zero at the bone audioStory Rating: 4.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars

Narrator: Alan Smith
Length: 13 hours, 21 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Audible
Book Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance

As a hired assassin, D only takes the jobs that he wants. He knows he is not a good man, but he still has standards, and he doesn’t take jobs killing the innocent. Dr. Jack Francisco is definitely an innocent, a facial surgeon who had the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnessing a mob hit. Now the guys who he is testifying against want Jack dead and they want D to do it. Normally D would reject this job, but somehow the bad guys have evidence of D’s past hits, jobs that would send him right to jail if anyone found out, and he has no choice but to take the hit on Jack.

throwback thursdayJack’s life has been turned upside down since witnessing a murder by the Dominguez crime family. He is now in witness protection, awaiting the trial and then his new life with a new identity. After years of school and training to become a top surgeon, he is giving up everything to testify, including his job, his home, and his name. Jack knows danger is looming, but he still is not prepared to find D in his home one day, gun in hand.

The more D thinks about the situation he is in, the more pissed off he is getting. It galls him to be forced to kill Jack, and despite his best interest, he just can’t bring himself to do it. But leaving Jack alive just means someone else will do the job. D knows the only way to really save Jack is to protect him himself.

The two men take off on the run, hiding out from Jack’s Marshal handlers who want him back in witness protection, as well as from the bad guys who want him dead. It is not just the Dominguez brothers they have to worry about either. Whoever is blackmailing D is not going to be happy he didn’t do the job and this unknown threat is the most dangerous of all.

Jack and D hide away, trying to figure out who is after them and attempting to keep Jack alive until he can testify. As it turns out, there are a couple of people who have their backs, but staying ahead of the bad guys is not easy and the men are always at constant risk.

Despite D’s steely nature and loner tendencies, somehow the two men come to a place of friendship, and even attraction, that neither can quite believe. After all he has done, D knows he doesn’t deserve anyone like Jack. Jack who is so good and kind and loving. D has been tainted by his violent life and can’t even imagine what Jack sees in him. But Jack sees more than D the killer. The more he learns about D’s past and what made him the man he is, the more Jack realizes there is a lot more to D than first appears.

Slowly the men fall for one another, but a future together seems impossible. Soon Jack will be called to testify, and once that happens he will be whisked away into witness protection and a new life. And with multiple threats all looking to kill them both, the men will be lucky to even make it to the trial alive.

Zero at the Bone is the first m/m romance I ever read and forever will have a soft spot in my heart.  I have talked to many readers who feel the same way about this book. So when the chance came to review this story on audiobook, I eagerly picked it back up again. I wasn’t sure if it would hold up to my memories, but I am so happy to say that I totally loved it once again.

Although the book is full of excitement, of life and death situations and constant threats, the heart of the story is Jack and D. If you like stories of bad boys being redeemed by love, this is the book for you. D starts out this story just broken, a shell of a man haunted by his past and living like a machine. He does his job because he thinks it is all he is good for. He has virtually no human connections in his life, no ability to really interact with others. D is basically dead inside until he meets Jack.

As much as Jack hates what D has done, he is able to break through D’s hard shell and see the man inside. He can separate D’s past from the person he really is. With Jack, D finds himself sharing things he never expected, opening up in ways he never thought possible. These men are filled with a passion for one another and a fierce determination to protect and take care of each other. They are so hot together, but also so unexpectedly sweet and romantic.

Aside from the romance, this story is filled with wonderful suspense and excitement. Jack and D are never truly safe, and keeping ahead of the bad guys requires a lot of cleverness and skill. There are car chases and near deaths and killers after them at every turn. D is a master at what he does, and being inside his head as he works to keep ahead of those after them is just fascinating.

My one criticism with the story itself is that the ending drags out a bit. There a few times where it seems like the story would be wrapping up, just to lead to one more event. Honestly, upon reading the book the first time, this isn’t something I really noticed (though I have heard others comment upon it). But listening to it on audio it seemed more noticeable, perhaps because of the slower pace of hearing the story told versus reading it. This isn’t a major complaint, but I do think it could have been tightened up in the end.

So as I said, I listened to this as an audiobook so I’ll share my thoughts on that aspect as well. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the audio version of this story, primarily because I wondered if any narrator could really capture D. He has such a distinct voice, with an unusual dialect that could probably best be described as Southern, but not quite. When reading the book, D’s accent is incredibly noticeable and sometimes hard to read at first because it comes through so strongly on the page. It really builds D’s character and I think the strength of an audio version of this story really rests on how well you narrate D.

Well I am happy to say that Alan Smith really does a fabulous job with D’s voice. It fits him just perfectly and flows beautifully. I actually think D’s voice sounds much more natural spoken aloud than it does when reading, and Smith really inhabits D’s character through his voice. He is not quite as successful with the rest of the voices, mostly because they all sound very similiar. Just about everyone, including the background narration, has a light twang, even if they are not Southern. There is also not a whole lot of differentiation in voices between characters, and several come out with a very raspy, almost strained sounding voice, like Jack’s Marshal handler Churchill. It wasn’t necessarily a big problem, but I could rarely tell who was speaking from voice alone. Now if we had to trade a great D for an ok everyone else, I think it was worth it. But the other voices don’t quite live up to that level for me.

The story itself is a bit tricky in audio version because both Jack and D have a lot of narrated internal thoughts. I assume in the text these thoughts are set apart by spacing or italics or something to distinguish them. But when listening, it was very difficult to tell the difference between their thoughts and what is being spoken aloud.  Sometimes I would hear long passages and think it was D talking to Jack, for example, and it turned out just to be thoughts in his head. Honestly, I don’t see what the narrator could have done differently here, it is just a factor of how the book was written. Still, it was often confusing.

So overall, Zero at the Bone continues to be a story I just love and will forever have a fuzzy place in my heart. Watching D find love, find a way to open up that closed part of himself is so rewarding. I love how Jack challenges him, pushing him to share and grow, and how D does it because he loves Jack just that much. They are such an unexpected couple (even to them), but so good together. Watching them fall in love and fight incredible odds to be together is just wonderful, and adding in the exciting thriller and suspense elements is the icing on the cake. So one of my all time favorites here and one that I would definitely recommend.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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