With or Without Him, Barbara Elsborg
Publisher: Samhaim Publishing
Genre: Gay Erotic Romance
Tags: Rent-Boy, Angst, Drama, Mystery, Edgy in Places, Contemporary
Length: 427 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
“Well, I guess because I’m a whore,” Tyler said in a quiet voice. “You’re right. I’ll do anything for money. I have done anything for money. Why shouldn’t I do you for money? Hell, I’d suck the dick of every guy in here if I was paid enough, with an audience if they paid too. But no one gets access to the parts of me I keep private. So don’t think you’re going to know me or understand me. It won’t happen. You’re buying my body not my life.”
Twenty one year Tyler is a music student at Trinity Music College. He has student debts that terrify him. So he works for a pimp named Prescott at a sleazy outfit that pays him well enough at five hundred pounds a job, but the jobs are nasty – a room full of men taking a turn at the seven young guys there. Gerard who is sadistic and does what he likes to the guys working and gets away with it. Men who don’t accept “no” as a good reason not to do what they like. Prescott who makes money off them and makes sure he gets his pound of flesh as well. The beginning of the book does not paint a nice picture of working in the sex industry and even though parts were uncomfortable to read I applaud Barbara Elsborg for not making it the usual shiny business. At his latest job in the group-grope a new boy, Jeremy, decides to get chummy. Tyler doesn’t do chummy. He doesn’t want to know the guys he works with, he doesn’t want to know Jeremy or the men fucking him either. It’s a job and he does what he has to to make the money he needs to survive. That allows him to play music and go to Trinity. Jeremy does get under Tyler’s skin and he ends up back at his place and ‘caring.’ He tries to warn Jeremy not to go back to Prescott’s, but Prescott has a way of making fresh meat feel special and like they’ll be taken care of, so it is futile telling Jeremy not to go. Besides, if Tyler can make a go of it why should Tyler be trying to talk Jeremy out of making good money? Money he needs to become a pilot. Prescott picks his mark well.
Haris Evans is a venture capitalist. A man of substantial means. He begrudgingly accepts an invitation to go to Trinity Music College’s concert, he is a benefactor after all. Here, under odd circumstances, he sees the instantly magnetic Tyler. It is total and utter lust and intrigue from the moment he sees him from behind, talking to Dr Flowers about his attire not being appropriate for Trinity’s concert. Then when he comes out on stage…bam, Haris is hooked. But wind back a little and we know that he has overheard Tyler talking to someone in the men’s toilet pre-concert about having to be somewhere else. And the conversation smacks of desperation and unpleasantness, not to mention that Flowers is none too nice to the incredibly desirable Tyler. After Tyler plays, Haris decides to follow Tyler – of the nice arse – and see where that leads. It leads to Haris helping Tyler who has been set up in a very nasty BDSM scene by his pimp, Prescott, and Haris taking measures to make sure Tyler gets out of the situation alive.
From here, the smitten Haris has to see Tyler again. Makes sure he gets to see Tyler again – after getting him out of the bad situation he turns arctic and is rude to Tyler causing him to walk away. He goes back to Trinity especially to find him, asks him for a coffee where he promptly offers Tyler 20,000 pounds, plus 10,000 expenses, to be his for four months – live with him, fuck him – total exclusivity. He has to sign a four month contract agreeing to those terms. Haris can smell the need for money rolling off Tyler and Tyler does want that money, but he’s cynical. Is he just jumping out of the fire with Prescott into the frying pan with Haris? What pound of kinky ownership flesh will Haris want? But the money….
I like books where there is such darkness and desperation dripping off characters. Even if one of them is a rich man you know he has his own skeletons in his very own upmarket closet. Who was Karl and what happened to him? Why does Haris’ valet/chauffeur, Wilson, think someone is following them when he drives Haris around? Why won’t Haris let anyone see his back in the light? Both men have had a less than ideal upbringing. Tyler’s is heartbreaking and enough to crush most people, Haris’ trust-reducing and painful.
Seemed they were both private people with pasts they wanted to keep hidden, but Haris was an expert at digging out the truth and equally expert at keeping secrets. Tyler’s reaction had told him there was something in his history he didn’t want anyone to know. It was like baring his neck in front of a vampire. Haris couldn’t resist biting.
Tyler accepts the contract – 20,000 pounds is a lot of money and Haris is attractive, he also saved him from what could have been a life-threatening event. Plus this kind of money gets him away from Prescott and the kind of nastiness that has happened in the past with him and his clients. The only problem is his new found “friend,” Jeremy, is still in the clutches of Prescott and he has plenty of cause to worry.
The book spends most of its time looking at how Tyler and Haris work with the contract – living together, having sex and their own individual issues as they arise – and they have plenty between them. Meanwhile, it seems as if someone is trying to harm either Tyler or Haris and both of them think it is to do with them – Jeremy thinks it is Prescott after him and Haris thinks it is his issues somehow, but frustratingly neither tells the other anything.
The book is very much one step forward two steps back. They both want each other. They both have secrets. The reader is privy to what it is they want to say, what they are thinking, but neither man can get the words out. And then there is jealousy. Haris is jealous over various situations, he takes everything at face value without knowing all the details. He blows hot and cold continuously –
What the fuck is with this guy? Tyler stared after Haris’s retreating back and scowled. Every time he made a step forward, Haris pushed him back.
The fact that Tyler is not into BDSM and yet there he was in that club smacks of pay-for-sex. Yet knowing Tyler does need money is why Haris knows he can offer him the contract. So the very thing that got him to have this wild and beautiful creature is the very thing that increases his already mistrustful nature. Both men’s secrets come out very, very slowly and they come out when events arise or disaster nearly occurs or does occur. There are times when they can both open up – Haris purposely outbids someone at a charity auction for a night of Tyler privately playing piano as a prize. It is after seeing terror in Tyler’s eyes about the bidding. Tyler starts panicking and has to tell Haris he can’t be alone with the bidder, but he still can’t tell him everything –
He had an opportunity now to tell Haris about Prescott, and get it all out in the open. But then Haris wouldn’t hold him like this anymore, as if he was something special, someone he cared about.
With or Without Him has quite a few things that I always find myself gravitating towards in my romance reading – angst / drama, some darkness, misunderstandings and erotic sex. There is also some delicious inner thoughts that are in amongst the actual dialogue that I enjoyed –
Tyler backed away. What are you doing here?”
“Play for me.”
“I’m not some performing monkey.”
“I want to hear you play.” I want to fuck you. “I want to see you play.” I want my cock in your mouth. “I want to get to know you.” I want to suck your cock.
This could have been a 5 star read. What stopped that extra star were the following:
1) The length – it was a bit too long. It allowed inner monologue that went around and around in circles – ‘I love him but I need him to tell me he loves me first,’ ‘if I tell him, I’ll lose him, I’ll just wait…again,’ ‘I love him, but I can’t trust him. Misunderstandings that just went over the Kazza bearable limit.
2) I do not like writers writing books set in England, as this book is, where American spelling is used – please…don’t…do…that!!!! – ass, a check, blond – we spell those things in Queens English like this – arse, a cheque, blonde. I don’t care if the publisher is in America.
Overall: At the end of the day, this was a really nice read. It had an edginess to it, a mystery, a rent-boy / prostitute theme and a degree of psychological tension. There was also Wilson, Haris’ valet/chauffeur/and friend – he was terrific and, at times, reminded me of Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And Alcide the dog (named because of Wilson’s True Blood love). I liked Tyler a hell of a lot. I felt for him initially, what a shitty dilemma. Then the personal growth he made throughout the book really endeared Tyler to me even more. I like characters who look ahead when given a chance to. Who are self deprecating. I liked how he brought a new dimension to Haris’ life. I liked Tyler with Haris, they could joke and have fun, they tried new things together at Tyler’s insistence. Even though I did admit to wanting to whack Haris at times, with due cause, I liked him, he came through when it truly counted – even though he could not communicate it well he did do some very nice things – gave Tyler opportunities, saved him and held him when he was panicked, bought him a piano. I liked that he did make up to Tyler and came to appreciate what was good for a relationship – using money isn’t always good, genuine-from-the-heart-stuff is. Recommended for people who like some darkness, a bit of humour, drama, sex, a mystery component, can deal with quite a bit of miscommunication in their MM romance and who like characters with quite a bit of baggage. 4 stars. Oh yes, that cover is just perfection.
You don’t tell a guy you love him just because he has his tongue up your arse. Oh Christ. It felt so fucking good, so fucking bad, so fucking perfect that Haris wanted Tyler to do this forever.