Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars
Narrator: John Solo
Length: 6 hours, 45 minutes
For Cole, the next four weeks are going to be a living hell. All he wants to do is work with the horses, getting them ready for his dream of a small therapy barn. Instead, he’s being asked to babysit some hot shot prima donna of a movie star. If Cole’s lucky, the guy might give up and run away after he sees the amount of work Cole’s going to make him do.
For Josh, this escape to nowhere comes almost as much salvation as exile. His latest starring role is as an unwilling participant in a sex tape, with a married alpha, and he just needs to get out of the spotlight. His agent assures him that it’ll all die down soon enough, so long as he keeps his head down.
Something about Josh rubs Cole the wrong way. The omega’s flirtatious one moment, shy the next; for all his romcom good looks, Cole has no problem buckling down and doing the unpleasant work and, when faced with a room full of prickly alphas, he somehow manages to leave everyone feeling calmer. Josh is full of secrets and contradictions and Cole wants to know what really makes the omega tick. The more he gets to know Josh, the more he sees the frightened and fragile young man beneath the polished Hollywood gloss and realizes that Josh — and Josh’s life — aren’t at all what he thought they were.
Keeper is a sequel to Defender, the first book in the Lost Pack series, but you can easily jump right on in to this story with no trouble. In the first book, we were introduced to the idea of packs, what they are and what they were, how they shaped shifter culture, and how they’re seen by modern shifters. But since Josh isn’t aware of it and isn’t bothered by it, it’s easy enough for the reader to get along without knowing everything.
Josh is fragile. Growing up an abandoned omega, he was put into various group homes where he was abused, used, and pimped out by the people who were supposed to care for him. Eventually, Stuart, who became his manager, bought him and signed him into a contract that allowed Josh the chance to be something more than a sex worker. For a short time, he was an actual movie star, with fans, roles, and a life, even if that life isn’t one he enjoys. Stuart gets most of the money, decides who Josh goes out to party with, and pimps him out for favors and who knows what else, all while Josh keeps smiling and does as he’s told.
Cole is an alpha in a pack of alphas, which comes with it’s own strains and stresses. None of them want to yield to the other, for all that they’re friends, brothers, and were in the same unit back when they served in the military. He loves his pack, all of them; he just can’t not get into arguments with them, and he can’t bring himself to tell them why he’s hurting, and why he keeps pushing them away. Cole hasn’t told any of them, not even Brax, his best friend and pack leader. He carries his guilt, both survivor’s guilt and his own feeling of failure and betrayal, and it’s killing him. Cole is meant to protect. It’s his role in the pack, and it’s the role he failed. With Josh, Cole has a chance to … well, not to undo what he did, but maybe a chance to forgive himself.
Josh needs him, needs the protection, needs the strength Cole has to offer, if only Cole could figure out how to help. Josh has always known his value comes from what he can offer, how well he can please, and how nicely he can treat the alphas who have power over him. Even when Cole promises the world, the lack of that physical intimacy, the lack of taking what Josh has to offer hurts Josh in a way he doesn’t know how to heal. But no matter how hard Josh tries to run to get away, Cole will always be there, following behind, ready to pick him up and take him home. And it’s much the same in reverse as, when Cole, too, has his moments of panic and fear and nightmares, Josh is there to soothe and comfort and offer a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen to everything. Cole uses words where Josh uses touch, and their love languages don’t always mesh — especially in certain key moments — but it’s the way they both hold on that second longer, giving the other man the chance to cut through the confusion that make them such a good couple.
As with the previous audio book, John Solo does the narration and I’m still a fan. While many of the characters’ voices blend together, he still manages to keep the emotional core of Josh and Cole’s arguments, their conversations, and their moments of happiness and confusion. He makes Cole sound mature and driven and, yes, alpha-like, as opposed to the frail breathlessness of Josh’s voice. Frankly, Solo’s one of those narrators who could do the phone book; it might not have all the voices, but it would be a pleasure to listen to.