Series: Dark Protectors #13
Published by Lyrical Press on June 8, 2021
Genres: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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There’s no denying destiny . . .
For too long, Benjamin Reese has masked his deadly skills and temper with loyalty and humor. A vampire-demon hybrid, he fiercely protects his family, guards his brothers, and destroys the enemy without mercy. But when he discovers one fragile, beautiful blonde—a woman once mated to a Kurjan, no less—every primal instinct he has buried for centuries roars to life. With the mating mark she roused on his hand entwining their fates, no one will prevent him from keeping her safe and making her his, forever . . .
Or desire . . .
Karma wishes she could remember her last name. Or if she even had one. All she has in this confusing new world is a desperate duty to save the innocent. That means destroying the dark, dangerous, and desirable Benjamin Reese and everything he loves—an impossible task even before his touch arouses a passionate hunger she can’t afford. She’s certain a deadly enemy watches her every move, but it’s not until Benny kisses her that she tastes true danger…
Kudos to Rebecca Zanetti for being able to bringing us something new and fresh in the 13th installment of the series.
Benjamin “Benny” Reese has been one of the standout characters in the continuing Dark Protector series. I was excited to see him get his HEA. Problem is I keep getting thrown off every time it is mentioned that Benny is a vampire/demon hybrid because everything about Benny’s personality makes me think of him as a bear shifter. Benny is so laid back. He is always looking for the fun in any situation. He is always ready with a wiseass remark or a joke in a tense situation. But his “claws” are always ready to come out if his Brothers are threatened. I have truly had to remind myself several times in the last six books that, like the others, he is a vampire/demon.
In Guardian’s Grace, Benny was helping to evacuate some Enhanced females who were being held by the Kurjans and when he reached to help one woman, he ended up with a mating brand on his hand. A mating brand for a woman who was a Kurjan’s mate. Of course, Benny can’t do anything easily. In Rebel’s Karma, Benny has been trying to find Karma for three years and allows himself to be captured by the Kurjans so we can get closer to her. He, of course, escapes but he basically kidnaps Karma who doesn’t want to leave. First, because she has been raising twin girls (both Enhanced) after their parents were murdered by the Kurjans; secondly, because she is trying to help other Kurjan mates and any Enhanced female that are being captured and held against their will; and finally, because she doesn’t know any better. At first, I found myself annoyed at Karma’s fear of Benny and lack of trust for the Realm, but then as we spent more time with Karma, it really began to make sense. Karma is about 300 years old. She was raised is a small village in Sweden and when a man came and offered for her hand, it was not unusual for a family to be happy to have one less mouth to feed and they married her off to a man they obviously knew little about. Karma found herself mated to a Kurjan who was shortly killed in a past war (there are a lot of wars between the immortals) and this was Karma’s introduction into this previously unknown world.
Even 300 years later, Karma isn’t allowed to watch TV and/or get news of the outside world but even is she were, it’s not like she would be getting any information about the other factions. Karma’s first introduction to this world is by being mated to a Kurjan and she only knows about the Realm, the demons, vampires, witches, etc. based upon what the Kurjans have told her. She wasn’t given an encyclopedia of immortals. Of course, the Kurjans want her afraid of them. You don’t run away if you are more afraid of the unseen threat. When she first meets Emma, she is terrified because she was told that the Queen of the Realm enjoyed torturing prisoners and ripping off their flesh just to hear them scream. She, of course, has no reason to doubt the information that she was given.
Karma’s mating virus kept her safe for several centuries from being mated off again to another Kurjan, except that Terre, the second in command of the Kurjans, has had his eye on her for awhile. What I didn’t realize is that although the Kurjans created the virus as a way to hurt the Realm, it is the Realm that re-engineered the virus to use to safely release mates from their mating bond after a mate has died. So when Benny “rescues” Karma from the Kurjans, Terre makes sure they get away safely because he wants the Realm to give her their injection to break her mating bond so that he can finally have her for himself and he is holding her adopted children as leverage.
The continuing kindness of the people around her finally wins over Karma, especially Bennie Reese who tries to play it casual with Karma while that mating brand burns on his hand. But Karma still needs to risk returning to the Kurjan camp in order to rescue her girls.
This was the first time we have had a glimpse into the life in the Kurjan camps. I would have enjoyed meeting a few more of the women there to see if any of them were happy or are they all prisoners of their forced matings. Most of the Enhanced females who stumble into this world are thrown by what they learn, and even Mercy, who is a fae and who knew about this world, reacted with anger rather than fear. Poor fun-loving Benny had the most uphill battle to win his mate.
This is the first time we have had a main character come in from the enemy camp whose knowledge of our favorite characters is based on lies and propaganda. It made for an interesting new twist.
“Do you know who we are?” Ronan asked, his eyes looking more green than blue.
“Yes. I’ve heard stories about the Seven and you.” She wasn’t a good liar, so why bother? “Are you going to kill me?”
Benny opened his yes and turned his head to face her. ‘Kill you? We just saved you.”
Saved her for what? She didn’t want to know, but she had to ask.
“Now we see the queen,” Benny said. “You’ll like her.”
The small interior swan around Karma, and she tried not to cry. The Queen of the Realm? She was the most frightening female alive on the planet. They were going to let the queen kill her.
She wasn’t ready to die.
Karma sat on a very soft blanket on the examination table, her legs dangling off the end, safely covered by her long skirt. The news had made her lungs seize as if she’d been trapped in a basement. The world closed in, but she kept her expression placid. Her stomach cramped. Emma was the queen? Why would a queen be wearing worn clothing and working after midnight? Did she have such a compulsion to cause pain that she couldn’t sleep?
The queen tapped on her tablet and then pulled a chair closer, sitting and resting the tablet on her lap. “If you consent, I’d like to ask you questions and then take some blood. I’ve never met a Kurjan Soti, or mate, and I’ve never studied the blood of one.” Her eyes gleamed.
Karma fought a shiver. What sort of game was this? She studied the female, acutely aware of the two armed guards against the far exit.
The queen sat back, studying her. “You have every right to refuse, but I’m hoping you won’t. I’m so close to finding a cure to many human diseases, and every iota of information helps.”
Karma’s mouth opened slightly, and she shut it instantly. This did not make sense. Why the falsehood?
The queen tilted her head. “Are you all right?” Concern softened her voice.
Karma tried very hard not to move. This was a trick, and she couldn’t be taken in by it. Or was she supposed to? Were the Kurjans watching yet? She couldn’t tell. “I am fine. Please commence your tests.” Were the Realm soldiers going to witness her humiliation and pain? She wouldn’t scream or cry, so they would be disappointed.
The queen pursed her lips. “I thought we’d talk, but I can take blood first if you’re worried about it. A lot of people don’t like needles. Benny is terrified of them, although he puts up a good show of being irritated instead.” She chuckled and walked gracefully to the counter, opening a drawer and taking out a kit. When she approached. “Are you sure you don’t mind doing this tonight?”
Karma turned and look at her. “Would that matter?” She failed to keep the desperation from her voice.
The queen retreated a step. “Of course it would matter. It does matter.” She pushed the kit across the counter and returned to sit on her chair. “I’m not an empath, but I can feel that you’re frightened even though you hide it very well.”
Was that the test? Had Karma passed it? She waited for the next move.
The queen frowned. “I know we’ve just met, but you can talk to me.”
Karma kept her hands together. “What do you wish to discuss, Your Royal Highness.” Her tone remained neutral.
The queen chortled. “Your Royal Highness? For goodness’ sake, please do not say anything of the sort in front of my mate or his brothers. I’d never live it down, and I have enough nicknames, thank you very much.”
Nicknames? Karma looked at the soldiers and then the female. “Then how are you addressed?”
The queen sighed. “Please, call me Emma.” She also looked at the soldiers. “Hey, guys? Would you please guard my precious body from the other side of the door? We want some girl time here. Grumpy Gus confirmed that Karma doesn’t have weapons of any kind on her body.”
Girl time? Was that when the needles came out? So the queen wasn’t worried about Karma fighting back if the soldiers were out of the room? “Are you trained that well, Your…Emma?”
The soldiers instantly exited through the double doors, which shut quietly.
“Trained?” What do you mean?” Emma asked.
It felt odd being up on the table while the queen sat on the chair a foot or so below. “Do you think I’ll be that easy to subdue?” Karma had never trained to fight, but even a trapped kitten could claw deep enough to draw blood.
Emma took in a breath and then exhaled slowly. She held up her hands. “All right. I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot.”
Karma frowned before she could stop herself. What in the world did that mean? “The wrong foot?”
Emma pressed her hands on her jeans. “It’s an idiom. Okay. I hope you don’t believe the guys when they complain about me chasing them with syringes. They’re all just a bunch of babies.”
Karma jerked. Had the female just called her soldiers “babies?” Her eyes widened. “You truly must be the queen.” Yes, she had doubted it for a few moments, just because of the woman’s clothing and casual attitude. “Nobody else would dare say such a thing.” Even so, the king would most certainly not appreciate such talk. But he wasn’t here, was he?
Emma curved her lips. “Such a thing? You mean calling them babies?”
Karma slowly nodded.
Emma snorted. Very unqueenlike. “If they don’t want to be called babies, then they shouldn’t act like such dorky wimps. I mean, seriously. They have you thinking I’m a wild woman with syringes. You’re actually afraid to be in here. Props, by the way. You totally look calm and in control. It’s impressive”
Karma couldn’t find a response. None of this was making sense. I have heard the legends about you.”
Emma perked up. “There are legends about me? Like what?”
“That you like to conduct…experiments.” Karma’s stomach cramped.
Emma’s brow smoothed out. “I do. I’m always experimenting. Dage says I’m obsessed, but he’s just as busy so pot and kettle, you know?”
The woman was talking in riddles. So much for the legends being false. Mayhap the female was insane, which would explain her cheerful attitude while discussing torture. Karma pressed a hand to her forehead.
The door opened, and the King stood in the entryway. “You’re done tonight, love. Let’s get some sleep.”
Emma shot him a look. “Fine.” She turned and smiled at Karma. “We can pick up again tomorrow, if you want. Benny will show you to your rooms.”
Benny poked his head in, pushing the king out of the way. His gaze narrowed, and then his body relaxed visibly as he caught sight of her. He grinned and motioned her toward him. “Hey, darlin’. Looks like you survived just fine. Let’s get you away from the needles.”
“For now,” Hunter murmured, earning a look from his mother.
All of these people were crazy.