Barnaby Hirsch is tired of being a virgin, so he goes onto a local hookup app and matches with the infamous Gil Connolly. It was supposed to be one night. It wasn’t supposed to matter. It was just a way to win a bet and let loose and yet … Barnaby can’t get the encounter out of his head. It was his first time. It was wonderful, amazing, and special. After reliving the memory in the bathroom at work, Barnaby comes out to find none other than Gil Connolly waiting for him.
It seems he left his name tag behind.
So there’s a second time. And a third, and soon Barnaby finds himself falling heart first (or would that be hart?) for Gil. What was supposed to be a friends with benefits situation becomes something more. For all that Barnaby loves everything Gil does for him, and to him, and loves being Gil’s pet, he loves Gil more. Barnaby isn’t used to asking for what he wants, but this once he might just have to.
Barnaby is a chubby guy, insecure and self-deprecating, who tries to take up as little space as possible. His first night with Gil, he spends more time apologizing for being heavy, for being awkward, for not being perfect than he does kissing. When Gil introduces him to pet play, Barnaby finds something almost meditative in the situation. He’s told what to do and rewarded for being good. It doesn’t matter what he looks like, it only matters how hard he work to please Gil, and Barnaby works very, very hard to please Gil. When he’s a pet, his anxiety falls away, his nerves settle down, and he’s able to enjoy himself without shame or the expectation of being ‘normal.’ He can just be himself with Gil.
Gil is a young man with very poor coping mechanisms. Sex is, and has always been, an outlet for him. It gives him the ability to focus on the physical rather than the emotional, to pretend to be someone or something else for the person he’s fucking, taking him out of his own head. But Barnaby, whose native sweetness and kindness appeal to the sharp, splintered edges of Gil, makes him want to be more present. Barnaby thinks Gil is the best thing since sliced bread, and when he’s with Barnaby, Gil thinks he might be able to be that man, if only for Barnaby.
When Barnaby wants to be more than just fuck buddies, Gil doesn’t take it well, and the two of them end up having to face not just the future of their relationship — a life either with one another or without one another — but issues that they’ve both been avoiding. Both men have seen therapists and Gil is on medication for his issues, but neither of them have been honest with the other about what they need, about what they want, or about how their lover can help and support them.
For the most part this is a cute story with a lot of kinky sex involving toys, collars, and pet play. But there are parts I didn’t quite feel like I understood, mostly due to the writing. When we’re in the chapters that focus on Barnaby’s point of view — which is most of the book — Barnaby refers Gil as “the man” or “the raven” and himself as “boy.” Perhaps because he sees Gil as older due to his experience? Or is this age play between the two of them, or just another facet of a master/pet situation that I’m not familiar with? Even Gil, in his somewhat scarcer sections, calls Barnaby “boy” and himself as “the man,” — or rather, the author does. It’s awkward and distancing, keeping Gil forever just out of reach for me as a reader. It was hard to get a feel for him as a person when even the author put him an arm’s length away through their writing.
And, speaking of writing, there are quite a few editorial issues in the book. A handful of malapropisms — their eyes locked on incident (rather than accident), the wrong there, and “an’ instead of “and” — and some word choices that really didn’t work for me. Having a character simper or snivel brought certain images to mind that I found more disconcerting than romantic or charming. Or when Gil kissed Barnaby “tiredly,” which brings to mind (for me) resigned or weary, rather than, say, sleepy or lazy. At times, the writing was a touch florid with more telling than showing, but overall, it’s not a bad story.
This is a cute book with interesting characters, and it’s nice to see a plus-sized hero who is soft, round, and fleshy rather than having it mentioned once and then never again. Barnaby isn’t ashamed of who he is or how he looks, especially when he looks at himself through the mirror of Gil’s eyes.