Author ~ Grace R. Duncan
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 9th May 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M BDSM Romance
Five years ago, everything went wrong. Braden Kirk and Rafe Jessen’s long-term relationship started unraveling. They stopped talking, fears mounted, then Braden walked in on Rafe and another man, completely misreading the situation. Without giving Rafe a chance to explain, Braden walks out. Out of their home, their relationship, and the game development company they started together in college.
After months of therapy to deal with the attempted rape Braden walked in on, Rafe begins to understand that his dominant tendencies in the bedroom aren’t a bad thing and that Braden’s submission is likely what scared his partner into silence. But Rafe isn’t ready to let go of the man he loves more than life itself. He arranges for himself and Braden to end up on the same charity cruise, knowing Braden won’t let his phobia—terror of vast, deep waters—rule him.
With a plan and twenty-eight days, Rafe is determined to get Braden back, make him see there’s nothing wrong with being submissive, and find a way to get Braden to stay with him when they get home to LA.
This is a story about two men whose stubborn failure to communicate led to the end of their long term relationship, resulting in five years of separation even though they both still loved each other. Now, through a bit of well-intentioned meddling, Rafe and Braden have a chance to lay the past to rest and move on either with or without each other. Rafe hopes that when he leaves their month-long cruise, Braden will be his once again. He’s determined but Braden is stubborn so he’s sure the road won’t be an easy one.
The story is not burdened by much outside action, and the cruise setting makes it easy for the focus to be solely on Rafe and Braden’s past and present. I’m a big fan of second chance stories so this one initially grabbed me, but I was somewhat disappointed that the blurb reveals a big plot point thereby dissipating some of the tension and emotion that should have fueled the two men meeting again after so long. I assume the wording was placed in the blurb in lieu of a trigger warning elsewhere, but the book was clearly written with the intent of the information being revealed to the reader when Rafe finally reveals it to Braden. Despite my issues with the set-up, I liked Rafe from the start and wanted to see these two men find a way to at least mend some bridges.
Since Braden refused all attempts at contact from Rafe immediately following his leaving, Braden has no idea what really went on when he saw Rafe with another man. Braden admits that they had been having some problems relating to sex and that Braden’s shame, confusion, misguided commentary from a friend and his fear of discussing it with Rafe was a big part of their downward spiral. I had a hard time buying that Braden would walk away from not only Rafe, but the business they owned together with such finality, not allowing any communication whatsoever, but I was able to mostly put that aside to focus on the rebuilding of things. What bothered me more is wondering why Braden allowed one person’s comments to direct such a significant part of his future as opposed to giving the benefit of the doubt to a man who had been his best friend and then lover and business partner for years. That’s what made it harder for me to forgive Braden’s actions.
In the five years since Braden ran out on him Rafe (unlike Braden, who appears to have stagnated) has not only undergone therapy, but has educated himself about his dominant nature and the BDSM lifestyle by becoming a member of a club and training with a Dom. He has learned that it’s not a part of his nature that he can or would want to suppress. He has recognized that Braden does have a submissive nature and that although he seemed to enjoy some of the control Rafe exerted in bed, he sensed Braden’s fear and shame and he’s not sure if Braden will be able to accept that part of himself or be willing to have a D/s relationship. Rafe is also fairly certain that if Braden wants nothing to do with the lifestyle, that he likely will have to walk away. Once the men are back together, Rafe struggles with how to introduce the subject to Braden.
Braden’s immediate response to deal with things seems to be retreating or running away. His submissive nature is not only sexual, but extends to his everyday life, allowing others to push him into things and influence his decisions. That, combined with his fear of openly talking to Rafe seems to doom the relationship unless he makes some big changes. Just loving each other and wanting to be together isn’t going to be enough.
I loved Rafe. He is strong and calm and incredibly forgiving, with a love for Braden that is unwavering. He hasn’t spent the past five years hiding away, but has used them to better understand himself and what will be necessary to get back the man he has always loved. Braden was a tough sell for me though. Other than his general nature, I never truly understood why he was so afraid of talking to Rafe about that one aspect of their life. I’m also not sure that Braden really solved that issue though he is working on it.
I’ve enjoyed Grace Duncan’s writing in the past, especially her handling of BDSM themes. In fact Beautiful boy was a hot pick for me in November 2015. The scenes here were the strongest part of the story for me. Rafe is a good Dom knowing just what Braden needs, likes and dislikes. The scenes of tease and denial were hot and incredibly intimate, and despite his misgivings, Braden submits beautifully when not worrying about what other people would say or think.
This story is really all about Rafe and Braden learning how to redefine their relationship going forward and Braden learning how to communicate. I’ll admit that it was frustrating and a bit slow at times; stories where communication is a problem often are for me, but if you like a second chance story, light BDSM and don’t mind working through the issues I’ve mentioned this will probably work for you.