Ace and Max are both heirs to powerful fathers who hate one another, which means, of course, that the two boys have to hate each other as well. Max is told by his father to keep an eye on Ace, two years younger and in a different class than he is. And Max does — with a small detour to watch his school counselor fuck a teacher, which he then films for blackmail. On finally catching sight of Ace, Max learns two things: One, the boy is a born submissive, and two, he’s gay. They share a heated kiss before Max vanishes with Ace’s stuffed lion and a threat. However, it doesn’t end there. Max destroys the toy — all Ace has left of his mother — which leads to a fight and another kiss. This time, though, it’s Ace who walks away.
Nine years pass, and the two men meet again. Ace wants nothing more than to give in to Max, who wants nothing more than to break Ace. The only thing standing in their way is Ace’s father who is determined to destroy Max’s company, and Max himself.
This book has an issue that I found very hard to overcome: The characters know things they shouldn’t know. For example, Maxwell calls Ace an anti-social lone wolf, the same exact words that Ace uses to describe himself, when the only thing he knows about Ace at that point is that he’s hard for Max to track down and have a conversation with. Ace is two years younger, in different classes, with different teachers, in a different dorm. For all Maxwell knows, Ace is hanging out with friends, or playing games, or doing his nails … but no, Max knows, somehow, that Ace is an anti-social lone wolf. Much as he knows that Ace doesn’t curse, despite the fact they have had one face-to-face meeting.
Max, for all that he’s supposed to be brilliant — or at least intelligent or mildly clever — makes a rather stupid mistake. After kissing Ace, he has perfect blackmail material. Ace is gay. Ace is attracted to him. And it’s in Ace’s best interest to keep both his sexuality and Max’s quiet and hidden. So Max destroys what is obviously a precious stuffed animal blatantly, all but rubbing it in Ace’s face. Why? Just for shits and giggles? No, to prove he’s stronger, to prove he has power. All he proved is that he’d rather beat someone with a stick than hold out a carrot to make them do what he wants.
And then nine years past. Ace says: He was a vile monster to me when we were at Amplestone Academy. But how? When? What did he do? It’s implied they had a tempestuous relationship … but that’s all being waved aside, as though it isn’t important to actually establish a relationship between the two men who I’m supposed to believe are interested enough in one another to actually want to be in a relationship deeper than just sex — which is itself laid out as a given, an eventuality that needs no buildup, no motivation, no reason. I understand this is a romance novel, but it felt like it didn’t matter; it seems taken for granted that the two main characters will be/will fall in love that there was no need to establish this in the story.
The symbolism — much like the adverb heavy writing — is … well, heavy handed. When playing cards:
I couldn’t help but give Ace a devious grin. The irony of this hand wasn’t lost on me. I held two aces, just as I had Ace in the palm of my hands. And then more aces revealed themselves on the table in my favor. Ace was now fully giving himself to me. I couldn’t have written anything more fucking poetic.
As for the supposed relationship, Max knows Ace wants to be fucked, Ace knows Max wants to fuck him, and that’s all there is to it. They’re fated mates with insta-love in a bully romance. And it all just feels force fed. I found this to be very uninteresting, unrealistic, and rather tepid. For all that Max — having availed himself of Ace for a blowjob during a business lunch with Ace’s father says:
“You’re all mine, Ace Bettencourt. All fucking mine! I’m glad you were able to get all those years of rest and peace you needed away from me. Because now, you’re not going anywhere. Welcome to your very own version of hell.”
For some reason, Max decides to try being nice. It’s not in his character, it’s not in the words he says or the actions he takes, so the decision to be nice, the decision to play friends with Ace to get in his pants doesn’t feel like it comes from Max. It feels like it comes from plot convenience. And “those years of rest and peace,” when we heard from Ace that his years in school were hell because of Max? Which am I supposed to believe?
Ace, on the other hand, who has been described throughout the book as a lone wolf instead — looking at his actions, words, and behavior — seems like he isn’t so much anti-social as shy and introverted. He’s constantly trying to stay out of the limelight and away from his father, of whom he is somewhat afraid. Ace is thoughtful, kind, a romantic, and looking for someone to take care of him. When Max pushes, Ace yields. When Max wants sex, Ace joyfully responds.
The writing style is ornate, choosing style over substance, which leads to some clumsy lines. The pace is too fast and lopsided. The build up in school between the two young men works, but then it’s nine years later and a giant percentage of the book focused on a few inconsistent weeks. I’m going to be honest. I didn’t enjoy this book. The characters said one thing, the plot instantly invalidated it. Every character knew everything every other character did. The constant use of adverbs to let me know exactly what every tone of voice, smile, or wink meant was florid and overwhelming. Every character sounded the same to me, and the plot overrode the characters every single time. It honestly felt like the story just wanted to get to the fucking, and then to the end of the book, and the characters were dragged along without care. Personally, this is a solid pass for me.