Narrator: Alexander Collins
Length: 8 hours, 25 minutes
Zach Johnson is back in his hometown for his mother’s funeral. He has not been home or even spoken to her in years, but Zach’s brother Dean begged Zach to come so he reluctantly agreed. He barely speaks to Dean and has never met his wife or children. Years of abuse and neglect from his mother mean that all Zach wants to do is get in and get out.
When Zach meets Dean’s gorgeous friend Aaron, Zach is intrigued enough for a hot hook up that leads to a few days of even hotter sex and spending time together. But Zach has already stayed longer than planned; he doesn’t do relationships and just needs to get back home to his regular life. But Zach can’t forget about Aaron, and for all of Zach’s attempts to keep Aaron at a distance, it is clear Aaron isn’t ready for things to end either. The guys end up building their relationship long distance. Zach surprises himself by how much he is growing to care about Aaron and how, for the first time, he can imagine somebody else as a real part of his life. He still worries about moving forward with Aaron, but before long, Zach sees everything he never knew he wanted right in front of him. He can have a future with the man he loves if only he can be brave enough to accept it.
He Completes Me is part of Cardeno C’s Home collection, a series of books set in a related world but that can be read as standalones. I have read a few of them, and between us we have reviewed them all here. We do se some familiar faces in this book, but again, you would be fine picking this up as a stand alone story.
So parts of this book worked well for me and parts did not as much. Like most of the author’s work, the story is warm and romantic and an easy read. It is sexy and you can feel the emotion and connection between Aaron and Zach. We get a good sense of the backgrounds on both these men and what has shaped them into the people they are. Aaron is earnest and sweet, willing to do just about anything for anyone. He has never been in a real relationship because he has been saving himself for “the one.” Zach, on the other hand, had a rough childhood, a horrible family, and has been going it alone for years. He hasn’t been in a real relationship because he can’t really imagine anyone wanting him for more than just sex, and emotionally he just puts up walls. At times Zach comes across badly, especially when he hurts poor sweet Aaron, but I actually really liked him. I could get where he was coming from, and I liked his honesty. Zach also breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader quite often throughout the book, which I really liked. He is an entertaining narrator and I liked both him and Aaron.
Ok, so despite all this, I still had some issues with this story. The biggest problem for me was the total instalove. Now, I have read this author before and love Cardeno’s work, so I understand it frequently includes rapid falling in love. But here things happen so fast, and everyone acts like Zach is the crazy one for slowing things down, that is was just hard to take. The guys meet at Dean’s house, Aaron comforts Zach during an emotional moment, and later that night they have a hook up. This is the first guy Aaron has been with in five years and he has been holding out for the man who will be his true love. So after only about 20 minutes of talking to Zach, I could not understand what possibly makes Aaron ready to suddenly have sex with him when he has never even dated, let alone hooked up with anyone since he was a teen. These guys profess “deep feelings” for one another that first night, Aaron is talking about Zach letting Aaron love him by the second day, and everyone acts like Zach is insane for wanting to go home after a few days of staying with Dean. As if he should be picking up his life and moving to a new city because he has had a few days with some guy, even a great one like Aaron. Dean’s wife yells at Zach, telling him he can’t just come into town and have a fling and leave. And I wanted to say, “of course he can!” Because that is how things work; people don’t pick up and abandon their jobs and their lives after a couple of days of hooking up with someone, especially people like Zach who have no relationship experience.
As the story continues, these guys do get some time to get to know each other long distance. But as soon as they are in the same city, they are full speed ahead. Within days they are buying shared property, adding names to savings accounts, considering themselves life partners, and done. Again, I just wanted some realism here amidst the romance. I can believe in the fairy tale, but for two men with no relationship experience who spent all but about two weeks long distance, I needed to see some sense of them getting to know one another before dedicating their lives to each other.
The other big hurdle for me is the dynamic between Aaron, Dean, and Dean’s wife Kimmy. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Aaron is practically slave labor for them. He sits for their kids, he runs their errands, he does chores around their house, he cooks their meals. I’m not exaggerating; at first I thought Aaron actually worked for them as their nanny or their housekeeper when we first meet him. Dean and Kimmy invite the two guys over for breakfast and Aaron brings all the food because they just all assume he will cook for them. When their first child was born, Aaron actually moved in with them for a year to help out. I just couldn’t even begin to understand this dynamic and I found myself incredulous and yelling at the audio at the increasingly rude way Dean and Kimmy treat Aaron. Not to mention Aaron and Kimmy are business partners and she is a mess. Barely sees patients, screws up the records, never seems to actually come into the office. And Aaron never seems to really mind. Now Zach notices this and thinks its crazy too, but he doesn’t want to say anything and rock the boat. But I just kept waiting for some explanation for all of this. To learn something major happened to Dean and Kimmy that required Aaron to step in and dedicate his life to them. Or to see someone shake them and point out that they treat their supposed best friend like a slave. I was actually shocked to get the end of the story and realize that this is never addressed. Aaron comes across like a doormat, but worse, Dean and Kimmy come across as such total jerks I could never warm to them, even as we see Zach starting to build a relationship with them.
Ok, and last thing, and I almost NEVER say this, but too much sex. Like constant sex to the point that I would think “again?” when things started up. Now I am a girl who likes sex in my books. I sometimes pick books JUST because they have lots of sex. But there isn’t a ton happening here plotwise and I think that just made the frequent sexy times just more obvious.
As the story continued, most of these concerns became less of an issue because Aaron and Zach are in an established relationship and they spend less time with Dean and Kimmy. At that point the story focuses more on the guys building their life together and Zach adjusting emotionally to life in a partnership. I enjoyed this part much more, and although there is not a ton of plot development, I liked seeing their relationship grow and the guys begin to build a life together.
I listened to this story in audio and for the most part I thought it worked well. This is the second book I have listened to by Alexander Collins (the first being Cardeno C’s Walk With Me), and I found this one worked better for me. I think I have gotten used to Collins’ distinctive voice and so it flowed better for me the second time around. I still had quibbles with the weird tinny sound he uses for phone conversations (totally ruined the phone sex scene for me), but I found the audio overall enjoyable to listen to. Collins doesn’t use much distinction between characters, but since we are in Zach’s POV, I didn’t have much trouble figuring out who was speaking. I was frustrated by the inconsistency in Aaron’s voice, however, as sometimes he speaks with a slight southern accent and other times it is gone completely. Still, Collins does a great job with the sex scenes and totally nails Zach’s snarky comments and asides to the reader. So I definitely found his narration easier this time around and wouldn’t hesitate to listen to other work by Collins.
So overall this was kind of mixed for me. There were a lot of elements to this story that I really liked and I continued to enjoy Cardeno C’s writing, especially when I am looking for something sweet and mushy without a lot of angst. But there were some stumbling blocks here that kept me from fully loving this one. I still continue to enjoy this series and look forward to more of the author’s work.