Rating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Malcolm is a children’s librarian who lives a quiet, ordered life. His parents had very clear expectations of him, and now, even at 25, he feels an obligation to conform to their standards. When Malcolm meets Gunner outside a rough-looking bar, he can’t help but be intrigued by Gunner’s bad boy vibe and rebellious nature. Despite himself, Malcolm finds himself accepting Gunner’s offer of a drink, and later a date. When Gunner dares Malcolm to break into what they think is an abandoned vacation home, Malcolm surprises himself by agreeing to the uncharacteristic move.

Maddox has spent the last two months traveling around the country on his motorcycle. After a wild and misspent youth, he has finally gotten his life together and enjoys his remote home in the mountains outside of Seattle. When Maddox returns home from his journey, he is shocked to find two men having sex in his house. Maddox confronts the men, who turn out to be Gunner and Malcolm, but he doesn’t turn them out on the street. He recognizes something of his younger self in the rebellious and cocky Gunner, and he finds the younger men sweet together (as well as hot), and doesn’t want to call the cops on them. But, there is a ferocious storm and a downed tree blocking the road and the guys can’t leave either. Instead, Maddox lets them stay until morning.

The three men find that they have a surprising connection and even once the tree is gone, they are not quite done with each other. Slowly, Malcolm and Gunner begin to bring Maddox into their relationship and it seems like there may actually be room for all three of them together. But life is complicated for all the men. Malcolm is dealing with apartment troubles, not to mention disapproving parents who will never accept him with two men, especially rougher guys like Gunner and Maddox. Maddox is uncertain how or if he can fit in romantically with the younger men, and is having family issues of his own. And Gunner is working on finding a new job, as well as figuring out how to get his life a little more in order and under control. But the men have each other and with the love and support they share, they may just be able to make it all work.

Unraveling Malcolm is the second book in R. Cayden’s Rebels and Nerds series and continues the theme of bad boys with their geeky loves. All the books in the series are menage stories and connect in some way to the local bar and comic book store. In this case, Gunner eventually gets a job at the Steel Rose bar, and Brick and Lilith make very brief cameos, but other than that, this book stands fully alone. The men are all new characters and you will have no trouble following along here without the first story.

This book starts off with a fun structure as Maddox comes home to see the men having sex in his house. Then we back up a week and watch as Malcolm and Gunner meet and see what leads them to breaking into the house. We know right away that the pair are the men who Maddox sees, so that isn’t a surprise. But it is a bit of fun to watch them lead up to the inevitable confrontation and wait for the sparks to fly.

There are lots of interesting dynamics among these three men. We have Gunner and Malcolm who meet first and have a relationship starting when Maddox encounters them. So Maddox deals with insecurities about being the outsider, as well as being older than the other two. There is also Malcolm, who is very much a good boy compared to the other men (though most of Maddox’s wildness is in the past) and I enjoyed watching him let loose and find himself under all the structure his parents have forced upon him. And there is an interesting kinship among Maddox and Gunner, as the older man sees a lot of himself in Gunner and wants to help guide him through his rebellious stage as somewhat of a mentor. So I think Cayden plays with a lot of interesting dynamics here and the various connections among the three of them play out in some nice ways over the course of the story.

There were two main areas where I struggled somewhat, however. First, both Maddox and Gunner have a very paternalistic attitude toward Malcolm, as if he requires their constant care taking. To some degree it is sweet; these men want to cherish and protect him. But at the same time, Malcolm probably has his life together better than either of them, and just because he is not as wild doesn’t mean he is weak. I think there is a line between wanting to take care of someone and make their life easier, and acting like they need care taking, and at times, I feel like things swayed too far the wrong direction.

I also had a really hard time warming to Gunner and, while things got better as the story went on, I found him quite frustrating. Gunner is young and cocky and boastful. He wants to impress Malcolm and he struts around showing off and acting like a big shot. But in reality, he comes across as impulsive, arrogant, and often immature. I didn’t particularly like how Gunner coaxes Malcolm to break into Maddox’s house, telling Malcolm he will take care of him and swearing nothing will happen to him, yet Gunner makes tons of mistakes and has no way of actually protecting Malcolm. They park their truck right in front of the main gate and climb the fence with no regard for the fact there might be cameras or that a guard may notice a stray truck that doesn’t belong there sitting on the road. Gunner breaks into Maddox’s house, again with no regard for potential alarms and cameras. And frankly, if it had been anyone other than Maddox finding them, both men would have ended up in jail and nothing in Gunner’s boasting could have stopped it. Yet he still is a sassy jerk to Maddox, acting like a child when Maddox catches them. Later, Gunner lets his jealously of Maddox get the better of him and makes an impulsive move that could have seen them all in jail, or worse. Unfortunately, I found his behavior exasperating quite a lot of the time.

I also think the plot here needed some tightening as things sort of meander. For example, the story starts with Maddox connecting with an old boyfriend from his bad boy days and it seemed like something was going to happen with that storyline, but it never really goes anywhere. The relationship storyline surrounding these guys felt very solid, but the exterior plot felt like it needed al little more tightening and direction.

This series has a bit of fantasy fulfillment vibe to it that makes the stories fun, if not always totally realistic. But I like seeing how the men all find themselves over the course of the books. Each of these men has a personal journey, which I appreciated, and I enjoyed how their relationship helped each one move forward. So this story had a few issues for me, but overall, it is light and sexy fun.

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