Animal behaviorist Lydia Susi works for the Wolf Study Project, which runs a wolf sanctuary and studies the animals in their natural habitat. When a luxury hotel chain begins developing land next-door to their nature preserve, Lydia starts finding poisoned wolves. After the latest such incident, she's furious, and believing the hotel is to blame, she releases information to the press that puts a target on her back even though she doesn't have hard proof yet. Around the same time, the project's resident director and their veterinarian both begin acting strangely. As Lydia takes over the day-to-day operations in their absence, she discovers irregularities in the WSP's accounts. She also interviews and hires a hot new guy who sends her lust into overdrive to act as their much-needed handyman, and as she gets to know him better, she discovers that he may be the only person she can trust.
Daniel Joseph is a mysterious drifter who says he's just passing through town and looking for work. Although he's a man who's clearly keeping secrets, he becomes an ally for Lydia in her time of need. After the WSP's director goes missing and their vet commits suicide after trying to plant a bomb at the hotel, Daniel helps Lydia try to figure out what's really going on. The deeper they go, the more lies and deceptions they discover until the truths they've uncovered about an experimental laboratory could turn deadly. The strong connection that Daniel and Lydia feel toward one another could also be destroyed when Lydia learns the real reason Daniel is there and Daniel gets devastating news regarding his own future.
Claimed is the first book in J. R. Ward's new Black Dagger Brotherhood spin-off series, The Lair of the Wolven. Lydia is an animal behaviorist who works for the Wolf Study Project, which maintains a wolf sanctuary in the mountains of upstate New York. However, there's a new, upscale hotel being built next-door to their preserve, and after finding several wolves poisoned, she believes the hotel people may be responsible. While working to try to prove it and also protect the remaining wolves, she discovers unusual activity in the WSP's accounts and both their executive director and their veterinarian begin behaving strangely. Enter Daniel, a drifter who's looking for work. Lydia is instantly attracted to him, and after interviewing him, she hires him to be their new handyman. Daniel is a man with secrets, though, and although he's equally attracted to Lydia, he knows he won't be there long and tries to fight it. When the WSP's executive director goes missing and the vet commits suicide, Daniel and Lydia work together to try to figure out what's really going on, but in the process, they get caught up in a web of lies and deception that runs deep and has ties to the experimental labs a couple of members of the BDB family have experienced first-hand. The things that they discover could have deadly consequences for both of them, and when Lydia finds out the truth about Daniel, it may also put an end to their burgeoning relationship.
Lydia's mother never really wanted her, so after her father died, she was raised by her grandfather who taught her a certain respect for nature. She feels at home with wolves, which is why she became an animal behaviorist and now works for the Wolf Study Project. She loves her work there, so when the wolves start turning up poisoned, she'll do anything to stop it from happening again. Thinking the powers-that-be at the hotel project are responsible, she goes after them. But when her colleagues go missing and turn up dead, she thinks she may be next. Upon meeting Daniel, she's deeply attracted to him and comes to trust him fairly quickly as he helps her investigate and figure out what's happening. But when she learns the truth about why he's really there, it may destroy both her trust and her love for him. I liked Lydia but didn't feel like I got to know her as well as I wanted to. She's like a dog with a bone and has a tendency to run head-long into danger. While on some level that's admirable, IMHO, her actions sometimes bordered on TSTL. It was only because Daniel was there with her most of the time that I was generally able to give her a pass for this. I admired her devotion to the wolves and her willingness to fight for their well-being even if it meant tangling with some pretty powerful people.
Daniel comes to the WSP as a drifter, simply looking for work and turns out to be a pretty good handyman. Even though he likes Lydia, he tries not to fall for her, but when things start going sideways, he realizes how much he's come to care for her and puts everything on the line to protect her. His background is similar enough to Lydia's that they're eventually able to bond over their shared pain. However, the longer he's there, the more obvious it becomes that he's a man of mystery who has a lot of secrets he's not sharing. In fact, the reader isn't let in on exactly why he is there until the very end. Perhaps because of all the mystery surrounding him, I felt like I got to know Daniel even less than I did Lydia, which was kind of a bummer. He's a strong, brave, alpha male who earned a few sympathy points from me over both his background and something we learn about him at the very end, but I still couldn't help feeling like something was missing. My hope, though, is that Ms. Ward will fill in those missing pieces better in the next book of the series.
As a couple, I felt like Daniel and Lydia's relationship could have gone a little deeper, too. The bulk of the story is about them investigating what's happening at the WSP, while the romance kind of simmers on the back burner. There's a definite attraction when they meet and Daniel doesn't hesitate to protect Lydia, but not much of an actual romantic nature occurs between them before they fall into bed. Even that doesn't happen until probably about two-thirds of the way into the story. The love scenes have the trademark J. R. Ward steaminess, but that's about all that happens between them. Then Lydia is told by another character that Daniel isn't who he says he is, but rather than giving him any kind of chance to explain himself, she simply demands that he get out of her house. Later, though, she risks her life for him and tells him she loves him, which felt like it came from out of the blue and kind of gave me whiplash. Ms. Ward is usually much better at building the romantic relationship, so again, since the next book is going to be a continuation of Daniel and Lydia's story (fair warning to all you readers who hate cliffhangers, there basically is one in this book), I hope that she'll add more actual romance. The way things are left at the end suggest that the next chapter would certainly be ripe for emotional intensity, so I'm optimistic that it will be better.
As for the BDB connection, there are a few scenes from Xhex's POV as her nightmares about her time in the lab return. Her brother, Blade, who I don't recall ever being mentioned before, is also wrapped up in what's going on and draws her to the mountain where the WSP is located. There she receives a cryptic message from a mysterious ghost-like being. By the end, she gets additional info from Rehvenge, which sets up, not only a meet between her and the main characters of this book, but also leaves her with a major obstacle to overcome moving forward. I look forward to seeing how this all plays out, but unfortunately in this first volume, Xhex's role is about as mysterious as everything else.
The Lair of the Wolven is the third BDB spin-off and like all the other BDB related books before it, I was definitely looking forward to it. Aside from one character in the BDB: Prison Camp series, this is the first time we've had werewolves in this universe, so that was an exciting prospect. Unfortunately, though, Claimed didn't quite live up that promise for me. I sometimes felt like the story was overly long and meandering, with not enough clues along the way to fully engage me in the mystery/suspense part of the plot. I know that the author is probably trying to save some reveals for a future book(s) of the series and that's totally fine with me. However, I didn't feel like quite enough was revealed in this book. In many ways, I was left with more questions than answers after turning the final page. The paranormal element was pretty weak, with no actual wolven making an appearance until the very end and we still know nothing of where they come from or anything about said "lair." There were also some uncharacteristic editing issues, mainly with rough-around-the-edges wording, and while these things were mostly minor, they did stick out to me since I rarely see this in Ms. Ward's work. If not for the fact that the next book is going to pick up and continue with these same characters, I probably would have given the book a lower rating, because it did leave something to be desired, which doesn't typically happen for me with a J. R. Ward book either. However between this knowledge and me being overly tired and frequently nodding off while reading it, which could have led to me missing some finer details, I decided to go ahead and give it four stars. I just hope that, moving forward, the author clears up a lot of the confusion and starts filling in the numerous missing puzzle pieces that this book left for me.
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