What to say, what to say… At least what to say without writing a novel-length review. This book just defies concise categories and description. It explores so much within the pages of this story. It delves so deep you need a flashlight when you hit bottom. Yes, this is a romance, but it’s a story of two separate men, their pasts, their town’s attitude, guilt and redemption, exploring a unique relationship, and establishing ways to help a man deal with a rare disorder that leave him feeling like a monster. It’s breath-stealing in its scope and there are small triumphs, but also set backs. There is no light fairytale ending, but yet I was well satisfied with how things were left.
Daniel Whitlock creeps in the shadows around his small southern town. He’s worse than a disgusting disease in the eyes of the whole town. He killed one of their own. Oh, he was sentenced and did his time, but the courts reduced the sentence because it was proved that he had a rare sleep disorder that allowed him to walk in his sleep so that nobody could tell he wasn’t awake. And one night, he set a fire in the house of the man who nearly beat him to death for being gay. Everyone knows that, but not one person can forgive burning a man alive.
Daniel is another person in his sleep so he spends his awake time terrified of falling asleep and devising ways to restrain himself when he goes to bed. And if it hurts, then that’s alright since he deserves to be punished for what he did. He deserves the slurs and threats. He deserves his family shunning him and leaving him alone. But then one night, Officer Belman steps in before he can be beat up again. Belman was the nice kid who worked at the store and didn’t treat him like he was a freak though now he is cautious and stern making Daniel wonder just what in the heck he did the night the man found him.
Bel, like the rest of the town, didn’t have much use for Daniel Whitlock or the explanation that he killed a guy while sleepwalking, but he does have a great respect for the law and as a gay man who isn’t out, he also is sensitive to the fact that Whitlock’s victim was a man who nearly beat him to death and would have if a stranger hadn’t come up on the group beating. Then one night when he thinks the guy is on drugs and causing trouble down at the local bar, he realizes that it isn’t drugs or alcohol causing his behavior. Later, Bel is the one to rescue Daniel from his bed restraints when his cabin is set on fire, he starts to believe that Whitlock just might be telling the truth and the man’s fear of sleep is no lie. Daniel desperately needs help and Bel is conflicted, but decides that he really does want to take care of Daniel.
From then on these two men begin a journey together figuring out how to help Daniel stay safely in bed, stay safe from harm, and figure out Daniel’s need for pain, for someone to give him rules and enforce them, and someone just to believe him and care about him. Bel knows that by supporting Daniel, there will be consequences and he isn’t sure that it is worth it because Daniel’s condition wears on them both. Meanwhile, there are some who want to exact their own revenge for murder.
Alright, this story told from alternating points of view is never easy to read. It’s dark and torturous in ways because of what Daniel goes through and how he and Bel struggle through making mistakes and slow forward progress. The vitriol and hatred from many is palpable and yet it’s not out of the blue because Daniel really did kill the guy. But it broke my heart that a whole town would turn away when a guy gets beat nearly to death and then endures ongoing torment from the same group.
The relationship is a tough one because there are so many nuances. Bel was a fantastic and truly heroic hero for Daniel. He stood pat and was so loyal. Daniel never made it easy on him and because he was screwed up even played games so that Bel was never on solid footing with him. Daniel would strike out in bitter anger against the one guy who had his back, but fortunately, he would also know he did wrong and say so. I forgot most of the time that Bel’s only twenty-three and younger than Daniel because he might be out of his depth, but he was poised and mature and probably the perfect match for a man like Daniel.
And Daniel, I just can’t imagine. Whew boy! All his life, he thinks he’s crazy, others think he’s a freak, he’s an out gay man in a community that isn’t open to him, and then he is a murderer. He is terrified of what he is capable of and desperate to either not sleep or not get out of his bonds when he is sleeping. The murdered man’s friends who were all part of the group who beat up Daniel are still after him. Then there is too good to be true Bel. Daniel has been abandoned by family and his ex-boyfriend so he is waiting for Bel to leave him like everyone else. He knows that nobody can handle his issues long term and he knows that Bel will destroy his career and his place in the community for being with Daniel. But he hopes and dreams for the first time and agrees to trust Bel and get counseling. Bel’s support gave him courage and strength to not give in.
There is BDSM in the romance, but I wouldn’t say this is a BDSM story. Yes, Daniel needed to have someone control him and they both got off on that and their ‘play’ time, but it’s more complicated than that. Bel wisely researched on the lifestyle and tried to understand where Daniel’s mind was. He liked control and liked rough sex and play so decided he didn’t have to put labels on what they were doing or following what he thought of as the cookie cutter version of the lifestyle that made no sense to him. He would put the brakes on when he and Daniel were not on the same page. Bel was not a sadist to Daniel’s masochism and Daniel wasn’t a true masochist because he didn’t get off on pain- he only thought he needed pain to keep him awake or when he felt he should be punished for his guilt.
There was also the element of family for both guys. Daniel’s parents, ugh. I wanted to hate them, but I also get it. Daniel is coherent when he is asleep though he does crazy and freaky things and they lived with it for years. But I would have loved to have seen them have some shred of care or pity for a child even if unconditional love wasn’t in them. Bel’s family is so different-warm and supportive- and I held my breath as he not only came out to them, but with the town freak and murderer as his new partner. He knew he was asking a lot of them, but he had faith that they would come through for him.
I experienced this book in the audio format and had the pleasure of listening to new to me narrator, Greg Tremblay. I thought he had great command of all the voices, accents, and tone of the book. He didn’t over dramatize what was already dramatic, but let the story reveal itself. I thought he was a perfect match and a fantastic narrator. Would definitely listen to more of his work.
Incidentally, I love this cover art match with the book. It’s gorgeous and atmospheric.
In summary, this was another incredible outing with this pair of writers. They aren’t afraid to go inside the darkness of the mind and write it with a tough fought and passionately erotic m/m romance.
My thanks to Riptide for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #37 ER
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