Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Adam McLaughlin
Length: 9 hours, 36 minutes
Misaki “Aki” Itou is the most sought after companion at the Hidden Gem, one of the most respected brothels in the area. Aki, however, is a psi, with mutated DNA which gives him psychic abilities. One touch and he can be inside anyone’s mind, which makes some aspects of his job off limits.
Aki never expected to be a companion, but after being tortured and starved in a containment camp after World War Three, Aki never expected to be anywhere. So he’s grateful to have a bed, food, and some extra money to feed his sparkly shoe obsession. He’s treated well and, while he’s under contract, Aki is content with where he currently is. The brightest spot of his days is when Detective Shane McNaughton calls on him.
Detective McNaughton is constantly tasked with finding people, all those people that have gone missing. Currently, there is a serial killer on the loose and Shane remains one step behind and is only finding bodies. Shane has his own secrets as well as his own genes were mutated by a plague during the war and he has to hide the monster within that claws to get out. For the past two years, he’s been visiting Aki and paying for his services, both of the sexual as well as the psychic kind, but Shane wants more and it seems Aki does too.
As Shane works to track down the killer and Aki works to get his psychic abilities under control, the men may realize they have more in common then love and lust.
This book completely captivated me. It was Aki, it was Shane, it was the world around them, and it was all of the secondary characters coming together. The book is set in the future, exactly how far is never determined, but that was a component that I didn’t feel was needed. The world is also not overly built up with just the basics being offered of the landscape and life post World War Three, but for the set up, there was enough information for me to get a sense of place and that allowed the focus to remain on the many captivating characters.
Aki is the focus here and he truly shone through the page. His life had been a tragedy and when we first meet him, he had escaped from a tortuous place and was frozen and starved. Bart and Paris, from the Hidden Gem, find him on the streets and it’s Paris that brings Aki back to life. Aki is a psi, which is instantly recognizable from the look of his eyes, and his abilities make touch impossible for him as he becomes assaulted with the memories of others. He hasn’t learned how to tune this all out and it’s overwhelming to him. So no one can touch his bare skin, which you would think would be difficult for life in a brothel, but Aki remains in high demand. This all went completely counter to Aki himself, as he has no memories of his life prior to the war and Kasey unravels Aki in the most engaging of ways. Subtly Aki claimed every scene he was in, whether it was his sparkly clothes, his shoe obsession, or his soft tender side that really wanted to be loved.
Shane is another product of the war and is much older than he looks. His DNA was mutated, leaving him not quite human and his life remains on a cycle of when he must change. The romance and relationship between the men is a constant current throughout the book, but is not the main focus. There were so many plot lines and characters that had me intrigued and only at the end did I feel a loss of not getting to spend more time with them as a couple.
A key component weaved throughout the story is the men trying to determine where Aki originally came from and what he has actually become. While the storyline kept me transfixed all of the way through, Shane’s work partner would keep popping up to expose secrets to Aki and what his end game was lacked clarity for me and the reason for his recurring presence was never justified. While I enjoyed that the author didn’t overwhelm the story with pages of minute details of how the current world worked, by the conclusion there were a few areas I would have liked more detail on to pull it all together. The ending as well was a little deflating for me as there were many threads I felt were still open and Aki’s story didn’t feel complete. While this series continues, the next books have other main characters and the ending didn’t leave the impression that there would be more information forthcoming.
The audio was narrated by Adam McLaughlin and this was the first production from him that I have encountered. At first, I was unsure of his voice as he sounded older than I was expecting, but many characters have lived long lives. Once I got into the story and the setting, his voice only helped me to become further captivated in this world. Shane was of Irish descent and it was noticeable in his voice. Aki has an appropriately lighter, somewhat feminine quality to his voice. The secondary characters were all distinct, yet some of their voices didn’t quite match the personas we were shown. McLaughlin infused the wide range of emotion needed for the story, whether it was anger, sorrow, or intimacy, and he became the perfect voice to embody the story and the main characters. There are two books left in this series and if the second was produced on audio, I would welcome the chance to listen to the next one as well, but that may be asking a lot not to just go ahead and read Paris’ story now. I would highly recommend this book in either the audio or ebook versions for a compelling futuristic story with Aki as the center.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.