Aryn Greyson is a sophomore at Fennys Den College, and a popular alpha. Last year he was the head of the hunting club, something that means a lot to him, but this year his pack alpha (and brother) doesn’t want him to be on the team again. Braedan wants Aryn to focus on grades and on finding his mate. In desperation, Aryn tells Braeden he has already found his omega mate, hoping that will convince Braeden to give him permission to join the club. But Braeden wants to first meet Aryn’s mate and welcome him to the family.
Trae Vagorien is at Fennys Den as part of their program to help those with no pack. Trae is poor with no family and no real home. Somehow, Trae has acquired a reputation for sleeping around — mostly from rich, bragging alphas. The fact that they are all lying doesn’t matter and Trae isn’t going to bother trying to change people’s minds. When Aryn asks Trae to pretend to be his mate for the night in exchange for some money, Trae is hurt, but not surprised. As much as he finds Aryn attractive, he is just another rich jerk. But Trae agrees to do it despite himself.
Meeting Aryn’s family surprises Trae, as he finds himself really liking them. And part of him actually finds himself really liking Aryn too. But Trae also knows that he is only there because Aryn is buying his time, and he doesn’t really believe Aryn likes him. However, with the two men spending the night together, their attraction to each other and the hormones flaring may be enough to make the men take another look at one another.
Stray is the first book in Crystel Greene’s Fennys Den College series. The author brings a few new ideas to the popular omegaverse, which I appreciated. This story very much has a new adult feel, something I don’t see often in omegaverse (maybe because they typically have the focus on mating and families that isn’t as common in new adult/college stories). In this world, college is the age many find their mates and it is common for mated pairs to live together while at school. So Aryn is being pressured to find his mate, despite being only a second year student. I think Greene does a nice job making Aryn and Trae feel like college students and, like I said, it is an interesting approach for omegaverse.
There are also some other details that were interesting, such as the various pack families. It almost has a “house” feel as the students live within their different pack houses. As someone without a pack, Trae lives in Vagorien house and takes that as his last name. I will say, not all of the world building feels fully fleshed out though. For example, the houses at school were “packs” and clearly made of larger groups of multiple (though perhaps related) members. But then Braeden is also alpha of Aryn’s pack (and Aryn will become alpha of his own pack once mated), so there are seemingly larger packs, but also family unit packs and this was all kind of unclear to me.
The relationship here is super fast, basically taking place in about 12 hours. The guys are aware of one another at school, but have had virtually no interaction until Aryn asks Trae to be his pretend mate. At this point, Trae very much dislikes Aryn (or at least the part of him that doesn’t think Aryn is hot) and they are definitely not friends. But one night together and they are committing to forever, which is just way too fast for me. I just didn’t find they spend enough time together to really believe in this sudden love and commitment beyond hormones and biology. They are barely even speaking one day and the next are together forever. I do think Greene does a nice job of showing how Aryn comes to realize the extent of his own privilege and cluelessness, and it is clear that both men reach a point of liking one another. But I didn’t feel they were anywhere near ready for the commitment they make based on the relationship we see between them.
The story relies a lot on hormones and instincts, something common in omegaverse, but here it was too much for me. I was uncomfortable with a scene where Trae is upset and Aryn comforts him through sexual touch. I get that this is supposed to be the alpha comfort bond, and Greene does show Aryn clearly confirming with Trae that yes, he wants this. But Trae is also basically out of his mind with fear at the time, and it didn’t feel like the kind of reasoned consent I wanted to see. This then leads into a giant sexual frenzy where again, decisions are made when neither of them are clear headed. Aside from the consent side of things, it just made it hard to feel like there is real emotion between them and not just instinct. The story ends with a miscommunication I could see telegraphed, which was somewhat disappointing, and things tie up pretty fast after that.
This is the first in a series and I think Greene has laid some interesting groundwork. As I said, the new adult take on omegaverse was appealing and felt fresh, and I think there are some unusual elements here to a common trope. I did really appreciate we see Aryn doing some self reflection, and there are some nice moments of character development. I found the relationship goes too fast and is far too undeveloped to fully round this one out, but it does have the potential to make an interesting series.