Protect and Defend
by Francesca Hawley
(Ellora's Cave, $18.99, NC-17) ISBN  978-0-451-22509-2
****
Lieutenant Diarmid Redwolf is the object of many a female fantasy, and author Mikaela Laughlin is no exception. Needless to say, when she gets the chance to interview him for background on her next novel, she jumps at the chance. Shortly thereafter and without much preamble, they jump each other. See, Diarmid is a wolf shapeshifter (absolutely not to be confused with the Hollywood-style werewolf), and if a shapeshifter finds his/her True Mate, they know immediately and instinctively.

Downside to this immediate knowledge is that Mikaela is human, and therefore has no idea what's going on between the two of them, let alone any idea of what a True Mate is or how it's going to affect hers and Diar's lives.

Their first (graphic) mating, however, reveals Mikaela's own shapeshifter background, and confronting her brother and father confirms the fact that her mother was a shapeshifting wolf as well.  In the long run, this probably will make things easier, but it's a big life change - or so you'd think. Mikaela seems almost alarmingly unfazed about this new revelation about the world in general and her life specifically.

Despite a lifetime of lies about her background, Mikaela has a very close relationship with her brother and father. Diarmid, on the other hand, has grown very far from his parents and has a habit of getting his significant others killed, but it doesn't take Mikaela long to get to the heart of the matter.  Though the family is overjoyed at this reunion, there is a cloud hanging over the happiness: Diarmid, over the years, has become the target of a serial killer - he blew up Diar's first wife and two sons, and more recently murdered his girlfriend.  Now, of course, Mikaela has become the target.

Diarmid, who as a cop and a True Mate is overprotective anyway, goes into overdrive. However, when his stalker manages to sneak into the Redwolf family compound on the day of Diar's and Mikaela's wedding reception, even Diar and his fierce relatives can't protect her.

Protect and Defend is very well-written with fully (though perhaps hastily) developed characters and relationships. Readers will want to keep in mind that Ellora's Cave, the publisher, caters to a specific reading group; though Protect and Defend has elements of suspense and the central story is about a relationship, substantial portions of the novel are extremely sensual.

Over all, paranormal aside, Protect and Defend is about real people, many of whose problems are something to which most can relate.  The interpersonal relationships with both Diar's and Miki's extended families are interesting and the author's humor shows through in well-crafted dialogue.  Fans will probably recognize a few characters from a previous short story in the anthology Paranaughty, and if the character development is any indicator, more books involving Hawley's wolves will follow.  Though the sexual content of the book may not be some readers' cup of tea, those who appreciate "romantica" will find Protect and Defend truly enjoyable.

--Sarrah Knight


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