Wesley still can’t figure out what he did to deserve the attentions of the sweet and loving Sebastian de Leon. Wesley knows he is grumpy, unfriendly, and can’t be bothered with social niceties. Yet, somehow, Sebastian seems to still want him around. And as long as Sebastian will keep him, Wesley is not letting the man out of his sight.
Sebastian and Wesley are headed to New York to find a way for Sebastian to rid himself of a dangerous magical relic. The brooch seems to be draining Sebastian, but given its power to affect magical users, and that the only way for someone else to take it is through a combination of theft and murder, disposing of it is not simple. They hope that their friends in New York, Jade and Zhang, might have some ideas of how to get rid of the brooch. When Jade reaches out asking them to meet, Wesley and Sebastian hope the situation can be easily resolved, but she never shows. The men attempt to track her, as well as Zhang, and even Wesley’s ex-lover, Arthur, and Arthur’s boyfriend, Rory, yet all four seem to have disappeared.
Sebastian and Wesley get increasingly worried the longer their friends are missing and continue to dig into where they might have gone. They follow the trail from some bootleggers in the city to a party in Tarrytown, where they finally begin to get some answers. But when they learn not only what happened to their friends, but also what evil scheme is being planned, they realize the true danger of the situation. Now, Sebastian and Wesley, with some help from their friends, must risk their lives to prevent an unimaginable devastation.
Once a Rogue is the second book in Allie Therin’s Roaring Twenties Magic series, following Proper Scoundrels. The books follow on the heels of one another and should definitely be read in order. The story also connects closely with Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series with crossover of storylines, characters, and world building, so this one is best for readers familiar with that series as well. When Proper Scoundrels released, I assumed it was going to be a standalone spin-off, so I was thrilled to see Therin was turning it into the start of a second series.
I loved Sebastian and Wesley so much together in the first book and that dynamic just continues here. I just adore a good “grumpy one is soft for the sunshiney one” pairing and this series is basically that trope on steroids. Wesley views himself as anti-social, grouchy, and cold. At the start of the last book, we get a sense that he almost revels in this reputation, in part because it keeps others at a distance and doesn’t open him up to hurt and loss. Over the two books, Wesley is definitely softening overall, but he still doesn’t care all that much about what anyone thinks of him and he is happy to pull out his imperious “Lord Fine” demeanor to get what he wants.
Most people are terrified by Wesley, but not Sebastian. Sebastian sees only the good in Wesley — the man who protects others, the person who has been put in multiple near impossible situations and forced to do horrible things, but still retains his humanity. Sebastian reminds Wesley that he is not the terrible person he thinks he is. And Sebastian is what Wesley calls a “dangerous marshmallow.” He is soft and gooey for just about everyone, feeding stray cats and always seeing the bright side. But don’t cross him — and definitely don’t threaten Wesley — or Sebastian has no qualms about unleashing his power.
I seriously love the dynamic between these two and part of what I adored about this book is that we get so much time seeing them interact. The first portion of the story is mostly just following the men around the city as they try to find their friends, which gives us plenty of time with just the two of them. So not much happens here plot-wise in the early part of the book, but let me tell you, I’m not at all mad about it. I basically spent the whole time giggling and swooning and highlighting passages as Sebastian bats his eyes at Wesley, and Wesley gives in to whatever it is Sebastian wants. The reason this dynamic works, I think, is because Sebastian brings so much joy to Wesley’s life. He is not manipulating him for his own gain; he is getting Wesley to open himself up to happiness, and Sebastian truly believes with all his heart that Wesley is wonderful. Here is just one of about a million passages I highlighted because it delighted me. This is post-sex after Sebastian used some of his magic to immobilize Wesley in all the best ways…
Sebastian rested his head against Wesley’s shoulder with a happy sigh.
“Sebastian.” Wesley forced his mouth to move. “Have you forgotten something?
Sebastian hid his face against Wesley’s back. “Um–”
“I can’t move my bloody limbs! Your magic is still on strong enough the people in the next room might be on the floor.”
“I know,” Sebastian said, into his back. “But I need a minute.”
Wesley barked out a laugh, a real one, with almost a rusty edge. “I fucked you to the point you can’t rein your magic in?”
Sebastian groaned. “It’s the brooch’s fault. Don’t be smug.”
“I’m going to be smug forever.” Wesley still couldn’t move, but it was fucking worth it. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Well, what I’d really like for you to do with me is cuddle. Er, when you can move again.”
“It’s okay, I know you don’t cuddle.” The blankets were being pulled up over them. “But since you can’t move, you can just lie there and let me hug you.”
“Shhh. My magic will ease fastest if I go to sleep.”
“Oh it will, will it?” Wesley said. “How dashed convenient. And how do I know if you’re serious or if you’re just fucking with me for vengeance?”
“I like to keep a little mystery alive between us,” Sebastian murmured, which made Wesley laugh again.
We see some nice growth between the men in their relationship over the course of the book, as both Wesley and Sebastian admit to their insecurities about the other’s feelings, and open up about how much they care about each other. So we leave things in a really nice place for the pair and I just adore them.
The other focus of the story, of course, is on how they will dispose of the brooch, where their friends have gone, and what nefarious plan is being cooked up by the bad guys. Things take some nice twists and, while I saw some aspects coming, others I did not. The climax is particularly exciting and really brings everyone together in a great way. Therin does a nice job here with balance in keeping Arthur, Rory, Jade, and Zhang off to the side for much of the book so that Sebastian and Wesley can shine, but also incorporating them into the larger storyline and its resolution. This is helpful because Rory is so insanely powerful, he would pretty much take over the magical part of the conflict otherwise. As always, Therin also takes nice advantage of the time period and the setting, and the story has a really get sense of time and place.
I absolutely love this world that Therin has created and am so happy to see her extending things with this second series. I seriously couldn’t adore Sebastian and Wesley together more and am looking forward to their next adventure.