The Flesh Cartel (complete series) by Rachel Haimowitz and Heidi Belleau

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The Flesh Cartel: an international, multi-billion-dollar black market that trades in lost souls. Or more specifically, their bodies. The Cartel trainers are masters at breaking a human mind. Fortunately for their ultra-rich clients, they’re just as skilled at putting people back together again—as perfect pets, well-trained and eager to please.

Two orphaned brothers caught by the Cartel learn just how far the human spirit can bend—and how badly it can break. But with support from each other and a determined FBI agent, they may also learn how to live—and love—once again.

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This is a serialized story now available in five novels in print and ebook.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes: explicit violence, forced incest, non-consent, dubious consent, drug use, kidnapping/abduction, self-harm.

Kimi’s review:

Holy shit. To say this wa not an easy read would perhaps be the understatement of the century. It’s not a romance, so put that idea right out of your head. It’s a taut psychosexual thriller that takes you on a bareknuckle ride through Hell and gone. I won’t say back, because there is no coming back from something like this. There is an out and forward, but no way back.

Big brother Mat has sacrificed a lot in order to make a home with his brother and put him through university. Doug, or Dougie as Mat still calls him, is close to completing his PH.d in psychology. Unfortunately, Doug has caught the eye of some unsavoury types who decide to take him as he fits the profile for being some one they can disappear easily enough- orphaned, alone except for a brother who’s an MMA fighter on a downward spiral, barely keeping their heads above water, and very, very attractive. When an exceedingly rich man puts in a request for a certain body type and look, wheels are set into motion to make his disappearance one that doesn’t raise any suspicion. Unfortunately for Mat, he comes home a bit earlier than they had anticipated and finds he too is grabbed.

What follows is a regime of sexual and mental abuse designed to break the men’s minds and spirits, with a lot of what happens being helped along by other victims of the cartel. Nor are they the only victims currently being broken and sold, which they discover to their horror, as both male and female victims are heard in the cells and seen in various locations at the facility. Auctioned off as a pair at an auction that quite frankly made my hair stand on end, they are bought by a trainer. Nicolei is a consummate professional in training sex slaves. It’d be easy to hate him as we watch the mind games he plays with Mat and Dougie, but rather than give us a completely unlikable villain, the authors gave us a complex man who has genuine regrets and affection for his charges. It’s quite a conundrum, made all the more tragic when it all starts to come apart for the cartel. I couldn’t bring myself to feel affection for him, but my heart did break for him and for his right hand man. In another life, given very different circumstances, their lives would have been very different instead of being warped beyond all reason.

The story doesn’t end when the brothers are at last sold by Nicolei to their master either. FBI agent Nate Johnson has been a long time fan of  Mat, and he has been following his instincts that something doesn’t add up with the MMA fighter and his PH.d candidate brother’s disappearance. he’s like a dog with a bone, and he doesn’t stop until he has the answers he’s looking for. Of course, the truth is much, much bigger than he’d ever dreamed, and it makes for an explosive  climax  when law enforcement pulls off their operation. Following up on what happens afterwards was a rare treat, but it was not a ready made HEA. Nate and Mat connect on a personal level, which was indeed very romantic, but Dougie was straight and his head is having a hard time separating out sex and affection and feelings of well-being. Given that his mind and body have been conditioned to associate sex with a male master as “happiness”, he’s in a bad place. The authors manage to showcase how his sexual traumas cause this, and his finding his way out of it, without demonising the LGBT community.

It’s a very well written series, but one I could only read in VERY small doses and with a lot of happy in-between as it is simply so vividly depicted that it crawled right under my skin and wormed itself into my brain. The abusive pseudo BDSM (it’s NOT BDSM of course, despite the twisted lies the masters tell themselves, it’s abuse) in particular is brutal, and of course anything but safe, sane, and consensual, so readers should be warned that a rather strong stomach for those scenes alone is required.

This title can be purchased as a serial or as a series with three seasons (volumes) from Riptide.

Rating: 5

kimisig

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