Clay Bennett grew up in the slums with his human mother, never knowing his changeling father. Although he loved her, his mother had trouble dealing with her son's changeling nature, so he worked hard to hide his animal side from the world. As a loner, the only good thing in his life was his friendship with an equally lonely little girl who braved his surliness to be near him. She worked her way into his closed-off heart and he became her protector. However, the cost of keeping the leopard in him on a leash ended with him brutally killing her foster father when he learned of the man's abuse and then spending time in prison for it. Clay would have done it ten times over to keep her safe, but everything good in him died the day he was released and was told that Tally had died in a car accident. In spite of finally finding a pack to help keep him sane, ever since, he's been on the fine edge of going rogue, allowing his beast full reign, until the familiar scent of a woman he'd thought was a ghost tickles his senses. Now he want nothing more than to fully possess the one female he's never been able to forget.
Clay was the one bright spot in Talin McKade's miserable childhood that was filled with nightmares no child should have to endure. But the day she watched him tear her foster father to pieces, something inside her broke. A part of her still loved him, but another part feared the boy who'd turned into a brutal killer before her eyes. Thinking it was best for both of them to make a clean break, she asked her social worker to tell Clay she was dead. Now she herself is a social worker, helping gifted but troubled street kids find hope and meaning in their lives. When several of her kids go missing and begin turning up dead and another whom she was very close to disappears, Tally has a burning need to find the culprit and put a stop to it. So she goes in search of the strongest man she knows and the only one who may be able to help her. Seeing Clay again, stirs up a jumble of emotions. One minute she fears him and the next she desires him like she's never wanted anyone else. But her life in the two decades since she last saw Clay hasn't always been easy and she harbors some big secrets that could put an end to their relationship before it's had a chance to begin again. Not to mention, the killer now has their sights set on Tally. Can she trust Clay to do what's necessary to protect her?
Mine to Possess, the fourth full-length installment of Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series was an awesome read that was jam-packed with excitement. In it, we have the enigmatic Clay, a DarkRiver sentinel who has always been a loner in danger of giving in to his beast nature and going rogue (taking his animal form and never turning back to human again). He's reunited with Talin, his best friend since childhood and the human female he's always thought of as his, when she comes looking for him in the hope that he can help her find the culprit who's killing off the street kids she works with. Tainted by their respective checkered pasts and not sure if they can trust one another, they form an uneasy alliance that gradually heats up into a passionate romantic relationship. But meanwhile, Talin finds herself a target of the killer who wants her to stop investigating the murders, and not surprisingly, it all ties back to the Psy Council. This story really hit the spot, not only with a deep and emotional romance for our main couple, but by also adding a lot to the overall series story arc that I can tell is headed toward an eventual dismantling of the Psy Council and Silence.
Talin was an orphan who became friends with Clay when she was only three years old and he was nine. They both lived in the same slum neighborhood, and although she was somewhat afraid of him at first, she came to his rescue when he broke his leg and no one else was around. After that, they were nearly inseparable, but several years later, when Clay found out that Tally's foster father was abusing her, his inner beast came out, brutally killing the man. Afterward, Clay went to juvie while Tally was adopted by a good family who lived far away. However, Tally had borne witness to Clay's savage nature that day, and fearing that he might someday turn on her, she asked her social worker to tell Clay she was dead. Two decades later, she is now a social worker herself, helping street kids through an organization that helped her in the past. Several of her kids have gone missing and some have turned up dead, so Tally seeks out the one man she knows is strong enough to take on the murderer and find one of her kids before the teen is killed, too. Their reunion isn't exactly a happy one, though. Tally finds that she's still fearful around the man that she used to call her friend, but at the same time, he stirs emotions and desires in her that she's never experienced before. Tally is a very complex heroine, and the threads of her characterization are masterfully woven throughout the story as she gradually comes to trust Clay again and accept that they were always meant for one another. There are so many things I'd love to say about her, but I can't without giving away major spoilers, because she harbors several secrets that eventually come out. But I loved how she and Clay managed to work through all of them. I also loved her dedication to the kids in her care and how she was willing to risk everything for them. She was a wonderful character who exhibited the perfect mix of vulnerability and strength that has quite possibly made her my favorite heroine of the series so far.
Clay grew up with a single human mother and never knew his changeling father. Although he loved his mother, she was never quite able to accept his animal nature. He tried as best he could to suppress it, but living within four walls inside a city was difficult for the predator in him. Everything combined made him an angry loner who had no real friends until little Tally came along. She became a beacon of light to him and he became her protector. He doesn't regret killing her foster father, but he does blame himself for not realizing what was happening sooner. Then after being released from prison, he was told she was dead, and his world imploded. Luckily the DarkRiver pack found him and took him in, but he's continued to pretty much keep to himself and many times has felt like he might end up going rogue. When Tally suddenly reappears in his life, he's angry with her for lying to him and staying away so long, but at the same time, he feels compelled to help her. After all she is his Tally, the one woman his beast has known belonged to him for most of his life. It takes some time for him to work through her fear and all the bombshells she drops on him, as well as his own anger, but he gradually does. In the early chapters, he's kind of a jerk a couple of times, but ultimately I understood where his frustration was coming from and was able to forgive his conduct. He also proves to be surprisingly patient for a changeling male, taking time to help Tally overcome her issues, which helped me to feel much better about him. As the story progressed, he became the perfect mix of alpha protector and passionate lover, who ends up wearing his heart on his sleeve for Tally, which made me place him at or near the top as one of my favorite heroes of the series so far.
As with all the other Psy-Changeling books, there are supporting characters aplenty, many of whom have their own stories. From previous books, Lucas and Sascha (Slave to Sensation), Nate and Tamsyn ("Beat of Temptation" from Wild Invitation), Vaughn and Faith (Visions of Heat), and Judd and Brenna (Caressed by Ice) all make appearances, each with varying degrees of significance to the plot. Dorian, the pretty boy and latent DarkRiver sentinel, pairs up with Clay in a number of scenes as they deal with various threats together. Ashaya, an M-Psy who is working on the Protocol I project for the Psy Council, makes some surprising decisions. Dorian and Ashaya meet in this book, albeit off canvas. I could sense a bit of an attraction, at least on Dorian's part, so I wasn't the least bit surprised to find out that they become the hero and heroine of the next book, Hostage to Pleasure. Devraj Santos, Talin's boss and the head of the organization she works for, becomes the hero of book #7, Blaze of Memory, and Max, an Enforcer (their futuristic version of police) who comes to Tally's aid when her apartment is vandalized, becomes the hero of book #8, Bonds of Justice. I liked both of these men and look forward to reading their stories. We also get a couple of brief scenes with Mercy, heroine of book #6, Branded by Fire; Ria, Lucas's assistant and heroine of the prequel novella, Whisper of Sin; as well as Kaleb, the newest Psy Council member and hero of book #12, Heart of Obsidian. I'm beginning to suspect him of certain activities and very much look forward to unraveling his motivations in the coming installments.
Overall, Mine to Possess was an awesome read that didn't disappoint in the least. I loved Clay and Tally both as individual characters, while the romance between them is deep and heartfelt. I'm a sucker for both friends-to-lovers stories and reunion romances, both of which are strong tropes in this book. Their long-time bond, while a little battered from time apart, had survived, and with a little care and nurturing, flared back to life. It also made their emotional connection a very strong one. The mystery of who was kidnapping and murdering the kids was woven seamlessly throughout and completely engaged my attention as I waited for it all to unravel. Perhaps best of all, was the advancement of the overall story arc, which was possibly even stronger in this book than all the ones before it. At the very least, it added a great deal to the story and built wonderfully on all the others. I can't wait to see how everything turns out and very much look forward to continuing the series to find out.
Friends Before Lovers
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