Read my review of the first book in the Trophy Doms Social Club series, Humbled.
I cry at a lot of things in books, but not usually until after the first third of the story or so, once I’ve established a connection with the characters. I may have met Archie as a secondary character in the first book in this series, but it’s more a credit to the strength of Hawthorne’s writing and characterization abilities that I was tearing up over the poignant events during the very first chapter of this story. The strong opening proves that the book will be an emotional roller coaster, and I was happily willing to hang on for the ride.
Hawthorne also more than delivers on an intense reunion between the characters after the intensity of their earlier parting. I did have to wonder how their initial encounter would have played out if it hadn’t occurred in the specific type of charged atmosphere of a kink club, but it also allows the characters to immediately clash in a way that is equally dramatic and sexy. Then, because this is a Hawthorne book, the clashes keep coming. The combined tropes of “second chance” plus “enemies to lovers” could be over the top, but this author keeps everything overwhelming in all the best ways. The pacing works well between the steamy moments and the quieter instances that give both Owen and Archie time to reflect on how their shared past has drastically affected their present.
The kink elements of this book are less structured and much more about how Archie and Owen interact (whether the clothes are on or off). Hawthorne once again does what she does best, showing that nothing about kink has to be binary. These characters connect in a way that gives off the major “idiots in love” vibes that I always adore in stories, with the bonus that this time, the two men are fully aware that they are both idiots and that they are in love. This serves to add an extra dose of emotional masochism to the proceedings for everyone involved (including the reader) that hurts in all the best ways.
The circumstances of their reunion are connected with another important bit of unfinished business, which hangs like an ax over their tentative steps toward a future together. With so much emotional angst already centered on Archie and Owen, I appreciated that the resolution to the external plot wasn’t a major dramatic twist while still receiving the emotional attention it deserved. (I also appreciated that the third person involved is treated as a fully fleshed-out character who obviously undergoes her own journey rather than merely existing as a plot device for the heroes.)
This book does work as a stand-alone, but it is definitely best enjoyed as part of this series that centers on a truly delightful group of friends. As usually happens in this type of series, the Doms of the original friend group don’t just collect directly contrasting submissive lovers. It’s a blast to see the social circle of the “trophy doms” upended and expanded in a unique way as they find their happily-ever-afters. The original five are such a close group of friends that they’ll always be part of the story (mostly because they are all meddling idiots, but in the best way). I look forward to seeing how Owen slots into this group the same way I enjoyed glimpses of Grayson in this story (of course, don’t tell Grayson that he’s also a trophy dom).
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.