When Ward Johannsen’s little girl Ava shifted into a werewolf, she was taken into custody by the feds and shipped off to the nearest pack, all ties between father and daughter severed. Ward burned every bridge he had discovering her location, and then almost froze to death in the Colorado mountains tracking her new pack down. And that’s just the beginning of his struggle.
Henry Dormer is an alpha werewolf and an elite black ops soldier who failed his last mission. He returns home, hoping for some time to recuperate and help settle the pack’s newest member, a little pup named Ava who can’t shift back to her human form. Instead he meets Ward, who refuses to leave his daughter without a fight. The two men are as different as night and day, but their respect for each other strikes a spark of mutual interest that quickly grows into a flame. They might find something special together—love, passion, and even a family—if they can survive trigger-happy pack guardians, violent werewolf politics, and meddling government agencies that are just as likely to get their alpha soldiers killed as bring them home safely.
I don’t necessarily like naming favorites, but deep down, paranormal romance is my favored genre. And to be even more precise, I prefer shifter stories. I don’t read a great deal of them anymore because unfortunately, I’ve stumbled upon more rotten eggs than golden ones. However, I am the first to thrust out grabby hands when a trusted author creates a new shifter story. Cari Z. takes the typical human + beast + abnormal powers formula and spices it up with her humor and some peculiar twists. And of course, a mega dose of love. She most definitely veers “off course” and I was thrilled to tag along for the ride.
Ward is introduced first and what makes him remarkable from the start is his unconditional love for his daughter. Ward is human, a single father, and determined to find his stolen daughter…at all costs. Who abducted his daughter? The government. This is not a free world; this is a place where laws are stringently enforced and lives are controlled. If a person is born with the shifting gene, as soon as it’s revealed they’re whisked away to a hidden community. Werewolves are forbidden to interact with humans unless the government deems it necessary. Few humans are granted clearance to bridge the gap between the species. Those selected ‘guardians’ live in solitude as well. The Alpha of the pack must bear the consequence of ‘payment’ to the government by assisting the military on mercenary missions. The price of being an assassin is slowly destroying Alpha Henry and when he returns from a string of exhausting assignments to discover an unauthorized human on his land, he nearly loses the fragile hold of his sanity. However, this brave stranger stirs something within Henry, something he’s afraid to acknowledge. Something close to comfort. Ward only cares about one thing, his daughter Ava, but before he knows it, he finds himself drawn to the big bad Alpha. Is there a way he can have both? Let’s find out, shall we?
The reader slips from Ward’s mind to Henry’s with alternating dual point-of-view storytelling. I found this tremendously helpful and it heightens the ability to connect and understand both men. Packs are held together by respect and obedience. Although Henry’s wolves comply with his rules, there are a few new additions giving him a bit of trouble. His biggest dilemma and priority is Ava, the toddler pup seemingly stuck in her wolf form. He needs to find a motivating factor to lure her back into her human form. Her father is exactly the incentive needed to stimulate her shift. But it takes time, and time is not on their side. I enjoyed the urgency and steady pace. I really liked Ava!
It was easy to fall for Ward. He’s determined and selfless, with eyes only for his daughter. Until the leader of the pack returns home. He’s not intimidated by Henry yet understands the importance of getting in the Alpha’s good graces. What he didn’t expect was the attraction he can’t deny. His libido has been dormant for years but there’s something about the gruff and tough wolf that flips his switch. He’s never considered himself a strong man…until he has no choice. It’s amazing what tenacity and pure stubbornness can deliver. When Henry finally lets his guard down the tenderness is overwhelming. I adored his sister and the strength she adds to their story. Overall the story is unique and terrific but the greatest assets are without a doubt the characters. Top it off with some comic relief and some sexiness and I was one happy reader. AND…it looks like this might turn into a series or that could just be me hoping it will.
The romance is slow but steady. Family is the core of this story. A father and daughter and a tight-knit pack, both fuel the fire that heats this tale. The ‘big brother’ in this story is mean and unforgiving.
If you seek superior shifts like I do or consider yourself a Cari Z. groupie, I have a strong feeling you’re going to want to venture Off The Beaten Path with this journey.