After having witnessed some politically powerful people commit murder in cold blood, Gabe is set to be the star witness in the upcoming trial. To keep him safe, the police convince Gabe to leave his comfortable life, adorable pets, and doting sister and enter witness protection. As if leaving his life behind were not bad enough, he’s forced to leave on a moment’s notice; neither he nor the shack of a cabin he’s to live in are prepared for winter. Thankfully, there’s a diner and grocer in town. Too bad Gabe’s sartorial options leave him feeling frumpy and fat. A little comfort food would go a long way, but Gabe is too self-conscious about shopping at the store when he realizes how attractive the clerk is. Not to mention he’ll only be in town for a short period and he very much needs to keep a low profile.
Chris has never minded running the town’s only grocery store virtually all by himself. But then a big, handsome newcomer named Gabe shyly enters his store. Chris is immediately drawn to the man, but his heart really goes out to him when Chris learns that Gabe is staying in the tiny cabin in the woods—a place typically offered to survivors of domestic abuse. Chris takes it upon himself to help Gabe get settled. He’ll just have to figure out how to keep his growing attraction to Gabe under wraps; the last thing Chris wants to do is add to the stress of the situation. All his best intentions vanish when Chris realizes Gabe feels the same attraction. Chris has his work cut out for him, trying to convince Gabe to give them a chance. Things quickly snap into perspective when Chris thinks Gabe is in danger. But not even the threat of murder will make it easy for Gabe to accept Chris’s feelings.
Pet Delivery is a short, contemporary get-together story by Ofelia Gränd. It seems to be part of Gränd’s Up North series, which are billed as standalone books all taking place in or around the same general area. Overall, I think Pet Delivery works fine as a standalone. Characters from other books in the series have cameos towards the end. My main quibble with this is that these characters literally make their first appearance only as and when it’s expedient for the plot. It was jarring for me to see how the climactic scene gets shared among virtually unknown characters, but maybe that’s just on me. On the plus side, I was intrigued by the clear indication of a major unrequited love/love triangle situation going on with some of these extras. And of course, fans of the series will love seeing the other characters jump into the action.
One of the biggest themes in the book is Gabe and his self perception. The character struggles with weight-related issues. I thought Gränd captured at least one kind of fat experience very well (mostly because it mimics my own): comfort eating, guilt over how much he’s eaten, hiding his eating, self-flagellation (or maybe it’s just depression) for his body size, and feelings of worthlessness. Gabe doesn’t just express these qualities, he weaves them into how he sees the world and how he’s convinced the world sees him. At the same time, he’s more than just his fat experience. Gabe loves his two pet cats deeply and he has a strong relationship with his sister. He also seems to be great at his job, though I didn’t understand if he was a vet or just worked in some other capacity with animals.
Apart from the drama of being in witness protection, there’s also the romance that blooms between Gabe and Chris. It has a lot of slow burn qualities to it. Gabe is wary of admitting, much less acting on, his attraction to Chris because of his self-esteem. Chris is reluctant to pursue Gabe because Chris knows it’s usually only domestic violence survivors who stay in the cabin—a situation that doesn’t change a great deal when Chris finds out Gabe is actually in witness protection. I think that having the narration flipping between Chris and Gabe really helps readers enjoy/appreciate the slow realization that each man’s attraction is not one-sided.
In the angst column, there is a bit of Gabe questioning Chris’s intent. Gabe worries he’s just all kinds of convenient: only temporarily in the area, seemingly the only gay man around, desperate. In Chris’s narration, though, I felt there was nothing but true attraction and desire on his part. There are a few comments/exchanges about Gabe’s size in intimate situations, so no part of Gabe’s fears go unaddressed. My only disappointment with how Gabe’s size is addressed in the book is when Chris and Gabe’s sister insist Gabe is not fat, though denying body size is just a “trigger” for me (i.e. if you tell me I am not fat, I know you are lying…so what else are you lying about). It didn’t seem to affect Gabe, though.
On the whole, Pet Delivery was a sweet get-together story. After the scene gets set, the bulk of the story feels like it revolves around the dance between Gabe and Chris. It’s easy to put the whole “Gabe is in witness protection” on the back burner most of the time—never far from the main event and still bubbling along…but, you know, a little separated. That said, there are enough little incidents to remind the reader that Gabe is in danger. When Chris gets a mysterious delivery, Gabe cannot be reached by phone, or a stranger comes into town asking about new residents are a few examples. The ending is a bit chaotic with the action unfolding on page and the sudden appearance of seemingly everyone else in this series. Nevertheless, readers who enjoy slow burns, unrequited love, nontraditional main characters, and maybe some intense second-hand shame (it me!), but all with a happily ever after, will enjoy this book.