Rating: 3.5 stars
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After losing his job, Orion Hathaway has sunk into a deep depression. He rarely leaves his house, sleeps all the time, barely eats, and is losing his will to live. Having to give up his membership in his BDSM club due to money has been an especially hard blow. Despite therapy and medication, Orion just can’t get past the financial mess his life has become and is barely holding on.
Orion’s friends decide to help by bringing him a “puppy” to play with for the weekend. Orion’s pup is a man named Roan Matthews, a surgical assistant who enjoys puppy play as a way to take him away from the stresses of his work life. At first Orion is totally freaked out when this pup is left with him. Orion is barely taking care of his own needs and feels in no way prepared for taking care of anyone else’s, especially not this exuberant, full of life pup. But as Orion spends more time with Pepper, he slowly begins to find himself once again. Being with Pepper may be just what Orion needs to heal and begin to move on with his life.
Orion’s New Leash on Life is part of the Dreamspinner Press Daily Dose set, Mended. As such, I think it handles the themes of hurt and comfort really well, showing how Orion is healed through his relationship with his pup. It is nice to see this man who has sunk so far into misery find his way out through the focus and attention he gives his submissive. It is clear that Orion has been missing his Dom role since he can no longer afford the club, and finding a focus outside of himself really goes a long way toward helping him heal. Despite the heavy subject matter, this story is actually quite light and fun after the early pages. It is entertaining to see how Pepper breaks through Orion’s defenses, wanting walks when Orion just wants to sleep the day away, and bringing a sense of fun and play to the somber Orion.
I did have a few issues with this one, however. First off, it was hard for me to get past the initial set up of the book. Orion is extremely depressed, and in fact near suicidal. He is getting both therapy and drug intervention to help him deal with his severe mental health issues. So not minor problems we are dealing with here. Then his friends show up out of the blue and tell him they want to help, suddenly dropping off a “puppy” for Orion to take care of with no warning and leaving the man there for the weekend with Orion. I’ve long come to accept that the “meddling friends” are a frequent staple of romance land, but I still had a hard time with the idea that these guys would take such an extreme step. Orion can barely care for himself, is he really going to be ready to take on the care of another person? Is it even safe to leave a sub with a man in this state? The story does temper this issue by showing Orion contacting his therapist who agrees puppy care may help him (of course, she thinks he means a real puppy). Orion and Roan also discuss the weekend and sign a temporary contact. So we do know that the men discuss the situation before they start, even though Roan has already been dropped off at Orion’s with no warning at that point. So I do appreciate that Callenreese sort of tries to head off my objections here, but I still found it troublesome.
One of the things the story does well is show how being with Pepper is so healing for Orion. Pepper is active and fun loving and sweet and he gets Orion thinking of something other than his own troubles for a while. Through their interaction Orion goes from not eating, not bathing, sleeping all day, and virtually no social interaction to a man resembling his normal self. The problem I had is that this all happens in 48 hours. The men are together for one weekend and that is enough to turn Orion’s life completely around. I loved the idea here, and I think it would have been really fascinating to see Orion slowly come to care for Pepper, to see him take those steps to a return to normalcy with Pepper’s help. But instead we see a miracle cure. A man who is literally suicidal is almost perfectly healed in two days. It was just much, much too fast for me. Even leaving out the strong emotional connection that somehow forges between the two men so quickly, the mental health changes are just way too fast for me to believe them. Added to that we get a pat resolution to both Orion’s home owning issues as well as his job issue and it all just ties up way too neatly for me in such a short period.
One thing I missed in the story was some sense of Roan and Orion as a couple outside the puppy play. While we do seem them interact very briefly during the start of their weekend, and Roan is forced to break character when a work obligation interrupts, the men interact almost exclusively as puppy and owner. The story isn’t clear whether Roan is a 24/7 pup outside work or if this is something he does off and on when he needs the experience of puppy play. But I really wanted to see if these two were compatible as men as well as puppy and owner. Or at least to get a better sense of Roan and his feelings about being in the relationship, especially one that becomes serious so fast. It is all from Orion’s point of view and because Roan is in puppy mode almost the whole time, we really get no sense of his feelings toward Orion or their larger relationship.
Last thing, and it is just an editing pet peeve. When Roan arrives he mentions he has been using the puppy name Patches but it isn’t a name he really cares for. Orion offers to rename him, and later begins referring to him as Pepper. But then after that we see Orion go to the store and see some peppercorns that are what inspire the name Pepper. The book clearly says “it was only when he saw familiar little pebbles in a grinder, though, that he suddenly had a more fitting name for his pup than ‘Patches.'” Yet he is already using the name Pepper before he even goes to the store. A small thing yes, but a frustrating continuity error.
So this one was a bit mixed for me, but overall I fell on the side of enjoying it. The story tweaked some of my realism buttons with the set up and the super rapid timeline. But I still found it enjoyable. The guys are sweet together, the story is light and fun, and it is rewarding to see Orion find himself again with the help of his pup.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.