Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrator: Mark Westfield
Length: 7 hours, 35 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Cheetah. TIN operative. SSA. Austen Payne is a lot of things, but one thing he knows he’s not is relationship material. He has very valid reasons for not engaging in anything romantic, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting Osmond Zachary. Austen knows he should stay away from Zach, but time and again, he keeps getting drawn to him.

Zach has the love of his huge family and takes his job as a THIRDS agent seriously. As a bear, he’s the largest of the therians, and he’s very conscious of his size. Ever since he first met the jittery cheetah, he’s wanted Austen to be his. But Austen keeps pushing him away.

When an act of heroism puts Zach on the radar of a nefarious group and his life is in danger, Austen takes it upon himself to protect Zach. That means heading to the Zachary family estate in the wilds. Dealing with all the Zacharys is hard for Austen, especially when they don’t want to listen to him. However, being confined together allows Austen and Zach to actually talk and to finally act on their attraction. But when the bad guys come hunting, they know they can use the Zacharys to get Austen to do what they want. And Austen will do anything to protect Zach and his family.

Like many of us, I’d been looking forward to Austen and Zach’s story since they first met and have been watching the little snippets of their relationship throughout the THIRDS series. This story didn’t quite live up to the potential I was expecting, but it was solid nonetheless.

I loved seeing these two guys finally work through everything that had been plaguing them and finally get together. They both deserve to be happy, and I was satisfied with their relationship. I loved that we got to see inside Austen’s head, finally, and really see where he’s coming from. He’s a much more complex character than I expected, and it was good to understand him better. Likewise, I loved Zach’s patience and understanding with Austen. Really, in that way, they were meant for each other, and, as I said, it was satisfying to see them finally get to that point.

But I did have issues with this book. One was that even though I loved Zach’s patience with Austen, I could never quite understand why, after the repeated and emphatic no’s from Austen, that Zach didn’t ever actually take him at his word. It felt a little bit too much like Zach just had to wear Austen down. I would have liked to see all that addressed a little better. It’s clear Zach sees something in Austen, that potential for a real relationship, but other than one scene that flashes back to their first meeting, it wasn’t entirely clear what. I would have liked to see much more development on this.

While the action side of things was well done, it was also a bit predictable. I didn’t expect much more than that, so it didn’t work against the book for me. However, I had some definite issues with the side characters. In particular, Zach’s family. While there were moments I loved their united front and clear affection for each other, I absolutely had issues with the fact that none of them, especially the brothers, could listen to what Austen said and wanted. Austen was there to protect Zach, and they continually went against his directives. Some might find this endearing. I, however, found it irritating. So it did not work for me.

As I said, I listened to this one in audio, as I have done for the entire series. Mark Westfield is back for this spin off book, and I was pleased. He does his usual good job, and he is the voice of the the THIRDS universe for me. I was really glad that he toned down Austen’s voice from what it was in the main series, so it was still recognizable as Austen, but not as grating to my ear. And speaking of grating, I have to make mention that some of the vocal choices Westfield made for secondary characters really did not work for me. It hit my ear in the wrong way, and I often dreaded hearing them speak. But this was a fairly minor irritation and only brought things down a bit for me.

If you’re a fan of the THIRDS universe, then you’re definitely going to want to pick this one up. And always, I highly suggest you do it in audio.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.