Redmond Cole does his best to keep his head down and his mouth shut. Living as a gay man in a conservative small town is hard enough, but Red has more reasons than just prejudice and fear to keep him firmly in the closet. He’s also taking care of his sixteen-year-old sister and, with all her problems at school, there’s always the threat that the school won’t call him the next time something happens. Instead, they might call the Colonel, Red and Katie’s father and an abusive, controlling asshole who let his 13-year-old daughter run away and who has spent the last three years ignoring both Red and Katie. Red won’t let him get his hands on Katie ever again.
When the mysterious Victor Itachi sweeps into the auto shop where Red works, needing someone to fix his BMW, Red falls head over heels for the handsome man. Not that he’d ever do more than dream — and every man’s allowed to dream, aren’t they? But when Victor offers the chance to make Red’s dreams come true, how can he say no? But even as he struggles with the demands Victor places on him, Red makes a new friend in the out, proud, town pariah, Sean Delaney. The two of them form a friendship, but one built on lies. Red can’t bring himself to tell Sean the truth anymore than he can face the fact that he’s developing feelings, not for Victor … but for Sean.
Red’s father is a controlling and abusive man who did his best to torment his son. Red was trained in obedience and control, with threats of severe punishment for failure. All through his childhood, Red was frightened of his father, even as he jumped to do as he was told until the Colonel sent him away. Is it any wonder, then, that Vincent — who demands control and obedience, and yet who offers sex and care alongside — would be able to push all Red’s buttons? Vincent tells him the rules, makes the choices for him, allowing Red to set aside the responsibility of being an adult caring for a teenage girl, of someone struggling to pay bills and put food on the table to simply relax and let someone else take over.
“Do you want to be my dog, Redmond?” he breathed into my neck. “Give me your affection, follow my rules, and I’ll take good care of you.”
And Victor does take care of him. Entering into the world of pet play, Red is free to be playful, to be goofy, to obey rules that make sense and, in return, to be loved. He’s free to give everything to Vincent and he does and, in return, bills are paid, his sister goes to a new school, and the gifts just keep on coming. It’s something Red could easily get used to.
Sean, on the other hand, is everything Victor isn’t. He’s out and open in his sexuality, he’s emotional and vulnerable and asks Red to be a friend, to be an equal. He needs Red’s help and he need’s Red’s company, offering up an unbiased ear and friendship in return. And, as the days go on, Red realizes that he wants what Sean has. For all that the other man lives in a town of people who hate him, for all that he was disowned by his family, that his car was vandalized, Sean isn’t living a lie, isn’t hiding who he is. Sean isn’t ashamed.
My main concerns surround Victor, as well as aspects of his relationship with Red. Victor is an asshole and a user and a skeezy Dom. When Red meets Victor, Victor has another sub, Toby, who wears his collar. That doesn’t stop Victor from brushing Toby aside to focus on Red to an almost obsessive level. He doesn’t ask Red when it’s good for Victor to call him, he just calls. And when Red, one time, says he can’t, Victor gets angry and tells Red to do as he’s told. He punishes Red by fucking Toby in front of him without asking Red if he wanted to be involved. And then, when Red apologizes, Victor takes the collar of Toby with no discussion with either sub, and gives it to Red. I don’t think BDSM collars are quite as easily disposable as Victor seems to think they are.
To summarize, the writing is good, the pacing is good (I didn’t come across a slow patch in the book at all), and Red’s relationship with his sister felt organic and real. Their bond, and the hints of Katie’s own trauma at the hands of her father, shaped the story but didn’t take the focus away from it. This is a nicely put together story with a predictable ending that felt rushed and I didn’t feel as thought certain actions taken by certain characters quite made sense. But, in the end, I enjoyed the book as it stands.