wholeRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

After being kidnapped, abused, and forcibly impregnated, Jaysan Rowe knew he was not emotionally able to handle raising his child. So a year ago, he gave his baby up for adoption. Jaysan still is scarred from his ordeal and knows he could never be comfortable finding a mate, knowing how abusive alphas can be. He lets out his frustrations by some reckless behavior that he knows is scaring his beta guardians and putting his safety at risk.

Morris Danvers has his life turned upside down when his brother and brother-in-law die in a car accident, leaving Morris custody of their baby, Aeron. After growing up in an abusive home, Morris is determined to never mate, so he has no family left now that his brother is gone. But Morris knows he will need help caring for Aeron, particularly when he returns to work. With the help of some friends, he connects with Jaysan, who is looking for a job.

When Jaysan meets Morris and Aeron, he is stunned to realize that Aeron is the baby he gave up for adoption a year ago. Jaysan is thrilled that Morris is willing to let Jaysan be a part of Aeron’s life as his caretaker. Both men also face a second surprise when they realize they are mates. Given that neither man wants a mate, they agree that they will care for Aeron together, but there will be no romantic relationship between them.

Keeping their distance is easier said than done, however, as the mating bond is strong. And as the men get to know one another better, they are feeling a strong romantic connection as well. But Morris must get over his fears that he will be an abusive alpha like his father, and Jaysan has to be willing to trust that Morris would never hurt him and believe he is worthy of love despite his past. If the men can get past their fears, they may be able to find a future together as a family.

Whole is the fifth book in A.M. Arthur’s omegaverse Breaking Free series. The books interconnect in that the characters frequently appear in each other’s stories and they are a pretty big group at this point. There are also some plot thread points that cross books, so I think it is overall helpful to read these in order, but you could probably follow along here without reading the entire series. That said, Jaysan has been a series regular from the start as he is one of the omegas who was kidnapped and part of the fight ring. We have seen him on the fringes of the group, still facing a lot of anger and not quite fitting in, and, as the book starts, Jaysan is still facing a lot of emotional challenges. However, being reunited with Aeron goes a long way to helping him and it is nice to see him happy here and coming out of his shell.

Once you get past the set up, which is kind of crazy but I could go with it, this story is mostly focused on two men who each think they are not worthy of a partnership who find themselves falling for one another nonetheless. We see the slow progression of their relationship, and I think the pacing works here to establish a connection between them and give them a chance to learn to trust one another before moving on. Jaysan has the biggest hurdles, as he worries what Morris will think of him given his past. But these guys are sweet together and things come together well.

I do at times find the alpha/omega dynamic a bit hard, not just in this book but throughout the series, particularly when the alphas get super possessive. I know that is part of the appeal for some with this trope, but all the growling when someone looks at your mate kind of stuff does bug me. I also think the dynamic tends to be a bit paternalistic, which isn’t super appealing in men who are supposed to be partners, though this book has much less of that than others. I will say that as much as I enjoy this series, I do find things are feeling a little repetitive. They all focus on omegas who have had abusive pasts and all of them are emotionally scarred. In each book, the fated couple meets early on, but put off mating because of emotional issues that are ultimately resolved and lead to a relationship. Things are changed up a bit here as Morris, the alpha, also has some trauma in his past that affects his interest in mating. But I do think that this format needs to be shaken up a bit as the series continues just to keep the books from getting stale or too similar.

I’ll also note that this story features multiple references to past sexual and physical abuse. There is also a scene where a character revokes consent but the other partner does not stop right away. So be aware if these are triggers for you.

Overall, I found this a nice installment in the series. I liked both Morris and Jaysan and I liked that the issues seemed more balanced between them than in earlier books. I enjoyed seeing the various side characters reappear here and getting to catch up with everyone. And I definitely was happy to see Jaysan finally get his happy ending.

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