Will McMahon and Peyton Sinclair have been best friends with benefits for years. Along with that, Peyton has been harboring feelings for Quinn Hughes and thought that when he returned from the military, things would develop between them. However, while it seems pretty clear that Quinn wants him, he is also putting up walls between them and Peyton doesn’t know why. But, Will is always there for Peyton and the men share an intense bond. With Quinn seemingly not interested, Peyton and Will keep their hookups exclusively with each other, but one night when out at a bar, they meet Sebastian Devlin and the connection is enough that the guys decide to take him home for the night.
Sebastian is a high-powered and successful defense attorney. Sebastian once thought he had hopes for love, but after that fell apart, he mostly confines things to hookups. When Sebastian meets Peyton and Will, he is eager for a night with the two men and it is better than he could have even hoped. However, things take a turn when Sebastian stumbles upon a dead body in the guys’ house the next day. And, of course, who comes to investigate but none other than Detective Quinn Hughes, the guy Sebastian had thought he might share a life with before Quinn’s misplaced jealously ruined it all. But that doesn’t stop the chemistry and draw between them, even years later.
No one can determine just why the body was left in Will and Peyton’s apartment, or who was the intended recipient of whatever message it was trying to sen. Which means that Will, Peyton, and Sebastian are all potentially at risk. And when whoever is behind the murder starts escalating further, the danger ramps even higher. In the meantime, the four men are realizing that something is happening among them all. The idea that things could work out between even two of them at first seemed hard to believe. But now they are realizing that all four may fit together in surprising ways. But with a killer on the loose with an unknown motive, it will take all the men have to make it out alive.
Catalyst is the first book in in Aurora Crane’s Chain Reaction series featuring this unique foursome. Crane is a relatively new-to-me author and I picked this one up after really enjoying her book Day of Judgment, co-written with Briar Kearney. The books have a very similar feel with the suspense, the law enforcement elements, and the multi-partner romance, so I found a lot to really enjoy about this one as well.
It did take me a little while to get settled into things here, as we meet a lot of characters early on who are all interconnected and keeping track of everyone and their relationships was a little overwhelming. In addition to our four main characters, there are a handful of other prominent side characters and we are introduced to pretty much all of them at once. The men are all tied together in a massive six degrees of separation situation (though it is more like two degrees). They all seem to either be some combination of sexually involved (either past, present, or hopeful future), or related to each other, or work together or in similar law enforcement/legal fields. Just as an example, there is a side character named Riley who is Peyton’s brother, Quinn’s boss, Sebastian’s friend, and the guy who Quinn accused Sebastian of cheating with leading to the end of their relationship. So, at first, I spent a lot of time just trying to remember who everyone was and how they connected to each other. However, after the first couple of chapters that settled down a lot and I was able to follow along with little trouble.
Crane does a nice job with this four-way relationship and building a believable connection among all of them. It is a lot to manage to introduce these various pairings and having them expand to include the other men in a way that feels natural and real and I think Crane makes it work. Things develop in various pairings of two or three until they slowly all come together as a foursome. This is the first book in the series, so things end on an HFN for the men. They have a lot of chemistry and things are super hot and it is fun to see them sort things out and figure out how they all fit. Given there are four MCs, there is not quite as much time to get to know each of them as if there were fewer main characters, but Crane provides enough backstory and character development that I felt like I got to know them all and the men feel distinct and like individual characters. The only thing I found a little hard to wrap my head around was Will and Peyton’s relationship. We are told they are best friends with benefits, but they only sleep with each other (and have never slept with anyone else, individually or together, until Sebastian). When Quinn and Peyton finally find their way together, Peyton wants Will there while they have sex, telling him “You’re part of this.” So I am not sure I fully got this relationship, as this definitely didn’t feel like friendship, and it seemed maybe a little forced from a story end to get Will connected with Quinn. But overall, I think the relationships build really nicely and Crane makes this complicated dynamic among them all really work well.
The relationship takes the forefront for most of the story, but along the way we also have the suspense plot relating to the murder and who is behind the subsequent attacks. Will and Quinn are law enforcement, and Sebastian is a defense attorney, so their jobs allow for the investigation to flow through them in assorted ways, which adds some excitement. I’m not sure the ending fully came together for me, both in terms of who was behind it all, as well as a reveal that comes late and will presumably develop further in the next book. The bad guys felt a little weak to me and the revelation needed more explanation than we got. But I do think the suspense plot weaves together nicely with the romance side of the story and adds a nice level of excitement.
I found this one a lot of fun and Crane navigates this complicated relationship really well. If you enjoy poly stories and suspense, I think this one is a great choice. I am looking forward to what is to come next for Will, Peyton, Quinn, and Sebastian.