Ellora’s Cave, $5.99, ISBN 978-1419912498
Contemporary Erotica, 2007
This review originally appeared on The Naughty Bits, which is sadly no longer around. It’s now here with Teddypig’s permission.
I think Joey W Hill is a great writer. Not just good, but probably one of the best writers today writing about M/F BDSM Romance. Nobody has the clarity and focus when describing the relationship dynamics between a Top/Dom and a bottom/slave in a BDSM scene than she has.
So color me surprised on this one folks. I loved the complex but lovable Mac Nighthorse, still do. My problems with her writing in the past have come from when she steps outside of the dungeon and starts describing the characters and their motivations and their backgrounds.So maybe that played into what happened here. I don’t honestly know.
Our heroes are Marcus, who is this very successful New York art gallery owner and art promoter and Thomas a highly talented artist discovered by Marcus’ and also his lover. Marcus is the BDSM Dom and Thomas is his slave.
Thomas has a run of bad luck with his father in North Carolina dying and then his little brother getting into a tractor accident and unable to walk so he rips his “collar” off and runs back home to North Carolina to take care of his family. Marcus eventually gets around to visiting Thomas in order to find out what happened and why Thomas left him without saying goodbye. Marcus then proceeds to get Thomas to start painting again and spend a week with him in a remote cabin so they can work things out between them.
Now about my problem with Marcus’ “collar”… A gold waist chain? Huh? Collars are not jewelry and fashion accessories, they are traditional symbols used to express and communicate clearly ownership and position in a BDSM social setting. Who is gonna see a gold waist chain? What does a gold waist chain clearly communicate to anyone? Collars in the case of Gay Leather BDSM are symbolic like a wedding band but only in the fact you are using a commonly agreed upon object that is worn to express ownership. Think of it like if you were a single woman scoping out some guy… Do you not react to a wedding ring? The same thing is true for a collar. You see it on some bottom/slave’s neck and you can then note that the person belongs to someone nearby who you should be talking to first and seeking permission from before interacting with the bottom. That is if you follow Gay BDSM Leather Protocol. OK, so small quibble here.
Initially this story seemed OK for a Gay Romance. Maybe a little soapy with the continual “will they/won’t they” get back together cycling that takes place over and over again. One minute they are divulging their deep seated feelings for each other and the next they are arguing and denying there is anything they can do to change what has happened. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Then this happened…
When he logged on, the cell phone rang on the counter, startling him in the quiet of the early morning hour. Wiping the sweat off his face with one arm, he hobbled to the phone.
He shouldn’t answer it. But it was the first time Marcus had called at this time. During the day, there was the pretense that Thomas was doing something else. Working, with family, whatever. To ignore it now would be like ignoring him if he stood right in front of him, and the bastard probably knew it.
Plus he wanted to hear his voice. Why’d he delete that message? Marcus wasn’t calling as much anymore, and Thomas didn’t think it was because of the email option. It was as if he realized the power of sensory deprivation. Duh. Who better than a Master knew the power of turning Thomas’ own defense mechanism against him?
Opening the cell, he noticed it had a full battery. Crap. No excuse there. If he mimicked low battery beeping noises, Marcus would see through that pathetic attempt and laugh at him. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself.” The first notes of his voice, God, the first syllables, made need coil hard in Thomas’ stomach, twisting the pain. Thomas leaned over again, tried to breathe. Sought something to say. “I just finished the last one.”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“You’ve got that dazed sound to your voice like you’re coming out of a month of solitary. How’s it look?”
Thomas turned, his gaze sweeping over them, resting on that largest canvas specifically. “I don’t know. It’s different from the others.” Son of a bitch. He slid down the side of the counter, pressed his hand to his abdomen. Quit. He didn’t want to talk. He wanted to hear Marcus talk, let that voice pull him out of the place the painting had taken him, into a place somewhere in between it and here. “Don’t know if you’ll like it. If it’ll sell like the others. Don’t know…” Don’t know anything. But talk. For the love of God, talk.
“Unfortunately, selling and liking are two different things, because most of the buying public wouldn’t know talent if it bit them in the ass. It’s my job to educate them, Thomas.”
Thomas leaned his head against the cabinet, closed his eyes. “You know, it’s funny you’ve never called me anything but that. Most people assume I’m a Tommy, Tom.” Thomas covered the mouthpiece, coughed into a used rag and noticed without much interest he was coughing up flecks of blood again.
“When did you have a full night’s sleep last?”
“You nursemaiding me? Girl.”
“Yeah, fuck off. When, Thomas?”
Thomas rubbed his forehead, scanned the counter for his antacids, realized he’d taken the last of them an hour ago. “Last night.”
There was a pause on the other end, significant enough that Thomas had to squelch the urge to fill in the pause with some type of verbal squirming.
“You want to really piss me off, you lie to me one more time.”
Thomas licked the residual powder off the antacid paper. “Then don’t ask questions you already know the answer to. Jesus.” His eyes watering, he gripped the phone harder. “I don’t want to fight about this, okay? I’ve been staying up late to get the paintings done. It’s what I wanted to do. I can’t…talk…”
“Thomas.” Marcus’ voice came through sharp and hard. “You’re having one of those attacks again, aren’t you?”
“It’s okay, they happen. Marcus, I’ve got to go…”
“Lie down on your side, right now. If you’re not going to let a doctor help you, you listen to me. Or I get off the phone and call 911 to send an ambulance to your house.”
Alarm shot through him, increasing the fiery sensation. Thomas went to the floor, cursing and muttering, but doing it.
“Now take your hand, lay it over where it hurts. Don’t press. Just lay it there.”
Thomas complied, holding onto Marcus’ voice, fairly sure this wasn’t going to work, the pain too intense, but he knew Marcus would do what he said. Also, just holding onto his voice, fulfilling his instruction, was what he wanted above everything else. Just talk… It would pass. It always did. He’d had to have that extra strip of bacon this morning, like an idiot. He was hungry and he’d needed the coffee to wake up.
“Have you done it?”
“Yeah. Yes. I’m not a child.”
“You’re acting like one. Shut up and listen. It’s my hand there. Just move it, easy, slow circles. I’m sitting right behind you, leaning over you. I’ve got one hand on your head, stroking your hair. You feel my fingers there?”
Thomas closed his eyes. Remembered them, felt them. “The way you do when I sleep, but I’m not all the way under.”
‘That’s right.” Another pause. “I’m going to talk to you, and while I do, I’m going to keep stroking your head and rubbing your stomach in slow circles.”
He could feel it. Honest to God. And it was making it easier to breathe. Maybe it felt so real because he wanted it so much. Marcus’ fingers. Strong, long fingers, no scars or blemishes.
“How’s your face looking?”
“Sshh… Obey your Master. Be still and let me touch you. I just want to take care of you, pet. Just want you to let me take care of you.”
“But…who takes care of you?” There was a silence on the other end, but it was full of so many things it almost felt like Marcus was there, right behind him, his body close, curled up spooning with
Thomas like that very first night, and many nights thereafter. “I mean, other than the million guys who’d be willing to hold your hair out of your face when you throw up for the chance to sleep with you?”
“One more comment about my hair and I will get a crew cut.” A pause. “You take care of me, pet. Just by breathing and existing, you take care of me in ways you can’t imagine.”
“You say things like that just to mess me up,” Thomas said. “Mess with my head. I love your hair. Don’t cut it.”
“Why not? You going to come punish me?”
“I might. Do you miss having your ass strapped by your Master? Serving me with your mouth?”
Something stirred other than the pain. You know I do. Thomas couldn’t say it aloud, but knew he didn’t need to do so. It was a part of the whole empty need in his burning gut that wanted Marcus.
“What are you wearing?”
It brought Thomas up short, it was so cliché.
What am I wearing? Oh, just the blood I coughed up from this bleeding ulcer…
So, here Thomas is lying on the floor writhing in pain, clutching his stomach, and then suddenly Marcus calls on the cell and phone sex breaks out. I am sorry, but the last thing I can think of when in real medically induced pain is to get into my slave role. No way! Medically induced pain is totally different than say the pain of being flogged. The mindsets are night and day and I have never been able to switch those gears.
My problems really started when Thomas is experiencing all these panic attacks and gastronomical pains from a growing ulcer. Marcus knows this is occurring and the reasons for it, but there is never a moment where he draws the line with Thomas and says “You are going to see a doctor now.” At no time does he put his foot down as Thomas’ “owner” (Which is what he says he is.) about this in a way that showed me he cared for Thomas and he would not let the man continue to ruin his health with denial. In fact Marcus seems to do the exact opposite and feeds this denial and simply does not make it an issue until the very end and then only to Thomas’ mother, of all people, which just seemed irresponsible to me.
Denial in fact seems to be Thomas’ main theme in the story and he goes so far as to tell Marcus he is considering marrying this girl his very Catholic mother wants him to hook up with. Wow, how long has Thomas been “not gay” and in denial? What is with all this “I can be straight” stuff when supposedly he has been running around New York with Marcus as his Top this whole time? Has he never sat down and reflected that there was no going back on this and he is queer, he is gay, he is a great big fucking cock sucker? I mean the guy is submitting to Marcus as a BDSM bottom but Marcus, his concerned attentive Top, never forces him to come to terms with any of it? Come on, Thomas has to have thought this part of the attraction through… at least as far as admitting he is gay by now.
Marcus is on the other hand is portrayed in the story as this highly regarded Dom/Top in the BDSM community. Marcus has never allowed a bottom/slave to become attached to him. How does this work? I mean, from my own experiences in Gay Leather BDSM it is all about the length of experience and the reputation that comes from being in a couple Top/bottom or Master/slave over time. Reputation for a bottom/slave stems from who his Top is or was, who trained him, for how long, or at least it did for me. It is an exchange of power and trust. The reputation for a Top comes from his track record in regards to how well he has trained and cared for bottoms/slaves. So how does Marcus get this high regard in the BDSM community if he never allowed anyone close? You can not get this type of respect at least in my crowd based on your good looks and your shiny Leather outfits. BDSM is not about shallow posers or how well you can throw a dinner party.
The final blow for this “Romance” came from Marcus. At the very end of the story he purposefully puts himself in a position to be attacked and killed in some really dangerous area of New York all because Thomas left to go straighten things out with his family, but only after Thomas had promised Marcus he would be back. Instead of showing restraint and discipline, something a Top should be familiar with, Marcus suddenly throws this hissy fit and decides to off himself if he can not have Thomas as his lover.
I guess this was supposed to be the final big drama. Instead it just killed this couple for me. How can we have a viable HEA when the core relationship is this sort of unstable emotionally blackmailed codependency? Marcus became in the end this selfish, suicidal, fucked up, manipulative, immature brat that I would have walked away from after letting him know he needed serious professional counseling ASAP.
Till death do us part should never be a threat used to get your way or used to manipulate the other persons love or attention.
Teddypig Rule #2: Suicide threats made by the Hero or Heroine in any romance and I mean ANY ROMANCE! The character will not be able to apologize for it, the story is never gonna pass go nor can it ever hope to collect an HEA.
I had a tough time with this book since I ended up not liking the characters at all or the “Romance” but Joey W Hill is such a good writer so Rough Canvas still gets a D.
I am so not recommending it.
Teddypig used to hang around the romance community in the early 2000s. He has since moved on to greener pastures, but he has given us permission to put up his old reviews here.