Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and exclusive excerpt for the newest book in the Mad Creek universe from Eli Easton. HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is the fourth M/M canine shifter romance in this series and I absolutely adore them all. Check out my reviews for HOW TO HOWL AT THE MOON, HOW TO WALK LIKE A MAN and HOW TO WISH UPON A STAR because these are books to not miss…
Also, don’t miss the exclusive excerpt or the backlist book giveaway below!
About the book: Rav Miller looked into the terrified, intelligent eyes of the chocolate Labrador on death row, and knew he’d do anything to save him. When the dog, Sammy, escapes and heads to Mad Creek, Rav follows. Mad Creek. The town had become legendary in Rav’s mind after he’d met that bizarre group last year. Rav dismissed his crazy suspicions back then, but when he arrives in Mad Creek, he knows it’s true. Dog shifters exist, and apparently they all live in the California mountains. It’s enough to blow a bad boy’s mind.
Sammy has something in common with Rav—neither one of them trusts people. After Sammy’s abuse as a dog, he particularly dislikes tough-looking men like Rav. But when Sammy gets a chance to work with rescued dogs at the new Mad Creek shelter, his deep compulsion to help others overcomes his fear. Rav and Sammy bond over saving strays. If they can each find the courage to let someone else in, they might find their way to love.
Sheriff Lance Beaufort doesn’t like humans moving into Mad Creek, especially not the tattooed and defiant Rav. When Rav starts a rescue shelter, the town thinks he’s wonderful! But Lance isn’t fooled. He doesn’t buy Rav’s innocent act for one second. How much does Rav know about the quickened? What is his game? And why did he have to show up now, when Lance and the other town leaders are overwhelmed by all the new quickened pouring in?
Rav knows how to save a life. But can he save an entire town? Can he rescue Mad Creek?
An awesome, exclusive excerpt!
Sammy looked back at Rav and waved. “Come on! Come swim!”
“Not yet. You go ahead.”
Sammy tossed his head, like Rav was being silly, and went deeper. He started paddling around. Dog paddling, his hands working the water in front of his chest, a huge grin on his face. Fuck it, that was cute. Rav smiled to himself as he unloaded the bike’s saddlebags. He’d brought an old blanket, a couple of collapsible chairs, a case of beer, a bag of chips, salsa, and guacamole he’d made himself. Damn, he hardly knew himself, acting all neighborly and shit, like he was actually a part of this community. But he’d lived in Arizona long enough to treasure his damn guacamole.
He set up the blanket and chairs and took the food and beer over to the food table. Lily and Tim were there, setting out plates and utensils.
“Hey,” Rav said.
“Hello, Rav.” Lily’s gaze was assessing, like he was a bug and she was trying to figure out the species. “How’s the shelter doing? I hear about it endlessly from everyone in town.”
“Not surprised. I think everyone in town has volunteered at least once.”
“Oh? How’s that working out for you? Are they helping?”
“They’re very enthusiastic.” Rav kept his voice carefully neutral.
“Is it hot today, or what?” Tim gushed. “Looks like Sammy has the right idea, getting in the lake.”
“He knows what he wants all right,” Rav agreed.
Lily looked at Sammy in the water, dog paddling around, then at Rav. Her head tilted curiously, and her eyes were narrowed and searching.
Sweat broke out on the back of Rav’s neck. It was like that scene in Children of the Damned when the alien kids were trying to read the guy’s mind and he pictured a brick wall to block them.
“Cold beer?” he asked abruptly, holding up the heavy case with one hand. “Is there ice somewhere?”
“There’re a bunch of coolers.” Tim nodded over his shoulder at a whole row of variously hued insulated boxes. “Feel free to use them if you can find space.”
“Got it.” Rav went to it, happy to leave Lily’s company.
He’d met her a few times. She was supportive of the shelter and the idea of rescuing dogs, but Rav got the feeling she could read him like a book. And Rav wasn’t all that keen to be read, thank you.
After stuffing half the case of beer in the coolers, he sat in a chair on the blanket and drank from a freshly opened bottle. He wasn’t being very social, but with all the volunteers he had at the shelter, it was nice to have time alone, to just be still for ten damn minutes and watch Sammy swim. Daisy pulled Sammy toward shore until they were both waist-deep. She wore a pink bikini, and Rav couldn’t help but notice that she had a great figure. Strong and lean. Damn, she looked so human.
Dog shifters were fucking amazing.
She rotated her arms in the air, demonstrating a long forward stroke. Sammy copied her, his wet arms flashing in the sun. She was chatting away with him, though Rav couldn’t hear what she was saying. After a bit, they moved deeper into the water, and Sammy tried to repeat the overhead stroke. But his elbows kept wanting to fold up and his hands to paddle at chest-level. The two of them were soon giggling like mad. Fuck. Where was Rav’s phone? He should seriously be videoing this because it was the cutest… in the world, the thing with the….
He’d just raised the phone and started filming when someone plopped down in the other chair on the blanket. In Sammy’s chair. Rav inwardly groaned when he saw it was Sheriff Lance Beaufort. He stopped filming guiltily and dropped the phone onto the blanket.
“What?” he asked bluntly. This is my fucking holiday, man. Leave off busting my balls.
For a moment, Lance was silent, like a bomb waiting to go off. Then: “I hear Sammy moved in with you, Mr. Miller.”
Rav felt a flicker of shame, though he had nothing on God’s earth to be ashamed about. He forced his body to relax.
“Yeah, well, Lance, Sammy said the town needed that teeny tiny tool shed he was living in. Apparently, you guys don’t have enough beds for people? Or something like that. And since he was mostly staying overnight at the shelter anyway, he gave his space up to someone else. So yes, he’s commandeered my couch. You’re welcome. Happy to contribute.”
Lance went tense all over and got a constipated expression. Rav pictured his head as a cartoon volcano with smoke rolling out. He had to bite back a laugh. Yes, dear old daddy was right. The best defense was offense, preferably with a nice smooth knife twist at the end. Rav had a feeling Lance would be sensitive about any perceived criticism of Mad Creek.
“The town doesn’t need your contribution,” Lance said in a voice of pure wounded pride.
Rav shrugged again, poking the bull. “That’s not the impression I got. But no worries, bruh.”
Lance took a few deep breaths and went back on the attack. “So he’s sleeping on the couch, out of the kindness of your heart? That’s your story? I hope you’re not taking advantage of that kid. Sammy’s always given me the impression that he’s… innocent. I think he was, uh, sheltered growing up.”
Rav kept his benign expression, but the barb hit home. “Yes, he’s on the couch. Ask him yourself. Or maybe not, since he’s not a minor, and it’s really none of your business.”
Rav settled back in his chair, tilting his face up to the sky. He wasn’t keeping score, but he thought he was ahead.
“So. Have you, um, noticed anything… unusual about Sammy? Now that he’s living with you?” Lance fished.
“Like…” Lance growled, impatient. “He’s… different. From other guys.”
“The world would be boring as fuck if we were all alike.”
“No, I mean really. Really, very different.”
Out of Rav’s peripheral vision, he could see Lance’s intense blue eyes staring at him.
“He’s different,” Rav agreed slowly. “Most guys are assholes. I can say that with some authority because I am one.”
“Sammy, on the other hand, is not an asshole.”
“No. He’s not,” Lance agreed. “He’s also not particularly well-educated. He’s, um, taking classes with my mom. Basic stuff. Very, very basic.”
Rav casually slapped at a fly on his arm. “We all have our challenges. I don’t hold that against him.”
Lance growled low in his chest, evidently getting frustrated. “You haven’t noticed anything else odd about him?”
As amusing as this was on some level, Rav was starting to lose patience. “What are you getting at? Are you implying that Sammy is simple-minded? Because he’s not. He’s fully capable of making his own decisions.”
“I never said that. Lily says Sammy is very bright, one of her brightest qui—er, students. But he still can barely read and write. Did you hire him because he’s attractive? Because you wanted to get him into your bed?”
Rav had a serious urge to punch the guy. But his upbringing taught him that power came from feeling no emotion, or at least acting like he didn’t. The calmest man in the room won over the ranting lunatic. He forced himself to release the tension. He even yawned to show how much he wasn’t bothered.
“I hired him because he’s great with the dogs. Period.”
Lance’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why do you think that is, Mr. Miller?”
Man. This guy was like a bloodhound on a scent. But if he thought he could get Rav Miller to crack, he was barking up the wrong tree. “How do you explain any talent? Maybe he’s got a sensitive soul.”
Lance was quiet for a long moment.
“I know you’re not a stupid man,” Lance said finally, in a low and serious tone. “And definitely not as stupid as you want me to think you are.”
“I don’t care what you think.”
“Tell me you don’t know there’s something different about this town. About these people. What are you hiding?”
Rav looked Lance in the eye. “Do you want to know what I think about Mad Creek? I think you’ve got a hell of an unemployment problem, and I can’t see that you’re doing jack all about it. Did you see how many people showed up to apply for that job I opened? And every day I get ten, twenty people coming around wanting to do something, anything. So maybe instead of spending your time worrying about law-abiding business owners who are trying to do some good in the world, you should focus on helping your own community. Just a suggestion. Lance.”
Lance flushed firecracker red. Even his ears lit up and his eyes snapped. Oh yeah, there went the volcano. Ka-blam. So that was Lance’s sore spot. Good to know.
“This community and its needs are not your problem, Mr. Miller.” Lance’s voice shook.
“Well then, how about we make a deal? You stay out of my business, and I’ll stay out of yours?” Rav stared Lance down. Yeah, that’s a threat, buddy. How do you like it?
Lance got up and walked away.
Rav needed to cool down, in more ways than one, so after Lance left, he stripped off his tank and waded into the lake.
Daisy and Sammy were swimming back and forth between the shore and a wooden dock that was out several hundred yards in the water. The next time they got close, Rav joined the race. He wasn’t the most graceful swimmer in the world, or the fastest, but he had a lot of anger to burn off and he attacked the water like a demented mermaid. Even so, he reached the dock seconds after Sammy. Sammy bobbed in the water, his face split wide with a smile.
“You can swim!” he exclaimed, as if Rav had been holding out on him.
“‘Course I can swim. What do you think? I know everything.”
Daisy laughed. “Don’t believe him, Sammy. All men think that.”
“Oh I know he doesn’t know everything,” Sammy said coyly.
Sammy and Daisy exchanged a knowing glance. Rav decided to change the subject.
“I see you’re getting the hang of it.” Rav mimicked the overhead stroke.
“Yes, it’s much faster.” Sammy held out one long arm and turned it back and forth, looking at it critically.
“Rav, you can play with Sammy for a while. I’m gonna go eat now!” Daisy chirped.
“Don’t eat all the burgers. Save some for us,” Rav said sternly.
“He’s joking,” Sammy told her. “He’s so funny!” Humor was Sammy’s new thing, and he couldn’t get enough of old TCM comedies right now. Daisy just laughed and headed back to shore.
“Don’t mow all the grass!” Sammy called out after her. “And don’t spill all the Coke! Ha-ha!”
“You’re a goof,” Rav told him.
“What’s that mean?”
“That means you’re silly. It’s a compliment.”
Rav leveraged himself out of the water onto the wooden dock, his triceps bulging, and was slightly annoyed when Sammy swung up beside him so easily he might have weighed nothing at all. Rav wiped the water off his face and beard and smoothed back his hair. As usual, concepts of personal boundaries held no sway with Sammy, and he didn’t leave enough room between them for a whisper. His slick arm and side rubbed against Rav’s.
“You like the water, I see.” Rav said.
“Yes. I forgot how much! I used to swim when I was… young.”
“Yes. Swimming is very—” Sammy thought about it. “Refreshing.”
Rav smiled at Sammy fondly. The shimmering water and sun, and his slicked back hair, brought the lines of his face into sharp focus. God, he was changing so rapidly. It was a little, Rav imagined, like having a child. Parents were always saying things like “He’s growing so fast!” Only in Sammy’s case, it wasn’t his body, but his mind and behavior that were changing, and it at lightning speed. He liked using bigger words, picking them up from Rav or the TV or God-knows-where, all as though his brain were a dictionary database. He was getting more talkative, joking and laughing more. He was moving with more swagger too, acting like a tough guy, possibly, Rav realized, imitating Rav himself. It was almost sad to see the shy, awkward Sammy ebb away. Or it would have been, if the new, more confident Sammy were not so damned appealing. Rav loved seeing Sammy happy.
“Why do you look at me like that?” Sammy asked, his golden eyes staring back into Rav’s.
Rav blinked and looked away. “Sorry. Guess I was thinking about something else.”
“What? You must like it a whole lot. Your eyes were all melty.”
“Hmmm. Were they?”
Sammy didn’t push for an answer. He put his head on Rav’s shoulder. His wet hair was damp and cold where the sun had already warmed Rav’s skin.
Rav Miller is a big, brawny biker with a heart of absolute gold, when it applies to dogs. People, not so much. He grew up in a family that thrived on making tons of cash in real estate and business, but he didn’t like the cut-throat, often not even legal, tactics they took to make more and more money. So, he stepped away and began rescuing dogs.
Over the years, he decided that opening a no-kill shelter was the best manner to his goal: more dog rescues. He even went to shelters in his area and rescued dogs tagged for destruction. A year ago, he met some strange men from Mad Creek, California; these guys helped him return all his animals from sheltering int he desert after vandals had turned the whole facility loose. Rav never forgot the experience, and he was struck by the intelligence in the eyes of some random dogs they’d brought along, including Milo. And, he sees that same spark of intelligence in Sammy, a shy chocolate lab.
Sammy’s first life was as a chocolate lab, and it began with a great start. He loved his owner, and she loved him, but she fell down the stairs one day and he was too scared to bark for help. Her sister took Sammy in when his first owner died. But, this woman’s husband was abusive and particularly hated Sammy. He hated when Sammy interfered while he was beating his wife, and he beat Sammy, too. He threatened to leave Sammy out in the snow during the winter, so she took him to a shelter. There he meets a dog who can turn into a man, one who insists Sammy will be able to do so if only he tries hard enough. Sammy isn’t sure if he can, but he also recognizes that he needs to get away from this shelter before his kill date comes up. He takes careful note of his dog-man-friend’s instruction on how to make it to Mad Creek and be safe. All Sammy needs to do is get adopted, however, he is terrified of large men and few families are willing to adopt him. His kill date draws lethally close. Until Rav comes along.
Rav tries to win Sammy’s trust, but it’s hard to do. Within a week, Sammy the dog goes missing. Rav’s speechless when he watches surveillance footage showing Sammy open his cage, and several doors, in order to release himself from captivity. Upon activating Sammy’s tracker, he follows his meandering labrador to Mad Creek, several hundred miles away. Two connections to Mad Creek in one year is too much coincidence, and Rav decides a road trip is necessary. Arriving, he cannot believe what he finds: lots and lots of doggy-acting humans. Is it magic, or science? If there’s any people Rav could love, it would be these remarkable dog-people.
Sheriff Lance Beaufort isn’t happy that Rav’s deciding to stay, but the whole town is overjoyed when Rav announces he’s planning to open a dog rescue in Mad Creek, and he’s willing to hire members from the community as staff: firstly, Sammy. He immediately notices how many unemployed people live in Mad Creek, and how thin the financial resources are stretched. Yet, working with Sammy shows Rav how easy it is to train the “quickened” dogs (who appear as people because they are dog shifters) in new, but repetitive, tasks. It’s first nature to them to do the same thing over and over, and it gets Rav’s brain working on potential industries he might be able to bring to Mad Creek, to provide jobs for the thousands of quickened who’d never adapt sufficiently to standard jobs in an unsheltered life.
While Sammy is falling head over tails for Rav, Rav’s doing the same with Sammy. Their relationship grows slowly, because Sammy is newly quickened and his physical body is more mature than his emotional or mental age. Plus, Sammy is still shy of large men, even in his human body. Still, being close with Rav is exciting and Sammy’s pals, like Milo, help him figure out how to become a physical lover. Rav’s patience and quiet love for the man-dog he’d rescued back in Arizona pays off, and Rav’s experience in business brings new life to Mad Creek. I don’t really want to discuss those details, because the intricate plotting is very sweet. The book is a bit of a slow burn, and has some dark moments, too. Like, Sammy’s experiences of abuse, and the way the Mad Creek folks try to run Rav out of town. Expect true love to win the day, Sheriff Lance to get a new partner in caring for Mad Creek, and the quickened to find new hope and industry. It’s tender adn sweet and gooey and I loved every second of it. While there’s no guarantee we’ll see another book in this series, I’m wishing on stars and howling at the moon for one.
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And, don’t forget to check out the previous books in this dog-gone fun series….
About the Author:
Eli Easton has been at various times and under different names a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, an organic farmer, and a long-distance walker. She began writing m/m romance in 2013 and has published 27 books since then. She hopes to write many more.
As an avid reader of such, she is tickled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, two bulldogs, several cows, and a cat. All of them (except for the husband) are female, hence explaining the naked men that have taken up residence in her latest fiction writing.
Eli currently publishes with Dreamspinner Press and has a few self-pubbed titles as well. She also publishes thrillers under the pen name: Jane Jensen.