Rating: 4.75 stars
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Casey has lived his life in the closet, fearing what his brother would say or do if he found out Casey was gay. And then one night, Casey flirted with a pretty man, and everything changed. Casey’s brother beat and killed several gay men, and Casey told the truth. Now, having served time for his part in it, Casey is once again free. But he still doesn’t think he can live his life out and proud.
Casey feels sorry for what his brother did, and when Casey sees the man he once flirted with, he follows Brooks home to apologize. Brooks is terrified to be faced with one of his attackers again, and in the aftermath of his beating, he’s become scared of larger men. Which is a true shame, because Brooks has always been drawn to submissives who are larger than he is. He takes a chance and listens to Casey, and though Casey doesn’t seem to fully grasp his part in everything, he seems sincere. Brooks sends him to an LGBT youth center to volunteer.
Casey is still drawn to Brooks, though he doesn’t pursue him. He does, however, go after the pain and punishment he craves. Brooks sees the marks and knows Casey is going about it in the wrong way. Against his better judgement, he agrees to dominate Casey to give him what he needs safely. And to exact revenge. Casey doesn’t care what Brooks’s motives are, as long as he gets the punishment he feels he deserves.
Neither man’s motives are healthy, but as they pursue an unconventional relationship, feelings develop. Casey is ready for more, and not just emotionally. When a scene goes too far, Brooks calls a halt to things, though Casey isn’t sure why. Both men have to do some serious soul searching and figure things out. They’ve begun to heal together, and they have to do some healing on their own if they intend to get the happy ever after they both deserve.
As soon as I saw this book had come out, I was quick to pick it up. In this final book in the Ever After series, we get to see Casey’s story. These books are so well written that any of them would stand on their own. All pertinent details are there, but the truth is the emotional impact is so much larger when you’ve read them as a whole.
In Aftercare, we learn of Jamie’s death and watch as Garrett defends Syed for a crime he did not commit and see him fall in love again with Syed’s brother, Aayan. In Aftershock, Syed finds love again with Dashiell, and as Dashiell discovers who Jamie’s killer really is. And now, in the conclusion, we see Casey picking up the pieces of his life, coming to grips with what he did, and learning to embrace what he needs because it’s a part of him, not because he deserves it.
I’ll tell you that I couldn’t wait for this book. When we first meet Casey, we see his sincerity and his naivete. He’s a product of his upbringing, and the fear he has of his brother is very real. We see his bravery as he testifies against his brother and is sentenced for his part in the crimes. And here we get to see him as he’s learning to live again. I absolutely adored Casey. He’s been through so much and he doesn’t understand a lot of what he needs in life. But he grows so much throughout the course of this story, really coming into his own, taking responsibility and becoming who he was meant to be. A large part of that is Brooks’ influence and being able to truly be himself.
It also helps that Brooks punishes him. There’s definitely a darker element to the BDSM in this installment of the series. When both the MCs enter into their first scene, neither is doing it for the right reasons. They grow from that and both eventually get to a good place. Brooks is able to finally take that last step and mostly conquer his fear of larger men. Casey is finally able to get the pain he wants and needs, and it becomes more than just thinking he deserves to be punished. I particularly loved that when things go off the rails, Brooks recognizes it and puts a stop to it. He doesn’t handle it in the best way, but eventually they have the deep conversation they need to have and are able to move forward in a much healthier way.
I have to say that my biggest worry going into this book was how the author was going to make me believe that these two characters, whose start was terrible when they met for the very first time, could fall in love. But Chris is a master storyteller and in the end, their romance is not only believable, but beautiful. It takes a lot of hard work on both their parts, but that’s perhaps the best part.
I really enjoyed this book. There’s so much depth to the characters, to the storytelling, to the plot, and the author does an amazing job of tying it all together. Casey and Brooks both have baggage, issues they need to work on and overcome. And when it comes down to it, they are able to better themselves, communicate, and give each other what they need. This book, and this series, comes highly recommended by me.