Stone Brice changed his life when he left his ultra-religious home just before he turned eighteen. His life changed again when he lost both legs in an accident and the insurance payout gave him a chance to start anew. Now, Stone is the owner of the Carnal Tower, an elite and well-known brothel housed in an old chapel. The Carnal Tower specializes in fulfilling people’s deepest and darkest fantasies, set within the theme of the Deadly Sins. The workers each embody one of the Sins, with Stone taking on the role of Lust. As decadent as it is to have a night with a Sin, every client is only allowed to see each Sin seven times, no more. The men who work for Stone are like family to him and he enjoys his job and making other people’s fantasies come true.
August Ashley is a local artist and gallery owner. He tends to stay out of the spotlight, and that works best for him with his severe anxiety. It also means that August has never really had much of a chance to explore sex, or even his own sexuality. When August’s dog runs right into Stone one day in the park, the two men begin talking and something sparks within August. When Stone wants to commission August to paint some portraits of the Sins for the Tower, August is brave enough to ask for what he really wants — seven nights with Lust in exchange for the seven paintings. August wants to get lost in pleasure, to be taken apart so he knows what he likes and what he wants, and to not have to think or worry, just feel. And Stone knows that he can give that to him.
The experiences the men have together are amazing, but to their surprise, there is more between them than just a client relationship. Stone knows to keep his distance from his clients; it is too hard when things end if anyone gets emotionally involved. And August understands that while Stone makes him feel very special during their nights together, he is just doing his job as Lust. But despite what the men tell themselves, it is clear there is more there between them. They ease each other’s loneliness, they understand and accept one another, and something real is growing between them. Now, Stone and August have to figure out if there is a way to take what they have built and turn it into something lasting when August’s time at the Carnal Tower is over.
Shades of Lust is the first book in E.M. Lindsey’s new Carnal Tower series and I just love the set up here. Stone has created this brothel that embodies sin, the deep, dark bits that people normally keep inside, and he offers them a chance to let it out. His Sins play with the characters they embody and it is fun and sexy and feels just the right amount of dangerous. But Stone has also built a family, and we see him interact with the men he sees as brothers. They mostly all live on the grounds of the Tower and so they interact a lot in this book and we get a nice glimpse into most of them here. I also like how we see these guys both on and off the clock. They may be sex workers who bring to life people’s darkest fantasies, but we also get to see the regular guys walking their dogs and hanging out by the fire pit. It plays nicely into the sense of duality here, particularly with Stone. August sees his Lust side and his Stone side and understands they are tied together, but different. It also helps highlight the way that August is not just a client; Stone opens himself up to August in ways that he doesn’t with anyone else. So this is a really fun set up and I loved meeting Stone and the other Sins.
This relationship dynamic is one I love as August is a virgin who has no experience with anyone, even dating. He is in his 40s, but has always been a bit unusual, and his anxiety makes him feel even more removed from others. He keeps mostly to himself and so it all just builds. I love that while August is shy and unsure a lot of the time, he is also brave, and he takes big leaps to ask for what he wants and act on it. There is a nice quiet strength to August that makes him a good match for Stone, even as the men have vastly different life experiences. I loved seeing August open up with Stone and explore his sense of self and his sexuality. I also really appreciated how the story explores August’s anxiety. It is severe and often can be debilitating. Stone is calm and supportive and there for August, but he isn’t a magic cure and we see August go through natural ups and downs, even with Stone by his side. I really enjoyed the dynamic between them and there is a sweetness here among the heat.
My only issue is that I felt like things tied up very fast toward the end. There is a lot of build as we set up things between them and they begin to explore their early client relationship. But once Stone and August fall for one another, it seems to close out a little fast and I wanted to see a bit more of how things play out as they settle into their romantic relationship.
I am really excited about this series and where it can go. I found myself intrigued by all the Sins and can’t wait to see them get their own stories. With Stone running the Carnal Tower and August still having six more Sins to paint, I am hoping we get a chance to see them again throughout the series as well.