Newton McEwen is a geneticist researching shifter genes and what causes them to express in some people and not others. Though the research has broad scientific implications, as the only non-shifter in his family, Newton has a personal interest in the research as well. Unfortunately, Newton is grinding away without much success, while also teaching college classes. When he is approached by a company looking to hire him, Newton isn’t interested in the job. But they aren’t taking no for an answer, and when they start making threats to not only Newton, but to his younger sister as well, it is clear Newton is facing some serious trouble.
The only person Newton wants to turn to is his best friend, Colin Kimball. The guys haven’t seen much of each other in the past year, as Colin recently went through some major upheaval in his pack, leaving him the new alpha. But when Newton is need, Colin is ready to drop everything to be by his side.
When the company puts a deadline on Newton’s results or else they will carry through on their threats, Newton knows his traditional research methods aren’t going to cut it. Newton decides to make himself a test subject to help speed things along. He needs something to help jump start his shifter genetics, so he decides to put himself in a situation where his instincts might kick in. That means he needs some help from Colin, in an up-close-and-personal way.
Newton is surprised by the way he responds to Colin, someone he loves as a friend, but has never thought about as anything more. In fact, Newton is finding himself craving that connection with Colin in ways he never expected, and he worries about how it will affect their friendship. Now Colin and Newton have to figure out how to work through their sudden attraction, all while staying one step ahead of the blackmailer’s attempt to claim Newton’s research.
The Alpha Experiment is the third book in Eliot Grayson’s Mismatched Mates series (or the fifth book if you count the novellas, A Very Armitage Christmas and First Blood). While we meet Colin earlier in the series, this book very much stands alone and could easily be read by someone not familiar with the rest of the books. In fact, while taking place in the larger series world, this book is very much a character-driven story with an almost exclusive focus on Colin and Newton’s developing relationship. It really brings an intensity to the friends-to-lovers story and if that is a favorite trope, I think this book is really going to appeal. We are so connected with these men throughout the process. Colin is the first person Newton thinks to go to when he needs help, and despite being busy with his pack, Colin drops everything to be there to protect Newton from the threats. Grayson does a nice job showing the comfort these men have with each other, and the playful friendship that carried them through many years. As the guys start adding a sexual element to their relationship, there is great chemistry and a real sense of finding something right between them. While Newton is pretty oblivious to his own feelings, as well as to Colin’s (which readers will likely notice faster than Newton), the connection between them is really clear. There is also great heat and a sexy dynamic between them I really enjoyed.
The other side of this focus on the relationship means that there isn’t much here in terms of the larger world of the series. The Kimball pack was the major adversary in the first two novels and Colin taking over as alpha really transformed them. However, here we see nothing of his life as alpha, of the pack, or of that larger world. While this book definitely feels grounded in the series world building, we see almost none of it in the story. The book is also exclusively in Newton’s POV, which I think works well for the relationship part of the story, but it leaves us with next to nothing about Colin outside of his connection to Newton. I was so engrossed in their relationship that I found I didn’t really miss it until the book was over and I realized that I wanted more of Colins’ story, particularly after reading the other books. He is a fascinating character, and honestly, Newton’s love interest could have been anyone without the book changing almost at all. So it left me feeling like a bit of a missed opportunity to really get to know this interesting character.
The other area I felt was undeveloped is the threat facing Newton. As the story starts, it seems very serious with the bad guys threatening not just Newton’s job, but Colin’s reputation, and Newton’s sister’s life. Yet despite the set up, this threat pretty much dies down to almost nothing right away and, by the end, fizzles out as sort of a non-issue. It felt like the set up is purely to get Newton to push the boundaries of his research and lead into the relationship development, but otherwise plays no real role in the story. Given how exciting and intense the other books are with big battles and magical fights and dangerous enemies, I was expecting more of the same here with that set up. But again, it felt a bit of a missed opportunity and not much comes of this supposedly huge threat.
I think what carries this story and made me love it despite my issues is the wonderful relationship development for Colin and Newton. The story really focuses in on the friends-to-lovers dynamic and this is so sweet and sexy and really engaging. I loved these guys together and their relationship really carried the story for me.
P.S. As part of the attempt to jump start Newton’s latent shifter genes, the guys simulate a “mate hunt” that role plays a forced mating situation. This is planned and entirely consensual, but be aware if this is a trigger area for you.