Story Rating: 2.75 stars
Audio Rating: 3.5 stars

Narrator: Antony Ferguson
Length: 9 hours, 18 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Seb hadn’t thought that his best friend Jared’s relationship with his shifter lover would end up being his problem, but somehow, that’s exactly what happened. Having moved into Jared’s old apartment, now that Jared is living with Nathan and and his Pack, Seb expected to simply get on with his life. But shifters — whether from the rival pack or rogue shifters — have taken an interest in Seb, leaving gouges in his front door, stalking him, leaving their scent everywhere, and, on a night when he’s had one drink too many, frightening Seb enough that he falls down the stairs to the detriment of an ankle and wrist.

The fall happens while Seb is on the phone with Jared and Nathan, who, understandably, are a bit upset. Since Jared views Seb as his family, Jared’s new pack does, too. Which means growly shifters angry that Seb’s being harassed and Tim, a handsome pack doctor, tending to his injuries. In order to keep random shifters away from Seb’s door, someone gets the bright idea to have Tim and Seb pretend to be in a relationship, showing everyone that Seb is under pack protection. (Also because the fake relationship worked so well with Jared and Nathan, who are still in the honeymoon phase of their now very real relationship.)

Seb isn’t Jared, though. He has no intention of falling in love.

Bitten by Design is the second book in the Regent’s Park Pack series, and it really helps to have read the first book before giving this one a try. This book doesn’t do as much to explain the way shifters work in this world, what the fated bond is, or why paperwork becomes an important issue later on on in the story. It would also help as many nuances of the plot are carry overs from Bitten By Mistake.

Tim is, for a shifter, mild mannered and docile. He’s a good guy who gets along with everyone — and not just because he’s a doctor. He honestly cares for all of the members of his pack, even the prickly ones, and will do what’s best for the pack without thinking about himself. Tim is also desperately in love with Seb, having met him while helping Jared in the first book. Given the opportunity to live with Seb, to touch him and mark him and, as far as the rival pack knows, claim him pushes every possessive, needy button Tim has. Even knowing Seb doesn’t want him, knowing this will probably all end up with him having a broken heart, Tim has to try. Having happiness for a moment is better than never having it, and you never know. Maybe he can win Seb over? Or so I’m told by every character who wants to talk to Seb about how mean he’s being by not loving Tim back.

My problem is that Tim doesn’t really try to win Seb over. There’s a bit of seduction and some friendliness, but I never really get the feeling that Tim is obsessed with Seb. He just wants to be in love, and it feels more as if he’s in love with the idea of being in love and it’s the fact that Seb is attractive, unavailable, and willing to fuck that makes Tim go gooey in the knees. Everyone treats this relationship as if it’s going to hurt Tim, to break him irreparably, but I got the feeling that Tim was pretty okay with whatever outcome came about. That he’d be sad, and then he’d get past it.

Seb and Jared both have issues with shifters. Jared was hurt by a shifter boyfriend, and Seb is both envious of and a little turned on by their strength, all while thinking they’re entitled assholes who think they’re something special (though they’re not treated by society as anything worthy of even human rights, so that opinion of Seb’s seemed a little off key). Seb is more disinclined to be with a shifter lover because he sees how Jared is with Nathan, sees how utterly he is subsumed by this mystic soul bond, changing everything about himself to better suit Nathan. That devotion, that single-minded need … it’s not something Seb wants.

He’s fine with a friends with benefits relation with Tim. The sex is good, Seb likes the doctor, but he’s not into him. Not really. Personally, it seemed like Seb was just having a good time. He never once hid that this was just sex, for him. Never tried to make it seem like anything more. He even told Tim that he didn’t want a soul bond, that it made him uncomfortable. The two of them seemed to be on, more or less, the same page. Fake a relationship, have some fun, maybe see what develops. If only Tim’s pack didn’t keep trying to put the pressure on both of them to make it something more.

And then there’s the plot, which is hinted at, but is mostly used as the excuse to get Tim and Seb into bed with one another. Nothing much happens beyond the flirting, sex, and attempts to guilt the couple into falling in love until the inciting incident that is supposed to change Seb’s mind. Explanations — which will spoil the plot — are below.

The title of this book, Bitten by Design, should already give readers a fair idea of what happens. When shifters bite someone, there’s a chance they’ll turn into a shifter (and I like that this book makes it clear that there’s a chance it won’t work). Obviously the idea of being bitten is going to come up, and it does. Seb wants to be bitten so that he can be stronger and faster, so that he can heal faster and help protect those he loves. It’s a good reason to ask to be bitten; it fits his character and it works within the world already presented in the two books. And then … the author wipes it away. No, Seb can’t have real reasons for wanting to be bitten, he has to be in love, he has to want the fated mate bond that goes with the bite, too, for reasons. And it completely undid all the growth and absolutely killed my interest in the story. Add to that the reason behind Seb’s initial desire to change is one I absolutely loathe: Seb’s sister is coming to visit, gets kidnapped, and because Seb is afraid for his sister and too injured to help look for her, he wants to become a shifter. He wants to protect those he loves, to be part of a pack — a pack he’s coming to appreciate and want to belong to because of his relationship with Tim and Jared — and he wants to be able to be a partner to Tim. Seb has his moment of growth, and so his sister no longer has to fulfill the woman in a refrigerator trope so, off screen and with nary a line of dialogue, she’s freed and fine and the world can keep turning. Tim being in peril would have made more sense; one of the other pack members who have been putting themselves on the line to help protect Seb would make more sense. A sister out of nowhere makes none.

The epilogue has Seb asking Tim … so what about the shifters who were threatening me and caused all of this fuss and nonsense? And what about the pack politics that had us having to pretend to be together so I didn’t die? And Tim sums it all up in a happy little exposition dump. The end. I don’t mind plots happening off screen so that a relationship can be the star of the show, but the way in which it was done here just killed any and all enthusiasm for this story or its sequels.

I listened to the audio version of this book with Antony Ferguson, who also narrated the first book in the series. As before, I have trouble connecting with his delivery. It’s hard to tell the voices apart, and his very deliberate pacing is too slow for my personal taste. He also has a very even, pleasant delivery which — for me — makes it hard to focus on the story itself. It’s a little like listening to someone on a meditation app, or NPR. It’s a very nice voice to listen to, but I need a more dynamic narrator in audio books for my brain to be able to be engaged in the story. Different people respond differently to different narrators, but, personally, I just don’t think Ferguson’s style is one that works for me. I’d be very interested to hear him do nonfiction, though.

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