When Wes Ward’s older brother Sully left home for college, Wes felt like he had lost the only friend he ever had. Painfully shy as a child, Wes depended upon Sully for everything and Wes was unable to fill the void Sully left behind him. Then Sully found his mate and forgot about his little brother completely. In pain and full of bitterness, Wes turned to drugs and alcohol and his addiction almost cost him his leopard spirit. When his parents catch him using, they send him to San Antonio and to Sully who lives there with his mate Bobby and Wes must confront his true feelings and see if he can heal the bitterness within.
It’s been two years since the vicious sexual assault Armando suffered in the Bobby’s club and the wounds have not healed. Armando now works at a Center for Homeless GLBT youth, helping others who were thrown out of their home like he was. The center is his life as he cannot bear to even think about dating or getting close to another man since his rape. Then Armando sees Wes when Wes starts to volunteer at the shelter. Wes is almost a twin to Sully in his looks and his presence brings conflicting emotions to the surface in Wes. Wes has hated Bobby and Sully for two years and seeing Wes makes all those memories Armando has tried to bury come out. Equally shocking, he also finds himself attracted to Wes, an attraction Wes returns.
Both men have problems in their past they must face before either can go forward with their lives. Wes is sure he has found his mate in Armando but can Armando put aside his hatred for Wes’ brother to see Wes for himself or will Wes be an way to revenge himself on Sully and Bobby?
This is one of the most tightly knit and well written books of the Leopard’s Spots series. Bradford’s focus is two badly damaged people and she treats both the characters and their issues with sensitivity and care. Wes and Armando are also two of the best characters Bradford has written in a while, each having more depth and dimension than those in the past book, namely Sully and Bobby, who return here. Wes is facing issues rare in shifters, that of drug and alcohol addiction. Normally, shifters can’t get drunk or stoned due to their metabolism but Wes learned that certain combinations and amounts of drugs will see him either intoxicated or high. With Wes, she paints a portrait of a young man whose poor self esteem and debilitating shyness make Wes unable to cope once his support in Sully is removed.
Given the treatment of Armando in the last book, Sullivan, I was unsure what would happen to him here but Bradford handles Armando and the trauma of his sexual assault with sensitivity and realism too. Armando is stuck in the past, unable to go forward with his recovery for many reasons, but one of the strongest is that he cannot be truthful with his therapist as to the exact nature of the assault as the predator was a shifter. So we find him two years later still having nightmares and suffering flashbacks. He has purposely gained weight to appear unattractive and wears loose clothes, all authentic markers of abuse. Normally Bradford fills her books with pages of mate induced sex which includes biting, claws and bloodletting. Thankfully, most of that has been left out of a book dealing with two traumatized souls and she treats their slow path to a sexual relationship with thoughtfulness and tact.
In fact, I find this is the best book of the series if you can discount the lack of any continuing threads the previous books have established. I think that had a few more of the themes of the series been included, this would have gotten a much higher rating. It seems as though we are heading away from the leopard element and more towards the wolf pack with the next in the series, which I find a little disappointing as the Snow/Amur Leopard theme seemed to be central to the series. But if Wesley is any indication of the future of this series, than it is very bright indeed. I can only hope for more like this one to come next.
Cover art by Posh Gosh who has done a fantastic job with the series with rich covers that are treats for the eyes.
Here is the Leopard Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly). You can find reviews for them all here.