Read my review of the first book in the All’s Fair series, All I Want.
Though this is not always true, the found-family nature of some series means that the books are so interconnected that they cannot stand alone. While I think this novel could be read and enjoyed without the broader context of the first in the series, I’m glad that I did. Much of the emotional impact of the characters in this story coming together would have been lost without the greater arc of the connections revealed and developed earlier, even though a few years have passed between books.
Those years are necessary for Roman to finish growing into adulthood, for more than one reason. He’s a strong and unique character in both books, but it was nice to see him go from plot device to fully actualized hero here. I’m privileged to know from conversations with the author that he was never supposed to be a hero of this book, but sometimes characters have other ideas. Even with that insight, I can’t imagine any other outcome than the polyam relationship that develops over the course of this book. From the first moment that Tennant takes over Roman’s training, it is easy to see where Roman will flip the script on the other man. I enjoyed the ride thoroughly.
Except note that I said polyam relationship, because the undeniable connection between Roman and Tennant may have led to the initial sparks in this story, but Hollis’s presence as Tennant’s partner is what creates the true inferno. Tennant’s mental/emotional capacity means that he and Hollis don’t have a traditional relationship to begin with, and the moments between them definitely place this book solidly in the “dark romance” category even without the mafia setting of this series. Hollis may be the “normal” one, but his ability to match Tennant in the darker side of mental kink makes him just as fascinating. These men don’t need Roman to complete them, but the way Roman slots into place brings up some interesting nature vs. nurture questions about all three men.
Hollis’s backstory provides a good framework for the external plot because we essentially got Roman’s backstory in the previous book, and for all his complexities as a character, Tennant is actually not that complicated (not that I wouldn’t love a glimpse into the early evolution of his friendship with Roman’s father). I appreciated that while Roman is physically and intellectually capable of the life his father has prepared him for, his emotional reactions to events are appropriate to his age and experience. Tennant and Hollis might be more mature and methodical about the situation, but Denae imbues enough suspense into the action to genuinely make me fear for the final shape of this trio’s happily ever after.
Some elements of this series won’t be for all readers, and this is a case in which I do encourage checking the content warnings. However, while the mafia world isn’t a huge draw for me, everything else about the characters Denae creates to inhabit this one fascinates me as a reader drawn to nontraditional romance. They might all exist on the darker side of the spectrum, but the love this cast of characters crafts (whether romantic, familial, or platonic) is worth wading through the bloodshed.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.