Gus owns the Rainbow Room, the premiere hangout for LGBTQ paranormals. He keeps to himself, after a very long life. No one really knows him and Gus needs to keep it that way. So the last thing he expects, when a regular walks in with his brother, is to find his mate. But there’s no doubt in Bear Hickes’ aura. Bear is the one fated for Gus.
Bear has been in a rough place since his twin brother got married. He’s used to being attached at the hip to his twin, so even though he’s very happy for Elk, Bear is having a tough time. He’s even more reclusive than usual, and he’s lost the spark for his art. Which is why he lets his brother, Whimsy, drag him out to the Rainbow Room, and why he goes back the following week. He wants to get Whimsy off his back. Speaking with Gus gives Bear a lot to think about, and he’s struck with the idea to propose a fake relationship with Gus in order to mess with Whimsy.
Gus reluctantly agrees. He knows Bear is his mate, but in order to keep Bear safe, Gus doesn’t reveal that fact. Besides, Gus thinks a friendship between them is all well and good, even if Gus knows they can never truly be mates. But the chemistry between them is undeniable, and the fake dates quickly turn into the real thing.
But there are sinister forces at work, and someone will stop at nothing to get to Gus. Using Bear as a lure is an easy way to do just that. But Gus has already stumbled across Marden’s Magic Emporium and he might just have thing that can save them both.
Okay, first things first. This book is part of the Magic Emporium collection, a shared world series written by multiple authors, which can all be read as standalones as they only have Marden’s Magic Emporium as a connecting factor. This book is also part of the authors’ Asheville Arcana Universe (under the pen name Ari McKay). As it relates to the Magic Emporium books, this works as a standalone. But as to the larger Asheville Arcana Universe, I’m not so sure. Throughout the book, I felt as though I was missing key elements of stories that clearly came before. And while the authors made a passable attempt at filling in the gaps, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d have a better grasp of the universe at large had I read any of the Asheville Arcana series. As the secondary characters are clearly MCs from other books, my brain was constantly trying to fill in pieces and I felt consistently that I was missing larger bits of the story.
That being said, this is the story about Gus and Bear, how they meet and fall in love, and how the Magic Emporium plays a role. I really liked both MCs, and the baggage they carried. Gus, in particular, was intriguing as he had multiple, solid reasons for keeping his distance. There definitely needed to be a suspension of disbelief that he would go along with Bear’s suggestion for a fake relationship, especially because he was so insistent to himself that he would not and could not claim his mate. But if you’re able to roll with that, then the story has it’s merit.
Both Gus and Bear have their own issues, but as they talk and get to know one another, it’s clear that they fit. I thought the authors did a good job of making the connection feel like more than fate, as in it wasn’t just the fact that they were fated mates that made them work. They both learn and grow as the story goes on, and come to care for each other a great deal. Of course, Gus is keeping not one, but two huge secrets that aren’t revealed until Bear is in peril. One one hand, I thought this was handled well and worked for the most part. On the other, however, I was frustrated with the lack of communication and wanted more and wanted it earlier than it ended up happening. It was easy to watch them fall in love throughout the story, but I felt as if the forgiveness came a little too easily.
On the whole, the story was decent, but to be honest, it didn’t completely work for me. It felt like there was too much backstory I wasn’t privy to having not read the authors’ other series of books, and it required a little too much suspension of disbelief at times. As much as I liked the MCs and watching them fall in love, and the light suspense storyline threaded through, I had issues with the lack of communication between them.