27 January 2014

Review: Tempting the Beast by Lora Leigh

Burning thoughts:
Him: I was created, not conceived. She's human, they said I'm just an animal. But she has become my soul.
Her: I've never met him, yet I can't get him out of my mind. It's as if he's possessed me, body and soul. 
Photo - Red Hot sensuality levelPhoto - Three Stars rating Tempting the Beast by Lora Leigh is the first of her long-runing sci-fi romance series, Breeds (27 and counting!). It's also my first uber erotic romance read...and it's one burning hot, fan-yourself-every-second experience. I think Fifty Shades of Grey pales in comparison in the Scoville scale alone!

First lines

Tempting the Beast started with unassuming though no less interesting style. You have this feisty, no-nonsense journalist battling eight grown men—her publisher father and seven older brothers.

She's their baby girl, cosseted, protected and more or less shielded from the harsher realities of life. She wants the assignment but the rest of the clan is a formidable wall of granite—unmoving and unimpressed by her arguments.
“This story is mine.” Merinus stared down her family of seven brothers as well as her father, her voice firm, her determination unwavering. She knew she didn't present an imposing figure. At five feet five inches, it was damned hard to convince the males of her family, all over six feet, that she was serious about anything. But in this one instance, she knew she had no other choice.
As launchpads to stories go, I can say it's arresting. Just what was the story all about and why didn't she have any choice? It's a compelling first paragraph that wants you to dig deeper into the story.

First lines rating: 4.0

Main characters: Merinus Tyler and Callan Lyons

Callan Lyons is the epitome of the Alpha Male of most paranormal romances—physically powerful, forceful, and the leader of his Pride of feline breeds. He's the first successful breed created by the clandestine Genetics Council from a mutation of human and lion DNA.

The purpose of his genetic engineering? Become the ultimate killing machine, well-versed in all forms of warfare, including sex. It doesn't help that he's downright smexin' hot!
Some would say the man wasn't even human. A genetic experiment conceived in a test tube, carried to term by a surrogate and inheriting the genes of the animal his DNA had been altered with. A man with all the instincts and hunting abilities of a lion. A perfectly human looking male. A man bred to be a savage killer.
Merinus Tyler is a journalist in her father's newspaper, the National Forum, a conservative and respected publication. Trying to keep up with and earning the respect of her all-male clan has turned her into a stubborn, headstrong female who looked and acted as if she's forgotten how to be a woman.
She was twenty-four years old, the youngest child in a family of eight and the only daughter. She hated makeup, despised dresses and social functions and she heard often how she was a disappointment to the female race, according to her brothers. She wanted to be a journalist; she wanted to make a difference.
The big story that Merinus is after is Callan. Her family's paper is after him to reveal all the sordid details behind his being. Also, it's a favor by her father to his late mother who was murdered because of said experiment. Coming out with the story, they believe, will ensure his survival.

But Callan doesn't trust anyone outside of his Pride. Council soldiers are already trying to recapture him. He's being hunted and he believes it's a matter of time before he's killed.
“No, Beauty.” He grinned at her, though there was no humor in his smile. “No one can save me and we both have to accept that. I'll ensure your safety, and that of the others, but they know about me. There is no safety for me.”
It's no surprise then that he resists what Merinus and her family is offering—he'd rather die than be poked and prodded in labs again. His past with the Council is traumatic enough and he's not about to repeat it for anyone.

The catch, though, is that Merinus wanted the assignment because the loneliness she saw in his photograph called to her. Not to mention his physical appeal has her hooked tight. Callan isn't unmoved either. The sexual tension between the characters is extremely high...and straddling the edges of believability. Good thing Ms. Leigh had a plausible explanation for it—which is par for the course when it comes to paranormal and sci-fi stories. You're much more willing to suspend disbelief.

As a heroine, Merinus was true to her characterization—smart, brave (though she's not afraid to acknowledge the fear), and loyal. She doesn't trust anyone easily but when push comes to shove, she'll stand by the people she loves. She can be foolhardy at times though, unable to accept that there are people who are bone-deep evil.

This worldview puts her in life or death situations. Of course, Callan comes to the rescue often, hee. And for him, she's more than a handful to deal with—what with Council soldiers dogging him and his Pride. She exasperates him, but she fascinates him to no end, too.

For a hero, I like Callan though with some reservations. I'm not much of a fan of obstinate alpha males who're so into the “Me Tarzan, You Jane” subtleties of male-female dynamics. Sure, Callan's part-human, part-breed but it can get old at times. So...archaic!

Characters rating: 4.5

Romance arc

Now, this is where I get to rant and rave. Ms. Leigh created a world that's maybe several decades into the future where genetic mutations are routine. I've a feeling the backstory of when the genetic experiments started is the present time so that we're a few decades into the future when the story begins. She didn't date the first installment in the Breeds series though so I'm not sure.

In this alternate world, scientists used human and animal genes to create super assassins—gorgeous, hyper intelligent, sexually magnetic, and downright deadly. They're trained to kill by any means. They believe the Breeds are soulless because they were created not conceived. The only kink in this worldview is that the Breeds had honor—they couldn't kill innocent people. Our first indications that they do have souls. Failure to accomplish their missions led to a lot of torture, rape and all around cruelty against these “creatures” to keep them in line.

The males and females alike were assassins and breeders. The Council scientists believed that if they failed to weed out honor in the first generation, the second generation of Breeds will be the killer machines they wanted—cold and deadly. That's why they're after Callan. He's the first Breed viable experiment, and they want him to mate with the others to create their super army.

This is the backdrop of Merinus and Callan's love story. The thing is, Callan understandably have some misgivings about hooking up with a human. Basically because he can't ensure her safety. Particularly because humans perpetuated the cruelty against his kind. The Council's will want a Breed mate, too, because she's a viable breeder for the species' children.

But he's supremely attracted to Merinus—he can't get her out of his mind. Every single encounter sends him into arousal but by dint of sheer will, he avoids any touching at first.

Merinus had already been half in love with Callan ever since she saw his picture in the file sent by his mother to her father. Meeting him only strengthened the attraction.

Here's the thing though: in the Breeds world that Lora Leigh created, when a Breed—whether male or female—kisses a potential mate, s/he shares a mating hormone. The rule is, if you get the hormone, you'll suffer all sorts of hell until you hit the bed (or anywhere that's convenient) and mate. The hormone, so says the laws of this world, ensures the continuity of the Breeds line. (It's science fiction, what can I say.) And there's no cure for it because it's something the Breeds and their doctor has just learned.

The upshot is, Callan doesn't know this so he “infects” Merinus with the mating hormone with one scorchin' hot saliva exchange. And Merinus goes into a “mating frenzy”. PMS-like cramps that's so strong the pain doubles her over. Skin so sensitive that the touch of fabric or a bump on the road sends her to near ecstasy. Tongue duels with Callan relieves the pain—a bit—but only making love turns the painful arousal to a low simmer...for a while.
Merinus woke up aching the next morning. Not the flu or summer cold kind of ache. The utterly female ache of needing a man. How a virgin was supposed to know what that ache meant, she wasn't certain. But there was no doubt that was the cause of it.
Evidently, she wasn't the only one afflicted. An affliction more than described it. She felt fevered, her skin sensitive, ready for his touch. It was unlike anything she had ever known. It was unlike anything she ever wanted to know.
Merinus shook her head. It wouldn't stop. The pulsing, throbbing need was only intensifying. “What did you do to me?” she gasped, shaking her head. “It won't stop.”
I tell you, the world that Lora Leigh created brings a new definition to the phrase sex on steroids. Or making love like rabbits. Or even lion sex (and you know what they say about the sexual proclivities of  lions).

One thing for sure, the development of the romance between Merinus and Callan seems to be an afterthought to me. Sex comes first, romance second. Merinus is always in sexual pain and only after a bout with the O allows the romance some time to develop.

I have to say I understand it, knowing that Tempting the Beast is the first of the Breeds series. It's just setting up the world that will people Ms. Leigh's (currently) 27-part (now 28) romance serial. Like any other sci-fi franchise, the rules will evolve as you go through the whole spectrum of stories so there's not much knowledge to go on in this first installment. I'm forced to suspend disbelief a while longer.

But I don't have to like it. I don't like that there's more sex than getting-to-know you moments. (Sometimes, I think the sex scenes are already gratuitous.) For now though, I'm willing to accept that the mating hormone that Merinus and Callan shares can also lead to a deep emotional bond between a mated pair. You'll just need cold showers...a lot!

Romance arc: 3.5

What worked, what didn't

What can I say? If you want an extremely sensual read, Tempting the Beast wins the vote hands down. Lots of burning hot sexual encounters are built into the Breeds universe, what with the mating hormone thing. Mix in the sense that the mated pair is always in danger because the Council will always want them back for their ability to procreate, and you've got lovers wanting to do the deed every chance they get. Nothing like making up for lost time (presumably if they're captured) to drive a couple to bed.

I've read the Breeds series until the third in the series (Elizabeth's Wolf). (Other reviews coming soon. Maybe.) Though the Breeds storyline gets more developed the more that the other titles in the series comes in, I have the sense that the whole franchise is just one excuse to write lots of steamy, spicy, smokin' hot sex scenes.

The love story and the satisfying optimistic ending is there, but the real danger permeating the mated pairs' lives make it impossible to have the normal courtship rituals that real-world people go through. Which I get, because the Breeds series exists in a different plane and in a context of danger. An innocuous dinner date is, well, innocuous. It doesn't do anything to convey the urgency and the peril that frames the world of the hunted Breeds.

There's lots of tenderness and compelling emotion shared by Merinus and Callan though. I like that Ms. Leigh doesn't skimp on that. Who's to say a hunted pair can't have tender moments and a chance to get to know each other better even in the running for their lives?

And there's lots of the sweet. It's a lovely exchange for the ordinary dating rituals that's missing in the series. In the end, that's what's important in a romance read. For me, that is. You follow a couple's romance arc—both their external and internal struggles—but it's the internal development that gets to a romance reader every single time.

Before I forget, there's some things missing in the world-building. I get the sense that the rules of this alternate world will be developed as the series unfolds. I haven't read far into the Breeds franchise yet but I'm hoping laws won't get broken somewhere down the line.

Like scale: 3.0

Favorite lines

I share lines from the stories I read because (1) they tell a lot about the characters, (2) they're funny, (3) they're too good to not share, or (4) these lines just resonate with me. 'Nuff said.
   “Who knows here Lyons is,” he finally said. “He comes and goes.”
   Merinus rolled her eyes. Wasn't that the truth? And he looked damned fine coming, too.

   “...I have tried to tell you, I am not whatever fairy tale you have worked up in your head. At this moment I am more instinct than control. I am more the animal I was created with right now, Merinus. Do not push the animal, because even I cannot predict its response.”

   “I'm sorry.”
   She could barely hear the apology. Merinus took a deep, strengthening breath. Damn, men and their phobias. She turned on her back staring up at him drowsily. “Why?” she mumbled.
   Callan frowned. “I lost control—”
   “So?” She yawned. Damn, she was tired now. “I wanted you, too. Now lay down here and cuddle me, dammit. A woman is supped to be cuddled after mind blowing sex, not attempting to make sense of some man's psyche.”
   “I'm going to sleep.” She would figure it out later. “Men are just too confusing for me to figure out right now.”

Book details

Title: Tempting the Beast Within
Series: Breeds #1
Author: Lora Leigh
Genre: Paranormal romance, romance series, erotic romance,  science fiction romance
Original publication date: July 25, 2008 (Ellora's Cave Publishing)
Themes: Genetics, corruption, assassins, mercenaries
WARNING:  Adult themes, explicit sexual language, and profanity. May not be suitable for children under 17.
Callan Lyons is a genetic experiment. One of six fighting for freedom and the survival of their Pride. Merinus Tyler is the reporter who will tempt him, draw him, until the fury of the "mating frenzy" locks them into a battle of sexual heat there is no escape from.

Deception, blood, and the evil Genetics Council are hot on their trail. Callan will use his strength to try and save them both...and do all in his power to keep his woman in the process.
Have you read Tempting the Beast by Lora Leigh or is it still on your TBR pile? Would you say it's a recommended read? Share your thoughts about it or the Breeds series in the comment section below!
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