Desert Isle Keeper
Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
To say I was excited when I learned that Charlie Adhara was going to be continuing her Big Bad Wolf series is something of an understatement. I’ve never really been into books about shifters, but after reading Em’s DIK review of book one, Wolf at the Door, I decided to try it and was immediately hooked on the adventures of BSI (Bureau of Special Investigations) agent Cooper Dayton and his werewolf work-partner (and later, romantic partner), Oliver Park. Each book in the series contains a standalone mystery, but the central relationship develops throughout, so it really is advisable to read all the books and read them in order so as to gain a proper understanding of how Cooper and Park have arrived at the point at which we meet them again at the beginning of Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.
[Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the series in this review.]
At the end of Thrown to the Wolves, Cooper, frustrated by the utter uselessness of the BSI when it came to dealing with wolves as victims and seeing the bureau’s ignorance and lack of respect for wolves and their history, quit the organisation and joined a new department set up by the Trust (the group that oversees all wolves), dedicated to investigating crime – whether by humans or their own kind – against wolves. He and Park have continued their working partnership there, and their personal relationship continues to thrive; they’re in love, they’ve been living together for months, and now they’re looking to buy a home together – but while Park has eagerly jumped in to the business of house-hunting, Cooper is holding back, the prospect of leaving the apartment he’s lived in for years putting him on edge. He knows his old, one bedroom place is too small for them, and that although he’s welcomed Park into his space, it’s still his space and nothing in it is Park’s. Wanting to do something nice for Park, Cooper agrees to look for somewhere together, but he can’t work up the same enthusiasm for the search – and definitely not for the expensive ‘mini mansions’ Park favours.
Cooper is thinking he really needs to have an honest conversation with Park about the situation but is saved from doing it right away by a phone call from his former boss Elena Santiago – whom he hasn’t spoken to since leaving the BSI – who asks for their help in finding a missing wolf. A wolf who, as it turns out, Park had dealings with in his time as the Shepherd, when he fought and banished him for mistreating his pack members and attacking other packs.
After this, Thomas Kreuger found work as a groundskeeper at a remote a mountain retreat in North Carolina, living under the radar until a couple of weeks earlier, when he reached out to a pack member and told her that something at the retreat was badly wrong, but didn’t elaborate. A week after that, he suddenly turned in his notice and just disappeared. He hasn’t been officially reported missing, but his former mate is concerned about him. Santiago wants Cooper and Park to look into Kreuger’s disappearance unofficially – and as Maudit Falls is a relationship retreat for wolves, they already have the perfect cover story. Fresh mountain air, brisk swims in the lake, couples counselling… it’ll be a nice little vacation for them. Cooper isn’t particularly impressed.
The fake relationship trope isn’t an unusual one in romantic suspense, but Charlie Adhara takes things one step further here by having a fake-not-fake relationship (!) as Cooper and Park go undercover to investigate Kreuger’s disappearance – and definitely come up against more than they’d bargained for. From the moment they arrive at the retreat and walk in on an argument over the disappearance of a man employed at the local lumber mill, it’s clear all is not well at Maudit Falls – an impression that is reinforced when another staff member goes missing and a ripped and bloodied shirt is discovered in one of the generator sheds. And the deaths don’t stop there…
Charlie Adhara once again does a fantastic job of combining an intriguing and high-stakes suspense plot with plenty of relationship and character development, steamy love scenes, tenderness and humour. So much of the romantic suspense I’ve read or listened to lately hasn’t managed to achieve the right balance between those two elements, but Ms. Adhara does it beautifully, creating a clever plot in which things are not at all what they seem while continuing to move the romance forward.
The romantic and sexual chemistry between Cooper and Park is as strong as it ever was, but there’s a new sense of their being settled that wasn’t quite there before. Yet Cooper wouldn’t be Cooper if he was all cool and collected about everything, and although he’s completely secure in Park’s love for him (and his for Park), he can’t help remembering some of the things said by Park’s family, about wolves ultimately needing to be with their own kind and wondering whether, in the end, he can ever be enough. In addition to this, he comes to a realisation that makes him see some things about himself in a new light – and it’s a measure of how far he’s come as a character that he doesn’t try to hide it or hide from it. The ‘old’ Cooper, would just have locked it all away in that corner of his mind labelled Things Cooper and Park Don’t Talk About, but this new, improved version discusses it – no matter how hard it may be for him – accepts Park’s support and reassurance and makes plans to address it. This is a healthy, mature relationship between a couple whose love and affection for one another shines through, even when they mis-step, and it’s wonderful to read.
As in the other books, the story is told entirely through Cooper’s PoV, but the author does such a great job of presenting Park through Cooper’s eyes that I didn’t miss a second PoV.
His enthusiasm for moving in would almost have been absurd if it wasn’t so…sweet. Flattering. For weeks Park practically vibrated around the apartment in what Cooper publicly referred to as his “settling in” period but privately thought of as some sort of claiming or scent-marking ritual. He sat in every chair at least three times a day. He slept on the couch, the bed, the floor, the tub. He somehow persuaded Cooper into fucking on every available surface. It was Goldilocks gone wild. If there was a single nook or cranny of the apartment Park hadn’t stuck his nose in, it was only because he physically couldn’t fit.
And Park has changed and grown as Cooper has; he still cuts a slightly forbidding figure, he’s still outwardly impassive and reserved, but he shows his softer, more romantic side more often – and his naughty side, too ;)
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is a terrific read and a truly wonderful addition to the Big Bad Wolf series. I’m so very grateful that Ms. Adhara has decided to tell more stories about these amazing characters, and although we’re not getting book five until next year (this ends on a cliffhanger), if it’s as good as this one, then it’ll be worth the wait.