daruss coverRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

 

The only person Jude had in his life for years was his brother, Mitch. Desperate for money, Mitch got involved with the Chained Devils motorcycle club dealing in all sorts of illegal activities. When Mitch got tangled up in legal trouble, he sent Jude to another motorcycle club to keep him safe, but Jude couldn’t tell anyone who he really was due to the club’s rivalry with the Devils.

Now, Jude has fallen for Daruss, the leader of the Dragon Skulls motorcycle club. It would be great, except Jude knows that as soon as Daruss finds out the truth about Jude’s connection to Mitch and the Chained Devils, he is going to be furious. Not to mention that it has been a while since Jude has heard from his brother and he can’t help be worried he is in danger. And when Jude works up the nerve to tell Daruss the truth, Daruss’ reaction is just as bad as Jude feared. While Jude loves Daruss, he isn’t going to let Daruss continue to accuse him of spying or deceit. He also is determined to help find his brother, something he will do on his own if Daruss won’t help. But, unfortunately for Jude, the Chained Devils haven’t forgotten about him and no sooner has he left Daruss then he finds himself at the mercy of the Devils’ leader.

Raylee has just finished school for nursing and returned to his hometown while he decides on a job. When Raylee encounters Daruss, the dragon shifter immediately knows that Raylee is his fated mate. Daruss feels a strong pull toward Raylee and wants to explore things with the sweet young man. But at the same time, Daruss is still in love with Jude and determined to protect him from the Chained Devils. Fortunately, when Jude and Raylee meet, the men find themselves drawn to one another and soon all three men are exploring a relationship. But with the Dragon Skulls still in a turf war with the Chained Devils, Daruss knows neither of his men are safe. Now, their club is facing a showdown with their rivals and hoping to take down the enemy once and for all.

Daruss is the first book in April Kelley’s new Dragon Skull Daddies MC series. I was drawn to this one from the blurb and the idea of Daruss being in love with Jude and then finding his fated mate. While this doesn’t end up really being the conflict I anticipated for any of the three men, I did enjoy the relationship dynamic between them all. Daruss and Jude have fallen for each other while Jude is in hiding with the Dragon Skulls. With Mitch a well-known Chained Devils member, Jude has been keeping their connection quiet. So when he finally shares the truth, it throws a wrench in things between him and Daruss. Daruss can’t help but feel like Jude lied to him and begins to wonder if Jude had some sort of motive getting involved with Daruss. It leaves the men at odds and having to work their way back together emotionally, as well as putting Jude at risk physically when he is out from under Daruss’ protection. Overall, I think things develop well for Daruss and Jude, but I do feel like more time really establishing their relationship and connection before things fall apart would have helped. As it was, the strength of their bond didn’t really come through before they are apart and I think that lessened the emotional impact for me.

When Daruss meets Raylee, the two men have a strong connection immediately. Daruss doesn’t want to give up Jude, but he is also not sure how Raylee will feel about a three-way relationship. On top of that, Daruss and Jude have a Daddy/boy dynamic and Raylee is totally new to that type of situation. However, the three men fit together really well and author April Kelley does a nice job building each character to make them feel distinct. Raylee is sweet and pretty innocent, but also with more strength than the other two realize at first. While they do want to shelter him somewhat from their harsh world, Raylee can hold his own when needed. Raylee and Jude make for fun confidants and support for each other, as well as Daruss. So I enjoyed this relationship dynamic and think the three men work well together.

Aside from the relationship side, most of the story is focused on the rivalry between the Dragon Skulls and the Chained Devils. The Devils are involved in much more serious illegal dealings, including human trafficking, while the Skulls are not as far outside the law. With the clubs mired in a turf war, plus the Devils threatening Jude, things ultimately come to a head between them. I did wish for a little more resolution here with regard to Mitch, though it appears he is the MC for the next book, so I guess we will learn more about him there. But it would have been nice to at least see some of his situation resolve on page with Jude here in this story.

The area that fell the flattest for me here was in the world building, as it is very sparse. Daruss and most (all?) of the Dragon Skulls are dragon shifters, but there is virtually no world building surrounding the idea of shifters or the other paranormals we meet here. Honestly, aside from the fact that Daruss and Raylee are fated mates and a scene toward the end where we see some of the men shift, this story would have been basically the same without the paranormal component. If we are going to have this whole club of dragon shifters, I wanted it to matter that they are dragon shifters and it just didn’t really feel like the case here.

Things also started out a little confusing, as we meet so many characters very quickly, many of whom seem to already have backstories. Upon a little digging, I realized that Kelley has also written the Wingspan series that takes place in this same town and includes some of the side characters we meet here. The author also has a Saint Lakes series that appears to be set in the same world with an intertwined timeline, as well as prequel book to this story, Jonik, focused on two of the side characters we meet here. The blurb for Daruss doesn’t mention any connection to these other books, but clearly this is a much larger and more expansive world than just what is happening in this one series. I am guessing that is part of the reason why I felt like I was missing world building here. I think new readers can jump in fine, as I am new to this series and was able to follow along. But I do think those more familiar with the world will appreciate the connections among characters and have better footing in some of the big picture issues.

Overall, I found this one a nice start to a new series. I am intrigued by the Dragon Skulls club and curious to see where the series goes from here.

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