Brandon McKinney had a happy childhood with two parents who dearly loved each other and their son, Brandon. That all changed when Brandon turned 12, as his mother grew sick from cancer and died. Trapped in his grief, Brandon's father turned to alcohol and rage to cope and found Brandon a ready outlet to vent it all on. The icing on the cake for his contempt was discovering Brandon was gay, until the day when 15 year old Brandon found himself out on the streets. Having scrabbled his way into a sort of stable life, Brandon is a proud man determined to make his dream of becoming an architect come true. In fact, he's made his way up the ladder to foreman of a small, but well regarded construction company that builds luxury homes for the rich and his boss hopes that Brandon will be able to find funding to buy him out so that he can retire.
Brandon wants this very much, as it means he could not only finish his degree in architecture, but get to build the projects that really mean the most to him. The trouble is, a young man living in a ratty studio apartment with no savings and only an Associates degree that due to his financial constraints took him 5 years to complete instead of the usual 2, is not prime loan material for a bank, especially when the necessary loan is in multi-million dollar figures.
Enter Jonathan Watkins. He's a self made Silicon Valley billionaire with a bent for the decidedly kinky. One night in Chinatown, he spots Brandon at a bar, and the two engage in some down and dirty in the back alley. Appetite whetted, and without a current regular submissive, Jonathan hopes to bend this obviously proud man to his will. Knowing that he needs three million dollars, he comes up with the idea to offer him a financial incentive: "Give me six months , and I'll give you the world."
Brandon resists the idea, until he realises that he has no other possible way to earn the money he needs. Remembering the explosive and unexpected orgasm he had from their bit of rough play in the alley, he decides that having some enjoyable sex while on his knees is not that big a deal, as he can walk away afterwards and no one be any the wiser. He soon finds out that being submissive 24/7 is no easy feat, especially when the Dom in question is an admitted sadist. As his personal hang ups and sense of pride and accompanying sense of shame keep him from submitting without resistance, even when his head is rationally screaming for him to not be so stupid, both he and Jonathan end up exploring their personal boundaries a lot more exhaustively than either had imagined. Neither looked for emotional entanglement, but getting this far into each other's space brings feelings rushing to the fore. Will Brandon finally lay the ghosts of his past to rest and submit as his heart and mind yearn to do, and will Jonathan find that true love that is honestly reciprocated is possible even for a sadist and his sub?
Just by reading the synopsis, for many readers the obvious comparison is going to be 50 Shades. Forget 50 Shades, this book is the real deal. It's written by a pair of friends, one of which is a real life Domme (Rachel Haimowitz) and the other a submissive (Cat Grant). That alone provided the clue that going in, I wasn't going to see the sort of unintentional mistakes that littered 50 Shades, and that the BDSM aspect was going to be very, VERY important on a visceral level that only two life-stylers could possibly grasp. Fans of 50 Shades may very well like this however, as the sex scenes are frequent and they are definitely hot with a kink factor far past 10.I'm going to go ahead and say this straight out, however- this is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Jonathan is a hardcore Dom with a very sadistic nature. He's not a socio-path however, and is actually a fairly well balanced individual. The contrasts this provides makes for an interesting dynamic as he tries to bring his rebellious sub to heel as his caring side more than once wars with his impulse to inflict pain and punishment. He is very much a man who plays by the rules, however, whether it be the polite rules of the social side of business, to being a man of personal integrity who not only insists on a contract, but goes out of his way to ensure that both he and Brandon understand what they have negotiated and stick to their side of the contract.
Brandon's inner demons come out of hiding with a vengeance once he's not occupied with hours and hours of hard physical labour followed by a bone tiring weariness that robs him of the need to think of anything bar sleep. He comes unglued while having to do nothing but sit and be hand fed, petted, and so on. Used to distracting himself, Brandon finds that trying to focus on just being is impossible as the voice of his father comes to whisper insidiously in his mind. Weak, sissy, worthless, all words that he tries to shove aside but in the end, he still allows his own anger to erupt, to lash out and prove he is a strong man, a man who cannot be beaten down. It's an anger that stood him in good stead as he he got himself off the streets as a boy, but it's also an anger that is holding him back. Deep down, Brandon wants to be able to let go and to be able to accept the tender affections of another. A tenderness that Jonathan is all too happy to shower upon him until Brandon brazenly challenges him until the sadist is given free reign during punishment time.
This is where it gets rather uncomfortable. The nature of the contract means that Brandon has given full consent, unless he safe words. His stubbornness won't allow it, until even Jonathan is hard-pressed to know just where Brandon's limits are. Jonathan's sadism is not always sexual, as Brandon's resistance means that more often than not, he's there to be punished. Cue tiny cages and a clear plexiglass coffin complete with electric shocks that inspired even me to have a nightmare after making the mistake of reading this before bed and getting stuck tightly wrapped under and within my covers. Nonetheless, it is a story of personal discovery and love, and one that is well written indeed.
Over the course of their personal interactions, Brandon and Jonathan both end up doing a lot of self reflection. Jonathan explains quite carefully why he does everything that he does, from the why he wishes Brandon to be groomed a quite specific way, to the intent behind the hand feeding, end even makes certain that Brandon understands just why he is being punished. He thinks deeply about what he hopes to accomplish for Brandon, and examines his actions and Jonathan's responses closely when events don't go as planned, going so far as to run past experiences through his head (both that of his past submissives as well as his own time spent on his knees as he trained). Nothing is gratuitous and it's abundantly clear that Jonathan isn't doing this merely for fun and games- he has clearly defined goals that are of personally emotional and psychological benefit to both men and he is quite upset at the roadblocks being thrown up.
Brandon's experiences during the their time together not only allow his inner psyche out to play- that nasty inner voice that sounds like his father, but also for his rational mind to process what he has been doing to himself. While locked in cage with nothing else to do, for example, he eventually has to look over what precisely he did that led Jonathan to put him there. To be quite honest, it's extremely self destructive behaviour. From refusing to eat until he damn near requires medical intervention, to purposely mouthing off to ensure he racks up several demerits, Brandon's his own worst enemy. More to the point, he's locked up years of self loathing and hatred resulting from his father's physical and mental abuse, sublimating it to the point where no one could see it until there was nothing but Brandon and IT.
The physical chemistry is sizzling hot between the two and the sex scenes are always explosive, and it is this initial connection that not only draw the two men to each other initially, but which allows Brandon to excuse his letting go when he manages to allow himself to silence the taunts within his own head. The punishments serve drive Brandon into a corner, a corner where he cannot escape himself, having to focus himself. It is these moments of clarity that ultimately lead to the sea change within Brandon, where he faces his stubborn actions for what they are truly are. Only then can he move forward. It's exhausting physically and mentally for Brandon, but also for Jonathan, who despite his sadistic streak, cannot enjoy inflicting pain that is not given as a gift, nor pain that is not enjoyed by both parties on any level.
It was also exhausting for me as the reader, as I became tense, waiting anxiously to see what Jonathan was going to pull out next as he ramped up the punishments while trying to breach Brandon's self destructive defensive barriers. It was also incredibly rewarding, as the emotions of both men were clearly on display every step of the way. I could not dislike either man regardless of what I saw play out, and felt torn for them both. One reaching out to help with hand that wanted to show gentle care, while the other snapped and snarled like a previously abused rescue dog who can only react out of instinctual fear and distrust, so that a show of forceful dominance became a requirement. Watching the two men deal with their growing attraction and emotional bonds made the ending all the more satisfactory, leaving me happy that'd I'd waited to buy this book until the I was able to buy the sequel with it as I couldn't wait to see how the two continued to grow and bond as human beings as well as lovers with more than a bent for the BDSM lifestyle.