Claim & Protect by Rhenna Morgan

Claim and Protect by Rhenna MorganThere’s this shiny ideal of the white knight who is perfect and kind and all the things that make the rescuer untainted by real life. The Haven Brotherhood (both series and characters) are none of that. They are rough-talking, hard-living, explicitly sexual men who are willing to skate the edges of the law to help those they consider family, and even just those they find deserving. It’s one of the reasons this series appeals to me because it’s showing you don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.

Claim and Protect lives up to the promise of the previous books with people who came from harsh backgrounds learning to open up to love thanks to the nurturing environment of the Haven Brotherhood. Sure, maybe the term “nurturing” would stick in the craw of these rowdy guys, but maybe not. Unlike a lot of portrayals, these men are in touch with their feelings, at least where family is concerned, and they have a firm sense of right and wrong. They won’t stand for injustice even when the law cannot or will not act on it. Nurturing and healing the soul seems to be one of the main criteria in choosing new brothers. They look for good people who haven’t gotten a good shake in this life, and do their best to repair the damage.

Odd to say after spending so much time talking about the brotherhood, but it felt as though the brothers played less of an active role in Claim and Protect than in the earlier books. The brothers and Trevor’s foster father are key to Trevor learning he can, and should, aspire to a loving relationship despite his history, but they largely play a supportive role, giving him the confidence to overcome his past even as he attempts to help Natalie and her son Levi.

To avoid spoilers, I’ll say only that Natalie falls under the protection of the brotherhood long before Trevor accepts the connection thanks to a potentially dangerous situation putting both her and her son at risk, but it’s also clear his chosen family recognizes the claim even while Trevor denies it. Trevor has something in common with Natalie, enough both to bring them together and tear them apart. While the implications of his doubts as they relate to Levi never get spoken, Natalie helps Trevor see the role choice and character play in who you become.

Like the other books, mistakes are made on all sides, but the strength of this series is in not only how they resolve the consequences, but how each character owns up to their involvement in the problem. Part of what makes this work is the mistakes are rooted not in accident, but deliberate choices based on trust and risk, tied into how the main characters feel about each other and the weight of their personal demons.

In the beginning, I referred to knights, and I think this is one of the reasons I’m enjoying the series so much. This is very much like the Arthurian tales. Not the ones cleaned up for children, but the original ones where there were those trying to undermine the dream at every turn, using whatever means available, and the knights themselves were real people with failings but also with a determination to bring about a better world than they were born into. Consider it a modern round table with hot sex and tangible love if you will. Unlike the original, though, there’s no question of the brothers turning on each other and falling for the same women.

Speaking of the hot sex, once again, this slides toward the risque, and may end up going further than I’m comfortable with, which would be a pity. However, though there’s talk, all action occurs off-screen while the consent (my particular hot button) is made very clear.

What I haven’t talked about yet is the deep connection Trevor makes not just with Natalie, but with her son. He recognizes Levi as a person in his own right and wants to help him learn not all men are as manipulative and dangerous as Levi’s father. But more than that, he seems to honestly enjoy Levi’s company. If the brotherhood took a back seat, it was to give enough space to establish this father/son relationship as much as the romantic one, and I’m a sucker for people who see kids as more than appendages who won’t be able to think until they reach adulthood. Trevor’s bond is visible on the page, and raises its own consequences as Natalie has to measure the damage to Levi if her own relationship with Trevor doesn’t work out.

This story has themes in common with the others, but in each case, Morgan has found a new twist to those themes and peopled the tale with characters who feel real, live with purpose, and form strong connections, not just survive. I remain hooked on the Haven Brotherhood.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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