Caged Jaye

Caged Jaye - Lynn Kelling Originally reviewed at Sinfully.

4.5 stars

Although this is a prequel to Lynn Kelling’s [b:Arctic Absolution|15825603|Arctic Absolution|Lynn Kelling||21557378] (a 5 star read for me), the books can be read in any order. If you’ve read Arctic Absolution you’ve probably already fallen in love with Jaye Larson and you know he has suffered horribly in his short life, but is a survivor. PLEASE heed the warnings that come with this story; there is graphic violence, brutality, and sexual assault among other possible triggers.

This isn’t a romance. It’s the story of Jaye’s transformation from a happy, optimistic teenager, to the scarred young man we meet in Arctic Absolution. You’ll see just how he became the Jaye who craves Dixon’s protection, is fiercely loyal and would go to great lengths to protect Dixon in return. This is where Jaye is broken almost beyond repair, only to rebuild himself. It takes the reader through most of his prison sentence where he learns how to play the part of prisoner, of Cash’s property, of the young, scared man who doesn’t want trouble. He also learns how to do whatever is necessary to survive.

The Jaye we briefly meet at the start of this book is long dead by the time Arctic Absolution starts. He is celebrating his 19th birthday with a planned dinner with his live-in boyfriend Kris. He has the job he always wanted at a clothing shop and remains optimistic even though things with his boyfriend aren’t perfect and his mother is struggling with drug addiction. After seeing Kris off to visit his family, Jaye returns home and goes to bed only to be awoken by two men dragging him out into the alley behind his apartment with all intents to torture, rape and kill him. After barely surviving the attack, he is truly alone. In the hospital there’s a text from his boyfriend and one missed call from his mother. He never sees or hears from them again. Through his recovery and trial there is no one and he is soon sent off to serve out a two year prison sentence alone.

On his way to prison he realizes what his pretty looks will mean and he comes up with a plan to save himself. Jaye is scared and desperate, but he’s also smart. His instincts served him well before so he follows them again. He plans to give himself to Cash the boss of the Disciples, in exchange for protection. Once inside he becomes “Johnny” and Johnny is Cash’s prison bitch. That means nobody but Cash touches him without permission. Cash is Johnny’s protector and takes that oath seriously. Cash sets the terms and it’s a business agreement, beneficial to both parties. Cash can’t always be there though and those are the times when Jaye’s fears about his vulnerability all seem to come true. His alliance with Cash also makes him a target for anyone that feels Cash has wronged them including rival prison gangs and guards taking advantage when opportunities are presented.

Cash is one of those gray characters you think you should hate, but he is integral to not only Jaye physically surviving in prison, but also to holding onto his mental stability. His mental state has been slowly unraveling since his assault. The ghosts of the men who started it all won’t leave him alone. He hears them and he feels them. He seems to be adjusting and holding on until it comes time to pay off his debt to the guard that is helping Cash’s crew; it’s more than Jaye can handle and he almost completely shuts down. Cash offers him strength and companionship, and there may even be some affection there, but there is not a romance between the two. Even though at times it seems to comfort Jaye, sex with Cash is never confused for anything other than the act of release, payment or a show of power.

Lynn Kelling excels at writing characters who have been damaged and go through an arc of healing and transformation, but Jaye’s change is so extreme and happens over such a short period of time and under such horrific circumstances, you will truly be awed by the strength that he shows, even when barely hanging on. From Arctic Absolution we know he gets through it, though he still struggles with his mental health after his release, which made it a bit easier to get through this story. Heartbreaking doesn’t adequately describe the extent of his torment, loss and pain. Seeing Jaye take back his power, fight the hold his attackers still had on him and transform himself was gruesome, terrifying and thrilling all at once.

Again, this is dark and it’s hard to read. Jaye suffers brutal assaults, rapes and torture. There is a lot of hopelessness and fear, but there is also this utterly amazing character in Jaye who will get under your skin from the moment you start reading and carve out a place in your heart.