collaring chaz coverRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Chaz and Rafael have been best friends, bandmates, and friends-with-benefits for years. Chaz has feelings for Rafael, but he knows nothing serious will ever happen between them. Despite the fact that their band frontman, Dante, is in love with and marrying Cash, Rafael still harbors feelings for Dante that haven’t gone away. Plus, Chaz knows there is nothing about him that would keep Rafael interested, particularly as Rafael has a kinky side that he looks to share with his partners. Things have finally settled down with the band now that Dante and Cash are together, and the guys are in the studio trying to get their album done. But Chaz can’t help but feel like the weakest link when he makes repeated mistakes, a feeling that is only exacerbated by comments he overhears from the others.

When Chaz starts asking Rafael more about his interest in kink, Raf decides to show Chaz what it’s all about in person. He guides Chaz through some puppy play experiences that they both enjoy, enough so that Rafael begins to realize that there might be more there between him and Chaz than just some casual (albeit super hot) sex among friends. But once the band is back on the road, the stress starts to return for all of them. Chaz is still feeling uncertain about his place in the group and resorting to drugs more and more to keep his feelings at bay. And while Rafael may be interested in Chaz, but he still has feelings for Dante that he can’t shake, feelings that make Chaz doubt Rafael could ever want him for good. Eventually Rafael realizes that Chaz is the one that he truly wants, but with Chaz spiraling, it may be too late for the men to make it work.

Collaring Chaz is the second book in Joel Abernathy’s Dante’s Infernal series. While this story does feature a new couple in Chaz and Rafael, a lot of the backstory develops in the first book, so I think this one reads best as part of the series. We met both Chaz and Raf in Taming Dante and it was clear there that they were hooking up with one another, as well as that Rafael was harboring feelings for Dante. I think the early parts of the story work best here for me as we see the close bond of friendship, as well as the heat between Rafael and Chaz. It is clear that Chaz has a lot of self doubts and insecurities, and that Rafael is a little too casual with Chaz’s feelings (though he is truly unaware of them). But the bond and connection between the men is clear. There are also some nice scenes where the guys play at Rafael’s club and explore some puppy play scenes. The men are sexy together and it is fun to see them exploring a new side of their relationship. I also enjoyed the behind the scenes feeling of the story as we get to see the life of the band both recording and on tour. There is a nice “rock star” feeling to the books that comes through well.

I feel like the second portion of the story just didn’t really feel tight or focused enough and there wasn’t enough character development or consistency. Chaz has some pretty clear issues with self doubt and even self loathing. No matter what happens, Chaz thinks it is his fault. He assumes Rafael won’t want to really be with him, he assumes his music is bad, that he is a bad singer, etc. Chaz allows everyone else to take advantage of him or just generally treat him like crap, and his response is to accept it as his due and to self medicate with pills. We see him led around by others, often in situations he seems to get in without having any real idea how he got there and not seeming to care enough about himself to do anything about it. Some of these fears are not without foundation — it is clear from the start that Raf is still hung up on Dante, and Chaz does walk in on his band members discussing concerns about his contributions. But the problems seem pretty clearly much broader that this. I kept waiting for the story to acknowledge this issue more directly, to show us more about Chaz’s backstory or what has shaped him. But we get virtually zero information about Chaz’s past or family or anything other than that he joined the band when he was young because he was friends with Dante and Rafael. The blurb mentions he was in foster care and didn’t feel wanted, but the story itself doesn’t really touch on it. So Chaz’s self doubt/loathing just felt like this big open issue that is never addressed. The story does eventually deal with some mental health issues Chaz has, but they didn’t seem to actually relate to the self worth issues (clearly I am not a doctor, but the condition for which he is diagnosed doesn’t seem like it really relates to this problem). But even if it does and that was truly the answer, it still ties up too patly. They discover the problem and Chaz gets medicine and done. For something that is such a major part of the plot and his character, it just seemed underdeveloped and under resolved.

In Rafael’s case, he is in love with Dante for much of the story. He has made peace with the fact that Dante is in love with Cash and that ship has sailed, but for a large portion of the book, he is still in love with Dante and having a hard time handling Dante’s upcoming wedding. And then suddenly, Rafael realizes he is in love with Chaz and is no longer in love with Dante. It felt abrupt and out of nowhere and I wanted a lot more lead in to see how these guys had built a connection that has not only reframed how Rafael feels about Chaz, but also his feelings about Dante.

As far as the other characters, here we see Dante being a total jerk to Chaz, and frankly, pretty unlikeable. After having him be the hero of the previous story, to suddenly see him being so unpleasant here was frustrating. And Drake seems to have had a total personality transplant. Not just the grudging connection with Dante, but suddenly seeming to care more about all of them after quite clearly being portrayed as all about the money in the first book (to the point that he was essentially watching his son kill himself and not caring). To me, this change was not well explained in the story and seemed instead more linked to the fact that Drake’s book is coming next and he needs to be softened up in advance of his story.

I can’t quite put it all into words, but the story overall just felt meandering. The plot wasn’t as tight as it could have been and it seemed like a lot of the book was just watching Chaz getting led around and never quite settling into himself. I wanted to see that he came out the other end with renewed confidence, or a better sense of himself. But we never quite get that wrap up that I needed. Still, this is a nice follow up to the first book and it was interesting to see some of the relationships and characters from this different perspective.

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