Eamon Cutler is an enforcer for the Lynch family, working to collect debtors who owe their souls to the hex witches. People may get ten years of living their heart’s desire by entering into a deal with the witches, but when their time is up, they owe their souls and it’s Eamon’s job to help make sure they pay up. Like the other enforcers, Eamon is also a snake shifter, and his powerful venom is enough to keep the debtors in line. Now Eamon has a new assignment: bring back the Lynch’s wayward son, Dylan, who left home ten years ago. Eamon can admit he has been crushing on Dylan ever since he first saw him, but he knows Dylan will want nothing to do with him once he realizes Eamon has to bring him home.
Dylan Lynch left home years ago, attempting to break free of his controlling mother and pursue his music career. He wants nothing to do with the dark hex magic his family practices, and particularly nothing to do with his mother, who gleefully destroys lives under the guise of “helping people.” Deep down, Dylan knew he couldn’t avoid her forever, but he has been enjoying his life as a successful rock musician and he has no desire to be part of the family business. But with his older brother dead, Dylan’s mother expects him to return to the fold and take up the mantle of the family business. When Dylan sees Eamon, he knows his time is up.
Eamon doesn’t want to ruin Dylan’s life, but his own life hangs in the balance if he doesn’t succeed in getting the man home. Dylan’s mom does not take to failure lightly and many an enforcer has ended up dead for failing to meet her expectations. Eamon also doesn’t want to have to bite Dylan, but his mother was clear that Dylan come to her suffering from the effects of snake venom to keep him docile. Dylan is going along willingly enough, however — his mother is holding something over him that means he has no choice but to come home. Dylan will be ok as long as they don’t take too long getting from New Orleans to Vegas.
It is a long road trip and things are understandably tense between the men. However, as time passes, the connection between them begins to build. They start to become friends, and both have fantasies that it could be something more. Yet they also know that whatever may be flaring between them, they are both in a situation beyond their control, and getting together will only make things worse. Now Eamon and Dylan must face a powerful witch and see if they can both make it out alive.
The Rock Star’s Familiar is the third book in T.J. Nichols Familiar Mates series. The books all take place in a shared magical world, but each story stands alone and characters don’t overlap (or at least nothing beyond a quick cameo so far). The connection among them is that they each feature a witch/familiar bond, which forms when a shifter and a witch find each other as fated mates. I do think it would have been helpful for this story to recap a bit more what is involved in the witch/familiar connection, as it is explained in more detail in the first book. But overall, these stories all stand alone just fine and the books all have a slightly different tone, which I think works well. I also like that the books all have a suspense angle. In this case, it has to do with Dylan’s mom and her evil ways. We have this looming threat throughout the book, as both men know they are headed into danger but can’t stop it. I also like that each story has a different type of witch and magic and so the world building here is nicely done.
I love a non-traditional shifter, so I was excited to see this story features Eamon as a snake shifter. Snakes are not a common romance novel shifter, but Nichols really does a great job here of giving Eamon a lanky, languid sexual appeal. My favorite aspect of the story, in fact, is just how snake-like Eamon is. He has metallic green eyes (hence the sunglasses on the cover) and can detect heat signatures, rapid pulse, etc. He also has a habit of licking his lip to taste the air, like his animal counterpart (which also lets him know when Dylan is into him). So Nichols really does a great job incorporating the animal characteristics into the person in a way that totally works for the character. We also see how Eamon has a lot of self doubt because he is a snake shifter. He knows most people hate snakes and that he freaks a lot of people out. So it is hard for him to believe that Dylan would ever be interested in someone like him.
I am also a road trip story fan, so I found the set up here fun. For reasons, these guys must drive back to the Vegas rather than fly, and so they are stuck together for the duration. And yes, there is only one bed (of course). And a lot of urgency as Dylan has a potentially fatal snake bite from Eamon and his mother has one of the only antidotes (and no, I’m not totally clear why more people wouldn’t have the rattlesnake anti-venom). These guys start out as enemies, more built out of their forced circumstance than because of actual dislike. But both men also recognize that the other is in an impossible situation and so, despite the tension, there is also a sympathy of sorts. Of course, as Dylan and Eamon spend time together and get to know one another, they slowly form a connection. They each also begin to consider that they may be mates. But bonding would create even more risk and weakness in front of Dylan’s mother, so that isn’t an option. What I particularly enjoyed here is the dynamic between Eamon and Dylan, the banter and the way they interact. It made for an engaging story as they travel across the country. However, the romance end didn’t totally work for me. The whole story takes place in a few days and, while I could fully believe these guys really liked each other, I didn’t feel enough here to believe they had fallen in love. So the ending of the romance plot felt super rushed. I could believe a “yes, let’s see where this goes.” But there was not enough to sell me on a “we are already there.”
The story also has a fake relationship dynamic as Dylan pretends he and Eamon are boyfriends going on a cross country trip to see his family. He figures this acts as both an excuse for his manager about where he has gone so suddenly, but also provides an evidence trail as to where he is and who he is with if things go as bad as expected with his mom. So Dylan takes pictures for social media and pretends Eamon is his secret boyfriend. This part of the plot did fall a little flat for me, just because after the set up, it is sort of a non-issue for the story. It does work plot-wise, but the fact that they are pretending to be boyfriends doesn’t really have an impact on their road trip or how they interact or even on their relationship. So I think more could have been done with this part of the storyline.
I’ll also note that while Dylan is a famous musician and has left home to start his career, the fact that he is a rock star doesn’t have much impact on the story. We don’t hear much about his music or his band or anything else that is common in a rock star romance. We see one scene where some absurdly obsessive fans show up, but other than that, despite the fact that Dylan is supposedly well known, no one seems to recognize him, so him being famous doesn’t really impact the story. For me, this was totally fine and I didn’t miss it. But I mention it because if you are picking this book up for the “rock star” element, you may be a little disappointed.
Overall, this was another fun installment in this series. I have two more of of the books already in my queue and I am really looking forward to continuing on. If you enjoy magic, fated mates, interesting shifter stories, and a little bit of suspense, this series is definitely worth checking out.