Abuse comes in many forms, but sexual abuse under the guise of love is one of the most vile. Taking a situation where there should be complete trust, where one should feel safe, and turning it into a controlling, selfish, painful, degrading act is something no one should ever have to endure. Unfortunately, Tom Halderson in 'The Carpenter' by Serena Yates is in this unforgivable situation, having been abused by his ex-lover. Tom is coping as best he can with the lasting negative effects of his bad experience. For one thing, he's vowed to avoid intimate relationships in the future; but it's causing Tom a great deal of loneliness and insecurity, at least until Matt Langford comes into his life. Matt believes that he doesn't need to share it with anyone else. However, when they meet, their rules about avoiding commitment are soon forgotten.
Tom is a lovable, handsome, artistic, upstanding young man who is suddenly thrown into running the family business after his father dies. Although he's not completely prepared to do so, he tries his best to fulfill his family obligations and keep the business running. Because of an abusive ex, Tom's left with low self esteem and excruciating self doubt. Through Matt's patience and understanding, Tom begins to realize that loving someone doesn't have to include dominance, fear, and humiliation. He begins to blossom. Slowly but surely, he regains his self confidence and works his way through several complicated issues, many of which are caused by his hateful brother.
Matt's personality is completely different from Tom's. He's self assured, successful, outgoing, and influential. As he and Tom get to know each other, he begins to realize how lonely he is and how much more will be possible with Tom in his life. He and Tom discover that they have a great deal in common besides their interest in the house Tom is restoring for Matt. However, Matt notices distressing signals in Tom's behavior that trouble him, such as his overreaction to being touched, his unnatural fear of anger and recrimination, his fear of being controlled. However, Tom's insecurity in the bedroom is something that must be dealt with before they can move on. Matt helps Tom understand that deferring to his lover, agreeing to let him take the lead, is quite different from being dominated and forced into doing something. Matt is also wise enough to know that it will take time to undo the damage which has been done. Matt's slow and easy approach to helping Tom rebuild his self confidence and learn to trust his heart again is perfect for the situation which is why it is so successful.
Reading 'The Carpenter' for the second time was easy for me because even though all of Serena's men in the 'Workplace Encounters' series are terrific characters, Tom and Matt are two of my favorites, at least so far. Although Tom takes over his father's business and deals with his deadbeat brother and, in spite of his lingering issues with low self-esteem, Tom still meets each challenge with a fierce determination, emphasized even more so in this version. Even though Tom is terribly insecure, he wants, with all his heart, to experience what real intimacy feels like and he wants to do it with Matt. Tom realizes the only way he is going to know is to try. One of the biggest changes I see from the first version of the story to this one, is the adjustment of Tom's character. Instead of portraying him as indecisive and weak, Tom's strength and determination shine through, in spite of his misgivings. Another improvement is in how he and Matt approach Tom's fear of intimacy. Matt is even more sensitive in picking up Tom's issues and acts on them with enhanced gentleness and caring. Matt's positive approach is why Tom is so willing to trust him, giving Tom the courage to come into his own. If you have read this story before, it is a good possibility you will enjoy it even more the second time around. Thanks, Serena, for giving Matt and Tom an even happier ending.