Rating: 4.75 stars
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Samuel Goodwin has spent his life training to become the Alpha of the Yafenack pack. He studies all the lore, knows all the rules, and dedicates himself to knowing everything possible to be a good Alpha. His father keeps telling him that despite his dedication, something is still missing. Samuel knows intellectually how to be an Alpha, but emotionally he doesn’t know how to connect with his pack. Samuel is awkward and uncomfortable interacting with others, and none more so than with the presumptive Alpha of the neighboring Miancarem pack, Korban Keller.
The men have know each other since they were boys, and Samuel has always hated Korban. Korban is always watching him, making Samuel feel awkward and not knowing how to respond. He is sure it is all an attempt to throw him off his game. But Samuel is determined to be the best Alpha he possibly can, and that means doing his best to ignore Korban and focus on his training.
For years there has been trouble between the packs, with Korban’s father Dirk angry and resentful at the members who have left to go to Yafenack. He is a difficult leader and is causing a rift within his pack. Dirk blames Samuel’s father for his pack troubles and eventually challenges him, leading to tragedy. Suddenly Samuel has to figure out how to lead his pack, when he knows he is not ready. Not only has he still not learned how to relate to his pack members emotionally, but he has been having trouble shifting back from his wolf to human form. It is clear that the problems are because he hasn’t tied with a mate yet, but Samuel has found himself unable to connect with any of the potential female partners. With these weaknesses, Samuel knows he can not truly be a great leader for his pack.
When an attempt to exact vengeance for Dirk’s role in harming his father goes awry, Samuel is thrown together with Korbin for the first time in years. Samuel slowly begins to understand what Korbin has always known, that they are true mates and meant for one another. Korbin’s warmth and strong heart help Samuel learn to connect emotionally with others. After resisting touch and physical contact for so long, Samuel can not get enough of Korbin. It seems that Samuel has finally found his other half, the mate that can complete him and make him whole. But not everyone is happy about their mating or that Korbin still lives. Now that Samuel finally realizes what Korbin means to him, he must fight to protect his mate and his pack.
In Your Eyes is a lovely story that looks at the way two men with different strengths complement and support one another, making them both stronger. Samuel is the kind of character that I totally love, so uncomfortable and uncertain, so desperately earnest and trying his best, but so socially awkward he can barely interact with others. Samuel is brilliant, with a sharp, logical mind that strives to understand everything and think every detail through. But his focus on the intellectual means his emotional side suffers. He doesn’t know how to relate to others in anything more than an academic way. Despite his parents’ best efforts, he doesn’t know how to feel. Samuel thinks learning about his pack members means memorizing facts about where they live and work. He doesn’t understand it means really getting to know them, how they feel, what they want from life. This passage from when he and Korbin first meet as boys just cracks me up and really shows us Samuel’s personality. Samuel is struggling so hard to think through every angle, he can’t even relate to Korbin as a normal kid:
My first time going to an interpack council meeting with my father, Korban walked right up to me and said, “Hi.”
It was weird.
After thinking about the best way to respond to the son of the Miancarem Alpha and eliminating a couple of options, I finally went with, “Hello.”
“I’m Korban Keller.” He smiled so broadly his nose crinkled a little. “What’s your name?”
I glanced up at my father to see if he could help me figure out how to deal with the unexpected interrogation, but he was busy talking with the other adults.
“I’m Samuel Goodwin,” I said eventually.
“How old are you, Sam?”
I hated being called Sam. I also hated being asked questions when I didn’t know why they were being asked. And I didn’t like people poking their noses in my business. But on the other hand, I worried it’d be considered rude if I didn’t answer. I’d have to work with this boy one day because I’d be Alpha of my pack, he’d be Alpha of his pack, and my father said getting along with people was important. I wasn’t sure why or if I agreed, but he was a smart man and I tried to listen to him.
“Cool. I’m eleven.”
He kept grinning and looking at me. I wondered if I was supposed to say something or if we were done talking and he’d go away so I could stop feeling nervous and focus on my dad’s conversation.
I just adored him totally for all his dorky awkwardness, mostly because he tries so hard. Samuel wants to be a good Alpha, wants to live up to the standard set by his father. But no matter what he does, he just can’t figure out how to open himself up to emotion until he finally realizes Korbin is his mate. It shouldn’t be possible; everything Samuel has ever learned says males must mate females to balance them and keep their wolf side in check. So he can’t even bring himself to think about Korbin as a potential mate until his wolf side basically takes over and does it for him. From then on, we see how Korbin helps Samuel connect with his heart, to finally make room for emotion and feeling in the midst of all the intellect. It is the perfect true mates fantasy, two men who are only complete when they are together, who need one another to become whole.
Outside of the relationship, the story also focuses on the larger pack conflicts, most especially with the Miancarem pack leadership. It is an interesting set up as Samuel is our POV character and he is an outsider to that pack, so we are seeing things from his viewpoint as he slowly learns the bigger picture of the problems there and the way Korbin’s father has been leading. There is a lot of focus on ritual and tradition here, and the conflicts of the rules with modern life. It is a thread that has run through this series and is especially prevalent here, both because they characters make use of many of the ancient laws, but also because Samuel has always been obsessed with his studies. I think the author really cleverly weaves it all together in a way that highlights Samuel’s own personality, as well as helping to build the larger shifter world. This story is part of the Mates series, and there are a few references to people from other books. However, like all books in this author’s series, this story is designed to stand alone and you should have no trouble following along whether or not you have read the previous two books. That said, we have thoroughly enjoyed the other books in the series and highly recommend them as well.
I really only had a few small issues here. One is a tendency for the characters to constantly refer to others by full first and last name, even after they have been mentioned or introduced multiple times. Aside from being an unnatural way of speaking, as readers we already know who these characters are from earlier in the book, and it seemed awkward to constantly refer to them by full name. The other issue is you have to suspend your disbelief a bit that these two men who have never been with others before are masters of sex pretty darn quickly. Especially Samuel who can barely touch another person before he gets together with Korbin. But honestly, I think that is part of the fantasy of the story, so while I noted it with some amusement, I could let it go pretty easily.
Author Cardeno C really writes such romantic, heartwarming stories and In Your Eyes is no exception. I loved both Samuel and Korbin, and especially loved the way the two men make each other full and whole. I especially enjoyed seeing Samuel finally find the other side of himself, to learn to feel instead of just think with Korbin’s help. It is sweet and romantic and really wonderfully done.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.