Cowboy Wolf Trouble
I picked up Kait Ballenger’s Cowboy Wolf Trouble for review based not so much on the cover (which shows a fairly standard romance ‘howdy pardner!’ bare-chested man) but the synopsis. It’s a Western themed, paranormal romance with a wolf shifter (technically a werewolf) interacting with a human rancher, with some other supernatural groups making appearances. My overall opinion? Some positives, some negatives and an okay start to my reading year.
Naomi Evans is a biologist, but she’s stuck with the ranch passed down to her from her father. She’s part Apsaalooke and her heritage and schooling have imbued her with a healthy respect for nature, including the grey wolf she finds caught in a trap on her lands. But nothing in her training prepares her for his shifting into a naked man in front of her, then taking her hostage.
Wes Calhoun has led a less than examplary life but he’s trying to do better. He used to be the leader of the Wild Eight renegade wolf pack formed by his great-great-grandather. It was an illegitmate pack, not part of Montana’s Seven Range Pact comprised of seven different animal shifter packs, and was constantly at war with the Grey Wolves. He’d surrendered to the Grey Wolves, and hoped for peace between the packs but recent news of the Wild Eight’s possible alliance with vampires means his sacrifice may have been for naught. In chasing after the Wild Eights following an eventful night in which they’d tried to take revenge for his betrayal, he’d stumbled into the wolf trap on Naomi’s land and had no choice but to reveal himself to her – or kill her. He’d chosen the former, but then had been forced to take her with him.
Despite their clear differences and the Grey Wolves prohibition of werewolf/human interactions, an attraction burns between Wes and Naomi. But there is danger all around. Something has been destroying Naomi’s livestock and Wes’s suspicions of the Wild Eight’s involvement with vampires and why they’ve been going after her ranch make for an uneasy alliance, especially since once Naomi knows about the supernatural beings she can’t go back to blissful ignorance. Can a romance blossom under these circumstances, or will the flame of desire be quickly extinguished?
The pluses and the minuses tend to go hand in hand in this story. There’s a bit of an info dump at the beginning to get the reader up to speed on the Seven Range Pact, the history of the Wild Eights and the Grey Wolves and so on. There’s also a reference partway to the Execution Underground (who then play a more major role later on) which a bit of research reveals is a different series by this author, making this a spinoff series. But even though the beginning was confusing, I eventually caught on to who was whom and so on. The idea of seven mountain ranges containing seven different species of shifter packs is an interesting one, though the second book in the Seven Range Shifters series appears to also be about a cowboy/wolf so I’m not sure what the author’s plans are and whether other shifter species will play a more prominent role in the series. Also on the plus side, I appreciate that the author gives Naomi an authentic Native American heritage and clearly researched the local tribes of the area in which she’s set the book. The Montana landscape is well described and it makes sense to use the natural wildlife of the area as the basis for the shifters.
The relationship between Wes and Naomi is complicated by a number of factors. First, and obviously, he’s a werewolf and she isn’t, so their pairing is forbidden and this makes for some difficulty in making their romance achievable. Secondly, there’s a scene near the beginning of the story, part of the kidnapping section in which he flings her over his shoulder and spanks her like a recalcitrant child. This is more reminiscent of an old-school romance (you know the ones) versus one that’s acceptable now and didn’t leave me with much appreciation for our hero. Later on, Naomi is able to use her petite size and defensive skills in taking down an alpha werewolf and showing why she’s not to be trifled with, but sadly it’s not Wes, because I’d have liked to see her put him in his place! Despite Wes knowing the rules against human interaction, he and Naomi eventually succumb to their attraction in some steamy love scenes. Their emotional connection develops later and is complicated by Wes’s personal self-esteem problems (the ‘I’m not good enough for her’ syndrome that afflicts so many heroes).
In terms of the plot, the story gets a little over complicated with assorted groups competing for dominance and plenty of characters along for the ride. There’s a lot of action, some of it on the more violent side as the Grey Wolves clash with the Wild Eight. (At one point, the story veers into the underground MMA fighting scene which seems like an unnecessary twist). The showdown also leads to Wes and Naomi making choices that lead to their eventual happy ending. Unlike some stories that start a series I don’t have a clear sense of where this one is going next but chances are good that I’ll keep my eyes out for its release despite some of my issues with this one. If you like your romances on the grittier, sexier side and are a fan of shifters and cowboys, Cowboy Wolf Trouble might be just what you need to start your reading year.