Storri is on his way to veterinary school to start the next stage of his life after graduating high school. Dealing with his mother’s death has been hard, but a trusted teacher has been there for him when needed. However, before Storri gets his chance to leave, he is kidnapped and taken prisoner by a man who claims to be protecting him. Storri is locked away in the remote wilderness in a tower from which he can’t escape. The only solace Storri has is his ability to talk to animals, giving him some small companionship. It also gives him a potential means of escape…
When Faust starts getting strange notes delivered by forest animals, he has no idea what to think. But as the notes become more frequent and the messages more dire, Faust finds himself compelled to track down the mystery person begging for help. Faust feels a strange connection to the prisoner and, along with some friendly animal guides, that gives him enough direction to find Storri and rescue him.
Storri is more than overwhelmed when, after years of captivity, Faust comes to his aid. He can hardly believe he is safe, and the group of big, hulking men who all live in the abandoned hotel are kind of intimidating. But everyone is so kind and gentle with Storri, particularly Faust. Soon he comes to accept that they mean him no harm, and Faust becomes a continued source of comfort and support. Storri learns that there is more to his magic than he thought, that there is a reason he has this special ability, as well as a connection to Faust and his pack. As the days go by, Storri begins to feel not just a comfort with Faust, but an attraction as well, one he soon wants to explore. But the people who are out to harm Storri, along with others like him, are still out there and presenting a threat to both Storri and the pack. They will have to fight with all they have to keep themselves safe.
Ruler is the second book in Kiki Burrelli’s Wolves of Royal Paynes series and follows closely on the heels of the first book. While this does feature a new couple in Faust and Storri, the series plot continues through this book (and beyond) and so you are best off having started with Hero.
Ok, normally when I review I focus on the things that worked for me before getting into the less successful areas, but I think here it makes sense to start with some issues I faced at the top of the book and then go from there. Basically, there was a lot that you just have to go with here, as things don’t always make a lot of sense or feel very realistic. For starters, we know that Storri’s mom died and his teacher, Mr. Grouse, was supportive and helped him out. Then the guy goes crazy when he learns that Storri plans to leave for school and drugs and kidnaps him, locking him away in a tower for years. So this raised a bunch questions for me. We know Grouse learned about Storri’s magic when his mom died, but did he know about nephalim before that? Is he part of the organization (Portal) that is out to get all nephalim? Or just some random zealot who is coincidentally after the same people as the big baddies? Also, Grouse has no idea that Storri is going away to school until Storri tells him and then he loses his shit. And Grouse just happens to have some remote, wilderness lair just lying around in wait, just in case he needs to kidnap someone? Not to mention he has a syringe with sedatives just sitting at the ready IN HIS SCHOOL OFFICE just in case he needs to knock someone out, handy for when he hears Storri is leaving? I also found myself frustrated that Grouse starts this all in motion and then he is mostly dropped as a character. For someone who has a major plot role, Grouse basically disappears from the story without us ever getting more information about who he was working with, what he wanted to accomplish, etc.
The other issue is that this story is super fast on the romantic timeline, particularly with regard to a young man who has been held captive for FIVE YEARS. Storri has been locked away in a 10×10 room, with essentially no human contact (beyond Grouse sending up a bucket of food/water periodically). It would be a wonder if he was sane, let alone able to almost immediately adapt to life with a group of strangers. Yes, the first day or two he is out of sorts and needs everyone to be cautious around him. But within less than a week, he is basically all good. Not to mention, he is hot for Faust and ready to start exploring sex (he was a virgin before he was locked up). There are also comments about how he made Faust wait for him for so long, and, again, we are talking like a week between isolated captive to sexing up his new boyfriend. Now to be clear, Faust never pushes Storri and always makes sure that everything is at Storri’s pace. But I found it wildly hard to believe that Storri acclimates so easily to his new life, not to mention to romance and sex, after such an incredibly short time with zero therapy.
Ok, so that’s a lot, and like I said, you need to be able to just go with the set up for this story to work for you, as that is the foundation of the book. I will say, some of these areas still made me a little crazy, but I found myself able to move past it just because I found the story a lot of fun. Storri is the sweetest little cinnamon roll of a character, loving and kind to everyone. And Faust is protective, but tender. He will do anything for Storri, anything to make him happy or ensure he is safe. But he also listens to Storri and doesn’t steamroll him (and when he does, Storri is quick to stop him and Faust to apologize). The story is a lot of sweet, mushy fun, especially at the beginning when Faust is staging the rescue and Storri is recovering. Sometimes it is a bit much (“Yes, sweet prince, I am here for your pleasure.”), but generally I found it cute. If you like that swoony, alpha-type hero who is at once the big and strong protector, but also a pile of mush for his partner, I think this story will appeal to you. I’ll also note I appreciate that Storri isn’t your typical romance hero in appearance; it is clear that he is on the pudgy side (he describes rolls on his belly), which is something we rarely see, particularly as it is never an issue in the book. Storri doesn’t diet, he doesn’t get skinny once he is rescued, he just is who he is, and I appreciated that.
Storri’s ability is talking to animals and I think Burrelli uses that to great effect here. First, it plays a key role in his rescue. But it is also incorporated into the story in lots of fun little touches. For example, Jazz is planting a garden and worried the crows will eat all the seeds, so Storri goes to talk to the birds and work out a deal to keep them from destroying the garden. I also loved how Storri is able to talk to Dog, Faust’s canine companion. Dog is clearly far more intelligent than an average dog, so the pair are able to have lots of conversations. Early on, Storri leans on Dog a lot for support before he fully trusts the humans, and Dog reassures him that he is in a safe place. The two become close friends and there are lots of entertaining moments watching the two of them interact. Here is a scene that made me giggle. The group is cooking breakfast and Dog is trying to figure out how to get his paws on some bacon (we are in Faust’s POV):
I grabbed the bacon from the fridge, layering it on a frying pan as Dog trotted over from the door.
“I’m not telling him that,” Storri sighed, curling over the baby in his lap.
“Telling me what?” I asked, looking to Dog as I did.
Dog stared only at the bacon.
“He says you’re a smart, distinguished alpha who is as…” He turned a tortured look to Dog. “Seriously?”
Storri stuck his lip out in a pout. “Who is as virile as a spring stallion.”
The larger series arc with regard to Portal and their attempts to capture the nephalim continues here and we get some exciting scenes toward the end as the group has to fend off threats. We learn a little more about Portal and what they are doing, but there are still some unanswered questions (as well as a big surprise). I think the pacing of this part of the overarching story is working well and there is a nice balance of the found family, relationship type stuff and the larger suspense angle
So as I said, there is a lot to work through here that isn’t always successful for me in the set up. But I found that overall I enjoyed this one a lot and had a lot of fun with the story. Faust and Storri are very specific type of characters and their relationship is very much on the doting, mushy, sweet side. But sometimes that is just what I am in the mood for and I found this one entertaining. Next up are the twins and I am SO excited for their story!