Ashaya Aleine is a brilliant Psy scientist who harbors rebel sympathies. The Psy Council has kept her in line by holding her son, Keenan, hostage, while forcing her to work on Protocol I, an implant that would render her entire race a true hive mind and in essence enslave them. Ever since a traumatic experience as a teen, she's been unable to maintain Silence, but she's trained herself to become a very good actor. However, underneath her cool exterior she experiences deep emotions. After helping the DarkRiver Changelings free two children from her lab, she asked for one favor in return, which she calls in to have them find and rescue her son. Once he's safe, Ashaya can finally risk escaping herself. Things don't precisely go as planned, but she ends up under DarkRiver's protection with sexy sniper Dorian as her personal bodyguard. She'd briefly met him when he came to help rescue the kids and she hasn't been able to stop thinking of him since. Now being with him every day proves exactly how much passionate desire she's been holding inside. But she harbors huge secrets, which if revealed, could end their budding relationship before it's barely begun.
Dorian Christensen is a latent Changeling who lacks the ability to shift into his leopard form, but the big cat still lives inside him, seething with anger over the harm that's come to those he loves. He lost his sister to a brutal Psy serial killer, and ever since has vowed revenge on the entire Psy race. During their brief former meeting, Dorian had felt a strong attraction to Ashaya, but falling for a Psy is definitely not in his future plans. However, when she goes public, blowing the whistle on the Psy Council's evil scheme, it places a huge target on her back. Not to mention, she's one of only two people who are capable of implementing Protocol I, so the Council needs her back. Tasked with protecting her at all costs, Dorian finds himself attracted to the beautiful scientist, even though she confuses him. It doesn't take long, though, for his cat to decide that she's his mate, and once he accepts that, nothing will stand in the way of him making her his. However, when he discovers exactly what she's been hiding, will he still be able to accept her?
Hostage to Pleasure is the fifth full-length novel in Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series. It pairs latent leopard shifter, Dorian, with Ashaya, a Psy scientist with a major ax to grind with the Psy Council. When she escapes from captivity, where she was being held by the Council against her will and forced to work on dangerous experiments that could mean the end of any autonomy for the Psy, she winds up in DarkRiver territory. Since the leopards were already caring for her son who they'd rescued from the Psy, she is also placed under their protection with Dorian as her main bodyguard. As the two get to know one another, Dorian realizes Ashaya is his mate and she's very attracted to him, too. But she's keeping some pretty big secrets, which if revealed, could make Dorian hate her. Overall, I enjoyed this installment, mainly for the progression of the series story arc, which is inching closer and closer to a full dismantling of Silence and of Psy control over much of business and politics, although it's looking like a war may need to be fought to make all of this happen. However, where I felt the story faltered a bit was in the romantic relationship building. So Hostage to Pleasure ended up being a good read, but not one of my favorites in the series so far.
The Psy Council has been holding Ashaya's son, Keenan, hostage in order to get her to cooperate with them. She's an M-Psy (which is their medical designation) and one of only a couple of scientists who have the ability to see DNA at the molecular level. As such, she's very valuable to the Council, who is forcing her to work on Protocol I, an implant that would take away individuality and turn all Psy into a true hive mind. Ashaya has been projecting the veneer of Silence to the outside world for years. But in reality her conditioning broke in her teens due to a traumatic experience, and she hasn't been able to maintain Silence ever since. She doesn't want Protocol I to go into effect, and the only way to prevent it is for her to disappear, something that isn't so easily accomplished. In the previous book, Mine to Possess, she helped two of her child subjects escape the lab, and in return, she asked for a favor, which she calls in at the beginning of this book, requesting that DarkRiver rescue Keenan. Once she's fairly certain her son is out of harm's way, she then fakes her own death, and with assistance from the rebels, she escapes. DarkRiver then offers their protection and helps her get her message out. Ashaya had briefly met Dorian when he nearly killed her during the previous operation to rescue the kids. Although she wasn't really able to see him, she hasn't been able to stop thinking about him since, and meeting him face-to-face is a visceral experience that makes her long for something deeper. However, Ashaya has an identical twin sister, and she's harboring a whole lot of secrets that revolve around her sibling that could threaten her newfound relationship with Dorian. In spite of her sister Amara's misdeeds, Ashaya loves her anyway, and although she fears that things may not end well for her sibling, she tries to do everything in her power to save Amara. She also harbors a deep love for Keenan and would do anything to see him kept safe. I love super-smart characters, and Ashaya is definitely that. I liked her very much and think that she makes a wonderful addition to the DarkRiver pack and that her scientific mind may be of great use to them in their future conflict with the Psy Council.
Dorian is a latent Changeling, meaning that, while the leopard still lives inside him, a genetic anomaly makes it impossible for him to shift into animal form. He hasn't let that hold him back, though. In fact, he pushes himself to be the best he possibly can be at everything he tries. He realized his dream of becoming a DarkRiver Sentinel and is very serious about protecting his pack and their interests. However, he harbors a great deal of guilt over not being able to protect his own younger sister from being kidnapped and brutally murdered by a Psy serial killer, an event that occurred in the very first book, Slave to Sensation. As a result, he's vowed revenge against the Psy, and while he's made exceptions for a handful of Psy rebels who've either joined their pack or the SnowDancer wolf pack, he largely still hates the race as a whole. When he's tasked with keeping Ashaya safe, he isn't entirely sure what to think of her at first. On the surface, she seems cold and unfeeling, but then he gradually gets glimpses into a softer side that appeals to him. Not to mention, he's very physically attracted to her. As he battles between his head and his heart, he slowly comes to accept that the leopard has chosen her as his mate, but he struggles a bit with looking the other way when she finally reveals all her secrets to him. Dorian is a character who has intrigued me from the beginning, perhaps because of his inability to shift. However, it's doesn't end up being quite as much of a vulnerability for him as I thought it might be. Ashaya mentions several times that she can sense his hurt over it, but I was having trouble sensing that myself, maybe because I felt like it was being more told than shown. Otherwise, he's a pretty good hero, though not one of my favorites. I think this is because he was a bit too pushy for my taste. All the guys in this series are alphas with assertive tendencies, but whether I like them in spite of it depends on the circumstances and how they come off as I'm reading. In this case, Dorian's overbearing nature didn't quite resonate with me in the way some of the others have.
As is typical for this series, Hostage to Pleasure is chock full of supporting characters, many of whom have their own stories. DarkRiver alpha, Lucas, and his mate, Sascha, (Slave to Sensation) head things up. Vaughn (Visions of Heat) is there to provide protection, and his mate, Faith, makes some dire predictions. Clay and Tally (Mine to Posses) help out a lot, too, and Judd (Caressed by Ice) assists with the rescue of Keenan. Nate and Tamsyn ("Beat of Temptation" from Wild Invitation) offer protection and healing respectively. Mercy is the only female DarkRiver sentinel but she's every bit as protective as the males. She becomes the heroine of the next full-length book, Branded by Fire. SnowDancer wolf, Drew (Play of Passion) shows up in one scene. Kaleb (Heart of Obsidian) is still the enigmatic Psy Councilor who I think is much more than meets the eye. Many other series characters are mentioned in the background, and Faith's father, Anthony Kyriakus, ends up being a valuable ally. Then, of course, there's young Keenan who is a sweet child and also very smart for a little one of only four and a half. I thought it was cute that he wants to marry Noor, and it made me wonder if someday, Nalini Singh might write a next-gen series for the kids.
IMHO, the main strength of Hostage to Pleasure is in its plot additions to the overall series story arc. A lot happens in this installment that I'm sure will have repercussions throughout the rest of the series. There are many factions rising up, including a new Psy faction and a human faction that's tired of living under Psy rule, all of which could be future threats. For these reasons alone, this is a must-read book. However, I just wasn't as engaged in the romance between Ashaya and Dorian as I wanted to be in spite of generally liking them both as characters. I think where things broke down for me in this respect was that neither Ashaya nor Dorian really trust each other when they first meet, and yet they slowly begin to reveal their respective pasts. This is a good thing and typical for a romance, but at the same time, I simply couldn't identify exactly how or when they came to trust one another enough to make such confessions. Also, their lustiness is very readily apparent, but the actual romance is a bit harder to define, as is the how or why of them falling in love. I just didn't feel the deep emotional connection between them that I wanted to. All that said, though, it was still a good read. The next novella in the series is also about Dorian and I look forward to discovering if it might add new insights to his character.
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