In Altered Heart, an m/m werewolf romance, the heroes come from two different worlds. Mick Matranga has been a werewolf for all his life and is part of the Committee for Supernatural Behavioral Enforcement. Rio Hardin is a runaway and hustler who was forcibly turned into a werewolf by Sutter, an alpha with a cruel streak. Yet they have more in common than they realize. While Mick is a part of the CFSBE, he doesn’t really fit in either.
When Mick first sees Rio, the young man is Sutter’s prisoner, forced to crawl behind Sutter on bleeding hands and knees. Mick’s job is to arrest Sutter – or kill him, if needed. After Sutter is taken care of, Rio faces the biggest challenge – keeping Rio out of trouble. Sparks fly from the start. While Mick is an alpha, Rio is no pushover. Also, Rio has more baggage than a luggage store. Because of his protective streak, Mick fights his attraction to Rio and tries to find a stable home for him. Fate intervenes, and the two of them are thrown together again. An added twist is that Sutter cruelly kept Rio from shifting for the first time. Mick may be called upon to help Rio shift – a situation that involves using sex to distract the shifter from the pain of becoming a werewolf for the first time. He tries to avoid that duty, even though he knows Rio is meant to be his mate.
Altered Heart is a sexually charged story, but most importantly, it’s full of sexual tension. Mick fights his feelings, so whenever Mick and Rio get together, it’s a relief. Also, although this is a fairly short book, I felt that I got to know both of the heroes. That made all the difference, because I cared about whether or not they had sex. As a comparison, I recently reviewed a erotic romance where the characters had sex all the time, and when I was reading that book, I didn’t care.
Rio is only eighteen, but he has been through a lot, from the childhood betrayal that drove him onto the streets to the torture he experienced under Sutter. He’s scared, but he’s a survivor. Sometimes, he’s too reckless. As a new werewolf, Rio is far from ready to take care of himself, so Mick’s protective streak kicks in. While Sutter was the evil side of the alpha, Mick is the good side – powerful, sometimes ornery, even possessive at times, but always fiercely protective. However, Mick is still getting over the death of his wife, and his attraction to the youthful and abused Rio makes him feel guilty. His attempt to “do the right thing” by leaving Rio in someone else’s hands backfires when his natural alpha jealousy comes out. Don’t worry, he’s not one of “those” jealous heroes. Also, both men avoid the notorious “I’m not good enough for you” syndrome.
While the two main characters made the story believable for me, the world-building sometimes raised more questions than it answered. While the world of the werewolves made sense, with alphas and pack behavior, some of the “big picture” questions nagged at me. Besides the werewolves, there are trolls, pixies, and vampires. The novel leaves the impression that the population interacts with these otherworldly citizens, but I never got an idea of the impact on the population as a whole. Surely if you could buy magic penile enhancement spells from your local alchemist, or if pixies made the headlines, it would have a noticeable effect on the world.
The sex is graphic, and all the hotter because Steele makes readers wait for it. While the language is graphic, it’s at times poetic, especially when Mick helps Rio through his first transformation. Be warned that Mick and Rio do have sex while Rio shifts, which is a necessary part of the transformation. Because it came across as a natural and necessary part of their world, I wasn’t put off by it. I was more distracted when I learned that werewolves create their own natural lubricant because that seemed a little too convenient in a gay erotic romance.
There are dark elements, but the book doesn’t dwell on the details of the abuse Rio suffered. The hints are enough, so we understand why Rio reacts the way he does. I do wish more pages had been spent on the resolution of the incident from Rio’s childhood. It was good to see him get some form of justice, but the big moment went by too quickly, as do some other incidents at the conclusion. Overall, however, this is a hot novel about an unlikely couple that is more suited than they realize.