Entangled Edge / July 15, 2013 / $3.99 digital
Rancher Adam Sloan is more than meets the eye. As the heir to his Pack, the sexy werewolf’s biggest challenge is keeping his kin’s true nature under wraps. But a group of jaguar shifters threatens to reveal the pack, blasting into town killing humans in plain sight. And when he smells one at the local diner, his standing orders are to take her out.
Lana Turpin doesn’t realize she’s a moving target. Raised in the foster system, she only knows that she blacks out during the new moon and wakes up without remembering a thing. But now she’s being tracked by some strange organization that wants her back—even though she’s never stepped foot inside their compound. And the stranger across the diner is watching her like an enemy.
It should be a simple mission for Adam, but when he touches the frustratingly beautiful Lana, his inner wolf howls…mate. Now, the two must find and stop the people who hunt her…and Adam must keep his own family from killing the only woman he will ever love.
One of the most intriguing aspects of romance novels revolve around the central conflict between hero and heroine. Because the classic “I hate you, I love you” gets old fast, authors must find different ways to separate couples before allowing them their HEA. The conflict may be internal to either the hero or heroine, as when a hero fears commitment. The conflict may come from the circle surrounding one or both of the leads—think the Capulets and Montagues, the Jets and the Sharks, or the Norman knight sent to secure a castle by marrying the daughter of its Saxon lord. The conflict might even grow out of danger, as when a hero leaves the heroine to protect her.
Lisa Kessler employs two of these conflict types in Moonlight, the first in her new paranormal series, and it’s one of two things that stands out most in the book (although perhaps even more intriguing is the tantalizing glimpse she gives of the romance to be found in its sequel, Hunter’s Moon). The other is the secret organization mentioned in the blurb. I like how Kessler handles conflict; I’m less happy to read about yet another secret organization creating and/or experimenting on super humans. It was novel the first time I read Lora Leigh, Sarah McCarthy, and Marjorie Liu. Now it’s cliché.
Rather than dwell on that aspect of the book, though, I’d much rather focus on the conflicts the author sets up. Given that dogs and cats are natural enemies, it’s no surprise that the world constructed by Kessler, werewolves and jaguar shifters each consider the other the enemy. Werewolves think jaguar shifters are opportunistic, cold blooded killers, “ruthless assassins selling their heightened senses and abilities to the highest bidder,” while jaguar shifters disdain werewolves for their pack nature. As Sebastian, a jaguar shifting assassin dismissively points out, “Jaguars are not like wolves. We do not have an instinct that forces us to mate for life. We make our own decisions.”
Until Adam comes along, Lana can’t explain her monthly blackouts; because she doesn’t know what she is, doesn’t realize she’s transforming into a jaguar with every full moon. Her joy in discovering she’s not crazy is palpable. What’s less great for her is learning that she won’t be acceptable to Adam’s Pack because werewolves hate jaguars. For someone who has never belonged, the idea of family tantalizes, and yet, it seems an impossible dream.
And poor Adam! The gorgeous werewolf—destined to one day be the Alpha of his Pack—finds his mate and feels the happiness and completion of having his second half, but understands he must protect her not only from the secret organization trying to capture her for experimentation, but also from his Pack, who would kill her in an instant.
Here’s Adam’s initial reaction to discovering that Lana is his mate:
I waited behind a stack of boulders and stared down at my hand. It had tingled the second my skin touched Lana’s in that café tonight. Opening and closing it, I grimaced. It still looked like my right hand, but this hand had just fucked up my entire world. It could only mean one thing. On the other side of the rocks, Lana’s curvy body contorted from a woman into a jaguar. The one creature we kept away from the Pack at all costs.
I never should have touched her. There had to be some kind of mistake. This woman could not be my damned mate. No way.
As the Alpha’s oldest son, keeping the others safe fell to me...Jaguars were our enemies, trained assassins. They encroached on our territory and killed humans. I was pledged to hunt them and kill them.
Not to help them. Or her.
I looked up at the stars. Just fucking perfect.
That’s the Jets and Sharks conflict, and many authors would leave it at that. But Kessler ups the ante; she imbues both Adam and Lana with strong senses of responsibility, and that’s where things get interesting. Once Adam recognizes Lana as his mate, he’s bound and determined to find a way to keep her.
Until now I had no idea how strong the instincts of the wolf inside me could be. It went beyond physical want, a need to have her nearby, to know she was safe. I had to figure out how to protect her from the men after her and from my own Pack. She was right. It was probably safer for her to leave town. But I couldn’t let her go. It’d be great if I could figure out how to live in the moment and enjoy today because I may not see her again tomorrow, but I flat-out couldn’t.
Unfortunately, he fails to convey that to her in strong enough terms, and for a Little Girl Lost like Lana, who doesn’t understand concepts like primal urges and fate, this failure results in her feeling one step away from rejection at all times.
Adam’s connection with his Pack is something Lana’s never known. Her belief that she was put into foster care because her parents didn’t want her informs all of her relationships.
For a rare moment, I felt complete, accepted. I didn’t need to pretend to fit in or be someone else. He knew my parents abandoned me, that I had no family. All the secrets I usually did my best to hide from the world. But none of that was reflected in his eyes. All I could see was acceptance.
And, God, I never realized it could feel so good.
But I wasn’t worthy of it.
Whenever Adam hides her from discovery by his family, she becomes more and more convinced she’s not truly important to him...even after he confesses his love.
What she fails to understand is that for shapeshifters, mating isn’t a casual thing. Adam’s not the typical guy down the street who says “Sorry, gotta go!” when presented with complications. So time and time again throughout the book she plans to leave Adam behind. At first it’s simply to protect her heart, but it doesn’t take long for her to turn all noble and decide to save him from having to choose between her and his Pack by choosing for him:
“If I stayed I would only be hurting you and your family. I don’t know who I really am or where I come from, but you do. Your family is right here. You need to hang on to that.”
He let go of my hand and stood up, raking his fingers back through his hair. “There’s gotta be a way to make this work. We’re just not seeing it.”
I looked up at him, watching him pace back and forth. After all my worry that he would leave me, all I could see now was how much it was going to hurt when I had to be the one to walk away.
More often than not it’s the hero who tries to leave the heroine in order to protect her, so this was a nice change. Kessler handles conflict well in Moonlight, and by the time I’d finished I had already checked to make sure the couple oh-so-slightly teased were the leads in its sequel, Hunter’s Moon. That said, I’m looking forward to the sequel and hoping it builds on the romance elements because even though I liked the werewolf/jaguar conflict, I’m not really into the whole secret organization with world-wide domination as its goal.
Learn more about or order a copy of Lisa Kessler's Moonlight, out July 15:
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on Twitter @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and (probably too often) politics.