Desert Isle Keeper
We have complained many times about the romance books that simply throw together the same tired ingredients with no originality. But sometimes, the smallest changes to the formula can bring a breath of freshness to the tale, making us remember why we love the cliches to begin with. That is what happens here, with great success.
Zeke Noble stepped out of a bar for some fresh air and didn’t return home for a year. That year was spent as a prisoner, the subject of cruel experiments which turned his natural ability to befriend animals into a frightening, scary, and quite unnatural talent. An escapee now, he fears having his hard won freedom stolen from him again. But he knows the only way to truly win is to get his life back. To that end, he goes back to his house and his life and begins to look for a new job. But he is fit for so little now and it looks like the only place he will be able to get work is the new veterinary office. Can he convince his beautiful teenage crush to give him a second chance at life? And maybe love?
Geneva Harper has a had a rough row to plow since becoming the town’s newest vet. Her family, uber rich with political connections, have no desire to see their only daughter working such a lowly position. Her brother has gone missing – runaway or something more sinister, no one truly knows. And she can’t seem to keep any help except her receptionist/secretary/best friend. So when Zeke Noble, janitor extraordinaire with an ability to calm animals, walks through her door, she feels like she has finally caught a lucky break. But bad luck suddenly dumps a whole host of new problems upon her, with Zeke seeming to be the only port in a storm. Is he her knight in shining armor, even if that armor is just battered jeans and t-shirts? Or is he the cause of all this new woe? And is it about to end – or get far worse?
This is a suspense novel, so of course it will get far worse! But what makes that suspense really work is the natural build up. On the one hand, there is the usual round of problems – building leaks, extra work, nit-picky family things – that are part of all our daily lives. There is the natural routine of work, eat, rest, repeat. Zeke and Neva do these things very well together by the way, which is a nice break from the usual suspense romance where the couples only work well when battling it out with the villain. These two are a terrific pair for the boring parts of life that make up much of how the typical American spends his time. And then there are the building bad moments – when the maniac who is slowly but inexorably becoming a large part of their lives increases his presence. They are a natural for these parts too, working together to try to bring about the best possible outcome. And the pacing is well done. The sense of the sinister is somehow well mixed with the sense of the ordinary so that you get a feel for how evil can enter into even the most typical of lives.
What was especially nice in all this is that in many ways Neva is the alpha in this relationship. It is her work that their work lives center around; she is the vet. Regardless of how well Zeke can calm the animals, she is the one who operates. It is her life they have to build their couplehood around. But she is a very natural alpha, never fighting for control or rumbling out demands. She wears power naturally, the way most real life alphas that I know do. She isn’t constantly worried about asserting herself or making sure that everyone around knows that she’s the boss. Her self-confidence and worth make it easy to see why Zeke and others in her orbit gravitate naturally around her. She is also kind and willing to compromise and work with people. A terrific heroine through and through.
Zeke, who has had lots of his animal instincts enhanced by the experiments, wants to claim Neva for his. But unlike in most paranormals, where this turns the hero into an arrogant, possessive SOB, Zeke woos Neva. He becomes her helper, her friend, then her lover. He doesn’t try to change her or sexually intimidate her. When it comes time to protect her, he does that by sharing information with her, not hiding it. He also has had to pay for his enhanced abilities. There are side effects which affect his life in very real ways. I enjoyed seeing that as well. Too often these men are just supermen, nothing negative about it. Here the author explores some of what can go wrong.
Watching them fall in love was a treat. The author uses many familiar dating/mating rituals – meals together, caring for the young together, painting together – to show us how these two fit in each others lives. And their conversations are short – Zeke is not much for conversation – but meaningful. Zeke may not be very verbose but he is big on telling you what you need to know.
While this is the third novel in the Skin series it is very loosely connected to the others. Zeke was part of the experiments, but he is not part of bringing down the people who are behind them. We learn a bit about what is happening with all that, but it is not a part of the central story.
My only quibble with this novel is the evil villain of the tale, who seemed a bit over the top for this particular story. I loved the way it was a complete surprise though – I honestly didn’t expect it to be who it was.
If you have been looking for a different, gentler paranormal this is the read for you. A wonderful blending of mystery and science and magic. I can recommend it with nary a reservation.