General of the Roman army and nephew of the emperor Marius is returning to Rome after a long campaign. At camp the night before reaching home, he is invited to dinner at the home of the local noble. It's not something he wants to do, but can't refuse. The noble turns out to have a penchant for young boys and presents his bed slave Kyle to Marius for the night. The battered and malnourished Celt is still beautiful, but Marius has no taste for men. Still, he pities the chained up young man and lets him sleep in his room, then lies about how good he was to his host in the morning. He's more than a little shocked when the noble gifts Kyle to him, in an attempt to curry favor with the emperor. Once again, he can't refuse but isn't sure what he will do with the young man.
Kyle was captured at a young age in Britannia after the rest of his family were killed, and quickly “broken in” as a sex slave, trained to give pleasure to whoever he was given to. He has spent many years chained to a bed in the noble's house, only released to “entertain” at parties. It's a wretched life, but all he knows. When he is torn away from that and thrown in with a seemingly volatile Roman general, he feels totally lost. As the two get to know each other, different feelings emerge, and the growing bond between them puts them both in danger.
“Donum - The Gift” is an ambitious epic love story that doesn't follow a typical romance plot. As a young man long accustomed to being used for sex, and not much else, it shouldn't be much of a spoiler that Kyle and Marius fall into a sexual relationship long before deeper feelings emerge, which means you should be prepared for a high heat level. The story is related from each man's point of view, so we get to know them quite well.
Marius is fundamentally a good person, but he is quick to anger, and when he's mad, he is very dangerous. After long years in the military, he has little time for politics. Although he's never had much interest in boys or men, he also hasn't had much interest in getting married, which ends up being one of the main dramatic drivers of the story. Marius definitely fits in with our expectations of a Roman soldier from other works of fiction set in the same time.
Kyle's story comes out in bits an pieces over the course of the book, as he understandably doesn't like to talk about it. Events in the story make the disclosure of what was done to him seem quite natural. Obviously, you're going to want to consider this book's content very carefully if you may have difficulty reading about domestic violence, rape, slavery and other forms of sexual exploitation.
The story is ostensibly set in the first century A.D. but the author points out that it's not meant to be a true historical novel. The emperor in the book is made-up, and other details are not exactly historically accurate. Having read a few other books set in ancient Rome the setting seems realistic enough. There were no obvious (to me) anachronisms, aside perhaps from the language itself, which as the author points out was modernized for readability.
“Donum - The Gift” is available from Amazon.