Rating: 4.25 stars
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Note: The White House Men series has an overarching suspense plot that ties throughout the books. These stories need to be read in order and the suspense plot builds from one book to the next. Therefore, this review has some spoilers of events from earlier books.
The last few months have been rough for Kenn Shafer. His father went from being vice president to suddenly becoming President of the United States when the former president was killed. And then Kenn’s mother died, in what is looking increasingly like a murder, and Kenn is grieving the loss of the person with whom he was the closest. His dad is doing all he can to be there for Kenn, but between his own grief and trying to run the country, he doesn’t have a lot of time for him. The only thing that is holding Kenn together is the relationship with his tutor, Warrick Duvall. Not only does Warrick challenge Kenn intellectually, but he is a comfort to Kenn emotionally.
After being fired from his last teaching job for being gay, Warrick is happy for the opportunity to serve as Kenn’s tutor. Working in the White House is both exciting and overwhelming, but Kenn is a smart and engaging student and the two really click. Warrick also finds himself feeling protective over Kenn, as it is clear the young man is struggling and needing comfort and care. Warrick is happy to be there for Kenn and their relationship is bringing out a new protective side of Warrick.
As the men spend more time together, it is clear that there is more between them than just the feelings of teacher and student. Kenn is finally putting some clarity to what he wants out of a relationship — not just to be a submissive, but to be in a Daddy/boy relationship. And Warrick is really reveling in exploring a new side of himself that seems to fit just perfectly with Kenn. But the situation isn’t without complications. Kenn has no experience at all with dating or sex, let alone any kind of kink relationship. Not to mention that the pair are teacher and student, and that Kenn’s father is the president. But the connection between the two men is really strong, and if they can be open about what they both want and need, Kenn and Warrick could find something really special together.
I have been looking forward to Kenn’s book ever since we met him earlier in the series and saw the writing on the wall with him and Warrick. This story is so sweet and lovely as Kenn finds exactly what he needs from this relationship. Phoenix sets things up well, taking us back a couple of months to when the men first start working together and then to Kenn’s mother’s death. The story overlaps nicely with the events of the some past books and gives us Kenn’s perspective on some things we have already seen. I think it works well because the other books feature men who are right at the forefront of the bombing investigation and part of the president’s friendship inner circle, and so this book takes us a bit outside that. We can also see the toll the assassination and his mother’s death are taking on Kenn, and the poor man is really hurting. He is very much like his mother and she was his support and now he is floundering. So it is really lovely to watch the relationship develop between Kenn and Warrick, first as a friendship and a support system, and then later growing into a romantic one. There is a sweet Daddy/boy dynamic between them and we see Kenn really settle into himself after so much struggle. I did want to see a little more of the attraction and the romantic feelings between them, as at times they seemed drawn to each other primarily because the caretaking dynamic made them a good fit. But the book clearly settles into a romantic, emotional, sexual, and Daddy/boy vibe and I really enjoyed this pair together.
While the book is very much Kenn and Warrick’s story, there is also a strong ensemble cast here and we get POVs from many of the larger circle of characters. It works well, first because there is a nice camaraderie among these characters and a strong friendship among the group that now Kenn and Warrick are a part of as well. It also works nicely because neither Kenn nor Warrick are directly involved in the larger suspense plot, so rather than having all that progress come second hand, we get POVs from the various other characters who are part of the investigation. While the case is more of the background in this story, Phoenix does advance things nicely and we have some breakthroughs here that set things up for more in future books.
The only downside for me in this large ensemble is I continue to feel like these guys at times cross lines in their personal and professional relationships. In this case, I found it odd how much Warrick involves Del in his son’s sex life. I totally get why, as Kenn’s tutor (and with Del as his boss), Warrick talks to Del before the guys start dating or exploring anything. But I don’t understand why he needs to get Del’s approval before starting a Daddy/boy dynamic with Kenn. While Kenn may be Warrick’s “boy,” he is still a grown man and does his father have any business needing to be told about, let alone approving of this type of relationship? I can let some of this stuff go (like Asher advising Coulson about fisting Seth) because this is a group of close friends who are open about their sex lives. But I feel like sometimes there are weird lines crossed and needing to get approval from Del about their relationship dynamic (especially before Warrick even discusses it with Kenn) felt weird to me.
Anyway, that is a tiny thing and certainly didn’t impact my overall enjoyment of this book. I am really likings this series and think Phoenix is doing a great job combining the romantic side of things with the suspense plot. I love the nice camaraderie and sense of friendship among these guys and am looking forward to finding out whose book is coming next!