Rating: 4.5 stars
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Burke hit rock bottom, clawed his way back up, and is now trying to make amends and repair his life. Part of that is the control he finds in being a Dom. Burke’s trained, he’s meticulous, and he executes scenes perfectly. So it rankles when, in order to join the local club, he’s assigned a mentor who has to approve him before he can become a member. He bristles even more when he finds out that mentor is Wander. Not only because their one prior meeting didn’t go great, but also because Burke is straight.
Wander takes Burke on because he’s the only one who can. But he can tell right away that Burke is hiding something. Burke does, in fact, perform scenes meticulously. But Burke isn’t being completely honest. and he certainly isn’t opening up to Wander. But Wander isn’t giving up on Burke, though he definitely won’t approve him until he figures out what’s going on.
In the meantime, the owner of the club, Jesse, is receiving troubling and threatening messages. Wander and his team take on the job, and move into Jesse’s home to both protect and investigate. It’s in the house that Wander and his team find a little of what they’ve been looking for in their personal lives: a place to be themselves, out in the open, in a communal setting.
But things go sideways for Burke, and when he needs a place to stay, he takes up Wander on his offer to crash with him. The closer the two men get, the more Wander realizes that Burke might not be straight. And even more than that, might not be the Dom he purports himself to be. As the threats heat up, and Wander and the team get closer to figuring out what’s going on with Jesse, Burke also has a breakthrough about who he is and what he wants. And Wander is more than willing to give it to him, for as long as Burke will let him. And when the dust settles, Wander and his men get the opportunity to live the way they’ve wanted. Wander is more than willing, with Burke at his side.
No Surrender is a spin off from Phoenix’s popular No Shame series. While it’s not technically necessary to have read the books in that series before this one, it’s definitely helpful. Both MCs are introduced in that series, as well as some backstory for both of them. This is particularly true with Burke, as it really give some insight into his growing up from a different perspective. It definitely adds something extra to have read the No Shame series, especially because, for me, it heightened the anticipation for this book, wanting to see Wander’s story in particular.
This is classic Phoenix in that it’s high heat, high kink, and full of good guys who have created their own family. Wander owns and operates a personal security firm, and has hired and surrounded himself with like-minded men. They are dedicated to the job, will do it well, but also are very much kinky, into BDSM, and not shy about it. He’s created a family and he wants nothing more than what Indy and his men (from the No Shame series) have: a home where they can live and love openly together. And as serious as Wander is about his job, he’s just as serious about his role as a dominant and mentor. He pushes Burke, while also supporting him. I really liked Wander and his no nonsense attitude about everything. He’s dominant to his core, and that carries in all aspects of his life. But he also doesn’t put up with anything but the truth. He walked a fine line with Burke, pushing him without going too far, to finally get to the bottom of things and help Burke see his truth.
And Burke, oh this character broke my heart. He had a rough childhood and he’s made some bad choices in his life. There’s no doubting that. But now that he’s turned things around and he’s really trying, he keeps getting kicked while he’s down. I think the author did a really great job of showing how Burke has encased himself into a certain persona just for his own protection, but as starts to feel really safe with Wander, he’s able to let go of what he thinks he should be and explore who he is. I liked watching his transformation and was rooting for him the whole time.
Burke also gets a redemption arc. If you read No Fear, you know he did something that was pretty crappy to his brother Blake. And readers also got a taste of how his actions as a child caused his brother, Brad, to be mostly ignored. But now we get see Burke’s side of things, where his head is at, and just how sorry he is for what’s happened in the past. And here’s where I get mad on Burke’s behalf, because both Blake and Brad seem dismissive of Burke, and Brad is downright rude, and I thought it was completely unfair and uncalled for. I won’t go into too many details to avoid spoilers, but ultimately, now that we have all three sides of what happened then and now, we can see where each brother is coming from. However, I truly believe that Burke doesn’t deserve the way he’s treated by his brothers, which serves to push Burke further down, and I was very glad Wander felt the same way and was there for Burke.
In addition to the romance and the healing storyline, there’s also the mystery of who is after Jesse and why. Here I thought there was a bit of a twist on the predictable antagonist, and that Phoenix did a good job of laying out clues and ramping up the tension in a believable way. It was a balanced counterpoint to the romance storyline. Though nothing truly groundbreaking or surprising here, it was well done.
Phoenix does a great job with the secondary characters here as well. We can see it’s absolutely a set up for the series and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where she takes things with these guys next. We get to know a few of the team members, as well as Jesse and the PI brought in to help, so there’s plenty to look forward to.