Note: Chicken Soup Dom is a direct follow up from Kitchen Sink Dom where the characters are investigating Arlo’s disappearance. As this is Arlo’s story, this book and review will spoil the basics of what happened to him. Also, be aware that this story does describe a past abusive situation with an on-page scene in the prologue. Arlo also has issues with his weight and disordered eating that appear on page.
Arlo wanted a Master and he thought he was getting his dream when he signed a contract and boarded a bus to Pennsylvania to meet a stranger. Arlo thought a Master would cherish and care for him, but instead, he has ended up unloved and kept in a cage. Still, when a private investigator shows up and frees Arlo, he is not quite sure why he is being “rescued.” Arlo isn’t particularly enjoying being with his new Master, but he figures this is what he should expect, and maybe if he was a better submissive, things would be easier.
Arlo isn’t really sure what’s next for him now that he has been removed from Master’s home, as he has no place else to go. His parents don’t want him, and since he turned 18 during his months in captivity, he is now legally an adult. Arlo feels stressed and anxious and the one person who makes him feel better is Officer Cade Brixby, one of the men involved in helping to find Arlo. He would love to stay with Brixby, but while the man makes Arlo feel safe, he also doesn’t seem to want to keep him.
Brixby feels a pull toward Arlo as well, and finds himself very protective over the man. But Arlo is six years younger, just escaped an abusive situation, and really has no idea what a safe and consensual Dom/sub relationship should look like. Brixby knows his job is to take care of Arlo and help him recover, and that means keeping his hands off until Arlo is back on his feet. But Arlo makes it clear he very much wants to be with Brixby and doesn’t make it easy to keep things strictly as friends. Brixby is also dealing with professional problems, as his boss at the Boston PD wants to close the case on the kidnapped subs and turn it over to the FBI. But Brixby and the rest of the group who found Arlo aren’t ready to let things go, especially since they still haven’t caught the man preying on subs outside their local club.
As the men grow closer, Arlo and Brixby find themselves falling for one another. But Brixby is still struggling with whether getting involved with Arlo is a good idea. And for his part, Arlo worries why Brixby doesn’t seem to want to be with him. At the same time, both men are putting themselves at risk as they continue to investigate the kidnappings, and they must hope to catch the bad guy before he gets another victim.
Chicken Soup Dom is the second book in Tanya Chris’ Hell’s Bedroom series. As I mentioned, this one follows directly on the heels of Kitchen Sink Dom and the aftermath of the investigation to find Arlo. The main focus of the story is on the personal aftermath for Arlo and the developing relationship between him and Brixby. There is an obvious conflict built in right from the start in that Arlo is young, traumatized, and really unaware of what an ethical Dom/sub relationship should look like. He was not happy living with his Master, but he also assumes that the way he was treated was normal and that any disappointment is due to his own failure. In reality, he was physically and mentally abused, kept caged, and near starved. He left home because his parents were neglectful and he felt unloved and he hoped that finding a Master would change all of that. So Arlo is now not only physically recovering, but mentally he doesn’t fully understand what was wrong with the situation he has been rescued from.
Arlo kind of imprints on Brixby when he sees him at the hospital and he wants to stay with him. Arlo also almost immediately wants Brixby to be his new Master. Brixby not only is a Dom, versus a Master, but he also knows that Arlo isn’t anywhere near ready for that kind of relationship. He needs to better understand that he is allowed to express his own preferences and needs and that he should expect someone to honor them. On top of that, Arlo just turned 18, has no job or place to live, and is essentially dependent on Brixby, so there is a dependency dynamic there that makes Brixby concerned. Despite that, Arlo is very determined to be with Brixby and he has trouble understanding why Brixby doesn’t seem to want him. Brixby is very drawn to Arlo, but he knows all the reasons that being with him sexually is a bad idea. He holds Arlo off and tries to keep distance, but it is difficult. Brixby wants to respect Arlo’s choices, but he also isn’t sure he is in a state to make them.
I think Tanya Chris does a nice job setting up this conflict and really showing all the competing emotions from both men. I think the story takes time to show Arlo finding himself and gaining some independence, as well as a better understanding of what the Dom/sub relationship should be like. So I think this idea is well explored over the course of the story and things develop throughout the book. But the relationship still happens quickly in real time and when I thought about how little time had passed from the when Arlo is rescued until the men are together, it seemed very fast. There is a lot of time when Arlo seems quite childlike and to have trouble really understanding the situation he was in or why it was wrong. So while I do think Chris does a great job exploring the issues and showing the Brixby really contemplating the situation, I feel like Arlo needed more time and probably a lot of therapy before I could really believe he was ready for everything with Brixby. All that said, there is a lovely sweetness between the men with a nice caretaking vibe and I did enjoy the dynamic between them.
On the investigative side, things are more low key here as the group is focusing on figuring out who is luring the subs into signing a contract and selling them to Masters. Where the first book was a little more hard hitting in terms of the investigation, here it is more in the background. But we do finally learn what happened the night Arlo was taken and who was involved. There is another book coming, so I assume that will deal with the court case and aftermath. I am finding the suspense element a nice addition to the series and a great way to bring all the players together to interact and work as a group.
Overall, I found this a nice installment to the series. I think there is sweet dynamic between Arlo and Brixby and I ended up liking them together. Arlo’s recovery and their developing relationship felt too fast for me and I wished there had been more time to really see Arlo’s better understanding of the way a good relationship should function before he and Brixby ended up together. But I enjoyed the story and am having fun following along with this engaging group of characters.