Author ~ Mickie B. Ashling
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 4th September 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary BDSM M/M Romance
Dr. Ethan Marshall is the young medical student on call the night Tessa Duran murders her husband for abusing her twelve-year-old-son, Rino. Ethan stays in the cubicle while the rape kit is performed and is surprised when the boy resorts to prayers instead of tears.
Despite compelling evidence, Tessa is sent to jail for life. To avoid placing Rino in foster care, their parish priest agrees to raise him. Ethan is touched by Rino’s plight and visits whenever possible, but the connection is broken when the priest and young boy leave the area months later.
Raised by the Dominicans in California, Rino considers joining the order until a romance blossoms with a fellow student. After much soul-searching, he turns his back on everything familiar, and chooses his orientation over his perceived vocation. Upon graduating dental hygiene school, Rino takes a job at the office of Scott Gregory and Robin Kennedy.
Seventeen years have passed since that horrible night in the emergency room. Forty-three-year-old Ethan is now a Dominant in search of a full-time submissive. Twenty-nine-year-old Rino is adrift, longing for someone or something to help him find the serenity he’s lost along the way. As they rekindle their friendship, they realize they might be perfect for each other.
Book 4 in the series is a mix of new and old. I’d say that while this book works as a standalone since Rino and Ethan are new to the series, a good part of the early story does also focus on Scott and Robin, the owners of the dental practice Rino works at and the main characters in books 1 and 2.
Rino is twelve when he first meets Ethan, a medical student, in the ER in the aftermath of having been raped by his stepfather, who was then murdered by his mother (the abuse takes place off page, but the aftermath is detailed during his exam in the hospital) who is sentenced to life in prison. Ethan comforts Rino during the exam and keeps in touch with him in the months following until Rino leaves the State with his guardian, Father Santos.
The story then jumps to the present. Rino has never doubted that Ethan is his guardian angel and has often thought of him over the years. Not only did Ethan make sure he was okay as a child, he was the first openly gay man Rino knew and was open and honest with him, giving him a different perspective on the issue than Father Santos and the Church had. After years of education Rino realized that he could not remain with the Dominican Order teaching religion as a gay man and left seminary school just short of completing his Theology degree. At twenty nine, Rino is now a dental hygienist just starting a new job. He is still strongly religious and often feels sick with guilt after hooking up with someone, but he will no longer repress his sexuality.
Ethan is surprised when he sees an adult Rino asking to tour the BDSM club he owns and quickly passes him off to another Dom to avoid recognition until he had time to process things. The two are reunited when Ethan shows up at the dental office and Rino is his hygienist. Neither has forgotten the other and though seventeen years have passed, their bond is still strong and they quickly give in to their burning attraction.
I really enjoyed Rino and Ethan’s story. Rino is a complex character, smart and strong but still struggling with issues of shame and rejection even with therapy and his belief that God meant him to be a gay man who could love and be loved. While he is happy to pursue a sexual relationship, there are still certain actions that make him think twice, knowing his guilt will require penance the next day. Ethan is very successful, generous and would do anything in his power to protect Rino. He is also a control freak, looking for a 24/7 sub to satisfy that need to take charge. He is not into pain (that’s left to Scott and Robin), but does like bondage and some other light play.
While Ethan and Rino are the focus of the book, there is some time devoted to Robin and Scott, who takes an immediate dislike to Rino, requiring some punishment and a couple of intense scenes in their playroom.
The problem I had with the story, and what kept me from rating it higher, was that there is so much that the author brings up, but there was not enough time to fully address it all. Ethan and Rino are not reunited until halfway through the book and when the story abruptly ended they had only known each other again for about two weeks. I didn’t have a problem with them saying “I love you” so early since their bond was strong and it felt right, but I wanted to see some of the D/s relationship that was being set up and would be so central in their lives together.
Having previously read books 1 and 3, I know the author revisits characters and am hoping that is the plan for Rino and Ethan. In the end it seemed that I only got part of their story and while they are in love, they still barely know each other and Rino is only starting to consider the 24/7 submissive lifestyle. It felt happy and hopeful, with an intense bond between the men, but with enough that needs to be worked through it was more HFN than HEA.