Bear and Ben couldn’t be more unlike. Bear is — as his name suggests — a powerful bear shifter, more comfortable using his brute strength to get the mission done. Ben is a crow shifter, brilliant with computers and clueless with people. For the past year, Bear has been working his hardest to get Ben to go out to dinner with him and, at long last, the younger man finally said yes! Sort of. He didn’t agree to a date, but he did agree to have dinner with Bear, which is close enough. It’s a start, anyway.
The two men work together for C.L.A.W. — the Covert Law and Order Shifter Division of MI6 — which is staffed by shifters of all shapes and sizes, from leopards, wolves, and bears to smaller foxes, crows, and just about everything in between, all with one purpose: to keep the rest of the world from knowing about shifters. They protect the world from shifters, and protect shifters from the world, but that’s easier said than done, especially when one of their own has been targeted.
In his past life, Ben wasn’t always a moral and upright officer of the law. In fact, he once founded a small group of freedom fighters — or a terrorist organization, depending on your point of view — and was inadvertently responsible for a security guard’s death when he and his friend bombed a cosmetic testing facility. Ben went right to the Shifter Council to admit his guilt and was given a new name and the chance to serve in C.L.A.W where he could do good for the world. Unfortunately, his fellow founder and ex-lover has found him, and he wants Ben back.
This is the second volume in the Agents of C.L.A.W. series and can be read on its own. The first book follows two other shifters, Lane and Andrew, who show up here, but only peripherally. Everything you need to know to enjoy this story and the world can quite easily be found in this book. There’s nothing particularly new in this interpretation of a world with animal shifters save that this one takes place in London, and they get all the neat toys — like supercomputers.
Ben very much wants to be in control of the situation. Any situation. He’s a technical genius and, having been forgiven for his participation in the eco-terrorist group when he was younger, he’s driven to prove himself. He’s not entirely oblivious to Bear — it’s hard not to notice a man who drives him home almost every night, asks him out for dinner all the time, and can turn into a giant bear — but Ben is reluctant to enter into a relationship. He keeps track of Bear obsessively, always knowing where he is, how he is, and who he’s with, which is almost like being in a relationship, without the risk of getting hurt, or rejected, or having to share any part of himself. Especially when someone might look at who he is, and how he is, and think he’s … weird, or strange. Or worse, turn their backs on him. He’d rather keep his friends at arm’s length than risk losing them. Bear looks at him like he’s something innocent. Like he’s the good person Ben is trying to be, and he would do anything to keep that look from going away. So he pretends not to see the look in Bear’s eyes when he asks him out and doesn’t offer anything more than friendship.
Bear is patient. He’d have to be, to spend an entire year trying to coax Ben into something more than a working relationship. While Ben never agrees to dinner, Bear is often giving Ben a ride home at night, not that Ben ever offers to let him up to his apartment. He knows Ben can be obsessive, and blind, and rude, but Bear finds all of that endearing rather than irritating. Once Ben finally says yes to dinner, Bear has no intention of letting him go. When Ben ends up having to pretend to be a fugitive from the law in order to smoke out the would-be-kidnapper, Bear is there at his side. He has no intention of ever letting go.
These two men have been stalking each other for a very long time, each of them afraid to actually try to do anything to frighten the other person. Ben, through the supercomputer he made, tracks every moment of Bear’s life. He knows where he goes to eat, what route he uses to get home; if Bear had a flat tire, he’d know about it. But he doesn’t really know the man himself, outside the workplace. Bear knows the persona Ben puts on at work and wants to get to know the man behind those quirks, even after a year of rejection. They’re both very stubborn, and once they finally accept what the other one is offering, they’re an inseparable pair.
I am normally a fan of opposites attract, but this pair just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t feel any spark of chemistry between them. Even the sex scenes felt a little bit rote and the dialogue between them didn’t have any personality to it. Then, too, there’s the fact that … how to put this: Bear has been trying to date Ben for a year. How many times can someone turn you down for dinner before you realize they might not actually want to eat with you? How many times can you offer to drive them home and always face that moment of hesitation before the person reluctantly says yes, and not wonder if maybe you’re imposing on them? I think Bear has this idea in his head of who Ben is that is more real to him than the man actually in front of him. And then there’s Ben. It’s been a year of someone constantly asking him out and he’s never done anything to encourage it or to discourage it. Did he just hope Bear would … go away? Or did he hope that one day he’d feel something for Bear? And what makes him finally say yes? I never got the feeling he saw Bear as anything more than a friend.
When the two of them finally do come together, it’s after surviving a bombing. Ben moves in to kiss Bear, but Bear pulls back because he’s uncertain if it’s just adrenaline or if it’s honest passion. After the second bombing (there are a lot of bombs in this book) Ben, again, makes an advance on Bear, who pushes him away. He wants Ben to want him, not just to want to get laid. And yet, when they finally do have sex, it’s because Ben says he wants to feel good. He wants them to feel good. Fuck buddies, yes. Lovers? Two men in love? No, I’m afraid it didn’t work for me.
I very much enjoyed the first story, between Lane and Andrew, and I regret that I didn’t like this one as much. The world building is fun, the writing is good, and the plot worked. There were no red herrings, no convenient deus ex machina; it was a fair thriller. But Ben and Bear didn’t come together for me, as a couple. I am, however, eagerly awaiting the next book in this series because I very might like this author and her world.