A guest review by Jenre
This sequel to Wicked Hearts takes anti-hero Hank and turns him into a sympathetic character as a result of some surprising plot twists.
In Wicked Hearts, Hank Seeley, Reese’s controlling ex-lover, did his best to come between Reese and Jeff. Still bitter over Reese’s desertion, Hank continues to use anger and sex to cover the shards of his broken heart. Not even bothering to pick up guys at bars, Hank orders in, calling for young rent boys to service him until he grows tired of them. When Russell Evans, a big bear of a man, shows up one night instead of the ordered twink, Hank ends up getting more than he bargained for.
Russell is a sex worker with issues of his own. He’s also a Dom with lots of heart, who sees a glimmer of the real man trapped beneath the cold faÃ§ade Hank presents to the world. Russell is used to comforting the lonely men who seek out his services, but he doesn’t count on his own powerful reaction to the handsome, difficult Hank Seeley.
On this tough road to redemption, Hank will fall hard before he can hope to rise. The erotic exploration of dominance and submission is enough to draw the two men into a passionate connection, but in the end, it may not be enough. Unless Hank can face his own demons, he will lose the one thing worth fighting for – love.
Safe in His Arms is the sequel to Wicked Hearts which I reviewed earlier this week here. I’d enjoyed the first book, but had found it to be just an OK read. Nevertheless, I was interested in how the author was going to make a hero out of the odious Hank, a selfish, spoiled, manipulative man.
The story begins with Hank in full anti-hero mode. He’s still fuming over the fact that his best friend and f**k buddy, Reese, has rejected him for nerdy Jeff. After a painful and humiliating confrontation at a club, Hank is determined to get Reese out of his system by calling in one of the high class whores from the ‘escort service’ he uses. In his anger, Hank treats the prostitute roughly. The next day he calls the escort service again, but instead of sending one of the slender submissives that Hank loves to dominate, they send Russell, a big bear of a man whose dominant, but tender nature is just what Hank needs to break down the hurt and defences that have been building for years.
Let’s face it, Hank isn’t the most sympathetic character in the world. He’s actually a pretty horrid man, for all of the previous book and quite a lot of this one too. In some was I could understand why he is as he is: His rich parents have ignored him all his life, throwing money and their influence at him whenever he has got himself into trouble. This has led to Hank thinking that money and status is all that you need in life. When things start to unravel for him, he clings desperately to his shallow life, ignoring all the warning signs until it’s too late and he’s in more trouble than he can cope with. I have to admit I got quite a lot of satisfaction when Hank hit rock bottom – I think I was supposed to feel sorry for him – and was glad when he finally pulled his head out of his arse and began to show some modicum of responsibility. It was this change in Hank, the final realisation that he was the one to blame, and no-one else, plus the way he set out to make a positive and lasting change in his life, that was the most rewarding part of this book.
Another part which worked well was in the surprising relationship between Russell and Hank, and in particular the way that Russell sees the submissive in Hank and nurtures that side of him. The way that Russell was able to recognise a little of himself in the defiant Hank, and use that knowledge to slowly breach Hank’s defences was gratifying to read, as was Hank’s surprise at how freeing it is to let go and allow someone else to control him. Russell’s calm exterior and the fact that he has obviously worked through and conquered his own demons was a delightful contrast to Hank’s almost hysterical anger and feelings of his life spiralling out of control. The scenes where the pair begin their tentative journey, feeling out their roles in the relationship, especially for Hank, made the romance in the book shine out from any flaws that Hank may have as a character.
My only real problem with the book is that quite a lot of the relationship development happens off page. For example, the two men meet, have a couple of times together and then the story jumps forward 4 weeks into something a little more established between them. I would have been interested to read more of that development. Instead the focus is more on Hank’s downfall, which as I have said was well worth reading, and the two men spend a fair amount of the book apart. I would have liked to have seen more of the heroes as a couple, particularly to understand why Russell felt that Hank was worth the time and effort.
After my pretty lukewarm response to Wicked Hearts it was nice to see Claire Thompson back on form with this book. If you’re looking for a BDSM lite (and it is very lite) book with the theme of redemption, then this should be the book for you. I enjoyed it a great deal.