Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrator: Greg Boudreaux
Length: 6 hours, 43 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

In the 90 odd years Casimir Moreau has been a vampire, he’s yet to find joy or even contentment in his eternal life. A silent film actor with an ingrained talent for the dramatic, Cas was seduced by his sire’s promises of glamour, freedom, and becoming one of the elite few. Instead, he’s found vampire existence to be shallow, pretentious, and restrictive in the extreme. His almost century’s worth of rebellious acts have put him in the bad graces of the Vampire Council and left him vulnerable to his nemesis, so when he’s framed for a heinous act, the council is quick to believe him guilty. In a final act of “charity,” the council arranges a contracted marriage via Supernatural Selection with Quentin Bertrand-Harrington, an incubus from an appropriately affluent and powerful family, in the belief that the stability of marriage and contact with a high-society family will curb Cas’ recklessness and teach him proper decorum and respect. As his options are marriage or being staked in the sun, Cas grudgingly goes along.

From the moment it became apparent that beaver shifter Elmer “Rusty” Johnson couldn’t shift, his clan and most of his loved ones treated him as lesser, an embarrassment and an annoyance to be tolerated, so he shouldn’t have been surprised when his longtime boyfriend tells him he’ll be getting married to someone else in a month…after letting Rusty build “their” dream home. Angry, hurt, and done with being dismissed by his clan, Rusty refuses to show up to the wedding heartbroken and alone, so he signs up for a marriage contract with Supernatural Selection, seeing his paring as a way to get space from his clan and start fresh. He can’t help feeling doubly rejected and dejected after his intended is married off to Cas’ would-be groom instead. When Cas suggests the two of them get married temporarily so that he doesn’t get into more trouble with the council and Rusty has a partner/shield for the wedding, Rusty reluctantly agrees.

While to everyone else they shouldn’t work, the men fit and find a comfort and safety with each other that neither has experienced with anyone, especially with their kind. As the end of their time together draws near, each man questions if they can forgo the connection they’ve found. However as Cas’ situation with the council worsens and external forces seek to keep them in their proper places, being together may not be in their future.

Vampire With Benefits is the second book in the Supernatural Selection trilogy and takes place during the same two-week time span Quentin and Ted spend together in the previous book, Single White Incubus. It works well as a standalone, for while the specifics of the contract snafu aren’t explained in detail, I think Rusty and Cas get enough information for the listener to follow. Similar to Single White Incubus, the heart of the quick bonding Cas and Rusty experience is from finding someone who appreciates qualities that make them outsiders from their respective groups and helps them feel comfortable with who they are. Cas hates being a vampire; there’s been nothing that eternal life has given him that makes up for all the big and little experiences of being human that he lost. Moreover, he’s free-spirited, independent, and impulsive, so having his life scrutinized and managed by anyone other than himself, especially beings whose existence is steeped in rules, hierarchy, and appearances, is galling and causes him to rebel against everything—even to his detriment.

As an inactive shifter, Rusty has built his life on quiet acceptance and putting his clan’s feelings and well-being above his own in order to be tolerated if he can’t be wanted. This is epitomized by his relationship with his ex and next clan leader, Fletcher, because as terrible as Fletcher behaves in the few scenes he’s in, there is no way he wasn’t always a selfish, entitled, and cruel jerk throughout his and Rusty’s relationship—a relationship they’ve been in since they were teenagers, but wasn’t acknowledged. However, Rusty has spent most of his life being devalued and dismissed, so living on the scraps of Fletcher’s (presumed) affection felt normal to him; he’s also very honorable and accommodating, making it even easier for Fletcher and the clan to take advantage of him. The romance between Cas and Rusty is really sweet and affirming for them as Cas helps Rusty see his value and Rusty allows Cas to drop his cultivated, aloof jerk persona.

Like in most paranormal stories I’ve read, vampires and shifters don’t mix; however, Rusty’s inactive status allows him and Cas to get close and share in ways that are normally dangerous and a lot of their time together is navigating their unique situation. Although I’m a sucker for scientific nerding out in stories and enjoyed Russell’s take on vampires, supernatural genetics, etc., the story as a whole just didn’t work for me. While the plot doesn’t run on miscommunications like the previous story, it relies on wonky (at times circular) logic and, again, a conversation literally solves the problem. Cas’ issues with the council have been going on for decades and though the council are willing to believe the worst in Cas and are draconian and shortsighted, he’s purposefully gone about pissing them off, not apologizing even when he feels guilty/knows he’s out of line and lets his nemesis, Henryk, continually frame him while refusing to give his side of the story because he doesn’t feel he should have to justify himself. He’s let Henryk control the narrative for at least half a century, so Cas is convinced they won’t believe him, which, I mean, if you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot for 90-odd years, can you really complain about the pain?

Cas’ reason for not telling the truth about Henryk is already shaky, but then is completely undermined later. This is compounded by the plot device used to solve the issue.

Spoiler title
I knew from the moment Bryce MacLeod from The Druid Next Door started talking about time surfing that time travel was going to be important, but I hoped it wouldn’t be used as a deus ex machina. Unfortunately, it was. From the fact that even though time surfing is so rare no one believes it exists but anyone can do it, to the fact that it’s also super easy to do and can have dramatic and literally life-altering effects with no tangible consequences (except a dire warning that’s mentioned but never explored), it just irritated me and made the whole problem with Henryk seem even more frivolous and inconsequential than it did at the beginning. The timey-whimey shenanigans also undermine Cas’ character arc. He continued to make rash and deleterious decisions until saved by the deus ex druid with literally no effort on his part.
Cas finally makes the right choice, but not because of personal growth, or that he sees that it’s his best option and letting the situation with Henryk continue will eventually lead to him losing his life anyway, or that he’s learned to choose his battles and rebelling for the sake of it wasn’t making him happier and only decreasing his freedom, he simply
Spoiler title
wakes up and because of “footprints in time” feels like he should tell the truth now
. To me, this stripped Cas of his agency and almost all of the little character development he received.

Greg Boudreaux continues to do a great job with this series and helped keep me engaged in the story and connect with the characters more deeply than I might have done if reading. Cas’ resentment of the council makes sense, but he also never really owns up to his part in creating their terrible dynamic; he’s also sooo reckless and can be a bit cavalier (even with Rusty) that I think it would have been harder for me to sympathize with him if not for how well Boudreaux conveys Cas’ emotions and perspective. It helped me stick with Cas even when he was making some incredibly foolish (and dangerous) choices. I think people who enjoy characters dramatic enough to have their own nemesis, big guys with hearts of gold, and who have a much higher tolerance for certain kinds of  shenanigans than I do will find Vampire With Benefits an entertaining and enjoyable listen.