Although it has been a few months since Caspian Hart broke up with him, Arden St. Ives is definitely still heartbroken. It is made worse by knowing that Caspian does love him, but won’t let himself be in a relationship with Arden any longer. And it’s even worse still when Arden learns that Caspian is now seeing someone else. The pain is still very raw for Arden and he finds himself frequently overcome with grief.
However, Arden is nothing if not resilient and he is trying to move forward. He is enjoying his job at the magazine, and he lives with Caspian’s sister Ellery in a somewhat gross warehouse, but where he is happy nonetheless. Starting a no strings fling with a co-worker helps a lot, as well as spending time with his friends. He even manages to connect with Caspian’s assistant, Bellerose. As Arden slowly makes his way forward, he does he best to distance himself from Caspian as even their infrequent communication is too much for him to bear. But when a crisis hits, Caspian is once again there for him.
Arden knows that he and Caspian are meant for one another, but the baggage from Caspian’s past makes him fearful of a relationship with Arden. Now Arden has to show Caspian that he is worthy of Arden’s love, and that the two are meant to be with each other after all.
How to Belong with a Billionaire is the long-awaited third book in Alexis Hall’s wonderful Arden St. Ives trilogy. Not only did the second book come out close to two years ago, but we left things on a major cliffhanger with the relationship between Arden and Caspian falling apart. So to say that I was eager for this book is a vast understatement.
The focus of this story is very much on Arden’s journey for most of the book. We see him in the aftermath of the breakup, and even months later, he is still devastated. Arden is doing his best to move forward, but he is in so much pain it is really palpable. Still, Arden soldiers on, and his unique blend of humor, self deprecation, and assorted pratfalls help to keep the tone light even as we see him struggle. Over the first two-thirds of the book or so, we see Arden interacting with different people who help him get some perspective on his life and his relationship. First, he starts a casual affair with his co-worker, George. George is bold and kinky and unashamed, and she is a perfect person to help reconnect Arden with the joy he has in submission. I enjoyed not only George’s fierce personality, but also the way she is unapologetic about her needs and desires, and it is nice to see Arden be able to have that confidence again after Caspian struggled with accepting his own desires. Arden also spends some time with his best friend in Boston, and even befriends a woeful Bellerose. Like I said, this section really allows Arden to get perspective and helps him move forward. At times it felt a bit like he was traveling from mentor to mentor, but I still think the insights were useful.
The biggest issue for me here is that this portion takes up the majority of the very long book, and while Caspian makes some token appearances, he is mostly off page here. Arden goes through a lot of ups and downs and every time he seems to be getting better, something happens to re-open the wounds. So after this crushing breakup, I wanted things to start sooner moving these guys back together again.
What I think Hall has done so well in this series is to humanize Caspian and show us his vulnerability. He would have been pretty much insufferable otherwise, between his high handedness, his arrogance, and the way he repeatedly hurts Arden. Hall manages to let us see into his softer center, to view him through Arden’s eyes, in a way that makes Caspian someone who feels worthy of Arden’s love. And while I think that continues here, I also felt like there wasn’t enough growth here for Caspian, or at least enough of it shown here, to really feel like he had changed in those critical ways. This is a man who needs massive therapy (and to their credit, it is something Arden insists upon and Caspian agrees to). But I felt like we were way far into the book and Caspian is still unable to see that he deserves happiness, that his desires are not wrong, and that what happened to him is not his fault. So when he comes around to accept his relationship with Arden, I wanted to see more of that growth of how he got to that point in order to believe he had really changed and these guys could be happy together.
I have really enjoyed this series and think it is a standout, particularly the way Hall combines humor and dark intensity. I have been eagerly awaiting the men finally finding their way together, and I felt satisfied as things wrapped up. I do wish the focus had been more on Caspian’s growth and acceptance of his needs and his relationship with Arden, rather than so much time with Arden solo, and I think the pacing here could have been a little better. But overall, I think this is a wonderful series and a really nice end to their journey.