Monday, February 22, 2016

Review, Excerpt & Giveaway: RED RIVER by Cardeno C. (Pack #2)

Red River - header

WLK synopsis
Two Alpha shifters join together to lead their pack and build a family.
Commitment, loyalty, and strength aren’t enough to make Wesley Stone’s birth pack accept an Alpha with a physical imperfection, even if it’s a meaningless mark. Putting the safety of his pack above his own wellbeing, Wesley trades himself for another Alpha and agrees to mate with a stranger in a mysterious, insular pack.
Alphas from Jobe Root’s family have led the Red River pack from the first day shifters walked the earth. Now the time has come for Jobe to fulfill his destiny, but to do that, he needs his mate by his side. Spiritual, easygoing Jobe reveres Mother Nature and trusts in fate, yet he can’t help being nervous about how his mate will react to his new life in Red River, his new life with Jobe.
Two Alphas with contrasting personalities, different upbringings, and divergent beliefs come together for the good of their packs. But to stay together, Wesley and Jobe must see beyond the surface and embrace every facet of themselves and their union.


Excerpt from Prologue
“You’re only twenty-three. Give it time.”
Wesley Stone reached for the volume dial on the cracked dashboard and turned it to the right. Maybe if he could make the music loud enough, it’d drown out the voice in his head.
“You’re only twenty-three. Give it time.”
Time for what? There weren’t any other Alpha wolves in the Purple Sky pack, so everyone knew Wesley would eventually be leading them. What exactly were they waiting for?
“You’re only twenty-three. Give it time.”
Unfortunately, the sound in his head was louder than any rock song. He turned the knob again. He could concede that twenty-three was young to be a pack Alpha, but it wasn’t too young. And his uncle Paul was already sixty, well past the age when Alphas normally handed over the reins. It was time for him to transition leadership to Wesley.
“You’re only twenty-three. Give it time.”
He raised the volume and wished, not for the first time, that his old Civic had a better sound system. Wesley had spent three hours a day in that car during the four years he had driven back and forth to the nearest college. Getting a degree had been his uncle’s idea. He had said it would give Wesley extra credibility, but very few people in their small pack went to college, so they weren’t impressed with Wesley’s hard work and newfound knowledge about environmental engineering.
“You’re only twenty-three. Give it time.”
Memories piled up of those long days: waking up early, driving away from his pack and the woods into a concrete jungle, attending classes in huge buildings, holing up by himself in the musty library, and then driving home and falling into bed exhausted, only to do it all again the next day. And for what? If anything, the time away had put even more distance between him and the shifters he should be leading.
“You’re only twenty-three. Give it time.”
Once Wesley was truly their Alpha, they were certain to see his strength, his devotion, his skill in leading them, and they’d know the mark on his skin didn’t matter. Maybe then the pack would respect him.
“You’re only twenty-three. Give it time.”
Of course, for Wesley to be Alpha, his uncle would first have to step down. At six feet, one inch in height with a muscular one hundred eighty-five pound frame, Wesley had the advantage of size and youth over his uncle. If the man kept clinging to the position, Wesley could challenge him for it and he was bound to win. But at what cost?
His uncle, though not as strong as he had been during his youth, was a good Alpha and he had always treated Wesley well. His mother would be horrified if he went against her beloved brother, and the pack was already wary of Wesley, so taking the position by force wasn’t likely to endear him to them. Winning in a challenge against his uncle might earn him the position of Alpha, but he’d lose the respect of everyone who mattered, himself included. He had no options, no solutions. He was stuck waiting.
“You’re only twenty-three. Give it time.”
The radio knob he had turned yet again, snapped off in his hand.
“Dammit!” Wesley yelled in the empty car.
The music was already on full blast so he couldn’t hear himself, but his throat felt the strain. For that matter, so did the rest of him. His heart raced, his lungs worked overtime, and his muscles stretched so tightly they could have snapped at any moment. He needed a way to release the tension and frustration, and when he glanced out the windshield at the streets he had been blindly driving past in his effort to put space between himself and the maddening conversation he’d had with his uncle, he found the perfect solution: a human bar.
Most shifters had fated mates, but Alpha wolves needed to focus on their pack, not a mate, so instead of settling down with one wolf, they gave their energy to their pack and sated their bodies with shifters who weren’t yet mated. Wesley had a mirror so he knew he was attractive and there had been no shortage of admiring glances and come-ons from the humans at his school, but he hadn’t been receptive to their advances because he dedicated all his remaining free time and energy into socializing with his pack. Unfortunately, the shifters who should have been falling all over themselves to get attention from an Alpha gave him a wide berth because of the scar he’d carried since birth. As he jerked the wheel and skidded into the parking lot, the last thing Wesley wanted was to focus on wolves who held him at arm’s length.
The scar, though large—the oddly textured skin bisected his stomach from just under his bellybutton to the top of his groin—didn’t keep him from shifting quicker than others, running faster, or being stronger. When he’d scuffled with other wolves as a youth, he had always come out on top, demonstrating his strength and proving that his skin anomaly should be irrelevant. But shifters were animals as well as people, and animals perceived an abnormality as a weakness, so to them, the scar mattered.
In a bar full of drunk humans, though, it wouldn’t matter. They’d notice his strength and appreciate his appearance. They’d want him even with his clothes off. And in that moment, Wesley desperately needed a reminder that, as an Alpha shifter, he was revered, not excluded. Even if it was from people who had no idea he was an Alpha or that shifters existed.
As it turned out, Wesley’s decision to focus on his pack and his education rather than engage with humans meant he didn’t have a full understanding of their drinking holes so he had missed whatever clues denoted the bar as one catering exclusively to men. Or, more specifically, men who enjoyed the company of other men. In fact, he had been there for half an hour already, downing one beer after another in an attempt to calm down, when he first became aware of the absence of women and, shortly after that, the way some of the men interacted with one another.
His gut reaction was to get up and leave before anyone noticed him and considered his presence at a gay bar yet another difference that made him unworthy of serving as Alpha. But then he remembered that he was far from the Purple Sky pack lands at a human bar where nobody would recognize him, so he sat back on his stool, ordered yet another drink, and considered his options.
Between his time away from his pack and the hesitancy shifters exhibited around him, Wesley didn’t have the level of sexual experience befitting his status as an Alpha wolf, and the experiences he had managed to acquire all involved women. In truth, he found the males in his pack as attractive as he did the females, but he had never approached men because he hadn’t sensed interest from any and, even if he had, he would have worried about exhibiting any trait that some people considered less than optimal.
But none of these humans knew him and, given where they chose to spend their evening, none of them would think lesser of him for being with another male. He was already willing to deviate from his usual rule about sleeping only with shifters, why not take the opportunity to sample something else he’d likely never try again—sex with a man. With that decision made, Wesley curled his fingers around his pint glass and raised it to his lips as he turned around and surveyed his surroundings.
The bar wasn’t big or crowded, so it didn’t take long to catalogue the available humans. Unfortunately, he was the only person alone so the obvious choice of who to approach wasn’t possible. Those people seated in pairs exchanging touches, he immediately dismissed. Although Alpha wolves rarely had mates, they realized the value in their pack members finding their other halves and therefore didn’t approach mated wolves for sex. Humans didn’t have that same bond, but Wesley saw no reason to seek out a man who was already with someone else, so he instead focused on the larger groups and tried to determine who among them was unmatched. The process wasn’t as easy as he would have expected because, unlike the humans in his university classes, the people in the bar were as touchy with one another as wolf pups, perhaps due to the alcohol they’d been consuming.
After a few scans of the room, he noticed a small blond watching him. When Wesley settled his gaze on him, the other man’s lips turned up in a shy smile. Wesley looked him over, his Alpha senses useful given the dim light and distance between them. The human was well-groomed, attractive, and based on the way he stared at Wesley, clearly interested. His search criteria met, Wesley rose from the stool, intending to make his way over to the man to implement his plan of setting his frustrations aside, at least for one night.
But before he could take a single step toward his target, something, or rather someone, in his peripheral vision caught his eye. Twisting his head to the side, Wesley squinted toward the large metal door at the front of the bar and assessed the new arrival. He looked to be about the same height as Wesley, his hair was dyed a brash green and it stuck up in odd angles, there was something shiny in his right eyebrow—a piercing—and his pants were bright red. Everything about the man’s appearance should have put Wesley off because he had always preferred smaller and milder sexual partners, likely stemming from his dominant Alpha nature. Maybe it was due to the alcohol flowing through Wesley’s body, but despite the new arrival’s height and colorful appearance, he captured Wesley’s attention so thoroughly that he couldn’t look away.
Within seconds, the man’s gaze met Wesley’s and his eyes widened, first in surprise and then in excitement. Without hesitation, he moved toward Wesley, ignoring everything and everyone in the room. The show of desire was exactly what Wesley needed to soothe his feelings of rejection from his pack and he easily forgot about the blond at the other end of the bar as his heart raced in anticipation of spending time with the intriguing new man.
“Hi,” he said as soon as he was within arm’s distance of Wesley.
Despite his unorthodox appearance, the man in front of him managed to push almost all of Wesley’s buttons. Almost because he didn’t have the wild, warm, comforting scent natural in shifters. But everything in the bar smelled unfamiliar—liquor, sweat, stale cigarettes, and musk—so Wesley had already resigned himself to ignoring his sense of smell for the night.
“Hello.” Accustomed to socializing only with shifters he’d known his whole life, Wesley considered what he could say to a prospective human conquest. He could try a pickup line, but the only ones that came to mind were from cheesy movies and there was no way he was asking the guy if he came there often.
“Wow,” the man said appreciatively as he flicked his kohl-lined eyes from Wesley’s face to his feet and back up again. “You’re more gorgeous than in my fantasies.”
Relieved they were both in the bar for the same reason and he wouldn’t have to play games or wait to get to the point of the evening, more tension bled from Wesley. He even managed to chuckle.
“My fantasies generally involve fewer clothes.” Wesley rested his palm over the human’s chest and moved his thumb back and forth over his T-shirt covered nipple. “Want to get out of here so I can show you what else they involve?”
“Sure.” A flicker of hesitation crossed the human’s face. “Do you want to…get some tea and talk?”
Oh, no. Conversation was a bad idea because the constant stresses regarding his role within his pack had exhausted Wesley and he didn’t trust himself not to accidentally say something that would strike a human as unusual. That aside, he hadn’t come to the bar to make friends. He had come to get laid without worrying the entire time that his bed partner was looking at his scarred stomach and judging him as unworthy to lead. He had seen the appreciation and interest in the green-haired man’s eyes from the moment he spotted Wesley and he wasn’t going to let them move backward.
“Actually, I don’t.” He slid his fingers up to the man’s neck, wrapped his hand around it, keeping his hold gentle, and walked them toward the door. “I want to take you home.”
Swallowing thickly, the man bobbed his head. “Okay. You live close by?”
As they stepped out into the cool night air, Wesley shook his head and then blinked away the sudden spinning in his head. “No.” He pointed at his car with the out-of-state license plate. “I meant we should go to your place.”
The man stayed silent for several long seconds, his brow furrowed and his eyes seemed to examine Wesley’s face. “I’m not from around here either,” he finally said. “But I can get a hotel room and—”
“That’s perfect.” Wesley grasped the man’s elbow and led him toward a hotel at the end of the street. “A night in a hotel is exactly what I had in mind.”
My Review

Red River is a shifter romance, but it does deviate from the previous shifter books by this author.  Some of the deviations I found intriguing, one of them not so much.  I was a bit unsure of my thoughts on this one, mostly due to that one deviation.

The characters of Wesley and Jobe I really liked.  Wesley, while loyal and determined really is not accepted in his own pack even though he should be the next in line to become the pack's alpha.  As his backstory is told, it is easy to sympathize with his character when all he wants is what is best for his pack--even though they don't want him to lead them simply due to a physical difference.  Jobe is a fun character-so in tune with nature, trusting in it and though he comes off as a sort of new age hippie type guy, his personality actually speaks to a connection between the alpha shifters and the world around them.  I found this to be a refreshing look at shifter characters as I haven't really seen the nature aspect emphasized in other books in this genre, at least not to this extent.

As the story progresses, we find there is much about shifter lore that Wesley is unaware of-not due to his own ignorance but rather to his upbringing and the ways of his own pack and others that are no longer aware of the lore and what it all means.  And while that does contribute to his own pack not wanting him as their leader, it does facilitate he and Jobe coming together.

The two of them together comes off as awkward for quite a bit  once Wesley moves over to the Red River pack...until they finally become physical.  After that, things move quickly-a bit too quickly in my thinking, but since I'm all for the fated mates scenario, this was still okay for me.  That one deviation that I did not care for?  To tell you would be a spoiler, so just know that the final twist in the story involves Wesley and Jobe continuing on Jobe's lineage-and while I've read stories with this type of twist before, it's really something I can do without when I'm reading M/M shifter romance.

Red River wasn't as smooth a read for me as this author's other books, but I still enjoyed Jobe and Wesley together.  If you're a fan of M/M shifter romance, keep this on your radar.  It can be read as a standalone even though it's part of a series-I haven't read the first book yet and had no issues reading this one first.  Be advised, this is strictly for those 18+ due to adult language and M/M sexual content

WLK Author Bio
Cardeno C - Logo
Cardeno C. - CC to friends - is a hopeless romantic who wants to add a lot of happiness and a few "awwws" into a reader's day. Writing is a nice break from real life as a corporate type and volunteer work with gay rights organizations. Cardeno's stories range from sweet to intense, contemporary to paranormal, long to short, but they always include strong relationships and walks into the happily-ever- after sunset.
Cardeno's Home, Family, and Mates series have received awards from Love Romances and More Golden Roses, Rainbow Awards, the Goodreads M/M Romance Group, and various reviewers. But even more special to CC are heartfelt reactions from readers, like, "You bring joy and love and make it part of the every day."
WLK Giveaway
EBook of choice from author's backlist (excluding box sets and anthologies)
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