She’s all he wanted, but was unable to claim…until now.
Sierra Cavanaugh has worked her whole life to become the first female elite warrior in Grey Wolf history. With her nomination finally put forward, all she needs is the pack council’s approval. But those stuffy old wolves refuse to elect her unless she finds herself a mate.
Packmaster Maverick Grey was reconciled to spending the rest of his life alone. Now, upon entering into treaty renegotiations with the other Seven Range clans, he needs the elite warrior vacancy filled—and fast. If Sierra needs a mate, this is his chance to claim her. But Sierra has an agenda of her own for their union, and they’ll need to work together against the assassin intent on barring the deal. For these two rivals, the only thing more dangerous than fighting the enemy at their backs is battling the war of seduction building between them…
*Mild spoiler warning*
I’m very middle of the road on how I feel about this book. There were some things I liked a lot, some things I didn’t like at all, some things I thought I’d hate that turned out to be appreciable instead, and some things I thought I’d love but Ballenger managed to sully. That’s a mixed bag of feelings not easy to get on paper.
I guess the best I can do is take them one at a time, even if some of them overlap. I liked Sierra a lot. I liked that she was independent, forward thinking, and willing to pursue her own desires. I like watching strong men realize a woman is their emotional salvation, as Maverick eventually did. It’s one of those ‘Yes, it’s problematic but it ticks my sexy buttons’ sort of things. I liked that the sex didn’t get all dominant and submissive, undermining Sierra’s right to her strength, as was really popular in romance for a while.
I disliked that, even if Ballenger was willing to set aside many of the icky tropes so common in romance, she wasn’t willing to set aside the expectation of virginity one. She did try to give reasons Sierra was still a virgin well past the age one would expect it. But it still felt like a ‘qualifier of female purity’ line that she wasn’t willing to cross.
And as this plot point played out, it came to a scene where Sierra embarrassingly admitted her virginity to Maverick and asked him to teach her to pleasure a man. And I wanted to DNF the book right there. I thought, “Shit, she’s going to play the ingénue (which doesn’t fit her character at all) and I’m going to have to sit through all the trainee sex while Maverick goes all alpha dominant in the bedroom and teaches her about her own body.” I hate that. But Ballenger surprised me. She didn’t take the well worn and predictable path. Instead, Maverick refused and Sierra stepped up and negotiated for her desires. She knew her body, knew what she wanted, and refused to be denied her just rewards. I liked this.
I liked that throughout the book Sierra championed for women’s rights and Maverick was in support of them. I disliked that when he finally managed to push through all the equal rights changes the pack needed to bring them into the modern age, it was described through Sierra’s thoughts as:
Sierra cradled the pile of papers in her hands, staring down at them in awe before she glanced back up at him, tears pouring down her face. He’d done it. He’d placed her wants, her needs, and desires before all other duty and kept his promise.
I mean, woo-hoo for social equality. But I’d have appreciated if he’d passed all the reforms because he thought it was best for the pack or believed in them himself. Instead, he just gave his wife what she wanted in order to get her to forgive him for a past transgression. It seriously undermined the validity of the changes, or at least his deserved virtue for making them.
I liked that Sierra stood up for the idea of women being more than breeders and put her career first. But I disliked that Ballenger then ended the book with her pregnant, which back-pedaled the idea entirely. Sierra can claim she and women are good for more than popping out babies, but apparently the reader can’t be trusted to recognize a happy ending if it doesn’t involve said babies.
I liked the easily readable writing. But I grew to hate the “cowboy” and “warrior” titles. It felt really REALLY forced, frequently dropped in whenever Ballenger wanted to evoke the ascetic of a cowboy but too often not actually relevant to the scene. Here’s an example:
Her own eyes flashed to her wolf as she bared her teeth and let out a snarl of her own. She wasn’t intimidated by him in the least. “This is my fight. Not yours. Cowboy or not, you’re not leaving me standing here in you dust as you ride off into the fucking sunset. We do this together or don’t do this at all.”
The problem is that this was a scene where they’d just discovered who the villain was and he’d instructed another wolf to protect her while he went to kill the bad guy. What does that have to do with cowboy? “Pack-leader or not” would have fit the context, “Alpha wolf or not” would have made sense, even “Husband or not” would have matched the scene. But cowboy didn’t. I can’t even make the reference to riding into the sunset bring it into relevance.
And this happened over and over again, “cowboy” being dropped in to remind the reader that Maverick is apparently a cowboy (as if the constant readjusting of Stetsons or mention of cowboy boots or ranch-work wasn’t enough). And maybe it wasn’t, since what Maverick was was a werewolf pack-leader who owned a ranch. Giving him the cowboy title too and trying to make it dominant felt like Ballenger was sticking a name-tag to his chest and kept instructing the reader to look at it instead of the actual character development. What it felt like was that Ballenger had a note to remind herself to drop the word in every 25 pages or so to make the title of the book relevant. Similarly, Maverick’s random use of “warrior” to address Sierra lost meaning after a while.
All in all, the mixed feelings on this book drops it right in the middle of liked and disliked for me. This was the first Ballenger book I’ve read (which means I’ve not read the rest of this series, despite this being a 4th book). I think I’ll give her another change, gather a little more data before I decide how I feel about her books in general.