Blaze and Damian find themselves still working together on their quest to find the last four missing variant children, but now the looming, silent elephant of their past entanglement sits like a third passenger in the backseat. Blaze doesn’t know if he can touch Damian, if his touch is wanted let alone allowed; Damien wants things he knows he can’t have … like Blaze, and is trying to keep the walls he’s built around himself as strong and tall as they were before he met and fell for Blaze. Before he was reminded that he, too, is human, needing touch and comfort and support.
When the trail goes cold — something that hasn’t ever happened to Damien, who can follow a person’s life from one end of the world to the other — he and Blaze are forced to regroup, only to discover that while they’ve been tracking down missing children, Shudder (Blaze’s ex lover and the beautiful young man who made Damien’s heart — and dick — skip a beat) has been arrested for murder.
Variants already have almost no human rights. Once they’re identified, they’re placed on a government registry. There are bills trying to remove their right to vote, their right to own property, and now, the Horace Act, strips their civil rights away. Arrested, tried, and sentenced all in the same day, Shudder has been sent to San Judas Tadeo, the most dangerous and impenetrable maximum security prison in the United States. Can Blaze and Damien find away to free him before Shudder is lost forever?
Shudder is a free spirit, a vigilante who will do good no matter the cost, or the risk. He has no interest in obeying laws that treat him as something less than human, which makes him an excellent scapegoat and example for the law. It also makes him an excellent martyr, should it come to it. For Shudder, the imprisonment — cold and clinical, distant, and merciless — is almost enough to break him. A beating, someone yelling, even a bit of torture would at least be personal, would at least give him a chance to fight back, but being locked up in a cage, given flashing lights to follow, not allowed to talk to anyone or touch anyone … it’s as if he’s nothing, no one. And it’s going to be a toss up between madness and despair.
Damien has just learned that his father is alive, a father who abandoned him to his uncle’s cruelty, a father who let Damien’s mother die. A father who now offers to help him all while having plans of his own. With Shudder’s life on the line, Damien has no choice but to accept the help, because there’s a part of him that wants to know, needs to know who his father is. Why he left, why he didn’t come back, why Damien wasn’t good enough to be wanted. The answers he finds, though, only lead to more questions.
Blaze is used to being the biggest badass in the room. Not only is he large and physically intimidating, he calls fire to heel like an obedient dog. There’s nothing he’s afraid of except being helpless. And that’s exactly what he is, now: helpless. Helpless to free Shudder, helpless to make things right for Damien and his father, helpless to fight the Horace Act. And he hates it. The only thing bringing him any peace is the slow acceptance of the fact that he doesn’t just love Damien; his feelings for Shudder never faded. He wants them both.
Picking up right after Rarely Pure and Never Simple, the first book in the Variant Configurations series, this book is well balanced between plot and romance. It helps that all three characters are a little older, a little more world weary, and a bit less willing to beat around the bush when it comes to something they really want. The new relationship between the three of them as equal partners is going to require a lot of balancing, but each of them are working to their strengths. Damien’s need to be in control is well matched by Blaze’s desire to make people happy, and Shudder’s easy-going attitude. Shudder’s need for attention and praise has him being more demanding and vocal where the other two men might have held back and kept quiet. And Blaze, who needs to be needed, who cares so much it might have overwhelmed one person, is now spread over two.
All in all, I’m still enjoying this series and the world building and very much looking forward to the next book.