Gabriel’s sister is dead. He should feel something shouldn’t he, even if he didn’t really love her? Shouldn’t he feel grief or rage or sorrow? Unfortunately ,there are more important things to deal with than Gabe’s mixed emotions. There are concerns that his sister’s death may not have been an accident, and then there’s the matter of the empath she was going to bond with. The empath who, along with his family, is on his way and waiting to finish contract negotiations.
Empaths are individuals genetically created to bond with a person — their anchor — in order to survive the onslaught of the world’s emotions. They have no rights as people and are often sold by their families for vast amounts of money to influential people. They have been kidnapped and forceably bonded to unsavory people who might use their talents, sell their bodies, or simply mistreat them. Upon seeing Ignacio for the first time, Gabe knows he can’t simply send the empath on his way. The young man is so sheltered and so badly in need of protection, and so very lovely. Gabriel offers himself in his sister’s place, to take Ignacio as his bonded partner and care for the empath for the rest of his life.
For a little more than a million and a half credits, Ignacio is his. Not that Gabe knows what to do with him. The young man doesn’t know how to do… anything. He has no opinions, has been trained not to have any, and doesn’t understand what Gabe wants from him when Gabe offers him simple choices. All of his life he’s been told what will happen to him, that he’s to obey his anchor and be a dutiful companion. Ignacio has been raised knowing his anchor will want to have sex with him and, due to his empathic gift, Ignacio will find himself willing to do anything and everything to please his partner, even if he doesn’t want to. It’s a repellent thought to Gabe who struggles to find a way to make this new relationship work.
Gave wants a partner, not a dependent. He wants to know that when he takes ‘Nacio to bed it’s because the other man wants to be there, not because he’s simply being obliging. He wants to make the other man happy, even as he worries that by opening himself up to the empath he’s risking being hurt, himself.
This is the second book in the Tea and Empathy series and, depending on if you’ve read the first book or not, can be read in two vastly different ways. Read on its own it’s a charming story about Gabriel, a young man who is and has been the black sheep of his family. He’s so used to pushing people away in order to protect himself from being discounted that he hasn’t had a serious relationship, other than a few friends, in his whole life. Having an empath as a partner, who can see the hurt and vulnerability, makes him nervous. Will ‘Nacio want a broken man who isn’t worthy of love?
‘Nacio is a victim of his birth and his breeding. The product of rape, his mother was going to abort him if he wasn’t her husband’s genetic son, but when tests showed Ignacio was going to be an empath, she and her husband kept the pregnancy. An empathic child is worth a great deal of money (almost six million credits, for ‘Nacio) and she views this as her compensation for the assault and having to raise her rapist’s child. There was never any love for her son, just careful grooming to make certain he’d be an obedient and valuable empath for whoever had the money to buy him.
Gabe saving ‘Nacio from an abusive relationship — with Mary gone, the other possible buyer was a violent man who made ‘Nacio feel uncomfortable — lets him play hero. And ‘Nacio desperately needs a hero. Gabe wants to push the empath to make choices: What do you want for dinner? What do you want to read? Would you like to name my pet crab? He also reads books on empaths and anchors and arranges for a therapist for Ignacio. Upon learning that ‘Nacio doesn’t feel he has a choice in whether or not to have sex, Gabe is quick to say no. If ‘Nacio can’t honestly say yes, he can’t consent to sex. Therefore, no sex until ‘Nacio is ready for it. It’s all cute and sweet and filled with a happy ending and honest, caring sexytimes. However, when you actually pay attention to the book — and if you’ve read the first book — the consent issues become even more problematic, as does the whole romance.
Ignacio, as an empath, is property. He is legally a slave. He also has no choice in being a slave. With this empathic gift and no anchor, he will go mad. When it’s time for him to bond — when his gift is at it’s strongest — he’ll bond with anyone close by, no matter who they are or how much he likes them. There is no choice, and no consent. His family has the right to sell him to whomever they want, or he can be kidnapped and forced to bond to an abusive monster. It’s great that Gabe’s a good guy and doesn’t want to take advantage of ‘Nacio, but… even in the best of all possible worlds, it’s likely he’d never know if ‘Nacio found the idea of sleeping with him repellent or wonderful. As a bonded empath ‘Nacio will do anything and everything to make Gabe happy.
The first book offered a somewhat more layered look at the moral grey areas of this society and how the lack of rights and the violence done to empaths affected people unlucky enough to be born with this gene. This book tries to be a sweet little romance, but you can’t ignore the fact that this story of romanticized slavery tries to shy away from the reality of its own world in order to be less conflicted and less thought-provoking. It’s light, it’s fluffy, and has very little world building; you’d barely know this book took place in the far future, in another world, were it not for the throw away mention of alien authors and society back on earth.
There’s also the matter of the maybe/maybe-not murder of Mary, but it’s never dealt with. Maybe in a third book, if there is one in this world, but having already seen the thoughtfulness of Aiden and Cole and now the shallow fairy tale of ‘Nacio and Gabe, I’m not certain what more the author might want to say. The writing isn’t bad, but this book had a more meandering pace and no real drama or conflict. It was just a story of boy meets boy, romance and misunderstandings ensue. It’s cute, but forgettable.