Narrator: Finn Sterling
Length: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Donnie confuses his family, annoys his best friend, and is doing his best to charm his way into the good graces of the tall, dark, and handsome customer he’s had a crush on for, oh, some time. The man is a professor at the local college, stoic and silent, and comes in almost every day for the same order. Somehow this quiet and mysterious stranger manages to catch Donnie’s attention while, for the most part, ignoring him. Finally, Donnie has had enough and presents his crush with something sweet, on the house. After all, what better way to a man’s heart than his stomach?
His good deed doesn’t go unrewarded when William not only enjoys the scone, he’s actually willing to talk to Donnie, if only for a few short sentences. The seduction attempt doesn’t last for long, though, as William has a class to teach. It’s the two men who come into the shop, however, that really get the romance. They want to know what Donnie knows about William, everything he knows about William, and aren’t above a few threats.
Donnie does what any sane person would do, he goes to find William and tell him what happened. Unfortunately, that’s about the only moment of sanity Donnie has as he ends up jumping with all four feet into the middle of a mess involving the mob, more than a few guns, some kidnapping, running and hiding, and more than a little cuddling when he finally gets to have his wicked way with William.
Donnie is a coyote shifter, high-strung, excitable, annoying, bratty, somewhat charming, and utterly self-absorbed. He has all the energy of a child on a sugar high and all the common sense of one. There are moments in this story, too many moments, when he stops being a reasoning, thinking adult and puts on his “I’m too stupid to live” T-shirt. He knows William has resources, but doesn’t go to him for help. When some random person calls and says — in essence — come to this mysterious location, alone, or we hurt someone, Donnie says “Okay!” Does he double check? Does he ask for help? Does he let anyone know what’s going on? No, that would be reasonable and responsible. Donnie wants to be treated like an adult and yet acts like a high schooler. When William tells him something is a trap, Donnie’s reaction is to race out to see if it is, in fact, a trap. I understand that he’s young and foolish and headstrong, but the author went so over the top to me that Donnie fell off the cliff.
William, on the other hand, is a cypher. He’s a big, strong, and brooding alpha with not much more personality than that. He treats Donnie, half the time, like he’s a foolish young man — which he is — and the other half he treats the coyote shifter like he’s a child, almost infantalizing him. Yes, there’s an age difference and a difference in life experiences and education, but it’s not that severe!
There are brief moments where the relationship works, where Donnie’s impulsive and open and loving nature come up against William’s stoicism and emotional defenses and you get a glimpse of the relationship (and story) that this could have been. But with the mafia plot thrown in the mix — like a brick in a bowl of cookie batter — things don’t fit at all. Is this a book about cops and robbers? Or a military hero with enemies? Or non-shifters versus shifters? It’s… a bit of all three, sort of. But, sort of not. It’s as if William and Donnie and their friends were given the plot to another story rather than one that suited them or their world. It’s a shame because the writing is decent, the pacing is tight, and occasionally the characters are engaging. But that plot feels hollow and fake, and Donnie’s moments of stupidity made me sigh. Bratty characters can be charming and aggravating in equal measures. Stupid characters just make me cringe. That’s not what I want to be doing when reading a book. However, I was given an audio version of this book, and that’s what saved it, for me.
Somehow Finn Sterling managed to imbue Donnie with a flighty, distractable emotionality that worked for the character. He gave Donnie a breathless voice and spoke fast and clipped, as if all of Donnie’s thoughts were flying through his head faster than he could catch them. He gave Donnie a snarky charm and a stubborn pig-headedness that helped make some sense of those “charge in with your eyes closed” moments that saved a scene or two from falling apart completely. The voice he managed for William was in such stark contrast and I liked the gravelly weight of it, the deliberate pauses in his speech.
On it’s own this book would be a solid 3, for me, with the audio version is a 5 solely on the quality of the narration. Perhaps not everyone will like what Sterling did with the characters and the slight nuances he gave to their more foolish thoughts and actions, but it worked for me. Sterling embodied Donnie so perfectly — and William, too — and if you’re tempted by the book, do yourself a favor and give the audio book a listen.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.