REVIEW: Shelter by Rhyll Biest
Raw and risky, a new rural romance that explores the dark side of small towns, and the people who put everything on the line to protect them…
Kat Daily is excited to trade her Sydney airport quarantine uniform for an RSPCA inspector’s uniform and a job in the rural town of Walgarra. A fresh start in a new place, where she can make a real difference in the lives of the animals that she loves.
But Walgarra doesn’t offer a peaceful, bucolic existence. Like many small towns, the distance from urban settings — and urban law enforcement — has allowed a criminal element to set in. Kat may only be looking after animals, but that doesn’t mean she will be immune to people with sinister agendas.
The previous RSCPCA inspector was murdered, and Officer Luka Belovuk is determined to keep the new inspector from the same fate. He may have very broad shoulders, but carrying the safety of the law-abiding community just trying to live their lives has weighed him down, and one more death might be more than he can take.
Not all small towns are quaint and quiet, but they all have one thing in common: a community of people willing to protect their population with everything they have.
Here Be Trigger Warnings – seriously, there are a lot of them. Both Kat and Luka grew up surrounded by Domestic Violence and were victims of Childhood Abuse – though not sexual abuse. With Luka being a cop and Kat being a RSPCA inspector, there are scenes of people not behaving at their best. Mostly, their pasts and the calls they go out on are hinted at and the details obliquely referred to. However, there was some animal cruelty that came into play in the major investigation Kat was dealing with. I do want to call out the times when some of the male characters of the book called each other “ladies” in a slightly derogatory way.
Dear Ms. Biest,
I’m thinking I need to just give up and give in to the lure of dogs on the covers of romance novels. It seems cats show up mainly on mystery books. Why is this? Anyway, I did hold out on clicking the “yes, please” button long enough to read the blurb and see that the heroine, Kat, is a new RSPCA inspector and I’m all about helping animals, so I was in.
This might be a book with quick, incisive and unusual descriptions with the added kick of humor but this is a deadly serious business in a town gone slightly down at the edges. Small town quaint, it ain’t. Right from the start, before Kat even arrives, it’s front and center what danger the RSPCA inspectors and staff are up against. Her introduction to her new home, as seen on her drive to town, doesn’t do much to set her at ease.
The theme music from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” was playing in my mind – sure, I can use an Italian composer’s music for an American western to describe an Aussie contemporary – as I rode along with Kat while she sized up her new job. Constant reminders, via security measures at the building, of the caliber of dickheads and arseholes she might have to deal with reinforce the message of danger. She might have done some enforcement as a quarantine officer but a person trying to smuggle banned items or animals into the country isn’t as likely to be willing to shoot her.
Luka Belovuk immediately pushes all Kat’s buttons but it’s not a good thing as his coply ways remind her of her abusive cop father. Luka seems like he might use all that physically intimidating size and commanding voice for good but she can’t be sure yet. She’s also not sure what to think about how all these things she should be wary of actually turn her on to a degree. Her lady parts, as well as Kat’s imaginary companion – which helped Kat live through her parent’s toxic marriage and home environment, certainly take notice of Luka .
Kat’s tough with enough cool attitude to act as a shield. She’s also got a bit of a neat freak/environmental caution going on – also a product of her upbringing – and has an amusing habit of mentally sizing people up based on what she thinks they’d be most likely to try and smuggle in past customs.
Luka’s initial assessment of the new inspector is: small and she needs some de-escalation training. He might be huge but Luka is all about calming a situation down rather than using his strength and intimidating size. His own parent’s marriage wasn’t great and his abusive father caused Luka to switch to the other side of protecting the helpless. The slain officer Kat’s replacing was a friend and Luke feels he failed Mark which is not something he’s going to allow again.
It’s a team effort to protect animals in Walgarra and the troops like their downtime. The book has some wonderful, wicked verbal sparring. The outlandish wine descriptions at the group tasting session had me in stitches. Wine snobs beware. Yet on the other hand, there is still some lingering residue Kat and Luka are – and probably always will – dealing with from their fucked up domestic/child abuse backgrounds. I like that this isn’t sugar coated nor does lurve magically fix them. Even with coping mechanisms and the acceptance of love, some things will always be initial knee-jerk reactions that will have to be controlled.
The sex is smoking hot with both of them letting their freaky/kinky sexy sides out to play. I don’t think MMA bouts are as full-on intense. Kudos that Kat and Luka both feel enough at ease with the other to really let themselves loose.
The outcome of Kat’s major – not entirely sanctioned – investigation surprised me. Wow, I didn’t see that coming at all and frankly had to reread the page to be sure I’d seen what I’d seen. Given that one of the people was involved in the above mentioned cruelty, a large part of me was going “Hells yes!” I’m still deciding whether the satisfaction I felt is something that should bother me.
I enjoyed watching two survivors find each other and begin to work towards a life in addition to the incendiary sex. Aussie humor appears to work as well for me as Brit humor. There are some secondary relationships that might be explored so I’ll be looking to see if sequels are in the works. But this one gets a qualified – see trigger warnings – B