Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Having been experimented on as a child to create controllable psychopathic assassins, Raphael Bear-Stone is the program’s one true success. While his five foster brothers were in the program too, he is the only psychopath in the family, though the experimentation left them all with a craving for and comfort with violence. When their foster mothers, Meg and Linda, a forensic psychiatrist and ex-CIA operative respectively, rescue them all, the women know they cannot undo all the damage. Instead, they guide their sons toward blending into society. . . and cleaning up trash in the shadows. The family’s mission of torturing and killing the worst of the worst satiates Raph’s blood-lust when it arises, but lately he’s been restless and bored—a dangerous state for a psychopath to be in. That all turns around when he lays eyes on Michael. Raph’s finally found his one, and there is nothing and no one who can take him away, including Michael.

Michael has always felt isolated and unwanted. Though grateful for his adopted parents, his strict Catholic upbringing and his parent’s desire to curb his fascination with blood made him wish for a family that loved him unconditionally. Michael’s job as a forensic pathologist also does wonders in keeping him single and alone. Despite his attractiveness, no one can get past Michael’s “macabre” job, which is even too much for him at times, such as when dealing with the young victims of a serial killer. The horror and frustration he feels by these premature deaths and the lack of clues is mitigated some by his friendship with fellow doctor, Meg, and their weekly pie dates that are the highlight of his week. When he is saved from a robbery after one such date by a gorgeous but weirdly intense guy, Michael is instantly willing to overlook the code red levels of possessiveness for the sexy.

As the two spend almost every moment together and Raph inserts himself into the serial killer case, Michael begins to piece together some of the oddities in Raph’s personality and his family’s unprecedented familiarity with investigations, creating a complex puzzle that is at turns disturbing and intriguing. Just as Michael has allowed himself to be swept up in Raph and the possibility of finding a real family, he’s confronted with a secret that changes everything, a secret he might not have time to accept when a killer becomes as obsessed with him as Raph is.

One is an entertaining addition to the ‘psychopath that loves me’ subgenre of dark romance and, as a dark romance, there are mentions of issues such as pedophilia, experimentation on children, torture, and self-harm that those sensitive to these topics should be aware of. Raph is basically Batman—a dark and dangerous vigilante who wears the face of CEO playboy by day, but with a body count, and whose multi-faceted genius is parceled out to brothers. As with most psychopath stories, Raph claims Michael instantly. However, there is a unique reason for that, which adds some interesting backstory, and that I really appreciated.

Michael has always craved familial and romantic connection, but feels out of step with everyone. Something about Raph speaks to him, so he too is all in immediately. While he finds Raph scarily extra and odd, Michael’s consumed by want and need from the moment Raph invades his personal space. In the four days the pair fall in love, the men are consuming each other; both want to crawl into each other’s skin and become one being. Michael is the empathetic light to Raph’s apathetic dark, but they share a lust for blood. For Raph, Michael is destined to be his; it can be no other way. For Michael, being with Raph makes him feel whole and that not only can he embrace all his fractured pieces and darker cravings, he can be cherished for them.

I love a good “a family that slays together stays together” dynamic, and this one starts off strong. Raph’s family is given enough page time to showcase their general personalities and vibes, especially his brother Rami—the cheerfully annoying tech genius who knows everything about everyone and uses that information for maximum aggravation points. Rami’s interactions with Michael are fun and bring him out of his lust haze for a fuller look at his personality; this is also true of Raph’s bother, Sari, who Michael has a geek crush on. Interactions such as these make Michael a more complex character, while to me Raph loses most of what little depth he established once he meets Michael and turns into the one-dimensional caveman protector with BDE. However, he’s the solid support that Michael needs and his razor-focused obsession gives Michael the attention he longs for.

The writing is solid and funny at times (intentionally and unintentionally). There are some turns of phrase that seemed to want to spice up some of the tried and true staples of the romance genre that didn’t land for me. My favorite being “all my red cells are rapidly set on fire.” I assume this is used in lieu of one’s blood being set ablaze/on fire, but it tickled the health professional in me. While there are enough pieces of Michael shown outside of him constantly succumbing to Raph and of the Bear-Stone family to add some meat to the bones of the story, there isn’t quite enough for me in this 300+ page book. At times, the pace is too fast, at others it becomes bogged down in lust for large chunks that get repetitious because Raph is there for dirty talk, arrogant asides, and grr-argh dialogue. It works for Michael though so I’m happy for him.

I also wouldn’t call it action packed, unless it’s the ‘spit as lube’ hole packing type of action. There’s the quickly thwarted robbery in the beginning and the quickly wrapped up serial killer “mystery” at the end (which is basically washed to the background by all the fluids). To be fair, the introduction of the serial killer angle and the Bear-Stone family’s quick involvement in the case affected my expectations; I assumed the case would be more important than it is. Raph’s family is involved for Michael to have a reason to interact with the brothers, so logic isn’t necessary. The family is simultaneously too powerful and not powerful enough. They have vast resources, connections, and access to everything, but kind of do the bare minimum, always with some reason for lack of progress and to fade into the background. For example, everyone overlooks the most substantial connecting lead in the case, one of those “but how did the killer know that/who could get that info” facts that nobody addresses.

However, this story is not about the serial killer or really character development beyond morally gray vigilante justice; it’s about all-consuming want, a bit of praise kink, blood play, and being dominated by an agro psychopath. It’s meant to be spicy dark chocolate popcorn fun, and One accomplishes that. I’m curious enough about the brothers and what kind of partners they’ll get (except for two of them) to continue the series.