Henry has decided not to renew the Dom/sub contract with his current submissive, Sean. While he likes Sean well enough, he doesn’t love him, and Sean isn’t in love with Henry, either. What Henry wants is someone who will be both a submissive, as well as a friend, someone to come home to, someone to wake up with, someone to play with ,as well as someone just to be with.
Ryan is far from Henry’s usual type. For one, he’s taller than Henry, and much more built. He’s also quite agressive, taking charge of their kiss in a way that has Henry’s heart beating and his blood racing. However, Henry knows the truth about Ryan: Ryan is a born submissive, and Henry wants him. Ryan has been hurt, and badly, and is scared of his own responses to Henry. He isn’t certain if he’s ready to be anyone’s submissive ever again. Henry wants to help Ryan through his pain, to help him overcome his traumatic past and learn to find joy with Henry as his Dom.
Henry is a Dom, a man who enjoys controlling his partner in a sexual fashion. This part of his life is something he’s kept a secret from his family. He’s also prone to emotional manipulation and he seems indifferent to other’s feelings. When Henry first sets eyes on Ryan, Henry thinks he’s beautiful and instantly wants to fuck him. When Henry learns that Ryan isn’t interested in a relationship due to recently getting out of a “bad thing,” Henry seems willing enough to be patient. He wants Ryan, lightly stalks him on Facebook and Instagram, and is hoping Ryan will make the first move — well, second, since Henry already made it clear he wants to date Ryan.
Ryan is obviously interested in Henry. The first thing he does when they meet is to, without asking consent or permission, touch and stroke Henry’s tattoos. He’s obviously very interested in Henry as a person, though he’s more tentative about Henry the Dom. His past relationship left him not only emotionally scarred, but physically scarred as well. His nose was broken and he has two long scars given to him by his ex-lover. When he and Henry do decide to try a relationship, Ryan makes it clear what his limits are. His hard limit, his absolute no, is anal sex or any form of anal penetration. He absolutely does not want to bottom.
Henry’s pushiness is pretty much on trope, as is Ryan’s flightiness. The aggressive, alpha male who wants his submissive, and the submissive who wants to be wanted. However, Henry’s actions, thoughts, and words turn this from a dominant man to an emotionally manipulative bully who has little to no concern for his partner. Henry wants to fuck Ryan. Even before thinking of him as a partner, a lover, or a friend, he wants to fuck Ryan. And — these are the thoughts in his head — he is going to fuck Ryan. That’s what Henry wants and he’s determined to get it, even though Ryan has made it clear that’s not what Ryan wants and that this is a hard, non-negotiable limit.
As their relationship progresses, Henry is taking Ryan out to a dinner with Henry’s brother and friends, but Henry is reluctant to introduce him as a boyfriend because he doesn’t “know what’s going on between” them. Henry knows Ryan has a past, but Ryan hasn’t opened up to him about it. So … he can’t be boyfriend material until everything’s out on display? During this dinner, Henry is dancing with another man, grinding and rubbing against him, kissing his neck; when Ryan shows some jealousy, Henry brings him into the embrace, the three of them dancing together. Since Henry has been kissing the young man, Ryan does the same. Henry instantly leaves the dance floor thinking Ryan is doing this to hurt him. He’s pissed. He’s angry, because Ryan followed his lead. Ryan did as Henry did, not as he was told to do. To be fair, Henry does calm down afterwords and thinks maybe he’s in part to blame, but those initial thoughts and actions still happened. His first reaction was to be angry at Ryan. That night, while Ryan is feeling guilty, as if he’s done something bad, Henry pushes about anal sex, that hard limit that Ryan has already said no to. Henry uses physical caresses and emotional manipulation to work him up, to get Ryan to give in, and Ryan does. He agrees to accept a finger as a soft limit.
Henry promises that — when Ryan’s ready, “I’ll make it good.” That it won’t just be sex, it’ll be making love “at least the first time.” Then he’s going to fuck him like he’s never been fucked before. Ryan still says no to anal sex, though he’s gentle about it, and lets Henry know that his reluctance for anal sex or anything inserted into him is because he was raped by his ex lover. To his credit, Henry is horrified on Ryan’s behalf and wants to let him know that it wasn’t his fault. His rapist was at fault for what he did, and nothing that was done should make Ryan feel weak or ashamed. However, as their physical relationship continues, Henry is quick to suggest they just, you know, give anal sex and anal play a try. Ryan cautiously agrees to fingers. In a later scene, Henry is trying fingers again only to have Ryan use one of his safe words and Henry quickly stops. But, as they’re trying again with Henry adding more fingers, making sure Ryan is enjoying himself, Henry tells him how great it would feel to be inside him, how much he’d love to be fucking Ryan. Again, not for the first time, Henry is using physical pleasure as a manipulation tool to get what he wants.
In all of their scenes, there isn’t a moment where Henry is thinking about healing Ryan of his trauma. Yes, Henry wants Ryan to enjoy the sex, but Henry also wants to fuck Ryan, wants to have his dick in Ryan, and that’s … pretty much the end of the discussion. He ‘knows’ Ryan is a natural submissive and so he works those buttons, uses Ryan’s nature against him to convince him to do what Henry wants. When the two of them finally agree to a contract, Henry mentions that he wants to help Ryan heal … with his dick. There’s no talk of therapy, just how much happier Ryan will be as Henry’s submissive.
Henry says that, “[o]utside the bedroom, we are equals in everything. Again, unless your needs require me to dominate you.” That’s slightly omionous. Who is it who will determine if Ryan needs to be dominated outside the bedroom? Oh, right, Henry. Ryan lays out the times he’s willing to be a sub, which Henry agrees to, but then says “If I call on you, on a day that isn’t agreed upon, you’ll make yourself available.” So while he’s agreeing to have these times put in the contract and signed, he’s not willing to abide by them. Likewise, he’s saying that he’ll dominate Ryan when he wants, as he wants, contract be damned. When Ryan asks if he can call Henry when he needs him, Henry says sure, but “I might not be available at that time.” This is not a good contract, and this is not a good relationship. It feels like this is Ryan falling into the hands of another abuser who wants him mostly for the sex, the sex Henry wants.
Needless to say, they do eventually have penetrative sex, and it’s perfect and Ryan and Henry fall in love. But Henry doesn’t come off as a romantic hero, to me, or even as a good Dom. While he’s very much interested in getting Ryan to enjoy himself in bed, especially when it involves penetrative sex — be it fingers or, finally, his dick which does, in fact, heal all of Ryan’s problems — I can’t help but see Henry as a predator. I am basing this on Henry’s own words, actions, and thoughts. Yes, he loves Ryan, but he entered into this relationship with a goal, and that goal was to fuck Ryan. He wanted to fuck him before he knew him, or knew about his trauma, and his efforts to help Ryan heal involved Henry fucking him, not therapy or counseling or even time to recover.
If it weren’t for Henry, this would be an entertaining enough book. The sex scenes, minus the emotional manipulation, were well written. However, the red flags in the relationship — Henry being focused on what he wanted out of the relationship, Henry knowing best and pushing Ryan to get over his hard limits because it’s what Henry wanted, Henry refusing to abide by their contract unless it’s convenient for him or what he wants — make me unable to recomend this particular book. I think the author and I have a different idea of Henry, but I can only judge the book by its contents, and based on that, I feel that Henry has manipulated Ryan into physical acts Ryan did not want to enter. More than that, he did it for selfish reasons. The writing is good, the characterization is good, but the relationship feels unhealthy. I’d suggest trying a different book by this author and giving this one a hard pass.