For most of her life, Kira Donovan has felt like a freak, because she can psychically communicate with animals. She's also spent a large part of her life on the run, moving from one place to another to avoid the authorities, after being blamed for terrorist activities in which she had no part. Now working on an animal preserve in Idaho, she thinks that perhaps her life has taken a turn for the better until two men she doesn't know infiltrate her life, one who seems to be after her for nefarious purposes and the other who says he's there to help her. Kira doesn't know who to trust, and on top of that, her annual heat cycle is nearly upon her. For an entire month, she'll be in a mating frenzy and never has one man been able to keep up with her insatiable desire during that time. Until now.
Tom "Ender" Knight works for the Agency for Covert Rare Operatives, an organization made up of humans with extraordinary powers. ACRO works to help these people harness their powers for the good of all mankind and fight their evil nemesis, Itor. Kira is being hunted by Itor for her rare ability, and Tom is sent by ACRO to either gain her cooperation and bring her in or kill her to keep her out of the hands of the enemy. Since Tom is an expert sniper but not much of a people person, that's easier said than done. However, his abilities give him superior strength and endurance that makes him a perfect lover to service Kira during her heat cycle. Tom tries to tell himself it's just a job and if push comes to shove, he'll do whatever it takes to save humanity, but soon he finds himself on a cross-country trek to evade their enemies and keep Kira safe. But he doesn't realize the full extent of his bond with Kira until they finally reach ACRO headquarters and neither of them can let the other go.
Apparently this is the year that I finally move forward on a few romance series where I loved the first book of the series, but for whatever reason, ended up putting it on the back burner. ACRO is one of those series. I loved Riding the Storm, but was appalled to discover that it's been four years since I read it. Now I've finally gotten around to reading Unleashing the Storm. I love the whole premise of this series, which I would term X-Men meets erotic romance, in which people with special abilities have banded together into the organization known as ACRO (Agency for Covert Rare Operatives) to fight their evil nemesis, Itor. It makes for some exciting and action-packed story-telling. Then there's the additional premise of one or both characters' abilities either increasing their libido or somehow using sex to keep their powers under control, which brings in the erotic element with lots of steamy, hot sex. So for the unique premise and the way in which the authors combine these themes into interesting stories they get some extra points. However, I will say that while I did enjoy Unleashing the Storm, I didn't like it quite as well as Riding the Storm, and I'll get to my reasons for that in a moment.
The heroine, Kira, is a new character to the series. After ACRO finds out about her and her ability to communicate with animals, they send an operative to either bring her in or kill her. Itor is also after her and has been for some time, and ACRO can't risk her falling into the wrong hands. However, the reasons for why Itor wants her and why she's so dangerous are murky until the very end. Even then it's only cursorily explained, so I felt like that part could have been a little better. I did like Kira, though. She has the ability to communicate with animals psychically, and she also has some animal physiology. This causes her to go into a yearly heat cycle that's basically a mating frenzy, lasting for an entire month, and if she doesn't mate every four hours during that time, she'll die. Why she would die isn't explained very well either, but I'm willing to give the authors a pass on that one. Although it takes nearly halfway into the book, we do learn enough about Kira's backstory to make her a sympathetic character. In spite of mating with numerous men during her spring fever, and being a seductive sex kitten, she has an air of innocence about her as well. When she's not in the throes of spring fever, she feels like something of a slut, bearing some guilty feelings over all the men she's used during that time of the year, but she simply couldn't find a single man who could keep up with her sexual needs until meeting her Tommy. Additionally she had a traumatic experience during one of her heat cycles in which several men took cruel advantage of her. I wish this part of her backstory had been developed a little more. She's also a strict vegan for whom touching meat is a painful experience. There was much to like about Kira, and IMHO, she's a good and relatable heroine.
To Kira, our hero is known as Tom, but to his fellow ACRO agents, he's known as Ender. He was introduced in the first book of the series, but because his nickname doesn't appear in the cover blurb, I didn't realize it was going to be him until I started reading. Tom's abilities place him in the ACRO sub-group known as excedosapiens. Physiologically, they aren't that much different from normal humans except that they have certain traits that exceed those of normal humans. In Tom's case, he can see long distances and he can run like the wind. Tom is also an intense alpha who doesn't really do love or relationships. He has a troubled past, of which we don't learn the full extent until near the end of the book. I really wish the authors had let us in on some of that a bit earlier, because I think it might have helped me to understand him better. He's such a closed off character throughout most of the story, it made it difficult for me to like him, much less fall for him. I did start to soften toward him near the end, when we not only learn more about his past, but he also does some things that show how much he's come to care about Kira. However, he's not a particularly romantic hero, IMHO. Readers who love uber-alpahs who keep their hearts locked up tight until the very end will probably like and appreciate Tom more than I did.
The main reason I knocked a star off my rating is for the romance and relationship building or lack thereof. I didn't start feeling any connection between Kira and Tom until over halfway into the book. By then, they've had hot sex numerous times, but in my estimation, sex doesn't necessarily equal romance. Their first umpteen times together, Kira is merely scratching her yearly itch, while Tom is just doing his job. He goes into it knowing that she's going to need sex, but still prepared to kill her if she doesn't cooperate even after they've mated. During those times, they never kiss or share any romantic interludes as part of the sex, which IMHO shows that it was indeed nothing more than merely sex for both of them. When Kira begins to share a little of her past, the connection starts to improve a bit, but Tom remains locked up tight until the very end. To the best of my recollection, they also still don't kiss until they finally reach the ACRO headquarters, which doesn't happen until over 2/3 of the way into the story. Then they suddenly and magically realize they're in love, which didn't work well for me. Some of the events during the last 100 pages or so helped to mitigate this deficiency and in the end, made me believe that they did belong together, but it took way too long to get there for my taste.
Much like with the first book of the series, Unleashing the Storm has some intriguing secondary characters. I like Annika and Creed and look forward to further development in their relationship, which seems like it's going to be a side plot in the main stories. Interestingly, their emotions are rather swapped from what one would typically find in a romance, which is different for me. Don't get me wrong, Creed is a hot alpha male, but he's the one having deeper feelings for Annika and trying to pursue a real relationship with her that isn't just about sex, while she's the one whose emotions are buried deep and is more or less happy with their sex-only pairing. Creed must make a life-altering decision involving Annika, which I assume will play out in the next book. Dev, the head of ACRO, also discovers intriguing new information about his past, the ghost that's been haunting him, and the identity of the mole inside ACRO. His old lover, Oz, who I'm pretty sure was introduced for the first time in this book, returns, and Dev must also make a weighty decision that affects the future of ACRO. Remy and Haley (Riding the Storm) show up at the end of the book to help Kira and Tom, and it was nice to see them again.
Overall, I enjoyed Unleashing the Storm. If only the main romantic pairing had expressed a deeper connection sooner, I could easily have seen this book becoming a keeper for me like the first book of the series is. I only had a couple of other more minor issues. The first was the need for a little more detail in certain scenes, particularly action scenes. I sometimes had trouble envisioning what was going on because the character might be in one position during one line and then in a completely different position in the next line with no explanation of how they got there except that it just happened. Also I occasionally had problems with the authors' writing style in which they leave out things like prepositions and conjunctions that made the narrative a little choppy and lacking a smooth flow. But in general it wasn't too bad and I mostly got used to it. As I mentioned earlier, I love the uniqueness of the series, so I look forward to continuing at some point, hopefully much sooner than it took me to get around to reading this book.:-)
Note: The love scenes in this book are very frequent, creative and ultra-spicy, but other than one very brief spanking scene, one scene involving the light use of a riding crop, and the implication that Tom has some interest in BDSM practices, there isn't much else that I would describe as particularly kinky. There is also one scene of M/M sensuality that may offend some readers.
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