Rating: 3.75 stars
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In the year 2015, nerve gas bombs wiped out the Eastern Seaboard. Everything went offline and the East Coast went dark and lawless. With the destruction of the largest country in the world, terrorists gained ground. Many citizens were massacred, but the ones that weren’t, the ones that had skill and knowledge, organized groups like the Terrorist Deterrent Agency, known as the TDA.
It is now 2031. Travis Walker survived the bombings as he was a world away as a Marine in Afghanistan. In recent months, he cannot complete a successful mission, as he kills his targets instead of extracting them for intel.
Ian Hawke is the son of a British diplomat. Just 13 years old when the bombs went off at his U.S. boarding school, he was spared as the militia felt he was young enough to train. He is also now an agent with TDA and like Travis, cannot successfully complete a mission. Ian’s problem though, is that he sleeps with all of his targets.
As a last resort, to save these two agents, the director of the TDA makes them partners. If one fails, they both fail. Working and living together has the sexual tension escalating. As secrets and kinks are revealed, their partnership has the power to save them or destroy them.
Partners is the first book in the Shadows & Kink series. At just 100 pages, it is a focused read, as there is a lot of information to absorb between the futuristic setting and the characters themselves.
The story opens with a flashback of Travis in the desert. He has lost pieces of his soul as he became the perfect military killing machine. We then join up present day as Travis and Ian meet for the first time in the locker room of the TDA. Travis, just coming out of the shower, is at a slight disadvantage, but the attraction between the two is instant.
The director, giving them one last chance, orders them to become partners, which involves them moving into an apartment together within the compound, training together, and successfully completing their first mission together.
The first apartment scene was well done from a reader perspective. Ian arrives at the apartment first and pleasures himself in the shower while calling out his pet name for Travis. In the next scene, Travis enters the apartment and hears Ian through the door. I enjoyed the dual perspective and it was a great start to further the sexual tension between them.
There is a lot to absorb here. There is the destruction of the Eastern U.S. and the loss of the political, social, and economic infrastructure. The East Coast is referred to as The Dark. The team lives in California, but it is hard to get a handle on what the West Coast looks like. At one point, the men stop at a diner, so clearly there are employees, but what everyday life is left is not made clear.
The men themselves have a lot of baggage, as expected. Travis’ main personal issue has been men. His first love left him devastated, which was why he joined the Marines. Having grown up in Texas, he knows men only see him as a cowboy who can dominate them in bed.
Ian’s story is a bit more complex and he has lived a life of forced and conditioned sexual submission. His personality is a contrast to Travis as Ian goes out clubbing for casual hook ups in tight shirts, sparkles, and guy liner.
Both Travis and Ian are likable and interesting characters. But since there is so much to absorb in a short amount of time, the one-on-one time between them was a bit lost. The present day aspect of the book spans two weeks. They both have orders to see the same agency psychiatrist and much of their connecting time in the apartment is glossed over during a therapy retrospective. There are other forces at work as well. The therapist divulges to Travis and Ian what the other says in therapy. All of their supervisors are literally trying to get the two of them in bed together. We see this, the characters see this, and suspicions are raised.
The story is told both present day and through many flashbacks. In addition to the current issues, we have lengthy flashbacks for both characters. While a lot of background on each character is given, just as I was getting involved in one aspect of the story, I was taken to a different time and often to a different character. I lost continuity and, at times, interest as the shift was a perfect time to take a reading break.
After only two weeks of the men training together, they are sent on a mission that will decide both of their futures with the TDA. Two weeks? And, after one dance and barely a kiss, Travis’ dominant side surges forward and he wants Ian all for himself. The narrative then refers to the men as lovers with having had only minimal physical contact. Well, you can see where I am going with that one. The mission further moves along the dom/sub mentality, but we see very light bondage interaction real time, with some heavier scenes in flashbacks. We are left with a together for now, with the enticement of further exploration of the bondage aspect of their relationship in the next installment.
There are strong characters here, in a dystopian society, with distinct personalities that I could become attached to and I was rooting for. It was all just a lot to take in quickly with a lot of different angles at play. There is an epilogue at the end of the story. The epilogue bursts open something I had a feeling was happening. I fully accept that I love an epilogue and truly love a great epilogue. This epilogue made me mad. In all fairness, it was designed to invoke an emotional response. The epilogue sets up intrigue for the next book. The authors have said there will be a HEA eventually, but first we have to go straight through that epilogue.