Roni Andrews has been in love with Taber Williams since he rescued her from the forest when she was just a girl. Taber loves Roni too, but he carries a secret which could drive her away. He is one of the Breeds, a group of genetically engineered humans whose DNA was mixed with that of predatory animals. Taber has watched over Roni for more than a decade, bailing her out of various scrapes and trying to keep her safe from her criminal father and his "employers." After another of Taber's "rescues," his and Roni's passion for one another flares, and they nearly make love. Taber knows that his panther DNA may be too much for Roni to handle, so keeping himself in a steel grip of control, he leaves Roni to think about her choice with a promise to return later that day. Instead, Roni receives a harshly worded note from Taber which effectively ends their budding romance and leaves her heartbroken.
Three years later, the Breeds have been exposed to the public, and Roni now knows what Taber is. In spite of that knowledge and the time that has passed, she still loves and desires him. During their last passionate interlude, Taber had left a mark on Roni's shoulder that has never healed, and now after seeing the news reports she knows what it is, a mating mark. Unfortunately, so does her unscrupulous father who will literally do anything for money. Overzealous reporters descend on Roni's small hometown, handling her roughly in an attempt to see the mark and get information from her. When Taber sees the events playing out on TV, he immediately goes to her rescue, but before whisking her away to safety at the Breeds compound, he brands her lips with a kiss that will ensure she is his forever. The only problem is that Roni is still angry at Taber for everything she believes he has done to her. Even though her body now burns for him with an unquenchable passion, her heart and mind need time to grasp all the things that are happening to her and deal with the past, while Roni's ruthless father tries to infiltrate the Breeds home in an attempt to turn Roni over to the very people that the Breeds have been fighting against for years.
After reading The Man Within, I am finally starting to see why so many romance readers love Lora Leigh's books. While I had liked the idea behind the Breeds series, Tempting the Beast, the first book, had failed to fully resonate with me. The Man Within now has me hooked on the series and wanting to know more. It continues the fascinating story of a group of humans who were cruelly treated as science experiments when their DNA was mixed with that of various predatory animals in an attempt to create the perfect soldier. No longer in hiding, the Breeds are now known to the public and living in their own compound, but are still in grave danger from their creators and extremist groups. This whole overarching sci-fi/suspense plot and continuing storyline has really drawn me into the Breeds world. I think the main reason I liked The Man Within better than Tempting the Beast was the relationship of the hero and heroine. Unlike it's predecessor, which had an immediate "meeting and mating," Taber and Roni had known and been in love with each other for years, ever since she was a little girl. Taber was very protective of Roni throughout those years too which I thought added a nice touch. Another thing I enjoyed more was the love scenes, which for the most part exhibited the tenderness and loving feelings which I had felt were missing from Tempting the Beast. I also appreciated that the misunderstanding that had kept Taber and Roni apart for three years did not drag out for the entire book, but was resolved about halfway through.
Taber and Roni themselves also made the story more enjoyable for me, as I found them to be more relatable characters. I remember liking Taber as a secondary character in Tempting the Beast, and he definitely did not disappoint me in his own story. Because of his animal DNA, Taber still had dominating alpha tendencies, but I thought he had a very gentle, loving and even vulnerable side as well. I love that Taber was so protective of Roni even before he marked her as his mate, and wish that those years had been explored in a bit more depth. Overall, he was just a very yummy hero, in my opinion. I thought Roni was pretty likable too, as a young woman whose childhood had been extremely difficult, having lost her mother at a young age, and grown up with a father who was more interested in where his next con and his next bottle were coming from than his little girl. It was nice to know that Roni had found someone like Taber to watch over her during those years. Roni did annoy me a bit with her stubbornness, especially when it led to arguments or she was having trouble trusting Taber's judgment. She liked to say that it was Taber who was the stubborn one, but in my opinion, her's outweighed his by quite a bit. Roni did have a softer side though, and it was when she was letting it show through that I liked her the most. I thought she was at her best when she was being loving, giving and nurturing toward Taber. I also liked that in spite of her instinct to fight any male dominance in her life, that most of the time she was fairly willing to surrender herself to him. All in all I thought they were well-matched and had good chemistry in their relationship.
Even though I really liked The Man Within, and it has definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf, there were a few things I thought could have been better. I thought the editing in this book was better than in Tempting the Beast, but I found that it still had several typos and one glaring age discrepancy. There wasn't a lot of background information given on Taber other than the standard stuff that all the Breeds seem to have gone through in the lab. At one point Dawn said that Taber deserved happiness more than any of them, which led me to believe that there might be some big reveal about his past, but that never materialized. I also would have liked it if Dayan had been given more solid motives for his actions, which readers are still learning about even from beyond the grave. Right now, I just feel like that part of the story is a bit fuzzy and hope that it will be explored in more depth in future installments. I admit that I enjoy alpha males who occasionally use statements like, "You're mine" toward the heroine, but once or twice in one story is sufficient. I thought having Taber say it nearly every time they made love, and then some, was a little too overwhelming. I did enjoy that Roni returned the sentiment in one love scene, and found it to be a really fun reversal. As I mentioned earlier a bit less arguing would have been nice too, but at least Taber seemed to be more amused and aroused by Roni's obstinacy than anything else. Also, Taber and Roni's first love scene was a bit rough for my taste, leaving me with concerns that it was going to be that way throughout the entire story, but I was impressed when Taber immediately showed regrets for initially loosing control and made up for it by being generally more patient and restrained.
The Man Within is book #2 in the Breeds series and has a strong and varied secondary character palette. Several characters who were first introduced in book #1, Tempting the Beast, once again made appearances. Readers get to see Callan and Merinus again, not long after the ending of their own story. There are also quick visits from Tanner, a Bengal Breed, who becomes the hero of book #9, Tanner's Scheme, and Dawn, a cougar Breed, who becomes the heroine of book #14, Dawn's Awakening. Kane, Merinus's brother, and Sherra, a snow leopard Breed, who have a previous history together are also seen, and by the epilogue of this book, more of Sherra's secrets are revealed, leaving me very anxious to read their story, which is book #4, Kiss of Heat. Readers are also introduced to Mercury, a lion Breed, who becomes the hero of book #16, Mercury's War, which is due to be released in October, as well as a brief introduction to Seth who will become Dawn's mate in her story. There are currently a total of 15 novels and short stories in the Breeds series with more to come. According to Lora Leigh's website, she wrote the Breeds series out of order chronologically and it has been printed by two different publishers, making the ordering of the books confusing to some readers. For the proper order in which the books should be read, check out Ms. Leigh's website. The Man Within left a few rather open-ended threads with some mystery still shrouding a couple of Roni's long-lost relatives and who was trying to infiltrate the Breed compound, as well as the reveal of Sherra's past, which really make me look forward to continuing this engaging and creative series soon.
Note: This book contains extremely explicit language which may offend some readers and a couple of scenes of strong violence. The sexual content is frequent and sometimes intense, containing some erotic elements, but did not, in my opinion, contain anything particularly kinky.
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