what he learns coverRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel


Sterling grew up working for his family’s restaurant and he is eager for a job where he isn’t always surrounded by their loving, but overwhelming, embrace. But that is not the only reason he wants to work as a bartender for the kink club, Desires. When Sterling witnessed his crush, Jade, submitting to someone, it made him realize his own desires to have someone to submit to him. Sterling hopes it could one day be Jade, but he also wants to learn more about kink and being a good Dom and working at Desires is a way to immerse himself in that world.

Kelly is going back to Desires for the first time since his divorce. He and Quentin were just not a good match as a Dom and sub, though the two have remained friends. Quentin was looking for a lifestyle BDSM relationship, while Kelly only wants to submit in the bedroom. It has been a while since Kelly has submitted to anyone, so he is nervous about returning to Desires and decides to takes things slowly by just hanging out at the bar his first night back. There, Kelly strikes up a conversation with Sterling, and the two hit it off. As their new friendship builds and Sterling confides his desire to learn more about being a Dom, Kelly offers to help him practice by serving as a sub.

It turns out the connection between Kelly and Sterling is just amazing for both of them, and what starts out as a little training for Sterling begins to turn into more. Kelly is finding renewed joy in kink and Sterling is exactly the kind of Dom he wants, while Sterling is finding his way and realizing being a Dom is a perfect fit. Romantically, sexually, and emotionally, the guys are everything the other one desires. But both men also have their own insecurities. For Kelly, it is the fear that Sterling will want more from him as a sub than he wants to give; things started out well with Quentin, but ultimately their interests diverged. And Sterling is still working on gaining confidence in his ability to be a good Dom, and he can’t help but second guess himself at times that he is doing it all the “right way.” But Kelly and Sterling have found something really special together, something they both want to turn into more. Now, they just have to trust themselves and their partner, as well as share their feelings, and they will be on the way to the future they both want together.

What He Learns opens up E.M. Denning’s new Desires: New Beginnings series. The series appears to be a spin-off/extension of the author’s Desires series, and Steve and Matt from What He Craves turn up here as side characters (Steve is the club owner). We also get a brief cameo from Rory from What He Fears. That said, this story stood alone just fine and I was able to easily start here even without reading the first series. I really enjoyed this book and found it sweet and easy, but also with enough depth to the characters to really give the story some weight. While both Kelly and Sterling are entering the club at sort of a transition point, they meet and become friends quickly and their transition into lovers goes very smoothly. The guys are into each other right away, they have great chemistry, and they don’t hesitate to share their feelings with one another. So the relationship itself develops easily and I found the men really appealing together. They are just both sweet and lovely and willing to open up and be there for each other.

While the relationship grows smoothly, each man has some issues to explore and I think Denning handles them well. Kelly is finding his way back into kink and dating after his divorce. While Sterling is nothing like Quentin, part of Kelly can’t help but worry things will collapse if Sterling realizes he wants things Kelly can’t give. So he has to come to terms with accepting some risk, but also he communicates well with Sterling and Sterling is able to offer him reassurances that they are on the same page. For his part, Sterling starts off the book crushing on a friend, Jade. While Jade isn’t the sole reason Sterling wants to be a Dom, his feelings about kink start sort of mixed up in his desire for Jade. I think Denning handles this well, both as Sterling moves forward from Jade being this symbol of kink to him, but also acknowledging that Sterling can’t use Kelly as an unknowing substitute for Jade as he learns. By the time the guys have their first scene, it is clear Sterling is definitely into Kelly, but they do have a conversation about it all, which I appreciated. The second issue is Sterling’s fear that he isn’t doing BDSM “right” and second guessing himself. Kelly is older and more experienced, and so Sterling is putting a lot of pressure on himself. He has read books and forums and he is trying to follow what he thinks are rules. This issue is also dealt with well as Sterling comes to understand it is not one size fits all and the only expectations he has to meet are those of his partner.

So as I said, this one is a sweet, sexy, and romantic read with a healthy dose of kink. The relationship development goes pretty easily, but there is enough conflict to carry the plot and keep things engaging. I enjoyed this one a lot and am looking forward to seeing what’s to come for the series.

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Joyfully Jay