Samantha Bevins is an empath, working on a special task force made up of others with psychic abilities similar to hers. Her professional life is great, but her personal life is a bit more complicated. She's content in her two-year-old marriage to husband, Nixon, who also works on the task force, but she keeps having dreams and visions of another man, who she thinks is named Austin. They aren't just run-of-the-mill visions either. In them, she and Austin are engaging in the best sex of her life, leaving her feeling like she's somehow cheating on her husband.
As if trying to figure out why she's having these visions isn't enough, Samantha is called to a murder scene. As an empath, she can sense what a victim was feeling and saw during the final moments of their life. When Samantha taps into this particular victim's energy, she sees the man from her own dreams, confusing her even further. Against Nixon's wishes, Samantha's task force director sends her to Pittsburgh to go undercover as a stripper at the club where she used to work as a bartender before she met Nixon and she was trained to get her powers under control. It seems that strippers there are being targeted by a serial killer, placing Samantha in harms way. But also being in this familiar environment brings on even more visions of Austin that now feel more like memories, as well as the sense of being in the mind of someone whose life was ebbing away, which brought on an adrenalin rush that's better than any drug. The more she remembers, the more uncertain Samantha is of just what's going on and who she can trust, because it's seeming more and more like Nixon is keeping something very important from her.
I've been friends with author D. T. Dyllin for a few years, but until now, I haven't gotten around to reading any of her books. It might be because she told me that she prefers darker stories, so she was reluctant to read my books since they're on the sweeter side. I guess I figured that even though I love her as a person, our writing styles might be too different for me to appreciate her books. Not to mention, it can be a little dicey to read a friend's book and then not like it. Well, I'm so glad I finally put all my concerns aside to give one a try, because she totally wowed me with Feeling Death. I want to say, though, that the author didn't give me a free copy, nor did she ask me to review the book. I chose this particular one to begin with, because I usually enjoy stories in which psychic powers play a part and this one has that in spades. All the characters have some type of psychic gifts, whether it be empathic, telepathic, clairvoyant, psychic healer, or something else. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I just can't get enough of pondering the inner workings of the human mind, so these types of stories feed that little obsession of mine. That said, though, I definitely won't deny that this isn't your run-of-the-mill romance novel. It's part paranormal romance, part romantic suspense, and part psychological thriller. It's full of dark twists and turns that you won't see coming. The reader certainly has to keep their thinking cap on for this one. But I didn't mind, because I also love stories that make me think. So while Feeling Death was anything but ordinary and not necessarily the type of book I would usually read, I loved it anyway.
The heroine and first-person narrator of the story is Samantha, who is an empath. The story opens with her happily married - or so she believes - and working with her husband, Nixon, and others like them on an elite task force that is currently investigating a string of serial killings. Sam is able to use her empathic talents to read the crime scene and sense the emotions of the victim just before they died, which is a handy tool when trying to solve murders. Despite generally being content with her husband, she's been having some very strong erotic dreams about another man, someone who she thinks is named Austin. She isn't sure if they are merely dreams, or actual memories of some kind, or if she's just plain going crazy. Then she sees Austin in the memories of their serial killer's latest victim. But before she has time to figure it out, Sam is sent to work on another case where strippers are being targeted. She goes undercover as a stripper at the club where she used to work as a bartender before becoming a part of her psychic team. While working there, more of the visions of Austin keep coming to her, while Nixon starts acting strangely, like he's trying to keep her away from something or someone, rather than merely protecting her from the serial killer.
I really like Sam. She's a strong, kick-butt heroine who's pretty independent and can mostly take care of herself, but she's not an island. She has vulnerabilities that make her easy to relate to, such as low self-esteem. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that until she met one of the two men in this story (the one she's destined to be with), she hadn't had a sexual experience that was all her own. By that I mean that since she didn't have good control over her powers, she was always unintentionally feeding off the lust and desires of the person she was with, which made her feel dirty and used. I also liked that she isn't the type of girl who's comfortable with casual sex, although sometimes her powers betray her into doing it anyway. Sam is loyal to those she cares about and would do anything to protect them. She grows and changes a lot throughout the story, in some ways for good and in other ways not. In fact, by the end, she's a pretty different person who's discovered that she has a dark side. But the one thing that remains constant is her deep and abiding love for her man, which nothing and no one can break.
Now for the two main men in Sam's life. First, there's Austin, another empath, who is pretty much the ultimate alpha male. He's confident, arrogant, and basically has women falling at his feet to get into his bed. He's pretty much your typical, unapologetic, garden-variety man-whore, who refuses to offer Sam anything more than just sex. I have no problem saying that all of these qualities, especially in one package, would usually completely turn me off, but with Austin, I totally fell for him. Why you ask? Well, somehow his arrogance managed to come off as sexy and lovable. I also suppose it's because he, too, has a lot of vulnerabilities that make him easy to like and relate to. I fully understood why he is the way he is, so all of his bad traits didn't seem so bad anymore. Not to mention he's pretty much a dream lover, and when he does finally open himself up, he becomes this passionate force of nature that's impossible to resist. And then there's Nixon, who happens to be Austin's best friend. Nixon is a void, which means that he can neutralize the powers of other psychics when he's close to them. He's basically the ultimate good guy, the beta, who gets friend-zoned more often than winning the girl. He's kind, gentle, protective, and surprisingly understanding when some very awkward circumstances arise, but at the same time, he can be a little clueless both about relationships and about the emotional turmoil an empath goes through since he isn't one. However, I did believe that he genuinely cared about Sam. There really wasn't anything not to like about Nixon except that toward the very end, a decision he made concerning Sam is revealed that placed his motives into question in my mind. This wasn't fully resolved, though, or at least it didn't seem to be, so I'm hoping that we'll learn more about why he did this in the next book.
All of the characters in Feeling Death are layered and complex (the best kind :-)) as are their relationships to one another. Just when you think you have them figured out, some new piece of the puzzle is added to twist things around. Even Malcolm, the serial killer and main villain of the story, has compelling reasons for why he does things, as does Jessica, a healer who is part of their team and also sleeping with Austin. She seems nice in the beginning, but even though the resolution to her part of the story is only told at the very end, it made perfect sense that she would do something like that. There are some other peripheral characters that I would love to see more of like Austin's Native American friend, Teryn, and Natalie, the leader of their team. I'd love to see their powers explored in more detail and learn more about them as individuals, but I guess I'll have to wait until the next book to see if I get my wish.
As I said before, this isn't your typical romance novel and not just because of the darker aspects. The main reason you have to stay on your toes is that the story isn't really told in chronological order. It starts in the present with Sam getting bits and piece of visions with little context as to when they might have happened, if they did. Then about halfway into the story, we're catapulted back six years in time to fill in a lot of the blanks. The next few years are fast-forwarded through at intervals of months or even years, stopping for a little while at certain points to explain specific events in more detail, before finally coming full-circle back to the present. It's not the easiest style to follow and may confuse some readers, but for the most part I think I kept up pretty well with all the main points. It felt much like watching a movie, where they show you a compelling scene at the beginning then go back in time to show you what happened to lead up to that moment. In fact, I think this book would make a great movie. Another thing that makes this book atypical is the ending. Is it a positive HEA? Weeellll... yes. But it's complicated. Sorry I'm not saying more, but I've purposely been trying not to give too much away in my review, because it's a lot of fun just figuring it all out for yourself. However, while I was fine with how things turned out romantically speaking, there are other things at the end that made me drop the half-star. It's mainly that I was left with a lot of questions, although I'm making some allowances since I know there's more story coming. It's just there were a couple of points that I think could have been explained a bit more clearly.
There's so much about Feeling Death that shouldn't have worked for me: an arrogant man-whore hero, a love triangle, the main couple sleeping with other people when they should be with each other, one of the persons in that pairing fighting their feelings. These are all things that I try to avoid in my romance reading, and in other authors' hands, I've strongly disliked. But somehow, D. T. Dyllin managed to write the story in such a way that all these things made sense in context, so that I was OK with them. Another thing that helped immensely is that when I sit down to read a book, the thing I most want to come away from that story with is having felt something. I can definitely, without hesitation, say this happened. There's a great deal of angst, drama, tension, emotion, and passion packed into this story that gave me all kinds of feels, and I loved that. Another thing that was awesome for me were the love scenes. They're intense, steamy, and sensual, without ever being tawdry. It's so hard to find an author who writes these scenes just right for me, and when I do find one, you'd better believe I'll be back for more. And that's not the only thing I'll be back for more of. Like I said, there are so many questions I still have, one of which is finding out who's really behind all the things that happened in this story, so I'll definitely be picking up Embracing Death soon.
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