Ashton Laytham was sent to live with his uncle and aunt after the death of his parents when he was a young boy. In his grief, Ashton was aloof and sullen, causing everyone, including the servants at Fayerweather, his uncle's estate, to view him as an unlovable child. He became a loner, and when his aunt adopted four other orphaned children, three of whom were brothers, Ash was only pushed further into the shadow of their perfection. Even though he tried to keep to himself, he became a convenient scapegoat for his uncle's abusive rage, and the other children tormented him too, saddling him with the hated nickname 'Awful Ashton.' Despite their sometimes cruel teasing, Ash fell in love with, John, the middle brother when he was only a boy, so when John finally came to him in their teens, seeking sexual fulfillment, Ash believed it would be the start of something wonderful. He soon came to realize, he couldn't have been more wrong.
Since his uncle and aunt had no children of their own, Ash is their heir, and upon his uncle's untimely death, Fayerweather passes to him. In recent years, he has applied himself to learning about the running of the estates, but nothing could have prepared him for finding out that the property is deeply in debt due to his uncle's profligate gambling. Immediately prior to his uncle's death, the prize family gem that has been passed down through generations disappeared as well, leaving him with no ready funds at his disposal.
When Geo Stephenson arrives on Ash's doorstep, holding his uncle's debts and demanding payment, Ash has nothing to offer, but Geo disagrees. He makes a proposition that Ash accommodate him in bed to pay off the debt. Deeply attracted to the other man despite the circumstances, and with no other options, he readily agrees. To his utter amazement, their time together is like nothing he's ever experienced before. Soon he finds himself feeling things for Geo that frighten him. Ash has no desire to have his heart broken again, and while Geo is the consummate lover, he has made no promise that their affair is anything but a business arrangement. In fact, he's made it clear that he has no intention of ever falling in love after watching his parent's unhappy marriage. When Geo disappears for several months, Ash thinks it's probably over between them, but when Geo eventually returns, he bears news and personal insights that may finally give Ash the happy ending he's dreamed of all his life.
Bless Us with Content was my first M/M historical romance, and it was a very good one with which to begin my foray into this new-to-me sub-genre of M/M romance. It was also my first book by Tinnean, and I have to say, she's hooked me already. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style. Overall, it was very easy to read and free from distracting errors. Her main characters are genuine, lovable guys, and her story is very sweet and romantic. I really liked how she used authentic historical verbiage and jargon. I felt like it truly brought the setting to life by giving it a strong sense of time and place. The light mystery surrounding the disappearance of the family gem known as the Flame of Diabul took some unexpected twists and turns that I never would have predicted and which made me stop and think for a moment on how that all turned out. The twist the author used to give the book a true HEA was unanticipated as well, but very welcome. Everything simply came together to made Bless Us with Content a highly pleasurable and very romantic read.
Ashton is the first-person narrator of the book, and I have to say that he has a very dynamic voice. As a child, he was deeply loved and doted upon by his parents, but sadly, he lost them at a young age. After that, he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt. His uncle was an abusive cur, who sometimes took out his rage on Ashton. Because of his sullenness over his parents deaths, his aunt and the servants mistakenly perceived him as an unlovable child. His aunt rarely paid much attention to him, especially after she took in three brothers and another young girl who were also orphaned and whom she obviously favored over him. These new children treated him with disdain as well, saddling him with the hated nickname of 'Awful Ashton.' Poor Ash had no one to love or understand him. He basically went through an emotional hell, but as he grew older, he tried to cover up his pain with a matter-of-fact attitude. Ash fell in love with John, the middle of the three brothers, when he was just a boy. As teenagers, John seemed to reciprocate the attraction, which thrilled Ash, until he realized it wasn't meant to be the grand, romantic affair, he'd hoped for. John still treated him coldly and basically just used him for sex, but Ash was so starved for affection, he was willing to take whatever he could get.
Ash's life changes when his uncle dies, leaving him the heir to the estate, and a man shows up at the door, holding 10,000 pounds in gambling debts his uncle had racked up. With the estate in dire financial straits, Ash has no money to pay, so the man makes a proposition that Ash accommodate him in bed as payment. Ash is so hungry for any scrap of love and affection he soaks up what Geo offers like a sponge. He soon finds himself having feelings for Geo, but he's still wary of giving the other man his heart, out of fear it will just be broken again. In his mind, he believes their relationship is nothing more than a business arrangement. Ash was an incredibly sympathetic character who I adored. He wears spectacles and thinks of himself as a pretty ordinary man who isn't particularly attractive. What I liked most about Ash is that even though he's been treated poorly for most of his life, he's still very protective of, and kind toward, those for whom he feels a responsibility, whether it's his aunt and cousin, his servants and tenants, or even his animals. Ash may be a loner and a bit aloof until Geo comes into his life, but he lives by his own code of treating others the way he would have liked to have been treated, even if they were never particularly kind to him. I also loved seeing Ash grow and change from a shy youth, who was uncertain of his own abilities, into a mature and more confident man, in part because of Geo's love.
Even though Geo started off by making a seemingly cold-hearted and scandalous proposition, he was never anything but kind and gentle with Ash. It was obvious from the start that he was fascinated by Ash and loved everything about him. It takes a while, but when we finally learn a little about his background, we discover that he's had experiences which make him uniquely attuned to Ash's pain. I loved how protective Geo was of Ash, caring for him when he's hurt and not letting anyone badmouth him. However, at least on an intellectual level, Geo seems determined not to fall in love. He may care for Ash, but he watched what loving someone did to his mother and has no interest in experiencing that kind of emotional pain himself. He tries not to feel anything for Ash, but that soon proves much easier said than done. I kept getting the feeling that there was more to Geo's initial intentions than meets the eye, but if there was, it wasn't really communicated. This is where I dearly would have loved to have been privy to Geo's POV, because there were times when I felt like it would have shed more light on his feelings and actions. In spite of wanting to know more about Geo, I can't deny that he was a great guy. He was just so sexy, seductive, and vulnerable, I couldn't help but adore him. We see just enough of him and his beautiful personality through Ash's eyes to make me fall for him anyway.
Ash and Geo share an incredibly romantic relationship. I really appreciated how the author strongly differentiated between Ashton's early sexual experiences before Geo and those with Geo. With John, it was strictly about the sex, at least from John's perspective, and rarely embodied any tenderness at all, which I think made Ash feel like it was sordid and dirty. With Geo, it's explosively passionate right from the start. The first time they make love it's so much more than Ash could have hoped for. It's everything he's always wanted but never had. Their love scenes are steamy, but embody a sweet warmth that conveys deep intimacy. The way Geo takes such good care of Ash and reads him so well is very romantic. I might have wished for these two to have more time together in the story (unfortunately they spend large swaths of time apart, which means no Geo for pages at a time), but when they are together, their scenes are laden with so much emotion, I had no trouble at all believing they were falling in love. Also, the longing Ash experiences (and later we discover Geo as well) when they're apart, simply adds to that strong sense of them being perfect for each other.
Overall, I really loved Bless Us with Content. It's one of the most romantic stories I've read, M/M or otherwise. I really enjoyed that there was an HEA ending, not only for Ash and Geo, but for some of the secondary characters as well. I also appreciated how well-written the book was. This is one of those stories that was often hard to put down and that I was always eager to pick up again. All this being the case, I was sorely tempted to give it the full five stars, but despite how good it was, I couldn't quite get past the lack of POV for Geo and the long separations for him and Ash. However, Ash is a tantalizing and compelling character who was a joy to read about, and I couldn't deny that I enjoyed his narrative voice very much. In the end, I couldn't bear to mark it down more than a half star. Bless Us with Content was a truly lovely read that I highly recommend to M/M romance fans, especially those who enjoy sweeter stories. It has certainly put Tinnean on my radar. Unfortunately, it appears to be the only historical romance she's written to date, but I'm very much looking forward to checking out her contemporary romances soon.
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