I am always up for a best-friends-to-lovers fake relationship book. Add it that it’s between two Black shifters, one a panther and one a bear, and I was all in. Though this is the first in the Hamilton Brothers series, twin bear shifters, there’s another book that takes place before it that talks about how the panthers ended up in Florida. There was enough explanation that I was able to get the gist of what had happened, but I would probably recommend reading Chasing Savannah, about Naomi’s cousin, first if you’re worried about missing anything.
“I don’t want to marry her,” He barely kept himself from rolling his eyes at his ridiculous story.
“But you want to marry any other stranger.” She frowned.
“I am not asking a stranger, I’m asking my best friend.”
Gabe has known that best friend Naomi is his mate for forever, but Naomi is latent, so she’s always brushed it off as a joke. And after a disastrous relationship with another shifter, she’s sworn off shifters forever. After all, because of her latent status – meaning she’s not able to shift into a panther – she’s not sure she’d even be able to form a mating bond, and that’s the gold standard for shifters. But with the new Felix of the panther pack in charge, Naomi’s taken her place as the Zeta, responsible for being the emotional balance of the prowl, and her powers have increased. And she’s surprised by her reaction to Gabe the first time she sees him after that… Gabe’s accepted being in the friend zone because he’ll take time with her whatever way he can get it. But when she hints that she’s thinking of dating again, he panics and makes up a fake betrothal and begs for her help. The obvious solution to getting out of it? Getting Naomi to agree to a fake marriage, giving him more time to convince her that they can be good together. But when is lying to your mate ever a good idea?
I loved Naomi and Gabe. It’s obvious they’re great friends and they’re similar in a lot of other ways. They’re both workaholics who have a tendency to get lost in their work. For Gabe, it’s tedious contract details for the family law firm, and for Naomi, her painting. After a lifetime of keeping herself separate from her panther pack due to her latency, she’s reveling in her newfound powers as Zeta and her place in the pack. The Zeta is the emotional balance of a pack, a passive ability that for her basically just means she keeps an open door so that pack members can drop in and hang out with her whenever. The increased attraction to Gabe is surely just a distraction, but when he asks for help, how can she say no?
“He’s a bear.”
Naomi sat next to her older sister. “I’m aware.”
Charlotte wrapped her arm around Naomi’s shoulder. “Bears are slow, and assholes, sister, Gabe more than most.”
Naomi sighed. “I want to say he’s different, but I’d be lying.”
There’s a lot of impediments to their relationship. The last time Gabe told Naomi that she was his mate was right after she had the miscarriage that ended her past relationship – absolutely cringeworthy bad timing, but he couldn’t help himself. Gabe also knows that he shouldn’t be lying to her about the nonexistent betrothal, something his family, especially his mom, give him no end of grief over. There’s also the fact that Gabe’s a bear shifter while Naomi’s a panther, and Naomi worries that a relationship between them will jeopardize her new place in her pack. Not to mention, her friendship with Gabe is one of the most important relationships in her life, and when this fake relationship goes sour – which she’s sure it will – she worries it will ruin their friendship. But as time passes and Naomi settles into her latent powers, she starts to suspect that maybe Gabe really is her mate. She’s still terrified that she won’t be able to bond with him, though – and there’s another reason to fear the bond that she hasn’t told him.
Besides the couple, I loved the side characters. Gabe’s bear family – who seems to communicate mostly through grumpy grunts – was hilarious, especially his mother and triplet sisters. I also loved Naomi’s close relationship with her sister Charlotte and her cousin Savannah. The entire plot revolves around their relationship over the course of several months, so if you’re looking for something more high stakes, this isn’t it. I liked it, though, and found it very cozy. I do wish Naomi had give Gabe more grief over the initial lie, but her actions were entirely what I’d expect from her character.
Overall, this was a quick, enjoyable, and easy read, and I’m even more eager to read my ARC of Gabe’s brother Brent’s story.