TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 28 April 2011
I was intrigued by Drake when he appeared so many times in Jake Banaconni's tale - a loyal, selfless Alpha shifter who had been so badly wounded that his damaged leg prevented him from shifting, and his cat going wild inside him, and as that book ended, he was being operated on, but we didn't get to find out if the op would be successful or not. I hadn't realised that he would get his tale so soon, but he deserved one, and he certainly deserved the female he got.
The tale itself is simple: Saria is a young woman living in the Bayou, whose brothers are secret shifters. She believes herself to be a normal human female, as her brothers don't have much to do with her, which she thinks is because she is different from them, i.e. ordinary. Living in the Bayou, watching wildlife and taking photographs, and aiming to be published in Nat Geo one day, she comes across a mutilated body...and another, and begins to suspect that one of her brothers must be the killer. After all, they are the only shifters she knows. The land happens to be leased from Jake, so she writes to him, via her priest, as previous letters have been returned to her with a warning, which makes her suspect her brothers even more, and Drake arrives on the scene.
When Drake arrives, he doesn't initially realise that she's the female his leopard has been scenting and going mad over, and thinks she is simply his Bayou guide, but she is approaching the Han Vol Dan and her leopard is attracting other shifters. When Drake gets challenged for dominance, she then realises that the 7 other families who lease the land are shifters, and so any one of them could be the killer/s, and Drake eventually susses that she wrote the letter. Several challenges for dominance ensue, and though Drake only fights to protect his mate, he ends up as Alpha of the bayou. Saria and Drake very quickly fall under each other's shifter spell and in lust and eventually in love.
That's pretty much the tale, and it's what I expect from this series - shifters, Alpha males, the mating and a HEA. But this book is also full of feelings, and Drake is so worthy of finding happiness after putting the survival of his race an his loyalty to Jake before his own needs. Saria is just the female for him - innocent, yet with a tough core, and despite being in danger, she feels a need to protect him from the shifters that she has grown up with but didn't know were shifters. Only with her is Drake gentle yet passionate and erotic when he helps her leopard emerge, which makes for some very hot and descriptive love scenes. What I also liked about this tale is that whilst there were the usual fights for dominance, there wasn't so much of the unnecessary secrecy and dangers as with the previous novels, in particular the first two novellas.
CF has also introduced several other males, all part of Jake's set-up, who no doubt will be used to expand the series further, which I am certainly looking forward to. I am glad that Solange from one of the earlier novellas ended up with her own tale as part of the Dark series, rather than as part of the Leopard Series as she was too tough a character for a shifter male, and I hope that this series goes on the way it's started - hot, sexy, Alpha males who still have tenderness for the right female, and not the way in which the Dark and Ghostwalkers series have, i.e. too much repetition, too much same old, same old. I still read the latter, but not the former, as with some 20-odd tales, they are starting to become a bit boring and featuring too many males who seem to be he-men.
This is definitely a Keeper, and one of her best novels. If you get the garish edition by Jove, don't be put off by the naff cover, as one the inside, you get a great shot of Drake - and he's yummy!