safe word and (2) the way Alex ultimately grants Ross what he wants, despite how the reader sees him struggling with accepting these sex acts up until he finally orgasms. Then it’s back to their regularly scheduled D/s relationship. I’m not an avid BDSM reader, but this felt like nonconsensual sex to me, even if they are lovers.
Overall, this book takes two mildly interesting characters with an interesting dichotomy in their private lives (the sweet domesticity of making dinner and sharing a sofa compared to the punishing sex in which they like to engage) and ruins them with inexplicably stupid behavior and then tries to resolve it with sexual abuse (albeit forewarned in the disclaimer).