Caleb Brammer is grew up in a family of assassins, but he has always forged his own path, becoming a bar owner rather than joining the family business. But when his father and brother are gunned down and Caleb and his mother end up in the hospital, Caleb is dragged into trouble regardless. Just before his mother loses consciousness, she calls in a favor to get Caleb some protection from whomever is after them.
Moon Jae-young has done everything he can to get away from his awful father. He moved from Korea to Australia, where he is just trying to keep his head down and stay off his father’s radar as much as possible. That includes not disclosing that he was born with a magical ability to read minds, nor that he is gay. Despite trying to stay out of trouble, Jay is using his mind-reading abilities to learn more about his father’s dirty business kidnapping shifters, hoping to do as much as he can to disrupt the enterprise. But Jay’s father still rules his life with an iron fist, and when he orders Jay to step in as Caleb’s bodyguard and bring him to Korea for protection, Jay knows he has no choice but to obey.
At first, Caleb doesn’t know quite what to make of the stranger who comes to the hospital claiming to be his bodyguard, but he knows his mother called Jay’s father for help, so he agrees to go with him. However, the guys don’t really know where to turn for safety. The assassins are still after Caleb, yet Jay is wary about bringing him to his father, given that the man is so often up to shady dealings. Jay is also struggling with keeping hidden both his mind-reading abilities, as well as his attraction to Caleb — particularly as he knows from Caleb’s thoughts that the man is into him in return. Jay has barely admitted to himself that he is gay, and no one knows that he has magic. Even more complicated, Caleb is hiding his own magical abilities: the fact that he is a razorback shifter. It doesn’t take long before the truth comes out however, and the men slowly begin to trust and rely upon one another.
Even as Caleb and Jay start to form a team, the situation is still dire. Someone still wants to kill Caleb, Jay doesn’t trust his father, there are a lot of people who aren’t being honest about their true motives, and to top it off… it looks like Jay and Caleb’s kiss might have just kicked off their mating bond.
The Bodyguard’s Familiar is the latest installment in T.J. Nichols’ Familiar Mates series, featuring witches and their shifter fated mates. The books generally stand alone with a few exceptions, and this is one you can read without the others. That said, having the basics of the world building from earlier books in the series is always helpful, particularly since Jay and Caleb are really unfamiliar with the witch/shifter familiar bond themselves. This was a bit of a different approach than some of the other pairings in this series, so their unfamiliarity with the magical world added a new spin after so many books. Jay is from Korea, where the supernatural is kept more hidden as it is dangerous to reveal publicly, so he grew up knowing much less about how things all work. Not to mention, he is hiding the fact that he has magic from everyone, as he knows that if his father finds out, it will give him even more control over him (though I wasn’t fully clear just why Jay gives in all the time to his father’s authority). For Caleb, his family are razorback shifters, a group that has always kept themselves apart from other shifters and the magical community. So both of these guys are on their own and not really sure about how things work between them when they suddenly find themselves mates, so it was nice to get a different take here.
The main plot line features Jay trying to keep Caleb alive in the face of the assassins that are after Caleb’s family. Things felt a little loose to me that Jay is the one called to help, considering he is a student not a bodyguard (though he does have some military experience). His father owes Caleb’s family a debt, but of all people for Caleb’s mother to call as she is about to pass out from a gunshot wound, a crime lord in Korea who owes them a favor did seem a little strange (I mean, does she know he has someone on the ground in Australia who can immediately step in and serve as a bodyguard?). The men spend their time mostly hiding out in various places, which gives them plenty of time in forced proximity to get to know one another and reveal all their secrets. Jay’s mind reading abilities were a nice twist that added an interesting dynamic between them, as he always knows what Caleb (and everyone else) is thinking. There is some light suspense here and who is behind it all has some twists that I liked. I did wonder why no one was concerned about Caleb’s mom, who is lying vulnerable and unconscious in the hospital with zero protection, when she actually is part of the family business, unlike Caleb. I mean, they have no one on their payroll who could look after her? Also, for all they are trying to hide from the bad guys, Caleb and Jay seem to be wandering all over town without much concern about being seen or followed. I mean, they go to the hospital to visit Caleb’s mom just out in the open, as well as to his apartment. Aren’t these obvious places where the killers would look for them? I did like the way the plot also expands to touch on Jay’s father’s shady dealings with kidnapping shifters and it does look like that will carry over to the next book, which should be interesting.
Overall, I thought this installment had some unique elements that I liked, but it wasn’t my favorite of the series. I didn’t really feel the chemistry between the leads as much as I wanted and the suspense side of the plot didn’t fully hold together for me. But if you are enjoying this series, it is worth checking out this installment.