All fox shifter David Sherman wanted to do was help a friend. He hadn’t meant to bring the attention of the Moreau Initiative down onto the Shifter Council. And he hadn’t meant to get caught using his mother’s computer, especially when, as the head of the council overseeing shifters in the western part of the United States, she has important information in her files — files someone very nearly hacked because of David.
The Moreau Initiative has been trafficking in both human and shifter children, performing experiments on them. They’ve done horrible, unspeakable things and now David’s on their radar … just in time for his summer trip to look at colleges. His mother may want to strangle him, and his brother, too, but they’ve decided to allow him to go, on one condition: David gets to take along a bodyguard with him, whether he likes it nor. Enter Buddy, a giant bear of a man — both in human and shifted form — who will tolerate no nonsense of any kind from David.
As much as he’d like to be angry at Buddy tagging along, there’s just something about the other shifter that makes David feel safe and comfortable. More than that, he looks splendid in his red underwear and his yoga poses — and David isn’t so sure he minds Buddy catching him looking. Unfortunately, the two of them don’t have much time to flirt because someone’s after David, someone who doesn’t care if he’s brought in dead or alive.
David’s father left his small family behind, leaving David’s mother to raise two sons while being the ranking shifter on the council, overseeing the western division of shifters. She had to make choices and, unfortunately, sometimes her family didn’t come first. She relied heavily upon her older son, Aiden, to help with the house and raising his brother. So now David lives in the shadow of the perfect shifter (his mother) and the perfect son (his brother.) The only time he gets any attention is when he makes a mistake, and then it’s only negative attention. Going away to college is a chance to start over, to make a name for himself that isn’t attached to the Sherman family name.
Buddy lost his parents when he was 18. He became the mother and father to three younger brothers, and lost his chance of getting a college education. As a bear shifter, Buddy has a natural strength that would have been ideal for the position of a council enforcer, but even that was put on hold while he took care of what was left of his family. Buddy is used to being seen as nothing more than a walking meat shield, strong and scary, but not a person. It doesn’t bother him. At least, that’s what he tells himself.
As David and Buddy get to know one another, David learns all manner of surprising things about his bodyguard, such as his name isn’t “Buddy.” It’s actually Theo, but no one ever cared enough to find out. Buddy doesn’t want to be an enforcer, he wants to be a teacher. He’s generous, loving, protective, and hot, and the more the two of them are in each other’s company, the more David realizes that Buddy pushes all his buttons (including buttons he didn’t know he had). The caring, the attention, and, yes, the hot body. But he’s more interested in the soft, gentle, and overlooked Theo than the big bad enforcer. It was fun watching them snark at one another, and how easily they became friends and how naturally they became lovers. Unfortunately, there’s a time limit on their relationship as David will be going to college and Buddy will be returning home.
In one scene at a diner, while trying to reassure Buddy he wasn’t trying to call him fat by commenting on his breakfast, David blithely admits that he was just up in the shower masturbating to him. It wasn’t David trying to flirt (because he’s even worse at flirting), he just didn’t want Buddy to think he was judging him. This is followed by Buddy offering to pretend to be his parole officer to explain to various professors and college admissions officers why he’s following David to his college interviews. These moments of charm and snark are balanced so well against moments of pain and emotional growth. David wistfully admits to Buddy that everyone leaves him, like his father; he’s never had a relationship last more than three months, so why can’t Buddy just give him three months and then get tired of him like everyone else? His confusion when Buddy says it’s because he doesn’t want three months, he wants David — not as a fling, not as a lover — but as something more permanent if he can have him, is painful. It’s the first time David’s met someone who is willing to promise forever, and the struggle to understand, and the time it takes him to realize that that’s what Buddy is offering, is so well done and gives great insight into both characters without having to spell it out for the reader. Watching these two find one another, and learn to trust one another, was sweet.
This is book four in the Shifter U series, but I had no trouble with this one as a standalone. I have “read” one of this author’s other works in the audio of Stalking Buffalo Bill, and had mixed feelings about it. However, this book presents not only the same skilled writing and deft plotting, but characters I enjoyed spending time with. There’s a bit of humor, a bit of love, and a lot of heart in this book, and I think it’s well worth the read if you like happily ever after stories involving shifters.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.