Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.
Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.
Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.
The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.
I really, really, really enjoyed For Real. At 19, Toby is the perfect combination of teenage angst and assured dominance. At 37, Laurie is a wonderful bundle of maturity, whose relationship insecurities get the better of him from time to time. When Laurie’s insecurities emerge, he comes off a bit cold and much younger than his age, but not in the sense that the author lost track of who the character was. And once you learn more about his previous relationship and the reason behind its demise, Laurie’s insecurities make a world of sense. After all, he and Robert grew into adulthood and BDSM together and losing his anchor stunted Laurie in some ways. While at first glance, the characters of For Real shouldn’t work together, they do and do so beautifully.
I absolutely adored Toby. Despite his young age, he knew that he needed more than his previous sexual partners offered. While he may not have been as articulate as an experienced dom, his passionate rant when Laurie tried to send him on his way at the club was mesmerizing – I totally got why Laurie dropped to his knees. That his passion didn’t translate into arrogance made Toby’s initial scene with Laurie so believable and sexy as heck. I enjoyed watching Toby grow into his dominance, becoming surer of himself and of Laurie as they spent time together, even if Laurie was a bit of a wanker that first night. That the author tempered Toby’s character with behaviors that were age-appropriate outside of their scenes is what made his character so believable. Toby’s authenticity made it easy to understand how Laurie fell under his spell, so to say. I also understood why he had reservations about Toby due to their age difference because as a medical professional, Laure would be expected to maintain a higher moral standard and dating someone young enough to be your child is usually frowned upon – unless you’re Hugh Hefner. But the age difference was also an easy excuse that allowed Laurie to avoid dealing with his breakup with Robert. As for Robert, I swear I was so angry with that man when Laurie revealed the details about the demise of their relationship because Laurie was not only injured physically, but also emotionally and Robert’s insecurities stunted Laurie far more than he and his friends realized. But this is what made Laurie feel so real and made his back and forth introspection feel right rather than petulant.
I do recommend keeping tissues handy while reading as there is a major scene that nearly ripped my heart out and had me sobbing loudly on Toby’s behalf. There were also a couple of other scenes that left me teary-eyed and I do enjoy a good cry while reading. And For Real not only gave me tears, but also laughs, swoon-worthy moments, plenty of scenes to squirm during, and a serious hankering for lemon meringue pie. Hall didn’t make Toby and Laurie’s journey an easy one, nor did I feel as though their trials were manufactured just to lengthen the book. Everything felt real. I loved how For Real ended and can only hope that the author will give us more Toby and Laurie in the future as this is just the beginning of their relationship and I would love to see how it develops as Toby matures and comes into his role as a dom and sadist. This was a definite 5-star read for me and I will be checking out more of Hall’s work.