This 2nd book in the spin-off series deals with Rob Daniels, Alex's brother, who had a hand in Alex and Leo almost not having a happy ever after, and whose actions, to some extent, caused Alex to remove himself from his judgmental family.
Rob is such a lost boy. He blames himself for Alex's leaving, and yet he's determined to prove that Alex has it all wrong - BDSM is not love. Therefore, Rob goes to Secrets to once again prove that point, sneering and judging everyone he sees in the club. Rob has issues. Massive issues.
Then he meets a brick wall named Vic Prentiss, a Dom who used to be a member at the club prior to it becoming Secrets and who might be looking for a new sub. Vic takes one look at Rob and realizes that the young man has built up massive walls and locked away his heart. He offers the young man a night on the couch, with a promise not to touch him but take him to the train station in the morning. After some fussing and insults, Rob agrees.
Rob returns to his shitty job and his shitty apartment in Manchester, only to blow money on a train ticket back to London to show up at Vic's house, time and again. And slowly, oh so slowly, Rob starts to open up.
This story really tugged on my heart strings. Rob is so lost, so lonely, and so scared. He's afraid of his mother, and he's regretful of the events he set in motion that resulted in Alex leaving and hating Rob for what he did. He wants nothing more than a chance to make things right with his brother, but is afraid to take that first step, and too stubborn to entertain the possibility that Alex found exactly what he needed in Leo, and that their relationship is built on love, even if there's kinky stuff going on. He doesn't understand how anyone could want to be "smacked around", as if BDSM only consists of whippings, and he doesn't understand why anyone would choose to submit to the will of another. He doesn't understand that the sub holds all the power in a BDSM relationship, and that everything stops with a safe word. He doesn't understand the draw, and the release, and the trust that has to be established. He doesn't understand much at all.
And then Vic starts to show him. And Rob opens his eyes, and I cried. Because once Rob lets go, once Rob tears down those walls - the lost boy grows up and becomes a man. Rob finally lets go of pretending to be straight, lets go of lashing out whenever someone suggests he might be gay, lets go of the guilt and the anger and the pain. I cried and cried. As Rob unshackles himself from his past, as Rob reaches out and claims a bit of happiness, as Rob finds what he's been seeking, in Vic's arms, in his brother's embrace, in his father's support - Rob becomes a man. And I cried.
I adored Vic. He was so patient, so careful, and so intent on finding the key to unlock what Rob kept hidden in his mind, so strong and calm to soothe away the pain and grief and to make Rob see that love and trust are at the root of true BDSM relationships.
And Rob, the lost boy, becomes a man.
With gorgeous writing and a ton of emotion, this was a fitting continuation of the brilliant collaboration between these two authors.
** I received a free copy of this book from its authors. A positive review was not promised in return. **