“Do whatever you want with him, but leave him still able to hack when you’re done.” With these words, Brendan is given carte blanche to deal with the man who invaded his privacy, who hacked into his computer and spied on him in his time of grief and madness. The man he had kidnapped and given over to what remains of his mercy.
“I need you do this for me. And for him. Seduce him. Fuck him. Let him get a taste of life again!” How can Connor refuse the words of a lonely ghost, especially when Frankie is asking him to coax into bed is none other than Brendan Shyth, the brilliant pianist whose music brought Connor’s soul out of its darkest moments. And Brendan just so happens to be the man who had Connor kidnapped, stripped naked, and locked in the spare bedroom. So step one, introduction, is accomplished! And step two, get naked, too. Now he just needs to get Brendan to let down his shields enough to trust Connor.
This is the first book in the Gentlemen Hackers series, introducing a world where some members of an ethnic group can change hair color at will, give themselves hysterectomies, grow fingers, use telepathy and telekinesis, and see ghosts. Ghosts, in this world, aren’t insubstantial spirits; rather they’re just a person’s spiritual energy with no flesh to support them, like Frankie. Frankie was Brendan’s boy. For five years, they were everything to one another until an accident took Frankie’s life, leaving him unable to comfort his Daddy. Not only that, for the past three years he’s been all but invisible, unable to touch or be touched, to speak to Brendan or have his very existence validated in any way, shape, or form. It’s enough to drive him mad. But what hurts worst is watching the man he loves slowly kill himself with despair, having given up on everything.
Brendan isn’t actively suicidal, but he’s not exactly making an effort to stay alive. For the past three years, he’s been going through the motions, having shut himself in in house, moving from room to room with no real purpose. He hasn’t touched his piano, and carries Frankie’s vase — one of the last pieces of pottery he made — with him like a security blanket. He’s done the whole “drink your life away”, but that didn’t end up being fun. In a fit of madness, Brendan lost two fingers, which had to be regrown, and now his butler has orders to sedate him by force, if necessary, if he should get manic or self destructive again. And none of this is helped by the worry that he’s going mad as he can still hear Frankie’s voice in his head, and it’s tearing him apart.
Connor hadn’t meant to get in the middle of all this, and he hadn’t meant to cause Brendan any pain. He just wanted to watch the man who saved his life. Much like he watches the lives of all the people whose computers he’s hacked over the years. Having been hurt so badly in the past, Connor now simply watches. It’s as if he’s part of their lives, watching them as they go about their day-to-day affairs, pretending he’s not isolated and lonely in his small apartment. Frankie asking him for help, trusting that he can make things better for Brendan, and fucking his brains out — the man’s a ghost, but he’s solid enough to be felt, and so very good at making Connor feel every last touch — is flattering. No one’s ever noticed Connor enough to think he’d be useful.
Between Connor’s abandonment issues, Brendan’s grief and uncertainty having him go hot and cold and hot again every time he touches Connor, and Frankie’s jealousy and touch-starved, attention-starved three years, this is a very unbalanced triangle. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t really go into any effort to find a harmony between the three of them; instead, it’s just a happy ending with characters who get over their problems and traumas with a little sex (okay, a fair amount of sex) and some bland declarations of love.
The world building was a wave of a hand, a mention here and there, but I didn’t find that it really added any more to the story than a faint coating of frosting. In all the world only two countries have computer capabilities, and only one of them is sophisticated enough to have hackers. And Connor hacks the way I might walk. He hacks a phone, he hacks a bank, he does hacking. For as much of the weight of the story rests on this hacking thing, there’s no real sense of reality to it. It feels more like some magical afterthought.
For all that there were some ideas here and there that caught my attention, the story itself just didn’t deliver. The relationship felt bare bones and thin with easy answers to questions, and precious few questions were ever asked. The world building was lacking, and the characters themselves were brightly colored with little shade or nuance. However, that said, the writing was decent and the pace was fine. All in all, this is a harmless book, but not one I recommend.