Review: Forged in Trust (Bay Area Professionals #4) Audiobook by Mickie B. Ashling

Dr. Ethan Marshall is the young medical student on call the night Tessa Duran murders her husband for abusing her twelve-year-old-son, Rino. Ethan stays in the cubicle while the rape kit is performed and is surprised when the boy resorts to prayers instead of tears.

Despite compelling evidence, Tessa is sent to jail for life. To avoid placing Rino in foster care, their parish priest agrees to raise him. Ethan is touched by Rino’s plight and visits whenever possible, but the connection is broken when the priest and young boy leave the area months later.

Raised by the Dominicans in California, Rino considers joining the order until a romance blossoms with a fellow student. After much soul-searching, he turns his back on everything familiar, and chooses his orientation over his perceived vocation. Upon graduating dental hygiene school, Rino takes a job at the office of Scott Gregory and Robin Kennedy.

Seventeen years have passed since that horrible night in the emergency room. Forty-three-year-old Ethan is now a Dominant in search of a full-time submissive. Twenty-nine-year-old Rino is adrift, longing for someone or something to help him find the serenity he’s lost along the way. As they rekindle their friendship, they realize they might be perfect for each other.

Length: 6 hrs and 51 mins
Narrated by John Solo

This is the first story I have ‘read’ in this series, so I have no back story on any of the previous three stories in this series. I am interested in going back and reading/listening to the rest of the series to catch me up.

This story was troubling. And not for the obvious reason that it has triggers and disturbing content. This story troubled me because of my ignorance toward Filipino culture, Catholicism, and some of the related content that I find uncomfortable in this story. I will take this as an opportunity to learn more about both, so that I can put it in context and understand where the writer was coming from.

Rino crossed paths with Ethan when Rino was just a boy, and Ethan was a medical resident deciding on a specialty to go into. From there, Ethan kept in touch to ensure Rino was okay, and then they drifted apart, only to reunite in a very awkward way after Rino decides to take a trip to a BDSM club to see why it is so exclusive, and then finds the owner in his dental chair at work the next day.

Rino is damaged. He had trouble accepting his homosexuality, and ultimately decided to leave the Catholic church that raised him, and his life in training as a priest, because he didn’t believe it was right for him to continue to do God’s work when he couldn’t get thoughts of other men out of his head.

A great sacrifice that I don’t understand.

Being Atheist and a liberal person, I have difficulty understanding the mindset in which Reno held all his ideals. I don’t have much, if any, experience with Catholicism, except my mother’s trauma of cold nuns in Boarding school when she was a girl. Rino’s statements bothered me. At 30-something I expect a little more from a man. He comes across as callous, extremely judgmental, and self-righteous, which all seems to lead back to his Catholicism. It made me very uncomfortable to listen to him talk about his mother as a whore in a very disdainful way. That’s your mother dude…. She did the best she could with the scraps she was given, and you speak about her like she is beneath you. I would understand if the anger was geared towards what she did to land herself in prison, but it seemed the focal point was her whoring herself when he was a small child and they lived in poverty in the Philippines, completely dismissing the life they had once they moved to America, of which he would have a broader memory.

So that bothered me. It made me cringe and sigh heavily. I just cannot relate to that particular venom, and it really left me not liking Rino all that much. I could forgive his overall ignorance, with his sheltered life in the church, but not that.

Ethan was a much more relatable character. And not because of his Atheism. He had more compassion, he was more thoughtful about things, and even if he didn’t understand something, he took the time to listen. There was one scene where he was dismissive of Rino talking about his traumatic past that I found distasteful, but he was otherwise a pretty good character. Older, more empathetic to people around him, and very warm. I’m not surprised Rino was drawn to him.

Scott and Robin were interesting. Scott’s insecurities were irritating, but somewhat understandable with his health crisis. I liked their dynamic, and their play time was loving. It didn’t get me hot and bothered, but it was simmering. Maybe their story will have more of an impact on me. I got the impression that it was a ‘this is where they are now’ cameo appearance, so it will be interesting to see where they came from.

Descriptions of Rino’s looks got a bit too much. I’m not familiar with Filipino standards of beauty, but the way he was described as half-Caucasian and all of the ‘positive’ Caucasian attributes felt off to me. There was a little too much emphasis on it for me to feel comfortable with it, but then, too much attention on physical attributes usually leaves me bored, and annoyed. The point could have been made without the extremely graphic, long descriptives of what he looked like and how it impacted those around him. It was just too much, and it felt like his Filipino side was being dismissed in favour of the whiteness. It made me feel icky. There was none of the same longwindedness for Ethan. I actually don’t recall much emphasis on Ethan’s looks at all. Which sort of punched home the point of how I feel about Rino’s physical descrpitives.

I feel like I’m hating on the book, but I did enjoy it. The story moved well, and was interesting. I enjoyed the questions Rino had about kink, and how Ethan showed him that it wasn’t all about S&M, that there were other dynamics that they could explore.

I’d certainly like to read a follow up story about this couple to see how Rino has grown, and how the couple moved forward in their life. Maybe now that the back story is complete, more time could be spent with them as a couple, exploring their dynamic and focusing on navigating the very tricky world of two different sets of ideology. I can tell you it is sometimes irritating, and sometimes stimulating to have discussions with my christian partner. That would really be fun to explore in a book.

John Solo was a pleasure to listen to. He has a pleasing voice, and worked well with distinctive character voices. I definitely enjoyed the story more for listening to him.

Recommended for those who enjoy gateway kink stories, reunited friends to lovers, with a decent amount of background build up.

Trigger warnings: Off page child sexual abuse and rape with on page injuries, as well as adult abuse and stalking.

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads.

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