Riker has been on his own for the last five years, ever since he was 17 and forced to leave home. As a leopard seal shifter, Riker should be a loner by nature, but he still craves a place to belong. He has been traveling around the country, moving from place to place, and barely scraping by. But this latest town actually feels like someplace he could settle and make a life for himself. That is until three shark shifters walk into the bar where Riker is hanging out with some co-workers and immediately stir up trouble and pick a fight.
Callum is a firefighter on his way to work when he spots a bar on fire. When Callum learns someone is trapped inside, he doesn’t hesitate to rescue the unconscious man, nor to immediately try to resuscitate him. Callum is shocked, however, when he touches lips with the man and it ignites the witch and familiar bond between them. As a water mage, Callum has always known that true fated mates exist between some witches and shifters, but these matches are so rare it is not something he ever really considered he would find. Especially not when he already has a partner he loves at home, a partner he is planning to ask to marry him. But somehow the fates have intervened and Callum is now magically bonded to Riker, and their magic — and their lives — are now inextricably tied together.
Callum has no idea how to even begin to explain this to his boyfriend, Nas. Nas doesn’t even know that shifters or witches exist, and now he has to find out that Callum has a familiar bond that ties him to another man. At first, Nas is too shaken up to even really know how to respond. But he also knows he loves Callum, and that means learning to accept Riker as a part of his life. But it is a complex balance among the three of them, as Nas and Callum share a deep love for one another, Riker and Callum have a magical bond, and Riker and Nas are finding an attraction growing between them.
As if that is not complicated enough, the shark shifters are still out there causing trouble. They are running drugs and other illegal activities out on the water, and they are quite clear they want Riker out of the picture as his seal shifting abilities mean he may be able to expose them. Callum, Riker, and Nas are finally finding a way to make their relationship work with all three of them. But with the sharks after Riker and stirring up all sorts of trouble in town, they may find their lives on the line.
The Firefighter’s Familiar is the latest installment in T.J. Nichols’ Familiar Mates series. Most of these books stand alone, tied together by a shared world, and that is the case for this story as well. In this book, we do have a quick cameo by one of the men from The Seahorse Prince’s Mate, and Jude from The Witch’s Familiar shows up here to help out with the fight against the shark shifters, but it’s not necessary to be familiar with either of those books to enjoy this one.
I have read lots of fated mates stories, but this is one of the few I have encountered where one of the pair already has a loving partner. In this case, Nas and Callum have a happy life together, a life each is hoping to soon build upon by getting engaged. And then, suddenly, Callum has this bond with Riker that throws their lives into upheaval. I think Nichols does such a nice job with this plot device, setting up some really interesting conflicts, as well as building some complex relationship dynamics among the three men. For Callum, he has a boyfriend who knows nothing about the magical world, and now a mate to whom he is bonded for life. He and Riker are drawn to one another over the mate bond, and while it is not romantic love just yet, it is connection that neither can ignore. Riker has been cast out his whole life and feels like he is meant to be alone. He lives out of truck and has no permanent home, and while part of him loves the idea of his connection with Callum, he is so wary about trusting it. The fact that Callum is in love with someone else makes it even harder. Then we have poor Nas who has to suddenly accept this magical world, combined with the fact that the man he loves now has a bond with someone else. It is complex dynamic, made even trickier when Nas and Riker realize an attraction to each other. I loved watching these guys explore their relationships and their feelings and figure out how to make it all work.
Added to this, we have the external conflict with the shark shifters. They don’t want Riker anywhere near their ocean, for fear he will figure out what they are up to, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep him away. But as the story develops, it is more than just Riker who is in danger from the shifters, and the men realize that something has to be done to stop them if there is any chance for them to have a future together. So there is a nice suspense plot to balance out the relationship side.
As I said, this one is pretty independent from any other book in the series, which surprised me somewhat as the prior book, The Billionaire’s Familiar, seemed to open up some overarching world building that I assumed would continue here. So I did find it a little bit strange to move away from that completely here, but it does look like an upcoming book may jump back into that plot thread.
I find this series a lot of fun and appreciate that even so many books into it, Nichols is still coming up with unique storylines and some new world building angles. If you enjoy shifter stories, magic, or fated mates, these books are worth checking out.