Aftercare (Book 1)
I can’t remember the last time I was so engrossed by a legal thriller. As a bonus, Chris also sucked me into the burgeoning romance between Garrett and Aayan. Usually, in these kinkier romances, it’s the Dom introducing a potential sub to the lifestyle. Here, it’s the other way around. Garrett might be on the tail of mourning his late husband, but he is secure in his desires and needs. Aayan is the one who has always low-key feared what drives him, and coming out as gay was only the first step of that particular journey. I cheered for his eventual comfort in his identity as much as for the resolution of the legal drama.
I loved the romance and external plot of this excellent book pretty much equally, as Garrett works to prove that Aayan’s brother is innocent of the murder he is accused of. The brother has multiple marks against him, in the eyes of a prosecutor out to make a name for herself, and being Muslim and gay are only the tip of the iceberg when his murdered boyfriend also exhibits evidence of wounds as a result of a consensual BDSM relationship.
One of my favorite things about this book is how well it shows that strength and submission are not mutually exclusive, no matter how often I’ve seen that presented in other romances. Garrett may be wounded by his past, but he’s not about to let Aayan be anything less than he deserves. The end of this book teases a happily ever after between them, but I can’t wait to check in on them throughout the rest of this trilogy.
Aftershock (Book 2)
My enjoyment of the first book in this trilogy expanded with the engrossing story of the second. It incorporates many of the same elements, such as an engaging relationship and legal drama, without being a carbon copy. Syed and Dashiell’s evolving connection follows a different trajectory as Syed deals with mourning his murdered lover, and Dashiell considers dipping his toes into kink. Except he fears that he can’t meet Syed’s needs, while at the same time, Syed struggles with the realization that his needs might now be different after the trauma of the murder trial he was just involved with. This book is one of those cases where if I had only had events from Dashiell’s perspective, I’d have wanted him to run far away from the near train wreck that is Syed; however, since we do get Syed’s side of the story, I instead cheered every time they grew closer together.
After the previous book, Dashiell has hung his shingle as a defense lawyer working with Garrett. A man and his brother are accused of a hate crime, and the belligerent father seems to think that hiring a gay lawyer will get his younger son some sort of pity points. Garrett passes the task on to Dashiell. The legal elements of this book encompass a lot of the groundwork that occurs before a trial even begins, except Dashiell soon realizes that there’s more to his client’s involvement than the single case for which he is hired. Then, it turns out the kid’s history might strike even closer to home than Dashiell—and Syed—could have ever imagined.
The author who introduced me to this trilogy calls the first book her favorite, but I found myself enjoying this story just as much. It appealed to different reader reactions in me than the first book, but Syed thoroughly swept me away as much as he did Dashiell.
Aftermath (Book 3)
This book breaks the trilogy pattern in that it does not follow along with a related court case. However, legal issues are certainly involved, which is a good reminder that the story doesn’t stop when the judge bangs their gavel or that a judge ever has to get involved in the first place. Casey serves his time for his role in violent hate crimes, and now he’s back in the “real world.” Pretty much the only reason he works as a sympathetic character is how Chris set up his involvement in the initial crimes, and it’s obvious that he’s not at risk of becoming a repeat offender. However, the initial way he sets out to make amends is both cringe-worthy and low-key terrifying.
Luckily, Brooks is a stronger man than even he thinks he is. He might not want the credit, but introducing Casey to an LGBTQ youth center to complete his community service hours goes a long way toward molding Casey into a more secure, self-confident adult. The rest of the job is managed by Brooks’ willingness to introduce Casey to proper BDSM. What starts as an attempt for both Brooks and Casey to conquer the demons of their past evolves into an actual relationship, much to the surprise of both men.
Except Brooks isn’t perfect either, and they both make mistakes in interacting with each other. The romance element of this book is a slow burn, but eventually, everything works out in the end (otherwise, it wouldn’t be a romance at all). As satisfying as the arc was, it lacked the “oomph” of the previous books in the trilogy when combined with various external plots. This trilogy is worth reading, and I look forward to reading more by this author, but I wanted a little bit more from this series conclusion.