Loner Dash Sinclair was seriously injured in an attack which killed every other man in his Special Forces unit. While recovering in the hospital, Dash begins receiving letters from a little girl named Cassidy Colder. Cassie had chosen Dash's name from a list of soldiers, and began writing to him as part of a class project. The letters become a lifeline to Dash, who has grown weary of fighting and especially of hiding what he really is, a Wolf Breed, one of a group of genetically enhanced humans whose DNA was mixed with that of the world's most deadly predators by a cruel organization known as the Genetics Council. As he reads her letters, Dash's finely tuned instincts tell him that things are not right in Cassie's world, and that she and her mother, Elizabeth, are in danger. Through her correspondence, Dash comes to care deeply about both Cassie and Elizabeth, and as soon as he is fully recovered, Dash immediately travels back to the states in search of them.
It takes him six months of tireless tracking, but Dash is finally rewarded one night, when in the middle of a blizzard, he walks into a diner to find the two ladies who have come to mean more to him than anyone else in the world. Elizabeth and Cassie are indeed in grave danger from a psychotic drug dealer who killed Cassie's father in front of her and is now relentlessly pursuing the mother and daughter. Dash has a plan to get them to safety, but Elizabeth, who has spent the last two years relying on no one but herself, isn't quite sure she can trust Dash. When it becomes clear that Dash is not giving her another option, Elizabeth allows him to whisk her and Cassie away. While they travel together and then spend time at the secure home of a friend, a heated attraction begins to build between them. Dash's wolf instincts told him that Elizabeth was his mate long before he even met her, and now he has every intention of claiming her as his woman. Even though Elizabeth was previously married, she is still fairly innocent of her own sexuality, but finds herself irresistibly drawn to Dash's dark, animalistic nature. As an intense passion flares between them, Dash and Elizabeth find themselves in a race against time to keep little Cassie safe and take down the one man who presents the biggest threat to them becoming a family.
Some readers seem to think that a good storyline and good erotic content are mutually exclusive, and while, unfortunately, this is often the case, I, for one, do not automatically think that my brain needs to be checked at the door when I'm in the mood for a really hot, steamy romance. But alas, perhaps I'm expecting too much. The plot of Elizabeth's Wolf felt like it was built up around the scorching love scenes, and when all was said and done, I was left with more questions than answers both about the Breeds and about the individual story contained within this book. Ms. Leigh's explanations for some of the things that happen are at best, weak plot devices, and at worst confusing and convoluted. One example of a weak and convoluted plot device, in my opinion, was the Breed registration process for minors. When looked at logically, it made little sense in and of itself, much less as a protection measure for Breed minors. In reality, it was simply a way for the author to "legally" make Dash, Cassie's daddy. Also, as hard as I tried, I couldn't quite figure out how Grange, a drug-dealing pervert, became involved in Breed experimentation except that he coincidentally had connections with a Breed scientist and it was some sort of power play. Another thing that didn't make much sense to me was Elizabeth's need to fight Grange herself. Initially, she was practically begging to stay with Cassie, but Dash wouldn't allow it, giving her all sorts of confusing reasons why she couldn't. Then Dash later gives her an out because of his concern for her safety (though why he wasn't worried about that from the start, I don't know), but she refused to take it. I realize that she felt some desire to be a part of taking down a bad guy who had ruined her life and threatened her little girl, and Dash wanted to know that she could handle the danger and stress of being his mate, but it all just seemed like thinly veiled excuses for putting Elizabeth in the thick of things. Don't even get me started on the realism of Elizabeth being able to train for such a mission in just a few weeks. No matter how tough she was or how intensive the training, Elizabeth likely still would have been more of a liability than an asset. Another thing that bugged me was all the new characters coming out of the woodwork to help Dash and Elizabeth go after Grange. I understood that the author was trying to demonstrate that Dash, a solitary man who flatly refused to acknowledge he had any friends, really did, but I thought that it could have been done better and the characters given more backstory and connections. Overall, for plot and execution, I give Ms. Leigh a C.
Now that all my criticisms are out of the way, I have to say that in spite of the plot weaknesses, I still actually enjoyed this story. Why you ask? Well, a couple of reasons. For one, this lady sure knows how to write blistering hot love scenes that had me drooling, panting, sweating and begging for more, which I suppose is a main point of a good erotic story. In fact, sometimes they would turn my brain to mush until I was thinking, "Ummm, what was it I was having issues with again?" For the most part all these scenes, beginning with the sexual tension in the early chapters, were extremely sexy and well-written. Admittedly, there were a couple of times that Dash could have toned down his need to exert his masculinity, in particular, the final scene where he "punishes" Elizabeth for disobeying orders, but overall, in spite of their intensity, the love scenes exhibited enough tenderness and feeling to satisfy me. The other thing that worked really well for me was the concept driving the story. From the start, I've been very engaged by the idea of the Breeds and can't seem to get enough of them. I also enjoyed the notion of Dash and Elizabeth falling in love through the letters he exchanged with her daughter, Cassie, and how those letters gave him a reason to live. There is just something very romantic about two people falling for each other through the written word alone. Of course, I know that Dash's wolf DNA played a part too, but it was still a great way to start a story in my opinion. So, for imagination, creativity, and her ability to sear my brain with mental pictures of extreme hotness, I give Ms. Leigh an A.
I think that the one last thing that really cinched my liking of the book were Dash and Elizabeth. It seems that Lora Leigh has a tendency to write cookie cutter heroes and heroines. Her men tend to be extreme dominating alphas, and her women are usually spitfires who give 'em hell. The only thing that seems to vary is the intensity of the characters. Dash and Elizabeth were no exception to this rule, but they were toned down enough for me to like them both pretty well. Although he wasn't quite as vulnerable as I like my heroes to be, Dash did exhibit some classic tortured hero characteristics. He was a solitary man who had basically been on his own since he was ten, and rarely allows himself to get close to anyone. Experience had taught him some hard lessons in loss and betrayal, until the letters of a little girl brighten his existence. After that, I loved how he became singularly focused on rescuing this child and her mother, both of whom his wolf senses told him, were in grave danger. I also liked that in spite of his intense instinct to dominate, Dash did manage to tamp down that need sometimes, and behave in a more gentle, civilized way, and his softer side always showed where Cassie was concerned. Elizabeth was a very smart and strong woman to have kept herself and Cassie alive while constantly on the run from the villain for two years. I liked her complexity in the early parts of the book, her wariness over allowing a man she doesn't really know and isn't quite sure she can trust to take over the job of protector, but her weariness in having fought for so long and the vulnerabilities associated with that. I liked that she was willing to let Dash take the reins, but that she wanted to know what was going on too. She also had a lot of mettle to stand up to Dash when his harsher side came out, and I couldn't help but like the way she sometimes teased, taunted and tried to get the upper hand. There were times that I felt like I was being jerked back and forth between this couple's fierce moments and their more tender ones, but overall it wasn't too bad. In spite of their occasional arguments, I still felt like they were a good match.
The secondary characters were a mixed bag. Cassie was really the only supporting player who had much influence on the story. She was a cute kid, and while I usually enjoy precocious children in my romances, I thought that her words didn't always reflect her mere eight years. I know that she was supposed to be very intelligent for her age, but even super-smart kids should still act and speak in an age-appropriate way. Her blatant manipulations sort of rubbed me the wrong way too, so I never completely warmed up to her. Mostly though, she was just a good kid in a extraordinarily bad situation. In my opinion, the villain, Grange, was underdeveloped and didn't have enough bite. He was really little more than a vague, far-off threat until the very end of the book, and even then was pretty benign. There were also plenty of Breed sightings. The five main feline Breeds, Callan, Taber, Tanner, Dawn and Sherra, as well as Mercury, all put in appearances, though Taber and Tanner had no dialog. Callan is the hero of book #1, Tempting the Beast; Taber is the hero of book #2, The Man Within; and Sherra is the heroine of book #4, Kiss of Heat. Her hero, Kane Tyler, also put in his third appearance in Elizabeth's Wolf. Tanner, Dawn and Mercury all helm books later in the series. Additionally there was a mention of Aiden, Faith and Jacob, all wolf Breeds who eventually get their own books. Elizabeth's Wolf also has a wide variety of Dash's "friends" who pop up here and there, at least one of whom is quite colorful, but for the most part, they didn't play particularly big roles.
In the end, the plot holes in Elizabeth's Wolf may have had the logical part of my brain screaming in frustration, but the mindless sex scenes definitely satisfied some baser instinct, "brain candy" as I've seen other readers call it. There was also just a dash (no pun intended) of a few elements that I really like to give it some flavor, and keep me reading and eagerly coming back each time I had to put it down. As with the first two books in the Breeds series, the editing could have used more spit and polish. There were quite a few repetitive words and phrases (lots of sighing, shrugging and head shaking going on), poor word choices, typos and minor inconsistencies, but I was entertained enough to overlook most of these too and just enjoy the story. Three books into the series, I'm not entirely certain that all my questions and curiosities about the Breeds are ever going to be answered to my satisfaction, but I'll certainly have fun trying to find out. Elizabeth's Wolf is book #3 in the Breeds series. There are currently a total of 18 novels and short stories in the series. The recommended reading order can be found on Lora Leigh's website.
Note: This book contains a couple of acts of violence, as well as extremely explicit language and sexual situations including some BDSM (biting, spanking, mild restraint, domination/submission) and anal sex, all of which some readers may find offensive.
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