“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” ― Marilyn Monroe
To the best of my knowledge (which admittedly isn’t much), this one of the few fully M/M books written by Ms. Elsborg. I read one other of her others, Every Move He Makes, and really liked it. When the opportunity to review With or Without Him was presented, I jumped. First of all, I like long books (and I cannot lie). More of a good story is just better, right? This one weighs in at a whopping 427 pages. But they flew by. The story kept moving and shifting and jumping and jiving, and the next thing I knew it was finished. And I was disappointed, because I was really enjoying it.
Let’s start with the cover. In general, covers on M/M books are improving miraculously quickly. A.J. Corza speaks to this in much more detail in a regular weekly Wdnesday post. Gone are the days of hastily, badly drawn characters bearing no resemblance to the characters described on the pages of the book. Here are the awesome photographers who work really hard to get the perfect shot. Then they collaborate with the author and art director (often the same person!) to come up with a concept that truly embodies the characters and the story. The photograph on the cover of With or Without Him is stunning. If I had read this in paperback, I swear I would have stopped every few pages just to stare at it.
With or Without Him is the story of Tyler and Haris. Tyler experienced a trauma when he was just seven years old that few could even imagine. He survived with his life but has a deep fear of being in financial debt. His father’s financial indebtedness was the cause of the childhood terror he lived through.
Tyler is willing to do almost anything to pay his way through music college. He is a gifted musician and is almost finished with his education. He doesn’t want to finish school and spend years weighed down by the debt he incurred to become the best musician he can be.
One of the ways Tyler has found to pay for his education is to sell his body. He attends parties on Saturday nights where he and several other attractive young men are the entertainment. They are there to be used, sometimes abused, and strictly for the pleasure of the guests who pay a lot of money for the privilege of attending. The one thing Tyler won’t give to these men is his mind. He will let them have his body for a short time, but they will not get into his head.
Harris is a wealthy venture capitalist who donates large sums of money to Tyler’s college every year. Haris has his own traumatic past, but his scars are on his body as well as his soul. When he goes to the college’s annual benefit concert, he hears a man vomiting in the men’s room. Shortly thereafter, he sees that same man speaking with the music director. Haris falls hard and fast. He is thinking quickly of anything he can do to make Tyler his.
When Haris follows Tyler from the concert into a dangerous situation, he comes to the rescue. This gives him the opportunity to talk to Tyler and find out why he is willing to sell himself. Tyler doesn’t divulge any of his past, though. Haris offers Tyler twenty thousand pounds (yes, Ms. Elsborg is British and the story is set in England) to be exclusively his for four months. I never did figure out the significance of the time period. But the reason he chose that length of time wasn’t important.
Haris drew up a fake contract stating that he would pay Tyler the agreed upon sum, plus incidentals, plus ten thousand pounds for a new wardrobe. In exchange, Tyler was to live with Haris, provide sex on demand and remain exclusive and faithful to Haris for the duration of the contract.
This is just the beginning of the fun part. There are bad guys everywhere. Bad guys from Tyler’s recent past. Bad guys from Haris’s ancient past. Bad guys hired by family members. A veritable plethora of bad guys running around, wreaking havoc while my guys are trying to fall in love!
Ms. Elsborg gives us in With or Without Him an amazing cast of supporting characters. Wilson, who is Haris’s right hand man is a die hard True Blood fan. The man is a hysterically long-winded hypochondriac. He is definitely intended to be the comic relief, and he does the job. Tyler’s band mates are supportive and give Tyler a place to land when he needs it. The services of Haris’s lawyer and private investigator seem to be constantly needed.
Jeremy is perhaps the most important supporting character. Tyler meets him at the last sex party he attends. Jeremy is the new guy, and he and Tyler take center stage as the evening’s entertainment. Tyler tries desperately to convince Jeremy that all is not as it appears and that he is better off at home with his parents. As the danger unfolds, Jeremy is unfortunately drawn into it by mistake. I really liked Jeremy. In my mind he has a HEA with a fabulous boyfriend and never has sex for money again!
With or Without Him is a great book. It has a little something for everyone: Intrigue, danger, good friends, a hero, comic relief, deeply wounded souls healing while surrounded by the love of another deeply wounded soul, and sex. Lots of sex. Hot sex. Dirty sex. Stair sex. Shower sex. Even some bed sex. Descriptions of kisses that were so hot my lips were tingling. This is one hot book. The story goes all over the place and when you think these guys have finally figured it out, uh-oh, no they haven’t. It is worth every single one of those 427 pages. You need to read this book.