Family Secrets: The Next Generation continues with another strong entry, this time from author Linda Winstead Jones in A Touch of the Beast.
Hawk Donovan and his twin sister Cassie grew up not knowing anything about their origins. Adopted as children, they both knew they were different from most people. Hawk has the ability to communicate with animals; Cassie has psychic visions. When Cassie starts having seizures, Hawk meets a mysterious woman who slips him a note, promising he’ll find the answers to her sickness and their pasts in Wyatt, North Carolina. Before he can question her further, the woman disappears.
The address he was given is now the site of a veterinary clinic run by Sheryl Eldanis. Three decades earlier, the building housed a fertility clinic. Sheryl isn’t surprised when Hawk arrives wanting to know if she’s found any papers related to the old clinic. Another man arrived just before Hawk did, also asking for any papers she may have found. When she tried to check his identification, he ran off. She has no reason to believe Hawk is any more on the up and up.
Seeing how her animals respond to him goes a long way toward thawing Sheryl toward Hawk. He has almost no people skills, but a man who has even the orneriest creature eating out of his hand within seconds of meeting him can’t be all bad. Since she was hurt by a prior relationship that turned dangerous, Sheryl believes she has no use for men in her life. But as she allows Hawk to go over the boxes of papers she found in the clinic, her attraction for him grows. Hawk doesn’t believe he has anything to offer her, especially when she doesn’t know the truth about his extraordinary abilities. He can’t resist her either. But neither of them realizes that their investigation has drawn attention from other parties interested in the old fertility clinic and what happened there. As they continue their search for answers into Hawk’s origins, danger closes in.
I said in my review of the previous book (Triple Dare by Candace Irvin) that the Next Generation miniseries has been better than the original 12-book Family Secrets continuity. That continues to be the case with this latest entry, a very good book that works well on its own and within the series. Jones does an excellent job drawing the reader into Hawk and Sheryl’s relationship. The first few chapters are merely okay, but the more time I spent with them, the more interested I was in their romance. It unfolds quickly, and it isn’t long before they’re in bed. But their interactions are done with enough charm and sufficient chemistry to make it seem like an organic development, not something forced on them by the plot.
Though the book is not explicit, these two have a lot of sex. It never feels excessive though, because of the way the author makes these encounters meaningful in some way. In the first, Sheryl allows herself to open up and feel emotions she hadn’t felt for a long time. Later, Hawk tries to push her away, and she shows him that she’s not going anywhere. The romance does unfold over a somewhat short period of time, but Jones delivers enough emotion to sell it. Meanwhile, she juggles characters and storylines well. The book fills in some blanks about the overall plot of the series, advances what we already know, and sets up the plot of the next book, all in one whole, satisfying stand-alone read.
Hawk is an intriguing character, a damaged man who’s more comfortable with animals than people. He’s gruff and rude, but not unsympathetic. I really liked all the scenes where he demonstrates his ability to read animals’ emotions and communicate with them. Sheryl is less developed. She’s likable enough within the constraints of the story, but she isn’t really as interesting, which is the book’s only real weakness.
One minor note: this book may not be quite as accessible to newcomers as other books in the series (it could be the author assumed anyone reading this book has probably read at least some of the others). Several characters from previous books in the series, including the hero and heroine from Jones’s prior Family Secrets book, Fever, appear here. (This book is better than Fever, by the way.) Instead of offering any kind of introduction, the author treats them as if the reader already knows who they are. It’s not a huge problem, but even readers of both series may have spend some time remembering details of who all these people were.
The likable characters and well-developed storyline are still what make the book so satisfying. While it does have some suspenseful scenes, it’s a character-driven story for the most part, and the time spent with these particular characters is well worth it.
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