19 January 2015

Counterpunch (Belonging #2) by Aleksandr Voinov

 Fight like a man, or die like a slave.

Two years ago, Brooklyn Marshall was a happily married London policeman and amateur boxer with a promising future. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose powerful father had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the prison system, the state sold Brooklyn into slavery. Now he’s the “Mean Machine,” competing on the slave prizefighting circuit for the entertainment of freemen, and being rented out for sexual service to his wealthier fans.

When barrister Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn’s services for a night, Brooklyn braces himself for yet another round of humiliation and pain. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it love—such feelings can’t truly exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to get Brooklyn’s conviction overturned, Brooklyn dares to hope.

Until an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he’s worked so hard for. With the law on his tail and Nathaniel in his corner, he must prepare for the most important fight of his life: the fight for his freedom.
I’m not naturally drawn to sports romance – just not my thing – but throw the word ‘slave’ in there, and I’m on board. It took me a few pages to settle into the fact that although this comes off as a contemporary set in London, it’s actually a slight deviation into an alternate universe. In this alternate world – prisoners can be sold off as slaves to ease the burden on the prison system. Upon further investigation, this seems to be an ongoing series written by different authors from Riptide Publishing with this theme. Since I enjoyed this book immensely, I’ll definitely be seeking out the others. Plus – I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been disappointed by anything that Riptide has published.

Brooklyn is a tough police officer who’s been sold off as a slave after accidentally killing the daughter of a highly influential person. When he was a ‘freeman’ he did amateur boxing, had a wife and hoped to get his own home and maybe have a couple of kids someday. That all went to hell once he was convicted. ‘The management’  - made up of six mysterious people – purchased him upon recognizing his value on the slave fighting circuit. The more Brooklyn makes a name for himself, the more he’s sought after as a high-priced party favor by men and women alike.

Brooklyn is filled with so much rage over his circumstances, he pretty much wants to maim and kill anyone around him – especially those who use his body for their pleasure. The rest of the time, his guard – a sadistic asshole – uses any and every excuse to taze him or beat him. He’s not above a little rape here and there either. (trigger warning) After one fight in particular, he’s purchased for the whole night by some mysterious man at a very high-end hotel. This man, Nathaniel, never has sex with him  that night - he merely gives Brooklyn pleasure, even as Brooklyn tries to fight it off. Nathaniel treats him like a human being, not a slave, and it confuses the shit out of Brooklyn.

What ensues is the story of two unlikely men building an emotional connection, despite Brooklyn’s best efforts to thwart Nathaniel’s loving attentions. Oh, Nathaniel. How I loved this man. There’s a whole sort of fan worship thing going on from Nathaniel, which makes the attraction believable since they are both so markedly different. Nathaniel is as vulnerable to Brooklyn as Brooklyn is suspicious of Nathaniel. The beauty of this story is watching Brooklyn’s defenses crumble as Nathaniel teaches him all about a connection that transcends the physical.
But Brooklyn is still a slave and Nathaniel is a freeman - they can never really be together out in the open. Oh the angst! There is trouble on all fronts and at one point when things really went south, I didn’t think I could stand waiting to find out what would happen – I was going to have to skim to the end and I never do that! There was a very clever denouement that explained Nathaniel’s mysteries (the story is told only from Brooklyn’s POV) and I was relieved to discover that information.

My only complaint would be one that I’ve had recently with other MM romances as well – please give me a little more together time at the end! I’ve suffered heart palpitations and anxiety attacks over this couple – please let me enjoy their reunion for a bit longer. Give me another scene with them. An epilogue. Something. Anything. Maybe there’s a sequel planned? I have no idea, but I really, really needed more of this couple.

Overall, I loved the hell out of this story. The pacing was perfect, the plot exciting and interesting (this from someone who could care less about boxing) There wasn’t a lot of sex, but what there was, was very hot. The chemistry between the two characters was electric, and I loved both characters for entirely different reasons. The whole thing just worked perfectly together (except for that clipped ending thing). I’m going to assume that there’s a sequel coming, so I’ll forgive that whole ending interruptus thing. Besides, any story that gets me worked up into such a lather easily deserves 5 Lizard Claws. Great job Aleksandr!


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