Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 6 hours, 32 minutes
Three years ago, Garrett Hillier lost his husband and his Dom. Garrett still mourns Russell’s death and he has left his life as a high-powered attorney for a low-key solo practice and a quiet existence. That is until Aayan Denir strides into Garrett’s office looking to hire Garrett to represent Aayan’s brother, Syed, on a murder charge. Syed’s lover and submissive, Jamie, was brutally killed outside a club, and due to the nature of Jamie and Syed’s relationship, the police are accusing Syed of killing him.
Aayan had no idea his brother was into BDSM and he doesn’t really understand his relationship, but he does know that Syed cherished Jamie and there is no way Syed killed him. He also knows that Garrett is the right person for the job, Garrett having been famously outed as a submissive himself. Garrett is in a unique position to really understand the nature of Syed and Jamie’s relationship and help ensure that the consensual beatings and other pain play between them isn’t confused for the brutal and violent attack that led to Jamie’s death.
Although Garrett’s focus is on the trial, he can’t deny an immediate attraction to Aayan, one that Aayan returns. Aayan also is quite dominant and although he is fairly unfamiliar with BDSM, his natural desires are very in sync with Garrett’s. However, while Aayan is clear that he does enjoy the idea of a Dom/sub dynamic, he does not want to give Garrett pain, even though it is something that Garrett desperately craves. The chemistry between the men is electric, and their relationship is growing, but their differing desires are causing a serious stumbling block. Now Aayan and Garrett must figure out if there is a way to reconcile their desires and find a way to make the connection between them turn into something lasting.
Aftercare is the first book in Tanya Chris’ Ever After series. I have heard nothing but great things about these books (including Kris’ reviews), so when I heard that this first story was out in audio, I was eager to listen. And I have to say, I just loved this one. It is sexy and intense, with really interesting and well-developed characters in Garrett and Aayan.
The set up here is well done with an immediate conflict between the searing attraction between Garrett and Aayan, along with their divergent feelings about BDSM. Garrett is comfortable in his role as a submissive, and had a loving BDSM relationship with Russell. He has been missing that badly for the last three years. After Russell’s death, the nature of their relationship came out and Garrett was publicly outed as a submissive. Aayan had no idea his brother was into BDSM and finds himself somewhat horrified when learning about their pain play and the fact that Syed would hurt Jamie, even consensually. We learn about an experience in Aayan’s past that has made him wary about BDSM and led to him stifling his own dominant and sadistic desires. So even after Aayan comes to accept and better understand the nature of a Dom/sub relationship, he still struggles with his own discomfort about the pain play that Garrett really wants and needs. This leads to a conflict between the men as they both want each other badly and a relationship is forming, but it is unclear if they can ever be compatible in the way they both need.
Even as they work through this problem, the men are so good together. Aayan’s natural dominance is a perfect match for Garrett’s submission. They fit together so seamlessly and I loved the scenes where we see Garrett struggling under the pressure of the trial and Aayan so naturally stepping in to help him relieve that stress and anxiety. This story is super sexy and I loved the dynamic between the men. There is heat, but also a tenderness and understanding between them, as well as an honesty as they work through their feelings.
The other focus of the story is on Syed’s murder trial, and I think Tanya Chris does a great job of making this a compelling side plot and connecting it well with Aayan and Garrett’s journey, but also not letting it take over the story. The case blends well with what the men are working through personally, including Aayan’s evolving feelings and understanding about BDSM. At its heart, Syed is being accused because of a lack of understanding about how his sex life with Jamie differs from the abuse Jamie suffered when he was attacked. So there are some nice parallels to Aayan’s own confusion and growing understanding about BDSM. It is also a chance for Garrett to come into his own again after years of living a shadow life in the wake of Russell’s death. He finds that grit and strength again that comes from both Aayan’s support and his own confidence in taking charge of the case.
I also liked how the story explores Aayan’s Muslim faith and the role in plays in his journey. He feels a responsibility to be an example to others of a good Muslim man. He has accepted that his homosexuality will always be at odds with his religion, but he also wants to live a life of faith as much as possible. It is rare to get a Muslim lead in a romance novel so I appreciated that the story takes time to really explore Aayan’s faith and how it affects his feelings about himself, his past relationships, and his connection with Garrett.
I listened to this one in audio with narration by Joel Leslie and I really enjoyed it. The voices very much feel in sync with the characters and the dynamic between Aayan and Garrett really comes through in the narration. These are both complex and layered men and Leslie captures their nuances really well. Both Aayan and Syed speak with strong Indian accents and, while I am certainly not an expert on the authenticity, they felt right for the characters. While the men sound fairly similar, I was able to follow along in the scenes where they speak in conversation. The side characters get a nice differentiation and all work well, including Aayan’s ex-wife, whose no nonsense attitude comes through well in her narration. Overall, I found the character voices worked really well and added a lot to the story. I particularly liked the way Leslie captures Aayan in some of his moments of uncertainty. There are some great scenes where the men are just starting to explore a Dom/sub dynamic and Aayan is feeling out of his depth. It is so different from the usual confidence Aayan displays and Leslie really does a great job capturing those anxious asides and inner thoughts of being overwhelmed. It balances so well with the usual supreme confidence Aayan displays and gives some nice depth to the narration.
Overall, I really loved this story and couldn’t stop listening. Had I the time, I would have listened to this one straight through. The story is sexy and full of chemistry between the leads, but also explores some really interesting larger issues as well. We meet both the MCs for the next book in the series here and I am so eager to continue on in this world. I am definitely looking forward to checking out the next book when it arrives in audio.
[Note: After posting this review, I was reminded that Aayan and Syed’s mother is not from India, which explains why her accent differs from theirs. I have since removed that concern noted in my review and made a slight adjustment to the rating.]