At a glance, “big” and “gay” are two words that fit Frank to a T. But there’s also “loyal to a fault” and “dangerous as hell.” Those last two qualities helped him not just survive, but thrive as the muscle for a criminal outfit. For years, he and his colleague, Paul, would take out just about anyone for the right price. But after a particularly grisly hit where innocent bystanders very much got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Frank called it quits on the killing. Instead, he focused his time and energy on the junkyard he inherited from his grandfather. Now, Frank mostly spends his days dealing with junk, training for strongman competitions, and offering body disposal to a very select number of individuals. It’s the farthest thing from glamorous, but it has helped him provide a home for his nephew, Dex, and give stability to his found family, Jag and Shane, as well as all their significant others. Honestly, Frank’s glad to be able to be that rock for the others in his life. Still, it’s been a life mostly devoid of pleasure. So when Paul offers Frank a night with a high-end escort to celebrate Frank turning 40, he accepts and hopes he won’t have to see more of Paul than is absolutely necessary.
Young and handsome, Ezra painstakingly maintains his good looks so he can entice more people to buy his escort services. He hopes to eventually land a dream client who will snap him up as a trophy husband. So far, Ezra’s been able to attract the right kind of client: rich. His current sugar daddy is a man named Paul who seems to make enough money to keep Ezra in style…at least by Pennsylvania standards. As good as Paul’s money is, it doesn’t compare to the night when Paul pays for Ezra to entertain Frank for his birthday. In fact, Ezra finds everything about Frank appealing. From his size to his giving nature, Frank just pushes Ezra’s buttons. So much so, in fact, that Ezra gives Frank a steep discount and the two men enter into a year-long pseudo-relationship. The sex is phenomenal and they truly enjoy each other’s company, and it’s in no small part due to the crystal clear boundaries established by their escort/client connection. But things take a turn for the scary when Ezra accidentally discovers exactly how Paul makes his money, namely by being a hit man…who processes bodies in his own kitchen. There’s no way in hell Frank is going to let anything happen to Ezra, but with the man literally running for his life, the clear lines that used to make their connection so clean and easy are suddenly gone. Now, Frank and Ezra must figure out what real emotions are and if they can weather the storm that is a hit man named Paul.
Grind is the fourth installment in K.A. Merikan’s Wrong Side of the Tracks series. It stars the de facto patriarch of the series, Frank, and features strong cameos from Shane and Ros (Scum), Jag and Dane (Primal), and Dax and Hammer (D!ckhead), yet undoubtedly puts Frank and the connection he builds with Ezra at the center. These two are another pair of delightfully opposites-attract main characters. The narration alternates between Frank and Ezra and that worked so well in developing these two individuals. I thought getting to see things from each of their perspectives also made it very clear how angsty their situation was. Basically, Frank works very hard to ensure Ezra doesn’t feel trapped, even as the escort literally must stay hidden at Frank’s junk yard to stay alive. Ezra, displaced and unable to partake of his normal rigorous routine of skin care and controlled eating, feels like he’s being rejected for not maintaining his own high standards. Their own assumptions about what each of them can bring to a relationship was grounded in the safe, well-established boundaries of a transaction.
This story explores so many elements. Ezra initially comes off as the perfect escort, and maybe he is. His speech is perfect, his home is immaculate, he gives his clients exactly what they want. But through his eyes, we see that there’s something special about Frank as far as Ezra is concerned. Unlike any other clients, Ezra instantly recognizes that Frank is generous to a fault in bed and that he gets off on giving pleasure. This is a whole new experience for Ezra and he cannot get enough. What was interesting about this is how this attraction gets skewed when Ezra is on the run. Without being able to engage in his typical regimes for beauty and wellness, he’s absolutely terrified that he’ll lose value in Frank’s eyes. At the same time, we see things from Frank’s perspective and none of the beauty/health issues Ezra is battling ping on Frank’s radar. Instead, Frank is consumed with guilt when he believes Ezra’s preoccupation with looking good stems from Ezra thinking he has to buy Frank’s protection–nothing could be further from the truth. These two dance around this issue for a while before finally things come to a boil. Even after that bridge is crossed, however, neither one of them truly lets go of their fears about taking advantage of one another.
While Ezra struggles with body image, Frank struggles with class identity. He is also extremely conscious of the fact that he used to be a killer and still helps some people dispose of human remains when the need arises. Like the struggle over whether or not they should or even can continue to explore a relationship, Frank is grappling with how to tell Ezra that he’s connected to the same business as Paul. Indeed, Frank feels that even though he no longer kills, the facts of his past mean he couldn’t possibly be fit to date a man like Ezra. Yet Frank is dead set on protecting Ezra for as long as it takes and invests a lot of himself into ensuring Ezra has every opportunity of eventually getting away safely. These are such bittersweet emotions and, even as Ezra begins to learn that Frank really is a good man, the truth comes out and there are consequences. Even so, these two find a way to work through their differences.
Overall, I thought this was a fantastic addition to the series. Having read all the books so far, I was so excited to find out that Frank was getting his own book. I approached this book like it would be the end of the series, since this book covers the last of Frank’s found family. And yet, the very end of the story opens the door to the possibility that things may continue for the series. In addition to Frank and Ezra’s spicy slow burn, I really enjoyed how Shane, Dex, and Jag fit into the story. Even with such a strong showing from the MCs of the previous books, I think readers could enjoy this as a standalone…but I unreservedly recommend this whole series to get the whole experience.