Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Published by Carina Adores on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
It’s not long before their pet-centric arrangement sparks a person-centric desire…
Simon Burke has always preferred animals to people. When the countdown to adopting his own dog is unexpectedly put on hold, Simon turns to the PetShare app to find the fluffy TLC he’s been missing. Meeting a grumpy children’s book illustrator who needs a dog walker isn’t easy for the man whose persistent anxiety has colored his whole life, but Jack Matheson’s menagerie is just what Simon needs.
Four dogs, three cats and counting. Jack’s pack of rescue pets is the only company he needs. But when a bad fall leaves him with a broken leg, Jack is forced to admit he needs help. That the help comes in the form of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen is a complicated, glorious surprise.
Being with Jack—talking, waking, making out—is a game changer for Simon. And Simon’s company certainly…eases the pain of recovery for Jack. But making a real relationship work once Jack’s cast comes off will mean compromise, understanding and lots of love.
It seems fair to say that most people who have companion animals have at least occasionally had the thought that animals are better than people. Or at least that most animals are better than most people. Or something along those lines.
It’s partly that when they love us, they love us unconditionally. And it’s especially that animals don’t judge and can’t talk back. Well, they can’t talk back in any language we understand. Also, cats, at least, certainly do judge, ALL THE TIME. But they mostly judge us for how we treat them and not for any of the frankly stupid shit that humans judge us for. Cats don’t care whether we are fashionable or not, whether we are tidy or not, whether we are neuroatypical or not. Or who we love – as long as we love them and treat them right. Treat the cats right, I mean. How we treat other humans in our lives isn’t their concern unless it leads to them getting more of what they want or less.
Both Jack Matheson and Simon Burke are of the opinion that animals are better than most people most of the time. They get to that point from different directions, but they are still both in that same kind of headspace when they meet, fittingly enough, literally over the heads of Jack’s mixed menagerie of cats and dogs. I put the cats first because there may be fewer of them but the cats clearly rule this house. Especially Pirate.
Obviously, I got into this book for the animals. But there is a story about the humans as well, both their human and the human who becomes theirs in the end. After all, the only reason the humans meet is because of them. It’s the dogs’ fault, after all.
Jack lives in a fairly remote cabin, and he’s fine with that. So is the menagerie. But when he falls while chasing after Puddles – the dog who is afraid of puddles – and breaks his leg, Jack has a major problem on his hands. Mostly his crutches. And the four dogs – plus Pirate the Cat – who need to be walked multiple times a day. In the admittedly slightly tamed wilderness that surrounds Jack’s cabin.
That’s where Simon comes in. Simon needs regular contact with animals to help manage his paralyzing anxiety – at least as much as it can be managed. He doesn’t have a menagerie of his own because he lives with his recently widowed and extremely allergic grandmother. So he volunteers for an organization that matches people who need animals with animals whose people need a bit of help.
The overwhelming nature of Simon’s social anxiety causes him an intense amount of difficulty when dealing with new people and/or stressful situations. Jack has been a bit of hermit after the person he thought was his friend and business partner stole Jack’s ideas for his own. So he’s not much thrilled with the human race at the moment. None too thrilled with himself either. He’s depressed and now miserable at feeling helpless to take care of the animals that are both his friends and his solace.
On a temporary basis, at least, Jack and Simon are made for each other. But neither are good at letting many people get close. And Simon fully expects that their relationship will only last as long as Jack needs help with the animals. Simon’s experience is that people get tired of dealing with his mental health challenges and that Jack will give up on him the way that most of his family has. Jack, initially afraid to trust himself, knows that it won’t be easy. But he’s in it for the long haul.
He just has to convince Simon that it really is possible for them to create their own version of normal – and be happy with it. Together.
Escape Rating B+: I really did pick this up because the animals, caring for them and being managed by them was such a big part of the story. And that felt real, the differences in their personalities and how their humans cope with them. (I have four cats and variations in personality and mannerism are very real – as is the amount that they are each individually indulged in their preferences!)
But of course it’s the humans and the relationship they build together who hold the story.
The story is told in alternating perspectives, one chapter from Jack’s side of the story and the other from Simon’s. Jack’s is the easier to identify with, while Simon’s is more painful. It’s also painfully clear that Simon is more articulate – as well as even more down on himself – inside his own head than he is able to voice or even text.
It’s also lovely that they both have people in their lives who call them on their respective shit when it needs doing. In Jack’s case his older brother, and for Simon his grandmother. Those relationships also help round out both characters. I wish we had a scene between the two of them comparing notes because that would have been a hoot!
While Jack isn’t exactly an extrovert, he does have more need for social interaction than Simon does. Jack’s the kind of introvert who is open in a limited circle – but he needs that circle. Except that as the story opens he’s withdrawn from his circle out of betrayal. If one person he believed was a friend could betray him that badly, so could others. However, it was good that the author did not fall down the oh-so-common rabbit hole of having that betrayer be not just a friend and a business partner but also an ex-lover. That would have been over-the-top in a way that this story just doesn’t need.
Simon’s severe social anxiety is a hard enough issue to deal with. And a big part of the way that their relationship develops revolves around Jack learning how to be with Simon. A part of me wants to use words like manage or cope with or assist or ameliorate and none of them work and all of them feel insulting and ableist. But a big part of the story is Jack finding his way through all those words so that they can have a relationship that works for both of them.
It’s not easy for either of them because they both have those trust issues. That they manage it, together, to become part of their animals’ pack forms the heart of the story.