Rachel’s Totem, by Marie Harte

30 Oct

(Two Feral attraction stories, released April 15th 2008 by Samhain)

Before starting, I have to apologize profusely to the amazing Angela James and the authors for it taking me six and a half months to get around to reading and reviewing these, since I got them at a giveaway hosted by the wonderful ladies at WriteMinded. I suck, and not in a good way. Sowwy. (Two down, four to go.)

Rachel’s Totem, by Marie Harte

Also part of Samhain’s Red Hot line, Rachel’s Totem is my introduction to Ms Harte’s writing.

The warning for this story is very similar to that for the previous one: it contains graphic language, explicit sex, and ménage a quatre (three guys, one woman).

Here’s the blurb:

Mountain man or mountain lion? In this case, one and the same.

When Rachel arrives in Cougar Falls for a reading of her aunt’s will, she finds herself in a typical mountain town. Except that it’s not quite… typical. It’s full of the requisite, rough-hewn mountaineers, but these men seem more animal than man.

And one of the rude strangers brings out the animal in her during an embarrassingly orgasmic-and scorching-sexual encounter in an alley. The fantastic tales that the townsfolk tell about the Ac-Taw, a clan of people who can shift into animals, are nothing but folklore. Or are they?

Burke is stunned by his response to Rachel, and even more so when she innocently shows signs of possessing Ac-Taw blood. And this puts her in more danger than she knows, danger that only increases the urgency to mark her as his own.

Rachel comes to realize she’s inherited much more than just property. She has also inherited a destiny to protect her newfound home.

For the Ac-Taw aren’t just legend-they’re real.

There’s a bit of info dumping, but it’s for the most part well handled. However, it does feel as if this story were part of a series where more of the shifters’ world is explored. Not that I could find related titles through Ms Harte’s site, it’s just how it comes across while reading.

There is an established mythology and several references to other groups encroaching these shifters’ territory. Near the end of the story there is even a new character showing up and making reference to past—and potentially future—events. The world building as a whole is more complex and internally consistent, and what little external conflict there is, is tangential enough to allow the reader to concentrate on Rachel and Burke’s reactions to each other.

There are a number of secondary characters rendered with broad strokes, with a smaller number given more depth through interactions with Rachel, through whose eyes most of the story is told.

The emphasis in this novella is indeed the relationship between the protagonists, and while it’s influenced by that reliable staple of paranormal/shifter stories (the fated ‘mate’ for those not in the know), it’s still sweet. Yes, even with all the sexoring going on (and boy oh boy, but there is some of that in there), there is an underlying sweetness to it.

The ending is slightly too predictable and just a tad too sweet, but even that fits the characters and the story.

Ms Harte does something I particularly like by letting the story develop slowly in time—even if it’s only 80+ pages, it takes place in a matter of weeks, which makes it easier for this reader to buy the forever after happy ending.

Rachel’s Totem gets a 7 out of 10.

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