Derek Dancing Hawk is a horse shifter and he has been trapped in his horse form for years. He has been unable to shift back into his human form after a tragic event occurred and his herd was killed. Derek has been sold from one ranch to the next with the unsuspecting ranchers perplexed as to why the wild horse can’t be broken.
Cole used to be a top horse trainer in high demand and he completely connects with the animals. After an unfortunate event, he has lost his mojo and can’t seem to get back on track. When he is offered a job for more than his usual fee to help bring in a stallion that is running wild, Cole accepts, although the owner of the ranch is suspect. At first glance Cole knows that there is something unique about this horse and his confusion continues to grow when they meet in their dreams.
Not everyone on the ranch is pleased at Cole’s arrival and when the foreman attacks Cole, it ignites Derek’s ability to shift once more to protect the man he has grown to love. The shift, however, is recorded on the security camera and the ranch owner now is set on blackmailing both Derek and Cole to get what he wants. Derek is caught between wanting to run, needing to keep the ancient secret of his people, and the heart of a man who is his soul mate and his home.
The premise and the beginning of this book did capture my attention initially. Derek is stuck in his horse form and he is great at avoiding his owners, as he had good reason to be distrustful of humans. His sadness comes through as he blames himself for not being able to save his herd. Cole carries a similar sadness since losing a horse has shaken his confidence. You could say this is a slow burn romance since for the first third of the book Derek is a horse, but there are dreams where anything is possible.
Derek is Native American and his ancestry, dreams, and spirit guides were all interesting aspects to his character in the beginning. There is a certain amount of suspension expected in a shifter book and I was on board with Derek and Cole being soul mates and I could accept them meeting in their dreams where Derek was a man, and that Cole was perfectly calm and fine with Derek being a horse shifter, and I could even handle Derek glowing when they mated for the first time.
There were several side characters that were caricatures. There was the scary boss ranch owner that everyone was afraid of; there was the drunk, belligerent, jealous right hand man; there was the earnest younger guy that does all of the work; and there was the beautiful, duplicitous, and mysterious ranch wife. When the drunk foreman attacks Cole it flips the switch on Derek’s shifting ability as he needs to protect Cole. This was a pivotal point of the book and the actual shift was mostly glossed over as all of a sudden Derek had hands. The owner than blackmails them to keep their secret or he will turn Derek over to the government. What happens next is that they want money so they coerce Derek to enter a dressage competition. But Derek doesn’t know the steps and his wild horse form doesn’t move that way so Cole teaches him how to dance. This was precisely the moment where the plot was lost to me.
After this is the story line continued to completely fall apart for me. In an attempt not to prolong this…here goes. The majority of the book from this point on takes place at the horse competition and Derek spends more time as a horse than as a man. It was then difficult to connect to the human side of their relationship since we had less time to see it develop. There were also many passages of inner dialogue that had an insipid tone that continually pulled me out of the story. Derek was able to conjure up his grandmother into a tangible form and when she’s not talking about cosplay, she’s saying that Derek being forced to stay in his horse form and compete is character building. The boss man’s story plays out as expected, the wife’s character tried to take on a pivotal role at the conclusion without enough details to support it, there were scenes of Enforcers and a Circle of Guardians and tribal meetings, herd magic, and a brief history of why Native Americans are shifters and most of this was all crammed into the last quarter of the book. There is then finally a story of another herd that may need “rape or survivor counseling” due to a forceful stallion and this book was beyond tedious to get through.
Clearly this is my response to this book, but unfortunately this book has put me off both of these authors as well as shifter books for the foreseeable future.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.